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The Stolen Singer
by Martha Idell Fletcher Bellinger
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Agatha made a pillow for James's head and sat by him, looking earnestly at his flushed face; and from her heart she sighed, "Ah, dear man, it was too hard! It was too hard!"

It was a long and weary wait for help, though help of a most efficient kind was on the way. Agatha had been looking and listening toward the upper wood, whither Hand had disappeared. She had even called, from time to time, on the chance that she could help to guide the assisting party back to the cove. At last, as she listened for a reply to her call, she heard another sound that set her wondering; it was the p-p-peter-peter of a motor-boat. She looked out over the small expanse of ocean that was visible to her, but could see nothing. Nevertheless the boat was approaching, as its puffing proclaimed. It grew more and more distinct, and presently a strong voice shouted "Ahoy! Are you there?"

Three times the shout came. Agatha made a trumpet of her hands and answered with a call on two notes, clear and strong. "All right!" came back; and then, "Call again! We can't find you!" And so she called again and again, though there were tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat for very relief and joy. When her eyes cleared, she saw the boat, and watched while it anchored well off the rocks; then two men put ashore in a rowboat.

"And where are our patients?" came a deep, steady voice from the rocks.

"This way, sir. I think mademoiselle has moved the camp up under the trees," was the reply, unmistakably the voice of Mr. Hand.

And there they found Agatha, kneeling by James and trying to coax him to his feet. "Quick, they have come! You will be cared for now, you will be well again!" she was saying. She saw Hand approach and heard him say: "This way, Doctor Thayer. The gentleman is up here under the trees," and then, for the first time in all the long ordeal, Agatha's nerves broke and her throat filled with sobs. As the ex-chauffeur came near, she reached a hand up to him, while with the other she covered her weeping eyes in shame.

"Oh, I'm so glad you've come! I'm so glad you've come!" she tried to say, but it was only a whisper through her sobs.

"I'm sorry I was gone so long," said Hand, touching her timidly on the shoulder.

"Tell the doctor to take care of him," she begged in the faintest of voices; and then she crept away, thinking to hide her nerves until she should come to herself again. But Hand followed her to the niche in the rocks where she fled, covered her with something big and warm, and before she knew it he had made her drink a cup that was comforting and good. Then he gave her food in little bits from a basket, and sweet water out of a bottle. Agatha's soul revived within her, and her heart became brave again, though she still felt as if she could never move from her hard, damp resting-place among the rocks.

"You stay there, please, Mademoiselle," adjured Mr. Hand. "When we get the boat ready, I'll come for you." Then, standing by her in his submissive way, he added a thought of his own: "It's very hard, Mademoiselle, to see you cry!"

"I'm not crying," shrieked Agatha, though her voice was muffled in her arms.

"Very well, Mademoiselle," acquiesced the polite Hand, and departed.

Two men could not have been found who were better fitted for managing a relief expedition than Hand and Doctor Thayer. Agatha found herself, after an unknown period of time, sitting safe under the canvas awning of the launch, protected by a generous cloak, comforted with food and stimulant, and relieved of the pressing anxiety, that had filled the last hours in the cove.

She had, in the end, been quite unable to help; but the immediate need for her help was past. Doctor Thayer, coming with his satchel of medicines, had at first given his whole attention to James, examining him quickly and skilfully as he lay where Agatha had left him. Later he came to Agatha with a few questions, which she answered clearly; but James, left alone, immediately showed such a tendency to wander around, following the hallucinations of his brain, that the doctor decided that he must have a sedative before he could be taken away. The needle, that friend of man in pain, was brought into use; and presently they were able to leave the cove. Doctor Thayer and Mr. Hand carried James to the rowboat, and the engineer, who had stayed in the launch, helped them lift him into the larger boat. "No more walking at present for this man!" said the doctor.

They were puffing briskly over the water, with the tiny rowboat from the Jeanne D'Arc and the boat belonging to the launch cutting a long broken furrow behind them. Mr. Hand was minding the engine, while the engineer and owner of the launch, Little Simon—so-called probably because he was big—stood forward, handling the wheel. Jim was lying on some blankets and oilskins on the floor of the boat, the doctor sitting beside him on a cracker-box. Agatha, feeling useless and powerless to help, sat on the narrow, uncomfortable seat at the side, watching the movements of the doctor. She was unable to tell whether doubt or hope prevailed in his rugged countenance.

At last she ventured her question; but before replying Doctor Thayer looked up at her keenly, as if to judge how much of the truth she would be able to bear.

"The hemorrhage was caused by the strain," he said at last, slowly. "It is bad enough, with this fever. If his constitution is sound, he may pull through."

Not very encouraging, but Agatha extracted the best from it. "Oh, I'm so thankful!" she exclaimed. Doctor Thayer looked at her, a deep interest showing in his grim old face. While she looked at James, he studied her, as if some unusual characteristic claimed his attention, but he made no comment.

Doctor Thayer was short in stature, massively built, with the head and trunk of some ancient Vulcan. His heavy, large features had a rugged nobility, like that of the mountains. His face was smooth-shaven, ruddy-brown, and deeply marked with lines of care; but most salient of all his features was the massively molded chin and jaw. His lips, too, were thick and full, without giving the least impression of grossness; and when he was thinking, he had a habit of thrusting his under jaw slightly forward, which made him look much fiercer than he ever felt. Thin white hair covered his temples and grew in a straggling fringe around the back of his head, upon which he wore a broad-brimmed soft black hat.

Doctor Thayer would have been noticeable, a man of distinction, anywhere; and yet here he was, with his worn satchel and his old-fashioned clothes, traveling year after year over the country-side to the relief of farmers and fishermen. He knew his science, too. It never occurred to him to doubt whether his sphere was large enough for him.

"I haven't found out yet where we are, or to what place we are going. Will you tell me, sir?" asked Agatha.

"You came ashore near Ram's Head, one of the worst reefs on the coast of Maine; and we're heading now for Charlesport; that's over yonder, beyond that next point," Doctor Thayer answered. After a moment he added: "I know nothing about your misfortunes, but I assume that you capsized in some pesky boat or other. When you get good and ready, you can tell me all about it. In the meantime, what is your name, young woman?"

The doctor turned his searching blue eyes toward Agatha again, a courteous but eager inquiry underneath his brusque manner.

"It is a strange story, Doctor Thayer," said Agatha somewhat reluctantly; "but some time you shall hear it. I must tell it to somebody, for I need help. My name is Agatha Redmond, and I am from New York; and this gentleman is James Hambleton of Lynn—so he told me. He risked his life to save mine, after we had abandoned the ship."

"I don't doubt it," said Doctor Thayer gruffly. "Some blind dash into the future is the privilege of youth. That's why it's all recklessness and foolishness."

Agatha looked at him keenly, struck by some subtle irony in his voice. "I think it is what you yourself would have done, sir," she said.

The doctor thrust out his chin in his disconcerting way, and gave not the least smile; but his small blue eyes twinkled.

"My business is to see just where I'm going and to know exactly what I'm doing," was the dry answer. He turned a watchful look toward James, lying still there between them; then he knelt down, putting an ear over the patient's heart.

"All right!" he assured her as he came up. "But we never know how those organs are going to act." Satisfying himself further in regard to James, he waited some time before he addressed Agatha again. Then he said, very deliberately: "The ocean is a savage enemy. My brother Hercules used to quote that old Greek philosopher who said, 'Praise the sea, but keep on land.' And sometimes I think he was right."

Agatha's tired mind had been trying to form some plan for their future movements. She was uneasily aware that she would soon have to decide to do something; and, of course, she ought to get back to New York as soon as possible. But she could not leave James Hambleton, her friend and rescuer, nor did she wish to. She was pondering the question as the doctor spoke; then suddenly, at his words, a curtain of memory snapped up. "My brother Hercules" and "Charlesport!"

She leaned forward, looking earnestly into the doctor's face. "Oh, tell me," she cried impulsively, "is it possible that you knew Hercules Thayer? That he was your brother? And are we in the neighborhood of Ilion?"

"Yes—yes—yes," assented the doctor, nodding to each of her questions in turn; "and I thought it was you, Agatha Shaw's girl, from the first. But you should have come down by land!" he dictated grimly.

"Oh, I didn't intend to come down at all," cried Agatha; "either by land or water! At least not yet!"

Doctor Thayer's jaw shot out and his eyes shone, but not with humor this time. He looked distinctly irritated. "But my dear Miss Agatha Redmond, where did you intend to go?"

Agatha couldn't, by any force of will, keep her voice from stammering, as she answered: "I wasn't g-going anywhere! I was k-kidnapped!"

Doctor Thayer looked sternly at her, then reached toward his medicine chest. "My dear young woman—" (Why is it that when a person is particularly out of temper, he is constrained to say My Dear So and So?) "My dear young woman," said Doctor Thayer, "that's all right, but you must take a few drops of this solution. And let me feel your pulse."

"Indeed, Doctor, it is all so, just as I say," interrupted Agatha. "I'm not feverish or out of my head, not the least bit. I can't tell you the whole story now; I'm too tired—"

"Yes, that's so, my dear child!" said the doctor, but in such an evident tone of yielding to a delirious person, that he nearly threw her into a fever with anger. But on the whole, Agatha was too tired to mind. He took her hand, felt of her pulse, and slowly shook his head; but what he had to say, if he had anything, was necessarily postponed. The launch was putting into the harbor of Charlesport.

Even on the dull day of their arrival, Charlesport was a pleasant looking place, stretching up a steep hill beyond the ribbon of street that bordered its harbor. Fish-houses and small docks stood out here and there, and one larger dock marked the farthest point of land. A great derrick stood by one wharf, with piles of granite block near by. Little Simon was calling directions back to Hand at the engine as they chugged past fishing smacks and mooring poles, past lobster-pot buoys and a little bug-lighthouse, threading their way into the harbor and up to the dock. Agatha appealed to the doctor with great earnestness.

"Surely, Doctor Thayer, it is a Providence that we came in just here, where people will know me and will help me. I need shelter for a little while, and care for my sick friend here. Where can we go?"

Doctor Thayer cast a judicial eye over the landscape, while he held his hat up into the breeze. "It's going to clear; it'll be a fine afternoon," said he. Then deliberately: "Why don't you go up to the old red house? Sallie Kingsbury's there keeping it, just as she did when Hercules was alive; waiting for you or the lawyer or somebody to turn her out, I guess. And it's only five miles by the good road. You couldn't go to any of these sailor shacks down here, and the big summer hotel over yonder isn't any place for a sick man, let alone a lady without her trunk."

Agatha looked in amazement at the doctor. "Go to the old red house—to stay?"

"Why not? If you're Agatha Redmond, it's yours, isn't it? And I guess nobody's going to dispute your being Agatha Shaw's daughter, looking as you do. The house is big enough for all creation; and, besides, they've been on pins and needles, waiting for you to come, or write, or do something." The doctor gave a grim chuckle. "Hercules surprised them all some, by his will. But they'll all be glad to see you, I guess, unless it is Sister Susan. She was always pretty hard on Hercules; and she didn't approve of the will—thought the house ought to go to the Foundling Asylum."

Agatha looked as if she saw the gates of Eden opened to her. "But could I really go there? Would it be all right? I've not even seen the lawyer." There was no need of answers to her questions; she knew already that the old red house would receive her, would be a refuge for herself and for James, who needed a refuge so sorely.

The doctor was already making his plans. "I'll drive this man here," indicating James, "and he'll need some one to nurse him for a while, too. You can go up in one of Simon Nash's wagons; and I'll get a nurse up there as soon as I can."

The launch had tied up to the larger dock, and Hand and Little Simon had been waiting some minutes while Agatha and the doctor conferred together. Now, as Agatha hesitated, the businesslike Hand was at her elbow. "I can help you, Mademoiselle, if you will let me. I have had some experience with sick men." Agatha looked at him with grateful eyes, only half realizing what it was he was offering. The doctor did not wait, but immediately took the arrangement for granted. He began giving orders in the tone of a man who knows just what he wants done, and knows also that he will be obeyed.

"You stay here, Mr. Hand, and help with this gentleman; and Little Simon, here, you go up to your father's livery stable and harness up, quick as you can. Then drive up to my place and get the boy to bring my buggy down here, with the white horse. Quick, you understand? Tell them the doctor's waiting."

Agatha sat in the launch while the doctor's orders were carried out. Little Simon was off getting the vehicles; Doctor Thayer had run up the dock to the village street on some errand, saying he would be back by the time the carriages were there; and Hand was walking up and down the dock, keeping a watchful eye on the launch. James was lying in the sheltered corner of the boat, ominously quiet. His eyes were closed, and his face had grown ghastly in his illness. Tears came to Agatha's eyes as she looked at him, seeing how much worse his condition was than when he had talked with her, almost happily, in the night. She herself felt miserably tired and ill; and as she waited, she had the sensation one sometimes has in waiting for a train; that the waiting would go on for ever, would never end.

The weather changed, as the doctor had prophesied, and the rain ceased. Fresh gusts of wind from the sea blew clouds of fog and mist inland, while the surface of the water turned from gray to green, from green to blue. The wind, blowing against the receding tide, tossed the foam back toward the land in fantastic plumes. Agatha, looking out over the sea, which now began to sparkle in the light, longed in her heart to take the return of the sunshine as an omen of good. It warmed and cheered her, body and soul.

As her eyes turned from the sea to the village tossed up beyond its highest tides, she searched, though in vain, for some spot which she could identify with the memories of her childhood. She must have seen Charlesport in some one of her numerous visits to Ilion as a child; but though she recalled vividly many of her early experiences, they were in no way suggestive of this tiny antiquarian village, or of the rocky hillside stretching off toward the horizon. A narrow road wound athwart the hill, leading into the country beyond. It was steep and rugged, and finally it curved over the distant fields.

But the old red house was the talisman that brought back to her mind the familiar picture. She wondered if it lay over the hill beyond that rugged road. She closed her eyes and saw the green fields, the mighty balm-of-gilead tree, the lilac bushes, and the dull red walls of the house standing back from the village street, not far from the white-steepled church. She could see it all, plainly. The thought came to her suddenly that it was home. It was the first realization she had of old Hercules Thayer's kindness. It was Home for her who had else been homeless. She hugged the thought in thankfulness.

"Now, Miss Agatha Redmond, if you will come—"

The eternity had ended; and time, with its swift procession of hours and days, had begun again.



CHAPTER XII

SEEING THE RAINBOW

A few days on a yacht, with a calm sea and sun-cool weather, may be something like a century of bliss for a pair of lovers, if they happen to have taken the lucky hour. The conventions of yacht life allow a companionship from dawn till dark, if they choose to have it; there is a limited amount of outside distraction; if the girl be an outdoor lass, she looks all the sweeter for the wind rumpling her hair; and on shipboard, if anywhere, mental resourcefulness and good temper achieve their full reward.

Aleck had been more crafty than he knew when he carried Melanie and Madame Reynier off on the Sea Gull. Almost at the last moment Mr. Chamberlain had joined them, Aleck's liking for the man and his instinct of hospitality overcoming his desire for something as near as possible to a solitude a deux with Melanie.

They could not have had a better companion. Mr. Chamberlain was nothing less than perfect in his position as companion and guest. He enjoyed Madame Reynier's grand duchess manners, and spared himself no trouble to entertain both Madame Reynier and Melanie. He was a hearty admirer, if not a suitor, of the younger woman; but certain it was, that, if he ever had entertained personal hopes in regard to her, he buried them in the depths of his heart by the end of their first day on the Sea Gull. He understood Aleck's position with regard to Melanie without being told, and instantly brought all his loyalty and courtesy into his friend's service.

Madame Reynier had an interest in seeing the smaller towns and cities of America; "something besides the show places," she said. So they made visits ashore here and there, though not many. As they grew to feel more at home on the yacht, the more reluctant they were to spend their time on land. Why have dust and noise and elbowing people, when they might be cutting through the blue waters with the wind fresh in their faces? The weather was perfect; the thrall of the sea was upon them.

The roses came into Melanie's cheeks, and she forgot all about the professional advice which she had been at such pains to procure in New York. There was happiness in her eyes when she looked on her lover, even though she had repulsed him. As for Mr. Chamberlain, he breathed the very air of content. Madame Reynier, with her inscrutable grand manner, confessed that she had never before been able precisely to locate Boston, and now that she had seen it, she felt much better. Even Aleck's lean bulk seemed to expand and flourish in the atmosphere of happiness about him. His sudden venture was a success, beyond a doubt. The party had many merry hours, many others full of a quiet pleasure, none that were heavy or uneasy.

If Aleck's outer man prospered in this unexpected excursion, it can only be said that his spiritual self flowered with a new and hitherto unknown beauty. It was a late flowering, possibly—though what are thirty-four years to Infinity?—but there was in it a richness and delicacy which was its own distinction and won its own reward.

Melanie's words, spoken in their long interview in the New York home, had contained an element of truth. There was a poignant sincerity in her saying, "You do not love me enough," which touched Aleck to the center of his being. He was not niggardly by nature; and had he given stintingly of his affection to this woman who was to him the best? His whole nature shrank from such a role, even while he dimly perceived that he had been guilty of acting it. If he had been small in his gift of love, it was because he had been the dupe of his theories; he had forsworn gallantry toward women, and had unwittingly cast aside warmth of affection also.

But such a condition was, after all, more apparent than real. In his heart Aleck knew that he did love Melanie "enough," however much that might be. He loved her enough to want, not only and not mainly, what she could give to him; but he wanted the happiness of caring for her, cherishing her, rewarding her faith with his own. She had not seen that, and it was his problem to make her see it. There was only one way. And so, in forgetting himself, forgetting his wants, his comforts, his studies and his masculine will—herein was the blossoming of Aleck's soul.

Melanie instinctively felt the subtle change, and knew in her heart that Aleck had won the day, though she still treated their engagement as an open question. Aleck would read to her in his simple, unaffected manner, sometimes with Madame Reynier and Mr. Chamberlain also for audience, sometimes to her alone. And since they lived keenly and loved, all books spoke to them of their life or their love. A line, a phrase, a thought, would ring out of the record, and each would be glad that the other had heard that thought; sometime they would talk it all over. They learned to laugh at their own whimsical prejudices, and then insisted on them all the harder; they learned, each from the other, some bit of robust optimism, some happiness of vision, some further reach of thought.

After they had read, they would play at quoits, struggling sternly against each other; or Chamberlain would examine Melanie in nautical lore; or together, in the evening, they would trace the constellations in the heavens. During their first week they were in the edge of a storm for a night and a day; but they put into harbor where they were comfortable and safe, and merry as larks through it all.

So, day by day, Aleck hedged Melanie about with his love. Was she thoughtful? He let her take, as she would, his thoughts, the best he could give from his mature experience. Was she gay? He liked that even better, and delighted to cap her gaiety with his own queer, whimsical drolleries. Whatever her mood, he would not let her get far from him in spirit. It was not in her heart to keep him from her; but Aleck achieved the supermundane feat of making his influence felt most keenly when she was alone. She dwelt upon him in her thoughts more intensely than she herself knew; and that intenseness was only the reflection of his own thought for her.

They had been sailing a little more than a week, changing the low, placid Connecticut fields for the rougher northern shores, going sometimes farther out to sea, but delighting most in the sweet, pine-fringed coast of Maine. There were no more large cities to visit, only small villages where fishermen gathered after their week's haul or where slow, primitive boat-building was still carried on. Most of the inhabitants of the coast country appeared to be farmers as well as fishermen, even where the soil was least promising. The aspect of the shores was that of a limited but fairly prosperous agricultural community. Under the shadow of the hills were staid little homes, or fresh-painted smart cottages. Sometimes a bold rock-bank formed the shore for miles and miles, and the hills would vanish for a space. Here and there were headlands formed by mighty boulders, against which the waves endlessly dashed and as endlessly foamed back into the sea.

Such a headland loomed up on their starboard one evening when the sun was low; and as the plumes of spray from the incoming waves rose high in the air a rainbow formed itself in the fleeting mist. It was a fairy picture, repeating itself two or three times, no more.

"That's my symbol of hope," said Aleck quite impersonally, to anybody who chose to hear.

Mr. Chamberlain turned to Aleck with his ready courtesy. "Not the only one you have received, I hope, on this charming voyage."

Madame Reynier was ready with her pleasant word. "Aren't we all symbols for you—if not of hope, then of your success as a host? We've lost our aches and our pains, our nerves and our troubles; all gone overboard from the Sea Gull."

"You're all tremendously good to me, I know that," said Aleck, his slow words coming with great sincerity.

Melanie kept silence, but she remembered the rainbow.

The headland was the landward end of a small island, one part of which was thickly wooded. A large unused house stood in a clearing, evidently once a rather pretentious summer residence, though now there were many signs of delapidation. The pier on the beach had been almost entirely beaten down by storms, and a small, flimsy slip had taken its place, running far down into the water. A thin line of smoke rose from the chimney of one of the outbuildings; and while they looked and listened the raucous cry of a peacock came to them over the still water. Presently Chamberlain suggested:

"I feel it in my bones that there'll be lobsters over there to be had for the asking. I heard your man say he wanted lobsters, Van; and I believe I'll row over there and see. I'm feeling uncommonly fit and need some exercise."

"All right, I'll go too," said Aleck.

"I'll bet a bouquet that I beat you rowing over—Miss Reynier to furnish the bouquet!" was Chamberlain's next proposition. "Do you agree to that, my lady?"

"And pray, where should I get a bouquet?"

"Oh, the next time we get on land. And we won't put up with any old bouquet of juniper bushes and rocks, either. We want a good, old-fashioned round bouquet of garden posies, with mignonette round the edge and a rose in the middle; a sure-enough token of esteem—that kind of thing, you know. Is it a bargain, Miss Reynier?"

"Very well, it is a bargain," agreed Melanie; "but I shall choose bachelors' buttons!"

So they took the tender and got off, with a great show of exactness as to time and strictness of rules. Madame Reynier was to hold the watch, and Aleck was to wave a white handkerchief the minute they touched sand. Mr. Chamberlain was to give a like signal when they started back. The yacht slowed down, and held her place as nearly as possible.

Chamberlain pulled a great oar, and was, in fact, far superior to Aleck in point of skill; but his stroke was not well adapted to the choppy waves inshore. He had learned it on the sleepy Cam, where the long, gliding blade counts best. The men stayed ashore a long time, disappearing entirely beyond the clump of trees that screened the outbuildings. When they reappeared, an old man was with them, following them down to the boat. Then the white handkerchief appeared, and the boat started on its return.

Aleck profited by Chamberlain's work, and made the boat leap forward by a shorter, almost jerky stroke. He came back easily with five minutes to spare.

"Good work!" said Mr. Chamberlain. "You have me beaten, and you'll get the bachelors' buttons; but you had the tide with you."

"Nonsense! I had the lobsters extra!" asserted Aleck.

"Well, if you had been born an Englishman, we'd make an oarsman out of you yet!"

"Huh!" said Aleck.

But they had news to tell the ladies, and while they were having their dinner their thoughts were turned to another matter. The island, it appeared, had for some years been abandoned by its owner, and its only inhabitant was a gray and grizzly old man, known to the region as the hermit. His fancy was to keep a light burning always by night in the landward window of his cabin, so as to warn sailors off the dangerous headland. There was no lighthouse in the vicinity, and by a kindly consent the people on the neighboring islands and on the mainland opposite encouraged his benevolent delusion, if delusion it might be called. They contrived to send him provisions at least once a week; and they had supplied him with a flag which, it was understood, he would fly in case he was in actual need. So, alone with his cow and his fowls, the old hermit spent his days, winter and summer, tending his lamp when the dark came on.

Aleck and Mr. Chamberlain had picked up some of this information at the last port which the Sea Gull made; but what was of new and real interest to them now was the story which the old man told them of a castaway on the island a few days before.

"All hands had abandoned the yacht just before she went down, it appears. The owner was robbed by his own men and marooned on the hermit's island—that's the gist of it," said Aleck.

"The hermit said the man wouldn't eat off his table," went on Mr. Chamberlain; "but asked him for raw eggs and ate them outdoors. Said that except when he asked for eggs he never spoke without cursing. At least, the hermit couldn't understand what he said, so he thought it was cursing. And while the old man was talking," added Chamberlain resentfully, "that blooming peacock squawked like a demon."

"The yacht that went down, according to the man, was the Jeanne D'Arc," said Aleck, who had been grave enough between all their light-hearted talk. "I didn't tell you, Chamberlain, that my cousin, my old chum, went off quite unexpectedly on a boat called the Jeanne D'Arc. Where he went or what for, I don't know. Of course, it may have been another Jeanne D'Arc; it probably was. But it troubles me."

Melanie was instantly aroused. "Oh, I had an uncanny feeling when you first mentioned the Jeanne D'Arc!" she cried. "But could you not find out more? What became of the man that was marooned?"

"He got off the island a day or two ago," said Aleck. "The people that brought provisions to the old man took him to the mainland, to Charlesport."

"The beggar left without so much as thanking the old man for his eggs," added Chamberlain.

"We'll put into Charlesport to-night, if you don't mind," said Aleck. "If I can find the man that was marooned, I may be able to learn something about Jim, if he really was on the yacht. You can all go ashore, if you like. There's a big summer hotel near by, and it's a lovely country."

"We'll stay wherever it's most convenient for you to have us," said Melanie, looking at Aleck; for once, with more than a friendly interest in her eyes.

"And perhaps I can help you, Van; two heads, you know," said Chamberlain.

Aleck, troubled as he was, could not help being grateful to his friends. So the Sea Gull, turned suddenly from her holiday mood, headed into the harbor of Charlesport.

The village still rang, if so staid a community could be said to ring, with reports of the event of the week before. Doctor Thayer had been sphinx-like, and Little Simon had been imaginative and voluble; and it would have been difficult to say which had teased the popular curiosity the more. Aleck found a tale ready for his ears about the launch and its three passengers, with many conflicting details. Some said that a great singer had been wrecked off Ram's Head, others that it was the captain and mate of the Jeanne D'Arc, others that it was a daughter of old Parson Thayer's sweetheart and two sailors that came ashore. Little or nothing was known about the island castaway. Aleck followed the only clue he could find, thinking to get at least some inkling of the truth.



CHAPTER XIII

ALECK SEES A GHOST

Little Simon drove leisurely up the long, rugged hill over which Agatha and James had so recently traveled, and drew rein in the shade at a distance of a long city block from his destination. He pointed with his whip while he addressed Aleck, his sole passenger.

"Yonder's the old red house, Mister. The parson, he hated to have his trees gnawed, and Major here's a great horse for gnawing the bark offer trees. So I never go no nearer the house than this."

"All right, Simon; you wait for me here."

Aleck walked slowly along the country road, enjoying the fragrant fields, the quiet beauty of the place. It was still early in the day, for he had lost no time in following the clues gathered from the village as to the survivors of the Jeanne D'Arc. The air was fresh and clean, with a tang of the distant salt marshes.

A long row of hemlocks and Norway spruce bordered the road, and, with the aid of a stone wall, shut off from the highway a prosperous-looking vegetable garden. Farther along, a flower garden glowed in the fantastic coloring which gardens acquire when planted for the love of flowers rather than for definite artistic effects. Farther still, two lilac bushes stood sentinel on either side of a gateway; and behind, a deep green lawn lay under the light, dappled shade of tall trees. It was a lawn that spoke of many years of care; and in the middle of its velvet green, under the branches of two sheltering elms, stood the old red house. It looked comfortable and secure, in its homely simplicity; something to depend on in the otherwise mutable scenes of life. Aleck felt an instantaneous liking for it, and was glad that his errand, sad as it might possibly be, had yet led him thither.

Long French windows in the lower part of the house opened upon the piazza, and from the second story ruffled white curtains fluttered to the breeze. As the shield-shaped knocker clanged dully to Aleck's stroke, a large, melancholy hound came slowly round the corner of the house, approached the visitor with tentative wags of the tail, and after sniffing mildly, lay down on the cool grass. It wasn't a house to be hurried, that was plain. After a wait of five or ten minutes Aleck was about to knock again, when a face appeared at one of the side-lights of the door. Presently the door itself opened a few inches, and elderly spinsterhood, wrapped in severe inquiry, looked out at him.

"Can I see the lady, or either of the gentlemen, who recently arrived here from the yacht, the Jeanne D'Arc?"

Aleck's voice and manner were friendly enough to disarm suspicion itself; Sallie Kingsbury looked at him for a full second.

"Come in."

Aleck followed her into the wide, dim hall, and waited while she pulled down the shade of the sidelight which she had lifted for observation. Then she opened a door on the right and said:

"Set down in the parlor while I go and take my salt risin's away from the stove. I ain't had time to call my soul my own since the folks came, what with callers at all times of the day."

Sallie's voice was not as inhospitable as her words. She was mildly hurt and grieved, rather than offended. She disappeared and presently came back with a white apron on in place of the colored gingham she had worn before; but it is doubtful if Aleck noticed this tribute to his sex. Sallie looked withered and pinched, but more by nature and disposition than by age. She stood with arms akimbo near the center-table, regarding Aleck with inquisitiveness not unmixed with liking.

"You can set down, sir," she said politely, "but I don't know as you can see any of the folks. The man, he's up-stairs sick, clean out of his head; and the young man, he's nursing him. Can't leave him alone a minute, or he'd be up and getting out the window, f'rall I know."

Aleck listened sympathetically. "A sad case! And what is the name, if I may ask, of the young man who is so ill?"

"Lor', I don't know," said Sallie. "The new mistress, her name's Redmond; some kin of Parson Thayer's, and she's got this house and a lot of money. The lawyer was here yesterday and got the will all fixed up. She's a singer, too—one of those opery singers down below, she is."

Sallie made this announcement as if she was relating a bewildering blow of Providence for which she herself was not responsible. Aleck, who began to fear that he might be the recipient of more confidences than decorum dictated, hastily proffered his next question.

"Can I see the lady, Miss Redmond? Or is it Mrs. Redmond?"

Sallie gave a scornful, injured sniff.

"Miss Redmond, sir, though she's old enough to be a Mrs. I wouldn't so much mind her coming in here and using the parson's china that I always washed with my own hands if she was a Mrs. But what can she, an unmarried woman and an opery singer, know about Parson Thayer's ways and keeping this house in order, when I've been with him going on seventeen years and he took me outer the Home when I was no more than a child?"

Aleck's heart would have been stone had he resisted this all but passionate plea.

"You have been faithfulness itself, I am sure. But do you think Miss Redmond would see me, at least for a few minutes?"

Sallie recovered her dignity, which had been near a collapse in tears, and assumed her official tone. "I don't know as you can, and I don't know as you can. She's sick, too; fell overboard somehow or other, offer one of those pesky boats, and got neuralagy and I don't know what all. But I'll go and see how she's feeling."

"Stay, wait a minute," said Aleck, seized with a new thought. "I'll write a message to Miss Redmond and then she'll know just what I want. If you'll be so good as to take it to her?"

"Why, certainly, of course I will," Said Sallie Kingsbury. "Only you needn't take all that trouble. I can tell her what you want myself." Sallie was one of those persons who regard the pen as the weapon of last resort, not to be used until necessity compels. But Aleck continued writing on a blank leaf of his note-book. The message was this:

"Can you give me any information concerning my cousin, James Hambleton, who was thought to be aboard the Jeanne D'Arc?"

He tore the leaf out, extracted a card from his pocketbook, and handed leaf and card to Sallie. "Will you please give those to Miss Redmond?"

Sallie wiped her hands, which were perfectly clean, on her white apron, took the card and bit of paper and departed, sniffing audibly. When she returned, it was to say, with a slightly more interested air, that Miss Redmond wished to see him up-stairs. She stood at the bottom of the wide stairway and pointed to a corner of the upper floor. "She's in there—room on the right!" and so she stalked off to the kitchen.

Aleck Van Camp sought the region indicated by Sallie's gaunt finger with some misgivings; but he was presently guided further by a clear voice.

"Come in this way, Mr. Van Camp, if you please!"

The voice led him to an open door, before which he stood, looking into a large, old-fashioned bedroom, from whose windows the white curtains fluttered in the breeze. Miss Redmond was propped up with pillows on a horsehair-covered lounge, which stood along the foot of a monstrous bed. She was clothed in some sort of wool wrapper, and over her feet was thrown a faded traveling rug. By her side stood a chair on which were writing materials, Aleck's note and card, and a half-written letter. Agatha sat up as she greeted Aleck.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Van Camp. Will you come in? I ask your pardon for not coming downstairs to see you, but I have been ill, and am not strong yet."

She was about to motion Aleck to a chair, but stopped in the midst of her speech, arrested by his expression. Aleck stood rooted to the door-sill, with a look of surprise on his face which amounted to actual amazement. Thus apparently startled out of himself, he regarded Agatha earnestly.

"Will you come in?" Agatha repeated at last.

"Pardon me," he said finally in his precise drawl, "but I confess to being startled. You—you bear such an extraordinary resemblance to some one I know, that I thought it must really be she, for a moment."

Agatha smiled faintly. "You looked as if you had seen a ghost."

Aleck gazed at her again, a long, scrutinizing look. "It does make one feel queer, you know."



"But now that you are assured that I'm not a ghost, will you sit down? That chair by the window, please. And I can't tell you how glad I am to see you; for James Hambleton, your cousin, if he is your cousin, is here in this house, and he is ill—very ill indeed."

Aleck's nonchalance had already disappeared, in the series of surprises; but at Agatha's words a flush of pleasure and relief overspread his face. He strode quickly over toward Agatha's couch.

"Oh, I say—old Jim—I thought, I was afraid—"

Agatha was touched by the evidences of his emotion, and her voice became very gentle. "I fancy it is the same—James Hambleton of Lynn?" Aleck nodded and she went on: "That's what he told me, the night we were wrecked."

Agatha looked at Aleck, as if she would discover whether he were trustworthy or not, before giving him more of her story. Presently she continued:

"He's a very brave, a very wonderful man. He jumped overboard to save me, after I fell from the ladder; and then they left us and we swam ashore. But long before we got there I fainted, and he brought me in, all the way, though he was nearly dead of exhaustion himself. He had hemorrhage from overexertion, and afterward a chill. And now there is fever."

Agatha's voice was trembling. Aleck watched her as she told her tale, the flush of happiness and joy still lighting up his face. As she finished relating the meager facts which to her denoted so many heart-throbs, a sob drowned her voice. As Aleck followed the story, his own eyes wavered.

"That's Jim, down to the ground. Good old boy!" he said.

There was silence for a minute, then he heard Agatha's voice, grown little and faint. "If he should die—!"

Aleck, still standing by Agatha's couch, suddenly shook himself. "Where is he? Can I see him now?"

Agatha got up slowly and led the way down the hall, pointing to a door that stood ajar. It was evident that she was weak.

"I can't go in—I can't bear to see him so ill," she whispered; and as Aleck looked at her before entering the sick-room, he saw that her eyes were filled with tears.

Agatha went back to her couch, feeling that the heavens had opened. Here was a friend come to her from she knew not where, whose right it was to assume responsibility for the sick man. He was kind and good, and he loved her rescuer with the boyish devotion of their school-days. He would surely help; he would work with her to keep death away. Whatever love and professional skill could do, should be done; there had been no question as to that, of course, from the beginning. But here was some one who would double, yes, more than double her own efforts; some one who was strong and well and capable. Her heart was thankful.

Before Aleck returned from the sick-room, Doctor Thayer's step sounded on the stairs, followed by the mildly complaining voice of Sallie Kingsbury. Presently the two men were in a low-voiced conference in the hall. Agatha waited while they talked, feeling grateful afresh that Doctor Thayer's grim professional wisdom was to be reinforced by Mr. Van Camp's resources. When the doctor entered Agatha's room, her face had almost the natural flush of health.

"Ah, Miss Agatha Redmond"—the doctor continued frequently to address her by her full name, half in affectionate deference and half with some dry sense of humor peculiar to himself—"Miss Agatha Redmond, so you're beginning to pick up! A good thing, too; for I don't want two patients in one house like the one out yonder. He's a very sick man, Miss Agatha."

"I know, Doctor. I have seen him grow worse, hour by hour, ever since we came. What can be done?"

"He needs special nursing now, and your man in there will be worn out presently."

"Oh, that can be managed. Send to Portland, to Boston, or somewhere. We can get a nurse here soon. Do not spare any trouble. Doctor. I can arrange—"

Doctor Thayer squared himself and paced slowly up and down Agatha's room. He did not reply at once, and when he did, it was with one of his characteristic turns toward an apparently irrelevant topic.

"Have you seen Sister Susan?" he inquired, stopping by the side of Agatha's couch and looking down on her with his shrewd gaze. It was a needless question, for he knew that Agatha had not seen Mrs. Stoddard. She had been too weak and ill to see anybody. Agatha shook her head.

"Well, Miss Agatha Redmond, Susan's the nurse we need for that young gentleman over there. It's constant care he must have now, day and night; and if he gets well, it will be good nursing that does it. There isn't a nurse in this country like Susan, when she once takes hold of a case. That Mr. Hand in there is all right, but he can't sit up much longer night and day, as he has been doing. And he isn't a woman. Don't know why it is, but the Lord seems bent on throwing sick men into women's hands—as if they weren't more than a match for us when we're well!"

Agatha's humorous smile rewarded the doctor's grim comments, if that was what he wanted.

"No, Doctor," she said, with a fleeting touch of her old lightness, "we're never a match for you. We may entertain you or nurse you or feed you, or possibly once in a century or two inspire you; but we're never a match for you."

"For which Heaven be praised!" ejaculated the doctor fervently.

Agatha watched him as he fumbled nervously about the room or clasped his hands behind him under his long coat-tails. The greenish-black frock-coat hung untidily upon him, and his white fringe of hair was anything but smooth. She perceived that something other than medical problems troubled him.

"Would your sister—would Mrs. Stoddard—be willing to come here to take care of Mr. Hambleton?" she ventured.

"Ask me that," snapped the doctor, "when no man on earth could tell whether she'll come or not. She says she won't. She's hurt and she's outraged; or at least she thinks she is. But if you could get her to think that it was her duty to take care of that poor boy in there, she'd come fast enough."

Agatha was puzzled. She felt as if there were a dozen ways to turn and only one way that would lead her aright; and she could not find the clue to that one right way. At last she attacked the doctor boldly.

"Tell me, Doctor Thayer," she said earnestly, "just what it is that causes Mrs. Stoddard to feel hurt and outraged. Is it simply because I have inherited the money and the house? She can not possibly know anything about me personally."

The old doctor thrust his under jaw out more belligerently than ever, while turning his answer over in his mind. He took two lengths of the room before stopping again by Agatha's side and looking down on her.

"She says it isn't the money, but that it's the slight Hercules put upon her for leaving the place, our old home, out of the family. That's one thing; but that isn't the worst. Susan's orthodox, you know, very orthodox; and she has a prejudice against your profession—serving Satan, she calls it. She thinks that's what actresses and opera singers do, though how she knows anything about it, I don't see." The grim smile shone in the doctor's eyes even while he looked, half anxiously, to see how Agatha was taking his explanation of Mrs. Stoddard's attitude. Agatha meditated a moment.

"If it's merely a prejudice in the abstract against my being an opera singer, I think she will overcome that. Besides, Mr. Hambleton is neither an actor nor an opera singer; he isn't 'serving Satan.'"

"Well—" the doctor hesitated, and then went on hastily with a great show of irritation, "Susan's a little set in her views. She disapproves of the way you came here; says you shouldn't have been out in a boat with two men, and that it's a judgment for sin, your being drowned, or next door to it. I'm only saying this, my dear Miss Agatha, to explain to you why Susan—"

But Agatha was enlightened at last, and roused sufficiently to cause two red spots, brighter than they had ever been in health, to burn on her cheeks. She sat up very straight, facing Doctor Thayer's worried gaze, and interrupted him in tones ringing with anger.

"Do you mean to tell me, Doctor Thayer, that your sister, the sister of my mother's lifelong friend, sits in her house and imagines scandalous stories about me, when she knows nothing at all about the facts or about me? That she thinks I was out in a boat alone with two men? That she is mean enough to condemn me without knowing the first thing about this awful accident? Oh, I have no words!" And Agatha covered her burning face with her hands, unable, by mere speech, to express her outraged feelings. Doctor Thayer edged uneasily about Agatha's couch, with a manner resembling that of a whipped dog.

"Why, my dear Miss Agatha, Susan will come round in time. She's not so bad, really. She'll come round in time, only just now we haven't any time to spare. Don't feel so badly; Susan is too set in her views—"

"'Set!'" cried Agatha. "She's a horrid, un-Christian woman!"

"Oh, no," remonstrated the doctor. "Susan's all right, when you once get used to her. She's a trifle old-fashioned in her views—"

But Agatha was not listening to the doctor's feeble justification of Susan. She was thinking hard.

"Doctor Thayer," she urged, "do you want that woman to come here to take care of Mr. Hambleton? Isn't there any one else in this whole countryside who can nurse a sick man? Why, I can do it myself; or Mr. Van Camp, his cousin, could do it. Why should you want her, of all people, when she feels so toward us?"

The moment his professional judgment came into question Doctor Thayer slipped out from the cloud of embarrassment which had engulfed him in his recent conversation, and assumed the authoritative voice that Agatha had first heard.

"My dear Miss Agatha Redmond, that is foolish talk. You are half sick, even now; and it requires a strong person, with no nerves, to do what I desire done. Mr. Van Camp may be his cousin, but the chances are that he wouldn't know a bromide from a blister; and good nurses don't grow on bushes in Ilion, nor in Charlesport, either. There isn't one to be had, so far as I know, and we can't wait to send to Augusta or Portland. The next few days, especially the next twenty-four hours, are critical."

Agatha listened intently, and a growing resolution shone in her eyes.

"Would Mrs. Stoddard come, if it were not for what you said—about me?" she asked.

"The Lord only knows, but I think she would," replied the poor, harassed doctor. "She's always been a regular Dorcas in this neighborhood."

"Dorcas!" cried Agatha, her anger again flaring up. "I should say Sapphira."

"Oh, now, Susan isn't so bad, when you once know her," urged the doctor.

Agatha got up and went to the window, trailing her traveling rug after her. "She shall come—I'll bring her. And sometime she shall mend her words about me—but that can wait. If she will only help to save James Hambleton's life now! Where does she live?" Suddenly, as she stood at the window, she saw her opportunity. "There's Little Simon down there now under the trees; and his buggy must be somewhere near. Will you stay here, Doctor Thayer, with Mr. Hambleton, while I go to see your sister?"

"Hadn't I better drive you over to see Susan myself?" feebly suggested the doctor.

"No, I'll go alone." There was anger, determination, gunpowder in Agatha's voice.

"But mind you, don't offer her any money," the doctor warned, as he watched her go down the hall and disappear for an instant in the bedroom where James Hambleton lay. She came out almost immediately and without a word descended the wide stairway, opened the dining-room door, and called softly to Sallie Kingsbury.

Doctor Thayer returned to the sick-room. Ten minutes later he heard the wheels of Little Simon's buggy rolling rapidly up the road in the direction of Susan Stoddard's place.



CHAPTER XIV

SUSAN STODDARD'S PRAYER

There was a wide porch, spotlessly scrubbed, along the front of the house, and two hydrangeas blooming gorgeously in tubs, one on either side of the walk. The house looked new and modern, shiny with paint and furnished with all the conveniences offered by the relentless progress of our day.

Little Simon had informed Agatha, during their short drive, that Deacon Stoddard had achieved this "residence" shortly before his death; and his tone implied that it was the pride of the town, its real treasure. Even to Agatha's absorbed and preoccupied mind it presented a striking contrast to the old red house, which had received her so graciously into its spacious comfort. She marveled that anything so fresh and modish as the house before her could have come into being in the old town. It was next to a certainty that there was a model laundry with set tubs beyond the kitchen, and equally sure that no old horsehair lounge subtly invited the wearied traveler to rest.

A cool draft came through the screen door. Within, it was cleaner than anything Agatha had ever seen. The stair-rail glistened, the polished floors shone. A neat bouquet of sweet peas stood exactly in the center of a snow-white doily, which was exactly in the middle of a shiny, round table. The very door-mat was brand new; Agatha would never have thought of wiping her shoes on it.

Agatha's ring was answered by a half-grown girl, who looked scared when she saw a stranger at the door. Agatha walked into the parlor, in spite of the girl's hesitation In inviting her, and directed her to say to Mrs. Stoddard that Miss Redmond, from the old red house, wished particularly to see her. The girl's face assumed an expression of intelligent and ecstatic curiosity.

"Oh!" she breathed. Then, "She's putting up plums, but she can come out in a few minutes." She could not go without lingering to look at Agatha, her wide-eyed gaze taking note of her hair, her dress, her hands, her face. As Agatha became conscious of the ingenuous inspection to which she was subjected, she smiled at the girl—one of her old, radiant, friendly smiles.

"Run now, and tell Mrs. Stoddard, there's a good child! And sometime you must come to see me at the red house; will you?"

The girl's face lighted up as if the sun had come through a cloud. She smiled at Agatha in return, with a "Yes" under her breath. Thus are slaves made.

Left alone in the cool, dim parlor, so orderly and spotless, Agatha had a presentiment of the prejudice of class and of religion against which she was about to throw herself. Susan Stoddard's fanaticism was not merely that of an individual; it represented the stored-up strength of hardy, conscience-driven generations. The Stoddards might build themselves houses with model laundries, but they did not thereby transfer their real treasure from the incorruptible kingdom. If they were not ruled by aesthetic ideals, neither were they governed by thoughts of worldly display. This fragrant, clean room bespoke character and family history. Agatha found herself absently looking down at a white wax cross, entwined with wax flowers, standing under a glass on the center-table. It was a strange piece of handicraft. Its whiteness was suggestive of death, not life, and the curving leaves and petals, through which the vital sap once flowed, were beautiful no longer, now that their day of tender freshness was so inappropriately prolonged. As Agatha, with mind aloof, wondered vaguely at the laborious patience exhibited in the work, her eye caught sight of an inscription molded in the wax pedestal: "Brother." Her mind was sharply brought back from the impersonal region of speculation. What she saw was not merely a sentimental, misguided attempt at art; it was Susan Stoddard's memorial of her brother, Hercules Thayer—the man who had so unexpectedly influenced Agatha's own life. To Susan Stoddard this wax cross was the symbol of the companionship of childhood, and of all the sweet and bitter involved in the inexplicable bond of blood relationship. Agatha felt more kindly toward her because of this mute, fantastic memorial. She looked up almost with her characteristic friendly smile as she heard slow, steady steps coming down the hall.

The eyes that returned Agatha's look were not smiling, though they did not look unkind. They gazed, without embarrassment, as without pride, into Agatha's face, as if they would probe at once to the covered springs of action. Mrs. Stoddard was a thick-set woman, rather short, looking toward sixty, with iron-gray hair parted in the middle and drawn back in an old-fashioned, pretty way.

It was to the credit of Mrs. Stoddard's breeding that she took no notice of Agatha's peculiar dress, unsuited as it was to any place but the bedroom, even in the morning. Mrs. Stoddard herself was neat as a pin in a cotton gown made for utility, not beauty. She stood for an instant with her clear, untroubled gaze full upon Agatha, then drew forward a chair from its mathematical position against the wall. When she spoke, her voice was a surprise, it was so low and deep, with a resonance like that of the 'cello. It was not the voice of a young woman; it was, rather, a rare gift of age, telling how beautiful an old woman's speech could be. Moreover, it carried refinement of birth and culture, a beauty of phrase and enunciation, which would have marked her with distinction anywhere.

"How do you do, Miss Redmond?"

Agatha, standing by the table with the cross, made no movement toward the chair. She was not come face to face with Mrs. Stoddard for the purpose of social visitation, but because, in the warfare of life, she had been sent to the enemy with a message. That, at least, was Agatha's point of view. Officially, she was come to plead with Mrs. Stoddard; personally, she was hot and resentful at her unjust words. Her reply to her hostess' greeting was brief and her attitude unbending.

"I have come to ask you, Mrs. Stoddard," Agatha began, though to her chagrin, she found her voice was unsteady—"I have come personally to ask you, Mrs. Stoddard, if you will help us in caring for our friend, who is very ill. Your brother, Doctor Thayer, wishes it. It is a case of life and death, maybe; and skilful nursing is difficult to find."

Agatha's hand, that rested on the table, was trembling by the time she finished her speech; she was vividly conscious of the panic that had come upon her nerves at a fresh realization of the wall of defense and resistance which she was attempting to assail. It spoke to her from Mrs. Stoddard's calm, other-worldly eyes, from her serene, deep voice.

"No, Miss Redmond, that work is not for me."

"But please, Mrs. Stoddard, will you not reconsider your decision? It is not for myself I ask, but for another—one who is suffering."

Mrs. Stoddard's gaze went past Agatha and rested on the white cross with the inscription, "Brother." She slowly shook her head, saying again, "No, that work is not for me. The Lord does not call me there."

As the two women stood there, with the funeral cross between them, each with her heart's burden of griefs, convictions and resentments, each recoiled, sensitively, from the other's touch. But life and the burden life imposes were too strong.

"How can yon say, Mrs. Stoddard, 'that work is not for me,' when there is suffering you can relieve, sickness that you can cure? I am asking a hard thing, I know; but we will help to make it as easy as possible for you, and we are in great need."

"Should the servants of the Lord falter in doing His work?" Mrs. Stoddard's voice intoned reverently, while she looked at Agatha with her sincere eyes. "No. He gives strength to perform His commands. But sickness and sorrow and death are on every hand; to some it is appointed for a moment's trial, to others it is the wages of sin. We can not alter the Lord's decrees."

Agatha stared at the rapt speaker with amazed eyes, and presently the anger she had felt at Doctor Thayer's words rose again within her breast, doubly strong. The doctor had given but a feeble version of the judgment; here was the real voice hurling anathema, as did the prophets of old. But even as she listened, she gathered all her force to combat this sword of the spirit which had so suddenly risen against her.

"You are a hard and unjust woman, to talk of the 'wages of sin.' What do you know of my life, or of him who is sick over at the red house? Who are you, to sit in judgment upon us?"

"I am the humblest of His servants," replied Susan Stoddard, and there was no shadow of hypocrisy in her tones. She went on, almost sorrowfully: "But we are sent to serve and obey. 'Keep ye separate and apart from the children of this world,' is His commandment, and I have no choice but to obey. Besides," and she looked up fearlessly into Agatha's face, "we do know about you. It is spoken of by all how you follow a wicked and worldly profession. You can't touch pitch and not be defiled. The temple must be purged and emptied of worldliness before Christ can come in."

Agatha was baffled by the very simplicity and directness of Mrs. Stoddard's words, even though she felt that her own texts might easily be turned against her. But she had no heart for argument, even if it would lead her to verbal triumph over her companion. Instinctively she felt that not thus was Mrs. Stoddard to be won.

"Whatever you may think about me or about my profession, Mrs. Stoddard," she said, "you must believe me when I say that Mr. Hambleton is free from your censure, and worthy of your sincerest praise. He is not an opera singer—of that I am convinced—"

Susan Stoddard here interpolated a stern "Don't you know?"

"Listen, Mrs. Stoddard!" cried Agatha in desperation. "When the yacht, the Jeanne D'Arc, began to sink, there was panic and fear everywhere. While I was climbing down into one of the smaller boats, the rope broke, and I fell into the water. I should have drowned, then and there, if it had not been for this man; for all the rest of the ship's load jumped into the boats and rowed away to save themselves. He helped me to come ashore, after I had become exhausted by swimming. He is ill and near to death, because he risked his life to save mine. Is not that a heaven-inspired act?"

Mrs. Stoddard's eyes glistened at Agatha's tale, which had at last got behind the older woman's armor. But her next attack took a form that Agatha had not foreseen. In her reverent voice, so suited to exhortation, she demanded:

"And what will you do with your life, now that you have been saved by the hand of God? Will you dedicate it to Him, whose child you are?"

Agatha, chafing in her heart, paused a moment before she answered:

"My life has not been without its tests of faith and of conscience, Mrs. Stoddard; and who of us does not wish, with the deepest yearning, to know the right and to do it?"

"Knowledge comes from the Lord," came Mrs. Stoddard's words, like an antiphonal response in the litany.

"My way has been different from yours; and It is a way that would be difficult for you to understand, possibly. But you shall not condemn me without reason."

"Are you going to marry that man you have been living with these many days?" was the next stern inquiry.

A stinging blush—a blush of anger and outraged pride as much as of modesty—surged up over Agatha's face. She was silent a moment, and in that moment learned what it was to control anger.

"I have not been 'living with' this man, in any sense of the term, Mrs. Stoddard. I will say this once for all to you, though I never would, in any other conceivable situation, reply to such a question and such an implication. You have no right to say or think such things."

"Wickedness must be rebuked of the Lord," intoned Mrs. Stoddard.

"Are you His mouthpiece?" said Agatha scornfully. But she was rebuked for her scorn by Mrs. Stoddard's look. Her eyes rested on Agatha's face with pleading and patience, as if she were a world-mother, agonizing for the salvation of her children.

"It is His command to pluck the brand from the burning," said Susan Stoddard. "Ungodly example is a sin, and earthly love often a snare for youthful feet."

As Agatha listened to Mrs. Stoddard's strange plea, the instinct within her which, from the first moment of the interview, had recoiled from this fanatical but intensely spiritual woman, found its way, as it were, into the light. Such was the power of her sincerity, that, in spite of the extraordinary character of the interview, Agatha's heart throbbed with a new comprehension which was almost love. She stepped closer to Susan Stoddard, her tall figure overtopping the other's sturdy one, and took one of her strong, work-hardened hands.

"Mrs. Stoddard, this man has never spoken a word of love to me. But if I ever marry, it will be a man like him—a plain, high-hearted gentleman. There! You have a woman's secret. And now come with me, and help us to save a life. You can not, you must not, refuse me now."

The subtle changes of the mind are hard to trace and are often obscure even to the eye of science; but every day those changes make or mar our joy. Susan Stoddard looked for a long minute up into the vivid face bending over hers, while her spirit, even as Agatha's had done, pierced the hedge which separated them, and comprehended something of the goodness in the other's soul. Finally she laid her other hand over Agatha's, enclosing it in a strong clasp. Then, with a certain pathetic pride in her submission, she said:

"I have been wrong, Agatha; I will come." Agatha's grateful eyes dwelt on hers, but the strain of the interview was beginning to count. She sank down in the chair that Mrs. Stoddard had offered at the beginning of their meeting, and covered her eyes with one hand. The elder woman kept the other.

"We will not go to our task alone," she said, "we will ask God's help. The prayer of faith shall heal the sick." Then falling to her knees by Agatha's side, with rapt, lifted face and closed eyes, she made her confession and her petition to the Lord. Her ringing voice intoned the phrases of the Bible as if they had been music and bore the burden of her deepest soul. She said she had been sinful in imputing unrighteousness to others, and that she had been blinded by her own wilfulness. She prayed for the stranger within her gates, for the sick man over yonder, and implored God's blessing on the work of her hands; and praise should be to the Lord. Amen.

"And now, Angie," she said practically, as she rose to her feet, addressing the girl who instantly appeared from around the doorway, "go and tell Little Simon to drive up to the horse-block. Agatha, you go home and rest, and I'll get hitched up and be over there almost as soon as you are. Angie will help me get the ice-bag and all the other things, in case you might not have them handy. Come, Agatha!"

But they paused yet a moment, stopping as if by a common instinct to look at the white cross. Susan Stoddard gazed down on it with a grief in her eyes that was the more heartbreaking because it was inarticulate. Agatha remembered the doctor's words, and understood something of the friction that could exist between this evangelistic sister and the finer, more intellectual brother.

"I've never been inside the old red house since he died," said Mrs. Stoddard.

"I'm sorry!" cried Agatha. "It is hard for you to come there, I know."

"He maketh the rough places plain," chanted Susan Stoddard. "Hercules was a good brother and a good man!"

Agatha laid her arm about the older woman's shoulder, and thus was led out to Little Simon's buggy. Susan helped her in, and Agatha leaned back, with closed eyes, indifferent to the beauty of early afternoon on a cool summer's day. Little Simon let her ride in quiet, but landed her in the dust on the opposite side of the road from the lilac bushes.

"Those trees!" said Doctor Thayer's voice, as he came out to meet her. "How did you make out with Susan?"

"She's coming," said Agatha. "Is your patient any better?"

"I don't think he's any worse," answered the doctor dubiously, "but I'm glad Susan's coming. I'd be glad to know how you got round her."

Agatha paused a moment before replying, "I wrestled with her."

The doctor smiled grimly, "I've known the wrestling to come out the other way."

"I can believe that!" said Agatha.

"Well, it's fairly to your credit!" And perhaps this was as near praise as his New England speech ever came.



CHAPTER XV

ECHOES FROM THE CITY

Sallie Kingsbury, unused to psychological analysis, could not have explained why Mr. Hand was so objectionable to her. He was no relative of the family, she had discovered that; and, accustomed as she was to the old-fashioned gentility of a thrifty New England town, instinct told her that he could not possibly be one of its varied products. He might have come from anywhere; he talked so little that he was suspicious on that ground alone; and when he did speak, there was no accent at all that Sallie could lay hold of. Useful as he was just now in taking care of that poor young man up-stairs, he nevertheless inspired in her breast a most unholy irritation. Her attitude was that of a housemaid pursuing the cat with the broom.

Mr. Hand was not greatly troubled by Sallie's tendency to sweep him out of the way, but whenever he took any notice of her he was more than a match for her. On the afternoon following Agatha's visit to Mrs. Stoddard, he appeared to show some slight objection to being treated like the cat. He ate his luncheon in the kitchen—a large, delightful room—while Aleck Van Camp stayed with James. Hand was stirring broth over the stove, now and then giving a sharp eye to Sallie's preparation of her new mistress' luncheon.

"You haven't put any salt or pepper on mademoiselle's tray, Sallie," said he, as the maid was about to start up-stairs.

"Miss Sallie, I should prefer, Mr. Hand," she requested in a mournful tone of resignation. "And Miss Redmond don't take any pepper on her aigs; I watched her yesterday."

"Well, she may want some to-day, just the same," insisted Mr. Hand in a lordly manner, putting a thin silver boat, filled with salt, and a cheap pink glass pepper-shaker side by side on the tray. Sallie brushed Hand away in disgust.

"That doesn't go with the best silver salt-cellar; that's the kitchen pepper. And, you can say Miss Sallie, if you please."

"No, just Sallie, if you please! I've taken a great fancy to you, Sallie, and I don't like to be so formal," argued Hand. "Besides, I like your name; and I'll carry the tray to the top of the stairs for you, if you'll be good."

"I wouldn't trouble you for the world, Mr. Hand," she tossed back. "You'd stumble and break Parson Thayer's best china that I've washed for seventeen years and only broke the handle of one cup. She wouldn't drink her coffee this morning outer the second-best cups; went to the buttery before breakfast and picked out wunner the best set, and poured herself a cup. She said it was inspiring, but I call it wasteful—and me with extra work all day!"

Sallie disappeared, leaving a dribbling trail of good-natured complaint behind her. Mr. Hand continued making broth—at which he was as expert as he was at the lever or the launch engine. He strained and seasoned, and regarded two floating islands of oily substance with disapproval. While he was working Sallie joined him again at the stove, her important and injured manner all to the front.

"Says she'll take another aig," she explained. "Only took one yesterday, and then I had two all cooked."

"What did I tell you?" jeered Hand.

"You didn't tell me anything about aigs, not that I recollect," Sallie replied tartly.

"Well, the principle's the same," asserted Hand. After a moment his countenance assumed a crafty and jocose expression, which would have put even Sallie on her guard if she had looked up in time to see it. "You won't have so much extra work when mademoiselle's maid arrives," he said slyly. "She'll wait on mademoiselle and attend to her tray when she wants one, and you won't have to do anything for mademoiselle at all."

Sallie became slowly transfixed in a spread-eagle attitude, with the half of a thin white egg-shell held up in each hand.

"A maid! When's she coming?"

"Ought to be here now, she's had time enough. But women never can get round without wasting a lot of time." Sallie's glance must have brought him to his senses, for he added hastily, "City women, I mean."

"Hm! She won't touch Parson Thayer's china—not if I know myself!" Sallie disappeared with Miss Redmond's second egg. When she returned, she delivered a message to the effect that Miss Redmond wished to see Mr. Hand when he had finished his luncheon. He was off instantly, calling, "Watch that broth, Sallie!"

It was a different Hand, however, who entered Miss Redmond's room a moment later. His half impudent manner changed to distant respect, tinged with a sort of personal adoration. Agatha felt it, though it was too intangible to be taken notice of, either for rebuke or reward. Agatha was sitting in a rocking-chair by the window, sipping her tea out of the best tea-cup, her tray on a stand in front of her. She looked excited and flushed, but her eyes were tired.

"Can I do anything for you, Mademoiselle?" Hand inquired courteously.

"Yes, please," answered Agatha, and paused a moment, as if to recall her thoughts in order. Hand was very presentable, in negligee shirt which Sallie must have washed while he was asleep. He was one of those people who look best in their working or sporting clothes, ruddy, clean and strong. He would have dwindled absolutely into the commonplace in Sunday clothes, if he was ever so rash as to have any.

"I wish to talk with you a little," said Agatha. "We haven't had much opportunity of talking, so far; and perhaps it is time that we understand each other a little better."

"As mademoiselle wishes," conceded Hand.

"In the first place," Agatha went on, "I must tell you that Mrs. Stoddard is coming to help nurse Mr. Hambleton. You have been very good to stay with us so long; and if you will stay on, I shall be glad. But Doctor Thayer thinks you should have help, and so do I. Especially for the next few days."

"That is entirely agreeable to me, Mademoiselle."

"Will you tell me what—what remuneration you were receiving as chauffeur?"

"Pardon me, but that is unnecessary, Mademoiselle. If you will allow me to stay here, either taking care of Mr. Hambleton or in any outdoor work, for a week or as long as you may need me, I shall consider myself repaid."

Agatha was silent while she buttered a last bit of toast. Hand's reticence and evident secretiveness were baffling. She had no intention of letting the point of wages go by in the way Hand indicated, but after deliberation she dropped it for the moment, in order to take up another matter.

"I was wondering," she began again, "how you happened to escape from the Jeanne D'Arc alone in a rowboat, and what your connection with Monsieur Chatelard was. Will you tell me?"

A perfectly vacant look came into Hand's face. He might have been deaf and dumb.

At last Agatha began again. "I am grateful, exceedingly grateful, Mr. Hand, for all that you have done for us since this catastrophe, but I can't have any mystery about people. That is absurd. Did you leave the Jeanne D'Arc when the others did—when I fell into the water?"

This time Hand consented to answer. "No, Mademoiselle; I did not know you had fallen into the water until I brought you ashore in the morning."

"Then how did you get off?"

"Well, it was rather queer. The men were all tired out working at the pumps, and Monsieur Chatelard ordered a seaman named Bazinet and me to relieve two of them. He said he would call us when the boats were lowered, as the yacht was then getting pretty shaky. Bazinet and I worked a long time; and when finally we got on deck, thinking the Jeanne D'Arc was nearly done for, the boats had put off. We heard some one shouting, and Bazinet got frightened and jumped for the boat. He thought they'd wait for him. It was too dark for me to see whether he made it or not. I stayed on the yacht for some time, not knowing anything better to do—" Hand allowed himself a faint smile—"and at last, after a hunt, I found that extra boat, stowed away aft. It was very small, and it leaked; probably that was why they did not think of using it. But it was better than nothing. I found some putty and a tin bucket, and got food and a lot of other things, though the boat filled so fast that I had to throw most everything out. But I got ashore, as you know. I didn't even wait to see the last of the Jeanne D'Arc."

Agatha's eyes shone. Hand's story was perfectly simple and plausible. But the other question was even more important. She hesitated before repeating it, however, and rewarded Hand's unusual frankness with a grateful look.

"That was a night of experience for us all," she said, with a little sigh at the memory of it.

"But tell me—" Agatha looked up squarely at Hand, only to encounter his deaf and dumb expression.

"If you will excuse me, Mademoiselle," said Hand deferentially, "I think Mr. Hambleton's broth is burning."

"Ah, well, very well!" said Agatha. And in spite of herself she smiled.

Hand found Mrs. Stoddard installed in James Hambleton's room. Doctor Thayer and Aleck had gone, both leaving word that they would return before night. Mrs. Stoddard had smoothed James's bed, folded down the sheet with exactness, noted her brother's directions for treatment, and sat reading her Bible by the window. Mr. Hand stood for a moment, silently regarding first the patient, then his nurse.

"By the grace of God, he will pull through, I firmly believe!" ejaculated Mrs. Stoddard.

As the first words came in that resonant deep voice, Hand thought that the new nurse was swearing, though presently he changed his mind.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied with unwonted meekness. Then, "I'll sleep an hour or two, if that is agreeable to you, ma'am."

"Perfectly!" heartily responded Mrs. Stoddard, and Mr. Hand disappeared like the mist before the sun.

It was to be an afternoon of excitement, after all, though Agatha thought that she would apply herself to the straightening out of much necessary business. But after an hour's work over letters at Parson Thayer's desk, there occurred an ebullition below which could be nothing less than the arrival of Lizzie, Agatha's maid, with sundry articles of luggage. She was a small-minded but efficient city girl, clever enough to keep her job by making herself useful, and sophisticated to the point of indecency. No woman ought ever to have known so much as Lizzie knew. Agatha was to hear how she had been relieved by the telegram several days before, how she had nearly killed herself packing in such haste, how she thought she was traveling to the ends of the earth, coming thus to a region she had never heard of before.

Big Simon, who had been instructed to watch for Lizzie and bring her and her baggage out, presently arrived with the trunks, having sent the maid on ahead in the buggy with his son. Big Simon positively declined to carry the two trunks to the second floor, saying he thought they'd like it just as well, or better, if he left them in the hall down-stairs. Lizzie was angrily hesitating whether to argue with him or use the persuasion of one of her mistress' silver coins, when Agatha interfered, and saved her from making the mistake of her life. It is doubtful if she could have lived in Ilion after having been guilty of tipping one of its foremost citizens. And even if she had, she would not have got the trunks taken up-stairs.

The prospect of discarding Sallie Kingsbury's makeshifts and wearing a dress which belonged to her had more comfort in it than Agatha had ever believed possible; and the reality was even better. She made a toilet, for the first time in many days, with her accustomed accessories, dressed herself in a white wool gown, and felt better.

"Are these the relatives you were visiting, Miss Redmond?" inquired Lizzie, eaten up with curiosity, which was her mortal weakness.

Agatha paused, struck with the form of the maid's question; but, knowing her liking for items of news, she answered cautiously:

"Not relatives exactly. The Thayers were old friends of my mother."

Lizzie shook out a skirt and hung it in the wardrobe in the far corner of the room. She was bursting to know everything about Miss Redmond's sudden journey, but knew better than to appear anxious.

"The message at the hotel was so indefinite that I didn't know at all what I should do. After the excitement quieted down a little, I went out to visit my cousin Hattie, in the Bronx."

"What sort of excitement?"

"Oh, newspaper men, and the manager, and Herr Weimar, of the orchestra, and a lot of other people who came, wanting to see you immediately. They seemed to think I was hiding you somewhere."

Agatha smiled. She could imagine Lizzie in her new-fledged importance, talking to all those people.

"You spoke of a message—" ventured Agatha.

"Yes; the one you sent the day you left, Miss Redmond. The hotel clerk said you had suddenly left town on a visit to a sick relative."

"Oh, yes."

Lizzie's quick scent was already on the trail of a mystery, but Agatha was in no mood just then to give her any version of the events of that Monday afternoon.

"Was there any other message, Miss Redmond? Some word for me, which the clerk forgot to deliver?"

"No, nothing else."

"Mr. Straker came Tuesday morning with some contracts for you to sign. He said that you had an appointment with him, and he was nearly crazy when he found you had gone away without leaving your address."

Agatha smiled more and more broadly, to Lizzie's disgust, but she could not help it. "I don't doubt he was disturbed. Did he come again?"

"Come again, Miss Redmond!" Lizzie hung a blue silk coat over its hanger, held it carefully up to the light, and turned toward her mistress with the mien of a person who isn't to be bamboozled. "He came twice every day to see if I had any word from you; and when I went to Cousin Hattie's he called me up on the 'phone every morning and evening. Most unreasonable, Mr. Straker was. He said there wasn't a singer in town he could get to fill your engagements, and he was losing a hundred dollars a day. He's very much put out, Miss Redmond."

"Well, I was, too," said Agatha, but somehow her tone failed to satisfy the maid. To Agatha the thought of the dictatorial manager fluttering about New York in quest of a vanished singer—well, the picture had its humorous side. It had its serious side, too, for Agatha, of course, but for the moment she put off thinking about that. Lizzie, however, had borne the brunt of Mr. Straker's vexation, and, in that lumber-box she called her mind, she regarded the matter solely as her personal cue to come more prominently upon the stage.

"Then your accompanist came every morning, as you had directed, Miss Redmond; and Madame Florio sent word a dozen times about those new gowns." Lizzie, with the memory of her sudden importance, almost took up the role of baffled innocence. "I declare, Miss Redmond, I didn't know what to do or say to those people. The whole thing seemed so irregular, with you not leaving any word of explanation with me."

"That is true, Lizzie; it was irregular, and certainly very inconvenient. And it is serious enough, so far as breaking my engagements is concerned. But the circumstances were very unusual and—pressing. Some one else gave the message at the hotel, and, as you know, I had no time even to get a satchel."

"That's what I said when the reporters came—that you were so worried over your sick relative that you did not wait for anything."

Agatha groaned. "Did—did the papers have much to say about my leaving town?"

"They had columns, Miss Redmond, and some of them had your picture on the front page with an announcement of your elopement. But Mr. Straker contradicted that; he told them he had heard from you, and that you were at the bedside of a dying relative. Besides that, Miss Redmond, the difficulty in getting up an elopement story was the lack of a probable man. Your manager and your accompanist were both found and interviewed, and there wasn't anybody else in New York except me who knew you. Your discretion, Miss Redmond, has always been remarkable."

Agatha was suddenly tired of Lizzie.

"Very well, Lizzie, that will do. You may go and get your own things unpacked. We shan't return to New York for several days yet."

"You've heard from Mr. Straker, of course, Miss Redmond?"

"No, but I have written to him, explaining everything. Why?"

"Oh, nothing; only when I sent him word that I had heard from you, he said at first that he was coming here with me. Some business prevented him, but he must have telegraphed."

"Maybe he has; but it takes some time, evidently, for a hidden person to be discovered in Ilion."

As soon as the words were off her lips, Agatha realized that she had made a slip. One has to look sharp when talking to a sophisticated maid.

"But were you hiding, Miss Redmond?" Lizzie artlessly inquired.

"Oh, no, Lizzie; don't be silly. The telegram probably went wrong; telegrams often do."

"Not when Mr. Straker sends them," proffered Lizzie. "But if his telegrams have gone wrong, you may count on his coming down here himself. He is much worried over the rehearsals, which begin early in the month, he said. And he got the full directions you sent me for coming here; he would have them."

Agatha knew her manager's pertinacity when once on the track of an object. Moreover, the humor of the situation passed from her mind, leaving only a vivid impression of the trouble and worry which were sure to follow such a serious breaking up of well established plans. She was rarely capricious, even under vexation, but she yielded to a caprice at this moment, and one, moreover, that was very unjust toward her much-tried manager. The thought of that man bursting in upon her in the home that had been the fastidious Hercules Thayer's, in the midst of her anxiety and sorrow over James Hambleton, was intolerable.

"If Mr. Straker should by any chance follow me here, you must tell him that I can not see him," she said, and departed, leaving Lizzie wrapped in righteous indignation.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed, after her mistress had disappeared. "Can't see him, after coming all this way! And into a country like this, too, where there's only one bath-tub, and you fill that from a pump in the yard!"



CHAPTER XVI

A FIGHTING CHANCE

The dining-room of the old red house was cool, and fragrant from the blossoming heliotrope bed below its window. The twilight, which is long in eastern Maine, shed a soft glow over the old mahogany and silver, and an equally soft and becoming radiance over the two women seated at the table. After a sonorous blessing, uttered by Mrs. Stoddard in tones full of unction, she and Agatha ate supper in a sympathetic silence. It was a meal upon which Sallie Kingsbury expended her best powers as cook, with no mean results; but nobody took much notice of it, after all. Mrs. Stoddard poured her tea into her saucer, drinking and eating absent-mindedly. Her face lighted with something very like a smile whenever she caught Agatha's eyes, but to her talk was not necessary. Sallie hovered around the door, even though Lizzie had condescended to put on a white apron and serve. But Agatha sent the city maid away, bidding her wait on the people in the sick-room instead.

Mr. Hand had been left with the patient and had acquiesced in the plan to stay on duty until midnight, when Mrs. Stoddard was to be called. Agatha had spent an hour with James, helping Mrs. Stoddard, or watching the patient while the nurse made many necessary trips to the kitchen. The sight of James's woeful plight drove every thought from her mind. Engagements and managers lost their reality, and became shadow memories beside the vividness of his desperate need. He had no knowledge of her, or of any efforts to secure his comfort. He talked incessantly, sometimes in a soft, unintelligible murmur, sometimes in loud and emphatic tones. His eyes were brilliant but wandering, his movements were abrupt or violent, heedless or feeble, as the moment decreed. He talked about the dingy, nasty fo'cas'le, the absurdity of his not being able to get around, the fine outfit of the Sea Gull, the chill of the water. He sometimes swore softly, almost apologetically, and he uttered most unchristian sentiments toward some person whom he described as wearing extremely neat and dandified clothes.

After the first five minutes Agatha paid no heed to his words, and could bear to stay in the room only when she was able to do something to soothe or comfort him. She was not wholly unfamiliar with illness and the trouble that comes in its train, but the sight of James, with his unrecognizing eyes and his wits astray, a superb engine gone wild, brought a sharp and hitherto unknown pain to her throat. She stood over his bed, holding his hands when he would reach frenziedly into the air after some object of his feverish desire; she coaxed him back to his pillow when he fancied he must run to catch something that was escaping him. It took nerve and strength to care for him; unceasing vigilance and ingenuity were required in circumventing his erratic movements.

And through it all there was something about his clean, honest mind and person that stirred only affectionate pity. He was a child, taking a child's liberties. Mrs. Stoddard brooded over him already, as a mother over her dearest son; Mr. Hand had turned gentle as a woman and gave the service of love, not of the eye. His skill in managing almost rivaled Mrs. Stoddard's. James accepted Hand's ministrations as a matter of course, became more docile under his treatment, and watched for him when he disappeared. Indeed, the whole household was taxed for James; and Agatha, deeply distressed as she was, throbbed with gratitude that she could help care for him, if only for an hour.

Thus it was that the two women, eating their supper and looking out over Hercules Thayer's pleasant garden, were silent. Mrs. Stoddard was thinking about the duties of the night, Agatha was swallowed up in the miseries of the last hour. Mrs. Stoddard was the first to rise. She was tipping off on her fingers a number of items which Agatha did not catch, saying "Hm!" and "Yes!" to herself. Despite her deep anxiety, Mrs. Stoddard was in her element. She had nothing less than genius in nursing. She was cheerful, quick in emergencies, steady under the excitements of the sick-room, and faithful in small, as well as large, matters. Moreover, she excelled most doctors in her ability to interpret changes and symptoms, and in her ingenuity in dealing with them. Her two days with James had given her an understanding of the case, and she was ready with new devices for his relief.

Agatha finished her tea and joined Mrs. Stoddard as she stood looking out into the twilight, seeing things not visible to the outward eye.

"Yes, that's it," she ended abruptly, thinking aloud; then including Agatha without any change of tone, she went on: "I think we'd better change our plans a little. I'm going up-stairs now to stay while your Mr. Hand goes over to the house for me. There are several things I want from home."

Agatha had no conception of having an opinion that was contrary to Mrs. Stoddard's, so completely was she won by her tower-like strength.

"You know, Mrs. Stoddard," she said earnestly, "that I want to be told at once, if—if there is any change."

"I know, child," the older woman replied, with a faraway look. "We are in the Lord's hands. He taketh the young in their might, and He healeth them that are nigh unto death. We can only wait His will."

Agatha was the product of a different age and a different system of thought. But she was still young, and the pressure of the hour revived in her some ghost of her Puritan ancestral faith, longing to become a reality in her heart again, if only for this dire emergency. She turned, eager but painfully embarrassed, to Mrs. Stoddard, detaining her by a touch on her arm.

"But you said, Mrs. Stoddard," she implored, "that the prayer of faith shall heal the sick. And I have been praying, too; I have tried to summon my faith. Do you believe that it counts—for good?"

Mrs. Stoddard's rapt gaze blessed Agatha. Her faith and courage were of the type that rise according to need. She drew nearer to her sanctuary, to the fountain of her faith, as her earthly peril waxed. Her voice rang with confidence as she almost chanted: "No striving toward God is ever lost, dear child. He is with us in our sorrow, even as in our joy." Her strong hand closed over Agatha's for a moment, and then her steady, slow steps sounded on the stairs.

Agatha went into the parlor, whose windows opened upon the piazza, and from there wandered down the low steps to the lawn. It was growing dusk, a still, comfortable evening. Over the lawn lay the indescribable freshness of a region surrounded by many trees and acres of grass. Presently the old hound, Danny, came slowly from his kennel in the back yard, and paced the grass beside Agatha, looking up often with melancholy eyes into her face. Here was a living relic of her mother's dead friend, carrying in his countenance his sorrow for his departed master. Agatha longed to comfort him a little, convey to him the thought that she would love him and try to understand his nature, now that his rightful master was gone. She talked softly to him, calling him to her but not touching him. Back and forth they paced, the old dog following closer and closer to Agatha's heels.

Back of the house was a path leading diagonally across to the wall which separated Parson Thayer's place from the meeting-house. The dog seemed intent on following this path. Agatha humored him, climbed the low stile and entered the churchyard. As the hound leaped the stile after her, he wagged his tail and appeared almost happy. Agatha remembered that Sallie had told her, on the day of her arrival, of the dog, and how he was accustomed to walk every evening with his master. Doubtless they sometimes walked here, among the silent company assembled in the churchyard; and the minister's silent friend was now having the peculiar satisfaction of doing again what he had once done with his master. Thus the little acre of the dead had its claim on life, and its happiness for throbbing hearts.

Agatha called the old dog to her again. This time he came near, rubbed hard against her dress, and, when she sat down on a flat tombstone, laid his head comfortably in her lap, wagging his tail in satisfaction.

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