"Perish the thought. But for argument, why not?"
"Because I can't flirt back."
Dunham smiled. "Can't or shan't?"
"Well, shan't," she returned.
"But why?" protested her companion mildly. "Surely you see that the situation demands it. The stage is all set. I'll admit we shall have a moon coming back, but Judge Trent's hat may eclipse it."
"I have given up the stage," replied Sylvia.
"Never mind. You can still be an amateur. You can't be a summer girl without accepting her responsibilities."
"I'm not a summer girl. I just told you I'm a bee, and not a butterfly."
"But even bees are keen for the flowers of life. You're not a thrifty bee unless you investigate and see how much honey you can get out of me."
Sylvia laughed reluctantly. "No wonder Edna calls you a shy flower," she replied. Her heart had a sudden pang of remembrance. "How beautiful Edna is," she said, meeting her companion's lazy eyes.
"Yes. You say she sings well?"
"Does she sing Schubert?"
"Ye-yes. I think he is the one, isn't he, who wrote 'Death and the Maiden'? She sang that Sunday morning before we went down in the woods. How long ago it seems!" Sylvia spoke wistfully and looked away, and again a mist stole across her vision.
"Oh, let 'Death and the Maiden' go to—I was thinking of 'Who is Sylvia? What is she, that all the swains adore her?'"
"I told you, Mr. Dunham, that you mustn't."
"I'm only offering the bee a sample of my goods."
"That isn't the sort that it pays to store. That's only fit for a butterfly's luncheon."
"What is your special brand, then? You're rather a puzzle to me."
It was true. Sylvia did puzzle this young man, accustomed to being a centre of social attraction wherever he went. Her exceptional prettiness and naivete had at first promised a sauce piquante to his golden vacation hours. The sauce had indeed proved piquant, but by reason of its difficulty of access. Most girls he had known would have been more interested in himself than in the blueberries on the day of their picnic, but Sylvia had been unaffectedly and convincingly absorbed. Most girls would have picked up the metaphorical handkerchief he had thrown last evening, and remained on the piazza with him for a time. Most girls would have secured instead of eluded his escort to the woods this morning, and under the present circumstances would have made hay in the exhilarating sunshine with a grace and vigor which would have absolved him from all effort.
He was quiet so long that Sylvia stole a glance at him. His eyes were closed, and she thought he had fallen asleep; so she let her gaze rest. The effect of strength and repose in his attitude made her long for pencil and paper, but she had none. Never mind, she could sketch him later from memory; and to do so she must study him now. With a purely artistic intent surely it was no harm to dwell upon the lines of his strong nose and chin, the humorous curves of his lips, and enjoy the effect of the warm, wind-rumpled hair around his forehead; and so her eyes remained fixed and she was unconscious of the light that began to warm and glow softly within them.
Dunham was not asleep. His half-amused, half-piqued thoughts rambled on. This niece of Judge Trent's was certainly an odd girl, with her preoccupations, her mysterious sacks of treasures, and her bottle of blackish fluid, her moods, her laughter, and her tears.
The fastidious Edna had been annoyed by last night's scene in the kitchen. Well, it was a strange scene. John recalled it now. He remembered quite well every word uttered by the rosy witch over her bubbling miniature caldron. She was concocting a philtre to make a girl happy,—herself. She had confided to the warm-hearted Irishwoman that she was in love, and condemned her stupidity that it had not been love at first sight; but since it had not been, the flame was likely to burn the longer. Didn't Jenny think so? And Jenny most reassuringly had thought so.
What sort of talks and beliefs had the girl been accustomed to in companionship with her ne'er-do-well father? Whatever her experiences, her atmosphere was one of strength and innocence. As this thought came to him with conviction, an involuntary desire to look at the subject of it caused his eyes suddenly to unclose.
The effect was electrical. Sylvia, from studying the features and hair, the outlines of throat and chest and shoulders of her vis-a-vis, had unconsciously forgotten the model in the man, had forgotten Edna Derwent. The ideal, never long absent from her thought since that morning at Hotel Frisbie, was now filling her material vision in utter unconsciousness of her scrutiny. She leaned slightly toward him in her absorption, and a woman's heart was in her eyes and tenderly curved lips when John's gaze suddenly encountered hers.
The social diplomacy which from boyhood it had been his second nature to practice stood him in good stead now.
In that instant he saw Sylvia's start and withdrawal, he felt his own color mount to match hers, but he continued absolutely motionless except for letting his eyelids fall again.
"Do forgive me," he said after a moment, in nasal and languid apology. "I hadn't an idea I should fall asleep. I'll wake up in a minute. I'm worse than a kid taken out in its baby carriage when I strike this air. Might as well chloroform me."
Sylvia was leaning against the mast, trying to swallow the heart that had leaped to her throat.
"Don't try to wake up," she replied after a time. She caught at his words as consolation, yet that look had been so deliberate, so wide. Could it be—
"My father taught me to sketch a little when I was a child," she went on, her breath still getting between her words most inconveniently. "I was wishing I had a pencil just then. You were being such a—such a docile model."
"Truly?" asked Dunham, lazily opening his eyes again. "Tell me honestly, as man to man. I prefer to know the worst. I'm sure I was all tumbled together like Grandpa Smallweed, and I've an awful suspicion that my mouth was open."
Sylvia shook her head.
"Honestly? Don't spare me."
He slowly pulled himself upright, and Sylvia shrank closer to the mast. Her eyes shone like those of a startled bird who awaits only a shade more certainty of danger to dart from the spot.
"No, no!" she exclaimed. "Were you really asleep?" she added naively.
He gave a low laugh.
"Excellent, tactful young lady. That is letting me down easy, even if I have been giving a good imitation of a fog horn. Really, I hope you will forgive me. There's only one way to secure my good manners on a boat, and that is to make me sail her."
Sylvia allowed herself to be reassured by the off-hand sincerity of his tone.
"Go to sleep as much as you like," she returned. "I told you I wanted to think. I'm very unhappy, Mr. Dunham," she went on after a moment, with sudden determination, and her recent excitement made actual tears veil her eyes this time.
"Why, what is the matter?"
"I have offended Edna."
"Surely not. How?"
"That is what I hoped you could tell me, else I wouldn't have mentioned it. Say, truly, if you know of anything I have done."
"I certainly do not," responded Dunham, with the more emphasis that he suddenly believed he did know—exactly. The exactness was the blow.
One of his arms was flung along the gunwale, and he frowned down at the other brown hand while the Idea, the overwhelming, absurd, pathetic, ridiculous Idea, paralyzed him.
Sylvia had not fallen in love at first sight. Whom had she recently seen for the second time? For whom was she brewing the blackish potion? Edna had suspected. That explained her undue irritation last evening. What had Sylvia found to be lacking in her philtre? For what had she gone to the woods this morning? What mystery was contained in the white bag which she defended with such zeal? Dunham felt as if his brain were softening. It was the limit of absurdity to be connecting these semi-barbaric fantasies with this sane and charming girl. He saw how Edna had been confounded and annoyed. Submerged by the Idea, he could not at once lift his eyes to Sylvia, although it stirred him to believe that those bright drops he had seen gather might be falling.
Under the sordid circumstances of her life it was quite possible that he was the first presentable man she had ever met, and the thought that she had set out with the primitive instincts and methods of a Romany girl to take him by fair means or foul roused in him a wild desire to laugh, which could be subdued only by another look at the thoughtful, feminine face so at variance with the Idea. Her soft voice broke the short silence.
"You know the kindest thing you could do would be to tell me if you do know anything I have done, or even have the least suspicion of something. You've known Edna so much longer than I have."
"Yes," responded Dunham. "But aren't you too sensitive?" he added to gain time.
"I hope not," answered the girl with childlike simplicity. "Thinkright says sensitiveness is only selfishness. I hope it's not that."
"Why, what has made you think Edna offended?"
Sylvia's lip trembled. "Oh, little things. Tiny things. Things a man would probably not notice. She didn't kiss me good-night last evening."
John feared the speaker was going to cry.
"She didn't me, either," he responded cheerfully. "I didn't think anything of it. I should have been more apt to notice it if she had."
Sylvia gave an April smile. "She didn't kiss me this afternoon. She was strange and unlike herself. She's been so all day. I've been thinking that perhaps I ought not to go back," finished the girl slowly.
"Perish the thought," returned Dunham hastily. He was surprised to find how earnestly he objected to any such desertion. "You must go back if only to set your thought about it straight. Ask"—No, he would not advise her to ask Edna. The latter might tell her frankly. "Edna is very much taken up with her carpentering," he went on. "Let her get over that."
"She has been so very kind to me," said Sylvia. "I want to be sure not to impose on her,—not to be in her way," and she looked so childlike and self-forgetful as she spoke, that her companion, bewildered and flattered as he was by the Look, and the Idea, indulged in a brief and pointed soliloquy:—
"Whether she is a gypsy or a saint, or whatever she is, she's a peach."
Sylvia's eyes grew wistful as the familiar home landmarks came in view.
"There is the Tide Mill," she said half to herself.
"Picturesque old affair, isn't it?" returned Dunham. "You were speaking a few minutes ago of sketching. That's a good subject."
The girl nodded, and her eyes rested on the mill pensively.
"Just as coldly heart-broken as ever," she said.
"What do you mean?"
She gave a slight gesture toward it. "Can't you see?"
Dunham gazed at the old building, standing above the inrushing tide.
"It does look rather forlorn, doesn't it," he returned, "with those blank shutters, tier upon tier."
"Yes, tear upon tear," answered Sylvia, with a faint smile at her own fancy. "One almost expects to see the salt drops raining down its face; but it is too tightly closed even for that. I was like that when I first came here, but Thinkright helped me, and I mustn't get so again, no matter what happens. I was very, very mistaken and unhappy in those days. You know I was."
The last words were uttered very low, and Dunham nodded.
"And now I've a longing, of course it's a silly one, that the Tide Mill should open its eyes too, and cheer up. I can't bear it to go on making a picture of the way I used to feel. It's as if it might drag me back again. To-day the feeling comes over me especially, because my heart is so heavy."
Sylvia's wide gaze rested on the mill, and she pressed her hand to her breast.
"Why, that's easily done," responded Dunham consolingly. "Just let Thinkright give me an axe, and I'll tickle that old pessimist's ribs until its eyes fly open and it giggles from its roof to its rickety old legs."
Sylvia shook her head. "No. Force would only do harm. Love must open the shutters."
"Love?" repeated John, staring at the speaker.
She nodded. "Yes, the same thing that opened mine."
He continued to regard her. "Do you know, you're a very odd girl," he said at last.
"No," she replied.
"To talk about Love opening those weather-beaten, rusty old blinds. How could it?"
"I don't know; but it will. I feel that it will. You will see." She gave a strange little smile, and Dunham regarded her uneasily.
For the first time it occurred to him that she might be unbalanced. In that revealing Look which he had surprised a while ago she seemed to have given herself to him. He had been strangely conscious of proprietorship in her, a sort of responsibility for her, ever since. By his strategy he had secured her unconsciousness of discovery, and thus given himself time.
She kept her eyes fixed on the shore they were approaching, and he continued to regard her furtively, from time to time.
"We can get into the Basin now, can't we, Benny?" she called to their forgotten boatman.
"Easy," he responded. "Suppose ye'll be comin' out afore eight o'clock."
"Well,—Mr. Dunham will," responded Sylvia slowly.
"And Miss Lacey also, of course," added John. According to the programme laid down by the Idea, Sylvia had an unfulfilled engagement on Hawk Island. She had yet to administer to him the contents of the black bottle, reinforced by the ingredient contained in the flat white bag. How with any consistency could she remain at the Mill Farm?
John flung back his head in a silent laugh and passed his hand across his forehead. The boat sailed toward the Tide Mill and under its cold shadow into the smiling, alluring Basin.
It seemed to Sylvia that months had passed since last those white birch stems had leaned toward her and waved green banners of welcome. "Ah. Listen!" she exclaimed. A tuneful jangle as of melodious bells fell on the quiet air, and then, like the clear tones of a silver flute, this phrase:—
"What is it?" whispered John, meeting Sylvia's eyes suddenly alight with joy.
"My hermit thrush," she murmured. "Listen!"
Again the sweet tangle of sounds; again the clear, perfect phrase, followed by melodious little bells. Dunham and Sylvia, motionless, continued to gaze into each other's eyes, and the girl's rapt smile stirred the man, for it was kin to the one he had surprised.
The boat glided silently toward the shore. Again the sweet flute sounded from the woods. "It is my welcome home," said Sylvia softly.
A figure was standing on the bank watching the boat's approach. It was Judge Trent. His hands were clasped behind his ample black coat, but instead of the usual shade to his eagle eyes a flat earth-colored cap, with an extraordinarily broad visor, gave his sharp face the effect of some wary animal that peers from under the eaves of its home.
The young people waved their hands as they recognized him.
"Come back, have you?" he said, without moving. "It's about time."
"Were you listening to that dear thrush?" asked Sylvia, as she jumped from the boat.
"I was, and have been for half an hour. The fellow's staying powers are something marvelous."
The speaker brought a hand around from his back, prepared to meet his niece, whom he scrutinized without a change of expression. She possessed herself not only of the hand, but his arm, and deliberately kissed his cheek.
"I hope you received my letter about the boat, Uncle Calvin. You don't know how happy you made me."
Dunham noted the surprised start, and received the frowning look which the judge sent in his direction. The rose leaf of Sylvia's face remained close to the parchment folds of the lawyer's cheek.
"Well, it was about time I made you happy, wasn't it?" he replied.
"I ought to stay here now," said Sylvia, "and row you about, instead of going back to Hawk Island."
"Oh. You're going back to Hawk Island?" The girl thought she detected a note of disappointment in the brusque tone.
"I'm not sure. I haven't decided," she returned.
"She is going back," observed Dunham affably, "with me in about an hour."
Judge Trent glared at the speaker. Both Sylvia's hands being clasped about his arm, he was holding himself with conscious and wooden rigidity. This was his own flesh and blood, however, and she was clinging to him, and Dunham might be hanged for all he cared.
"My niece will decide that, and not you," he returned with surprising belligerency.
"Hello!" thought Dunham, amused. "Is Arcady getting on the legal nerves?" "We're a house party," he explained firmly. "We've come over here for some clothes. We shall be obliged to start back in about an hour because we have to take you with us, and we don't want to keep you out too late."
"Hey?" asked the judge.
"Yes," said Sylvia. "Edna asked us to bring either you or Thinkright back with us."
"Now that's very untactful of you, Miss Sylvia," objected John. "Supposing she did say either of them. Don't you know, first come, first served, and moreover that Judge Trent is company?"
"Yes, I've no idea that Thinkright would leave the farm over night at this busy time, anyway," replied Sylvia. "Where is he? I must see him before I decide. I'm really not sure about going back. Perhaps, Uncle Calvin, it will be best for you and Mr. Dunham to go without me."
The lawyer's steely gaze was sunk in the soft blue depths of hers. In this mood she reminded him of his last parting with Laura. No woman since that day had clung to his arm.
He grunted a dissent. "John and I see enough of each other as it is," he returned.
"The idea of any one seeing enough of John!" was the thought that flashed through Sylvia's mind. What she said was, "Would you really rather I went too, Uncle Calvin?"
The sharp eyes under the visor saw the expression in Dunham's face at the caressing tone.
"Oh, suit yourself, of course," he replied briefly, "suit yourself;" but he carefully made no motion of his rigid arm which should discourage Sylvia from leaning upon it, and the three moved off toward the house.
Minty Foster suddenly appeared, dragging herself shyly between the trees. "I seen yer comin' past the mill," she said. Her usually stolid face was so eloquent of satisfaction at meeting Sylvia again that the girl dropped her uncle's arm, and, stooping, kissed the red cheek.
"Don't you want to go and see if Benny won't give you a sail while he's waiting for us, Minty?" she suggested.
"Y' ain't goin' back, are yer?" protested the child, round-eyed.
"I'm not quite sure," replied Sylvia. Each new, trifling incident reassured her, and went to lighten her heart. Here was home and welcome, whatever had been her mistakes abroad.
Minty ran on to the waterside, and the three resumed their walk. The chime of little joy-bells and the silvery flourish of melody continued to come from woodland depths.
"What a pity we haven't time to find that darling hermit!" said the girl. "He must be near. Once I succeeded in discovering him, and I sat so quietly he didn't mind me, even if he saw. He was on the very topmost twig of a pine, so little and so brown against the vast blue. Uncle Calvin, I'm so glad you bought the Mill Farm!"
"Well, so am I," replied the judge.
"Some time," said Sylvia, "when you get very—unexpectedly—rich, I wish you'd buy the Tide Mill."
"You do?" grunted the lawyer. "What for, pray? Want to see a bonfire on the water?"
"Oh, dear, no!" Sylvia glanced around at Dunham. "Wouldn't it be tragic, after all its troubles, to see it burned at the stake?"
"She wants to tie blue ribbons around its neck and chuck it under the chin," explained John.
"Ah, I see," said the judge, smiling grimly as he remembered Sylvia's comments on the mill the first day he met her.
"There's Thinkright," cried Sylvia, suddenly breaking from her companions and running fleetly toward the house.
With one accord the two men watched her greet the third by kissing him first on one cheek and then on the other.
"It was only one of yours, Judge," said Dunham. "If I were you I'd call him out."
"I don't grudge it to him," returned the lawyer. "She's making up to him for her mother's lack."
He waited a moment, hoping John would continue on the subject. He had thought often of his niece since his last visit, and in the past days had heard only good words for her; but Thinkright might be expected to be partial to Laura's child, and the Fosters were scarcely judges. He wished very much to learn the opinion of the girl which would be formed by a man of John's world and experience. Dunham kept silent as they pursued their measured walk, and the judge's desire forced the question.
"Well, and how do you find Miss Lacey, now you've had a near view?"
"Oh—Miss Lacey. Yes. Brisk and busy as a little bumblebee. The round peg in the round hole, as you might say."
"H'm," returned the judge. "I'm interested to know how she strikes a man of your sort."
"She's all right, I tell you," returned John argumentatively. "You don't know a good thing when you see it, Judge. Domestic, capable, executive, cheerful,"—John warmed to his subject. His heart had been made soft to-day, and he remembered the row of inappropriate poplars.
"Domestic? That's a pleasant surprise. But how about manners and breeding? I'm aware that what might pass muster with me might look very different under the lens of the society man. I've only to scratch your legal skin, John, to find a society man. I've always known that."
"Why, I should call her manners mighty comfortable ones," returned the young man. "She's a practical homemaker, that's what she is; and you're a—well, it's unintelligent of you to go on living alone, that's all, with that wrinkled map of Ireland for your only appetizer."
The judge looked thoughtful. "I hadn't got as far as that," he said. "My habits are pretty hopelessly settled, I'm afraid. I don't think I ought to inflict myself on anybody at this late day."
"Nonsense. I know she wouldn't look at it that way, and perhaps this summer'll do the business. When you get over to Hawk Island and see her"—
"See who!" Judge Trent faced his companion, and his shaggy brows moved up and down portentously beneath the overhanging eaves of his brown cap. "You mortal idiot," he thundered, "who are you talking about?"
Dunham's mouth fell open. "Miss Lacey. You said—Miss Lacey! Did you—were you asking about Sylvia?"
"No!" roared Judge Trent wrathfully. "I asked about Miss Lacey. What are you doing with Sylvia's name? Miss Lacey I say, and you'd better say so, too!"
John mechanically drew his cap from his pocket, and fanned his heated countenance. Little did Judge Trent suspect how far this young man had rambled and swam and floated and sailed from that port where Sylvia might have been Miss Lacey to him. So it was her manners and breeding upon which her uncle desired a society man's verdict. What if he should describe to the judge the Look, the Idea, and the Potion that awaited his home-coming?
Then there rushed over him the matrimonial bureau zeal with which he had done his best for Miss Martha. The combination reminiscence was too much. If it severed his connection with the law offices at Seaton forever, his self-control must snap, and all at once he threw back his head with a laugh which woke every echo that side the Tide Mill.
A black and towering shadow suddenly appeared at one of the farmhouse windows. Mrs. Lem, with Judge Trent an actuality and the splendid Mr. Dunham a constantly impending possibility, had been helmeted daily from early morn till set of sun. It was her imposing crest that John's storm of hilarity had brought into view.
The judge's fearful scowl relaxed, and he seized his companion's arm.
"I called you some names, didn't I, Boy," he said, when he could make himself heard. "Overlook it, won't you? I didn't know you were such a fool as not to be able to see when a chapter in a man's life is closed. Now let's begin at the beginning again. You who know all there is to know about girls, you for whom the exception proves the rule that you can manage them with one hand tied behind you,—what do you think of the exception? Tell me now. What do you think of Sylvia?"
"No, no, Judge," gasped Dunham. "Let me off. I'm exhausted."
"Brace up. I want to know."
"Well," returned John, wiping his eyes, "I think she made a tardy arrival on this planet. She's too late for her century."
"An old-fashioned girl, eh? I rather like that."
"Older fashioned than you're thinking of. She belongs in legends, and all sorts of stories that begin 'Once upon a time.' Do you catch the idea? She's the exact opposite in every respect of that excellent lady we—no, I mean I have just been talking about,—her aunt."
The judge's face fell, though his eagle glance was sharp.
"Yet, it is the Lacey blood that's done it," he said. "You mean she's erratic, visionary, unpractical."
"Yes. I mean that I think her very charming bonnet, if she ever wore one, would have a bee in it."
"John, that's worse than I feared," replied the judge dejectedly. "Confound Sam Lacey! She's a rather engaging girl with it all?"
"Immensely so. In fact, to such an extent that most people would prefer to follow her moods rather than to revel in the excellent qualities of a good housekeeper."
"What does Edna think?" asked the lawyer.
"Oh, come, come, Judge!" protested Dunham. "If you have the man's standpoint,—a wholly admiring standpoint, I hope you understand,—that ought to satisfy you for one day."
"I shall go back with you to Hawk Island," announced Judge Trent briefly. "Sylvia shall go too. I wish to observe her outside this atmosphere."
Meanwhile Sylvia had borne Thinkright away, in front of the house to the shade of the AEolian pine tree, and pulled him down beside her on a rustic seat.
"Oh, Thinkright, it's ages since you and I sat here last."
"Happy ages, I hope," he answered.
"Yes, I've been living a poem ever since I said goodby to you, until this noon. I've been walking on air,—living in a happy dream; then suddenly a bucket of cold water was dashed over me, and I came to myself."
"Are you sure it was yourself you came to?" asked Thinkright, for he saw the trouble in the eyes he loved. "Sometimes our dreams are nearer the truth than our mistaken waking notions."
"Oh, I wish this were a dream!" returned the girl devoutly; "for I've offended Edna."
"If I only knew! I've gone through every incident of my stay, and I can't find a clue. I've been so careful about Mr. Dunham."
"About Mr. Dunham?"
"Yes; never to try even to attract his attention or behave as if I expected him to notice me."
"I don't understand at all," said Thinkright. "Do you mean that he and Edna care for each other?"
"Why, of course."
"But they haven't met often of late."
"I know; but of course she never could forget him, and they're so much alike in all their ways and tastes"—
"Hold hard, little one. Edna Derwent has a court of admirers at home. It isn't likely she has ever had time to think of Mr. Dunham."
"Oh, you know there couldn't be another like him," was Sylvia's quick response, given so devoutly that her companion regarded her more closely.
"I saw as soon as he came how things were, and would be; and I was extra careful. I've really almost avoided him, and yet, I'm going to tell you honestly, Thinkright, while he admires Edna so much, I seem to amuse him, and he has taken more notice of me than I wish he would; because of course all he thinks about me is that I'm a Western product, and he is curious about my difference from them. I can't imagine how I did it, but in some way I've offended Edna."
"How does she show it?"
"Just by a little coldness and difference in her manner; but it makes all the difference to me; and I want to stay with you now!" She came close to him and looked up into his face.
"There isn't a thing to do," he returned, "except to think right about it. I suppose you've been remembering that?"
"Ye-es, some," answered Sylvia, with hesitation.
"That's Mr. Dunham coming along with the judge now, isn't it?" asked Thinkright.
"Yes. Edna invited us yesterday to spend a week at the cottage, and we planned to come over to-day to get our clothes; and then last night she was cool to me, and this noon she was still more changed,—or else I noticed it more,—and oh," added the girl hastily, "they're coming this way. Tell them you want me to stay here, please do!"
"Does Edna expect you back?"
"And you haven't attempted any explanation with her?"
Thinkright patted the arm near him.
"Can't have my little girl show the white feather like that. You and Edna both know how to think. There isn't any power that can prevent your meeting on the right ground, and there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. The truth, even about this trifle, whatever it may be, will set you free."
"Is this a secret session?" asked Judge Trent as the two men approached.
Sylvia's speaking countenance seemed to say that it was; but Thinkright arose and shook hands with John.
"Edna's invited me to come back with these young people," said the lawyer. "She wanted you instead, I believe, but for reasons I'll go first, if you have no objection."
"None in the world," returned his cousin, "for I couldn't stay away just now."
"Sylvia, I think you'd better pack your bag," went on Judge Trent. "Time is flying."
Thinkright deliberately studied Dunham's expression as the latter watched the young girl, whose indecision and trouble were obvious.
"Be game, Miss Sylvia, be game," suggested John. "Steamer leaves dock in half an hour sharp, as Judge Trent elects to have a late supper at Anemone Cottage rather than an early one in the shade of Mrs. Lem's pompadour."
"Then I'm going, am I, Thinkright?" asked Sylvia, her eyes appealing to him as she rose.
"Of course you're going," put in the judge authoritatively. "I've had no visit with you yet."
"All right," returned Sylvia, smiling faintly at her uncle; but she took Thinkright's arm.
"I'll meet you in half an hour," she said to the other men, and started toward the house, with her cousin captive.
"Get your thought right on the way back, little one," he said. "You know how. You have nothing to conceal from Edna, I suppose?"
Sylvia did not answer at once, and Thinkright, after a moment, turned and looked into her grave, downcast face.
She spoke, after the little silence, with a collected dignity which was very becoming. "I'm ready to give Edna an account of every action of mine beneath her roof."
"Very well, my child. I haven't a doubt of it. It's better for you to go back to-night. I'm sure you think so."
"Yes, I do think so," replied Sylvia.
They were a rather silent party on the homeward way. Dunham sailed the boat. Benny Merritt, fortified with thick slices of Mrs. Lem's good bread and butter, fell asleep and snored peacefully. He had bargained with Minty for this substantial repast as the price of sailing her around the Basin, and Sylvia had been quite concerned that he had no appetite for the afternoon tea which the others took before setting forth.
At Anemone Cottage the party was received with acclaim. Miss Lacey's cheeks had been very pink from the moment of discovering with her spyglass a fourth figure in the boat; and Judge Trent had no cause to complain of his supper.
The effervescent spirits which had this morning been Sylvia's seemed now to have passed into her hostess, and the glad eagerness with which the younger girl followed the other's mood was noted and appreciated by Dunham, who, when he could catch Sylvia's eye, sent her reassuring smiles, not one of which was lost upon Edna.
Sylvia almost persuaded herself that she had been imaginative and unjust. Of course Edna had been too occupied in greeting Judge Trent just now, and in caring for his comfort, to give her more than a smiling nod of welcome on her arrival, but Edna's good cheer at the supper table was charming, and each guest in his way showed response to her mood.
"I've another day of my carpenters to-morrow," she said after a while, "and I can't be sorry. They're great fun. I'm having the shed changed. The architect had suggested a more acute angle than my carpenter liked. I told Willis I thought he was improving on Mr. Lane's lines, and he replied, with that delightful drawl, 'Ye-us, he had sech a quick yank!'"
Another day of the carpenters! Sylvia was sorry to hear this, since it occupied Edna; and yet, one more day alone on the shore! Ah, what joy, if she could only escape Dunham and her uncle!
The evening was perfect, and when the party rose from the table they gravitated as usual to the piazza.
"What a clear horizon!" said Edna. "The moon will be coming up in a few minutes. Do you feel properly romantic, Judge Trent?"
"I feel the nearest approach to it that a man in my class ever does," he replied. "That was an excellent supper, Edna. If you'll show me the way to the kitchen I could almost kiss the cook, if she would consider it."
Miss Lacey was listening and bridling triumphantly behind a neighboring pillar.
"You needn't go so far," rejoined Edna gayly. "Miss Lacey made that dessert."
The judge was unperturbed, as he stood, his hands clasped behind him. "In that case, Martha," he remarked, his impersonal gaze resting on the shadowy distance, "please consider yourself chastely saluted."
"This evening demands music," said Edna. "I'll sing for you to-night, John."
"Good girl," returned Dunham, with an involuntary glance toward Sylvia's starlit face.
The hostess went indoors, and Sylvia started after her. "Do you mind if I sit near the piano, Edna?" she asked.
"And miss the moonrise? I certainly should not allow it. Stay right where you were."
"Of course, stay right where you were," said John quietly, "or rather sit here." He placed a cushion for Sylvia on the top step, and as she accepted the position he placed himself at her feet.
Miss Martha sank into a rocking-chair, and Judge Trent moved down upon the grass, where he walked back and forth, a shadowy figure in the evening hush, for the wind goes down with the sun at Hawk Island.
"Ask her to sing the 'Sea Pictures,'" suggested Sylvia to her companion.
John called his request, and Edna complied. She had scarcely commenced the first song when a halo of light appeared on the horizon, foretelling the edge of the orange-colored disc which soon began its splendid ascent from the silhouetted waves. The air was full of the scent of sweet peas, that clung in lavish abundance to the base of the cottage. The vista of firs framed the rising moon, which gradually flecked the water with dancing gold. Edna's voice flooded the air with strange melody.
Sylvia's responsive sense yielded to the witchery of the hour. Petty thoughts were swept away. John's eyes were constantly drawn back to her rapt face as the light grew clearer.
"The little stars are going out, do you see?" she murmured, and he nodded.
Soon Edna began the accompaniment of "In Haven," the one which Sylvia called the island song. The first notes brought a new light to her face, and she smiled into Dunham's upturned eyes.
"This is mine," she said. The words of the song came clearly to them, as the moon-path broadened and lengthened between the spires of the firs.
"Closely let me hold thy hand, Storms are sweeping sea and land, Love alone will stand.
"Closely cling, for waves beat fast, Foam flakes cloud the hurrying blast, Love alone will last.
"Kiss my lips and softly say, 'Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day; Love alone will stay.'"
Sylvia leaned her head against the vine-wreathed stone, and her eyes closed against the glory of a world that seemed hushing itself to listen,—closed against John Dunham, whose personality had so strangely permeated the song on the day she first heard it. What a different day from this, and how long, long ago it was! Then storm was sweeping sea and land; the hurrying blast, the beating waves, the driven foam flakes, had been an actuality. Now all unrest was in her own thought, while o'er sea and land brooded a peace that suggested eternity. The sweetness of that which alone would last,—how it appealed to her!
She could see beneath her lashes the moonlight falling on John's strong profile, and on the brown hands that clasped his knee. If, without word or look, he could reach up to her one of those hands, and she could put her own into it with the knowledge that there was its rightful place, what would every storm of circumstance mean to her henceforth!
She came to herself with a start. Here on Edna's very piazza, enjoying her hospitality, she was indulging in a dream of theft from her. If her thoughts could be so betrayed, might it not be that some action had indeed given Edna just cause of offense? She remembered the day when, in the boat with her newly discovered uncle, he had told her that Dunham was straining at the leash to get away to Boston to Miss Derwent. Every moment of the latter's charming hospitality, and now her glorious voice, doubtless bound him closer to her. Sylvia knew herself to be not of their world, and perhaps she was more of a novelty to Dunham than she could realize. It was some strangeness in her, possibly some unconscious gaucherie, that so often called his attention to herself. Surely she should blush forever that, so soon as her thoughts escaped control, the subject began to attempt to betray her Princess and usurp her place.
"I mustn't stay here. I ought not to stay," thought Sylvia in sudden panic. "I cannot be trusted."
The song closed. Dunham turned his head and looked up at his companion.
"Your song, is it?" he asked softly. "Let me in, too. It belongs to this place."
"Go and tell Edna how you like it," said Sylvia. "She always says it belongs to this island."
"And to her present guests especially," rejoined Dunham. "Won't you seal the partnership before I go?"
He reached his hand up to her with the movement she had pictured.
Her own were clasped behind her head. "No," she answered quickly. "Take Edna's hand upon it. Let her know how you love it, for it is one of her own favorites."
Dunham still hesitated, regarding the moonlit face, and Sylvia suddenly rose and, passing him, ran down the steps and joined Judge Trent in his measured promenade.
Miss Martha marveled at the ease with which her niece took possession of the lonely man who courted loneliness; and she could see by the way the judge turned toward the young girl, as she took his arm, that he was not an unwilling captive. "I shouldn't wonder if the child made Calvin real human," she thought, with a contented sigh. Sylvia was a possession which they held in common. Miss Martha seemed to see a future in which her relation with her ex-lover ceased to be one of armed neutrality.
Dunham, who had gone into the house to thank his entertainer, soon reappeared, with Edna beside him. They strolled off the piazza and down the rock path toward the golden street which joined the short avenue of firs, and Sylvia saw them no more that night.
She took care to be in bed, with her light out, before Edna came upstairs, only calling to her a cheery good-night as she passed her door. She hoped her friend would come in and stay for a little talk, but Edna paused only for a moment to exclaim upon the beauty of the evening and the pity of the fact that sleep was a necessity. Then she too said good-night, and passed on.
Affairs the next morning turned out quite as Sylvia would have had them. At breakfast she discovered that Judge Trent and Dunham had departed early on a fishing expedition. Edna was absorbed with her carpenters and their alterations, and Sylvia found no difficulty in escaping unquestioned to the woods, the pillow slip hanging over her arm.
This time when she returned at noon there was no one in sight, and she laid down bottle and bag in a corner of the piazza while she went to the well for a drink. Returning, she again took the flat, stiff pillow slip and went upstairs with it.
The men came home to dinner a little late. They brought no treasures back save those of John's imagination; and he regaled the company during the meal with such accounts of the morning's experiences as caused Miss Martha to entertain fears concerning his ultimate destination.
They all left the table at last in a gale of merriment, and went out on the piazza to drink their coffee. When they had finished Edna offered to show Judge Trent a shady hammock where breezes were warranted to lull all but the uneasiest conscience to rest. It was swung between two balsam firs, and the young people, leaving the judge therein, his cap pulled down over his eyes, went back to the piazza.
As soon as Dunham went up the steps his eye fell on a bottle on the floor in a corner. He recognized it at once, and pounced upon it.
"At last!" he exclaimed, and held it up to the light. "You've been in the woods again this morning." He frowned at Sylvia, who laughed softly and colored to the tips of her ears. "Aha! You look guilty enough for anything. I thought your eyes had an extra sparkle this noon."
Edna caught her lip between her teeth, and stood still, regarding her blushing guest.
A curious excitement took possession of Dunham. Had Sylvia left the bottle purposely for him to find it? "It has gone down fast since yesterday," he went on. "Remember, I saw it yesterday. Any one who comes in on this will have to be prompt and firm." He looked accusingly at the girl, who was the picture of embarrassment, as she stood there, laughing with a conscious air.
"Very well," she exclaimed suddenly. "You shan't tease me any longer about that. Here!" She seized a cup from the coffee table, and, emptying into it the remaining contents of the bottle, she handed it to Dunham.
He looked at her strangely.
"What is this? An elixir?"
"You say so," she replied saucily.
"Will it make me fluent, and sparkling, and gay?"
"You say so."
"Then I should let Edna have a share." He started to hand the cup to his hostess.
"No, no," laughed Sylvia, putting out a protesting hand. "She doesn't need it. It's not fit for Edna. Take it yourself, and—the consequences."
Dunham looked over the rim of the cup at the merry, defiant face, and drank. He then replaced the cup on the table, with sudden gravity and a look of tardy apprehension in the direction of Edna.
"It's not sweet," he said.
"No," returned Sylvia, "except in its results."
Their young hostess stood there, rigid, her hand leaning on the back of a chair. John could not meet the speaker's eyes.
"I have a new story upstairs," he said abruptly. "I'm going to get it and see if I can't induce one of you to read aloud."
He disappeared, and Sylvia regarded the empty bottle with reminiscent eyes.
"What did you expect to do with that stuff, Sylvia?" asked Edna.
"Something that will make a transformation in my life," replied the other slowly. "I want to tell you about it when we have more time. I know you have to go back now to your workmen,—but I'm very hopeful, Edna, and, unless I deceive myself greatly, I shall be happy; and you've been so wonderfully generous to a stranger, you'll be happy for me, I'm sure."
"We haven't time to talk now, as you say," returned Edna, with a measured coldness that caused her friend to look up, the light vanishing from her face. "Your actions have amazed me beyond words. Would you be willing that Thinkright should know the dreams and plans you have indulged in in this place?"
Sylvia stood dumb, transfixed, convicted of guilt.
"It does not come gracefully from your hostess to lecture you, I know; but against my will I have learned what I know, and—the disappointment has been bitter, Sylvia. Don't be vexed with me for speaking plainly. I can help you, I believe, when we get an opportunity for a quiet talk. Yes, I'm coming, Jenny," for the girl was at the door, bringing a question from the carpenter. "Excuse me, Sylvia. We'll talk later."
Dunham, upon reaching his room, forgot all about the book he had come to seek. Standing still in the middle of the floor, he alternately went into paroxysms of laughter and scowled gravely at the wall.
"Nonsense!" he ruminated. "Edna and I are both idiots. I could see that Edna was back in that kitchen while we stood there. This is the twentieth century, and Sylvia has never lived out of the world."
So from moment to moment he would dispose of the Idea; but then there was the Look. That had been unmistakable. There was a chamber in Dunham's heart where that memory picture hung, and it seemed to him impertinence to open the door. As often as the recollection returned to him he recoiled from it. That look had been a theft from Sylvia, not a gift; but she had given him the potion at last. Again John laughed at himself for believing in her intention. Again he scowled at the wall because she had fulfilled it.
At last he shook himself together. An unacknowledged longing possessed him to see how she would carry herself now. He caught up the book he had come for, and went downstairs to the piazza. Sylvia had vanished. Disappointed, he went back into the house. Straying to the piano, he sat down and began to play a Chopin prelude. It was John's one and only instrumental achievement, learned by ear, and dug out of the ivories, as one might say, by long hours of laborious search for its harmonies.
Edna glided into the room. "If you don't mind, John," she said, "this is Miss Lacey's nap-time."
He dropped his hands. "Certainly I won't mind, if you'll produce Miss Sylvia. She's slipperier than a drop of quicksilver."
Edna stiffened slightly. "Perhaps she has gone to sleep, too."
"Well, you haven't, anyway. Come! I hate those carpenters with a virulence that grows worse every hour."
The young hostess laughed. "I've only to stay with them a little while longer. Come with me. They're nearly through, and then we'll get Sylvia and go off somewhere."
John followed lazily to mysterious regions at the back of the cottage. Sylvia, listening at the head of the stairs, heard them go. It was her opportunity.
THE WHITE BAG
Edna's responsibilities and nap-time came to an end simultaneously, and Dunham proposed that they take their book to the Fir Ledges, as a spot where the waves were not too noisy and the outlook was superb for such luxurious mortals as need lend their ears only, and not their eyes, to the story.
They came into the living-room as he made his suggestion, and saw Miss Lacey just coming downstairs.
"Where is Sylvia?" asked Edna.
"I don't believe she's up yet," replied Miss Martha. "She went to her room at the same time I did, and she certainly did look tired out. I begged her to show common sense and not run around so incessantly. I told her to lie down and not move until she was rested. Foolish child! She's so in love with this place she seems to think she's wasting time unless she's on the keen jump from morning until night."
"Wouldn't it rest her to come with us?" asked Dunham. "We're going to the Fir Ledges to read."
"Well, I don't know,"—Miss Lacey tossed her head doubtfully,—"it's quite a walk down there, and her door is tight shut."
John looked at Edna.
"I suppose the kindest thing to do would be to let her alone," said Edna. "When she comes down. Miss Martha, please tell her where we are, and ask her to join us. Perhaps she can bring you and Judge Trent with her. I see he is still motionless in that hammock."
"Yes, tell her to be sure to come," said Dunham; and the two left the house and started off through the wood road.
Edna did not regret her words to Sylvia, but she could not help connecting them with Miss Lacey's description of the girl's fagged appearance. So temperamental a creature as Sylvia would be prone to exaggerate a situation. Very well, Edna would take the earliest opportunity—bedtime this evening—for an open talk with her. Perhaps it was the excitement of having given John that which she had prepared for him which had left her pale by the time her aunt met her,—that and the sudden realization that her hostess understood her motives and actions. What a mercy that big, blundering, honest John Dunham had not connected himself with Sylvia's fantasies, although his joking had fitted in so well with her plans!
In the absence of other interests, and the idleness of pleasant hours, John had shown considerable interest in Sylvia. Edna had on several occasions resented the trifling signs of his admiration, fearing they might mislead so inexperienced a girl as her guest, even supposing the girl were not already making a hero of him, and bent upon his subjugation.
The thoughts of the pair were running along parallel lines as they pursued the woodland path, and at last John came to himself.
"Pardon my stupidity, Edna. Sylvia says it's a great proof of friendship for two people to be silent when together."
"Especially if they tell their thoughts afterward," rejoined the girl. "What were yours?"
Dunham hesitated a moment. "I was thinking it was a pity if Miss Sylvia has overtired herself."
"And I," said Edna, "was thinking it was a pity for you to pursue even a mild flirtation with her. She hasn't met many men of your stamp,—she is only a grown-up child, as you have seen."
"I don't know," replied John deliberately. "I'm making up my mind slowly but surely that she is a jewel."
Surprise and something like contempt flashed over Edna's face. "Is it since you drank the blueberry juice?" she asked, and the next moment could have bitten her tongue for its rashness.
Dunham showed no surprise. "Oh, it's a gradual estimate," he said.
The girl laughed. "Very gradual. Is it three days or four?"
"Time doesn't enter much into that sort of impression."
"Well, it should," responded Edna decidedly.
They said no more, but reaching the ledges seated themselves in the lee of a sheltering rock, and read, and gazed, until the swift passing hours brought them to a realizing sense that the anxious housekeeper would begin to be on the lookout.
"Well," remarked John with a luxurious sigh, "our friends don't know what they missed by scorning our invitation."
Edna said nothing, but the memory of her parting words with Sylvia began to be an uncomfortable one. The situation was emphasized by her guests' failure to join them here. She had not really supposed that Sylvia could feel easy to be with her again until they had been able to talk alone, but she told herself that she could not have left John to his own devices this afternoon. This evening she would surely make everything understood with Sylvia, show the girl how her behavior had appeared, and, she hoped, give her a new standard.
Miss Lacey and Judge Trent were seated on the piazza when they approached.
"Just in time," said Miss Martha.
"Where's that lazy Sylvia? Not down yet?" asked Edna.
"No," replied Judge Trent; "I was just telling Miss Lacey I should go up and knock on her door. She assures me that laziness is not one of my niece's characteristics."
"Decidedly not," returned Edna.
"Quite the opposite," said Miss Martha. "That is why, if she sleeps right through supper time, I knew Edna would excuse her. I can't forget how she looked when she came upstairs. All the life seemed gone out of her. Folks come to those spots, if they will keep themselves keyed up all the time."
Edna began to have very uncomfortable sensations. She passed into the house and upstairs. Pausing before Sylvia's door, she listened. There was a little rapping sound within, all else was still. The girl knocked softly. There was no response. She turned the handle quietly. If, possibly, her guest were asleep, she would not awaken her. Slowly, slowly she opened the unresisting door, and her expression changed from expectancy to blankness as she perceived that the room was empty. The fair white pillow bore no imprint of a curly head. The curtain ring was striking rhythmically against the window sill in the breeze.
Edna walked in, and looked about the orderly apartment. An envelope on the dresser caught her eye. It was addressed to herself, and the contents were as follows:
DEAR EDNA,—With a thousand thanks for the hospitality you have shown me here, I am going back to the Mill Farm. I have known since yesterday that something was wrong, but I am glad I came back last evening to learn how wrong. There is no question of staying now, because no good could come of our attempting to talk. My thoughts are my own; no one else can have jurisdiction over them. I cannot think of one act of mine as your guest which you could disapprove. Therefore there is nothing to discuss; but the grief it is to me to have offended you, you will never know. You can tell the others that this note confesses to you that I was suddenly overwhelmed with homesickness and felt I could not stay for argument. It will be the simple truth. They will set it down to my bad manners, and let it go.
We may never meet again intimately, and I want my last word to you to be heartfelt thanks for giving me the happiest experience of my life. We both know that Love will heal every hurt. I hope it isn't wrong for me to go in this way. I cannot stay.
Edna read the letter twice before she laid it down. She caught the reflection of her own face in the glass. More than anything else, it expressed vexation. Sylvia had crowned her unconventional behavior by the most annoying move of all. To a girl of Edna's traditions it was excessively mortifying to be obliged to own to others that her friend and guest had fled from her roof, even though they would have no suspicion that Sylvia had been driven away. In an instant she made up her mind not to destroy the comfort of the supper hour with the news, but to wait until later.
Hastening out into the hall, she softly closed the door again, and proceeded to make her own preparations for the evening meal. She could hear Dunham moving about in his room, and knew that he was forbearing on Sylvia's account from the whistling obligato which usually accompanied his toilet.
It would have been difficult for any average man to express irritability while discussing the appetizing dishes which Miss Lacey and Jenny had placed on that supper table, but the judge was displeased by his niece's non-appearance, and made it evident.
"I hope you're not spoiling the girl, Martha," he said. "If she's ill, say so; but if she isn't, don't let there be any carrying up of trays or nonsense of that kind."
Edna feared from Miss Martha's look that she was going to rise from the table and call the absent one, and she hastily interposed:—
"I assure you, Judge Trent, Sylvia is promptness itself. This is the exception that proves the rule."
"It seems to me that my niece is always proving rules in that fashion," he returned, glancing at Dunham. "Of course, you are a polite hostess, Edna, and wouldn't allow a crumpled rose leaf to annoy a guest of yours."
At these words Sylvia's note seemed to burn in Edna's pocket, and her cheeks grew warm.
"The fact is, I'd like to see something of the girl," went on the judge.
"I shall go up to her room the instant supper is over," responded Edna. "Do have some more lobster Newburg, Judge Trent. Don't you think it's pretty good?"
"I think it's perfect; but I'd better not tempt Fate with any more."
"Oh, lobster here isn't the same as anywhere else. You can eat it right out of this sea as you can ripe apples out of an orchard."
"Indeed? The more the merrier, instead of the sadder?"
"Certainly," replied Edna with conviction, and the judge allowed his plate to be replenished. "You shall go out after supper to see my alterations," went on Edna. "Willis is going to let the other man come to-morrrow to finish up, for he told me he 'couldn't put off no longer goin' to Portland to have a tooth hauled.'"
The girl continued to keep the conversation in safe channels until the trying hour was over, then, asking Miss Martha to take the men around the house to exhibit her improvements, she ran upstairs again to Sylvia's room. Shutting herself in, she stood considering in what form she should put the news to those below. The gulf between herself and her guest still yawned; and, while she regretted to have hurt her, she felt that her words had not been unwarranted.
It was hard to forgive Sylvia for being so different from any girl of her own world, and yet to have strongly attracted so fastidious a man as John Dunham.
Edna caught herself up sharply. Was it possible that the least shadow of jealousy had influenced her treatment of Sylvia? She was given to uncompromising self-examination, and she knew that it had been a surprise to her to discover in the past days that she was not John's chief interest. She accused herself now of a snobbish inclination toward Sylvia, entirely aside from the perplexity and disapproval the girl had caused her. Edna knew herself to be accustomed to a pedestal. She feared that she had come to taking it for granted that even among her peers she should be preeminent, and that, as for this Western protegee whom she had patronized for Thinkright's sake, it had been a surprise to find her considered, socially speaking.
Edna set aside the tangled web of unsatisfactory thought, to be straightened and corrected at a more convenient season. Miss Martha might come upstairs at any moment. She must decide what to say to them all.
She wondered if Sylvia had fled too hastily to take her few belongings. She crossed the room to the closet, and opened the door. It was empty, but on the floor lay the pillow slip which Sylvia had defended from John so heatedly. Edna looked at the white bag with some repugnance. There recurred to her the appealing look in the girl's eyes as she had hurried into the house yesterday noon. Edna stooped and lifted the bag. It was heavy and stiff. She brought it out into the room, and opened it with some shrinking. What met her eyes were a number of sheets of brown wrapping-paper. She drew one partly out. It was apparently smeared with dark paint. Hastily pulling the paper from the bag, she beheld a sketch of Beacon Island. She hurried over to the bed, and with eager hands drew sheet after sheet from the bag and spread them out. They formed three rows of sketches on the white coverlet, and Edna's eyes sparkled with interest as she recognized the subjects. The work had apparently been done with some blunt instrument instead of a brush. The effects were broad, after the manner of a charcoal drawing.
Edna compressed her lips as she gazed. Suddenly she crossed to an open window and leaned out. Fortune favored her. John Dunham was strolling in sight beyond the piazza. She called him softly. He heard, and she beckoned him beneath the window. "Can you come up here," she asked, "without letting the others know?"
Dunham assented with alacrity; but thought flies fast, and he had time for many misgivings as he mounted the stairs in bounds. Was Edna about to have it out with Sylvia, and was he being called as a witness to face a culprit and prove a position? If so, he promptly decided to have an acute attack of paresis.
Sylvia's door was ajar, and Edna standing by the bedside. "I needed somebody, and I chose you," she said over her shoulder. "Come and see what Sylvia has done."
Her tone was excited, and Dunham's heart beat fast as he paused at the door. What had Sylvia done?
THE LIGHT BREAKS
"Come here," said Edna, and moving aside she indicated the sketches. John drew near. "This is what was in that pillow slip yesterday."
Dunham regarded the rough work with large eyes. "By Jove!" he exclaimed. "She has it in her, hasn't she?"
"Just see the composition," returned Edna. "See the directness."
"What's it done with?" asked Dunham. "Not a brush."
"No, some sort of a stump; and it's such a queer color. I've been trying to make out—John Dunham!" Edna's tone suddenly changed. "This is that blueberry juice!"
Dunham's mouth fell open. The two stood staring at each other, and, as many perceptions and explanations flowed into their thought, they colored slowly, and as richly as sunburn would permit.
"That is the love philtre, John," said Edna, when they had been a long time silent, and she caught her lip between her teeth, for her own condemnation pressed upon her more heavily with each enlightening consideration.
Dunham's feelings were inexpressible, and his one devout thanksgiving was that Edna was ignorant of his own banality.
Suddenly she ran out of the room to the head of the stairs. "Miss Lacey," she called, "will you bring Judge Trent up here?"
The request startled Miss Martha into a sudden panic. "Dear me, Calvin, Edna wants us. I'm afraid Sylvia is ill. She looked it this noon. Oh, I assure you she never would have stayed upstairs from laziness, never in this world. She"—
But Judge Trent was already far in advance of the speaker, and Miss Lacey tripped upstairs after him, briskly.
"Come here, both of you, and I will make you proud," said Edna as they entered the room. "These sketches are your niece's work."
"Aren't they the queerest things you ever saw?" asked Miss Martha, adjusting her eyeglasses the better to peer at the brown sheets. "But there's the Ledges, and there's Beacon Island, and the West Shore, and our own swimming pool from over on the Point, and"—
"Judge Trent, do you know about such work?" asked Edna. "Do you care for this sort of thing?"
"Yes, in an ignorant sort of a way. Certainly I do."
"If you found Sylvia talented, you'd help her, I'm sure you would."
"Of course. Why? You appear excited."
Edna touched the lawyer's black sleeve as he stood in his customary attitude, his hands behind his back. As she went on it was evident that she fought with tears.
"Pardon me for asking if Sylvia has any money? Has any allowance been made her?"
"Not by me, and it's not likely by Thinkright."
"It must be so! She can't have any money." The girl paused to swallow. Judge Trent regarded her, the corners of his mouth drawn down, at a loss to understand her manner, and ready to defy whatever accusation she was about to bring against him.
Edna continued: "Sylvia went into the field, and spent hours selecting the largest, darkest berries she could find. She came home and stewed them into a substitute for paint. You remember, Miss Martha, the evening you thought she was cooking. Then she found this rough manila paper, and contrived a stump out of something. Think how she must have longed to paint, how she longed for materials"—
"Why didn't you tell me?" demanded Judge Trent brusquely. "How was I to know?"
"I didn't know myself," returned Edna. "None of us knew. She was too modest, too delicate, to tell. She went alone to do these things, to try her powers. She had come to the place where she meant to tell me. She said so to-day. Doubtless she believed in her ability at last." Edna again seized the pillow slip and shook out a number of bits of paper that had sunk to the bottom. There fell out with them various stained, tightly-rolled paper stumps, which had evidently been used in lieu of brushes.
The three heads gathered together to look at the sketches of themselves and the family at the Mill Farm.
"By Jove, she has got it in her," repeated Dunham, regarding a drawing of himself as he had appeared to be asleep in the boat.
Judge Trent was examining his own penciled face, frowning beneath the silk hat. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "I shall have to speak to Sylvia about this. Call her in, Edna."
It was the judge's last consecutive sentence for some time. All the company stared in equal amazement and apprehension, as Edna suddenly bowed her head on the lawyer's little broadcloth shoulder, and shook him with her sobs.
"Edna!" exclaimed Dunham, stepping forward, and he was unconscious of the severity of his voice. "Do you know you're frightening us? Where is Sylvia?"
"Where, for mercy's sake?" demanded Miss Martha tremulously.
"H-home, to the Tide Mill." Edna managed to jerk out the words. "W-wait a minute."
As soon as she could lift her head and wipe her eyes, a process which gave Judge Trent infinite relief, she saw John's face grown so white under its tan that it helped her to become steady.
"She's—safe, I'm sure," she said. "We had—a misunderstanding, and it was all my fault, and I suppose she left this noon as soon as she could get away from us. She left a note for me. I found it when I came up to knock on her door. She said she was homesick."
"I don't understand at all," said Judge Trent. "Sylvia gone back to the farm, without a by-your-leave to her hostess? Confoundedly bad manners I call it." The lawyer's thought was creaking through unaccustomed ruts. He had been cheated out of Sylvia's companionship, after all, and his favorite Edna was in tears. He could not understand, and his frown was portentous.
"It is my fault," repeated Edna. "Spare me from explaining, because in the morning I shall go over to the farm myself and make things right."
"Just like that erratic father of hers. No manners," declared the lawyer.
"Calvin Trent!" Miss Martha's eyes sparkled through her excited tears. "I'll thank you to be careful how you insult my dead brother in my presence. Your own manners in doing so are worse than anything Sam was ever guilty of!"
"Right you are, Martha," returned the startled lawyer with prompt meekness.
"Moreover," added Edna, indicating the sketches, "see Sylvia's inheritance from that father. You've nothing to blame her for, Judge Trent, in the manner of her leaving. I understand it perfectly. Please fix your mind only on her talent. Come with me to-morrow, and make her happy by the assurance of your interest and assistance."
Judge Trent as he left the room muttered something to the effect that things had come to a pretty pass when he was forced at his age to spend his time on the water, tagging back and forth after a chit of a girl who didn't know her own mind. At the same time he recalled that Sylvia had returned to Hawk Island with reluctance, and that Edna Derwent was not the girl to shake him with her sobs for nothing; so he set himself to the task of being civil to Miss Lacey for the following half-hour, with intent to make amends for his offense to her.
Dunham, left alone with Edna, asked the question which was consuming him. Edna was placing the sketches in one of the empty drawers of the chiffonier.
"You must have had some talk with Sylvia this noon after I came upstairs for the book," he began.
She lifted her shoulder and shook her head with a gesture of repugnance. "Oh, yes. Don't remind me."
Dunham feared the worst. If Edna had accused Sylvia of giving him that potion, he would forswear the Mill Farm forever.
He continued: "Sylvia had already felt that you were offended with her. She mentioned it in the boat yesterday. Did your interview to-day go into detail? Did,"—John cleared his throat,—"did you tell her what her offense was?"
"No,"—Edna shook her head,—"and don't ask me what it was, John. I told her we would talk later; but I hurt her. I hurt her, because I didn't know." She paused, and her next words caused further relief to overspread Dunham's countenance. "I'm glad that you understand nothing about it, John."
"So am I," he returned cheerfully. "I know you'll fix things up all right. I think I'll just wander down the island now, and find Benny Merritt and see if he was her boatman. Cheer up, Edna. I know you can get whatever you want out of Judge Trent, and by this time to-morrow night everything will be going as merry as a marriage bell."
A shrewd guess helped Dunham to find the object of his search at the post office, where Benny was seated on a barrel, pensively kicking his heels. Dissembling his eagerness, John nodded a greeting in his direction, and, passing over to the corner of the grocery sacred to the Government pigeonholes, asked for the Derwent mail.
The portly wife of the postmaster replied that the evening boat was late and that they were waiting for the mail.
John accepted this information with proper surprise, and, turning away, looked through the window at the lights on a swordfisher standing in the cove. He thought he would first give Benny the chance to volunteer information.
He had already found that moments spent in the island grocery yielded rich returns in diversion. It was, in the first place, cause for rejoicing that the amiable but chronically weary proprietor of the island emporium, and his too substantial spouse, should be named Frisk.
While John stood there a girl came in and stumbled toward the post office window. "Have ye shet up the mail bag yet, Mis' Frisk? I want to git this package in if I possibly can. How much goes on it?"
"I'll have to see," returned the portly one, waddling out to where the grocery scales stood on the counter. By the light of the kerosene lamp she leaned over and examined the figures.
"'M. Weighs jest two pounds," she announced.
The girl looked bewildered. "Why, they ain't but two handkerchiefs in there, Mis' Frisk. I don't see how it could"—
"Hey?" deliberately. "Two handkerchiefs? Let's see." Another examination. "Oh, ye-us," wearily. "My stomach was on the scales."
Dunham had scarcely recovered from this when another girl, a smart summer boarder who favored him with a stare of interest as she entered, approached the proprietor.
Mr. Frisk in his shirt sleeves was viewing a too precipitate world from behind his counter. "I'd like some marshmallows, please," said the girl.
"Ain't got any," was the response, given with entire amiability.
"Why," disappointedly, "you did have them last week."
"Ye-us, I know. I tried carryin' ma'shmallers quite a spell: but't wan't no use. Seems if everybody wanted 'em. I couldn't keep 'em in stock any time at all, so I give it up."
"Well, I do declare!" exclaimed the young woman. "And, Mr. Frisk, my mother is distressed because that cable message doesn't come from father. If it comes to-night"—
"Oh, that's so, there wus a telegram this noon. Ye-us, that's so. I remember now. 'Twus from yer pa."
"Where is it? Why didn't you send it up, then?" John could hear the vexation fairly crackling in the speaker's voice.
"Why, I see he got thar all right, so I didn't know as thar wus any drive."
Some supporting sense of humor seemed to come to the girl, for John could hear her desperate chuckle as she went out with the cablegram.
"Handsome evenin', Mr. Dunham," remarked the unmoved postmaster. "Bo't's late, ain't it?"
John assented, and a wizened old man passed him and approached the counter.
"Howdy, Frisk," he mumbled. "Got to have some more terbacca. Gimme a package o' Peace and Good Will, will ye?"
The proprietor beamed sympathetically. "Ye'll have to try somethin' else this time, Uncle Ben," he drawled pleasantly. "I'm sorry, but the fact is my Peace and Good Will's mouldy."
Dunham smiled, and looked over his shoulder at Benny. He was still cracking his heels gently against the flour barrel. The evening boat must be in soon, and then the boy would be out on the dock, lost in the excitement of its arrival. Dunham strolled up to him. "Good-evening, Benny."
He was surprised at the unresponsive air with which the boy nodded. John was aware of having recently completed the capture of Benny's heart by replying to questions concerning the gold football on his fob; but to-night there was no lighting of the young sailor's face.
"Come outside, will you, Benny? I want to speak to you."
To John's further amazement, Benny, instead of bounding off the barrel, complied with reluctance; but they were finally out of doors in the velvet darkness that preceded the moonrise.
"I want to know where you left Miss Sylvia," said John Dunham imperiously.
The boy hesitated a minute, then spoke grudgingly. "At the Tide Mill."
"How was she?"
"Able to walk up to the house," responded the boy irritatingly.
"Look here,"—Dunham laid a heavy hand on the other's shoulder, and Benny struggled vainly to shake it off. "What's the matter with you? Was Miss Sylvia ill? I didn't see her before she went."
Benny ceased his futile writhing. "Oh, you kin hold on to me, I s'pose," he said sullenly; "but I don't care if you have got a muscle, and kin stay under water, and play football. Gosh durn you fer makin' her cry, I say."
The vim with which Benny exploded his accusation silenced Dunham for a moment, but he did not relax his grasp. "I didn't make her cry," he answered then. "Give you my word, Benny. Can't you have any sympathy for a fellow? I didn't know she was going, and I'm all broken up."
Benny lifted his eyes, half relenting.
"What did she cry for? What did she say? Tell me, and I'll give you the best fishing outfit you can buy in Portland."
"Didn't say nothin' much. She come to me all white around the gills, and asked if I'd sail her home right away quick. She had her bag, and I see she didn't cal'late to come back. She kep' a-hurryin' me up, and after we got out o' the cove she give me a smile and thanked me for bein' so quick, and then she said, 'If you don't mind, Benny, I'm goin' to sleep. I'm jest as tired as I can be.'"
"Well, where does my making her cry come in?" In his impatience John gave an unconscious shake to his captive.
"You leggo my collar," said Benny, with a threatened return of the sulks.
"Certainly. Excuse me." Dunham instantly dropped his hand. "You said she went to sleep?"
"Yes, went to sleep!" repeated the boy contemptuously. "Do folks go to sleep with their eyes wide open? I see she didn't want me to talk to her, but I watched her mighty close, 'cause I knew right off you was at the bottom of it."
"I? What possible idea"—
"Git out. Ain't I seen you not noticin' Miss Edna any? Ain't I seen you not sail the boat when you had the chance? Ain't I seen her eyin' you when she thought you wan't lookin'?"
Dunham groaned. "Benny, you're horribly precocious."
The boy glowered suspiciously.
"I don't know whether I be or not. I know I've got eyes."
"And what did you see to-day?"
"Tears. Hundreds of 'em. That's what I see. If she'd a-busted out cryin' 't wouldn't 'a' ben so bad. I could 'a' said, 'Oh, you're young yet, you don't know how many wuss things is goin' to happen to you, and I've known fellers could stay under longer'n he kin;' but I couldn't say a thing to comfort her when she kep' a-wip-in' away one tear at a time from her cheek, secret like. I knew she'd ben scrappin' with you, or else that you'd turned around and ben sweet on Miss Edna."
"Nothing of the sort, Benny. You're all off in both guesses. Miss Sylvia just went home a little sooner than she expected, and Miss Derwent is going over to-morrow to spend the day with her. You're going to take her over yourself."
"See anythin' green in my eyes?" drawled Benny. "I'll bet you ain't goin' over, then," he added cynically.
"Of course I wouldn't butt in on the young ladies' day together," returned John. Benny's recital had touched him, but he could not forbear a smile at the youngster's courage of conviction. "I tell you, I'm the aggrieved party in this matter," he added.
"Oh, git out," returned the boy. "Butt in, nawthin'. You go over there and fix it up with her. Say," hopefully, "I'll sail ye over to-night if ye want to. Plenty o' moon."
"You're awfully good, Benny, but you can take it from me, I shouldn't be welcome."
The boy looked staggered for the first time.
"Has she turned you down?" he asked in a low tone. "That's so, she'd a cried jest the same if she had. Say, has she?"
Dunham made a significant gesture.
"Next time don't you be so sure you know it all, Benny," he replied.
That afternoon, while Benny had been surreptitiously watching Sylvia's irrepressible tears, she kept her face toward the Tide Mill without one backward look. The boat, as it cut through the water, rising and falling in the strong, steady wind, seemed ever rhythmically repeating the line of the island song:—
"Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day Joy, sea-swept may fade to-day."
She tried to look away from her hurt and humiliation as she looked away from Anemone Cottage; tried to remember only that at the Mill Farm was Thinkright, with his confidence and calm. Oh, to be calm and fearless once more!
"Love alone will stay!"
A light seemed shed now on many a talk of Thinkright's concerning the only Love that would stay,—abide. The only Love that bred peace,—the peace that passeth understanding.
Winds and waves sang on:—
"Joy, sea-swept may fade to-day; Love alone will stay."
and above the human sweetness of the song Sylvia felt that there dwelt a deeper, higher meaning, but she could not attain to it now. Thought was pain. What she longed to do was to wipe the last week from her remembrance. The last week. She suddenly remembered its high light: the thrill with which she had worked over her pictures and the power she felt in her finger tips. Her sketches,—she had forgotten them. Her aunt, Edna, would find them. What matter? Nothing at Hawk Island mattered.
She turned her thought to the farm. The Basin was sparkling and waiting for her, the birches were bending forward in welcome. Thinkright, and the dear Fosters, she loved them all; and her boat, whose dainty oars she had never handled. Home, a dear home, awaited her. She hoped the uncontrollable fountain of her tears would dry before the Tide Mill should feel her presence and seem to say: "I told you so. Better never to believe in the sunshine. Then you cannot suffer a pang in finding that, after all, the world holds naught but bitterness and disappointment."
When the old mill finally came in sight, Sylvia averted her face. While the boat stole through its cold shadow she fixed her eyes on the smiling lake beyond, all alive in the rising tide, and glad, to its last sombre little evergreen pushing sap into the hopeful brightness of its tips.
"Thank you so much, Benny," she said, when finally she stood on the shore. "I've been a very stupid passenger, but I hope you'll forgive me."
"I didn't want to talk," returned Benny awkwardly. What he thought was, "I only wish't I was big enough to punch his head."
"I got time to carry your bag up to the house, and I'm goin' to," he added firmly.
Sylvia demurred, for she did not wish the boy to see the surprise her return would occasion; but he refused to listen to her assurances, and, dropping his anchor in the depths beside a certain rock, he strode off manfully by her side with the bag, only wishing that it were twice as heavy.
Fortune favored Sylvia, for Thinkright was the only member of the family who saw her emerge from the woods. He came down the hill to meet the newcomers, and, noting Benny's burden, understood that the girl's return was permanent.
He advanced in silence, smiling. Sylvia smiled too, bravely. "The bad penny, you see," she said, as he drew near.
"I'm glad to get the penny on any terms," he replied.
"Will you pay Benny, please, Thinkright? I hadn't any money with me."
The boy took the silver and gave up the bag, casting a furtive glance at Sylvia.
"Ye don't want me to come back for yer to-morrer?" he said.
"No, thank you, Benny. Good-by." She gave him an April smile, and he returned to the boat muttering to himself, his fist clenched and restless.
The girl met Thinkright's kind, questioning look.
"I've shown the white feather after all," she said; "but would you mind not asking me anything,—just for to-day?"
"Certainly I won't, little one. Don't tell me until you wish to."
Sylvia rested her hand on his shoulder as they walked up the hill. "I shall tell the others, if they ask, that I was homesick. Never was a truer word spoken. People have died of homesickness, haven't they, Thinkright? I thought I might die of it if I had to stay there one more night."
Her companion did not smile at this extravagance. He was wise, and knew that a wound which is resisted and thrown off by experienced and case-hardened maturity does often crush the thin skin of youth.
"Well, we shall all be thoroughly glad to get you back again, dear," he replied. "There's been a yawning hole in the house ever since you left, and Minty actually shed tears last evening in her disappointment that you didn't stay."
"Dear little Minty," said Sylvia, gratefully.
"The tears and affection were very genuine," said Thinkright smiling, "but the situation is more acute owing to the fact of your rowboat, and that she has been forbidden to use it without you."
"Poor little thing. I don't wonder. I'll take her soon, or she'll take me; but this afternoon can I stay with you a while? Have you time to talk to me, and read with me? I'm a heathen, and need a missionary."
"You're not; but I'll help you to know you're not. I was going to mend a fence, but"—
"Oh, no, mend me!" returned Sylvia.
Benny Merritt found that Mr. Dunham had spoken the truth, and that he was summoned early on the following day to take Miss Derwent to the Mill Farm; and when she appeared at the dock at the appointed hour, it proved that she was escorted by Judge Trent, rather grim of visage as he shot out sharp glances from beneath the earth-colored cap. He was not particularly fond of sailing; he greatly approved of Jenny's cooking; everything had been unusually comfortable and to his mind until Sylvia's foolish move upset everything and everybody. It was with reluctance that he accompanied Edna this morning, but her earnestness would not be gainsaid. He was forced to listen to assurances of his niece's gift, of the desirability of developing it, of the strength of the motive-spirit she had evidenced in the pains taken to carry out her desire. Then Edna unfolded to him the plans that had come to her during a wakeful night, and bespoke his cooperation. The judge scowled at the passing billows, and listened. Edna was tactful and diplomatic. She did not overdo the matter. She allowed silences to fall in which her taciturn listener might digest the food she had offered his family pride and ambition. She talked of other matters, and was just making a reference to the judge's gift to his niece of the rowboat, when Benny steered in toward the mill, and dropped his sail at the nearest spot which at this tide was practicable.
"There is the new boat, now," cried Edna; "and Sylvia and Minty are in it."
As she and the judge walked along the shore toward the little boathouse, she waved her handkerchief toward the occupants of the Rosy Cloud. It was Minty who first caught sight of the visitors.
"There's somebody a-wavin'," she said, and Sylvia stopped rowing and looked over her shoulder. She had been finding the lightness and responsiveness of her boat exhilarating, and her eyes were beaming until she caught sight of the visitors.
Even Minty saw the change that crossed her face. "I wish 't they hadn't come, too," she said regretfully. "Don't go in yet, Miss Sylvia."
"You see, Uncle Calvin gave me the boat, and he has never been inside of it," returned Sylvia, beginning to row toward shore. "You shall take her again, Minty, as soon as we are through."
She was surprised that Edna had come so promptly. She could still see the cold disapproval in her friend's face the last time she had looked upon it. What a contrast she saw now in its beaming expression!
Miss Derwent was uncomfortable, for she knew she could not be welcome, and she longed for five minutes alone with Sylvia; but Judge Trent must be considered, and she had to curb her impatience as best she might.
The judge watched the approach of the boat critically. "You go too deep, Sylvia, you go too deep," he announced as she drew near. "Minty, you row like a windmill. You'll have to take some lessons, too."
"Minty rows a good strong stroke," said Sylvia; "but she has always had such a heavy boat that she'll have to learn that this doesn't require the same effort." How strange it seemed that any one at this juncture could consider the form of rowing! When one's heart was beating and one's brain struggling to decide how to meet a difficult situation, as if anything mattered, except to reach the shore and not to forget the laws of hospitality.
"Well, well, miss," went on the judge, when he could see his niece's flushed face, "this running away is pretty business. What have you to say for yourself?"
"She needn't say anything," said Edna. "I told him you were homesick, Sylvia, and it was reason enough. You had ample reason for leaving."
The speaker made the deliberate addition significantly, and caught her friend's eye with an appeal in which Sylvia could see the flag of truce. The earnestness and sweetness of her tone and look astounded Sylvia; for had so simple an action as her coming home had power to alter such strong feeling as must goad a hostess before she can so rebuke the guest beneath her roof?
"Are you going to come ashore and let us interrupt your sport?" went on Edna.
"Unless you and Uncle Calvin care to come out for a little row," returned Sylvia. "It's a wonderful boat, Uncle Calvin."
"Yes, Edna, get in," said the judge. "You take the tiller, and I'll show Sylvia how to avoid the windmill habit. Another time for you, Minty," he added, and the child jumped out obediently.
Little did the prosaic lawyer suspect the preoccupation of his pupil during the next quarter of an hour. Sylvia did her best to obey him; and Edna, intent on keeping him in the best of humor, expressed her enjoyment of a situation whose finish she anticipated far more eagerly than did her friend; for Sylvia, although apparently intent on feathering, was planning how she could avoid being left alone for a minute with Edna.
The moment came, however, when they must land, and Judge Trent superintended the putting up of the boat. He would touch nothing, he wished Sylvia to understand and execute each detail, and gave his directions crisply. His niece welcomed this, for it kept him by her side, a position she hoped he would maintain until their departure for the island.
"What do you suppose Mrs. Lem will say to two people descending upon her for dinner?" asked Edna, when at last the three started toward the house.
"Oh, this is giving her plenty of warning," replied Sylvia. "I will tell her at once."
Edna had requested Judge Trent not to refer to his niece's sketches until she had an opportunity to speak with her alone. To this he had replied that he was a passenger, and that, as Edna had undertaken to discover a genius in his family, he would not interfere with any dramatic effect upon which she had set her heart. The two girls ascended the hill, one on each side of him, and Sylvia's heart sank as he asked Thinkright's whereabouts.
"Oh, he's off in the farm garden with Cap'n Lem," she replied; "but you're not going to leave me, are you, Uncle Calvin? I'm always being disappointed of a visit with you. Edna, you hold on to him while I go in and tell Mrs. Lem that you're here,—although Minty has probably already done so."
Far from obeying, Edna dismissed their escort the instant Sylvia had disappeared.
"This will give me a chance to have my talk with her before dinner," she said; "and afterward she can talk with you."
"Very well," returned the judge; "but don't get flighty, Edna. Remember, I'm not a millionaire."
Sylvia's face, when she emerged from the house to find her friend waiting alone, was expressive; and Edna answered quite as if she had spoken.
"Yes, I sent him away. I had to see you alone. Please forgive me for yesterday, and give me ten minutes—no, five; I believe you'll ask for the next five yourself."
It was Edna's old winning smile that again beamed upon her perplexed friend. The vague change and coolness had disappeared. "Choose a place where no one will disturb us," she added.
In silence Sylvia walked to the AEolian pine tree, and they seated themselves on the rustic seat.
"How amazed you must have been at my severity yesterday," began Edna, "when you could not have had the vaguest idea at what I was hinting."
Sylvia still kept silence. She was astonished by the light-hearted, almost humorous note in her companion's voice.
"You must have had an idea, I suppose," she returned noncommittally.
To her further surprise Edna actually laughed. "Yes, I had an idea, but I'm mortally ashamed of it to-day. Could you be so magnanimous, Sylvia, as not to ask me what it was?"
The girl kept silence for a moment. Surely if her offense had concerned John Dunham, nothing could have occurred since yesterday to alter facts—but stay! and not all the sun kisses that had warmed Sylvia's face could conceal that she grew suddenly pale. If Edna and John had come to a mutual discovery since yesterday, that would explain the happy excitement which seemed to have engulfed all other feeling for Edna.
"You will have to explain a little," she said, and her self-control made her voice cold.
"Oh, it's too absurd, Sylvia—honestly. Sometime when we're quite old ladies I'll tell you,—that is, if you'll forgive me without my confessing now. Of course if you won't,"—Edna's eyes besought her friend merrily,—"I shall have to; but really I want to beg off."
"You have something important to tell me," said Sylvia, "something besides that."
"Two things. I didn't sleep at all last night for two reasons: one was for happiness, the other for regret that I had hurt you."
It was, then, as Sylvia had surmised. What reason was there for feeling such shock? Had she not always been prepared for this, and been waiting for it?
"Oh, I can't bear to have you look so frozen, Sylvia." Edna suddenly took her friend's hand. "I do apologize sincerely for yesterday, and I am going to tell you what no one else knows or will know for some time, owing to the strange circumstances. The mail last evening brought my father's consent to my marrying the man I love. I'll not tell you more about it yet, except that he is an Englishman, and we had almost despaired of winning over my parents. What? Not a word, Sylvia?" For the blue eyes gazed, and the parted lips were stiffly mute. After a minute warmth began to flow back into the younger girl's face. The hand Edna held began to return its pressure.
"I am happy for you," said Sylvia, and the two smiled into each other's eyes.
"Happy enough to forgive me on trust?" asked Edna.
"Yes," answered the other slowly; but the question her heart and pride were asking must be expressed.
"Does—does Mr. Dunham know what idea it was that made you reproach me yesterday?"
"John?" Edna laughed. "Oh, dear, no."
"Well,"—Sylvia gave a long-drawn sigh,—"I will not press you, though of course I'm curious."
"You're very good; and now I'll come to the other discovery which kept me awake. We found your sketches last evening."
"Yes, I forgot them." Sylvia's companion noted the light that came into her eyes. "I suppose they are only daubs to you, but I was so happy doing them!"
"And we were happy looking at them. I can't think that with all that talent you are not hoping to study."
"Of course I hope; but against hope, for who would take enough interest"—
"Your uncle. I. Every friend you have."
Sylvia's lips parted eagerly. "Did Uncle Calvin really feel it was worth while?"
"Indeed he did. You can't remain at this blessed little farm all next winter, hibernating. How should you like to come to Boston and study?"
"Oh, it is my ideal!" Sylvia clasped her hands.
"It is going to be, my dear. Judge Trent has promised."
The young artist caught her lip in her teeth and drew a long breath.
"Meanwhile you shouldn't waste time," went on Edna. "The Keenes,—you know Mr. and Mrs. Keene, the illustrators,—have an artist camp in the White Mountains. They are dear friends of mine. How should you like to go up there soon,—in a few days, if I find they will accept you?"
"Edna, you take my breath away."
"Yes, I know; but it would be the finest thing for you, especially if it led to your studying with them during the winter. I don't think there could be a better place for you than their studio. If Judge Trent consents, will you go? I can telegraph to-day. The camp lasts only for a short time, and I don't want you to miss it."
A strange commingling of delight and reluctance seethed in Sylvia's brain, and her thought flashed to Hawk Island.
"To go so soon!" she said, scarcely aware that she spoke.
"Yes, immediately, or it would not be worth while. Such an opportunity, Sylvia; and, if I read the sketches aright, the motive power that lay behind your guarding of those big berries would drive you much further than to the White Mountains."
"Yes. Oh, yes, Edna. What a friend you are!"
"Then it is settled?"
"Yes, indeed, if Uncle Calvin"—
"Oh, leave Uncle Calvin to me. His dry bones are about to be vitalized."
A SOFTENED BLOW
The scanty sunshine of another New England winter had fallen on the ink stains in the offices of Calvin Trent, and spring had come again.
Brave little green twigs approached the window and looked curiously in at the occupants of the two neighboring desks, and the younger man sometimes returned their challenging with speculative and not unhappy eyes.
One morning in early June John found in the mail a letter for Judge Trent, which he passed across to the other desk, unopened.
"'M, h'm," commented the judge, taking it, "another hymn of praise from Sylvia, I suppose."
He regarded the envelope meditatively. "That girl has worked well, Dunham."
"The Keenes say so," returned John. "They're greatly interested in her."
"Edna has been her good angel, for sure, in all this business," said the lawyer.
"I thought you were the angel in the affair."
"Edna was the power behind me. She persisted until I was glad to buy peace. She's been indefatigable, that girl: found the right place for Sylvia to live, and kept an eye to her all winter, introduced her to the right people, often had her in her home. She's a brick, Edna Derwent is. Something more than style and fuss and feathers about her. Yes, Boy, you think I don't see anything; but do you suppose I haven't taken notice of the way you've mooned around the last month? Do you suppose I'd have overlooked your tearing up that deed last week, and putting us to all the extra trouble, if it had been on anybody's account but Edna's? Do you suppose I'd have let you go to Boston twice as often as was necessary, if I hadn't approved? Yes, sir." The speaker struck his desk, with a sharp snap of Sylvia's letter. "I approve. If a man must marry, let him accomplish something by it. None of this Tennyson village maid business. Let him find a girl with money and position and the right sort of connections that will do him some good and give him a lift in the world. Marriage ought to have some frosting besides what's on the wedding cake. Folks dream on that, and very appropriately. It's the stuff dreams are made of, in more senses than one; and after that flimsiness is over, there ought to be something substantial left. Just as many attractive girls who have something as that haven't. It's sheer perversity when a poor young man sets his heart on additional poverty. Let the Cophetuas have a corner on the beggar maids; but let poor men, and especially young lawyers, get busy elsewhere."
At the beginning of this tirade John had looked up in surprise. At its close he was smiling meditatively at the dingy wall.
"Poor men, even young lawyers, have their pride," he remarked, when the judge had finished.
"Stuff and nonsense. That's another false standard set up by the poets. You're an orphan, John, nobody nearer, as I understand it, than an uncle or an aunt here and there, and that's one reason I'm talking to you like a father. Another reason is that you've been a trump in your relations with me. You've served me well; but besides that, I haven't been insensible to the civility you've shown Sylvia. You've scarcely ever been in Boston without looking in on her and bringing me the latest bulletin. Do you suppose I haven't appreciated how often you and Edna have added her to the outings you've had together, theatres, and concerts, and all that business? Very expensive, and very bad judgment, all that, if it hadn't been justified by such an end in view as Edna herself. Now, you take it from me: I've lived a good deal longer than you, and I've seen a host of folks get married, even if I haven't got in the game myself; and when a rich woman wants a man, it's blind foolishness to keep her waiting while he builds up his bank account. Let him build it up afterward. No law against that. I've observed a number of signs, Boy, that show that your habits and tastes are extravagant; then the more reason that you should act, and act promptly."
A laugh escaped Dunham. "Has it come to this!" he returned. "I never expected you to urge me in this direction."
The judge made an expansive gesture. "Simply because I expect you'll marry anyway, and Edna Derwents don't grow on every bush. Can't you understand? Of course, I don't know much about your finances, really."
"Is that the whole question?" asked Dunham. "If I didn't need a banker, should you be reminding me that a young man married is a man that's marred, and all that sort of thing?"
"No,"—the judge shrugged his little shoulders. "Things have gone too far for that." He began to cut open his niece's letter. "After your tearing up that deed, I'm not the man to waste my energy."