She gazed admiringly at the brilliant tints of Sylvia's complexion as the girl ran a comb through her reddish curls.
"Indeed I shan't change for him," responded Sylvia. Her heart was hot within her. Dunham might have come himself. Now she should never see him again, and she didn't care. The only reason she had wished to meet him was to show him her inflexibility and independence despite her acceptance of the despised money he had forced upon her.
She swept by the maid, who continued to gaze after her with admiration, and went downstairs to the reception room.
There she found a man with gray hair and short white beard, sitting near a window, a somewhat limp bag on the floor beside him. She paused inside the doorway and stood regarding him.
There was nothing interesting in his appearance. She had had all she wanted of relatives. If those who would have been creditable would none of her, she certainly would none of this countrified individual and his claim of cousinship.
"Good-afternoon," she began coldly. "You say you have brought me some explanation of Mr. Dunham's telegram?"
"Why, why," said the stranger, gazing at her musingly as he slowly rose from his chair; "is it possible that you are Laura's little girl?"
He stood noting her repellent attitude, and Sylvia recalled the maid's ardent recommendation of the manner in which he looked out of his eyes.
"You resemble her very little," he continued, in a slow, quiet voice as pleasant as his gaze. "I hadn't remembered that Sam Lacey was so good-looking."
This familiar mention of her mother and father seemed to establish the stranger's claim, but Sylvia was reluctant to grant it. Her hand was still against every man, and her look did not soften.
As she kept silence the visitor continued. "You've heard your mother speak of her cousin Jacob Johnson, perhaps?" he asked wistfully.
"Never," returned the girl briefly.
The man nodded. The lines in his forehead accented his expression of patience. His loving eyes studied the young features before him.
"Yes," he sighed, "you were still only a little girl when she went away, and her life was full of other things." A pause. "I wanted to marry your mother, Sylvia." Something in his tone knocked at the door of the girl's heart. She closed it tighter and kept silence.
"Wanted to so much that I never married anybody," he went on with the same slow quiet. "She preferred Sam Lacey." The speaker's lips parted in a slight smile as tender as his eyes, which began to shine again. "As I say, I'd forgotten how good-looking Sam was."
The knocking at Sylvia's heart grew clamorous. This man's voice touched some chord; and he admired her. She demanded that.
"I've tried to think right about it ever since I knew how," he continued with simplicity, "but there were long years when I didn't know how, and when the whole world seemed unprofitable. It's a real gift to see you, my little Sylvia."
The loving sincerity of the closing words shook that sensitive string in the girl's sore heart painfully. Her eyes filled while she endeavored to retain her self-control.
"It is an unprofitable world, full of coldness, full of disappointments," she answered brusquely.
He nodded. "True, true," he said, and advancing he took her cold hand gently and led her to the chair near his own.
They sat down together.
"That sense of things is the flat, stale, unprofitable stuff we hear about," he added. "You've been sick, too, they tell me."
"Who could tell you that?"
"The young man in Judge Trent's office. Dunham's his name."
Sylvia's face crimsoned, and she pulled her hand from its kindly prison.
"Then he has broken his word," she said passionately.
"Steady, my girl. Perhaps you haven't the facts, and you can't think right till you have, you know."
"He promised he wouldn't talk to Uncle Calvin about me."
"Perhaps he hasn't. You didn't think I was Judge Trent in disguise, did you?"
"Did he only talk to you? Truly, did he?"
"So far as I know. Your uncle telegraphed for me to come to the office, and I reached there this morning. I suppose Mr. Dunham hadn't promised not to talk about you to anybody on earth, had he? Your Cousin Jacob is harmless."
Sylvia looked into the small eyes so luminous with kindness.
"But it was Uncle—Judge Trent who sent for you?"
"Yes, I think he'd somehow got the idea that you didn't care about seeing him."
"They've been cruel to me. Aunt Martha was—Oh, I mustn't, I can't speak of it!" The girl's lips pressed together after the vehement burst.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," said Cousin Jacob. The quotation from his lips became a remark. His companion looked at him in surprise. "I've an idea you're some ways off the inheritance, Sylvia."
"There's a difference between meekness and servility, I hope," she returned hotly.
"I hope so," agreed Jacob Johnson equably. "This matter's just like everything else, little girl. You haven't any call to do anything about it but just think right."
"Oh," murmured Sylvia impatiently.
"Yes, I know. It takes time, especially if you aren't in practice. That Mr. Dunham's an honest, manly chap?" He put it as a question.
"There, then." The visitor nodded. "So far, so good. He told me where you were."
"And not Uncle Calvin?"
"No, he'd promised not to. A girl who thought she was high-strung, excited, and mad, made him promise not to."
"Is that the way he described me?"
Cousin Jacob pointed an emphasizing finger. "She's thinking it again. No, he didn't describe you in just those words. Well, Judge Trent and Miss Lacey took this business a good deal to heart, after all; and they sent for me to tell me about things; and as long as Mr. Dunham told me where you were, I thought I'd take a run to Boston. I'd go many a mile further to see Laura's child."
"I wish she had told me about you instead of wasting time making me kiss Uncle Calvin's picture good-night." The scornful tone brought another smile to her companion's lips.
"Your Uncle Calvin has made his mark," he said.
"A black and blue one, I'll warrant," retorted Sylvia.
Jacob Johnson shook his head gravely. "He's made his mark, and your Cousin Jacob is only a farmer."
Sylvia's lips had nearly formed the words, "I thought so." Her eyes dropped involuntarily to the limp bag.
"I was wondering what you were intending to do here in Boston, little girl?"
"I can't stay in Boston," she returned, and her lip quivered. "Just think, Cousin Jacob, I'm spending Uncle Calvin's money when I hate him! Isn't it awful?"
"It is," returned the other, with conviction. "Hating folks is the very worst business anybody can invest in."
"I didn't mean that. Isn't it awful to be obliged to him? You don't know. You don't understand."
"Yes, I do," the speaker nodded. "I know the whole thing from A to izzard. Well, how do you expect to leave Boston, and what will you do?"
"Go on the stage."
"Oh, I guess not, little one. How old are you? You look fifteen, but you're more. I remember when you were born, and how I envied Sam."
"If you were going on the stage, it would have been well to be thinking of it even sooner. Have you had any experience?"
"No, except knowing an actor."
"And you're counting on his help?"
"Yes. I think I'd better marry him."
Jacob Johnson looked at her in silence. "You love him?" he asked at last.
Her companion shook his head, smilingly. "Is he famous?"
"No. He says his chance has never really come."
Cousin Jacob threw back his head. "What a way out of trouble: to many an actor of that sort whom you love pretty well! You are very good to look at, Sylvia, my child, and any chance you could get on the stage would come from that. Bad business, hard business, dangerous business. Anyway, you're not strong yet. I have a proposal to make you. Come up with me to the farm for a while and drink milk."
"Why, Cousin Jacob!" Sylvia's cheeks had grown very white, and now a little color stole back into them. "Oh, you're kind!"
"Well, then, if you think so, come!"
"When?" Sylvia already had a sick dread of the little room upstairs and its thoughts.
He nodded. "We may as well go to Portland to-night as to stay here. Then we'll go to the farm to-morrow."
Sylvia took his hand in both hers and looked earnestly into his eyes. "Forgive me," she begged.
"For being so—so snippy when I first came into the room; for not believing in you, nor wanting you."
Cousin Jacob took her chin in his hard hand and his shining gaze met hers.
"You weren't thinking right, Sylvia. Oughtn't it to make you easier on other folks? Other folks who didn't know you, who didn't believe in you, who didn't want you? They weren't thinking right, and they suffered for it afterward just as we all do. You'd have been kind to your Cousin Jacob in the end, anyway. They'd have been kind in the end to their niece. I saw you weren't glad to see me. I might have picked up my grip and left"—
"Oh, I'm so glad you didn't. I'm so glad you didn't! You'll wait while I pack?"
He patted her shoulder. "Yes, oh, yes. I'll wait."
THE MILL FARM
Sylvia's sleep that night in Portland was profound. A sense of peace and safety had grown upon her from the time she took the train out of Boston with her new companion; and the next morning she awoke refreshed, in a chamber filled with sunlight.
She dressed and went down to the dining-room of the boarding-house where they were staying, and found her cousin standing by the window looking out on the fresh green of tall elms that shaded the quiet street.
"Well, well," he said, turning to meet her bright eyes. "Spring outside, and spring inside. You've had a good sleep, little one."
He held out both his hands, and Sylvia put hers into them.
"Dear me, I'm afraid it's noon," for now she noticed that breakfast had been served.
"No, we have time still to make the train I told Cap'n Lem to meet, and eat a little something into the bargain."
The speaker moved to the table and rang a bell.
"Oh, you've waited too long for your breakfast," said Sylvia.
"No, indeed! Been watching the orioles that are bringing up a family out in that tree. Busy times, I tell you. Makes me think of the day Calvin and I wanted to rob an oriole's nest,—hang-birds, we called them,—and a little girl with short curls and a sunbonnet wouldn't let us do it; a girl who'd stand only a little higher than your elbow."
"Mother?" asked Sylvia softly.
Jacob Johnson nodded, and they sat down to breakfast.
An hour later they were speeding along in the train nearing the town which was their destination.
"I never have been on a farm, Cousin Jacob," said Sylvia.
"'Tisn't much of a farm we have here," he replied. "Just enough to raise a living for ourselves and the stock in the winter. The chief business is fruit and vegetables for the summer folks. Cal—the owner of the place likes this part of the world for what time he can get off in summer, so he bought this little farm and hired me to run it. That was ten years ago. I wasn't enjoying the business I was at in those days, but I was just learning to think right about things then, and I knew I'd be shown something else if it was best, and so I was."
"What made you know it?" asked Sylvia.
Her companion smiled without looking at her. "How do you know the sun is shining this morning and the apple-trees are in blossom?"
"Why, I can see that."
"I saw, too, Sylvia. It's a great thing when you begin to see."
The girl observed her companion's half-averted face curiously. "Who lives with you at the farm?" she asked.
"My two helpers. Good Cap'n Lem Foster and his daughter-in-law, young Lem's widow. She's an excellent cook. Can you cook, little one?"
"I?" the girl laughed. "I can make Welsh rarebit."
Her companion patted her hand. "Sam Lacey brought you up, didn't he?" he remarked.
"You see we always boarded," went on Sylvia, "because father—well, it was better; he was contented if he could play cards and go to a show sometimes; and when he had had too much he always kept away from me—he was so good about that."
"Too much?" echoed her companion questioningly.
"Yes, of course he'd go out with the boys some nights, but they always kept him away from me until he was all right again."
The matter-of-fact tone gave the listener a pang. His big hand closed over the one he had been caressing. "You're in a prohibition state now," he remarked.
"Yes, I remember. I've heard father speak of it. I was just thinking of a verse he used to say:—
"'Johnny and Jane, Maiden and swain, Never had tasted a drop of champagne; Reason is plain, They lived in Maine, Where all the folks are obliged to drink rain.'"
"H'm. I wish they were," commented the other, regarding the black-clothed figure beside him. A thin veil was pinned to her hat in such a way as to cover the shortness of the soft curls. Her figure was erect, her coloring exquisite, her eyes innocent. She seemed to him like a jewel which had been set in base metal, carelessly guarded, and was now in danger of sinking into the mud of the highway. Laura's little girl!
He patted her hand again.
"Here we are," he said, as the train slackened and stood still. He took his own limp bag and Sylvia's plump, rubbed old one, and they moved down the aisle and out upon the platform.
"There's Lem." Jacob Johnson moved across the platform, and Sylvia followed him to where stood a two-seated wagon with a pair of strong horses. The driver leaned one arm on his leg as he looked passively at Sylvia. He wore a sweater and a felt hat, and had on blue overalls the color of his eyes. He was older than his employer, and a fringe of white whiskers surrounded his red, weather-beaten face.
"Howdy, Thinkright," he said, nodding as the couple approached.
"How are you, Cap'n Lem? This is my little cousin, Miss Lacey."
"Glad to see ye, Miss Lacey. Ye've got hahnsome weather," observed the old man. "Mawdrate, too, to what it has ben. Apple-trees hev all bust out."
"Yes, you must have had a fresh trip in this morning," responded Thinkright, as he saw to having Sylvia's trunk and the bags put on the wagon. At last he climbed in beside his guest. A slap of the reins set the heavy horses trotting deliberately.
Cap'n Lem sat halfway around in his seat in order to converse on farm matters, and Sylvia enjoyed the spring beauty about her as they drove out of the little town and took the country road.
"How's the jedge?" asked the captain at last.
"He's well. Told me to tell you he'd be after you for lobsters before long."
The old man gave a toothless smile. "Miss Lacey smaht?" he inquired.
"I suppose so. I didn't see her this time."
Sylvia's eyes began to look startled and questioning. Old Lem met her gaze. "Ye've got the same name," he remarked curiously, as the fact occurred to him, "same as Miss Marthy. Miss Marthy ain't no kin to you, is she, Thinkright?"
"No, except through this child. This little girl is a link."
"The missin' link, eh?" returned Cap'n Lem. "Well, all I kin say is she don't look it," and his shoulders twitched with delight. "The missin' link," he repeated from time to time, the utterance being always followed by a fresh convulsion of mirth as his sea-blue eyes roved to the visitor's grave face.
"Do they come here, Cousin Jacob?" asked Sylvia uneasily, under cover of the rattle of the wagon, "Uncle Calvin and Aunt Martha?"
"Will they be likely to, soon?" asked the girl, her face hardening.
Her cousin shook his head, and she saw compassion in his shining gaze.
"Don't fret about that," he said quietly. "Hot weather in the towns is a long way off yet."
"What'd the jedge say in the matter o' the new shed?" asked Lem, when he had somewhat recovered from the enjoyment of his joke.
"He said he thought we'd better have the old one shingled."
"Turrible short-sighted, that's what I say," grumbled the old man; "but he ain't ever fer branchin' out, the jedge ain't. Why didn't ye talk him over to it, Thinkright?"
"I didn't feel strongly about it. He'd do it if I urged him; but it's just as you say, he doesn't want to branch out. The place serves his purpose as it is, and while he owns it he'll keep it just as compact as it is now."
"What judge are you talking about?" asked Sylvia.
"Jedge Trent, of course," replied Cap'n Lem. "There hain't never ben a time when he wa'n't as sot as the everlastin' hills."
"Judge Trent is this child's uncle," said Jacob Johnson.
"No offense, no offense," remarked Cap'n Lem equably. "Seems if she's related to a lot o' folks," he added, and at this moment a team of colts came prancing around a curve in the road, trying their best with every nervous spring to escape their driver's control. Cap'n Lem's heavy horses shrank and shied, then as the others clattered by they resumed their steady gait. The old man turned and saw the white, fixed look in Sylvia's face.
"They wouldn't do nawthin'," he declared consolingly. "They're both powerful mawdrate hosses. Besides,"—the speaker stole a half-mischievous, half-shy look at her companion,—"Thinkright'll tell ye it's one o' the seven deadly sins to be skeered of anythin' that's in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the sea that in them is."
The curving road was leading up a hill. The gray horses soon began to draw their burden at a walk, and when they reached the summit they stopped, for it was a time-honored observance for them to catch their breath at this point, as it was for the passengers, if strangers, to hold theirs.
The grandeur hitherto concealed by earth and forest suddenly broke into view. A limitless expanse of sea lay revealed, pierced by points of fir-crowned land that drove rock ledges into the liquid blue. Sylvia gazed fascinated at the snowy froth tossing itself against every gray point. Islands of varied shapes rose here and there, some tree-covered, some bare mounds of green, studding the rolling sapphire distances, and the girl's breast rose involuntarily to meet the untold miles of sparkling motion and the free, fresh, sunlit air. Her hands clasped together, and Jacob Johnson watched her white face with its wide eyes and mute lips.
The exceptional beauty of the May day caused even Cap'n Lem to expend silent approval on the familiar scene. He waited for a longer period than usual before he clucked to the horses, and they began a cautious descent of the winding road, their heavy hind-quarters braced almost against the wagon in their experience of sundry rolling stones.
"Hahnsome weather, surely," he remarked.
"I've never, never dreamed of anything like it," ejaculated Sylvia, and relapsed into dumbness.
Her host smiled, well pleased.
As the road descended to a level it approached the water of a small bay whose sheltered reaches watered a luxuriant evergreen growth among which appeared an occasional birch. These adorned the sloping bank, interspersed with rock, and turned the blue depths to green as they leaned toward the water as if in the effort to catch their own lovely reflections.
"We'll get out here and walk up to the house, Cap'n," said Thinkright. "Tell Mrs. Lem we'll be there by supper time. We had our luncheon on the road."
Sylvia took the hand her host offered in silence, and jumped out of the wagon. Cap'n Lem clucked to the horses again, and they rattled away.
"Why does he call you Thinkright?" the girl asked abruptly, as her companion paused on a clearing in the grassy bank to let her view the picture before them.
Jacob Johnson smiled. "They rather like nicknames in this part of the world," he answered. "I didn't realize how much I used the expression until all the neighbors began to label me. I knew I was always trying to be on the mental watch, and what is much in the mind will out, I suppose. How do you like this basin? We think it very pretty."
Apparently it was an inland lake that lay at their feet, sparkling and rippling in the triumphant fullness of the tide. At the point where the curving shore ran out to sea stood a large deserted tide mill on posts, midway in the water. Its shuttered windows looked like eyes closed against the surrounding beauty, and seemed protesting against the witnesses of its failure. Twice every day, like a tumultuous rushing river the tide poured water into the spacious basin, until its ripples clambered ten feet toward the eagerly bending trees, and later the capricious flood rushed back to the bosom of the sea. There had been enormous power at work under the old mill. What was lacking that it had fallen into disuse and closed its eyes upon an unappreciative world?
"It's a picturesque place, eh, Sylvia?" Thinkright repeated his question as she gazed and kept silence.
"Yes," she replied, "but the view above was—there aren't words."
"True;" her companion nodded. "You see a farm wouldn't do well at such a height, so we have to come down to shorter views and shorter distances; but it's a great thing to know that all the grandeur is there. We've seen it, and we know we've seen it, and we can't forget it; it's an inspiration to us. It takes a lot of wisdom to sail out on that ocean you saw up there, to avoid the ledges and to manage wisely in the winds; but to sail or row about on this basin is within the power of most landlubbers. Nature's always reading us life lessons, Sylvia, always."
"I'm not one of the afraid kind," returned the girl, with a toss of her head. "I only wish I had a chance to go out on that ocean."
"Yes, I know. On the stage, for instance," returned her companion. "The ledges and the squalls have no terrors for you."
"I hope I have some brains and some common sense," she answered.
Thinkright laid a kind hand on her shoulder. "It's perfectly true that neither ledge nor wind could harm you if you knew why. Daniel was safe in the lions' den, but it was because he knew why."
At the touch of his hand the girl shrunk away, and he instantly dropped it. Her blue eyes met his now, dark and cold. "I have found that you don't always think right," she said. "Why did you deceive me?"
Her companion looked at his watch.
"We'd better be walking along," he remarked, and they entered a well-worn path just wide enough for two that led through the woods, but kept close to the small salt lake, whose shining blue shimmered between the branches.
"I haven't deceived you, little one," he answered.
"You knew that nothing would have induced me to be a guest at Judge Trent's farm," declared the girl hotly.
"What's the difference?" asked her companion mildly. "You were eating his bread in Boston."
Sylvia's cheeks flushed. "I—I"—she hesitated, "I wasn't going to do it long."
"You shan't do it here a day longer than you wish to," returned Thinkright. "Now, child, suppose a case. Suppose your Uncle Calvin and your Aunt Martha had shown you perfect love instead of indifference, how would you have felt toward them?"
"Loved them, of course, and been thankful." Sylvia's angry eyes grew moist.
"That would have been a happier state of mind than what you have now, wouldn't it?"
"Of course." All the girl's sore spots were aching. "Why do you ask such a question?"
"Just to remind you of the fact. Now why should you let them make you lose the joy of being loving and thankful?"
"Why—how unreasonable! I can't help it, of course."
"Yes, you can. It's wonderful, Sylvia, but yes, you can. Think of being able to get out of the heat and turmoil of resentment and anger into the kingdom of heaven! You know where Jesus said it was?"
"No, I don't."
"Within you. The kingdom of heaven is within you."
"I guess not," returned Sylvia, with heaving breast. "Father always said there was plenty of old Adam in me, and I know it isn't human nature to be loving toward people that have treated me as they did."
"No, indeed it isn't. Your only chance is in finding out that you have a higher nature inherited from our Father in heaven, who the Bible declares is Love. When you allow that nature to have sway you will, as somebody has beautifully put it, 'think God's thoughts after him.' You will think mercifully and lovingly of your uncle and aunt, and forgive them as you would be forgiven. That way lies happiness."
The girl raised her blue eyes to his curiously. "So you consider it thinking right to live in a sort of a fools' paradise?"
Her companion smiled at her and his eyes shone. "I leave it to you if it isn't better than yours," he returned. "You believe in God, don't you, Sylvia?"
She cast down her glance. "I've thought lately sometimes that I'd like to; but he's so far away, on the outest edge of the universe."
"Why, what's the name of the place he lives in?"
"Heaven, I suppose."
"Well, where did I just remind you is the kingdom of heaven?"
Sylvia shrugged her shoulders. Thinkright's voice had again that tone that tapped at her heart as at a closed door, and instinctively she resisted it.
"Within you, little child," went on her companion, after a waiting pause. "God far away? 'Nearer than hands and feet,' Sylvia, 'nearer than hands and feet.'"
"I don't understand anything of what you're saying," returned the girl abruptly.
"Well, isn't this a pretty path?" asked Thinkright, looking about them. "It seems only yesterday that all these evergreens were loaded with snow." As he spoke, a song-sparrow near by poured out a flood of melody.
"Ah!" exclaimed the girl, her eyes glistening.
"Oh, if you like birds you are going to enjoy the Mill Farm. We have a very respectable choir in these woods. Now we could keep on in this path past the mill, 'way out to the end of the peninsula, but we don't this time; instead we turn right here and then"—the speaker waved his hand up a gentle incline, at the head of which stood an oblong white house with green blinds; "that's the Mill Farm."
"Judge Trent's farm." Sylvia's eyes met those of her host. "Why did you deceive me?" she repeated, gazing at him while they stood still in the soft grass.
Thinkright brought the knuckles of one of his hands into the hard palm of the other. "I asked you to come to the farm, didn't I? You were not thinking kindly of Judge Trent then; you were wasting your time thinking wrong about his wrong doings. If I'd said come and be your uncle's guest at the Mill Farm instead of at the Young Woman's Christian Association, you'd have questioned and doubted some time probably, and we might not have caught that evening train to Portland, and it was best for me to get home."
Sylvia bit her lip.
"Now there isn't one thing to do but think right," went on her host kindly, "and you'll be happy as a girl should be. You believe there's satisfaction in slapping back, and it galls you because you can't. It's the greatest mistake you can imagine. The satisfaction of slapping back only leads on to greater complications and final disaster in a logical sequence. Now, I'm not penniless, my little cousin. Just at present you're my guest."
"Oh, am I really, Cousin Thinkright?" cried the girl eagerly.
"Surely you are."
"Then I can begin to have a good time right off," she exclaimed, her white cheeks flushing as she took his arm in her relief.
He smiled as they walked slowly up the incline. "Always have a good time," he said. "The daughter of a great King should hide her head in shame if she admits any other thought."
As Cap'n Lem's team drew deliberately up the hill to the house, his daughter-in-law and grandchild came out on the doorstep. "Hello, Lucil; hello, Minty," he cried.
Twelve-year-old Araminta, dressed in a red plaid frock, long of legs and arms, round of eyes, and with her braid beribboned in pink in honor of the unknown, looked her disappointment. "They never come!" she exclaimed. "We might jest as well as not rode to town, ma."
"Well, we couldn't 'a' known it, and no use cryin' over spilt milk," returned her mother. Mrs. Lemuel Foster had raised her pompadour exceptionally high this morning, and the knot at the back of her head had the psyche-like protuberance reserved for state occasions.
"Whoa, Jim. Hi thar, Pete," said Cap'n Lem, for his steeds began to exhibit spirit at the proximity of the barn. "Oh, yes, they come all right."
"Then who is it?" cried the two on the doorstep, in perfect unison. Thinkright's message had not specified the nature of his guest.
"The missin' link," replied Cap'n Lem. "Haw, haw, haw!"
The pent-up roar burst forth at last.
"Father, he hain't brought home a monkey!" Mrs. Lem's consciousness of the trail on her black brilliantine suddenly failed to support her company manner. "Do tell me you're foolin'!" she added acutely.
"Why, I think 't would be splendid!" cried Minty eagerly, watching her grandfather's heaving shoulders. "Where'd ye leave 'em, grandpa?"
"Daown t' the Basin."
Minty clapped her hands, and her round eyes shone. "To let it have a drink and run through the woods. Oh, what fun! I'll let it sleep with me."
Her mother gave her a sounding slap. "Hold your tongue, Minty Foster, and let the cap'n speak. Why did Thinkright ask me to get the best room ready, then? If a monkey comes into this house I go out of it, and I stay out."
"'Tain't a monkey, no, 'tain't," returned Cap'n Lem tearfully but pacifically; "but I made the best joke, Lucil, if I do say it. I'm laughin' yit. Ye couldn't 'preciate it till ye see her, then I'll tell ye, an if yew don't bust your sides"—
"Her? Is she young or old?" demanded Mrs. Lem, recovering a sense of the lustre on her brilliantine.
"Oh, pretty so-so," returned her father-in-law aggravatingly.
"Then they'll be up here in a few minutes," said Mrs. Lem, her black eyes snapping. "Get in out o' the wind, Minty, or you won't have no Boston left." She smoothed the limp roll into which Minty's front hair had been coaxed, and pushed her inside the open door, where the child lingered.
"You might tell who she is, grandpa," she called.
"Why, then,—come now, I will. It's mean to tease ye. It's Miss Lacey."
"Oh—!" A long-drawn sound of disappointment escaped from both his hearers. "Why couldn't Thinkright have said so!" exclaimed Mrs. Lem. "Miss Lacey'd jest as lieves have seen us in our every-day things."
"I don't care," said Minty, hopeful still. "Miss Lacey nearly always brings me somethin'."
"Take that pink ribbon right off your braid," commanded her mother, reentering the house.
"Oh, no, ma, it goes so good with this dress," pleaded Minty, looking down affectionately at the red plaid.
"Let her keep 'em on," said Cap'n Lem. "They ain't no time to change. They're a-comin' right up. Thinkright asked me to tell ye they'd be here for supper. They hain't had nothin' but trash on the road, I guess. Miss Lacey looks kind o' peak-ed;" and so saying, the old man drove on to the barn, his eyes closed tight as he slapped his knee in enjoyment of this second witticism, possibly even better than the first.
Minty skipped around helping her mother with the tea things, but her round eyes were first to discern the pair who came in sight on the hillside.
"There they be," she exclaimed, running to the window; "and ma," in deep excitement, "they're hookin' arms!"
"What are you talkin' about?" exclaimed her mother, whose pompadour fairly heaved in the jerk with which its wearer rose from the oven at this significant information.
"They are," repeated Minty, secure in her tremendous discovery; "come and look. Do you s'pose," in a hushed tone, "do you spose they're beaux, ma?"
"Hold your tongue, Minty Foster; you're too young to say such things," returned her mother; but the pompadour continued in a state of violent unrest as Mrs. Lem gazed at the new-comers and rapidly reviewed the situation and its possibilities. "I can't say it wouldn't be fittin'," she murmured, as she stood behind her daughter.
The approaching pair seemed absorbed in close conversation as they sauntered slowly, the lady's face downcast and her companion's eyes upon her.
"I'll never stay here with her, though, never in this world,"—went on Mrs. Lem, "and probably she wouldn't want me to."
"Oh, ma, then we'll have to go back to Hawk Island. I don't want to," wailed Minty.
"Hush!" commanded her mother, giving the child's shoulder a nervous shake. "Don't you dare to cry, Minty Foster. I guess you lived at Hawk Island a good while, and you can do it again."
"Yes, but then pa wasn't drownded; and here we've got"—
"As comfortable as I've made Thinkright, too. I'd call it downright ungrateful if 't was anybody but him," went on Mrs. Lem, paying no further attention to her offspring than to give the small shoulder another warning shake. "I s'pose he thinks age is goin' to steal on him before long, and he'd better be provided with some sure caretaker, and I can't deny 't would be a fine thing for Miss Marthy. I can just see them sharp eyes o' hers lookin' around here and takin' 'count o' stock. I always thought she was terrible curious about how things went on here."
"P'raps they're married a'ready," hazarded Minty dismally.
The pompadour wavered almost to its fall in the start Mrs. Lem gave.
"Araminty Foster, how could you have such a thought at your age!" However, the housekeeper's fast-beating heart suddenly accepted the probability of the suggestion.
"Leggo my shoulder, ma." Minty wriggled out of the excited clutch. "I don't care, they walk jest the way Jim an' Kitty did when they come out o' church."
"What do you s'pose she's all in black for? Miss Marthy never had anybody to lose that ever I heard of. You don't suppose she'd go in black for one o' the Derwents, do you? It makes her look awful slim, and she walks so slow. Maybe she's been sick."
The couple were drawing very near. Thinkright evidently called his companion's attention to something in the top of the tall pine that grew near the house. Sylvia lifted her head, the chiffon veil floated backward, and she gazed long up into the tree while the watchers at the window stared.
"Why,—wha—" gasped Minty.
"Never mind!" ejaculated Mrs. Lem, in an altered tone. "Tell me, does my Boston look all right?" One trembling hand patted the imposing erection of shining black hair, while with the other the speaker pulled the open-mouthed Minty away from the window. "Now don't you never tell what we thought, Minty Foster, not if wild horses was to drag you. Remember!"
"All—all right," gasped the child, "but"—
"They ain't no but. The cap'n 's been playin' smart again an' fooled us. Don't you let on, Minty—never, never."
The series of jerks which accompanied the rapid flow of words was too energetic for Minty to retain sufficient breath to let on anything. Her mother trailed the brilliantine across the room with a self-command and return of composure truly remarkable, and throwing open the door, met the grave gaze of the guest with unsmiling majesty.
"How do you do, Mrs. Lem?" said Thinkright. "This is my young cousin, Sylvia Lacey, who is going to make us a visit. And this little girl is Minty Foster, Sylvia."
"Glad to see you, I'm sure, Miss Lacey," returned Mrs. Lem, giving the offered hand a loose shake. "Won't you step in?"
Minty said no word, but stared at the new-comer fixedly. The house door opened directly into the kitchen.
"We don't use front doors much in this part of the world," observed Thinkright, as he ushered in the guest.
"Will you step into the front room, Miss Lacey?" asked Mrs. Lem, with a grand air, "or would you prefer to go directly upstairs to your chamber?"
There was an atmosphere of the world about Sylvia which Mrs. Lem recognized at once from long experience with summer people; and secure in her pompadour, the psyche knot, and the shine of her best gown, she wished to show this young girl that her sophistication was shared even in a rural district. To be sure, the extraordinary telegram from Thinkright had left the family free to believe that it was a personage whom he was bringing home with him—probably some important friend of Judge Trent; and to have their varied guesses met by the fact of a white-faced girl in mourning was disappointing. Nevertheless, to Mrs. Lem's suspicious eyes Sylvia had a cold, proud air, which caused the housekeeper to glory in her toilet and be grateful for her knowledge of the world. It should be Greek meeting Greek.
"Oh, she'll go to her room," said Thinkright. "Cap'n Lem and I will bring her trunk and satchel right up. Supper's nearly ready, I suppose, Mrs. Lem?"
"Whenever you are," returned that lady elegantly. "I will accompany you, Miss Lacey."
Minty, though she said no word, prepared to follow, apparently not able to remove her round gaze from the visitor.
"You may make the toast, Minty," said her mother warningly, and the child took a reluctant step backward.
Sylvia followed the brilliantine up a narrow staircase.
"You're from Boston, I presume, Miss Lacey?"
"Yes, just now," returned Sylvia.
"Not your home, then?"
"There. Walk in. This is your chamber."
Mrs. Lem threw open the door of a blue-papered room whose ceiling sloped at one side, while on the other were two windows curtained in dimity.
"I didn't expect to see a room of this size," said Sylvia.
"Oh, it's quite a copious house," returned Mrs. Lem leniently, "for a country place. It took me some while to get used to these slopin' kind o' rooms. I ain't from these parts. I lived to Clarksville before I was married. There, you can loop them curtains back more if you want to."
"They're very pretty," commented the girl.
"Yes. Of course they ain't point de spray, but they do well enough for here."
"Looped back. Oh, I should think so," said Sylvia, pushing the folds aside and looking down the western decline of the hill, where a wide reach of Casco Bay came in view. Small snowy sails were flying out to sea, like a flock of white butterflies.
"I guess the fishermen think handsome weather's set in. Them are the mackerel boats," explained Mrs. Lem. "They ain't had a good chance for a fortnight. It's ben so cold and homely 'twa'n't plausible for 'em to go out." Mrs. Lem patted her pompadour.
"I can see a thousand Christmas trees from this window," said Sylvia.
"Yes, it's real sightly. Judge Trent has just the same view from his room. It's his favorite."
Sylvia's face fell. "When does he come?" she asked.
"Oh, he comes and goes all summer. He don't make no long stay except in August."
Here the two men with Sylvia's trunk and bag came noisily up the narrow stairs. It was a very moderate-sized trunk as those of summer people go, and the visitor lost some social prestige in Mrs. Lem's eyes as the latter observed it. Moreover, Boston was not the girl's home. Nevertheless, there was that unmistakable air of the world. Possibly she was from wicked, fashionable, reckless New York, and being in mourning had come here with but few possessions to recuperate.
"Wall, how are ye likin'?" asked Cap'n Lem, when they had deposited the trunk.
He set his arms akimbo and smiled toothlessly upon the visitor. "I said 'twas Miss Lacey, didn't I?" he added to Mrs. Lem, with a delighted wink.
"Yes, and you said somethin' else, too," retorted Mrs. Lem. "You say a lot o' things beside your prayers."
Upon this Cap'n Lem's cackling laugh burst forth. "She don't look it, does she?" he responded. "So ye're likin' all right, air ye, Miss Sylvy?"
"I could sit by these windows twenty-four hours," returned the girl.
"Might git a little hungry, mebbe?"
"Yes, Mrs. Lem," put in Thinkright. "Sylvia and I have had only sandwiches and sponge cake since this morning. We're all ready as soon as she has washed her face."
Mrs. Lem bowed affably, and the three went out and closed the door.
Sylvia moved to the dimity-draped dresser and took off her hat. She smiled at the memory of her recent interview. "Cousin Thinkright says she can cook, though," she reflected. "I hope he's a judge."
The supper was good, and for many weeks Sylvia had not eaten so hungrily. Minty's eyes continued to devour her as the guest devoured the biscuit and honey; and it required an occasional warning, "Eat your supper, Minty," from Mrs. Lem, to deliver Sylvia periodically from the round, expressionless stare.
"What delicious milk!" said the girl, as she set down her empty glass; "and this cream would make city people open their eyes."
"It don't seem to me it's quite as rich as common," returned Mrs. Lem. "We often have it so thick it has to be dilated with water."
Sylvia met Thinkright's eyes and laughed. "That is a frequent necessity in the city," she said. "I wish it weren't."
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Lem raised her eyebrows, "I know it. Of course it takes such legions o' milk to supply the cities you can't trust 'em around a pump. Have some more o' the lobsters, Miss Lacey."
"Oh, no, thank you."
"Then," said Thinkright, "perhaps you'd like to go and help Minty bring home her Daisy."
"Who is Daisy?" asked Sylvia of the solemnly staring child, who had been mute throughout the meal.
"My cow," drawled Minty.
"I'm mortally afraid of cows," declared Sylvia.
"Daisy ain't ugly," returned Minty.
"Then if you'll promise to take care of me"—
"I will," declared the child, her cheeks flushing with the pleasure that her drawl could not convey.
"She usually gits the cow afore supper," explained Mrs. Lem, "but to-day she couldn't very well." She looked complacently at her child's toilet. "You needn't mind the dishes, Minty."
At the permission the child fled from the room and clattered up the back stairs. The others rose from the table, and Mrs. Lem assumed a large apron and began gathering up the dishes.
"You may help if you like, Sylvia," said Thinkright. "We want you to feel at home."
The girl hesitated. She disliked wrecks of meals, and the way for her to feel at home was to do nothing at all. She began awkwardly to take up the silver.
"No, no, don't do it, Miss Lacey." Mrs. Lem perceived at once the unaccustomed touch, and her New York hypothesis was strengthened. "You hain't any apern, and I do think," with an airy laugh, "you might git unpacked afore they set you to work."
"Oh, yes, let her help till Minty comes," said Thinkright, with the manner of conferring a favor upon the guest, who echoed a faint agreement and went on gathering up the knives and forks, while her host left the house. Her ordeal did not last long, for Minty, still flushed of cheeks from the excitement of the occasion, soon reappeared, the splendors of her recent costume as completely vanished as were Cinderella's at the stroke of twelve.
Her dark calico clung around her slim little body, and the white string that tied her braid was in evidence.
"Put on your sweater, Minty, and run up and git Miss Lacey's jacket for her. It's real fresh," said her mother.
The sun had ceased casting sparkles across the sea when they went out of doors, and the shadows were lengthening. The loveliness of the increasing rose-light in the west caused Sylvia to forget all annoying doubts as to where to pour the water from the half-empty glasses, and all objections to the remains of lobster.
"What a pretty place you live in, Minty!" she exclaimed, as they walked back of the house through an orchard of small apple trees, gnarly and stunted enough from their struggle with the elements through the winter, but with all bumps and twists veiled now in rose-tinted clouds of white bloom.
"Yes, 'tis. I like it a whole lot better'n Hawk Island."
"Where is that?"
"Oh, off there." Minty pointed a vague finger behind them seaward. "We lived there when father went fishin' afore he was drownded. I was real small, and I didn't have no cow. Daisy was born the year we come here, and Thinkright gave her to me."
"Oh, she's a pet, then; so I needn't be afraid of her."
"No-o, she wouldn't hook nobody! Beside, didn't you know if you're skeered o' things they're likely to happen?"
"Oh, are they? Well, luckily I'm not scared of many things."
"Where do you live?" asked Minty, renewing her grave stare at the admired guest.
"I,"—Sylvia's mind flew back over a panorama of abiding places. "A—I think I shall have to say nowhere," she replied after a pause. "I'm a tramp, Minty."
The child regarded her, unsatisfied and skeptical. "Why, where's yer mother and father?" she drawled.
"I,"—again the mutability and doubtfulness of all things were brought home to Sylvia. "I don't know," she replied. "They are dead."
"There ain't any such thing," returned Minty. "When folks seem to be dead they're goin' on livin' jest the same. Thinkright says so."
"Does my cousin Thinkright know everything?" inquired Sylvia smiling.
"Of course he does." There was a brief pause, and then the catechism continued.
"How old be you?"
"I don't know. You've got on long dresses and yer tall, but yer hair's shorter'n mine."
"Yes, I've been very ill and my hair all came out. It used to be straight as yours. I went to bed with my long hair braided smoothly, and got up with these new little kinks."
"I wish I knew where I could ketch that kind o' sickness," returned Minty, regarding the bright auburn rings enviously, "but don't tell Thinkright I said so," she added, with an afterthought. "He thinks bein' sick's as wrong as lyin'."
"My cousin Thinkright has some very odd ideas," returned Sylvia.
"There's Daisy a-mooin'," exclaimed Minty, her face lighting. "She hears us talkin'."
"Well, don't forget to tell her how charming I am, will you? It gives me the shivers to think I'm walking straight up to a pair of horns and not a fence in sight."
"She won't do nawthin';" the child smiled at the comical grimace her companion made, and a turn in the path revealed a white cow at the end of her tether looking eagerly toward them. A clump of evergreens rose beyond her.
"I think I'll climb one of those trees," said Sylvia. "She looks too glad to see me."
Minty laughed aloud, and running to the white cow threw her arms around her neck.
"Now then, introduce us," said Sylvia. "This is Miss Daisy Foster, I believe. So happy not to meet you, my dear! Please don't look as if you were going to rush into my arms the minute Minty lets go."
Minty laughed delightedly.
"I guess you'd better git back of her, Miss Lacey. When I untie her she might fall foul of yer and never mean to, she's so anxious for the barn."
Sylvia skipped toward the pines with alacrity. The sea wind and the situation had brought color into her cheeks.
"Why, the cow is anchored!" she exclaimed; for she perceived an ancient anchor at her feet to which that end of the rope was fastened.
"Yes. Daisy can't drag her anchor," returned Minty, her fingers busy with the knot at the cow's neck, "though she'd like to lots o' times. There now, Bossy, don't act so drove. I know it's later'n common, but I had a good reason, and 'tain't thinkin' right to be impatient." With the last word the rope fell free, and as the cow gave a bound Minty clung to its horns, and was carried forward, her feet scarcely touching the grass. Sylvia's heart leaped to her throat for a moment, but Minty's delighted laugh came back to her, and the guest laughed, too, at the child's antics.
Minty, glowing with superiority, could not resist this prime opportunity to make an impression, so went on with the romp as familiar to her as a more sedate method of locomotion, and finally the cow's gyrations carried her out of sight, leaving Sylvia alone and happy under the pine trees.
"Isn't it the strangest thing in the world that I should be here?" she thought, looking about. A memory returned to her of the cheap boarding-house in Springfield where her father breathed his last; of the worries that followed his decease; of her hurried journey; of the shock dealt her in Boston; of the stranger-cousin descending, as it were, out of the clouds to bear her up from the lowlands of mortification and hurt, to where the sea winds chased dull care away. The future troubled Sylvia very little. The thorn in the present was that Judge Trent owned this soft, grassy knoll on which she stood, owned that straight, symmetrical balsam fir yonder whose bright green tips full of the new life of spring were breathing balm on the air; owned the gambrel roof under which was her inviting chamber. Did he know she was here? She could not remember what her cousin had said about that. Mr. Dunham had sent for Thinkright. Yes, now she remembered: Judge Trent had told him to send, doubtless to ease his conscience; to get her out of sight, and yet to know that his sister's child was safe.
Well, his sister's child would show him—— At the revengeful impulse Thinkright's face suddenly rose before her with the words he had used about slapping back.
"The evening is perfect," exclaimed Sylvia aloud. The rose-light had begun to crimson the water. It drew her. She ran down the slope to the belt of birch and evergreen which surrounded the basin. Rays from the sinking sun were kissing the sightless upper windows of the Tide Mill until the weather-beaten shutters grew pink.
Sylvia entered the fragrant path she had traversed with her host that afternoon, and followed it toward the point of land beyond the mill. Suddenly a voice clear, bright, yet low-pitched fell on her ears, and almost simultaneously she caught a glimpse of the speaker between the trees.
The girl stood on the brink of the water, talking to some one in a small boat whose sail was flapping. Sylvia could not proceed without coming into sight, so she waited in order not to disturb the adieux. The boat had evidently just landed this passenger, who carried a bag and was dressed in a dark tailor suit.
The skipper, a sun-burned young fellow, was showing a row of strong white teeth at some sally from the lady when Sylvia's eyes fell upon him.
"I wish ye'd let me carry the bag up fer ye," he said.
"No, I'm going to punish myself for not being ready in time for you to sail into the Basin. I ought to know by this time that it's no use arguing with the tide."
"Always seems more sot here than anywhars," agreed the boy.
"Besides, I want you to have time to telephone for that carriage. Don't let them make any mistake. I must catch the one o'clock train."
"Yes. When are ye comin' fer good, Miss Edna?"
"Oh, in just a few weeks. June, some time. It'll be pulling me, pulling me, from now on, Benny."
She smiled, and Sylvia could see her face. Black hair that shone with a fine silken lustre grew thickly about a white forehead. Brows that lay like smooth touches of satin swept in two fine lines above gay, kind brown eyes. Her smile merited the adjective "sweet" more than any Sylvia had ever seen; but the boatman's next words startled the listener.
"Miss Lacey comin', too, I s'pose?"
"Of course. What a question to ask a lone, lorn girl?"
"She didn't stop long last season."
"No; for I was in Switzerland. Why should she? But I can't spare her now, and she's written me that she'll come just as usual, so Anemone Cottage will be itself again."
"Well"—the boy hesitated for words to express his pleasure—"we can stand it if you can," he finished.
"All right, Benny," she laughed. "Get to Gull Point as quick as you can. I've just one idea now, and that's the telephone. Good-by." She waved her hand as he set the sail and took his oars to pull into the wind.
Sylvia saw him nod and smile back. Then that happened on which she had counted. The stranger came up into the path, and without seeing the watcher, walked swiftly away.
Sylvia had seen no home in the vicinity beside the farmhouse, and the familiar mention of Miss Lacey made it doubly certain that this low-voiced stranger, this girl whose broad a's and lack of r's sounded oddly upon Sylvia's Western ears, was going fast as her trim feet could carry her to Thinkright's home. A strange feeling beset Sylvia. The newcomer's perfect costume, the assurance and refinement of her manner, even the unconscious adoration in Benny's sea-blue eyes, all pointed to a superiority which made Sylvia vaguely resentful of her.
What Miss Lacey had she been talking about? Aunt Martha, of course. Hadn't Cap'n Lem spoken of her also? What was she to this girl,—this raven-haired, charming girl who was nobody's despised niece?
Sylvia's heart beat hotly, and she began to run. Why was she wasting time when she wished to see what sort of reception would be accorded this stranger? Possibly, even, she was a favorite with Judge Trent. The thought gave Sylvia a forlorn pang, but she hurried on. Soon she again caught sight of the newcomer, who was passing out of the woods and starting up the incline that led to the house. Sylvia at once began to move slowly, her feet noiseless on the grass.
Cap'n Lem and Thinkright now came in view, returning from the barn, and Sylvia's eyes grew large as she heard the stranger's gay cry and the men's response.
They hastened down the hill to meet her. Cap'n Lem took her bag while she laughingly received their surprised welcome, and she threw her arms around Thinkright's neck and kissed him. Neither of the three observed Sylvia, who followed at a distance until they went inside and the house door closed upon them.
Pausing, to wonder and speculate, the chill of the evening made the girl shiver. The door had shut her out. She felt lonely and forlorn.
When Sylvia finally drew near the kitchen she heard talking and laughing within. Turning the handle and opening the door, a happy domestic scene was revealed, of which the strange girl was the centre. Her hat and jacket were lying on a calico-covered couch, a large apron enveloped her cloth gown, and she was wiping the dishes as Mrs. Lem washed them at the sink. Minty was running back and forth putting them away. Thinkright and Cap'n Lem were seated near the stove, and as the door opened a burst of laughter escaped from them at some remark of the visitor.
At sight of Sylvia's white face her cousin arose.
"I was just beginning to wonder where you were, little girl," he said kindly. "I want you to know Miss Edna Derwent. This is my cousin, Sylvia Lacey, Edna."
The latter came forward, holding in one hand a plate and towel, while she offered the other to Sylvia's cold acceptance.
"I'm fond of the name of Lacey," said the visitor, smiling into the other girl's grave eyes with the same gay, sweet expression that a few minutes ago had rested on Benny the boatman. Thinkright noted the quick hardening of Sylvia's face.
"Your Miss Lacey is aunt to this one, Edna," he said, "but Sylvia doesn't know Miss Martha yet. She has lived in the West all her life."
Mrs. Lem's sharp ears absorbed this information.
"Your aunt keeps house for Miss Derwent in the summer time at her cottage on Hawk Island," he went on, turning to Sylvia.
"I have a mother who unfortunately doesn't like the island, Miss Lacey," explained Edna, returning to the sink. "Take this plate, Minty, please."
"Guess you want another wiper, too, don't yer?" asked the child.
"I'll take as many as you'll give me," responded Miss Derwent. "I'd like a fresh wiper every two plates; but don't you encourage me, Minty, or I shan't be popular with your mother. Fill up the kettle, too, there's a dear. I'm a reckless scalder. Why, the stove lid's under that kettle. I wondered why it wasn't hotter."
"Wait till I find the hooker," cried Minty, diving down under the stove in search of the iron.
"Minty Foster, how many times have I told you never to take that hooker off the string?" said her mother reprovingly.
"I jest wanted it to crack nuts with," explained Minty, as she fished the lifter out triumphantly.
"Well, don't you never untie it again!" responded her mother severely.
"Yes, you'll crack it some day," remarked Edna, "and then what would you do, miles from a hooker as you are? I was telling you, Miss Lacey, that I have a mother with only one foible,—she doesn't like our island. You will see what heresy it is when you come over there. So Miss Martha has taken pity on me the last few summers, and I think she loves it as much as I do."
Sylvia's embarrassment was painful, as the speaker paused, looking at her in the natural expectation of a response.
"I don't know her," was all the reply her lips could utter.
"Then perhaps you will meet her first at my house," returned Edna brightly. "That would be very pleasant for me, I'm sure. I should enjoy the novelty of making near relatives acquainted."
"I shan't be here when she comes," responded Sylvia quickly.
"Indeed? Why, I'm sorry. I supposed you were to be a summer guest. You know Judge Trent, of course."
Sylvia's hot blush under the innocent question caused her cousin to come to the rescue again.
"No, even though he is her uncle," he said. "Strange state of things, isn't it?"
"Her uncle, and Miss Lacey her aunt?" returned Miss Derwent. "I never knew they were related."
"They aren't. It's the two sides of the house, you see."
"Miss Sylvy's the missin' link," put in Cap'n Lem, softly slapping his knee and shaking his head while his eyes closed tightly. "Don't look it, does she?"
"Now, Cap'n, don't git another spell o' the shallers," put in Mrs. Lem as the old man's chuckles threatened a crescendo.
"But you see I got ahead of the other relations," went on Thinkright. "I am her mother's cousin, and I put in my claim first."
"Oh, you'll like Judge Trent so much," said Edna, looking at the grave face in its aureole of curls. "He is a dear, but nobody dares to tell him so. By the way, Thinkright," the quaint name fell charmingly from the girl's lips as she turned to him, "I hear that a man I used to know, a Mr. Dunham, has gone into Judge Trent's office."
"So you know Dunham, do you?" returned her host.
"Yes, for a long time we saw a great deal of each other. Then Harvard for him and Vassar for me drifted us apart, but we have a lot of mutual friends, and while I was in New York the past winter a girl wrote me mournfully of his departure from Boston."
"I don't blame her for mourning," said Thinkright kindly,—"do you, Sylvia?" turning to the young girl, who was mortified to feel her color mounting again. "Sylvia knows Mr. Dunham."
"How stupid of him! Oh, how stupid of him!" was Sylvia's angry thought.
"I met him once only, on business," she said briefly.
Her manner and the blush mystified Miss Derwent.
"But didn't you like him? He used to be the most popular boy. One summer when mother was with me at the island she invited him to come to us, but his vacation had already been bespoken. I should like to renew our acquaintance. Perhaps Judge Trent will ask him here now. I hope so."
This girl had everything, everything. It wasn't fair. Sylvia bit her lip to keep back the excited tears. Her host saw the agitation in her face and quickly changed the conversation, talking to Edna of her affairs at Hawk Island, occasionally turning to Sylvia to explain some reference, but giving her the opportunity to keep silence.
At last, to the great relief of one of the company, bedtime arrived.
"Do forgive me for yawning," said Edna, "but I've had a strenuous day with Benny Merritt. I'll warrant the poor boy has been asleep for hours, I worked him so hard; but the cottage is in fine shape and all ready for Miss Martha and me to descend upon it. Oh, you must stay," turning suddenly to Sylvia. "You must come over to Anemone Cottage and make me a visit." Edna did not say a long visit, for the impression made upon her by this mute, cold girl in black was chilling; but she seemed to need cheering, and Edna was prepared to do any missionary work which would be a help to her dear Thinkright.
"Thank you, but I couldn't," returned Sylvia hastily. "I couldn't, possibly."
"I wonder what is the matter with her?" thought Miss Derwent, as she made ready for bed that night. "Perhaps her bereavement is very recent. At all events, she has come to the right place to be helped."
Sylvia, as soon as she had closed the door of her chamber, went to the window and knelt down with her hot forehead against the cold glass. The stars were twinkling in an invisible sky, and she could hear a rhythmic sound of many waters.
That girl had everything. It wasn't fair. She knew Mr. Dunham well. He was popular, he was admired. He was of Edna Derwent's world. She was doubtless popular and admired. What would they both think of Nat? Nat,—stout, red-faced, not too careful of his hands. Sylvia had often demurred concerning his careless habits. Now she knew that they alone made him impossible. There were many other things that made him impossible, and strangely, they were all points which were the opposite of certain characteristics she had observed in Mr. Dunham during their brief but informal and almost intimate relation. Miss Derwent's speech and pronunciation reminded her sharply of his, and as her thought dwelt upon this enviable girl making ready for her healthful, care-free slumber in the apartment usually sacred to Judge Trent, the burden of Sylvia's vague and helpless future bore down upon her and seemed heavier than she could bear. Long-repressed tears were rising scaldingly to her eyes when she heard a light tap on her door.
It might be she! She shouldn't come in! With a light bound Sylvia was at the door, pressing upon it.
"Who is it?" she demanded in a choked voice.
It was Thinkright's voice that answered her. "Gone to bed, or sitting up, little one?" he asked.
"Well—I'm sitting up—so far," she answered, and she opened the door slowly.
"I thought you might be feeling a little homesick, the first night in a strange place," he went on, "and I wanted to say good-night to you once again."
A great, resentful sob rose in the girl's breast, and with a sudden impulse she flung both her arms around his neck.
"Kiss me," she said chokingly. "You kissed her. How did she dare to kiss you!"
Thinkright drew the speaker out into the corridor as he caressed her cheek. "Come downstairs a few minutes," he said. "We might disturb Edna if we talked up here. Can't have you go to bed thinking wrong," he went on when they had reached the living-room where one tiny lamp still twinkled. "Now sit right down here by me, Sylvia. My heart feels for you. You miss your father, I know, and I wish I could be the comfort to you I'd like to be; but we must all at last find comfort in the great Father of all. We learn little by little that we can't lean on any arm of flesh."
Sylvia bit back her sobs and pressed her eyes. "Poor father is better off," she said. "I wouldn't want him back. He suffered, and he said there wasn't any place for him here any more,—and there isn't for me, there isn't for me!" she added passionately in a voice that shook.
"Wait, little Princess. The King's daughter is distrusting her Father, and pitying herself, Sylvia. That's low thinking, child."
"Of course I pity myself," the girl flashed back, "and ten times more since Miss Derwent came, taking possession of you, and Aunt Martha, and Uncle Calvin. She has everything. Why should she, while I have nothing?"
In the silence that followed Sylvia could see the patient lines in her companion's forehead, and the shining of his deep eyes.
"Except you," she added contritely, clasping her hands around his shabby coat sleeve, "I have you, but it kills me to cling to you like a drowning man, while that girl smiles at you from the top of the wave,—and owns everybody and everything!"
"Edna does some very good thinking," was the quiet response. "Her temptations are different from yours, and she has struggled with them."
"What has she to bear?"
"Sickness,—not her own, but that of dear ones, and an overdose of wealth."
"Oh!" The exclamation was scornful and skeptical.
"You remember the tale where the members of a community by common agreement met in the city's public square, and each one laid down his burden, and taking up some one else's went home with it? The story runs that on the following day every man and woman returned to discard the new burden and take up his own again. Supposing Edna took yours"—
Sylvia broke in: "She would be a girl who is a stranger in a strange land with no rights anywhere; whose nearest ones cast her off; who has no future, no money, no home, no plans. A girl who doesn't know how to clear a table or wash a dish in her cousin's house, while a strange girl comes in and takes charge of everything. I didn't even know how to kiss you!"
Thinkright smiled. "Edna," he said, "began that when she was twelve years old. It was the year I first came here, and I let her ride on the hay-wagon and gave her the sort of good times she had never known in her life. Her father is a chronic invalid. The doctors recommended the sea, and quiet, and great simplicity of life, so they built Anemone Cottage. Mrs. Derwent is a woman devoted to the world and fashion, but she made heroic efforts to endure Hawk Island for her husband's sake during several seasons. But there wasn't any right thinking done in that cottage except what Edna did, a child as happy there as a bird let loose from a cage; and after a while they gave it up. Edna continues to come, every season they'll let her, and I can assure you, little one, she needs the refreshment. She needs it. Brave, beautiful Edna!"
The peroration was uttered as an audible soliloquy, and it caused the listener to pull her hand from the calloused palm where it had been clinging.
"Good-night," she said abruptly, and started to rise.
Thinkright seized her arm gently and drew her back beside him. "Just a moment," he said quietly. "You said a minute ago that you had me; as if I counted for something."
"What's the use, when your interest is all wrapped up in that girl?"
"Oh, you poor little thing, you poor little thing!" he murmured.
His thoughtful tone made Sylvia hot.
"And every word I say you despise me more," she flashed forth. "You know you're sorry you came to Boston to get me. I can't be any different; I'm just myself."
"Of course you are. That's the comfort that we have. You'll find yourself some time, and discover a very different being from the one you are conscious of now. I'd like to see you get well, little one, for your mother's sake and your own, and mine."
"I am nearly well," returned Sylvia, surprised at the sudden digression.
Her companion shook his head. "Fevers of body are bad, but fevers of mind are worse. Will you take me for your doctor, child, and let me help you to find the sane, sweet, capable Sylvia Lacey who manifests her inheritance from the Father of us all?"
The girl's eyes grew moist, and she bit her lip. Her poor, vain sense struggled, but she was sore at the heart which this tone of his always pressed strangely.
"I'd better go away," she said in a voice that trembled.
Her companion placed a kind hand on her shoulder. "If you were to go away, you would not escape from Love," he answered. "Love enfolds you this moment and all moments. It needs only to be recognized and trusted to begin its transforming work in your consciousness. Even life is only consciousness, Sylvia, and you cannot be conscious without thinking. Then what it means to guard the thought,—to think truth, and not falsity!"
"How are we to know when we are thinking truth?" returned the girl, her breast heaving.
"As we are told to judge everything,—by its fruits. The fruit of your thinking has not brought you happiness; then let us get a new set of thoughts. That is all you need to begin with, Sylvia, a new set of thoughts; and you can't get them until you welcome a new guest into your heart." He paused.
"Who? You?" asked the girl.
Her companion smiled. "No, not I, little one. The guest's name is Humility." He waited a moment and then proceeded. "You are entertaining two guests now who are eating you out of house and home; devouring your substance literally. Their names are Vanity and Self-love. Vanity has a thin skin, is very easily injured. The other one whispers to you to hate your aunt and uncle, and to be jealous of Edna Derwent. They can't stay where Humility enters. Take her in. Listen to her. She will whisper to you that it isn't of so much consequence what comes to the Sylvia Lacey you are conscious of at present. She will promise you that if you will listen to her and make her your own, you will learn a happier Sylvia, a better consciousness in God's good time. 'Great peace have they who love His law. Nothing shall offend them.' What a new world you would enter, my girl, when you found that nothing could give you offense!"
A strange wrestling was going on in his listener's breast and her breathing was unsteady. Seeing that she was not ready to speak, Thinkright proceeded:—
"You have heard of the Brotherhood of Man. It isn't a mere phrase when you think right. All,—all of us, children of one Father, all with rights to the same inheritance, what should make us cold or grudging, one toward another? What is to prevent our spontaneous gladness in another's success. His happiness and good fortune become ours. It is all in the family, you see. There are no limitations to be placed on an infinite inheritance, are there? Our Father's love is impartial, and all that we ask in His name He has promised to give us. You couldn't ask in His name to eclipse Edna Derwent, could you? or to receive any other gift which would appeal to those two guests I hope you will turn out. These are small beginnings of great thoughts, Sylvia, but they point to that 'large place' where your consciousness belongs, and where Love waits to lead you."
The pressure on the door of the girl's heart overwhelmed its resistance. She leaned her forehead against the shoulder so near her. Her breath caught in a sob. "I'll try," she breathed humbly, "I'll try."
Back in the dingy offices of Calvin Trent the sunshine revealed time-honored ink stains and other immovable relics which held their own despite a thorough house-cleaning which Hannah had recently given the rooms.
The judge had apologized to Dunham at the time.
"Until this affair of the Lacey girl is settled," he said, "Miss Martha is liable to come in upon us at any time, and we might as well be prepared."
"By all means," Dunham had responded devoutly. "Unless there is a chemical change brought about in the anteroom I shall be obliged to ask you to attend the door yourself."
This particular sunshiny morning, as John was opening the mail, he found a letter beginning, "Dear Cal:"
It was postmarked Maine, and he passed it over to his employer in silence. Judge Trent was reading the morning paper at the time, and just glancing at his cousin's writing, he clutched the sheet in his left hand and went on with his editorial.
Dunham smiled down at his pile of correspondence. "Absence hasn't made the heart grow any fonder," he reflected. "The governor's interest in Curly Head appears to be about where it was."
Then he thought of Miss Lacey and the contrasting eagerness with which she would greet a letter from Maine. He breathed an involuntary sigh of satisfaction that whatever the bulletin his own responsibility in the matter was over, and that the lesson he had received concerning the unwisdom of rushing in where relatives feared to tread was likely to last during his lifetime.
"'M, h'm," breathed the judge at last, laying down the paper and setting his hat a little farther back on his head. His thought was evidently still busy with the morning news as his eyes moved vacantly to the letter; but beginning to read, the corners of his lips drew down, not in scorn, but with a movement habitual to him when interested.
He read slowly; even read the letter twice. It ran as follows:—
* * * * *
"DEAR CAL,—Laura's little girl was very willing to come up here with me, and I was exceedingly glad to bring her, for poor influences in her life have made her a victim. I've had several talks with her. She has received only a desultory education, and isn't fitted for any life-work. She has been fed on froth mentally, and in Sam's worst straits has evidently never been obliged to do anything more severe in the way of manual labor than to mend her father's clothes; but withal she is innocent and honest, and not to blame, in the absence of a mother or any wise guidance, for not rising higher than her father's standards. You and Martha gave her heart and pride a great shock. Her mother used always to talk much about you in particular, and taught her little girl to kiss your picture good-night. So you can understand the surprise and disappointment of the sequel. You know what Laura meant to me, and while I would in any case do what I could for this child, it is my pleasure, and in your and Martha's default, seems to be my duty, to assume charge of her. I have determined upon this, for the girl is a starved specimen, and very needy. I tell you this in advance in case the new responsibility should take me away from the farm for any reason, so that all may be understood, and we may be guided. Edna Derwent looked in on us for one night. She says Martha is to be with her again this summer, and bade me beg you to take time to call on her the next time you are in Boston. She is exulting in her summer's prospect of sea, sky, and freedom, in her usual winning manner. Her parents are to travel with friends for some time, leaving Edna to be a child again. She says she is often tempted to feel old and tired."
The rest of the letter was devoted to mention of the farm matters, and Judge Trent glanced through it with a careless frown. The increasing absorption with which he had made his perusal roused Dunham's curiosity. Twice the lawyer's feelings carried him to the pitch of audible expression. His exclamations were brief and monotonous. When he arrived at the point describing his niece's caressing his picture he slowly ejaculated, "Get out." And when the matter concerned Thinkright's renouncing his care of the farm the reader made use of the same words, vigorously varying the emphasis thus: "Get out."
John speculated upon the information Judge Trent was receiving. Perhaps Sylvia had revolted against being immured on a New England farm and had escaped to Nat.
The judge dropped the letter and stared ahead of him. Thinkright's implied accusation nettled him more than all Miss Martha's tearful reproaches. For the first time his duty toward his niece presented itself as so reasonable as to be impossible of escape.
He looked at Dunham, who sedulously did not look at him. The young man was thinking of a mignonne face as he had last seen it with quivering lips, trying to smile in response to his encouraging parting words. At last the judge spoke:—
"Well, Thinkright took her up there."
"Ah?" responded Dunham. Whatever his curiosity, he determined that his conversation on this embarrassing subject should never exceed monosyllables.
"Sickly looking, is she?" pursued the lawyer after a pause.
"Yes," replied John; then memory reminding him that this was not strictly the case, he availed himself of the remainder of his vocabulary: "and no," he added.
"I should like to know what Thinkright means by her being starved," said Judge Trent irritably.
Silence from Dunham, frowning at his papers.
"I believe I'll send you up there," began the lawyer after a minute.
"I believe you won't," retorted his subordinate with surprising promptness.
The older man stared. "I should like to know how the girl is carrying sail; how she eats, whether she seems contented. An eyewitness, now"—
"Not me," said John briefly.
"Lost your conceit, eh?" asked the judge, grinning.
"No more family parties for me," returned Dunham doggedly.
"Oh, come now, be good-natured and obliging."
"Never again while I live," was the response.
"I've never praised you half enough for your work on that job," said the judge ingratiatingly. "The more I think of it the more I wonder where we'd have brought up in the affair if it hadn't been for you."
"You might as well flatter the Sphinx," remarked John impersonally.
Judge Trent laughed. "Afraid of a little girl, eh?"
Dunham shrugged his shoulders. "I shouldn't be the first man. Why don't you send Miss Lacey?"
"H'm," grunted the judge thoughtfully.
John smiled. "Provide her with a full suit of chain-armor and I fancy she'd accept the detail."
"I'm going in town to-morrow," soliloquized the judge aloud. "I might go and ask Edna Derwent."
"Who?" demanded Dunham, looking up with sudden alertness.
"Of Commonwealth Avenue?"
"Yes. What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I am only surprised that your calling list includes her."
"Well, now, why should you be?"
"No reason, of course," returned John, smiling, "except that she's a girl; and girls,—I thought they were all under the ban. You'll have to take your hat off, you know."
"H'm," grunted the judge again.
"I'll tell you what," suggested John, "send me there. I'll go."
"Do you know her?"
"Used to—well. I haven't seen her for years. It's her family I referred to when I spoke of friends of mine going up into Casco Bay."
"Yes. Hawk Island."
"That's the place. I was invited there once, but couldn't accept."
"Very nice girl, Edna," remarked the judge.
Dunham emitted a noiseless whistle. "She must be a wonder," he replied. "I didn't know there were any nice girls."
"You think you're smart, don't you?" said the judge.
"I shall if I get an errand to Miss Derwent to-morrow."
"Then who's to go to the Tide Mill?" demanded the lawyer.
"You and Miss Lacey, hand in hand. It's fitting that you should protect one another."
"Miss Lacey lives with Edna Derwent at the island in the summer,—keeps house for her, plays watch-dog, and all that sort of thing."
"Indeed? How small the world is! I knew I felt drawn to Miss Lacey. I'd forgotten until you mentioned it how I adore Miss Derwent. Do give me the detail, Judge."
"Get out. You can't do that Boston business. I suppose you'd better mail this letter to Miss Lacey," tossing the missive over to the young man's desk.
"I can take it to her house this evening. I have to go to thank her for my handkerchief that she sent back. Do you want me to—no!" with a sudden turn back to his desk.
"Do I want you to what?"
"Don't be an idiot!" exclaimed the lawyer, exasperated by his own indecision concerning this affair so foreign to his experience.
"No, it's none of my business," said Dunham.
"Do I want you to ask Miss Lacey if she'll go up to the farm? Yes, I do. Tell her all expenses paid."
After supper that night, for they had supper at six in this rural city of Seaton, John Dunham took a trolley car for the tree-lined street where Miss Lacey's cottage stood behind its row of poplars.
"Utterly inappropriate," mused Dunham, smiling to himself as he glanced up at these "old maids of the forest." "They would be far better placed in front of Judge Trent's. He is a bachelor by conviction."
Miss Lacey saw the young man coming up the walk, and herself opened the door, although she kept a little maid of fourteen, who attended school by day and assisted Miss Martha in her free hours for her board and lodging.
"How do you do, Mr. Dunham?" she said, brow and voice anxious. "I hope nothing bad has brought you."
"Do you call gratitude and admiration bad?" asked John, as she hastily shook hands with him.
"There's very little of either ever walks in this door," returned Miss Martha dejectedly. "Step into the parlor, please. I'll pull up the shades in one minute."
She suited the action to the word, and as she threw open a window the scent of lilacs floated into the room. "These are nice long evenings, aren't they?" she pursued lugubriously. "What are you grateful for, Mr. Dunham?"
"My handkerchief, of course."
"Law! Your handkerchief!" repeated Miss Lacey. "Do sit down."
A swift glance at the spider-legged furniture caused John to choose the haircloth sofa, whose shining surface bulged substantially. He wondered where the judge used to sit. Any of the chairs would have held him, but perhaps they both used this sofa. If so, they must have led a migratory existence; and perhaps its slipperiness had infected and undermined the stability of the judge's affections.
"You didn't need to make any fuss about the handkerchief," added Miss Martha.
"Indeed I should," replied Dunham, immediately conscious of beginning to glide, and anchoring himself with an arm across the mahogany back. "It would be sacrilege ever to use such a miracle of whiteness and shine, with a cameo monogram."
"How foolish," returned Miss Martha, visibly cheered.
"No, indeed," continued John; "I'm going to have it framed and hung where my laundress can use it for a model."
His companion emitted a faint laugh. "I'm glad you can joke," she said, "and it's real kind of you to come and thank me for such a trifle. Oh, Mr. Dunham, I haven't had a happy minute since that day we were in Boston. I was just now sitting down to write a letter to Thinkright. He doesn't know the suspense I'm in. I suppose she's told him how hateful I was, and he thinks I don't care."
"Yes, a letter came only to-day. Here it is. It was one of my errands to bring it."
"Good news? Oh, is it good news?" Miss Lacey's attitude changed alertly, and she seized the offered envelope.
"I don't know," replied John. "She's there."
His companion had already torn open the sheet, and was reading greedily.
"Oh, dear—dear!" she ejaculated above her breath. At last she looked up. "The judge showed you this, of course?"
"No, really, Miss Lacey, it's none of my business, you see."
"None of your business, after you've been so kind and taken such an interest? I should say it is! Listen."
John brought his teeth together in a resigned sigh while his hostess read aloud, occasionally lifting her eyes to comment. At the close he spoke.
"I was surprised to learn that you and Miss Derwent are friends."
"Oh, you know her?" asked Miss Martha absently.
"Up to a few years ago, I did, very well."
"You can see what opinion Thinkright has of Judge Trent and me."
"Yes," returned John, harking back to his monosyllables.
"No doubt you have the same," said Miss Lacey dismally, "even though I explained to you fully"—
"Well, your mind can be at rest now," returned Dunham. "The young lady is provided for."
"Thinkright is certainly a good man," said Miss Lacey, her brow still drawn, "although he isn't exactly what folks would call a professor. No one that knows him has a particle of doubt that he means well, and I feel that his notions can't do Sylvia any real harm when he lives such a good life."
"What are his notions? Do you mean that he is a freethinker?"
"Well," responded Miss Lacey, "I don't see how anybody could be more free. I should feel that I was tempting Providence to expect everything was coming my way, the way he does. I should expect a thunderbolt instead of prosperity. I told him so once, and he smiled and said then I'd probably get the thunderbolt. He says it's all a matter of what you expect and why you expect it. He asked me if the reason I expected the thunderbolt was because I believed that God was Love. He hasn't got a spark of the humility that most good folks know they must have. Why, if every Christian was like him there wouldn't be a professor left who'd call himself a poor worm or a sinner. I don't agree with Thinkright, because I'd never be so presuming with my Creator as he is, nor be certain that my Father wouldn't see fit to send me any afflictions; but I must say he has as lively a dread of sin as anybody I ever knew. There's no mistake about his being a good soul, and that's why I don't mind his notions; and, oh, I'm so glad he's got that flighty child under his wing. She'll never get any harm from his example, however queer his talk is. Edna Derwent, now, she sympathizes with him, and thinks she gets along a lot better since she's had his ideas to work on. So," Miss Lacey looked at her caller with a sudden speculative curiosity, "so you're one of Miss Derwent's satellites, are you?"
Dunham shrugged his shoulders. "I used to be, but I've been so frozen by years of her silence that now I might better be classed among her stalactites. She has a number. I've been trying to get Judge Trent to send me to Boston on business to-morrow and to call on her. He wishes to ask some questions about his niece."
"Does he, indeed?" Miss Martha sat up very straight and her eyes snapped. "Well, it's about time. I guess Thinkright's letter hurt his pride a little, too."
"It did seem to stir him. Of course you are both pleased that this friend—this relative of yours has decided to adopt your niece."
"It sounds awfully,—just awfully, doesn't it, Mr. Dunham?" returned Miss Lacey, a nervous color mounting in her face. "Our niece, and Thinkright adopting her; partly from a romantic feeling which does him the highest credit,—he adored poor Laura,—and partly from duty which I should think would be a sermon to Cal—to Judge Trent." Sudden tears sprang to the speaker's eyes, and she touched them with her handkerchief. "I've condemned myself, for, after all, while I thought I was justified, I certainly didn't stop to think enough from Sylvia's standpoint, I was so afraid I was going to be imposed upon. I'm so grateful to Thinkright, and so grateful to you, Mr. Dunham. What should we have done without you!"
"Oh, don't—don't mention it."
"But I must, I'm so grateful. I wish Judge Trent would send you on some business errand to the farm so that"—
"No, indeed," interrupted John hastily; "but he does want to send you, Miss Martha. He empowered me to request that you take the trip, permitting him to be at all expense."
"He did, did he?" retorted Miss Lacey, her eyes drying and snapping again. "Well, I should think it was about time he stopped sending folks on that errand," she continued, with a superior contempt for consistency. "It's about time he went himself. I guess he feels pretty small about the whole thing if the truth were known. Isn't that touching about Sylvia's kissing his picture? How did he feel when he read that, Mr. Dunham?"
"Impossible to tell. All he said was 'get out.'"
Miss Lacey's nostrils dilated. "Well," she ejaculated, "all is I know if I'd mar—that is," she added faintly, "I'm glad Laura didn't live to see this day. He has a great deal less excuse than I have, Mr. Dunham, and I have little enough." Miss Martha finished with sincere feeling. "You tell Judge Trent for me, Mr. Dunham, that he had better go to that farm himself."
A LOST OAR
Mrs. Lem's awe of the new Miss Lacey was short-lived. The fact that she came out of that vague locality known as the West seemed to soothe the housekeeper's latent suspicion that the young girl might be "big feeling." Sylvia was reticent even in the presence of Edna Derwent, and this silence could not proceed from snobbishness; moreover, her spirits rose after the departure of the Boston girl, and Mrs. Lem decided that Thinkright's guest was, in spite of her slim height and the dignity of her black garments, only a shy girl who needed encouraging.
"Do you think Miss Derwent's pretty?" she asked Sylvia after Edna had made her adieux.
"Very," answered Sylvia, who was enveloped in the apron the guest had worn the night before, and was awkwardly wiping dishes as the housekeeper washed them. Minty had gone to school.
"I know folks most always think so," said Mrs. Lem, whose pompadour had collapsed with her theories of Sylvia's New York origin; "but I don't know," she went on judicially, "when you come to diagnose Edna's features they ain't anything so great. Her nose wouldn't ever suit me,—kind of insignificant."
Mrs. Lem's own feature was of the strong Roman variety. "They're just rollin' in gold," she went on. "It's a wonder to me Edna sets such store by Anemone Cottage when they've got such a luxuriant home in Boston."
Sylvia listened with lowered eyes intently fixed on her work. She had wakened this morning with a sensation of relaxation. Some habitual tense resistance had given way. She was subdued and conscious of relief, as if from a cessation of responsibility. She realized what caused this as her interview with Thinkright rushed back upon her thought. He saw through her. That was her mental admission. He did not admire her at all, and yet for her mother's sake he would not despise her. He had made her view herself in a totally new light.
She had promised him to try to be humble. The thought had mingled with the sea's rhythmic lullaby as it hushed her restless soul to sleep last night. He had offered her a new God who was Love,—his God. One who gave him happiness and content. Why should she resist? Was there really such a God? if so, then He had led her to this unheard-of and unsuspected cousin, the one being in the universe who granted her the right to be, her right to rest in his care and protection.
With the thought came a novel rush of gratitude to the unknown God of whom she had never thought as a friend, a Father, One to count upon. She had turned her head on the pillow last night and buried her eyes with a certain gladness and hope.
In quiet she had sat through the hurried breakfast hour this morning, in serenity had bade the guest good-by, and with a novel ambition had asked Mrs. Lem to be allowed to assist her. A wakened sense, a new outlook on the world, filled her consciousness now while the housekeeper rambled on.
Edna Derwent had everything. Very well, it was the lesson that Thinkright had set her, to be willing that Edna should have it, to put away that heat of envy which had been like a sharp tooth at her vain heart. In the exaltation that followed yielding herself to the learning of this lesson a sense of humor had little place; so she listened intently to the substance of Mrs. Lem's information with scarcely a smile at its manner.
"I tell you, though, money won't buy everything," went on the housekeeper, scalding a fresh panful of china. "Here's a fresh wiper, Miss Sylvy. Mr. Derwent's ben entirely incapacitated for business or pleasure for years. What good's his money to him? All them luxuriant carriages and high-steppin' charges,—he'd give 'em all, I guess, to be able to walk off ten miles the way Thinkright can, and him his own age."
"It must be hard for Miss Derwent," returned Sylvia, able to-day to accept this idea.
"Jest so," agreed Mrs. Lem. "The more that her mother jest loves society and fine doin's and pines after 'em, so that Edna, who loves both father and mother, is caught betwixt the upper and nether grindstone, as the old sayin' is, and has the life about squoze out of her sometimes."
Sylvia bit her lip. "It's difficult to imagine it," she replied, "when one sees her so bright and happy as she has been here."
"Yes, this is the Hawk Island Miss Derwent. I've heard the other side from Thinkright. I lived over on the island summers when she and her pa and ma used to be there together, but I never knew any of 'em. I used to see the child rampagin' around the rocks in sneakers and cotton dresses, and her ma readin' to her pa in hammocks on the piazza; but later years she's gone with 'em to waterin' places in Europe. Leastwise that's what folks say, though where they'll find any more water than they can here gets me. You know how some folks is. The fishin' 's always better somewheres else. Yes," continued Mrs. Lem sagely, "we don't know what we're doin' when we're envyin' folks. There's a skeleton in most family closets. Most everybody's got somethin' to contend with. I used to think," she lowered her voice, "that the Creator sent 'em for our good. Thinkright says not; so I humor him, and I hope it won't be visited on me. I apologize reg'lar in my prayers at night. It's jest as well to be on the safe side."
Sylvia's grave little mouth broke into a sudden smile, but her eyes were wistful.
"I should love to believe as my cousin does," she answered. "He said we must judge everything by the fruits, and he is so good, so good."
"Yes, Thinkright's fruits is all right," agreed Mrs. Lem, squeezing out her dishcloth. "He ain't any feeble critter either, I tell you. When Judge Trent's here and somethin' goes wrong, and he scowls under them brows o' his, I often feel like sayin' to him, 'Thinkright ain't even afraid of his Creator; and I guess he ain't goin' to care for a few scowls o' yours.' Judge Trent gees and haws some, but he always has to come around if Thinkright's sure he's right. There ain't only one thing that man's afraid of, and that's doin' wrong; and though you hain't seen so very much o' the world yet, you'll find out that's quite an ovation in the way o' lookin' at things."
Sylvia's brain made a vain grasp for the word Mrs. Lem was trying to use. Two days afterward when she was out on the basin in Thinkright's rowboat "innovation" came to relieve her bewilderment.
Minty's lean, strong arms had often rowed her about the little salt lake, but Sylvia was ambitious to be her own boatman; and this afternoon she was practicing by herself, catching crabs and splashing, laughing at her own awkwardness until, breathing fast, her pale cheeks pink from exertion, she pulled in her oars and floated on the blue ripples, looking at the full green of leafy boughs among the sombre richness of the evergreens, and listening to the spring gladness of the robin's songs.
It was all very lovely. The Tide Mill only refused to be cheered. Silent, enduring, wrapped in memories, it stood gray and unapproachable.
"Poor old thing," murmured Sylvia, addressing it. "You're not thinking right." She laughed softly, and ran her hands through her thick curls.
Instantly an oar glided off the boat. She jumped for it, but it was too late. Nearly capsizing, her heart beat as the boat rocked back into safety and she tried to scull after the runaway with the remaining oar. Her inexperience and the clumsiness of the boat baffled her. The floating oar rose and fell, gently increasing its distance, and splash as she might she could not gain upon it.
A curt voice suddenly called from the shore behind her, "Here, girl, girl! Stop that. Be quiet, and probably you'll float in."
She turned involuntarily, and beheld, standing on the verge, a small, elderly man wearing a silk hat and scowling while he motioned to her imperiously.
Obediently she ceased her ineffectual splashing, and the boat danced and floated shoreward.
"Then why doesn't the oar float in, too?" she asked anxiously.
"Ask Neptune," returned the stranger curtly.
"I mustn't lose that oar," cried the girl.
"Why didn't you take care of it, then?" rejoined the judge, and the boat just then venturing near him and curtsying, he jumped aboard of her with an agility that astonished the passenger. The craft rocked in the shock.
"Sit still," commanded the judge, and Sylvia remained motionless while he seized the oar, and going to the end of the boat, began sculling with a practiced hand, which was at strange variance with his costume.
The trouble in Sylvia's eyes vanished, and two little stars danced therein as she saw by the steady approach of their craft that the lost was as good as found, and so had leisure to gaze furtively at her gondolier. The down-drawn corners of the judge's lips, his shaggy frown at the oar coquetting on the ripples with a breeze which was flapping the skirts of his formal frock coat, and the firm set forward of his high silk hat, formed an incongruous picture.
He took no notice of her gaze. "The currents in this basin," he said half to himself, "are most aggravating."
"They seem to have soured the disposition of the Tide Mill," ventured Sylvia.
"Eh?" returned the judge, glancing down into the eyes that laughed as mischievously as the small pearly teeth. The sunshine, glinting in the silky curls and brightening them to red, seemed laughing too.
"If you've never seen the Tide Mill before, do look at it," she went on. "Doesn't it seem as if it was refusing to be comforted?"