"Yes, his grave and his coffin," and she regarded with a gentler expression the sitting figure. "And I think I know why he dug the grave."
"To save somebody else the trouble?"
"To be sure of resting beside his companion."
"Of course! that explains it all. He knew that strangers might bury him in the easiest place; that they would never chop through all those roots."
He stepped around behind the body, placed his hands under the arms, and made an effort to raise it, but the weight was beyond his strength. Looking toward his companion with an apologetic smile, he said: "I am sorry to be so useless, but—together we can carry him, if you don't mind."
At this suggestion Elinor, with a look of horror, took a backward step.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "for suggesting it. I have been doing so much of this work that I had forgotten how it affected others."
"Burying people. In the Transvaal. One morning, with a squad, I buried twenty-eight. Nine of them my own friends. So, if I go about this in the simplest way, do not think it is from want of sympathy."
"I shall understand."
"Then I will bring that wheelbarrow I saw behind the house."
He started off, then stopped as if to say something, but hesitated.
"What is it, Mr. Boyd?"
"I am afraid that coffin is too heavy for me. Would you mind helping with it?"
"No. And I can help you with the body, too, if necessary." And together they returned to the cottage.
* * * * *
Never, probably, did simpler obsequies befall a peer of France.
Sitting up in the same position as on the rustic bench, his cheek upon his hand, his elbow on the side of the barrow, the hermit was wheeled to his final resting-place beneath the pines. Beside him, with a helping hand, walked Elinor Marshall, shocked and saddened by these awful incongruities.
Behind came Solomon.
Among the pines, in the solemn shade of this cathedral, grander and more impressive than any human temple, moved the little procession.
No requiem; only the murmuring in the boughs above, those far-away voices, dearer to him, perhaps,—and to his companion in the grave beside,—than all other music.
THE CLOUDS GATHER
The supper that evening was late.
After the simple repast—of crackers, tongue, and a cup of tea—Pats and Elinor strolled out into the twilight and sat upon a rock. The rock was at the very tip of the point, overlooking the water to the south.
On the right, off to the west, the land showed merely as a purple strip in the fading light, stretching out into the gulf a dozen miles or more. Behind it the sinking sun had left a bar of crimson light. To the east lay another headland running, like its neighbor, many miles to the south. These two coasts formed a vast bay, at whose northern extremity lay the little point at which Miss Elinor Marshall and Mr. Patrick Boyd had been landed by the Maid of the North. In the gathering gloom this prospect, with the towering forest that lay behind, was impressive—and solemn. And the solemnity of the scene was intensified by the primeval solitude,—the absence of all sign of human life.
Both travellers were silent, thoughtful, and very tired. It had been a long day, and then the misunderstanding in the middle of it had told considerably upon the nerves of both. To Pats the most exhausting experience of all had been the business of the baggage,—its transportation from the beach below to the house above. Elinor's trunk, being far too heavy for their own four hands, Pats had suggested carrying the trays up separately; and this was done. Certain things from his own trunk he had lugged off into the woods, where, as he said:
"There's a little outbuilding that will do for me. Not a royal museum like this of yours, but good accommodations for a bachelor."
She did not inquire as to particulars. The gentleman's bed-chamber was not a subject on which she cared to encourage confidences.
Her fatigue had merely created a wholesome desire for rest,—the sleepiness and indifference that come from weary muscles. But Pats's exhaustion was of a different sort. All the strength of his body had departed. Every muscle, cord, and sinew was unstrung. His spine seemed on the point of folding up. A hollow, nervous feeling had settled in the back of his head, and being something new it caused him a mild uneasiness. Moreover, his hands and feet were cold. Dispiriting chills travelled up and down his back at intervals. This might be owing to the change in temperature, as a storm was evidently brewing.
The wind from the northwest had grown several degrees colder since the sun went down, and the heavens were sombre. There was not a star in sight. A yearning to close his eyes and go to sleep came over him, but he remembered how offensive was his presence to this lady, even at his best behavior. He must take no liberties; so he remarked, cheerfully, in a tone indicative of suppressed exuberance of spirit:
"I hope you will not feel nervous in your chateau to-night."
"No, I think not. It is a weird place to sleep in, however."
"Yes, it is. Wouldn't you like me to sleep just outside, near the door? I am used to camping out, you know."
"No, I thank you. I shall get along very well, I have no doubt."
After that a prolonged silence. At last the lady arose.
"I think I shall go in, Mr. Boyd. I find I am very tired."
While they were groping about the cottage for a lamp, Elinor remembered two candelabra that stood upon a cabinet, stately works of art in bronze and gilt, very heavy, with five candles to each. One of them was taken down.
"Don't light them all," said Elinor. "We must not be extravagant."
But Pats did light them all, saying: "This is a special occasion, and you are the guest of honor."
The guest of honor looked around this ever-surprising interior and experienced a peculiar sense of fear. She kept it to herself, however; but as her eyes moved swiftly from the life-sized figures in the tapestry to the sharply defined busts, and then to the canvas faces, the whole room seemed alive with people.
"Plenty of company here," said Pats, reading her expression. "But in your chamber, there, you will have fewer companions, only the host and his wife." Then, with a smile, "Excuse my suggesting it, if an impertinence, but if you would like to have me take a look under that monumental bed I shall be most happy to do it."
She hesitated, yet she knew she would do it herself, after he had gone. While she was hesitating, Pats drew aside the tapestry and passed with the candelabrum into the chamber. He made a careful survey of the territory beneath the bed and reported it free of robbers. Solomon, also, was investigating; and Pats, who was doing this solely for Elinor's peace of mind, knew well that if a human being were anywhere about the dog would long ago have announced him. But they made a tour of the room, looking behind and under the larger objects, lifting the lids of the marriage chests and opening the doors of the cupboard. Into the cellar, too, they descended, and made a careful search. The five candles produced a weird effect in their promenade along this subterraneous apartment, lighting up an astonishing medley of furniture, garden implements, empty bottles, the posts and side pieces of an extra bed, a broken statue, another wheelbarrow, a lot of kindling wood, and the empty corner where the coffin had awaited its mission. There seemed to be everything except the man they were looking for.
"Fearfully cold down here!" Pats's teeth chattered as he spoke, and he shivered from crown to heel.
"Cold! It doesn't seem so to me," and her tone suggested a somewhat contemptuous surprise.
"To me it is like the chill of death." The candles shook in his hand as he spoke.
"Perhaps you have taken cold," and with stately indifference she moved on toward the stairs.
"Proximity of a Boston iceberg more likely." But this was not spoken aloud.
Upstairs, when about to take his departure, Pats was still shivering. As he stood for a moment before the embers in the big open fireplace at the end of the cottage, his eyes rested upon a chest near by, with a rug and a cushion on the top, evidently used as a lounge by the owner. After hesitating a moment, he asked:
"Would you object to my occupying the top of that chest, just for to-night?"
As she turned toward him he detected a straightening of the figure and the now familiar loftiness of manner which he knew to be unfailing signs of anger—or contempt. Possibly both.
"Certainly not. If you have a cold, it is better you should remain near the fire. I have no objections to sleeping in that other house. You say there is another house."
"Oh, yes! There is another house," he hastened to explain. "And it's plenty good enough. Of course I shall go there. I beg your pardon for suggesting anything else. I forgot my resolve. I didn't realize what I was doing."
"I prefer going there myself," she said, rapidly. "I much prefer it."
And she turned toward the chamber to make arrangements for departure. But Pats stepped forward and said, decisively, and in a tone that surprised her:
"You stay here. I go to the other house myself."
He took his hat, and with Solomon at his heels strode rapidly to the door. There he stopped, and with his hand on the latch said, more gently, in his usual manner:
"Wouldn't you like Solomon to stay here with you? He is lots of company, and a protector."
She made no reply, but looked with glacial indifference from the man to his dog.
"You would feel less lonesome, I know." Patting Solomon on the head and pointing to the haughty figure, "You stay here, old man. That's all right. I'll see you in the morning."
The dog clearly preferred going with his master, but Pats, with a pleasant good-night to the lady, stepped out into the darkness and closed the door behind him.
Solomon, with his nose to the door, stood for several moments in silent protest against this desertion. Later, however, he followed Elinor into the bed-chamber, and although his presence gave her courage and was distinctly a solace, she remained vaguely apprehensive and too ill at ease to undress and go to bed; so, instead, she lay on the outside of it, in a wrapper.
Without, the northeast wind had become a gale. The howling of the storm, together with the ghostly silence of the many-peopled room excited her imagination and quickened her fears.
But weariness and perfect physical relaxation overcame exhausted nerves, and at last the lady slept.
"WOMEN ARE DEVILS"
So sound was Elinor Marshall's sleep that when she awoke the old clock behind the door was celebrating, with its usual music, the hour of nine. From the fury of the rain upon the roof and the sheets of water coursing down the little panes of the window in her chamber, it seemed as if a deluge had arrived. And upon opening the front door she stepped hastily back to avoid the water from the roof and the spattering from the doorstep. But Solomon was not afraid. He darted out into the rain and disappeared among the pines.
"Mr. Boyd will surely get a soaking when he comes for his breakfast," she thought. And she wondered, casually, if he had a waterproof or an umbrella. He would soon appear, probably, and, as men were always hungry, she turned her attention to hunting up food and coffee for a breakfast. These were easily found. Having started a fire and set the table for two, she got the coffee under way. Crackers, boiled eggs, sardines, marmalade, cold ham, and apples were to appear at this repast.
But at ten o'clock Mr. Boyd had not appeared. At half-past ten she realized the folly of waiting indefinitely for a man who preferred his bed to his breakfast, and she sat down alone. In the midst of her meal, however, she heard Solomon scratching at the door. No sooner had he entered—dripping with rain—than he began the same pantomime of entreaty as that of yesterday when he tried to get somebody to follow him. Now, perhaps his master was in trouble.
But Elinor remembered what Mr. Boyd himself had said, "He has probably found a woodchuck or a squirrel track."
Looking out into the driving rain she decided to take the benefit of the doubt. But Solomon was persistent; so aggressively persistent that in the end he became convincing. At last she put on her waterproof and plunged forth into the tempest, the overjoyed dog capering wildly in front. Straight into the woods he led her.
Only a short distance had they travelled among the pines when she stopped, with a new fear, at the sound of voices. Two men, she thought, were quarrelling. Then a moment later, she heard the fragment of a song. After listening more attentively she decided that the voice of Mr. Boyd was the only one she heard. But was he intoxicated? All she caught was a senseless, almost incoherent flow of language, with laughable attempts at singing. At this, Elinor was on the point of turning back, prompted both by terror and disgust, when Solomon, with increasing vehemence, renewed his exhortations. She yielded, and a few steps farther the sight of Pats lying upon the ground at the foot of a gigantic pine, his valise beside him, its contents, now soaked with rain and scattered about, brought a twinge of remorse.
So he had done this rather than oppose her ideas of propriety! And yesterday, when he spoke of another house, she, in her heart, had not believed him.
All scruples regarding intoxication were dismissed. She hastened forward and knelt beside him. Pats, with feverish face, lay on his back in wild delirium. The pine-needles that formed his bed were soggy with rain, and his clothing was soaked. She laid her hand against his face and found it hot. His eyes met hers with no sign of recognition.
"That's all right," he muttered, rolling his head from side to side, "nobody denies it. Run your own business; but I want my clothes. Damn it, I'm freezing!"
His teeth chattered and he shook his fist in an invisible face. Involuntarily, from a sense of helplessness, she looked vaguely about as if seeking aid.
Here, in the woods, was protection from the wind, but the branches aloft were moving and tossing from the fury of the gale above. The usual murmuring of the pines had become a roar. Great drops of rain, shaken from this surging vault, fell in fitful but copious showers. This constant roar,—not unlike the ocean in a gale,—the sombre light, the helpless and perhaps dying man before her, the chill and mortal dampness of all and everything around, for an instant congealed her courage and took away her strength. But this she fought against. All her powers of persuasion, and all her strength, she employed to get him on his feet. Pats, although wild in speech and reckless in gesture, was docile and willing to obey. The weakness of his own legs, however, threatened to bring his rescuer and himself to the ground. And, all the time, a constant flow of crazy speech and foolish, feeble song.
Half-way to the cottage he stopped, wrenched his arm from her grasp and demanded, with a frown: "I say; you expect decent things of a woman, don't you?"
"Yes, of course." And she nodded assent, trying to lead him on again. But he pushed her away and would have fallen with the effort had she not caught him in time.
"Well, there's this about it," he continued, trying feebly to shake his arm from her hands yet staggering along where she led, "I'm not stuck on that woman or any other. I'm not in that line of business. Do I look like a one-eyed ass?"
"No, no, not at all!" And, gently, she urged him forward.
"Because three or four fools are gone over her, she thinks everybody else—oh! who cares, anyway? Let her think!"
It was a zigzag journey. He reeled and plunged, dragging her in all directions; and so yielding were his knees that she doubted if they could bear him to the house. Once, when seemingly on the point of a collapse, he muttered, in a confidential tone: "This hauling guns under a frying sun does give you a thirst, hey? Say, am I right, or not?"
"Yes, yes, you are right. Come along: just a little farther."
"Did you ever swim in champagne with your mouth open?"
"What a fool!"
Then he stopped, straightened up and sang, in a die-away, broken voice, with chattering teeth:
"See the Britons, Bloody Britons, Millions of 'em doncherknow, All a swarming up the kopje— Just to turn about an hopje! O, where in hell to go! Bloody Britons!"
Grasping her roughly by the shoulder, he exclaimed: "Why don't you join in the chorus, you blithering idiot?"
This song, in fragments and with variations, he sang—or rather tried to sing—repeatedly. At the edge of the woods he seemed to shrink from the fury of the storm which drove, in cutting blasts, against their faces. And on the threshold of the cottage he again held back. In the doorway, leaning against the jamb, he said, solemnly:
"Look here, young feller, just mark my words, women are devils. The less you have to do with them the better for you. D—n the whole tribe! That's what I say!"
But she dragged him in and supported him to a chair before the fire. He sat shivering with cold, his chin upon his breast, apparently exhausted by the walk. The water dripping from his saturated garments formed puddles on the floor.
Elinor, for a moment, stood regarding him in heart-stricken silence. Once more she felt of his clothes, then, after an inward struggle, she made a resolve. As she did it the color came into her cheeks.
A SINNER'S RECOMPENSE
After a lapse of time—an unremembered period of whose length he had no conception—Pats awoke.
Was it a little temple of carved wood in which he lay? At each corner stood a column; above him a little dome of silk, ancient and much faded. Gradually—and slowly—he realized that he was reposing on a bed of vast dimensions and in a room whose furnishings belonged to a previous century. A mellow, golden light pervaded the apartment. This light, which gave to all things in the room an air of unreality—as in an ancient painting luminous with age—came from the sunshine entering through a piece of antiquated silk, placed by considerate hands against the window.
Pats's wandering eyes encountered a lady in a chair. She sat facing him, a few feet away, her head resting easily against the carved woodwork behind, a hand upon each arm of the seat. She was asleep. In this golden mist she seemed to the half-dreaming man a vision from another world—something too good to be true—a divine presence that might vanish if he moved. Or, perhaps, she might fade back into a frame and prove to be only another of the portraits that hung about the room. So far as he could judge, with his slowly awakening senses, he was gazing upon the most entrancing face he had ever beheld. At first the face was unfamiliar, but soon, with returning memory, he recalled it. But it seemed thinner now. There were dark lines beneath the eyes, and something about the mouth gave an impression of weariness and care; and these were not in the face as he had known it. However, the closed lids, and the head resting calmly against the back of the high chair made a tranquil picture. For a long time he lay immovable, his eyes drinking in the vision. There was nothing to disturb the silence save the solemn ticking of a clock in another part of the cottage. He heard, beyond the big tapestry, the sound of a dog snapping at a fly. Pats smiled and would have whistled to Solomon, but he remembered the weary angel by his bed. With a sort of terror he recalled this lady's capacity for contempt.
Being too warm for comfort he pushed, with exceeding gentleness and caution, the bed-clothes farther from his chin. But the movement, although absolutely noiseless, as he believed, caused the eyes of the sleeper to open. She arose, then stood beside him. A cool hand was laid gently upon his forehead; another drew up the bed-clothes to his chin, as they were before. With anxious eyes he studied her face, and when he found therein neither contempt nor aversion he experienced an overwhelming joy. And she, detecting in the invalid's eyes an unwonted look, bent over and regarded him more intently. As his eyes looked into hers he smiled, faintly, experimentally, in humble adoration. The face above him lit up with pleasure. In a very low tone she exclaimed:
"You are feeling better!"
He undertook to reply but no voice responded. He tried again, and succeeded in whispering:
"Has anything happened?"
"You have been very ill."
"This is the eighth day."
"The eighth day!" He frowned in a mental effort to unravel the past. "Then I must have been—out of my head."
"Yes, most of the time." She was watching him with anxious eyes. "Perhaps you had better not talk much now. Try and sleep again."
"No, I am—full of sleep. Is this the same house—we discovered that first day?"
He closed his eyes, and again she rested a hand upon his brow.
"Who is here besides you?" he asked.
"No one—except Solomon."
"Solomon!" and he smiled. "Is Solomon well?"
"Oh, yes! Very well."
"Then you have taken care of me all this time?"
She turned away and took up a glass of water from a table near the bed.
"Yes; Solomon and I together. Are you thirsty? Would you like anything?"
Pats closed his eyes and took a long breath. There was no use in trying to say what he felt, so he answered in a husky voice, which he found difficult to control:
"Thank you. I am thirsty."
"Would you like tea or a glass of water?"
"Or, would you prefer grapes?"
"Yes, grapes, or oranges, or pears, whichever you prefer."
His look of incredulity seemed to amuse her. "Do you remember the two boxes and the barrel left by the Maid of the North on the beach with our baggage?"
"Well, one of those boxes was filled with fruit."
"Is there plenty for both of us?"
"More than enough."
"Then I will have a glass of water first and then grapes—and all the other things."
He drank the water, and as she took away the empty glass, he said, in a serious tone: "Miss Marshall, I wish I could tell you how mortified I am and how—how—"
"Mortified! At what?"
"All this trouble—this—whole business."
"But you certainly could not help it!"
"That's very kind of you, but it's all wrong—all wrong!"
She smiled and moved away, and as she drew aside the tapestry and disappeared, he turned his face to the wall, and muttered, "Disgraceful! Disgraceful! I must get well fast."
And he carried out this resolve. Every hour brought new strength. In less than a week he was out of bed and sitting up. During this early period of convalescence—the period of tremulous legs and ravenous hunger—the Fourth of July arrived, and they celebrated the occasion by a sumptuous dinner. There was soup, sardines, cold tongue, dried-apple sauce, baked potatoes, fresh bread, and preserved pears, and the last of the grapes. At table, Elinor faced the empty chair that held the miniature, for the absent lady's right to that place was always respected. Pats sat at the end facing the door. They dined at noon. A bottle of claret was opened and they drank to the health of Uncle Sam.
Toward the end of the dinner, Pats arose, and with one hand on the table to reinforce his treacherous legs, held aloft his glass. Looking over to the dog, who lay by the open door, his head upon his paws, he said:
"Solomon, here's to a certain woman; of all women on earth the most unselfish and forgiving, the most perfect in spirit and far and away the most beautiful—the Ministering Angel of the Pines. God bless her!"
At these words Solomon, as if in recognition of the sentiment, arose from his position near the door, walked to Elinor's side and, with his habitual solemnity, looked up into her eyes.
"Solomon," said Pats, "you have the soul of a gentleman."
In Elinor's pale face there was a warmer color as she bent over and caressed the dog.
After the dinner all three walked out into the pines, Pats leaning on the lady's arm. The day was warm. But the gentle, southerly breeze came full of life across the Gulf. And the water itself, this day, was the same deep, vivid blue as the water that lies between Naples and Vesuvius. The convalescent and his nurse stopped once or twice to drink in the air—and the scene.
Pats filled his lungs with a long, deep breath. "I feel very light. Hold me fast, or I may float away."
Both his head and his legs seemed flighty and precarious. Those two glasses of claret were proving a little too much—they had set his brain a-dancing. But this he kept to himself. She noticed the high spirits, but supposed them merely an invalid's delight in getting out of doors.
Under the big trees they rested for a time, in silence, Elinor gazing out across the point, over the glistening sea beyond. The shade of the pines they found refreshing. The convalescent lay at full length, upon his back, looking up with drowsy eyes into the cool, dark canopy, high above. Soothing to the senses was the sighing of the wind among the branches.
"This is good!" he murmured. "I could stay here forever."
"That may be your fate," and her eyes moved sadly over the distant, sailless sea. "It is a month to-day that we have been here."
"So it is, a whole month!"
Elinor sighed. "There is something wrong, somewhere. It seems to me the natural—the only thing—would be for somebody to hunt us up."
"Could they have sailed by this bay and missed us?"
"Not unless they were idiots. Everybody on the steamer knew we sailed into a bay to get here."
"Still, they may have missed us."
"Well, suppose they did go by us, once or twice, or several times; people don't abandon their best friends and brothers in that off-hand fashion."
After a pause he added, "Something may have happened to Father Burke or to Louise."
"But even then," said Elinor, turning toward him, "wouldn't they try and discover why I had not arrived? And wouldn't they hunt you up?"
"No, I was to be a surprise. None of them knew I was coming. They think I am still in South Africa."
There was a long silence, broken at last by Pats. "What a hideous practical joke I have turned out! In the first place I strand you here and—"
"No! I was very unjust that day and have repented—and tried to atone."
"Atone! You! Angels defend us! If atonement was due from you, where am I? Instead of getting you away, I go out of my head and have a fever—and am fed—like a baby."
She smiled. "That is hardly your fault."
"Yes, it is. No man would do it. Pugs and Persian cats do that sort of thing. For men there are proper times for giving out. But there is one thing I should like to say—that is, that my life is yours. This skeleton belongs to you, and the soul that goes with it. Henceforth I shall be your slave. I do not aspire to be treated as your equal; just an abject, reverent, willing slave."
She smiled and played with the ears of the sleeping Solomon.
"I am serious," and Pats raised himself on one elbow. "Just from plain, unvarnished gratitude—if from nothing else—I shall always do whatever you command—live, die, steal, commit murder, scrub floors, anything—I don't care what."
"Do you really mean it?"
"Then stop talking."
With closed eyes he fell back into his former position. But again, partially raising himself, he asked, "May I say just one thing more?"
Again he fell back, and there was silence.
For a time Elinor sat with folded hands gazing dreamily beyond the point over the distant gulf, a dazzling, vivid blue beneath the July sun. When at last she turned with a question upon her lips and saw the closed eyes and tranquil breathing of the convalescent, she held her peace. Then came a drowsy sense of her own fatigue. Cautiously, that the sleeper might not awake, she also reclined, at full length, and closed her eyes. Delicious was the soft air: restful the carpet of pine-needles. No cradle-song could be more soothing than the muffled voices of the pines: and the lady slept.
But Pats was not asleep. He soon opened his eyes and gazed dreamily upward among the branches overhead, then moved his eyes in her direction. For an easier study of the inviting creature not two yards away, he partially raised himself on an elbow. The contemplation of this lady he had found at all times entrancing; but now, from her unconscious carelessness and freedom she became of absorbing interest. Her dignity was asleep, as it were: her caution forgotten. With captivated eyes he drank in the graceful outlines of her figure beneath the white dress, the gentle movement of the chest, the limp hands on the pine-needles. Some of the pride and reserve of the clean-cut, patrician face—of which he stood in awe—had melted away in slumber.
Maybe the murmur of the pines with the drowsy, languorous breeze relaxed his conscience; at all events the contours of the upturned lips were irresistible. Silently he rolled over once—the soft carpet of pine-needles abetting the manoeuvre—until his face was at right angles to her own, and very near. Then cautiously and slowly he pressed his lips to hers. This contact brought a thrill of ecstasy—an intoxication to his senses. But the joy was brief.
More quickly than his startled wits could follow she had pushed away his face and risen to her feet. Erect, with burning cheeks, she looked down into his startled eyes with an expression that brought him sharply to his senses. It was a look of amazement, of incredulity, of contempt—of everything in short that he had hoped never to encounter in her face again. For a moment she stood regarding him, her breast heaving, a stray lock of hair across a hot cheek, the most distant, the most exalted, and the most beautiful figure he had ever seen. Then, without a word, she walked away. Across the open, sunlit space his eyes followed her, until, through the doorway of the cottage, she disappeared.
For a moment he remained as he was, upon the ground, half reclining, staring blankly at the doorway. Then, slowly, he lowered himself and lay at full length along the ground, his face in his hands.
Of the flight of time he had no knowledge: but, at last, when he rose to his feet he appeared older. He was paler. His eyes were duller. About the mouth had come lines which seemed to indicate a painful resolution. But to the shrunken legs he had summoned a sufficient force to carry him, without wavering, to the cottage door. He entered and dropped, as a man uncertain of his strength, into the nearest chair—the one beside the doorway. Solomon, who had followed at his heels, looked up inquiringly into the emaciated face. Its extraordinary melancholy may have alarmed him. But Pats paid no attention to his dog. He looked at Elinor who was ironing, at the heavy table—the dining-table—in the centre of the room. Her sleeves were rolled back to the elbow; her head bent slightly over as she worked.
The afternoon sun flooded the space in his vicinity and reached far along the floor, touching the skirt of her dress. Behind her the old tapestry with the two marble busts formed a stately background. To the new arrivals she paid no attention.
After a short rest to recover his breath, and his strength, Pats cleared his throat:
"Miss Marshall, you will never know, for I could not begin to tell you—how sorry—how, how ashamed I am for having done—what I did. I don't ask you to forgive me. If you were my sister and another man did it, I should—" He leaned back, at a loss for words.
"I don't say it was the claret. I don't try to excuse myself in any way. But one thing I ask you to believe: that I did not realize what I was doing."
He arose and stood with his hand on the back of the chair. As he went on his voice grew less steady. "Why, I look upon you as something sacred; you are so much finer, higher, better than other people. In a way I feel toward you as toward my mother's memory; and that is a holy thing. I could as soon insult one as the other. And I realize and shall never forget all that you have done for me."
In a voice over which he seemed to be losing control, he went on, more rapidly:
"And it's more than all that—it's more than gratitude and respect. I—" For an instant he hesitated, then his words came hotly, with a reckless haste. "I love you as I never thought of loving any human being. It began when I first saw you on the wharf. You don't know what it means. Why, I could lay down my life for you—a thousand times—and joyfully."
From Elinor these words met with no outward recognition. She went quietly on with her ironing.
Pats drew a deep breath, sank into his chair and muttered, in a lower tone, "I never meant to tell you that. Now I—I—have done it."
During the pause that followed these last words she said, quietly, without looking up:
"I knew it already."
He straightened up. "Knew what already?"
She lifted a collar she was ironing and examined it, but made no reply.
"You knew what already?" he repeated. "That I was in love with you?"
She nodded, still regarding the collar.
She laid the collar beside other collars already ironed and took up another; but he heard no answer.
"How did you know?" he asked. "From what?"
"From various things."
There was no reply.
"From things I did?"
She nodded, rather solemnly, and her face, what he could see of it—seemed very serious. Pats was watching her intently, and exclaimed, in surprise:
"That is very curious, for I kept it to myself!"
"Any woman would have known."
Pats leaned back, and frowned. A torturing thought possessed him. In an anxious tone he said: "I hope I did not talk much when I had the fever."
As she made no reply he studied the back of her head for some responsive motion. But none came.
"Did I?" he demanded.
A look of terror came into his face and his voice grew fainter as he asked: "Did I talk about you?"
With trembling fingers he felt for his handkerchief and drew it across his brow. "Did I say things that—that—I should be ashamed of?"
Pats sunk lower in his chair and closed his eyes. Judging from the lines in his cadaverous face the last three minutes had added years to his age.
"Would you mind telling me," he asked in a deferential voice, so low that it barely reached her, "whether they were impertinent and ungentlemanly—or—or—what?"
His lips were dry, and on his face came a look of anguish—of unspeakable shame. There was a pause, broken only by the faint sound of the flatiron.
"Then I really talked about you—at one time?"
"More than once?"
"For days together."
Pats closed his eyes in pain, and there was a silence. Then he opened them: "Would you mind telling me some of the things I said?"
"I could not remember."
"Have you forgotten all?"
"No—but I prefer not repeating them."
On Pats's face the look of shame deepened. In a very low voice he said: "Please remember that I was not myself."
"I make allowance for that."
"Excuse my asking, but if I was out of my head and irresponsible, what could I have said to make you believe that I was—in love with you?"
"You protested so violently that you were not."
With unspeakable horror and humiliation Pats began to realize the awful possibilities of that divulgence of his most secret thoughts. A cold chill crept up his spine. He looked down at the floor, from fear that she might glance in his direction and meet his eyes. Solomon, who felt there was trouble in the air, came nearer and placed his cold wet snout against the clinched hands of his master; but the hands were unresponsive.
At last, the stricken man mustered courage enough to stammer in a constrained voice:
"It is not from curiosity I ask it, but would you mind telling me—giving me at least some idea of what I said?"
Elinor carefully deposited a neatly folded handkerchief upon a little pile of other handkerchiefs. Then, looking down at the table and not at Pats, she said calmly, as she continued her work:
"You said I was a pious hypocrite—coldblooded and heartless—and a fool. You repeated a great many times that I was superior, pretentious, and 'everlastingly stuck on myself,'—I think that was the expression. Of course, I cannot repeat your own words. They were forcible, but exceedingly profane."
"You kept mentioning three other men who could have me for all you cared."
Pats felt himself blushing. He frowned, grew hot, and bit his lip. Mingled with his mortification came an impotent rage. He felt that behind her contempt she was laughing at him. As there was a pause, he muttered bitterly:
But she continued silently with her ironing.
"Please go on. Tell me more; the worst. I should like to know it."
Raising one of the handkerchiefs higher for a closer examination, she added: "You sang comic songs, inserting my name, and with language I supposed no gentlemen could use."
Pats gasped. His cheeks tingled. In shame he closed his eyes. The ticking of the old clock behind the door seemed to hammer his degradation still deeper into his aching soul. As his wandering, miserable gaze encountered the marble face of the Marshal of France he thought the old soldier was watching him in contemptuous enjoyment.
But Elinor went on quietly with her ironing.
Suddenly into his feverish brain there came a thought, heaven-born, inspiring. It lifted him to his feet. With a firm stride he approached the table. No legs could have done it better. He stood beside her, but she turned her back as she went on with the ironing. His expression was of a man exalted, yet anxious; and he spoke in a low but unruly voice.
"You say you have known I was in love with you ever since the fever?"
She nodded slightly, without looking up.
"And yet you have been very—kind, and not—not annoyed or offended. Perhaps after all, you—you—oh, please turn around!"
But she did not turn, so he stepped around in front. Into her cheeks had come a sudden color, and in her eyes he saw the light that lifts a lover to the highest heaven.
It was Pat's cry of joy and his impulsive and somewhat violent embrace of this lady that awakened the dog reposing by the door. Looking in the direction of the voice Solomon seemed to see but a single figure. This was a natural mistake. In another moment, however, he realized that extraordinary things were happening,—that these two distinct and separate beings with a single outline signified some momentous change in human life. Whether from an over-mastering sympathy, from envy, delicacy, or disgust, Solomon looked the other way. Then, thoughtfully, with drooping head, he walked slowly out and left the lovers to themselves.
TRAPPING A QUAIL
Happy were the days that followed. Pats, uplifted with his own joy, became a lavish dispenser of cheerfulness and folly. Elinor, with unclouded eyes and a warmer color in her cheeks, seemed to have drifted into the Harbor of Serenity. Both were at peace with creation.
In pleasant weather they strolled among the pines, worked in the little garden behind the house, fished, played upon the beach, or explored the neighborhood. When it rained, which was seldom, they cleaned up the house, read books and old letters, ransacking trunks and drawers trying to discover the secret of the departed owner. But in vain. The departed owner had been careful to leave no clew to his identity or of his reason for abiding there. They did find, however, between the leaves of a book, a little chart of the point done by his own hand apparently, and beneath it was written
La Pointe de Lory.
So they felt they had learned the name of the place, but whether it was the official name or one given by the old gentleman for his private use they could not discover.
"There is a town of St. Lory in the south of France," said Pats. "I knew a man who came from there. Perhaps our host was from that vicinity."
The days went by and no sail appeared. This, however, was of slight importance. In fact, during that first ecstatic period, nothing was important,—that is, nothing like a ship. It was during this period they forgot to keep tally of time, and they either lost or gained a day, they knew not which—nor cared.
All days were good, whatever the weather. Time never dragged. With a companion of another temperament Elinor could easily have passed moments of depression. For a girl in her position there certainly was abundant material for regret. But the courage and the unwavering cheerfulness of Pats were contagious. He and melancholy were never partners. A discovery, however, was made one morning on the little beach that, for a moment at least, filled Elinor with misgivings.
Midway along this beach they found a bucket, rolling about on the sand, driven here and there by the incoming waves.
"That is worth saving," and Pats, watching his opportunity, followed up a receding breaker and procured the prize. It resembled a fire-bucket; and there were white letters around the centre. Elinor ran up and stood beside him, and, as he held it aloft, turning it slowly about to follow the words, both read aloud:
"Maid of the North!" exclaimed Elinor, grasping Pats by the arm. "Oh, I hope nothing has happened to her!"
"Probably not. More likely some sailor lost it overboard." Then, looking up and down the beach, "There is no wreckage of any kind. If she had blown up or struck a rock there would surely be something more than one water-bucket to come ashore and tell us. I guess she is all right."
"But how exciting! It seems like meeting an old friend."
She held it in her own hands. "Poor thing! You did look so melancholy swashing about on this lonely beach."
When they returned to the house they carried the bucket with them.
Pats had his own misgivings, however. One or two other objects he had discerned floating on the water farther out, too far away to distinguish what they were. And the fact that no search had been made for Elinor was in itself disquieting. But as his chief aim at present was to bring contentment to the girl beside him, he carefully refrained from any betrayal of these doubts. Nothing else, however, that might cause alarm was washed ashore.
And Pats, all this time, was growing fat. His increasing plumpness was perceptible from day to day, and it proved a constant source of mirth to his companion. One morning he appeared in a pair of checkered trousers purchased in South Africa during his skeleton period. They seemed on the verge of exploding from the outward pressure of the legs within. Elinor made no effort to suppress her merriment. She called him "Fatsy." And to the dog, who regarded the trousers with his usual solemnity, she remarked:
"O, Solomon! See him grow fat! Our erstwhile skinny, Diaphanous Pat."
But with "Fatsy's" flesh came increase of strength, and he proved a hard worker. As soon as he was strong enough he began to build the raft by which they hoped to cross the river. But progress was slow for his endurance had limits, and he could work but an hour or two each day. Their plan was to paddle across the river on this raft as they floated down. Owing to the swiftness of the current they built the raft nearly a mile farther up the stream. With the walk to and fro, which also taxed the builder's strength, the month of July brought little progress. One afternoon, they sauntered home, the broad, swift, silent river on their right, the sun just above the trees on the opposite bank. Close at hand, on their own side of the river the nearest pines stood forth in strong relief against the mysterious depths behind. Near the river's bank long shadows from these towering trunks lay in purple bars across the smooth, brown carpet. It was about half-way home that the man, with an air of weariness, seated himself upon a fallen tree. Elinor regarded him with an anxious face.
"Patsy, you have done too much again." As he looked up, she saw in his eyes an expression she had learned to associate with levity and foolishness. "Be serious. You are very tired, now aren't you?"
"Just pleasantly tired. But if I were suddenly kissed by a popular belle it would give me new strength."
When, a moment later, he arose, fresh life and vigor seemed certainly to have been acquired. Catching her by the waist, he hummed a waltz and away they floated, over the pine-needles, he in gray and she in white, like wingless spirits of the wood. When the waltz had ended and they were walking hand in hand, and a little out of breath, the lady remarked:
"When I am frivolous in these woods I feel very wicked. They are so silent and reserved themselves, so solemn and so very high-minded that it seems a desecration."
"All wrong," said Pats. "This is a temple built for lovers: shady, spacious, and jammed full of mystery—and safe."
"But it's the spaciousness and mystery that make it so like a temple and suggest serious thoughts."
"Not to a healthy mind. Oh, no! This gloom is here for a purpose. Pious thoughts should seek the light, but lovers need obscurity. They always have and they always will."
A few steps farther on he stopped and faced her, still holding her hand: "If you will feed the hens to-night, bring in the wood and wash the dishes, you may embrace me once again—now, right here."
She snatched away her head. He sprang forward to catch her—but she was away, beyond his reach. She ran on ahead and Pats, after a short pursuit, gave up the chase, for his fallible legs were still unfit for speed. With a mocking laugh and a wave of the hand she hastened on toward the cottage. Following more leisurely he watched the graceful figure in the white dress hurrying on before him until it was lost among the pines.
Just at the edge of the woods, not a hundred feet from the house, he stopped. Standing behind a tree so that Elinor, if she came to the door, could not see him, he whistled three notes. These notes, clear and full, were in imitation of a quail. And he did it exceedingly well. The imitation was masterly.
But no one appeared at the cottage door, and after a short silence he repeated the call.
Pats started and turned about.
"A very clever hoax!"
And as Elinor stepped forth from behind a neighboring tree, there was a look in her eyes that caused the skilful deceiver to bow his head. With a slight movement of the hands, the palms turned outward, as if in surrender, he offered a mute appeal for mercy.
"So you are that quail!" And slowly up and down she moved her head as if realizing with reluctance the bitterness of the discovery. "What fun you must have had in fooling me so often and so easily! And the many times that I have hurried to that door and waited to hear it again! What was my offence that you should pay me back in such a fashion?"
"Oh, don't put it that way! Don't speak like that!"
"And my sentiment about it! My saying that I loved the sound because it took me back to my own home in Massachusetts—all that must have been very amusing."
"Listen. Let me explain."
"And to keep on making me ridiculous, day after day, when I was on the verge of collapse from pure exhaustion—yes, it showed a nice feeling."
"Elinor, you are very unjust. Let me tell you just how it happened. The first morning that I could walk as far as this, you left me here at this very spot, and you went back to the house. I was told to whistle if I wanted anything. You remember?"
Almost perceptibly and with contempt she nodded.
"Well, when I did whistle, I whistled in that way—like a quail. You thought it was a real quail and you didn't come out. When finally you helped me back you spoke of hearing a quail, and of how much pleasure it gave you. You hoped he would not go away." And he smiled humbly, as he added: "And you made me promise not to shoot him."
She merely turned her eyes away, over the river, toward the sunset.
"And I thought then that if it gave you so much pleasure, why not keep on with it? The Lord knows the favors a helpless invalid can bestow are few enough! And the Lord also knows that I have no accomplishments. I cannot sing, or play, or recite poetry. At that time I could not even start a fire or bring in water. In fact, my sole accomplishment was to imitate a bird. 'Tis a humble gift, but I resolved to make the most of it."
She stood facing him, about a dozen feet away, a striking figure, with the light from the setting sun on her white dress, the dark recesses of the wood for a background. Into her face came no signs of relenting. But he detected in her eyebrows a slight movement as if to maintain a frown, and he ventured nearer, slowly, as a dog just punished manoeuvres for forgiveness. Removing his straw hat he knelt before her, his eyes upon the ground.
"I confess to a guilty feeling every time I did it. I knew a day of reckoning would come. But I was postponing it. I am ashamed, really ashamed; but on my honor my motive was good. Please be merciful."
"Are you serious?—or trying to be funny, and not really caring much about it?"
"I am serious; very serious."
"Do you realize what a contemptible trick it was—how mean-spirited and ungrateful?"
Lower still sank his head. "I do."
"And you promise never to deceive me again?"
"I swear it."
"You value my good opinion, I suppose."
"I would rather die than lose it!"
"Well, you have lost it, and forever."
From the bowed head came a groan. At this point Solomon approached the kneeling figure and placed his nose inquiringly against the criminal's ear. And the criminal involuntarily shrank from the cold contact. At this the lady smiled, but unobserved by the kneeling man.
"Are you sincerely and thoroughly ashamed?"
"Yes, oh, yes!"
"I don't like your manner."
"Please like it. I am honest now. I shall always be good."
"You couldn't. It isn't in you."
"There is going to be a mighty effort."
He obeyed. As their eyes met, he smiled, but with a frown she pointed toward the cottage. "Turn around and walk humbly with your head down. You are not to speak until spoken to. And you are to be in disgrace for three days."
"Oh! Three days?"
And again he obeyed.
Elinor was firm. For three days the disgrace endured. But it was not of a nature to demolish hope or even to retard digestion. And Solomon, who was a keen observer, displayed no unusual sympathy, and evidently failed to realize that his master was in any serious trouble.
On pleasant evenings Pats and Elinor often went to the beach below and sat upon the rocks, always attended by Solomon, the only chaperon at hand. Here they were nearer the water. And one evening they found much happiness in watching a big, round moon as it rose from the surface of the Gulf. The silence, the shimmer of the moonlight on the waters—all tended to draw lovers closer together. Already the heads of these two people were so near that the faintest tone sufficed. And they murmured many things—things strictly between themselves, that would appear of an appalling foolishness if repeated here—or anywhere. They also talked on serious subjects; subjects so transcendentally serious as to be of interest only by night. Like all other lovers they exchanged confidences. Once, when Pats was speaking of his family she suddenly withdrew her hand. "By the way, there is something to be explained. Tell me about that interview with your father."
"The disgraceful, murderous one."
Pats reflected. "There were several."
"Oh, Patsy! Are you so bad as that?"
"But you did not mean to do him injury, did you?"
"I do him injury?" he inquired, in a mild surprise. "Why, what are you driving at, Elinor?"
"I mean the quarrel in the arbor."
"And what happened?"
"You know very well."
"Indeed I do! But there were several quarrels. Which one do you mean?"
"I mean the one when you were violent—and murderous."
"But I wasn't."
"Yes, you were. I know all about it."
"If you know all about it, what do you want me to tell?"
"Tell about the worst quarrel of all."
"That must have been the last one."
"Well, tell me about that."
Pats took a long breath, then began: "The old gentleman was a hot Catholic. There was no harm in that, you will think. And I am not such a fool as to spoil a night like this by a religious discussion."
"Well, he insisted upon my becoming a Catholic priest. Now, for a young man just out of college—and Harvard College at that—it was a good deal to ask. Wasn't it?"
"One day in that summer-house he sailed away into one of his tempers—did you ever happen to see him in that condition?"
"No, but I have heard of them."
"Well, my mother was a Unitarian. So was I. And the gulf between a Unitarian and a Catholic priest is about as wide as from here to that moon. It was like asking me to become a beautiful young lady—or a green elephant—I simply couldn't. Perhaps you agree with me?"
"Go on. Don't ask so many questions."
"I told him, respectfully, it was impossible. Then as he made a rush for me I saw, from his eyes and his white face, that murder and sudden death were in the air. Being younger I could dodge him and get away, and that so increased his fury that he fell down on the gravel walk in a sort of convulsion—or fit. I ran into the house for assistance, and while Sally and Martha tried to bring him to I went for the doctor."
A silence followed this story. At last Elinor inquired if his father persisted.
"Persisted! That question, oh, Angel Cook, shows how little you knew my father! As soon as he recovered he lost no time in telling me to leave the house and never see him again."
"And what happened?"
"Oh!" A sympathetic pressure of his hand and the girl beside him leaned closer still. "Horrible! So you wandered out into the world and this is your home-coming. Well, Patsy, I shall never treat you in that way. When you are very obstinate I shall just put my arms around your neck and treat you very differently."
"Well," said Pats, "I think it safer for you to be doing that most of the time, anyway. It might stave off any inclination to obstinacy."
Here followed a snug, celestial silence, broken at last by Pats. "Would you mind telling me, O Light of the North, where you heard I was the attacking party at that interview?"
"No, I must not tell."
"Did Father Burke make you promise?"
"Why do you mention him?"
"For lots of reasons. One is that he is the only person on earth who could possibly have told you. But it was clever of him to warn you against me. I knew from his expression when he said good-by, on the boat, that he thought he had settled my prospects, and to his perfect satisfaction. However, I don't ask you to betray him. And I bear no malice. He did his best to undo me, but Love and all the angels were on my side."
She laughed gently. "And you all made a strong combination, Patsy."
Then another long silence, and soon he felt the lady leaning more heavily against him. The head drooped and he knew she slumbered. Having no wish to disturb her, he sat for a while without moving, and watched the moon and thought delectable thoughts of the creature by his side. And as his thoughts, involuntarily, and in an amiable spirit, travelled back to Father Burke, he smiled as he pictured quite a different expression on the face of the priest when he should learn what had happened. And the smile seemed reflected in the radiant countenance of the big, round moon mounting slowly in the heavens. She appeared to beam approval upon him and upon the precious burden he supported. But with the drowsiness which soon came stealing over him he saw—or dreamed he saw—out in the glistening path of light between the moon and him, not far from where he sat, an object like a human face, upturned, moving gently with the waves. And mingling among the quivering moonbeams around the head was a silvery halo that might be the hair of Father Burke; for the face resembled his.
Pats was startled and became wide awake. Even then, he thought he had a glimpse of the face with its silver hair, as it drifted out of the bar of light into the darkness, slowly, toward the sea.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
There came, with August, a perceptible shortening of the days. Cooler nights gave warning that the brief Canadian summer was nearing its end.
Pats labored on the raft, but the work was long. A float that would bear in safety two people down the river's current—and possibly out to sea—demanded size and strength and weight. Felling trees, trimming logs, and steering them down the river to the "ship-yard," proved a slower undertaking than had been foreseen. But nobody complained. The air they breathed and the life they led were in themselves annihilators of despair. It was an exhilarating, out-of-door life,—a life of love and labor and of ecstatic repose.
Both Elinor and Pats were up with the sun, and the days were never too long. To them it mattered little whether the evenings were long or short or cold or warm, for by the time the dishes were washed and the chores were done, they became too sleepy to be of interest to each other. And when the lady retired to her own chamber behind the tapestries, Pats, at his end of the cottage, always whistled gently or broke the silence in one way or another as a guarantee of distance, that she might feel a greater security.
As for lovers' quarrels none occurred that were seriously respected by either party. In fact there was but little to break the monotony of that solid, absolute content with which all days began and ended.
"'Tis love that makes the world go round."
There is no doubt of that, but two lovers, with unfailing appetites, however exalted their devotion, are sure, in time, to produce conspicuous results with any ordinary store of provisions. In the present instance the discovery—or realization—of this truth was accidental. It came one morning as Elinor, in a blue and white apron, with sleeves rolled up, was preparing corn-bread at the kitchen table—so they called the table near the fireplace at the end of the room. Pats came up from the cellar with a face of unusual seriousness.
"I have been an awful fool!"
She looked up with her sweetest smile:
"And that troubles you, darling?"
Without replying, he laid three potatoes on the table.
"I told you to get four."
"These are the last."
"Isn't there a second barrel?"
"Why, Patsy! We both saw it!"
"That's where I was a fool. I took it for granted the other barrel held potatoes because it looked like the first one."
"But it was full of something."
"Yes, but not potatoes. It is crockery, glassware, a magnificent table-set. Old Sevres, I should say."
"What a shame!" And with the back of a hand whose fingers were covered with corn-meal, she brushed a stray lock from her face.
"Yes," he went on, "it's a calamity, for we cannot afford it. I took an account of stock while I was down there, and all we have now in the way of vegetables is the dried apples. Of course, there's the garden truck,—the peas, beans, and the corn,—if it ever ripens."
After further conversation on that subject, Elinor said, with a sigh: "Well, we did enjoy those baked potatoes! We shall have to eat more eggs, that's all."
"Eggs!" and his face became distorted. "I am so chock full of eggs now that everything looks yellow. I dream of them. I cackle in my sleep. My whole interior is egg. I breathe and think egg. I gag when I hear a hen."
"But you are going to eat them all the same. We have a dozen a day, and you must do your share."
"Yes, you will."
As Pats's eyes fell on Solomon, he brightened up. "There's that dog eats only the very things we are unable to spare. Why shouldn't he eat eggs?"
"You might try and teach him."
"Tell me," said Pats, "why hens should lay nothing but eggs, always eggs? Why shouldn't they lay pears, lemons, tomatoes,—things we really need?"
In silence the lady continued her work.
"What do you think?"
"I think, considering your years, that your conversation is surprising. Eggs are very nourishing, and we are lucky to have them. Didn't I make you a nice omelette only a few days ago?"
"You did, and I never knew a better for its purpose. I still use it for cleaning the windows."
"Really! Well, you had better make it last, for you won't get another."
"Oh, don't be angry! I thought you meant it as a keepsake."
He approached with repentant air, but when threatened with her doughy hands, he retreated, and sat on the big chest by the window. This chest had served for his bed since his convalescence.
Elinor frowned, and pointed to the fire. Pats arose and laid on a fresh stick, then knelt upon the hearth and, with a seventeenth-century bellows, inlaid with silver, that would have graced the drawing-room of a palace, he coaxed the fire into a more active life.
"Now go out and bring in some wood. More small sticks. Not the big ones."
THE WOLF AT THE DOOR
During dinner, which occurred at noon, there were fewer words that day, and with somewhat more reflection than was usual. The store of provisions now rapidly disappearing, together with no prospect of immediate escape, furnished rich material for thought. Both knew the raft might prove a treacherous reliance. Instead of landing them on the opposite bank of the river there were excellent chances of its carrying them out to sea. And the prevailing westerly wind was almost sure to drive them backward to the east again. Pats had been all over this so many times in his own mind, and with Elinor, that the subject was pretty well exhausted. But still, from habit, he speculated.
"A penny for your thoughts."
He raised his eyes, and as they met her own his habitual cheerfulness returned. "My thoughts are worth more than that, for I was thinking of you."
"I was wondering how many days you could foot it through the wilderness before giving out."
"For ever, little Patsy, if you were with me."
"Then we have nothing to fear. We can both march on for ever. You are not only food and drink to me,—that is, the equivalent of corncake, potatoes, marmalade, and claret,—but your presence is life and strength and a spiritual tonic."
"That is a good sentiment," and she reached forth a hand, which he took.
"Merely to look at you," he continued, "will be exhilarating on a long march. And to hear your voice, and touch you—why, my soul becomes drunk in thinking of it."
"Then you expect to be in a state of intoxication during the whole journey?"
"That is my hope."
It happened, a few minutes later, that she herself became preoccupied, her eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the little portrait on the opposite chair.
"A dollar for your thoughts."
"Why so much?"
"Because any thought of yours," said Pats, "is worth at least a dollar."
"You are thinking, as usual, of that woman. The woman who has my place."
"It is her place; she had it before we came."
"But you ought to be looking at me all this time. I am the person for you to think about. I shall end by hating the woman."
"Oh, you mustn't be jealous. You can't hate her. Such a gentle face! And then all the mystery that goes with her! I would give anything to know who she was."
Pats scowled: "You would give Solomon and me, among other things."
"No, never!" And again she extended the hand, but he frowned upon it and drew back into the farther corner of his chair. She laughed. "And is Fatsy really jealous?"
"No, not jealous; but hurt, disgusted, outraged, and upset."
"Because I insist upon treating our hostess with respect and recognizing her rights?"
"Our hostess! More likely some female devil who beguiled the old man. Probably he was so ashamed of her he never dared go home again."
"Oh, Pats! I blush for you."
"It's a silly face."
"It is a face full of character."
"Oh, come now, Elinor! It would pass for a portrait of the full moon."
"Well, the full moon has character. And I love those big merry eyes with the funny little melancholy kind of droop at the outer corners. Poor thing! She must have had a sad life out here in the wilderness."
As their eyes met he frowned again, and she, for the third time, extended the hand. "A sad life, because she had no Pats."
But he refused the hand. "That is very clever, but too late. The stab had already reached home."
She smiled and began to fold her napkin.
"To return to business, Miss Marshall, of Boston, the provisions are so low that we really must decide on something."
"How long will they last?"
"Perhaps a month or six weeks. Could you pull through the winter on eggs and dried apples—and candles?"
He laughed. "I believe you could! You are an angel, a Spartan, and a sport. Your nature is simply an extravagant profusion of the highest human attributes. And the worst of it is, you look it. You are too beautiful—in a superior, overtopping way. You scare me."
She pushed back her chair. "You have said all that before."
"You remember the frog who was in love with the moon?"
She regarded him from the corners of her eyes, but made no reply.
"He used to sit in his puddle and adore her. One pleasant evening she came down out of the sky and kissed him."
"That was very good of her. And then what happened?"
"It killed him."
Elinor pushed back her chair, arose from the table and stood beside him. "Do you think it was a happy death?"
"Of course it was! Lucky devil!"
"Well, close your eyes and dream that I am the moon looking down at you."
With face upturned, just enough to make it easier for the moon, Pats closed his eyes. In serene anticipation he awaited the delectable contact that never failed to send a thrill of pleasure through all his being. But the tranquil, beatific smile changed swiftly to a very different expression as he felt against his lips—a slice of dried apple. And the cold moon stepped back beyond his reach, and laughed.
* * * * *
When the table had been cleared and the dishes washed Pats, Elinor, and Solomon went out behind the house and stood near the edge of the cliff. Eastward, across the bay, Pats pointed to a distant headland running out into the Gulf, the highest land in sight.
"As near as I can guess that hill is about twenty miles away. If there is nothing between to hinder I can walk it in a day. Now, from that highest point I can probably get a view for many miles. Who knows what lies beyond? There may be a settlement very near. In that case we are saved."
"And suppose there is none?"
"Then I return, and we are no worse off than we were before."
Elinor stood beside him, regarding the distant promontory with thoughtful eyes. He put his arm around her waist. "You see the sense of it, don't you?"
"Yes, I suppose so. How long would you be gone?"
"Not over three days."
"That is, three days and two nights."
"And if the ground is very rough, and there are swamps, and divers things, it might be longer still."
"And what am I to do while you are gone?"
"Oh, just wait."
She moved away and stood facing him.
"Yes, that is like a man. Just wait! Just wait and worry. Just watch by day and lie awake at night. Just be sick with anxiety for four or five days. You would find me dead when you returned. Why should not I go with you?"
He seemed surprised. Into the ever-cheerful face came a look of anxiety. "I am afraid it would be a hard tramp for you, Angel Cook. And there would be twice as much luggage to carry, and we should be a longer time away."
"I will carry my own luggage."
"But I shall go with you."
"Is that a final decision?"
She nodded, an emphatic, half-fierce little nod, and frowned.
Pats smiled. "Miss Elinor Marshall, I am, as I have before remarked, your humble and adoring slave. Your will is law. When shall we start?"
"Whenever you say."
She nodded, this time with a smile.
"As early as you please."
"Then at crack o' dawn we go."
And the next morning, at crack o' dawn, they started off, Pats with a knapsack so voluminous that he resembled a pedler.
Elinor thought it too much for him to carry. "You can never walk all day with that on your back. Pedestrians that I have seen never carry such loads."
"Then you have never seen pedestrians who carry their food and lodgings with them. And you forget that we are not in the zone of large hotels."
"I feel very guilty. If I were not along you would have less to carry."
"Have no fears, Light of the North. If one of us three falls by the wayside it will be neither Solomon nor myself."
This knapsack consisted of three blankets,—two of flannel, one of rubber,—some claret bottles filled with water, and food for five days. There was also coffee and a little brandy.
As they started off, along their own little beach, the sun was just appearing over the strip of land ahead. Solomon, in high spirits, galloped madly about on the hard sand, with an occasional plunge among the breakers. But Pats and Elinor, although similarly affected by the morning air, economized their steps, for a long day's tramp was before them.
At the eastern end of the beach, before entering the woods, both stopped and took a final look toward home. A rosy light was on sea and land. Beyond the beach, with its tumbling waves all aglow from the rising sun, stood the Point of Lory, and their eyes lingered about the cottage. Nestling peacefully among the pines, it also caught the morning light.
"Adieu, little house," said Elinor. And then, turning to Pats, "Why, I am really sorry to leave it."
"So am I, for it has given me the happiest days of my life—or of anybody's life."
In and out among the trees they tramped, three hours or more, with intervals for rest, generally through the woods, but always keeping near the coast unless for a shorter cut across the base of some little peninsula. Elinor stood it well and enjoyed with Pats the excitement of discovery. After a long nooning they pushed on until nearly sunset. When they halted for the night both explorers were still in good condition; but the next morning, in starting off, each confessed to a stiffness in the lower muscles. This disappeared, however, after an hour's walking.
Early in the afternoon of this second day's march they stood upon the top of the hill which, from a distance, had promised a commanding view. But they found, as so often happens to every kind of climber, that another hill, still higher and farther on, was the one to be attained. So they pushed ahead. Just before reaching the summit of this final hill Pats halted.
"Now comes a critical moment. What do you think we shall see?"
Elinor shook her head sadly. "I am prepared for the worst; for the wilderness, without a sign of human life."
Pats's ever-cheerful face took on a smile. "I suspect you are right, but I am not admitting it officially. I prophesy that we shall look down upon a large and very fashionable summer hotel."
"Awful thought!" And she smiled as she surveyed her own attire and that of Pats. "What a sensation we should create! You with that faded old flannel shirt, your two days' beard, and those extraordinary South African trousers; and I, sunburnt as a gypsy, with my hair half down—"
"No hair like it in the world—"
"And this weather-beaten dress. What would they take us for?"
"For what we are—tramps, happy tramps."
Five minutes later they stood upon the summit. To the eastward, as far as sight could reach, lay the same wild coast. For several miles every detail of the shore stood clearly out beneath a cloudless sky. Of man or his habitation they saw no sign. To the vast sweep of pines—like an ocean of sombre green—there was no visible limit either to the east or north. And southward, over the blue expanse, no sail or craft of any kind disturbed the surface of the sea. Here and there along the coast shone a strip of yellow beach with its fringe of glistening foam. Not far away an opening among the trees, extending inland for several miles, showed the grasses of a salt marsh.
In silence Pats and Elinor gazed upon this scene. Beautiful it was, grand, indescribably impressive; but it brought to both observers the keenest sense of their isolation. The vastness of it, and the stillness, brought a vague despair, and, to the girl, a sort of terror. Tears came to her eyes.
Pats turned and saw them. His own face had taken on a sadder look than was often allowed there, but his eyes met hers with their customary cheerfulness. For the first time since their acquaintance, Elinor wept—very gently, but she wept. All that a sympathetic and unskilful lover could do was done by Pats. He patted her back, kissed her hair, and suggested brandy. Her collapse, however, was of short duration. She drew back and smiled and apologized for her weakness.
"I am ashamed of myself for breaking down. But it's the first time, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is; and I have wondered at your courage. But do it all the time if you feel the least bit better."
She smiled and shook her head. "No, I shall not collapse again. I shall follow your example. You are always in good spirits."
"I? Well, I should think I might be! Here I am alone in the wilderness with the girl that all men desire,—and not a rival in sight! Why, I am in Heaven! I had never dreamed that a fellow could have such an existence."
* * * * *
When they descended the hill and started leisurely on the homeward march two smiling faces were illumined by the western sun.
THE HORN OF PLENTY
Heavy showers escorted the travellers during the last afternoon of their homeward march. Of the trio Solomon was the wettest, for his two friends were enfolded in a rubber blanket, drawn over their heads and shoulders and held together in front. Thus, by walking arm in arm and keeping close together, they escaped a soaking. But Elinor was tired, with a tendency to sadness. This was excusable, as the failure of the expedition left the choice of a perilous experiment on the raft or of starvation at the cottage. Even the saturated Solomon, as he preceded them with drooping head, seemed to have lost his buoyancy.
But Pats, whatever his inward state, continued an unfailing well-spring of cheerfulness and courage. Not a disheartening word escaped him, nor a sign of weakening. And his efforts to enliven his companion were persistent—and successful. Being of a hopeful and self-reliant nature this task was not so very difficult.
At last, toward the middle of the afternoon, in rain and mist, they came to the eastern end of their own beach. But all view was shut out. Both the cottage and the point of land on which it stood were hidden in the fog. As they tramped along this beach, on the hard wet sand, the wind and rain from the open sea came strong against their faces.
"It will be good to get back," said Elinor.
"Yes, but I like this better," and Pats drew the rubber blanket a little closer still. "Our life at the cottage is too confined; too cut and dried, too conventional and ceremonious."
"Too much company?"
"No, just enough. But too much routine and sameness. Above all, it is too laborious. The charm of this life is having no chores to be done. No shaving; no floors to scrub or windows to clean."
"Poor boy! And you must work doubly hard when we first get back. To begin with, you will have to eat your half of all the eggs that have been laid."
"Not an egg! I swear it!"
"Let's see—four days. That will make about thirty-six eggs. You must eat eighteen this afternoon."
Their heads were of necessity very close together, and as Pats with a frown turned his face to look at her, she continued: "And to-morrow being your birthday, you shall have a double allowance. Just think of being thirty-one years old! Why, Patsy, it take one's breath away."
"Yes, it is a stupendous thought."
"How does it feel?"
"Well, I can still see and hear a little; and I am holding on to my teeth. Of course, the lungs, liver, brain, and all the more perishable organs have long since gone."
"But the heart is still there, and thumping hard and strong for the finest woman in the world."
"Well, the heart is everything, and you are a good boy—I mean a good old man."
"And as soon as we get to the cottage I shall—" She pressed his arm, stopped suddenly, and listened. "Why, what was that?"
"What was what?"
"Out on the water, off the point there. I heard a noise like a steamboat."
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"I certainly thought so."
Again they listened. Nothing was heard, however, except the lapping of the waves along the beach.
At last, in a low tone, Pats muttered:
"A whole fleet might be within a mile on a day like this and nobody know it. Are you sure it wasn't Solomon? He is a heavy breather sometimes."
She sighed. "Very likely. With this blanket about one's ears anything was possible."
They started on again. A few moments later the final shower had ceased. Swiftly the clouds dispersed, but the mist, although illumined by the sun, still lingered over land and sea. Solomon, followed by his friends, climbed the gentle ascent at the end of the beach, and as they hastened on among the pines all felt a mild excitement on approaching the cottage.
Gathered about the doorway, as if to welcome the returning travellers, stood a few white hens and the pompous rooster. To this impressive bird Pats took off his hat with a deferential bow.
"Glad to see you again, Senator."
"Why 'Senator'? Because nobody listens when he talks?" Elinor had been to Washington.
"Yes; and he knows so little and feels so good over it."
From its hiding-place behind the vines, Pats took the key and opened the door. With a military salute he stood aside, and the lady entered. He followed; and as he unslung his knapsack Elinor looked about her with a pleased expression.
"How rich it all is!" she exclaimed. "I had forgotten what a splendid collection we had."
Pats drew a long breath, as if to inhale the magnificence.
"Are you familiar with bric-a-brac shops?" he asked.
"And with the rooms of old palaces and chateaux that are opened only when visitors arrive?"
"Well, this is that smell."
She also inhaled, and closed her eyes. "So it is."
"It's the tapestries and old wood, and the bloom on the paintings, I suppose. But it's good. I like it."
"It's a little musty, perhaps, but—"
She stopped so suddenly that Pats turned toward her. With a look of surprise she was pointing to the dining-table, close beside them. In the centre of this table, and very white against the dark oak, lay an envelope. Upon it had been placed a silver spoon to prevent disturbance from any possible gust of air through the open door.
"Some one has been here!" And she regarded Pats with startled eyes.
Before touching the letter he instinctively cast a look about the room for other evidence. While he was doing it, Elinor pointed toward the farther end of the cottage, to the kitchen table, and whispered:
Upon that table rested a pile of cans, boxes, and sundry packages. For a short moment both regarded in silence this almost incredible display. Then Pats took up the letter. On the envelope was no address—no name nor writing whatsoever. He turned it over in his fingers. "I suppose it is intended for the old gentleman, the owner of the place."
"And how careful they are that nobody shall know his name."
"There must have been several men here to bring up all these provisions, and whoever left the letter had no intention of giving the old gentleman away," and Pats tossed the letter upon the table.
Elinor in turn picked it up and looked it over. "I would like to know what it says."
"So would I," said Pats. "Let's open it."
"Open another man's letter!" And she frowned.
"It may not be a letter. It may be some information as to when they are coming again, or what he is to do about provisions or something important for us to know. Our getting away from here may depend on what is inside that envelope."
"Yes, that is possible."
"Well, open it."
But she handed it back to him. "No, you must do it."
Pats tore open the envelope. Elinor stepped nearer and stood beside him, that she also might read.
"It is in French." Then he began
"Monsieur le Duc—"
"Why, the old gentleman was a duke!" exclaimed Elinor.
"I am not surprised. You know we always suspected him of being a howling swell. But this writing and the language are too much for me. You really must read it." And he put the paper in her hands.
Elinor's French was perfect, but after the first sentence Pats interrupted:
"Translate as you go along. It is too important to take chances with, and I never was at home in that deceitful tongue."
Elinor dropped into the chair that stood beside her. Pats sat upon the edge of the table.
Monsieur Le Duc:
It is with a grand regret that I find myself unable to pay my respects in person to your Grace, but a broken ankle keeps me a prisoner in the cabin. If there is anything your Grace wishes to communicate, have the extreme goodness to send me a note by the bearer. He can be trusted. I leave the stores following last instructions. Enclosed is the list. The bearer will bring to me your new list from behind the door, if by chance you are not at home.
Your Grace's devoted servitor, Jacques Lafenestre.
She laid the letter on the table. "What a shame! It really tells us nothing."
"Not a thing. Lafenestre might at least have mentioned the date of the next visit."
"They all seem dreadfully afraid we may learn something." She took up the other paper and unfolded it. "This is the list."
Then she read:
"Four sacks corn-meal, Two sacks Graham flour, Four boxes crackers, Two barrels potatoes."
"Those must be downstairs," said Pats. "I see the cellar door is open."
"One box lemons, Four dozen candles, Four dozen Pontet Canet, Six pounds tobacco—"
"Good!" said Pats. "Just what we need."
She went on:
"Four pounds coffee, Four boxes matches, One pocket-knife, Six pairs woollen socks, Six old maids—"
"Six old maids: vieilles filles—that is certainly old maids."
"Yes, but, Heavens! What does he want so many for? And where are they? In the cellar?"
She smiled, still regarding the paper. "But you needn't worry. They are something to wear. It says six old maids, extra thick and double length."
"Double length! Well, each man to his taste. Go on."
"That is all," and she dropped the paper on the table and looked up into his face. Thoughtfully he stroked the three days' beard upon his chin. He was watching through the open door the last clouds of mist as they floated by, driven before the wind.
Suddenly he jumped to his feet. "Then you were right about the boat! You did hear one. And it was here an hour ago!"
Quickly he snatched a shotgun from the wall, rushed out of the house, down to the edge of the point and discharged one of the barrels. He shouted at the top of his voice, fired the second barrel and shouted again. For a few moments he stood looking off into the slowly dissolving fog, listening vainly for an answering sound.
Elinor joined him.
"I know it's of no use," he said, "for the wind is in the wrong direction. But I thought I would try it."
A moment later the final cloud of mist in which they stood was swept away, giving a clear view over all the waters to the south. And they saw, disappearing toward the west, around a promontory, a speck upon the blue horizon, and behind it a line of smoke.
In a melancholy silence both watched this far-away handful of vapor until it faded into space. When no trace remained of the vanished craft, Pats dropped the empty gun, slowly turned his head and regarded his companion. In Elinor's eyes, as they met his own, he recognized a gallant effort at suppressing tears. Remembering her resolve of yesterday he smiled,—a smile of admiration, of gratitude, and encouragement.
She also smiled, for she read his thoughts. And something more was plainly written in his face,—that self-effacing, immortal thing that lovers live on; and it shone clear and honest from this lover's eyes. Whereupon she stepped forward; he gathered her in his arms, and an ancient ceremony was observed,—very ancient, indeed, primitive and easily executed.
Solomon, weary of this oft-repeated scene, looked away with something like a sigh, then closed his eyes in patience.
Along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence Gulf, through the cold, gray light of early dawn, a yacht was steaming eastward.
Leaning against the rail, near the bow, a woman with eager eyes watched the elusive coast. But this coast, in the spreading light, was rapidly revealing itself, becoming less ethereal, more savage and majestic. The woman was daintily attired. Every detail of her apparel, from the Parisian hat to the perfect-fitting shoes, while simple and designed expressly pour le voyage, was sumptuous in its simplicity. Although about thirty-five years of age, her round, rather wide face, graceful figure, and vivacious expression would have made deception easy if she cared to practise it. In feelings, in manner, and in appearance, she was eighteen. And she would never be older. A peculiar droop at the outer corners of two large and very dark eyes, and a mouth—too small for the face—with a slight and rather infantile projection of the upper lip gave a plaintive, half-melancholy expression to an otherwise merry and youthful face.
Behind her, pacing to and fro, a strongly built, elderly man with heavy face and heavy hands, also watched the coast.
"Voila, Jacques!" and the lady pointed to a promontory in front, just revealed by the vanishing mist. "Le voila, n'est-ce pas?"
The man stepped forward and stood beside her. After a careful scrutiny he replied, also in French:
"Truly, I think it is."
"Ah, le bonheur! At last! And how soon shall we land?"
He hesitated, stroking the end of his nose with a stubby finger. "In less than two hours."
"In less than two hours! Absurd! You mean to say in less than twenty minutes, is it not?"
He shrugged his shoulders in respectful protestation. "But, Princess, deign to remember that we are still some miles from this headland, and that Monsieur, your father, is yet farther away,—some fifteen miles, at the very end of the bay which lies beyond."
She frowned and turned away. "Are we going as fast as possible?"
"I think so."
"Well, if you are not sure of it, Jacques, go down and tell that engineer to enliven his exasperating machinery. Make everything turn faster, or I shall jump into the sea and swim ahead. It is of a slowness to rend the nerves."
Jacques Lafenestre moved away to carry out this order. From his youth up he had served this lady and her parents. And when the father, for excellent reasons, left France in haste and came into the wilderness, the old servant followed. Later on he settled in Quebec as keeper of an inn. And ever since that day he had maintained communication with his master.
As the Princess walked impatiently up and down the deck, erect and with elastic tread, often looking at her watch and frowning, she gave the impression of a commanding little person, much accustomed to having her own way—and with no talent for resignation. And when, a few moments later, another individual appeared upon the deck, a tall, thin, dark-robed ecclesiastic, evidently of high degree, with fine features and a stately bearing, she hastened to express her annoyance. To his polite greeting she replied rapidly:
"Good-morning, your Grace; but tell me, did you ever see anything like this boat? Did you ever imagine a thing could crawl with such a slowness—such a slowness? I shall die of it! I believe the screw is working backwards."
The Archbishop smiled,—that is, his mouth lengthened, for mirth and he were strangers,—"But it seems to me we move, Princess, and quite rapidly."
"Rapidly! Well, never mind. Time and the wind will get us there. But why are you up so early? This is an hour when gentlemen are abed."
"I could not sleep."
"Ah, the misfortune! For you may have a hard day. Remember, you are to do your best, and use your strongest arguments. You will need them. My father is wilful."
"Have no fears, Princess, I shall do all in my power, for the cause seems righteous. The Duc de Fontrevault is, as you say, too old a man to be left alone under such conditions."
"Surely! And you are the one of all others to convince him. He will not listen to the rest of us. And don't fail to impress upon him his duty to his family. That is your strongest point, is it not?"
"Yes, and that now he can return with safety."
She shook her head. "No, do not rely too much on that, for he loves his wilderness. And he has known for a long time all danger was past. Better attack his conscience, and his sense of duty."
"As you say, Princess. And I shall spare no effort."
"Then you will succeed." And looking up with a smile, "You could convince anybody of anything, dear Archbishop. A few words from you, if you could only get him alone, and the devil himself would turn over a new leaf—perhaps join the Church. Who knows?"
For these sentiments his Grace had no responsive smile. This lady from Paris, while a good Catholic, seemed to have so little reverence for certain sanctities that he was always on his guard. Her nature was not of the sort he preferred to deal with. There were too many conflicting elements. No one could tell with precision just when she was serious or when she was having a little fun. And, moreover, the dignity of an archbishop was not a thing to be compromised. But she was a grande dame, a person of great influence—also of great wealth and a free giver. And the Archbishop was no fool.
As they rounded the promontory and came in sight of the bay the emotion of the Princess was apparent. Impatiently she walked the deck. With the sun once fairly above the water, the little point of land at the farther end of the bay showed clearly in the morning light.
She beckoned the old servant to her side.
"There it is, Jacques! I see distinctly the cottage, a little mass of green against the shadows of the pines. And surely there is smoke from the chimney! My father is an early riser; already up and cooking his breakfast. Is it not so, Jacques?"
"Yes, I do not doubt Monsieur le Duc cooks his breakfast at this moment."
"What enormous trees!" she went on. "Beautiful, beautiful! And they stretch away forever. An ocean of pines! I had forgotten they were so tall—so gigantic. How many minutes now, Jacques, before we arrive?"
Jacques frowned and shrugged his heavy shoulders. "I shall not tell you."
"Wicked old man!"
And again, through her glass, she studied the coast.
He had carried this lady in his arms before she could walk; he had superintended, in a way, her childhood; and so, like many old servants in France, he was not expected to bear in mind, at all times, certain differences in birth.
With a fresh enthusiasm she exclaimed: "And there, down below, to the right, is the little beach—the ravishing little beach! How I loved it! Here, take the glasses, Jacques, and regard it."
Jacques regarded. "Yes, it is a good beach."
She dropped the glasses in their case, folded the daintily gloved hands upon the rail, and for several moments gazed in silence at the coast in front. Her face, in repose, became somewhat sadder, and now there was a moisture in the eyes.
"Tell me again, Jacques, just how long it is since you were here?"
"Much can happen in eight months."
"Yes, without doubt, but then it is to be remembered that when I was here last, in the month of September—all went well."
"You did not see him yourself, however."
"No, my broken ankle kept me aboard, but those who went ashore with the provisions brought a good report."
"But they did not see him."
"No, for he was away, probably on one of his hunting trips. But why disquiet yourself, Princess? We see the smoke rising from the chimney."
"Yes, it is true. You have reason."
When, at last, they arrived, the Princess was one of the first to land, and she hastened up the narrow path to the grove above. Although in haste to greet her father, she paused among the big trees to inhale the piney fragrance. With a smile of rapture she gazed upward and about. These old friends! How unchanged! And how many years they carried her back! As a very little girl her imagination had revelled without restraint and, to her heart's desire, in this enchanted grove. And now she was listening to the old-time murmurings, high above—the same plaintive whispering—the familiar voices, never to be forgotten—that told her everything a little girl could wish to hear, and whenever she cared to hear it.
But she lingered for a moment only. With eager steps she hurried toward the cottage—picturing to herself an old gentleman's amazement when he recognized his visitor.
The door was open. She stood upon the threshold and looked in—and listened. No sound came to her ears except from the old clock behind the door. How familiar this solemn warning of the passing time! It seemed a part of her youth, left behind and suddenly found again. But her heart was beating many times faster than the stately ticking of this passionless machine. Silently she entered and stood beside the table. She saw the hangings, the pictures, the busts, the furniture, precisely as she had known them, years ago.
From behind the tapestry came a sound, faintly, as of some one moving. She smiled and there was a quivering of the lips. Then, in a low but clear voice, she said:
The rustle of a sudden movement—and an exclamation half suppressed—came from within the chamber. Then the tapestry was pushed aside.
The Princess, at sight of the figure that emerged, took a backward step, her smile of welcome supplanted by a look of wonder. Another woman stood before her, also pausing in surprise, a hand still holding the tapestry. This woman was young and slight of figure, erect, dark-haired, and sunburned. In a single glance the quick eye of the Princess took in a number of details. She noticed that the stranger wore a jacket so faded that no trace of its original color remained; that the skirt, equally faded, was also stained and patched. But to the critical Parisian it was obvious that these garments, although threadbare, frayed, and weather-beaten, fitted extremely well.
Now, while the Princess was the more surprised of the two, the girl in the faded garments experienced a greater bewilderment. For this visitor bore a startling resemblance to the miniature,—the wife whose grave was among the pines. And Elinor stared, as if half awake, at the round face, the drooping eyes, and the very familiar features of this sudden guest. Even the arrangement of the hair was unchanged, and the infantile mouth appeared exactly as depicted in the little portrait that hung beside her. Had this portrait come to life and stood near its own chair, the effect would have been the same.
But the lady from Paris was the first to find her voice. In French, with somewhat frigid politeness, she said:
"Pardon me, Mademoiselle; I expected to find another person here."
Also in French the girl replied:
"Madame is the daughter, perhaps, of the gentleman who lived here?"
The Princess, with her head, made a slight affirmative movement. And she frowned more from anxiety than resentment as she asked: "You say lived here. Does he not live here now?"