Leaving her friends for a moment, Madge made her way toward the end of the dock to beg Captain Jules to reassure her friends of their return at the end of a year. The captain did not notice her approach. Apparently no one was looking at her.
On the end of the wharf were gathered three or four small street arabs. They had no business on the wharf, which was precisely their reason for being there. They were playing behind a number of large boxes and some other luggage, and, until Madge approached, no one had observed them. They were having a tug-of-war and it was hardly a fair battle. Two good-sized urchins were pulling against one other strong fellow and another small boy, so thin and pale, with such dark hair and big, black eyes that, for the moment, he made Madge think of Tania, who was almost well enough to leave the sanatorium and had sent her Fairy Godmother many loving messages by Mrs. Curtis. Madge stopped for half a minute to watch the boys. In her stateroom were so many boxes of candy she would never be able to eat it all in her trip around the world. If she only had some of them to give this lively little group of youngsters!
Captain Jules was at one side of the wide wharf with his back toward her and the group of boys. His yacht was occupying his entire attention. The street urchins did not realize how near they were to the edge of the dock because of the pile of luggage that surrounded them.
The tug-of-war grew exciting. Madge clapped her hands softly. She had not believed the smallest rascal had so much strength. Suddenly the older lad's grip broke. The boys fell back against a pile of trunks that were set uneasily one above the other. One of the trunks slid into the water and the smallest lad slipped backward after it with an almost noiseless splash. His boy companions stared helplessly after him, too frightened to make a sound.
Of course, Madge might soon have summoned help. She did think of it for a brief instant, for she realized perfectly that her white serge suit would look anything but smart if she plunged into the river in it. Then, too, her friends, Captain Jules, and her father might be displeased with her. But the little lad had given her such an agonized, helpless look of appeal as he struck the water! And his eyes were so like Tania's!
Captain Jules turned around at the sound of feet running down the dock. David Brewster and Tom Curtis were side by side. But they both looked more surprised than frightened. In the water, a few feet from the dock, Captain Jules espied Madge Morton, her white hat floating off the back of her head, her face and hair dripping with water. She was smiling in a half-apologetic and half-nervous way. In one hand she held a small boy firmly by the collar. "Fish us out, somebody?" she begged. "I am dreadfully sorry to spoil my clothes, but this little wretch would go and fall into the water at the very last moment."
Captain Jules and one of his sailors pulled Madge and the small boy safely onto the wharf again. The captain frowned at her solemnly, while David and Tom laughed.
"How am I ever going to keep her out of the bottom of the sea?" the captain inquired sternly. "I don't know that I care for the role of playing guardian to a mermaid."
Madge could see Mrs. Curtis, Miss Jenny Ann, her chums and her father, as well as their other friends, hurrying down toward the end of the dock. She gave one swift glance at them, then she looked ruefully at her own dripping garments. Tom and David long remembered her as they saw her at that moment. Her white dress clung to her slender form; the water was dripping from her clothing, her cheeks were a brilliant crimson from embarrassment at her plight; her red-brown hair glinted in the bright sunlight, and her blue eyes sparkled with mischief and dismay. Before any one had a chance to scold or to reproach her, she had dashed across the wharf, run aboard the yacht and had shut herself up in her stateroom.
A few minutes later, dressed in a fresh white serge frock, she emerged to say good-bye. The houseboat girls had made up their minds that not one tear would any one of them shed when the moment of parting came. Lillian and Phil stood on either side of Eleanor, for neither of them had much faith that Nellie could keep her word when it came to the test.
Madge went first to Mr. and Mrs. John Randolph. "Miss Betsey" took both her hands and held them gravely. "Madge, dear, remember I have always told you that wherever you were exciting things were sure to happen. You have convinced me of it again to-day. Now, you are going around the world and I hope you will see and know only the best there is in it. Good-bye." Miss Betsey leaned on her distinguished old husband's arm for support and surreptitiously wiped her eyes.
"Jenny Ann Jones, you promised I wouldn't have to say good-bye to you," protested Madge chokingly. Miss Jenny Ann nodded, while Mr. Theodore Brown gazed at her comfortingly. Madge rallied her courage and smiled at both of them. "Do you remember, Jenny Ann," she questioned, "how on the very first of our houseboat trips you said that you would marry some day, just to be able to get rid of the name of 'Jones'? I am sure you will like 'Brown' a whole lot better." Madge turned saucily away to hide the trembling of her lips.
Mrs. Curtis said nothing. She just kissed Madge's forehead, both rosy cheeks and once on her red lips. But when the little captain left her, and Mrs. Curtis turned to find her son standing near her, his face white and his lips set, his mother faltered brokenly: "I am trying hard not to be selfish, Tom, and I am glad, with all my heart, that Madge found her father, but no one will ever know how sorry I am not to have her for my daughter."
"Maybe you will some day, after all, Mother," returned Tom steadily. "We are young, I know, and neither of us has seen much of the world. Still, I am fairly sure I know my own mind. Perhaps Madge will care as much as I do now when the right time comes."
At the last, Madge could not say farewell to her three chums. Her eyes were so full of tears that Captain Jules had to lead her aboard the yacht. She stood on the deck, kissing both hands to them as long as she could see them, until their little boat had been towed far out into the great New York harbor.
Madge's father stood by her, watching the sunlight dance upon the water.
"My little girl," Captain Morton began, with a view of distracting her attention from the sorrow of parting, "I have always forgotten to tell you that I saw you graduate at Miss Tolliver's. Jules was not with me that day. He knew of you but never saw you until you went to Cape May. I wonder I didn't betray myself to you then, dear. It was I who first called out to you when I saw that arch tottering over your head."
Madge nodded. "I know it now," she replied. "I must have caught a brief glimpse of your face. You and Captain Jules sent me the wonderful pearl. We never could guess from whom it had come."
"Yes," answered Captain Morton, "Jules and I had kept it for you for many years. We determined that sooner or later you should have it. I shall never forget the day when Jules came hurrying into 'The Anchorage' with the news that he had seen you and talked with you about me. He was sure that you were our Madge even before he knew your name to be Morton. It was wonderful to hear that your dearest wish was to find me."
Madge slipped her arm into that of her father and laid her curly head against his shoulder. "If it was Fate that separated us, then I shall never be dismayed by it again, for love and determination are far greater and through them I found you," she declared softly.
"I am afraid I am very selfish to take you away for a whole year from Mrs. Curtis and Tom and the houseboat girls," said her father, almost wistfully. "You are not sorry you are going to spend the next few months with no one but two old men for company?"
"But I spent eighteen years without you," reminded Madge. "Don't you believe I ought to begin to make up for lost time? Just think,"—her eyes grew tender with the pride of possession—"I have what I've longed for more than anything else in the world, my father's love. Perhaps when we come back next year we can anchor the 'Little Captain' in Pleasure Bay and invite the 'Merry Maid' and her crew to visit us. Then Miss Jenny Ann could be married on the houseboat. We must be very sure to come home on time if we carry out that plan."
"Aye, aye, Captain Madge," smiled her father, "unless our good ship fails us we'll anchor next September in Pleasure Bay and send a special invitation to the crew of the 'Merry Maid' to meet us there."