By MARY T. WAGGAMAN
Author of "Billy Boy," "The Secret of Pocomoke," "White Eagle," "Tommy Travers," etc.
THE AVE MARIA
NOTRE DAME, INDIANA
Copyright, 1917 By D. E. HUDSON, C. S. C.
I.—THE "LEFT OVERS."
It was the week after Commencement. The corridors, class-rooms, and study hall of Saint Andrew's stretched in dim, silent vistas; over the tennis court and the playground there brooded a dead calm; the field, scene of so many strenuous struggles, lay bare and still in the summer sunlight; the quadrangle, that so lately had rung to parting cheer and "yell," might have been a cloister for midnight ghosts to walk. The only sign or sound of life came from the open archways of the Gym, where the "left overs" (as the boys who for various reasons had been obliged to summer at Saint Andrew's) were working off the steam condensed, as Jim Norris declared, to the "busting" point by the last seven days.
A city-bound college has its limitations, and vacation at Saint Andrew's promised to be a very dull affair indeed. The "left overs" had tried everything to kill time. At present their efforts seemed bent on killing themselves; for Jim Norris and Dud Fielding, sturdy fellows of fourteen, were doing stunts on the flying trapeze worthy of professional acrobats; while Dan Dolan, swinging from a high bar, was urging little Fred Neville to a precarious poise on his shoulder.
Freddy was what may be called a perennial "left over." He had been the "kid" of Saint Andrew's since he was five years old, when his widowed father had left him in a priestly uncle's care, and had disappeared no one knew how or where. And as Uncle Tom's chosen path lay along hard, lofty ways that small boys could not follow, Fred had been placed by special privilege in Saint Andrew's to grow up into a happy boyhood, the pet and plaything of the house. He was eleven now, with the fair face and golden hair of his dead girl-mother, and brown eyes that had a boyish sparkle all their own.
They looked up dubiously at Dan now,—"daring Dan," who for the last year had been Freddy's especial chum; and to be long-legged, sandy-haired, freckle-nosed Dan's chum was an honor indeed for a small boy of eleven. Dan wore frayed collars and jackets much too small for him; his shoes were stubby-toed and often patched; he made pocket money in various ways, by "fagging" and odd jobbing for the big boys of the college. But he led the classes and games of the Prep with equal success; and even now the Latin class medal was swinging from the breast of his shabby jacket.
Dan had been a newsboy in very early youth; but, after a stormy and often broken passage through the parochial school, he had won a scholarship at Saint Andrew's over all competitors.
"An' ye'll be the fool to take it," Aunt Winnie had said when he brought the news home to the little attic rooms where she did tailor's finishing, and took care of Dan as well as a crippled old grandaunt could. "With all them fine gentlemen's sons looking down on ye for a beggar!"
"Let them look," Dan had said philosophically. "Looks don't hurt, Aunt Win. It's my chance and I'm going to take it."
And he was taking it bravely when poor Aunt Win's rheumatic knees broke down utterly, and she had to go to the "Little Sisters," leaving Dan to summer with the other "left overs" at Saint Andrew's.
"Swing up," he repeated, stretching a sturdy hand to Fred. "Don't be a sissy. One foot on each of my shoulders, and catch on to the bar above my head. That will steady you."
Freddy hesitated. It was rather a lofty height for one of his size.
"You can't hold me," he said. "I'm too heavy."
"Too heavy!" repeated Dan, laughing down on the slender, dapper little figure at his feet. "Gee whilikins, I wouldn't even feel you!"
This was too much for any eleven-year-old to stand. Freddy was not very well. Brother Timothy had been dosing him for a week or more, and these long hot summer days made his legs feel queer and his head dizzy. It was rather hard sometimes to keep up with Dan, who was making the most of his holiday, as he did of everything that came in his way. Freddy was following him loyally, in spite of the creeps and chills that betrayed malaria. But now his brown eyes flashed fire.
"You're a big brag, Dan Dolan!" he said, stung by such a taunt at his size and weight. "Just you try me!"
And catching Dan's hand he made a spring to his waist and a reckless scramble to his shoulders.
"Hooray!" said Dan, cheerily. "Steady now, and hold on to the bar!"
"Do you feel me now?" said Fred, pressing down with all his small weight on the sturdy figure beneath him.
"A mite!" answered Dan. "Sort of like a mosquito had lit on me up there."
"Do you feel me now?" said Fred, bringing his heels down with a dig.
"Look out now!" cried Dan, sharply. "Don't try dancing a jig up there. Hold to the bar."
But the warning came too late. The last move was too much for the half-sick boy. Freddy's head began to turn, his legs gave way—he reeled down to the floor, and, white and senseless, lay at Dan's feet.
In the big, book-lined study beyond the quadrangle, Father Regan was settling final accounts prior to the series of "retreats" he had promised for the summer; while Brother Bart, ruddy and wrinkled as a winter apple, "straightened up,"—gathering waste paper and pamphlets as his superior cast them aside, dusting book-shelves and mantel, casting the while many an anxious, watchful glance through the open window. The boys were altogether too quiet this morning. Brother Bart distrusted boyish quiet. For the "Laddie," as he had called Freddy since the tiny boy had been placed six years ago in his special care, was the idol of the good man's heart. He had washed and dressed and tended him in those early years with almost a woman's tenderness, and was watching with jealous anxiety as Laddie turned from childish ways into paths beyond his care. Dan Dolan was Brother Bart's especial fear—Dan Dolan, who belonged to the rough outside world from which Laddie had been shielded; Dan Dolan, who, despite tickets and medals, Brother Bart felt was no mate for a little gentleman like his boy.
"They're quarely still this morning," he said at last, giving voice to his fear. "I'm thinking they are at no good."
"Who?" asked Father Regan, looking up from the letter he was reading.
"The boys," answered Brother Bart,—"the four of them that was left over with us."
"Four of them?" repeated the Father, who, with the closing of the schools, had felt the burden of his responsibilities drop. "True, true! I quite forgot we have four boys with us. It must be dull for the poor fellows."
"Dull!" echoed Brother Bart, grimly,—"dull is it, yer reverence? It's in some divilment they are from morning until night. There's no rule for vacation days, as Mr. Linton says; and so the four of them are running wild as red Indians, up in the bell tower, and in the ice pond that's six feet deep with black water, and scampering over the highest ledge of the dormitory roof, till my heart nearly leaps from my mouth."
"Poor fellows!" said Father Regan, indulgently. "It's hard on them, of course. Let me see! Colonel Fielding and his wife are in the Philippines, I remember, and asked to leave Dudley with us; and Judge Norris couldn't take Will with him to Japan; and there's our own little Fred of course,—we always have him; and—"
"That dare-devil of a Dan Dolan, that's the worst of all!" burst forth Brother Bart. "It's for me sins he was left here, I know; with the Laddie following everywhere he leads, like he was bewitched."
"Poor Danny! Aren't you a little hard on him, Brother Bart?" was the smiling question.
"Sure I am, I am,—God forgive me for that same!" answered Brother Bart, penitently. "But I'm no saint like the rest of ye; and Laddie crept into my heart six years ago, and I can't put him out. Wild Dan Dolan is no fit mate for him."
"Why not?" asked Father Regan, gravely, though there was a quizzical gleam in his eye.
"Sure, because—because—" hesitated Brother Bart, rather staggered by the question. "Sure ye know yerself, Father."
"No, I don't," was the calm reply. "Dan may be wild and mischievous—a little rough perhaps, poor boy!—but he will do Freddy no harm. He is a bright, honest, manly fellow, making a brave fight against odds that are hard to face; and we must give him his chance, Brother Bart. I promised his good old aunt, who was broken-hearted at leaving him, that I would do all I could for her friendless, homeless boy. As for mischief—well, I rather like a spice of mischief at his age. It is a sign of good health, body and soul. But we must try to give it a safer outlet than roofs and bell towers," he added thoughtfully. "Let me see! If we could send our 'left overs' some place where they could have more freedom. Why—why, now that I think of it" (the speaker's grave face brightened as he took up the letter he had been reading), "maybe there's a chance for them right here. Father Tom Rayburn has just written me that Freddy has fallen heir to some queer old place on the New England coast. It belonged to his mother's great-uncle, an old whaling captain, who lived there after an eccentric fashion of his own. It seems that this ship was stranded on this island more than fifty years ago, and he fixed up the wreck, and lived there until his death this past month. The place has no value, Father Tom thinks; but he spent two of the jolliest summers of his own boyhood with an old Captain Kane at Killykinick."
"Killykinick?" echoed Brother Bart. "That sounds Irish, Father."
"It does," laughed Father Regan. "Perhaps the old captain was an Irishman. At any rate, there he lived, showing a light every night at his masthead to warn other ships off,—which was quite unnecessary of course, as the government attends to all such matters now."
"It must be a queer sort of a place," said Brother Bart, doubtfully. "But it might do Laddie good to get a whiff of the salt air and a swim in the sea. He isn't well, Brother Timothy says, and as everyone can see. He has a touch of the fever every day; and as for weight, Dan Dolan would make two of him. And his mother died before she was five and twenty. God's holy will be done!" Brother Bart's voice broke at the words. "But I'm thinking Laddie isn't long for this world, Father. There's an angel-look in his face that I don't like to see." And the old Brother shook his head lugubriously.
Father Regan laughed.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that! I've seen plenty of just such angels, Brother Bart, and they grew up into very hardy, mortal men, who had to scuffle their way through life like the rest of us. But Freddy is looking a little peaked of late, as I noticed on Commencement Day. I think that, as you say, a breath of salt air would be good for him. We might send all four off together to this place of his."
"Is it Dan Dolan with the rest?" asked Brother Bart, in dismay.
"Why, of course! We couldn't keep poor Dan here all alone," was the answer.
"He'll have Laddie climbing the rocks and swimming the seas like—like a wild Indian," said the good man, despairingly.
"What! That angel boy of yours, Brother Bart?" laughed the priest.
"Aye, aye!" answered the good Brother. "I'm not denying that Laddie has a wild streak in him. It came from his poor young father, I suppose. Arrah! has there never been word or sign from him, Father?" queried Brother Bart, sorrowfully.
"Never," was the grave reply,—"not since he disappeared so strangely six years ago. I presume he is dead. He had been rather a wild young fellow; but after his wife's death he changed completely, reproached himself for having, as he said, broken her heart, and got some morbid notion of not being a fit father for his child. He had lost his faith and was altogether unbalanced, poor man! Luckily, Freddy inherits a fortune from his mother, and is well provided for; and now comes this other heritage from the old great-uncle—Killykinick. I really think—O God bless me! What is the matter?" asked the speaker, turning with a start, as, reckless of rules and reverence, two white-faced boys burst unannounced into the room.
"It's—it's—it's Freddy Neville, Father!" panted Jim Norris.
"Laddie,—my Laddie! What's come to him?" cried Brother Bart.
"He's tumbled off the high bar," gasped Dud Fielding, "and he is lying all white and still, and—and dead, Father!"
There was a hurried rush to the scene of accident; but first aid to the injured had already been rendered. Freddy lay on the Gym floor, pillowed on Dan's jacket, and reviving under the ministration of a sturdy hand and a very wet and grimy pocket-handkerchief.
"What did you go tumbling off like that for?" asked Dan indignantly as the "angel eyes" of his patient opened.
"Don't know," murmured Freddy, faintly.
"I told you to stand steady, and you didn't,—you jumped!" said Dan.
"So—so you'd feel me," answered Fred, memory returning as the darkness began to brighten, and Brother Bart and Brother Timothy and several other anxious faces started out of the breaking clouds. "But I'm not hurt,—I'm not hurt a bit, Brother Bart."
"Blessed be God for that same!" cried the good Brother, brokenly, as, after close examination, Brother Timothy agreed to this opinion. "And it wasn't the fault of the rapscallions wid ye that ye're not killed outright. To be swinging like monkeys from a perch, and ye half sick and lightheaded! Put him in the bed, Brother Timothy; and keep him there till we see what comes of this."
So Freddy was put to bed in the dim quiet of the infirmary, to watch developments. Brother Timothy gave him an old fashioned "drought," and he went to sleep most comfortably. He woke up feeling very well indeed, to enjoy an appetizing repast of chicken broth and custard. But when this went on for two days, Freddy began to grow restless.
Infirmary life was very well in school time; indeed, when there were other patients not too sick to share its luxuries, it proved rather a pleasant break in the routine of class-room and study-hall. In fact, a late epidemic of measles that filled every bed had been a "lark" beyond Brother Timothy's suppression. But the infirmary in vacation, with no chance for the pillow fights that had made the "measles" so hilarious, with no boy in the next bed to exchange confidences and reminiscences, with no cheery shouts from the playground and quadrangle, with only the long stretch of bare, spotless rooms, white cots, and Brother Timothy rolling pills in the "doctor shop," the infirmary was dull and dreary indeed.
"Can't I get up to-day, Brother?" asked Freddy on the third morning, as Brother Timothy took away a breakfast tray cleared to the last crumb of toast.
"No," replied the Brother, who from long dealing with small boys had acquired the stony calm of a desert sphinx. Beneath it he was a gentle, patient, wise old saint, who watched and prayed over his patients in a way they little guessed. "No, you can't."
"Gee!" said Freddy, with a rebellious kick at the counterpane. "The bump on my head is gone and I'm not sick at all."
"We're not so sure of that," answered Brother Tim. "You've had temperature."
"What's 'temperature'?" asked Freddy, roused with interest.
"Never mind what it is, but you'll have to stay here till it goes," answered Brother Tim, with decision.
And Freddy could only lay back on his pillows in hopeless gloom, watching the shadows of the big elm by his window flickering over curtain and coverlet. The great elm—or "Old Top," as it had been affectionately called by generations of students—was the pride of the college grounds. Many a newcomer felt his heart warm to his strange surroundings when he found the name of father or grandfather cut into the rough bark, where men who had made later marks on history's page had left youthful sign manual. More than once the growth of the college buildings had threatened to encroach upon Old Top; but the big elm held its prior claim, and new dormitory or infirmary was set back that it might rule with kingly right in its historic place.
Many were the stories and legends of which Old Top was the hero. In the "great fire" its boughs had proven a ladder of safety before modern "escapes" were known. Civil-War veterans told of hunted scouts hiding, all unknown to the Fathers, in its spreading branches; while the students' larks and frolics to which it had lent indulgent ear were ancient history at many a grandfather's fireside.
But, like all things earthly, the big tree was growing old; a barbed wire fencing surrounded the aging trunk, and effectively prohibited climbing the rotten and unsafe branches. Even cutting names was forbidden. Freddy had been the last allowed, as the "kid" of the house, to put his initials beneath his father's. It had been quite an occasion, his eleventh birthday. There had been a party (Freddy always had ten dollars to give a party on his birthday); and then, surrounded by his guests, still gratefully appreciative of unlimited ice cream and strawberries, he had carefully cut "F. W. N. 19—" beneath the same signature of twenty years ago. It was then too twenty years ago. It was then too hilarious an occasion for sad reflection; but lying alone in the infirmary to-day, Freddy's memories took doleful form as he recalled the "F. W. N." above his own, and began to think of his father who had vanished so utterly from his young life.
He had only the vaguest recollection of a tall, handsome "daddy" who had tossed him up in his arms and frolicked and laughed with him in a very dim, early youth. He could recall more clearly the stern, silent man of later years, of whom the five-year-boy had been a little afraid. And he retained a vivid memory of one bewildering evening in the dusky parlor of Saint Andrew's when a shaking, low voiced father had held him tight to his breast for one startling moment, and then whispered hoarsely in his ear, "Good-bye, my little son,—good-bye for ever!" It was very sad, as Freddy realized to-day (he had never considered the matter seriously before),—very sad to have a father bid you good-bye forever. And to have your mother dead, too,—such a lovely mother! Freddy had, in his small trunk, a picture of her that was as pretty as any of the angels on the chapel windows. And now he had "temperature," and maybe he was going to die, too, like some of those very good little boys of whom Father Martin read aloud on Sundays.
Freddy's spirits were sinking into a sunless gloom, when suddenly there came a whistle through the open window,—a whistle that made him start up breathless on his pillow. For only one boy in Saint Andrew's could achieve that clear high note. It was Dan Dolan calling,—but how, where? Freddy's window was four stories high, without porch or fire escape and that whistle was almost in his ear. He pursed up his trembling lips and whistled back.
"Hi!" came a cautious voice, and the leafy shadows of Old Top waved violently. "You're there, are you? Brother Tim around?"
"No," answered Freddy.
"Then I'll swing in for a minute." And, with another shake of Old Top, Dan bestrode the window ledge,—a most cheery-looking Dan, grinning broadly.
"How—how did you get up?" asked Freddy, thinking of the barbed wire defences below.
"Dead easy," answered Dan. "Just swung across from the organ-loft windows. They wouldn't let me come up and see you. Brother Bart, the old softy, said I'd excite you. What's the matter, anyhow? Is it the tumble—or typhoid?"
"Neither," said Fred. "I feel fine, but Brother Tim says I've got temperature."
"What's that?" asked Dan.
"I don't know," replied Freddy. "You better not come too near, or you may catch it."
"Pooh, no!" said Dan, who was poised easily on his lofty perch. "I never catch anything. But I'll keep ready for a jump, or Brother Tim will catch me, and there will be trouble for sure. And as for Brother Bart, I don't know what he'd do if he thought I had come near you. Jing! but he gave it to me hot and heavy about letting you get that tumble! He needn't. I felt bad enough about it already."
"Oh, did you, Dan?" asked Fred, quite overcome by such an admission.
"Rotten!" was the emphatic answer.
"Couldn't eat any dinner, though we had cherry dumpling. And Brother Bart rubbed it in, saying I had killed you. Then I got the grumps, and when Dud Fielding gave me some of his sass we had a knock-out fight that brought Father Rector down on us good and strong. I tell you it's been tough lines all around. And this is what you call—vacation!" concluded Dan, sarcastically.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" said Freddy. "The tumble didn't hurt me much. I guess I was sort of sick anyhow. And to fight Dud Fielding!" The speaker's eyes sparkled. "Oh, I bet you laid him out, Dan!"
"Didn't I, though! Shut up one eye, and made that Grecian nose of his look like a turnip. It ain't down yet," answered Dan, with satisfaction. "He fired me up talking about Aunt Win."
"Oh, did he?" asked Freddy, sympathetically.
"Yes: said I ought to be ditch-digging to keep her out of the poorhouse, instead of pushing in with respectable boys here. Sometimes I think that myself," added Dan in another tone. "But it wasn't any of that blamed plute's business to knock it into me."
"But it isn't true: your aunt isn't in the poorhouse, Dan?" said Freddy, eagerly.
"Well, no, not exactly," answered Dan. "But she is with the Little Sisters, which is next thing to it. And I ain't like the rest of you, I know; and don't need Dud Fielding to tell me. But just let me get a good start and I'll show folks what Dan Dolan can do. I'll be ready for something better than a newsboy or a bootblack."
"O Dan, you'll never be anything like that!" said Freddy, in dismay.
"I have been," was the frank reply. "Given many a good shine for a nickel. Could sell more papers than any little chap on the street. Was out before day on winter mornings to get them hot from the press, when I hadn't turned seven years old. But I ain't going back to it,—no, sir!" Dan's lips set themselves firmly. "I'm on the climb. Maybe I won't get very far, but I've got my foot on the ladder. I'm going to hold my own against Dud Fielding and all his kind, no matter how they push; and I told Father Rector that yesterday when they were plastering up Dud's eye and nose."
"O Dan, you didn't!"
"Yes, I did. I was just boiling up, and had to bust out, I guess. And when he lectured us about being gentlemen, I told him I didn't aim at anything like that. I wasn't made for it, as I knew; but I was made to be a man, and I was going to hold up like one, and stand no shoving."
"O Dan!" gasped Freddy, breathlessly. "And—and what did he say?"
"Nothing," answered Dan, grimly. "But from the looks of things, I rather guess I'm in for a ticket of leave. That's why I'm up here. Couldn't go off without seeing you,—telling you how sorry I was I let you get that fall off my shoulders. I oughtn't to have dared a kid like you to fool-tricks like that. I was a big dumb-head, and I'd like to kick myself for it. For I think more of you than any other boy in the college, little or big,—I surely do. And I've brought you something, so when I'm gone you won't forget me."
And Dan dived into his pocket and brought out a round disk of copper about the size of a half dollar. It was rimmed with some foreign crest, and name and date.
"An old sailor man gave it to me," said Dan, as he reached over to Freddy's bed and handed him the treasure. "He was a one-legged old chap that used to sit down on the wharf sort of dazed and batty, until the boys roused him by pelting and hooting at him; and then he'd fire back curse words at them that would raise your hair. It was mean of them, for he was old and lame and sick; and one day I just lit out a couple of measly little chaps and ducked them overboard for their sass. After that we were sort of friends, me and old 'Nutty,' as everyone called him. I'd buy tobacco and beer for him, and give him an old paper now and then; and when he got down and out for good Aunt Win made me go for the priest for him and see him through. He gave me this at the last. He had worn it on a string around his neck, and seemed to think it was something grand. It's a medal for bravery that the poor old chap had won more than forty years ago. Ben Wharton offered me a dollar for it to put in his museum, but I wouldn't sell it. It seemed sort of mean to sell poor old Nutty's medal. But I'd like to give it to you, so you'll remember me when I've gone."
"Oh, but you're not—not going away, Dan!" said Freddy. "And I can't take your medal, anyhow. I'd remember you without it. You're the best chum I ever had,—the very best. And—and—"
The speaker broke off, stammering; for a second visitor had suddenly appeared at his bedside: Father Regan who had entered the infirmary unheard and unseen, and who now stood with his eyes fixed in grave displeasure on the daring Dan.
"Dan Dolan!" said Father Regan, as the reckless interloper flushed and paled beneath his steady gaze.
"Dan Dolan!" echoed Brother Tim, who had come in behind his honored visitor. "How ever did he get past me! I've been saying my beads at the door without this half hour."
"Swung in by Old Top," ventured Dan, feeling concealment was vain.
"You dared Old Top at this height, when scarcely a bough is sound! You must be mad, boy. It is God's mercy that you did not break your neck. Don't you know the tree is unsafe?"
"Yes, Father," answered Dan. "But—but I had to see Freddy again, and they wouldn't let me come up. I just had to see him, if it killed me."
And there was a sudden break in the young voice that startled his hearer. But a glance at the dizzy and forbidden height of Old Top and Father Regan was stern again.
"Why did you have to see him, if it killed you?" he asked briefly.
"Because I wanted to tell how bad I felt about letting him get hurt, because—because he has been better to me than any boy in the school, because—because—" (again Dan's tone grew husky) "I just had to bid Freddy good-bye."
"O Father, no, no!" Freddy burst out tremulously. "Don't let him say good-bye! Don't send Dan away, Father, please! He won't fight any more, will you, Dan?"
"I am not promising that," answered Dan, sturdily. "I won't stand shoving and knocking, not even to keep my place here."
"O Dan!" cried Freddy, in dismay at such an assertion. "Why, you said you would work day and night to stay at Saint Andrew's!"
"Work, yes," replied Dan, gruffly. "I don't mind work, but I won't ever play lickspittle."
"And is that the way ye'd be talking before his reverence?" broke in Brother Tim, indignantly. "Get out of the infirmary this minute, Dan Dolan; for it's the devil's own pride that is on yer lips and in yer heart, God forgive me for saying it."
"We'll settle this later," said Father Regan, quietly. "Go down to my study, Dan, and wait for me. I have a message for Freddy from his uncle."
"O Dan, Dan!" (There was a sob in the younger boy's voice as he felt all this parting might mean.) "I'll—I'll miss you dreadfully, Dan!"
"Don't!" said Dan, gripping his little comrade's hand. "I ain't worth missing. I'm glad I came, anyhow, to say good-bye and good-luck, Freddy!" And he turned away at the words, with something shining in his blue eyes that Father Regan knew was not all defiance.
It was a long wait in the study. Dan had plenty of time to think, and his thoughts were not very cheerful. He felt he had lost his chance,—the chance that had been to him like the sudden opening of a gate in the grim stone wall of circumstances that had surrounded him,—a gate beyond which stretched free, sunlit paths to heights of which he had never dreamed. He had lost his chance; for a free scholarship at Saint Andrew's depended on good conduct and observance of rules as well as study; and Dan felt he had doubly and trebly forfeited his claim. But he would not whine. Perhaps it was only the plucky spirit of the street Arab that filled his breast, perhaps something stronger and nobler that steadied his lip and kindled his eye, as he looked around the spacious, book-lined room, and realized all that he was losing—had lost. For Dan loved his books,—the hard-earned scholarship proved it. Many a midnight hour had found him, wrapped in his worn blankets, studying by the light of a flaring candle-end stuck perilously on his bedpost, after good Aunt Win had thriftily put out the lamp, and believed Danny was sound asleep preparatory to a start on his beat at break of day.
"One of the brightest, clearest, quickest minds I ever knew," Dan's teacher had told Father Regan when awarding the scholarship,—"if he can only keep the track. But he has a bold spirit, and it will be hard on him among all those 'high-steppers' of yours at Saint Andrew's. He is likely to bolt and break away."
But Dan had been too busy with his books all the year to mind "high-steppers." His patched jacket kept the head of the classes, and his stubby-toed shoes marched up every month to get the ticket, and he had helped more than one heavy-witted "high-stepper" through conditions that threatened to put him out of the race. Most of the Saint Andrew's boys were manly youngsters, with whom jackets and shoes did not count against brain and brawn; and strong, clever, quick-witted Dan had held his place in schoolroom and playground unquestioned. But there were exceptions, and Dud Fielding was one of them. He had disliked the "poor scholar" from the first. Dud was a tall, handsome fellow, filled with ideas of his own importance; and Dan had downed him more than once in field and class-room, to his great disgust. Worst than all, in appreciation of his careful costuming, Dan had alluded to him as "Dudey,"—a boyish liberty which, considering the speaker's patched jacket, Master Fielding could not forgive. It was the repetition of this remark, when Dud had appeared garbed in a summer suit of spotless linen, that had precipitated yesterday's fight.
Altogether, with all the restraints and interests of school time removed, vacation was proving a perilous period to the "left-overs" at Saint Andrew's. Dan realized this as, turning his back on the book-lined room, with his hands thrust in his pockets, looking gloomily out of the broad window that opened on the quadrangle, he stood awaiting "judgment." He expected no mercy: he felt grimly he had no claim to it. Maybe if he had a rich father or uncle or somebody grand and great to speak up for him, he might be given another chance; but a poor boy who, as Dud Fielding said, ought to be "ditch digging"—Dan choked up again at the thought that, after all, perhaps Dud was right: he was not the sort to be pushing in here. He ought to be out in his own rough world, working his own rough way. All those fancies of his for better, higher things had been only "pipe dreams."
But jing, it would be hard to give up! Dan looked out at the quadrangle where he had led so many a merry game; at the ball field, scene of battle and victory that even Dud Fielding could not dispute; at the long stretch of the study hall windows opposite; at the oriel of the chapel beyond. All spoke to him of a life that had been like air and sunshine to a plant stretching its roots and tendrils in the dark.
And he must leave it all! He must go back again to the old ways, the old work! He was big enough now to drive a butcher's wagon, or clean fish and stuff sausages at Pete Patterson's market store; or—or—there were other things he could do that a fellow like him must do when he is "down and out." And while he still stared from the window, the grim, dogged look settling heavier upon his young face, Dan caught a footstep behind him, and turned to face Father Regan.
"I've kept you waiting longer than I expected, Dan, but I had great news for Freddy,—news that took some time to tell." The speaker sank into the tall stiff-backed chair known to many a young sinner as the "judgment seat." "Now" (the clear, keen eyes fixed themselves gravely on the boy) "I want to have a talk with you. Things can not go on in this way any longer, even in vacation time. I must say that, after the last year's good record, I am disappointed in you, Dan,—sorely disappointed."
"I'm sorry, Father," was the respectful answer, but the grim, hard look on the young face did not change. "I've made a lot of trouble, I know."
"You have," was the grave answer, "and trouble I did not expect from you. Still, circumstances have been against you, I must confess. But this does not alter the fact that you have broken strict rules that even in vacation we can not relax,—broken them deliberately and recklessly. You are evidently impatient of the restraint here at Saint Andrew's; so I have concluded not to keep you here any longer, Dan."
"I'm not asking it, Father." Dan tried bravely to steady voice and lip. "I'm ready to go whenever you say."
"To-morrow, then," continued Father Regan,—"I've made arrangements for you to leave to-morrow at ten. Brother Francis will see that your trunk is packed to-night."
"Yes, Father," said Dan, somewhat bewildered at the friendly tone in which this sentence was delivered. "I'd like to see Mr. Raymond and Mr. Shipman before I go, and thank them for all they've done for me; and Father Roach and Father Walsh and all of them; and to say I'm sorry I made any trouble."
"Good gracious," laughed Father Regan, "one would think you were on your dying bed, boy!"
"I—I feel like it," blurted out Dan, no longer able to choke down the lump in his throat. "I'd rather die, a good deal."
"Rather die!" exclaimed Father Regan,—"rather die than go to Killykinick!"
"Killykinick!" echoed Dan, breathlessly. "You're not—not sending me to a Reform, Father?"
"Reform!" repeated the priest.
"For I won't go," said Dan, desperately. "You haven't any right to put me there. I'm not wild and bad enough for that. I'll keep honest and respectable. I'll go to work. I can get a job at Pete Patterson's sausage shop to-morrow."
"Reform! Sausage shop! What are you talking about, you foolish boy, when I am only sending you all off for a summer holiday at the seashore?"
"A summer holiday at the seashore!" echoed Dan in bewilderment.
"Yes, at Freddy's place—Killykinick. I have just heard from his uncle, and he thinks it would be a fine thing to send Freddy up there to shake off his malaria. There's a queer old house that his great-uncle left him, and an old sailor who still lives there to look out for things; and all the boating, bathing, swimming, fishing a set of lively young fellows can want; so I am going to ship you all off there to-morrow morning with Brother Bart. It's plain you can't stand six weeks of vacation here, especially when there will be a general retreat for the Fathers next month. You see, I simply have to send you away."
"And you mean—you mean—" (Dan's voice trembled, his eyes shone,)—"you mean I can come back?"
"Come back, of course, when school opens."
"Jing!" said Dan, drawing a long breath. "I—I thought you were putting me out for good and all. I thought, with the fight and the climb and hurting Freddy I—I had done for myself. I thought—" Here Dan's feelings became too much for him, and he could only gulp down the sob that rose in his throat, with a look that went to Father Regan's kind heart.
"My poor boy, no, no! Put you out of Saint Andrew's for good and all! I never thought of such a thing for a moment. Of course I object seriously to fighting, to your reckless venture to Old Top; but—well, you had strong temptations, and in vacation time one must not be too severe. At Killykinick there will be more elbow-room. Have you ever been to the seashore?"
"Never farther than the wharfs. But I can swim and dive and float," answered Dan, wisely reserving the information that, as a member of the "Wharf Rats," he had been ducked overboard at the age of six, to sink or swim.
"Good!" said Father Regan. "Then you'll have a fine time. And I am depending on you to look out for the other boys. They have grown up in softer ways, and are not used to roughing it, as it is likely you will have to rough it at Killykinick. But it will be good for you all,—for you all," repeated the speaker cheerily, as he saw in Dan's brightening face the joyful relief the boy did not know how to speak. "And you will come back ready for double 'X' work in the fall. I am looking for great things from you, Dan. You've made a fine start, my boy! Keep it up, and some day you will be signing all the capital letters to Dan Dolan's name that Saint Andrew's can bestow."
"Sure I don't know about that, Father," said Dan, his speech softening into Aunt Winnie's Irish tones with the warming of his heart. "You're very good to me, but sometimes I think—well, what I thrashed Dud Fielding for telling me: that I've no right to be pushing into a grand school like this. I ought to keep my place."
"And where is your place?" was the calm question.
"Sure, sure—" Dan hesitated as he recalled a very checkered childhood. "Now that Aunt Winnie is all broke up, I can't say, Father."
"Then I will tell you, my boy! Just now, by the goodness and guidance of God, it is here,—here, where you have equal rights with any boy in the school. You have won them in winning your scholarship; they are yours as justly as if you had a father paying a thousand a year. There may be a little rough rubbing now and then from fellows like Dud Fielding; but—well, everything that is worth having has its cost. So stand to your colors! Be, as you said yesterday, neither a bully nor a coward, but a man. Now go to see Aunt Winnie and bid her good-bye. Tell her I am sending you off for the jolliest kind of a holiday to Killykinick."
"I—I don't know how to thank you, Father!" stammered Dan, feeling that his blackened sky had suddenly burst into rainbow light.
"Don't try," was the kind answer. "I understand, Dan. God bless you, my boy!"
And, laying his hand for a moment on Dan's sandy thatch of hair, Father Regan dismissed the case.
It was a delighted Dan that bounded down the broad staircase and took a flying leap from the stone portico of the great hall door.
"Hello!" said Jim Norris, who was lazily stretched on the grass, reading. "Is that a jump or a kick out?"
"A jump," answered Dan, grinning: "though I was primed for the other, sure. How is Dudey's nose?"
"Coming down," said Jim, who was an easy-going mixer, whom everybody liked. "About the size and shape of a spring radish to-day. My, but he's hot against you, Dan! Look out for him! Snake in the grass is nothing to Dud Fielding on the boil. Won't even rattle fairly before he strikes."
"Wouldn't take the glad hand if I stretched it out to him and said I was sorry?" asked Dan. "Just now I feel like being at peace with everybody."
"Not much!" said Jim, impressively. "Or if he did there would be a snake sting ready for you, all the same. I know Dud Fielding. He'll get even with you if he dies for it."
"All right!" was the cheerful reply. "Let him get even then. Have you heard about Killykinick, Jim?"
"Yes: Father Regan told me. I don't know what or where it is, but I'm ready for a start if it's a cannibal isle. Anything is better than dying of dullness here. Where are you off so fast, Dan?"
"To see my aunt. She—she—" There was a moment's hesitation, for Dan knew all the admission meant to boys like Jim. But he added boldly: "She is at the Little Sisters', you know, and I want to bid her good-bye before I leave."
"Of course you do. These old aunts are great," said Jim, with a friendly nod. "I've got one myself up in the country. Wears bonnets and gowns that look as if they came out of the Ark. But, golly, she can make doughnuts and apple pies that beat the band! I'd rather spend a week at Aunt Selina's than any place I know. Going to walk or ride, Dan?"
"Walk," was the answer. "I generally do. It's good for my health."
"Not on a day like this. I've got a pocketful of car tickets," said Jim, shaking a dozen or so out on the grass. "We'll have no use for them at Killykinick. Help yourself."
"No," said Dan, sturdily. "Thank you all the same, Jim! But I don't mind walking a bit. I'll match you at a game of tennis when I get back, and do you up."
"All right!" answered Jim, who, though slow and lazy and a bit dull at his books, was a gentleman through and through. Three generations of Norrises had cut their names on Old Top.
And, lighter hearted for this friendliness, Dan kept on his way by short cuts and cross streets until he reached the quiet suburb where the modest buildings of the "Little Sisters" stretched long and wide behind their grey stone walls. He was admitted by a brisk, kind little old woman, who was serving as portress; and after some parley, was shown up into Aunt Winnie's room. It was spotless in its cleanliness and bare save for the most necessary articles of furniture. There were three other old ladies about in various stages of decrepitude, who seemed only dully conscious of Dan's appearance; but Aunt Winnie, seated in her armchair by the window, started up in tremulous rapture at sight of her boy. Despite her age and infirmity, she was still a trig little body, with snow-white hair waved about a kind old wrinkled face and dim soft eyes, that filled with tears at "Danny's" boyish hug and kiss.
"It's a long time ye've been coming," she said reproachfully. "I thought ye were forgetting me entirely, Danny lad."
"Forgetting you!" echoed Dan. "Now, you know better than to talk like that, Aunt Win. I'm thinking of you day and night. I've got no one else to think of but you, Aunt Win."
"Whisht now,—whisht!" Aunt Winnie sank her voice to a whisper, and nodded cautiously towards the nearest old lady. "She do be listening, lad. I've told them all of the grand, great college ye're at, and the fine, bright lad ye are, but I've told them nothing more. Ye're not to play the poor scholar here."
"Oh, I see!" said Dan, grinning. "Go on with your game then, Aunt Win."
"I'm not looking to be remembered," Aunt Winnie continued dolefully. "What with all the French and Latin ye have to study, and the ball playing that you're doing. I can't look for you to think of a poor lone lame woman like me."
"Aunt Win!" burst forth Dan, impetuously.
"Whisht!" murmured Aunt Win again, with a glance at the old lady who was blinking sleepily. "Don't ye be giving yerself away. And I suppose it's the fine holiday that ye're having now wid the rest of yer mates," she went on.
"Yes," said Dan, feeling he could truthfully humor the old lady's harmless pride here. "We're off to-morrow for the jolliest sort of a time at the seashore. Freddy Neville, the nicest little chap in college, has a place up somewhere on the New England coast, and four of us are going there for the summer."
And Danny launched into eager details that made Aunt Winnie's eyes open indeed. But there was a little quiver in her voice when she spoke.
"Ah, that's fine for you,—that's fine for you indeed, Danny! We can talk plain now; for" (as a reassuring snore came from her dozing neighbor) "thank God, she's off asleep! It's the grand thing for you to be going with mates like that. It's what I'm praying for as I sit here sad and lonely, Dan, that God will give ye His blessing, and help ye up, up, up, high as mortal man can go."
"And you with me, Aunt Win," said Dan, who, seated on the footstool of the chair, was smoothing her wrinkled hand.
"Ah, no, my lad, I don't ask that! I'm not asking that at all, Danny. I'll not be houlding to ye, and dragging ye down while ye're climbing. And whisper, lad, while there's no one listening: it's naither wise nor best for ye to be coming here."
"Why not?" asked Dan, for he knew that he was the light of poor Aunt Win's eyes and the joy of her old heart.
"Because—because," faltered Aunt Winnie, "though it's fibs I've been telling about yer grandeur and greatness—God forgive me that same!—the old busybodies around will be wondering and prating about why ye lave me here, Dan,—because I might be a shame to ye before all the fine gentlemen's sons that have taken ye up,—because" (Aunt Win's voice broke entirely) "a poor old woman like me will only hurt and hinder ye, Dan."
"Hurt and hinder me!" echoed Dan, who, with all his cleverness, could not understand the depths and heights of good old Aunt Winnie's love.
"Aye, lad, hurt and hinder ye; for ye're on the way up, and I'll not be the one to hould ye back. I do be dreaming grand dreams of ye, Danny lad,—dreams that I don't dare to spake out."
"Whisper them, then, Aunt Win," urged Dan, softly. "Maybe I'll make them come true."
"Ye couldn't," said the old woman, her dim eyes shining. "Only God in heaven can do that. For I dream that I see you on His altar, the brightest place that mortal man can reach. I'll ne'er live to see that dream come true, Danny; but I believe it would make my old heart leap if I was under the sod itself."
"O Aunt Win, Aunt Win!" Dan lifted the wrinkled hand to his lips. "That is a great dream, sure enough. Sometimes, Aunt Win, I—I dream it myself. But, then, a rough-and-tumble fellow like me, always getting into scrapes, soon wakes up. But one thing is sure: you can't shake me, Aunt Win. Dreaming or waking, I'll stick to you forever."
"Ah, no, lad,—no!" said the old woman, tremulously. "I'd not have ye bother with me. Sure it's the fine place I have here, with my warm room and nice bed, and the good Little Sisters to care for me, and the chapel close to hand. But I miss our own little place, sure, sometimes, Danny dear! I miss the pot of flowers on the window (it's against the rule to grow flowers here), and me own little blue teapot on the stove, and Tabby curled up on the mat before the fire."
Aunt Winnie broke down and sobbed outright, while Danny was conscious of a lump in his throat that held him dumb.
"Poor Tabby!" continued Aunt Winnie. "I hope the Mulligans are good to her, Dan. D'ye ever see her as ye pass their gate?"
"I do," answered Dan. "Molly Mulligan has tied a blue ribbon around her neck, and she is the pride of the house."
"And she has forgotten me, of course!" sighed Aunt Winnie. "But what could I expect of a cat!"
"Forgotten you? Not a bit! Molly says she steals into your room upstairs and cries for you every night."
"Ah, it was the sore parting for us all, God help us!" said Aunt Winnie, brokenly. "But as long as it brings you luck, lad, I'll never complain. This is the holy place to die in, and what could a poor sick ould woman ask more?"
"A lot—a lot more!" burst forth Danny, passionately. "You should have a place to live and be happy in, Aunt Win. You should have your own fire and your own teapot, and your own cat in your own home; and I mean to get it back for you just as quick as I can."
"Whisht! whisht!" said Aunt Win, nervously, as the old lady nearby roused up, startled from her nap.
"It's time ye were going, Danny; for ye're a long way from college, and I wouldn't keep ye against rules. I hope ye'll have a fine time at the seashore, with the fishing and boating and all the other sports. Good-bye and God bless ye, lad, until we meet again! Good-bye, Danny dear!" And, realizing from the wide-open eyes of the old lady near him that all confidential communications were over, Dan kissed Aunt Win's withered cheek, and, his heart swelling with feelings he could not speak, took his way back to Saint Andrew's, all his dreams, hopes, ambitions for the future strangely shaken.
Aunt Win,—gentle, loving, heartsick, homesick Aunt Win! Aunt Win, begging him to give her up lest she should hurt and hinder him in his opening way! Aunt Win sighing for the little place she had called home, even while she was ready to give it up forever and die silent and lonely, that her boy might climb to heights of which she could only dream and never see! Dear, faithful, true-hearted, self-forgetting Aunt Win! Dan felt his own eyes blurring as he thought of all she had done, of all she was ready to sacrifice.
And—and—the other thought followed swiftly: he could give it all back to her,—the little attic rooms over Mulligans', the flowerpot in the window, the blue teapot on the stove, Tabby on the hearth-rug,—he could give it all back to Aunt Win and bring her home. It would be long, long years before the higher paths into which he had turned would yield even humble living; but the old ways were open to him still: the "ditch-digging" with which Dud Fielding had taunted him, the meat wagon, the sausage shop, that he had been considering only a few hours ago. What right had he to leave the good old woman, who had mothered him, lonely and heartsick that he might climb beyond her reach? And yet—yet to give up Saint Andrew's, with all that it meant to him; to give up all his hopes, his dreams; to turn his back on those wide corridors and book-lined rooms for counter and cleaver; to give up,—to give up! Quite dizzy with his contending thoughts, Dan was striding on his way when a hearty voice hailed him:
"Hello! That you, Dan? Jump in and I'll give you a lift." And Pete Patterson's ruddy face looked out from the white-topped wagon at the curb. "I was just thinking of you," said Pete, as Dan willingly sprang up to the seat at his side; for Pete had been a friendly creditor in the days of the little attic home when credit was sometimes sorely needed. "Are you in with the 'high brows' for good and all?"
"I—I don't know," hesitated Dan.
"Because if you're not," continued Pete—"and what tarnation use a sturdy chap like you will find in all that Latin and Greek stuff, I can't see,—if you're not in for it, I can give you a chance."
"I can give you a chance," repeated Pete, as he turned to Dan with his broad, ruddy face illuminated by a friendly smile. "It's a chance I wouldn't hold out to everybody, but I know you for a wide-awake youngster, as honest as you are slick. Them two don't go together in general; but it's the combination I'm looking fur just now, and you seem to have it. I was thinking over it this very morning. 'Lord, Lord,' sez I to myself, 'if Dan Dolan hadn't gone and got that eddycation bug in his head, wouldn't this be the chance for him?"
"What is it?" asked Dan; but there was not much eagerness in his question. Wide and springy as was the butcher's cart, it did not appeal to him as a chariot of fortune just now. A loin of beef dangled over his head, a dead calf was stretched out on the straw behind him. Pete's white apron was stained with blood. Dan was conscious of a dull, sick repulsion of body and soul.
"Well, it's this," continued Pete, cheerfully. "You see, I've made a little money over there at my corner, and I'm planning to spread out,—do things bigger and broader. There ain't no sort of use in holding back to hams and shoulders when ye can buy yer hogs on the hoof. That's what I'm in fur now,—hogs on the hoof; cut 'em, corn 'em, smoke 'em, salt 'em, souse 'em, grind 'em into sausage meat and headcheese and scrapple, boil 'em into lard. Why, a hog is a regular gold mine when he is handled right. But I can't handle it in that little corner shop I've got now: there's no room fur it. But it's too good a business there fur me to give up. So I'm going to open another place further out, and keep both a-going. And I can't afford no high-class bookkeeper or clerk, that will maybe jump my trade and gobble all my profits. What I want is a boy,—a bright, wide-awake boy that knows enough about figguring to keep my accounts, and see that no one 'does' me,—a boy that I can send round in the wagon to buy and sell 'cording to my orders,—a boy that will be smart enough to pick up the whole business from a to izzard, and work up as I worked up till I kin make him partner. That's the chance I've got, and I believe you're the boy to take it."
"I—I would have to give up college of course," said Dan, slowly.
"Give up college!" echoed Pete. "Well, I should rather say you would! There ain't no time fur books in a biz like mine. Now, Dan, what's the good of college anyhow fur a chap like you? It ain't ez if you were one of these high mug-a-mugs with a rich father to pay yer way through, and set you up in a white choker and swallow-tail coat afterwards. What's the good of a strong, husky fellow fooling along with Latin and Greek, that will never be no use to him? You'd a heap better spiel plain strong English that will bring you in the spondulics. Why, look at me! I never had two years' schooling in my life. It's all I can do to scrawl 'P. J. Patterson,' so folks can read it, and thump out the rest on a secondhand typewriter. But that 'ere same scrawl will bring five thousand dollars out of the bank any time I want it. If I had as much eddycation as you have, Dan, nobody couldn't keep me in any school in the land another minute. It's all nonsense,—a dead waste of time and money."
"What would you pay me?" asked Dan, as the big loin of beef above joggled against his shoulder.
"Well, let me see!" considered Pete. "I ain't paying any fancy price at start, fur I don't know how things will work out; but I won't be mean with you, Dan. What do you say to four dollars a week and board?"
"No," answered Dan, promptly. "I don't want your board at all."
"Ye don't?" said Pete in surprise. "It will be good board, Dan: no fancy fixings but filling, I promise you that,—good and filling."
"I don't care how filling it is," answered Dan, gruffly. "I'd want my own board, with Aunt Winnie. That's all I'd come to you for,—to take care of Aunt Winnie."
"Ain't they good to her where she is?" asked Pete, who knew something of the family history.
"Yes," answered Dan; "but she is not happy: she is homesick, and I want to bring her—home."
And something in the tone of the boyish voice told Pete that, with Aunt Winnie and a home, Dan would be secured as his faithful henchman forever.
"I don't blame you," he said. "I've got an old mother myself, and if I took her out of her little cubby-hole of a house and put her in the marble halls that folks sing about, she'd be pining. It's women nature, specially old women. Can't tear 'em up by the roots when they're past sixty. And that old aunt of yours has been good to you sure,—good as a mother."
"Yes," answered Dan, a little huskily, "good as a mother."
"Then you oughtn't to go back on her sure," said Pete, reflectively. "Considering the old lady, I'll make it five dollars a week, if you'll agree for a year ahead, Dan."
"A year ahead!" echoed Dan, thinking of all that year had promised him.
"Yes," said Pete, decidedly. "It must be a year ahead. I can't break you in at such a big figger, and then hev you bolt the track just as I've got used to you. I wouldn't give five dollars a week to any other boy in the world, though I know lots of 'em would jump at it. It's only thinking of that old mother of mine and how I'd feel in your place, makes me offer it to you. Five dollars a week will bring your Aunt Winnie back home. And, between you and me, Dan, if she ain't brought back, she'll be in another sort of home before long, and past your helping. Mrs. Mulligan was telling me the other day that she had been out to see her, and she was looking mighty peaked and feeble,—not complaining of course, but just pining away natural."
"When will you want me?" blurted out Dan, desperately. "Right off now?"
"Oh, no, no!" was the hasty answer. "I haven't got the other place open yet, and this 'ere hot weather ain't no time fur it. I'm just laying plans for the fall. What were you thinking of doing this summer?"
"Going off with a lot of fellows to the seashore. But I'm ready to give it up," answered Dan, gulping down the lump that rose in his throat.
"No, don't,—don't!" said Pete. "I haven't got things fixed for a start yet. Won't have them fixed for a couple of months or so. I ain't a-hurrying you. Just you think this 'ere chance over, and make up your mind whether it ain't wuth more than all that Greek and Latin they're stuffing into your head at Saint Andrew's. Then come around somewhere about the first of September and see me 'bout it. I won't go back on my offer. It will be five dollars cash down every Saturday night, and no renigging. I turn off here," concluded Pete, drawing up as they reached a busy corner. "You'll have to jump down; so bye, bye, Dan my boy, until I see you again! Remember it's five dollars a week, and a home for Aunt Winnie."
"I'll remember," said Dan, as, half dazed, he jumped from the wagon and took his way back to Saint Andrew's.
He entered the cross-crowned gateway that guarded the spacious grounds, feeling like one in a troubled dream. He could shape nothing clearly: his past, present, and future seemed shaken out of place like the vari-colored figures of a kaleidoscope. To give up all his hopes, to shut out the beautiful vista opening before him and settle down forever to—to—"hogs on the hoof!" And yet it was his only chance to cheer, to gladden, perhaps to save gentle Aunt Win's life,—to bring her home again.
But would she be happy at such a sacrifice? Would she not grieve even at the fireside she had regained over her broken dreams? And Dan would come down from his dreams and visions (which, after all, are very vague and uncertain things for boys of thirteen) to Tabby and the teapot, to the fluttering old hand in his clasp, the trembling old voice in his ear.
The sun was close to its setting; supper was over, he knew; and Jim Norris was waiting impatiently for his promised game. But he could not think of tennis just now; still less was he disposed for a meeting with Dud Fielding, whose voice he could hear beyond the box hedge at his right. So, turning away from tennis court and playground, Dan plunged into the quiet shelter of the walk that skirted the high, ivy-grown wall, and was already growing dim with evening shadows, though lances of sunlight glinting here and there through the arching pines broke the gloom.
Pacing the quiet way with feeble step was an old priest, saying his Office. Father Mack's earthly work was done. He could no longer preach or teach; he was only lingering in the friendly shadows of Saint Andrew's, waiting his Master's call home; his long, busy life ending in a sweet twilight peace. Sometimes at retreats or on great feasts, when there was a crowd of juvenile penitents in the college chapel, Father Mack, gentle and indulgent, had his place in a quiet corner, where he was rather avoided by young sinners as a "dying saint."
But Dan, whatever might be his month's record of wrong-doing, had taken to Father Mack from the first. Perhaps it was something in the Irish voice that recalled Aunt Winnie; perhaps some deeper sympathy between souls akin. Though they seldom met, for the old priest had his room in a building remote from the students' quarters, Father Mack and Dan were fast friends. His presence here was most unlooked for; and Dan was about to retire without further intrusion, when the old priest closed his book and turned to him with a kindly nod.
"You needn't run off. I'm done, my boy. These long, hot days are a bit hard on me; but I like to stay out here in the evening to say my Office and watch the sunset. Did you ever watch the sunset, Danny?"
"Yes, Father," answered Dan. "It's great."
"What do you see in it, Danny?" was the low question.
"Oh, all sorts of things, Father,—domes and spires and banners of gold and red and purple, and pillars of cloud and fire—"
"And gates," broke in Father Mack. "Don't you see the gates, Danny,—gates that seem to open in the shining way that leads to God's Throne? Ah, it's a wonderful sight, the sunset, when your day is near done and you are tired and old,—too old to be picturing and dreaming. I'll soon see—beyond the cloud and the dream, Danny,—I'll soon see."
The old man paused for a moment, his dim eye kindling, his withered face rapt. Then suddenly, as if recalled from some cloudy height to earth, his look and voice changed into fatherly interest.
"Were you looking for me,—were you wanting to talk to me, my son?"
"No—yes—no," faltered Dan, who had not thought of such a thing. "Well, yes, I believe I do. I'm all muddled up, and maybe you can set me right, Father Mack. For—for," Dan blurted out without further hesitation, "I can't see things clear myself. Aunt Winnie is grieving and pining and homesick at the Little Sisters. She is trying to hide it, but she is grieving, I know. She broke down and cried to-day when I went to see her,—cried real sobs and tears. And—and" Dan went on with breathless haste, "Peter Patterson, that keeps the meatshop at our old corner, has offered me five dollars a week to come and work for him. To give up Saint Andrew's—and—and—all it means, Father Mack, and work for him."
"Give up Saint Andrew's!" repeated Father Mack in a low, startled voice. "You, Dan! Give up! Oh, no, my boy,—no!"
"Aunt Winnie will die if I don't," blurted out Dan, despairingly. "Pete Patterson says so. And I can take her home and give her back her little rooms over Mulligans', and the blue teapot and Tabby, and everything she loves. And Pete says I can work up to be his partner."
"His partner,—his partner! In what?" asked Father Mack, anxiously.
"Meat business," answered Dan. "He's made money, and he's going in for it big,—corning, smoking, sausage, everything. I—I could take care of Aunt Winnie fine."
"Meat business, sausage? I don't think I understand," said Father Mack, in bewilderment. "Sit down here, Dan, and tell me all this over again."
Dan took his seat on a broken slab that had been a gravestone before the old college cemetery had been condemned and removed beyond the limits of the growing city. It was a very old slab, bearing the Latin title of some Brother or Father who had died fifty years ago. The sunset fell through a gap in the pines that showed the western sky, with its open gates, their pillars of cloud and fire all aglow.
"Tell me slowly, calmly, Dan. My ears are growing dull."
And Dan told his story again, more clearly and less impetuously; while Father Mack listened, his bent head haloed by the setting sun.
"I can't let Aunt Winnie die," concluded Dan. "You see, I have to think of Aunt Winnie, Father."
"Yes, I see,—I see, my boy," was the low answer. "And it is only of Aunt Winnie you are thinking, Dan?"
"Only of Aunt Winnie," replied Dan, emphatically. "You don't suppose anything else would count against Saint Andrew's, Father. I'd work, I'd starve, I'd die, I believe, rather than give up my chance here?"
"Yes, yes, it's hard lines sometimes," said Father Mack. "You may find it even harder as the years go by, Dan. I heard about the trouble yesterday."
"Oh, did you, Father?" said Dan, somewhat abashed. "Dud Fielding did stir the old Nick in me for sure."
"Yes," said Father Mack. "And that same fierce spirit will be stirred again and again, Dan. Despite all your teachers can do for you, there will be pricks and goads we can not help."
"I know it," answered Dan, sturdily. "I'm ready for them. Saint Andrew's is worth all the pricks and goads I'll get. But Aunt Winnie, Father,—I can't forget Aunt Winnie. I've got to take Aunt Winnie back home."
"Would she—wish it, at such—such a cost, Dan?" Father Mack questioned.
"Cost," repeated Dan, simply. "It wouldn't cost much. The rooms are only a dollar a week, and Aunt Winnie can make stirabout and Irish stews and potato cake to beat any cook I know. Three dollars a week would feed us fine. And there would be a dollar to spare. And she could have her teapot on the stove again, and Tabby on the hearth-rug, only—only" (the young face clouded a little) "I'm afraid great as it all would be, she'd be grieving about her dreams."
"Her dreams!" echoed Father Mack, a little puzzled.
"Yes," said Dan. "You see, I am all she has in the world, and she is awful soft on me, and since I got into Saint Andrew's she's softer still. She thinks there's nothing too great or grand for me to do. My, it would make you laugh, Father, to hear poor old Aunt Winnie's pipe dreams about a tough chap like me!"
"What does she dream, Dan?" asked the old priest softly.
"I suppose she'd get out of them if she were home where things are natural like," said Dan; "but now she sits up there in the Little Sisters' dreaming that I'm going to be a priest,—a rough-and-tumble fellow like me!"
"Stranger things than that have happened, Dan," said Father Mack, quietly. "I was a rough-and-tumble fellow myself."
"You, Father!" exclaimed Dan.
"The 'roughest-and-tumblest' kind," said Father Mack, his worn face brightening into a smile that took away twenty years at least. "I ran away to sea, Dan, leaving a gentle mother to break her heart for me. When I came back" (the old face shadowed again) "she was gone. Ah, God's ways are full of mystery, Dan! I think it was that made me a priest."
Father Mack was silent for a moment. His dim eyes turned to the sunset, where the cloud curtains were swept asunder, the pillared gates a glory of crimson and gold. Something in his old friend's face hushed Dan's questioning until Father Mack spoke again.
"That was a long time ago,—a long time ago. But the thought of it makes me understand about Aunt Winnie, Dan, and how hard it is to give you up. Still—still—even of old God asked the firstlings of the flock. Sacrifice! sacrifice! It is the way to heaven, Dan. Heart, hopes, tears, blood,—always sacrifice." And again the old speaker paused as if in troubled thought. "How soon must you make your choice, Dan?" he asked at length.
"My choice? About leaving, you mean, Father? Oh, Pete Patterson doesn't want me until the fall. And I haven't any place to go this summer, if I give up now. Father Regan is going to send us off to-morrow with Brother Bart for a summer at the seashore."
"A summer at the seashore! Ah, good, good,—very good!" said Father Mack, his old face brightening. "That will give us time to think, to pray, Dan. A summer! Ah, God can work wonders for those who trust Him in a summer, Dan! Think what He does with the seed, the grain, the fruit. It is not well to move or to choose hastily when we are in the dark as to God's will. So say nothing about all this to any one as yet, Dan,—nothing this summer."
"I won't, Father," agreed Dan.
"And I promise that every day you will be remembered in my Mass, Dan."
"Thank you, Father! That ought to keep me out of trouble sure."
"And now where is this seashore place?" asked Father Mack, quite cheerfully.
"An island called Killykinick, Father."
"Killykinick?" echoed Father Mack, startled. "You are going to Killykinick? God bless me, how wonderful!"
"You know the place, Father?" asked Dan, with interest.
"I know it indeed," was the answer. "I was wrecked there in the wild days of which I told you, Dan, sixty years ago. The 'Maria Teresa' (I was on a Portuguese ship) went upon the rocks on a dark winter night, that I thought was likely to be my last. For the first time in my reckless youth I really prayed. My dear mother, no doubt, was praying for me, too; for I learned afterwards that it was on that night she died, offering with her last breath her life for her boy. Well, we held together somehow until morning, and got off to the shore of Killykinick before the 'Maria Teresa' went down, loaded with the golden profits of a two years' cruise."
"And did they never get her up?" asked Dan, quite breathless with interest at this glimpse of a "dying saint's" past.
"Never," answered Father Mack,—"at least never that I heard of. It was soon afterward that I turned into other ways and lost sight of my old mates. But I always have remembered the friendly haven of Killykinick. It was a wild place,—only a few deserted fishermen's huts on the rocky shore, where we lived on fish and clams until taken off by a passing ship. But that same rocky shore meant safety, shelter, life. And so in the after years I have always blessed Killykinick. And you are going there to-morrow! You will find it all changed,—all changed, I am sure," said Father Mack, as he slowly rose to his feet, for the sunset was fading now. "But I will think of you there, Dan,—think of you frolicking over the rocks and sands where I wandered so long ago a shipwrecked boy. Now it is time for me to go in, for my old blood chills in the twilight; so I must say good-bye,—good-bye and God bless you, my boy!"
And, laying his hand for a moment on the boyish head, the old priest turned away into the deepening shadow of the pines, leaving Dan, who was beginning to feel vividly conscious that he had missed his supper, to make a rapid foray into the refectory, where Brother James could always be beguiled into furnishing bread and jam in and out of time,—having been, as he assured the belated ones, a boy himself.
There was another belated one this evening. Seated before a tempting spread of milk toast, demanded by his recent convalescence, was Freddy Neville, a little pale and peaked perhaps, but doing full justice to a third creamy slice, and ready for more.
"Why, hello, Fred!" greeted Dan, dropping into the chair beside him. "You down?"
"Yes," said Fred, spooning his dish vigorously. "I'm well, all right now. Temperature gone, Brother Tim says. Can't I have a little more toast, Brother James, please? I'm not half filled up yet. Supper tastes twice as good down here. I've been out with Brother Bart buying shoes and things to go to Killykinick, and I'm hungry as a bear."
"Wait a bit then, and I'll bring ye both in some strawberry jam and biscuits," said Brother James, good-humoredly. "It's the black fast Brother Tim puts on sick boys, I know. When they came down after the measles I couldn't get them enough to eat for a month. There now!" And the good man set forth supplies liberally. "I know what it is. I've been a hungry boy myself."
"Jing, it's good to be up and out again!" said Freddy, as both boys pitched into biscuits and jam. "I felt down and out this morning sure, Dan, and now everything is working fine. We're going to have the time of our lives this summer, after all. Even Dud Fielding is cooling off, Jim Norris says, now that his nose has gone down, and he has heard about Killykinick."
"Who told him?" asked Dan, who did not feel particularly cheered at these tidings; for Dud's "cooling off" was by no means to be trusted, as he knew.
"Father Regan, of course. He couldn't send the boys unless they wanted to go. But when they heard about the old house uncle made out of his ship, and the row-boats and the sailboat, and the bathing and fishing, they just jumped at the chance to go. And Jim says there is a fine place not far off, where Dud spent the season two years ago with some tip toppers, and he's counting on getting in with them again. So he is tickled all around. But I'm not caring about Dud or what he likes, so long as I've got you, Dan, I wouldn't want to go without you."
"Wouldn't you, kid?" asked Dan, softly, for, after all the troubles and perplexities of the day, his little chum's trusting friendship seemed very sweet to him.
"N-o-o-o!" answered Freddy, most decidedly. "But I sort of wish Brother Bart was not going. He'll keep me such a baby!"
"No, he won't. I'll see to that," said Dan, with a twinkle in his eye. "If there's any way of giving you a good time, I'll do it. And I won't let you get hurt again either,—no sir! I've had my scare about that. I'm going to look out for you right. It may be for the last time, but—"
"The last time," interrupted Freddy quickly. "Why will it be the last time?"
"I mean I may never have a chance at such a jolly holiday again," answered Dan, suddenly remembering his promise to Father Mack. "But we'll make this one a hummer. If Killykinick is half what I think it is, we'll make this chance a hummer you'll never forget."
VII.—A HOLIDAY START.
And the holiday proved to be a "hummer" from the very start. Everybody was in high spirits. Even Dud Fielding, with his nose happily reduced to its normal color and size, had lost his "grouch," and was quite himself again, in a sporting suit of English tweed, ordered from his tailors for "roughing it." Easy-going Jim was in comfortable khaki; so was little Fred; while Dan had been privately presented by the Brother wardrobian with two suits of the same,—"left by boys for the poor," good Brother Francis had whispered confidentially.
"I fill the bill then, sure," said Dan, with a cheerful grin.
"You do, but many a fine man has done the same before you," answered Brother Francis, nodding. "I've put a few more things in your trunk, Dan; take them and God bless you! I've cut off the marks so nobody'll be the wiser."
Brother Bart's wrinkled face wore a glow of pleasurable excitement as, after seeing the baggage off, he marshalled his holiday force on the college porch for the last words of command from his reverend chief.
"Give your orders now, Father; though God knows how I'll be able to keep this lot up to them. They are not to be killing and drowning themselves against my will and word."
"Certainly not," said Father Regan, with a smile. "Brother Bart is to be obeyed, boys, or you'll promptly be ordered home."
"And there is to be no roving off wid pirates and smugglers that may be doing their devilment along the shore," continued Brother Bart, anxiously.
"The government looks out for all that now," laughed Father Regan.
"I'm not so sure," said Brother Bart, who had grown up in a wild stretch of the Irish coast. "It's a wicked world, and we're going beyant the Lord's light that shines on us here."
"Not at all," was the cheering assurance. "Beach Cliff is only six miles away, and it has a little church where there is a Mass every Sunday."
"The Lord be praised for that anyhow!" said the good man, with a sigh of relief. "It's a great burthen that ye've put on my body and soul, Father. But I'll do me best, and, with God's help, I'll bring the four of them back safe and sound to ye. Now give us your blessing and we'll be off."
And very soon they were off indeed, speeding on to the busy wharf, scene of many a "lark" in Dan's boyish past. Here the great steamboat was awaiting them: for, although the route was longer and more circuitous, Father Regan had decided it best for his young travellers to make their journey by sea.
To Jim and Dud such a trip was no novelty; even Freddy had taken more than one holiday outing with Uncle Tom; but to Dan—Dan whose busy, workaday childhood had excluded even the delights of a cheap excursion—everything was wonderfully and deliciously new. He felt like one in a bewildering dream. As the great floating palace, all aglitter and aglow with splendors of paint and upholstery hitherto unknown, swung from her moorings out into the stream, Dan quite forgot the gentility of his surroundings and the elegant Dud Fielding at his elbow, and waved his hat with a wild "Hurrah" to half a dozen Wharf Rats who were fishing off the pier.
"Dan Dolan!" rose the shrill-voiced chorus, and six pairs of bare legs dangling over the water scrambled up to a stand. "Jing! if it ain't Dan Dolan,—Dan Dolan all diked up like a swell! Hi-yi-yi-yi, Dan! Where are you going, Dan?"
"Seashore, New England, Killykinick!" Dan shouted back, quite unconscious of the smiles and stares of the passengers. "Off for the summer! Hooray!"
"Hooray—hooray!" with a series of whoops and catcalls came back the Wharf Rat's farewells, echoing with such friendly memories of a rough past that Dan was struck speechless by the fierce contrasting voice in his ear.
"You darned dunderhead!" whispered Dud Fielding. "Can't you keep quiet in a decent crowd?"
"Eh?" said Dan in bewilderment.
"Don't you see everybody staring at us?" continued Dud, wrathfully. "To be shouting at dirty little beggars like those and disgracing us all!"
"Disgracing you?" echoed Dan.
"Yes," said Dud, still hot with pride and rage. "And there are the Fosters on the upper deck,—people I know. Come, Jim, let's cut off before they see us with this low-down chump."
And Dud led easy-going Jim to the other side of the boat.
"Low-down chump!" Unconscious as he was of any offense, Dan felt the scornful sting of the words, and his hot blood began to boil; but he remembered the "pricks and goads" he had resolved to bear bravely, and shut his lips tight together as Freddy stole a small hand into his own.
With the last "Hi-yi" the Wharf Rats had settled back to their occupation, and Freddy eyed them from the growing distance most favorably.
"Did you ever fish like that, Dan?" he asked with interest.
"Often," was the brief reply; for Dan was still hot and sore.
"Golly, it must be fun! And did you catch anything, Dan?"
"My dinner," answered Dan, grimly.
"Jing!" exclaimed Freddy, breathlessly. "That was great! When we get to Killykinick let us go out like those bare legged boys and catch our dinner, too."
And Dan laughed and forgot he was a "low-down chump" as he agreed they would catch dinners whenever possible. Then he and Freddy proceeded to explore the big boat high and low, decks, cabins, saloons, machinery wherever visible. Freddy, who had made similar explorations with Uncle Tom as guide, was quite posted in steamboat workings; but it was all new and wonderful to Dan, who had only dry book-knowledge of levers and cogs and wheels; and to watch them in action, to gaze down into the fiery depths of the furnace, to hear the mighty throb of the giant engine,—to see all these fierce forces mastered by rules and laws into the benignant power that was bearing him so gently over summer seas, held him breathless with interest and delight. Even the clang of the first dinner gong could not distract him from his study of cylinder and piston and shaft and driving-rod, and all shining mechanism working without pause or jar at man's command.
"Just as if they had sense," said Dan, thoughtfully,—"a heap more sense than lots of living folk I know."
"That's what Uncle Tom says," replied Freddy, to whom, in their brief holidays together, Uncle Tom, cheery and loving, was an authority beyond question. "He says they work by strict law and rule, and people won't. They shirk and kick. Jing! if these here engines took to shirking and kicking where would we be? But they don't shirk and kick against law. Uncle Tom says they obey, and that's what boys ought to do—obey. Gee! it's good we're not engines, isn't it, Dan? We'd blow things sky high.—Here's the second call for dinner," said Freddy, roused from these serious reflections by the sound of the gong. "We'd better move quick, Dan, or the ice-cream may give out."
"Can you have ice-cream,—all you want?" asked Dan.
"Well, no," hesitated Freddy, who knew what Dan could do in that line,—"not like we have at college. They dish it out other places a little skimp, but they'll give you a good supply of other things to make up."
Which information Dan soon found to be most pleasantly correct; and, though the glories of the long dining room, with its corps of low-voiced waiters, were at first a trifle embarrassing, and Brother Bart's grace, loudly defying all human respect, attracted some attention to his table, the boys did full justice to the good things set so deftly before them, and went through the bill of fare most successfully.
The black waiters grinned as the young travellers proceeded to top off with apple pie and ice-cream, combined in such generous proportions that Brother Bart warned them that the sin of gluttony would be on their souls if they ate another mouthful.
Then Freddy, sorely against his will, was borne off by his good old friend to rest, according to Brother Tim's last order; while Dan was left to himself to watch the boat turning into the shore, where a wharf loaded with truck for shipping jutted out into the stream; and one passenger—a sturdy, grizzled man in rough, brown hunting corduroy—leaped aboard followed by two fine dogs. Then the laboring engines, with puff and shriek, kept on their way; while Dan continued his investigations, and made friendly overtures to a big deck hand who volunteered to show the eager young questioner "below."
And "below" they went, down steep, crooked steps that led away from all the glitter and splendor above, into black depths, lit only by fierce glow of undying fires. Brawny, half-naked figures fed and stirred the roaring flames; the huge boilers hissed, the engines panted; but through all the darkness and discord came the measured beat of the ship's pulse that told there was no shirk or kick,—that all this mighty mechanism was "obeying."
And then, this dark sight-seeing over, Dan came up again into the bright, sunlit deck crowded with gay passengers chatting and laughing. Brother Bart was making efforts at conversation with an old French priest returning to his mission in the Canadian forests; Dud had introduced Jim to his fashionable friends, and both boys were enjoying a box of chocolates with pretty little Minnie Foster; Freddy was still "resting" in his stateroom.
All were unmindful of the dark, fiery depths below, where fierce powers were working so obediently to bear them on their happy, sunlit way, that was widening each moment now. The smiling shores, dotted with farms and villages, were stretching away into hazy distance; there was a new swell in the waves as they felt the heart-beat of the sea. It was all new and wonderful to Dan; and he stood leaning on the deck rail of a secluded corner made by a projecting cabin, watching the sunset glory pale over the swift vanishing shore, when he was suddenly startled by a deep voice near him that questioned:
"Worth seeing, isn't it?"
Dan looked up and saw the big grizzled stranger in corduroy gazing at the splendor of the western sky.
"Yes, sir," answered Dan. "It's great! Are we out at sea now?"
"Almost," was the reply. "Not in the full swell yet, but this is our last sight of land." He nodded to a promontory where the delicate lines of a lighthouse were faintly pencilled against the sunset.
"Jing!" said Dan, drawing a long breath, "it feels queer to be leaving earth and sun and everything behind us."
His companion laughed a little harshly. "I suppose it does at your age," he said. "Afterwards" (he stopped to light a cigar and puff it into glow),—"afterwards we get used to it."
"Of course," assented Dan, "because we know we are coming back."
"Coming back!" repeated the other slowly. "We are not always sure of that. Sometimes we leave the land, the light, behind us forever."
"Oh, not forever!" said Dan. "We would have to strike light and land somewhere unless we drowned."
"We don't drown," continued the stranger. "We do worse: we drift,—drift in darkness and night."
Dan stared. His companion had taken his cigar from his lips and was letting its glow die into ashes.
"Folks do drown sometimes," said Dan. "I tell you if you go round the bottom of this boat you'd see how we could drown mighty easily. Just a wheel or crank or a valve a mite wrong,—whewy! we'd all be done for. But they don't go wrong; that's the wonder of it, isn't it?" said Dan, cheerfully. "If everybody kept steady and straight as a steam-engine, this would be a mighty good world."
"No doubt it would," was the reply. "Are you not rather young to be facing it alone?"
"Oh, I'm not alone!" said Dan, hastily. "I'm off with a lot of other fellows for the seashore. We are college boys from Saint Andrew's."
"Saint Andrew's?" The stranger started so violently that the dying cigar dropped from his hold. "Saint Andrew's College, you say, boy! Not Saint Andrew's in—"
But a clear young voice broke in upon the excited question.
"Dan Dolan! Where are you, Dan? Oh, I've been looking everywhere for you!"
And, fresh and rosy from his long rest, Freddy Neville bounded out gleefully to Dan's side.
A low cry burst from the stranger's lips, and he stood staring at the boys as if turned into stone.
VIII.—A NEW FRIEND.
"Jing, you gave me a scare, Dan!" said Freddy, drawing a long breath of relief. "I thought you had dropped overboard."
"Overboard!" scoffed Dan. "You must think I'm a ninny. And you have been sleeping sure! Got to keep this sort of thing up all summer?"
"Oh, no, no!" said Freddy; "only for a few days,—until I get real well and strong; though Brother Bart will keep fussing over me, I know. Golly, I wish we had Uncle Tom along with us!"
"All right, is he?" asked Dan.
"Great!" replied Freddy, emphatically. "Doesn't baby you a bit; lets you row and swim and dive when you go off with him. Most as good as a real father."
"Just as good, I guess," amended Dan.
"No," said Freddy, shaking his head. "You see, he has other work—preaching and saying Mass and giving missions—where I don't come in. He has to leave me at Saint Andrew's because he hasn't any home. It must be just fine to have a home that isn't a school,—a sort of cosy little place, with cushioned chairs, and curtains, and a fire that you can see, and a kitchen where you can roast nuts and apples and smell gingerbread baking, and a big dog that would be your very own. But you can't have a home like that when you have a priest uncle like mine."
"No, you can't," agreed Dan, his thoughts turning to Aunt Winnie and her blue teapot, and the little rooms that, despite all the pinch and poverty, she had made home.
"And Christmas," went on Freddy, both young speakers being quite oblivious of the big stranger who had seated himself on a camp stool in the shelter of the projecting cabin, and, with folded arms resting on the deck rail, was apparently studying the distant horizon,—"I'd like to have one real right Christmas before I get too big for it."
"Seems to me you have a pretty good time as it is," remarked Dan: "new skates and sled, and five dollars pocket money. There wasn't a fellow at the school of your age had any more."
"That's so," said Freddy; "but they went home. A fellow doesn't want pocket money when he goes home. Dick Fenton had only sixty cents; I lent him fifteen more to get a card-case for his mother. But he had Christmas all right, you bet: a tree that went to the ceiling (he helped to cut it down himself); all the house 'woodsy' with wreaths and berries and fires,—real fires where you could pop corn and roast apples. He lives in the country, you see, where money doesn't count; for you can't buy a real Christmas; it has to be homemade," said Freddy, with a little sigh. "So I'll never have one, I know."
Then the great gong sounded again to announce supper; and both boys bounded away to find the rest of their crowd, leaving the big stranger still seated in the gathering darkness, looking out to sea. As the boyish footsteps died into silence, he bowed his head upon his hands, and his breast heaved with a long, shuddering breath as if some dull, slumbering pain had wakened into life again. Then, in fierce self-mastery, he rose, stretched his tall form to its full height, and, ascending to the upper deck, began to pace its dimming length with the stern, swift tread of one whose life is a restless, joyless march through a desert land.
Meanwhile Brother Bart and his boys had begun to feel the roll of the sea, and to realize that supper had been a mistake. Jim and Dud had retired to their staterooms, with unpleasant memories of Minnie Foster's chocolates, and the firm conviction that they never wanted to see a candy box again. Brother Bart was ministering to a very white-faced "laddie," and thanking Heaven he was in the state of grace and prepared for the worst.
"The Lord's will be done, but I don't think any of us will live to see the morning. There must have been some poison in the food, to take us all suddint like this."
"Oh, no, Brother Bart!" gasped Freddy, faintly. "I've been this way before. We're all just—just seasick, Brother Bart—dead seasick."
Even Dan had a few qualms,—just enough to send him, with the sturdy sense of his rough kind, out into the widest sweep of briny air within his reach. He made for a flight of stairs that led up into some swaying, starlit region where there were no other sufferers, and flung himself upon a pile of life-preservers that served as a pillow for his dizzy head. Sickness of any sort was altogether new to Dan, and he felt it would be some relief to groan out his present misery unheard. But the glow of a cigar, whose owner was pacing the deck, suddenly glimmered above his head, and the big man in corduroy nearly stumbled over him.
"Hello!" he said. "Down and out, my boy? Here, take a swig of this!" and he handed out a silver-mounted flask.
"No," said Dan, faintly, "—can't. I've taken the pledge."
"Pooh! Don't be a fool, boy, when you're sick!"
"Wouldn't touch it if I were dying," said Dan. "I'm getting better now, anyhow. My, but I felt queer for a while! It is so hot and stuffy below. No more packing in on a shelf for me. I'll stick it out here until morning."
"And the others,—the little chap who was with you?" the stranger asked hastily. "Is he—he sick, too?"
"Freddy Neville? Yes, dead sick; but Brother Bart is looking out for him. Brother Bart is a regular old softy about Freddy. He took him when he was a little kid and keeps babying him yet."
"He is good to him, you mean?" asked the other, eagerly.
"Good? Well, I suppose you'd call it good. I couldn't stand any such fussing. Why, when Fred got a tumble in the gym the other day the old man almost had a fit!"
"A tumble,—a fall; did it hurt him much?" There was a strange sharpness in the questioner's voice.
"Pooh, no!" said Dan. "Just knocked him out a little. But we were all getting into trouble at Saint Andrew's, for vacation there is pretty slow; so Father Regan has sent us off to the seashore for the summer?"
"The seashore? Where?"
"Some queer place called Killykinick," answered Dan, who was now able to sit up and be sociable.
"Killykinick?" repeated his companion, in a startled tone. "Did you say you were going to Killykinick?"
"Yes," answered Dan. "Freddy's uncle or cousin or somebody died a while ago and left him a place there. Freddy has a lot of houses and money and things all his own. It's lucky he has. He isn't the kind to rough it and tough it for himself. Not that he hasn't plenty of grit," went on Freddy's chum, hastily. "He's as plucky a little chap as I ever saw. But he's been used to having life soft and easy. He is the 'big bug' sort. (I ain't.) So I'm glad he has money enough to make things smooth at the start, though his no-'count father did skip off and leave him when he was only five years old."
"His father left him?" repeated Dan's companion. "Why?"
"Don't know," answered Dan. "Just naturally a 'quitter,' I guess. Lots of menfolks are. Want a free foot and no bother. But to shake a nice little chap like Freddy I call a dirty, mean trick, don't you?"