"What do you find in the water, Lois?"
"O, the wonder of it!" said the girl, with a breath of rapture.
"Wonder! what wonder? I suppose everything is wonderful, if you look at it. What do you see there that seems so very wonderful?"
"I don't know, Mrs. Wishart. It is so great! and it is so beautiful! and it is so awful!"
"Beautiful?" said Mrs. Wishart. "I confess I do not see it. I suppose it is your gain, Lois. Yes, it is awful enough in a storm, but not to-day. The sea is quiet."
Quiet! with those low-rolling, majestic soft billows. The quiet of a lion asleep with his head upon his paws. Lois did not say what she thought.
"And you have never seen the sea-shore yet," Mrs. Wishart went on. "Well, you will have enough of the sea at the Isles. And those are they, I fancy, yonder. Are those the Isles of Shoals?" she asked a passing man of the crew; and was answered with a rough voiced, "Yaw, mum; they be th' oisles."
Lois gazed now at those distant brown spots, as the vessel drew nearer and nearer. Brown spots they remained, and, to her surprise, small brown spots. Nearer and nearer views only forced the conviction deeper. The Isles seemed to be merely some rough rocky projections from old Ocean's bed, too small to have beauty, too rough to have value. Were those the desired Isles of Shoals? Lois felt deep disappointment. Little bits of bare rock in the midst of the sea; nothing more. No trees, she was sure; as the light fell she could even see no green. Why would they not be better relegated to Ocean's domain, from which they were only saved by a few feet of upheaval? why should anybody live there? and still more, why should anybody make a pleasure visit there?
"I suppose the people are all fishermen?" she said to Mrs. Wishart.
"I suppose so. O, there is a house of entertainment—a sort of hotel."
"How many people live there?"
"My dear, I don't know. A handful, I should think, by the look of the place. What tempts them, I don't see."
Nor did Lois. She was greatly disappointed. All her fairy visions were fled. No meadows, no shady banks, no soft green dales; nothing she had ever imagined in connection with country loveliness. Her expectations sank down, collapsed, and vanished for ever.
She showed nothing of all this. She helped Mrs. Wishart gather her small baggage together, and followed her on shore, with her usual quiet thoughtfulness; saw her established in the hotel, and assisted her to get things a little in order. But then, when the elder lady lay down to "catch a nap," as she said, before tea, Lois seized her flat hat and fled out of the house.
There was grass around it, and sheep and cows to be seen. Alas, no trees. But there were bushes certainly growing here and there, and Lois had not gone far before she found a flower. With that in her hand she sped on, out of the little grassy vale, upon the rocks that surrounded it, and over them, till she caught sight of the sea. Then she made her way, as she could, over the roughnesses and hindrances of the rocks, till she got near the edge of the island at that place; and sat down a little above where the billows of the Atlantic were rolling in. The wide sea line was before her, with its mysterious and infinite depth of colour; at her feet the waves were coming in and breaking, slow and gently to-day, yet every one seeming to make an invasion of the little rocky domain which defied it, and to retire unwillingly, foiled, beaten, and broken, to gather new forces and come on again for a new attack. Lois watched them, fascinated by their persistence, their sluggish power, and yet their ever-recurring discomfiture; admired the changing colours and hues of the water, endlessly varying, cool and lovely and delicate, contrasting with the wet washed rocks and the dark line of sea-weed lying where high tide had cast it up. The breeze blew in her face gently, but filled with freshness, life, and pungency of the salt air; sea-birds flew past hither and thither, sometimes uttering a cry; there was no sound in earth or heaven but that of the water and the wild birds. And by and by the silence, and the broad freedom of nature, and the sweet freshness of the life-giving breeze, began to take effect upon the watcher. She drank in the air in deep breaths; she watched with growing enjoyment the play of light and colour which offered such an endless variety; she let slip, softly and insensibly, every thought and consideration which had any sort of care attached to it; her heart grew light, as her lungs took in the salt breath, which had upon her somewhat the effect of champagne. Lois was at no time a very heavy-hearted person; and I lack a similitude which should fitly image the elastic bound her spirits made now. She never stirred from her seat, till it suddenly came into her head to remember that there might be dinner or supper in prospect somewhere. She rose then and made her way back to the hotel, where she found Mrs. Wishart just arousing from her sleep.
"Well, Lois" said the lady, with the sleep still in her voice, "where have you been? and what have you got? and what sort of a place have we come to?"
"Look at that, Mrs. Wishart!"
"What's that? A white violet! Violets here, on these rocks?"
"Did you ever see such a white violet? Look at the size of it, and the colour of it. And here's pimpernel. And O, Mrs. Wishart, I am so glad we came here, that I don't know what to do! It is just delightful. The air is the best air I ever saw."
"Can you see it, my dear? Well, I am glad you are pleased. What's that bell for, dinner or supper? I suppose all the meals here are alike. Let us go down and see."
Lois had an excellent appetite.
"This fish is very good, Mrs. Wishart."
"O my dear, it is just fish! You are in a mood to glorify everything. I am envious of you, Lois."
"But it is really capital; it is so fresh. I don't believe you can get such blue fish in New York."
"My dear, it is your good appetite. I wish I was as hungry, for anything, as you are."
"Is it Mrs. Wishart?" asked a lady who sat opposite them at the table. She spoke politely, with an accent of hope and expectation. Mrs. Wishart acknowledged the identity.
"I am very happy to meet you. I was afraid I might find absolutely no one here that I knew. I was saying only the other day—three days ago; this is Friday, isn't it? yes; it was last Tuesday. I was saying to my sister after our early dinner—we always have early dinner at home, and it comes quite natural here—we were sitting together after dinner, and talking about my coming. I have been meaning to come ever since three years ago; wanting to make this trip, and never could get away, until this summer things opened out to let me. I was saying to Lottie I was afraid I should find nobody here that I could speak to; and when I saw you, I said to myself, Can that be Mrs. Wishart?—I am so very glad. You have just come?"
"To-day,"—Mrs. Wishart assented.
"Came by water?"
"Yes—ha, ha!" said the affable lady. "Of course. You could not well help it. But from New York?"
"By railway. I had occasion to come by land."
"I prefer it always. In a steamer you never know what will happen to you. If it's good weather, you may have a pleasant time; but you never can tell. I took the steamer once to go to Boston—I mean to Stonington, you know; and the boat was so loaded with freight of some sort or other that she was as low down in the water as she could be and be safe; and I didn't think she was safe. And we went so slowly! and then we had a storm, a regular thunderstorm and squall, and the rain poured in torrents, and the Sound was rough, and people were sick, and I was very glad and thankful when we got to Stonington. I thought it would never be for pleasure that I would take a boat again."
"The Fall River boats are the best."
"I daresay they are, but I hope to be allowed to keep clear of them all. You had a pleasant morning for the trip over from Portsmouth."
"It is such a gain to have the sea quiet! It roars and beats here enough in the best of times. I am sure I hope there will not a storm come while we are here; for I should think it must be dreadfully dreary. It's all sea here, you know."
"I should like to see what a storm here is like," Lois remarked.
"O, don't wish that!" cried the lady, "or your wish may bring it. Don't think me a heathen," she added, laughing; "but I have known such queer things. I must tell you—"
"You never knew a wish bring fair weather?" said Lois, smiling, as the lady stopped for a mouthful of omelet.
"O no, not fair weather; I am sure, if it did, we should have fair weather a great deal more than we do. But I was speaking of a storm, and I must tell you what I have seen.—These fish are very deliciously cooked!"
"They understand fish, I suppose, here," said Lois.
"We were going down the bay to escort some friends who were going to Europe. There was my cousin Llewellyn and his wife, and her sister, and one or two others in the party; and Lottie and I went to see them off. I always think it's rather a foolish thing to do, for why shouldn't one say good-bye at the water's edge, when they go on board, instead of making a journey of miles out to sea to say it there?—but this time Lottie wanted to go. She had never seen the ocean, except from the land; and you know that is very different; so we went. Lottie always likes to see all she can, and is never satisfied till she has got to the bottom of everything—"
"She would be satisfied with something less than that in this case?" said Lois.
"Hey? She was satisfied," said the lady, not apparently catching Lois's meaning; "she was more delighted with the sea than I was; for though it was quiet, they said, there was unquietness enough to make a good deal of motion; the vessel went sailing up and down a succession of small rolling hills, and I began to think there was nothing steady inside of me, any more than outside. I never can bear to be rocked, in any shape or form."
"You must have been a troublesome baby," said Lois.
"I don't know how that was; naturally I have forgotten; but since I have been old enough to think for myself, I never could bear rocking-chairs. I like an easy-chair—as easy as you please—but I want it to stand firm upon its four legs. So I did not enjoy the water quite as well as my sister did. But she grew enthusiastic; she wished she was going all the way over, and I told her she would have to drop me at some wayside station—"
"Where?" said Lois, as the lady stopped to carry her coffee cup to her lips. The question seemed not to have been heard.
"Lottie wished she could see the ocean in a mood not quite so quiet; she wished for a storm; she said she wished a little storm would get up before we got home, that she might see how the waves looked. I begged and prayed her not to say so, for our wishes often fulfil themselves. Isn't it extraordinary how they do? Haven't you often observed it, Mrs. Wishart?"
"In cases where wishes could take effect," returned that lady. "In the case of the elements, I do not see how they could do that."
"But I don't know how it is," said the other; "I have observed it so often."
"You call me by name," Mrs. Wishart went on rather hastily; "and I have been trying in vain to recall yours. If I had met you anywhere else, of course I should be at no loss; but at the Isles of Shoals one expects to see nobody, and one is surprised out of one's memory."
"I am never surprised out of my memory," said the other, chuckling. "I am poor enough in all other ways, I am sure, but my memory is good. I can tell you where I first saw you. You were at the Catskill House, with a large party; my brother-in-law Dr. Salisbury was there, and he had the pleasure of knowing you. It was two years ago."
"I recollect being at the Catskill House very well," said Mrs. Wishart, "and of course it was there I became acquain'ted with you; but you must excuse me, at the Isles of Shoals, for forgetting all my connections with the rest of the world."
"O, I am sure you are very excusable," said Dr. Salisbury's sister-in-law. "I am delighted to meet you again. I think one is particularly glad of a friend's face where one had not expected to see it; and I really expected nothing at the Isles of Shoals—but sea air."
"You came for sea air?"
"Yes, to get it pure. To be sure, Coney Island beach is not far off—for we live in Brooklyn; but I wanted the sea air wholly sea air—quite unmixed; and at Coney Island, somehow New York is so near, I couldn't fancy it would be the same thing. I don't want to smell the smoke of it. And I was curious about this place too; and I have so little opportunity for travelling, I thought it was a pity now when I had the opportunity, not to take the utmost advantage of it. They laughed at me at home, but I said no, I was going to the Isles of Shoals or nowhere. And now I am very glad I came."—
"Lois," Mrs. Wishart said when they went back to their own room, "I don't know that woman from Adam. I have not the least recollection of ever seeing her. I know Dr. Salisbury—and he might be anybody's brother-in-law. I wonder if she will keep that seat opposite us? Because she is worse than a smoky chimney!"
"O no, not that," said Lois. "She amuses me."
"Everything amuses you, you happy creature! You look as if the fairies that wait upon young girls had made you their special care. Did you ever read the 'Rape of the Lock'?"
"I have never read anything," Lois answered, a little soberly.
"Never mind; you have so much the more pleasure before you. But the 'Rape of the Lock'—in that story there is a young lady, a famous beauty, whose dressing-table is attended by sprites or fairies. One of them colours her lips; another hides in the folds of her gown; another tucks himself away in a curl of her hair.—You make me think of that young lady."
A SUMMER HOTEL.
Mrs. Wishart was reminded of Belinda again the next morning. Lois was beaming. She managed to keep their talkative neighbour in order during breakfast; and then proposed to Mrs. Wishart to take a walk. But Mrs. Wishart excused herself, and Lois set off alone. After a couple of hours she came back with her hands full.
"O, Mrs. Wishart!" she burst forth,—"this is the very loveliest place you ever saw in your life! I can never thank you enough for bringing me! What can I do to thank you?"
"What makes it so delightful?" said the elder lady, smiling at her. "There is nothing here but the sea and the rocks. You have found the philosopher's stone, you happy girl!"
"The philosopher's stone?" said Lois. "That was what Mr. Dillwyn told me about."
"Philip? I wish he was here."
"It would be nice for you. I don't want anybody. The place is enough."
"What have you found, child?"
"Flowers—and mosses—and shells. O, the flowers are beautiful! But it isn't the flowers, nor any one thing; it is the place. The air is wonderful; and the sea, O, the sea is a constant delight to me!"
"The philosopher's stone!" repeated the lady. "What is it, Lois? You are the happiest creature I ever saw.—You find pleasure in everything."
"Perhaps it is that," said Lois simply. "Because I am happy."
"But what business have you to be so happy?—living in a corner like Shampuashuh. I beg your pardon, Lois, but it is a corner of the earth. What makes you happy?"
Lois answered lightly, that perhaps it was easier to be happy in a corner than in a wide place; and went off again. She would not give Mrs. Wishart an answer she could by no possibility understand.
Some time later in the day, Mrs. Wishart too, becoming tired of the monotony of her own room, descended to the piazza; and was sitting there when the little steamboat arrived with some new guests for the hotel. She watched one particular party approaching. A young lady in advance, attended by a gentleman; then another pair following, an older lady, leaning on the arm of a cavalier whom Mrs. Wishart recognized first of them all. She smiled to herself.
"Mrs. Wishart!" Julia Caruthers exclaimed, as she came upon the verandah. "You are here. That is delightful! Mamma, here is Mrs. Wishart. But whatever did bring you here? I am reminded of Captain Cook's voyages, that I used to read when I was a child, and I fancy I have come to one of his savage islands; only I don't see the salvages. They will appear, perhaps. But I don't see anything else; cocoanut trees, or palms, or bananas, the tale of which used to make my mouth water. There are no trees here at all, that I can see, nor anything else. What brought you here, Mrs. Wishart? May I present Mr. Lenox?—What brought you here, Mrs. Wishart?"
"What brought you here?" was the smiling retort. The answer was prompt.
Mrs. Wishart looked at Tom, who came up and paid his respects in marked form; while his mother, as if exhausted, sank down on one of the chairs.
"Yes, it was Tom," she repeated. "Nothing would do for Tom but the Isles of Shoals; and so, Julia and I had to follow in his train. In my grandmother's days that would have been different. What is here, dear Mrs. Wishart, besides you? You are not alone?"
"Not quite. I have brought my little friend, Lois Lothrop, with me; and she thinks the Isles of Shoals the most charming place that was ever discovered, by Captain Cook or anybody else."
"Ah, she is here!" said Mrs. Caruthers dryly; while Julia and Mr. Lenox exchanged glances. "Much other company?"
"Not much; and what there is comes more from New Hampshire than New York, I fancy."
"Ah!—And what else is here then, that anybody should come here for?"
"I don't know yet. You must ask Miss Lothrop. Yonder she comes. She has been exploring ever since five o'clock, I believe."
"I suppose she is accustomed to get up at that hour," remarked the other, as if the fact involved a good deal of disparagement. And then they were all silent, and watched Lois, who was slowly and unconsciously approaching her reviewers. Her hands were again full of different gleanings from the wonderful wilderness in which she had been exploring; and she came with a slow step, still busy with them as she walked. Her hat had fallen back a little; the beautiful hair was a trifle disordered, showing so only the better its rich abundance and exquisite colour; the face it framed and crowned was fair and flushed, intent upon her gains from rock and meadow—for there was a little bit of meadow ground at Appledore;—and so happy in its sweet absorption, that an involuntary tribute of homage to its beauty was wrung from the most critical. Lois walked with a light, steady step; her careless bearing was free and graceful; her dress was not very fashionable, but entirely proper for the place; all eyes consented to this, and then all eyes came back to the face. It was so happy, so pure, so unconscious and unshadowed; the look was of the sort that one does not see in the assemblies of the world's pleasure-seekers; nor ever but in the faces of heaven's pleasure-finders. She was a very lovely vision, and somehow all the little group on the piazza with one consent kept silence, watching her as she came. She drew near with busy, pleased thoughts, and leisurely happy steps, and never looked up till she reached the foot of the steps leading to the piazza. Nor even then; she had picked up her skirt and mounted several steps daintily before she heard her name and raised her eyes. Then her face changed. The glance of surprise, it is true, was immediately followed by a smile of civil greeting; but the look of rapt happiness was gone; and somehow nobody on the piazza felt the change to be flattering. She accepted quietly Tom's hand, given partly in greeting, partly to assist her up the last steps, and faced the group who were regarding her.
"How delightful to find you here, Miss Lothrop!" said Julia,—"and how strange that people should meet on the Isles of Shoals."
"Why is it strange?"
"O, because there is really nothing to come here for, you know. I don't know how we happen to be here ourselves.—Mr. Lenox, Miss Lothrop.—What have you found in this desert?"
"You have been spoiling Appledore?" added Tom.
"I don't think I have done any harm," said Lois innocently. "There is enough more, Mr. Caruthers."
"Enough of what?" Tom inquired, while Julia and her friend exchanged a swift glance again, of triumph on the lady's part.
"There is a shell," said Lois, putting one into his hand. "I think that is pretty, and it certainly is odd. And what do you say to those white violets, Mr. Caruthers? And here is some very beautiful pimpernel—and here is a flower that I do not know at all,—and the rest is what you would call rubbish," she finished with a smile, so charming that Tom could not see the violets for dazzled eyes.
"Show me the flowers, Tom," his mother demanded; and she kept him by her, answering her questions and remarks about them; while Julia asked where they could be found.
"I find them in quite a good many places," said Lois; "and every time it is a sort of surprise. I gathered only a few; I do not like to take them away from their places; they are best there."
She said a word or two to Mrs. Wishart, and passed on into the house.
"That's the girl," Julia said in a low voice to her lover, walking off to the other end of the verandah with him.
"Tom might do worse," was the reply.
"George! How can you say so? A girl who doesn't know common English!"
"She might go to school," suggested Lenox.
"To school! At her age! And then, think of her associations, and her ignorance of everything a lady should be and should know. O you men! I have no patience with you. See a face you like, and you lose your wits at once, the best of you. I wonder you ever fancied me!"
"Tastes are unaccountable," the young man returned, with a lover-like smile.
"But do you call that girl pretty?"
Mr. Lenox looked portentously grave. "She has handsome hair," he ventured.
"Hair! What's hair! Anybody can have handsome hair, that will pay for it."
"She has not paid for hers."
"No, and I don't mean that Tom shall. Now George, you must help. I brought you along to help. Tom is lost if we don't save him. He must not be left alone with this girl; and if he gets talking to her, you must mix in and break it up, make love to her yourself, if necessary. And we must see to it that they do not go off walking together. You must help me watch and help me hinder. Will you?"
"Really, I should not be grateful to anyone who did me such kind service."
"But it is to save Tom."
"Save him! From what?"
"From a low marriage. What could be worse?"
"Adjectives are declinable. There is low, lower, lowest."
"Well, what could be lower? A poor girl, uneducated, inexperienced, knowing nobody, brought up in the country, and of no family in particular, with nothing in the world but beautiful hair! Tom ought to have something better than that."
"I'll study her further, and then tell you what I think."
"You are very stupid to-day, George!"
Nobody got a chance to study Lois much more that day. Seeing that Mrs. Wishart was for the present well provided with company, she withdrew to her own room; and there she stayed. At supper she appeared, but silent and reserved; and after supper she went away again. Next morning Lois was late at breakfast; she had to run a gauntlet of eyes, as she took her seat at a little distance.
"Overslept, Lois?" queried Mrs. Wishart.
"Miss Lothrop looks as if she never had been asleep, nor ever meant to be," quoth Tom.
"What a dreadful character!" said Miss Julia. "Pray, Miss Lothrop, excuse him; the poor boy means, I have no doubt, to be complimentary."
"Not so bad, for a beginner," remarked Mr. Lenox. "Ladies always like to be thought bright-eyed, I believe."
"But never to sleep!" said Julia. "Imagine the staring effect."
"You are complimentary without effort," Tom remarked pointedly.
"Lois, my dear, have you been out already?" Mrs. Wishart asked. Lois gave a quiet assent and betook herself to her breakfast.
"I knew it," said Tom. "Morning air has a wonderful effect, if ladies would only believe it. They won't believe it, and they suffer accordingly."
"Another compliment!" said Miss Julia, laughing. "But what do you find, Miss Lothrop, that can attract you so much before breakfast? or after breakfast either, for that matter?"
"Before breakfast is the best time in the twenty-four hours," said Lois.
"Pray, for what?"
"If you were asked, you would say, for sleeping," put in Tom.
"For what, Miss Lothrop? Tom, you are troublesome."
"For doing what, do you mean?" said Lois. "I should say, for anything; but I was thinking of enjoying."
"We are all just arrived," Mr. Lenox began; "and we are slow to believe there is anything to enjoy at the Isles. Will Miss Lothrop enlighten us?"
"I do not know that I can," said Lois. "You might not find what I find."
"What do you find?"
"If you will go out with me to-morrow morning at five o'clock, I will show you," said Lois, with a little smile of amusement, or of archness, which quite struck Mr. Lenox and quite captivated Tom.
"Five o'clock!" the former echoed.
"Perhaps he would not then see what you see," Julia suggested.
"Perhaps not," said Lois. "I am by no means sure."
She was let alone after that; and as soon as breakfast was over she escaped again. She made her way to a particular hiding-place she had discovered, in the rocks, down near the shore; from which she had a most beautiful view of the sea and of several of the other islands. Her nook of a seat was comfortable enough, but all around it the rocks were piled in broken confusion, sheltering her, she thought, from any possible chance comer. And this was what Lois wanted; for, in the first place, she was minded to keep herself out of the way of the newly-arrived party, each and all of them; and, in the second place, she was intoxicated with the delights of the ocean. Perhaps I should say rather, of the ocean and the rocks and the air and the sky, and of everything at Appledore, Where she sat, she had a low brown reef in sight, jutting out into the sea just below her; and upon this reef the billows were rolling and breaking in a way utterly and wholly entrancing. There was no wind, to speak of, yet there was much more motion in the sea than yesterday; which often happens from the effect of winds that have been at work far away; and the breakers which beat and foamed upon that reef, and indeed upon all the shore, were beyond all telling graceful, beautiful, wonderful, mighty, and changeful. Lois had been there to see the sunrise; now that fairy hour was long past, and the day was in its full bright strength; but still she sat spellbound and watched the waves; watched the colours on the rocks, the brown and the grey; the countless, nameless hues of ocean, and the light on the neighbouring islands, so different now from what they had been a few hours ago.
Now and then a thought or two went to the hotel and its new inhabitants, and passed in review the breakfast that morning. Lois had taken scarce any part in the conversation; her place at table put her at a distance from Mr. Caruthers; and after those few first words she had been able to keep very quiet, as her wish was. But she had listened, and observed. Well, the talk had not been, as to quality, one whit better than what Shampuashuh could furnish every day; nay, Lois thought the advantage of sense and wit and shrewdness was decidedly on the side of her country neighbours; while the staple of talk was nearly the same. A small sort of gossip and remark, with commentary, on other people and other people's doings, past, present, and to come. It had no interest whatever to Lois's mind, neither subject nor treatment. But the manner to-day gave her something to think about. The manner was different; and the manner not of talk only, but of all that was done. Not so did Shampuashuh discuss its neighbours, and not so did Shampuashuh eat bread and butter. Shampuashuh ways were more rough, angular, hurried; less quietness, less grace, whether of movement or speech; less calm security in every action; less delicacy of taste. It must have been good blood in Lois which recognized all this, but recognize it she did; and, as I said, every now and then an involuntary thought of it came over the girl. She felt that she was unlike these people; not of their class or society; she was sure they knew it too, and would act accordingly; that is, not rudely or ungracefully making the fact known, but nevertheless feeling, and showing that they felt, that she belonged to a detached portion of humanity. Or they; what did it matter? Lois did not misjudge or undervalue herself; she knew she was the equal of these people, perhaps more than their equal, in true refinement of feeling and delicacy of perception; she knew she was not awkward in manner; yet she knew, too, that she had not their ease of habit, nor the confidence given by knowledge of the world and all other sorts of knowledge. Her up-bringing and her surroundings had not been like theirs; they had been rougher, coarser, and if of as good material, of far inferior form. She thought with herself that she would keep as much out of their company as she properly could. For there was beneath all this consciousness an unrecognized, or at least unacknowledged, sense of other things in Lois's mind; of Mr. Caruthers' possible feelings, his people's certain displeasure, and her own promise to her grandmother. She would keep herself out of the way; easy at Appledore—
"Have I found you, Miss Lothrop?" said a soft, gracious voice, with a glad accent.
"Have I found you, Miss Lothrop?"
Looking over her shoulder, Lois saw the handsome features of Mr. Caruthers, wearing a smile of most undoubted satisfaction. And, to the scorn of all her previous considerations, she was conscious of a flush of pleasure in her own mind. This was not suffered to appear.
"I thought I was where nobody could find me," she answered.
"Do you think there is such a place in the whole world?" said Tom gallantly. Meanwhile he scrambled over some inconvenient rocks to a place by her side. "I am very glad to find you, Miss Lothrop, both ways,—first at Appledore, and then here."
To this compliment Lois made no reply.
"What has driven you to this little out-of-the-way nook?"
"You mean Appledore?"
"No, no! this very uncomfortable situation among the rocks here? What drove you to it?"
"You think there is no attraction?"
"I don't see what attraction there is here for you."
"Then you should not have come to Appledore."
"There is nothing here for you."
"Ah, but! What is there for you? Do you find anything here to like now, really?"
"I have been down in this 'uncomfortable place' ever since near five o'clock—except while we were at breakfast."
"What for?" said Lois, laughing. "If you ask, it is no use to tell you, Mr. Caruthers."
"Ah, be generous!" said Tom. "I'm a stupid fellow, I know; but do try and help me a little to a sense of the beautiful. Is it the beautiful, by the way, or is it something else?"
Lois's laugh rang softly out again. She was a country girl, it is true; but her laugh was as sweet to hear as the ripple of the waters among the stones. The laugh of anybody tells very much of what he is, making revelations undreamt of often by the laugher. A harsh croak does not come from a mind at peace, nor an empty clangour from a heart full of sensitive happiness; nor a coarse laugh from a person of refined sensibilities, nor a hard laugh from a tender spirit. Moreover, people cannot dissemble successfully in laughing; the truth comes out in a startling manner. Lois's laugh was sweet and musical; it was a pleasure to hear. And Tom's eyes said so.
"I always knew I was a stupid fellow," he said; "but I never felt myself so stupid as to-day! What is it, Miss Lothrop?"
"What is what, Mr. Caruthers?—I beg your pardon."
"What is it you find in this queer place?"
"I am afraid it is waste trouble to tell you."
"Good morning!" cried a cheery voice here from below them; and looking towards the water they saw Mr. Lenox, making his way as best he could over slippery seaweed and wet rocks.
"Hollo, George!" cried Tom in a different tone—"What are you doing there?"
"Trying to keep out of the water, don't you see?"
"To an ordinary mind, that object would seem more likely to be attained if you kept further away from it."
"May I come up where you are?"
"Certainly!" said Lois. "But take care how you do it."
A little scrambling and the help of Tom's hand accomplished the feat; and the new comer looked about him with much content.
"You came the other way," he said. "I see. I shall know how next time. What a delightful post, Miss Lothrop!"
"I have been trying to find what she came here for; and she won't tell me," said Tom.
"You know what you came here for," said his friend. "Why cannot you credit other people with as much curiosity as you have yourself?"
"I credit them with more," said Tom. "But curiosity on Appledore will find itself baffled, I should say."
"Depends on what curiosity is after," said Lenox. "Tell him, Miss Lothrop; he will not be any the wiser."
"Then why should I tell him?" said Lois.
"Perhaps I shall!"
Lois's laugh came again.
"Seriously. If any one were to ask me, not only what we but what anybody should come to this place for, I should be unprepared with an answer. I am forcibly reminded of an old gentleman who went up Mount Washington on one occasion when I also went up. It came on to rain—a sudden summer gust and downpour, hiding the very mountain it self from our eyes; hiding the path, hiding the members of the party from each other. We were descending the mountain by that time, and it was ticklish work for a nervous person; every one was committed to his own sweet guidance; and as I went blindly stumbling along, I came every now and then upon the old gentleman, also stumbling along, on his donkey. And whenever I was near enough to him, I could hear him dismally soliloquizing, 'Why am I here!'—in a tone of mingled disgust and self-reproach which was in the highest degree comical."
"So that is your state of mind now, is it?" said Tom.
"Not quite yet, but I feel it is going to be. Unless Miss Lothrop can teach me something."
"There are some things that cannot be taught," said Lois.
"And people—hey? But I am not one of those, Miss Lothrop."
He looked at her with such a face of demure innocence, that Lois could not keep her gravity.
"Now Tom is," Lenox went on. "You cannot teach him anything, Miss Lothrop. It would be lost labour."
"I am not so stupid as you think," said Tom.
"He's not stupid—he's obstinate," Lenox went on, addressing himself to Lois. "He takes a thing in his head. Now that sounds intelligent; but it isn't, or he isn't; for when you try, you can't get it out of his head again. So he took it into his head to come to the Isles of Shoals, and hither he has dragged his mother and his sister, and hither by consequence he has dragged me. Now I ask you, as one who can tell—what have we all come here for?"
Half-quizzically, half-inquisitively, the young man put the question, lounging on the rocks and looking up into Lois's face. Tom grew impatient. But Lois was too humble and simple-minded to fall into the snare laid for her. I think she had a half-discernment of a hidden intent under Mr. Lenox's words; nevertheless in the simple dignity of truth she disregarded it, and did not even blush, either with consciousness or awkwardness. She was a little amused.
"I suppose experience will have to be your teacher, as it is other people's."
"I have heard so; I never saw anybody who had learned much that way."
"Come, George, that's ridiculous. Learning by experience is proverbial," said Tom.
"I know!—but it's a delusion nevertheless. You sprain your ankle among these stones, for instance. Well—you won't put your foot in that particular hole again; but you will in another. That's the way you do, Tom. But to return—Miss Lothrop, what has experience done for you in the Isles of Shoals?"
"I have not had much yet."
"Does it pay to come here?"
"I think it does."
"How came anybody to think of coming here at first? that is what I should like to know. I never saw a more uncompromising bit of barrenness. Is there no desolation anywhere else, that men should come to the Isles of Shoals?"
"There was quite a large settlement here once," said Lois.
"Before the war of the revolution. There were hundreds of people; six hundred, somebody told me."
"What became of them?"
"Well," said Lois, smiling, "as that is more than a hundred years ago, I suppose they all died."
"And their descendants?—"
"Living on the mainland, most of them. When the war came, they could not protect themselves against the English."
"Fancy, Tom," said Lenox. "People liked it so well on these rocks, that it took ships of war to drive them away!"
"The people that live here now are just as fond of them, I am told."
"What earthly or heavenly inducement?—"
"Yes, I might have said so too, the first hour of my being here, or the first day. The second, I began to understand it."
"Do make me understand it!"
"If you will come here at five o'clock to-morrow, Mr. Leno—xin the morning, I mean,—and will watch the wonderful sunrise, the waking up of land and sea; if you will stay here then patiently till ten o'clock, and see the changes and the colours on everything—let the sea and the sky speak to you, as they will; then they will tell you—all you can understand!"
"All I can understand. H'm! May I go home for breakfast?"
"Perhaps you must; but you will wish you need not."
"Will you be here?"
"No," said Lois. "I will be somewhere else."
"But I couldn't stand such a long talk with myself as that," said the young man.
"It was a talk with Nature I recommended to you."
"All the same. Nature says queer things if you let her alone."
"Best listen to them, then."
"She tells you the truth."
"Do you like the truth?"
"Certainly. Of course. Do not you?"
"Yes, always. Do not you?"
"It's fearfully awkward!" said the young man.
"Yes, isn't it?" Tom echoed.
"Do you like falsehood, Mr. Lenox?"
"I dare not say what I like—in this presence. Miss Lothrop, I am very much afraid you are a Puritan."
"What is a Puritan?" asked Lois simply.
"He doesn't know!" said Tom. "You needn't ask him."
"I will ask you then, for I do not know. What does he mean by it?"
"He doesn't know that," said Lenox, laughing. "I will tell you, Miss Lothrop—if I can. A Puritan is a person so much better than the ordinary run of mortals, that she is not afraid to let Nature and Solitude speak to her—dares to look roses in the face, in fact;—has no charity for the crooked ways of the world or for the people entangled in them; a person who can bear truth and has no need of falsehood, and who is thereby lifted above the multitudes of this world's population, and stands as it were alone."
"I'll report that speech to Julia," said Tom, laughing.
"But that is not what a 'Puritan' generally means, is it?" said Lois. They both laughed now at the quain't simplicity with which this was spoken.
"That is what it is," Tom answered.
"I do not think the term is complimentary," Lois went on, shaking her head, "however Mr. Lenox's explanation may be. Isn't it ten o'clock?"
"Then I must go in."
The two gentlemen accompanied her, making themselves very pleasant by the way. Lenox asked her about flowers; and Tom, who was some thing of a naturalist, told her about mosses and lichens, more than she knew; and the walk was too short for Lois. But on reaching the hotel she went straight to her own room and stayed there. So also after dinner, which of course brought her to the company, she went back to her solitude and her work. She must write home, she said. Yet writing was not Lois's sole reason for shutting herself up.
She would keep herself out of the way, she reasoned. Probably this company of city people with city tastes would not stay long at Appledore; while they were there she had better be seen as little as possible. For she felt that the sight of Tom Caruthers' handsome face had been a pleasure; and she felt—and what woman does not?—that there is a certain very sweet charm in being liked, independently of the question how much you like in return. And Lois knew, though she hardly in her modesty acknowledged it to herself, that Mr. Caruthers liked her. Eyes and smiles and manner showed it; she could not mistake it; nay, engaged man though he was, Mr. Lenox liked her too. She did not quite understand him or his manner; with the keen intuition of a true woman she felt vaguely what she did not clearly discern, and was not sure of the colour of his liking, as she was sure of Tom's. Tom's—it might not be deep, but it was true, and it was pleasant; and Lois remembered her promise to her grandmother. She even, when her letter was done, took out her Bible and opened it at that well-known place in 2nd Corinthians; "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers"—and she looked hard at the familiar words. Then, said Lois to herself, it is best to keep at a distance from temptation. For these people were unbelievers. They could not understand one word of Christian hope or joy, if she spoke them. What had she and they in common?
Yet Lois drew rather a long breath once or twice in the course of her meditations. These "unbelievers" were so pleasant. Yes, it was an undoubted fact; they were pleasant people to be with and to talk to. They might not think with her, or comprehend her even, in the great questions of life and duty; in the lesser matters of everyday experience they were well versed. They understood the world and the things in the world, and the men; and they were skilled and deft and graceful in the arts of society. Lois knew no young men,—nor old, for that matter,—who were, as gentlemen, as social companions, to be compared with these and others their associates in graces of person and manner, and interest of conversation. She went over again and again in memory the interview and the talk of that morning; and not without a secret thrill of gratification, although also not without a vague half perception of something in Mr. Lenox's manner that she could not quite read and did not quite trust. What did he mean? He was Miss Caruthers' property; how came he to busy himself at all with her own insignificant self? Lois was too innocent to guess; at the same time too finely gifted as a woman to be entirely hoodwinked. She rose at last with a third little sigh, as she concluded that her best way was to keep as well away as she could from this pleasant companionship.
But she could not stay in-doors. For once in her life she was at Appledore; she must not miss her chance. The afternoon was half gone; the house all still; probably everybody was in his room, and she could slip out safely. She went down on soft feet; she found nobody on the piazza, not a creature in sight; she was glad; and yet, she would not have been sorry to see Tom Caruthers' genial face, which was always so very genial towards her. Inconsistent!—but who is not inconsistent? Lois thought herself free, and had half descended the steps from the verandah, when she heard a voice and her own name. She paused and looked round.
"Miss Lothrop!—are you going for a walk? may I come with you?"—and therewith emerged the form of Miss Julia from the house. "Are you going for a walk? will you let me go along?"
"Certainly," said Lois.
"I am regularly cast away here," said the young lady, joining her. "I don't know what to do with myself. Is there anything to do or to see in this place?"
"I think so. Plenty."
"Then do show me what you have found. Where are you going?"
"I am going down to the shore somewhere. I have only begun to find things yet; but I never in my life saw a place where there was so much to find."
"What, pray? I cannot imagine. I see a little wild bit of ground, and that is all I see; except the sea beating on the rocks. It is the forlornest place of amusement I ever heard of in my life!"
"Are you fond of flowers, Miss Caruthers?"
"Flowers? No, not very. O, I like them to dress a dinner table, or to make rooms look pretty, of course; but I am not what you call 'fond' of them. That means, loving to dig in the dirt, don't it?"
Lois presently stooped and gathered a flower or two.
"Did yon ever see such lovely white violets?" she said; "and is not that eyebright delicate, with its edging of colour? There are quantities of flowers here. And have you noticed how deep and rich the colours are? No, you have not been here long enough perhaps; but they are finer than any I ever saw of their kinds."
"What do you find down at the shore?" said Miss Caruthers, looking very disparagingly at the slight beauties in Lois's fingers. "There are no flowers there, I suppose?"
"I can hardly get away from the shore, every time I go to it," said Lois. "O, I have only begun to explore yet. Over on that end of Appledore there are the old remains of a village, where the people used to live, once upon a time. I want to go and see that, but I haven't got there yet. Now take care of your footing, Miss Caruthers—"
They descended the rocks to one of the small coves of the island. Out of sight now of all save rocks and sea and the tiny bottom of the cove filled with mud and sand. Even the low bushes which grow so thick on Appledore were out of sight, huckleberry and bayberry and others; the wildness and solitude of the spot were perfect. Miss Caruthers found a dry seat on a rock. Lois began to look carefully about in the mud and sand.
"What are you looking for?" her companion asked, somewhat scornfully.
"Anything I can find!"
"What can you find in that mud?"
"This is gravel, where I am looking now."
"Well, what is in the gravel?"
"I don't know," said Lois, in the dreamy tone of rapt enjoyment. "I don't know yet. Plenty of broken shells."
"Broken shells!" ejaculated the other. "Are you collecting broken shells?"
"Look," said Lois, coming to her and displaying her palm full of sea treasures. "See the colours of those bits of shell—that's a bit of a mussel; and that is a piece of a snail shell, I think; and aren't those little stones lovely?"
"That is because they are wet!" said the other in disgust. "They will be nothing when they are dry."
Lois laughed and went back to her search; and Miss Julia waited awhile with impatience for some change in the programme.
"Do you enjoy this, Miss Lothrop?"
"Very much! More than I can in any way tell you!" cried Lois, stopping and turning to look at her questioner. Her face answered for her; it was all flushed and bright with delight and the spirit of discovery; a pretty creature indeed she looked as she stood there on the wet gravel of the cove; but her face lost brightness for a moment, as Lois discerned Tom's head above the herbs and grasses that bordered the bank above the cove. Julia saw the change, and then the cause of it.
"Tom!" said she, "what brought you here?"
"What brought you, I suppose," said Mr. Tom, springing down the bank. "Miss Lothrop, what can you be doing?" Passing his sister he went to the other girl's side. And now there were two searching and peering into the mud and gravel which the tide had left wet and bare; and Miss Caruthers, sitting on a rock a little above them, looked on; much marvelling at the follies men will be guilty of when a pretty face draws them on.
"Tom—Tom!—what do you expect to find?" she cried after awhile. But Tom was too busy to heed her. And then appeared Mr. Lenox upon the scene.
"You too!" said Miss Caruthers. "Now you have only to go down into the mud like the others and complete the situation. Look at Tom! Poking about to see if he can find a whole snail shell in the wet stuff there. Look at him! George, a brother is the most vexatious thing to take care of in the world. Look at Tom!"
Mr. Lenox did, with an amused expression of feature.
"Bad job, Julia," he said.
"It is in one way, but it isn't in another, for I am not going to be baffled. He shall not make a fool of himself with that girl."
"She isn't a fool."
"What then?" said Julia sharply.
"Nothing. I was only thinking of the materials upon which your judgment is made up."
"Materials!" echoed Julia. "Yours is made up upon a nice complexion. That bewilders all men's faculties. Do you think she is very pretty, George?"
Mr. Lenox had no time to answer, for Lois, and of course Tom, at this moment left the cove bottom and came towards them. Lois was beaming, like a child, with such bright, pure pleasure; and coming up, showed upon her open palm a very delicate little white shell, not a snail shell by any means. "I have found that!" she proclaimed.
"What is that?" said Julia disdainfully, though not with rudeness.
"You see. Isn't it beautiful? And isn't it wonderful that it should not be broken? If you think of the power of the waves here, that have beat to pieces almost everything—rolled and ground and crushed everything that would break—and this delicate little thing has lived through it."
"There is a power of life in some delicate things," said Tom.
"Power of fiddlestick!" said his sister. "Miss Lothrop, I think this place is a terrible desert!"
"Then we will not stay here any longer," said Lois. "I am very fond of these little coves."
"No, no, I mean Appledore generally. It is the stupidest place I ever was in in my life. There is nothing here."
Lois looked at the lady with an expression of wondering compassion.
"Your experience does not agree with that of Miss Caruthers?" said Lenox.
"No," said Lois. "Let us take her to the place where you found me this morning; maybe she would like that."
"We must go, I suppose," groaned Julia, as Mr. Lenox helped her up over the rocks after the lighter-footed couple that preceded them. "George, I believe you are in the way."
"Thanks!" said the young man, laughing. "But you will excuse me for continuing to be in the way."
"I don't know—you see, it just sets Tom free to attend to her. Look at him—picking those purple irises—as if iris did not grow anywhere else! And now elderberry blossoms! And he will give her lessons in botany, I shouldn't wonder. O, Tom's a goose!"
"That disease is helpless," said Lenox, laughing again.
"But George, it is madness!"
Mr. Lenox's laugh rang out heartily at this. His sovereign mistress was not altogether pleased.
"I do certainly consider—and so do you,—I do certainly consider unequal marriages to be a great misfortune to all concerned."
"Certainly—inequalities that cannot be made up. For instance, too tall and too short do not match well together. Or for the lady to be rich and the man to be poor; that is perilous."
"Nonsense, George! don't be ridiculous! Height is nothing, and money is nothing; but family—and breeding—and habits—"
"What is her family?" asked Mr. Lenox, pursing up his lips as if for a whistle.
"No family at all. Just country people, living at Shampuashuh."
"Don't you know, the English middle class is the finest in the world?"
"No! no better than ours."
"My dear, we have no middle class."
"But what about the English middle class? why do you bring it up?"
"It owes its great qualities to its having the mixed blood of the higher and the lower."
"Ridiculous! What is that to us, if we have no middle class? But don't you see, George, what an unhappy thing it would be for Tom to marry this girl?"
Mr. Lenox whistled slightly, smiled, and pulled a purple iris blossom from a tuft growing in a little spot of wet ground. He offered it to his disturbed companion.
"There is a country flower for you," he observed.
But Miss Caruthers flung the flower impatiently away, and hastened her steps to catch up with her brother and Lois, who made better speed than she. Mr. Lenox picked up the iris and followed, smiling again to himself.
They found Lois seated in her old place, where the gentlemen had seen her in the morning. She rose at once to give the seat to Miss Caruthers, and herself took a less convenient one. It was almost a new scene to Lois, that lay before them now. The lights were from a different quarter; the colours those of the sinking day; the sea, from some inexplicable reason, was rolling higher than it had done six hours ago, and dashed on the rocks and on the reef in beautiful breakers, sending up now and then a tall jet of foam or a shower of spray. The hazy mainland shore line was very indistinct under the bright sky and lowering sun; while every bit of west-looking rock, and every sail, and every combing billow was touched with warm hues or gilded with a sharp reflection. The air was like the air nowhere but at the Isles of Shoals; with the sea's salt strength and freshness, and at times a waft of perfumes from the land side. Lois drank it with an inexpressible sense of exhilaration; while her eye went joyously roving from the lovely light on a sail, to the dancing foam of the breakers, to the colours of driftwood or seaweed or moss left wet and bare on the rocks, to the line of the distant ocean, or the soft vapoury racks of clouds floating over from the west. She well-nigh forgot her companions altogether; who, however, were less absorbed. Yet for a while they all sat silent, looking partly at Lois, partly at each other, partly no doubt at the leaping spray from the broken waves on the reef. There was only the delicious sound of the splash and gurgle of waters—the scream of a gull—the breath of the air—the chirrup of a few insects; all was wild stillness and freshness and pureness, except only that little group of four human beings. And then, the puzzled vexation and perplexity in Tom's face, and the impatient disgust in the face of his sister, were too much for Mr. Lenox's sense of the humorous; and the silence was broken by a hearty burst of laughter, which naturally brought all eyes to himself.
"Pardon!" said the young gentleman. "The delight in your face, Julia, was irresistible."
"Delight!" she echoed. "Miss Lothrop, do you find something here in which you take pleasure?"
Lois looked round. "Yes," she said simply. "I find something everywhere to take pleasure in."
"Even at Shampuashuh?"
"At Shampuashuh, of course. That is my home."
"But I never take pleasure in anything at home. It is all such an old story. Every day is just like any other day, and I know beforehand exactly how everything will be; and one dress is like another, and one party is like another. I must go away from home to get any real pleasure."
Lois wondered if she succeeded.
"That's a nice look-out for you, George," Caruthers remarked.
"I shall know how to make home so agreeable that she will not want to wander any more," said the other.
"That is what the women do for the men, down our way," said Lois, smiling. She began to feel a little mischief stirring.
"What sort of pleasures do you find, or make, at home, Miss Lothrop?" Julia went on. "You are very quiet, are you not?"
"There is always one's work," said Lois lightly. She knew it would be in vain to tell her questioner the instances that came up in her memory; the first dish of ripe strawberries brought in to surprise her grandmother; the new potatoes uncommonly early; the fine yield of her raspberry bushes; the wonderful beauty of the early mornings in her garden; the rarer, sweeter beauty of the Bible reading and talk with old Mrs. Armadale; the triumphant afternoons on the shore, from which she and her sisters came back with great baskets of long clams; and countless other visions of home comfort and home peace, things accomplished and the fruit of them enjoyed. Miss Caruthers could not understand all this; so Lois answered simply,
"There is always one's work."
"Work! I hate work," cried the other woman. "What do you call work?"
"Everything that is to be done," said Lois. "Everything, except what we do for mere pleasure. We keep no servant; my sisters and I do all that there is to do, in doors and out."
"Out—of—doors!" cried Miss Caruthers. "What do you mean? You cannot do the farming?"
"No," said Lois, smiling merrily; "no; not the farming. That is done by men. But the gardening I do."
"Very seriously. If you will come and see us, I will give you some new potatoes of my planting. I am rather proud of them. I was just thinking of them."
"Planting potatoes!" repeated the other lady, not too politely. "Then that is the reason why you find it a pleasure to sit here and see those waves beat."
The logical concatenation of this speech was not so apparent but that it touched all the risible nerves of the party; and Miss Caruthers could not understand why all three laughed so heartily.
"What did you expect when you came here?" asked Lois, still sparkling with fun.
"Just what I found!" returned the other rather grumbly.
Miss Caruthers carried on the tactics with which she had begun. Lois had never in her life found her society so diligently cultivated. If she walked out, Miss Caruthers begged to be permitted to go along; she wished to learn about the Islands. Lois could not see that she advanced much in learning; and sometimes wondered that she did not prefer her brother or her lover as instructors. True, her brother and her lover were frequently of the party; yet even then Miss Julia seemed to choose to take her lessons from Lois; and managed as much as possible to engross her. Lois could see that at such times Tom was often annoyed, and Mr. Lenox amused, at something, she could not quite tell what; and she was too inexperienced, and too modest withal, to guess. She only knew that she was not as free as she would have liked to be. Sometimes Tom found a chance for a little walk and talk with her alone; and those quarters of an hour were exceedingly pleasant; Tom told her about flowers, in a scientific way, that is; and made himself a really charming companion. Those minutes flew swiftly. But they never were many. If not Julia, at least Mr. Lenox was sure to appear upon the scene; and then, though he was very pleasant too, and more than courteous to Lois, somehow the charm was gone. It was just as well, Lois told herself; but that did not make her like it. Except with Tom, he did not enjoy herself thoroughly in the Caruthers society. She felt, with a sure, secret, fine instinct, what they were not high-bred enough to hide;—that they did not accept her as upon their own platform. I do not think the consciousness was plain enough to be put into words; nevertheless it was decided enough to make her quite willing to avoid their company. She tried, but she could not avoid it. In the house as out of the house. Tom would seek her out and sit down beside her; and then Julia would come to learn a crochet stitch, or Mrs. Caruthers would call her to remedy a fault in her knitting, or to hold her wool to be wound; refusing to let Mr. Lenox hold it, under the plea that Lois did it better; which was true, no doubt. Or Mr. Lenox himself would join them, and turn everything Tom said into banter; till Lois could not help laughing, though yet she was vexed.
So days went on. And then something happened to relieve both parties of the efforts they were making; a very strange thing to happen at the Isles of Shoals. Mrs. Wishart was taken seriously ill. She had not been quite well when she came; and she always afterwards maintained that the air did not agree with her. Lois thought it could not be the air, and must be some imprudence; but however it was, the fact was undoubted. Mrs. Wishart was ill; and the doctor who was fetched over from Portsmouth to see her, said she could not be moved, and must be carefully nursed. Was it the air? It couldn't be the air, he answered; nobody ever got sick at the Isles of Shoals. Was it some imprudence? Couldn't be, he said; there was no way in which she could be imprudent; she could not help living a natural life at Appledore. No, it was something the seeds of which she had brought with her; and the strong sea air had developed it. Reasoning which Lois did not understand; but she understood nursing, and gave herself to it, night and day. There was a sudden relief to Miss Julia's watch and ward; nobody was in danger of saying too many words to Lois now; nobody could get a chance; she was only seen by glimpses.
"How long is this sort of thing going on?" inquired Mr. Lenox one afternoon. He and Julia had been spending a very unrefreshing hour on the piazza doing nothing.
"Impossible to say."
"I'm rather tired of it. How long has Mrs. Wishart been laid up now?"
"A week; and she has no idea of being moved."
"Well, are we fixtures too?"
"You know what I came for, George. If Tom will go, I will, and thankful."
"Tom," said the gentleman, as Tom at this minute came out of the house, "have you got enough of Appledore?"
"I don't care about Appledore. It's the fishing." Tom, I may remark, had been a good deal out in a fishing-boat during this past week. "That's glorious."
"But you don't care for fishing, old boy."
"O, don't I!"
"No, not a farthing. Seriously, don't you think we might mend our quarters?"
"You can," said Tom. "Of course I can't go while Mrs. Wishart is sick. I can't leave those two women alone here to take care of themselves. You can take Julia and my mother away, where you like."
"And a good riddance," muttered Lenox, as the other ran down the steps and went off.
"He won't stir," said Julia. "You see how right I was."
"Are you sure about it?"
"Why, of course I am! Quite sure. What are you thinking about?"
"Just wondering whether you might have made a mistake."
"A mistake! How? I don't make mistakes."
"That's pleasant doctrine! But I am not so certain. I have been thinking whether Tom is likely ever to get anything better."
"Than this girl? George, don't you think he deserves something better? My brother? What are you thinking of?"
"Tom has got an enormous fancy for her; I can see that. It's not play with him. And upon my honour, Julia, I do not think she would do any thing to wear off the fancy."
"Not if she could help it!" returned Julia scornfully.
"She isn't a bit of a flirt."
"You think that is a recommendation? Men like flirts. This girl don't know how, that is all."
"I do not believe she knows how to do anything wrong."
"Now do set up a discourse in praise of virtue! What if she don't? That's nothing to the purpose. I want Tom to go into political life."
"A virtuous wife wouldn't hurt him there."
"And an ignorant, country-bred, untrained woman wouldn't help him, would she?"
"Tom will never want help in political life, for he will never go into it. Well, I have said my say, and resign myself to Appledore for two weeks longer. Only, mind you, I question if Tom will ever get anything as good again in the shape of a wife, as you are keeping him from now. It is something of a responsibility to play Providence."
The situation therefore remained unchanged for several days more. Mrs. Wishart needed constant attention, and had it; and nobody else saw Lois for more than the merest snatches of time. I think Lois made these moments as short as she could. Tom was in despair, but stuck to his post and his determination; and with sighs and groans his mother and sister held fast to theirs. The hotel at Appledore made a good thing of it.
Then one day Tom was lounging on the piazza at the time of the steamer's coming in from Portsmouth; and in a short time thereafter a new guest was seen advancing towards the hotel. Tom gave her a glance or two; he needed no more. She was middle-aged, plain, and evidently not from that quarter of the world where Mr. Tom Caruthers was known. Neatly dressed, however, and coming with an alert, business step over the grass, and so she mounted to the piazza. There she made straight for Tom, who was the only person visible.
"Is this the place where a lady is lying sick and another lady is tendin' her?"
"That is the case here," said Tom politely. "Miss Lothrop is attending upon a sick friend in this house."
"That's it—Miss Lothrop. I'm her aunt. How's the sick lady? Dangerous?"
"Not at all, I should say," returned Tom; "but Miss Lothrop is very much confined with her. She will be very glad to see you, I have no doubt. Allow me to see about your room." And so saying, he would have relieved the new comer of a heavy handbag.
"Never mind," she said, holding fast. "You're very obliging—but when I'm away from home I always hold fast to whatever I've got; and I'll go to Miss Lothrop's room. Are there more folks in the house?"
"Certainly. Several. This way—I will show you."
"Then I s'pose there's plenty to help nurse, and they have no call for me?"
"I think Miss Lothrop has done the most of the nursing. Your coming will set her a little more at liberty. She has been very much confined with her sick friend."
"What have the other folks been about?"
"Not helping much, I am afraid. And of course a man is at a disadvantage at such a time."
"Are they all men?" inquired Mrs. Marx suddenly.
"No—I was thinking of my own case. I would have been very glad to be useful."
"O!" said the lady. "That's the sort o' world we live in; most of it ain't good for much when it comes to the pinch. Thank you—much obliged."
Tom had guided her up-stairs and along a gallery, and now indicated the door of Lois's room. Lois was quite as glad to see her aunt as Tom had supposed she would be.
"Aunty!—Whatever has brought you here, to the Isles of Shoals?"
"Not to see the Isles, you may bet. I've come to look after you."
"Why, I'm well enough. But it's very good of you."
"No, it ain't, for I wanted an excuse to see what the place is like. You haven't grown thin yet. What's all the folks about, that they let you do all the nursing?"
"O, it comes to me naturally, being with Mrs. Wishart. Who should do it?"
"To be sure," said Mrs. Marx; "who should do it? Most folks are good at keepin' out o' the way when they are wanted. There's one clever chap in the house—he showed me the way up here; who's he?"
"Yes, and curly. A handsome fellow. And he knows you."
"O, they all know me by this time."
"This one particularly?"
"Well—I knew him in New York."
"I see! What's the matter with this sick woman?"
"I don't know. She is nervous, and feverish, and does not seem to get well as she ought to do."
"Well, if I was going to get sick, I'd choose some other place than a rock out in the middle of the ocean. Seems to me I would. One never knows what one may be left to do."
"One cannot generally choose where one will be sick," said Lois, smiling.
"Yes, you can," said the other, as sharp as a needle. "If one's in the wrong place, one can keep up till one can get to the right one. You needn't tell me. I know it, and I've done it. I've held up when I hadn't feet to stand upon, nor a head to hold. If you're a mind to, you can. Nervous, eh? That's the trouble o' folks that haven't enough to do. Mercy! I don't wonder they get nervous. But you've had a little too much, Lois, and you show it. Now, you go and lie down. I'll look after the nerves."
"How are they all at home?"
"Splendid! Charity goes round like a bee in a bottle, as usual. Ma's well; and Madge is as handsome as ever. Garden's growin' up to weeds, and I don't see as there's anybody to help it; but that corner peach tree's ripe, and as good as if you had fifteen gardeners."
"It's time I was home!" said Lois, sighing.
"No, it ain't,—not if you're havin' a good time here. Are you havin' a good time?"
"Why, I've been doing nothing but take care of Mrs. Wishart for this week past."
"Well, now I'm here. You go off. Do you like this queer place, I want to know?"
"Aunty, it is just perfectly delightful!"
"Is it? I don't see it. Maybe I will by and by. Now go off, Lois."
Mrs. Marx from this time took upon herself the post of head nurse. Lois was free to go out as much as she pleased. Yet she made less use of this freedom than might have been expected, and still confined herself unnecessarily to the sick-room.
"Why don't you go?" her aunt remonstrated. "Seems to me you ain't so dreadful fond of the Isles of Shoals after all."
"If one could be alone!" sighed Lois; "but there is always a pack at my heels."
"Alone! Is that what you're after? I thought half the fun was to see the folks."
"Well, some of them," said Lois. "But as sure as I go out to have a good time with the rocks and the sea, as I like to have it, there comes first one and then another and then another, and maybe a fourth; and the game is up."
"Why? I don't see how they should spoil it."
"O, they do not care for the things I care for; the sea is nothing to them, and the rocks less than nothing; and instead of being quiet, they talk nonsense, or what seems nonsense to me; and I'd as lieve be at home."
"What do they go for then?"
"I don't know. I think they do not know what to do with themselves."
"What do they stay here for, then, for pity's sake? If they are tired, why don't they go away?"
"I can't tell. That is what I have asked myself a great many times. They are all as well as fishes, every one of them."
Mrs. Marx held her peace and let things go their train for a few days more. Mrs. Wishart still gave her and Lois a good deal to do, though her ailments aroused no anxiety. After those few days, Mrs. Marx spoke again.
"What keeps you so mum?" she said to Lois. "Why don't you talk, as other folks do?"
"I hardly see them, you know, except at meals."
"Why don't you talk at meal times? that's what I am askin' about. You can talk as well as anybody; and you sit as mum as a stick."
"Aunty, they all talk about things I do not understand."
"Then I'd talk of something they don't understand. Two can play at that game."
"It wouldn't be amusing," said Lois, laughing.
"Do you call their talk amusing? It's the stupidest stuff I ever did hear. I can't make head or tail of it; nor I don't believe they can. Sounds to me as if they were tryin' amazin' hard to be witty, and couldn't make it out."
"It sounds a good deal like that," Lois assented.
"They go on just as if you wasn't there!"
"And why shouldn't they?"
"Because you are there."
"I am nothing to them," said Lois quietly.
"Nothing to them! You are worth the whole lot."
"They do not think so."
"And politeness is politeness."
"I sometimes think," said Lois, "that politeness is rudeness."
"Well, I wouldn't let myself be put in a corner so, if I was you."
"But I am in a corner, to them. All the world is where they live; and I live in a little corner down by Shampuashuh."
"Nobody's big enough to live in more than a corner—if you come to that; and one corner's as good as another. That's nonsense, Lois."
"Maybe, aunty. But there is a certain knowledge of the world, and habit of the world, which makes some people very different from other people; you can't help that."
"I don't want to help it?" said Mrs. Marx. "I wouldn't have you like them, for all the black sheep in my flock."
MRS. MARX'S OPINION.
A few more days went by; and then Mrs. Wishart began to mend; so much that she insisted her friends must not shut themselves up with her. "Do go down-stairs and see the people!" she said; "or take your kind aunt, Lois, and show her the wonders of Appledore. Is all the world gone yet?"
"Nobody's gone," said Mrs. Marx; "except one thick man and one thin one; and neither of 'em counts."
"Are the Caruthers here?"
"Every man of 'em."
"There is only one man of them; unless you count Mr. Lenox."
"I don't count him. I count that fair-haired chap. All the rest of 'em are stay in' for him."
"Staying for him!" repeated Mrs. Wishart.
"That's what they say. They seem to take it sort o' hard, that Tom's so fond of Appledore."
Mrs. Wishart was silent a minute, and then she smiled.
"He spends his time trollin' for blue fish," Mrs. Marx went on.
"Ah, I dare say. Do go down, Mrs. Marx, and take a walk, and see if he has caught anything."
Lois would not go along; she told her aunt what to look for, and which way to take, and said she would sit still with Mrs. Wishart and keep her amused.
At the very edge of the narrow valley in which the house stood, Mrs. Marx came face to face with Tom Caruthers. Tom pulled off his hat with great civility, and asked if he could do anything for her.
"Well, you can set me straight, I guess," said the lady. "Lois told me which way to go, but I don't seem to be any wiser. Where's the old dead village? South, she said; but in such a little place south and north seems all alike. I don' know which is south."
"You are not far out of the way," said Tom. "Let me have the pleasure of showing you. Why did you not bring Miss Lothrop out?"
"Best reason in the world; I couldn't. She would stay and see to Mrs. Wishart."
"That's the sort of nurse I should like to have take care of me," said Tom, "if ever I was in trouble."
"Ah, wouldn't you!" returned Mrs. Marx. "That's a kind o' nurses that ain't in the market. Look here, young man—where are we going?"
"All right," said Tom. "Just round over these rocks. The village was at the south end of the island, as Miss Lois said. I believe she has studied up Appledore twice as much as any of the rest of us."
It was a fresh, sunny day in September; everything at Appledore was in a kind of glory, difficult to describe in words, and which no painter ever yet put on canvas. There was wind enough to toss the waves in lively style; and when the two companions came out upon the scene of the one-time settlement of Appledore, all brilliance of light and air and colour seemed to be sparkling together. Under this glory lay the ruins and remains of what had been once homes and dwelling-places of men. Grass-grown cellar excavations, moss-grown stones and bits of walls; little else; but a number of those lying soft and sunny in the September light. Soft, and sunny, and lonely; no trace of human habitation any longer, where once human activity had been in full play. Silence, where the babble of voices had been; emptiness, where young feet and old feet had gone in and out; barrenness, where the fruits of human industry had been busily gathered and dispensed. Something in the quiet, sunny scene stilled for a moment the not very sensitive spirits of the two who had come to visit it; while the sea waves rose and broke in their old fashion, as they had done on those same rocks in old time, and would do for generation after generation yet to come. That was always the same. It made the contrast greater with what had passed and was passing away.
"There was a good many of 'em."—Mrs. Marx' voice broke the pause which had come upon the talk.
"Quite a village," her companion assented.
"Why ain't they here now?"
"Dead and gone?" suggested Tom, half laughing.
"Of course! I mean, why ain't the village here, and the people? The people are somewhere—the children and grandchildren of those that lived here; what's become of 'em?"
"That's true," said Tom; "they are somewhere. I believe they are to be found scattered along the coast of the mainland."
"Got tired o' livin' between sea and sky with no ground to speak of. Well, I should think they would!"
"Miss Lothrop says, on the contrary, that they never get tired of it, the people who live here; and that nothing but necessity forced the former inhabitants to abandon Appledore."
"What sort of necessity?"
"Too exposed, in the time of the war."
"Ah! likely. Well, we'll go, Mr. Caruthers; this sort o' thing makes me melancholy, and that' against my principles to be." Yet she stood still, looking.
"Miss Lothrop likes this place," Tom remarked.
"Then it don't make her melancholy."
"I hope so. She's human."
"But she seems to me always to have the sweetest air of happiness about her, that ever I saw in a human being."
"Have you got where you can see air?" inquired Mrs. Marx sharply. Tom laughed.
"I mean, that she finds something everywhere to like and to take pleasure in. Now I confess, this bit of ground, full of graves and old excavations, has no particular charms for me; and my sister will not stay here a minute."
"And what does Lois find here to delight her?
"Everything!" said Tom with enthusiasm. "I was with her the first time she came to this corner of the island,—and it was a lesson, to see her delight. The old cellars and the old stones, and the graves; and then the short green turf that grows among them, and the flowers and weeds—what I call weeds, who know no better—but Miss Lois tried to make me see the beauty of the sumach and all the rest of it."
"And she couldn't!" said Mrs. Marx. "Well, I can't. The noise of the sea, and the sight of it, eternally breaking there upon the rocks, would drive me out of my mind, I believe, after a while." And yet Mrs. Marx sat down upon a turfy bank and looked contentedly about her.
"Mrs. Marx," said Tom suddenly, "you are a good friend of Miss Lothrop, aren't you?"
"Try to be a friend to everybody. I've counted sixty-six o' these old cellars!"
"I believe there are more than that. I think Miss Lothrop said seventy."
"She seems to have told you a good deal."
"I was so fortunate as to be here alone with her. Miss Lothrop is often very silent in company."
"So I observe," said Mrs. Marx dryly.
"I wish you'd be my friend too!" said Tom, now taking a seat by her side. "You said you are a friend of everybody."
"That is, of everybody who needs me," said Mrs. Marx, casting a side look at Tom's handsome, winning countenance. "I judge, young man, that ain't your case."
"But it is, indeed!"
"Maybe," said Mrs. Marx incredulously. "Go on, and let's hear."
"You will let me speak to you frankly?"
"Don't like any other sort."
"And you will answer me also frankly?"
"I don't know," said the lady, "but one thing I can say, if I've got the answer, I'll give it to you."
"I don't know who should," said Tom flatteringly, "if not you. I thought I could trust you, when I had seen you a few times."
"Maybe you won't think so after to-day. But go on. What's the business?"
"It is very important business," said Tom slowly; "and it concerns—Miss Lothrop."
"You have got hold of me now," said Lois's aunt. "I'll go into the business, you may depend upon it. What is the business?"
"Mrs. Marx, I have a great admiration for Miss Lothrop."
"I dare say. So have some other folks."
"I have had it for a long while. I came here because I heard she was coming. I have lost my heart to her, Mrs. Marx."
"Ah!—What are you going to do about it? or what can I do about it? Lost hearts can't be picked up under every bush."
"I want you to tell me what I shall do."
"What hinders your making up your own mind?"
"It is made up!—long ago."
"Then act upon it. What hinders you? I don't see what I have got to do with that."
"Mrs. Marx, do you think she would have me if I asked her? As a friend, won't you tell me?"
"I don't see why I should,—if I knew,—which I don't. I don't see how it would be a friend's part. Why should I tell you, supposin' I could? She's the only person that knows anything about it."
Tom pulled his moustache right and left in a worried manner.
"Have you asked her?"
"Haven't had a ghost of a chance, since I have been here!" cried the young man; "and she isn't like other girls; she don't give a fellow a bit of help."
Mrs. Marx laughed out.
"I mean," said Tom, "she is so quiet and steady, and she don't talk, and she don't let one see what she thinks. I think she must know I like her—but I have not the least idea whether she likes me."
"The shortest way would be to ask her."
"Yes, but you see I can't get a chance. Miss Lothrop is always up-stairs in that sick-room; and if she comes down, my sister or my mother or somebody is sure to be running after her."
"Besides you," said Mrs. Marx.
"Yes, besides me."
"Perhaps they don't want to let you have her all to yourself."
"That's the disagreeable truth!" said Tom in a burst of vexed candour.
"Perhaps they are afraid you will do something imprudent if they do not take care."
"That's what they call it, with their ridiculous ways of looking at things. Mrs. Marx, I wish people had sense."
"Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they have sense, and it would be imprudent."
"Why? Mrs. Marx, I am sure you have sense. I have plenty to live upon, and live as I like. There is no difficulty in my case about ways and means."
"What is the difficulty, then?"
"You see, I don't want to go against my mother and sister, unless I had some encouragement to think that Miss Lothrop would listen to me; and I thought—I hoped—you would be able to help me."
"How can I help you?"
"Tell me what I shall do."
"Well, when it comes to marryin'," said Mrs. Marx, "I always say to folks, If you can live and get along without gettin' married—don't!"
"Don't get married?"
"Just so," said Mrs. Marx. "Don't get married; not if you can live without."
"You to speak so!" said Tom. "I never should have thought, Mrs. Marx, you were one of that sort."
"The sort that talk against marriage."
"I don't!—only against marryin' the wrong one; and unless it's somebody that you can't live without, you may be sure it ain't the right one."
"How many people in the world do you suppose are married on that principle?"
"Everybody that has any business to be married at all," responded the lady with great decision.
"Well, honestly, I don't feel as if I could live without Miss Lothrop. I've been thinking about it for months."
"I wouldn't stay much longer in that state," said Mrs. Marx, "if I was you. When people don' know whether they're goin' to live or die, their existence ain't much good to 'em."
"Then you think I may ask her?"
"Tell me first, what would happen if you did—that is, supposin' she said yes to you, about which I don't know anything, no more'n the people that lived in these old cellars. What would happen if you did? and if she did?"
"I would make her happy, Mrs. Marx!"
"Yes," said the lady slowly—"I guess you would; for Lois won't say yes to anybody she can live without; and I've a good opinion of your disposition; but what would happen to other people?"
"My mother and sister, you mean?"
"Them, or anybody else that's concerned."
"There is nobody else concerned," said Tom, idly defacing the rocks in his neighbourhood by tearing the lichen from them. And Mrs. Marx watched him, and patiently waited.
"There is no sense in it!" he broke out at last. "It is all folly. Mrs. Marx, what is life good for, but to be happy?"
"Just so," assented Mrs. Marx.
"And haven't I a right to be happy in my own way?"
"If you can."
"So I think! I will ask Miss Lothrop if she will have me, this very day. I'm determined."
"But I said, if you can. Happiness is somethin' besides sugar and water. What else'll go in?"
"What do you mean?" asked Tom, looking at her.
"Suppose you're satisfied, and suppose she's satisfied. Will everybody else be?"
Tom went at the rocks again.
"It's my affair—and hers," he said then.
"And what will your mother and sister say?"
"Julia has chosen for herself."
"I should say, she has chosen very well. Does she like your choice."
"Mrs. Marx," said the poor young man, leaving the lichens, "they bother me to death!"
"Ah? How is that?"
"Always watching, and hanging around, and giving a fellow no chance for his life, and putting in their word. They call themselves very wise, but I think it is the other thing."
"They don't approve, then?"
"I don't want to marry money!" cried Tom; "and I don't care for fashionable girls. I'm tired of 'em. Lois is worth the whole lot. Such absurd stuff! And she is handsomer than any girl that was in town last winter."
"They want a fashionable girl," said Mrs. Marx calmly.
"Well, you see," said Tom, "they live for that. If an angel was to come down from heaven, they would say her dress wasn't cut right, and they wouldn't ask her to dinner!"
"I don't suppose they'd know how to talk to her either, if they did," said Mrs. Marx. "It would be uncomfortable—for them; I don't suppose an angel can be uncomfortable. But Lois ain't an angel. I guess you'd better give it up, Mr. Caruthers."
Tom turned towards her a dismayed kind of look, but did not speak.
"You see," Mrs. Marx went on, "things haven't gone very far. Lois is all right; and you'll come back to life again. A fish that swims in fresh water couldn't go along very well with one that lives in the salt. That's how I look at it. Lois is one sort, and you're another. I don't know but both sorts are good; but they are different, and you can't make 'em alike."
"I would never want her to be different!" burst out Tom.
"Well, you see, she ain't your sort exactly," Mrs. Marx added, but not as if she were depressed by the consideration. "And then, Lois is religious."
"You don't think that is a difficulty? Mrs. Marx, I am not a religious man myself; at least I have never made any profession; but I assure you I have a great respect for religion."
"That is what folks say of something a great way off, and that they don't want to come nearer."
"My mother and sister are members of the church; and I should like my wife to be, too."
"I told you, I have a great respect for religion; and I believe in it especially for women."
"I don't see why what's good for them shouldn't be good for you."
"That need be no hindrance," Tom urged.
"Well, I don' know. I guess Lois would think it was. And maybe you would think it was, too,—come to find out. I guess you'd better let things be, Mr. Caruthers."
Tom looked very gloomy. "You think she would not have me?" he repeated.
"I think you will get over it," said Mrs. Marx, rising. "And I think you had better find somebody that will suit your mother and sister."
And after that time, it may be said, Mrs. Marx was as careful of Lois on the one side as Mrs. and Miss Caruthers were of Tom on the other. Two or three more days passed away.
"How is Mrs. Wishart?" Miss Julia asked one afternoon.
"First-rate," answered Mrs. Marx. "She's sittin' up. She'll be off and away before you know it."
"Will you stay, Mrs. Marx, to help in the care of her, till she is able to move?"
"Came for nothin' else."
"Then I do not see, mother, what good we can do by remaining longer. Could we, Mrs. Marx?"
"Nothin', but lose your chance o' somethin' better, I should say."
"Tom, do you want to do any more fishing? Aren't you ready to go?"
"Whenever you like," said Tom gloomily.
The Caruthers family took their departure from Appledore.
"Well, we have had to fight for it, but we have saved Tom," Julia remarked to Mr. Lenox, standing by the guards and looking back at the Islands as the steamer bore them away.
"Yes!" she said decidedly,—"we have saved him."
"It's a responsibility," said the gentleman, shrugging his shoulders. "I am not clear that you have not 'saved' Tom from a better thing than he'll ever find again."
"Perhaps you'd like her!" said Miss Julia sharply. "How ridiculous all you men are about a pretty face!"
The remaining days of her stay in Appledore Lois roved about to her heart's content. And yet I will not say that her enjoyment of rocks and waves was just what it had been at her first arrival. The island seemed empty, somehow. Appledore is lovely in September and October; and Lois sat on the rocks and watched the play of the waves, and delighted herself in the changing colours of sea, and sky, and clouds, and gathered wild-flowers, and picked up shells; but there was somehow very present to her the vision of a fair, kindly, handsome face, and eyes that sought hers eagerly, and hands that were ready gladly with any little service that there was room to render. She was no longer troubled by a group of people dogging her footsteps; and she found now that there had been, however inopportune, a little excitement in that. It was very well they were gone, she acknowledged; for Mr. Caruthers might have come to like her too well, and that would have been inconvenient; and yet it is so pleasant to be liked! Upon the sober humdrum of Lois's every day home life, Tom Caruthers was like a bit of brilliant embroidery; and we know how involuntarily the eyes seek out such a spot of colour, and how they return to it. Yes, life at home was exceedingly pleasant, but it was a picture in grey; this was a dash of blue and gold. It had better be grey, Lois said to herself; life is not glitter. And yet, a little bit of glitter on the greys and browns is so delightful. Well, it was gone. There was small hope now that anything so brilliant would ever illuminate her quiet course again. Lois sat on the rocks and looked at the sea, and thought about it. If they, Tom and his friends, had not come to Appledore at all, her visit would have been most delightful; nay, it had been most delightful, whether or no; but—this and her New York experience had given Lois a new standard by which to measure life and men. From one point of view, it is true, the new lost in comparison with the old. Tom and his people were not "religious." They knew nothing of what made her own life so sweet; they had not her prospects or joys in looking on towards the far future, nor her strength and security in view of the trials and vicissitudes of earth and time. She had the best of it; as she joyfully confessed to herself, seeing the glorious breaking waves and watching the play of light on them, and recalling Cowper's words—
"My Father made them all!"
But there remained another aspect of the matter which raised other feelings in the girl's mind. The difference in education. Those people could speak French, and Mr. Caruthers could speak Spanish, and Mr. Lenox spoke German. Whether well or ill, Lois did not know; but in any case, how many doors, in literature and in life, stood open to them; which were closed and locked doors to her! And we all know, that ever since Bluebeard's time—I might go back further, and say, ever since Eve's time—Eve's daughters have been unable to stand before a closed door without the wish to open it. The impulse, partly for good, partly for evil, is incontestable. Lois fairly longed to know what Tom and his sister knew in the fields of learning. And there were other fields. There was a certain light, graceful, inimitable habit of the world and of society; familiarity with all the pretty and refined ways and uses of the more refined portions of society; knowledge and practice of proprieties, as the above-mentioned classes of the world recognize them; which all seemed to Lois greatly desirable and becoming. Nay, the said "proprieties" and so forth were not always of the most important kind; Miss Caruthers could be what Lois considered coolly rude, upon occasion; and her mother could be carelessly impolite; and Mr. Lenox could be wanting in the delicate regard which a gentleman should show to a lady; "I suppose," thought Lois, "he did not think I would know any better." In these things, these essential things, some of the farmers of Shampuashuh and their wives were the peers at least, if not the superiors, of these fine ladies and gentlemen. But in lesser things! These people knew how to walk gracefully, sit gracefully, eat gracefully. Their manner and address in all the little details of life, had the ease, and polish, and charm which comes of use, and habit, and confidence. The way Mr. Lenox and Tom would give help to a lady in getting over the rough rocks of Appledore; the deference with which they would attend to her comfort and provide for her pleasure; the grace of a bow, the good breeding of a smile; the ease of action which comes from trained physical and practised mental nature; these and a great deal more, even the details of dress and equipment which are only possible to those who know how, and which are instantly seen to be excellent and becoming, even by those who do not know how; all this had appealed mightily to Lois's nature, and raised in her longings and regrets more or less vague, but very real. All that, she would like to have. She wanted the familiarity with books, and also the familiarity with the world, which some people had; the secure a plomb and the easy facility of manner which are so imposing and so attractive to a girl like Lois. She felt that to these people life was richer, larger, wider than to her; its riches more at command; the standpoint higher from which to take a view of the world; the facility greater which could get from the world what it had to give. And it was a closed door before which Lois stood. Truly on her side of the door there was very much that she had and they had not; she knew that, and did not fail to recognize it and appreciate it. What was the Lord's beautiful creation to them? a place to kill time in, and get rid of it as fast as possible. The ocean, to them, was little but a great bath-tub; or a very inconvenient separating medium, which prevented them from going constantly to Paris and Rome. To judge by all that appeared, the sky had no colours for them, and the wind no voices, and the flowers no speech. And as for the Bible, and the hopes and joys which take their source there, they knew no more of it so than if they had been Mahometans. They took no additional pleasure in the things of the natural world, because those things were made by a Hand that they loved. Poor people! and Lois knew they were poor; and yet—she said to herself, and also truly, that the possession of her knowledge would not be lessened by the possession of theirs. And a little pensiveness mingled for a few days with her enjoyment of Appledore. Meanwhile Mrs. Wishart was getting well.
"So they have all gone!" she said, a day or two after the Caruthers party had taken themselves away.
"Yes, and Appledore seems, you can't think how lonely," said Lois. She had just come in from a ramble.
"You saw a great deal of them, dear?"
"Quite a good deal. Did you ever see such bright pimpernel? Isn't it lovely?"
"I don't understand how Tom could get away."
"I believe he did not want to go."
"Why didn't you keep him?"
"I!" said Lois with an astonished start. "Why should I keep him, Mrs. Wishart?"
"Because he likes you so much."
"Does he?" said Lois a little bitterly.
"Yes! Don't you like him? How do you like him, Lois?"
"He is nice, Mrs. Wishart. But if you ask me, I do not think he has enough strength of character."
"If Tom has let them carry him off against his will, he is rather weak."
Lois made no answer. Had he? and had they done it? A vague notion of what might be the truth of the whole transaction floated in and out of her mind, and made her indignant. Whatever one's private views of the danger may be, I think no one likes to be taken care of in this fashion. Of course Tom Caruthers was and could be nothing to her, Lois said to herself; and of course she could be nothing to him; but that his friends should fear the contrary and take measures to prevent it, stirred her most disagreeably. Yes; if things had gone so, then Tom certainly was weak; and it vexed her that he should be weak. Very inconsistent, when it would have occasioned her so much trouble if he had been strong! But when is human nature consistent? Altogether this visit to Appledore, the pleasure of which began so spicily, left rather a flat taste upon her tongue; and she was vexed at that.
There was another person who probably thought Tom weak, and who was curious to know how he had come out of this trial of strength with his relations; but Mr. Dillwyn had wandered off to a distance, and it was not till a month later that he saw any of the Caruthers. By that time they were settled in their town quarters for the winter, and there one evening he called upon them. He found only Julia and her mother.
"By the way," said he, when the talk had rambled on for a while, "how did you get on at the Isles of Shoals?"
"We had an awful time," said Julia. "You cannot conceive of anything so slow."
"How long did you stay?"
"O, ages! We were there four or five weeks. Imagine, if you can. Nothing but sea and rocks, and no company!"
"No company! What kept you there?"
"What kept Tom?"
"Mrs. Wishart got sick, you see, and couldn't get away, poor soul! and that made her stay so long."
"And you had to stay too, to nurse her?"
"No, nothing of that. Miss Lothrop was there, and she did the nursing; and then a ridiculous aunt of hers came to help her."
"You staid for sympathy?"
"Don't be absurd, Philip! You know we were kept by Tom. We could not get him away."
"What made Tom want to stay?"
"O, that girl."
"How did you get him away at last?"
"Just because we stuck to him. No other way. He would undoubtedly have made a fool of himself with that girl—he was just ready to do it—but we never left him a chance. George and I, and mother, we surrounded him," said Julia, laughing; "we kept close by him; we never left them alone. Tom got enough of it at last, and agreed, very melancholy, to come away. He is dreadfully in the blues yet."