And so began for Sylvia the visit which always afterward stood out in her memory unique in the poignancy of its novel impressions. Despite the simplicity of life at Anemone Cottage, there was an order and smoothness in the management of details which constantly attracted and charmed the guest. The poetry of the wild enchanting surroundings was ever sounding a new note in sky or sea or flower, and the companionship of Edna Derwent was an experience which Sylvia seized upon with an eagerness wholly devoid of worldly considerations.
It was on a Friday that Thinkright had left her at the island. During that night a northeast wind sprang up, and on Saturday a storm prevented the expedition after berries. It was a wonderful day to Sylvia.
Torrents of rain beat upon the windows, the atmosphere was a blur through which the surf thundered mysteriously.
Logs blazed merrily in the great fireplace. Sylvia found a feast of many courses in the illustrations of the magazines. Edna was interested to see her discrimination.
"Oh, I remember," she said. "Miss Lacey told me your father was an artist."
Miss Martha was sitting by the fire darning stockings, and at this she gave an involuntary alert glance at her niece where she sat with Edna by the round table, her head bent above one of the periodicals.
"My father never learned to apply himself. He was not deeply interested in his work," replied Sylvia. The blue eyes looked up into Edna's dark ones. "No one ever taught my father how to think right," she added.
"I see," returned Miss Derwent; "but your interest must have been a great help to him."
"No, I was never any help to him. As I look back I seem to myself to have been only a chrysalis. I had eyes and saw not, and ears and heard not. I only began to live when I came to the Mill Farm. Poor father!"
Edna's eyes were soft. "I understand," she said.
Miss Lacey did not understand, but she suspected. She saw the look that passed between the two girls, and remembered Thinkright's peculiar views and Edna's adherence to them.
"'Tisn't doing Sylvia any harm, anyway," she reflected, "and I know she'll never have a disloyal thought of her father," and she pulled another stocking over her hand.
"Well, you are interested now, certainly," remarked Edna, increasingly surprised at the girl's perception of the quality of the work of the various artists, combined with such comparative ignorance of their names and reputations.
"I have never had much opportunity," said Sylvia simply, "and, as you can see, I never made the most of what I did have. I suppose father had ambition once"—
"Indeed he did, my dear!" put in Miss Lacey emphatically.
Sylvia started. In her absorption she had forgotten her aunt's presence.
"Yes, I suppose so," she replied; "but things went hard with him, and for years past the only work he could depend upon were the pictures he made for advertisements and an occasional cartoon for a paper."
"Indeed," returned Miss Lacey, leaning forward and poking the fire in her embarrassment. This was entirely gratuitous frankness on Sylvia's part. "Well, I can assure you he was made for better things," she went on, bridling. "When you visit me I will show you a landscape in my parlor worth a thousand of the daubs people rave over. Half the time you can't tell whether they're trying to paint a tulip field or a prairie fire. Ridiculous! You can almost count the rings on the horns of the cows in this landscape. It's what I call a picture."
It was well that Miss Lacey enjoyed this work of art, for it was all she had to show for many a squeeze given to her slender purse by the artist.
Edna paused in the talk she was led into by her guest's eager attention and questions.
"Listen to the surf!" she exclaimed. "You must see that show, Sylvia. We must go down to the rocks."
"Fine! But I haven't any other clothes if I wet these," returned the girl, looking down.
"Oh, it's bathing suits to-day, and rubbers, and mackintoshes."
Soon they were equipped; and leaving the cottage by the back door they worked their way around the corner of the house to the sea front, and by the help of the sturdy trees that were making their usual good fight with the elements managed to creep down to the upper tier of rocks. Here it was impossible to hear one another speak, and the girls' exhilaration could be expressed only by glances as they clung to each other and the rocks, where to-day the foam flakes flew about them, although it was usually high and dry for some distance below this. The fine sharp needles of rain, which at first made their eyes smart, ceased for a time, and they watched the giant waves at their hoarse, clamorous revel, joining the roar with their own shrieks of mirth and excitement whenever some reckless fling of spray drenched them from head to foot.
Edna had placed Turkish towels and their clothing in a shed at the back of the house, and when finally the rain began again to cut their eyes and shut away even the nearest view, she succeeded in dragging the reluctant and dripping Sylvia thither, and they again made ready for the house.
"Come in, you two mermaids," exclaimed Miss Lacey when they appeared. She threw more logs on the fire. "I began to think you had gone to see the land 'where corals lie.'"
Edna laughed and took the pins out of her hair, so that it rolled in damp lengths about her. Sylvia's curls were gemmed with bright drops, and both girls were rosy and sparkling from their tussle with the gale.
"Sylvia has the only hair that ever ought to go to the seashore," remarked Edna, looking with open admiration at the piquant face under the jeweled diadem. "You can take a chair, Sylvia, but I shall have to turn my back to that lovely fire."
Sylvia stretched herself luxuriously in a reclining chair before the blaze while her hostess sank on the rug and spread her dark locks to the heat.
"You do look like a mermaid," said Sylvia.
"Mermaids sing," remarked Edna. "Would you like to hear me sing?"
"I don't know," replied the other slowly, "whether I could stand one more thing. I think I might pass away if you should sing, the way you look now."
Edna laughed. "I feel like singing," she said, and jumping up, went to the piano and pulled over the music.
"I think Miss Lacey started me by speaking about 'Where Corals Lie.' I'll sing the Elgar 'Sea Pictures.'"
Edna had an even, contralto voice, and sang with the charm of temperament; but to the sensitive listener the enchantment of the sea seemed to linger in the tones of this creature who, with the sparkling drops still shining in her dark hair, poured out such strange and moving music. It stirred Sylvia to the depths.
At the close of the song "Where Corals Lie," she sighed some comment, and Miss Martha spoke:—
"That isn't what you'd call a pretty tune, not near as pretty as a lot that Edna sings," she remarked, "but that song goes right to my backbone somehow and chills right up and down it; and the way she says,—
'Leave me, leave me, let me go And see the land where corals lie,'
it sort of comes over me when she stays long down on the rocks in a storm, and makes me feel queer."
"That's right, Miss Lacey," remarked Edna, without turning around. "I'm a very sentimental and desperate person."
"You are when you sing, my dear," retorted Miss Martha with conviction.
"Now I'll give you the Capri one," said Edna, "but I never saw a day at Capri that fitted it as every day does here;" and with wind and wave outside making an obligato to her flowing accompaniment, she sang "In Haven."
"Closely let me hold thy hand, Storms are sweeping sea and land, Love alone will stand.
"Closely cling, for waves beat fast, Foam flakes cloud the hurrying blast, Love alone will last.
"Kiss my lips and softly say, 'Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day; Love alone will stay.'"
Sylvia's hands were pressed to her eyes when the song was finished, and her aunt looked at her curiously, for she saw that she could not speak. Had Miss Martha been told that the young man in Judge Trent's office had any part in the tumult of feeling that sent the color to Sylvia's temples and the tears to her eyes she would have scouted the idea as too wild for consideration.
"That is a very pretty one," Miss Martha remarked in the silence that followed. She spoke to ease what she felt to be a tense situation. At the same time she winked at Edna, who had turned about to face her auditors. Sylvia's eyes remained hidden so Miss Martha continued:—
"There's something about those words that makes me think of 'Oh, Promise Me.' That's my favorite song. Do see if you can't remember it, Edna."
But the latter rose and came back to the fire.
"I must dry my hair," she said. "That's the drawback of not being a real mermaid."
She sank again on the rug near Sylvia.
The latter uncovered her flushed eyes and reached one hand down to Edna, who took it.
"If you hadn't—hadn't had anything," said Sylvia unsteadily, "you'd understand."
"I do," replied Edna; but she was mistaken. Though she pressed the hand very sympathetically she did not understand.
The next day being Sunday Miss Lacey vetoed the excursion after berries as a snare to Benny Merritt's feet, which should be turned toward the little island church, whether or not they would be.
"Never mind," said Edna philosophically; "the longer we wait the more berries we shall find. We can count on good weather for some time now."
"You wouldn't want to sail anyway to-day," said Miss Lacey. "It looks blue enough, but there are white caps left over from yesterday that would never get me to ride on them, I can tell you."
"The Sound isn't rough," replied Edna; "but we'll all be good girls and write letters. Come down to the Fir Ledges with us, Miss Lacey. We'll write there."
"Thank you, I've outgrown that," replied Miss Martha briskly. "Sit with your heels higher than your head, and no decent place to lean, and just at the most important moment have the wind double your paper over or blow it away. No, thank you; but there's room at the table for all of us if you'll be sensible."
The table was a round one placed in an angle of the spacious piazza, which had been glassed in as protection from the prevailing wind.
Here Miss Martha was wont to gather her writing materials, and with her back to the view, not for fear of its temptations, but in order to get a better light, indite many an underlined epistle to her friends at home. She sometimes had Edna's company, but that could not be to-day. The young hostess was enjoying too much exhibiting the charms of her beloved habitat to the guest who thrilled in such responsive appreciation at the moments and places where others had often proved disappointing.
"No bribe could induce us to be sensible," was Edna's response to Miss Lacey's suggestion. "We are going to the Fir Ledges, and there is no knowing when you will see us again."
"Oh, yes, there is," returned Miss Martha dryly. She was seating herself for her enjoyable morning. She was going to send Selina Lane some of Jenny's receipts. "There will be halibut and egg sauce, lemon meringue pie, and various other things served in this house at 1.30," she went on, "and I have an idea that you'll take an interest in them."
Edna and Sylvia exchanged a thoughtful look. "Perhaps we may," said Edna.
"I'm sure of it," added Sylvia with conviction.
Miss Lacey's satisfied laugh followed the pair down the woodland road, and she looked after them.
"Everything has turned out so well," she thought. "I remember how this summer stood up in my mind as one of the obstacles to letting Sylvia come to me, for I didn't see where I could leave her while I came to Hawk Island,—and now, just look. I really do think Edna has taken a fancy to the child, though even I can't always judge of Edna's feelings by her actions."
Miss Martha looked fixedly at the side of the house, her pen poised in her hand. She was weighing the question as to whether it would be well to mention to Selina Lane her niece's presence at Anemone Cottage. If she spoke of her, it might lead in future to embarrassing questions; if she did not speak of her, Selina was liable to learn of Sylvia from some other source; for no way had yet been discovered of permanently concealing anything from Miss Lane, and that spinster, so fond of jumping at conclusions that she frequently overleaped them, would be sure to decide that Miss Martha was ashamed of her niece.
To tell or not to tell! She was still balancing her pen and the question when a firm tread crunched the gravel behind her, and turning she beheld a man advancing to the steps.
He was dressed in outing flannels, and his cap was presumably in his pocket. At least he had none on his head. Miss Lacey rose with a start and hurried to the steps.
"Why, Mr. Dunham, I was never so surprised in my life!" she exclaimed.
He smiled. "I was told that you would look more kindly upon a surprise party at ten in the morning than at ten at night," he answered.
His eyes were level with Miss Martha's as she stood two steps above him on the piazza, and he pressed her hard, little, unresponsive hand. But if her hand was hard her heart was not, and it was with much appreciation of the visitor's attractive personality that she urged him to take his choice of the piazza chairs.
"This is a great place," he remarked, as she fluttered back to her table, and he dropped on the piazza rail. "I've never been on the islands before,—only sailed past them."
"But how did you get here so early? Were you at the Island House all night?"
"Not at all. When Mr. Johnson returned on Friday he found Judge Trent and myself in possession. This morning I went out with Cap'n Lem to his pound, so was ready for an early start over here; and it surely is a great place."
Dunham looked off upon the rolling billows breaking in snow here and there above unseen ledges.
"Your clothes are wet. You had a rough sail."
"In spots, yes; but it's rather sheltered between here and the Tide Mill. You're looking well, Miss Lacey."
"Who wouldn't in such a place," she rejoined; "and just think, Mr. Dunham, my niece is here."
"So I understand." The young man gave a tentative glance around at the house.
"Oh, they're not in. Miss Derwent is never in, unless it storms the way it did yesterday, and then she's liable to be in oilskins hanging on to some rock and scaring me out of my seven senses. Sylvia's just like her. They were both out yesterday."
"I'm glad to learn that your niece is strong enough for that," returned Dunham.
Miss Lacey made a gesture. "She did it, anyway." She lowered her voice to a confidential pitch. "Haven't things worked around wonderfully, Mr. Dunham?" The speaker drew back, giving him a significant look.
"How do you mean?" asked Dunham cautiously.
"Since that day we were at Hotel Frisbie. I haven't dared look to see how many new gray hairs that week gave me, and here we are, all so calm and happy. Miss Derwent being so kind and hospitable to Sylvia, and none of my doings at all. You see, it would have been such an impossible thing for me to suggest that my niece should visit here, but it came around in the most natural way through Thinkright."
"It is fine," returned Dunham. Sylvia's name still meant for him only the dew-laden eyes that beseeched him as he left her at the Association that day in Boston. He felt some curiosity as to how Miss Lacey had finally made her peace, and he felt sure that she would like to tell him; but the younger Miss Lacey's affairs were none of his.
"I'm sorry not to find Miss Derwent," he said.
"Oh, you'll find her," returned Miss Lacey briskly. "You will stay to dinner with us, of course."
"Certainly not," returned Dunham quickly.
"Why, you will. We have it at noon, you know."
"In these togs?" asked John incredulously—"Miss Derwent?"
"Oh, hers aren't any better," returned Miss Martha. "That's the island fashion."
"No,—I'll go to the—what did you say? There's some sort of a hotel here, isn't there?"
"Yes. Some sort," returned Miss Lacey, "but not your sort. Don't say another word about it, Mr. Dunham. Why, Miss Derwent would be scandalized,—an old friend like you. You said you were, didn't you?" she added, with sudden questioning.
"Yes, so old that I shall be new," returned Dunham, smiling. "I only hope she'll remember me."
"Why didn't Judge Trent come with you? We should have been very pleased to see him at dinner, too," said Miss Lacey, with a little excess of formality.
"I did ask him, but he said he wasn't tired of terra firma yet."
"Has he come to stay?"
"Yes, for a while. We've locked up the offices and are going to forget dull care together. He's devoted to this region, isn't he?"
"Yes, and what is more interesting and wonderful—to Sylvia," returned Miss Martha, again dropping her voice as if there might be eavesdroppers in Arcady. "That is, he must be. He has given her the loveliest boat."
"I saw it the evening we came. Mr. Johnson was showing it to him."
"What did he say about its name?" eagerly.
"Yes. The Rosy Cloud."
"Didn't Thinkright ask him anything?"
"Not that I remember."
"Has Judge Trent said anything to you about Sylvia?"
"Not a word."
Miss Lacey, who had been leaning forward, flung herself back in her chair.
"If there's anything exasperating on earth it's a man!" she exclaimed. "Well"—for John laughed, "excuse me, Mr. Dunham, you can't help it; but men never know when anything is interesting. Now I can tell you just where you'll find those girls, and I'm going to let you go. You take that path through the woods, and it'll bring you into an open field, but you'll still see a path. Keep right on till if you took another step you'd fall about fifty feet and have to swim. There you'll find a huddle of ledges and ravines and brave little firs that have hooked their roots into the rock somehow, and there you'll find also a couple of girls who went down to write letters, and I know haven't written a word; and do keep an eye on your watch and get them here by quarter past one. Things are so much nicer when they are hot and good, and Edna is no more to be trusted than if she was five. If she happened to get to watching a barnacle eat its dinner she'd never once think of her own."
Just at present Miss Derwent was certainly not thinking of dinner. The tide was falling, and she and her companion were seated amid the sighing firs and watching its retreat; that is, Sylvia was watching, and Edna was reading aloud to her. At last Edna looked up from her book and leaned forward to look over the ledge.
"It is low enough," she said. "Let us go down there, Sylvia. I want to show you the pools."
Leaving their books and papers covered from the breeze with a shawl, the girls climbed down the rough rocks.
"We call this the giant's bath-tub," said Edna, when they reached an oblong hollow rock brimming with brine.
"I'd hate to take a bath with some of those creatures," remarked Sylvia, her eyes on certain small objects of various shapes.
"I, too; and see how crusted the rock is with barnacles. How their edges do cut! Dear little things, they'll go to sleep now till the tide comes back again."
"Go to sleep!" laughed Sylvia. "As if they were anything but gray stones!"
"Indeed, you are mistaken. I wonder if I could wake one of those fellows up," and Miss Derwent splashed water over one of the stony clusters. They remained lifeless.
"The tide has left them too recently," she said. "They're not hungry."
"Oh, Edna,—I mean Miss Derwent."
"No, call me Edna. I'd like you to. Sometimes I can make them open those stiff shells and put out five little fingers to gather in their food."
Sylvia shook her head. "You've told me lots of fairy stories the last two days, but that is the most improbable. What are you doing?"
"Getting you a sea urchin." Edna had rolled her sleeves to the shoulder and was plunging her arm into the water. She brought out a spiny prize.
"What is it covered with? Wet grass?" asked Sylvia, regarding the blackish object with disfavor. "Why, you said those charming lavender candlesticks of yours, all embroidered in tiny holes, were sea urchins."
"So they are, but this is smaller. I'm going to try to get you some big ones. Do you care for starfish?" Edna swooped upon one and drew it forth waving its pink legs helplessly.
"Of course!" exclaimed Sylvia excitedly. "How lovely. I'm going to have a sea cabinet."
"Oh, there," cried Edna, "I see a big urchin now, but I'm afraid I can't get him!"
"Can't?" exclaimed a voice incredulously. "He'll give himself to you," and Dunham dropped lightly from the rock above the absorbed girls, who sat up suddenly to find him standing beside them.
Sylvia was first to recognize the apparition. "Mr. Dunham!" she exclaimed, and the blood pulsed in her ears with the voice of the sea.
"Why, it is Mr. Dunham," said Edna, and leaning on her wet hand she reached up the other to greet him. Then he shook hands with Sylvia.
"It's a good thing you carry around those curls for people to know you by, Miss Lacey," he said.
Her upturned eyes were dark with excitement, her sudden color was high. There were little freckles across the bridge of her piquant nose. She was alive and glowing in every line.
"Where did you spring from?" asked Edna, brushing back a lock of hair with the back of her wet hand.
"First from the office, then from the Tide Mill, later from your house propelled by Miss Lacey, and ultimately from that rock, to discover by what magic there was some big urchin that Miss Derwent couldn't get. I never knew one who wasn't at her service,—the regiment headed by myself."
"On the contrary," returned Edna, "I distinctly remember when mother tried to get you to come to us here and you refused."
"Not refused. Regretted with tears. This is my party call,—the first opportunity I've had to make it."
"Well, you see now what you missed." Edna waved her hand toward the landscape.
"Don't I! From the moment of leaving the Tide Mill until I discovered your blonde and brunette heads bending over this pool my pilgrimage has been one long reminiscent wail."
"Oh, of course if you talk that way you will restore my complacency. When did you come to the Tide Mill?"
"In time for the storm, then."
"Yes, but Judge Trent was with me. We sang,—
'You and I together, Love, Never mind the weather, Love.'"
Edna looked at him with curiosity and approval. A hundred incidents of their old friendship were returning to her thought. It was almost the same boyish head and face that topped this tall personage.
"You're just as silly as ever, John, aren't you?" she said. "I'm so glad."
He laughed toward Sylvia. "There's a reference for you, Miss Lacey."
"You please her. What more can you ask?" returned Sylvia.
It had all, all been a preparation for this moment. For this cause Thinkright had found her and brought her to the farm and taught her his philosophy. For this cause she had risen from the plane where Nat and Bohemia had been possibilities. For this cause Edna had given her her gracious friendship. The Prince and Princess had met in her presence, and she was as sure it was meeting never to part as she was that her earthly ideals could never be severed from theirs.
Edna and John both laughed at the earnestness of her naive reply.
"She intends to keep me in my place, doesn't she?" he said to Edna.
"Evidently," she replied, "but we're both willing you should sit down. Won't you?"
"I think I'd rather look at myself in your mirror. Isn't that what you were doing when I descended upon you?"
"No. We have no need here for mirrors from month's end to month's end, for we never wear hats."
"Tush, tush," returned Dunham, lowering himself with some care among the projections of the inhospitable rock. "I'm sure you both patronize mirrors for the pure pleasure of it. In the minute I stood waiting and watching up there I expected to see you turn into—who was what's-his-name, Narcissus? Narcissi, then."
"Nonsense. You should use more local color. Say Anemones; but I warn you, we don't allow pretty speeches up here."
"That's unfortunate," returned Dunham, "for I've been in Seaton for months, and there's nobody to make love to there but Miss La—" He nearly bit his tongue off in the suddenness of his halt, but he did save himself. "What is in this pool, then, if not starry eyes?" he added suddenly, bending over the stone trough with interest.
"Starfish," replied Edna. "See this one. I pulled it out just before you came."
The starfish was clinging pinkly to the rock, and beyond him lay the urchin, the blackness of its draggled spines turning to green as it dried in the sun.
"Who's your friend?" asked John, regarding it. "Looks like a miniature Paderewski. Say, he's getting up steam."
In fact, the urchin had begun dragging itself in a stately and scarcely perceptible progress across the rock toward its native pool. The three watched it.
"Isn't there any law here against speeding?" asked Dunham with concern. "First water mobile I ever saw. Take his number, somebody. It's a scandal."
"He's number one," said Sylvia. "We're going to get some more. I 'm going to have a cabinet."
"You are? Well, I don't think a sport like that would be a safe member of any cabinet."
"Here. I'll show you the urchin I couldn't get," said Edna. "You'll reach him for us. My arm isn't long enough. See that big dark spot down in the corner? That is Sylvia's candlestick. A beautiful, lilac, embroidered candlestick."
"Who'd have thought it!" responded Dunham, rolling up his sleeves. In a minute the dripping prize was being offered to Sylvia, who clasped her hands and drew back.
"Would you mind putting him down?" she said. "He looks so big and—whiskery."
"Oh, I'm ashamed of you, Sylvia," laughed Edna. "Now you have to find another just his size, Mr. Dunham. She has to have a pair."
"She does, eh?" returned John resignedly. "I don't know what I'll draw out of this grab bag next," and he plunged his arm in again.
"No, no, you mustn't do that!" cried Edna,—"clouding up the water like that. We have to peer. Come and peer, Sylvia." They all leaned over the side of the pool. "See that little starfish? He's lost a leg already in his short career; and those pretty anemones! Why didn't I bring a pail. I shall make an aquarium for you on the piazza, and we'll have anemones, and undistinguished urchins who will never be in a cabinet or hold candles, and starfish, and barnacles. Oh, there's a baby, John. Quick, there! Oh, I can get it myself." She reached down in a flash and drew forth a tiny urchin.
"You startled me so," said John plaintively. "You said a baby, and I couldn't see even a bulrush."
"Oh, I shall educate you in time," returned Edna. "There, Sylvia, that will be the infant member of your cabinet."
"It seems pretty low down to kidnap a fellow of that size," remarked Dunham.
"But she's going to have a complete set of urchins,—from a little green pea to a personage."
"When you reach the personage class, remember me, Miss Sylvia. I have other references than this scoffing maiden."
Sylvia smiled. "But perhaps you wouldn't care to carry candles."
"Not care to burn candles before you? Of course I should."
"He's at it again, Sylvia," sighed Edna. "It's dreadful to have a starved man on our hands."
"Starved. That reminds me. Pardon me, ladies, if I look at my watch. Ah, half an hour's grace. I am going to ask you both to dine with me to-day. The procession moves at one sharp. If there are any signs of reluctance on the part of the hostess and her guest, I am to take one in each hand, with whatever fishy impedimenta cannot be lost, and repair with you to your cot. Miss Martha has spoken."
Edna laughed. "I'd forgotten, John, just what a shy flower you were!" she said.
A SWIMMING LESSON
That afternoon Sylvia had her first swimming lesson. She had gone bathing several times with Minty Foster, but had never ventured beyond her depth. There was a flight of steps leading down to the water at the left of Edna's cottage to a little natural harbor behind the rock masses. No sandy beach was there. One dropped into sea green depths where only the amphibious could feel at home; but Edna was amphibious, and even Miss Lacey's shade hat, firmly tied beneath the chin, was sometimes seen to ride upon the wave as its owner indulged in a stately swim from one point of rock to another. Her mouth and nose on these occasions were lifted from the waters in a scornful grimace. Twice across the pool Miss Martha swam with systematic deliberation, then, her hat and hair as dry as when she went in, she ascended upon a sunny rock, and assuming a large woolen waterproof contented herself with observing Edna's gambols. This afternoon she did not go in. The shade hat topped her Sunday gown of black grenadine, which was turned up carefully about her as she sat on a rock and chaperoned her young people. A straw "pancake" softened the asperities of her granite couch.
Dunham observed her erect attitude doubtfully. "Can't I get you some sofa pillows?" he asked.
"No, pancakes are what I always use," returned Miss Martha decidedly.
"That's true," said Edna, "especially on Sunday. Miss Lacey is willing to do anything on the spur of the moment except sit on it. She draws the line there; but Sunday is no day to be luxurious, is it, Miss Martha?—not for a person whose forefathers fought in the Revolution and ate leather."
"And it's not a good day to go in swimming, either," returned Miss Lacey uneasily. "I do hope, Edna, you'll come out before the islanders begin to return from church. Some of them might come along this shore."
"Dear Miss Martha," said Edna, "we don't have Mr. Dunham every day, to give Sylvia a swimming lesson."
"And I'm just as scared as I can be," declared Sylvia, her curly hair and big eyes emerging from the mackintosh that enveloped her. "I never asked to go and see the land 'where corals lie,' and I don't think there's any bottom to that water."
The cottage had produced bathing suits for the guests, and although Miss Lacey had scruples, and sat very straight, darting glances to right and left through the trees, and held a copy of a Congregational church paper prominently before her, she was glad of this opportunity for her niece.
"You can learn, Sylvia," she said. "Benny Merritt taught me to swim in that very spot, for I was determined to learn. I pulled out some of the poor boy's hair, I remember; so be careful and don't grab Mr. Dunham by the head."
Edna ran down a few steps, and throwing her cloak on a rock clasped her hands above her, launched herself through the air in a graceful arch, and disappeared in the liquid emerald.
Sylvia lifted despairing eyes to Dunham. "She just does that to make me crazy," she said.
"We'll fool her, then," returned John. "We won't go crazy. Now lift up your arms."
"You aren't going to put that thing on me!" exclaimed Sylvia, eyeing with scorn the life-preserver he had picked up. "I thought that was something to sit on." She pinioned her elbows to her side. "Oh, I'd much rather drown than wear anything so unbecoming."
"Sylvia Lacey, lift up your arms this minute," commanded Miss Martha. "I wore one for weeks. As it was, I pinched Benny a number of times when I thought I was going down. Poor child, I distinctly remember a black and blue spot on his cheek where I kicked him one day."
"Miss Sylvia, I'm growing awfully frightened," said John, while he buckled. "Do you inherit your aunt's warlike propensities? You don't need to pull out my hair. I'll give you a lock of it in exchange for one of your curls." He had been observing the auburn rings that escaped under the front of the little oilskin cap.
"So ignominious," said Sylvia, looking over her person with disfavor.
"After you get into the water I'll take it off the minute you say," returned Dunham. "Let's make a bet, Miss Lacey. How long do you think she will keep it on?"
"Mr. Dunham, this is Sunday," returned Miss Martha.
"Oh, so it is. Well, I'll go and do penance. Look your last on my manly beauty, Miss Martha. We're off. Which side of the house does your niece take after?"
"What do you mean? She's a Lacey to the backbone."
John groaned. "Then the last hope has fled. I thought that perhaps the ingratiating Trent characteristics might come to the rescue, but now, expect to see me return bald and disfigured."
"Come on, you lazy people," called Edna; "it's glorious."
"O-o-o, 'where corals lie, where corals lie,'" shuddered Sylvia, as she ran down the steps. "Just look at that mermaid. Isn't it fun? It is as poetical as those Elgar songs. She could just make up her mind to go down, and—go!"
"Well, shall we go too?" John offered his hand. She put hers into it. "Are you game to jump?" he added.
"In a life-preserver!" ejaculated Sylvia in smiling contempt. "Yes. There," meeting Edna's eyes as she floated at ease, "there is the poetry. Here comes the prose tumbling after."
Physical timidity was no part of Sylvia's nature; and now secure in the consciousness of the life-preserver, and that Dunham would take care of her anyway, and incited by the desire to appear courageous in his eyes, it was easy for her to take the leap. John jumped with her.
Despite her brave intention a gasping shriek burst from her as she struck the flood. She was prepared not to be afraid of the depth of the water, but she had forgotten its temperature.
"Oh, it's so cold!" she cried.
"No, this is quite warm," said John. "The wind has blown the surface water in. Wait a bit and you won't mind it."
He was treading water and steadying his companion. "Want the life-preserver off?" he laughed.
"Indeed I'd rather have it than the most gorgeous gown in Boston," she replied breathlessly, her spirits rising as she felt the strength of his arms. "Naught shall part me from it. Tell me what to do and I'll do it."
Edna swam around them with nonchalant, sidelong strokes, while Dunham went through the customary directions to the novice. She had been splashing valiantly for some minutes when Miss Lacey, forsaking her point of lookout, crept gingerly, with fear for her grenadine, to the edge of the rocks.
"Children," she called in a hollow voice, "the people are returning from church."
"Well, what shall we do?" asked John. "Edna and I can stay under for a reasonable length of time, but I should be obliged to drown Miss Sylvia. Does the situation demand it?"
"Benny Merritt is coming," still more acutely. "He's very near!"
"Well, when he sees this pool he'll fly with such hair as he has," said John cheerfully.
"Oh," groaned Miss Martha, "I've so often told him it was wrong to swim on Sunday."
"Keep him," cried Edna; "I want him. We're coming out, anyway."
"Stay in," commanded Miss Lacey sepulchrally. "He may pass by," and she sank on a rock, spread out her Congregational paper, and examined the columns from end to end with absorption.
But Benny had no idea of passing by. He had heard the voices from the water and lounged toward Miss Lacey, but that lady declined to look up.
"Miss Sylvy's learnin' to swim, ain't she?" he remarked, when he had stood unnoticed through a space of silence.
"Oh, good-afternoon, Benny," said Miss Martha severely. "Yes; a friend from home came unexpectedly, and offered to help her, and she and Miss Derwent—and—— Was there a good congregation this afternoon, Benny? I thought best to remain here with my young people."
"Guess so. I heard 'em hollerin' as I come by a little while ago."
"Oh, Benny, you should have been there." Miss Lacey spoke more in sorrow than in anger; she was conscious that the object lesson he was now receiving would undo many of her faithful exhortations.
He directed an elaborate wink at the crown of her abased shade hat.
"Thought I'd ruther go swimmin'," he returned.
Miss Martha turned the leaves of her paper with a loud rustle. The bathers were chattering and pulling themselves out of the water by the steps.
Benny's eyes brightened as Edna's laugh sounded on his ear.
"You did very wrong to come to-day, Benny," she called to him brightly, throwing her cloak about her and coming dripping up the steep steps.
Benny grinned sheepishly. "Come to see if Miss Lacey wanted any clams to-morrer," he drawled.
Edna shook her finger at him. "We don't swim on Sunday. Understand, Benny? We go to church and sing with all the good people—don't we?" for Benny was changing from one foot to the other, alternately grinning and solemn under Edna's bright gaze.
"Yes,—when you don't miss of it," returned the boy, who had hung around the church steps to-day and peered within until he had satisfied himself that this was one of the missing days. He was a sufficiently docile attendant at the sanctuary whenever it meant staring for an hour at the back of Miss Derwent's head.
"And whenever we miss, it is for some important reason," returned Edna impressively. "This is Mr. Dunham, Benny," for here John and Sylvia came up the steps. "He is a friend of mine from home. This is Benny Merritt, who is going to take us huckleberrying and blueberrying to-morrow."
"Awfully good of you, Benny, I'm sure," said Dunham, throwing down the life-preserver, while Sylvia nodded at the boy and pulled off her oilskin cap.
"Oh, he isn't taking you berrying. You wouldn't care for it, would you?" asked Edna.
"I don't know. I'm like the fellow who was asked if he could play the violin. He said he didn't know, for he had never tried."
Miss Lacey looked from one to another of the bathers, who were now sitting in the sun. She wondered what Mr. Dunham meant by talking about to-morrow. Was he not instantly going to get into his clothes and start on his way to the Tide Mill?
The same question was flitting through Edna's brain. She wondered if her mother would approve her repeating the invitation to John to visit Anemone Cottage under present circumstances. The young man himself took possession of the situation.
"Your arrival is very opportune, Benny," he said. "I've just been wondering who I could get to sail Mr. Johnson's boat back to the farm."
Edna's eyelids lifted. She wondered if her old friend had determined to invite himself.
"You know where the Tide Mill is, I suppose?" went on Dunham, for Benny looked unillumined.
"It is Thinkright's boat he wishes to have sailed back," said Edna.
"Oh, yes," answered Benny. "I know."
"I'm going to investigate your island a little farther, Edna," said John. "I've found that there's a hostelry here. I can't bear to tear myself away in ten minutes."
"To linger on Hawk Island is to be lost," returned Edna. "To change the song slightly,—
'To see it is to love it, And love but it forever; For Nature made it what it is, And ne'er made sic anither.'"
"Then here goes to lose myself," returned Dunham, "for you can't lose me. Benny, how are you going to get my boat home?"
"Don't know," drawled Benny; "couldn't swim back agin."
"Well, you could take it over to-morrow and get back somehow, couldn't you?"
"Miss Edna, she wants to go berryin' to-morrer."
"So do I, then," remarked Dunham.
"You shall," laughed Edna. "We'll send another boy."
"It's a worse problem than the fox and the goose and the corn," said John. "As Benny says, he can't swim back. I foresee a tragic future for Thinkright's boat, plying restlessly between Hawk Island and the Tide Mill, driven by the inexorable fate that hounded the Wandering Jew."
"We'll send two boys and an extra boat," returned Edna. "The island is rich in both commodities."
She let Dunham go to the little hotel that evening.
"But it will be the last time," she said to Miss Lacey after he had gone. "Why shouldn't I have a house party while Sylvia is here?"
"A man is a disturbing element on general principles," remarked Miss Martha, "but I like him, and always did, from the moment he dusted a chair for me with his handkerchief." She cleared her throat with sudden embarrassment as she glanced at Sylvia, who was listening with serious eyes.
That day's errand seemed strange and remote.
"Where have you and Mr. Dunham met before?" asked Edna, turning suddenly to her guest.
Sylvia was prepared for this question. "In Boston, only once. He met me there to arrange some business for Uncle Calvin."
"He is quite overcome by the change in your appearance. I'm not going to tell you the nice things he said about you. I don't approve of turning curly heads."
Sylvia colored and met Edna's kind eyes with a pleased, eager gaze. How lovely if the Prince should like her as did her Princess.
Benny was still unfurling his sail when his party came down to the floating dock the next morning.
Dunham was laden with lunch boxes, pails, and sweaters, and Benny looked somewhat darkly upon him as his laugh rang out in reply to a speech of his companions.
"I was givin' ye half an hour more," said the boy, as they greeted him. "Ye usually"—
"Don't betray me that way, Benny," interrupted Edna. "I'll have to confess, though, that this promptness is all owing to Mr. Dunham. He has pursued and hurried us since eight o'clock."
"I've traveled on my virtuous early rising up to the present moment," remarked Dunham; "but now I'll confess that I wasn't so crazy over the sunrise as I was at it. It was a very unwelcome pageant in my room at 3 A.M."
"Oh, surely!" exclaimed Edna sympathetically. "Those cruelly light windows."
"Did you ever try a black stocking?" asked Sylvia earnestly.
"Well—occasionally," replied Dunham, regarding his feet.
"I mean on your eyes."
"No. Is that the latest? I'm from the country."
"People talk about sunshine in a shady place," said Sylvia. "I think shade in a sunny place is quite as important. Always put a black stocking under your pillow when you go to sleep in a blindless room. The light wakes you, you draw the stocking across your eyes,—and off you go again."
"Yes, but supposing the stocking does the same?" objected Dunham.
The girls laughed, much to Benny's disapproval.
"You shouldn't toss around so, then," said Edna.
"That isn't kind," remarked John. "Benny, I trust there is something black on board to draw across these lunch boxes. It is one hundred in the refrigerator on this dock."
Benny took the lunch stolidly, and stowed it under cover.
He considered Mr. Dunham an entirely superfluous member of this party.
"He's the freshest lobster ever I see," was his mental comment. "I wonder which of 'em he's sweet on?"
The passengers jumped aboard.
"Guess I'll save you the trouble of sailing her, eh, Benny?" asked John.
"You better guess again," drawled the boy, returning to his place and taking possession of the ropes. "I've got to take care of Miss Edna."
"Oh, Benny," said the girl gently, "you know this is Mr. Dunham's vacation."
"Hadn't ought to work in his vacation," returned Benny doggedly.
John was standing undecidedly looking down at him. There was an evident and large thunder cloud across Benny's brow.
"Why the grouch?" asked John sotto voce, looking down at Edna. "Is it chronic?"
"There are monsters in this deep, John, with green eyes," she replied mysteriously, smiling. "They're tamable when young, though. Sit down a while."
"He don't know nawthin' 'bout these ledges, does he?" asked Benny defensively.
"No," replied Edna. "That's right. You get us by the ledgy places and out into the middle of the Sound, and then Mr. Dunham will take her."
"Oh, I don't know," remarked John, dropping down in the boat with a sigh of content as the sail filled and they glided forward. "I don't know that I want anything better than this." He leaned against the gunwale and regarded Sylvia, who was sitting beside the mast. The morning stars shone in her eyes. "Miss Sylvia looks as if she agreed with me," he added.
She smiled and glanced away. Neither of these two suspected that she was a spell-bound maiden skimming over the blue waves in an enchanted shallop to some blest island, where waited a magical berry that would set her free. How should they understand that this holiday picnic was in reality a pilgrimage.
John continued to look at her. He wondered if Nat knew what he had lost.
"A penny for your thoughts, Miss Sylvia," he said after a minute.
She shook her head at him. "This isn't bargain day," she returned.
"Are they that precious?"
"They're priceless," she answered.
"Really no use bidding?"
"Not the slightest." Sylvia looked off again.
"Well, one thing about them I know without paying. You've given it away."
"Oh, yes." The girl smiled. How impossible it would be for either of her companions to conceive the cause of her happiness. They need not lack one day that which she had craved for weeks.
As they sailed on, Benny Merritt's stolid eyes glanced from time to time toward Edna. He was guiltily aware that they had passed the vicinity of dangerous ledges. The most uncomfortable feature of the situation was that he knew Miss Derwent to be equally aware of it.
"If he was to sail, I don't know what they brought me fer," he reflected gloomily.
He did know that it was necessary for some one to watch the boat and keep her off the rocks while the others were ashore, but Benny's elders have been known thus to fence with facts.
Edna caught his roving glance at last and raised her brows questioningly.
"Well," said the boy reluctantly, "I s'pose Mr. Dunham can sail now if he wants to."
The manner in which John received the sullen permission reminded Edna of many a past occasion when her friend had not contented himself with getting what he wanted, but managed to transform reluctance into grace.
"Dangerous coast around the island, is it, Benny?" asked John without moving.
"How do ye mean?"
"Treacherous. Hidden rocks to look out for and all that?"
"Not now. Ye could set a church, steeple an' all, where we are now."
"Do you carry a chart?"
"Yes, fer Miss Edna. I never look at it."
"Is it much trouble to get at it?" John rose as he spoke, and came over to the sailor, taking a place beside him.
"Dunno as it is," vouchsafed Benny. "It's in the locker." With some further hesitation he allowed John to take the sail, and proceeded to rummage for the chart, which he shortly produced.
"Now let's have a look at this," said Dunham, giving back the boat into Benny's hands, but remaining beside him as he spread the chart out on his knees.
Edna could see that he was making comments and asking questions which Benny answered with increasing detail, and she turned to Sylvia with a smile.
"That is so characteristic."
"Why, John wants to sail this boat; but he won't do it till he's made Benny fall in love with him. So few men would care, or even notice, whether Benny liked it or not; but John was never content with merely getting his own way."
Sylvia looked at the speaker wistfully. "Do you admire it in him?" she asked.
Edna smiled. "Well, I like it at all events. The result is so agreeable. You'll see him sail this boat home while Benny chaperons him with all the pride of a doting guardian."
"It makes him very fascinating to people, I suppose," said Sylvia.
"Oh, yes. John has all sorts of equipment for that purpose."
"And does he—does he think right?" asked Sylvia timidly.
"I believe he doesn't look at things from our standpoint exactly, but his nature is fine. I used to consider that it was his vanity that demanded approval of everybody he had dealings with, but it seems to me now more like an instinctive desire to create a right atmosphere. Why should he care to win Benny Merritt?"
"Perhaps he wants to borrow his boat," replied Sylvia naively.
Edna's clear laugh rang out.
"I see you won't let me make a hero of him," she said.
"Oh, I will, I will!" exclaimed Sylvia earnestly, coloring. "Only you were speaking of his having his own way, and I wondered if—if he was just as charming to people when he wasn't trying to get it."
"Ah, that would put him on a pedestal, wouldn't it?" replied Edna mischievously. "Let's watch him, and see."
By the time the party returned that evening Benny was still sitting beside Dunham, but the boy was doing all the talking, while John was sailing. Not even when they reached the ledges did Benny remember his proud privilege as pilot, but allowed his companion to conduct the boat's devious course while he expatiated on some races that had taken place earlier in the season. Had they not gone swimming together before luncheon, and had not Dunham's athletic feats and man-to-man treatment of the island boy completely subjugated him?
The tin pails they had carried were now in the locker, brimming with berries. The breeze that cooled the party all the way diminished gradually as the sun lowered, and at last the boat crept on slow wings to its mooring like a weary bird to its nest.
"And very lucky we were to get here instead of having to walk the length of the island," said Edna, as she jumped out on the dock. "John, how should you have liked to walk two miles carrying all the berries?"
Dunham shook his head as he bundled their paraphernalia out of the boat. "I should have insisted on sitting down to supper at once. It would have been a case like that of the 'Niger tiger:'—
'They returned from the ride With the berries inside.'"
Edna laughed and added, "'And the smile on the face of'—who? Not one of us would have dared to smile. Even now Sylvia is the only presentable member of the party."
John looked at the younger girl curiously.
"It's a fact, Miss Sylvia, your self-control to-day has been something uncanny. Don't you like blueberries?"
"More than that," returned the girl significantly. "I love them."
"But not to eat," remarked Edna. "Of course Sylvia is too well-bred to love anything to eat. I don't know the fate she designs for those treasures of hers, but I suspect she intends to have them set in a necklace with elaborate pendants."
Sylvia colored, her eyes shining as she hugged a full pail away from the curious, laughing gaze of her companions. Every berry in it had been selected for its size and darkness; and when the others had begged for one plum from her appetizing collection she had guarded them jealously, and, refusing to allow her pail to be placed with the others on the return trip, had held it in her lap, superior to all jeers and the alarming threats of her ravenous companions.
Leaving the boat the trio bade Benny good-night and started up the hill.
"Now then, John, say good-by to your hotel," said Edna.
"Going to take me home to supper? Good work," he returned.
"Yes, and we shan't let you go back to that room full of sunrise, either."
"That sounds great"—began Dunham eagerly. "But I can't trouble you," he added. "Miss Sylvia has told me how to banish the light. What do you suppose Miss Martha would say if I asked her to lend me a black stocking?"
"Better not risk it," returned Edna, smiling. "Sylvia is going to stay with me a week. With the addition of yourself we shall compose a very select house party."
"I came over here to stay an hour," said Sylvia.
"So did I," added Dunham.
"Well," replied Edna, "we'll sail to the Tide Mill to-morrow and get you a few belongings."
"I trust you haven't had a moment's hope that I'd refuse," said John.
"It's too lovely for anything!" exclaimed Sylvia, taking one hand from her precious pail to squeeze her friend's arm.
She had been longing for a few days here to make her experiment. There was a promontory visible from the Fir Ledges—
They neared the cottage. "Now listen," said Edna merrily; "Miss Lacey has probably seen us. In a minute she'll come out on the piazza, and say, 'The supper isn't fit to be eaten. I should think, Edna,' and so forth, and so forth."
The words had scarcely left the girl's lips when Miss Martha bustled into view. "Here you are at last, you children," she said. "The supper isn't fit to be eaten. I should think, Edna, with your experience in the length of time it always takes to get home"—
The wind-blown, disheveled trio began to laugh. "Look at this peace offering, Miss Martha," said John, holding up the pails. "Have you the heart to do anything but fall on our necks? If you had seen the drops on my brow as I stooped over those miserable little bushes."
"Yes, if anybody had seen them!" exclaimed Edna scornfully. "Go right up to the same room you had last night, John, and bathe that brow, and be down here in five minutes, if you want Miss Lacey ever to smile on you again."
Miss Martha was very proud of her dining-room at Anemone Cottage. She was wont to say at home that one of the best features of her vacation was not having to consider the cost of providing for the little household; and to-night the immaculate table, with its ferns and wild roses in the centre, was laden with good things for the wanderers who gathered about it hungrily.
"When I think how I labored to procure those berries," repeated Dunham, looking pensively at the heaped-up dish on Miss Martha's right, "it seems almost a sacrilege to eat them."
"Aunt Martha, he didn't pick a pint!" protested Sylvia. "He ought not to have one."
"Ask her what she did," returned John. "She has a sylph-like, aesthetic appearance, but I give you my word she has the most epicurean eye. She hasn't left a prize berry in those fields. Have you seen her booty?"
"No. What does he mean, Sylvia?"
"He means to distract attention from his own laziness, that's all."
"No, I don't. I mean to have some of those rotund berries of yours. Don't you, Edna? I'll wager she hasn't thrown them in with this common lot. Have you, now?"
Sylvia laughed and colored. "No," she answered.
"Then get them," said John. "They'll be good for nothing cold. Besides, I want Miss Lacey to see them. Where are they?"
Sylvia continued to smile and keep her eyes downcast, just glancing up toward Edna, who answered for her.
"Under a glass case up in her room, probably. I told you she was going to make a necklace of them. Anyway, you certainly don't deserve one. It is just as Sylvia said, Miss Martha, he shirked in that field in a manner that was painful to witness."
"Well, he has so far to stoop," returned Miss Martha, looking at Dunham approvingly. "It must be hard for him."
"Oh, you don't know him," retorted Edna. "There's nothing he won't stoop to. He came with us and picked about ten berries, and then"—
"Miss Lacey," interrupted John, "you are so right-minded it will be a pleasure to tell you what happened. Before luncheon I went swimming with our guide, philosopher, and friend. Then such was the evil suspicion of these girls that they wouldn't take me to get berries until we had eaten luncheon. We then proceeded to demolish everything in sight except the boxes. I think Benny ate those. After that I felt as though I could snatch a few winks, but as no one of the party was wearing black stockings except the guide, philosopher, and friend, I relinquished that idea."
Miss Lacey looked up questioningly, blinking through her glasses, but the speaker proceeded:—
"Moreover, the girls wouldn't give me time to try. They dragged me out into the field and made me carry all the pails. They were willing enough while the things were empty! Well, I'd been patiently laboring about ten minutes when I began to realize how unreasonable it was for me to be taking a Turkish bath after the glorious cold plunge I'd been having; then the look that the guide, philosopher, and friend had worn as we left him returned to me with an appeal. Of course you know that affairs are very serious between him and Edna, and I felt myself in a delicate position. The thought came to me: 'Why not be magnanimous? Why not cut ice with Benny which would cool myself? I'll go back to the boat and let him take my place.' I did it. Ask him what he thinks of my action."
"Well, if you've had a good time that's all that's necessary," remarked Miss Lacey placidly, amid the jeers that followed Dunham's explanation. "That's what vacations are for."
Supper over, the party went out to the piazza, and Sylvia had no sooner seen Edna in one of the hammocks and John seated near on the boulder railing than she slipped back into the house, and to her aunt.
"Would it bother Jenny if I fussed around the stove a little, while she's doing the dishes?" she asked eagerly.
"Why, no," hesitated Miss Martha in surprise. "What do you want to do?"
"I want to make something with my berries."
"Why, child. Wait till to-morrow. Jenny will make anything you want her to."
"No, Aunt Martha." Sylvia had the unconscious air of an eager, pleading child. "It's an experiment I want to try. Please let me. I'll tell you about it afterward."
"Well, of course if you'd rather go into that hot kitchen than stay on the piazza with the others; but what in the world"—
"Oh, don't ask me, and don't tell them. They're talking about music, and they won't miss me for a little while."
Sylvia fled upstairs for her treasured pail, and down again, smiling and sparkling, into Jenny's domain. The good-natured girl made her welcome, and although Miss Lacey wished to come too, and see what her niece would be at, Sylvia laughingly closed the door upon her.
"I was never more astonished," soliloquized Miss Martha, amused and rather pleased.
She moved outdoors, and took a rocking-chair at the opposite end of the piazza from John and Edna. The latter finally interrupted her own remarks to glance at the figure sitting in the dusk. "Come over here, Sylvia. What makes you so exclusive?"
"It isn't Sylvia," replied Miss Martha's voice.
"Where is she, then?" Edna started to leave the hammock.
"Don't disturb yourself. She's happy."
"Examining her berries probably," remarked John.
"That's just what she's doing," returned Miss Lacey, laughing.
"What do you mean?" cried Edna. "Has that girl gone daffy?"
"Now don't get up, Edna," commanded Miss Martha. "Sylvia is cooking."
"Cooking!" Edna rose from the hammock. "At this time of night? Why didn't you ask Jenny"—
"She wouldn't let me. I don't know what it is, any more than you do; but it was something she was bound to do herself, and I had to let her. What takes me is the injustice I've done that child. I never dreamed she had such domestic tendencies. I supposed she was all unpractical and artistic like her poor father, and to think here she has some recipe she's so crazy about she can't wait till morning." Miss Lacey's voice trailed away in a gratified laugh. "Perhaps it's something Mrs. Lem has taught her."
"Let's go and spy upon her," suggested John.
The two stole softly around the house on the grass to the open kitchen window, where they shamelessly remained to gaze and listen. They saw Sylvia leaning over the stove, carefully stirring something with a large spoon. Jenny turned from the sink.
"Will ye be havin' another stick, Miss Sylvia?"
"There's going to be a stick in it. Whoop!" whispered John.
"Only in the stove," replied Edna, as the fuel was added. "Cheer up, it's something good, anyway."
"What are ye after makin', Miss Sylvia?" asked the cook.
The girl pursed her smiling lips: "A philtre, Jenny. Did you ever hear of one?"
"Sure I have. We use them all the time in Boston. Mr. Derwent won't lave me even cook with water that ain't filtered. Sure, we don't need one here, and annyway, how could ye make one from berries?"
"This is a different kind of philtre. I'm brewing something that I hope will make somebody happy. A girl, Jenny. Me. This is to make me happy. That is, if it works like a charm,—and I think it will. I think it will." Sylvia repeated the words joyously as she watched and stirred.
"A love charm, is it!" ejaculated Jenny. Her mouth fell open, and she paused, staring, dish-towel in hand.
Sylvia laughed quietly. Her pretty, excited face, red from the sun and wind and with added color from the hot stove, nodded in the earnestness of her reply.
"Yes,—that's just what it is," she answered.
"You're in love, then, Miss Sylvia?"
Sylvia nodded again.
"Yes,—I am. It wasn't at first sight either, Jenny. I don't know why I was so dull,—but it's apt to last the longer. Don't you think so?"
"I do that, Miss Sylvia," returned the girl emphatically; "and sure a beauty like yerself should get whatever ye want without more charms than yer own bright eyes."
Sylvia laughed and dropped a little curtsy toward the kind Irish face.
"No,—no, it will take this," she sighed; "but with this, how I shall try, how I shall try!" The fervent tone suddenly became prosaic. "Have you any clean empty bottles, Jenny?"
The listeners at the window were dumb. Edna's expression had changed from glee to bewilderment. John took her arm and drew her away quietly. Together they moved noiselessly across the grass, but by tacit agreement not back to the piazza. For a minute of silence they strayed down the wood road, beneath the moon.
Dunham was first to break the embarrassed silence. "By Jove, for a minute there I felt de trop. The fair Sylvia was having fun with the cook, wasn't she? I wonder what she's really up to?"
"We say all sorts of things to Jenny, you know," returned Edna. "She's the best soul that ever lived."
At the same time both speakers knew that what they had seen in Sylvia's face and heard in her voice exceeded pleasantry.
An idea overwhelmed Edna. An idea which so fitted into the circumstances that betwixt its appeal and the incredibility of Sylvia's words being serious, she felt like flying from John and being alone to think over the recent scene. If only Dunham were not penetrated by the same thought that had come to her! For another minute neither spoke, and then it was John who again broke the silence.
"Say, Edna," he suddenly ejaculated, "what's the use? That girl was in earnest."
"Nonsense. She isn't a pagan," flashed the other.
"Well, I don't know. She had a father who was one. According to Judge Trent he was all for that sort of thing, and pinned his faith to everything supernatural, from a rabbit's foot to a clairvoyant."
Edna's face clouded with fastidious distaste even while she breathed a shade more freely. Evidently from John's tone her own diagnosis had not occurred to the hero of it. "She had a matrimonial scheme on foot when I first met her," he went on. "She was considering some actor because she wished to go on the stage."
"Rather strange that such a fact should have transpired in a first interview," remarked Edna dryly.
"No, because that was a session devoted merely to ways and means. But she's not saying hocus-pocus and stirring caldrons on his account, you may be certain. She admitted that he was an old image."
"It's too absurd for us to discuss it," returned the girl impatiently. "Fancy a ward of Thinkright's, under his influence for weeks, having any superstition; to say nothing of the crudest and silliest one of them all."
"And who could she have up her sleeve, anyway?" asked Dunham meditatively. "Is there some swain over at the Mill Farm?"
"Of course not," returned Edna irritably. "For pity's sake stop talking as if you didn't think it was a joke."
"She wasn't joking," replied John mildly, but with a conviction that smote his companion. "She was going to bottle the stuff, too."
"Of course. It is probably some sort of berry wine that she has heard of, and she wants to surprise us. It was unkind of us to watch her. Never let her know it, will you, John?"
"No; and if she gives me a drink in a few days all shall be forgiven."
Edna took a deep breath, feeling that a foolish fancied burden, such as one bears in dreams, had been lifted from her.
At the same time Sylvia's face, bending above the brew, haunted her, and the excited girlish voice echoed in her ears, bringing back her unwelcome doubts. Was it not precisely John who was destined to drink that precious wine?
Dunham and Miss Derwent prolonged their walk, and an hour had elapsed before they returned to the piazza. By that time Sylvia was sitting there in the moonlight with her aunt.
She had been telling herself how glad she was that John and Edna felt free to go away without her. It was only the assurance that she should not be in danger of hampering them that would make her happy in accepting Edna's invitation to prolong her stay.
How glorious the world must look to-night to Edna! This enchanting evening world with its dreaming waves, and myriad spires of fragrant firs stretching toward the luminous sky strewn thickly with pulsing stars. She shook off some thought that insinuated itself into her conscious desire. No, no. Her place was here with Aunt Martha. Her thought must dwell only on the possible artistic achievements of her future; her heart turn to no lover save the good genius she had sealed up in a bottle.
While her thoughts flowed, Miss Lacey talked. The latter was chiefly concerned with the menu for the coming week, and since Sylvia's descent upon the culinary department she seized upon her as a kindred spirit.
"Catering for men is very different from feeding women, I can tell you, Sylvia. They're not going to be put off with a little salad, or fruit and whipped cream, or fal-lals of that sort. We must have roasts and steaks now, besides what my father used to call Cape Cod turkey,—that's codfish, my dear. Jenny's boiled cod and egg sauce is perfectly delicious, and fish does make brains, they say. I suppose Judge Trent would like to have us feed it to Mr. Dunham."
"I hope you don't intend to tell the house party that," remarked Sylvia.
Miss Martha giggled. "Well, things are comparative. Judge Trent is so surpassingly clever, and when you see this great big fellow in the office with him you can't help thinking of quality and quantity, you know; but he must have an average mind anyway, or your uncle wouldn't have any use for him. There they come now."
Two slow-moving figures appeared among the trees, and advanced to the piazza. "Welcome, wanderers," went on Miss Martha, repressing a yawn. "I think I shall bequeath Sylvia to you now, and retire."
Her niece knew that no implication of reproach was intended in this speech, but she dreaded that the others might misunderstand.
"I don't need to be bequeathed to any one," she declared. "I'm like that poet who said he was never less alone than when alone. Fancy being lonely on this island in the company of these stars and waves and pines! Edna, when you wish to move your family away, and leave the cottage in the care of a hermit, I speak to be the hermit."
"I see you are properly captured," returned Edna.
"She's fallen in love with the cook stove now," remarked Miss Martha. "I told her she'd had a couple of spies on her doings."
Edna glanced at her guest. Sylvia's smiling, inquiring eyes looked from her to John, who spoke:—
"Yes, there you were stirring some mysterious caldron," he answered; "there in the dark of the moon, and there was something so fiery about your countenance and attitude that we didn't dare remain."
"You were wise," returned Sylvia. "I thought I felt some presence. Didn't you hear me say,—
'By the pricking of my thumbs Something wicked this way comes'?"
"Well, we're expecting to benefit by your labors in time," said John.
"I wish I thought you would," returned Sylvia dreamily.
"Oh, don't be so modest. Let us judge, anyway."
"I've no doubt you would be a judge," said the girl meditatively.
"Say will be," he corrected.
Sylvia lifted her shoulders with a little gesture of dread.
"I haven't positively made up my mind that I dare try it on you," she said softly.
"Oh, you must. You'll find me the most docile dog in the pack."
Edna listened with annoyance. She had suddenly become critical of Sylvia's manner.
The girl turned to her.
"Will it be necessary to go to the Mill Farm before afternoon, to-morrow?" she asked.
"Perhaps not. Why?"
"Because there is—because I want—I should like to stay here in the morning."
"Mr. Dunham and I might go over without you," suggested Edna. "Mrs. Lem could doubtless give me what you want."
The alacrity of Sylvia's assent to this proposition puzzled the hostess still further.
"Oh, no, there'd be plenty of time if we went in the afternoon," said John. "Let's take the witch with us for luck."
Edna regarded him as he stood against a boulder pillar looking down at Sylvia. "She may not need to use her bottle," was her reflection.
"Do sing us something, Edna," said Sylvia.
"Not to-night, please. I don't feel like singing; and when I don't it is an infliction on my poor audience."
"I wish you would, Edna. I've not heard you," said Dunham.
"Just the reason why I refuse," she returned. "I'm far too vain."
"She is the spirit of music," said Sylvia, regarding her hostess affectionately.
"But the spirit isn't always willing?" asked Dunham.
"No, not always," returned Edna, rising. "This is Liberty Hall, people, so don't move till you get ready; but if you'll excuse me I'm going to bed."
Sylvia rose at once. She would like to linger on this dim piazza for hours, and to fancy that Dunham stayed too from choice and not from courtesy; but she well knew that the charm of the occasion would vanish with Edna, and even if it were not so, the Prince's companionship was not for her without the Princess.
Dunham turned to her. "It isn't sleepy time for you, too, is it?"
"Yes, I believe it is. I'm sorry to be so—so unsporty."
"It's all a bluff, too. Just as if we didn't know that as soon as the rest of us innocents are quiet and dreaming of blueberries, your window will fly open and off you'll go on a broomstick."
Sylvia smiled. "I don't believe any one of this party will dream as hard of blueberries as I shall," she declared.
"Come now, you know you're trading on a man's supposed superiority to curiosity,—only supposed, mind you."
"I never even supposed it," put in Sylvia with light scorn.
"Tell me what you were brewing on that stove to-night."
Edna's features were rigid in her impatience with John's pursuance of an uncomfortable subject. They were all in the living-room now, and she and Sylvia were standing with lighted candles in their hands.
Sylvia pursed her lips demurely. "I will—perhaps—if it works, Mr. Dunham."
"Works? Ferments, do you mean? Now you're talking sense. No unfermented grape juice in mine."
Sylvia laughed and looked around at Edna, who was grave and seemed waiting politely. "Poor Edna. She's tired," she thought, and nodding a good-night to John, she moved toward the stairs. "I'll see you when you come up, Edna," she added, and disappeared.
Dunham watched the light figure in its swift ascent, and then turned toward his hostess.
"She won't tell us," he announced, smiling.
"How could you keep on talking about it, John?" said Edna, speaking low.
His face fell at her tone. "Why not?" he asked blankly. "Have you changed your mind about its being a joke?"
"Oh—I"—Edna scarcely understood her own attitude toward the little incident, and hesitated most uncharacteristically. "I think it was rather foolish and—and unpleasant, somehow. I—good-night, John," she put out her hand and he took it. "I hope you won't know anything about the sunrise, and that the cradle of the deep won't be too noisy for you. You needn't lock up. Just close the doors and window when you're ready to come in. We don't insult Arcady with bolts. Good-night."
The following day dawned bright. Edna regarded the extraordinary light in Sylvia's eyes and her unwonted gayety of manner at the breakfast-table with mental questioning.
"The most annoying thing has occurred," she said. "This day of all days the carpenters for whom I've been waiting all summer have turned up. I shan't be able to leave home. Could you people wait until to-morrow to go over to the farm?"
"I'm afraid not," returned John. "I must go and report, as well as make myself more presentable. Who knows what to-morrow may be like? As probably as not Neptune will be throwing snowballs in all directions."
"And when he does, Edna sings!" exclaimed Sylvia, turning her vital, sparkling gaze on her hostess. "You'd better hope he does;—but not to-day, not to-day!" Her voice dropped to a low, exultant note, and then she laughed and blushed, meeting John's quizzical, curious look.
"By Jove, I believe the stuff has worked and she's been trying it, Edna," he said. "It's early in the day, but she's lit up for a fact. How was your ride, little witch?"
"The grandest thing you ever knew. I'd have taken you up behind me if I'd known what it was going to be. There's nothing like a bird's-eye view of this region."
"What are you talking about, Sylvia?" asked Miss Martha.
"Why, I rode all over Casco Bay last night on a broomstick. It was like visiting a wonderful picture gallery. There was a planet that cast a path across the water as the moon sank. The headlands jutted out into the waves, the cottages nestled among the trees. I went to the Mill Farm and looked through Uncle Calvin's window and blew him a kiss as he lay asleep."
"Did he have his hat on?" inquired Miss Martha, and John and Edna laughed.
"Why didn't you bring home your clothes?" asked Edna.
"I did try to, but the broomstick bucked so when I tried to pass through my window, I saw I should raise the household, and I didn't want to startle them; so I raced away home again above the waves, while all the stars sang together!"
"Have you been taking a foolish powder?" inquired Miss Martha, cutting her beefsteak.
"You'll travel by wave to-day," remarked John. "I don't propose to go over to the Tide Mill afoot and alone."
"After noon, then."
"Very well. Have it your own way. You'd get ducked less this morning, though."
"Yes, but something might happen to keep us. We might not get back in the afternoon."
"Why, she's just crazy about this place, Edna," remarked Miss Lacey.
Edna smiled with the grace of a gratified hostess, but she did not raise her eyes. Sylvia was crazy about something, but what was it? She seemed transformed from the quiet, intense, grateful girl whom Thinkright brought to the island so recently.
As they rose from the table Sylvia eyed John curiously.
"I suppose you'll go pretty soon to see Benny about getting the boat for this afternoon, won't you?" she asked.
"Yes," he rejoined. "You'd better come with me."
"No," her breath caught, and she flushed so deeply that he looked at her in wonder. "I can't. I have something to do. I—you'd better go soon, for he might take the boat off for the day, you know."
John hooked his thumbs in his trousers pockets and regarded her at ease and at length.
"You're the guiltiest-looking being I ever saw," he remarked. "I couldn't be retained to defend you unless you could contrive a different expression. Now take the advice of one who knows, and don't go near that bottle again this morning."
Sylvia gave a breathless little laugh, and her eyes shone through the embarrassment caused by his curious gaze.
"That's just"—she began. "No. Go along, please. I can't go with you."
"Creature of mysteries"—he began.
"Do go on. You really must get a boat. I'm ashamed to be borrowing Edna's clothes," and she ran away upstairs.
Half an hour later she was lost. Edna had been captured by her workmen. Miss Lacey was closeted with Jenny. Dunham lingered with the newspaper on the piazza, thinking he would speak once more with Sylvia before he left on his quest, but she did not reappear.
At last he went and stood beneath her window and called. He could see the white curtains swaying gently in the morning air, but no blithe face appeared between them. No voice answered his call.
Miss Lacey came out of the house, carrying a pot of water for the sweet peas.
"I can't think what has become of Sylvia," she said. "I've been looking for her, too. I certainly didn't see her go out."
"All right. If she left by the window I might as well be off," he rejoined. "I didn't know the broomstick worked by day. I thought it was only the other end."
"I guess, to tell the truth," returned Miss Lacey, laughing, "Sylvia doesn't know much more about one end of the broom than she does of the other."
THE LITTLE RIFT
When Sylvia reappeared that noon she carried a pillowcase, which she held before her by its corners with care. She thought to slip around the house to the back door, but Edna and John rose from a corner of the piazza and greeted her.
Dunham viewed the graceful bare head and warm, demurely smiling face in its tree setting as the girl approached.
"Doesn't she look like a dryad?" he said to his companion.
"Oh," cried Edna, "so it was fir balsam you wanted to get, Sylvia. You weren't very successful, I'm afraid. Your bag looks flat."
"Serves you right for not begging me to go with you," added John. "Edna has been swallowed up all the morning. I think it was very careless of you not to realize what a help I should have been."
Sylvia shook her sunny head. "No, I needed to be alone," she returned.
"Fir balsam, Edna!" exclaimed Dunham with sudden scorn. "What she has been after is herbs and simples for the caldron. I've always yearned to know what a simple is. Here is my grand opportunity." The young man came toward the girl with outstretched hands. Sylvia stepped back.
"Don't touch this bag, Mr. Dunham," she said, her fingers closing more tightly upon it.
He laughed and seized the case.
Her lips set and her eyes dilated. "I mean it!" she exclaimed. "Don't touch it."
Her face had changed to intense seriousness, and under her flashing gaze his laughter died.
"Just a peep," he said in surprise.
"No, no," cried Sylvia acutely.
He could see that her breath was coming fast, and Edna observed it also, looking on at the little scene with a sense of perplexity and disapproval.
Dunham dropped his hands, and there was a disarming break in the girl's voice as she thanked him and ran into the house.
She gave Edna a look as she passed, and brief as it was there was an appeal and a confiding in that look.
Dunham shrugged his shoulders. "What now, I wonder?" he said, as he rejoined her.
"Sylvia doesn't seem to have outgrown a love of schoolgirl mysteries," returned Edna coolly.
In a few minutes the family were called to dinner, and Sylvia was again the happiest of the company. The sparkle in her eyes seemed to have permeated her voice as well. By comparison the hostess's manner seemed unresponsive and preoccupied.
"What a pity you can't come over to the Tide Mill this afternoon, Edna," said Sylvia. "We couldn't have a better breeze."
Edna gathered her straying thoughts. "I know it," she replied, "but the bird in the hand is the only one worth anything here. I have my carpenters now, so business must come before pleasure. See if you can't bring back Thinkright or Judge Trent with you, to lend dignity to our house party. You'd better get an early start so you won't have Miss Lacey patrolling the shore to-night and looking for a sail."
Edna did not meet Sylvia's gaze as she spoke, and the latter gained an impression of strangeness in her friend's manner. As they all strolled away from the table and out of doors, Sylvia made a movement to link her arm in Edna's. Was it a coincidence that the latter suddenly drew away, saying, "I'm going to get my golf cape for you, Sylvia. It will be very cool coming back."
"I have my sweater," replied the girl, her gay face sobering.
"Yes, but you'll like the golf cape, too, I'm sure, as the sun goes down."
Sylvia thought she perceived a new note in Edna's tone, a courtesy, a perfunctoriness, that chilled her. When did it commence? Her thoughts flew back over the past twenty-four hours, and it recurred to her that last evening Edna, for the first time, left her room with a pleasant word, but without kissing her good-night. At the time she had not thought twice of the omission, but now to her awakened suspicion it seemed ominous. Edna had up to this time treated her with a frank demonstrativeness very sweet to Sylvia. Twenty-four hours ago she would have been certain that in departing even for this little trip of half a day her friend would have given her some slight caress. She watched now intently for the opportunity, but Edna brought the golf cape and put it on John's arm. "Be sure you take Benny with you," she said. "You aren't a sufficiently ancient mariner yet for these parts. Now I must fly to the carpenters, good people. Au revoir."
"Oh, Edna!" cried Sylvia earnestly, taking an involuntary step after the girl. "Couldn't I possibly stay and help the carpenters and have you go? I'd a thousand times rather. I hate to leave the island."
"Nonsense," laughed Edna. "Where is your loyalty to the Mill Farm? Good-by," and she disappeared.
It was not the reply she would have made yesterday. Sylvia was certain of it, and it was a grave maiden who stepped sedately by Dunham's side as they struck across the field toward the dock. It never occurred to her that if something had happened to offend Edna the matter could concern anybody or anything but Dunham.
Oh, how lovely the day was! How happy her morning had been! How wondrous would be this world of fragrant land and sparkling water if only Edna would have kissed her good-by! And to be going sailing amid this paradise with John Dunham! It was cruel that the very crown of all the blessed situation must be put from her as a joy, and accepted only as a utilitarian measure. For had she not already in some way stepped outside her rightful place?
Benny Merritt's stolid countenance grew still graver as the two drew near the floating dock.
"Where's Miss Edna?" he asked.
"Not coming," replied Dunham. "Yes, I know it's an outrage, Benny, but she has the carpenters. It seems to be an island ailment as bad as the measles for confining people to the house; but cheer up, you have Miss Sylvia and me."
"Got a real good chance to-day," grumbled Benny; "Miss Edna'd like it."
"Oh, don't say any more about it," exclaimed Sylvia. "I'm wretched because she couldn't come."
Dunham looked at the speaker in surprise at the acute tone. He could have sworn that a sudden mist veiled her eyes.
"Oh, go on," he said. "Trample on my feelings as much as you like," and as he arranged Sylvia's cushions he gave a second sharp glance at her face. What had become of the sparkle and effervescence of the morning?
"Ain't you goin' to sail, Mr. Dunham?" asked Benny, amazed to see John settle down near Sylvia.
"Thought I wouldn't, going over," replied John.
Benny gave a sniff which was eminently cynical, as he grasped the tiller and the situation.
"Well, I know which one it is now, anyway," he soliloquized, as the boat crept forth across the harbor.
Sylvia was surprised too. Her heart beat a little faster.
"Oh, I'm sure you'd better sail," she said. "I want to think."
John laughed. "This is evidently not my lucky day," he remarked. "I think even now we ought to go back for the bottle."
"The one you were clutching so closely with that white bag this noon. That certainly must have been the real stuff. You remember we noticed the effect at breakfast. Then instead of taking me with you to the woods and drinking fair, you went alone, and at dinner were still more illuminated; but the last dose seems to have worn off. I'm in favor of going back for the bottle. Say the word and I'll tell Benny."
Sylvia averted her face and smiled. "Yes, that was a good tonic," she said.
John looked at her curiously.
"But you must concoct something with more staying power," he went on. "At dinner you were scintillating. Crossing the field just now the light had all gone out."
Sylvia shook her head slightly. What a comfort it would be if she could talk out her perplexities to him and with him.
"You know," she returned, "it is only good friends who can indulge in the luxury of silence when they are together."
"Very pretty," he replied. "It's very gratifying to believe myself more en rapport with you than either Edna or your aunt."
"I wish you'd go and sail the boat," said Sylvia suddenly.
"I will, coming back," returned Dunham tranquilly, "for we shall probably have another passenger. This is our first tete-a-tete, remember."
"No, our second. I do remember," replied Sylvia.
In those forlorn days at the Association when he was always in her thought, what would have been her pleasure to look forward certainly to the present situation. The boat had left the harbor now and was bounding along its liquid path with the speed which made it the pride of Benny's heart.
John, leaning against the gunwale, continued to regard her.
"We don't need to recall that day," he said. "Why remember the chrysalis after the butterfly is in the air?"
"Oh, it's good for the butterfly;—keeps her grateful. However, I'm not a butterfly. I'm a bee."
"What? The busy kind?"
"You don't look it. At this moment you convey a purely ornamental idea."
"I know better, for my nose is sunburned. Besides, Mr. Dunham," the girl looked squarely into the amused eyes, "you mustn't flirt with me."