"Killykinick ahoy!" shouted dad, making a speaking trumpet of his hands.
"Aye, aye!" answered Captain Jeb, with his crooked smile. "You're 'The Polly' of Beach Cliff. What's wanted, Mr. Forester? Clams or lobsters?"—for in these latter days Killykinick did something of a trade in both with the pleasure boats and cottages along the coast.
"Well, we don't like to call them either; do we, Polly?" laughed dad, as he stepped ashore, while the little girls crowded to the deck rail. "'The Polly' is sailing under petticoat orders to-day and is scouring the waters in search of four boys that, we understand, you have here at Killykinick."
"We have," answered Captain Jeb,—"or at least the Padre here has. They're none of mine."
"I am no Padre, as I've told ye again and again, Jeroboam," interposed Brother Bart. "I am only Brother Bartholomew from St. Andrew's College. And I have four boys here, but they've been under my eye day and night," he continued anxiously; "so, in God's name, what are ye after them for, sir? They have done ye nor yours no harm, I am sure."
"None in the world," said Mr. Forester quickly, as he saw his light speech was not understood. "I was only joking with Captain Jeb. My mission here, I assure you, is most friendly. Permit me to introduce myself, Brother Bar—Bar—Bartholomew—"
"Ye can make it Bart, sir, for short; 'most everyone does," said the good Brother, nodding.
"Then, Brother Bart, I am Mr. Pemberton Forester, of Beach Cliff. I am also known by the briefer and pleasanter name of this little lady's 'dad,' and it is in that official capacity I am here to-day. It seems this little girl of mine met your boys a few days ago at Beach Cliff, where they rendered her most valuable service."
"One—it was only one of them, dad!" corrected Miss Polly's silvery voice. "It was only Dan Dolan who caught my bird and—and—"
"Well, at all events, the acquaintance progressed most pleasantly and rapidly, as my daughter's acquaintance is apt to progress; and it resulted in an equally pleasant understanding that the four young gentlemen were to come to a little festivity we are giving in honor of Polly's birthday,—a garden party in our grounds, between the hours of six and nine. This is the occasion of our present visit, Brother Bart. Fearing that travelling facilities might not be at the young gentlemen's disposal, we have come to take them to Beach Cliff. If you would like to accompany them—"
"To a party, is it?" exclaimed Brother Bart, in dismay. "Me at a party! Sure I'd look and feel queer indeed in such a place." Brother Bart's glance turned from the fine boat to the gentleman before him; he felt the responsibilities of his position were growing perplexing. "It will be great sport for the boys, I am sure," he added; "and I don't like to say 'No,' after all yer kindness in coming for them. But how are they to get back?"
"Oh, we'll see to that!" answered Mr. Forester, cheerfully. "They will be home and safe in your care, by half-past ten,—I promise you that."
"Hooray!—hooray!" rose the shout, that the boys who had been listening breathlessly to this discussion could no longer repress.
There was a wild rush to the shining decks of "The Polly," and soon all her pretty passengers were helped ashore, to scramble and climb as well as their dainty little feet could over the rocks and steeps of Killykinick, to wonder at the gardens and flowers blooming in its nooks and crannies, to peep into cow house and chicken house, and even old Neb's galley,—to explore the "Lady Jane" from stem to stern in delighted amazement.
Nell and Gracie, who were a little older than their cousin, took possession of Jim and Dud; their small brother Tad attached himself to Freddy, who was about his own age; while Polly claimed her own especial find, Dan, for escort and guide.
"Oh, what a queer, queer place!" she prattled, as, after peering cautiously into the depths of the Devil's Jaw, they wended their way to safer slopes, where the rocks were wreathed with hardy vines, and the sea stretched smiling into the sunlit distance. "Do you like it here, Dan?"
"Yes: I'm having a fine time," was the cheery answer, for the moment all the pricks and goads forgotten.
"Are you going to stay long?" asked Miss Polly.
"Until September," answered Dan.
"Oh, that's fine!" said his small companion, happily. "Then I'll get dad to bring me down here to see you again, Dan; and you can come up in your boat to see me, and we'll be friends,—real true friends. I haven't had a real true friend," said Miss Polly, perching herself on a ledge of rock, where, in her pink dress and flower-trimmed hat, she looked like a bright winged butterfly,—"not since I lost Meg Murray."
"Lost her? Did she die?"
"No," was the soft sighing answer. "It was much worse than that. You see" (Miss Polly's tone became confidential), "it was last summer, when I had the whooping cough. Did you ever have the whooping cough?"
"I believe I did," replied Dan, whose memory of such minor ills was by no means clear.
"Then you know how awful it is. You can't go to school or out to play, or anywhere. I had to stay in our own garden and grounds by myself, because all the girls' mothers were afraid of me. The doctor said I must be out of doors, so I had a play house away down by the high box hedge in the maze; and took my dolls and things out there, and made the best of it. And then Meg found me. She was coming down the lane one day, and heard me talking to my dolls. I had to talk to them because there was no one else. And she peeped through the hedge and asked if she could come in and see them. I told her about the whooping cough, but she said she wasn't afraid: that she had had it three times already, and her mother was dead and wouldn't mind if she took it again. So she came in, and we played all the morning; and she came the next day and the next for weeks and weeks. Oh, we did have the grandest times together! You see, dad was away, and mamma was sick, and there was no one to bother us. I used to bring out apples and cookies and chocolate drops, and we had parties under the trees, and we promised to be real true friends forever. I gave her my pearl ring so she would always remember. It was that pearl ring that made all the trouble." And Miss Polly's voice trembled.
"How?" asked Dan very gently. He never had a sister or a girl cousin or any one to soften his ways or speech; and little Polly's friendly trust was something altogether new and strangely sweet to him.
"Oh, it broke up everything!" faltered Miss Polly. "That evening an old woman came to the house and asked to see mamma,—oh, such a dreadful old woman! She hadn't any bonnet or coat or gloves,—just a red shawl on her head, and an old patched dress, and a gingham apron. And when James and Elise and everybody told her mamma was sick, she said she would see her anyhow. And she did. She pushed her way upstairs to mamma, and talked awfully,—said she was a poor honest woman, if she did sell apples on the corner; and she was raising her grandchild honest; and she asked how her Meg came by that ring, and where she got it. And then mamma, who had turned pale and fluttery, sent for me; and I had to tell her all, and she nearly fainted."
"Why?" asked Dan.
"Oh, because—because—I had Meg in the garden and played with her, and took her for a real true friend. You see, she wasn't a nice little girl at all," said Miss Polly, impressively. "Her grandmother had an apple stand at the street corner, and her brother cleaned fish on the wharf, and they lived in an awful place over a butcher's shop; and mamma said she must not come into our garden again, and I mustn't play with her or talk to her ever, ever again."
There was no answer for a moment. Dan was thinking—thinking fast. It seemed time for him to say something,—to speak up in his own blunt way,—to put himself in his own honest place. But, with the new charm of this little lady's flattering fancy on him, Dan's courage failed. He felt that to acknowledge a bootblack past and a sausage shop future would be a shock to Miss Polly that would break off friendly relations forever.
"So you gave up your real true friend?" he said a little reproachfully, and Miss Polly hopped down from her rock perch and proceeded to make her way back to the yacht.
"Yes, I had to, you see. Even dad, who lets me do anything I please, said I must remember I was a Forester, and make friends that fitted my name. And so—so" (Miss Polly looked up, smiling into Dan's face) "I am going to make friends with you. Dad says he knows all about St. Andrew's College, and you must be first-class boys if you belong there; and he is glad of a chance to give you a little fun. There he is calling us now!"—as a deep voice shouted:
"All aboard, boys and girls! We're off in an hour! All aboard!"
"Dan—Dan," piped Freddy's small voice. "Jim and Dud are dressing for the party, Dan. Come, we must dress, too."
And Dan, feeling like one venturing into unknown waters, proceeded to make the best of the things Good Brother Francis had packed in his small shabby trunk. There was the suit that bore the stamp of the English tailor; there was a pair of low shoes, that pinched a little in the toes; there was a spotless shirt and collar outgrown by some mother's darling, and a blue necktie that was all a necktie should be when, with Freddy's assistance, it was put properly in place. Really, it was not a bad-looking boy at all that faced Dan in the "Lady Jane's" swinging mirror when this party toilette was complete.
"You look fine, Dan!" said his little chum, as they took their way down to the wharf where "The Polly" was awaiting them,—"so big and strong—and—and—"
"Tough," said Dan, concluding the sentence with a forced laugh. "Well, that's what I am, kid,—big and strong and tough."
"Oh, no,—Dan, no!" said Freddy. "You're not tough at all, and you mustn't say so when you go to a girl's party, Dan."
"Well, I won't," said Dan, as he thought of the violet eyes that would open in dismay at such a confession. "I'll play the highflier to-night if I can, kid; though it's a new game with Dan Dolan, I must say."
And, with a queer sense of shamming that he had never felt before, Aunt Winnie's boy started off for Miss Polly's party.
To all Miss Polly's guests, that evening was a wonderful experience; but to Dan it was an entrance into a fairy realm that his fancy had never pictured; for in the hard, rough ways his childish feet had walked neither fairies nor fancies had place. He had found sailing over sunlit seas in Killykinick's dingy boats a very pleasant pastime; but the "Sary Ann" seemed to sink into a drifting tub when he stood on the spotless deck of "The Polly" as she spread her snowy wings for her homeward flight.
Dad, who, though very rich and great now, still remembered those "pirate days" when he was young himself, proved the most charming of hosts. He took the boys over his beautiful boat, where every bit of shining brass and chain and rope and bit of rigging was in perfect shipshape; and an artful little motor was hidden away for emergencies of wind and tide. There was a lovely little cabin, all in white and gold, with pale blue draperies; and two tiny staterooms dainty enough for the slumbers of a fairy queen. There were books and games, and a victrola that sang full-toned boating songs as they glided onward.
Even Dud was properly impressed by the charms of "The Polly"; and Jim was outspoken in his admiration. Freddy was wide-eyed with delight; and Dan was swept quite away from his usual moorings into another world,—a world where Aunt Winnie's boy seemed altogether lost. For, with Miss Polly slipping her little hand in his and guiding him over her namesake, and Freddy telling Tad the story of Dan's dive among the sharks, to which even the man at "The Polly's" wheel listened with interest, with dad so jolly and friendly, and everything so gay and beautiful around him, it was no wonder that Dan's head, accustomed to sober prosy ways, began to turn.
"Dolan,—Dolan? I ought to know that name," said dad, as, with Polly and her "nice" boy at his side, he stood watching the roofs and spires of Beach Cliff come into view. "There was a Phil Dolan in my class at Harvard,—one of the finest fellows I ever knew; rolling in money, but it didn't hurt him. He is a judge now, and I think he had a brother at West Point. Are you related to them?"
"No, sir," answered Dan, who at another time would have blurted out that he was not of the Harvard or West Point kind. "I—I am from Maryland."
"Oh, Maryland!" said dad, approvingly. "I see,—I see! The Dolans of Maryland. I've heard of them,—one of the old Catholic families, I think."
"Yes, we're—we're Catholics all right," said Dan, catching to this saving spar of truth, in his doubt and uncertainty. "We—we wouldn't be anything else if we were killed for it."
"Of course you wouldn't. That is your heritage, my boy! Hold fast to it," said dad, heartily. Then he turned about to see that "The Polly" made the way safely to her private wharf, feeling that he left his little girl with the scion of a family quite equal to the Foresters.
With the strange sense of treading in an unreal world, Dan passed on with the rest of the chattering, laughing crowd to the pretty, rustic wharf jutting out into the waters, and up to the steep, narrow street where carriages were waiting to take them to the Forester home. The wide grounds and gardens were already gay with the gathering guests. Pretty, flower-decked tables were set in the maze. The trees were hung with Japanese lanterns, that a little later would glow into jewelled lights. There was a group of "grown-ups" on the porch,—mamma, beautiful in cloudy white; sisters and cousins and aunts,—for the Forester family was a large one. There were two grandmothers—one fat and one thin,—very elegant old ladies, with white hair rolled high upon their heads. They looked upon the youthful guests, through gold lorgnettes, and were really most awe-inspiring.
The St. Andrew's boys were brought up and "presented" in due form. It was an ordeal. How Dan got through with it he didn't know. He had never before been "presented" to any one but Polly. But dad managed it somehow, and on the porch friendly shadows were gathering that concealed any social discrepancies. Then Polly flitted off to don her party dress, and Dan found himself stranded on the danger reefs of this strange world, with dad giving the fat grandmother his family history.
"Dolan?" repeated the old lady, who was a little deaf. "One of the Dolans of Maryland, you say, Pemberton? Dear me! I used to visit Dolan Hall when I was a girl. Such a beautiful old Colonial home! Is it still standing?" she said, turning to Dan.
"I—I don't know, ma'am," stammered Dan, who found the gleam of the gold lorgnettes most confusing.
"What does he say?" asked the old lady sharply.
"That he does not know, mother dear!" answered dad.
"He should know," said the old lady, severely. "The young people are growing up in these careless days without any proper sentiment to the past. A home like Dolan Hall, with its memories and traditions, should be a pride to all of the Dolan blood. The name is really French—D'Olane,—but most unfortunately, as I consider, was anglicized. The family was originally from Touraine, and dates back to the Crusaders, and is most aristocratic."
"He looks it," murmured the thin grandmother, fixing her lorgnettes on Dan's broad shoulders as he moved away to join Tad and Freddy, who were making friends with Polly's poodle. "I have never seen a boy carry himself better. Blood will tell, as I have always insisted, Stella."
The lady at her side laughed. She, too, had been regarding Dan with curious interest.
"What does it tell, Aunt Lena?" she asked.
"The lady and the gentleman," answered Polly's grandmother.
"Oh, does it?" said the other, softly. "I suppose I am not very wise in such matters, but one of the nicest ladies I ever knew was a little Irish sewing woman who made buttonholes. It was one summer when I went South, more years ago than I care to count; and Winnie—her name was Winnie—came to the house to renovate my riding habit for me."
The speaker paused as if she did not care to say more. She was a slender little person, not awe-inspiring at all. She had just driven up in a pretty, light carriage, and was still muffled in a soft fleecy wrap that fell around her like a cloud. The face that looked out from it was sweet and pale as a star. It brightened into radiance as Polly, a veritable fairy now in her party fluffs and ruffs and ribbons, sprang out on the porch and flung herself into Miss Stella's arms.
"Marraine! Marraine!" she cried rapturously,—"my own darling Marraine!"
"Why will you let the child give you that ridiculous name, my dear?" protested grandmamma, disapprovingly.
"Because—because I have the right to it," laughed the lady, as Polly nestled close to her side. "I am her godmother real and true,—am I not, Polykins? And we like the pretty French name for it better."
"Oh, much better!" assented Polly. "'Godmother' is too old and solemn to suit Marraine. Oh!" (with another rapturous hug) "it was so good of you to come all the way from Newport just for my party, dear, dear Marraine!"
"All the way from Newport!" answered the lady. "Why, that dear letter you sent would have brought me from the moon. You will be ten years old to-night, it said,—ten years old! O Pollykins! Pollykins!" (There was a little tremor in the voice.) "And you asked if I could come and help you with your party. I could and I would, so here I am! And here is your birthday present."
Marraine flung a slender golden chain around Polly's neck.
"Oh, you darling,—you darling!" murmured Polly. "But you are the best of all birthday presents, Marraine,—the very best of all!"
"Now, really we must stop all this 'spooning,' Pollykins, and start things," said Marraine, dropping her, and emerging in a shining silvery robe, with a big bunch of starry jessamine pinned on her breast.
"You are not going to bother with the children, surely, Stella?" said dad, who had drawn near the speaker.
"I am," said the lady, flashing him a laughing look. "That's what I came for. I am going to forget the years (don't be cruel enough to count them, Cousin Pen), and for two hours (is it only two hours we have, Pollykins?) be a little girl again to-night."
And, taking Polly's hand, she tripped away from the grown-ups on the porch, and things were started indeed.
Grove and garden, maze and lawn, suddenly sparkled with jewelled lights; the stringed band in the pagoda burst into gay music. Led by a silvery vision, Polly's guests formed a great ring-around-a-rosy for an opening measure, and the party began. And, with a fairy godmother like Miss Stella leading the fun, it was a party to be remembered. There were marches and games, there was blind man's buff through the jewel-lit maze, there was a Virginia reel to music gay enough to make a hundred-year-old tortoise dance. There was the Jack Horner pie, fully six feet round, and fringed with gay ribbons to pull out the plums. Wonderful plums they were. Minna Foster drew a silver belt buckle; her little sister, a blue locket; Dud, a scarf-pin; Jim, a pocketknife with enough blades and "fixings" to fill a miniature tool chest; and Freddy, a paint box quite as complete; while Dan pulled out the biggest plum of all—a round white box with a silver cord.
As it came out at the end of his red ribbon, there was a moment's breathless hush, broken by Polly's glad cry:
"The prize,—the prize, Marraine! Dan has drawn my birthday prize!" And, under a battery of curious and envious eyes, Dan opened the box to find within a pretty gold watch, ticking a most cheering greeting to its new owner.
"Dan,—Dan!" Polly's jubilant voice rose over all the chorus around him. "Oh, I'm so glad you got it, Dan!"
And Marraine's eyes followed Polly's delighted glance with the same look of curious interest that she had bent upon Dan a while ago on the porch.
"Do you mean that this is for me?" he blurted out, in bewilderment.
"Yes, for you,—for you," repeated Polly in high glee. "It's real gold and keeps real time, and it's yours forever!"
"It's too—too much—I mean it's—it's too fine for a fellow like me," stammered Dan. "What will I do with it?"
"Wear it," chirped Miss Polly, throwing the silken guard around his neck, "so you will never forget my birthday, Dan."
And then a big Japanese gong sounded the call to the flower-decked tables, where busy waiters were soon serving a veritable fairy feast. There were cakes of table-size and shape and color; little baskets and boxes full of wonderful bonbons; nuts sugared and glazed until they did not seem nuts at all; ice-cream birds in nests of spun sugar; "kisses" that snapped into hats and wreaths and caps. And all the while the band played, and the jewelled lights twinkled, and the stars shone far away above the arching trees. And Dan, with his watch around his neck, held his place as the winner of the prize at Miss Polly's side, feeling as if he were in some dizzy dream. Then there were more games, and a grand hide-and-seek, in which dad and some of the grown-ups joined.
Dan had found an especially fine place under the gnarled boughs of an old cedar tree, that would have held its head high in the starlight if some of dad's gardeners had not twisted it out of growth and shape. Hiding under the crooked shadows, Dan was listening to the merry shouts through maze and garden, when he became suddenly conscious of a change in their tone. The voices grew sharp, shrill, excited, and then little Polly burst impetuously into his hiding place,—a sobbing, trembling, indignant little Polly, followed by a score of breathless young guests.
"I don't believe it!" she was crying tempestuously. "I won't believe it! You're just telling horrid stories on Dan, because I like him and he got the prize."
"O Pollykins! Pollykins!" came Miss Stella's low, chiding voice.
"Halloo! halloo! What's the trouble?" rose dad's deep tones above the clamor. "My little girl crying,—crying?"
"Yes, I am!" was the sobbing answer. "I can't help it, dad. The girls are all whispering mean, horrid stories about Dan, and I made them tell me all they said they had heard. I don't believe them, and I won't believe them! I told them I wouldn't believe them,—that I would come right to Dan and let him speak for himself.—Were you ever a newsboy and a beggar boy, Dan? Did—did you ever black boots? Have you an aunt in the poorhouse, as Minna Foster says?"
XVIII.—BACK INTO LINE.
There was a moment's pause. Dan was really too bewildered to speak. He felt he was reeling down from the rainbow heights to which Miss Polly had led him, and the shock took away his breath.
"It's all—all a horrid story; I'm sure it is,—isn't it, Dan?" pleaded his little friend, tremulously.
"Why, no!" said Dan, rallying to his simple, honest self again. "It isn't a story at all. I was a newsboy, I did shine boots at the street corner, and Aunt Winnie is with the Little Sisters of the Poor now."
"Bravo!—bravo!" came a low silvery voice from the shadows, and Miss Stella clapped her slender hands.
"O Dan, Dan!" cried poor little Miss Polly, sobbing outright. "A newsboy and bootblack! Oh, how could you fool me so, Dan?"
"With your infernal lies about your home and family!" burst forth dad, in sudden wrath at Polly's tears.
"I didn't fool,—I didn't lie, sir!" blurted out Dan, fiercely. "I did nothing of the kind!"
"If you will kindly do the boy justice to remember, he did not, Cousin Pem!" and Miss Stella's clear, sweet voice rose in witness. "You gave his family history yourself. He did not know what you were talking about, with your Crusading ancestors and the D'Olanes. I could see it in his face. You are all blood-blind up here, Cousin Pem. I was laughing to myself all the time, for I guessed who Dan Dolan was. I knew he was at St. Andrew's. His dear old Aunt Winnie is one of my truest friends."
"O Marraine, Marraine!" murmured Polly, eagerly. "And—and you don't mind it if—"
"If she is with the Little Sisters of the Poor, Pollykins? Not a bit! Some day I may be there myself. Now that this tempest in a teapot is over, you can all go off and finish your games. I am going to sit under this nice old tree and talk to Miss Winnie's boy."
And while dad, still a little hot at the trouble that had marred Polly's party, started the fun in another direction, Miss Stella gathered her silvery gown around her and sat down on the rustic bench beneath the old cedar, and talked to Dan. He learned how Aunt Winnie had sewed patiently and skilfully for this lovely lady a dozen years ago, when she was spending a gay season in his own town; and how the gentle old seamstress, with her simple faith and tender sympathy, her wise warnings to the gay, motherless girl, had won a place in her heart.
"I tried to coax her home with me," said Miss Stella, "to make it 'home,' as I felt she could; but Baby Danny was in the way,—the little Danny that she could not leave."
Then Dan, in his turn, told about Killykinick, and how he had been sent there for the summer and had met little Polly.
"I should have told," he said, lifting Aunt Winnie's own blue Irish eyes to Miss Stella's face,—"I should have said right out straight and square that I wasn't Polly's kind, and had no right to push in here with grand folks like hers. But it was all so fine it sort of turned my head."
"It will do that," replied Miss Stella, softly. "It has turned mine often, Danny. But now we both see straight and clear again, and I am going to make things straight and clear with all the others."
"You can't," said Dan,—"not with those grand ladies in gold spectacles; not with Polly's dad; maybe not with Polly herself. I'm all mixed up, and out of line with them. And—and—" (Dan took the silken guard from his neck) "I want you to give them back this gold watch, and tell them so." (He slipped the Jack Horner prize into Miss Stella's hand.) "I'm not asking anything and I'm not taking anything that comes to me like this. And—and—" (he rose and stood under the crooked tree in all his straight, sturdy strength) "Neb is down at the wharf with a load of clams. We passed him as we came up. I'm not pushing in among the silk cushions any more. I'm going home with him."
Which, with Miss Stella's sympathetic approval, he did at once.
When a little later the guests had all gone, and "The Polly" was taking her white-winged way back to Killykinick with Dud, Jim, and Freddy; when the jewelled lights had gone out, and the party was over, and all was quiet on the starlit porch, Miss Stella returned Dan's watch and gave his message. Even the two grandmammas, being really grandmammas at heart, softened to it, and dad declared gruffly it had been a fool business altogether, while Polly flung herself sobbing into her godmother's arms.
"O Dan,—poor Dan! He is the nicest boy I ever saw,—the nicest and the kindest, Marraine! And now—now he will never come back here any more!"
"I don't think he will, Pollykins," was the low answer. "You see" (Marraine dropped a light kiss on the nestling curls), "he was a newsboy and a bootblack, and he does not deny it; while you—you, Pollykins—"
"Oh, I don't care, what he was!" interrupted Miss Polly, tempestuously,—"I don't care what he was. I took him for my real true friend, and I am not going to give up Dan as I gave up Meg Murray, Marraine." Polly tightened her clasp around Miss Stella's neck so she could whisper softly in her ear: "If he won't come back, you and I will go after him; won't we, Marraine?"
Meanwhile, with his head pillowed on a pile of fish nets—very different, we must confess, from the silken cushions of dad's pretty yacht,—and with old Neb drowsily watching her ragged sail, Dan was back again in his own line, beneath the guiding stars. It was a calm, beautiful night, and those stars were at their brightest. Even Neb's dull wits seemed to kindle under their radiance.
"You can steer 'most anywhere when they shine like that. Don't want none of these 'ere winking, blinking lights to show you the way," he said.
"But the trouble is they don't always shine," answered Dan.
"No," said Neb, slowly, "they don't; that's a fact. But they ain't ever really out, like menfolk's lights. The stars is always thar."
"Always there,"—yes, Dan realized, as, with his head on the dank, fishy pillow, he looked up in the glory above him, the stars were always there. Blurred sometimes by earthly mists and vapors, lost in the dazzling gleam of jewelled lights, darkened by the shadows of crooked trees, they shone with pure, steadfast, guiding rays,—the stars that were always there. A witching little Will-o'-the-wisp had bewildered Dan into strange ways this evening; but he was back again in his own straight honest line beneath the stars.
On "The Polly," making her way over the starlit water to Killykinick, things were not so pleasant.
"It was a mean, dirty trick to give Dan away. I don't care who did it!" said big-hearted Jim, roused into spirit and speech.
"It wasn't I,—oh, indeed it wasn't I!" declared Freddy. "I told Tad Dan was the biggest, strongest, finest fellow in the whole bunch. I never said a word about his being a newsboy or a bootblack, though I don't think it hurts him a bit."
"And it doesn't," said Jim, whose blood had been a "true blue" stream before the Stars and Stripes began to wave. "But there are some folks that think so."
"Calling me fool, are you?" said Dud, fiercely.
"No, I didn't," retorted Jim. "But if the name fits you, take it. I don't object." And he turned away, with a flash in his eyes most unusual for Sunny Jim,—a flash that Dud did not venture to kindle into angry fire.
But, though the storm blew over, as such springtime storms will, Dan had learned a lesson, and felt that he never again wished to venture on the dizzy heights where wise heads turn and strong feet falter. Though Dud and Jim, who both had pocket money in plenty, made arrangements at the Boat Club for the use of a little motor boat several times a week, Dan held his own line as second mate at Killykinick, and was contented to share old Neb's voyaging. They went out often now; for, under the old sailor's guidance, Dan was becoming an expert fisherman. And soon the dingy boat, loaded with its silvery spoil, became known to camps and cottages along the other shores. Poor old Neb was too dull-witted for business; but customers far from markets watched eagerly for the merry blue-eyed boy who brought fish, "still kicking," for their early breakfast,—clams, chaps, and lobsters, whose freshness was beyond dispute. Neb's old leather wallet began to fill up as it had never been filled before. And the dinners that were served on the "Lady Jane," the broiled, the baked, the fried fish dished up in rich plenty every day, shook Brother Bart's allegiance to Irish stews, and, as he declared, "would make it aisy for a heretic to keep the Friday fast forever."
Then, Dan had the garden to dig and weed, the cow to milk, the chickens to feed,—altogether, the days were most busy and pleasant; and it was a happy, if tired, boy that tumbled at night into his hammock swung beneath the stars, while old Jeb and Neb smoked their pipes on the deck beside him.
Three letters had come from Aunt Winnie,—a Government boat brought weekly mail to the lighthouse on Numskull Nob. They were prim little letters, carefully margined and written, and spelled as the good Sisters had taught her in early youth. She took her pen in hand—so letters had always begun in Aunt Winnie's schooldays—to write him a few lines. She was in good health and hoped he was the same, though many were sick at the Home, and Mrs. McGraw (whom Dan recalled as the dozing lady of his visit) had died very sudden on Tuesday; but she had a priest at the last, and a Requiem Mass in the chapel, with the altar in black, and everything most beautiful. Poor Miss Flannery's cough was bad, and she wouldn't be long here, either; but, as the good Mother says, we are blessed in having a holy place where we can die in peace and quiet. And Aunt Winnie's own leg was bad still, but she thanked God she could get around a bit and help the others. And, though she might never see him again—for she would be turned on seventy next Thursday,—she prayed for her dear boy nights, and dreamed of him constant. And, begging God to bless him and keep him from harm, she was his affectionate aunt, Winnie Curley.'
The other letters were very much in the same tone: some other old lady was dying or failing fast; for, with all its twilight peace, Aunt Winnie was in a valley of the shadow, where the light of youth and hope and cheer that whistling, laughing Dan brought into Mulligans' attic could not shine.
"I've got to get her home," resolved Dan, who was keen enough to read this loss and longing between the old-fashioned neatly-written lines. "It's Pete Patterson and the meat shop for me in the fall and good-bye to St. Andrew's and 'pipe dreams' forever! Aunt Winnie has to come back, with her blue teapot on her own stove and Tabby purring at her feet again or—or" (Dan choked at the thought) "they'll be having a funeral Mass at the Little Sisters for her."
And Dan lay awake a long time that night looking at the stars, and stifling a dull pang in his young heart that the heights of which he had dreamed were not for him. But he was up betimes next morning, his own sturdy self again. Old Neb had a bad attack of rheumatism that made his usual early trip impossible.
"They will be looking for us," said Dan. "I promised those college girls camping at Shelter Cove to bring them fresh fish for breakfast."
"Let them catch for themselves!" growled old Neb, who was rubbing his stiffened arm with whale oil.
"Girls," said Dan in boyish scorn. "What do girls know about fishing? They squeal every time they get a bite. I'll take Freddy to watch the lines (Brother Bart isn't so scary about him now), and go myself."
XIX.—A MORNING VENTURE.
After some persuasion from Captain Jeb, who declared he could trust matey Dan's navigation now against any wind and tide, Brother Bart consented to Freddy's morning sail with his sturdy chum.
"Sure I know Dan loves laddie better than his own life," said the good old man anxiously, as he watched Neb's ragged sail flitting off with the two young fishermen. "But it's only a boy he is, after all."
"Mebby," said Captain Jeb, briefly. "But thar's boys wuth half a dozen good-sized men, and matey is that kind. You needn't scare about any little chap that ships with him. And what's to hurt him, anyhow, Padre? You've got to let all young critters try their legs and wings."
And Freddy was trying his triumphantly this morning. It was one of Dan's lucky days, and the lines were drawn in again and again, until the college girls' breakfast and many more silvery shiners were fluttering and gasping in old Neb's fish basket. Then Dan proceeded to deliver his wares at neighborly island shores, where summer campers were taking brief holidays. Some of these islands, more sheltered than Killykinick, were fringed with a thick growth of hardy evergreens, hollowed into coves and inlets, where the waves, broken in their wild, free sweep, lapped low-shelving shores and invited gentle adventure.
On one of these pleasant outposts was the college camp; and half a dozen pretty girl graduates, in "middies" and khaki skirts, came down to meet Dan. One of them led a big, tawny dog, who made a sudden break for the boat, nearly overturning Freddy in his leap, and crouching by Dan's side, whining and shivering.
"Oh, he's yours! We said he was yours!" went up the girlish chorus. "Then take him away, please. And don't let him come back; for he howled all night, and nearly set us crazy. Nellie Morris says dogs never howl that way unless somebody is dead or dying; and she left her mother sick, and is almost frantic. Please take him away, and don't ever bring him near us again!"
"But—but he isn't mine at all," replied Dan, staring at the big dog, who, shivering and wretched as he seemed, awoke some vague memory.
"Then whose is he?" asked a pretty spokesman, severely. "He could not have dropped from the clouds, and yours was the only boat that came here yesterday."
"Oh, I know,—I know, Dan!" broke in Freddy, eagerly. "He belongs to that big man who came with us on the steamboat. He had two dogs in leashes, and this is one of them, I know, because I saw his brown spot on his head when I gave him a cracker."
"Mr. Wirt?" Dan's vague memory leaped into vivid light: Mr. John Wirt's big, tawny dog indeed, who perhaps, with some dim dog-sense, remembered Freddy. "I do know him now," said Dan. "He belongs to a gentleman named Wirt—"
"Well, take him where he belongs," interrupted the young lady. "We don't care where it is. We simply can't have him howling here."
"Oh, take him, Dan!" said Freddy. "Let us take him home with us."
"Mr. Wirt must be around somewhere," reflected Dan. "He said perhaps he would come to Killykinick. We'll take him," he agreed cheerfully, as he handed out his basket of fish to the pretty, young campers. "And I think his master will come along to look him up."
And the boys started on their homeward way, with Rex (which was the name on their new companion's collar) seated between them, still restless and quivering, in spite of all Freddy's efforts to make friends.
"He wasn't this way on the boat," said Freddy as, after all his stroking and soothing, Rex only lifted his head and emitted a long, mournful howl. "I went down on the lower deck where the big man had left his dogs, and they played with me fine,—shook paws and wagged their tails and were real nice."
"I guess he knows he is lost and wants to get back to his master," said Dan. "Dogs have a lot of sense generally, so what took him over to that girls' camp puzzles me."
"He didn't like the girls,—did you, Rex?" asked Freddy, as he patted his new friend's nose. "My, he is a beauty,—isn't he, Dan? Just the kind of a dog I'd like to have; and, if nobody comes for him, he will be ours for keeps. Do you think Brother Andrew will let us have him out in the stable at St. Andrew's? Dick Walton kept his rabbits there—"
"Until a weasel came and gobbled them up," laughed Dan, as he steered away from a line of rocks that jutted out like sharp teeth from a low-lying, heavily wooded shore.
"They couldn't gobble Rex,—could they, old fellow!" said Freddy, with another friendly pat.
But, regardless of all these kindly overtures, Rex sprang to his feet, barked in wild excitement for a moment, made a plunge from the boat and struck out for shore.
"Oh, he's gone,—he's gone!" cried Freddy, desperately.
"Rex! Rex!" called Dan. "There's nothing or nobody there. Come back,—come back! Well, he must be a durned fool of a dog to be jumping off at every island he sees.—Rex! Rex!—He'll starve to death if we leave him here."
"Oh, he will,—he will!" said Freddy, wofully. "Come back, Rex, old fellow, nice dog,—come back!"
Freddy whistled and called in vain: Rex had vanished into the thick undergrowth.
"Oh, let's go for him,—let's go for him, Dan!" pleaded Freddy. "Maybe he is after a wild duck or something. We ought not to let a fine dog like that get lost and starve to death. One of the deck hands on the steamboat told me those dogs were worth a hundred dollars a piece, and that they had more sense than some humans."
"Well, he isn't showing it this morning, sure; and he didn't yesterday either," said Dan, gruffly. "He isn't the kind of dog to leave around here for any tramp to pick up, I'll agree; but how are we to haul him back, unless he chooses to come? And I know nothing about this shore, anyhow. Neb told me they called it Last Island, and there was once a light here that the old whalers could see fifty miles out—why, halloo!" Dan paused in his survey of the doubtful situation. "He's coming back!"
"Rex! Rex!" shouted Freddy, gleefully; for it was Rex indeed,—Rex coming through the dense low growth, in long leaps, with quick, sharp barks that were like calls; Rex plunging into the water and swimming with swift strokes to the waiting boat; but Rex refusing absolutely to be pulled aboard. He only splashed and shook himself, scattering a very geyser of salt water on the tugging boys, and barked louder and sharper still as if he were doing his best to talk.
"Jing!" exclaimed Dan, giving up all efforts to manage him. "I never saw such a durned chump of a dog! I'm wet to the skin."
"Oh, he wants something!" said softer-hearted Freddy. "He is trying to tell us something, Dan."
Rex barked again, as if he had heard the words; and, leaping on the edge of the boat, he caught Freddy's khaki sleeve.
"Lookout there, or he'll pull you overboard!" shouted Dan in fierce alarm, as Rex pulled still harder. "Golly! I believe he wants us to come ashore with him."
"Oh, he does,—he does!" said Freddy, eagerly. "He has hunted something down and wants us to get it, Dan. Let us see what it is."
It was a temptation that two live boys could not resist. Mooring Neb's old fishing boat to a sharp projecting rock, they proceeded to wade where it would have been impossible to navigate; Rex leaping before them, barking jubilantly now, as if he had won his point.
"You stand back, kid!" (Through all the excitement of a discoverer, Dan did not lose sight of his responsibilities.) "Let me go ahead, so if there is anything to hurt I'll strike it first. Straight behind in my steps, and lookout for suck-holes!"
And, with Rex leading, they proceeded Indian file over the narrow strip of sand that shelved to the sea, and then on through thicket and branches that hedged the shore in wild, luxuriant growth, until suddenly the ruins of the old lighthouse rose out of the tangle before them. The shaft that had upheld the beacon light was all gone save the iron framework, which rose bare and rusted above the little stone cabin that had sheltered the keeper of long ago, and that still stood amid crumbling stones and fallen timbers.
"Back, Freddy,—back!" shouted Dan, as something big and fierce bolted out of the ruins. "Why, it's the other dog!" he added in relief. "Mr. Wirt must be somewhere around."
And, peering into the open door of the cabin, he stood dumb with dismay; for there indeed, stretched upon the rotten floor under the broken roof, was his friend of the steamboat. His gun was beside him, his head pillowed on his knapsack, his eyes closed, all his pride and strength and manly bearing gone; only the short, hard breathing showed that he was still alive.
"Golly!" gasped Freddy, who had crept in behind his chum. "Is—is he dead, Dan?"
"Not—not—yet, but he looks mighty close to it. Mr. Wirt—" he faltered, bending over the prostrate form; "Mr. Wirt!" he repeated louder. There was no answer. "I'm afraid he's gone," said Dan, in an awe-struck voice; and Freddy burst into boyish tears.
"What are you crying about?" asked Dan, gruffly.
"Oh, I don't know,—I don't know!" was the trembling answer. "I—I never saw anybody dead before. What—what do you think killed him, Dan?"
"Nothing. He isn't killed," replied Dan, who had been taking close observations. "He is still breathing. I guess he came here to hunt and got sick, and that's what the dog was trying to tell people. Gosh, it's a pity dogs like that can't talk!"
"Oh, it is,—it is!" murmured Freddy, putting his arm around Rex, who, his duty done, was seated on his hind legs, gravely surveying his master.
The sick man moved a little, and groaned feebly: "Water!" the word came faintly through parched lips. "Water,—a little—Water!"
Dan picked up a can that had evidently done duty before.
"Stay by him, Freddy, so he'll know there is something here. I'll go to get some water. They must have had a pump or well around a place like this,"
And while Dan discovered the broken, half-choked cistern at the back of the Old Light, Freddy watched the sick man. He had never before seen any one very sick, and it took some pluck to keep his post especially when Mr. Wirt suddenly opened his eyes and looked at him. It was such a strange, wild, questioning look that Freddy felt his heart nearly leap into his throat.
Then Dan came back with the can full of water, and together they did their best for their patient,—bathing his head, wetting his parched lips, laving the helpless hands that were burning with fever, until the bright, sunken eyes closed and the sick man sank into a fitful sleep.
"He is pretty badly off," said Dan, who had seen pain and sickness and death, and knew. "He ought to have a doctor right away, and it's for us to get one quick as we can. But it will be a good three hour's job; and" (Aunt Winnie's boy's voice softened) "I hate to leave the poor fellow here without any one to give him a drop of water, when he's burning up like this. But you can't sail the boat alone, kid."
"No, I can't," faltered Freddy,—"I can't sail the boat, Dan; but—but" (the young voice steadied bravely) "I can stay here with him."
"You can!" echoed Dan, staring at his little chum in amazement. "You'd scare to death, kid, here all alone with a dying man. He is likely to go off any minute."
"Maybe," faltered Freddy. "But—but I'd stay by him all the same, Dan. I can bathe his head and his hands, and give him water to drink, and say prayers like Brother Bart says we must when people are dying. O Dan, we can't leave him here to die alone!"
"No, we can't," said Dan, heartily. "I'd never think of asking a kid like you to stay. But, with the two dogs on the watch, there's nothing to fear. And you are doing the real right and plucky thing, for sure. I'll sail over to Killykinick and see if I can get Jim or Dud off for the nearest doctor, and be back here as quick as I can. And you, kid" (Dan's tone softened tenderly to his little chum), "don't scare more than you can help. Stick it out here as best you can."
Dan was off at the words, and for a moment Freddy felt his heart sink within him. He looked at the broken walls, the gaping roof, the dying man, and his blood chilled at the thought of the long hours before any one could return to him. Standing at the door of the Old Light, his eyes followed Dan's sturdy figure leaping swiftly through the bramble bush, and now he had reached the boat and put off.
Freddy was left indeed. He gulped down a big lump that rose in his throat, and, with the can of water Dan had freshly filled for him, took his seat at his patient's side. Rex came up and put a cold nose on his knee, and Freddy's watch began.
XX.—LITTLE BOY BLUE.
Mr. Wirt lay very still. Freddy never remembered seeing any one quite so still before. Even his breathing had grown quiet, and the rise and fall of the broad breast was the only sign of life in the otherwise motionless figure. All around him was very still, too. Freddy could hear the plash of the waves on the beach, the rustle of the wind through the dwarf trees, the whir of wings as some sea bird took its swift flight above the broken roof. But within there was a solemn hush, that to the small watcher seemed quite appalling.
Roy, as the other dog was named on his collar, dozed at his master's feet. Rex kept his place at Freddy's side, as if conscious of his responsibilities; and for a time that seemed quite interminable, all were silent. Freddy found himself studying the big man's pale face with fearsome interest. How very pale it was! And the rough growth of beard that hid mouth and chin made it seem paler still. But the nose was straight and smooth as Freddy's own. The silver-streaked hair fell in soft waves over a broad handsome brow. And there was a white scar on the left temple, that throbbed with the low breathing. Somehow, that scar held Freddy's eye. Surely he had seen a V shaped scar like it before, where or when he could not think; perhaps on one of the big football players at St. Andrew's.
"Ah, if good Brother Tim were only here now!" thought Freddy hopelessly, as the picture of the spotless stretch of infirmary arose before him. The rows of white beds so safe and soft; the kind old face bending over the fevered pillows; Old Top waving his friendly shadow in the sunlit window; the Angelus chiming from the great bell tower; the merry shouts of the ball players on the green below,—all these memories were in dire contrast indeed to the present scene.
If Dan would only come back! But he wouldn't—he couldn't—for hours. And maybe this big, strange man might die while he was gone,—die with only a little boy beside him,—a little boy to help him, to pray for him. Freddy's thoughts grew more and more solemn and awesome. People always prayed by dying beds, he knew. Oh, if Dan would only come with a doctor and perhaps a priest! For Freddy felt that big men who wandered around the world with dogs and guns were likely to need higher spiritual ministrations than a small boy could give. In the meanwhile he would do his best; and, drawing out his silver-mounted rosary, he began to say his beads.
And perhaps, as the young watcher had been an early riser this morning, he was nodding a little over his decades when a sudden movement of his patient roused him. Mr. Wirt was awake, his eyes fixed steadily on Freddy's face.
"Still here," he murmured,—"still here? Boy,—little boy! Are you real or a death dream?"
It was a startling question; but Freddy had learned something of fever vagaries during the measles, when even some of the Seniors had lost their heads.
"Oh, I'm real!" he answered cheerfully. "I'm a real boy all right. I'm Freddy Neville, from St. Andrew's College—"
"My God!" burst in a low cry from the pale lips.
"Yes," said Freddy. "It's time for you to say that,—to say your prayers, I mean; because—because—you're very sick, and when people are very sick, you know, they—sometimes they die."
"Die!" was the hoarse echo. "Aye, die as I have lived,—in darkness, despair! Lost—lost—lost!"
"Oh, no, no, no!" Boy as he was, Freddy felt his young heart thrill at the cry. "You're not lost yet. You're never lost while you live. You can always say an act of contrition, you know, and—and—" Freddy's voice faltered, for the role of spiritual adviser was a new one; but he had not gone through the big Catechism last year without learning a young Catholic Christian's obligations. "Would—would you like me to say an act of contrition for you?" he asked.
There was no answer save in the strange softening of the eyes fixed upon the boyish face. And, feeling that his patient was too far gone for speech, Freddy dropped on his knees, and in a sweet, trembling tone repeated the brief, blessed words of sorrow for sin, the plea for pardon, the promise of amendment. It had been a long, long time since those familiar words had fallen on his listener's ears; a longer time since they had reached his heart. For years he had believed nothing, hoped nothing, feared nothing. Life had been to him a dull blank, broken only by reckless adventure; death, the end of all. But for three days and nights he had lain helpless, fever-smitten, stricken down in all his proud strength in this wilderness, with no friends but his dogs, no home but the ruined hut into which he had crawled for shelter, no human aid within reach or call. The derelict, as he had called himself to Dan, had drifted on the rocks beyond hope and help, as derelicts must. And in those three days and nights he had realized that for him there was no light in sea or sky,—that all was darkness forever.
And then young voices had broken in upon the black silence; and, opening his eyes, closed on hideous fever dreams, he had seen Freddy,—Freddy, who was not a dream; Freddy, who was kneeling by his side, whispering sweet, forgotten words of peace and hope and pardon; Freddy—Freddy—he could not speak, there was such a stirring in the depths of his heart and soul. He could only stretch out his weak, trembling hand, that Freddy met with a warm, boyish grip.
"Oh, I'm here yet!" he said, thinking his patient needed the reassurance. "I'm staying here right by you, to say prayers, or get water or anything you want. Dan left me here to take care of you. He has gone for the doctor; and if you just hold on till they get here, why, maybe—maybe—they'll pull you through all right. Gee whilikins!" exclaimed Freddy, as the sick man suddenly started up from his rude pillow. "You mustn't do that!"
"I must—I must!" was the hoarse reply; and Freddy was caught in a wild, passionate clasp to his patient's heart. "Dying or living, I must claim you, hold you, my boy,—my own little son,—little Boy Blue!" The voice sank to a low, trembling whisper. "Little Boy Blue, don't you know your own daddy?"
And Freddy, who had been struggling wildly in what he believed to be a delirious grasp, suddenly grew still. "Little Boy Blue,"—it was the nursery name of long ago,—the name that only the dad of those days knew,—the name that even Brother Bart had never heard. It brought back blazing fire, and cushioned rocker, and the clasp of strong arms around his little white-robed form, and a deep, merry voice in his baby ear: "Little Boy Blue."
Freddy lifted a frightened, bewildered little face. The eyes,—softened now with brimming tears; the straight nose like his own, the waving hair, the scar he had so often pressed with baby fingers,—ah, he remembered,—little Boy Blue remembered! It was as if a curtain were snatched from a far past that had been only dimly outlined until now.
"My daddy,—my daddy,—my own dear daddy!" he cried, flinging his arms about the sick man's neck. "Oh, don't die,—don't die!"
For, weak and exhausted by his outburst of emotion, the father had fallen back upon his pillow, gasping for breath, the sweat standing out in great beads on his brow, his hand clutching Freddy's own in what seemed a death clasp.
And now Freddy prayed indeed,—prayed as never in all his young life he had prayed before,—prayed from the depths of his tender, innocent heart, in words all his own.
"O God, Father in heaven, spare my dear daddy! He has been lost so long! Oh, do not let me lose him again! Save him for his little boy,—save him, spare him!"
Without, the sky had darkened, the wind moaned, the waves swelled white-capped against the low shore. The August storm was rising against Last Island in swift wrath; but, wrestling in passionate fervor for the life that had suddenly become so precious to him, Freddy did not hear or heed. The dogs started out into the open. Father and son were alone in the gathering gloom.
Through what he believed the throes of his death agony, the sick man caught the sweet, faltering words: "O dear Lord, have mercy on my dear father! Let him live, and we will bless and thank You all the rest of our lives. He has been lost so long, but now he has come back. Oh, try to say it with me, daddy: you have come back to be good,—to live good and live right forever!"
And then, even while Freddy prayed, the storm burst upon Last Island. And such a storm! It seemed as if the derelict lying there had roused wind and wave into destructive fury against the friendly outpost that sheltered him. Last Island had been abandoned on account of its perilous exposure; and its beacon light, shattered again and again by fierce ocean gales, was transferred to a safer shore.
"It's a-washing away fast," old Neb had informed Dan when they had drifted by the low-lying shore. "Some of these days a big storm will gulp it down for good."
And truly the roaring sea seemed to rush upon it in hungry rage to-day. The dogs came in crouching and whining to their master; while the wind shrieked and whistled, and the foaming breakers thundered higher and higher upon the unprotected shore.
"O Dan, Dan!" thought Freddy hopelessly, as the storm beat through the broken walls and roof. "Dan will never get here now,—never!"
But, though his heart was quailing within him, Brother Bart's laddie was no weakling: he stood bravely to his post, bathing his father's head and hands, wetting the dry, muttering lips, soothing him with tender words and soft caresses,—"daddy, my own dear daddy, it is your little boy that is with you,—your own little Boy Blue! You will be better soon, daddy." And then through the roar and rage of the storm would rise the boyish voice pleading to God for help and mercy.
And the innocent prayer seemed to prevail. The sick man's labored breathing grew easier, the drawn features relaxed, the blood came into the livid lips; and, with the long-drawn sigh of one exhausted by his struggle for life, Freddy's patient sank into a heavy sleep; while his little Boy Blue watched on, through terrors that would have tried stronger souls than Brother Bart's laddie. For all the powers of earth and air and sea seemed loosened for battle. The winds rose into madder fury; the rain swept down in blinding floods; forked tongues of fire leaped from the black clouds that thundered back to the rolling waves.
The dogs crouched, whimpering and shivering, at Freddy's side. Whether daddy was alive or dead he could not tell. He could only keep close to him, trembling and praying, and feeling that all this horror of darkness could not be real: that he would waken in a moment,—waken as he had sometimes wakened in St. Andrew's, with Brother Bart's kind voice in his ear telling him it was all a dream,—an awful dream.
And then blaze and crash and roar would send poor little Boy Blue shivering to his knees, realizing that it was all true: that he was indeed here on this far-off ocean isle, beyond all help and reach of man, with daddy dying,—dead beside him. He had closed the door as best he could with its rusted bolt; but the wind kept tearing at it madly, shaking the rotten timbers until they suddenly gave way, with rattle and crash that were too much for the brave little watcher's nerves. He flung his arms about his father in horror he could no longer control.
"Daddy, daddy!" he cried desperately. "Wake up,—wake up! Daddy, speak to me and tell me you're not dead!"
And daddy started into consciousness at the piteous cry, to find his little Boy Blue clinging to him in wild affright, while wind and wave burst into their wretched shelter,—wind and wave! Surging, foaming, sweeping over beach and bramble and briar growth that guarded the low shore, rising higher and higher each moment before the furious goad of the gale, came the white-capped breakers!
"Oh, the water is coming in on us! Poor daddy, poor daddy, you'll get wet!"
And then daddy, wild wanderer that he had been over sea and land, roused to the peril, his dulled brain quickening into life.
"The gun,—my gun!" he said hoarsely. "It is loaded, Freddy. Lift it up here within reach of my hand."
"O daddy, daddy, what are you going to do?" cried Freddy in new alarm.
"Shoot,—shoot! Signal for help. There is a life-saving station not far away. There, hold the gun closer now,—closer!"
And the trembling hand pulled the trigger, and its sharp call for help went out again and again into the storm.
XXI.—A DARK HOUR.
Meantime Dan had set his dingy sail to what he felt was a changing wind, and started Neb's fishing boat on the straightest line he could make for Killykinick. But it had taken a great deal of tacking and beating to keep to his course. He was not yet sailor enough to know that the bank of clouds lying low in the far horizon meant a storm; but the breeze that now filled and now flapped his sail was as full of pranks as a naughty boy. In all his experience as second mate, Dan had never before met so trying a breeze; and it was growing fresher and stronger and more trying every minute. To beat back to Beach Cliff against its vagaries, our young navigator felt would be beyond his skill. The only thing he could do was to take the shorter course of about three miles to Killykinick, and send off Jim and Dud in their rented boat (which had a motor) for a doctor. Then he could explain Freddy's absence to Brother Bart, and hurry back to his little chum.
Wind and tide, however, were both against these well-laid plans to-day. The wind was bad enough, but now even the waves seemed to have a strange swell, different from the measured rise and fall he knew. It was as if their far-off depths were rising, stirring out of their usual calm. They no longer tossed their snowy crests in the summer sunlight, but surged and swayed in low, broken lines, white-capped with fitful foam. And the voice—the song of the sea—that had been a very lullaby to Dan as he swung every night in his hammock beneath the stars, had a hoarse, fierce tone, like a sob of passion or pain. Altogether, Dan and his boat had a very hard pull over the three miles to Killykinick.
"Thar they come!" said Captain Jeb, who, with Brother Bart, was watching from the beach. "I told you you could count on Mate Dan, Padre. Thar the lads come, safe and sound; though they hed a pull against the wind, I bet. But here they come all right."
"God be thanked for that same!" said Brother Bart, reverently. "My heart has been nearly leaping out of my breast this last half hour. And you weren't over-easy about them yourself, as I could see, Jeroboam."
"Wall, I'm glad to see the younkers safe back, I must say," agreed Captain Jeb, in frank relief. "Thar was nothing to skeer about when they started this morning, but that bank of cloud wasn't in sight then. My but it come up sudden! It fairly took my breath when Neb pointed it out to me. That ar marline spike didn't hurt his weather eye. 'Hurricane,' he says to me; 'straight up from the West Indies, and them boys is out!' I tell you it did give me a turn—aye, aye matey!" as Dan came hurrying up the beach. "Ye made it all right again wind an' tide—but where's the other?"
"Laddie,—my laddie!" cried Brother Bart, his ruddy face paling. "Speak up, Dan Dolan! Has harm come to him?"
"No, no, no!" answered Dan eagerly, "no harm at all, Brother Bart. He is safe and sound. Don't scare, Brother Bart." And then as briefly as he could Dan told the adventure of the morning.
"And you left laddie, that lone innocent, with a dying man?" said Brother Bart. "Sure it will frighten the life out of him!"
"No, it won't," replied Dan. "Freddy isn't the baby you think, Brother Bart. He's got lots of sand. He was ready and willing to stay. We couldn't leave the poor man there alone with the dogs."
"Sure you couldn't,—you couldn't," said the good Brother, his tone softening. "But laddie—little laddie,—that never saw sickness or death! Send off the other boys for the doctor, Jeroboam, and the priest as well, while Dan and I go back for laddie."
But Captain Jeroboam, who was watching the horizon with a wide-awake weather eye, shook his head.
"You can't, Padre,—you can't. Not even the 'Lady Jane' could make it agin what's coming on now. If the boy is on dry land, you'll have to trust him to the Lord."
"Oh, no, no!" answered the good Brother, forgetting what he said, in his solicitude. "I'll go for him myself. Give us your boat, man, and Dan and I will go for laddie."
"Ye can't, I tell ye!" and the old sailor's voice took a sudden tone of command. "I'm captain of this here Killykinick, Padre; and no boat leaves this shore in the face of such a storm, for it would mean death to every man aboard her,—sure and certain death."
"The Lord have mercy,—the Lord have mercy!" cried Brother Bart. "My laddie,—my poor little laddie! The fright of this will kill him entirely. Oh, but you're the hard man, Jeroboam! You have no heart!"
"Back!" shouted Captain Jeb, heedless of the good old man's reproaches, as a whistling sound came over the white-capped waves. "Back, under cover, all of ye. The storm is on us now!"
And, fairly dragging Brother Bart, while Neb and Dan hurried behind them, the Captain made for shelter in the old ship under the cliffs, where Dud and Jim had already found refuge.
"Down with the hatches! Brace everything!" came the trumpet tones of command of the old sailor over the roar of the wind. And doors and portholes shut, the heavy bolts of iron and timber fell into place, and everything was made tight and fast against the storm that now burst in all its fury on Killykinick,—a storm that sent Brother Bart down on his knees in prayer, and held the boys speechless and almost breathless with terror. In the awful blackness that fell upon them they could scarcely see one another. The "Lady Jane" shook from stem to stern as if she were being torn from her fifty years' mooring. The stout awnings were ripped from the upper deck; their posts snapped like reeds in the gale; the great hollows of the Devil's Jaw thundered back the roar of the breakers that filled their cavernous depths with mad turmoil. On land, on sea, in sky, all was battle,—such battle as even Captain Jeb agreed he had never seen on Killykinick before.
"I've faced many a hurricane, but never nothing as bad as this. If it wasn't for them cliffs behind us and the stretch of reef before, durned if we wouldn't be washed clean off the face of the earth!"
"Laddie, laddie!" was the cry that blended with Brother Bart's prayers for mercy. "God in heaven, take care of my poor laddie through this! I ought not to have let him out of my sight."
"But he's safe, Brother Bart," said Dan, striving to comfort himself with the thought. "He is on land, you know, just as we are; and the old lighthouse is as strong as the 'Lady Jane'; and God can take care of him anywhere."
"Sure He can, lad,—He can. I'm the weak old sinner to doubt and fear," was the broken answer. "But he's only a bit of a boy, my own little laddie,—only a wee bit of a boy, that never saw trouble or danger in his life. To be facing this beside a dying man,—ah, God have mercy on him, poor laddie!"
So, amid fears and doubts and prayers, the wild hours of the storm and darkness passed; the fierce hurricane, somewhat shorn of its first tropic strength, swept on its northward way; the shriek of the wind sank into moan and murmur; the sea fell back, like a passion-weary giant; the clouds broke and scattered, and a glorious rainbow arched the clearing sky.
The bolts and bars that had done such good duty were lifted, and the crew of the "Lady Jane" went out to reconnoitre a very damaged domain. Cow-house and chicken-house were roofless. Brown Betty lay crouching fearful in the ruins while her feathered neighbors fluttered homeless in the hollows of the rocks. The beans and peas and corn,—all things that had lifted their green growth too proudly, were crushed to the earth. But far worse than this was the havoc wrought on the beach. One half of the wharf was down. The small boats, torn from their moorings, had disappeared entirely. The motor boat Jim and Dud had hired for the season was stove in upon the rocks. The "Sary Ann," stranded upon the shoals of Numskull Nob, to which she had been swept by the gale, lay without mast or rudder, leaking at every joint.
The two old salts surveyed the scene for a moment in stoic silence, realizing all it meant to them. But Brother Bart, with the sunlight dancing on the waves, the rainbow arching the sky, broke into eager, hopeful speech.
"God be thanked it's over and we're all alive to tell it; for Noah's deluge itself couldn't have been worse. And now, Jeroboam, we'll be going over after laddie; and the Lord grant that we may find him safe as the rest!"
"We'll be going after him!" repeated Captain Jeb, grimly. "How and whar!"
"Sure—can't we right one of the boats?" asked the old man, anxiously.
"Which boat," was the gruff question. "That thar play toy" (surveying the motor boat) "is smashed in like an eggshell. Whar the other has been swept to nobody knows. And the 'Sary Ann' has done her best, as we all can see; but no boat could hold her own agin that storm. Do you think she will stand till morning, Neb?"
Neb rolled his dull eyes over reef and shoal.
"She moight," he replied briefly. "Struck pretty bad thar in the bow; but the wind is down now and the tide is low."
"And she is oak-keeled and copper-braced from stem to stern," continued Captain Jeb. "She may stick it out until we can get thar and tow her in. As for the boy, Padre, we can't reach him no more'n we can reach the 'Sary Ann' without a boat; and thar's nothing left that will float around this Killykinick."
"Ah, the Lord have mercy! And are we to leave laddie in that wild place beyond all night?" cried Brother Bart. "Scatter, boys,—scatter all over the place, and maybe you can find a boat caught in the rocks and sands; for we must get to the laddie afore the night comes on, cost what it may. Scatter and strive to find a boat!"
While the boys scattered eagerly enough Captain Jeb, making a spyglass of his hands, was scanning the horizon with a sailor's practised eye.
"What is it you see?" asked Brother Bart, anxiously. "Don't tell me it's another storm!"
"No," answered Captain Jeb, slowly, "it ain't another storm. Neb" (his tone grew suddenly sharper and quicker), "step up to the ship and get the old man's glass,—the glass we keep shut up in the case."
Neb, who never shirked an order, obeyed. In a moment he returned with one of the greatest treasures of the "Lady Jane"—Great-uncle Joe's ship-glass that was always kept safe from profaning touch; its clear lenses, that had looked out on sea and sky through many a long voyage, polished to a shine. Captain Jeb adjusted them to his own failing eyes, and gazed seaward for a few moments in silence. Then he said:
"'Pears as if I couldn't see clarly after that tarnation blow. You look out, Neb. And, Padre, you'd better step back thar and keep a weather eye on them younkers. It doesn't do to turn them out too free, with things all broke up."
"You're right, man,—you're right, Jeroboam," said the good Brother tremulously. "I'll keep an eye on them, as you say."
"Thar,—I've got him out of the way!" said Captain Neb, as Brother Bart hurried back to watch over his scattered flock. "Now look, Neb,—look steady and straight! Three points to the south of Numskull Nob,—what d'ye see?"
"Nothing at all," answered Neb.
"Look again!" His brother adjusted the old shipmaster's glass with a hand that trembled strangely. "Another point to the south. Look steady as ye can, Neb. Yer weather eye was always clarer than mine. What d'ye see now?"
"Nothing," came the answer again; and then the dull tone quickened: "Aye I do,—I do! Thar's suthing sticking out of the waves like a broken mast."
"The Old Light," said Captain Jeb, hoarsely,—"all that's left of it. Last Island has gone under, as you said it would, Neb,—clean swallowed up. And the boy—" (the speaker gulped down something like a sob). "Looks as if the Padre will never see his little lad agin."
XXII.—THE LOST AND FOUND.
There had been an extra Mass at the little church at Beach Cliff on the morning of the storm. Father Tom Rayburn, an old classmate of the pastor's, had arrived, and been welcomed most cordially.
"I'm off to an old camping ground of mine—Killykinick," he had explained to his host as they sat together at breakfast. "One of our Brothers is there with some of St. Andrew's boys, and my own little nephew is among them."
"Ah, yes, I know!" was the reply. "They come every Sunday to the late Mass. And, by the way, if you are going out into those ocean 'wilds,' you could save a busy man some trouble by stopping at the Life-Saving Station (it's not far out of the way, as I suppose you'll take a sail or a motor boat); and I promised two of those sturdy fellows who are groping for the Truth some reading matter. I thought a friendly talk at the same time would not be amiss. They have little chance for such things in their lonely lives. But my duties are quadrupled at this season, as you know."
"And the 'wilderness' is in my line," said Father Tom. "Of course I'll be glad to stop. I used to haunt the Life-Saving Station when I was a boy; and I should like to see it again, especially when I can do a little missionary work on the side," he laughed cheerily.
And so it had happened that while Dan and Freddy were hauling in their lines and delivering breakfasts along the shore, one of the trig motors from the Boat Club was bearing a tall, broad-shouldered passenger, bronzed by sun and storm, to the Life-Saving Station, whose long, low buildings stood on a desolate spit of sand that jutted out into the sea beyond Shelter Cove. It was Uncle Sam's farthest outpost. The Stars and Stripes floating from its flagstaff told of his watchful care of this perilous stretch of shore that his sturdy sons paced by day and night, alert to any cry for help, any sign of danger.
Father Tom, whose own life work lay in some such lines, met the Life-Savers with a warm, cordial sympathy that made his visit a most pleasant one. He was ready to listen as well as talk. But Blake and Ford, whom he had come especially to see, were on duty up the shore, and would not be back for more than two hours.
"I'll wait for them," said Father Tom, who never let a wandering sheep, that hook or crook could hold, escape his shepherd's care; and he settled down for a longer chat of his own wild and woolly West, which his hearers watching with trained eyes the black line in the horizon, were too polite in their own simple way to interrupt. Their guest was in the midst of a description of the Mohave Desert, where he had nearly left his bones to bleach two years ago, when his boatman came hurriedly up with a request of speedy shelter for his little craft.
"There's a storm coming up I daren't face, sir," he said. "We can't make Killykinick until it blows over. You'll have to stay another hour or two here."
"All right, if our good friends will keep us," was the cheery response. "We are not travelling on schedule time."
And then Father Tom looked on with keen interest as the sturdy life-savers made ready for the swift-coming tempest that was very soon upon them, bringing Blake and Ford back, breathless and drenched, to report their observations along the beach,—that there was nothing in sight: everything had scudded to shelter. So all gathered in the lookout, whose heavy leaded glass, set in a stone frame, defied the fury of the elements. And, thus sheltered, the group in Uncle Sam's outpost watched the sweep of the storm.
"It's a ripper!" said Blake, translating the more professional opinion of his mates to Father Tom. "But we ain't getting the worst of it here. These West Indianers travel narrow gauge tracks, and we're out of line. Killykinick is catching it bad. Shouldn't wonder if that stranded tub of the old Captain's would keel over altogether."
"You think they are in danger there?" asked Father Tom, anxiously.
"Oh, no! Thar's plenty of other shelter. Killykinick is rock-ribbed to stand till the day of doom. George! I believe Last Island is going clean under!"
"Let her go!" came the keeper's bluff response. "Been nothing but a bramble bed these twenty years."
"Bramble bed or not, some fools are camping there," said Blake. "I've seen their dogs on the beach for the last three days; and there was a boat moored to the rocks this morning, and boys scrambling along the shore. The folks that are boxed up in town all winter run wild when they break loose here, and don't care where they go—"
"Hush!" broke in the keeper, suddenly. "Push open the glass there, men, and listen! I think I heard a gun!"
They flung open the window at his word. Borne upon the wild sweep of the wind that rushed in upon them, there came again a sound they all knew,—the signal of distress, the sharp call for help. It was their business to hear and heed.
"A gun sure, and from Last Island!" said the keeper, briefly. "There are fools there, as you say, Blake. Run out the lifeboat, my men! We must get them off. Both boats, for we don't know how many we have to care for."
"Both boats, sir?" hesitated Blake. "We're short-handed to-day, for Ford has a crippled arm that would be no good in this surf."
"I'll take his place," said Father Tom, eagerly. "I've shot the rapids with my Indian guides many a time. I'll take Ford's place."
"Think twice of it, sir," was Blake's warning. "You are risking your life."
"I know," was the brief answer. "That's my business as well as yours, my friends; so I'll take my chance."
"There talks a man!" said the keeper, heartily. "Give him a sou'wester, and let him take his chances, as he asks, in Ford's place."
And, in briefer time than we can picture, the two lifeboats were swung out of their shelter in the very teeth of the driving gale, and manned by their fearless crews, including Father Tom Rayburn, who, muffled in a huge sou'wester, took his place with the rest; and all pushed into the storm.
* * * * *
At Last Island all hope seemed gone.
"One last shot, my boy!" daddy had said, as the gun dropped from his shaking hand. "And no one has heard,—no one could hear in the roar of the storm."
"Oh, they could,—they could!" murmured Freddy. "God could make them hear, daddy,—make them hear and come to help us. And I think He will. I have prayed so hard that we might not be drowned here all alone in the storm. You pray, too, daddy,—oh, please pray!"
"I can not,—I dare not," was the hoarse answer.
"O daddy, yes you can,—you must! The waters are coming on us so fast, daddy,—so fast! Please try to pray with me. Our Lord made the winds and waves go down when He lived here on earth; He walked on the waters and they did not hurt Him. Oh, they are coming higher and higher on us, daddy! What shall we do?"
"Die," was the hoarse, fierce answer; "die here together, my boy,—my little boy! For me it is justice, judgment; but, O my God, why should Thy curse fall on my boy,—my innocent boy?"
"O daddy, no! That isn't the way to pray. You mustn't say 'curse,' daddy. You must say: 'Have mercy, dear Lord; have mercy! Save me and my little boy. Send some one to help us.' Oh, I am trying not to be afraid, but I can't help it, daddy!"
"My boy,—my poor little boy! Climb, Freddy! Try to climb up on the roof—the broken shaft! Leave me here, and try to climb, my boy! You may be safe for a while."
"O daddy, no, I can't climb and leave you," and Freddy clung piteously to his father's breast. "I'd rather die here with you, and God will take us both to heaven together. I haven't been a very good boy, I know; and maybe you haven't either; but if we are sorry He will let us come to Him in heaven—O dad, what is that?" Freddy's low tone changed to one of wild alarm. "What is it now,—what is it now?"
For the dogs, that had been crouching and cowering beside their master, suddenly started up, barking wildly, and dashed out into the rising waters; new sounds blended with the roar of the storm,—shouts, cries, voices.
"Here,—here!" daddy feebly essayed to answer. "Call to them, Freddy! It is help. God has heard your prayers. Call—call—call—loud as you can, my boy!"
But there was no need. Rex and Roy had already done the calling, the guiding. On they came, the sturdy rescuers, plunging waist-deep through the waters that were already breaking high on the beach and bramble growth, surging and swelling across the broken wall that had once guarded the Old Light, and lapping the low cabin floor. On the brave life-savers came, while Rex and Roy barked in mad welcome; and Freddy's clear, boyish cry, "Here,—here! Daddy and I are here!" pierced through the darkness and turmoil of the storm. On they came, strong and fearless,—God's angels surely, thought Freddy, though in strange mortal guise. And one, whose muffling sou'wester had been flung loose in his eager haste, led all the rest.
"Here, my men,—here!" he cried, bursting into the ruined hut, where a little figure stood, white-faced, breathless, bewildered with the joy of his answered prayer. "They are here! God have mercy!" broke in reverent awe from his lips. "Freddy, Freddy,—my own little Freddy here!"
"Uncle Tom,—Uncle Tom!" And Freddy sobbed outright as he was clasped in those dear, strong arms, held tight to the loving heart. "How did God tell you where to come for me, dear Uncle Tom?—Daddy, daddy look up,—look up! It's Uncle Tom!"
And what daddy felt as he looked up into that old friend's face, what Uncle Tom felt as he looked down on the "derelict" that had drifted so far from him, no one can say; for there was no time for words or wonderment. Life-savers can not stop to think, much less to talk. Daddy was caught up by two or three big fellows, without any question, while Uncle Tom looked out for Freddy.
It was a fierce struggle, through surging waves and battering wind and beating rain, to the waiting lifeboats; but, held tight in those strong arms, pressed close to the true heart whose every pulse was a prayer, Freddy felt no fear. Even when the stout boat, fighting its way back to the other shore, tossed like a cork in the breakers, when the oar snapped in Blake's hand, when all around was foam and spray, in which earth and heaven seemed lost, Freddy, nestling in Uncle Tom's sou'wester, felt as if its rough, tarry folds were angel wings.
And so safety and shelter were reached at last. Father Tom gave his little drenched, shivering, white-faced boy into Ford's friendly care.
"Put him to bed somewhere, to get dry and warm."
"But daddy,—my own dear, lost daddy?"
"Leave him to me, my boy," said Uncle Tom, softly. "I'll take care of daddy. Leave him to me."
And then Ford, who, somewhere back of Cape Cod, had a small boy of his own, proceeded to do his rough best for the little stranger. Freddy was dried, rubbed, and put into a flannel shirt some ten sizes too big for him, and given something hot and spicy to drink, and finally tumbled into a bunk with coarse but spotless sheets, and very rough but comfortable blankets, where in less than four minutes he was sound asleep, worn out, as even the pluckiest eleven-year-old boy would be, with the strain on his small body and brave young soul.
How long he slept, Freddy did not know; but it was long enough for the wind to lull, the skies to brighten, the black clouds to break and scatter before the golden glory of the summer sun. The wide lookout window had been thrown open, and showed a glorious rainbow spanning the western sky. And there, on a pallet thrown hastily on the floor, lay daddy, very still and pale, with Uncle Tom kneeling beside him, holding his hand. An icy fear now clutched Freddy's heart at the sight. Reckless of the ten-sizes-too-big shirt trailing around him, he was out of his bunk with a jump to his father's side.
"Daddy, daddy!—O Uncle Tom, is daddy dead?"
And daddy's eyes opened at the words,—eyes that were no longer burning, but soft and dim with tears.
"Not dead, little Boy Blue! Daddy is alive again,—alive as he has not been for long, long years.—Tell him all, Tom. I am too weak. Tell him all. He'll be glad to hear it, I know."
But Father Tom only put his arm around the boy and drew him close to his side.
"Why should I?" he said, smiling into the upturned face. "We know quite enough for a little boy; don't we, Freddy,—that, like another wanderer from his Father's house, daddy was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found. And now get into some short clothes, if you can find them, and we'll go over to Killykinick in my little motor boat; for poor Brother Bart is in sad terror about you, I am sure."
Ah, in sad terror, indeed! It was a pale, shaken old man that stood on the beach at Killykinick, looking over the sea, and listening to the Captain, who was striving to find hope where he felt there was none.
"Looks as if the old cabin on Last Island might be holding together still. Dan and Neb are knocking a raft together, and if they can make it float they'll go over there and get the little lad off. And if they don't Padre" (the rough old voice trembled),—"if they don't, wal, you are sky pilot enough to know that the little chap has reached a better shore than this."
"Aye, aye, I know, Jeroboam!" was the hoarse, shaken answer. "God knows what is best for His little lamb. His holy will be done. But, O my laddie, my little laddie, why did I let you go from me into the darkness and storm, my little boy, my little boy?"
"Hooray! Hooray!" Wild shouts broke in upon the broken-hearted prayer, as Jim and Dud and Dan burst round the bend of the rocks. "Brother Bart, Brother Bart! Look what's coming, Brother Bart!"
And, turning his dim eyes where the boys pointed, Brother Bart saw a little motor boat making its swift way over the still swelling waves. On it came, dancing in the sunlight arched by the rainbow, tossing and swaying to the pulse of the sea; and in the stern, enthusiastically waving the little signal flag that Ford had put into his hand to remember the life-savers, sat—
"Laddie!" burst from Brother Bart's lips, and he fell upon his knees in thanksgiving. "O God be praised and blessed for the sight! My laddie,—my own little laddie safe, safe,—my laddie coming back to me again!"
It was the day after the big storm that had made havoc even in the sheltered harbor of Beach Cliff, and so damaged "The Polly" in her safe moorings that six men were busy putting her into shipshape again. And dad's other Polly was in an equally doleful mood.
It was to have been a day of jollification with Marraine. They were to have gone voyaging together over the summer seas, that were smiling as joyously to-day as if they had never known a storm. They were to have stopped at the college camp in Shelter Cove, where Marraine had some girl friends; they were to have kept on their sunlit way to Killykinick, for so dad had agreed; they were to have looked in on the Life-Saving Station, which Marraine had never seen; in fact, they were to have done more pleasant things than Polly could count,—and now the storm had fallen on her namesake and spoiled all.
"Never mind, Pollykins!" comforted Marraine, who could find stars in the darkest sky. "We'll each take a dollar and go shopping."
"Only a dollar, Marraine? That won't buy much," said Polly, who had walked in ways where dollars seem very small indeed.
"Oh, yes, it will! There's no telling what it can buy in Jonah's junk shop," laughed Marraine. "I got a rusted tea tray that polished into silver plate, a blackened vase that rubbed into burnished copper. I should not wonder if he had an Aladdin's lamp hidden somewhere in his dusty shelves."
"Let us go look for it," said Polly, roused into gleeful interest. "Oh, I'd love to have Aladdin's lamp! Wouldn't you, Marraine?"
"What would you wish for, Pollykins?" asked Marraine, softly.
"Oh, lots of things!" said Polly, perching in her lap. "First—first of all, I wish that I could keep you here forever and forever, darling Marraine!"
"Well, you have me for six weeks every summer," laughed Marraine.
"But that isn't forever and forever," sighed Polly. "And mamma and dad and grandmamma and everybody else want you, too."
"Are you sure of that?" asked the lady, kissing the upturned face.
"Oh, very sure!" replied Polly, positively. "They say it's all nonsense for you to go to the hospital and take care of sick people. It's—it's something—I don't remember what."
"Stubborn pride?" suggested Marraine, with a merry sparkle in her eyes.
"Yes," said Polly, "that's just what grandmamma said. And stubborn pride is something bad; isn't it, Marraine?"
"Well, yes, it is," agreed Marraine,—"when it is stubborn pride, Pollykins. But when one has empty hands and empty purse and—well, an empty life, too, Pollykins, it is not stubborn pride to try to fill them with work and care and pity and help."
"And that is what you do at the hospital, Marraine?"
"It is what I try to do, Pollykins. When my dear father died, and I found all his money gone, this beautiful home of yours opened its doors wide for me; dad, mamma, grandma, everybody begged me to come here. But—but it wasn't my real home or my real place."
"Oh, wasn't it, Marraine?" said Polly, sadly.
"No, dear. In our real home, our real place, God gives us work to do,—some work, even though it be only to bless and love. But there was no work for me here; and so I looked around, Pollykins, for my work and my place. If I had been very, very good, I might have folded my butterfly wings under a veil and habit, and been a nice little nun, like Sister Claudine."
"Oh, I wouldn't have liked that at all!" said Polly, with a shiver.
"I'm afraid I wouldn't either," was the laughing answer. "Still, it's a lovely, useful, beautiful life, little girl. And the next—the very next—best place and best work seemed to me the hospital, with the white gown and cap I can put off when I please; with sickness and sorrow and suffering to soothe and help; with little children holding out their arms to me, and old people calling to me in their pain, and dying eyes turning to me for hope and help. So I am nurse in a hospital, and out of it, too, when there is need. And it's not for stubborn pride, as grandma says, and no doubt thinks; but because I believe it to be my real work and my real place. Now get your dollar, and we'll be off to Jonah's junk shop to look for Aladdin's lamp."
And Polly danced off for her flower-wreathed hat, and the two were soon on their way down the narrow streets to the dull, dingy little shop near the water, where several customers were already looking over the curiously assorted stock, that on weekdays was spread far out on the sidewalk to attract passers-by. Among these was a big, burly grey-haired man, whose bronzed face and easy-fitting clothes proclaimed the sailor.
"Why, Captain Carleton!" greeted Miss Stella, in some surprise.
"God bless my heart and soul!" was the hearty response, and the Captain held out both hands to the speaker. "This is sailor's luck, indeed! From what star of hope did you drop, Miss Stella?"
"Oh, I drop here for a holiday every summer!" she answered gaily. "I am glad to see you looking so well and strong again, Captain."
"Thanks to you, my dear lady! Under the great Master of life and death, thanks to you! I was about as far on the rocks as an old craft could be without going to pieces entirely. How that soft little hand of yours steered me into safe water I'll never forget, dear lady,—never forget. And I was a tough patient, too; wasn't I?"
"Well, you did say things sometimes that were not—prayers," was the laughing answer.
And, chatting on pleasantly of the Captain's last winter in the hospital, they glanced over old Jonah's stock until something of interest caught the sailor's eye.
"By George! How in thunder did this get here?"
"A find,—a real find, Captain?" asked Miss Stella. "What is it?"
"A medal," he answered,—"a medal awarded for 'Brave and faithful service on the "Reina Maria" sixty years ago.'" (He was scanning the bronze disc as he spoke),—"'Juan Farley.' Good Lord! Yes, poor old Jack! I wonder how he lived and died? And what in Heaven's name is his medal doing here?"
"Perhaps Jonah can tell you," suggested Miss Stella; while Polly, whose bright eyes were searching for Aladdin's lamp, paused to listen.
"That ar medal?" said Jonah in answer to the Captain's questioning. "Let me think now! That ar medal—ticketed nineteen, isn't it?—was left here by a youngster. Now, what in thunder was his name? I'll have to look in my books to see."