"It couldn't make its salt," remarked the judge briefly.
"Queer, with so much about," returned Sylvia demurely.
The lawyer caught her starry gaze again. He took no notice of her little joke.
"Can you swim?" he asked sternly.
"No," she returned.
"Then you've no business out here in a boat without some older person."
Sylvia was wearing Minty's blue sweater, and the heated, rosy face above it looked like that of a child. Judge Trent after his unexpected arrival had come down to the Basin to search for the pale and mourning niece concerning whom his conscience had been awakened. He had been looking for the black-clothed figure on the walk, at the moment when the dilemma of the awkward child in the boat had attracted his attention.
"The children of this neighborhood should every one be taught to swim and manage a boat, girls as well as boys," he went on. "They are not. It is a very stupid mistake."
"I do want to learn very much," returned Sylvia meekly. "Minty Foster, a little girl here, has given me one lesson, and I came out to practice this afternoon."
"Minty can row very well," said the judge. "I hope you've learned a lesson about watching your tools. Experience is a good teacher." As he spoke he reached the runaway oar and snatched it up dripping.
"Oh, I'm so much obliged," said Sylvia. She possessed a dimple in one cheek, and it was very busy while Judge Trent, his lips down-drawn, pushed both oars through the rowlocks beside her.
This accomplished, he sat down in the end of the boat and looked at her. She grasped the oars, wondering what he expected her to do. She felt that it would be a dangerous thing to splash that broadcloth, and she dared not laugh beneath the frowning, speculative gaze.
"I thought I knew all the people around these parts," he said, while Sylvia let the boat float. "I never saw you before."
"I'm a visitor," returned the girl. "Isn't it beautiful here?"
"There isn't any better place in this world," returned the lawyer impassively, "and I doubt very much if there is in the next."
He saw now that his companion was older than he had thought. He recalled, too, that she had made some comment on the Tide Mill.
"What was it you said about the Tide Mill?" he asked.
"Only that it will look so sad and unapproachable even when the sun shines like this; as if its feelings had been hurt and it could never pardon or forget."
The judge continued to gaze. He was being penetrated by a suspicion. This girl knew Minty Foster. Supposing—
But he had called on Miss Derwent, and she had verified Thinkright's description. It was her impression of muteness, pallor, sadness, which had decided the judge to drop his affairs and have a look at the farm. What did Edna mean? What did Thinkright mean? Was it a plot to work on his sympathies? This smiling maid with mischief in her eyes frolicking recklessly in the clumsy old rowboat was the opposite type from the cold, pale specimen he had braced himself to meet in the Basin path. She would have been suitably environed in its changeless sombre firs. This girl, with her length of limb and graceful breadth of shoulder, had greater affinity with the white birches delicately fluttering their light bright greens as they leaned eagerly toward the water and Sylvia.
"The Tide Mill hurt beyond pardon, eh?" he returned. "Well, possibly it didn't relish the epithets of the men who sank their money in it."
The flight of fancy was unprecedented for the speaker. He was sensible of unwonted excitement in a possibility.
His companion was still dimpling at the lean figure in the roomy frock coat and high hat.
Laura had been a small woman. The judge was considering that if his companion should rise she would equal or overtop his height.
Starved. Very needy. So Thinkright had put it. Nonsense. This riante dryad of the birches could be nothing to him.
"Shows a small disposition, though, after all these years," he added after the brief pause. "Don't you think so? Nursing injuries and bearing malice and all that sort of business?"
The smile died from Sylvia's face. She half averted it, and trailed her fingers through the quiet ripples. "Thinkright says so," she answered.
And then the judge knew that those young lips so suddenly grave had kissed his picture good-night, that that young head had been pillowed on his sister's breast, and had constituted whatever brightness was in her troubled life.
A strange tightening constricted his throat, for, the temporary heat of the girl's exertion with the oars passing away, he saw her cheeks pale, and it was with a grave glance that she looked at him again. "Do you know Thinkright Johnson?" she asked.
"I suppose he is the best man in the world," she added. "Don't you?"
The high hat nodded again. Judge Trent would not have given unqualified assent to so sweeping an assertion, but, poorer than Dunham on a recent occasion, he had not even monosyllables at his command. It did something novel to him to remember Laura and then picture this girl alone at the Hotel Frisbie.
They floated in silence for nearly a minute, then the judge spoke: "Thinkright has some very good ideas. It's an excellent practice, for instance, to forgive your enemies, and even on some special occasions to stretch a point and forgive your friends."
The young girl looked up at him. If this stranger knew her cousin he could not be quite a stranger. "He is trying to teach me to think right," she said simply. "It seemed at first as if it were going to be easy even though it was different; but, oh, it's hard sometimes! I get sore inside just as my arms used to in the gymnasium at school. Father wrote me a note once to get me excused from physical exercise; but," she gave a little laugh and shrugged the shoulders of the blue sweater, "Thinkright won't write me any note of excuse."
"H'm," thought the judge uncomfortably, "I guess she's got some of the Trent old Adam to buck up against." His gaze did not remove from the half-averted head with its sun-crowned, red-gold aureole.
"Who'd have thought Sam Lacey's carrot-top could be made over into that?" he mused.
UNCLE AND NIECE
For a few moments Sylvia sat absorbed in her train of thought, and suddenly coming to herself, found the stranger's intent gaze upon her. He noted her sudden embarrassment, and hastened to speak.
"Thinkright's worst enemy could never accuse him of preaching what he does not practice," he said.
"Has he any enemies?"
"He's liable to have one in me." The shaggy brows drew down, but the thin, smooth-shaven lips twitched, and the girl saw that the speech had a humorous intent.
She smiled. "Then I shall protect him. He is my cousin."
"Oh, you're related, eh?"
"Yes, and I love him. He is the only one of my relations that I can endure!"
"H'm. Poor relations."
"No, indeed. Rich relations. I am the poor relation, that is the trouble; but—if you know Thinkright you can imagine how he talks to me about it."
"Preaches. I suppose so. Hard on you."
"No." Sylvia shook her head and patted the water with an oar. "He has helped me. He knows wonderful ways of helping people."
"Well, I'll thank him not to send you out in this water in a boat that you don't know how to manage."
The form of the irritable declaration caused Sylvia to view her companion with large eyes.
"Now you're here you might as well take a lesson," went on the judge. "Try rowing a bit. If you're going to stay here you'll need to know how."
"But I'm not going to stay here," rejoined Sylvia quickly.
"Why not?" The odd little man scowled so intently at her that the girl began to feel uneasy and glanced shoreward.
"If you detest all your other relations and love Thinkright then why isn't his home the place for you?"
"It—the trouble is it isn't his home."
"Whose, then?" Judge Trent braced himself in expectation of the answer.
"The farm belongs to—to a celebrated lawyer who uses it for a summer home," replied the girl.
"Make friends with him," suggested the judge.
Sylvia's breath caught. "If—if you knew how I don't want to and how—I must!" she returned naively.
Her companion smiled grimly. "Well, here, now,—he's an old curmudgeon, I know him,—never mind him. Let's have a rowing lesson. Take the oars,—there, at that point. Now!" The speaker bent toward the young girl, and his dry hands closed over hers. She glanced at him half in fright, and away again as he guided her awkward movements until the boat moved slowly, but with tolerable evenness, through the water. "Now you're getting it, you see," he said at last.
Sylvia began to forget her embarrassment in interest.
"Not too deep,—only bury the oar." The speaker glanced up into the eager face so near him. Coral lips, pearly teeth, sunny curls,—loneliness, the stage, an actor husband—
"Turn it right there, steadily; see the water drip off? That's the way"—
Himself with his nose buried in a pile of papers, Martha hysterical, Dunham morose, but himself always unmoved. Laura's baby! He remembered that he had sent her a silver cup when she was born.
"Look out, a steady pull,—steady. That's enough now. You're tired. This boat is a tub. You should have a light one."
Sylvia laughed, and let her teacher pull the oars across the boat.
"Now we'll float a while," he said, resuming his seat in the bow. "So Thinkright wants you to forgive everybody; love everybody, eh? I know that's his tack."
Sylvia was breathing fast from her exertions. "Yes," she nodded. "I've never had much practice in loving people."
"No? That's the Trent in you."
She lifted her eyes in surprise at the abrupt reply. He nodded. "You said Thinkright's your cousin, then so is Judge Trent."
"Uncle," returned Sylvia briefly.
"Ah. One of the detested."
She lifted her shoulder with a gesture of dread. "I mustn't say so," she answered.
He watched her through a moment of silence.
"I wish you luck getting over it," he remarked dryly. "It's against you—being a Trent."
"But," said the girl simply, "Thinkright says if I'll only keep remembering that I haven't any relations except God, and His children, I shan't find anybody to hate."
The judge's eyes snapped. "H'm. I hope there's something in that. I hope there is. I've never paid much attention to Thinkright's little pilgrimages among his rose-colored clouds, but perhaps it might be to my advantage to do so; perhaps it might. The fact is, girl,—I'm sorry to confess it because I know it will be unwelcome news, but—I'm your Uncle Calvin."
Sylvia grasped the side of the boat, grew pale, and stared. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "He has a full beard. He has a round face."
"Once upon a time, as the story books say, he had."
The girl's eyes closed and her lips compressed.
"Sylvia, remember the Tide Mill." The judge's voice was rough with feeling. "Your eyes look like its shuttered windows. I'm not a monster. I'm only a human machine that didn't know how to stop grinding. I've come up here to tell you so. I thought our introductions were better made away from the family, and I expected to find you walking in the woods."
Sylvia opened her eyes again, widely, apprehensively. "Is Aunt Martha here, too?"
"No. I thought one of us would be sufficient. I saw Miss Derwent in Boston recently. She gave me news of you."
"Uncle Calvin," began the girl in a low, uneven voice, "I have said very uncivil things. Why did you deceive me?"
"I had no idea at first that you were my niece. I looked for some one totally different."
Sylvia's heart was beating with unwonted quickness. This was the man who had been willing to pay frugally for her living until she could make one for herself, while too indifferent even to see her; but Thinkright's talks had turned a searchlight upon her own predilections and expectations, with the effect of distracting her attention somewhat from the shortcomings of others. Her present excitement in the discovery of her uncle was mingled with mortification at the remembrance of what her thought had once demanded of him. The boat rocked gently over the blue ripples; the sunshine illumined alike the burnished greens of grass and foliage and the weather-beaten pallor of the implacable Tide Mill. The shrewd, lined face under the high hat kept piercing eyes on the youthful, drooping countenance opposite.
"Yes, you're totally different from what I expected," he said again. "You're no more like your mother than I am."
She flashed a suddenly suspicious glance up at the speaker. "I am proud to be like my father," she declared.
The judge shrugged his shoulders, and the girl continued hotly: "I've come to a place where no one has a kind thought or word for him. I love him twice as much as before."
"H'm," grunted Judge Trent. "Even Thinkright draws the line there, does he? Shouldn't wonder. Sam Lacey carried Laura off under his very nose."
"Thinkright doesn't talk about him," returned the girl; "but that speaks volumes."
"I'm not going to, either. I'm glad you loved him, and that you still do; and now let's see what can be done in our situation. Practically you detest me, but theoretically you love me a la Thinkright. Is that about the size of it?"
Sylvia wiped her eyes and gave an April smile.
"Now," went on the judge, "supposing we take the latter clause as our working hypothesis. We're both Trents and chock-full of old Adam. I've never had any use for girls, and you have no use for old clams of uncles who keep their heads in their shells when they ought to be coming up to the scratch; but, after all, what's the good of hating one another?"
"It's no good," responded Sylvia quickly.
"Well, then, supposing you let me in on the rose-colored cloud proposition, too."
Sylvia's reply was a question. "Did you really come up here on purpose to see me?" she asked.
"I did, indeed. Ought to be back in the office this minute. Dunham—you know Dunham by the way—will have troubles of his own before I can get back."
"How is Mr. Dunham?" asked Sylvia, again splashing the water gently with an oar.
"As well as could be expected of such a fragile flower. He's straining at the leash now to get to Boston to call on Miss Derwent. I expect my arrival at the office will be the signal for a cloud of dust in which he will disappear, heading for the first train. A very fine girl, too. I 'm glad you met her. If I ever admired girls—except when I'm walking on rosy clouds—I should admire her."
"I knew you did!" exclaimed Sylvia, with a little pinch at the heart.
"You knew it, why?" asked the lawyer blankly.
"I don't know. I felt it."
Judge Trent bit his lip in a certain grim amusement. His niece, then, sometimes did him the honor to think about him still, even though she had ceased to kiss his picture.
"I'm a very jealous person," declared Sylvia frankly, looking up at him, "and vain and selfish and lazy. It's as well for you to know it."
"Indeed? So Thinkright has impressed upon you that open confession is good for the soul, eh?"
"Oh—Thinkright!" ejaculated Sylvia, with a sudden start. "I forgot. It's all wrong to say those things even about one's self."
Judge Trent nodded. "I've heard that contended. Somebody says that self-condemnation is only self-conceit turned wrong side out."
"Yes." Sylvia nodded. "I suppose from any standpoint it's still talking about yourself; but I didn't mean that. He says we mustn't say such things because it fastens the wrong more tightly to us. Of course if we do wrong we have to own it and repent, but,"—Sylvia heaved a great sigh. "That's only the beginning, the easiest part. It's doing differently and not in the old way that's hard,—not thinking and doing jealous, vain, selfish things." She patted the water again thoughtfully.
"Well, give me a hand up, Sylvia. I'm an old dog, but perhaps upon occasion I can bound into the rosy clouds to stroll with you."
Sylvia shook her head knowingly. "If you do bound up you'll find you have struck something more substantial than clouds; and the rose-color may appear,—yes, it is there," she interrupted herself with sudden conviction. "I've perceived it in flashes, but"—her voice sank, and she shook her head again,—"it doesn't seem rosy all the time."
"Well," returned the lawyer, "there's a certain amount of reassurance in the fact that you won't dare detest either me or Miss Lacey."
At the latter name color flashed over the girl's face, and she stretched out her hand impulsively. "Oh, it's so hard to love Aunt Martha," she cried.
The judge pursed his lips, averted his eyes, and rubbed his chin the wrong way.
"I suppose you do," she continued dejectedly.
"We-ll," he returned, his sharp eyes resting on the pointed firs,—"from the rosy-cloud altitude, of course, of course."
"Then you don't like her?" cried Sylvia hopefully.
"Of course I do," returned the lawyer hastily. "Most certainly. A very fine woman; a capable woman in every way." As he spoke he scanned the banks uneasily, as though fearing that Martha might have repented of her refusal to come in his place, and had followed him. "She is most worthy of respect and—and"—his voice trailed away into silence. "Give her a hand up, too, Sylvia," he added after a moment, "and we'll all let bygones be bygones together. What do you say?"
"It's easier to have you with me, Uncle Calvin," returned Sylvia naively.
The judge felt the embarrassment of guilt. This was the result of his leaving Martha to bear the heat and burden of Hotel Frisbie alone. Hers had been the hours of tears and anxiety. He had kept on the even tenor of his legal way, troubling himself about nothing, and his negative misdemeanors were less heavily visited upon him. Compared to himself Martha was innocent; and it was the way of the world that such should suffer always with the guilty, and sometimes even in their place. He told himself, however, that his tenure on the situation was too light to be risked. He took ignoble refuge in generalities.
"Don't rely too much on first impressions, Sylvia. Your Aunt Martha has grieved about you. Remember, 'to err is human, to forgive divine.' Moreover,"—the speaker's lips twitched again,—"what will Thinkright say if you refuse her standing-room on our cloud? Consider well!"
Sylvia smiled through bright drops.
"Now, then, change seats with me," continued the judge, "and I'll row you in."
At the same moment Thinkright, having been absent for hours on some errand, was being greeted on his return by Mrs. Lem, who came out to the doorstep to meet him.
"Guess who's come," she said.
He looked up inquiringly. "Is Miss Derwent back again?"
"No. You'd never guess who it is this season o' the year. It's Judge Trent."
"Where is he?"
"Went down to the basin to find Miss Sylvy."
"Oh, did he?" Thinkright smiled in his interest.
"Yes. Kind of a touchin' meetin', I expect," remarked Mrs. Lem, lifting her pompadour and sighing sentimentally. Judge Trent had surprised her in a state of sleek and simple coiffure; but no sooner had his high hat disappeared down the hill than she flew into the bedroom and remedied the modest workaday appearance of her head; nor would the pompadour abate one half inch of its majestic proportions until he took his train back to Boston. She hoped she knew what was due to the lord of all he surveyed.
"How long has he been gone?" asked Thinkright.
"Oh, the best part of an hour, I should say."
"Then he must have found her," remarked the other, still with his speculative smile.
"Yes, indeed, and I hope she'll bring him home soon. It's real raw on the water to-day in spite of the sun, and the judge's bronicals ain't jest as strong as they might be."
"Oh, Mrs. Lem, Mrs. Lem," laughed Thinkright quietly, entering the house and hanging up his hat.
"There they come now!" she exclaimed, herself hastily retreating into the kitchen.
Thinkright looked out to see Sylvia's uncovered bright head level with the judge's high hat as they strolled up the hill. The lawyer's hands were clasped behind his back, and Thinkright augured peace from the deliberation of the strollers.
He met them at the door. Sylvia's grave face changed to a pensive smile at sight of him, and Judge Trent gave his cousin's hand a dry, short shake.
"How are you, Thinkright? See if you can't find a light boat and manageable oars for Sylvia in this vicinity. I found her catching crabs and losing oars at a great rate down there, and splashing herself till she resembled a mermaid. Hello, Minty," for here the child drew her doubtful and reluctant feet into the room, her wide eyes always a little shy at first of the brusque and powerful man in the high hat. "I have something for you." The judge began feeling in his coat pocket. "I bought you a bag of gumdrops, and regret that I forgot and have been sitting on them all the afternoon." He produced the paper bag. "Fortunately, they are the durable brand for sale at the village and warranted to withstand any pressure. At worst they will be lozenges now."
"Why did you surprise us?" asked Thinkright, as Minty beamingly accepted the striped bag. "Why didn't you let me send the team over?"
"Oh, you know I'm a creature of impulse," returned the lawyer, with his dry smile; "I acted with my usual lack of calculation. Made up my mind to come one minute, and took the train the next."
Thinkright did not reply, but glanced toward Sylvia, who was pulling the blue sweater off over her head.
BLIND MAN'S HOLIDAY
Upon Judge Trent's return to town John Dunham did not disappear in a cloud of dust to make his call on Miss Derwent. He took the precaution to telephone, and discovered that she was out of the city.
He felt considerable curiosity regarding his employer's experiences at the farm, but true to his new and safe policy he asked not a single question. Business required the judge's immediate attention upon his arrival, but as soon as affairs in the office quieted he remembered the promise he had made Dunham.
"Now then, boy," he said one morning, "there isn't any reason why you can't run along to-day and call on Miss Derwent."
"The bird has flown. I 'phoned to the house. She has gone to New York to be a bridesmaid. Isn't coming back till time to leave for Maine."
"H'm. Too bad," returned the judge absent-mindedly.
"Thank you. Don't let it depress you."
"Eh?" looking up; Dunham was bending over the morning mail.
"Ever been in that Casco Bay region?" went on the judge.
"Yes, I yachted along the coast from Bar Harbor to Portland one summer."
"It's a fine, unspoiled part of the world," remarked the lawyer with unusual pensiveness, setting his hat farther back from his forehead and looking into space. "When I get a glimpse of it as I did this week, I'm tempted to hasten my retirement, to bid farewell to the squabbling world, and turn fisherman,—begin to spread nets for mackerel instead of my fellow men, and trap only such lobsters as will blush in a pot instead of in court."
"Hear, hear," said Dunham. "You must have had good weather up there,—or else," he added, "fallen in love with your niece."
Judge Trent still looked into space. "Yes," he went on slowly, "move my books to the Mill Farm, leave Hannah the house, but not my address, and begin rising at 4 A.M. for breakfast with Cap'n Lem. Then row out to my pound, take in the fish, and send them to Boston. What retaining fee could compare to the satisfaction of making money that way? Think of the sights and sounds, the peace of mind!"
"Yes," said John, "but consider the obstacles."
"There wouldn't be any. I'd leave the good will of the office to you."
"I'm very grateful, but you forget. What would any well-regulated fish say to afternoon dress at 4 A.M., and wouldn't the wind blow your hat off?"
"John, you're a frivolous youth," responded the judge thoughtfully; "but," in a warmer tone, "there are some things you do very well. I"—still more warmly—"I have a little commission for you this afternoon."
Dunham looked up suspiciously.
"It happens very nicely that you don't wish to go to Boston to-day. I think it is due Miss Lacey that she should receive news of her niece's welfare. She knows I've been up there and"—
"Yes, she does know it," interrupted John with emphasis. "She is waiting with great eagerness to hear your report."
"Precisely," returned the judge mildly. "Now I'll tell you all about it."
"Why do you tell me?" inquired Dunham firmly.
"How can you tell Miss Lacey if I don't?"
"I'm not going to tell her."
"Why not? You've been there once."
"My dear Judge Trent," began John impressively, "I was late in coming to it, I know; but I have lately been turning my talents to minding my own business"—
"Which is mine," put in Judge Trent. "It's what I engaged you for."
"Well and good, but not to attend to your pleasures," retorted John, with a grin; "your family and domestic affairs. You will naturally visit Miss Lacey this afternoon. You couldn't do less."
The judge scowled. "I might call her up on the 'phone," he said gloomily.
"You might," returned John, "if you could send her a mind wave which would draw her to the corner grocery. I have had one appointment made by postcard, to speak to her at the corner grocery."
"Call it up, then, and ask them to send for her," commanded the judge curtly.
"Certainly, if you say so," responded Dunham, "but don't you think if she got you on the wire from there, her conversation might be too entertaining and instructive to the listeners? Her methods at the 'phone are—unusual. The day we talked I heard her distinctly through the window as well as over the wire."
Judge Trent groaned. "I haven't crossed her threshold in ten years, but I suppose I shall have to do it if you're going to be so confoundedly obstinate and disobliging."
"Certainly," returned Dunham smoothly. "It's time such unneighborly habits were broken up. And say, Judge, ask her to feel round and find out if Miss Derwent doesn't want to see me at her island this summer."
"H'm. Trust you among those lobster traps?" returned the judge irascibly. "Never. I feel some responsibility to your family."
As Miss Lacey said afterward, it was the greatest mercy that she wasn't out that evening. She had been inclined to go over to Selina Lane's to get a skirt pattern, but some trifle had prevented her setting forth, so that she sat rocking gently in her sitting-room, enjoying blind man's holiday at about eight o'clock, and reflecting on the contents of a letter from Miss Derwent which she held in her lap, when she saw in the dusk an unmistakable figure turn in at her gate.
"Calvin!" she exclaimed, and surprised color mounted to her forehead as she rose to open the door.
"No lights. I thought you were out," was Judge Trent's greeting.
Now Miss Lacey knew from the etiquette column in "The Ladies' Friend" that it was de rigueur to allow a gentleman caller to take care of his own hat, but, as she reflected in a lightning flash, that authority on manners and morals in "The Ladies' Friend" had never met Judge Trent. The reluctance with which he now yielded up his boon companion vindicated her lack of confidence. She deposited it on the hall table.
"Step right in, Calvin," she went on. "I hardly know how to wait for your news. I'll light the lamp in an instant." She proceeded to do so, conscious of a fleeting wish that the visitor would note the brightness of the chimney and clearness of the flame, and read a lesson to Hannah. She breathed a sigh as she realized the hopelessness of the aspiration.
The judge was standing, waiting in silence for her to be seated. No movement or expression showed that the objects about him bore different associations from those connected with his office furniture, and if she took her seat on the haircloth sofa with an idea that he would join her she was disappointed. He parted his coat-tails and perched upon a straight-backed structure of mahogany, usually avoided by every caller.
"Well, Martha, I haven't much to tell. She's very pretty."
"I told you so, Calvin. I told you that was the trouble."
"Precisely. In addition I must say she has very little use for us,—for you and me."
Miss Lacey shook her head mournfully. "How did she treat you? Did she flash up and snap her eyes?"
"No, she shut them with a sort of a take-it-away expression."
"But she is safe now, isn't she? You will let her stay at the farm, won't you?"
"Yes, of course," returned the judge.
"Does she look so ill and pitiful?"
"No, she's picking up. She seems perfectly contented under Thinkright's wing."
"You don't know what that means," returned Miss Martha fervently. "After that dreadful talk about the stage, and marrying actors, I didn't know as she'd be willing to stay in the country with a plain man like Thinkright."
"She doesn't think he's plain. She considers him a mixture of Adonis and Solomon."
"Very well. Whatever you may see fit to do, Calvin, I shall thank God on my bended knees," declared Miss Martha devoutly. "To think that her immortal soul isn't lost and our two families disgraced through our—own—fault, is a blessing we don't either of us deserve."
"Rub it in, Martha, rub it in," returned the judge.
"No, I'm not one of the nagging kind. I don't intend to rub it in, but I'll own it, once and for all. Go on, please. What else?"
Judge Trent waved his hands. "Nothing else, practically."
"Why, there must be a lot more to tell. If I'd been the one to go up there I should have a thousand things to tell you."
The lawyer raised one devout glance toward the ceiling. "I'm sure of it, Martha; but you know the limitations of a mere man. Beside, I suppose pretty soon now you will be seeing for yourself. Miss Derwent said she should go early this season."
"Why, yes. Next week. I just received the letter to-day. It comes as a surprise, and I shall have to hurry, getting ready to close my house. Edna hadn't expected to be free so quickly, but her parents' plans have changed, and so hers can. She's been up at the farm, too, and seen Sylvia, you know."
"Yes. We all know Sylvia now," returned the judge with grim humor.
"Oh, I wish you would tell me more," begged Miss Martha. "Did she treat you decently before you came away?"
"Oh, yes. You know Thinkright's peculiar notions. His hell-fire is right here or nowhere, and he's been teaching Sylvia how to keep her toes out of the flames,—how to climb up out of these lowlands of sorrow. She was pretty well stranded after years of vagabond life. Excuse me, Martha, but we all knew Sam; and after our rebuff she was in a fit state to swallow Thinkright's cheerful theories whole. I don't claim much knowledge of what I can't see or touch, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Power that Is let us sidetrack ourselves on purpose to put Sylvia in Thinkright's care. I shouldn't have known how to handle the results of Sam's training, and if you'd had the job I suspect you'd have begun at the outside and tried to teach the girl habits of order and all that. Thinkright and I sat up late one night talking the matter over. Sylvia would have driven you to drink, and you would have driven her to join a traveling circus."
"Calvin!" interrupted Miss Martha, gasping. "I'm a white ribbon"—
"You are, Martha, without a spot or stain; but it wouldn't have been any use to try to veneer Sylvia, as it were. Now these remarks are not opprobrious. They are designed to comfort you for the apparent mistakes of the trip to Hotel Frisbie. Things have come out better than we could have arranged them. Sylvia's guardian angel was holding Thinkright in the background, like a trump card, as you might say"—
"No, I mightn't, Calvin Trent! You're saying the most awful things!" exclaimed Miss Lacey.
"Well, you'll be up there in a few days," remarked the judge, rising. "I just wanted to assure you that Sylvia is doing well, and that you can be perfectly tranquil about her; so good-by, Martha. I hope you will have a satisfactory summer."
"We shall see you at Hawk Island, of course," returned Miss Lacey, as they shook hands. "Edna always counts on it, you know."
"It will perhaps do quite as well if I send Dunham. He is accustomed to representing me."
"Oh, is he coming to the Tide Mill?" asked Miss Martha in pleasant surprise.
"There's no telling. I suppose he'll have to take a vacation somewhere. Young men are so unreasonable nowadays. Imagine me at his age kiting off to the seashore."
"Why, I'm sure," returned Miss Martha with some consciousness, "we used to enjoy those drives to Swampscott very much."
"Another incarnation. That was another incarnation," responded the lawyer quickly, passing into the hall where he pounced eagerly upon the hat from which he had endured such ruthless separation. Saying good-by once more, he departed.
Miss Lacey watched him disappear into the star-lit, fragrant night.
"If I'd married him," she murmured, "he wouldn't wear a coat after it was shiny at the seams."
Her heart was beating a little faster than usual, and her cheeks were warm as she closed the door.
On an orthodox June morning, rare and radiant, but verging on a heat which increased Miss Lacey's appreciation of her happy destiny, she turned the key of her house.
Her carpets were rolled up, and her curtains rolled down; her thin, worn, solid silver was packed in a neighboring attic. Nothing portable of any value was left for a marauding hand, and, moreover, the neighbors on both sides always willingly kept an eye on Miss Martha's interests. They rejoiced generously in that summer work of hers, which she assured them was just play. One summer, several years ago, it had been generally known among Miss Lacey's friends that she had been ailing for some time. Judge Trent was abroad that season, and he made a suggestion to Thinkright, which resulted in an invitation to Miss Martha to visit the Mill Farm. It was then that she made the acquaintance of Edna Derwent, who, when the girl came to need a companion in her playhouse, remembered the smart, stirring woman who had been so happy in the peace and quiet of the locality. The result was several summer outings for Miss Martha, and she never knew that she owed them to the man with whom she had just missed spending her life.
Serene in the safety of her niece, and of her goods, and in the prospect before her, she waited at the station for the train to Portland. Her gray lisle-thread gloves were new, so was her tissue veil and her straw hand-bag. She was conscious that she looked genteel, and her mental sky was as cloudless as the firmament above her while she watched the train draw into the station. She scanned each platform as the cars slowly passed, and soon her search was rewarded by the sight of Miss Derwent's brown-clothed figure and the eyes that laughed a response to the eager face below. Miss Martha trotted briskly up the steps.
"Here you are, my dear. What a day! Did you remember to send that grocery list to Shaw's? Did Jenny come? Oh, yes. There she is. How do you do, Jenny?" greeting Edna's cook, whose stolid rosy face gazed from the chair opposite the one to which Miss Derwent led her friend.
All the way to Portland Miss Martha's tongue kept pace with the velocity of the train. The one subject upon which it halted was her niece. She longed to know all that Edna could tell her, but she hesitated to reveal how slight was her own knowledge.
She cleared her throat before speaking tentatively.
"Judge Trent tells me you saw my niece at the farm."
"Yes, indeed," replied Edna. "I begged her to stay long enough for me to have the pleasure of bringing you together, but she felt that she couldn't do so."
Miss Lacey flushed. "Oh, we've met, you know," she replied.
"Indeed? I didn't understand, then."
"Oh, certainly. Of course I met her in Boston when she came on from the West. Judge Trent,"—Miss Martha swallowed and moved uneasily,—"it wasn't exactly convenient for him to go into the city that day. He's just now been up to the farm to see Sylvia,—and of course my visit with her was very hurried and—unsatisfactory." Miss Martha swallowed the obstacle in her throat again, whatever it was. She had a vague idea that her conscience was rising in revolt against the impression she was endeavoring to make. She was wont to say that some folks might have consciences that spoke in still small voices, but that hers was the yelling kind. On this occasion she repressed it firmly, although the effort reddened her cheeks still further. Conscience or no conscience there were moments when consideration for the proprieties should be paramount.
She continued: "Possibly Sylvia told you that she was still convalescing from a severe illness when she was called upon to pass through the sorrow of losing her dear father,—a very artistic, unpractical soul, my poor brother,—and really it was a mercy the judge had the farm to send her to. Thinkright was of course ready to take her, as he is for every good word and work, and it has turned out so well. He and she have taken the greatest fancy to one another"—
"Then is she there still?" asked Edna, as Miss Lacey paused for a hasty selection of further detail.
"Yes, indeed. We shouldn't think of allowing her to leave, and," very confidentially, "I don't know whether you ever heard of the romance of Thinkright's life?"
Edna shook her head. Miss Martha nodded hers impressively. "Yes. Sylvia's mother. Mh'm. There's something quite touching about this outcome. He seems to consider that he has almost adopted Sylvia,—that she belongs to him."
Edna gave a little exclamation. "Any girl would be fortunate to belong to Thinkright," she returned.
"Yes, indeed. He's a good man, and the judge and I feel perfectly easy"—Miss Martha used that form of speech with subtle satisfaction—"to leave her with him. Of course we're three lone, lorn people, and Thinkright's less closely related to the child than we; but neither the judge nor I would feel it right"—here conscience reared until it threatened to stop her speech altogether. "Will you wait till your advice is asked?" she demanded in fierce, silent parenthesis. Then with a vigorous swallow she finished her sentence,—"feel it right to take her away from him."
Miss Martha leaned back in her chair flushed and guiltily content. She had made her impression, and she was willing to pay for it with vigils if necessary.
"The girl certainly couldn't be in a better place for either mind or body," returned Edna thoughtfully, looking out the window; "but I wonder, since you tell me this, why the evening I was there she was so insistent about going away."
Miss Martha recalled vaguely a quotation concerning the swiftness with which a start in deceit becomes a tangled web.
"You see, she wasn't real well," she returned, "and I suppose she had fancies; but I'm expecting to find her settled and happy by this time. She certainly would be excusable if she was a little notional and restless at first." Then with one deep breath she changed the subject. "I wonder, Edna, if we're going to need a new cook stove this summer?"
Miss Derwent rose to the fascinating bait. She considered it enchanting to live in a house where she could be acquainted with the cook stove; and Miss Martha felt that she had sheered off the thin ice upon solid ground at last.
Arriving in Portland, they took a carriage and drove about, attending to their list of errands, in that charmed air which makes the procession of doctors' signs which lines Congress Street appear an incomprehensible paradox to the exultant, anticipating summer folk.
At last the little party boarded the island steamer, and though a light fog blew in from the sea, it failed to dampen the spirits of Miss Derwent and her chaperon. Even Jenny, the cook, drew a blanket shawl around her, and remained on deck. There was a certain stalwart fisherman at Hawk Island whose image had not been blotted out by the pale suitors of her winter.
The deep roar of the breakers below Anemone Cottage had been wont to have a depressing effect on Mrs. Derwent, and was one of the chief causes of the devout relief she experienced in bidding a permanent farewell to Hawk Island. The green field which lay at the back of the house, in front billowed across to masses of rock leading sixty feet downward to the bottle-green water, churned at this point into a constant unrest by its never ceasing attack upon the gray confusion of points and ledges.
Calm as the sea might be, it never fell entirely quiet here; and as the wind and tide rose, the seething and spouting of foam and spray whitened the entire coast, the rising and bursting of the breakers being accomplished with a thunderous booming which was inspiring music in Miss Derwent's ears.
To-day Benny Merritt was at the wharf with a carriage to meet the newcomers, and he drove them to the cottage under a running fire of questions from Miss Derwent, to which his slow drawl replied with relish.
Miss Lacey was a necessary accompaniment to Miss Derwent, and she therefore dwelt in a reflected light, which made her fussy catechisms and exactions endurable.
"Oh, hear it, hear it!" cried Edna, as the horse pulled up the green ribbon road which led to the cottage. "It's always high tide when I come. I'm the luckiest girl in the world. Hear it, Miss Lacey."
"How can I help hearing it?" returned Miss Martha mildly.
"Isn't it superb!" insisted Edna, looking over the miles of rocking blue as though for the first time.
"Oh, yes, I don't mind it. That is, yes, indeed, it is splendid, Edna. Benny, why haven't you taken off those back shutters?"
Miss Derwent laughed softly. Miss Martha often told people that the surf did not affect her at all disagreeably, and Edna's experience had taught her to appreciate this. After all, it was a good thing to have some one about who could think of shutters, even though the fog had drawn back to a low, smoke-colored fold that softly encircled the horizon, and the gulls were cresting the waves with their white wings.
It was only when they had guests at the Mill Farm that a seven o'clock breakfast was served, and as yet Sylvia was accounted one of that privileged class. Thinkright had asked her when she arrived at what hour it was her custom to breakfast, and she had shrugged her shoulders.
"Father and I never liked to take it before nine o'clock," she said, "but it made the landlady so cross that when we owed for board we usually tried to get down by half past eight."
Thinkright smiled at this. "Here you can go to bed earlier," he returned. "We will try breakfast at seven o'clock." Sylvia looked somewhat aghast, and it was not for some time that she discovered what a concession had been made in her favor.
One morning, a fortnight after Judge Trent's visit, she came out on the stone step at the kitchen door to scent the morning, while Mrs. Lem scoured the cooking dishes.
Cap'n Lem came along. His red face with its white fringe beamed kindly upon her under the old straw hat.
"Wall, now, you're lookin' smaht, Sylvy," he said, as he paused. "Beginnin' to look real kind o' sassy and rosy. I guess they use ye pretty well here." His shrewd blue eyes twinkled at her, and he gave a sharp nod of satisfaction. "Shouldn't wonder if you'd be gittin' up in the mornin' some o' these days."
"Oh, I do," replied Sylvia. "It's no trouble for me any more. Mrs. Lem let me make the coffee this morning, and we all sat down at seven o'clock promptly. Where were you? I don't believe I've seen you at breakfast since I've been here."
The old man's shoulders heaved in his toothless laugh. "Seven o'clock," he said scornfully. "Yew look through a knot-hole in your floor any mornin' when it's handy to four o'clock and yew'll see my breakfast doin's."
Sylvia opened her eyes, genuinely bewildered. "But why do you want to get up in the night?" she asked.
"Night!" he repeated. "What ye talkin' abaout? It's jest the hahnsomest time o' the hull day. I git up to go to the pound, o' course."
"The pound?" Sylvia stared in wonder. "Do you lose cows every day?"
"Cows! What ye talkin' abaout?"
"Why, you said pound. That's for lost cows and dogs, isn't it?"
Cap'n Lem stared a moment, and then cackled merrily.
"So 'tis, some places," he answered. "Geewhitaker! I must tell Lucil that!" His eyes disappeared. When he could open them again he went on: "I never give a thought to that afore. My pound's a net aout in the fishin' ground; an' I go an' haul it every mornin'."
"Oh, may I go with you some time?" asked Sylvia eagerly.
"Sure ye kin." Cap'n Lem slapped his leg and burst forth again. "Haw, haw, haw, Sylvy. Mebbe we'll find some lost sea cows and dogfish caught out there. No knowin'. Well, anyway, I'm glad to see sech a change come over a gal in a few weeks as there has over you. Yes, indeed, you'll be gittin' up in the mornin' some day. It beats all how folks kin stay in bed. I've took garden sass to the Derwents' to Hawk Island, and I've found 'em eatin' breakfast at half past eight. Why, it's jest as easy fer us to git up as 'tis for the cawtage folks to lay."
"Do you mean to say that everybody would get up here if it weren't for me?" asked Sylvia disconcerted.
"Wall, Thinkright's allers done his chores afore he sits down with yer; but Lucil, she's kind o' cawtage folks-y in her feelin's. When my woman was alive I allers did git my own breakfast anyway, and let her lay as long as she wanted, and so I do Lucil. Jes' as like as not she lays till half past five o'clock."
"Well, probably it's because you go to bed so early that it's easy for you."
"No, I don't," replied Cap'n Lem promptly. "Lots o' times when I've had a real wearin' day I feel like settin' up to rest in the evenin'. Time an' ag'in I hain't shet my eyes afore nine o'clock."
Sylvia's small teeth gleamed in her prettiest smile. After all, what was the difference between dining at seven and retiring at eleven, and supping at five o'clock, as they always did at the Mill Farm, and retiring at nine?
"Well, I think it's my duty to make you and my cousin Thinkright more lazy," she said.
The old man shook his head. "I don't cal'late to call myself lazy s'long's I don't git one o' these here motor boats fer fishin'. Let a man use one o' them three years, and by that time he's got to hev an automobile to git from the house to the boat. They're a good thing fer religion though, 'cause they make a man so mad he can't swear. I'm lazy to what I used to be," continued Cap'n Lem after a meditative pause, "when I used to fish all day and then row all night in a calm to git the ketch to market. Tell ye that wuz workin' twenty-five hours out o' the twenty-four; and when a man does that he 'd ought to git a life-sentence, and if he outlives it he'd ought to be hung." The speaker took off his hat and fanned himself. "It's a-goin' to be some scaldin' to-day, Sylvy."
The girl laughed. "Then when I carry the milk down cellar I shall stay there. It's so funny to have the cellar under the parlor as it is here."
"'Tis out o' the common, but the ground was so shoal at the kitchen end it hed to be dug that way. Judge Trent hed that cellar made. I visited him once to Seaton. Did he ever tell ye?"
"Well, you'd better believe, he and Miss Lacey they jest hove to, and gave me the best time I ever"—
"Sylvy!" Mrs. Lem's voice sounded from within. "You can come now. The water's as hot as Topet and we can begin."
Thinkright had taken an early start that morning with the team. Sylvia would have liked to go with him, but he explained that he had to bring back a cumbersome load and needed all the room in the wagon.
Her talks with him were ushering her farther and farther each day into a new world. Even his silences were so full of peace and strength that she loved to be with him. She found herself gaining a consciousness of that peace,—a faith in the care of a Father for His children which was the motive power of Thinkright's life. That she had found her cousin, and been guided to him, was to her an undoubted proof and corroboration of much that Thinkright told her. She looked back upon the idle, discontented girl of the boarding-house in Springfield with wonder and perplexity that such a state of mind could have existed for her. She had impulsive longings to have her father back that she might help him as she had never known how to do; and then came the thought, so quietly but persistently instilled by Thinkright, that the beam in her own eye need be her only care, for by the riddance of all wrong consciousness in herself good would radiate to her environment, and that her father was being taken care of.
From the first moment of yielding her heart and thought to Thinkright's influence the eagerness of her nature made her long to show him quickly—at once—that she would not be vain, would not be selfish, would be humble, would arrive at that state which would cause her cousin to say of her as he had of Edna Derwent, "She does some very good thinking."
The impulse led her to offer help to Mrs. Lem, which, being accepted, Sylvia found herself making beds, wiping dishes, and weeding a flower garden; and her industry so astonished herself that she wondered that those about her could take it so calmly. Her previous life had consisted of more or less definite yearnings for good times. These "good times" had consisted in an occasional dance or visit to the theatre, and had been the oases in a dull life of idleness varied only by occasional hours when she would pick up her father's materials, and, without permission, would work on one of his unfinished pictures, or else make lively sketches of his friends, to his unfailing amusement.
"I wish you'd be serious over it, Sylvia," he used to say at such times. "There isn't a bit of doubt that some day I should be able to point to you with pride."
Upon which his daughter would be likely to respond that neither of them belonged to the laboring class, and he could not contradict her.
While she was still very young he had perceived her talent, and from time to time in his desultory fashion had instructed her. There were those among his friends who endeavored to rouse his ambition for the girl, but he had not the force to combat her hereditary objection to work, and he always shrugged away their pleas.
"Sylvia's bound for a matrimonial port, anyway," he used to say. "With her face she'll make that harbor fast enough. It would only be throwing money away to start her on a career."
He had made similar speeches often in her hearing, and she recalled them now as with clearer vision she looked out upon life and peered wistfully into the possible vistas of her future.
When her father had seen his end approaching with swiftness, and the realization came that his pretty child was unprepared to meet the world, he had said a good word for his actor friend, as the most practical and substantial admirer on Sylvia's list; and this she remembered, too, with a great wave of gratitude for deliverance.
The Mill Farm abounded in spots which tempted one to live out of doors. There was the tall pine with its mystical whispered songs. Thinkright had swung a hammock from one of its branches since Judge Trent's visit. From beneath its shade was no view of the sea, but one could lie there and listen to the rhythmic murmur of the waves answering the strains of an AEolian harp which Thinkright's clever hands had fashioned and placed in the shadow of the upper branches. There Sylvia took the books which her cousin gave her to study, and read and study she did, despite the temptation to day-dreaming. Little by little, by gentle implications, Thinkright had conveyed to her that there was to be no thought of her leaving him; and her love moved her strongly to do his bidding and win his approval.
"He doesn't do it for my sake. He does it for God and mother," she reflected, as often as some new proof of his thought for her appeared. Little hints of the old yearnings to be admired, to be paramount, flashed up through her new-found humility at times, but they grew fainter with each discovery of her own ignorance, and her mental world enlarged; and in this inner realm she always found two ideals reigning, a prince and a princess,—John Dunham and Edna Derwent. They were beings who breathed a rarer air than she had ever known. All that was fine in her leaped to a comprehension that the more she developed, the more she should value that in their experience which at present was a sealed book to her. She always classed them together resolutely in her thought. It was a species of self-defense which she had begun to employ from the moment of mental panic which ensued upon Miss Derwent's mention of Dunham's name.
Sylvia had read countless novels, for her father had been insatiate of them; but she had been so confident of her own charm, and so busily engaged in picturing the manner in which she should discourage or make happy her suitors, that the possibilities of her own active heart-interest had not absorbed much of her thought. The coming of John Dunham into her life had changed all that. In a moment of high and sensitive excitement he had dawned upon her vision as a novel type of manhood, and one representing all that was desirable. In vain she knew the superficiality of this judgment. In vain she reasoned her ignorance of him and his character. He had captivated her imagination, and this was the reason that Edna Derwent, as soon as she mentioned him, loomed to Sylvia's stirred thought in the light of a dangerous foe. Edna's very invincibility, however, aided Sylvia's final capitulation to Thinkright. There was neither reason nor comfort for her in desiring to rival the finished and all-conquering Miss Derwent. Thinkright held out the hope that she could alter her own thought; change that sore and miserable consciousness to one where reigned the beauty of peace. Never since that night of bitterness had she strayed from the path which her new light revealed. Judge Trent's visit removed the last doubt as to her remaining with Thinkright, and she knew that if the Mill Farm were to be her home neither Miss Derwent nor Mr. Dunham would remain a stranger to her. Then it became doubly necessary for her to think right concerning them. They had not met for years until this summer; and now there could surely be but one result from their meeting again. So they stood, equal and preeminent, prince and princess of Sylvia's mental realm, and there she meant to let them reign; meant to rejoice in their happiness, and never to permit herself to dream one dream of this ideal man which could not pass under the espionage of Edna's bright eyes.
THE ROSY CLOUD
Another spot which was a favorite with Sylvia was out beyond the sheltered shores of the basin and the Tide Mill, on the point of land where the open waters of Casco Bay stretched toward the neighboring islands. Here the fir trees were small and huddled together in groups to withstand the buffeting of winter winds; and here Sylvia sat within a rocky nest she knew, during many a happy solitary hour, watching the sword-fishers go out or return, and the smaller mackerel boats flit lightly on their way.
On days when the great waters were gray and racked from storm, she saw, in their turbulence and moaning, pictures of what her life might have been, and then likened it to the quiet embowered waters of the basin, where Thinkright's love held her safe. To feel gratitude was a novel sensation to Sylvia, born with her new life. She could not remember ever having been grateful for anything until she met her cousin.
The afternoon of this day when he had gone alone to town in the farm-wagon she took her books and sought this rocky nest. There was a steady sailing wind, and she wished for Thinkright, who often took her out with him. Placing behind her back the calico-covered cushion she had brought, she sank into her niche and opened her book, but immediately her eye was allured and caught by the view, and again there swept over her a longing, that for weeks had been increasing, to capture this loveliness and make it her own. The general awakening of her thought had long since banished the indifference with which during the first days at the Mill Farm she had viewed its surroundings. In place of apathy now there dwelt a craving to exercise the power which she felt was hers; to paint some of these ever changing, alluring phases of sea and sky whose beauty possessed her very soul.
She longed unspeakably for materials for the work, and mourned that she had not gathered whatever among her father's shabby, neglected belongings might be useful, and brought them with her. She recalled carefully all that had ever been said seriously of her talent. A burning regret for neglected opportunities and a burning desire to make up for lost time now possessed her. She fluttered the leaves of the book in her lap. Out dropped pencil sketches of the Tide Mill and a gallery of the residents at the farm.
There was Cap'n Lem's straw hat shading the nose and chin which drew closer together as the kindly, toothless smile widened. There was Mrs. Lem's majestic pompadour and psyche knot, and the company expression which always dilated her nostrils. There was Minty, her round eyes staring, and her lips pursed; and there was—— No, Sylvia shook her head. There was not Thinkright. As she looked fondly and wistfully at the retreating hair and short beard, the horizontal lines in the brow and the deep-set eyes, she knew that what made her cousin's face precious was not to be conveyed by pencil or brush. Swiftly she turned the paper over, and taking her pencil, with a few sure, swift strokes sketched the back of a pair of slightly bent shoulders and a head revealing one ear and the line of the cheek.
"There," she sighed, smiling; "that's better. I know what I should see if he turned around." Then she sank back again, narrowed her eyes, and looked off at the skyline,—the distant dark clump of trees on Hawk Island; the nearer shore of Walrus Island; the ineffable sky. Oh, oh, for paints, for brushes, for paper,—in other words, for money! Health and strength were returning to her in full measure. What work was awaiting her? There was no room in Thinkright's universe for drones. He never referred to her becoming self-supporting, but it was a part of her new realization to see that a parasite could never be a healthy growth. She was not sure enough how much substantial worth was indicated by her talent to ask money from Thinkright for its development, and certainly there was no one else to whom she would turn. She reminded herself that right here came an opportunity to apply the trust and confidence that her guardian was teaching her. It was wrong to shiver under one shadow of doubt. The sun would not go out of its course to shine upon her, but she was beginning to know that an unfaithful consciousness was all that could prevent her coming into that place where it would shine upon her.
"If it is right, the way will open. If it isn't right, then you don't want it," was one of Thinkright's declarations; and for the rest she had only to keep her mental home clean and fragrant, wholesome and loving.
Sylvia's eyes rested on the graceful rolling billows advancing in stately procession from the black clump of trees on Hawk Island.
The Father's Love had brought Edna Derwent a summer of play because she needed it. The same love would bring Sylvia Lacey a season of work if that were best. If it were not right to ask Thinkright for the help for which she longed, then some other way would be provided. Supposing she could succeed in some artistic line! Supposing instead of being a dead weight upon her cousin, or at best an assistant to the housekeeper who had been all-sufficient without her, she were able to help him; really to help Thinkright as he grew older! The thought made her cheeks flush, and her eyes grew soft. She bit her lip and closed her eyes.
"Not to send one doubting thought into the world," she reminded herself. Then her thought arose. "Dear Father, Thou knowest my longing. Help me to know the nothingness of every barricade to thy light that I may receive what I need."
After a minute she looked up to see the waters foaming gently away from her nest. They never reached it except in a storm. At the same moment her eye caught a sailboat entering the broad path of water that led to the Tide Mill. She leaned forward to see the better, and recognized Benny Merritt. She noticed that he had a passenger, but the sail hid all but the woman's skirt from the watcher.
"Miss Derwent is coming to see us," thought Sylvia in a flash, and started to her feet. The tide was high enough for the boatman to go into the basin and land at the nearest point to the farm.
Not so. Benny steered his craft for the same rock-sheltered point where he had landed Miss Derwent the last time.
Sylvia ran along the shore toward them. "You can still get inside the basin," she called impulsively, not realizing that the possibilities of the locality were an old story to Benny. The latter looked up inquiringly toward the voice, but it was the passenger who replied, "No doubt we could, but we have to get out of the basin again, that's the trouble." With these words the speaker, a little woman in a shade hat, sprang up and scrambled ashore.
Sylvia paused. Why should she have supposed that the blue-eyed Benny never carried any passenger except Miss Derwent? This one wore a dress of dark blue denim, and her hat was tied securely under the chin by a ribbon which passed over its crown.
The stranger looked up from under its shade and peered at Sylvia through her eye-glasses, at first indifferently, and then with a start.
"Can this be Sylvia Lacey!" she exclaimed, hastening toward the bareheaded girl. Sylvia had caught up her books and pillow and now stood with her arms full, her color coming and going as she braced herself. All the scene in the hotel returned. The hurt and soreness clamored to be felt again. It was a moment of acute struggle. Before her eyes the Tide Mill rose, its closed shutters resolutely hugging past injuries and excluding the besieging sunlight that searched every crevice to pour in warmth and light.
Miss Martha read something of her niece's thoughts. She had undertaken this visit with dread, and the sudden encounter made her rather tremulous; but, above all things, Benny Merritt must suspect nothing.
"It's the very first day I could come over, my dear," she said hurriedly, "what with home cares and a rough sea; I'm not the best of sailors, but I've thought of you often. Now Benny," turning to him, "I'll be back at this very spot in one hour. I shan't fail, understand, so don't sail off anywhere, or else we shan't reach home in time for tea. Let us get over these rocks into the woods, Sylvia, and then I can take some of your traps. How well you are looking, my dear child."
The very voice was painful to her niece in its associations, but the girl followed as Miss Lacey briskly moved off into the woods before a word could be said to lead Benny into speculation.
Sylvia, while she followed, asked herself if her prayer had been aught beside empty words. Was she really desirous of proving the nothingness of all things that excluded the light? She seemed to see Thinkright looking straight into her eyes. What guests were trying to elbow their way into her mental home? As soon as they had reached the path her aunt turned. Sylvia spoke, and her tone was gentle.
"You needn't carry anything, Aunt Martha. I'm used to running about here loaded."
Miss Lacey glanced up at her quickly. That dark look which had at first met her recognition had now melted into light. There was no mistaking the girl's expression as they stood facing each other behind the shelter of a clump of firs.
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" exclaimed Miss Martha brokenly, grasping her niece's arms and gazing into her eyes, "I am very glad to see you."
"You were kind to come," returned Sylvia, and she kissed Miss Martha's cheek under the scooping hat. Then they walked on.
"What these few weeks have done for you, Sylvia! Perfect rest, good food, the best air in the world, regular hours and no care, ought to work a miracle when one is nineteen, and they have in you. If it hadn't been for those short curls of yours I shouldn't have recognized you at first."
They moved slowly along the path, and Sylvia asked for Miss Derwent.
"She's as happy as the days are long," declared Miss Lacey. "She told me to bring you back if I could."
"How kind. Thinkright will sail me over some day to call. He went to town this morning. I hope he'll not miss your visit altogether."
As soon as they had reached the clearing from which the farmhouse was visible Sylvia gave an exclamation of satisfaction. "There they are; there are the horses! He has come."
They could see the team taken out from the wagon, standing near the barn, their harness dangling while Thinkright and Cap'n Lem were stooping over some object which the wagon hid from the view of those below.
"Wouldn't you like to go and speak to him?" asked Sylvia.
Miss Martha looked at her curiously. The eager tone and the face all alight were eloquent. Well, Thinkright doubtless deserved it.
"Yes, let's go and see what they are working over."
Sylvia dropped her cushion, and the books on top of it, and the two hurried toward the barn.
Before the engrossed men perceived their approach Sylvia saw that it was a slender, graceful boat which was absorbing their attention. It was varnished within and without, the golden brown wood glinting in the sun. Two pairs of oars lay on the grass.
"Oh, Thinkright, what a beauty!" exclaimed Sylvia. The men looked up, smiling. "Here is Aunt Martha," added the girl.
"Just in the nick of time, Martha," said Thinkright, coming forward and shaking hands. "We've a beauty here to show you."
Miss Martha came forward to greet Cap'n Lem.
"Glad to see you back, Miss Marthy. What d'ye think o' this plaything, hey?"
"Why, I think it is a plaything!" returned Miss Lacey briskly. "What are you going to do with it, Cap'n Lem? Use it for an ornament on the lawn and plant flowers in it?"
"Wall, I guess I can't afford no sech a vase as that,—not till my ship comes in."
"But it's a mere toy for the ocean, as you say," rejoined Miss Martha. "Who would go out in that shell?"
"This child here," said Thinkright, while Sylvia's eyes grew more eager. "It's just the thing for the basin."
"Thinkright, you haven't bought me a boat!" the girl cried.
He shook his head and smiled. "No, not I. Your Uncle Calvin has sent you this."
"And if it hain't got the durndest name for a yaller bo't that ever I see," remarked Cap'n Lem.
"Yes," added Thinkright. "We're surprised at the name, for it is Judge Trent's own selection. It scarcely seems characteristic."
Sylvia and her aunt hurried around the other side of the little craft. In neat, small black letters was printed, The Rosy Cloud.
Sylvia gazed, then she colored to the roots of the silky curls and laughed. The others watched her curiously.
"Do you know what he was aiming at?" asked Thinkright.
"Yes," she nodded. "He was aiming high."
Miss Lacey kept her sharp eyes on the conscious young face, devoured with curiosity.
"Tell us the joke, Sylvia," she begged.
"It isn't a joke, it's earnest," returned the girl, and a warm feeling arose in her heart for the eagle-eyed man in the high hat. "Did you ever hear of anything so surprising, Thinkright, and so kind?"
"He told me he was going to order it when he went away," responded her cousin; then he turned toward Miss Lacey. "Calvin found this child of ours trying to learn to row in an old general utility tub I have down at the basin, and he thought she deserved better things."
The speaker looked at Sylvia, who came close to him and took hold of his hand, while she continued to look at her new possession.
It was Love expressed to her again; and the guest she had tried with gentleness to win, sweet Humility, sank deeper into her heart, and sent up a note of gratitude that she had not a few minutes ago tried to punish Aunt Martha by word or look and so embittered this moment.
"It's amazing, simply amazing in Calvin!" thought Miss Martha. "She must have bewitched him, and what could he have meant by 'The Rosy Cloud,' and why should she blush over it?"
Thinkright walked to the house with the visitor a few minutes later, while Cap'n Lem stayed to put up the horses and Sylvia lingered to examine her light oars.
"Calvin's outdone himself," remarked Miss Martha. "He must have taken a great fancy to her."
"It looks that way," responded Thinkright.
"And you don't know what he could possibly mean by that poetical name, do you?"
"I haven't an idea," returned her companion, well pleased that such was the case, for he could see that otherwise it might go hard with him.
"And I daresay you're quite as bewitched with her as Calvin," pursued Miss Lacey curiously.
"I'm under her little thumb, but luckily she doesn't know it," was the reply.
"Well, I think it's high time I came over to get acquainted with her myself," remarked Miss Martha.
"High time, Martha," returned Thinkright, smiling. "It's high time you got in the game."
An hour later Miss Martha had the escort of her niece down to the shore again. She peered about alertly for a sign of her boatman.
"Now I told Benny that I shouldn't fail"—she began with annoyance. "Oh, there he is," for the top of the mast was visible beyond a farther jutting point of rock. "Benny!" she called. His hand appeared and waved a signal. "I suppose we shall have to go over there. I should like to know why he couldn't stay where I told him to. Benny," as they drew near enough to be heard, "you gave me a start for a minute. Why didn't you wait for me in that same place?"
Benny glanced toward Sylvia. "Thought yew mightn't care to squat on that rock all night," he drawled imperturbably.
"What do you mean? Oh—wasn't the tide right?"
"No; most likely it didn't hear what you said. Anyways, it didn't wait. It kep' on a-goin' down jest the same."
Miss Martha's lips drew in. "You absurd boy. Benny, this is my niece, another Miss Lacey; and Sylvia, this is Benny Merritt. We couldn't get along without him at the island; and now we must fly. How's the wind, Benny?"
"Pretty good chance; we'll have to beat some."
"Well, you mustn't let the boat tip," responded Miss Martha, as she crept gingerly along the slippery rocks, and helped by Sylvia jumped in and took her seat. "Don't fall so in love with The Rosy Cloud that you can't come to see us, Sylvia, and do be careful with your new toy. It doesn't look much more substantial than a cloud to me. Benny, look out!" For the wind had seized the sail and flapped it noisily before it set firmly. The last words Sylvia caught were, "You are letting it tip now. You know I don't like it, Benny."
Sylvia laughed as she sprang up the bank. Even in this brief visit she had observed how habitually the uppermost thought in her aunt's mind effervesced into speech, and she saw how natural had been Miss Martha's lack of repression at Hotel Frisbie. She felt for Benny Merritt with his nervous passenger, but her sympathy was wasted. When Miss Lacey sailed alone with Benny she always kept up an intermittent stream of directions and suggestions to which the boy paid not the slightest attention.
"Doin' my best, Miss Marthy," he used to reply sometimes. "If ye say so I'll stop and let ye get out and walk."
Each time the boat had to come about for a new tack, necessitating the sail's passing over Miss Martha's head, the air was vibrant with her small shrieks and louder suggestions; but to-day, every time they settled down for the smooth run, a pensiveness fell upon her.
"The Mill Farm is looking real prosperous, Benny," she remarked during one of these calms.
"I s'pose so," returned the boy. "More folks comin' to the islands every summer. More folks to want their truck."
"Seems to me," observed Miss Martha, "I used to hear that things weren't very pleasant between the mainland folks and the islanders."
"Used to be so. Hated each other, I've heard my father say, but sence I've been a-growin' up things have changed. We've ben findin' out that they wasn't all potato vines, and they've ben findin' out that we ain't all fish scales. My father says Thinkright Johnson's at the bottom o' the change."
"Thinkright's a good man," returned Miss Martha, and with that she fell into pensive mood again until time for another acute moment of dodging the sail and coming about.
To think that in those few hours Judge Trent should have come to take such an interest in Sylvia. So her thoughts ran. Was it the girl's good looks, or was it simply that twinges of the judge's conscience had induced the wish to make the amende honorable, and that the gift of the expensive boat was an effort to reinstate the giver in his own eyes?
Something of an intimate nature must have passed between them. To what could "the rosy cloud" have reference which should bring such conscious color to Sylvia's softly rounded cheek?
Miss Lacey shook her head. "If I only had Thinkright's chance," she thought, "I'd find out; but men are so queer. Probably he won't make the least effort. Provoking!"
She was correct in her suspicion. Thinkright did not ask any questions. He suspected that the judge's interview with his niece might have brought to light some of her new ideas, and he knew the judge's opinion of all that class of thought which he termed transcendental; but however ironical might be the reference in the boat's name, he would not have gone to the trouble of having it lettered thereon without a kindly intent.
Thinkright was satisfied, and contented himself with building a small boathouse on the waterside for Sylvia's new possession. She was his constant companion during the work, and sat beside him on the grass while he sawed and hammered, waiting upon him whenever opportunity offered.
He missed an eagerness of enthusiasm which he would have expected in the girl regarding the handsome boat. He could not know how fervently she wished that Uncle Calvin had given her instead the money it had cost. She could not express this thought to her cousin for obvious reasons; but as she sat beside him on an old log she built air castles that grew faster than the little boathouse.
"There isn't anything too good to be true, is there, Thinkright?" she said to him during a pause one day.
He came over and took a seat beside her, wiping his lined brow with his handkerchief.
She looked at him wistfully. "I'm expecting something very good to happen to me," she added.
"That's right; and something has. How about The Rosy Cloud?"
She sighed, and leaned her head against her companion's blue cotton shoulder.
"It's beautiful. I shall have all sorts of fine times with it. Think of throwing a lot of cushions inside, and taking a good story, then rowing out into the middle of the basin to float and read. All the trees would be leaning forward and beckoning, and I shouldn't know which The Rosy Cloud would favor."
Thinkright clasped his knee. "The Tide Mill would do its share of beckoning, remember. Look out for the current."
"The poor old thing!" remarked Sylvia. "Sometimes the mill looks so dignified and pathetic that I sympathize with it, and then again it seems just sulky and obstinate."
"We're very apt to read our feelings into the landscape," returned the other.
"Yes," went on the girl, her eyes as she leaned on her cousin's shoulder resting on the deserted, weather-beaten building in the distance, "when I first came, my heart just yearned toward that old mill. It looked just as I felt. It had made up its mind never to forgive. I had made up my mind never to forgive. Love has opened my locked shutters, and do you know, Thinkright, some afternoons those closed mill blinds seem to be melting in the sun. They grow so soft and rosy, I watch them fascinated. It seems as if they were giving way and I find myself expecting to see them slowly turn back. Oh," impulsively, "I want them to turn back! Couldn't we get a ladder and row out there some day and climb up and open them?"
Thinkright smiled. "They're nailed tight, dear, and they don't belong to us."
Sylvia shook her head. "Well," she persisted whimsically, "I believe they will open some time. I shan't be content until they do; and somehow or other I shall be mixed up with it."
"Is that the good thing you are expecting?" asked Thinkright, smiling, "to become a house-breaker?"
"No. Love will open the shutters yet. You don't understand me."
"Nothing that Love should accomplish would surprise me in the least," was the response. "Well, what is your hope then,—the thing you referred to a few minutes ago?"
Sylvia's eyes looked across the water. "I'd better not tell you yet," she replied. "It isn't your problem. It's mine."
"Very well," agreed Thinkright. "Just keep remembering 'Thy will be done,'—His great Will for good. His great Will that all shall be on earth as it is in heaven; that all shall be good and harmonious; and then your own little will and its puny strength won't get in the way, and you will find yourself helping to carry out your Father's designs."
Sylvia took a deep breath. "That is what I want to do. Once I should have been so happy, so contented to float in my boat with cushions and a good story!"
"Well," Thinkright smiled, "I hope you're not going to lose that ability. It has its place."
Sylvia turned her curly head until she met his shining eyes. "I'm too strong now to play all the time," she said.
Her companion patted her arm. "Mrs. Lem says you are a regular busy bee."
"Yes, but she did perfectly well without me."
Her companion met her gaze for a silent moment and speculated as to what its gravity might mean.
"Are you thinking again of the stage, Sylvia?"
"No, no!" she exclaimed vehemently, for instantly a vision of Nat rose before her. "I"—she hesitated, looked out again to the water and back at her cousin. She was sorely tempted to tell him, but the old motive restrained her in time. That was not the way for the solution to come, merely by making herself a heavier tax upon Thinkright's simple fortunes.
"Then you have some definite idea of what you would like to do?" he asked.
His manner was quiet, but there was a note of mental exultation within him at the healthful symptom.
"Yes, but it isn't time yet to tell you of it."
He put his arm around her. "Very well. What more can we wish to be sure of than Omnipotence and Omnipresence. You know that it is only good that is constructive. Evil is destructive, and in the end even destroys itself. So long as you want only good you are safe in the everlasting arms and are blessed." The speaker changed his position and his tone.
"This is rest enough now for me, little girl. I must be up and doing, for we want to get that boat of yours out of dry dock."
It was about a week later that Sylvia made her first visit to Hawk Island. Thinkright sailed her over. It was the longest trip she had made by water, and the changing aspect of mainland and islands from each new viewpoint delighted her.
The landmark which most interested her was the dark clump of trees by which she had always distinguished Hawk Island. It began to spread and alter in form as they approached, until it became a low forest, cresting the hill which gradually rose some seventy feet above the water. At last they entered a still cove which made a natural harbor in the island's side, and there Thinkright moored his boat. As soon as they stepped out upon the shore Sylvia saw a girl hurrying toward them down the sloping grass, and waving her hand. She wore a short dark skirt and a white waist and no hat.
"We've been watching you with the glass," she said, greeting them. "Your note came last night. I'm so glad you had such a perfect morning."
Her cheeks were brown and her eyes danced with good cheer. "Why, Miss Sylvia, your aunt told me; yet I was not prepared to see such a change. There's nothing like Casco Bay, is there?"
Sylvia's gaze clung to the vivacious face, and she had a realization of the small part which time plays in our mental processes. It seemed to her that transforming years had passed since that evening when she shivered outside the door of the Mill Farm, and heard this same laughing voice within.
"Miss Lacey is watching for us." Edna took Thinkright's arm, and they began to walk up the path through a green meadow. Snowdrifts of daisies whitened the field. "The dear things are lasting so much longer than usual this year," said Edna, as Sylvia exclaimed over their charm. "We have the last of things out in this exposed spot, you see, and I think it's quite as pleasant as having the first of them the way you do in your sheltered nook."
The breeze freshened as they ascended, and at last they stood on the crest of the green ridge.
To the south of the island the pointed firs made a dark, irregular sky-line against the azure. Here there were no trees, nothing to obstruct the illimitable stretches of water and picturesque shore. It was a nearer and more overwhelming view of what had taken Sylvia's breath when she discovered the mighty sea on that first day, driving to the Mill Farm.
How far away seemed that day and the sore heart whose resentment embittered all the beauty; when her hand was against every man because she believed every man's hand to be against her.
As the three stood there, watching, in silence, Edna saw the blue eyes fill, and her heart warmed toward her guest, although she could not guess at the flood of feeling that forced those bright drops from their fountain.
Anemone Cottage was built partly of boulders taken from the shore. Its roomy porch was supported by pillars of the same stone. The bluish tint of balsam firs stood out against the darker foliage of the evergreens that surrounded it, and such trees as cut off the superb view from the piazza had been removed, leaving vistas which were an exaltation to the beholder.
The beauty of the place sank into Sylvia's heart, and as Miss Martha appeared on the porch to meet the guests, the light of hospitality shone in her face, and the girl forgot that it had ever been difficult to greet her aunt warmly.
"Your sail has given you sharp appetites, I'm sure," said Miss Martha, "and dinner is just going to be put on the table."
They all moved into the living-room. It ran the full width of the cottage and had a wide, deep fireplace opposite the door. A round centre-table covered with books and periodicals, an upright piano, and numerous armchairs as comfortable as they were light, furnished the room.
"How charming!" exclaimed Sylvia, looking from the rugs on the floor to the cushions in the window-seats.
"Yes, it is," said Edna. "It's a fine port in a storm, but in all decent weather we scorn it."
Sylvia went to a window. A rocky path led between the symmetrical firs down toward the shore where far below boomed the noisy surf.
"And how is the boat, Sylvia?" asked Miss Martha.
"It's a joy," replied the girl, looking around brightly.
"Oh, yes, your boat," said Edna. "I'm going to invite myself over on purpose to row with you. Miss Lacey has told me all about it and its mysterious name."
Her eyes twinkled at Sylvia.
"It is—very mysterious," returned the latter, laughing.
Miss Lacey gave a quick nod. "I'm going to ask Judge Trent what it means when he comes," she declared.
"Fie, Miss Martha! How indiscreet!" laughed Edna. "Can't he have a little undisturbed flirtation with his best girl?"
She was surprised at the suddenness and depth of Miss Lacey's blush, but the little woman bustled out to the dining-room and shortly announced dinner.
It seemed to Sylvia that she had never been so hungry and that food had never tasted so delicious. She remarked upon it somewhat apologetically, and Edna laughed at her. "My dear girl, it's the way of the place," she said. "Of course we eat nothing prosaic here. These potatoes grew at the Mill Farm, these lobsters were swimming this morning. This lamb, I'm afraid, was skipping around only a few days ago on Beacon Island. This salad grew just over the fence from that daisy field we passed through this morning,—and so on."
For dessert they had a deep huckleberry pie.
"How's this, Sylvia, eh?" asked Thinkright, after the first juicy mouthful. "I thought Mrs. Lem was pretty good at it."
"It is perfect," returned Sylvia, "but how we shall look!" she added.
"Don't worry," said Edna. "I always keep a box of tooth-brushes upstairs for wanderers trapped just as you are. Of course it is a good pie. These berries were growing on the shore of Merriconeag Sound yesterday, and Miss Lacey and I picked them ourselves. Weren't we a happy, disreputable pair, Miss Martha? Our dresses were stained, our fingers were a sight, and our lips,—I'll draw a veil! We both would have done so then if we'd had any."
Sylvia listened, smiling. In her preoccupation she let her fork veer away from her plate.
"Oh!" she ejaculated regretfully. "See what I've done!" A drop of the rich dark juice had fallen on the spotless cloth and seemed to spread mischievously. "Dear, I meant to be so careful."
"Not a bit of harm," returned Edna. "That is a feature of the huckleberry season. The stain vanishes under hot water."
Sylvia's eyes clung to the spot. A thought had suddenly come to her like a lightning flash. She knew vaguely that her hostess was saying pleasant things, but she could not follow them.
"Eat your pie, Sylvia," said her aunt. "We always have a second piece. Jenny's feelings would be hurt if we didn't."
The girl commenced eating again, mechanically. "You picked these yourselves?" she said. "They grow for anybody to pick?"
"Yes, indeed," replied Edna. "I enjoy it. I think Miss Lacey considers a berrying expedition a good deal of a pleasure exertion."
"They always ripen first in such shut-in fields," objected Miss Lacey.
Edna laughed. "The kind Mrs. Lem would call hot as Topet."
"Oh, I'd love to pick them," said Sylvia. "Do they grow around the Mill Farm, Thinkright?"
Her eyes were shining as she asked her question.
"No. Nowhere around us,—that is, nowhere near. I've often wondered at it."
"Stay here, and go with me, Sylvia," said Edna cordially. "We'll let Miss Martha off, and you and I will take Benny and make a day of it."
"Oh, I'd love to!" exclaimed Sylvia. "I'll try to come over soon."
"Not at all. Always make the most of a bird in the hand. You're here now. I'm going to keep her,—oh, as long as I can, Thinkright."
He smiled at Sylvia, who smiled back, still with the excited shining in her eyes. "She seems willing, I must say," he remarked, pleased at the prospect of the two girls thus becoming acquainted.
The hour before he had to start back was spent by them all together, at first on the rocky ledges below the house where the caldrons of foam and fountains of spray made the finest show, and then roaming through the fragrant woods. At each new vista Miss Martha noted the narrowing of her niece's eyes and the absorption of her gaze.
"I guess you have some of your poor father's artistic taste," she said to her at one pause.
"I wish my father could have seen this place," was Sylvia's reply.
When the time came for Thinkright to make his adieux she clung to him.
"I declare I believe she's homesick at the parting," said Miss Lacey to Edna. They two were standing on the piazza and the others a little way off on the grass; but Sylvia was not homesick, she was whispering to her cousin: "I'm staying for a reason, Thinkright!" she said. "I've had an idea. I believe it's a good one."
He patted her shoulder. "That's right, that's right." He gestured toward the rolling expanse about them. "For every drop of water in that ocean there are thousands of possibilities of good for every one of God's children. The shutters are open, little one. Why shouldn't the blessing flow in?"