He leaned back in his chair, and began to read the letter.
Dunham endeavored to fix his attention on his work; but the corners of the judge's lips were drawing down, and once John thought he started. The silk hat was pushed to the last extremity of the back of his head; and once he slowly turned and cast a look at his assistant. Dunham, like a schoolboy discovered in idleness, cleared his throat and began making an ostentatious stir among his papers.
When Judge Trent finally folded the letter his face wore an expression that few had seen upon it. His eyes fastened on a spot upon his desk, while his thoughts wrestled.
Once again he stole a look at Dunham's profile, and there was a queer stirring at his heart. With sudden determination he rose, and, moving over to the other desk, stood behind John's chair and rested both his bony hands on the broad shoulders.
"I've had a blow, my boy," he said, and his voice was husky.
Dunham swung around and half rose. "Sylvia! Has something happened?" he ejaculated.
"No, no, John. I could almost say I wish it were a worse blow for me than for you."
The young man settled down again, his back to the judge, whose nervous clutch seemed to desire to hold him in this position. "It's strange it should come just now, when we had but just been talking on the subject. Edna—I'm afraid Edna's lost to you, Boy."
Dunham remained with his elbow on his desk, where he had rested it after Judge Trent's startling introduction. The latter waited a moment, regarding the back of the other's head. "Sylvia says Edna's engagement is to be announced at a dinner to-night."
"Yes, and to a Britisher." Judge Trent's subdued tone suddenly became violent. "How long has she had him on her string? She hasn't treated you right, John; or else it's your own fault, and you've shilly-shallied too long with your confounded notions of honor. Which is it?"
Dunham remained silent and motionless; and his shock and grief acted as a quietus on the older man's belligerency. "Forgive me, Boy. This isn't any time to haul you over the coals. It seems it isn't any itch for a title in Edna's case. The fellow hasn't any handle to his name, and he has money—or pretends to have. Sylvia says she's very happy."
"She deserves to be," said Dunham.
"She doesn't. She's a simpleton; and worse, for she's been leading you on."
"No, she hasn't, Judge Trent."
"Oh, of course you'll always swear to that. Let it happen thirty years hence to your son, and you'll call things by their right names."
Dunham heard the affection for himself in the strained voice, and he turned slowly around and smiled up into his partisan's lean, excited face, with eyes that again gave the judge an unaccustomed sensation.
"You've been a dunce, Boy. Why didn't you get busy at the island last summer, after all your talk about adoration? You could have got her. I don't believe you've half tried."
John still smiled as he replied quietly, "No. I haven't half tried."
The judge scowled his amazement. "Why not, then?" he demanded, when he could speak.
Dunham hesitated a moment before he answered, "Because I saw that neither of us wished it."
Judge Trent glared at him during a short silence. "What are you mooning about, then?" he burst forth at last. "What are you tearing up deeds for? Why aren't you worth your salt?"
Dunham colored under the vigorous arraignment.
"Oh, you're a mind-reader all right, Judge Trent. You didn't guess wrong."
"You're in love?" snarled the lawyer angrily.
"Who is it?" explosively.
"Don't you think I'd better wait and see if I can get her?"
"Tss!" hissed the judge in unspeakable scorn. He went back to his chair and sat down, still holding the other's eyes with an angry stare. "You know you haven't any doubt that you'll get her."
"Yes, I have. Many. There was a time—but that's passed. She is distressingly interested in other things."
"Any money?" asked the judge.
"Have you, then?"
Dunham nodded. He saw a ripple of surprise pass over the sharp face opposite.
"What sort of connections has she?"
John smiled. "Well, some of them think very well of themselves."
"H'm. That might be. Are they the sort that could be of any use to you?"
"Why, yes. The most cocksure of them all can do a lot for me if he likes."
Judge Trent shook his head. "Go slow, Boy. It's easier to get into that noose than out of it."
"Why, you complained that I went too slow in the case of Edna."
"Yes, yes, indeed. There you would have had the best possible chances." The judge sighed. "You've missed your life-opportunity; now be cautious."
"You haven't seen Sylvia since she did up her hair, have you?"
The digression was so sharp and unexpected, Judge Trent winked, and came slowly back from his dejection.
"Hair?" he repeated, vaguely. "I shouldn't know whether she did up her hair or not. It's short, still, isn't it? How could she?"
"She puts a tight elastic, or ribbon, or something, around it, right at the crown. It makes a lot of little waves and curls that tumble around—well, just right."
Judge Trent blinked slowly toward the rather tense face.
"She's going up to the farm next week," he said.
"I know she is," replied Dunham. "So am I. She doesn't know it. I'm going to surprise her. I haven't asked if you could spare me. You'll have to."
Judge Trent's mouth fell slightly open. Presently he swung his chair around to his desk and began mechanically to examine and separate some papers which he took from a rubber band. Certain ones he tore and threw them into the wastebasket, returned others to a pigeonhole, and all in a businesslike rush, as if to make up for the time he had been wasting.
At last a strange look overspread his face. The blood rushed to it. Again he took off a rubber band and ran his eyes over the various papers. Then he scowled, and, snatching up the wastebasket, fished out the top scraps. He regarded them aghast. Presently a sound rang through that office which had never resounded in Dunham's time. Judge Trent laughed loud and long.
"Boy, I'll have to confess it," he said, as John looked up in questioning amazement. "I've torn up that new deed we made out." He laughed again, and Dunham joined him in a spontaneous burst.
"Who are you in love with, Judge Trent?" he asked.
"You, I guess," returned the lawyer, bluntly. He rose and came again to the younger man's side, and the excitement in his face showed now as gravity.
"John," he said, "is it Sylvia?"
Dunham rose. "Yes, it's Sylvia," he answered.
Their hands met in a strenuous clasp.
"You young fool," said the judge after a minute, "is that where you were philandering when you ought to have been courting Edna?"
"You've guessed right again."
The judge's thin hand clung to the young, firm one, and he tried in vain to hold his lips steady.
"But Sylvia has started on a career. I'm told she paints excellent miniatures."
"I want her to paint mine the rest of her life," said Dunham. "I don't know what she'll say; but—haven't I your blessing, Judge?"
The lawyer shook the hand he clasped.
"You're a great fool, John," he said tenderly. "You don't know enough to"—he paused, and, dropping John's hand, hurried from the office, slamming the door behind him.
"LOVE ALONE WILL STAY"
"It never ought to rain in June," said Sylvia.
She had just alighted from the train, and was in Thinkright's arms as she said it.
"I had set my heart on just such a drive with you as we had the first time I came."
"This will be far better than that was, Sylvia." He held her off at arm's length, and viewed her deliberately. "We had the sunshine outside that day. This time it's inside."
He could see it while he spoke, shining out through blue eyes and smiling lips, as the girl looked long into his face.
"It seems to me you are a rather elegant person to be clinging to an old farmer like me," he went on.
"Have I changed, Thinkright? You haven't. Oh, I'm so glad!"
"Yes, you have changed, little one. I'm looking at you, trying to find out how."
"I'm awfully well dressed, for one thing," whispered Sylvia, laughing. "Edna would have it. She's made Uncle Calvin pay bills that I'm sure must have shocked him. Yes, I know my things look simple, but they're right; and oh, how you do have to pay for millinery rightness, a la Edna!"
"Well, I think the loafers have stared at you enough," said Thinkright. "Let's get into the wagon. I've brought a rubber coat for you, but very likely it'll be clear before we get home. Why," with sudden perception, "I know what has happened; your curls are gone."
"No, no, not gone, only promoted. I'm going to say good-by to this very proper hat for three months, and I think I'll begin now. It would be a tragedy if it should get wet."
While they still stood under the roof of the station platform, Sylvia took out her hat pins, and Thinkright unrolled and opened her neat umbrella.
"I've brought the umbrella, too," he said, with a humorous appreciation of the difference between that ample cotton shelter and the dainty silk affair he held in his hand.
"So," regarding the uncovered coiffure which had won John Dunham's approval, "so that is what has become of the wreath of curls. H'm. It makes you look—look very grown up, Sylvia."
"It's about time," returned the girl. "Wasn't I twenty last February?"
They went to the wagon, where the baggage had been placed, and Sylvia put on the rubber coat and jumped in. A sudden peal of thunder rolled.
"A salute in your honor, my dear," said Thinkright, climbing in beside her.
"I'm delighted," she answered, as the horses started, "for it means showers instead of a three days' rain. Here, let's take the calico tent," she added, "then we can both get under it."
She put her little umbrella under the rubber laprobe, and, raising the weather-beaten canopy, slipped her arm through Thinkright's.
"I'm going to paint such a lovely picture of you this summer, dear," she said, studying his face fondly.
"Of me? Oh, no."
"Oh, yes. I won't admit that any one else can paint such a likeness of you as I can."
"I hear good reports of your work."
"My own reports?" she laughed.
"No. Calvin's, Edna's, Mr. Dunham's."
"John's, Mr. Dunham's?"
Thinkright's answer was rather slow in coming, she thought.
"Yes. We've had occasion for some correspondence on a matter of business, and he has mentioned your promise."
"My promise to what?" asked Sylvia, suddenly interested in the fastening of the umbrella.
"The promise shown in your work," replied her companion, looking steadily between the horse's ears.
"Oh, yes," returned Sylvia in a small voice.
"You were a little mistaken about that match you had fixed up," said Thinkright, "between Edna and Mr. Dunham, weren't you?"
"Yes; and she's going to marry such a fine man, so worthy of her in every way!" Sylvia spoke with enthusiasm.
"You're better pleased than if it had been Dunham?" asked Thinkright.
It was his companion's turn to hesitate. "Oh, she didn't ask my advice," she replied at last, with elaborate lightness.
"It's rather easy to make mistakes about those matters," observed Thinkright.
"Yes; and rather easy in avoiding Scylla to fall into Charybdis." She had spent her winter in endeavoring to avoid Charybdis. Just because it had not been Edna who was John's ideal was no sign that the Princess did not exist, either already selected, as Edna's lover had been, or else still to appear. An acquaintance with Boston, and the dozens of interesting people she had met, had cleared her provincial vision, until she was more than ever wary of believing that an interest in her personality and her work meant anything deeper. There were a number of men who had shown her more attention than had John Dunham, aside from those evenings he had spent with Edna and herself. She had kept her thought filled with healthful interest in her work, the effort to please her teachers, and to make the most of her uncle's generosity; and the winter had gone swiftly. She had spent Christmas with her aunt, and Judge Trent and Mr. Dunham had dined with them on the holiday. After dinner she had gone sleigh-riding with John, far into the frosty, sparkling country, despite Miss Lacey's protest that she couldn't see why they wouldn't rather stay by the fire. Miss Martha declared that for her part she would just as soon sit with her feet in a pail of ice water and ring a dinner-bell as to go sleighing. Upon which Judge Trent reminded her that she had not always felt so; a concession on his part to the past which furnished Miss Lacey with gratified sensations for some time to come; the more that, instead of making some excuse to leave, her old friend had taken with extraordinary grace to the role of fireside companion, and remained talking with her of Sylvia, and mutual acquaintances, until the young people's return.
Sylvia brought her reminiscent thought back to the present.
"How are the Fosters?" she asked.
"And my boat?"
"Fine. Waiting for you. Minty wanted to come over with me to get you; but I decided to be selfish." Sylvia squeezed his arm.
When they reached the height to-day, the wide view was sullen; the waves lashing, and gnawing with white teeth at the leaden rocks under a leaden sky. The dripping firs were dark blots on the vague islands.
Sylvia recklessly let go the old umbrella, which fell backward as she stood up in the rain and looked off, affectionately. The damp rings of hair blew about her forehead on the wind-swept height, and she reached out her arms toward the grand, forbidding prospect.
"You can't frighten me, dearest, dearest!" she said exultantly. "Rumble and roar as much as you like. I know what is behind the mask."
She sat down and righted the umbrella, and while the horses descended the hill she looked and looked, feasting her eyes on every well-remembered landmark.
The Tide Mill loomed out of the mist.
"Poor dear!" she said, apostrophizing it. "Are things just as desperate as ever?"
Tears were glistening on the closed shutters, and running down the weather-beaten sides.
"I think when the mill is crying like that, it always seems as if it were softening a little, Thinkright. Don't you? As if there were greater chance of its opening its eyes and taking notice once more."
Thinkright gave a low laugh. "Your miracle hasn't come to pass yet, has it?"
"No, but I'm going to hope, still."
"That's right. If those shutters ever open I think you'll have to be the prime mover. No one else seems to care."
"You care, Thinkright," replied the girl wistfully. "There shouldn't be anything sad or hopeless around the Mill Farm, least of all that dear old neglected thing that named it."
"You're a very fanciful little girl," was the reply; but there was nothing disapproving in the glance her companion bent upon her.
As they drove up to the farmhouse, the living-room door flew open, and Minty was disclosed, prevented by her mother from going out into the rain, and expending pent-up energy by hopping up and down with irrepressible eagerness.
Mrs. Lem appeared behind her, wreathed in smiles, and coiffured and arrayed in her company best.
"It's so good to be home again," cried Sylvia, "so good, so good!" and she jumped out of the wagon and seized Minty's hands and danced around the living-room in the rubber coat until the child's laughter rang out gleefully.
"And how have you been, Mrs. Lem?" she asked when their breath was gone.
"Smart," replied that lady, regarding the girl admiringly, and wondering whether by patience and perseverance she might force her own hair to go into the shape of Sylvia's.
"I do hope you've brought us a change in the weather," went on Mrs. Lem. "When it hain't ben actually rainin' the past two weeks, there's ben so much timidity in the atmosphere that I've got hoarse as a crow, and we'll all be webfooted pretty soon if it don't clear up."
"You shall have sunshine to-morrow," declared Sylvia.
"I hain't touched the Rosy Cloud yet," said Minty, "even though you wrote I could. Thinkright said I might let her git stove on a rock, and he'd druther I'd wait."
"Very well, Minty, to-morrow we shall begin making up for lost time. Let them watch us."
Cap'n Lem soon appeared, and the five made a happy supper party. During the meal the clouds lightened and the rain abated. Mrs. Lem would not hear to Sylvia's assisting in clearing away, but sent her upstairs to unpack her trunk. She was at work at it when the western sun suddenly shone out.
"The rainbow, the rainbow!" shouted Minty at the foot of the stairs.
"Where?" cried Sylvia.
"Over the mill."
Sylvia ran into Thinkright's room, which was on the eastern side of the house, and, throwing open a window, fell on her knees before it. In a protecting, splendid arch a perfect rainbow spanned the cloud above the mill. Rays of sunlight struck full upon the sightless eyes, and kissed its gray face until the tears sparkled into diamonds and the old building was beset with glory.
"The bow of promise," murmured Sylvia. She stretched out her hands to the mill. "Just open them a little way," she said. "You're no unhappier than I was, but I've found it such a good world! Just open your shutters and look. You'll always be glad. Perhaps you can't have everything you want, perhaps not the very thing you want most. What of that? Can't you trust? I'm learning to. 'Love alone will stay,' and it won't forget. It never forgets."
The girl's eyes lifted to the glorifying arch. One end curved to a distant forest and was lost, and the other dipped deep within the ocean. The Tide Mill grew to radiance beneath its caress. It seemed on the point of yielding, and opening gently to the setting sun.
At the climax of color Sylvia, smiling, dropped her eyelids. She would not see it fade. Suddenly, her ear was caught by a note as of a distant bell; then a tangle of bells, tiny, musical, and the song of the hermit thrush rang out from the far thicket.
Sylvia caught her lip between her teeth, and her heart swelled.
The next morning nature, as always after a gloomy season, seemed trying to cause forgetfulness of its sulks and tears by bringing the whole battery of its charms to bear upon sea and land.
After breakfast Thinkright produced a key from his pocket. "There, my girl," he said, "is the key to the boathouse. I know you can scarcely wait."
"That's true," replied Sylvia. "Come on, Minty."
The child's round eyes were fixed solemnly on some point beyond Sylvia's shoulder.
"I don't know as I care 'bout goin' boatin' this mornin'," she replied decorously.
"What?" returned Sylvia, astonished. She remembered now how remarkably quiet the child had been throughout breakfast. "Why, how do you feel, Minty?"
"Smart," returned the child, still with her gaze on the uncertain point in space.
Thinkright's eyes had a humorous twinkle. "I want Minty to help me a little while this morning," he said. "She'll see you later."
Sylvia turned to him, demurring. "She has been looking forward to it so much," she said.
"Yes, I know. She won't have to wait long," he replied kindly, putting his arm around the child's shoulders.
Mrs. Lem, her hair strained back in its least decorative twist, fixed her offspring with black eyes that snapped.
"You're a-goin' to have a good time with Thinkright, ain't you, Minty?" she asked, and the child's breath caught through her little nose as she replied promptly:—
"Yes, I be."
Sylvia looked from one to the other uncertainly, but Thinkright was patting the little shoulder he held, and he nodded at her reassuringly.
"Run along, Sylvia. You'll find everything in good shape."
"I never saw such a man," thought the girl as she went down the hill. "How did he know that it would mean so much to me to go out alone just this first morning? Oh, Thinkright, Thinkright," she sighed. "How great it is to have come where you are; to have one's skylight always open, and the trap door always closed!"
She ran lightly in among the evergreens, and touched their bright buds here and there.
"That's right, precious things," she said, giving a lingering look up and down the familiar woodland path by the water side.
Then she came through the trees out upon the little dock beside her boathouse, and stood there, looking about with fond eyes at the broad sweep of the Basin waters. The snowy stems of the birches seemed alive as they swayed forward, waving their lustrous banners across the tide. She nodded in all directions, and kissed her hands to the encircling woods. "I'm exactly as glad to see you," she said; "and you shall sit to me for your pictures, all of you. Just as soon as"—
She paused, her lips apart, her eyes wide, for all at once she caught sight of the Tide Mill. Every one of its shutters had turned back. The sunlight was flooding in. She grew pale, sank down upon a rock near by, and gazed. While she was thus absorbed John Dunham came out of the woods and advanced to her. His step creaked the boards of the little dock, and she looked up. Springing to her feet, the color rushed back to her face.
"John, you here? The mill shutters have opened." She looked into his eyes appealingly, while he held both her hands.
"The mill? That's so," he answered. "Gives the old misanthrope a different look, doesn't it?"
"But when—how?" asked Sylvia. "Last night it was closed. I saw it; and the rainbow was inspiring it, and the setting sun was begging it, and I was coaxing it, and—look! When could it have happened? How could it have happened?"
"You expected a miracle, didn't you?" asked Dunham. "I remember you talked about it last summer."
"What are you doing here?" asked the girl, remembering he had her hands, and withdrawing them. "You couldn't have driven over from the village as early as this."
"No. I came up on business, and I'm staying in the neighborhood."
"But there isn't any neighborhood," said Sylvia.
"Is that all you know about this region?" he returned. "I'll show you where I'm staying, some day." John thought of his fragrant couch of hay in the barn. "Isn't it astonishing what a gay old boy that mill has turned into? Look at it sidle around on those posts. It seems to say, 'Come in. The water's fine.' Why don't we accept the invitation? Let's go over there."
"Oh, come. I can't wait. Here's the key to the boat-house."
The hand that gave it to him trembled. It seemed the crown of all that Dunham should be with her the first time she approached the opened shutters.
In a couple of minutes he was pulling the light craft across the Basin.
"Do you think we can possibly get in?" asked Sylvia. "How I have wanted to get inside that mill!"
"Then we shall have to, that's all," replied her companion, his eyes on her absorbed face, above which the breeze was blowing a little mass of auburn curls. "I think if I stood in the boat, and you stood on my shoulders, you might reach a lower window."
"I hope it won't come to that," she answered; "but I am afraid the ladders will have rotted away. We may find people there. Why, we probably shall. I don't know why I haven't come down to earth enough to realize that only the owners could have opened the mill."
Dunham nodded. "They must have entered to open it, too. What man hath done, man can do. You shall get in, else what is the use of my being here? Say you're glad I'm here, Sylvia."
She nodded at him collectedly. "If you get me in, I will," she returned.
They found an upright ladder, weather-beaten but still strong, beside one of the posts. Dunham tied the boat, then began to climb up, Sylvia following, and in a minute more they stood inside the desolate building, where strips of sunlight patched the floor. It was deserted.
"Well?" questioned John, as the girl looked all about.
"I thought it would be like this," she answered. "Can we get up higher? There must be a fine view."
Dunham found a flight of steps in a corner, and climbed it, Sylvia following.
The ramshackle old building had platforms rather than floors, leaving space in the middle for the machinery which ran up through it, and stairs led from one to another of these. These steps looked newer than their surroundings. When the visitors had reached the next to the upper floor, Dunham led Sylvia to a window, and together they exclaimed upon the wide beauty of the great, open bay.
"Whoever owns this old mill owns a palace," said Sylvia. She placed her hand lovingly on the edge of a hoary shutter. "Didn't I tell you it was worth while to open your eyes, dear?"
She glanced at John, who was standing, tall and thoughtful, at the other side of the window, watching her. She smiled with rather unsteady lips. "You would laugh if you knew how much it means to me to be standing in here," she said.
"Not more to you than to me, I am sure," he returned. "I've never forgotten a fanciful thing you said about this mill last summer. You said that Love would open the shutters some day. Listen, Sylvia, do you hear that?"
Across the still water rang the woodland bells that preceded the triumphant flourish of the thrush's song.
"I should like that for my wedding music," said Dunham slowly, after a minute. "Those are the only bells that should chime upon my wedding if I had my wish."
Sylvia's heart beat fast. She thought it cruel of him to look at her like that.
He continued: "There is a spot over there in the woods near a thicket of white birches that I have selected as the spot for the ceremony."
"Very poetical," returned Sylvia. "Such a plan suits this outlook."
"I see there are some more stairs," said Dunham, looking about. "Shall we do the thing thoroughly? Let's go to the top."
He preceded the girl up the steep flight, and turned to give her his hand for the last steps. Sylvia emerged upon a newly-placed floor, and looked about her in a daze.
She glanced back at Dunham, then again her wondering eyes swept the great apartment in which she found herself.
It was a studio, furnished with every convenience for an artist's work, and many luxuries for an artist's idleness.
Again the girl turned pale, as at the moment when first she discovered the Tide Mill this morning.
She sank into a wicker chair by one of the many windows framing their vast views, and continued silent.
Dunham pulled up an ottoman to her feet, and sat upon it.
She dared not believe the signs in his eyes. "You are Uncle Calvin's messenger"—she began, at last.
He shook his head. "No, I've bought this mill myself for a wedding present; but whether for my bride or another man's I don't know yet. The only objection to this plan has been that it appeared to take a good deal for granted, and I want you to know that it doesn't. You said Love would open the shutters, and it has; but I don't know how much you care for me, I only know how much I care for you."
Sylvia's eyes, startled, incredulous, tender, filled slowly from her heart, until again John met that Look, never for one second forgotten.
He reached out his hand, questioning still, and now her longing was satisfied to put hers within it, in its rightful home.
Across the silence rang the Hermit's song; for even the Hermit had a mate.
After a while Sylvia lifted her head from her lover's shoulder.
"I suppose there may be some troubles in the world still, John," she said.
"Possibly," he replied, the hint of a smile on his lips as he looked into the face so close to his.
"We can do without joy many times, John. We can meet everything now without a fear. Do you remember:
'Kiss my lips and softly say, "Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day; Love alone will stay!'"
The Riverside Press Electrotyped and printed by H. O. Houghton & Co. Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
* * * * *
THE MAYOR OF WARWICK
By HERBERT M. HOPKINS
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A LITTLE SISTER OF DESTINY
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