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Title: The Chauffeur and the Chaperon
Author: Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933, Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Chauffeur and the Chaperon" ***

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THE CHAUFFEUR AND THE CHAPERON


OTHER BOOKS BY C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON

_My Friend the Chauffeur_, _Lady Betty Across the Water_,
_Rosemary in Search of a Father_, _Princess Virginia_,
_The Car of Destiny_, _The Princess Passes_,
_The Lightning Conductor_



THE CHAUFFEUR AND THE CHAPERON

BY

C. N. and A. M. Williamson


ILLUSTRATIONS BY KARL ANDERSON

NEW YORK

THE McCLURE COMPANY

MCMVIII

Copyright, 1907, 1908, by The McClure Company

Copyright, 1906, by C. N. and A. M. Williamson


TO

MR. G. VAN DER POT

PRESIDENT OF THE ROTTERDAM SAILING AND ROWING CLUB
   WHOSE KIND AND NEVER-FAILING HELP ADDED
      TENFOLD TO THE PLEASURES OF OUR
         VOYAGE THROUGH DELIGHTFUL
             DUTCH WATERWAYS
               WE DEDICATE

THE STORY OF THE TOUR



CONTENTS

NELL VAN BUREN'S POINT OF VIEW

CHAPTER              PAGE

     I.                3

    II.               12

   III.               23

    IV.               36

     V.               45

    VI.               63

   VII.               72


RUDOLPH BREDERODE'S POINT OF VIEW

  VIII.               87

    IX.              108

     X.              118

    XI.              134

   XII.              147

  XIII.              160

   XIV.              170

    XV.              178

   XVI.              183

  XVII.              190

 XVIII.              200

   XIX.              208

    XX.              222


PHYLLIS RIVERS' POINT OF VIEW

CHAPTER              PAGE

   XXI.              235

  XXII.              243

 XXIII.              260

  XXIV.              270

   XXV.              279

  XXVI.              284


RONALD LESTER STARR'S POINT OF VIEW

 XXVII.              301

XXVIII.              314

  XXIX.              328

   XXX.              339

  XXXI.              348

 XXXII.              353

XXXIII.              365

 XXXIV.              369

  XXXV.              384

 XXXVI.              389

XXXVII.              402



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                  Facing
She absentmindedly dropped in three, while         Page
        talking to Starr    .    .    .    .       168

We were called upon to part with almost all
        the gulden.    .    .    .    .    .        20

"You need have no hesitation in giving the
        boat to me"    .    .    .    .    .        24

We both exclaimed, "Oh, are you here?".    .        42

There was a sudden stir in the garden .    .        96

"It's black magic," said Aunt Fay     .    .       154

We stopped at Haarlem only long enough to do
        reverence to Franz Hals  .    .    .       168

A couple of great yellow dogs, drawing a cart,
        swore canine oaths against the car .       196

Starr induced them to stand for him, though
        they were reluctant and self-conscious     216

I was glad to stoop down and pat Tibe .    .       240

Solemn men inspecting burning globes, and
        bargaining with their possessors   .       254

She looked, for all the world, like a beautiful
        Frisian girl   .    .    .    .    .       288

It was Phyllis who shone at Liliendaal     .       320

"Well--have I pleased you?" Freule Menela
        asked at last  .    .    .    .    .       344

It was a ring for a lover to offer to his lady     352

At his present rate he would reach us in about
        two minutes    .    .    .    .    .       388


THE CHAUFFEUR AND THE CHAPERON

NELL VAN BUREN'S POINT OF VIEW



I


Sometimes I think that having a bath is the nicest part of the day,
especially if you take too long over it, when you ought to be hurrying.

Phyllis and I (Phil is my stepsister, though she is the most English
creature alive) have no proper bath-room in our flat. What can you
expect for forty pounds a year, even at Clapham? But we have a fitted-up
arrangement in the box-room, and it has never exploded yet. Phyllis
allows herself ten minutes for her bath every morning, just as she
allows herself five minutes for her prayers, six to do her hair, and
four for everything else, except when she wears laced-up boots; but
then, she has principles, and I have none; at least, I have no maxims.
And this morning, just because there were lots of things to do, I was
luxuriating in the tub, thinking cool, delicious thoughts.

As a general rule, when you paint glorious pictures for yourself of your
future as you would like it to be, it clouds your existence with gray
afterwards, because the reality is duller by contrast; but it was
different this morning. I had stopped awake all night thinking the same
things, and I was no more tired of the thoughts now than when I first
began.

I lay with my eyes shut, sniffing Eau de Cologne (I'd poured in a
bottleful for a kind of libation, because I could afford to be
extravagant), and planning what a delightful future we would have.

"I should love to chop up Phil's type-writer and burn the remains," I
said to myself; "but she's much more likely to put it away in lavender,
or give it to the next-door-girl with the snub nose. Anyhow, I shall
never have to write another serial story for _Queen-Woman_, or _The
Fireside Lamp_, or any of the other horrors. Oh the joy of not being
forced to create villains, only to crush them in the end! No more secret
doors and coiners' dens, and unnaturally beautiful dressmakers'
assistants for me! Instead of doing typing at ninepence a thousand words
Phil can embroider things for curates, and instead of peopling the world
with prigs and puppets at a guinea a thou', I can--oh, I can do
_anything_. I don't know what I shall want to do most, and that's the
best of it--just to know I _can_ do it. We'll have a beautiful house in
a nice part of town, a cottage by the river, and, best of all, we can
travel--travel--travel."

Then I began to furnish the cottage and the house, and was putting up a
purple curtain in a white marble bath-room with steps down to the bath,
when a knock came at the door.

I knew it was Phil, for it could be nobody else; but it was as unlike
Phil as possible--as unlike her as a mountain is unlike itself when it
is having an eruption.

"Nell," she called outside the door. "Nell, darling! Are you ready?"

"Only just begun," I answered. "I shall be--oh, minutes and minutes yet.
Why?"

"I don't want to worry you," replied Phil's creamy voice, with just a
little of the cream skimmed off; "but--do make haste."

"Have you been cooking something nice for breakfast?" (Our usual meal is
Quaker oats, with milk; and tea, of course; Phil would think it
sacrilegious to begin the day on any other drink.)

"Yes, I have. And it's _wasted_."

"Have you spilt--or burnt it?"

"No; but there's nothing to rejoice over or celebrate, after all; at
least, comparatively nothing."

"Good gracious! What _do_ you mean?" I shrieked, with my card-house
beginning to collapse, while the Eau de Cologne lost its savor in my
nostrils. "Has a codicil been found to Captain Noble's will, as in the
last number of my serial for----"

"No; but the post's come, with a letter from his solicitor. Oh, how
stupid we were to believe what Mrs. Keithley wrote--just silly gossip.
We ought to have remembered that she _couldn't_ know; and she never got
a story straight, anyway. _Do_ hurry and come out."

"I've lost the soap now. Everything invariably goes wrong at once. I
_can't_ get hold of it. I shall probably be in this bath all the rest of
my life. For goodness' sake, what does the lawyer man say?"

"I can't stand here yelling such things at the top of my lungs."

Then I knew how dreadfully poor Phil was really upset, for her lovely
voice was quite snappy; and I've always thought she would not snap on
the rack or in boiling oil. As for me, my bath began to feel like
that--boiling oil, I mean; and I splashed about anyhow, not caring
whether I got my hair wet or not. Because, if we had to go on being poor
after our great expectations, nothing could possibly matter, not even
looking like a drowned rat.

I hadn't the spirit to coax Phyllis, but I might have known she wouldn't
go away, really. When I didn't answer except by splashes which might
have been sobs, she went on, her mouth apparently at the crack of the
door----

"I suppose we ought to be thankful for such mercies as _have_ been
granted; but after what we'd been led to expect----"

"What mercies, as a matter of fact, remain to us?" I asked, trying to
restore depressed spirits as well as circulation with a towel as harsh
as fate.

"Two hundred pounds and a motor-boat."

"A _motor-boat_? For goodness' _sake_!"

"Yes. The pounds are for me, the boat for you. It seems you once
unfortunately wrote a postcard, and told poor dear Captain Noble you
envied him having it. It's said to be as good as new; so there's one
comfort, you can sell it second-hand, and perhaps get as much money as
he has left me."

I came very near falling down again in the bath with an awful splash,
beneath the crushing weight of disappointment, and the soap slipping
under my foot.

"Two hundred pounds and a motor-boat--instead of all those thousands!" I
groaned--not very loudly; but Phil heard me through the door.

"Never mind, dearest," she called, striving, in that irritating way
saints have, to be cheerful in spite of all. "It's better than nothing.
We can invest it."

"Invest it!" I screamed. "What are two hundred pounds and a motor-boat
when invested?"

Evidently she was doing a sum in mental arithmetic. After a few seconds'
silence she answered bravely----

"About twelve pounds a year."

"_Hang_ twelve pounds a year!" I shrieked. Then something odd seemed to
happen in my inner workings. My blood gave a jump and flew up to my
head, where I could hear it singing--a wild, excited song. Perhaps it
was the Eau de Cologne, and not being used to it in my bath, which made
me feel like that. "I _shan't_ invest my motor-boat," I said. "I'm going
a cruise in it, and so are you."

"My darling girl, I hope you haven't gone out of your mind from the
blow!" There was alarm and solicitude in Phil's accents. "When you've
slipped on your dressing-gown and come out we'll talk things over."

"Nothing can make me change my mind," I answered. "It's been made up a
whole minute. Everything is clear now. Providence has put a motor-boat
into our hands as a means of seeing life, and to console us for not
being Captain Noble's heiresses, as Mrs. Keithley wrote we were going to
be. I will _not_ fly in Providence's face. I haven't been brought up to
it by you. We are going to have the time of our lives with that
motor-boat."

The door shook with Phil's disapproval. "You _do_ talk like an
American," she flung at me through the panel.

"That's good. I'm glad adoption hasn't ruined me," I retorted. "But
could _you_--just because you're English--contentedly give up our
beautiful plans, and settle down as if nothing had happened--with your
type-writer?"

"I hope I have the strength of mind to bear it," faltered Phyllis.
"We've only had two days of hoping for better things."

"We've only _lived_ for two days. There's no going back; there can't be.
We've burned our ships behind us, and must take to the motor-boat."

"Dearest, I don't think this is a proper time for joking--and you in
your bath, too," protested Phil, mildly.

"I'm out of it now. But I refuse to be out of everything. Miss Phyllis
Rivers--why, your very name's a prophecy!--I formally invite you to take
a trip with me in my motor-boat. It may cost us half, if not more, of
your part of the legacy; but I will merely borrow from you the
wherewithal to pay our expenses. Somehow--afterwards--I'll pay it back,
even if I have to reëstablish communication with heavenly shop-girls and
villainous duchesses. Oh, Phil, we'll get some fun out of this, after
all. Anyhow, we shall go on _living_--for a few weeks. What matter if,
after that, the deluge?"

"You speak exactly as if you were planning to be an _adventuress_," said
Phyllis, coldly.

"I should love to be one," said I. "I've always thought it must be more
fun than anything--till the last chapter. We'll both embark--in the
motor-boat--on a brief but bright career as adventuresses."

With that, before she could give me an answer, I opened the door and
walked out in my dressing-gown, so suddenly that she almost pitched
forward into the bath. Phyllis, heard from behind a cold, unsympathetic
door, and Phyllis seen in all her virginal Burne-Jones attractiveness,
might as well be two different girls. If you carried on a conversation
with Miss Rivers on ethics and conventionalities and curates, and things
of that kind from behind a door, without having first peeped round to
see what she was like, you would do the real Phil an injustice.

There is nothing pink and soft and dimpled about Phyllis's views of life
(or, at least, what she supposes her views to be); but about Phyllis in
flesh and blood there is more of that than anything else; which is one
reason why she has been a constant fountain of joy to my heart as well
as my sense of humor, ever since her clever Herefordshire father married
my pretty Kentucky mother.

Phil would like, if published, to be a Sunday-school book, and a volume
of "Good Form for High Society" rolled into one; but she is really more
like a treatise on flower-gardens, and a recipe for making Devonshire
junket with clotted cream.

Not that she's a regular beauty, or that she goes in for any speciality
by way of features or eyelashes, or hair, or a figure, or anything
really sensational of that sort, as I do in one or two directions. But
there's a rose and pearl and gold-brown adorableness about her; you like
her all the better for some little puritanical quaintnesses; and if you
are an Englishman or an American girl, you long to bully her.

She is taller than I am (as she ought to be, with Burne-Jones nose and
eyes), but this morning, when I sprang at her out of the bath-room, like
a young tigress escaped from its cage on its ruthless way to a
motor-boat, she looked so piteous and yielding, that I felt I could
carry her--and my point at the same time--half across the world.

She had made cream eggs for breakfast, poor darling (I could have sobbed
on them), and actually coffee for me, because she knows I love it. I
didn't worry her any more until an egg and a cup of tea were on duty to
keep her strength up, and then I poured plans, which I made as I went
on, upon her meekly protesting head.

The boat, it appeared, lay in Holland, which fact, as I pointed out to
Phil, was another sign that Providence had set its heart upon our using
her; for we've always wanted to see Holland. We often said, if we ever
took a holiday from serials and the type-writer, we would go to Holland;
but somehow the time for holidays and Holland never seemed to arrive.
Now, here it was; and it would be _the_ time of our lives.

Poor Captain Noble meant to use the boat himself this summer, but he was
taken ill late in the season on the Riviera and died there. It was from
Mentone that Mrs. Keithley wrote what was being said among his friends
about a huge legacy for us; and we, poor deluded ones, had believed.

Captain Noble, a dear old retired naval officer, was a friend of
Phyllis's father since the beginning of the world, and, though Phil was
sixteen and I fifteen when our respective parents (widowed both, ages
before) met and married, the good man took my mother also to his heart.
Phil and I have been alone in the world together now for three years;
she is twenty-two, I twenty-one. Though many moons have passed since we
saw anything of Captain Noble except picture postcards, we were not
taken entirely by surprise when we heard that he had left us a large
legacy. It is easy to get used to nice things, and far more difficult to
crawl down gracefully from gilded heights.

Crawl we must, however; so I determined it should be into that motor-boat
floating idly on a canal in Holland.

The letter from the solicitor (a French solicitor, or the equivalent,
writing from the Riviera) told us all about the boat and about the
money. The boat must be got by going or sending to Rotterdam, the money
obtained in London.

A thirty horse-power (why not thirty dolphin-power?) motor-boat sounds
very grand to read about; and as I recovered from my first
disappointment I began to feel as if I'd suddenly become proprietor of a
whole circus full of champing steeds. I tried to persuade Phyllis that I
should write better stories if I could travel a little in my own
motor-boat, as it would broaden my mind; therefore it would pay in the
end. Besides, I wasn't sure my health was not breaking down from
overstrain; not only that, I felt it would be _right_ to go; and,
anyhow, I just would go--so there.

I argued till I was on the point of fainting or having a fit, and I've
no doubt that it was my drawn face (what face wouldn't have been drawn?)
to which Phil's soft heart and obstinate mind finally succumbed.

She said that, as I seemed determined to go through fire and water (I
never heard of any hot springs in the canals of Holland), she supposed
she would have to stick by me, for she was older than I and couldn't
allow me to go alone under any consideration, especially with my
coloring and hair. But, though experience of me had accustomed her to
shocks and, she must confess, to sacrifices, she had never expected
until now that she would be called upon for my sake to become an
adventuress.

As for the two hundred pounds, that part didn't signify. I needn't
suppose she was thinking of it; thank Heaven, whether we worked or were
idle we would still have our settled hundred and twenty pounds a year
each. It was our reputation for which she cared most, and she was sure
the _least_ evil that could befall us would be to blow up.

"Better do it on a grand scale in a thirty horse-power motor-boat than
in a gas-meter bath-tub of a five-room flat in Clapham," I remarked; and
somehow that silenced Phyllis, except for a sigh.

Since then I've been in a whirl of excitement preparing my watery path
as a motor-boat adventuress, and buying a dress or two to suit the part.
It doesn't even depress me that Phil has selected hers with the air of
acquiring a serviceable shroud.

I've finished up three serials in as many days, killing off my villains
like flies, and creating a perfect epidemic of hastily made matches
among titled heroes and virtuous nursery governesses. Scarcely an
aristocratic house in England that wouldn't shake to its foundations if
fiction were fact; but then my fiction isn't of the kind that anything
short of a dislocated universe could possibly make fact.

Phyllis, with the face of a tragic Muse, has been writing letters to her
clients recommending another typist--quite a professional sort of
person, who was her understudy once, a year or so ago, when she
thoughtlessly allowed herself to come down with measles.

"Miss Brown never puts 'q' instead of 'a', or gets chapter titles on one
side; and she knows how to make the _loveliest_ curlicues under her
headings. Nobody will ever want me to come back," the poor girl wailed.

"All the better for them, if you're going to blow up, as you are
convinced you will," I strove to console her, as I tried on a
yachting-cap, reduced to two three-farthings from four shillings. But
she merely shuddered. And now, when at last we have shut up the flat,
turned the key upon our pasts, and got irrevocably on board the
"Batavier" boat, which will land us in Rotterdam, she has moaned more
than once, "I feel as if nothing would be the same with us ever, ever
again."

"So do I," I've answered unfeelingly. "And I'm _glad_."



II


This is the first time I have been on a sea-going ship since I crossed
from America with my mother, neither of us dreaming that she would
settle down and give me an Englishman for a stepfather. As for Phil, she
has no memories outside her native land--except early ones of
Paris--and, though she has a natural instinct for the preservation of
her young life, I don't doubt that every motion of the big boat in the
night made her realize how infinitely more decorous it would be to drown
on the "Batavier 4" than in a newfangled motor thing on an obscure
foreign canal.

The Thames we have seen before, in all its bigness and richness and
black ugliness; for on hot summer days we have embarked on certain trips
which would condemn us forever in the eyes of duchesses, countesses, and
other ladies of title I have known serially, in instalments. But we (or
rather, I) chose to reach Holland by water, as it seems a more
appropriate preface to our adventure; and I got Phyllis up before five
in the morning, not to miss by any chance the first sight of the Low
Lands.

We were only just in time, for we hadn't had our coffee and been dressed
many minutes before my eyes caught at a line of land as a drowning
person is supposed to catch at a straw.

"Holland!" said I; which was not particularly intelligent in me, as it
couldn't have been anything else.

There it lay, this stage set for our drama, comedy, tragedy--whatever it
may prove--of which we don't yet know the plot, although we are the
heroines; and now that I'm writing in a Rotterdam hotel the curtain may
be said to have rung up on the first act.

Just then it was lifted only far enough to show a long, low waste of
gray-green, with a tuft or two of trees and a few shadowy individuals,
which the stage-hands had evidently set in motion for the benefit of the
leading ladies.

"We might be the Two Orphans," I said, "only you're not blind,
Phil--except in your sense of humor; and I'm afraid there are no wicked
Dutch noblemen to kidnap me----"

"Oh dear, I'm sure I hope not!" exclaimed Phil, looking as if a new
feather had been heaped on her load of anxieties.

The line was no longer gray now, nor was it a waste. It was a bright
green, floating ribbon, brocaded with red flowers; and soon it was no
ribbon, but a stretch of grassy meadow, and the red flowers were roofs;
yet meadows and roofs were not just common meadows and roofs, for they
belonged to Holland; and everybody knows--even those who haven't seen it
yet--that Holland is like no country in the world, except its queer,
cozy, courageous, obstinate little self.

The sky was blue to welcome us, and housewifely Dutch angels were
beating up the fat, white cloud-pillows before tucking them under the
horizon out of sight. Even the air seemed to have been washed till it
glittered with crystalline clearness that brought each feature of the
landscape strangely close to the eyes.

We were in the River Maas, which opened its laughing mouth wide to let
in our boat. But soon it was so busy with its daily toil that it forgot
to smile and look its best for strangers. We saw it in its brown
working-dress, giving water to ugly manufactories, and floating an army
of big ships, black lighters, and broadly built craft, which coughed
spasmodically as they forged sturdily and swiftly through the waters.
Their breath was like the whiff that comes from an automobile, and I
knew that they must be motor-barges. My heart warmed to them. They
seemed to have been sent out on purpose to say, "Your fun is going to
begin."

At last we were in Rotterdam, steaming slowly between two lines of
dignified quays, ornamented with rows of trees and backed by quaintly
built, many-colored brick houses--blue and green and pink, some nodding
forward, some leaning back. The front walls were carried up to conceal
the roofs; many of the façades tapered into triangles; others had double
curves like a swan's neck; some were cut into steps--so that there was
great variety, and an effect almost Chinese about the architecture of
the queer houses with the cranes projecting over their topmost windows.
There was nothing to be called beautiful, but it was all impressive and
interesting, because so different from that part of the world which we
know.

A gigantic railway bridge of latticed iron flung itself across the
skyline; one huge white building, like a New York sky-scraper, towered
head and shoulders above the close-leaning roofs of the city; and all
among the houses were brown sails and masts of ships; water-streets and
land-streets tangled inseparably together.

The hum of life--strange, foreign life!--filled the air; an
indescribable, exciting sound, made up of the wind whistling among
cordage of sea-going ships, the shouts of men at work, the river
slapping against piles and the iron sides of vessels, the whirr and
clank of steam-cranes. Wreaths of brown smoke blew gustily in the
sunlight; a train boomed across the latticed bridge; and the hoot of a
siren tore all other sounds in shreds. Creakily our ship was warped in
by straining cables, and I said to myself, "The overture's finished. The
play is going to begin."

Phil and I streamed off the boat with the other passengers, who had the
air of knowing exactly why they'd come, where they were going, and what
was the proper thing to do next. But as soon as we were landed on the
most extraordinary place, which looked as if trees and houses had
sprouted on a dyke, all consecutive ideas were ground out of our heads
in the mill of confusing sights and sounds. Friends were meeting each
other, and jabbering something which sounded at a distance like
Glasgow-English, and like no known language when you were close enough
to catch the words. Porters surged round us, urging the claims of rival
hotels; men in indigo cotton blouses pleaded for our luggage; and
altogether we were overwhelmed by a tidal wave of Dutchness.

How order finally came out of chaos I hardly know; but when I got my
breath it occurred to me that we might temporarily abandon our big
luggage and steer through the crowd, with dressing-bags in our hands, to
hail an elderly cab whose driver had early selected us as prey.

Before getting into the vehicle I paused, and tried to concentrate my
mind on plans; though the quaint picture of the Boompjes, and the
thought that _we_, Phyllis Rivers and Nell Van Buren, should be on the
Boompjes was distracting. I did manage, however, to find our boat's
address and the name of the caretaker, both of which I had on a piece of
paper with loose "i's" and "j's" scattered thickly through every word.
All we had to do, therefore, was to tell our moth-eaten cabman to drive
to the place, show the letters from the solicitor (and perhaps a copy of
Captain Noble's will), claim our property from the hands of Jan Paasma,
and then, if we liked, take up our quarters on our own boat until we
could engage some one to "work it" for our tour. Luckily, we'd had
coffee and rolls on board the "Batavier"; so we needn't bother about
breakfast, as I said joyously to Phil.

But Phil, it seemed, did not regard breakfast as a bother. She thought
it would be fatal to throw ourselves into a formidable undertaking
unless we first had tea and an egg, and somebody to advise us.

"We must go to an hotel before we see the boat," said she, firmly.

"But who's to give us advice at a hotel?" I asked with scorn.

"Oh, I don't know. The manager."

"Managers of hotels aren't engaged to advise young women about
motor-boats."

"Well, then, a--a waiter."

"A _waiter_!"

"We could ask the head one. And, anyway, he would be a _man_."

"My darling child, have we ever depended on a man since your father
died?"

"We've never had emergencies, except taking our flat--oh, and buying my
type-writer. Besides, I can't bear all I shall have to bear without a
cup of tea."

This settled it. We climbed into that frail shell, our chosen cab, and I
opened the Dutch phrase-book which I bought in London. I wanted to find
out what hotel was nearest to the lair of our boat, but in that wild
moment I could discover nothing more appropriate than "I wish
immediately some medicine for seasickness," and (hastily turning over
the pages) "I have lost my pet cat." I began mechanically to stammer
French and the few words of German which for years have lain peacefully
buried in the dustiest folds of my intellect.

"Oh, dear, how _shall_ I make him understand what we want?" I groaned,
my nerves quivering under the pitying eye of the cabman, and the
early-Christian-martyr expression of Phyllis.

"Don't ask _me_," said she, in icy vengefulness; "you _would_ bring me
to Holland, and I shouldn't speak Dutch if I could."

"I spik Eengleesh," announced the cabman.

I could have fallen upon his bosom, which, though littered with dust and
grease-spots, I was sure concealed a noble heart. But I contented
myself with taking him into my confidence. I said we had a motor-boat,
and wanted to go to a hotel as near it as possible. I then showed the
precious paper with the "i's" and "j's" dotted about, and he nodded so
much that his tall hat, which looked like a bit cut out of a rusty
stove-pipe, almost fell off on my nose.

"You get on my carriage, and I drive you to where you want," he replied
reassuringly, making of our luggage a resting-place for his honest
boots, and climbing into his seat.

Magnetized by his manner, we obeyed, and it was not until we had
started, rattling over the stone-paved street, that Phil bethought
herself of an important detail.

"Wait a moment. Ask him if it's a nice hotel where he's taking us."

I stood up, seized the railing of the driver's seat to steady myself,
and shrieked the question above the noise of the wheels.

"I take you right place," he returned; and I repeated the sentence to
Phyllis.

"That's no answer. Ask him if it's respectable; we can't go if it isn't.
Ask him if it's expensive; we can't go if it is."

I yelled the message.

"I take you hotel by-and-by. You see Rotterdam a little first."

"But we don't want to see Rotterdam first. We want breakfast. Rotterdam
by-and-by."

A sudden bump flung me down onto the hard seat. I half rose to do battle
again; then, as I gazed up at that implacable Dutch back, I began dimly
to understand how Holland, though a dot of a nation, tired out and
defeated fiery Spain. I knew that no good would be accomplished by
resisting that back. Short of hurling ourselves out on the stones, we
would have to see Rotterdam, so we might as well make the best of it.
And this I urged upon Phil, with reproaches for her niggardliness in
not buying Baedeker, who would have put stars to tell us the names of
hotels, and given us crisp maps to show where they were situated in
connection with other things.

I should think few people who have lived in Rotterdam for years have
really seen as much of the town as we saw on this clear blue morning.

At first the information bestowed upon us by the owner of the back
seemed an adding of insult to injury. How dared he explain what he was
forcing us to see in spite of ourselves? But, by-and-by, even Phyllis
fell to laughing, and her dimples are to her temper what rainbows are to
thunder-showers--once they are out there can be no more storm.

"I feel as if we'd seen samples of all Holland, and were ready to go to
our peaceful home again," said Phil, after we'd driven about from the
region of big shops and imposing arcades, to shady streets mirroring
brown mansions in glassy canals; on to toy villages of miniature painted
houses, standing in flowery gardens, far below the level of adjacent
ponds adorned with flower-islands; through large parks and intricate
plantations; past solemnly flapping windmills; far beyond, to meadows
where black and white cows recognized the fact that we were not Dutch
and despised us for it; then back to parks and gardens again. "I
shouldn't think there could be any sort of characteristic thing left
which we haven't met with. I'm sure I could go home now and talk
intelligently about Holland."

We couldn't help being interested in everything, though we were seeing
it against our wills; yet it was a relief to our feelings when the Back
unbent to the extent of stopping before an old-fashioned, low-built
hotel, close to a park. So far as we could judge, it was miles from
anywhere, and had no connection with anything else; but we were too
thankful for the privilege of stopping, to be critical. The house had an
air of quiet rectitude which appealed to Phil, and without a word she
allowed our luggage to be taken off the cab.

When we came to pay, it appeared that our driver hadn't made us
acquainted with every secret of Rotterdam, purely in a spirit of
generosity. We were called upon to part with almost all the gulden we
had got in exchange for shillings on board the boat, and Phil looked
volumes as it dawned on her intelligence that each one of these coins
(with the head of an incredibly mild and whiskered old gentleman upon
it) was worth one and eightpence.

[Illustration: _We were called upon to part with almost all the gulden_]

"At this rate we shall soon be in the poorhouse," she said.

"If it comes to that, we can stop the motor-boat at villages and solicit
alms," I suggested.

After all, the Back had had some method in its madness, for on showing
the caretaker's address to a giant hall-porter, it appeared that the
place was within ten minutes' walk of the hotel. We refused to decide
upon rooms until our future plans had shaped themselves; and our luggage
reposed in the hall while we had cups of tea and a Dutch conception of
toast in a garden, whose charms we shared with a rakish wandering Jew of
a tortoise.

Many times since I induced Phyllis to join me in becoming an
adventuress, have we vaguely arranged what we would do on arriving at
Rotterdam. The program seemed simple enough from a distance--just to go
and pick up our boat (so to speak) and motor away with it; but when we
actually started off, pioneered by a small boy from the hotel, to take
possession of our property, I had a horrid sinking of the heart, which I
wouldn't for many heads of whiskered old gentlemen on gulden have
confessed to Phil. I felt that "something was going to happen."

The "ten minutes'" walk prolonged itself into twenty, and then there was
a ferry over a wide, brown, swift-flowing stream. This brought us to a
little basin opening from the river, where one or two small yachts and
other craft nestled together.

"Look!" I exclaimed, with a sudden throb of excitement, which bubbled up
like a geyser through the cold crust of my depression. "_There_ she is!"

"Who?" cried Phyllis, starting. "Any one we know?"

"Our boat, silly. 'Lorelei.' I suppose you think she ought to be called
'White Elephant'?"

Yes, there she was, with "Lorelei" in gold letters on her bows, this
fair siren who had lured us across the North Sea; and instead of being
covered up and shabby to look at after her long winter of retirement and
neglect, she had the air of being ready to start off at a moment's
notice to begin a cruise.

Every detail of her smart white dress looked new. There was no fear of
delay for painting and patching. Clean cocoa-nut matting was spread upon
the floor of the little decks fore and aft; the brass rails dazzled our
eyes with their brilliance; the windows of the roofed cabin were
brighter than the Ko-hi-nur, the day I went to see it in the Tower of
London; basket-chairs, with pink and blue and primrose silk cushions,
stood on deck, their arms open in a welcoming gesture. There was a
little table, too, which looked born and bred for a tea-table. It really
was extraordinary.

"Oh, Nell, it is a _pretty_ boat!" The words were torn from Phil in
reluctant admiration. "Of course it's most awfully reckless of us to
have come, and I don't see what's going to happen in the end; but--but
it _does_ seem as if we might enjoy ourselves. Fancy having tea on our
own deck! Why, it's almost a yacht! I wonder what Lady Hutchinson would
say if she could see us sitting in those chairs! She'd be polite to me
for a whole month."

Lady Hutchinson is Phil's one titled client. Long ago her husband was a
grocer. She writes sentimental poetry, and her idea of dignity is to
snub her type-writer. But I couldn't concentrate my mind on the
pleasure of astonishing Lady Hutchinson. I was thinking what a wonderful
caretaker Jan Paasma must be.

"Conscientious" hardly expressed him, because it's almost a year since
Captain Noble used "Lorelei," and we hadn't written that we were coming
to claim her; yet here she was, _en fête_ for our reception. But then, I
thought, perhaps our dear old friend had left instructions to keep the
boat always ready. It would be rather like him: and, in any case, we
should soon know all, as Mr. Paasma's dwelling is a little green house
close to the miniature quay. We saw his name over the door, for
evidently he doesn't entirely depend upon his guardianship of boats for
a livelihood. He owns a shop, with indescribable things in the one
cramped but shining window--things which only those who go down to the
sea in ships could possibly wish to have.

For all we could tell he might be on board the boat, which floated a
yard or two from shore, moored by ropes; but it seemed more professional
to seek Mr. Paasma under his own roof, and we did so, nearly falling
over a stout child who was scrubbing the floor of the shop.

"What a queer time of day to be cleaning--eleven o'clock," muttered
Phil, having just saved herself from a tumble. I thought so too; but
then we'd been in Holland only a few hours. We hadn't yet realized the
relative importance of certain affairs of life, according to a
Dutchwoman's point of view.

We glared reproachfully at the stout child, as much as to say, "Why
_don't_ you finish your swabbing at a proper hour?" She glared at us as
if she would have demanded, "What the (Dutch) Dickens do you mean by
bouncing in and upsetting my arrangements?"

Little was accomplished on either side by this skirmishing; so I put my
pride in my pocket and inquired for her master.

"Boot," replied the creature. "Boot," pointing with her mop in the
direction whence we had come.

We understood by this that the caretaker was at his post, and we
returned to shout the name of Heer Paasma.

Nothing happened at first; but after several spasmodic repetitions a
blue silk curtain flickered at one of the cabin windows on "Lorelei,"
and a little, old, brown face, with a fringe of fluff round the chin,
appeared in the aperture--a walnut of a face, with a pair of shrewd,
twinkling eyes, and a pipe in a slit of a mouth. Another call brought on
deck a figure which matched the face; and on deck Mr. Paasma (it looked
like a gnome, but it could be no other than the caretaker) evidently
intended to remain until he got a satisfactory explanation.



III


"Are you Heer Paasma?" I inquired from my distance.

The walnut nodded.

"Do you speak English?"

Out came the pipe. "Ja, a leetle."

"We're Miss Rivers and Miss Van Buren, from England. I'm Miss Van Buren.
You have heard about me, and that Captain Noble left me his motor-boat
in his will."

"No, I not heerd." A dark flush slowly turned the sharp little walnut
face to mahogany.

"How strange! I thought the solicitor would have written. But perhaps it
wasn't necessary. Anyway, I have all the papers to prove that the boat
is mine. You did know poor Captain Noble was dead, surely?"

"Ja, I hear that."

"Well, if you'll put a plank across, we'll come on board, and I'll show
you my papers and explain everything."

"I come on shore," said Mr. Paasma.

"No, we would rather----"

I might have saved my breath. Mr. Paasma was Dutch, and he had made up
his mind what would be best. The rest goes without saying. He seized one
of the ropes, hauled the boat closer to shore, and sprang onto the bank.

There was a strange glitter in his eye. I supposed it to be the bleak
glint of suspicion, and hastened to reassure the excellent man by
producing my papers, pointing out paragraphs which I placed
conspicuously under his nose, in our copy of Captain Noble's will, and
the letters I had received from the solicitor.

"You see," I said at last, "everything is all right. You need have no
hesitation in giving the boat to me."

[Illustration: _"You need have no hesitation in giving the boat to me"_]

Mr. Paasma puffed at his pipe, which he held very tight between his
teeth, and stared at the papers without looking up.

"If you like, you can apply to your lawyer, if you have one," I went on,
seeing that he was far from easy in his mind. "I'm quite willing to meet
him. Besides"--I had suddenly a brilliant idea--"I have relations in
Rotterdam. Their name is the same as mine--van Buren. Perhaps you have
heard of Heer Robert van Buren?"

"Ja," replied Mr. Paasma, biting his pipe still harder. Instead of
looking happy, his face grew so troubled that I wondered whether my
mention of these unknown relatives had been unfortunate--whether, by any
chance, a member of the family had lately committed some crime.
Meanwhile, Phyllis stared. For my own reasons I had refrained from
speaking to her of these relations; now, urged by necessity, I brought
them to light; but what they might be, or whether they still existed in
Rotterdam I knew no more than did Phil.

"Mynheer van Buren is a known man," said the caretaker. "You not send
for him. I think the boat is to you, missus. What you want do?"

"First of all, we want to go on board and look at her," I replied.

This time, rather to my surprise, he made no objections. A dark pall of
resignation had fallen upon him. In such a mood as his, an Indian woman
would go to Suttee without a qualm. He pulled the boat to shore, placed
a plank, and with a thrilling pride of possession we walked on board.

There were some steep steps which led down from the deck to the cabin,
and Phyllis and I descended, Mr. Paasma stolidly following, with an
extraordinary expression on his walnut face. It was not exactly
despairing, or defiant, or angry, or puzzled; but it held something
of each one of these emotions.

However, I soon forgot about the caretaker and his feelings in
admiration of "Lorelei." Aft, you looked down into the motor-room, with
a big monster of machinery, which I respected but didn't understand.
From that, when you'd crossed a little passage, you had to go down some
more steps into a cabin which was so charming that I stood still on the
threshold, and said, "Oh!"

"Why, it's prettier than our drawing-room!" exclaimed Phil; "and my
favorite colors too, green and white. It's almost like a boudoir. Who
could have supposed Captain Noble would have so much taste? And do look
at that darling old Dutch clock over the--the buffet or whatever it is,
with all the little ships rocking on the waves every time it ticks."

We were both so much excited now that we began to talk together, neither
of us listening to the other. We opened the door of what Phil called the
"buffet," and found neat little piles of blue-and-white china. There
were tiny tablecloths and napkins too, and knives and forks and spoons.
On one of the seats (which could be turned into berths at night) stood a
smart tea-basket. We peeped inside, and it was the nicest tea-basket
imaginable, which must have come from some grand shop in Bond Street,
with its gold and white cups, and its gleaming nickel and silver. In the
locker were sheets and blankets; on a bracket by the clock was a
book-shelf with glass doors, and attractive-looking novels inside.

"How pathetic it is!" I cried. "Poor Captain Noble! He must have enjoyed
getting together these nice things; and now they are all for _us_."

"And here--_oh_, this is _too_ sad! His poor, dear shirts and things,"
sighed Phil, making further discoveries in another, smaller cabin
beyond. "Drawers full of them. Fancy his leaving them here all
winter--and they don't seem a bit damp."

I followed her into a green-and-pink cabin, a tiny den, but pretty
enough for an artist instead of an old retired sea-captain.

"What shall we do with them?" she asked. "We might keep them all to
remember him by, perhaps; only--they would be such odd sorts of
souvenirs for girls to have, and--oh, my goodness, Nell, who could have
dreamed of Captain Noble in--in whatever it is?"

Whatever it was, it was pale-blue silk, with lovely pink stripes of
several shades, and there was a jacket which Phil was just holding out
by its shoulders, to admire, when a slight cough made us turn our heads.

It is strange what individuality there can be in a cough. We would have
sworn if we'd heard it while locked up with Mr. Paasma in a dark cell,
where there was no other human being to produce it, that he couldn't
have uttered such an interesting cough.

Before we turned, we knew that there was a stranger on "Lorelei," but we
were surprised when we saw what sort of stranger he was.

He stood in the narrow doorway between the two cabins, looking at us
with bright, dark eyes, like Robert Louis Stevenson's, and dressed in
smart flannels and a tall collar, such as Robert Louis Stevenson would
never have consented to wear.

"I beg your pardon," said he, in a nice, drawling voice, which told me
that he'd first seen the light in one of the Southern States of America.

"I beg yours," said I. (Somehow Phil generally waits for me to speak
first in emergencies, though she's a year older.) "Are you looking for
any one--the caretaker of our boat, perhaps?"

His eyes traveled from me to Phil; from Phil to the blue garment to
which she still clung; from the blue garment to the pile of stiff white
shirts in an open drawer.

"No--o, I wasn't exactly looking for any one," he slowly replied. "I
just came on board to--er----"

"To _what_, if you please?" I demanded, beginning to stiffen. "I've a
right to know, because this is our boat. If you're a newspaper reporter,
or anything of that sort, please go away; but if you have business----"

"No, it was only pleasure," said the young man, his eyes like black
diamonds. "I didn't know the boat was yours."

"Whose did you think it was?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I--er--thought it was mine."

"What do you mean?" I cried, while Phil threw a wild, questioning look
at the shirts, and dropped the blue silk jacket.

"That is, temporarily. But there must be some mistake."

"There must--a big mistake. Where's the caretaker? He came on board with
us."

The young man's eyes twinkled even more. "Did he know it was your boat?"

"Why, of course, we told him. It was left to us in a will. We've just
come to claim it."

"Oh, I think I begin to see. I shouldn't wonder if Paasma has now taken
to his bed with a sudden attack of--whatever the Dutch have instead of
nervous prostration. He didn't know you were coming?"

"Not till we came."

"It must have been quite a surprise. By Jove, the old fox! I suppose he
hadn't got the shadow of a right, then, to let the boat to me?"

"My gracious!" breathed Phyllis, and shut up the drawer of shirts with a
snap. I don't know what she did with the blue silk object, except that
it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the floor. Perhaps she
stood on it.

"What an awful thing," said I. "You're sure you're not in the wrong
boat? You're sure he didn't let you some other one?"

"Sure. There is no other one in Holland exactly like this. I've been on
board nearly every day for a week, ever since I began to----"

"Since you began----"

"To have her done up. Nothing to speak of, you know; but she's been
lying here all winter, and--er--I had a fancy to clean house----"

"Then--all these things are--yours?"

"Some of the things----"

"The Dutch clock, the deck-chairs, the silk cushions, the curtains, and
decorations in the cabin----"

"I'm afraid you think I'm an awful meddler; but, you see, I didn't know.
Paasma told me he had a right to let the boat, and that I could do her
up as much as I liked."

"The old wretch!" I gasped. "And you walk on board to find two strange
girls rummaging among your--your----" Then I couldn't help laughing when
I remembered how Phil had suggested our keeping those things for
souvenirs.

"I thought I must be having a dream--a beautiful dream."

I ignored the implied compliment. "What are we going to do about it?" I
asked. "It _is_ our boat. There's no doubt about that. But with these
things of yours--do you want to go to law, or--or--anything?"

"Good heavens, no! I----"

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said I. "Let's get the caretaker here,
and have it out with him. Perhaps he has an explanation."

"He's certain to have--several. Shall I go and fetch him?"

"Please do," urged Phil, speaking for the first time, and looking
adorably pink.

The young man vanished, and we heard him running up the steep companion
(if that's the right word for it) two steps at a time.

Phil and I stared at each other. "I knew something awful would happen,"
said she. "This is a judgment."

"He's too nice looking to be a judgment," said I. "I like his taste in
everything--including shirts, don't you?"

"Don't speak of them," commanded Phil.

We shut the drawers tightly, and going into the other cabin, did the
same there.

"Anyhow, I saw 'C. Noble' on the sheets and blankets," I said
thankfully. "There are some things that belong to us."

"It will end in our going home at once, I suppose," said Phil.

"However else it ends, it won't end like that, I promise you," I assured
her. "I must have justice."

"But he must have his things. Oh, Nell, have you really got relatives in
Rotterdam, or did you make that up to frighten the caretaker?"

"No; they exist. I never spoke of them to you, because I never thought
of them until we were coming here, and then I was afraid if I did you'd
think it the proper thing to implore the females--if any--to chaperon
us. Besides, relations so often turn out bores. All I know about mine
is, that mother told me father had relations in Holland--in Rotterdam.
And if she and I hadn't stopped in England to take care of you and your
father, perhaps we should have come here and met them long ago."

"Well, do let's look them up and get them to help. I won't say a word
about chaperons."

"Perhaps it would be a good thing. That wicked old caretaker seemed to
be struck with respectful awe by the name of Van Buren."

"I never knew before that you were partly Dutch."

"You did. I've often boasted of my Knickerbocker blood."

"Yes. But----"

"Didn't you know it was the same thing? Where's your knowledge of
history?"

"I never had much time to study _American_ history. There was
such a lot that came before," said Phil, mildly; but the blood sprang to
her cheeks at the sound of a step on the stairs. Our rival for
possession of the boat had come back alone.

"That old rascal has, with extraordinary suddenness and opportuneness,
forgotten every word of English," he announced, "and pretends not to
understand German. I can't speak Dutch; can you?"

"No," said I. "Not a syllable. But he spoke English quite respectably an
hour ago."

"That was before he was found out. He can now do nothing but shake his
head and say '_niets verstaen_,' or something that sounds like that. I
thought of killing him, but concluded it would be better to wait until
I'd asked you how you'd like it done."

"It ought to be something lingering," said I. "We'll talk it over. But
first, perhaps, we'd better decide what's to be done with _ourselves_.
You see, we've come to Holland to have a cruise on our new boat;
otherwise, if you liked, _we_, as the real owners, might let her to you,
and all would be well. Still, it does seem a shame that you should be
disappointed when you took 'Lorelei' in good faith, and made her so
pretty. Of course, you must let us know what you've paid----"

"A few gulden," said the young man, evasively.

"Never mind. You must tell how many. Unfortunately that won't mend your
disappointment. But--what can we do?"

"I suppose there isn't the slightest hope that you could--er--take me as
a passenger?"

"Oh, we couldn't possibly do that," hastily exclaimed Phil. "We're
alone. Though my stepsister, Miss Van Buren, has cousins in Rotterdam,
we've come from England without a chaperon, and--for the present----"

The young man's eyes were more brilliant than ever, though the rest of
his face looked sad.

"Oh, don't say any more," he implored. "I see how it is. I oughtn't to
have made such a suggestion. My only excuse is, I was thinking--of my
poor aunt. She'll be horribly disappointed. I care most for her, and
what she'll feel at giving up the cruise."

"Oh, was your aunt coming?" I asked.

"Yes, my Scotch aunt. Such a charming woman. I'm an American, you know.
Clever of me to have a Scotch aunt, but I have. I've been visiting her
lately, near Edinburgh. You would like Lady MacNairne, I think."

Phil's face changed. She is the last girl in the world to be a snob; but
hearing that this young man had a Scotch aunt, with a title, was almost
as good as a proper introduction. And there really is something
singularly winning about my countryman. I suppose it is that he has "a
way with him," as the Irish say. Besides, it seemed nice of so young a
man to care so much about a mere aunt. Many young men despise aunts as
companions; but evidently he isn't one of those, as he beautified
"Lorelei" simply to give his aunt pleasure.

"It really _does_ seem hard," I said. "Now, if only Phyllis hadn't so
many rules of propriety--" But, to my surprise, the very thought in my
mind, which I hadn't dared breathe, was spoken out next minute by Phil
herself.

"Maybe we might come to some kind of arrangement--as you have an aunt,"
she faltered.

"Yes, as you have an aunt," I repeated.

"She'd make an ideal chaperon for young ladies," hastily went on the
Southerner. "I should like you to meet her."

"Is Lady MacNairne in Rotterdam?" asked Phil.

"Not exactly; but she's coming--almost at once."

"We don't know your name yet," said Phyllis. "I'm Miss Rivers; my
stepsister is Miss Van Buren. Perhaps you'd better introduce yourself."

"I shall be glad to," returned my countryman. "My name is Ronald Lester
Starr----"

"Why, the initials are just right--R. L. S." I murmured.

"I know what you mean," he said, with a nice smile. "They say I look
like him. I'm very proud. You'll think I ought to be a writer; but I'm
not. I paint a little--just enough to call myself an artist----"

"Oh, I remember," I broke in. "I thought the name sounded familiar. You
had a picture in the Salon this spring."

He looked anxious. "Did you see it?"

"No--not even a copy. What was the subject? Horrid of me to ask; but,
you see, it's July now, and one forgets."

"One does," he admitted, as if he were pleased. "Oh, it was only a
portrait of my aunt."

"Your Scotch aunt?"

"Yes. But if you'd seen it, and then should see her, you mightn't even
recognize her. I--er--didn't try to make a striking likeness."

"I wish I'd seen the picture," said I. And I thought Mr. Starr must be
very modest, for his expression suggested that he didn't echo my wish.

"Do you think you could let my aunt and me join you?" he asked. "I don't
mean to crowd up your boat; that would never do, for you might want to
sleep on it sometimes. But I might get a barge, and you could tow it.
I'd thought of that very thing; indeed, I've practically engaged a
barge. My friend and I, who were to have chummed together, if he hadn't
been called away--oh, you know, that was a plan before my aunt promised
to come, quite another idea. But what I mean to say is, I got an idea
for hiring a barge, and having it towed by the motor-boat. I could have
had a studio in that way, for I wanted to do some painting. I'd just
come back from seeing rather a jolly barge that's to let, when
I--er--stumbled on you."

"Had you engaged any one to work 'Lorelei'?"

"A chauffeur," said Mr. Ronald; "but no skipper for certain yet. I've
been negotiating."

"Dear me!" I exclaimed. "Must we have a chauffeur and a skipper too?"

"I'm afraid we must; a man who understands the waterways of Holland. A
chauffeur understands only the motor, and lucky if he does that."

"Won't it be dreadfully expensive?" asked Phyllis.

"The skipper's wages won't be more than five or six dollars (a bit more
than one of your sovereigns) a week, and the chauffeur less. They'll
keep themselves, but I meant them to sleep on the barge. The skipper
ought to be a smart chap, who can be trusted with money to pay the
expenses of the boat as one goes along--bridge-money and all sorts of
things. The chauffeur can buy the _essence_--petrol, you call it in
England, don't you?--but the skipper had better do the rest."

"It does seem a frightful responsibility for two girls," said Phyllis.

"Of course, if you'd consent to have my aunt--and me--we'd take all the
trouble off your hands, and half the expense," remarked Mr. Starr. "My
poor aunt is so fond of the water, and there's so little in
Scotland----"

"Little in Scotland?"

"Well, only a few lakes and rivers. It does seem hard she should be
disappointed."

"She mightn't like us," said Phyllis.

"She would lo--I mean, she'd be no aunt of mine if she didn't. I'd cut
her off with a penny."

"It's generally aunts who do that with their nephews," said I.

"Ah, but she's different from other aunts, and I'm different from other
nephews. May I telegraph that she's to come?"

"I thought she was coming."

"I mean, may I telegraph that she's to be a chaperon? I ought to let her
know. She might--er--want more dresses or bonnets, or something."

Phil and I laughed, and so did Mr. Starr. After that, of course, we
couldn't be stony-hearted; besides, we didn't want to be. I could see
that, even to Phil, the thought of a cruise taken in the company of our
new friend and that ideal chaperon, his aunt, Lady MacNairne, had
attractions which the idea of a cruise alone with her stepsister had
lacked.

"Well, in the circumstances, I think we should be callous brutes not to
say 'Yes,'" I replied.

"I don't want to force you into consenting from pure generosity," went
on Mr. Starr. "If you'd like to consult your relations, and have them
find out that I'm all right----"

I laughed again. "I know you better than I do them," said I. "I've never
seen them yet. I think we can take you on faith, just as you've taken
our claims to the boat. Your Scotch aunt alone would be a guarantee, if
we needed one. A Scotch aunt sounds so _extra_ reliable. But perhaps my
relatives may be of use in other ways, as they've lived in Rotterdam
always, I fancy. They might even find us a skipper, if your negotiations
fall through. Anyhow, I'll write a letter from our hotel to the head of
the family, introducing myself as his long-lost cousin twice removed."

"What is your hotel, if I may ask?" inquired Mr. Starr.

I told him, and it turned out that it had been his till this very
morning, when he had removed his things to "Lorelei," with the intention
of living on board till he was ready to start. Now he proposed to have
them taken back to the hotel, and rearranged on the barge when his aunt
came. As for that sly old person, the caretaker, our new friend
volunteered to straighten out everything with him, our affair as well
as his own.

"When he discovers that we can't be bothered having the law of him, as
he richly deserves, he will remember his English, or I'll find the way
to make him," said the young man in such a joyous, confident way, that
thereupon I dubbed him our "lucky Starr."



IV


"How funny if I've got relations who can't speak any language except
Dutch!" I said, after I'd sent a letter by messenger to the address of
the Robert van Buren found in the directory.

But half an hour later an answer came back, in English. Mine very
sincerely, Robert van Buren, would give himself the pleasure of calling
on his cousin immediately. When I received this news it was one o'clock,
and we were finishing lunch at the hotel, in the society of Mr. Starr,
who had already wired to his aunt that she was to play the part of
chaperon.

I read the letter aloud, and Phil and I decided that it sounded _old_.

"Mother spoke once or twice of father's cousin, Robert van Buren; so I
suppose he's about the age my father would have been if he'd lived," I
said. "I hope he'll not turn out a horror."

"I hope he'll not forbid you to associate with my aunt and me," cut in
Mr. Starr. "It's a stiff kind of handwriting."

"He can't make me stiff," said I. "Cousins twice removed don't
count--except when they can be useful."

"A gentleman in the reading-room to see you, miss," announced the
waiter, who could speak English, handing me a card on a tray. It was a
foreign-looking card, and I couldn't feel in the least related to it,
especially as the "van" began with a little "v."

"Come and support me, Phil," I begged, glancing regretfully at a
seductive bit of Dutch cheese studded with caraway seeds, which it would
be rude to stop and eat.

It's rather an ordeal to meet a new relation, even if you tell yourself
that you don't care what he thinks of you. I slipped behind Phil, making
her enter the reading-room first, which gave me time to peep over her
shoulder and fancy we had been directed wrongly. There was a man in the
room, but he could not have been a man in the days when mother was
speaking of "father's cousin." His expression only was old: it might
have been a hundred. The rest of him could not be more than twenty-eight,
and it was all extremely good-looking. If he were to turn out a cousin
I should not have to be ashamed of him. He was like a big, handsome
cavalryman, with a drooping mustache that was hay-colored, in contrast
with a brown skin, and a pair of the solemnest gray eyes I've ever
seen--except in the face of a baby.

"Are you Miss Van Buren?" this giant asked Phil gravely, holding out a
large brown hand.

"No," said Phil, unwilling to take the hand under false pretenses.

It fell, and so did the handsome face, if anything so solemn could have
become a degree graver than before.

"I beg your pardon," said the owner of both, speaking English with a
Scotch accent. "I have made a deceit."

I laughed aloud. "I'm Helen Van Buren," I said. And I put out my hand.

His swallowed it up, and though I wear only one ring I could have
shrieked. Yet his expression was not flattering. There are persons who
prefer my style to Phil's, but I could see that he wasn't one of them. I
felt he thought me garish; which was unjust, as I can't help it if my
complexion is very white and very pink, my eyes and eyelashes rather
dark, and my hair decidedly chestnut. I haven't done any of it myself,
yet I believe the handsome giant suspected me, and was sorry that Phil
was not Miss Van Buren.

"Are you my cousin Robert Van Buren's son?" I asked.

"I am the only Robert van Buren now living," he answered.

I longed to be flippant, and say that there were probably several dotted
about the globe, if we only knew them; but I dared not, under those
eyes--absolutely dared not. Instead, I remarked inanely that I was sorry
to hear his father was not alive.

"He died many years ago. We have got over it," he replied. And I almost
laughed again; but that angel of a Phil looked quite sympathetic.

In a few minutes we settled down more comfortably, with Phil and me on a
sofa together, and Cousin Robert on a chair, which kept me in fits of
anxiety by creaking and looking too small to hold him.

Phil and I held hands, as girls generally do when they are at all
self-conscious, if they sit within a yard of each other; and we all
began to talk in the absurd way of new-found relations, or people you
haven't seen for a long time.

We asked Robert things, and he answered; and when we'd encouraged him a
good deal, he asked us things too, looking mostly at Phyllis. At last we
arrived at the information that he had a mother and two sisters, who
spent the summers at Scheveningen, in a villa. Then fell a silence,
which Phil tactfully broke by saying that she had heard of Scheveningen.
It must be a beautiful place, and she'd been brought up with a cup that
came from there. When she was good, as a child, she was allowed to play
with it.

"I should think you were always good," said Cousin Robert. Phyllis
blushed, and then he blushed too, under his brown skin. "I have also a
fiancée at Scheveningen," he went on, à propos of nothing--unless of the
blush.

"Is she a Dutch girl?" I asked.

"Oh yes."

"I suppose she is very pretty and charming?"

"I do not know. I am used to her. We have played together when we were
young. I go every Saturday to Scheveningen, when they are there, to stay
till Monday."

"Oh!" said Phil.

"Oh!" said I.

Silence again. Then, "It was very good of you to come and see us so
quickly after I wrote."

"It was my duty; and my pleasure too" (as second thought). "You must
tell me your plans."

So we told them, and Cousin Robert did not approve. "I do not think it
will do," said he, firmly.

"I'm afraid it must do," I returned, with equal firmness disguised under
a smile.

Phil apologized for me as she gave me a squeeze of the hand.

"We've been very happy together, Nell and I," she explained, "but we
have never had much excitement. This is our first chance, and--we shall
be _well_ chaperoned by Lady MacNairne."

"Yes; but she is the aunt of the stranger young man."

"Geniuses are never strangers. He is a genius," I said. "You've no idea
how his Salon picture was praised."

"But his character. What do you know of that?"

"It's his aunt's character that matters most, and the MacNairnes are
irreproachable."

(I had never heard the name until this morning, but there are some
things which you seem to have been born knowing; and I was in a mood to
stake my life upon Lady MacNairne.)

"It is better that you see my mother," said Cousin Robert.

"It will be sweet of her to call on us."

"I do not think she can do that. She is too large; and she does not
easily move from Scheveningen. But if she writes you a note, to ask you
and Miss Rivers, you will go, is it not?"

"With pleasure," I said, "if it isn't too far. You see, Lady MacNairne
may arrive soon, and when she does----"

"But now I will see my mother, and I will bring back the letter. I will
drive with an automobile which a friend has lent me--Rudolph Brederode;
and when you have read the note, you will both go in the car with me to
Scheveningen to stay for all night, perhaps more."

"Oh, we couldn't think of staying all night," I exclaimed. "We'll stop
here till----"

"It is not right that you stop here. I will go now, and, please, you
will pack up to be ready."

"We haven't unpacked yet," I said. "But we couldn't possibly--for one
thing, your mother may not find it convenient."

My cousin Robert's jaw set. "She surely will find it convenient."

"What people you Dutch are!" the words broke from me.

He looked surprised. "We are the same like others."

"I think you are the same as you used to be hundreds of years ago, when
you first began to do as you pleased; and I suppose you have been doing
it ever since."

Cousin Robert smiled. "Maybe we like our own way," he admitted.

"And maybe you get it!"

"I hope. And now I will go to order the automobile." He glanced at his
watch, an old-fashioned gold one. "In an hour and a quarter I will be at
Scheveningen. Fifteen minutes there will be enough. Another hour and a
quarter to come back. I will be for you at four."

"You don't allow any time for the motor to break down," I said.

"I do not hope that she will break down. She is a Dutch car."

"And serves a Dutch master. Oh no; certainly she won't break down."

He stared, not fully comprehending; but he did not pull his mustache, as
an Englishman does, when he wonders if he is being chaffed. He shook
hands with us gravely, and bowed several times at the door. Then he was
gone, and we knew that if he didn't come back at four with that letter
from his mother, it would be because she--or the motor--was more Dutch
than he.

When he disappeared, Phil and I went out into the garden for the sole
purpose, we told each other, of having coffee; and when we saw Mr. Starr
sitting with an empty cup and a cigarette, we both exclaimed, "Oh, are
you here?" as if we were surprised; so I suppose we were.

[Illustration: _We both exclaimed, "Oh, are you here?"_]

He had caught a glimpse of Cousin Robert, and said what a
splendid-looking fellow he was--a regular Viking; but when we agreed, he
appeared depressed. "Oh, my prophetic soul!" he murmured. "The cousin
will want his mother to go with you, and my poor aunt will be nowhere."

"His mother is too large for the boat," I assured him confidently. Mr.
Starr brightened at this, but clouded again when he heard that Phil and
I were to stop the night with my cousins.

"They will tear you away from me--I mean, from my aunt," he said.

I shook my head. "No. It's difficult to resist the Dutch, I find, when
they want you to do anything; but when they want you _not_ to do
anything--why, that is too much. Your pride comes to the rescue, and you
fight for your life. We'll _promise_, if you like; for your aunt's sake.
Won't we, Phil?"

"Yes; for your aunt's sake," she echoed.

"We can depend upon you, then--my aunt and I?"

"Upon us and 'Lorelei.'"

"You're angels. My aunt will bless you. And now, would you care to look
at the barge I've got the refusal of? If you're going to tow her, you
ought to know what she's like. I don't think she'll put 'Lorelei' to
shame, though, for she's good of her kind; belongs to a Dutch artist
who's in the habit of living aboard, but he has a commission for work in
France, this summer, and wants to let her. She's lying near by."

Who would have thought, when we arrived a few hours before, strangers in
Rotterdam, that we would be sauntering about the town with an American
young man, calmly making plans for a cruise in his society? I'm sure
that if a palmist had contrived to capture Phil's virtuous little hand,
and foretold any such events, my stepsister would have considered them
as impossible as monstrous. Nevertheless, she now accepted the
arrangements Fate made for her, as quietly as the air she breathed; for
was not the figure of our future chaperon already hovering in the
background, title and old Scotch blood and all, sanctifying the whole
proceeding?

Phil was so enchanted with the barge (which turned out to be a sort of
glorified Dutch sea-going house-boat) that she was fired with sudden
enthusiasm for our cruise. And the thing really is a delectable
craft--stout, with a square-shouldered bow, and a high, perky nose of
brass, standing up in the air as one sees the beak of a duck sometimes,
half-sunk among its feathers and pointing upward. "Waterspin" (which
means "water-spider") is the creature's name, and she is a brilliant
emerald, lined and painted round her windows with an equally brilliant
scarlet. This bold scheme of color would be no less than shocking on the
Thames; but, sitting in that olive-green canal, in a retired part of
Rotterdam, "Waterspin" looked like a pleasing Dutch caricature of Noah's
Ark.

Inside we found her equally desirable, with four little boxes of
sleeping-rooms, yellow painted floors, and bunks curtained with
hand-embroidered dimity, stiff as a frozen crust of snow; a studio, with
a few charming bits of old painted Dutch furniture to redeem it from
bareness, and a kitchen which roused all Phil's domestic instincts.

"Oh, the darling blue and white china, and brass things, and those
adorable pewter pots!" she cried. "I love this boat. I could be quite
happy living on her all the rest of my life."

"So you shall! I mean, while she is mine you must consider yourselves
as much at home on her as on your own boat," stammered Mr. Starr.
"Or, if you'd rather take up your quarters on the barge----"

"No, no. Nell and I will live on 'Lorelei'; but I do think, if you'll
let me, I'll come sometimes and cook things in that heavenly kitchen."

"Let you? Whatever you make shall be preserved in amber."

"Wouldn't it be better to eat it?" asked Phil.

"Can you cook? I should as soon expect to see a Burne-Jones lady run
down the Golden Stair into a kitchen----"

"I can make delicious toast and tea-cakes and salad dressing--can't I,
Nell?--and lots of other things."

"Pluperfect. I only wish I could. I shan't trouble your kitchen, Mr.
Starr."

"But you can sing so beautifully, dear, and sketch, too; and your
stories----"

"Don't dare speak of them!" I glared; and poor Phil, unselfishly anxious
to show off my accomplishments to Lady MacNairne's nephew, was silent
and abashed. I hoped that Mr. Starr hadn't heard.

He was delighted with our approval of the barge, and enlarged upon the
good times before us. No one could know Holland properly without seeing
her from the waterways, he said, and we would know her by-and-by as few
foreigners did. She could not hide a secret from us that was worth
finding out. He hadn't planned any regular tour for himself; he had
meant to wander here and there, as the fancy seized him; but now the
route was for us to decide. Whatever pleased us would please him. As for
his painting, you could hardly go round a corner in Holland without
stumbling on a scene for a picture, and he should come across them
everywhere; he had no choice of direction. But in seven or eight weeks
we could explore the waterways pretty thoroughly. Our skipper would be
able to put us on the right track, and let us miss nothing. Had we,
by-the-by, asked Mr. van Buren if he'd any skippers up his sleeve? Oh,
well, it didn't matter that we'd forgotten. He himself had the names of
several, besides some men he had already seen, and he would interview
them all. It was certain that in a day or two at most, he could find
exactly the right person for the place, and we might be sure that while
we were away at Scheveningen he would not be idle in our common
interests.

"After all, even _you_ must admit that men are of some use," said Phil,
when we were at the hotel again, waiting for Cousin Robert and his car.
"Supposing you'd had to organize the tour alone, as we expected, could
you have done it?"

"Of course," I replied, bravely.

"What! and engaged a chauffeur and a skipper? Who would have told you
what to do? I'm sure we could never have started without your cousin
Robert and Mr. Starr."

"What has Cousin Robert got to do with it?" I demanded.

Phil reflected. "Now I come to think of it, I don't know exactly. But he
is so _dependable_; and there's so much of him."

"I hope there won't be too much," said I.

"I like tall men," remarked Phil, dreamily. Then she looked at her
watch. "It's five minutes to four. He ought to be here soon."

"He'll come inside ten minutes," I prophesied.

But he came in three. I might have known he would be before his time,
rather than after. And he arrived with a nice letter from his mother.

Neither Phyllis nor I had ever been in a motor-car until we got gingerly
into that one. I had heard her say that she would never thus risk her
life; but she made no mention of this resolution to Cousin Robert. If
she had, it would have been useless; for without doubt she would in the
end have had to go; and it saved time not to demur.



V


The car which stood throbbing at the door of the hotel was large and
handsome, as if made to match my cousin, and it was painted flame color.

"I am just learning to drive," said Robert, who wore a motoring-cap
which was particularly becoming. "I do not know much about automobiles
yet; soon I shall buy one. It is rowing I like best, and skating in
winter, though I have not time to amuse myself except at the end of
weeks, for I am manager of my poor father's factory. But my fiancée
likes the automobile, and to please her I am learning with my friend's
car."

"That is good of you," said Phyllis.

"Yes, it is," he replied gravely. "Would you that I drive or the
chauffeur? He has more experience."

I left the decision to Phil, as she is the timid one, but to my surprise
she answered----

"Oh, you, of course."

Cousin Robert looked pleased. "Are you not afraid?" he inquired,
beaming.

"Ye--es, I am afraid, for I've never been before. But I shall be less
afraid with you than with him." And she glanced at a weedy youth who was
pouring oil from a long-nosed tin into something obscure.

"Will you sit in front by my side?" he asked. And it was only after Phil
had accepted the invitation that he remembered to hope I wouldn't mind
the chauffeur being in the _tonneau_ with me. "It must have been one of
you," he added, "and you and I are cousins."

"Twice removed," I murmured; but he was helping Phil into the car,
and did not hear.

It was a wild moment when we started. But it would have looked odd to
cling to the chauffeur for protection, so I did nothing; and it calmed
me to see how Phyllis bore herself. She didn't even grasp the arm of the
seat; she merely gazed up into Cousin Robert's face with a sweetly
feminine look, which said, "My one hope is in you, but I trust you
utterly." It was enough to melt the heart of a stone giant, even when
seen through goggles. I had an idea that this giant was not made of
stone, and I wondered what the fiancée of my cousin twice removed was
made of.

After the first thrill of starting, when we seemed to be tearing like a
tailless comet through a very small portion of space not designed to
hold comets, I grew happy, though far from tranquil. I can't imagine
people ever feeling really tranquil in an automobile, and I don't
believe they do, though they may pretend. I'm sure I should not, even if
I became a professional chauffeur, which heaven forbid. But part of the
enjoyment came through not feeling tranquil. There was a savage joy in
thinking every instant that you were going to be dashed to pieces, or
else that you would dash somebody else to pieces, while all the time you
knew in your heart that nothing of the sort would happen.

The car went splendidly, and I believe I should have guessed it was a
Dutch one, even if Cousin Robert hadn't told me; it made so little
noise, yet moved so masterfully, and gave an impression of so much
reserve power. Indeed, I might have thought out several nice similes if
there hadn't been quantities of trams and heavy drays blundering about,
or if the inhabitants of Rotterdam had not had a habit of walking in
large family groups in the middle of the street. The big horn through
which Robert every now and again blew a mournful blast, was confusing
when it arrived in the midst of an idea; and a little curved thing
(like the hunting-horn of old pictures) into which the chauffeur
occasionally mewed, was as disconcerting to my nerves as to those of the
pedestrians who hopped out of the way.

The more we saw of Rotterdam, the more extraordinary did the city
appear, and the more did I wonder that people should refer to it merely
as a port.

"It is not a bad town," Robert said to Phyllis, in the half-fond,
half-deprecating way in which, when talking to strangers, we allude to
that spot of earth we happen to inhabit. "I would not change to live at
The Hague, though the diplomatic set give sneers at us and call us
commercial."

"Just as Edinburgh sneers at Glasgow," cut in Phil.

"Yes, like that. I have been much to Scotland on my business, and I
know," answered Robert. "But we have many good things to show strangers,
if they would look; pictures, and museums, and old streets; but it is
not fashionable to admire Rotterdam. You should see the Boompjes at
night, when the lights shine in the water. It is only a big dyke, but
once it was the part where the rich people lived, and those who know
about such things say the old houses are good. And I should like you to
see where I live with my mother and sisters. It is an old house, too, in
a big garden, with a pond and an island covered with flowers. But we do
not pass now, so you must see it a future day."

To say all this, Cousin Robert had to yell above the roar of traffic on
the stone pavements; but by-and-by, as town changed into country, we
left the stones behind and came into the strangest road I have ever
seen. It ran beside a little river--the Schie--which looked like a
canal, and it was made of neat, purplish-brown bricks, laid edge to
edge.

"Klinker, we call it," said Cousin Robert. "It's good for driving; never
much dust or mud; and when you motor it gives grip to the 'pneus.' It
wouldn't do for us of the Netherlands to leave our roads bare."

"Why, what would happen?" I bent toward him to ask. "Would the bottom of
Holland drop out?"

"I think yes," he replied, seriously. "The saying is that there has been
as much of sand laid on the road between Rotterdam and The Hague as
would reach the top of the cathedral spire at Amsterdam, which you will
see one day."

"Dear me, and yet it's so low and flat, now," soliloquized Phil. "Lower
than the canals."

"It is nothing here to some places. We work hard to save the country we
have made with our hands, we Netherlanders. All the streets and gardens
of Rotterdam, and other towns too, sink down and down; but we are used
to that. We do not stop to care, but go to work adding more steps up to
the houses, so we can get in at our doors."

"I think you are wonderful," said Phyllis.

"I have not done very much myself," modestly replied Cousin Robert.

"But you would if necessary. I'm sure you'd have been like the little
boy who saw the trickle of water coming out of the dyke, and put his
thumb----"

"Phil, if you bring up that story I'll ask Cousin Robert van Buren to
run into a windmill and kill you," I shrieked over her shoulder.

"But I would not do that," said he. Oh yes, he really was wonderful, my
cousin Robert.

"There is a spot to interest an American," he deigned to fling a sop to
me, nodding vaguely upward at some roofs on the River Maas. "Did you
ever hear of Oude Delftshaven, cousin? But I don't suppose you have."

"Indeed I have!" I shrieked at him. "I wouldn't be a true descendant of
Knickerbocker stock if I hadn't. On July 22, 1620, some Pilgrim Fathers
(I'm not sure whether they were fathers then or afterwards) set sail
from Oude Delftshaven for America."

(I didn't think it necessary to explain that, Knickerbocker as I was, I
had absorbed this fact only the other day in "reading up" Holland.)

I was still more inclined to be reticent as to the newness of my
knowledge when it appeared that Phil knew something of a poem on the
subject by Mrs. Hemans. I could not allow my English stepsister to be
better informed than I concerning a country which I already began to
regard as a sort of confiscated family estate that ought to have been
mine.

We were going fast now, so fast that the tears came to my eyes as the
sweet-scented breeze rushed against my lashes.

"There's Schiedam," said Robert, indicating a town that stood up darkly
out of the green plain. "You know, they make the famous 'Geneva' there."

We had never heard of Geneva in liquid form, but it appeared that
"Geneva" or "Hollands" and gin were all the same thing; and Cousin
Robert seemed almost offended when I said it was nice, with hot water
and sugar, for a cold in the head.

I don't know whether the little Schie is really an idyllic stream, or
whether the glamor of that azure day was upon it for me, but our first
"waterway" seemed exquisite, as we spun along through country of wide
horizons and magic atmosphere.

There were pretty houses, with balconies screened with roses--cataracts
of roses, yellow, and pink, and white. We flew by lawns like the lawns
of England, and thick, dark patches of forest, where the sun rained
gold. There were meadows where a red flame of poppies leaped among the
wheat, and quenched their fire in the silver river of waving grain.
There were other meadows, green and sunny, where cows were being milked
into blue pails lined with scarlet; and there were bowery tea-gardens
divided into snug little arbors for two, where each swain could woo his
nymph unseen by the next-door swain and nymph, though all couples were
in sight from the river.

"Now we're coming to Delft," said Robert, long before I thought that we
could be near that ancient town. "If Rudolph Brederode, who lends me
this car, were here, he could tell much about the history," my cousin
went on, mentioning his friend for the second time, as if with pride.
"He is the sort of fellow who knows all the things to know, though he is
a great sportsman, too. I never took interest in history, but William
the Silent is our hero, so even I know of him and Delft. It was at Oude
Delft he was murdered."

"He was one of my heroes when I was a little girl," said I. "I can
recall my father telling splendid stories about him--as good as fairy
tales. The best was about the way he earned the nickname of William the
Silent."

I gazed with interest at the place where one of the greatest figures in
the history of the world had lived and died.

A shady, lovable old town it seemed. We drove into a pleasant street,
which looked so clear and green, from the mirror of its canal to the
Gothic arch of its close arbor of fragrant lime-trees, that it was like
a tunnel of illuminated beryl. The extraordinary brilliance of the
windows added to the jewel-like effect. Each pane was a separate
glittering square of crystal, and the green light flickered and glanced
on the quaint little tilted spying-mirrors in which Dutch ladies see the
life of the streets, themselves unseen.

The houses were of brown or purplish brick, with curiously ornamented
doorways, the stucco decorations running in wavy lines up to the level
of the first story windows; the door-steps white as pearl in the green
glimmer; but there was nothing striking in the way of architecture until
we swept into sight of an old Gothic building, blazing with colored
coats-of-arms, ancient and resplendent.

"That's the Gemeenlandshuis van Delfsland," said Cousin Robert, with a
beautiful confidence in our comprehension; and then, slowing down the
car before a dark, high wall, with a secretive-looking door in the
midst, "Here's the Prinzenhof, where William the Silent lived, and where
Balthazar Gérard killed him."

"Oh," I exclaimed, as he was driving on, "can't we stop--can't we go
in?"

"We could, but--I should not like to make us late for dinner," Cousin
Robert demurred.

"Dinner? Why, it's ages before dinner, and----"

"We dine at half-past five," said he.

Phil and I gazed at each other with lifted eyebrows. Phil was pale, and
I felt a sudden constriction of the throat. The idea of eating dinner at
the hour when our souls cried for tea and toast, was little short of
ghastly. Noblesse obliged us to conceal our loathing, but I did venture
meekly to suggest that if we drove faster afterwards perhaps we might
spare a few minutes for the Prinzenhof.

"There are things in The Hague you will want to stop for, too," said
Robert. "But my sisters and I can bring you to see the pictures, and the
Royal Palace and the Huis ten Bosch to-morrow; besides, I remember my
mother meant to put off dinner for us until six, so we will, maybe, not
be too late."

One should be thankful for the smallest mercies; and I hoped that the
craving for tea might have subsided into callous resignation by six.
What Phil, as a born Englishwoman, must have been feeling, I could
easily conceive; and it was a pity this shock to her system had arrived
on our first day, for only just before the blow she had said that
Holland seemed too enchanting: she was glad, after all, that she had
come, and would like to learn the language.

Luckily, Cousin Robert had remembered the change in the domestic program
before it was too late, otherwise I am sure he would have denied us the
Prinzenhof, and we should have had to sneak back by ourselves to-morrow.
As it was we were allowed to have our own way, practically for the first
time since we came to Holland.

Robert rang a bell, and a man appeared, who let us into the courtyard,
more like the courtyard of a monastery than a palace; and among the
historical dust-motes which clung to Cousin Robert's memory was the fact
that the place actually had been a monastery, sacred to St. Agatha.

We crossed the courtyard, and just inside another door found ourselves
on the scene of the great tragedy.

I knew it by instinct, before anybody told me; for suddenly the whole
story came back just as I heard it from my father, not as I've read it
in books of history. So vividly did he paint each detail, that I used to
grow hysterical in my infantine way, and he was scolded by mother for
"filling the child's mind with horrors."

Yes, there was the stairway, with the pale light coming from the low
window; there was the white wall which had been spattered with the
hero's life blood; there was the open door of the dining-hall where he
had been carried back to die; there the white pillar behind which the
murderer crouched, and there the dark archway through which Gérard had
run, his heart beating thickly with the hope of escape, and the thought
of the horse waiting beyond the ramparts and the moat.

I fancied I could see the prince, handsome still, in the fashion of
dress he affected, since the days of the Water Beggars' fame. A stately
figure in his rough and wide-brimmed hat, with the silk cord of the
Beggars round the felt crown; and I could almost smell the smoke from
the murderer's pistol, bought with the money William's generosity had
given. There were the holes in the wall made by the poisoned bullets.
How real it all seemed, how the centuries between slipped away! Let me
see, what had the date been? I ought to remember. July----

"Phil, what day of the month is this?" I demanded with a start.

Phil turned at the open door of the dining-hall, which I could see had
been made into a museum.

"July tenth," she answered promptly; for you can never catch Phil
tripping as to a date, or a day of the week, even if you should shake
her out of her first sleep to ask.

"Then it's the anniversary of his death!" I exclaimed. "July 10, 1584,
it was. How strange we should have come on the very day! It makes it
seem a pilgrimage."

"I don't find it strange," said Cousin Robert. "Many people come every
day of the year."

Having thus poured the cold water of common sense on my sentiment, he
dragged us into the dining-hall museum to see relics of William, and I
should have been resentful, had not my eyes suddenly met other eyes
looking down from the wall. They were the eyes of William the Silent
himself when he was young--painted eyes, yet they spoke to me.

I don't know how fine that portrait may be as a work of art, but it is
marvelously real. I understood in a moment why little, half-deformed
Anna of Saxony had been so mad to marry him; I knew that, in her place,
I should have overcome just as many obstacles to make that dark,
haunting face the face of my husband.

Of course I've often read that William of Orange was a handsome man, as
well as a dashing and extravagant gallant in his young days, but never
till now had I realized how singularly attractive he must have been. The
face in the portrait was sad, and as thoughtful as if he had sat to the
artist on the day he heard the dreadful secret of the fate which Philip
of Spain and Francis of France were plotting for the Netherlands, the
day that decided his future, and gave him his name of "William the
Silent." Yet in spite of its melancholy, almost sternness, it won me as
no pictured face of a man ever did before.

"This is a great day for me," I said to Phil, who was close behind; "not
only am I seeing Holland for the first time, but I've fallen in love
with William the Silent."

I laughed as I made this announcement, though I was half in earnest; and
turning to see whether I had shocked Cousin Robert, I found him in
conversation with a tall, black-haired young man, near the door.

The man--he wore a gray suit, and carried a straw hat in his hand--had
his back to me, and I remembered having seen the same back in the museum
before we came in. Now he was going out, and evidently he and Cousin
Robert had recognized each other as acquaintances. As I looked, he
turned, and I saw his face. It was so like the face of the portrait that
I felt myself grow red. How I did hope he hadn't overheard that silly
speech!

For a moment his eyes and mine met as mine had met the eyes of the
portrait. Then he shook hands with Robert and was gone.

"Very odd," said my cousin the giant, strolling toward us again, "that
was Rudolph Brederode. And," he glanced at me, "his nickname among his
friends is William the Silent."

"Why?" I asked, pretending unconsciousness.

"Don't you think there is a likeness?"

"I'm bad at seeing likenesses," said I.

"Why, Nell, I don't think you are," Phil defended me against myself.
"You're always seeing the strangest resemblances between clouds and
animals, and plants and people, and there's no end to what you find on
wall papers. This very day you thought Mr. Starr like Robert Louis
Stevenson, though I----"

"That's when my imagination's running loose," I explained. "Cousin
Robert is talking about facts."

"Oh!" said Phil.

"It's rather an ugly portrait," I went on; "I don't suppose William of
Orange was like it one bit."

"But we have two reasons for calling Brederode the Taciturn," said
Robert. "He has a way to keep still about things which other people
discuss. Sometimes it makes men angry, but especially the ladies.
Brederode does not care what others think; he descends from the great
Brederode, but he is different."

"The Water Beggar was brave," I remarked.

"Rudolph is brave," retorted Cousin Robert, firing up. "You will think
so to-morrow."

"What is he going to do?" I asked. "Something to startle Holland?"

"Holland has seen him do it before, but you have not. You will see him
ride better than any one else in the jumping contests at the _Concours
Hippique_ at Scheveningen. It will be a fine show, but Brederode and his
horses will be the best. My mother has a box. She will take you."

"But I thought you were going to take us to The Hague and the Huis ten
Bosch?"

"That will be in the early morning. Perhaps my sisters will go; and
after we have finished the pictures at The Hague, we will meet my mother
and my fiancée, Freule Menela van der Windt, at the race grounds about
two, and the show will not be over till seven, so dinner will be late."

"You Dutch are a strong race," I murmured.

"Brederode says he always comes here when he's anywhere in the
neighborhood, for a look at the Prinzenhof on the tenth of July," Robert
went on. "Odd, is it not?"

"No more odd than that we should have been here," said I. But I said
this in a low voice; and it's only a man who is in love with a girl who
hears her when she mutters.

"He asked how the automobile was going, and I mentioned one or two
things that bothered me, so he has gone out to talk to the chauffeur,"
Cousin Robert continued, unable to turn his thoughts from his Admirable
Crichton. "Don't you think you've seen enough? It is late; and when I
told Brederode I was showing Delft to my American cousin and an English
friend, he said I must take you to the New Church, the tomb of William,
and of Hugo Grotius. He wanted you to go to the Old Church too, and see
the place where van Tromp lies, but we shall not have time. Besides, it
would not please Miss Rivers."

"Why not?" asked Phyllis, large-eyed.

"You are English, and the English do not like to remember that Holland,
through van Tromp, swept them off the seas--"

"Oh, I remember, he stuck up a broom on the mast," cut in Phil. "But it
was long ago."

"How is it that the tombs of William and Grotius can be in a _new_
church?" I reflected aloud.

"It is newer than the other, for it was founded in thirteen hundred and
something," said Cousin Robert; "I suppose you ought to see it, even if
dinner should be late. For, as Brederode says, 'Delft is the heart of
Holland, and the New Church is the core of that heart.' It is for us
what your Westminster Abbey is to you, Miss Rivers."

We went out from the old convent palace with its arched windows and
narrow doors into the gold and green light of the Delft afternoon. In
the street outside the courtyard stood the automobile, and the chauffeur
was polishing something on it (people in Holland seem always to be
polishing something, if they are obliged to stand still for a moment),
but Mr. Rudolph Brederode, alias William the Silent, had vanished, and I
was glad.

We got into the motor-car again, passing with every few yards some
beautiful old building. But one thing in Delft disappointed me; I saw no
storks, and I expected the air to be dark with storks.

"I don't think there are any now," said Robert, apologetically, "though
Brederode would know."

"Isn't it true that the stork's the patron saint of Delft?" I asked.
"Wasn't it here you had the fire which nearly ruined the city, hundreds
of years ago, and the parent storks wouldn't leave their babies, but
died covering them up with their wings? And didn't Holland take the
stork, after that, for a kind of--of motto for the whole country because
it was so brave and faithful?"

"Yes," Robert admitted, "Delft is not tired of storks, but storks are
tired of Delft. You can offer them nice nests on long poles, and all
kinds of inducements, to live in a certain place, but unless they
choose, you cannot make them do anything."

"Ah, _now_ I know why the Dutch have canonized storks!" I exclaimed.

And just then we arrived at the New Church, which looked inconceivably
old, and inside was like a vast prison. But the tomb of black and white
marble was fine, almost too fine, too much encrusted with ornament to
perpetuate the memory of William the Silent. Still, I felt a thrill as I
stood looking at the white, recumbent figure of the man who made
Holland, and altered the face of Europe, resting so quietly after the
storms of life, with his dog at his feet--the loyal little beast who
saved him at Malines, and starved to death in the end, rather than live
on in a dull world empty of its master.

I lingered for many minutes, remembering the eyes of the portrait, so
warm with life and power, and Phil had to come and lead me away to the
tomb of Hugo Grotius, the "miracle of Europe." Even Robert grew warm on
the subject of Grotius, and put him ahead of Pitt, as the youthful
prodigy of the world. What had he left unaccomplished when he was
eighteen? And what story had ever been written by Dumas, or any other,
to compare with his in melodramatic interest? I didn't know enough
details of the brilliant being's history to argue (although I have
always the most intense yearning to argue with Cousin Robert), but I
made a note to read them up, in case I should ever be called upon to
write a historical novel at short notice.

Robert discouraged Phil from buying the ware of Delft on its native
heath, and we spun along twice as fast in leaving the town as we had in
coming, either because a Dutchman's dinner-hour is sacred, or because
this particular Dutchman was anxious to exchange our society for that of
his fiancée. We flew over the smooth klinker road at such a rate that,
had it been England, a policeman would have sprung from every bush.
Nobody seemed to mind here, however; and the few horses we met had the
air of turning up their noses at us, despite the physical difficulty in
evoking that expression on an equine profile.

The country grew prettier. It was the sort of landscape old-fashioned
artists used to produce out of their abundant imagination, scorning to
be tied down by models, dashing in anything charming or _outré_ which
they happened to think of at the moment, and jumbling together an
extravagant whole too good to be true. But there were only a few miles
of it left after Delft: and we hadn't reveled in impossibly delicious
farm-yards and supernaturally bowery gardens half long enough, when we
ran into the outskirts of The Hague--"S. Gravenhage," as I love to call
it to myself.

Until this moment, I'd been mentally patronizing Holland, admiring it,
and wondering at it, of course, but half-consciously saying that
quaintness, snugness, and historical interest were all we could expect
of the Low Country. Elegance and beauty of form we mustn't look for:
but I found myself surrounded by it in The Hague. There were streets of
tall, brown palaces, far finer than the royal dwelling which Robert
pointed out; the shops made me long to spring from the car and spend
every penny set apart for the tour; the Binnenhof--that sinister theater
of Dutch history--with its strangely grouped towers and palaces, and its
huge squares, made me feel an insignificant insect with no right to
opinions of any kind; and as I gazed up at the dark, medieval buildings,
vague visions of Cornelis and John de Witt in their torture, of van
Oldenbarneveld, and fair Adelaide de Poelgust stabbed and bleeding,
flitted fearfully through my brain. I wanted to get out and look for the
stone where Adelaide had fallen to die (how well I remembered that
story, told in twilight and firelight by my father!), and only the set
of Robert's shoulders deterred me. What was a romantic fragment of
history, compared to the certainty that the roast would be overdone?

But when we swept into the green-gold dusk of the forest, I forgot such
trivialities as buildings made by man.

Suddenly we were in a different world, an old, old world, with magic
that lurked in each dusky vista, breathed from the perfume of leaf and
fern, and whispered in the music of the trees, as if we had strayed upon
the road that leads to fairyland.

"Fancy seeing fairyland from the motor-car!" I said to myself. "I never
thought to go in such a fashion, though I've been sure that one day or
another I would find the way there through such a forest as this."

I felt that, if I walked here alone, I might see something more
mysterious than alder-trees, than giant beeches, and ancient oaks; than
glints of flower-strewn waters shining out of shadow in green darkness
deep and cool; than rustic bridges twined with creepers, or kiosks
glimmering at the end of long, straight alleys. I should have seen
processions of dim figures; chanting Druids and their victims; wild,
fierce warriors, and blue-eyed women, their white arms and the gold of
their long hair shining through the mist of centuries.

But then, I was in the motor-car: and though Robert, in a different and
more sketchy costume, would have been a gallant Batavian warrior, there
would be a certain indecorousness in permitting my fancy to make the
necessary changes. I had to content myself, therefore, with things as
they were; with the teuf-teuf of the automobile instead of the wild
wailing of white-robed Druids, and with the coming and going of modern
carriages under the shadowy branches, instead of strange chariots of
bygone kings.

After all, we did not find fairy-land but merely villa-land, when we
flashed out from the mysterious heart of the forest; but the villas were
charming, scattered in the woods, ringed with flowery lawns, and not one
without a huge veranda like a garden-room, fitted up with so many
cushioned sofas, easy-chairs, and little tables, that it was clear the
family life was lived there.

"I do hope my Dutch cousin's house at Scheveningen is as pretty as
these," I said to myself. "It would be delicious to visit in a
garden-room"; but presently we slipped out of the shade into sunlight,
and were in a town of brick streets, huge hotels, with flags all
a-flutter in a spanking, salt-smelling breeze, gay little shops and
houses such as grow up by the sea. It was Scheveningen.

I blinked in the blaze of sunlight which tore open the green veil of
dusk, and the air, though tingling with ozone, felt hot after the depths
of the forest.

Not a flower, not a garden was to be seen, yet Scheveningen was a
flower-garden of color in itself. Where the color came from you could
scarcely say, yet it struck at your eyes from all directions. Flags
flamed, roofs were red as beds of geraniums; or else they were green, or
else they were vivid yellow. The hotels were of quaint design, with a
suggestion of the Oriental; the shops had covered galleries, and the
people moving in the big, circular _place_ into which we drove--the
_place_ of the Kurhaus and of the circus--were drifting particles of the
bright mosaic; tall, dark young officers (not at all typically Dutch
according to preconceived ideas) in green and crimson or bright blue
uniforms; pretty girls in white with rose-trimmed or scarlet hats;
nursemaids in the costume of some remote province, the sunlight setting
their gold head-ornaments on fire; tiny children in blue sailor-suits,
or with a little red fez on a yellow head; old, white-haired gentlemen
holding on unsuitable top-hats as they walked against the wind;
white-aproned waiters flitting about restaurant verandas, carrying pink
ices, or baskets of fruit, like jewels.

It was a gay scene, but Robert said it was nothing to the "high season,"
which began on the first of August, and brought throngs of fashionable
people from all over Europe. As for the top-hats at which I laughed, he
defended them stoutly, saying they were as much _de rigueur_ at The
Hague as in London, and he could see nothing comic in wearing them at
the seaside.

Still we had had no glimpse of the sea; but Robert turned the car, and
driving between two gigantic hotels, ran down to a beach with sands of
gleaming gold, and a background of wind-blown dunes billowing away as
far as the eye could reach. The very wildness of this background gave a
bizarre sort of charm to the fantastic buildings which made up the
fashionable center of Scheveningen.

In the center, the Kurhaus dominated all; hotel, restaurant,
concert-room, theater, in one. Terrace below terrace it descended and
sent out into the green water of the North Sea a great pier blossoming
with flags. But the most individual feature was the large and
enterprising family of "wind stoels"--dear, cozy basket-houses for one,
like green and yellow bee-hives cut in half, or giant sunbonnets
crowding the beach behind the bathing-machines. There one could nestle,
self-contained as a hermit-crab in a shell, defying east wind or baking
sun, happy with a book, or the person one liked best in a twin
wind-stoel opposite.

Reposeful gaiety seemed at this first glance to be the note struck by
Scheveningen, and the air was buoyant as I had never known air to be
before.

"If you visit us in August," said Robert, "you will hear the best
operas, see the best automobile races, the most exciting motor-boat
races----"

"But we shall be on our own motor-boat in August," said I.

"I do not think so. You will perhaps let your boat. We will talk to my
mother," Robert answered, as one soothes a fractious child. Then, before
I had breath to answer, he swept us away from the beach, and drew up
before an aggressively comfortable villa on a terrace opening to the
sea.



VI


There was a garden-room with flower-painted walls, and Japanese
furniture and silk things; and in the garden-room stood Cousin Robert's
mother. The great glass doors were wide open, and she moved slowly to
the threshold to meet us.

Yes, she is far too large to come and call upon a stranger; far, far too
large for the motor-boat.

I saw in a flash why Robert put the family dinner-hour before the most
important historical events which helped to make Holland. If his jaw is
square enough, his gray eyes piercing enough to make his mother feel it
convenient to entertain unknown guests, whatever her plans and
inclinations, there's no doubt that her personality is more than
commanding enough to exact respect for domestic arrangements.

It would need such a giant as Robert not to be overawed by her, outside
domestic matters; and as for myself, though her pretty, smooth gray hair
parts in the middle, and her cheeks grew as pink as a baby's when she
smiled and told me in nice English to call her "Cousin Cornelia," I knew
that if she said black were white I would instantly agree with her.

There are glass doors between the garden-room and a drawing-room behind.
They were closed, because the Dutch (I am already learning) like to draw
a firm dividing line between being in the house and in the open air; and
I could see through the glass a half-length, life-size portrait of a
humorous little brown gentleman, who was, no doubt, Cousin Cornelia's
late husband, and Robert's father. Taking this for granted, it's evident
that Robert gets his inches and his blond splendor of looks from his
mother. There was so much of Cousin Cornelia in her black and white
spotted muslin, that at first I was conscious of her presence alone. It
was only her rich voice (like Devonshire cream, all in soft lumps when
the English words were difficult) introducing "Freule Menela van der
Windt, and your two cousins, Lisbeth and Lilli," which made me aware
that others were present.

I turned to the fiancée first, and found her a dark, thin, near-sighted
girl, with eye-glasses that pinched her nose, and perhaps her temper as
well, for there isn't a line of her face which won't be cross-grained
when she is old. She looked hard through her glasses at me and at Phil,
taking stock of us both, and didn't offer to shake hands; but Lisbeth
and Lilli, adorable strawberry-and-cream girls, twins of fifteen or
sixteen, put out dimpled fingers.

Cousin Cornelia asked how we liked Holland, but without waiting for us
to answer, told off Lisbeth and Lilli to show us our room, as there was
only just time to wash away the dust of motoring.

I was awestruck by Cousin Cornelia, and depressed by Menela; still I
hugged the thought that we were in luck to see the inside of a Dutch
home, and determined to make the most of our experience, which may not
occur again.

I never supposed it possible for the interior of a house to shine as
this does. Everything shines, even things that no one expects to present
a polished surface. For instance, does anybody (not Dutch) call upon
walls to behave as if they were mirrors? Yet as I went up the rather
steep stairs of the Villa van Buren I could see each movement I made,
each rise and fall of an eyelash repeated on a surface of brilliantly
varnished walnut.

"What wonderful wood!" I exclaimed.

"It is not real. It is paint," said pretty Lisbeth. "Do you not have
walls like this?"

"Never," I replied.

"Every one does in Holland. We admire them," explained Lilli.

"But what a lot of work to keep them so bright."

"It is only done once a day," she said apologetically. "The servant does
it when she has finished the windows."

"What--all the windows in the house--every day?"

"How else would they be clean?" asked Lisbeth, surprised.

There was no answer to this, from a Dutch point of view, so I remarked
meekly that it must take all the servant's time.

"It is what they like," said Lilli. "But we have another woman for the
floors and beating out the rugs, and doing the brass, so it is not so
much."

"Floors and rugs and brass every day, too?"

"Of course," returned both girls together, as if I had asked them about
their baths or their tooth-brushes. "_Of course._"

Lisbeth opened the door of a front room on the second floor.

"This is the spare room," said she, and advanced cautiously through the
dusk caused by the closing of the shutters. "We keep them so in the
afternoon," she explained, "because of the sunshine."

"Yes, otherwise the room would be hot, I suppose?"

"We do not mind its being hot. It is because the sun would fade the
carpet and the curtains." She threw open the blinds as she spoke, but
carefully shut both windows again.

"Oh, mayn't we have them open?" I ventured to ask. "The air is lovely."

"If you like," my cousin replied. "Only, if you do, the sand may blow
in."

"Just at the top then."

"At the top? I have not seen a window that opens at the top. We do not
have them made so."

"How funny! But I suppose there must be a reason why a whole nation
should go on having windows that won't open at the top."

"I do not know, except that we have always had them like that, so
probably it is better to go on," said Lilli, after a few seconds'
reflection, during which she looked exceedingly charming. She and
Lisbeth made no attempt at having figures, but their faces are perfect,
and their long tails of hair are fair and glossy as the silk of American
corn.

When the twins left us to our own devices, I was for simply washing
hands and faces; but Phil fiercely tore off her blouse, and made herself
pink with the effort of unearthing another from our box.

"What does it matter about changing?" I asked. "There's no time, and
they don't expect it. Besides, our things are as good as theirs--except
Miss van der Windt's. _She's_ very smart--to make up for her plainness."

"That's just the point," said Phil, struggling into a white, medallioned
blouse that fastened as intricately as the working of a prize puzzle.
"I've taken _such_ a dislike to her, and she to us."

"How do you know?"

"I can't tell how. But I do know. And I want our frocks to be prettier
than hers. _Do_ change, like a pet. I'll hook you up, if you'll do me.
Come, you _might_. You _would_ bring me abroad."

"Oh, all right!"

So I changed. And by dint of supernatural speed we were ready to leave
our green-and-pink doll's bedroom just as a Japanese gong moaned an
apology for supplying us with dinner instead of tea.

Once in a "blue moon" Phil and I are invited by some one to dine at the
Carlton or the Savoy, or at houses where the dinners are long and
elaborate; but memories of those dinners pale before the reality of this
at the Villa van Buren, in a handsome, shut-up dining-room.

There were _hors d'oeuvres_, and shell fish, and soup, and another kind
of fish; and after that began a long procession of meat and birds,
cooked in delicious, rich sauces. There were so many that I lost count,
as Noah must when he stood at the ark door to receive the animals as
they came along, two by two; but these were a little easier to keep
track of, because you could remind yourself by saying: "That was the one
done up in currant juice; that was the one with compote of cherries,"
and so on; which, of course, Noah couldn't.

Phil's capacity and mine was exhausted comparatively early in the feast,
but everybody else was eating steadily on, so we dared not refuse a
course, lest it should be considered rude in Holland. We did our best,
straight through to a wonderful iced pudding, and managed a crumb of
spiced cheese; but when raw currants appeared, we had to draw the line.
The others called them "bessen," pulling the red beads off their stems
with a fork, and sprinkling them with sugar, but my blood curdled at the
sight of this dreadful fruit, and my mouth crinkled up inside.

Although we sat down at six, it was after eight when we rose, and as the
windows were shut, the room was suffocating. Everybody looked flushed,
and I dared not hope, after excluding the air for so long, that we
should be allowed a breath of it later. But Cousin Cornelia, as a matter
of course, led the way into the garden-room, where lamps, shaded with
rose-colored silk, had now been lighted on two of the book-and
magazine-strewn tables.

The strong air of the sea blew blessedly upon us, seeming cold after the
heat of the dining-room, but Cousin Cornelia did not even wrap a shawl
about her shoulders. We were _out-of-doors_ now, and it was right to
have air, so you took it for granted, and did not suffer. But indoors,
what were windows for if you did not keep them closed? It seemed a waste
of good material, and therefore a tempting of Providence to take
revenge by sending you bronchitis or rheumatism.

It was exquisite in the garden-room. Sea and sky mingled in a haze of
tender blue. All the air was blue, spangled with the lights of the pier;
and our lamps, and the shaded lamps of other garden-rooms, glowed in the
azure dusk like burning flowers, roses, and daffodils, and tulips.

We had coffee in cups small and delicate as egg-shells, and the old
silver spoons were spoons for dolls or fairies.

Robert asked if we would like to go to the circus, which could not, he
said, be surpassed in Europe; or to a classical concert at the Kurhaus:
but we were contented in the garden-room, with the music of the sea. We
talked of many things, and if Robert is deficient in a knowledge of
history, the others make up for his ignorance. They know something of
everything; and even the apple-blossom twins could put Phyllis and me to
shame, if they were not too polite, on the subject of modern musicians
and painters.

They speak French, German, and Italian, as well as English: a smattering
of Spanish too; yet they said modestly, when we exclaimed at their
accomplishments, that it was nothing; hardly anybody would learn Dutch,
so the Dutch must learn the languages of other nations.

As for Freule Menela (I must not call her "Miss," it seems, because
"Freule" is a kind of title) she is the cleverest of all, as the sweet
twins tried to make us understand; and the pretty creatures are proud of
her, thinking little of their own beauty. Sometimes I fancied that a
shade of contempt passed over her face when Robert ventured a remark
which showed him more accomplished as sportsman than scholar; but, if
she noticed that he turned to Phil or me with any brightening of
interest, she at once took pains to engage his attention.

They talked in low, pleasant voices, scarcely raising their tones or
making a gesture; and there was always that faint suggestion of the
Scotch accent, whether they spoke English or broke into Dutch. When I
remarked upon it, Cousin Cornelia laughed and said it was perhaps the
common Celtic ancestry; and that if the Dutch heard Gaelic talked, they
could recognize a few words here and there.

It was not more than an hour after we finished our coffee, that tea was
brought, with more beautiful china, and a great deal of handsome silver.
What with this potent mixture of stimulants, and being in a new house,
and thinking exciting thoughts of the future, I felt I shouldn't be able
to sleep. Nevertheless, after we'd said good-night, and Phil and I were
undressing, I was not pleased when Cousin Cornelia knocked at the door.

"She has come about the motor-boat," I thought, "to tell us we oughtn't
to go. Heaven grant me strength to resist." For in her quilted Japanese
silk dressing-gown she looked larger and more formidable than ever.

Not a word did she say about the motor-boat at first. It was our past
which seemed to interest her, not our future. As a relation she has the
right to ask me things about myself, and Phil's history is inextricably
tangled up with mine.

She wanted to know where we lived in London, and how: also on what,
though she didn't put it as crudely as that. I was frank, and told her
about my serial stories and Phil's typing.

"I suppose you think we're mad to break up our work and go on a
motor-boat tour in Holland, as if we were millionaires, when really
we're poor girls," I said, before she had time to reprove us. "But we
have each about a hundred and twenty pounds a year, whatever happens, so
it isn't as desperate as you might think. Besides, it is going to be
_the_ time of our lives. Even my stepsister feels so now, though she was
against it at first, and neither of us would give it up for anything."

"I don't think you should give it up," said Cousin Cornelia. You might
have knocked me down with a feather--quite a small one: for in her note
she had said we must come and let her offer us good advice before it was
too late; and Robert had hinted that his mother meant to dissuade us
from our wild-goose chase--in the company of Mr. Starr and Mr. Starr's
aunt.

"I think you know how to take care of yourselves," she went on.

"And we'll have a chaperon," Phil assured her.

"So I have heard, from my son. I have great faith in the Scotch. Yes, as
you have been a little too kind-hearted, and promised this strange young
man, it is necessary that somebody should have an aunt. Otherwise, if
you two had been quite alone together, it would not so much have
mattered. In Holland girls have liberty, more than anywhere except in
America. The bicycle is their chaperon, for all young girls and men
bicycle with us. The motor-boat might have been your chaperon. Even if
the aunt should not come, perhaps the nephew could be got rid of, and a
way arranged, rather than give up your tour."

We were delighted, and I could have hugged Cousin Cornelia. Indeed, I
did thank her warmly, and was rather surprised that Phil, who usually
overflows with gratitude for the slightest kindness, was not more
effusive over my relative's interest in our affairs, and her
broad-minded verdict.

"She's a lamb, after all, isn't she?" I asked, when the large lady had
gone, and I was ready to creep into a bed only an inch too short for me.

"She may be a lamb, but she isn't going to let us shear her, if she can
help it," said Phil, looking deadly wise.

"What _do_ you mean?"

"My dear girl, with all your cleverness, you're only a baby child about
some things. _Don't_ you see what's she's driving at?"

I shook my head, with my hair about my face.

"Or what all her questions were leading up to? Well, then, what _do_ you
think has made her change her mind about our motor-boating?"

"She saw we could take care of ourselves."

"She has found out that we're poor, and obliged to. She supposed from
what your cousin Robert told her, that we were heiresses; and she would
have kept us on a long visit if--oh, you silly old dear, don't you see
she's afraid of us--with _him_? She'll be polite and nice, but she wants
us to disappear."

"Good gracious!"

"Pretty Lilli told me this evening that Freule Menela van der Windt
hasn't much money, but she comes of a splendid family: she's a distant
relation of that Mr. Brederode, and her people are diplomats who live at
The Hague, though she's an orphan and visits about. If one of us were
rich--why--oh, it's too horrid to go on. Now, maybe, you understand what
I mean, and can put two and two together and agree with me."

"For a saint, you sometimes develop a hideous amount of worldly wisdom,
my Phil," I replied. "But when I come to think Cousin Cornelia over, I'm
afraid you're right. It would be fun to _flirt_ with Robert, and
frighten her, wouldn't it?"

"We are going away--to the motor-boat--to-morrow, and we shall never see
him again," said Phil. "Besides, it's wrong to flirt, even with
foreigners; and now do let me say my prayers."



VII


Next morning, when I waked up, and cautiously drew my watch from under
the pillow, not to disturb Phyllis, it was only six o'clock, and there
was Phil gazing at me, with eyes large and bright in the green dusk that
filtered through the olive curtains.

"I've been awake for ages," said she.

"What are you thinking about?"

"The motor-boat. Queer--but I can't help it."

"Neither can I. Can you go to sleep again?"

"No. Can you?"

"Not I. Let's get up, and creep out of doors. What fun to go down to the
beach and take a bath!"

"Nell! In our nighties?"

"Silly! We'll hire things--and bathing-machines."

After mature deliberation Phil decided not to risk being taken for a
thief by the van Buren family; but I could not abandon the idea, and
fifteen minutes later I was softly unlocking the front door, to steal
alone into the pearly, new-born day. Oh, the wonder of it--the wonder of
each new day, if one only stopped to think; but the wonder of this above
all others!

Already there were a few people about, hurrying beachward; and when I
reached the level of the firm, yellow sand, there were the red-trousered
men of the bathing-machines, in full activity, getting their horses into
the traces, while dogs raced wildly over sand-hillocks, and children
played with bright, sea-washed shells the waves had flung them.

Two or three of the bath-machines were in use, some were engaged for
persons not yet arrived, and I thought myself lucky in securing one
drawn by the handsomest horse of all. The others were dull,
_blasé_-looking creatures compared to him; indeed, he was far too fine
for a mere bathing-machine, and had a lovely cushiony back like the
animals on which beautiful ladies pirouet in circuses. I longed to try
it myself, when my shoes and stockings were off.

Just as I had got into the prickly blue serge costume provided by the
"management," I heard the sound of stirring military music, played not
far away by a brass band, and something queer happened at the same
moment. The machine began to rock as if there were an earthquake, to
dart forward, to retreat, and at last to go galloping ahead at a speed
to suggest that in a sudden fit of hallucination it had persuaded itself
it was a motor-car.

"That horse!" I gasped, and swaying first against one wall, then against
the other, scarcely able to keep my feet, I tore the door open and
peeped out.

If I had not been frightened I should have laughed, for it was plain to
see from the expression of that cushiony back, that the animal was
merely pretending to be afraid of the music, in a kittenish wish for a
little early morning fun. But he was also pretending in quite a
life-like manner to run away, and the thought occurred to me that the
consequences might be as awkward for the occupant of the machine as if
the jest were earnest.

"Whoa, whoa," cried a voice in pursuit, and splash! went the beast into
the surf. He was playing that he was a sea-horse, now, and enjoying it
selfishly, without a thought of poor me in the horrid, tottery little
box that would be knocked over by a big wave, maybe, in another instant,
in a welter of sand and salt water, under a merry horse's hoofs.

I clung to the door with one hand, and the frame with the other,
swinging back and forth on the threshold, with abnormally large iron
shoes flying up and down in the wet green foreground, and the whole
North Sea towering over me in the middle distance--oh, but a very near
middle distance!

I wavered in mind as well as body. If I didn't jump out--now, this
minute--I might be caught and pinned like a mouse in a trap, under the
water. If I did jump, the horse would kick me, and the wheels of the
machine would go over me, and I should be battered as well as drowned
before anybody could fish me out. I did feel horribly alone in the
world, and the waves looked as tall as transparent green skyscrapers.

"One, two; at _three_ I'll jump," I was saying resolutely, between
chattering teeth, when a head came toward me in the sea. It came on top
of a wave, and like the dear little cut-off cherubs in old-fashioned
prayer-books, it seemed to have no body, yet I recognized it, and felt
half inclined to bow (salutation, O Caesar, from one about to die!) only
it would have seemed ridiculous to bow to a mere passing head, when one
was on the eve of being swept away by the North Sea. Phyllis might have
done it. I gave a short shriek, and then it appeared that the head had
full control of the wave, for it stopped and let the wave rush by, to
show that it had a tall, brown, dripping body, sketchily clad in the
kind of thing that men dare to call a bathing-suit.

It did not seem strange at the time that William the Silent should be
shot from a wave as if by a catapult, and still less strange that
without a word he should seize my horse by the head and stop him. It
seemed the sort of thing that ought to happen to foreigners traveling in
Holland, if in need of succor.

"Oh, thank you so much!" I heard myself saying, just as if he had had on
a frock-coat and top-hat, and had stopped a hansom cab for me in Bond
Street.

"Not at all," I heard him reply, in the same London-in-the-season tone.
Then suddenly I thought of Stanley in the desert saying, "Dr.
Livingstone, I believe?" and my bare feet, and his dripping hair, and
the whole scene struck me so quaintly that I laughed out aloud;
whereupon he smiled a wet, brown smile, showing white teeth.

"I'm _not_ having hysterics," I spluttered, with my mouth full of spray.
"It's only--only--" and the spray choked me with its salt.

"Of course," said William the Silent, grave again, and so like the
portrait that I felt I must be a historical character, acting with him
in an incident forgotten or expurgated by Motley. "I'm so glad I came. I
saw you from further out, and thought something was wrong. But it's all
right now."

"Yes, thank you," I said meekly. "Why, you're an _Englishman_, aren't
you?"

"Dutch to the backbone," he answered; and then, suddenly conscious,
perhaps, that the (might one call it "feature"?) he had mentioned, was
too much exposed to be discussed thus lightly, he changed the subject.

"Here's your man," he said quickly, and forthwith fell to scolding in
vehement Dutch the unfortunate wretch who had waded to the rescue. The
horse, made sadder if not wiser by blows from his master, allowed
himself to be backed for a certain distance, until it was safe for me to
descend and take my postponed bath. I had but time to bow and murmur
more inane thanks, to receive another bow and polite murmur in return
(both murmurs being drowned by the sea) when the retrograde movement of
the bathing-machine parted me and my living life-preserver. He stood in
the water looking after us long enough to see that there would be no
further incidents, then took a header into the waves again.

I'm not sure that my adventure did not add spice to the salt of my bath.
Anyhow, it was glorious, and I ran back to the villa at last tingling
with joy of life, in time to be let in by a maid who was cleaning the
door-steps. It was half-past seven, and breakfast was at eight. I had to
make haste with my toilet, but luckily there are few tasks which can't
be accompanied by a running fire of chat (that is, if one is a woman) so
I had told everything to Phyllis by the time I had begun fastening the
white serge frock in which I was to go to The Hague and the _Concours
Hippique_. Just then the Japanese gong sent forth its melancholy wail,
so we hurried down, and I forgot to tell Phyllis not to mention the
incident. I didn't think it the kind of incident which would be approved
by the van Buren family, and on second thoughts I didn't approve of it
myself.

Hardly were we comfortably seated at the table, however, when Phil told
Robert what a part his friend had played in my adventure. I could not
stop her, and when I was called upon for details, gave them rather than
seem to be secretive.

"We must be thankful that Brederode was taking his dip early," said
Robert. "I will tell him this afternoon that we are very grateful for
what he did."

I blushed consciously. "Oh, _must_ you?" I asked. "Somehow, I've an idea
he'll think it stupid of me to have mentioned it. Besides, maybe it
_wasn't_ your friend. Perhaps it was some one who looked like him.
The--er--dress was so different, and I had hardly seen Mr.
Brederode----"

"Jonkheer Brederode," corrected Freule Menela, softly.

I broke out laughing. "Jonkheer! Oh, do forgive me, but it sounds so
funny. I really _never_ could call a person Jonkheer, and take him
_seriously_."

"You will have to call him Jonkheer when I bring him to the box, after
he has finished his part in the _Concours Hippique_," said Robert.
"There is no one who looks like Rudolph Brederode, so it must have been
he. You can see this afternoon."

"But I don't _want_ to see," I objected, crossly, for I felt I could
not solemnly and adequately thank the young man before my listening
relatives, for popping out of the sea in his microscopic costume, and
coming to the rescue of me in mine. I had squeaked and curled up my
toes, and been altogether ridiculous; and I knew we should at best burst
out laughing in each other's faces--which would astonish the van Buren
family.

"Whoever he was, I thanked him three times this morning, and that's
enough," I went on. "He wasn't risking his life, you know, and really
and truly, I'd rather not meet him formally, if you don't mind."

"Very well," said Cousin Robert, looking offended, and turning his
attention to breakfast.

It was, when I came to notice it, the oddest breakfast imaginable, yet
it had a tempting air. There was a tiny glass vase of flowers at each
person's place, and the middle of the table was occupied by a china hen
sitting on her nest. The eggs which she protected were hard-boiled; and
ranged round the nest were platters of every kind of cold smoked meat,
and cold smoked fish, dreamed of in the philosophy of cooks. There was
also cold ham; and there were crisp, rich little rusks, and gingerbread
in Japanese tin boxes, to eat with honey in an open glass dish, and
there was coffee fit for gods and goddesses. Even Phil drank it, though
she was offered tea, excusing her treachery by saying that she found her
tastes were changing to suit the climate of Holland--a dangerous theory,
since who can tell to what wild lengths it may lead?

When we had finished, the coffee-tray was taken from its place in front
of Cousin Cornelia, and another tray, bearing two large china bowls of
hot water, a dish with soap, a toy mop with a carved wood handle, and
two towels, was substituted for it.

"I wash the fine china and the coffee-spoons myself, after breakfast,"
explained Cousin Cornelia, slipping off her rings, and beginning her
pretty task. "The best of servants are not as careful as their
mistresses, and it is a custom in Holland."

"But you didn't wash the coffee- and tea-cups last night after dinner,"
I reminded her.

"No," she replied, "I never do that."

"But isn't the china as valuable, and isn't there as much danger of it's
being broken?"

She looked puzzled, almost distressed. "Yes, that is true," she
admitted, "but--it is not a custom. I don't know why, but it never has
been."

Her housewifely pleasure was spoiled for the moment, and I wished that I
hadn't spoken.

After all, Lisbeth and Lilli were not to go with us to The Hague. This
was the morning for opening the curio cabinets in the drawing-room, and
washing the contents, and the girls were expected to help their mother.
As the glass doors are never opened, unless that some guest may
carefully handle a gold snuff-box, a miniature, or a bit of old Delft,
the things could scarcely need washing; but the rule is to have them out
once a month, and it would be a crime to break it. This Freule Menela
explained in a low voice, and with the suspicion of a smile, as if she
wished the two girls from London to understand that she was able to see
the humorous side of these things.

"Your cousins are old-fashioned," she went on, "though dear people; I've
known them since I was a child, and am fond of them for their own sakes
as well as Robert's. You must not think that everybody in our country
dines at five. For instance, if you visited in my set at The Hague, you
would find things more as they are in France. When Robert and I are
married _I_ shall manage the house."

We listened civilly, but liked her none the better for her disavowal of
van Buren ways.

"Horrid, snobbish, disloyal little wretch," said Phil, afterwards,
quite viciously. "Your cousin's a hundred times too good and too
good-looking for her; but she doesn't know that. She fancies herself
superior, and thinks she's condescending to ally herself with the
family. I do believe she's marrying your cousin for his money, and if
she could get a chance to do better according to her ideas, she'd throw
him over."

"It isn't likely she'll ever have another chance of any sort," said I;
"Robert won't get rid of his bargain easily."

"She's going with us this morning, and makes a favor of it," went on
Phil. "She says she's tired to death of the pictures; but I'm sure ten
wild horses wouldn't keep her at home."

Be that as it may, the power of twenty wild horses in motor form rushed
her away in our society and that of her fiancé.

In the beautiful forest, which I was happy in seeing again, we threaded
intricate, dark avenues, and came at last (as if we had been a whole
party of tourist princes in the tale of the "Sleeping Beauty") to the
House in the Wood.

The romance of the place grew in my eyes, because a princess built it to
please her husband, and because the husband was that son of William the
Silent who best carried on his father's plans for Holland's greatness.
I'm afraid I cared more about it for the sake of Princess Amalia and
Frederic Henry of Orange, than for the sake of the Peace Conference,
because the Conference was modern; and it was of the princess I thought
as we passed through room after room of the charming old house, hidden
in the very heart of the forest. Had she commanded the exquisite Chinese
embroideries, the wonderful decorations from China and Japan, and the
lovely old china? I wouldn't ask, for if she had had nothing to do with
that part, I didn't wish to know.

In the octagonal Orange Salon where the twenty-six Powers met to make
peace, and where the walls and cupola are a riot of paintings in praise
of Frederic Henry and his relations, we strained our necks to see the
pictures, and our brains to recall who the people were and what they
had done; but even the portrait of Motley, which we'd just passed, and
the knowledge that he wrote in this very house did not always prod our
memories.

Robert would not let us stay long at the House in the Wood. He took us
to see the site of the Palace of Peace, which Mr. Carnegie's money and a
little of other people's will build, and then flashed us on to The Hague
in time to reach the Mauritshuis as it opened.

Robert didn't pretend to know much about the pictures, though he was
patriotically proud of them, as among the best to be found, if you
searched the world. But the fiancée was in her element. "Tired to death"
of these splendid things she might be, in her small soul, but she was
determined to impress us with her artistic knowledge.

"I know exactly where all the best pictures are," she said, motioning
away the official guides, "and I will take you to them."

She had a practical, energetic air, and her black eyes were sharp behind
her _pince-nez_. I felt I could not be introduced by her to the glorious
company of great men, and basely I slipped away from the party, leaving
Phil to follow with outward humility and inward rebellion--a martyr to
politeness.

Oh, how glad I was to be left alone with the pictures, with nobody to
tell me anything about them! I flew back to buy a catalogue, and then,
carefully dodging my friends, whose backs I spied from time to time, I
gave myself up to happiness.

I didn't want to see the Madonnas and nymphs and goddesses, and Italian
scenes, which a certain school conscientiously produced, because in
their day it was the fashion. I wanted only the characteristically Dutch
artists, the men who loved their dear Hollow Land, putting her beyond
all, glorifying her, and painting what they knew with their hearts as
well as eyes--the daily life of home; the rich brown dusk of humble
rooms; the sea, the sky, the gentle, flat landscape, the pleasant
domestic animals.

My acquaintance with Dutch art was made in London at the National
Gallery; now I wanted to see it at home, and understand it as one can
best understand it here.

I soon found the great Rembrandt--"the School of Anatomy," and stood for
a long time looking at the wonderful faces--faces in whose eyes each
thought lay clear to read. What a picture! A man who had done nothing
else all his life long but paint just that, would have earned the right
to be immortal; but to have been only twenty-six when he did it, and
then to have gone on, through year after year, giving the world
masterpieces, and to be repaid by that world in the end with poverty and
hardship! My cheeks burned as I stood thinking of it, and somehow I felt
guilty and responsible, as if I'd lived in Rembrandt's day, and been as
ungrateful as the others.

I had expected to be disappointed in Paul Potter's "Bull," because
people always speak of it at once, if they hear you are going to
Holland; but if you could be disappointed in that young and winning
beast who kindly stands there with diamonds in his great velvet eyes,
and the breath coming and going under his rough, wholesome coat for you
to look at and admire, when all the time you know that he could kill you
if he liked, why, you would deserve to be gored by him and trodden by
his companions.

How I wanted to have known Jan van Steen, and thanked him for his
glorious, rollicking, extraordinary pictures (especially for "The
Poultry Yard"), and have slyly stolen his bottle away from him
sometimes, so that he might have painted even more, and not have come to
ruin in the end! How I loved the gentle Van Ruysdaels, and how pathetic
the everlasting white horse got to seem, after I had seen him repeated
again and again in every sort of tender or eccentric landscape! Poor,
tired white horse! I thought he must have been as weary of his
journeyings as the Wandering Jew.

There are two Rubens in the Mauritshuis which intoxicated me, as if I'd
been drinking new red wine; and there is one little Gerard Douw, above
all other Gerard Douws, worth a three-days' journey on foot to see. In a
window of the Bull's room I found it; and I stood so long staring, that
at last I began to be afraid the others might have gone away. They came
upon me, though, all too soon, and exclaimed, "Why, where _have_ you
been?" and "We've been looking for you _everywhere_." I said I was
sorry, and wondered how I had been so stupid as to miss them. Then we
were marshalled away by Robert for luncheon, as we'd been three hours in
the Mauritshuis, and before long we must be driving to the _Concours
Hippique_.

Only three hours in some of the best society on earth, and I shall be
expected to tell about my impressions when I go back to England! I know
well that I can tell nothing worth telling; and yet, even in this short
time, I feel that I understand more about Holland and the Hollanders
than I could have come to understand, except through their
pictures--more even than Motley could have told me.

I said to myself as I went away from the galleries, that Dutch painting
would stand for me henceforth as an epitome of the Dutch people. No one
but the Dutch could have painted pictures like theirs--so quaint, so
painstaking, and at the same time so splendid. Their love of rich brown
shadow and amber light was learned in the dim little rooms of their own
homes, and of inns where the brass and pewter gleamed in the mellow dusk
of raftered kitchens, and piles of fruit and vegetables fell like
jewels, from paniers such as Gerard Douw took three days to paint on a
scale of three inches.

We had a hasty luncheon at a nice hotel with an air of Parisian gaiety
about it, and sped away in the motor to the Horse Show, which was to be
held in a park between The Hague and Scheveningen. It was advertised on
every wall and hoarding, even on lamp-posts, and Freule Menela (gorgeous
in a Paris frock and tilted hat) prophesied that, as the Queen and
Prince Consort were honoring the occasion, we should see the loveliest
women, handsomest men, and prettiest dresses, as well as the best horses
that Holland could produce.

"When I say Holland, I mean The Hague; it is the same thing," she added,
with a conceited toss of the chin; and I thought she deserved shaking
for her sly dig at Robert of Rotterdam, than whom there can be no
handsomer young man in the Netherlands.

Cousin Cornelia in filmy gray, and the twins radiant as fresh-plucked
roses in their white frocks and Leghorn hats, had arrived, and were in
one of the many long, open loggias close to the red-and-gold pavilion
which was ready for the Royalties.

Over the pavilion, with its gilded crown and crest, floated the orange
flag as well as the tricolor of Holland; everywhere flags were waving
and red bunting glowing, and there was far more effect of color than at
an English race-meeting. Every box, every seat, was full; pretty hats
nodded like flowers in a huge parterre swept by a breeze; smart-looking
men with women in trailing white walked about the lawns; and Robert and
Menela pointed out the celebrities--ambassadors and ambassadors' wives,
politicians, popular actresses, celebrated journalists, men of title or
wealth who owned horses and gave their lives to sport.

All the men of the _haut mond_ were in frock-coats and tall hats, and
most of them looked English. There were few of the type which I
preconceived as Dutch, yet I saw faces in the crowd which Rembrandt or
Rubens might have used as models; thin, dark faces; hard, shrewd faces,
with long noses and pointed chins; good-natured round faces, with
wide-open gray eyes; important, conceited faces like the burgomasters in
ancient portraits.

"Not a type has changed," I said to myself. "These people of to-day are
the same people who suffered torture smiling, who were silent on the
rack, who drove the Spaniards out of their land, and swept the English
from the seas."

This was my mood when a stir among the throng heralded the coming of the
Queen, and I applauded as patriotically as a Dutchwoman the young
daughter of the brave house of Orange and Nassau.

She had a fine procession, and made an effective entrance through the
wide gates that swung apart to let in her outriders in their green
livery, and the royal coaches, with powdered coachmen and footmen in
blazing red and gold. A charming young woman she looked, too, in her
blowing white cloud of chiffon and lace, and ostrich-plumes. While she
circled round the drive with her suite, I heard the Dutch National Hymn
for the first time, and also a soft and plaintive air which is the
Queen's own--a kind of "entrance music" which follows her about through
life, like the music for a leading actress on the stage.

When the Queen in her white dress, the stout, bland Prince Consort in
his blue uniform, and the ladies of the Court were settled under the
crimson curtains of the pavilion, officers who were competing in the
Horse Show--Hollanders in green and cerise, and plain blue; Belgians in
blue and red; two or three Danes in delicious azure--were brought up
with much ceremony to be introduced.

"There goes Rudolph Brederode," said Robert, a light of friendly
admiration kindling in his eyes for a tall, slim figure in black coat
and riding-breeches. "See, her Majesty is wishing him good luck. He--"
But my cousin glanced at me, and remembering my base ingratitude,
decided that I deserved no further information about his hero, who
ought to be my hero too.

I pretended not to hear, and watched the show of beautiful horses and
carriages. They went round and round the great grassy ring, each driver
(and some of them were English) taking off their top-hats in front of
the Royal Pavilion.

There was a good deal of this kind of entertainment, but the best part
of the show was saved for the last, when all the glittering carriages
had disappeared from the course. Then came the jumping competition, in
which the finest riders, officers and civilians, were to prove what they
and their horses could do.

The crowd had wearied of the long driving contests, but as the Dutch
soldiers ran out across the grass to take their places beside the
hedges, hurdles, water-jumps, and obstacles, there was a general
brisking up.

Then began the real excitement of the afternoon. People greeted their
favorites with applause, and Cousin Robert's hero had the largest share.
He made a splendid figure on his delicately shaped roan, a creature all
_verve_ and muscle like his master, graceful as a cat, and shining in
the sun with the rich effulgence of a chestnut fresh from the burr.

I couldn't help a jumping of the pulses when the bell rang, and the
good-looking young men on their grand horses cantered into the ring.
Rudolph Brederode was the last, and his horse came in on its hind legs,
pawing and prancing with sheer joy of life and its own beauty; yet what
a different beast from that other who had also pirouetted to the sound
of music in the morning! I wondered if William the Silent thought--but
of course he didn't.

One by one the horses started, urged on or held back by their riders.
All rode well, but not one got round the course without a fault--a jump
short at a ditch; a hind hoof that brushed a hedge; the ring of an iron
shoe on a hurdle; or a wooden brick sent flying from the top row on a
high wall; not one, until Rudolph Brederode's turn came.

At the last moment, a pat of his hand on his horse's satin shoulder
quieted the splendid creature's nerves. Instantly it was calm, and
coming down from fun to business, started off at the daintest of
canters, which broke at exactly the right second into a noble bound.
Without a visible effort the adorable beast rose for each obstacle,
floating across hedges and walls as if it had been borne by the wings of
Pegasus. The last, widest water-jump was taken with one long, flying
leap; and then, doffing his hat low to the Royal Box, the conqueror rode
away in a storm of applause.

"It's always like that. Brederode never fails in anything he
undertakes," said Robert, as happy as if he, and not his friend, had
been the victor. "I'm off to congratulate him now."

Two minutes later I saw the hero among the crowd, his head towering
above most other heads; then I lost sight of him, and turned again to
watch the course, for the riding was not nearly finished yet. But with
the triumph of the great Water Beggar's descendant, the best was over.
No one else did as well as he, or had as fine a horse, and I found
myself looking for him and Robert. Maybe Robert would bring him to the
box in spite of all. It was a pity the others should be cheated of a
word with him--which even the twins seemed to hope for--just because
Robert had to punish me.

But he did not come, nor did Robert until after the Royalties had gone,
and Cousin Cornelia was ready to go too.



RUDOLPH BREDERODE'S POINT OF VIEW



VIII


I don't often do things that I have set my mind against doing, but when
Destiny lays a hand on one's steering-gear, unexpected things happen.

My idea has always been that, when my time came to fall seriously in
love, the girl would be a Dutch girl. I like and respect Dutch girls.
When you want them, there they are. There's no nonsense in them--at
least, as little as possible, considering that they are females. They
don't fuss about their temperaments, and imagine themselves Mysteries,
and Chameleons, and Anomalies, and make themselves and their lovers
miserable by trying to be inscrutable. You can generally tell pretty
well what they are going to do next, and if you don't want them to, you
can prevent them from doing it. Also they have good nerves and good
complexions, and for these reasons, and many others, make perfect wives
for men with family traditions to keep up. That is why I always intended
to fall seriously in love with a Dutch girl, although my mother was an
Englishwoman, and her father (an English earl who thought England the
only land) made an American heiress his Countess.

More than once I've come near to carrying out my intention, but the
feeling I had, never seemed the right feeling, so I let the matter drop,
and waited for next time.

A few days ago, I found out that there would never be a next time. I
knew this when Rob van Buren spoke of the two girls who were with him at
the Prinzenhof on July tenth as his "American cousin and an English
friend."

I can never fall in love with a Dutch girl now, for I have done the
thing I did not mean to do, and it can't be undone in this world. Once
and for all, that is settled, however it may go with me where the girl
is concerned. But it will go hard if I do not have her in the end, and I
shall if she is to be got; for the men of my blood soon make up their
minds when they want a thing, and they do not rest much until it's
theirs. This peculiarity has often landed them in trouble in past times,
and may land me in trouble now; but I'm ready for the risk, as they
were.

I didn't know at first which was the English girl--_my_ girl with the
chestnut hair, dark hazel eyes, and rose and white complexion; or the
other girl with brown hair, eyes of violet, and skin of cream. But when
I encountered my girl in the sea at half-past six in the morning,
unchaperoned except by a foolish runaway horse attached to a
bathing-machine, I should have guessed that she was the American, even
if there had been nothing in her pretty voice to suggest it.

I am sorry that it couldn't have been the other way round, for my
English mother's sake, since my fate isn't to be Dutch. But it can't be
helped. I have seen The One Girl, and it would be the same if she were a
Red Indian.

I was going to lead up to the subject when van Buren came to speak to me
at the Horse Show; but he began it, by thanking me, in the grave way he
has, for coming to his cousin's rescue in the morning. I shouldn't have
referred to that little business, as she might not have mentioned her
adventure; but as she had told the story, it gave me a foundation to
work on.

I said truly that what I had done was nothing, but hinted that I should
be pleased to meet the young lady again; and thereupon expected an
invitation to visit his mother's box. To my surprise, it didn't come,
and Robert's face showed that there was a reason why.

"My cousin doesn't deserve that you should take an interest in her," he
blurted out. "She is pretty, yes, and perhaps that is why she is so
spoiled, for she is vain and capricious and flippant. I wish it were
Miss Rivers who had our blood in her veins."

Queerly enough, instead of cooling me off toward the girl, Robert's
criticism of her had the opposite effect. I have liked Robert since I
took him under my wing during my last and his first year at Leiden.
Perhaps it tickles my vanity to know that he has been boyish enough to
make me into a kind of hero, little though I deserve it, and whenever I
have been able to do him a good turn I have done it; but suddenly I
found myself thinking him a young brute, and feeling that he deserved
kicking.

"I suppose Miss Van Buren hasn't paid enough attention to your High
Mightiness," said I.

"She hasn't put herself out much," said he; "but it isn't that I care
about, it's her attitude toward you. Of course you couldn't help hearing
what she said yesterday at the Prinzenhof about the portrait of William
the Silent. Because I asked her afterwards if she didn't think it looked
like you, she said not a bit; anyhow she had only been joking, and it
was an ugly portrait. Then, this morning at breakfast, when I heard what
happened on the beach, I told her that perhaps she would have the chance
this afternoon to thank you. Instead of being pleased, she answered that
she'd thanked you enough already, that you had run no risk, as what you
did was nothing much, after all, and she hoped I wouldn't bring you. I
tell you, Brederode, I could have boxed her ears."

I must confess that mine tingled, and for a moment I felt hurt and angry
with the girl, but it was only for a moment. Then I laughed.

"Served you right for forcing me upon her," said I. "Well, it's evident
she's taken a dislike to me. It must be my business to change that, for
I have exactly the opposite feelings toward her. Some day I shall _make_
her like me."

"I wonder you can think it worth while to trouble your head over my
cousin, after what I've felt it right to tell you," said Robert. "I
thought you ought to know, otherwise you would have considered it
strange I didn't ask you to our box, as I should have been proud to do;
but I was angry for your sake, and said I wouldn't bring you near her.
Now, as things are, I don't see how you can meet my cousin. The van
Buren blood is at its worst in her, and it has made her obstinate as a
pig."

"Heavens, what a simile!" said I; yet I couldn't help laughing. "I, too,
am obstinate as a pig; and being proud of my Dutch blood, I like her the
better for hers, all the more because it's obstinate blood, and it
wouldn't be true Dutch if it were not. I tell you, Robert, I'm going to
know your cousin--not through you; I don't want that now, but in some
other way, which will arrange itself sooner or later--probably sooner."

"I don't see how," Robert repeated. "I was in hopes that she and Miss
Rivers, her stepsister, could have been persuaded by my mother to pay us
a long visit, and give up an objectionable plan they have. But Cousin
Helen--Nell, as Miss Rivers calls her--has been pig-headed even with my
mother. I am sure it is not Miss Rivers's fault. She is not that kind of
girl."

"Do you mind telling me the objectionable plan?" I asked.

"I shall be glad to tell," said he, "and see if you don't agree with me
that it is monstrous, though, strange to say, now mother has talked with
the girls, _she_ does not seem to think it as bad as she was inclined to
at first. She tells me that they are determined to persist, and she
thinks they will come to no harm. My cousin has been left a motor-boat
by a friend's will. You must have seen it: Captain Noble's 'Lorelei,'
which used to lie near the Rowing Club. She and Miss Rivers have come
to take a trip through the waterways of Holland, though my mother has
learned that their financial circumstances hardly warrant such an
undertaking."

"Plucky girls!" was my comment.

"Ah, but you don't know all. A young man is going with them, a strange
American young man, whom they never saw till yesterday."

"By Jove! In what capacity--as chauffeur?"

"Not at all. As a sort of paying guest, so far as I can understand the
arrangement."

"It sounds rather an odd one."

"I should say so; but I mustn't make you think it's worse than it is.
There was a misunderstanding about the boat. The American thought he'd
hired it from the caretaker, and they were sorry for his disappointment.
He has an aunt, a Scotswoman of title, who is to be of the party."

"That makes all the difference, doesn't it?--not the title, but the
aunt."

"It makes a difference, certainly; but the man may be an adventurer.
He's an artist, it appears, named Starr----"

"What, the Starr whose Salon picture made so much talk in Paris this
spring?"

"Yes; but being a good artist doesn't constitute him a good man. He
might make love to the girls."

"Beast! So he might, aunt or no aunt. She'll probably aid and abet him.
I don't know that I blame you for objecting to such an adventure for
your cousin."

"Oh, it isn't so much for her--that is, except on principle. But I've
done all I can, and my mother has done all she can, so you can imagine
what my cousin's pig-headedness is like to resist us both. My mother
tells me she could do _nothing_ with her; and the girls are leaving us
to-morrow. They go back to Rotterdam, where they expect to find Starr's
aunt, and, they hope, a skipper for the motor-boat. Cousin Helen asked
if I could recommend a suitable man; but even if I knew one, I should
not make it easier for her to flout the wishes of the family."

"Naturally not," said I, with the sort of fellow-feeling for Robert
which makes one wondrous kind. And I was sure that if I were Miss Van
Buren's cousin, and had set myself against her doing a certain thing,
she would not have done it.

"However, they are returning to Rotterdam early in the morning, and that
being the case, as I was saying, I don't see how it will be possible for
you to meet my cousin."

"I bet that I will meet her, and be properly introduced, too, before
either of us is a week older," said I, and then was sorry I had clothed
my resolve in such crude words. But it was too late to explain or
apologize, for at that instant two or three men came up. The thought of
what I had blurted out lay heavy on my mind afterwards, and if it had
not seemed a far-fetched and even school-missish thing to do, I would
have sent a line to Robert asking him to erase that clumsy and
impertinent boast from his memory. If he is stupid enough or awkward
enough to repeat anything of our conversation, and give Miss Van Buren
the impression that I tried to make a wager concerning her, it will be
all up with me, I know.

As it is, I can only hope that my words will go out at one ear as fast
as they went in at the other.

Next morning I had made no definite plan of action, but thought that as
Miss Van Buren was going to Rotterdam, it could do no harm for me to go
to Rotterdam too, and see what would happen next. Things of some sort
were bound to happen, and one way or other my chance might come before
she started on her journey.

My mother is at Château Liliendaal, the place where she likes best to
spend July and August when we don't run over to England; but she didn't
expect me to join her for some days, and meanwhile I was free to do as I
chose.

I was in hopes that I might see Miss Van Buren in the train, if I took
the most popular one in the morning; but she and her stepsister were not
on board, so I fancied Robert must be driving them back in the borrowed
car, despite his objections to their proceedings.

I went straight to the Rowing Club, where I have several friends, and as
I knew from Robert that the motor-boat was 'Lorelei' I easily found out
where she was lying. The next thing was to go and have a look at her, to
see if preparations were being made for an immediate start.

I had forgotten what she was like, but I found her a handsome little
craft, with two cabins, and deck-room to accommodate four or five
passengers; also I learned from a man employed on the quay close by that
the motor was an American one of thirty horse-power. He told me as well,
by way of gossip, that a rakish barge, moored with her pert brass nose
almost on "Lorelei's" stern, had been hired, and would be towed by the
owners of the motor-boat.

I didn't know what to make of this bit of information, as Robert had not
mentioned a barge; but the skylight meant a studio, so I saw the man
Starr's hand in the arrangement, and began to hate the fellow.

By the time I had loitered in the neighborhood for half an hour or more,
it was noon, and it occurred to me that I might go and lunch at Miss Van
Buren's hotel. But this would look like dogging the girl's footsteps,
and eventually I decided upon a more subtle means of gaining my end.

Nevertheless, I strolled past the house; but, seeing nobody worth
seeing, I reluctantly turned my steps farther on to a garden
restaurant--a middle-class place, with tables under chestnuts and
beeches or in shady arbors for parties of two or four.

It was early still, but the restaurant is popular, and all the small
tables under the trees were appropriated. Fortunately, several arbors
were empty, although one or two were engaged, and I walked into the
first I came to.

For a few moments I was kept waiting, then a fluent waiter appeared to
recommend the most desirable dishes of the day. His eloquence was in
full tide, when a man paused before the entrance of my arbor, hesitated,
and went on to the next.

"That is engaged, sir," called out the waiter.

"I don't understand Dutch," answered the new-comer in American-English.
"Can you speak French?"

The waiter could, and did. The man--a good-looking fellow, with
singularly brilliant black eyes and a fetching smile--explained that it
was he who had engaged the arbor, that he was expecting a lady, and
would not order luncheon until she joined him.

He sat down with his gray flannel back to me, but I could see him
through the screen of leaves and lattice, and it was clear that he was
nervous. He kept jumping up, going to the doorway, staring out, and
returning to throw himself on the hard green bench with an impatient
sigh. Evidently She was late.

An omelet arrived for me, and still my neighbor was alone; but I had
scarcely taken up my fork when a light, tripping step sounded crisply on
the crushed sea-shells of the path outside. A shadow darkened the
doorway, and for an instant a pocket-edition of a woman, in a neat but
well-worn tailor-made dress, hung on my threshold. Rather like a trim
gray sparrow she was, expecting a crumb, then changing her mind and
hopping further on to find it.

But the change of mind came only with the springing up of the young man
in the adjoining arbor.

"_Aunt Fay_, is that you?" he inquired, in an anxious voice, speaking
the name with marked emphasis.

"Oh!" chirped the gray sparrow, flitting to the next doorway, "I must
have counted wrong. I saw a young man alone, and--Then you are my
nephew--_Ronald_."

She also threw stress upon the name and the relationship, and, though I
knew nothing of the face that lurked behind a tissue veil, I became
aware that the lady was an American.

"Funny thing," I said to myself. "They don't seem to have met before.
She must be a long-lost aunt."

My neighbor would have ushered his relative into the arbor, but she
lingered outside.

"Come, Tibe," she cried, with a shrill change of tone. "Here, Tibe,
Tibe, Tibe!"

There was a sudden stir in the garden, a pulling of chairs closer to
small tables, a jumping about of waiters, a few stifled shrieks in
feminine voices, and a powerful tan-colored bulldog, with a peculiarly
concentrated and earnest expression on his countenance, bounded through
the crowd toward his mistress, with a fine disregard of obstacles.
Evidently, if there was any dodging to be done, he had been brought up
to expect others to do it; and I thought the chances were that he would
seldom be disappointed.

[Illustration: _There was a sudden stir in the garden._]

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Nephew Ronald, as the monster cannoned against
him. "You didn't mention This."

"No; I knew you were sure to love him. I wouldn't have anything to do
with a creature who didn't. Isn't he exquisite?"

"He's a dream," said the young man; but he did not specify what kind of
dream.

"Where I go, there Tibe goes also," went on the lady. "His name is
Tiberius, but it's rather long to say when he's doing something that you
want him to stop. He'll lunch with us like a perfect gentleman. Oh, he
is more _flower_ than dog! Tibe, come away from that door _instantly_!"

The flower had paused to see whether he approved of my lunch, and from
the way he turned back a protruding black drapery of underlip from a
pair of upstanding ivory tusks, I judged that neither it nor I found
favor in his eyes. Perhaps he resented laughter in mine; yet there was
something after all in the flower simile, if not precisely what the
blossom's adoring mistress meant. Tibe's face distinctly resembled a
pansy, but an appalling pansy, the sort of pansy you would not like to
meet in the dark.

Whatever may have been his opinion of me, he had to be dragged by the
collar from my door, and later I caught the glitter of his gaze through
the lattice.

Aunt Fay slipped in between bench and table, sitting down opposite to
me, and when the nephew took his old place I had glimpses of her over
his shoulder.

She was unfastening her veil. Now it had fallen. Alas for any hopes
which the trim, youthful figure might have raised! Her thick gray hair
was plastered down over temples, cheeks, and ears, and a pair of
uncommonly large blue spectacles left her eyes to the imagination.

"I began to be afraid there might have been some mistake in the telegram
I sent, after I got your letter saying I mustn't come to your address,"
began Nephew Ronald, hastily, after a moment of silence that followed
the dropping of the veil. "What I said was, 'Buiten Oord, third arbor on
the left as you come in by main entrance, lunch quarter past twelve. Any
cabman will know the place.' Was the message all right?"

"Yes," replied Aunt Fay; "but I suffer a little with my eyes. That's why
I stopped when I came to the next arbor. I'm late, because darling Tibe
ran away just as I was hailing a cab, so I had to let that one go, and
rescue him from the crowd. Wherever he goes he has a throng round him.
People admire him so much. Down, my angel! You mustn't put your feet on
strange gentlemen's tables, when you're invited to lunch. He's hungry,
poor lamb."

"I hope you are also," said Nephew, politely; but his voice was
heavy. I wondered if he were disappointed in Aunt, or if it was only
that the Pansy had got on his nerves. "Here's my waiter. We'll have
something to eat, and talk things over as we lunch. There's a tremendous
_menu_ for a _table d'hôte_ meal--thoroughly Dutch. No other people
could get through it and live. Probably you would prefer----"

"Let me see. Potage d'Artois; Caneton de Luxembourg; Soles aux fines
herbes; Pommes Natures; Fricandeau de Veau; Haricots Princesse; Poulet
roti; Compote; Homard frais; Sauce Ravigottes; Salad melé; Crême au
chocolat; Fromage; Fruit. Humph, funnily arranged, isn't it? But Tibe
and I have been living in furnished lodgings, and we--er--have eaten
rather irregularly. I dare say between us we might manage the lunch as
it is."

Nephew Ronald ordered it, and another silence fell. I think that he
drummed on the table.

"We might as well get to business," suggested the lady. "Does the aunt
engagement begin immediately?"

"I--er--there's one difficulty," faltered the young man. "Unfortunately
I injudiciously let drop that my aunt was a _fine_ woman."

"Really! You might better have waited till you made her acquaintance.
You can't pick and choose in a hurry, when you must have a ready-made
aunt, my dear sir. Myself, I _prefer_ small women. They are more
feminine."

"Please don't be angry. You see, it was like this. I said that, when I
still hoped to have a real aunt on hand for my purpose. That was the way
the scrape began. I inadvertently let out her name and a lot of
things----"

"To the young ladies I'm to chaperon?"

"Yes, to the young ladies. If they remember the description----"

"You can say you referred to your aunt's character when you remarked
that she was a fine woman."

"I suppose so" (still doubtfully). "But then there's another trouble,
you know. I advertised in _Het Nieus van den Dag_
for a _Scotch_ aunt."

I moved suddenly, for a queer thought jumped into my head. The blue
spectacles were focused on me, and there was a low murmur, to which the
man responded in his usual tone. "No danger. _Dutch._ I heard him
talking to the waiter."

Now, perhaps I should have called through the lattice and the leaves:
"Combination of Dutch and English. Half and half. As much at home in one
language as the other." But for several reasons I was silent. One was,
that it was easier to be silent than to make a fuss. Another was that,
if the suspicion which had just sprung into my head had any foundation,
it was mine or any man's duty to know the truth and act upon it. So I
sat still, and went on with my luncheon as my next door neighbors went
on with theirs; and no one remembered my existence except Tibe.

"I've no moral objection to being a Scotch aunt," said the obliging
lady.

"It's your accent, not your morals, that sticks in my throat."

"The latter, I trust were sufficiently vouched for in the letter from
our American Consul here. You can call on him if you choose. Few
ready-made aunts obtained by advertisement would have what I have to
recommend me. As for a Scotch accent, I've bought Burns, and a Crockett
in Tauchnitz, and by to-morrow I'll engage that no one--unless a
Scotsman--would know me from a Scotswoman. Hoot, awa', mon. Come ben."

"But--er--my aunt's rather by way of being a swell. She wouldn't be
found dead saying 'hoot, awa', 'or 'come ben.' There's just a little
indescribable burr-r----"

"Then I will have just a little indescribable burr-r. And you can buy me
a Tartan blouse and a Tam."

"I'm afraid a Tam wouldn't--wouldn't quite suit your style, or--or that
of any well-regulated aunt; and a well-regulated aunt is absolutely
essential to the situation. I----"

"_Do_ you mean to insinuate that I am not a well-regulated aunt?" There
was a rustling in the arbor. "Come, Tibe," the lady added in a firm
voice, "you and I will go away and leave this gentlemen to select from
all the other charming and eligible aunts who have no doubt answered his
quite conventional and much-to-be-desired advertisement."

"For heaven's sake, don't go!" cried the man, springing to his feet.
"There, your dog's got the duck. But it doesn't matter. Nobody else
worth speaking of--nobody in any way possible--has answered my
advertisement. I can't lose you. But, you see, I somehow fancied from
your letter that you were large and imposing, just what I wanted; and
you said you'd lately been in Scotland----"

"The accent was one of the few things I did _not_ wish to bring away
with me," sniffed the lady. "Under the table, Tibe; we're not going,
after all, for the moment. And as you _have_ the duck, you may as well
eat it."

"Good dog," groaned the stricken young man. If he had not, to the best
of my belief, been engaged in concocting a treacherous plot against one
whom I intended to protect, I could have pitied him.

Both sat down again. There was a pause while plates were changed, and
then the female plotter took up the running.

"I may be conceited," said she, "but my opinion is that you're very
lucky to get me. I may not be Scotch, and I may not be a 'swell,' but I
am--a lady."

"Oh--of course."

"What were the others like who answered your advertisement?"

"All Dutch, and spoke broken English, except one, who was German. She
wore a reform dress, hunched up behind with unspeakable elastic things.
You'd make allowances if you knew what I've gone through since the day
before yesterday, when I found, after telegraphing a frantic appeal to
my aunt in Scotland, that she's left home and they could give me no
address. I've had an awful time. My nerves are shattered."

"Then you'd better secure peace by securing me. An aunt in the hand is
worth two in the bush."

"A good aunt needs no bush. I mean--oh, I don't know what I mean; but,
of course, I ask nothing better than to secure you."

"No; you mean you think you'll _get_ nothing better. Ha, ha! I agree
with you. But Tibe and I didn't come here to be played with. You're
giving us a very good lunch, but I have his future and mine to think of.
I admit, I'm in want of an engagement as a traveling companion to ladies
in Holland; but you aren't the only person to whom it occurs to put ads
in Dutch papers. If you'd searched the columns of _Het Nieus van den
Dag_ you might have seen mine. I have not been without answers, and I
don't know that I should care to be an aunt, anyway. It makes one seem
so _old_. What I came to say was that, unless you can offer me an
immediate engagement----"

"Oh, I can and do. I beg of you to be my aunt from this moment."

"Tibe to travel with me and have every comfort?"

"Yes, yes, and luxury."

"A pint of warm milk every morning, half a pound of best beef or chicken
with vegetables at noon, two new-laid eggs at----"

"Certainly. He has but to choose--he seems to know his own mind pretty
well."

"I don't think it a subject for joking. That duck was close to the edge
of the table. We'd better talk _business_. Your letter said a hundred
gulden a week to a suitable aunt, and a two months' engagement certain.
Well, it's not enough. I should want at least three hundred dollars
extra, down in advance (I can't do it in gulden in my head) for _your_
sake."

"For my sake?"

"Don't you see, to do you credit as a relative, I must have things, nice
things, plenty of nice things? Tartan blouses, and if not Tams,
cairngorms. Yes, a cairngorm brooch would be realistic. I saw a beauty
yesterday--only two hundred gulden. No aunt of yours can go for a trip
on the waterways of Holland unless she's well fitted out."

"I've been admiring the dress you are wearing. It's wonderfully trim."

"Thanks. But it happens to be about a hundred years old, and is the only
one I have left. As for my hat, and boots--but Tibe and I have suffered
some undeserved vicissitudes of late."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Of course you must have three hundred dollars
to begin with."

"By the way, am I Mrs. or Miss?"

"You must know best as to----"

"I mean me in the part of your aunt."

"Oh, you're neither Miss nor Mrs."

"_Really!_"

"I mean, you're married, but you have a title."

"That will come more expensive. A person of title should have a diamond
guard for her wedding-ring. You _feel_ that, don't you?"

"Now you speak of it, I do."

"Would you like her to wear a cap for indoors?"

"Sounds as if she were a parlormaid----"

"Not at all. I'm sure a proper Scotch aunt would wear a cap."

"Mine's a proper Scotch aunt, and she doesn't. She's about forty, but
she looks twenty-five. Nobody would believe she was anybody's aunt."

"But you want everybody to believe I'm yours?"

"Oh, have a cap by all means."

"It should be real lace."

"Buy it."

"And another to change with."

"Buy that too. Get a dozen if you like."

"Thanks, I will. I believe you just said the engagement dates from
to-day?"

"Rather. I was going to tell you, I must have an aunt by this evening.
She arrives from Scotland, you know."

"With her dog. _That's_ easy."

"I hope the girls like dogs."

"They do if they're nice girls."

"They're enchanting girls, one English, one American. I adore both:
that's why I'm a desperate man where an aunt's concerned. To produce an
aunt is my one hope of enjoying their society on the motor-boat trip I
wrote you about. I wouldn't do this thing if I weren't desperate, and
even desperate as I am, I wouldn't do it if I couldn't have got an
all-right kind of aunt, an aunt that--that----"

"That an unimpeachable American Consul could vouch for. I assure you,
Nephew, you ought to think of a woman like me as of--of a ram caught in
the bushes."

"I'm willing to think of you in that way, if it's not offensive. The
Consul didn't go into particulars----"

"That was unnecessary."

"Perhaps. Everything's settled, then. I'll count you out five hundred
dollars in gulden. Buy what you choose--so long as it's aunt-like. I'll
meet your train at--we'll say seven, the Beurs Station."

"I understand. I'll be there with Tibe and our luggage. But you haven't
told me your name yet. I _signed_ my letter to you, Mary Milton. _You_
cautiously----"

"Ronald L. Starr is your nephew's name. Lady MacNairne is my aunt's."
I came very near choking myself with a cherry-stone. Long before this
I'd been sure of his name, but I hadn't expected to hear Lady
MacNairne's.

"Forty, and looks twenty-five."

Yes, that was a fair description of Lady MacNairne, as far as it went;
but much more might be said by her admirers, of whom I openly declared
myself one, before a good-sized audience at a country house in Scotland,
not quite a year ago.

It was merely a little flirtation, to pass the time, on both our parts.
A woman of forty who is a beauty and a flirt has no time to waste, and
Lady MacNairne is not wasteful. She was the handsomest woman at Kinloch
Towers, my cousin Dave Norman's place, and a Dutchman was a novelty to
her; so we amused ourselves for ten days, and I should have kept the
pleasantest memory of the episode if Sir Alec had not taken it into his
head to be jealous.

Poor Fleda MacNairne was whisked away before the breaking-up of the
house-party, and that is the last I have seen of her, but not the last
I've heard. Once in a while I get a letter, amusing, erratic, like
herself; and in such communications she doesn't scruple to chronicle
other flirtations which have followed hard on mine. Only a short time
before the making of this plot in a Rotterdam garden, a letter from her
gave startling news: consequently I am now in possession of knowledge
apparently denied to the nephew.

A few minutes more and the pair in the next arbor separated, the woman
departing to purchase the fittings of aunthood, the man remaining to
pay the bill. But before he had time to beckon the waiter I got up and
walked into his lair.

"Mr. Starr," I said, "I'm going to stop your game."

"The devil you are! And who are you?" answered he, first staring, then
flushing.

"My name's Rudolph Brederode," said I.

"You're a d--d eavesdropper," said he.

"You are the same kind of a fool, for thinking because your neighbor
spoke Dutch he couldn't know English. I sat still and let you go on,
because I don't mean to allow any of the persons concerned to be imposed
upon by you."

He glared at me across the table as if he could have killed me, and I
glared back at him; yet all the while I was conscious of a sneaking
kindness for the fellow, he looked so stricken--rather like an endearing
scamp of an Eton boy who has got into a horrid scrape, and is being
hauled over the coals by the Head.

"What business is it of yours?" he wanted to know.

"Lady MacNairne's a friend of mine."

"Indeed! But what of that? She's my aunt."

"And Robert van Buren is another friend, an intimate one. He has told me
about his cousin's motor-boat. He doesn't approve of the tour, as it is.
When he hears from me----"

"Oh, hang it all, why do you want to be such a spoilsport?" demanded the
poor wretch in torture. "Did _you_ never fall in love with a girl, and
feel you'd do anything to get her?"

This sudden change, this throwing himself upon my mercy, took me
somewhat aback. In threatening to tear the mote from his eye, what about
a certain obstruction in mine?

He was quick to see his advantage and follow it up.

"You say you heard everything. Then you must see why I thought of this
plan. I hoped at first Aunt Fleda might be prevailed on to come. When I
lost that hope I just couldn't give up the trip. I had to get an aunt to
chaperon those blessed girls, or it was good-by to them, for me. What
harm am I doing? The woman's respectable; the Consul has written me a
letter about her. If you know Aunt Fay--that's my name for her--you know
she would call this the best kind of a lark. I'll confess to her some
day. I'd have my head cut off sooner than injure Miss Rivers or Miss Van
Buren. Afterwards, when we've got to be great friends, they shall hear
the whole story, I promise; but of course, you can ruin me if you tell
them, or let your friend tell them, at this stage. _Do_ you think it's
fair to take advantage of what you overheard by accident, and spoil the
chance of my life? Oh, _say_ now, what can I do to make you keep still?"

"Well, I'm--_hanged_!" was all I could answer. And a good deal to my own
surprise, I heard myself suddenly burst into sardonic laughter.

Then he laughed, too, and we roared together. If any one noticed us,
they must have thought us friends of a lifetime; yet five minutes ago we
had been like dogs ready to fly at each other's throats, and there was
no earthly reason why we should not be of the same mind still.

"You _are_ going to let me alone, aren't you?" he continued to plead,
when he was calmer. "You are going to do unto me as you'd be done by,
and give my true love a chance to run smooth? If you refuse, I could
wish that fearful Flower back that I might set him at you."

My lips twitched. "I'm not sure," said I, "whether you ought to be in a
gaol or in the school-room."

"I ought to be on a motor-boat tour with the two most charming girls in
the world; and if I'm not to be there, I might as well be in my grave.
Do ask people about me. Ask my aunt. I'm not a villain. I'm one of the
nicest fellows you ever met, and I've no bad intentions. I've got too
much money to be an adventurer. Why, look here! I'm supposed to be quite
a good match. Either of the girls can have me and my millions. Both are
at the feet of either. At present I've no choice. Don't drive me to
drink. I should hate to die of Schnapps; and there's nothing else liquid
I could well die of in Holland."

As he talked, I had been thinking hard and fast. I should have to spare
him. I saw that. But--I saw something else too.

"I'll keep your ridiculous secret, Mr. Starr, on one condition," I
said.

"You've only to name it."

"Invite me to go with you on the trip."

"My _dear_ fellow, for heaven's sake don't ask me the one thing I can't
do. It's cruelty to animals. It isn't _my_ trip. I'm a guest. Perhaps
you don't understand----"

"Yes, I do. Van Buren told me. He mentioned that you hadn't been able to
get a skipper to take the motor-boat through the canals."

"That's true. But we shan't be delayed. We have our choice between two
chaps with fair references; not ideal men, perhaps; but you don't need
an admiral to get you through a herring-pond----"

"Each canal is different from every other. You must have a first-rate
man, who knows every inch of the way, whatever route you choose, or
you'll get into serious trouble. Now, as you've been praising yourself,
I'll follow your example. You couldn't find a skipper who knows more
about 'botoring' and Dutch waterways than I do, and I volunteer for the
job. I go if you go; there's the offer."

"Are you serious?" All his nonsense was suddenly forgotten.

"Absolutely."

"Why do you want to go? You must have a reason."

"I have. It's much the same as yours."

"I'm blowed! Then you've met--Them."

"I've seen them. Apparently that's about all you've done."

"You mean, if I won't get you on board as skipper you'll give me away?"

I was silent. I did not now mean anything of the kind, for it would be
impossible to betray the engaging wretch. But I was willing that he
should think my silence gave consent.

"They would know you weren't a common hired skipper. How could I explain
you?"

"Why, say you've a Dutch friend who has--_kindly_ offered to go, as you
can't find any one else who's competent for the job. You'd better not
mention your friend's name at first, if you can avoid it. As the ladies
have been anxious about the skipper, and asked van Buren to get one,
they'll probably be thankful it's all right, and only too glad to accept
a friend of yours in the place."

"Poor, deceived angels! What's to prevent your snatching one of them
from under my very nose?"

"You must run the risk of that. Besides, you needn't worry about it till
you make up your mind which angel you want."

"I should naturally want whichever one you did. We are made like that."

"If you don't agree, and they go 'botoring' without you, you can't get
either."

"That's true. Most disagreeable things are. And there's just a chance,
if you get dangerous, that Tibe might polish you off. I saw the way he
looked at you. Well, needs must when somebody drives. It's a bargain
then. I'll tell the girls what a kind, generous Dutch friend I have.
We'll be villains together."



IX


We settled that Starr should see Miss Van Buren and Miss Rivers and tell
them that skipper, chauffeur, and chaperon all being provided, there was
nothing to prevent the tour beginning to-morrow. Having done this,
without bringing in his obliging friend's name, he was to meet me at the
Rowing Club at three o'clock with a detailed report of all that had
happened up to date.

Never was time slower in passing. Each minute seemed as long as the
dying speech of a tragedian who fancies himself in a death scene. I
wanted to use some of these minutes in writing to Robert, but it would
be premature to tell him that I was going to look after his cousin and
her sister on the trip, as the ladies might abandon it, rather than put
up with my society.

When ten minutes past three came, and no Starr, I was certain that they
would not have me. I could hardly have been gloomier if I'd been waiting
for a surgical operation. But another five minutes brought my
confederate, and the first sight of his face sent my spirits up with a
bound.

"It's all right," he said. "They've come back from Scheveningen. I saw
them at their hotel, and they're more beautiful than ever. They were
prostrate with grief at hearing I hadn't been able to get hold of a
skipper; consequently they were too excited to ask your name when I gave
them the cheering news that a Dutch friend had come to the rescue. They
simply swallowed you whole, and clamored for the next course, so I added
the--er--glad tidings of my aunt's arrival this evening, and poured the
last drop of joy in their cup by saying we could start to-morrow.
They're going to bring most of their things on board after tea this
afternoon, about five. Oh, by the way, just as I was leaving, Miss Van
Buren did call after me, 'Is your friend nice?'"

I laughed. "What did you answer?"

"I thought one more fib among so many couldn't matter, so I said you
were. Heaven forgive me. By-the-by, are you really Dutch, or is that
another--figure of speech?"

"I always think and speak of myself as wholly Dutch," I replied. "But my
mother is English. By-the-by, I must telegraph her; and I must write my
man to bring me some clothes the first thing to-morrow morning. Then
you'd better send for the chauffeur you've engaged; and we'll go
together to interview him on the boat before the ladies come. I
think--er--it won't be best for me to meet them till to-morrow. Are you
sure your chauffeur's a good man?"

"Not at all," said Starr, airily. "I merely know that he's a very young
youth, who makes you feel like a grandfather at twenty-seven; who
wriggles and turns pink if you speak to him suddenly, and when he wants
his handkerchief to mop his perpetually moist forehead, pulls yards of
cotton waste out of his pocket, by mistake. I've only his word for
it--which I couldn't understand, as it was in Dutch--that he has the
slightest knowledge of any motor. But he showed me written references,
and seemed so proud of what they set forth, I thought they must be all
right, though I couldn't read them."

"You're a queer fellow!" I exclaimed.

"Well, you see, I'm an artist--neither motorist nor botorist. By the
way, what are you, beyond being van Buren's friend?"

"A Jack of several trades," said I. "I know a bit about horses, botors,
motors; I fancy I'm a judge of dogs (I congratulate you on Tibe), also
of chauffeurs, so come along and we'll put yours through his paces."

It now appeared that Starr had the youth on board. So I sent my two
telegrams, and we started to walk to the boat. On the way Starr told me
more than I had heard from Robert about his first dealings with
"Lorelei," and we discussed details of the trip. The ladies have no
choice, it appears, except that they will feel ill-used if allowed to
miss anything. As for Starr, he confessed blissful ignorance of Holland.

"I want to go where cows wear coats, and women wear gold helmets, and
dogs have revolving kennels," he said. "And I want to paint everything I
see."

"Cows wear coats at Gouda. I expect you read that in Carlyle's 'Sartor
Resartus.' Women wear gold helmets in Friesland. Dogs have revolving
kennels in Zeeland," I told him. "And if you want to paint everything
you see, we shall be gone a long time."

"All the better," said Starr.

I agreed.

"It would be useful if _you_ could plan out a trip," he went on. "It
would help to account for you, you know, and make you popular."

I caught at this idea. There are a good many places that I should like
to show Miss Van Buren, and visit with her. "I should have preferred her
seeing my country on our wedding-trip," I said to myself. "This is the
next best, though, and we can have the honeymoon in Italy." But aloud I
remarked that I would map out something and submit it to my passengers
in the morning.

My mother laughs, telling me that I must always go in for any new fad,
whatever it may be, and that she expects some day to see several makes
of airship tethered on the lawn at Liliendaal, or tied to our chimneys
at The Hague in winter. There's something in her jibe, perhaps; but it
would be a queer thing, indeed, if a son of the water-country didn't
turn to "botoring," provided he had any soul for sport. We Hollanders
made practical use of motor-boats while the people of dry lands still
poked ridicule at them in comic illustrated papers; therefore this will
be by no means my first experience. I had that three years ago with a
racer, and again with a barge which I fitted up with a twenty
horse-power motor, and used for a whole summer, after which, in a
generous mood, I gave her as a wedding-gift to my chauffeur, whose
bride's greatest ambition was for barge-life. Since that time I've
always meant to get something good in the botoring line, but haven't
made up my mind what it ought to be.

I did myself no more than justice in telling Starr that I was as
desirable a man as he could find for skipper; and I shook hands with
myself for every hour of botoring I had done. Thanks to past experience
I can now do chauffeur's work, if necessary, as well as skipper's.

We found the "very young youth" on deck, industriously polishing
brass-work, and his complexion bore out Starr's description as I
questioned him about his former situations. It seems there was only one,
and with a small boat; but the motor was the same as this.

The arrangement of "Lorelei's" deck aft pleases me particularly, for it
might have been designed to suit my purpose. That purpose is to have as
much of Miss Van Buren's society as possible during this trip.
Consequently I saw with pleasure that the passengers in their
deck-chairs must group round the skipper at his wheel, as there is no
other comfortable place. There will be no notice up on board "Lorelei":
"Please do not speak to the man at the wheel." The more he is spoken
to--by the right person--the better he will like his job. What I have to
pray for is dry weather, that the ladies may spend their days on deck,
for just as much time as they spend below I shall consider that I am
wasting. Indeed, I regret the attractiveness of the cabins, for I fear
there may be a temptation to dawdle there, or lie among cushions on the
comfortable seat-bunks on a gray or chilly day. "I hope she's as much
interested in scenery as she apparently is in history," I said to myself
as Starr and I wandered over the boat, "for the skipper-job can be
combined with the business of lecturer and _cicerone_, if that proves a
bid for popularity."

Aft of the cabins is the motor-house; and hearing our voices through the
skylight, chauffeur Hendrik left the brass-work and came to stand by his
engine. I immediately determined to study this engine thoroughly, so
that if Hendrik's intelligence prove untrustworthy in an emergency, mine
may be prepared to assist it.

He soon saw that it was useless to "show off" before me, but he enjoyed
explaining the motor in broken English to Starr. The American artist
heard with a vague smile the difference between the ordinary four-cycle
engine of an automobile, and the two-cycle engine of this marine motor,
with its piston receiving an impulse at each down stroke; tried to
understand how the charge of vaporized petrol was drawn into the
crank-chamber, and there slightly compressed; how the gas afterwards
traveled along a by-pass into the firing chamber at the upper part of
the cylinder, to be further compressed by the up-stroke of the piston
and fired by the sparking plug, while the burnt gases escaped through a
port uncovered by the piston in its downward strokes, admission and
exhaust being thus controlled by the piston movement alone.

"Great heavens! I wronged this good youth," the patient listener cried,
when he found a chance to speak. "I thought him all pinkness, and
perspiration, and purple velvet slippers, but he can pull information by
the yard out of his brain, as he does cotton waste out of his pocket.
Unfortunately, it's waste too, as far as I'm concerned; for I don't know
any more about this motor now than I did when he began. The tap of my
intelligence always seems to be turned off the minute anything
technical or mechanical is mentioned. Some of those things he said
sounded more like the description of a lunatic asylum than anything
else, and the only impression left on my mind is one of dreadful gloom."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it seems impossible that anything which has to do so much at
the same time as this engine does, can remember to do half of it. It
will certainly fail, and blow up with those we love on board. I never
thought of that until now, and shouldn't if Hendrik hadn't explained
things to me."

"We can't blow up unless the petrol gets on fire," said I, "and as the
tank's away at the bow of the boat and the petrol descends to the engine
by gravity and not pressure, you needn't have nightmare on that
subject."

"That's another horror I hadn't realized," groaned Starr. "I took things
for granted, and trusted other people to know them. A whole tank of
petrol at the bow! How much will there be in it?"

"Enough to last four days."

"One of the ladies is sure to set it on fire when she's curling her hair
with a spirit-lamp. Yet we can't forbid them to curl their hair on their
own boat. Perhaps they'd better sleep on the barge, after all. I meant
it to be for the men of the party."

"Nonsense," said I. "They're reasonable creatures. Besides, Miss Van
Buren's hair curls naturally."

"How can you know?"

"Well, I do." And before my eyes arose the picture of a bright goddess
of foam and spray.

"Hum! I begin to see which way the wind blows. I'm not sure she isn't
the one I myself----"

"We were talking about the motor," I cut in. "The water jacketing seems
thoroughly carried out; and when the party's assembled on deck, it will
hear no more noise than the buzzing of a big bee, as the exhaust is led
away below the water-line. It won't be bad in the cabins either, even
when they keep the sliding door open, for this screen of thick
sail-cloth will deaden what sound there is. And it was a smart idea to
utilize the power of the magneto to light up the whole boat with those
incandescent burners."

"Your mechanical information, on top of Hendrik's, is giving me a kind
of acute mental dyspepsia," sighed Starr. "I hate well-informed people;
they're so fond of telling you things you don't want to know. Still, I
realize that you're going to be useful in a way, so I suppose I must
make the best of you; and, anyhow, we shan't see much of each other,
except at meals."

"Shan't we? Why, are you going to spend most of your time on board your
barge, steering?"

"Not I. I've engaged a man. Didn't I tell you. A nice, handy man, not
too big for his boots, or rather, his carpet slippers. He'll cook,
sweep, dust, and make beds as well as keep the barge steady."

"While I'm skipper of 'Lorelei,' nobody wears carpet slippers, or purple
velvet ones either, on board this boat or her tender. I suppose, if
you're not going to steer, you mean to occupy yourself in your studio,
painting. A wise arrangement----"

"From your point of view. But it isn't my intention. I shall--if the
ladies don't object--sit mostly on 'Lorelei's' deck, making sketches,
and entertaining them as well as I know how--though not with technical
information."

"I shall be there to give them that, if they want it," said I.

"_You?_ You'll have to be at the bow, skippering."

"I don't skipper at the bow, thank you. I skipper on deck aft, where I
stand at the wheel and have full control of the engine through this long
lever that's carried up from the engine-room."

"Hang it, I thought Hendrik, as chauffeur, would have to be there, and
you'd keep a sort of outlook with a binnacle or something, for'rard. You
_are_ going to be a regular Albatross to my Ancient Mariner, aren't
you?"

"Don't forget that it's by grace of the Albatross that you're a Mariner
at all."

"I shall call you 'Alb,' when I feel your weight too much," said Starr,
and then we two villains of the piece could not forbear a grin in each
other's faces. I even found myself wondering if the Ancient One and his
Bird might not form for one another a kind of attachment of habit, in
the end.

It's certainly a queer association, this of ours, but as the Mariner
proposed to do, we began to make the best of it; and we finished my
visit to the boat on outwardly friendly terms. We even sat on deck and
put our heads together over my note-book, in which I jotted down a plan
of the tour. With "Lorelei," I assured him, we had but to choose our
route, for as she draws only from three to three and a half feet of
water, all the waterways are open to us. Did she draw more, she would be
useless, even in certain rivers, in a dry season such as this is
proving, and in many small canals at any season. There's only one thing
which may bother us in the Frisian Meers, where we can't shove with a
quant pole, or if we venture out to sea: we have no means of propulsion
except the motor, and as we carry no mast, we cannot set so much as a
yard of canvas. If anything should go wrong with the motor, brilliant
"Lorelei" will instantly become a mere hulk at the mercy of wind and
wave. However, as Starr remarked sagely, we can stop in port for wind
and wave, and be very happy.

As we talked, down on a page of my note-book went a roughly sketched map
of Holland, my idea being to begin with Gouda, going on to Leiden,
slipping through the villages of South Holland, which seem strange to
travelers, and skirting the great polder that was once the famed
Haarlemmer-Meer. Then, having seen Haarlem sitting on her throne of
flowers, to pass on, giving a few days to Amsterdam and interesting
places in the neighborhood, watery market-towns and settlements of the
merchant princes. Next in order the curious island of Marken, and the
artists' haunts at Volendam. From there, to turn toward the north and
the Dead Cities of the Zuider Zee, crossing afterwards to Friesland in
search of beauties in golden helmets, and lingering for a while among
the Frisian Meers. Later, we might work our way through Holland's most
desolate and savage province, Drenthe, to the hills of Gelderland (my
native country), and finish the trip with a grand climax in Zeeland,
most mysterious and picturesque of all, half hidden in the sea.

I traced the proposed route for Starr, telling him that we could do such
a tour in five weeks or eight, according to the inclinations of the
travelers, and the length of time they cared to spend in each place. As
to that, the ladies must decide, I said, and choose whether they would
sleep each night on "Lorelei," or see more of Dutch life by going to
hotels. But, in any case, I must plan to bring the boat each evening
near enough civilization to obtain supplies.

"A good itinerary," said the Mariner, approving his Albatross, "but I
warn you I shall claim half the credit. When you see me swaggering, and
hear me boasting of the plans my friend Brederode and I have mapped out,
contradict me if you dare. I _will_ defy you in some things, or I shall
burst of sheer spite; and we can test it now, if you like, for here they
come."

It was true. They were in a cab, with luggage under the driver's feet. I
had let time slip away, forgetting that I meant to escape before five,
when Starr had told me they were due.

But I was determined not to meet them now. There was still time for Miss
Van Buren to find some excuse and wreck the tour, if she were annoyed by
my obstinate determination to know her. To-morrow there will not be
time, unless she cares to make a scene; and I don't think she is a girl
to make scenes.

"No. I'll leave your friends to you, for the present," said I. "We ought
to start by ten to-morrow, and I'll be on hand at nine."

"I know not whether to curse or bless you," said the Mariner. But I gave
him no time to do either. I was off, and out of the way before I could
be noticed and recognized by the occupants of the cab. Then, back to the
Club I came to write a short letter to Robert, and to jot down a few
happenings for my own benefit later.



X


It was nine in the morning--a clean-washed morning of blue and
gold--when I arrived on board "Lorelei," with a small box which my man
brought me from Liliendaal, according to telegraphed orders.

No one was there but the chauffeur, though on board the barge
"Waterspin" the "handy man" had arrived, and was settling into his new
quarters. Toon de Jongh is his name, and I conceived a liking for his
grave brown face, at sight. I know his type well, a type which excels in
deeds, not words, and was bred in the Low Countries by certain policies
of Philip Second of Spain. He liked me too, for some reason or other, I
saw by his eyes, in a way one never mistakes but can never explain.

I had to find my quarters on the barge, and going below, on the first
door I saw a visiting card of Mr. Ronald L. Starr's conspicuously
pinned, with the one word "Alb" printed large upon it, in red ink.
Chuckling, I took possession of the cabin, hauled my things out from my
box, and had got them mostly packed in lockers and drawers, when I heard
the sound of voices on "Lorelei."

She was there. What would she say when she discovered that the man she
had "thanked enough and didn't want to see again" had foisted himself
upon her party?

The evil moment couldn't be postponed for long. I might give them time
to go below, and add the contents of their dressing-bags to the
belongings they had bestowed in the cabins yesterday afternoon, but that
would take fifteen minutes at most, and then they would be wanting to
start. I should have to get on board "Lorelei," be introduced, and face
the music, whether it played the "Rogue's March," or "Hail, the
Conquering Hero!"

The sound of girls' laughter was so upsetting that I couldn't decide
what to do with my collars and neckties. I wandered aimlessly about the
cabin with my hands full, grumbling aloud, "What an ass you are!" and
hadn't yet made up my mind to cross over to "Lorelei" when Starr pounded
on the half-open door.

"Thank goodness, you're here!" he exclaimed, as the door fell back and
revealed me.

"What has happened to make you give thanks?" I asked, disposing
hurriedly of the neckties.

"Any port in a storm--even Albport. And there _is_ a storm, an awful
storm; at least "Lorelei's" staggering about as if she were half-seas
over, and if you don't get us off at once every soul on board will be
lost, or, what's worse, seasick. A nice beginning for the trip!"

I am so much at home on the water that I hadn't noticed the tossing and
lolloping of the barge, but I realized now what was the matter. The
morning was fresh, with a gusty wind blowing up the Maas, against the
tide running strongly out; and consequently little "Lorelei" and sturdy
"Waterspin" strained at their moorings like chained dogs who spy a bone
just beyond their reach.

I didn't stop to answer, but bolted off the barge and onto the
motor-boat.

Toon and Hendrik cast off the moorings, the chauffeur flew below to set
his engine going; I took the wheel, pushed over the starting lever, the
little propeller began to turn, and we were away on the first of the
watery miles which stretch before us, for joy or sorrow.

Starr had followed Hendrik below, and just as the motor was getting well
to work, revolving under my feet at the rate of six hundred revolutions
a minute, I heard his voice shouting----

"Hullo, hullo! catch the dog!--you up there."

At the same instant arose a babel of cries, "Oh, my angel! Don't let him
drown! Save him!" and the Emperor Tiberius shot up the companion as if
launched from a catapult. Unused to engines and a life on the wave,
frightened by the teuf-teuf of the motor, his next bound would have
carried him overboard into the river; but hanging on to the wheel with
one hand, with the other I seized the dog by the collar--a new,
resplendent collar--just as somebody else, rushing to the rescue from
below, caught him by the tail.

It was Miss Van Buren.

For a second--I bending down, she stretching up--our faces were
neighbors, and I had time to see her expression undergo several
lightning changes--surprise, incredulity, and a few others not as easy
to read--before she retired, leaving Tibe to me. Instead of coming up on
deck as she had evidently intended to do, she vanished, and a head
exquisitely hatted and blue-veiled appeared in place of hers.

A moment later the tiny lady of the arbor, transformed into Parisian
elegance by an effective white yachting costume, with a coquettish blue
yachting-cap on her gray hair, the goggling effect of the glasses
softened by the floating folds of azure chiffon, arrived to succor her
beloved. She started slightly, staring at me through veil and
spectacles, and I deduced that whatever Starr had told his "aunt" about
the skipper, it had not prepared her to meet the man of the arbor. Those
hidden eyes recognized me, and took in the situation.

Under their fire I realized that the success of my adventure might
largely depend upon the chaperon; and if, suspecting something more than
met her gaze, she should strike an attitude of disapproval, she could
prejudice the girls against the skipper, and so manoeuver that he had
his trouble for his pains.

With this danger ahead, I redoubled my attentions to Tiberius; but it
was fortunate for me that the doubts he entertained of the man in the
arbor were chased away by gratitude for the man on the boat. If it had
not been so, such is the primitive sincerity of dog kind--especially
bulldog kind--no bribe in my power to offer could have induced him to
dissimulate. I knew this, and trembled; but Tibe, being an animal of
parts, was not long in comprehending that the hand on his collar meant
well by him. He deigned to fawn, and meeting his glance at close
quarters, I read his dog-soul through the brook-brown depths of the
clear eyes. After that moment, in which we came to a full understanding
one of the other, once and for all, I knew that Tibe's wrinkled mask,
his terrible mouth, and the ferocious tusks standing up like two
stalagmites in the black, protruding under jaw, disguised a nature
almost too amiable and confiding for a world of hypocrites. Tragic fate,
to seem in the shallow eyes of strangers a monster of evil from whom to
flee, while your warm heart, bursting with love and kindness, sends you
chasing those who avoid you, eager to demonstrate affection! Such a fate
is destined to be Tibe's, so long as he may live; but in this first
instant of our real acquaintance he felt that I at least saw through his
disguise; and under the nose and spectacles of his mistress he sealed
our friendship with a wet kiss on my sleeve.

"Good boy!" said I, and meant it. He had given me a character, and had
placed me upon a sound footing with one who would be, I foresaw, a Power
on "Lorelei."

"Thank you _so_ much!" said she, with the promised burr-r so pronounced
in her accent that she must, I thought, have spent the night in
practising it. She then carefully selected the best chair, and took from
another a blue silk cushion which matched her yachting-cap and veil.

As she sat down, making a footstool of Tibe, and displaying two
exquisitely shod feet in brand new suède shoes, Miss Rivers appeared,
pale and interesting.

"I _do_ hope you're better, my poor child," purred the Chaperon.

"Oh, thank you, dear Lady MacNairne, I shall be quite right now we've
started."

This interchange of civilities told that the Mariner's "Aunt Fay" had
already contrived to ingratiate herself with her charges.

Miss Rivers sank into the nearest chair, closing her eyes, while I stood
aloof and turned the wheel; but presently the languid lashes lifted, and
she became conscious of me. Then her eyes grew big. She remembered me
from the day at the Prinzenhof, or the Horse Show, perhaps. Evidently
Starr had not named me yet, nor had Miss Van Buren, in descending after
our brief encounter, put any questions. Whether this boded ill or well,
I could not decide, but longed to get suspense over; and I was not kept
waiting.

I heard Starr's voice below urging Miss Van Buren on deck. "Don't bother
about putting everything away," he said. "Do it later. You must say
good-by to Rotterdam. Who knows what will have happened to us before we
get back?"

It would not be my fault if two of the party were not engaged, I was
thinking hopefully, as Miss Van Buren's eyes--rising from below like
stars above a dark horizon--met mine. There was no recognition in them.
To all appearance oblivious of ever having seen my insignificant
features on land or sea, she came smiling up, on the friendliest terms
with Starr.

The vacant chair, most conveniently placed for her, was close to the
wheel, and I hoped that she would take it. But rather than be thus
trapped, she stepped over Tibe and pushed past her stepsister with an "I
beg your pardon, dear."

The Mariner gave no glance at me, but there was a catch in his voice
which betokened a twinkle of the eye, as he said----

"Aunt Fay, Miss Van Buren and Miss Rivers, I must introduce the friend I
told you about: our skipper, Jonkheer Brederode."

Miss Rivers smiled delightfully, with just such a flush of ingenuous
surprise as I should have liked to see on another face.

"Why, how curious," she exclaimed, "that you should be a friend of Mr.
Starr's! I think we have _almost_ met Jonkheer Brederode before, haven't
we, Nell?"

"_Have_ we?" sweetly inquired Miss Van Buren. "I'm a little
near-sighted, and I've such a wretched memory for faces. Unless I notice
people particularly, I have to be introduced at least twice before it
occurs to me to bow."

"Oh, but, _Nell_," protested Miss Rivers. "Surely you know we saw
Mr.--no, _Jonkheer_ Brederode--with your cousin at the Museum in Delft,
and then afterwards you----"

"People's _clothes_ make so much difference," remarked Miss Van Buren.

"Oh, but I wasn't thinking of your sea adventure, so much as when
Jonkheer Brederode rode in the contest----"

"I'm afraid I was looking at the horses," cut in her stepsister.

If Robert had been on board at this juncture he would probably have
wished to box his cousin's ears, but I had no such desire, though mine
were tingling. In fact, I should have enjoyed boxing Robert's; for I saw
that, with the best intentions in the world (and intentions are
dangerous weapons!), my too-loyal friend had in some way contrived to
make me appear insufferable. Perhaps he'd given the impression that I
had boasted an intention to meet her within a given time, and she took
this for my brutal way of carrying out the boast.

"What is a Jonkheer?" the _pseudo_ Lady MacNairne demanded of Starr.

"I don't know exactly," he admitted.

"_Don't_ you? But, nephew dear, how can you help knowing, when you have
an _old_ friend who is one?"

(Was there a spice of malice in this question?)

"You see, almost ever since I've known him, I've thought of him as Alb,"
Starr explained hastily. "Alb is a kind of--er--pet name."

"I suppose it means something nice in Dutch," said Miss Rivers, in the
soft, pretty way she has, which would fain make every one around her
happy. "But I think Mr. van Buren told us that 'Jonkheer' was like our
baronet; Jonkheer instead of 'Sir,' isn't it?"

"Something of the sort," I answered.

"It sticks in the throat, if you'll excuse me for saying so, like a bit
of crust," remarked Aunt Fay.

"You can all call him Alb," said Starr.

"Why not compromise with Skipper?" asked Miss Van Buren, looking at my
yachting-cap (rather a nice one) with serene impertinence. "We shall
probably never have the pleasure of knowing him on land, so why stumble
over Dutch names or titles? He has come on board 'Lorelei' to be our
skipper, hasn't he? So he would probably prefer to be _called_
'Skipper.'"

Starr leaned down to pat Tibe, shaking all over. "Ha, ha, ha!" he
gasped. "I never _saw_ such a funny tail; I do hope it isn't going to
give me hysterics."

But nobody else laughed, and Miss Rivers was gazing at her stepsister in
a shocked, questioning way, her violet eyes saying as plainly as if they
spoke----

"My darling girl, what possesses you to be so rude to an inoffensive
foreigner?"

I should have liked to ask the same question, in the same words; but I
said nothing, did nothing except turn the wheel with the air of that
Miller who grinds slowly but exceedingly small, and smile a hard,
confident smile which warned the enemy----

"Oh yes, you _are_ going to know me on land, and love me on land, so you
might as well make up your mind to what has to come."

She caught the look, which forcibly dragged hers down from my hat-brim,
and I am convinced that she read its meaning. It made her hate me a
degree worse, of course; but what is an extra stone rolled behind the
doors of the resisting citadel, or a gallon more or less of boiling oil
to dash on the heads of the besiegers? If they are determined, it comes
to the same thing in the end.

Fortunately for the spirits of the other players who were "on" in this
scene (in a subordinate capacity), the fair Enemy was not of the nature
to sulk. True, of free will she did not address me; but having shown her
opinion of and intentions toward the person deserving punishment, she
did not weary her arm with continued castigation. Instead, she gave
herself up heart and soul to delight in her first taste of "botoring."
She basked in it, she reveled in it; had she been a kitten, I think she
would have purred in sheer physical enjoyment of it.

"_My_ boat! My _boat_!" she repeated, lingering over the words as if
they had been cream and sugar. "Oh, I wonder if it _knows_ it's My Boat?
I wish it could. I should like it to get fond of me. I _know_ it's
alive. Feel its heart beat. What Tibe is to Lady MacNairne, 'Lorelei' is
going to be to me. We never lived before, did we, Phil? And aren't you
glad we came? Who knows what will become of us after this, for we
certainly never can go home again and take up life where we left it
off."

"You shan't. I'll see to that," I said to myself; but this time she was
not looking even at the brim of my cap. Her eyes, luminous with
childlike happiness, searched and photographed each new feature of
river-life that skimmed swiftly past us.

"We might become motor-boat pirates," she went on. "There'd be no
anti-climax about that; and I dare say we could make a living. We'd
hoist the black flag whenever we came to a nice lonely stretch of water,
with a rich-looking barge or two, or a fine country house on shore, and
the work would begin. Tibe would terrorize our victims. But, speaking of
the black flag, I see the star-spangled banner floats o'er the deck of
the free and the cabins of the brave. How charming of you to think of
putting it there, Mr. Starr! It would never have occurred to me."

"It would have been charming, if it _had_ occurred to me," said the
Mariner; "but it didn't."

"Perhaps our skipper can explain the mystery," remarked the Chaperon,
graciously.

I smiled. "I happened to have the little silk flag," said I, "and as the
owner of the boat is an American, I took the liberty of flying her
colors from the mast to-day; they went up early this morning. But we
have another flag with us for emergencies--that of my Sailing and Rowing
Club,--which, when we show it, will give us the right to enter
sluices--or locks, as you call them--ahead of anything else."

"Alb, you have your uses," observed the Mariner. "Why can't we keep your
flag up all the time--under the Stars and Stripes?"

"It wouldn't be fair to make use of it except in extreme cases," I said.
"All these lighter and bargemen whom we see have their living to get.
Time's money to them, while it's pleasure to us. It's right that they
should get through ahead, when they're first comers; but there may be
occasions when we shall need our advantage; and till then I'll keep the
flag up my sleeve, with your permission."

"I never thought to feel so _safe_ on a motor-boat," exclaimed Miss
Rivers. "Since we made up our minds to come--or rather Nell made up
hers--I've added another prayer to those I've been accustomed to say for
years--that we shouldn't blow up, or, if we _had_ to blow up, that we
shouldn't realize long enough beforehand to be frightened; and that we
should blow into quite little pieces which couldn't know anything about
it afterwards. But now I've such a peaceful feeling, I have to make
myself remember that any instant may be my last."

"I wouldn't try," said Miss Van Buren. "I suppose, when one thinks of
it, worse things could happen to one on a motor-boat than in a
motor-car, because there's water all round; but it seems so heavenly
restful, rather like motoring in heaven might be, and no frightened
horses, or barking dogs, or street children to worry you."

"I pity people on steamboats, just as the other day, when we motored, I
pitied people in stuffy black trains," said Miss Rivers. "But I don't
pity the people on lighters and barges. Don't they look delightful? I
should love to live on that one with the curly-tailed red lion on the
prow, and the green house with white embroidered curtains and
flower-pots, and sweet little china animals in the windows. It's called
'Anna Maria,' and oh, it's worked by a _motor_!"

"Lots of them are, nowadays," I said. "They're easy to rig up, and save
work. I happen to know 'Anna Maria,' and the lady she's named after, who
lives on board and thinks herself the happiest woman on earth--or water.
There she goes, on her way to the kitchen, with her baby in her arms.
Pretty creatures both, aren't they?"

"Pictures!" cried Miss Rivers; and her stepsister, who at the moment was
being particularly nice to the Mariner (I fancy by way of showing the
Outcast how nice she can be--to others), glanced up from a map of
Holland, which Starr had opened, across his knees. "It's like a very
young Madonna and Child, painted by a Dutch master. I wish you could
introduce us."

"Perhaps I will, when we come back this way," said I. "You shall go on
board and have tea with Anna Maria and her baby, and the husband too,
who's as good-looking as the rest of the family. They would be
delighted, and proud to show off their floating home, which saved Anna
Maria's life."

"How? It sounds like a story."

"So it is--a humble romance. Anna Maria's the daughter of a bargeman,
and was born and brought up on a barge. When she was seventeen and
keeping house-boat for her father (the mother died when she was a child)
the poor man had an accident, and was drowned. There wasn't much money
saved up for Anna Maria, so the barge was sold, and she had to live on
dry land, and learn how to be a dressmaker. She was as miserable as a
goldfish would be if you took it out of its bowl and laid it on the
table. In a few months she'd fallen into a decline, and though, just at
that time, she met a dashing young chauffeur, who took a fancy to her
pretty, pale face, even love wasn't strong enough to save her. The
chauffeur, poor fellow, thought there was no flower in the garden of
girls as sweet as his white snowdrop. He felt, if he could only afford
to buy a lighter for himself, they might marry, and the bride's life
might be saved. But it was out of the question, and perhaps the idyl
would have ended in tragedy, had he not confided his troubles to his
master. That master, as it happened, had a lighter which he'd fitted up
with a motor. He'd used it all summer, and got his money's worth of fun
out of it; so when he heard the story, he told the chauffeur he would
give him the thing as it stood, for a wedding present, and it must be
rechristened 'Anna Maria.'

"What a lamb of a master! I quite love him!" exclaimed Miss Van Buren,
before she remembered that she was talking to One beyond the Pale.

"There wasn't much merit; he was tired of his toy," I answered
carelessly; but I felt my face grow red.

"I don't believe it a bit. He just said that," cried Miss Rivers. "I
should love him too. Is he a Dutchman?"

"I shouldn't be surprised if he was half English, half Dutch," remarked
Starr, good-naturedly.

"Or if he was making our wheel go round now," finished Aunt Fay, pulling
Tibe's ear.

"Oh!" said Miss Van Buren, and buried her nose in the map.

She and Starr were tracing, or pretending to trace, our route to Gouda,
whither we were going, and where we expected to lunch. Hurriedly she
threw herself into a discussion with him as to whether we were now in
the Lek or the Maas. Reason said Maas, but the map said Lek, though it
was a thing, thought the lady, about which there could be no two
opinions; it must be one or the other.

As a matter of fact, there are many opinions, and as I knew the history
of the dispute, after all she had to turn to me, and listen. I talked to
Starr, and at her, explaining how only experts could tell one river from
another here, and even experts differed.

"Our waters are split up into so many channels that they're as difficult
to separate one from the other as the twisted strands in a plait of
hair," said I. "It was like Napoleon's colossal cheek, wasn't it, to
claim the Netherlands for France, because they were formed from the
alluvium of French rivers?"

Instantly the Chaperon ceased to admire Tibe's new and expensive collar,
and opened a silver chain bag, also glittering with newness, which she
had in her lap. From this she brought forth a note-book of Russia
leather, and began to write with a stylographic pen, which had dangled
in a gold case on a richly furnished chatelaine. This little lady had
"done" herself well since yesterday.

"I shall take notes of everything," she announced. "That bit about
Napoleon goes down first."

"Surely you knew, Aunt Fay," said the Mariner, with a warning in his
lifted eyebrows.

"I don't know anything about Holland, except that it's flat and wet,"
she replied, defying him, as she can afford to do, now that, once an
aunt, she must be always an aunt, as far as this tour is concerned.
"It's not the fashion in _my_ part of Scotland for ladies of position to
know things about foreign countries they've not visited. It's considered
frumpish, and though I may not be as young as I once was, I am _not_
frumpish."

She certainly is not. The real Lady MacNairne does not dress as smartly,
or have such an air of Parisian elegance as this mysterious little
upstart has put on since assuming her part. Save for the gray hair and
the hideous glasses, there could scarcely be a daintier figure than that
of the Mariner's false Aunt Fay.

"However," she went on, "my doctor has recommended a tonic, and I
shouldn't wonder if a spice of information might be a mental stimulant.
Anyhow, I intend to try it, and ask questions of everybody about
everything."

All this she said with a quaint, bird-like air, and I began to be
impressed with the curious fascination which emanates from this strange,
small person. I am in her secret. I know she is a fraud, though of all
else concerning her I am in ignorance--perhaps blissful ignorance. I
have none too much respect for the little wretch, despite her gray
hairs; yet, somehow, I felt at this moment that I was _on her side_. I
was afraid that, if she asked any favor of me, I should run to do it;
and I could imagine myself being ass enough to quail before the mite's
Liliputian displeasure. As for Starr, I could see that he dared not say
his soul was his own, if she laid claim to it. He might raise his
eyebrows, or telegraph with his eyelids, but a certain note in that
crisp, youthful-sounding voice, would reduce him to complete subjection,
in what our German cousins call an _augenblick_. No wonder that
Tiberius--who looks as if he could play lion to her martyr without a
single rehearsal--fawns, crawls, and wriggles like the merest puppy at
the lifting of her tiny finger, when she wills--as is seldom--to be
obeyed by him. All must feel the same queer power in the woman, be we
dogs or men.

"Well, I'm glad you got your country back from Napoleon," said Miss
Rivers. "Nobody, except the Dutch, could have made it so cozy, so
radiantly clean and comfortable. _Dear_ little Holland!"

I laughed. "Dear little Holland! Yes, that's the way you all pet and
patronize our Hollow Land, and chuck it under the chin, so to speak. You
think of it as a nice little toy country, to come and play with, and
laugh at for its quaintness. And why shouldn't you? But it strikes us
Netherlanders as funny, that point of view of yours, if we have a sense
of humor--and we have, sometimes! You see, we've a good memory for our
past. We know what we're built upon.

"Think of the making of Holland, though I grant you it's difficult, when
you look at this peaceful landscape; but try to call up something as
different as darkness is to light. Forget the river, and the houses, and
the pretty branching canals, and see nothing but marshes, wild and
terrible, with sluggish rivers crawling through mud-banks to the sea,
beaten back by fierce tides, to overflow into oozy meers and stagnant
pools. Think of raging winds, never still, the howling of seas, and the
driving of pitiless rains. No other views but those, and no definite
forms rising out of the water save great forest trees, growing so
densely that no daylight shines through the black roof of branches.
Imagine the life of our forefathers, who fled here from an existence so
much more dreadful that they clung to the mud-banks and fought for them,
a never-ending battle with the sea. That was the beginning of the
Netherlands, as it was of Venice, and the fugitives built as the
Venetians built, on piles, with wattles. If you've seen Venice, you'll
often be reminded of it here. And what rest have we had since those
beginnings? If not fighting the sea, we had to fight Spain and England,
and even now our battles aren't over. They never will be, while we keep
our heads above water. Every hour of every day and night some one is
fighting to save the Netherlands from the fate of Atlantis. While her
men fight she's safe; but if they rested, this 'peaceful, comfortable
little country' would be blotted out under the waters, as so many
provinces vanished under the Zuider Zee in the thirteenth century, and
others, at other times, have been swept away."

"Do you think our motor-boat could ride on the flood, and drag
'Waterspin,' if any of the most important dykes or dams happened to
burst?" inquired the Chaperon. "I hope so, for what you've been saying
makes one feel exactly like a female member of the Ark party."

Everybody laughed; but her joke pricked me to shame of my harangue.

"Nothing will 'happen to burst,'" I assured her. "We Dutch don't lose
our sleep over such 'ifs.' Every country has something to dread, hasn't
it? Drought in India, earthquakes in Italy, cyclones and blizzards in
America, and so on. Our menace is water; but then, it's our friend as
well as foe, and we've subdued it to our daily uses, as every canal we
pass can prove. Besides, there's something else we're able to do with
it. The popular belief is that, at Amsterdam, one key is kept in the
central arsenal which can instantly throw open sluices to inundate the
whole country in case we should be in danger of invasion."

"But you'd drown your land and yourselves, as well as the enemy,"
exclaimed Aunt Fay.

"Better drown than lose the liberty we've paid for with so much blood.
The old spirit's in us still, I hope, though we may seem slow-going,
comfort-loving fellows in everyday life. When we make up our minds to do
a thing, we're prepared to suffer for the sake of carrying it through."

Again I met Miss Van Buren's eyes, and I think she realized that I am
typically Dutch.



XI


Rotterdam lay far behind us now. We'd passed the busy, crowded
water-thoroughfares, as thickly lined with barges and lighters as
streets with houses, and were nearing the point where the river,
disguised as the Issel, turns with many curves toward Gouda. We had a
few whiffs from brickfields and other ugly industries that scar the
banks, but the windings of the Issel bore us swiftly to regions of
grassy meadows, and waving reeds, threatening sometimes to lose us in
strange no-thoroughfares of water more like separate lakes and round
ponds, than the flowing reaches of a river.

Here the despised Albatross was worth his weight in gold. In charge of a
skipper not familiar with every foot of the water-road, "Lorelei" and
"Waterspin" would have been aground more than once. Even that
irresponsible head-among-the-stars Mariner guessed at the snares we
avoided, and flung me a word of appreciation.

"You're earning your salt," said he, "and you shall have a little at
Gouda."

But as to Gouda, a struggle was going on between my inclination and my
conscience. It was my duty as skipper to take "Lorelei" through the town
that she might be ready to start from the other side after luncheon.
There would be delays at swing-bridges, and time would be lost if the
party remained on board, and tried to see the place afterwards. If I
trusted Hendrik to act as captain and chauffeur in one, something would
go wrong, and I should be blamed. Nevertheless, I did not relish the
thought of seeing Starr march off in triumph with the ladies while I
remained behind to work, and lunch on a cheese sandwich. I was tempted
to shift responsibility upon Hendrik's shoulders to-day, and on other
days to come; but as we slowed up for the sluice, or lock, something
inside me would have no self-indulgence. To be sure, I am playing my
part for a purpose, but while I play it, I must play well; and it was
the conscientious captain who advised his passengers to get out, told
them how to find the best inn, and what they were to see when they had
lunched.

"The hotel is in the Markt Platz," I said, "and you must have a good
look at the old Weigh House while you're on the spot. It will be your
first Weigh House, and it's really a good one, with a splendid relief by
Eggers, and a delightful outside staircase. Then there's the Stadhuis,
too, and if you care for old stained glass, the work of the brothers
Crabeth in the Groote Kerk----"

"But aren't you going with us?" asked Miss Rivers.

I explained why I could not.

"Oh dear, and we can't speak Dutch!" she sighed. "Fancy a procession
straggling through a strange town, wanting to know everything, and not
able to utter a word."

"Nonsense, Phil, we can get on perfectly well," said Miss Van Buren,
mutinous-eyed. "I've learned things out of the phrase-book. You can't
expect a skipper to be a guide as well."

This was a stab, and I think it pleased her; but I laughed.

"I shall often be able to go with you, I hope, Miss Rivers," I said. "In
many places the boat will start from the same spot where she gets in;
then I shall be free and at your service."

I had to see them off without me, Miss Van Buren walking with Starr; and
the only one who threw me a backward glance was Tibe. But the task I had
before me was easier than I expected. There were fewer barges in waiting
than on most days. Here and there a tip to a bridge-master (a gulden
stuck conspicuously in my eye, like a silver monocle, just long enough
to suggest a different destination) worked wonders, and in an hour I had
piloted "Lorelei" through the water-streets of Gouda, ready to take her
passengers again on the Leiden side. Standing at the wheel, I had eaten
a sandwich and drunk a glass of beer brought by Hendrik, so there was no
need to seek food in the town. The others, having finished lunch, would
have begun sight-seeing, and if I strolled to the Groote Kerk, it was
just possible I might find something even more desirable than the
exquisite glass.

"They'll have saved the church for the last," I said to myself. "I
should like to see her face while she looks at the Haarlem window."

I could not have calculated more exactly, had we made an appointment. As
I arrived within sight of the verger's door, I saw the party going in.
There was a moment's pause, and then all save one disappeared. That
figure was Starr's, and he was left in charge of the dog.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, "you're just in time."

"Yes," said I. "Clever, wasn't I?"

"I mean in time to play with this brute, while I go in. He'll be pleased
with the exchange; besides, you've seen the church and I haven't."

"I've never seen it in such companionship."

"Callous-hearted Albatross! You'll unconsecrate the church for Miss Van
Buren. Can't you see she'll have none of you?"

"I shall need the more time to make her change her mind. Every minute
counts. Au revoir. Don't let Tibe escape, or I pity you with your
_aunt_."

"I wish he'd jump into the nearest canal. Look here, Gouda's a fraud.
We've had a loathsome lunch--cold ham and pappy bread--with paper
napkins, and the whole meal served on one plate, by a female even my
aunt was afraid of. There isn't a cow within miles, much less a cow
with a coat----"

"Perhaps one may pass while you wait. Ta, ta. Your turn will come soon."
And I left him glaring at Tibe and muttering threats of revenge against
me.

All the windows of the Gouda church are beautiful, but the Haarlem
window would warm the coldest heart, and I was not surprised to find
Miss Van Buren already gazing at it, a lovely light streaming through
the old glass upon her uplifted face. She is a girl to find out the best
things at once, by instinct.

There she stood, lost in delight, and when I, assuming more boldness
than I felt, walked quietly across the church and stopped close behind
her, she threw just enough of a look at the new-comer to see that it was
a tallish man in gray.

"Is that you, Mr. Starr?" she asked; but sure that no stranger would
approach so near, and believing me at a safe distance, she took the
answer for granted. "What a fairyland in glass there is in this church!"
she went on, joyously. "What skies, and backgrounds of medieval castles
and towers, and what luminous colors. I'd love to be one of those little
red and yellow men looking out of the tower at the battle going on
below, among the queer ships wallowing in the crisp waves, and live
always in that fantastic glass country. I want to know what's inside the
tower, don't you? Which man will you choose to be?"

"The one on your right side," said I, quietly.

Then she whisked round, and blushed with vexation.

"That you could _never_ be," she flung at me, and walked away; but I
followed.

"Won't you tell me why?" I asked. "What have I done to offend you?"

"If you don't know, I couldn't make you understand."

"Perhaps it's you who don't understand. But you will, some day."

"Oh, I've no curiosity."

"Am I spoiling your trip?"

"I'm not going to let you."

"Thanks. Then you'd better let me help to make it pleasanter. I can, in
many ways."

"I don't need help in enjoying Holland. I intend to enjoy it every
instant, in--in----"

"Won't you finish?"

"In spite of you."

"I vow it shall be partly because of me."

"You're very fond of vowing."

Then, at last, I knew where I stood. I knew that Robert _had_ said
something.

Into the midst of this crisis dropped Miss Rivers. No doubt she had seen
the expression on our faces, and intervened in pure good-heartedness to
snatch me as a brand from the burning; for she threw herself into talk
about the church, crying out against the hideous havoc we Protestants
had wrought with whitewash and crude woodwork.

"I'm not Catholic, not a bit Catholic, though I may be a little high
church; but I _couldn't_ have spoiled everything just for the sake of
getting a place to worship in, cheap, without having to put up a new
building. Why, it's like _murder_!"

Then my lady flashed out at her unexpectedly, and saved me an answer.

"Where's your imagination, Phil? It must have gone wool-gathering, or
you could put yourself into the place of these people and see why they
tore away the pictures and statues, and hid every bit of color with
whitewash. I love beauty, but I would have done as they did. Color in
churches was to them the life-blood of their nearest and dearest,
splashed upon the walls. Those statues, those pictured saints they
pulled down or covered up, had smiled on persecution. They had to have a
kind of frenzied house-cleaning to get out the smell of incense. Oh, I
know how they felt when they did it, as if I'd been here myself with a
broom full of whitewash."

"Perhaps some ancestress of yours was here, and did some sweeping," said
I. But it was a mistake for me to speak. She froze in an instant, and
suggested that if everybody had seen enough, we should go out and give
"poor Mr. Starr a chance."

"I'll stop and show him the Haarlem window," said she. And I hated
Starr. Perhaps that was the state of mind she wished to create; at all
events her eyes retained the exaltation of the whitewashing. Nor should
I wonder if those two enjoyed the thought that I was kept waiting
outside, as much as they enjoyed roaming together in "glass country."

In any case, they stayed so long that we were able to visit a shop near
by, and come back, before they reappeared. It was a nice shop, where
sweets and cakes were sold, especially the rich treacle "cookies," for
which Gouda is celebrated. There was much gold-bright brass; there were
jars and boxes painted curiously; and we were served by an apple-cheeked
old lady in a white cap, whom Miss Rivers and the Chaperon thought
adorable. We bought _hopjes_ as well as cookies, because they wanted to
make acquaintance with the national sweets of Holland; and afterwards,
when Miss Van Buren was given some, she pronounced them nothing but "the
caramellest caramels" she had ever tasted.

She and Starr had developed a pleasant private understanding, which
comprised jokes too subtle to be understood by outsiders; and as the
Mariner and I were shoulder to shoulder for a moment on our way back to
the boat, he gave me a look charged with meaning.

"Who laughs last, laughs best," he quoted; and inwardly I could not but
agree, though I shrugged my shoulders.

Tibe attracted enormous attention in Gouda. As we walked along shady
streets, lit by the clear shining of canals, children ran after us as at
Hamlin they ran after the Pied Piper. If for one instant the strangers
paused to study a beautiful, carved door, or to peer into the window of
an antiquary's at blue and white jars, or to gaze up at the ferocious
head of a Turk over a chemist's shop, or to laugh at a house with
window-blinds painted in red and white diamonds, a crowd of flaxen heads
collected round us, little hands fluttered over the dog's wrinkled head
as butterflies flit about a clover blossom, baby laughter tinkled, and
tiny shrieks cut the stillness of the sleepy, summer afternoon.

It was all so dream-like to Miss Van Buren that she declared incredulity
in Holland's real existence. "There is no such country," she said, "and
worse than all, I have no motor-boat."

Nevertheless, a shape which closely resembled "Lorelei" was floating
like a white water-lily on a green calyx of canal, in the place where I
had, or dreamed that I had, left her an hour ago. And having assembled
on board that white apparition, we started, or dreamed that we started
for Leiden--a place where I hoped to score a point or two with my lady.

The boisterous wind of the early morning had dropped at noon, leaving
the day hot and unrefreshed, with no breath of air stirring. But on the
water, traveling at eight or nine miles an hour, we forgot the heavy
July heat which on shore had burned our faces. They were fanned by a
constant breeze of our own making which tossed us a bouquet of perfume
from flowery fields as we slipped by, the only sound in our ears the cry
of sea-going gulls overhead, and the delicate fluting of the water as
our bows shattered its crystals among pale, shimmery sedges and tall
reeds.

Tiny canals of irrigation wandered like azure veins through a maze of
blossoming pink and gold in the sun-bright meadows, and as far as the
most sweeping glance could reach, the horizon seemed pinned down to
earth with windmills.

Suddenly the land lay far below the level of the canal, and people
walking in the main streets of villages, behind the dykes, were visible
for us only as far as their knees. Quaint little houses had sat
themselves down close to the water's edge, as if determined to miss no
detail of canal gossip; and from their bright windows, like brilliant
eyes, they watched the water with a curious expression of
self-satisfaction and contentment on their painted, wooden faces. On
verandas, half as big as the houses themselves, the life of the family
went on. Children played, young girls wrote letters to their lovers;
mothers busily worked sewing-machines, but saw everything that passed on
the water; fathers read newspapers, and white-haired old grandpapas
nodded over long-stemmed pipes. Every garden blazed with color; and
close-planted rows of trees, with their branches cut and trained (as
Miss Van Buren said) "flat as trees for paper dolls," shaded the upper
windows of the toy mansions.

Little things which were matters of every day for me in this country so
characteristic of the Netherlands, tickled the fancy of the strangers,
and kept them constantly exclaiming. The extravagantly polished wood of
the house doors; the lifting cranes protruding from the gables; the
dairymen in boats, with their shining pails; the bridges that pivoted
round to let us pass through; the drawbridges that opened in the middle
and swung up with leisured dignity; the bridgeman in sorrel-colored
coats, collecting tolls in battered wooden shoes suspended from long
lines; the dogs (which they call "Spitz" and are really Kees) who barked
ferociously at our motor, from every barge and lighter; the yellow carts
with black, bonnet-like hoods, from which peasant heads peered curiously
out at us, from shore; and, above all, the old women or young children
with ropes across their breasts, straining to tow enormous barges like
great dark, following whales.

"What can Dutchmen be like to let them do it, while they loaf on board?"
Miss Van Buren flashed at me, as if I were responsible for the faults of
all my male countrymen.

"It isn't exactly loafing to steer those big barges," said I. "And the
whole family take turns, anywhere between the ages of ten and a hundred.
They don't know what hard work it is, because nobody has told them, and
our river people are among the most contented."

Starr was interested in seeing me salute the men of passing craft, and
in their grave return of the courtesy. Soon, he could imitate my motion,
though he exaggerated it slightly, letting his arm float gracefully out
to full length before it came back to his cap, somewhat, as he remarked,
"like a lily-stem blown by the wind." When he had got the knack he was
enchanted, and every yacht, sail-boat, lighter, and barge had a
theatrical greeting from him as it slipped silently past, perhaps never
to be seen again by our eyes.

"But are they happy?" he asked. "You never hear bursts of laughter, or
chattering of voices, as you would in other countries. The youngest
children's faces are grave, while as for the men, they look as if they
were paid so much a day not to shed a smile, and were mighty
conscientious about earning their money. Yet you say they're contented."

"We Dutch are a reserved people," I explained, under Miss Van Buren's
critical gaze. "We don't make much noise when we're glad, or sad; and it
takes something funny to make us laugh. We don't do it to hear the sound
of our own voices, but prefer to rest our features and our minds."

"Some of these bargemen look as if they'd rested their minds so much
that vegetables had grown on them," mused Starr, which made Miss Van
Buren giggle; and somehow I was angry with her for finding wit in his
small sallies.

"You'll discover on this trip that as you treat the Dutch, so will they
treat you," I went on. "If you're impatient, they'll be rude; if you
show contempt, they'll pay you back in the same coin; but if you're
polite and considerate there's nothing they won't do for you in their
quiet way."

"We shall never be rude to any of them, shall we, Nell?" said Miss
Rivers.

"Not unless they deserve it," came back the answer. And I knew what
Dutchman in particular Miss Van Buren had in mind.

It was about two hours from Gouda when a blaze of color leaped from the
distant level to our eyes, and everybody cried out in admiration for
little Boskoop, which in summer is always _en fête_ among garlands and
bowers of bloom. The rhododendrons--that last longer with us than in
England, like all other flowers--were beautiful with a middle-aged
clinging to the glory of their youth; and the tall, straight flame of
azaleas shot up from every grass-plot against a background of
roses--roses white, and red, and amber; roses pale pink, and the crimson
that is purple in shadow.

Miss Rivers thought she would like to live there, and cultivate flowers;
but I told her that she had better not negotiate for the purchase of a
house, until she had seen the miles of blossom at Haarlem.

We had not kept up our average of speed to nine miles an hour; for,
though we made ten when the way was clear, and no yards of regulation
red-tape to get tangled in our steering-gear, the custom of these
waterways is to slow down near villages and in farming country. Besides,
we met barges loaded to the water's edge, and had we been going fast our
wash would have swamped them. As it was, we flung a wave over the low
dykes, and sent boats moored at the foot of garden steps knocking
against their landing-stages, in fear at our approach. But after Alphen
we turned into a green stream, so evidently not a canal that Aunt Fay
was moved to ask questions.

Her face fell when she heard it was the Rhine.

"What, _this_ the Rhine!" she echoed. "It's no wider than--than the
Thames at Marlow. I was there last summer----"

"You stayed with Lady Marchant," broke in Starr, hastily. It was not the
first time he had cut her short, and the little masquerader bristled
under the treatment.

"Oh yes; that was when you were painting my portrait, wasn't it?"

Starr flushed, and I guessed why, remembering his Salon success, and
recalling that it was his portrait of Lady MacNairne which had been
exhibited this year. Of course, I had been stupid not to put the two
facts together, and realize that his success and her portrait, must have
been one and the same.

The girls had probably heard of it, and must be asking themselves at
this moment how a portrait of this little spectacled thing could have
been possible. Cruel Aunt Fay! Somehow, she must have known that the
face of her _alter ego_ had been painted and exhibited by Starr, and she
was enjoying his misery, as bad boys enjoy the wrigglings of butterflies
on pins.

In pity I stepped in to the rescue, and began again, before a question
about the portrait could fall from the lips of Miss Rivers, on which I
saw it trembling.

"It's the Rhine for no particular reason," I said. "It's quite
arbitrary. Farther on it's the Oude Rhine, farther still the Krommer, or
Crooked Rhine. But if you think little of it here, you'll despise it at
Katwyk, where its end is so ignominious that it has to be pumped into
the sea."

"I don't think that ignominious," said the Chaperon. "I suppose it
doesn't choose to go into the sea. It would rather rest after its labors
and lie down in a pleasant pool, to dream about where it rose on the
Splugen, or about the way it poured out of Lake Constance, and went
roaring over the rocks at Schaffhausen to wind on among hilly vineyards
and ruined castles, past the Drachenfels and Cologne. If they choose to
pump it against its will, that's _their_ affair; at least that's how _I_
should feel if I were the Rhine."

"How Scotch of you, Aunt Fay!" exclaimed Starr, fervently; but he looked
worried; and I wondered if he had told the girls that Lady MacNairne had
never been much abroad. Evidently her double has traveled, and
remembered what she saw. I am not curious concerning other people's
affairs, but I confess I should like to know something of Aunt Fay's
past, for she seems so ignorant of some things, so well-informed upon
others.

Suddenly Miss Van Buren looked up from a red book which had engaged her
attention ever since, at Alphen, we turned out of the narrow
water-street of the canal into the broader thoroughfare of the river.

"This book explains everything except what you want to know!" she
complained. "Why can't it tell what Saint Joris is in England? He must
be some saint there, and I saw his name over that nice little inn with
the garden at Alphen."

"St. George," I said; though she had not asked me.

"I might have known," she sighed, "and no doubt the Dutch have put the
dragon into their language too, stuck full of those "i's" and "j's",
that make me feel whenever I see them in print as if my hair were done
up too tight, or my teeth were sizes too large for my mouth. 'Rijn
wijn,' for instance. Who would think that meant something sleek and
pleasant, like Rhine wine?"

"Why not?" I asked. "We pronounce it almost the same."

"That's because you haven't got the courage of your convictions. You
fling the 'i's' and 'j's' about, and then pretend they're not there."

"Why, don't you see that they're only 'y's'?" I protested, and really
it does appear strange that to foreign eyes they can look, when side by
side, like separate letters.

But the Chaperon stopped us. She said that we could find enough to do
minding our p's and q's in life, without quarreling over "i's" and
"j's"; so the argument ended, and the girls turned their attention to
making tea.

They did it charmingly, juggling with the contents of a tea-basket which
Starr brought on deck and placed on a little folding-table. Whether Miss
Van Buren forgot me or not, in dealing out cups when tea was made, at
all events she pretended to, and reminded by her stepsister, gave me tea
without sugar. Then, begged for one lump, she absentmindedly dropped in
three, while talking with Starr. Robert would certainly have been
tempted to shake her if he had been present at that tea-party.

[Illustration: _She absentmindedly dropped in three, while talking to
Starr_]



XII


My mother sent me to Oxford, because she thought that she could take no
intelligent interest in any young man if he had not had his four years
at Oxford or Cambridge. But afterwards, through loyalty to my
fatherland, I gave myself two at the University of Leiden; and as the
rooms I lived in there hold memories of Oliver Goldsmith, I've kept them
on ever since. I was twenty-four when I said good-by to Leiden, and for
the five after-years the rooms have been lent to a cousin, studying for
his degree as a learned doctor of law. Now, I knew it was close upon the
time for him to take his degree, and I hoped that I might be able to
show my friends (and one Enemy) a few things in my old University town
which ordinary tourists might not see.

The tea-things had been washed up, and a discussion of plans (from which
Miss Van Buren managed to exclude me) had ended in no definite
conclusion, when I brought "Lorelei" into one of the innumerable green
canals in Leiden.

"None of you seem to know what you want to do first, last, or in the
middle," I ventured to remark; "so, to save time, perhaps you'll let me
offer a few suggestions. I've told Hendrik to fetch a cab, and he's
gone. When your carriage comes, engage rooms at the Levedag Hotel, drive
through the town, have a glance at the churches, and go to the Stadhuis.
You'll like the spire and the façade. They're both of the sixteenth
century, when we were prosperous and artistic; and over the north-side
entrance there's a chronogram inscription concerning the siege. I can't
go, because I want to arrange your evening, which I hope will be a
success. But I'll meet you in the Archive Room at the Stadhuis, where
you can admire the paneling till I come. I won't keep you waiting long;
and then I'll take you over the University Buildings. I was there, you
know, as a student."

By the time this plan was arranged to the satisfaction of everybody
except that of the person I wished to please, Hendrik had arrived with a
cab, and five minutes later I was free to carry out my scheme for the
evening.

From Gouda I'd sent a wire to my cousin Jan van Hol, asking him to be at
home and expecting me between four and five, so I felt sure of him. I
took all the short cuts (which I know as well as I know my hat), and was
soon climbing the ladder-like stairs of the old house, the top floor of
which was home to me for two years.

From those windows Goldsmith looked down on the sleepy canal, when he
visited a crony who was tenant of the rooms; and the door which
Goldsmith's hand often touched was thrown open by the present tenant,
who must have been listening for my step.

To my surprise, he was in wild _deshabille_, and far out of his usual
phlegmatic self with excitement.

"It's my Promotie Day," he explained. "I'm just back and have got out of
my swallow-tail after the final exam. I'm due at the Club for the first
part of my dinner in a few minutes. Had you forgotten, or didn't you get
your card?"

I told him that no doubt it was at Liliendaal, or wandering in search of
me; and when I had slapped him on the back, and congratulated him as
"Learned Doctor," I began to wonder what I should do, as it was clear he
would have no time to help me carry out my plans. His Promotie dinner,
the grandest affair of student life, and the rounding off of it, would
be in three parts, with various ceremonies in between, and would last
from now until two or three in the morning. However, I told him what I
had wanted; to give a surprise dinner at his diggings for the party from
"Lorelei," with him to arrange details while I played guide, and to take
the part of host for us at eight o'clock. Could he suggest any one who
would look after the thing in his place? Van Rhonda or Douw, for
instance? But van Rhonda and Douw, it seemed, were the Paranymphs, or
supporters of the newly-made Doctor, and their time would be fully taken
up in seeing him through. All my old friends who were left would be at
the Promotie dinner, but Jan was sure that my business might be safely
entrusted to the landlady. She would get flowers, go to the hotel to
order whatever I wished, and even superintend the waiters.

With this I had to be satisfied, for in the midst of the discussion
appeared the two Paranymphs, wanting to know what kept Jan, and the hero
of the day was ruthlessly carried off between them. I had to do the best
I could; my old landlady had not forgotten me, and I was assured that I
might depend upon her. When I had scribbled a menu, consisting of some
rather odd dishes, sketched an idea for the table decoration, and given
a few other hasty instructions, I dashed off to keep my appointment at
the Stadhuis. On the way I consoled myself with the reflection that it's
an ill wind which blows nobody good. I had been bereaved of Jan as a
prop, but I might make use of him and his friends by-and-by as one of
the sights of Leiden, and I would take advantage of my knowledge of the
usual program on such festive nights as this for the benefit of my
friends.

I arrived at the Stadhuis as the others took their first look at the oak
in the Archive Room. There was just one other room in this most
excellent and historic building that I wanted Miss Van Buren to see. It
was a Tapestry Room, among other Tapestry Rooms, of no importance; but I
remembered her fantastic desire to "live in the stained-glass country,"
and I recalled a certain tapestry garden in which I felt sure she would
long to wander. There was a meal of some wonderful sort going on in it,
and I had been conscious in other days of a desire to be a tapestry man
and sit with the merry tapestry lady smiling there. All tapestry people
look incredibly happy, for in tapestry etiquette it's bad form to be
tragic. Even their battles are comedy battles, as you can see by the
faces of the war-horses that they have a strong sense of humor; but
these particular tapestry friends of mine were the gayest I ever met,
and I wanted Miss Van Buren to make their acquaintance.

To reach the room, through another also representing a tapestry world,
we had to perform a dreadful surgical operation on the abdomen of a
Roman emperor by opening a door in the middle of it, and, as the Mariner
said, the size of the next room gave the same sort of shock that Jonah
must have had when he arrived in the whale.

If I had shown her that tapestry garden, Miss Van Buren would have
feigned indifference; but I left her to Starr, and from a distance had
the chastened pleasure of hearing her say to him the things I should
have liked her to say to me.

Afterwards I swept the party away to the University, preparing their
minds to expect no architectural splendors.

"Leiden is our most famous university," I said. "But we have no streets
of beautiful old colleges, no lovely gardens. You see, Oxford and
Cambridge are universities round which towns have gathered, whereas
Leiden was a city long before William the Silent gave its people choice,
as a reward for their heroic defense, of freedom from taxes or a
university. When they said they'd have the university, the thing was to
get it. Money wasn't plentiful, and here was an old monastery, empty and
ready for use--a building whose simplicity would have appealed to
William in his later days."

It was not until they had this apology well in their heads that I
ushered them into the bare, red-brick courtyard so full of memories for
me, and here I buckled on my armor of defense.

"Our universities have produced great men, though they've given them no
Gothic buildings or fairy gardens. Where will you find more illustrious
names than Scaliger, Grotius, and Oliver Goldsmith?--lots of others,
too. Why, Niebuhr said of our old hall that no place is so memorable in
the history of science."

Trying to appear impressed, the three ladies, followed by Starr, trailed
into the building, deserted at this hour; and it was the artist's quick
eye that first caught the eccentric merit of the famous caricatures
lining the staircase.

Then came the chamber of torture, the "Sweating Room," that bare,
whitewashed cell remembered by all Leideners with anguish. There I (and
thousands before and thousands after) had sat to wait my dreaded turn
with the professors behind the green-baize table in the room next door.
There I--among those other nerve-shattered ones--had scribbled my name
and scrawled a sketch or two. "Here sweated Rudolph Brederode," read out
Miss Rivers, with a sweet look, as if she pitied me now for what I
suffered then. But Miss Van Buren showed sublime indifference. She
wished, she said, to pick out names that were really interesting.

Even she, however, was roused to compassion for the tortured ones, when
in the adjoining room she heard that the examinations were conducted
publicly, and that there was no reason why any stranger should not walk
in from the street to hear the victims put to the question.

"It's good for us," I said. "Helps us to pluck and self-control." But
nobody agreed with me, and it was Miss Van Buren's opinion that none
save Dutchmen would stand it.

The Senate Room, which Niebuhr wrote of, found favor in her eyes; but
after that there was nothing more to do in the University, and it was
only six o'clock. There were two hours before the surprise dinner; so,
without giving my secret away, I said that, if we put off dining until
eight, we could see the Laeckenhalle, and go up to the Burg at sunset.

The Laeckenhalle and the Burg were mere names to them, as few scraps are
thrown to either place by the guide-books; but so delighted were they
with the carvings on the house of the Cloth Spinner's Guild and the
marbles in the courtyard that I could hardly get them inside. Once
within, Starr made Miss Van Buren laugh at the things she ought to have
respected and linger before the things I hadn't intended to point out.

But I was not shocked at her flippant delight in a quaint representation
of tortures in hell, nor was I stirred by her scorn of the stiff
siege-pictures, with van der Werf offering his arm as food for the
starving people, rather than surrender to the Spaniards. In spite of her
distaste for the painting, however, she would not hear me decry van der
Werf in favor of an obscure engineer, lately discovered as the true hero
of the siege. Van der Werf should not be snatched from her by a man she
chose to detest, so she argued and abused my treachery during the whole
time spent among the relics of the siege. She glared at the saucepan
retrieved from the Spanish camp as if she would have thrown it at my
head. She thought me capable of denying authenticity to the blocks of
taret-gnawed wood torn from the dykes when a worm made Holland tremble
as Philip of Spain could never do; nor would she forgive me van der
Werf, though I did my best with the tale of that time of fear when men,
women, and children worked their fingers to the bone in restoring what
the worm had destroyed, and keeping the sea from their doors.

I never yielded her a point, all the way up to the Burg, for at least I
was cheating Starr of her. But in the fortress, on the ancient mound
heaped up by Hengist, I and my opinions were forgotten. She wanted to be
let alone, and pretend she was a woman of Leiden, looking out across the
red roofs of the city, through the pitiless red of the sunset, for the
fleet of rescuing barges.

Nevertheless, she did deign to ask how, if the way had been opened for
the sea to flood the land, the people coaxed it to go back again. And
she looked at me as she had looked at Starr, while I told how the thing
had been done; how the water that floated William's fleet for the relief
of the town was but two feet in depth; how only a gale from the south at
the right time sent the waters flowing from the broken dykes above
Schiedam north as far as Leiden; and how no sooner was the city saved
than the wind changed, calling back the waters.

From the walls of the fortress we saw the sun go down; and then, with
Starr in the ascendant again, we strolled through quiet streets,
crossing bridges over canals spread with soft green carpets of moss. But
we were not going to the hotel; and without a word about dinner, I asked
if they would care to see a student's "diggings." I had only to add as a
bribe that Oliver Goldsmith had visited there and carved his initials in
a heart on the wainscotting, to make them eager to climb the steep
stairs which led to my Surprise.

It began by my opening the door at the top with a key--instead of
knocking. This set them to wondering; but I laughed, evading questions,
and lured them into an oak-walled room, dim with twilight.

According to instructions, no lamp or candle had been lighted, but a
glance showed me a large screen wrapped round something in a corner, and
I knew that I hadn't trusted good old Mevrow Hoogeboom in vain.

Now I struck a match from my own match-box, and as the flame flared up,
success number one was scored. It was the old-fashioned Dutch
lamp-lighter of brass, to which I touched the match, that called out the
first note of admiration from the strangers; and as I woke up candle
after candle, in its quaint brass stick, the first notes rose to a
chorus. What a lovely room! What walls, what dear old blue-and-white
china beasts, what a wonderful fireplace, with handles to hold on by as
you stood and warmed yourself! What chairs, what chests of drawers, what
pewter tankards! If this were a typical room of a Leiden undergraduate,
the Leiden undergraduates were lucky men.

I had to explain that it was hardly fair to call it typical; that only a
man with money and a love for picking up old things would have quarters
like these; still, the lodgings were typical of Leiden.

When the ladies had exhausted their adjectives, they grew curious
concerning their host. I told them that the man was absent, because this
happened to be the night of his Promotie dinner, but that I was free to
do the honors.

"Well, I'm sick with envy of the fellow," said Starr, "and I for one
daren't trust myself any longer, especially on an empty stomach, among
his pewters and blue beasts and brasses. We'd better go away and have
dinner."

"You needn't go away," said I, jerking an old-fashioned bell-rope, and
drawing the screen aside. Behind it, was what I had hoped would be
there--a table laid for five, with plenty of nice glass and silver, and
banked with pink and white roses. As everybody exclaimed at the sight,
an inner door opened and two waiters from the Levedag, who had been
biding their time for my signal, appeared in answer to the bell.

"It's black magic," said Aunt Fay. "I believe these men are genii, and
you've got the lamp in your pocket. How I _wish_ I hadn't left Tibe at
the hotel. He would have loved this, poor darling."

[Illustration: _"It's black magic," said Aunt Fay_]

"Dinner is served, sir," announced one of the genii; and laughing, I
offered the Chaperon my arm.

"But it _can't_ be for us," objected Miss Rivers.

"It's for no one else," said I.

"How can we eat the man's things, when he's never seen us, and we've
never seen him?" Miss Van Buren appealed to Starr. But it was I who
answered.

"You see him now," I confessed. "These are my rooms. I lend them to my
cousin, but I've kept the right to use them. As for the dinner, it's my
dinner, and it will be a humiliation to me if you refuse to eat it."

These words were meant for her, and I looked straight at her as I spoke,
so there could be no mistake. Red sprang to her cheeks. She bit her lip,
and what she would have answered or done if left to herself I shall
never know, for Miss Rivers slipped one arm coaxingly within the arm of
her stepsister, and said, with a laugh, to make it seem that all three
were jesting----

"Why, of course she won't refuse. None of us would forgive her for
spoiling our pleasure. Come along, Nell."

So Nell did "come along," like the sweet and sensible girl she really
is, when she has not been driven to defiance by blundering young men;
and we sat down to eat the best dinner that Leiden could provide at
short notice. Nothing that was truly Dutch had been forgotten, but the
most brilliant success was not the _plat_ on which the _chef_ would have
staked his reputation. It was nothing more nor less than the dish with
which all Leiden invariably occupies itself on the 3rd of October,
anniversary of blessed memory. On that day it was, three hundred and
thirty odd years ago, that a little boy ran joyously home from a flying
visit to the deserted Spanish camp, with a pot of carrots and potatoes
mixed together in a hotch-potch; therefore, with hotch-potch does Leiden
to this hour celebrate the Great Relief, eating with thanksgiving.

And my guests ate with compliments, enjoying the idea if not the food,
as if they had been Leideners. Last of all, we had grilled herrings with
mustard, on toasted bread, a quaint conceit which I had to explain by
telling how, on the 3rd of October, bread and herrings are still
distributed to the poor, because it was with herrings and bread that the
Dutch boats, coming to the relief of Leiden, were loaded.

I managed to keep the party long at the table, and when the Chaperon
proposed going, I looked at my watch, counseling patience for half an
hour.

"If you'll wait," I said, "I'll show you something rather special on the
way home--something that can't be seen by every one."

Then I told about my cousin; how this was his great day, and how,
without being invited, we could share the fun. I told how, early this
morning, Jan's Paranymphs had donned evening dress, according to old
custom, and driven in smart carriages (the horses' heads nodding with
plumes) to the railway station to meet their principal's father, mother,
sisters, and pretty cousins; how the party had then come to these rooms,
where Jan had received them, half shamefaced in his "swallow-tail"; how,
not long before we arrived at the University, Jan had gone through his
torture in the "sweating-room," and before the examiners with his
relatives present; how the ladies, after seeing the town, had been
ungallantly packed off home, before the best fun began. How Jan had
returned, to cast away his evening things at the time when most people
think of putting them on, and rush to the Students' Club in morning
dress. How his Paranymphs and friends had met him, and at a big round
table--soon to be covered with glasses--the Professors' servant (called
"Pedel" of the University) had handed the new Doctor his official
appointment, in return for a fee of ten gulden. How the dinner had begun
in speech-making and music, with an adjournment after the first part, to
the garden for coffee, liqueurs, and cigars; how, when the table had
been cleared and rearranged, everybody had marched back to risk their
lives by eating lobster and quantities of indigestible things. How Jan
would then have had to make his "palaver," thanking his friends for
their speeches in his honor; and how, while he was speaking, the waiters
would be placing a large napkin at the plate of each man--a mere napkin,
but destined for an outlandish purpose. "By this time," I went on
mysteriously, "those napkins are fulfilling their destiny, and if you
would like to see what it is, you've only to follow me."

They were on their feet in an instant. We scrambled down the narrow
stairs, and out into the starlit night. Leiden was a city of the dead.
Not even a dog played sentinel for the sleeping townsfolk; not a cat
sprang out of the shadows as I led my band through a labyrinth of
canal-streets, floored as if with jet nailed down with stars. But
suddenly the spell of silence was broken by an explosion of sound which
crashed into it like breaking glass. A brassy blare of music that could
not drown young men's laughter, burst on us so unexpectedly that the
three ladies gave starts, and stifled cries. I stopped them at a corner,
and we huddled into the shadow, flattened against a wall.

"The Napkins are coming!" I said, and I had not got the words out before
the blue darkness was aflame with the red light of streaming torches, a
wild light which matched the band music. There was a trampling of feet,
and in the midst of smoke and ruddy flare sequined with flying sparks,
came torch-bearers and musicians, led by one man of solemn countenance,
holding in both hands a noble Nougat Tart--the historic, the
indispensable Nougat Tart. Then, with a measured trot that swung and
balanced with the music, followed the Napkins, wound turban-fashion
round the heads of their wearers, and floating like white banners with
the breeze of motion. First came a Paranymph thus adorned, then the
learned Doctor holding fast to the leader's coat-tails; behind him the
second Paranymph, and clinging to his coat the hero's father, with the
whole procession of turbaned friends tailing after.

They swept by us as a comet sweeps down the sky, and concerned
themselves with our group against the wall no more than a comet does
with such humble stars, dusting the outskirts of the Milky Way, as
shrink from his fiery path.

"A vision of goblins," said the Mariner, when he had got his breath.

"What fun! But why do they do it?" asked Miss Rivers.

"Why? I'm sure I don't know," I laughed, "except because they always
have, and I suppose always will, while there's a university at Leiden.
That's all we'll see, but it isn't all there is to see. By-and-by the
procession will go prancing back to the Club, where the next thing will
be to get over the big reading-table, then over the buffet of the bar,
without once breaking the chain of coat-tails, through passages and
kitchens to the club-room once more, where the chain will be split up,
but where the chairs in which the men will sit to drink champagne and
eat the Nougat Tart, must be _on_ the tables and not round them."

"And will that be the end?" inquired the Chaperon, who ever thirsts with
ardor for information.

"Not nearly," said I. "The third part of dinner will be due, and every
one's bound to eat it, even those whose chairs have fallen off from the
pyramids of small tables, and whose heads or bones have suffered.
They'll have dessert; and at dawn the best men will be taking a country
drive."

"I begin to understand," said Starr, "how your people exhausted the
Spaniards. Good heavens, you could wear out the Rock of Gibraltar! And I
see why, though you can eat all day and all night too, you don't put on
fat like your German cousins."

"When we begin a thing, we Dutchmen see it through," I replied
modestly.

"So do we Americans," remarked Miss Van Buren.

"I wonder which would win if the two interests were opposed?" I
hazarded, à propos of nothing--or of much.

"I should bet on America," said she.

"I _don't_ bet," I returned, with all the emphasis I dared give; though
perhaps it was not enough to tear up a deep-rooted impression; albeit
the seed had been sown for but four-and-twenty hours.

So ended the lesson for the first day.

It was not an easy lesson for me. But I regret nothing.



XIII


"Look here," said the Mariner next morning, rapping on my door at the
hotel, "how soon could we start for Katwyk?"

"I thought the expedition was given up," I answered, "as nobody spoke of
it last night."

"Not in your presence, but my worthy aunt rejoices in a sitting-room,
and we met there--some of us--to discuss the expedition. The girls
_think_ they're keen to go, but it's a case of hypnotism. _She_ wants a
thing, and in some curious way, known only to herself, she gives others
the impression that they are wanting it frantically."

"I've noticed that," said I.

"Oh, you have? Well, she's a wonderful woman. I daren't dwell upon the
things she's got out of me already, or ask myself what she'll get before
the play's finished. That sitting-room, for instance, I suppose it will
end in her always having one. Did you observe Tibe's collar? It cost
twenty-five dollars, and the queer part is that I _offered_ it to her. I
thought at the time I wanted him to have it. Now, I ask you, as man to
man, is it _canny_? And she has a traveling-bag with gold fittings. I
presented it under the delusion that I owed it to her as my--temporary
relative. Heavens, where is this to end? Not at Katwyk, with the Rhine.
But we've got to go there. Anything to please her."

Strange to say, the hypnotic influence must have stolen up from her
ladyship's room on the floor below, and along the corridor to mine, for
I found myself thinking: "She rather likes me, and can be useful, if she
dominates the two girls in this way. I must do my best to keep her on
my side."

No doubt this was the form the influence took, but I made no struggle
against it. On the contrary, I assured Starr that the expedition to
Katwyk would be a good expedition; that I would be dressed in ten
minutes; that I didn't mind about breakfast, but would have a cup of
coffee with Hendrik; that if the party came on board "Lorelei" in half
an hour, they would find her ready.

"All right, I'll tell them," said he. "I did want to stop and see a few
pictures, for it seems a burning shame to leave the town where Gerard
Douw, and Steen, and lots of other splendid chaps were born, without
worshiping at their shrines, but----"

"They're rather bare shrines at Leiden," I consoled him. "You've seen
much better specimens of their work elsewhere. You'd be disappointed."

"Just as well to think so. I'll give your message; but as there are
three ladies and one dog, you'd better expect us when you see us."

In spite of this fact I had little time to spare, though it appeared
that _en route_ to the boat a delay was caused by Tibe jumping into a
cab with two elderly ladies from Boston, who, so far from reciprocating
his overtures, nearly swooned with terror, and had to be soothed and
sustained by the entire party.

The canal that leads from Leiden to Katwyk-aan-Zee passes the houses of
Descartes and Spinoza; and altogether the short journey by water did not
lack interest, for Katwyk has become a colony of artists. Once there, we
walked to the sluice where the Rhine seeks its grave in the North Sea;
and as it happened that the tide was high, with a strong shore wind, I
could show the Cyclopean defenses of our coast at their best. With the
secret pleasure which I believe all men take in pointing out things to
women, I explained the great series of gates through which the river
passes to its death. All were closed against the raging waves, which
leaped and bellowed, demanding entrance, rearing their fierce heads
twelve feet or more above the level where the Rhine lay dying. When the
tide should turn, and the wild water retreat, the sluice-gates would be
opened, and the river would pour sea-ward, sweeping away the masses of
sand piled up in fury by the cheated waves.

We lunched on board the "Lorelei," I munching abjectly on deck, on duty
at the wheel, while from the cabin below came to my ears the tinkling of
girls' laughter, and the merry popping of corks. In theory I was better
off than Tantalus, for Tantalus had no beer or sandwiches; but, on the
other hand Tantalus was not in love with a girl whose voice he could
hear mingling with his rival's; so practically there was not much to
choose.

Luckily I had not to bear the strain for long. I did my best yesterday,
in talking of Haarlem, to awaken interest in the huge Haarlemmer-meer
Polder, and its importance in the modern scheme of the Netherlands. Now
my eloquence was rewarded, for they hurried through their luncheon, not
that they might cheer the skipper's loneliness, but that they might miss
no feature in the landscape.

We were skirting one side of the green plain which has been reclaimed
from the water, converting the meer into a "polder." Our canal flowed
many feet above the level of the surrounding land, so that we looked
down upon men tilling, upon white-sailed boats cutting through miniature
waterways as if they navigated meadows, and upon cows grazing knee-deep
in mist, which rose like blowing silver spray, over the pale-green waves
of grass.

These black-and-white cattle, according to Miss Van Buren, form the
upper circles of the cow-world in Holland. Not only do they live up to
their traditions by being cleaner and sleeker than the cows of other
countries, but they know themselves to be better connected than the mere
red-and-white creatures with whom they are occasionally forced to share
a meadow. To show that they understand what is due to their dignity,
they refuse to talk with the common herd, and stand with their backs to
any red-and-white nonentity that may presume to graze near, conversing
among themselves in refined monotones with the air of saying, "Who _was_
she?"

There's little in the history of the Netherlands which Miss Van Buren
does not know, for she is proud of her Dutch blood, though she won't say
so before me. The others are frankly ignorant; but the Chaperon has read
a book of Rider Haggard's called "Lysbeth," and was deeply interested in
the Haarlemmer-meer, where the "treasure" of that story lay hid; but it
was news to her that the great inland sea had once sent a destructive
flood to the gates of Amsterdam, and that as punishment it had been
drained away. Miss Van Buren--whom I think of as "Nell"--knew all this,
including the very day in 1840 when the work was begun, and how many
months the pumps had taken to drink the monstrous cup dry; but the
mysterious little lady who rules us all, and is ruled by Tibe, expected
to find the Haarlemmer-meer still a lake, and was disappointed to learn
the meaning of "polder." She thought thirty-nine months too long for
draining it, and was sure that in America (where she quickly added that
she had "once been") they would have done the work in half the time.

Every one fell in love with the outskirts of Haarlem, as "Lorelei" swam
into the River Spaarne. Though the glory of the tulips was extinguished
(like fairy-lamps at dawn) three months ago, the flowers of summer
blazed in their stead, a brilliant mosaic of jewels.

"The Dutch don't seem a nation to have gone mad over a tulip; but
perhaps they were different in the seventeenth century," said Miss
Rivers, looking at me, as if I stood to represent my people.

"And the English don't seem the kind to have lost their heads over a
South Sea Bubble, but they did," retorted Nell, as if she were defending
us.

They liked the houses along the river-side, houses big and little, which
look as if the front and back walls of their lower stories had been
knocked out, and the space filled in with glass. They were amused by the
rounded awnings over the balconies, which Nell likened to the covers of
giant babies' perambulators; and they laughed at the black-painted doors
picked out with lines of pale green, which contrasted with a whitewashed
façade.

At Haarlem I had another surprise for them, which I arranged before
leaving Rotterdam. It was one which would cost nothing in trouble,
little enough in money, and would give pleasure to everybody--except to
my chauffeur, who is in love with my mother's French maid, and no doubt
was reveling in the thought of a long holiday at Liliendaal.

When I'd brought "Lorelei" through the bridge, and hove her to by the
broad quay, there stood close at hand a handsome, dark-blue motor-car.

"What a beauty!" exclaimed Nell. "That's much grander than Robert's."
Then she glanced at me. "I beg your pardon," said she, demurely. "I'm
afraid the car my cousin has is yours."

"So is this," said I.

"Dear me, what is It doing here?" she demanded, sorry to have praised a
possession of the enemy's.

"It's waiting to take you round Haarlem," I replied. "I thought it would
be a nice way for you to see the place, as the suburbs are its
speciality, so to speak, and motoring saves time."

"You're a queer chap, Alb," remarked the Mariner. "You have such a way
of keeping things up your sleeve, and springing them on one. You ought
to be called 'William the Silent.'"

"Why, that's what he is called, didn't you know? Mr. van Buren told us,"
exclaimed Phyllis, and ended up her sentence with a stifled shriek which
could have meant nothing but a surreptitious pinch.

I would not have glanced at either of the girls for anything; but I
would have given something to know how Nell was looking.

"Have you any more belongings here?" asked the Chaperon, gaily. "Such as
an ancestral castle, where you could give us another surprise feast?"

I laughed. "As a matter of fact, I have an ancestral castle in the
neighborhood. It isn't mine, but it was my ancestors', and if I can't
exactly entertain you in it, I can give you tea close by at a country
inn. Perhaps you've read about the Château of Brederode, within a drive
of Haarlem?"

I saw by Nell's face that she had, but she was the only one who did not
answer, and the others hadn't informed themselves of its existence.

Hendrik, helped by my chauffeur, got out the small luggage which is kept
ready for shore duty--the Chaperon's splendidly-fitted dressing-bag
making everything else look shabby--and the five of us (six with Tibe)
got into the car, I taking the driver's seat.

The streets of Haarlem being too good to slight, I drove leisurely
toward the heart of the old town, meaning to engage rooms and leave all
belongings at the quaint Hotel Funckler, which I thought they would like
better than any other; but passing the cathedral, Miss Phyllis begged to
stop, and I slowed down the car. After Gouda's wonderful glass, they
would have found the Haarlem church disappointing, had it not been for
the two or three redeeming features left in the cold, bare structure;
the beautiful screen of open brass-work, with its base of dark wood, on
which brightly-painted, mystic beasts disport themselves among the
coats-of-arms of divers ancient towns; and the carved choir-stalls.

Nell and the Mariner were so fascinated by a wooden gentleman wearing
his head upside down, and a curiously mixed animal carrying its
offspring in a cloak, that I found time to send secretly for the
organist; and before my friends knew what was happening, the cold white
cathedral was warmed and lighted too, by such thrilling music as few
organs and few organists can make.

When it was over, and only fleeting echoes left, Miss Rivers came and
thanked me.

"That was your thought, of course," said she. "None of us will ever
forget."

My chauffeur had kept Tibe, and when we reappeared, was surprised in the
act of fitting a pair of spare goggles on to the dog. Aunt Fay was
delighted with the effect, and a photograph was taken before we were
allowed to start, though time was beginning to be an object. But, as the
Chaperon cheerfully remarked, "Tibe and tide wait for no man."

"What does 'groote oppruiming' mean, written up everywhere in the
shops?" she inquired eagerly, as the car flashed through street after
street.

I told her that in a Dutch town it was equivalent to the "summer sales"
in London, and she seemed satisfied, though I doubt if she knows more of
London than of Rotterdam. But she and the girls wanted everything that
they saw in the show windows, and I found that, before we left Haarlem,
the Mariner's purse would again be opened wide by the hypnotic spell of
Aunt Fay.

In a thirty horse-power car we were not long on the way out to
Brederode, though I took her slowly through the charming Bloemendaal
district, giving the strangers plenty of time to admire the quaintly
built, flower-draped country houses half drowned in the splendid forest
where Druids worshiped once, and to find out for themselves that the
dark yellow billows in the background were dunes hiding the sea.

We left the car in front of the shady inn, and ordered coffee to be
ready when we should come back--coffee, with plenty of cream, and a kind
of sugared cake, which has been loved by Haarlemers since the days when
the poor, deluded ladies of the town baked their best dainties for the
Spaniards who planned their murder.

It was natural to play guide on the way to the dear old copper and
purple and green-gold ruin, ivy-curtained from the tower roofs to the
mossy moat.

This was my first visit to the place for a year or two, and I longed to
take the One Girl apart, to tell her of my fantastic ancestor, the Water
Beggar, of whom I am proud despite his faults and eccentricities; to
recall stories of the past; the origin of our name "Brede Rode," broad
rood; how it, and the lands, were given as a reward, and many other
things. But instead, I made myself agreeable to the Chaperon, and saved
Tibe on three separate occasions from joining the bright reflections and
the water-lilies in the pond.

I sat by Nell at a table afterwards, however, and she had to pour coffee
for me, because she was doing that kind office for the rest; and as the
sugar tongs had been forgotten, she popped me in a lump of sugar with
her own fingers before she stopped to think. Then, she looked as if she
would have liked to fish it out again, but, being softer than her heart,
it had melted, and I got it in spite of her.

We drove back through the forest in a green, translucent glimmer, like
light under the sea, and there was little time to dress for dinner when
I brought them to anchor for the night. The nice old hotel, with its
Delft plates half covering the walls, its alcoves and unexpected
stairways with green balusters, and its old dining-room looking on a
prim garden, pleased the eyes which find all things in Hollow Land
interesting.

It was a long dinner, with many courses, such as Dutchmen love; still,
when we finished, daylight lingered. In the fantastic square with its
crowding varieties of capricious Dutch architecture, the cathedral was
cut black and sharp out of a sky of beaten gold, and Coster's statue
wore a glittering halo. Under their archways of green, the canals were
on fire with sunset, their flames quenched in the thick moss which
clothed their walls; the red-brown color of paved streets, and the
houses with their pointed façades in many steps, burned also, as if they
were made of rose-and-purple porphyry instead of common bricks, while
each pane of each window blazed like a separate gem.

It was a good ending to a good day, and though I had accomplished
nothing definite, I was happy.

Next morning I had the car ready early, and took every one for a spin
through the Hout, which reminded them of the Bois, or what the Bois
would be if pretty houses were scattered over it like fallen leaves.

We stopped in Haarlem after that last spin only long enough to do
reverence to Franz Hals, and the collection of his work which is the
immediate jewel of the city's soul.

[Illustration: _We stopped at Haarlem only long enough to do reverence
to Franz Hals_]

It was pretty to watch Nell scraping acquaintance with the bold,
good-humored officers and archers, and bland municipal magnates whom
Hals has made to live on canvas. She looked the big, stalwart fellows in
the eye, but half shyly, as a girl regards a man to whom she thinks, yet
is not quite sure, she ought to bow.

"Why, their faces are familiar. I seem to have known them," I heard her
murmur, and ventured an explanation of the mystery, over her shoulder.

"You do know them," I said. "Their eyes are using the eyes of their
descendants for windows, every day in the streets. Holland isn't making
new types."

She turned to look me up and down, with a flicker of long lashes. Then
she sighed----

"What a pity!"

Perhaps I deserved it, for I had brought it on myself. Nevertheless,
sweet Phyllis pitied me.

"What surprise have you got for us next, Sir Skipper?" she asked
brightly. "Mr. Starr says that no day will be complete without a
surprise from you; and we depend upon you for our route as part of the
surprise."

"I thought Mr. Starr was making out our route," remarked Nell to a tall
archer of Franz Hals.

"If I've contrived to create that impression, I've been clever," said
the Mariner. "In fact, I would have preferred you to think me
responsible, as long as the route proved satisfactory. Of course,
whenever anything went wrong, I should have casually let drop that it
was Alb's idea. But, as you mention the subject in his presence, I must
admit that he has made several suggestions, and I've humored him by
adopting them, subject to your approval."

"Does the name of Aalsmeer convey anything to your minds?" I asked. But
all shook their heads except Nell, who appeared absorbed in making a
spy-glass of her hand, through which to gaze at her jolly archer.

"Then it shall be this day's surprise," I said. "I won't tell you
anything; but you needn't be ashamed of ignorance, for all the world is
in the same boat, and you won't find Aalsmeer in guide-books. Yet there
isn't a place in the Netherlands prettier or more Dutch."

"Good-by, Franz Hals, perhaps forever. We leave you to seek pastures
new," said Starr. "Come along, Miss Van Buren."

So she came, and I drove them in the car to the quay, where I directed
my chauffeur to go on to Amsterdam, and be ready to report for order at
the harbor of the Sailing and Rowing Club.



XIV


There is nothing remarkable in the broad canal that connects Haarlem
with Amsterdam, and when we had started, Miss Van Buren read aloud to
the assembled party. Her book was Motley, and the subject that siege
which, though it ended in tragic failure, makes as fine music in history
as the siege of Leiden. Meanwhile, as she read, we skimmed through the
bright water, which tinkled like shattered crystals as we broke its
clear mirror with our prow.

There were few houses along shore, but far in the distance, seen across
wide, flat expanses, shadow villages and tapering spires were painted in
violet on the horizon--such a shimmering horizon as we of the lowlands
love, and yearn for when we sojourn in mountain lands. At Halfweg, a
little cluster of humble dwellings, I turned out of the main canal,
skirting the side of the Haarlemmer-meer Polder, opposite to that which
we had followed yesterday.

"When is the surprise coming?" asked Phyllis at last, her curiosity
piqued by the slowness of progress in this small canal.

"Now," said I, smiling, as I stopped at an insignificant landing-place;
"this is where we go on shore to find it."

"Methinks, Alb, you are playing us false," said the Mariner. "You're
about to lead us into a trap of dulness."

"I've a mind to stop on board and finish the chapter," said Nell.

"You'll repent it if you do," I ventured. Yet I think she would have
stayed if her stepsister had not urged.

We walked along an ordinary village street for some distance; it was
dusty and unbeautiful. Even Miss Rivers had begun to look doubtful, when
suddenly we came in sight of a toy fairyland--a Dutch fairyland, yet a
place to excite the wonder even of a Dutchman used to living half in,
half out of water.

From where the party stopped, arrested by the curious vision, stretched
away, as far as eyes could follow, an earthern dyke, bordered on either
hand by a lily-fringed toy canal, just wide enough for a toy rowboat to
pass. Beyond the twin, toy canals--again on either hand--was set a row
of toy houses, each standing in a little square of radiant garden, which
was repeated upside down in the sky-blue water, not only of the twin
canals, but of the still more tiny, subsidiary canals which flowed round
the flowery squares, cutting each off from its fellow.

Tibe, delighted with Aalsmeer and a dog he saw in the distance, darted
along the straight, level stretch of dyke, which every now and then
heaved itself up into a camel-backed bridge, under which toy boats could
pass from the right-hand water-street to the left-hand water-street. We
followed, but on the first bridge Nell stopped impulsively.

"Do you know we've _all_ been in this place before? It's
_Willow-pattern-land_. _Don't_ you recognize it?"

"Of course," the Mariner assured her. "You and I used to play here
together when we were children. You remember that blue boat of ours? And
see, there's our house--the pink one, with the green-and-white-lozenge
shutters, and the thicket of hydrangeas reflected in the water. Isn't it
good to come back to our own?"

Thus he snatched her from me, just as my surprise was succeeding, and
made a place for himself with her, in my toy fairyland.

"It's true! One does feel like one of the little blue people that live
in a willow-pattern plate," said Phyllis, as Nell and Starr sauntered on
ahead. "It's perfectly Chinese here, but so cozy; I believe you had the
place made a few minutes ago, to please us, and as soon as we turn our
backs it will disappear. It _can't_ be real."

"Those men think it's real," said I. There were several, rowing along
the canals in brightly painted boats, with brass milk cans, and
knife-grinding apparatus, calmly unaware that they or their surroundings
were out of the common. Each house on its square island having its own
swing-bridge of planks, the men on the water had to push each bridge out
of the way as they reached it; but the trick was done with the nose of
the boat, and cost no trouble. Most of the toy bridges swung back into
place when the boats passed, but the one nearest us remained open, and
as we looked, walking on slowly, two tiny children returning from
school, clattered toward us in wooden sabots, along the narrow dyke.
Opposite the disarranged bridge they stopped, looking wistfully across
at a green-and-blue house, standing in a grove of pink-and-yellow roses,
shaded with ruddy copper beeches, and delicate white trees like young
girls trooping to their first communion.

Evidently this was the children's home, but they found themselves shut
off from it; and standing hand-in-hand, with their book-bags tossed over
their shoulders, they uttered a short, wailing cry. As if in answer to
an accustomed signal, a pink-cheeked girl who, of course, had been
cleaning something, came to the rescue, mop in hand. She touched the
bridge with her foot; the bridge swung into place; without a word the
dolls crossed, and were swallowed up in a narrow, sky-blue corridor.

We wandered on, turning our heads from one side to the other, I reveling
in the delight of the others. Though Aalsmeer is but a stone's throw
from Amsterdam, it seems as far out of the world as if, to get to it,
you had jumped off the earth into some obscurely twinkling star, where
people, things, and customs were completely different from those on our
planet.

If there had been only one of the queer island-houses to see, it would
have been worth a journey; but each one we came to, in its double street
of glass, seemed more quaint than that we left behind. Some were painted
green or blue, with white rosettes, like the sugar ornaments on
children's birthday cakes. Some were so curtained with roses, wistaria,
or purple clematis, that it was difficult to spy out the color
underneath. Some were half hidden behind tall hedges of double
hollyhocks, like crisp bunches of pink and golden crêpe; others had
triumphal arches of crimson fuchsias; but best of all the island shows
were the dwarf box-trees, cut in every imaginable shape. There were
thrones, and chairs, and giant vases; harps and violins; and a menagerie
of animals which seemed to have come under a spell and been turned into
leafage in the act of jumping, flying, and hopping. There were lions,
swans, dragons, giraffes, parrots, eagles, cats, together in a happy
family of foliage; and when I told the Chaperon that the people of
Aalsmeer were garden-artists, as well as market-gardeners, she insisted
on stopping. Nothing would satisfy her but the Mariner must cross the
bridge, knock at the door of a little red house, and buy a box-tree baby
elephant, which she thought would be enchanting in a pot, as a kind of
figurehead on board "Waterspin."

Nor was I allowed to remain idle. When I had helped him bargain for the
leafy beast, I had to go down on my knees, roll up my sleeves, and claw
water-lilies out from the canal, which they fringed in luscious
clusters. This I did while men and maids in painted boats heaped with
rubies piled on emeralds (which were strawberries in beds of their own
leaves) laughed at me. Boat peddlers came and went, too, with stores of
shining tin, or blue, brown, and green pottery that glittered in the
afternoon sun. Some of them helped me, some jeered in Dutch at "these
foreigners with their childish ways."

In the end I was luckier than Starr, for he had to march under the
weight of his green elephant, half hidden behind it, as behind a screen,
while my lilies were so popular with the ladies that not even as a favor
would I have been allowed to carry one. All three, if left to
themselves, would have lingered for hours, choosing which house they
would live in, or watching families of ducks, or counting strewn flowers
floating down the blue water as stars float down the sky.

"I believe, Nephew, that I must ask you to buy me a house in Aalsmeer to
come and play dolls in," announced Aunt Fay. "Don't you suppose,
Jonkheer, that one could be got cheap?--not that _that_ need be a
consideration to dear Ronny!"

"I'll find out--later," I assured her, answering a despairing look of
Starr's from between the green tusks of his elephant.

"Oh, please, _now_," urged the gentle voice which every one but Tibe
obeys; "because, you know, I'm not strong, and when I set my heart on a
thing, and suffer disappointment, it makes me ill. If I were ill I
should have to go home, and those darling girls couldn't finish the
trip."

"You haven't had time to set your heart upon a house here," said Starr.
"You only thought of it a minute ago."

"We Scotch have so _much_ heart, dearest, that it goes out to
things--and people--in less than a minute. I'm a victim to mine. It
would be a pity----"

"Oh, do go to the head fairy at once, Alb, and demand a cheap house for
my aunt to play dolls in," groaned Starr. "If he hasn't got one, he must
build it."

"He could easily do that," said I. "Every now and then a new island is
formed in this water-world, and the nearest householder seizes it,
claiming it as his own, on much the same basis that Napoleon claimed
the Netherlands. Then he digs it into an extra garden or strawberry bed.
But he would sacrifice his vegetables if he saw a prospect of making
money. It might amuse Lady MacNairne to do a little amateur market
gardening, though they say slugs are unusually fat and juicy in
Aalsmeer."

"Oh! Maybe I'd better wait and see a few more places before I decide,
then," exclaimed the lady. "Not that I'm afraid of slugs myself, only
I'm sure they wouldn't agree with Tibe. And besides, it would be dull
for him in winter."

"Not at all," said I, having discovered that the one possible way of
detaching the lady from a pet scheme is by advising her to cling to it.
"Everybody skates then, instead of going about in boats, and no one has
really seen Aalsmeer who hasn't seen it on a winter evening. Then, in
front of each island, on a low square post, is set a lighted lantern.
Imagine the effect of a double line of such lights all the way down the
long, long canal, each calling up a ghost-light from under the blue
ice."

The tyrant shivered. "It sounds lovely," she said; "but I think I _will_
wait. Come, girls, we'd better be getting back to the boat."

"Sweet are the uses of an Albatross," I heard Starr murmur.

We turned our backs on the water fairies' domain, and went into the
world again. In the long commonplace street of shops through which we
had passed in coming, Aunt Fay stopped. She had torn a silk flounce on
her petticoat, and would thank me to act as interpreter in buying a box
of safety-pins. I made the demand, and could not see why the two girls
and their chaperon had to stifle laughter when an earnest, flaxen-haired
maiden began industriously to count the pins in the box.

"She says she has to do that, because they are sold by the piece," I
explained; but they laughed a great deal more.

It was a pity they could not see the meer which rings in their
fairyland--a meer dotted with high-standing, prim little islands,
which, though made by nature, not man, have much the same effect, on
a larger scale, as the clipped box-trees on show in the gardens. But
to have taken "Lorelei" that way would have made it too late for a visit
to Zaandam; and I thought Zaandam, despite its miles of windmills and
the boasted hut of Peter the Great, not worth a separate expedition.
So I turned back to Halfweg, and from there slid into a side canal which
bore us toward that immense waterway cut for great ships--the North Sea
Canal. There was a smell of salt in the air, and a heavy perfume from
slow-going peat-boats. Gulls wheeled over "Lorelei" so low that we could
have reached up and caught their dangling coral feet. A passing cloud
veiled the sun with gray tissue which streaked the water with purple
shadow, and freckled it with rain. Passengers on Amsterdam-bound ships
that loomed above us like leviathans, stared down at our little craft
and the bluff-browed barge we towed. Here we were in the full stream of
sea-going traffic and commerce; and afar off a mass of towers showed
where Amsterdam toiled and made merry.

But we were not yet bound for Amsterdam. Twisting northward as the
details of the city were sketched upon the sky, we turned into the canal
which leads to Zaandam of the self-satisfied, painted houses. There was
just time for a swift run down the river, and a call at one of that
famous battalion of windmills whose whirling sails fill the air with a
ceaseless whirr, like the flight of birds at sunset; then a walk to the
hovel where Peter the Great lived and learned to be a shipwright. But
when they had seen it, the ladies would not allow it to be called by so
mean a name.

"What a shame they found out who he was so soon!" said Nell. "And he had
to leave this dear little bandbox to go back to a mere every-day palace.
_I_ wouldn't have been driven away by a curious crowd. I should just
have marched through with my nose in the air."

"His nose wasn't of that kind," said I. "I suppose he's the earliest
martyr to notoriety on record. But perhaps he had learned all he wanted
to know; and I'm not sure he was sorry to go back to his palace, which,
judging by all accounts, wasn't a grand one in those days. You'll see
finer houses even in Amsterdam."

And an hour later she was seeing them.



XV


Amsterdam was in full glory that evening, in the strange radiance that
shines for her, as for Venice, when red wine of sunset and purple wine
of night mingle together in the gold cup of the west.

At such a time she is a second Venice, not because she is built upon
piles and stands upon many islands linked by intricate bridges, but
because of her glow and dazzle, her myriad lights breaking suddenly
through falling dusk, to splash the rose and violet of the clouds with
gilded flecks, and drop silver into glimmering canals, as if there were
some festive illumination; because of her huge, colorful buildings, and
her old, old houses bowing and bending backward and forward to whisper
into each other's windows across the darkness of narrow streets and
burning lines of water.

The fierce traffic of the day was over, but the dam roared and rumbled,
in vast confusion, with its enormous structures black against the
moldering ashes of sunset.

"A cathedral without a tower; a palace without a king; a bishop's house
without a bishop; a girl without a lover," is the saying that
Amsterdammers have about the dam; and I repeated it as we drove through,
while my friends searched the verification of the saw. All was plain
enough, except the "girl without a lover"; but when they learned that
she was a stone girl on a pedestal too constricted for two figures they
pronounced her part of the distich far-fetched.

Undaunted by all they had done that day, they would go out again after
dinner, when Amsterdam was blue and silver and shining steel in the
quiet streets, with a flare of yellow light in the lively ones, where
people crowded the roadways, listening to the crash of huge hand-organs,
or shopping until ten o'clock.

We supped at the biggest _café_ in Europe; and then for contrast, since
we were in a city of contrasts, I took them to the quaintest inn of
Amsterdam--a queer little pointed-roofed house hiding the painted
"Wilderman" over his low-roofed door, behind a big archway, in the midst
of all that is most modern, but with an interior of a rich gold-brown
gloom, lit by glints of brass and gleams of pewter which would have
delighted Rembrandt.

Next day it was to his house, in the strange, teeming Jewish quarter
that we went first of all; but Nell and Phyllis were heartsick to find
the rooms, once rich in treasures, piled untidily with "curiosities" of
no great beauty or value.

Then, by way of a change after the Old Town, and the harbor with its
queer houses, like drunken men trying to prop each other up, I chose the
Heerengracht, all the city has of the richest and most exclusive. But
the tall mansions, with their air of reserve and their selfishly hidden
gardens, struck the eye coldly; and not even my tales of tapestry, lace,
old silver, and, above all, Persian carpets, to be seen behind the
veiled windows, could arouse the ladies' curiosity. It was well enough
to have built Amsterdam in concentric crescents, with the Heerengracht
in the center, and to say arbitrarily that the further you went
outwards, the further you descended in the social scale. That
distinction might do for the townspeople; as for them, they would rather
live in a black and brown house in the Keizergracht, with a crane and
pulley in one of the gables, and white frames on the windows, than in
this dull street of wealth and fashion.

"Even half a house, with a whole door of my own, like most middle-class
Dutch houses, would be nicer," said Nell. "Yes, I could be happy in 'a
_boven huis_,' with my little stairway and hall quite to myself."

But when I had shown her my favorite bit of Amsterdam, she became
unfaithful to the Keizergracht, and its picturesque fellows.

To reach this bit, we turned from the roar of a noisy street, and were
at once in the calm of a monastic cloister.

It was like opening a door in the twentieth century, and falling down a
step into the seventeenth, to find Time lying enchanted in a spell of
magic sleep.

What we saw was a spacious quadrangle with an old-fashioned, flowery
garden in the midst, and ranged round it pretty little houses, each one
a gem of individuality. There was a church, too, a charming,
forgotten-looking church; and in the quadrangle nothing stirred but
gleams of light on polished windows and birds which hopped about on the
pavement as if it had been made for them.

"I believe they're the inhabitants of the place, who've hurriedly
changed into birds just while we are here, but will change back into
little, trim old ladies and old gentlemen," whispered Nell; for it
seemed sacrilege to break the silence.

With that, a house door opened, and just such an old lady as she
described came out.

"Oh, she didn't know we were here. She won't have time to get into her
birdhood now," chuckled Nell, "so she's making the best of it. But see,
she's turned to warn her husband."

"She hasn't any husband," said I.

"How can you tell?" asked the girl.

"If she had, she couldn't live here," I explained, "because this is the
Begynenhof, half almshouse, half nunnery, which has been kept up since
our great year, 1574. But oddly enough the chapel of the sisterhood who
established it, has been turned into an English church. Queer, in the
little Catholic village hidden away from the great city; but so it is.
And isn't it a serene spot?"

"Almost nicer than Aalsmeer," murmured the Chaperon. "I wonder if----"

But Starr was at the door of the exit before she could finish wondering.

The palace, more suitable for a magnificent town hall than a regal
dwelling, was the next violent contrast in my bag of colors; but, royal
though it was, there was nothing in it they cared for much except the
throne-room, which they had to admit was not to be surpassed. There were
a few mantel-pieces too, which the Chaperon thought she would accept
from the Queen as presents; but as for the carpets, they were no less
than tragic, and it would be better to go about opening bridges, or
laying dull cornerstones, then stay at home and look at them.

My way of showing Amsterdam was to work slowly up to a grand crescendo
effect; and the crescendo was the Ryks Museum. We had two days of
Amsterdam (the second was mostly spent at the diamond cutters') before I
suggested the museum.

Aunt Fay said, when I did, that she hated such places. They gave her a
headache, a heartache, and a bad cold. But she did not hate the Ryks
Museum, and delighted the Mariner by picking out the best Rembrandts.
After our first day at the museum (which we gave to the pictures) she
could have had anything she asked from her dearest Ronny.

Then there were the Dutch rooms, and the rooms where the wax people
live. I did not speak of the wax people until the ladies were tired,
therefore they were cold to the idea of wax figures, even when they
heard that the Queen had been five or six times to see them.

"Perhaps she never saw Madame Tussaud's," remarked Miss Rivers, in a
superior, British way; but the magic word was spoken when I said that
the wax people wore every variety of costume to be found in Holland, and
I was ordered to conduct the party to them at once.

Instantly they felt the alarming fascination of the wax faces, whose
hard eyes say, "At night we live, and walk about as you are doing now":
and at the closing hour Aunt Fay and the two girls had to be forcibly
torn away.

"Is it possible that some day we shall see live people dressed as those
wax people are?" she exclaimed.

"You will see them by the hundred," I answered.

She paused a moment. "Miss Van Buren wants to know if one can buy any
special costume to which one takes a fancy."

"Yes, if one doesn't mind what one pays," I answered; but I was nettled
that the girl could not have asked so simple a question herself. This is
not the first time she has employed a go-between, to find out something
which I alone know, and doubtless there will be more occasions, if I let
things go on as they are going now. But I don't mean to let them go on.
What I shall do, I haven't made up my mind; yet some step must be taken,
if I am to reap anything from this trip except a harvest of snubbings.

It was only a little thing that she should question me through her
chaperon, regarding the costumes; but it was one more straw in a rapidly
growing bundle. And on the way back to the hotel from the museum she
pretended not to hear when I spoke. She discussed with Starr, and not
with me, the splendors and the crudities of Amsterdam, and asked if he
didn't detect here and there a likeness to some old bit of New
York--"New Amsterdam." Of course he agreed; and they talked of the
"Dutchness" of Poughkeepsie and Albany, and Hudson, and many other
places which I never heard of. No wonder that there was triumph in the
glance he threw me. Alb (he was thinking, no doubt) was not getting much
fun for his money. And it was true. Nevertheless, Alb was not
discouraged. He was making up his mind that the time for quiet patience
was over, as the skipper of "Lorelei" had engaged for something better.



XVI


"By Jove, here's a lark!" exclaimed Starr, at the breakfast table,
looking up from the Paris _Herald_.

It was at the Amstel Hotel, on our fourth morning, and he and I were
taking coffee together, as an Ancient Mariner and his Albatross should.
The ladies had not yet appeared, for they were breakfasting in their
rooms.

"What's up?" I asked.

"It's under the latest news of your Queen's doings," said he, and began
to read aloud: "'Jonkheer Brederode, who is equally popular in English
and Dutch society and sporting circles, has taken for the season a large
motor-boat, in which he is touring the waterways of Holland, with a
party of invited friends, among whom is Lady MacNairne. It was her
portrait, as everybody knows, painted by the clever American artist, Mr.
R. L. Starr, which was so much admired at the Paris Salon this spring.'
Funny, how they strung that story together, isn't it? But it's a
bore--er--in the circumstances, their having got hold of my aunt's
name."

"People who weave tangled webs mustn't be surprised if they get caught
in them sometimes," said I.

"I wonder how Miss Van Buren will like this? She's sure to see it,"
Starr went on, reflectively.

How she liked it mattered more to me than to anybody else, because if
she disliked it, I was the person upon whom her vexation would be
visited. But there was a still more important point which apparently
hadn't come under the Mariner's consideration. How would Lady
MacNairne's husband like it?

Evidently Starr doesn't know that there has been an upset of some sort
between Sir Alec and the charming Fleda; and as Fleda is his aunt, but
has not confided in her nephew (while she has in me) no matter what
trouble the newspaper paragraph may cause for the entire party, it would
be a breach of confidence for me to enlighten him.

"By Jove," I said to myself, "what will MacNairne do if he sees in the
paper that his wife, who has run away from home without telling him
where she's staying, is the principal guest on board a boat of mine? I
ought to warn Starr that there may be a crash, but I can't."

The only thing I could do was to pump him, in the hope that he knew more
of his aunt's affairs than I supposed.

"My stock's pretty far down in the market with Miss Van Buren already,"
said I. "It can't go lower. I wonder how these asses think of such
nonsense? But I suppose it came of registering 'Lorelei' in my name,
which I had to do, to use the flag of the Sailing and Rowing Club of
Rotterdam. Somebody heard of the boat's being registered by Rudolph
Brederode, and _voila_ the consequences. But where is Lady MacNairne?"

"Heavens, don't yell at the top of your voice," groaned Starr, in a
dreadful whisper. "There may be some one at the next table who can speak
English. I've had an awful lesson, as nobody knows better than you, to
behave in a restaurant as if I were at church. The real Lady McN., who
is _not_ up-stairs at the present moment breakfasting with Tibe, may be
in Kamschatka for all I know, though I think it probable she's not. All
I _do_ know is that she's never answered two frantic telegrams of mine.
She's not at home. She may be anywhere else--except in Holland, where
she's wanted."

"It would be awkward if she should turn up now," I remarked.

"_Was_ wanted, I ought to have said. But she's such a good pal, I should
fix things up with her somehow."

"I doubt if you would with her husband," I thought, though aloud I said
nothing. I was sure now that he was in ignorance of the situation,
blissful ignorance, since he could not guess what developments it might
lead to for him, and for the Chaperon whom he had provided at such cost.

"If anything happens, I shall have to help him through it somehow," I
decided, "as it's more than half my fault, registering 'Lorelei' in my
name. Besides, I can't let the party be broken up, until I've had a fair
chance to raise Brederode stock in the market."

To know that at any moment Sir Alec MacNairne might pounce upon us,
denounce the Chaperon as a fraud, disgust the girls with Starr, and put
a sudden end to the adventure as far as the two men in it were
concerned, was not conducive to appetite. I forgot whether I had just
begun my breakfast, or just finished it, but in either case it
interested me no more than eggs and toast would have interested Damocles
at the moment of discovering the sword.

"The principal thing is not to let the girls see the _Herald_," said
Starr.

I wished it were the principal thing; still, I said nothing, and getting
up, we went into the hall.

"Miss Van Buren would think it cool of you, perhaps, if she knew you'd
registered her boat in your name," said Starr, taking up the subject
again. "She wouldn't understand----"

"_What_ would Miss Van Buren think cool?" asked Miss Van Buren's voice
behind us, and the Mariner started as if we were conspirators.

"Oh, nothing particular," he answered limply.

"Please tell me."

"I'll tell you," I said, with a sudden determination that she should
know the worst, and do her worst, and be conquered by something stronger
than her prejudice. The tug-of-war was coming between us now, that
tug-of-war I had been expecting and almost desiring.

"I registered your boat in my name," I said calmly, "and Starr thinks
you wouldn't understand."

She threw up her head, flushing. "I _don't_ understand."

"It gives us the right to use the flag of my club."

"We could have got on without it."

"Often with grave inconvenience."

"I would have risked that."

"Forgive me, but amateurs are always ready to take risks."

(At this moment I became aware that Starr had slipped away.)

"Isn't it rather late," she flashed at me, "to ask my forgiveness
for--_anything_?"

"It was a mere civility," I answered with equal insolence. "I've done
nothing for which I've felt the need of your forgiveness, Miss Van
Buren; but if you think I have, pray tell me once for all what it was,
that I may defend myself."

"You don't feel," she echoed, "_that you've done anything for which you
need my forgiveness_? Oh, then you're more hardened than I thought. I
hoped that by this time you were repenting."

"Repenting of what?"

"Of everything. Of--putting yourself in your present position, among
other things."

"You mean in the position of your skipper? I may say, that if I haven't
repented, it isn't your fault. But, really, I've been so busy trying to
make myself useful to the party in more ways than one, that I've had no
time for repentance."

"Oh, you have made yourself useful," she had the grace to admit. "If--it
hadn't been for the _beginning_, I--I should have been grateful. You
know things which none of the rest of us know. You've shown us sights
which without you we should never have seen or heard of. But as it is,
how can I, why should I, be grateful? It's only for the sake of the
others, and their pleasure, that I----"

"So you said before," I broke in. "But now I refuse to accept toleration
from you--we won't say consideration, for that's too warm a word--for
the sake of others. The boat is yours. I am your skipper. If, after
serving you as well as I could for a week, you wish me to go, I will
go."

She stood and stared at me from under lashes meant only for sweet looks.

"You will go?"

"Certainly. This moment. I only wait your word." I heard myself saying
it; and in a way I was sincere, though I was the same man who, only a
few minutes since, had vowed to do anything rather than let the trip
end. Of course I would have to go now, if she told me to go. But I knew
that I should not go. As skipper, I was her servant, if she chose to
give me the name; but as a man I felt myself her master.

"I--I--" she faltered, and I saw her throat flutter. "You're putting me
in a horrid position. We--I thought we'd settled this matter, things
being as they are."

"Not at all," said I. "Nothing was settled."

"You're Mr. Starr's friend, and I can't send you away."

"You can, easily," I replied. "And since that appears to be your only
reason for not doing so, I'll not wait for your orders to go. Good-by,
Miss Van Buren, I'll do my best to get you another skipper, a
professional this time."

I moved a step away, and my blood was beating fast. Everything depended
on the next instant.

"Stop! Please stop," she said.

I stopped, and looked at her coldly.

For a moment we stood regarding each other in silence, for it seemed
that, having detained me, she could think of nothing more to say. But
suddenly she broke out, with a fierce little stamp of the foot.

"_Oh!_ Sometimes I can understand why it was that Philip _liked_ to
torture the Dutch."

It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. But it would have
spoiled everything for me if I had laughed.

"You have tortured the Dutch," said I. "But now it's finished. The Dutch
have tired of the torture."

"Oh, you're tired? Then you had _better_ go, I suppose. Why are you
waiting?"

"You stopped me for something. What was it?"

"I--hardly know. It was only--I was going to propose----"

"You were going to propose?"

"That--you stayed a little longer. You were to take us--them, I mean--on
an excursion to-day in your motor-car. They're getting ready now.
They'll be--_so_ disappointed."

"I'll lend you--them--my car and my chauffeur."

"No, it would be horrid without y--It would be too ungracious.
I--they--couldn't accept."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't you think maybe you'd better stay a little longer?"

"No, Miss Van Buren, I go now, or I--go with you to the end." I wonder
if she guessed just what I meant by those words? "I'll not stop, after
what's passed between us, for a day longer, except on two conditions."

"Conditions? _You_ make conditions with me?"

"Certainly, I have the right."

"You are extraordinary."

"I am a Dutchman."

"Oh, here comes Lady MacNairne--in her motor-coat and hood. She bought
them yesterday--because they're Tibe-color. What excuse can I make? Oh,
what _are_ your conditions?"

"First, that you tell me you want me to stay."

"I do--on their account."

"That's not the way."

"Well, then, I ask you to stay. I hope your next condition isn't as hard."

"You must be the judge. It is, that you'll be civil to me, and
friendly--at least in appearance. I have done, and will do my best for
you and 'Lorelei.' In return, I'll have no more snubs."

"But if they've been deserved? No! I won't be brow-beaten."

"Nor will I. Good-by, again, Miss Van Buren."

"Here comes Phil now, in _her_ motoring things. Oh dear! Have it as you
like. I will--be nice to you."

She smiled in spite of herself, or else to encourage me with a sample of
future treatment; and giving way to impulse at last, I held out my hand.

"Shake hands on the bargain, then, and it's signed and sealed," I said.

She laid her fingers delicately in mine, and dared not look resentful
when I gently pressed them.

For all I cared, she might see the Paris _Herald_ now. For all I cared,
the sky might fall.



XVII


Never was man in better mood for the rush and thrill of the motor than
I, after the conquering of Miss Van Buren. It was but a shadow victory,
a tempest in a tea-pot, yet it was so good an augury of a further
triumph for which I hoped in future, that the joy of it went fizzily to
my head, and I could have shouted, if I had been alone in some desert
place with nobody by to know that it was a Dutchman who made a fool of
himself.

It was the first time I had had the car out in Amsterdam; for the city,
with its network of electric trams and tremendous traffic, is far from
ideal for motoring, and I wanted to keep the nerves of my people cool
for sight-seeing. Therefore the automobile had been eating her head off
in a garage, while we pottered about in cabs, driven by preposterously
respectable-looking old gentlemen, bearded as to their chins, and white
as to the seams of their coats.

To take "Lorelei" to all the places I meant to see to-day would have
occupied half a week, though none were at a great distance from
Amsterdam but the waterways there do not in all places connect
conveniently for a boat of "Lorelei's" size, though we might have left
"Waterspin" behind. So I proposed the car, and everybody caught at the
idea.

There was not one of the party who by this time had not studied
guide-books enough to know something of Muiden, Laren, Baarn, Hilversum,
and Amersfoort; but they might have searched Baedeker and all his rivals
from end to end without finding even the name of Spaakenberg; and little
quaint, hidden Spaakenberg was to be the _clou_ of our expedition. It
was ten o'clock when I got them all--including Tibe--into the car;
indeed, it always seems to be exactly ten o'clock when we start on any
excursion, even when it has been decided over night that we should set
off promptly at nine. But Starr, who pretends to knowledge of women's
ways, says we are lucky to get away anywhere before eleven, seeing that
at the last moment one of the ladies remembers that she must write and
post an important letter, which will take only five minutes; or she
finds she has forgotten her purse in a drawer at the hotel, and must go
back; or she thinks she will be too cool or too hot, and must make some
change in her costume; or if nothing of this sort happens, Tibe is lost
sight of for a second, and disappears in pursuit of new friendships,
canine or human. He has then not only to be retrieved, which is usually
an affair of twenty minutes, but has to be caressed for an extra five by
his mistress, who never fails to abandon hope of seeing him again the
moment he is out of sight.

To test the quality of Miss Van Buren's resolutions, I asked her to take
the seat beside the driver, expecting some excuse; but she came like a
lamb; and the taste of conquest was sweet in my mouth.

In Haarlem all had proved such good motorists that, despite the ferocity
of Amsterdam trams, I was scarcely prepared for the emotions which began
to seethe in the _tonneau_ the moment the car was started and the
chauffeur had sprung to his place at my feet. According to my idea,
there's no courage in reckless driving, but selfishness and other less
agreeable qualities; still, we did not exactly dawdle as we left the
Amstel, to swing out into the tide of city life.

"Heavens, he's going to kill us!" I heard the Chaperon groan. "Ronald,
tell him to stop."

Miss Rivers was also giving vent to despairing murmurs. Tibe was
"wuffing" full-noted threats at each tram which loomed toward us, and
Starr was attempting to advise me over my shoulder that the ladies
would wish to be driven less furiously.

To my joy, Nell looked back and laughed. "Why, we're not going more than
seven miles an hour," said she.

"Then, for goodness' sake, let's go _one_," implored her chaperon. "I
never dreamed of anything so awful."

I slackened pace. "Are you an old motorist?" I inquired of my companion,
as if I were used to asking her friendly, commonplace questions.

"I never was in a car until the other day with my cousin," said she, in
the same carefully unconscious tone. "And I'm afraid in my feet and
hands now; but the rest of me is enjoying it awfully. Yes, that's the
word, I think, for it _is_ rather awful. I shouldn't have dreamed that
trams could look so big, or bridges so narrow, except in nightmares.
And--and you can't make your horn heard _much_, can you, over the noise
on the stones? Oh, there was a close shave with that wagon, wasn't it? I
felt bristling like a fretful porcupine--oh, but a stark, staring mad,
blithering, _driveling_ porcupine!"

It was delicious to have her talk to me, and to feel that because she
trusted my skill, she was not really afraid, but only excited enough to
forget her stiffness.

"Perhaps Amsterdam wouldn't be a pleasant place to learn 'chauffeuring'
in," I said; "but it's all right when you have learned."

"It's a good thing," she went on, "that motoring wasn't invented by some
grand seignor in the Middle Ages, when the rich thought no more of the
poor than we do of flies, or they'd have run over every one who didn't
get out of their way on the instant. They'd have had a sort of
cow-catcher fitted on to their cars, to keep themselves from coming to
harm, and they'd have dashed people aside, anyhow. In these days, no
matter how hard your heart may be, you have to sacrifice your
inclinations more or less to decency. I dare say the Car of Juggernaut
was a motor. Oh, what a _huge_ town! Shall we ever get out of
Pandemonium into the country?"

We did get out at last, and suddenly, for in Hollow Land the line
between town and country is abrupt, with no fading of city into suburb
and meadow. One moment we were in the bustle of Amsterdam; the next, we
were running along a klinker road, straight as a ruler, beside a quiet
canal. Such horses as we met, being accustomed to the traffic of
Amsterdam, had no fear of the motor, which was well; for on so narrow a
road, with the canal on one side, and a deep drop into meadows on the
other, an adventure would be disagreeable. But it was not all straight
sailing ahead. Outside the traffic, I put on speed to make up for lost
time, and the car quickly ate up the distance between Amsterdam and
Muiden.

My passengers broke into admiration of the medieval fortress with its
paraphernalia of moats, bastions, and drawbridges, which give an air of
historic romance to the country round; but their emotion would have been
of a different kind had they guessed the risk we must take in running
through the winding fortifications. It was not so great a risk that it
was foolish to take it, and thirty or forty cars must do the same thing
every day; but the fact was, that we had to run through these tunnels on
tram-lines, with no room to turn out in case of meeting a steam monster
from Hilversum. I had chosen my time, knowing the hours for trams;
still, had there been a delay, there was a chance of a crash, for our
horn could not be heard by the tram driver, nor could he see us in time
to put on his brakes and prevent a collision.

With the girl I love beside me, and three other passengers, not to
mention the chauffeur, it was with a tenseness of the nerves that I
drove through the labyrinth, and I was glad to clear Muiden. Next came
Naarden--that tragic Naarden whose capture and sack by the Spaniards
encouraged Alva to attack Haarlem; and then, without one of the party
having dreamed of danger, we swung out on the road to Laren, a road set
in pineland and heather, which would have reminded the real Lady
MacNairne of her Scottish home. There was actually something like a hill
here and there, which the strangers were astonished to find in Holland,
and would hardly believe when I said that, on reaching Gelderland, I
would be able to show them a Dutch mountain two hundred feet high, among
a colony of smaller eminences to which half the Netherlands rush in
summer.

Meanwhile they were satisfied with what they saw; and it is a pretty
enough road, this way between Amsterdam and Laren. At first we had had
the canal, with its sleepy barges, peopled with large families, and
towed by children harnessed in tandem at the end of long ropes; its
little shady, red-and-green wayside houses, with "Melk Salon" printed
attractively over their doors. We had had avenues of trees, knotted here
and there into groves; we had passed pretty farmhouses with bright
milk-cans and pans hanging on the red walls, like placks in a
drawing-room; we had seen gardens flooded with roses, and long stretches
of water carpeted with lilies white and yellow; then we had come to pine
forests and heather, and always we had had the good klinker which,
though not as velvety for motoring as asphalt, is free from dust even in
dry weather. We had run almost continuously on our fourth speed; and
even in Laren I came down to the second only long enough to let them all
see the beauty of the Mauve country.

Starr knows Anton Mauve's pictures, and his history; but the ladies had
seen only a few delicious landscapes in the Ryks Museum. Still, they
liked to hear that at Laren Corot's great disciple had found
inspiration. Nowhere in the Netherlands are there such beautiful barns,
each one of which is a background for a Nativity picture; and it was
Laren peasants, Laren cows, and the sunlit and cloud-shadowed meadows of
Laren which kept Mauve's brush busy for years.

After the charm of Haarlem's suburbs, Hilversum, where merchants of
Amsterdam play at being in the country, was disappointing; but having
lunched in open air, and spun on toward Amersfoort, we ran into a
district which holds some delightful houses, set among plane trees,
varied with flowering acacias and plantations of oak. Everywhere our
eyes followed long avenues cut in the forest, avenues stretching out
like the rays of a star, and full of a tremulous green light, shot with
gold.

In the midst of this forest we came upon Soestdyk, where the
Queen-Mother lives, that pleasant palace with its romance of a
mysterious, secret room; then by-and-by we ran into Amersfoort, ringed
by its park, and Nell was so entranced with the Gothic church tower,
that she rejoiced to hear it was the finest in the northern Netherlands.

I had chosen market-day in Amersfoort for our drive, and as we sailed
into the spacious square of the town, my passengers saw in one moment
more Dutch costumes than in all their previous days in Hollow Land.

It was too late for the best of the picture; still, the market-place
glittered with gold and silver helmets, and delicate spiral
head-ornaments. Ear-rings flashed in the sun, and massive gold brooches
and buckles. There was a moving rainbow of color and a clatter of
sabots, as the market women packed up their wares; but there was no time
to linger, if we were to reach Spaakenberg before the shadows grew long.
We sped on, until the next toll-gate (we had come to so many that Nell
said our progress was made by tolling, rather than tooling along the
roads) where a nice apple-cheeked old lady shook her white cap at the
motor, while accepting my pennies. It was her opinion, though she was
not sure, that the road--oh, a very bad road!--to Spaakenberg, was now
forbidden to automobiles.

To tell the truth, I had never motored to Spaakenberg, but I had
bicycled, and thought there ought to be room on the narrow road for two
vehicles, even if one were a motor and the other a hay-cart.

I was not surprised that the old lady had no certainty with which to
back up her opinion. It was more surprising that she should know of the
existence of Spaakenberg, of which many Dutch bicyclists who pride
themselves on their knowledge, have never heard.

Naturally we determined to persevere, more than ever eager for a sight
of the strange fishing-village, and a glimpse of the Zuider Zee.

"But what shall we do if we find the road forbidden, and we're too far
off to walk?" Nell asked. "It would be dreadful to turn back."

"We shan't turn back," said I. "We'll hire a wagon and go on, or--we'll
pass the sign which forbids us to proceed, too quickly to see it. Such
things happen; and the road's too narrow to turn or even to reverse."

"I am glad you're a Dutchman," said she.

"Why? Because I know the ropes?"

"No. Because you'd die rather than give up anything you've set out to
do."

It was now as if the apple-cheeked old prophetess had bewitched the
country. The monarchs of the forest fled away and left us in the open,
with a narrow strip of road between a canal loaded with water-lilies and
low-lying meadows of yellow grain.

The landscape was charming, and the air balmy with summer; but with the
first horse we met all peace was over.

Here were no longer the _blasé_ beasts of a sophisticated world. Animals
of this region had never seen a town larger than Amersfoort. A motor-car
was to them as horrifying an object as a lion escaping from his cage at
a circus.

Horses reared, hay-carts swayed, peasants shrieked maledictions or
shook fists; but always, crawling at snail's pace, we managed to scrape
past without accident. Sometimes we frightened cows; and a couple of
great yellow dogs, drawing a cart which contained two peasant girls in
costume, swore canine oaths against the car.

[Illustration: _A couple of great yellow dogs, drawing a cart, swore
canine oaths against the car_]

"Oh, mercy, we've just passed a sign in Dutch, 'Motors forbidden'!"
cried Nell.

"Well, we've passed it," said I. "Perhaps it meant that side road; it's
narrower than ours. Let's think it did."

So we gave it the benefit of the doubt and fled on, until in less than
an hour we flashed into a fishing-village. They all cried, "Spaakenberg
and the Zuider Zee!" But as it was not Spaakenberg, I gave them only a
flashing glimpse of masts and dark blue water.

Half a mile's drive along a canal, and we came to our destination. And
of Spaakenberg the first thing we saw was a forest of masts, with nets
like sails, brown, yet transparent as spider-webs. Fifty sturdy
fishing-boats were grouped together in a basin of quiet water within
sight of the Zuider Zee, which calls to men on every clear night, "the
fish are waiting."

I stopped; and as we counted the boats, the whole able-bodied population
of Spaakenberg issued from small, peak-roofed houses to see what monster
made so odd a noise. By twenties and by thirties they came, wonderful
figures, and the air rang with the music of sabots on klinker.

There were young women carrying tiny round babies; there were old women
who had all they could do to carry themselves; there were little girls
gravely knitting their brothers' stockings; and toddling creatures so
infinitesimal that one could not guess whether they would grow up male
or female. There were men, too, but not many young ones; and there were
plenty of chubby-faced boys.

As for the women and girls, they wore Heaven knows how many
petticoats--seven or eight at the minimum--and their figures went out
at the places where they should have gone in, and went in at the places
where they should have gone out. They were like the old-fashioned ladies
with panniers on each side; and those who could not afford enough
petticoats had padded out their own and their children's hips to supply
the right effect.

Some had black hoods with furry rolls round their rose-and-snow faces;
some heightened the brilliancy of their complexion by close-fitting caps
of white lace, according to their religion--whether they were of the
Catholic or Protestant faith; and the babies, in black hoods,
neck-handkerchiefs, and balloon-like black skirts reaching to their
feet, were the quaintest figures of all. The men and boys, in their
indigo blouses, were not living pictures like their female relatives,
save when, with bright blue yokes over their shoulders (from which swung
green, scarlet-lined pails, foaming with yellow cream), they returned
from milking blue-coated, black and white cows.

Unspoiled by the influx of strangers, the simple people thronged round
us, not for what they might get, but for what they could see. We were
quainter to them than they to us, and Tibe was as rare as a dragon. His
mistress was of opinion that they believed the noise of the motor (now
stilled) to have issued from his black velvet muzzle; and when we all,
including the tragic-faced, happy-hearted bulldog, got out to wander
past the rows of tiny houses in the village, they swarmed round him,
buzzed round him, whirled round him, to his confusion.

Escape seemed hopeless, when Nell and Phyllis had an inspiration. They
rushed in at the door of a miniature shop, with a few picture postcards
and sweets in glass jars displayed in a dark window. Three minutes later
they fought their way out through the crowd of strange dolls "come
alive," and, like a farmer sowing seed, strewed pink and white lozenges
over the heads of girls and boys.

Instantly the "clang of the wooden shoon" ceased. Down squatted the
children with the suddenness of collapsed umbrellas. There was a
scramble, and we seized the opportunity for flight. We had seen the
Zuider Zee; we had seen the cows in blue coats; we had seen Spaakenberg;
and Spaakenberg had seen us.



XVIII


Returning by way of wooded Baarn, we spun back to Amsterdam when violet
shadows lengthened over golden meadows, and gauzy mist-clouds floated
above the canal, burnished to silver by the sunset.

It was too late to do anything but dine and plan for to-morrow, which I
had mapped out in my mind, subject to approval. But I let them all talk,
as I often do, without saying anything until they turn to me with a
question.

"There's an island which people say is wonderful, and you mustn't miss
it," remarked the Chaperon. "But I've forgotten the name."

"Why is it wonderful?" asked Miss Rivers.

"I can't remember. But there was something different about it from what
you can see anywhere else."

"Dear me, how awkward. How _are_ you to find it?" sighed Phyllis.

"Ask Alb to rapidly mention all islands in Holland, and perhaps it will
come back to you," suggested the Mariner. "Begin with A, Alb."

"Not worth while wasting the letters of the alphabet," said I. "Lady
MacNairne (the name invariably sticks in my throat) means Marken."

"_That's_ it!" exclaimed the Chaperon. "How could you guess?"

"There's only one island that people talk about like that," I replied.
"It's the great show place; and it's like going to the theater. The
curtain rings up when the audience arrives, and rings down when it
departs. You'll see to-morrow."

"To-morrow?"

"My idea was to take you there to-morrow, unless you prefer another
place."

I looked at the mistress of the boat, and no hardness came into her
eyes. The contrast between her manner yesterday and her manner since
this morning was so marked that, instead of being wholly pleased, I was
half alarmed. It seemed too good to be true that her feelings should
have changed, and that the sun should continue to shine.

"Why, certainly, let's go to Marken," she said. "I was thinking of
Broek-in-Waterland, as I read it was near, and the sweetest place in
Holland; however, we can go by-and-by, if----"

"But my plan includes Broek-in-Waterland, gives you a glimpse of
Monnikendam, takes you to Marken, and winds up at Volendam, beloved of
artists," said I. "I don't believe we'll find it easy to tear Starr from
Volendam."

So it was settled, and every one agreed to be ready at ten o'clock next
morning. But ten o'clock came, and no Nell, no Phyllis, no Chaperon.

My car was at the door, as I intended to save time by motoring to the
Club harbor, where the yacht was lying; and when Starr and I had waited
in the hall for some minutes, Aunt Fay appeared.

"Haven't the girls come in yet with Tibe?" she asked. There was a note
of anxiety in her voice, though, owing to the fact that the blue
spectacles are very large, the wings of gray hair droop very low, a
perky bow of white gauzy stuff worn under the chin comes up very high,
and the face is very small, it is difficult to tell by the lady's
expression what she may be feeling; indeed, there is remarkably little
room for an expression to be revealed; which adds to the mystery of the
Chaperon's personality.

"Are they out?" asked Starr.

"Yes. But they promised to be back at a quarter to ten, without fail,
or I shouldn't have let them go. Tibe's had no breakfast, and he _must_
have his teeth brushed before we start. Oh dear, I'm afraid something's
happened."

"For goodness' sake, don't be excited. You get such an American accent
when you're excited," whispered the Mariner, fiercely. "Be brave.
Remember you're a Scotswoman."

"If I lose Tibe, I shall be a madwoman," she retorted.

"You won't lose him. Alb and I care at least as much for the girls as
you do for your dog, and we're not worrying----"

"That's different. The girls don't belong to you," almost wept the tiny
creature. "You haven't fed them, and brushed them, and washed their feet
every day of their lives since they were a few months old, as I have
with Tibe, and if you're not _very_ nice to me, you never will."

"We never dared hope for quite as much as that," said Starr, "but we
_are_ being nice to you. What do you want us to do? They're half an hour
behind time. Shall we give an order for the Town Crier? I dare say
there's one in use still, as this is Holland."

"If you're sarcastic, Ronald, I'll _leave_ you the moment I have my
darling Tibe again," replied the Chaperon, and the threat reduced Ronald
to crushed silence.

"What took them out so early in the morning?" I asked.

"Oh, Tibe escaped from my room for a minute, and was eating a boot which
he found at somebody's door--a horrid, elastic-sided boot: I'm sure it
couldn't have been good for him--and the two girls brought him back.
They were going out for one last glimpse of that quaint, hidden square
you call 'the village,' which they longed to see again, and they asked
if they should take Tibe, so I said yes, as he's fond of driving.

"Oh, they were driving?" said I.

"Yes. They could easily have been in long ago. There _must_ have been an
accident. Miss Rivers is always so depressingly prompt. Such a strange
girl! She considers it quite a sin to break a promise, even to a man,
and she seems actually to _like_ telling the truth."

We soothed the Chaperon's fears as well as we could; but when half-past
ten came, and there were still no signs of the missing ones, we both
began to be troubled.

"If they don't appear in ten minutes, I'll drive slowly in the direction
by which they should return," I said; but the words had hardly left my
lips when the girls walked into the hall, with Tibe. Both charming faces
were flushed, and it was evident that something exciting had happened.
But whatever it was, nobody was the worse for it. Tibe flew to his
mistress, knocking down a child, and almost upsetting an old gentleman
by darting unexpectedly between his legs, while the girls rushed into
explanations.

"We're so sorry to have kept you waiting, but we've had _such_ an
adventure!" cried Nell. "We were driving back from the 'village,' when
Tibe gave a leap and jumped out of the cab before we could hold him."

"We were _terrified_," broke in Phyllis.

"And he disappeared in the most horribly mysterious way," finished Nell.

"We thought some one in the crowd must have stolen him, so we stopped
the cab----"

"And began tearing about looking for him, asking every human being in
every known language _except_ Dutch, if they'd seen a dog, or a _chien_,
or a _hund_----"

"But nobody understood, so we went into a lot of shops, and he wasn't in
any of them----"

"And we were in _despair_. We shouldn't have _dared_ come back without
him----"

"I should think not!" cut in the Chaperon.

"And we were on the way to the nearest police-station, with a dear old
gentleman who could speak English, and a whole procession of extraneous
creatures who couldn't, when we saw Tibe, calmly driving in a carriage
with----"

"A strange man, and----"

"He never so much as looked at us, but we were _sure_ we couldn't be
mistaken, at least Nell was; so we deserted our old gentleman, and began
running after Tibe's carriage, shrieking for it to stop."

"Naturally, every one thought we were mad; but we didn't care, and at
last the man in the carriage realized we were after him. If he _hadn't_
stopped, we should have known that he'd deliberately stolen Tibe; but he
did stop, and we said, both together, it was our dog."

"The man took off his hat, and answered in English, such a nice man, and
quite good-looking, with a big mustache, and quick-tempered blue eyes.
He said that the first thing he knew, Tibe had jumped into his cab, and
he had no idea where he came from, as he'd been reading in a guide-book;
but the strangest thing was, he felt certain Tibe had belonged to _him_
when a puppy; only his dog wasn't named Tibe, but John Bull--Bully for
short, and he sold him to an American, because it turned out his wife
didn't like bulldogs in the house, she thought them too ugly."

"What a _cat_!" interpolated the Chaperon.

"Could it be possible that Tibe ever _was_ his?" asked Nell. "He sold
his dog just a year ago, when he was six months old----"

"I bought Tibe ten months ago, poor lamb, for a song, because he was
ill--he'd been seasick on a long voyage, so I nursed him up, and _see_
what he is now," said Tibe's mistress. "It may be he'd belonged to this
man, for it's always the strangest things that are true. Tibe has a
wonderful memory for faces; but I'm sure if I'd been with him, he
wouldn't have run away from me for twenty old masters."

"The _second_ queerest thing in the adventure is, that this 'old
master' must be some relation of yours, Lady MacNairne," said Nell. "He
gave us his card. See, here it is." She handed it to the Chaperon, who
gazed at it through her blue spectacles for a moment without speaking;
then passed it to Starr. "Merely--a relation by marriage," said she.
"Quite a distant relation. I never saw this gentleman myself; but I
believe you've met him, haven't you, dear Ronny?"

There is plenty of room on the Mariner's face for expression. He grew
red, and his eyebrows were eloquent as he looked at the card.
"Oh--er--yes, I've seen him, I think," he mumbled, "when I was in
Scotland last. Odd he happens to be here."

"He only arrived this morning, on important business," Nell explained.
"If it weren't for that, he would have asked to bring us back to our
hotel, but it was something that had to be attended to without a
moment's delay, so he was obliged to leave us at once. He was on the way
to the Hotel de l'Europe, where he hoped to find the people he'd come to
seek."

No need for me to see that card. I knew well who was the hero of the
girls' adventure, and would have guessed without the aid of Starr's
expression. He saw that I guessed, and turned to me with a look of
appeal.

"Well, at all events, Tibe is safe," I said, "and we ought to start, if
we're to get through our program to-day. Ladies, is your luggage ready?
I'll see that Tibe has a nice bone instead of breakfast. He can eat it
in the car, going to the boat; and as it's dusty, you had better put on
your motor-veils when you leave the hotel. Starr and I are going to wear
goggles."

"Alb," said Starr, as the ladies moved away, "you may have a bad heart,
but you have a good head. Disguise and flight are our only hope. If Sir
Alec should recognize me----"

("If he should recognize me," I echoed inwardly.)

"The game would be up."

"Speed, veils, and goggles may do the trick," said I.

"But afterwards? By Jove, what we're let in for!"

"We must set our wits to work. Change 'Lorelei's' name and disappear
into space."

Five minutes later we were off, unrecognizable by our best friends, and
Tibe well hidden, deeply interested in his bone at the bottom of the
_tonneau_. But hardly were we away when Miss Rivers cried out----

"Oh, look, Nell; there's Sir Alec MacNairne. Oughtn't we to stop a
minute, so that Lady MacNairne----"

"I'm afraid we haven't time," I said hastily, and put on speed, as much
as I dared in traffic. We whizzed by a cab, and might have passed the
gloomy-faced man who sat in it with his traveling-bag (hastily packed,
I'll warrant) had not the two girls bowed.

Their faces were not to be recognized behind the small, triangular tale
windows of the silk and lace motor-veils they bought in Haarlem; but
their bow attracted Sir Alec MacNairne's attention, and those
"quick-tempered blue eyes" of his looked the whole party over as he
lifted his hat from his crisply curling auburn hair. He probably divined
that the two veiled figures must be the girls of his late adventure; and
as he was now acquainted with them and with Tibe, there would be one
less chance of our boat slipping away from under his nose, in case he
got upon our track.

I realized that Sir Alec could not have been in Scotland when the fatal
paragraph appeared, which reached our eyes only yesterday. If he had
been, he could not have arrived in Amsterdam to-day. My idea now is that
he must have come abroad in search of his wife, have seen the Paris
_Herald_ at some Continental resort, and have rushed off post-haste to
Holland, expecting to find her.

Exactly why he should have chosen Amsterdam to begin his quest, is not
so clear; but he must have had reason to hope that he might get news of
Lady MacNairne and my (supposed) motor-boat here. Doubtless he will
sooner or later come upon a clue. If he turns up at the Amstel to
prosecute his inquiries, he may hear of Tibe, and of the two beautiful
young ladies. Then he will put two and two together, and will be after
us--as Starr's favorite expression is--"before we can say knife."

At present I have all the sensations of being a villain, with none of
the advantages.



XIX


It seemed homelike to be on board "Lorelei" again, in my place at the
wheel, with the two girls and the Chaperon in their deck-chairs close
by. Starr had been meaning to make a sketch of the group under the
awning, but the dread apparition of his aunt's husband had twisted his
nerves like wires struck by lightning, and he could do nothing. His is
essentially the artistic temperament, and he is a creature of moods,
impish in some, poetic in others; an extraordinary fellow, like no one I
ever saw, yet curiously fascinating, and I find myself growing oddly
fond of him, in an elder-brotherly, protecting sort of way.

Even I have my moods sometimes, though I can hide them better than he
can; and this morning I was in the wrong key for the idyllic peace and
prim prettiness of Broek-in-Waterland. I should have liked better to be
out on a meer in Friesland, in a stiff breeze; but since it had to be
Broek, I made the best of it.

The canal leading to that sleepy little village, which seems to float on
the water like a half-closed lily, is one of the prettiest in the
Netherlands. Almost at once, after parting from Amsterdam, we turned out
of the North Sea Canal; and the smoke and bustle of the port were left
behind like a troubled dream. We lifted a veil of sunbright mist, and
found ourselves in the country--a friendly country of wide spaces such
as we passed through in motoring between Amersfoort and Spaakenberg; of
mossy farmhouses and hayfields, grazing cows, and swallows skimming low
over little side-canals carpeted with vegetation like a netting of green
beads. But here the hay was not protected by the elevated roofs of
thatch we had seen yesterday. It lay in loose heaps of yellowing grass,
shining in the sun like giant birds' nests of woven gold; and all the
low-lying landscape shimmered pale golden and filmy green, too sweet and
fresh for the green of any other country save mine, in mid-July. Here
and there a peasant in some striking costume, or a horse in a blue coat,
made a spot of color in the pearl and primrose light, under clouds
changeful as opal; and each separate, dainty picture of farmhouse, or
lock, or group of flags and reeds had its double in the water, lying
bright and clear as a painting under glass, until our vandal boat came
to shiver picture after picture.

As we moved, our progress not only sent an advance wave racing along the
dyke, but tossed up a procession of tiny rainbow fountains, as if we
threw handfuls of sapphires and diamonds into the water in passing.

Sometimes we had glimpses of mysterious villages, a line of
pink-and-green houses stretching along the canal banks below the level
of the water, shielded by rows of trees trained, in the Dutch way, to
grow flat and wide, screening the windows as an open fan screens the
sparkling eyes of a woman who peeps behind its sticks.

These half-hidden dwelling-places inspired Starr to launch out in a
disquisition upon some of the characteristics he has observed among my
people.

"Funny thing," said Starr, "the Dutch are a queer mixture of reserve and
curiosity. You don't see a town or village where the windows aren't
covered with curtains, and protected by squares of blue netting. But
though the beings behind those windows are so anxious to live in
private, they're consumed with curiosity about what's going on outside.
For fear of missing something, they stick up looking-glasses on the
walls to tell them what happens in the street. 'Seeing, unseen,' is the
motto that ought to be written over the house doors."

"The Lady of Shalott started the fashion," said Nell.

As we drew nearer to Broek-in-Waterland, the landscape, already fragrant
with daintiness, began to tidy itself anew, out of deference to Broek's
reputation. The smallest and rudest wooden houses on the canal banks had
frilled their windows with stiff white curtains and tied them with
ribbon. Railings had painted themselves blue or green, and smartened
their tips with white. Even the rakes, hoes, and implements of labor had
got themselves up in red and yellow, and green buckets had wide-open
scarlet mouths.

As we walked to the village, after mooring "Lorelei" at the bridge, the
girls laughed and chatted together, but involuntarily they hushed their
voices on entering the green shadow of the little town under its
slow-marching procession of great trees; and the spell of somnolent
silence seized them.

I think no one coming into Broek-in-Waterland could escape that spell.
There is no noise there. Even the trees whisper, and not the most badly
brought up dog would dare to bark aloud.

"Have you noticed," Nell asked me softly, "that you never hear _sounds_
in dreams? No matter how exciting things are, there's never any noise;
everything seems to be acted in pantomime. Well, it's like that here.
We're dreaming Broek-in-Waterland as we have other places."

"And dreaming each other, too?"

"I shouldn't wonder."

"Then I hope nothing will happen to wake me up."

Just then we arrived at a dream curiosity-shop which gave her an excuse
not to answer.

On the edge of the town it stands, one of the first among the little old
houses, which look as if they had been made to accommodate well-to-do
dolls of a century or two ago. Modestly retired in a doll's garden, with
an imitation stalactite grotto, and groups of miniature statues among
box-tree animals, its door is always open to welcome visitors and
allure them. Within, vague splashes of color against a dim background;
blues that mean old Delft; yellow that means ancient brass; and all
gleaming in the dusk with the strange values that flowers gain in
twilight.

I knew that Nell and Phyllis and the Chaperon would not pass by, and
they didn't.

There was a man inside, but he did not ask us to buy anything. He had
the air of a host, pleased to show his treasures, and the Chaperon
feared that I was playing some joke when I encouraged them to invade the
quaint and pretty rooms.

"I don't believe it _is_ a shop," said she. "It's just an eccentric
little house, that belongs to somebody who's away--a dear old maiden
lady, perhaps, a collector of antiques, for her own pleasure. This man's
her caretaker."

"She's strayed into some other dream, maybe," suggested Nell. "She's
lost her way, poor old dear, and can never find it again, to come back,
so that's why the things are for sale--if they really _are_. But listen,
all the clocks in the house are talking to each other about her. _They_
expect her to come, and that's why they keep on ticking, through the
years, to make the time seem short in passing; for some of them must
have had their hundredth birthday, long, long ago."

"He's a faithful caretaker then, to keep everything in such good order,"
said Phyllis. "But perhaps he believes what the clocks are saying about
the old lady coming back. He's got the sweetest little clean curtains at
the windows, and this too adorable wall-bed is ready for her to hop
into, and dream the right dream again."

"He'd be mobbed by other Broekites, if he didn't keep things clean," I
answered. "You know, Broek-in-Waterland is supposed to be the cleanest
place in the Netherlands, which is something of a boast, isn't it? The
saying used to be that, if a leaf dropped off a tree, or a wisp of hay
off a passing cart, and one of the inhabitants saw it, he ran out of his
house and threw the dreadful thing into the canal."

"Let's scatter a few bits of paper," said Starr, "and see what would
happen."

"I'm afraid they're not as observant or energetic as they used to be. I
counted three straws on the bricks, coming up."

"What wouldn't I give to have lunch in this house, on that charming old
mahogany table, with those Delft plates and pewter mugs," sighed Miss
Rivers, her eyes traveling over the old furniture which, as she said,
seems to be ready and waiting till the wrong dream shall break.

"I'm going to take you to lunch somewhere else," I told her. "But you
can buy Delft plates and pewter mugs here for your own table, if you
like."

Then some exchange and barter did take place; although Nell said it
seemed cruel to buy anything and separate it from its old friends. One
ought to apologize to the things that were left for tearing their
companions away.

There was time to step into the nearest cheese factory, and to go on and
see the old church, I said, if they didn't mind lunching late. Of course
they did not; so we strolled into the show place of Broek, a large house
where cows live in neat bedrooms carpeted with something which resembles
grated cheese. The Chaperon suggested that, after all, it was nothing
but sawdust, and probably she was right; nevertheless each little
cubicle in the long row, with its curtained window and blue-white wall,
looked pretty enough for a fastidious human being. We should have
lingered looking at the cheeses and sniffing dairy smells, but suddenly
a tidal wave of tourists from an excursion steamer swept in, swamped us,
and swallowed Tibe. He was retrieved after a search, in the doorway of
the curiosity-shop, whither he had wisely returned to await his friends,
and we then went on past the meer with its deserted bandstand, to one
of the few lovable churches left in my country.

It is whitewashed and bare, but somehow, instead of making it grim, the
whiteness has given it a religious look. The old canopied rosewood
pulpit makes you feel good, though not disagreeably good, and the
brass-work is a joy.

"You've seen a comic opera cheese factory," said I, when we had left the
church. "Now, I'll show you the real thing, and then you shall have
lunch. It won't be conventional, but I think you'll like it."

"For heaven's sake let's drown our sorrows in cheese, or something else
supporting, and soon, or we perish," said the Mariner. "Our blood will
then be upon your head, and as it's blue, and you're brown, it won't be
at all becoming."

At this, I hurried them on, and presently arrived at a red-brick house
set in a little garden. The glass of the white-curtained windows, and
the varnished woodwork of the door at which I knocked, glittered so
intolerably that they hurt the eyes, and made one envy the Chaperon her
blue glasses. It was a relief when the dazzling door flew back to
disclose a dim interior, and a delightful old lady in a lace-covered
gold helmet, a black dress, and an elaborate apron.

"Something to eat?" she echoed my demand. "But, mynheer, we have nothing
which these ladies would fancy. For you two we could do well enough, for
you are men, and young. What does it matter what you eat, if it is
enough? These ladies will laugh at our fare."

"They'll laugh with pleasure," said I. "You can give us eggs, cheese,
bread and butter, and coffee, can't you, and strawberries and cream,
perhaps?"

"Yes, mynheer, and some fresh cake."

"Food for kings and queens, as you'll serve it, y'vrouw," I assured her;
and we flocked into the hall.

"Would you like to show your friends how we make our cheese, while I
get ready the food?" asked the dame. "If you would, I will send for my
son to guide you, though you know it so well yourself, mynheer, you need
no explanations."

Her son being one of the principal objects of interest at
Wilhelminaberg, however, the visit would not be complete without his
society, and his presence was commanded. Promptly he appeared, bringing
with him a smell of clover, and milk, and new-made cheese; a young man
with the long, clever nose, narrow blue eyes, and length of upper lip,
which you can see on any canvas of an old Dutch master.

Wilhelminaberg is not a show place; few tourists find their way there,
and it is never flooded by a wave of strangers; but if some of the stage
effects are lacking, it is more interesting for that reason.

Starr was captivated with the cows' part of the house, divided from
their human companions only by a door. He whipped out the sketch-block
and small box of colors which he always carries, and began jotting down
impressions. A dash of red for the painted brick walls, and of green for
the mangers; a yellow blur for the mote-filled rays of sunshine
streaming through the cows' white-curtained windows, and on the
flower-pots adorning their window-sills; a trifle more elaboration for
the carpet of sawdust stamped with an ornamental pattern, and the quaint
design of the cupboard-beds for the stablemen in the wall opposite; a
streak here and there for the cords which loop the cows' tails to nails
in the ceiling; gorgeous spots of crimson and yellow for the piled
cheeses. And in the adjoining room, the while our guide described in
creditable English the process of cheese-making, Starr sketched him
standing before his big blue press, printing out his molds with an odd,
yellow reflection from the cheese cannonballs heaped on trays, shining
up into the shrewd Dutch face. Then in came the young wife, with a child
or two (pretty dark creatures like their mother, with the innocent brown
eyes of calves), followed by grandmama in her gold helmet, to say that
our meal was ready; and Starr induced them to stand for him, though they
were reluctant and self-conscious, and it was by sheer fascination that
he prevailed.

[Illustration: _Starr induced them to stand for him, though they were
reluctant and self-conscious_]

Never had any of the party except myself seen a room like that to which
we were summoned for luncheon, and Starr could not eat until he had said
in a "few words of paint" what he thought of its paneled walls, its
shelves littered with quaint and foolish china, ostrich eggs, shells,
model ships, and hundred-year-old toys; its ancient brass-handled chests
of drawers, its extraordinary fireplace, and best of all, its
white-curtained cupboard-beds; one for grandmama, with a kind of trapeze
arrangement to help her rise; one for papa and mama, with an inner shelf
like a nest for baby; and one with a fence for a parcel of children. The
artist's cream-eggs grew cold while he worked, but it was worth the
sacrifice, for the result was excellent, and Nell's admiration gave me,
I'm ashamed to say, a qualm of jealousy. I have no such accomplishments
with which to win her.

We sat in high chairs with pictures of ships painted on backs and arms,
while we lunched off willow-patterned plates, drank delicious coffee out
of cups with feet, and stirred it with antique silver spoons, small
enough for children's playthings. Afterwards the old lady with the
helmet, and the pretty daughter-in-law were persuaded to show their
winter wardrobes, which consisted mostly of petticoats. There were
dozens, some knitted of heavy wool, some quilted in elaborate patterns,
and some of thick, fleecy cloth; but there was not one weighing less
than three pounds.

"Do ask how many they wear at a time?" the Chaperon commanded, no doubt
with a thought for her mysterious note-book, about which I often wonder.

"I wear eight, summer and winter," replied the old lady. "My
daughter-in-law is of the younger generation, and does not put on more
than six. Little Maria is allowed only four; it is better for children
not to carry much weight."

The girls looked petrified. "What martyrdom!" exclaimed Nell. "Even the
Duke of Alva couldn't have subjected Dutch women to much worse torture
than that. Eight of these knitted and wadded petticoats in summer! It's
being buried alive up to the waist. In the name of civilization, _why_
do they do it?"

I passed on the question to the old lady. She and her daughter-in-law
received it gravely, thought it over for a moment, and then replied----

"But we must do it, mynheer; it is the mode. It has always been the
mode."

"Talk of slaves of fashion!" muttered Nell. "If you want to find them,
don't look in London or Paris or New York, but among the peasantry of
Holland!"

Not one of the three could recover from the shock. They seemed stunned,
as if all the petticoats at once had fallen from the shelves onto their
heads and overwhelmed them; and even when we had said good-by to
Wilhelminaberg, they talked in hushed tones of what it must feel like to
be clothed in eight petticoats. They would probably have gone on
discussing the subject in all its phases, until we regained the boat, if
something had not happened. It was just after we passed the bandstand in
the meer, and Starr had wondered aloud if the inhabitants of Broek ever
did revel so giddily and publicly as to come outside their gardens to
hear music, when there was a loud splash, followed by a cry.

The splash was Tibe's, the cry his mistress's, and in an instant we were
in a flutter, for the dog was in the lake.

Close to shore the water is coated over with lily-pads, mingling with a
bright green, beady vegetation; and Tibe mistook it for a meadow.
Standing at a considerable elevation on the road above, he leaped down
with happy confidence, only to be deceived as many wiser than he have
been, by appearances. Bulldogs have virtues all their own, but they
are not spaniels; and there was despair in Tibe's brown eyes, as he
threw one last look of appeal at his friends before disappearing under
the green carpet.

Up he came in a second, covered with green beads, his black mouth choked
with them. Although not a water-dog, instinct kept him afloat, and he
began to swim awkwardly, forging farther from shore instead of nearer.
In a moment he had tangled his legs among thick-growing, ropey stems of
water-lilies, and frightened and confused at finding himself a prisoner,
went down again under the green surface.

Meanwhile his mistress was half mad with fright, and would not listen to
Starr's assurance that the dog was in no danger.

"He'll bob up serenely and swim close to us; then I'll hook my stick in
his collar and pull him out," the Mariner said cheerfully; but she
pushed him away, sobbing.

Now, I never could bear to see a woman cry, even a woman in blue
spectacles; so I did not wait for Tibe to come up and recover presence
of mind, as he probably would, but splashed down myself onto the green
carpet.

The water hardly reached to my hips, so there was no bravery in the
feat, and I felt a fool as I went wading out to the spot where, by this
time, the dog's head had again appeared among the water-lily pads, the
living image of a gargoyle. But as I hauled him out, with a word of
encouragement, the poor chap's gratitude repaid me. Looking like a
_vert-de-gris_ statue of a dog, he licked such portions of me as he
could reach with a green tongue, and blessed me with his beautiful eyes.

When I had him on _terra firma_ we both shook ourselves, sending an
emerald spray flying in all directions; and then abortive attempts were
made to dry Tibe with the handkerchiefs of the united party. A few
hurried "Thank you's" were all I got from the Chaperon at the time, but
on board "Lorelei" she had something more to say.

Before starting, I had to go to my stateroom on "Waterspin" to change
wet clothes for dry ones, and when I was ready to take up my part of
skipper, no one was on deck save the Chaperon and Tibe--a subdued Tibe
buttoned up in a child's cape, which his mistress insisted on buying in
Amsterdam for him to wear in cold weather.

"My poor darling spattered the girls so much, that they're below taking
off their frocks," she explained. "Mr. Starr's changing too, I think,
but I waited to speak to you alone, although I am a _sight_. I have
something particular to say."

I looked a question, and she went on. "I've always liked you, from the
first. I saw you were the kind of man who could be trusted never to
injure a woman, no matter what your opinion of her might be, and I'd
have done you a good turn if it had come in my way; but now, after what
I owe you this afternoon, I'm ready to go _out_ of my way. You won't
think I'm an interfering"--she hesitated a moment--"old thing, if I say
I can guess why you are skipper--why you're on this trip at all. Now, if
you wanted to be disagreeable I expect you could say that you _know_ why
I'm on board; but I don't believe you do want to be disagreeable, do
you?"

"Certainly not," said I, laughing. "And even if I did, there's an old
proverb which forbids the pot to call the kettle black."

"Oh, you and I and my dear nephew Ronny are pots and kettles together,
the three of us; but our _hearts_ are all right. And talking of hearts
leads up to what I want to say."

"About my job as skipper?"

"Yes."

"You say you can guess why I took it. My idea is, that you guessed the
first day on board."

"Why, of _course_ I did. I saw which one of the girls it was, too, and
noticed that something had gone wrong. That interested me, for I'm
observant."

"You're 'a chiel amang us takkin notes.'"

"Think of a Dutchman quoting that! However, even peasants in Holland
break into English and German. Why shouldn't a Jonkheer spout Burns? But
let me get to my point. I haven't found out what the trouble is, but I
know you must have sinned against the girl in some way, or done
something tactless, which is worse, and made her angry. Or else she felt
it was her _duty_ to be angry, and has been living up to it ever since.
Talk of the 'way of a man with a maid!' The way of a maid with a man is
funnier and more subtle. Nell Van Buren is an adorable girl, but the
more adorable a girl is, the more horried she can be."

"That _is_ subtle."

"Why, of course. What else should it be? And the whole thing's been as
good as a play to watch. I wished you well from the beginning, but I
thought you capable of taking care of yourself."

"And now you've changed your mind?"

"I have, since yesterday. I'm sure something happened at Amsterdam in
the morning, she was so different. What did you do to her?"

"I bullied her a little," I said.

"I _thought_ as much. How could you?"

"I believed it would be good for her."

"So it was. But it wasn't good for you."

"She has been angelic since."

"That's the danger-signal. Poor man, you couldn't see it?"

"I was rather encouraged--though it seemed too delightful to be true," I
admitted.

"Men are blind--especially when they're in love. You understand
motor-boats better than you do girls."

"I dare say," I said meekly.

"She's so nice to you because she means to punish you by-and-by, for
humbling her pride. I'm warning you, as a reward for saving my treasured
lamb. If Tibe hadn't fallen into the water, and you hadn't pulled him
out, perhaps I'd have left you to founder, and watched the fun. But now
I say, take care. She's dangerous."

"How can you tell?" I asked.

"How can I tell? Because I'm a woman, of course, and because I should
act just the same--if I were young."

"Well, if you're right, what am I to do?"

"That's what I want to talk to you about. You must pretend to be tired
of her."

"Good heavens!"

"She mustn't see that she has any power over you. She cares for you more
than she lets herself think."

"I wish to goodness I could believe that."

"There's no use in your believing it. The thing is, to make _her_
believe it--make her find it out, with a shock. And there's only one way
of doing that."

"What?"

"Rouse her to jealousy."

I laughed bitterly. "Tell me to get her the moon."

"Flirt with Miss Rivers."

"My dear madam, you've proved to me that I'm a fool; but I'm neither cad
nor hypocrite."

"Dear me, if _that's_ the way you're going to take it, you're lost. Our
dear Ronny will snatch her from under your nose, although she isn't a
bit in love with him, and _is_ with you, if you'd consent to shake her
up a little."

"Starr is in love with them both."

"He was; or rather he was in love with being in love. But because you
want Miss Van Buren, out of pure contrariness he thinks now that he
wants her. Beware of her kindness. If you should be deluded by it into
proposing, she'd send you about your business, and perhaps accept the
other man because she was wretched, and didn't quite realize what was
the matter."

"You're a gloomy prophetess," I said miserably.

"You won't take my advice?"

"No. I can't do that. I must do the best I can for myself in some other
way."

"There isn't any other."

"I shall try."

"Well, promise me you won't propose for a fortnight, anyhow; or until I
give you leave."

"We--all--always--do whatever you wish us to, extraordinary lady. I
wonder why?"

"You must go on wondering. But in the meantime I will--"

"You will----"

"Try to save you--as you saved Tibe."



XX


The Mariner was restless when we landed at the strange town of
Monnikendam, and had the air--or I imagined it--of expecting something.
As we walked through the wide Hoog Straat, he glanced absent-mindedly at
the rows of beautiful seventeenth century houses, as if he feared to see
Sir Alec MacNairne spring from behind some ornamented, ancient door, to
accuse him as a perjured villain. Even the exquisite church tower, which
has the semblance of holding aloft a carved goblet of old silver, did
not appeal to him as it would if he had not been preoccupied. And
instead of laughing at the crowds of children who clattered after us,
waking the clean and quiet streets with the ring of sabots, he let them
get upon his nerves. The girls were amused, however, and said that the
little pestering voices babbling broken English without sense or
sequence, were like the voices of the story in the "Arabian
Nights"--haunting voices which tempted you to turn round, although you
had been warned beforehand that, if you did, you would lose your human
form and become a stone.

Tibe was the real attraction; a sadder and wiser Tibe than the Tibe of
an hour ago, so sad and so wise that he did not even attempt to insist
upon a friendship with three snow-white kids which joined the procession
of his admirers.

Starr walked beside his aunt, as if to protect her in case of need; and
once or twice when I tried to attract their attention to some notable
façade or doorway, they were absorbed in conversation, and might as well
have been in New York as in Monnikendam on the Zuider Zee.

When I had shown the party what I thought best worth seeing, I had to
leave them to their own resources, and go alone to the boat. Hendrik
could not navigate "Lorelei" and her square-shouldered companion through
the series of locks by which the canal pours its soul into the heart of
the Zuider Zee.

It took me half an hour to do it, and when I had brought the two craft
to the last of the sea-locks, the four people and the one dog were
waiting for me, the most persistent of the children hovering in the
distance.

"It's a bigger town than Broek-in-Waterland, but not as interesting,"
said the Chaperon, looking back disparagingly in the direction of
Monnikendam, "nor as clean. I saw five bits of paper in as many streets,
and a woman we met didn't appear at all inclined to commit suicide
because she'd desecrated the pavement by upsetting a pail of milk:
whereas in Broek she'd have been hauled off to prison. Each house in
Broek looked like a model in jewelry, and the whole effect was like a
_presepio_ cut in pasteboard; but the Monnikendam houses are big enough
for people to lie out straight in, when they go to bed, which seems
quite commonplace. Except for that church tower, and a few doorways, and
the wonderful costumes, and the shoe-shop where they sell nothing but
sabots, I don't see why we bothered to stop at Monnikendam."

"I thought you were keen to visit the Dead Cities of the Zuider Zee,"
said I.

She stared at me as blankly as if she had not been prophesying my doom a
little while ago.

"What's that got to do with Monnikendam?" she demanded.

"Only that Monnikendam _is_ one of the Dead Cities; your first," I
explained; but she cried incredulously----

"Monnikendam a Dead City of the Zuider Zee? _Say_ it isn't true."

"I'm afraid it is."

"Oh, then I _am_ disappointed! I thought we should come to the Dead
Cities along the shore of the sea. That we'd see grass-grown streets
lined with empty houses fallen half to pieces, and that perhaps if the
water were clear we could look down, down, and spy steeples and ruined
castles glimmering at the bottom. Won't some be like that?"

"Not one," I said. "They won't be any deader than Monnikendam, which was
once the playground of merchant princes. I thought it was dead enough."

"Not to please me," she answered, with the air of a Madame Defarge in
blue spectacles.

The Mariner came up before we had got into open sea. For the moment the
three ladies were occupied in watching Tibe, who had fallen asleep in
his cape, and was running with all his feet in some wild dream,
flickering in every muscle, and wrinkling his black mug into alarming
grimaces.

"Look here," said Starr, cautiously, "do you think we can paint out the
name of 'Lorelei' when we get to Volendam, or must we engage a man to do
it? Of course, if we could, it would cause less remark, especially if we
did the job in the evening or early morning."

"What! you took that idea of mine seriously?" I asked.

"Certainly. It was a brilliant one."

"I doubt if Miss Van Buren would consent," said I.

"She has, already."

"By Jove! What excuse did you make for asking her?"

"I didn't ask her. What I did was to put the notion into darling
Auntie's head. I knew after that, the thing was as good as done. I
remarked in my vaguest way that it was a wonder some catastrophe hadn't
happened to Tibe or other less important members of the party, on board
a boat named 'Lorelei.' I didn't exactly _say_ it was an unlucky name,
but somehow or other she seemed to think so at the end of our
conversation. Then she had a conversation with Miss Van Buren; and the
consequence is that the sooner 'Lorelei's' name is changed to 'Mascotte'
the better the owner will be pleased; and no questions asked."

"By Jove!" said I, again. There's something uncanny about the Mariner's
adopted relative. I would give a good deal to know what she's planning
to do for me; for if she has decided that my name had better be painted
on or off any heart of her acquaintance, I have little doubt it will be.

Once out of the sluice, we were immediately in the Zuider Zee, whose
yellow waves rocked "Lorelei" as if she were a cradle, causing the barge
to wallow heavily in our wake. Should the weather be rough at any time
when we have seaports to visit, "Lorelei" and her consort will have to
lie in harbor, and the party must be satisfied to do the journey on a
commonplace passenger-boat. But on such a day as this there was no
danger, no excuse for seasickness, although I half expected the ladies
to ask if we were safe. Apparently, however, the doubt did not enter
their heads. So far we have had neither accident nor stoppage of any
kind, and they have ceased to think it possible that anything can happen
to the motor.

Marken, with its tall-spired church, soon appeared to our eyes, the
closely grouped little island-town seeming to float on the waves as San
Giorgio Maggiore does at Venice, in the sunset hour.

In spite of my sneers at the island theater and its performers,
eagerness betrayed itself in the manner of my passengers, as we
approached Marken, full petrol ahead.

"They see us," I announced, as we drew near enough to make out that a
crowd of huge green and yellow mounds massed in the harbor were
hay-boats. "They're congratulating themselves on an unexpected harvest,
as the big audiences for which they cater every morning and afternoon in
summer are gone for the day. When we arrive, there'll be a
stage-setting and a stage-grouping, which would make a 'hit' for a first
act in London."

Still nearer we came, and now we could see men and women and little
children playing at unloading the hay with pitchforks from boats large
and small. It was the prettiest sight imaginable, and one felt that
there ought to be an accompaniment of light music from a hidden
orchestra.

The men were dressed in black and dark blue jerseys, or long jackets
with silver buttons, and enormously loose trousers, each leg of which
gave the effect of a half-deflated balloon. At their brown throats
glittered knobs of silver or gold, and there was another lightning-flash
of precious metal at the waist. Their hair was cut straight across the
forehead, over the ears and at the back of the neck, as if the barber
had clapped on a bowl and trimmed round it; and from under the brims of
impudent looking caps, glowed narrow, defiant blue eyes.

But though the men are well enough as pictures, it is the women and
children of Marken who have made the fortune of the little island as a
show place; and to-day they were at their best, raking the golden hay,
their yellow hair, their brilliant complexions, and still more brilliant
costumes dazzling in the afternoon sunlight.

We landed, and nobody appeared to pay the slightest attention to us.
That is part of the daily play; but I was the only one who knew this,
and seeing these charming, wonderful creatures peacefully pursuing their
pastoral occupations as if there were no stranger eyes to stare, I was
reproached for my base insinuations.

"How could you call them 'sharpers'?" cried Phyllis. "They're
loves--darlings. I could kiss every one of them. They have the most
angelic faces, and the children--why, they're _cherubs_."

It was true. The picture was idyllic, if slightly sensational in
coloring. There was scarcely a woman who was not pretty; and a female
thing must be plain indeed not to look charming in the gorgeous costume
of Marken. The snow-and-rose complexions, the sky-blue eyes, the golden
fringe, and two long yellow curls, one on either side the face, falling
to the breast from under tight-fitting mob caps covered with lace; the
short, very full blue and black skirts; the richly embroidered bodices,
brilliant as the breast of a parrot; the filmy fichus and white sleeves;
the black sabots with painted wreaths of roses, turned the little harbor
of Marken into a rare flower-garden. The expressions of the fair faces
were beautifully mild, also, and it was not strange to hear Miss Rivers
pronounce the women angels and the children cherubs.

The group at the hay-boats formed the chorus; but we had not been on
land for many minutes before the principal characters in the play began
to appear. A young girl, who might be called the leading lady, came
tripping down to the harbor with a tiny child hanging to each hand. All
three were apparently dressed alike, in rich embroideries and full
skirts to their ankles, worn over an incredible number of petticoats;
but I could tell by a small rosette on the cap of the middle child that
it was a boy.

The trio approached, smiling seraphically; and it goes without saying
that the three ladies began petting the two fantastic babes.

"How do you do? You like see inside a Marken house?" asked the pretty
girl, speaking English with the voice of a young siren.

They all answered that they would be delighted.

"I show my home. You come with me."

Starr and I were bidden to follow, and I would not spoil sport by
letting it be known to the actress that one member of the audience was a
Dutchman. The charming creature with her two bobbing golden curls was
knitting a stocking almost as long as her little brother, and as she
turned to show the way, she never for an instant ceased work. Toiling
after her, we walked along the dyke where the fishermen's houses stand
in flows, hoisted on poles like storks' nests, out of the reach of
inundations.

Needles glittering, our guide led us to the foot of a steep flight of
steps belonging to a house like all the other houses; so much like, that
it would seem we were being ushered into an ordinary specimen of a
fisher-family dwelling; but I knew better.

Now the scene changed. The first stage-setting was Marken Harbor with
the hay-boats. For the second act we had the interior of the honest
fisherman's cottage. And what an interior it was!

In all Europe there is no such place as Marken, no such dresses, no such
golden curls, no such rooms as these into which a coquettishly capped
mother with a marvelous doll of a baby in her arms, was sweetly inviting
us.

"Only think of these fisher-folk living in such wonderful little
jewel-caskets of houses!" exclaimed Phyllis, to be echoed by murmurs of
admiration from the others. But I said nothing. And it really was like
wandering into a fairy picture-book. It was impossible to imagine any
other house resembling this, unless that of Silverhair's Three Bears.

The polished green walls were almost hidden with brightly colored Dutch
placks, and shelves covered with little useless ornaments. The chairs
were yellow, with roses painted over them, and varnished till they
twinkled. The family beds in the wall had white curtains as crisp as new
banknotes, and white knitted coverlets with wool-lace ruffles; but as
the green doors of the beds were kept shut for the day, you would not
have suspected the elegance within, had not the Siren opened them for
inspection. Under the door of each bed was placed a little red bench,
festooned with painted flowers; and as there were nine in the family and
only four beds, counting the little one underneath for the babies, the
disposition of forces at night did not bear thinking of.

All the tables had crocheted white covers, and were decked with vases
and fresh flowers, glittering brass and pewter things, and gay old
china. But it was the next room--a small one adjoining the big
living-room--which roused the highest admiration. There was not much
furniture, but up to the low ceiling the walls were concealed by shelves
laden with gorgeously painted wooden boxes, little and big. They were of
all colors and all brightly varnished. Some were plain blue, or green,
or crimson; others had Dutch or Japanese scenery painted on their sides,
and the largest could not have been more than a foot and a half long, by
eight inches in height.

"This must be where they keep their cake and bread, and kitchen stores,"
said Miss Rivers; but with a smile the Siren began to open the boxes.

Instead of sugar and spices they contained the family wardrobe; folded
neck-handkerchiefs in great variety; little embroidered jackets for the
children; lace-covered caps; bodices, and even--in the largest
boxes--petticoats.

The ladies, and Starr also, were charmed with everything, especially the
dark, secretive loft, as full of suspended fishing nets as Bluebeard's
closet was of wives. They had never seen such a distracting place as
Marken, or such kind and pretty people. It was nearly an hour before it
occurred to them that they had better say good-by, and by that time they
knew the whole history of the interesting family.

They shook hands with each one of the nine, including the baby, patted
the cat and then lingered outside, taking photographs. Some of the
neighbors--young women and girls, with dimples in the roses of their
cheeks--drew nearer, as if lured by admiration of the ladies. Nell and
Phyllis, seeing them, beckoned, and the fair creatures obeyed the
summons with an appearance of shyness. They too, were photographed; and
after many politenesses had been exchanged, Starr came to ask if I
thought the dear things' feelings would be hurt by a small offering of
money.

"They may, and probably will be--if the offering is small," said I,
dryly.

"What are you insinuating?" exclaimed Nell.

Meanwhile the Siren, her sisters and brothers, and a number of handsome
friends of her own age, pinned wary eyes upon us. The dimples were in
abeyance, for the guileless angels guessed the subject of conversation,
and were preparing for eventualities.

"I don't think they'll refuse money," I said. "In fact, they expect it."

"How much ought we to give?" asked Starr.

"Whatever you have handy, and whatever you think it's worth," said I,
exploring my pockets for silver.

"I suppose the family would be delighted with the gulden," suggested
Phyllis. "We might hand one child another, to divide among her little
friends, and buy them sweets."

"You can try that, and see if they thank you," I replied.

"Why, of course they will," said the Chaperon. "It's easy to see that
they have lovely dispositions, except the little boy who was afraid of
Tibe, just because he tried in play to bite off the button on the back
of his cap."

I stood still and watched the others reviewing their change, putting
their bits of silver together to make up the sum decided upon, as small
money is always at a premium. I did not add my mite to the fund, for I
knew what would happen in the end.

Finally, Phyllis was chosen as emissary for the party.

"Good-by again," she said sweetly to our late guide. "Here's something
for your little brothers and sisters to remember us by; and will you ask
your companions to buy themselves some sweets with the rest?"

But in a second the Siren was transformed into a harpy. Her blue eyes
turned to steel, and shot lightning. The children, understanding the
situation, stood by looking like little sharks, and the handsome friends
suddenly assumed the air of fierce wild birds in the Zoo, just tame
enough to eat out of your hand if you offer what they like, but hating
and scorning you in their cold hearts--the bright-plumaged things; ready
to bite your finger to the bone, should you tease instead of feed them.

Our guide held up a hand with all her fingers spread out. "Five! Five!"
she demanded shrilly. "Every one of you give one gulden. All this you
gave is to my friends. Not enough for me. I have more. I _always_ have
more. One gulden every person."

"Nonsense," said I in Dutch. "Here's another gulden. Take that and go
away. It's twice too much for you."

I flung her the money, and she clutched it; but she had not finished
with us yet, nor had the others. Surprised and horrified at the sudden
change in the pink and white angels, the ladies turned away, and hurried
toward the boat. For an instant the creatures were abashed by my
knowledge of Dutch, but it was only for an instant. The mother of nine,
standing in the doorway of the green bandbox house, baby in arms,
shrieked encouragement to her daughter. The Siren clattered after us
with angrily ringing sabots, raging for money; the children cried; the
friends shouted frank criticisms of our features, our hats, our manners.
I would have gone away without rewarding their blackmail with another
penny; but in desperation Starr turned and dashed four or five gulden at
the crowd. The coins rolled, and the bright beings swooped, more than
ever like a flock of gaudy, savage birds in their greed.

Thus we left them, and I saw that the ladies were thankful to be safe
aboard "Lorelei" again.

"Fiends!" gasped the Chaperon, gazing shoreward in a kind of evil
fascination. "And we called them angels and cherubs! I think you are
good, Jonkheer, not to say, 'I told you so.'"

"They're terrible--beautiful and terrible," said Starr, "like figures
that have been brought to life and have sprung at you out of a picture,
to suck your blood--in answer to some wicked wish, that you regret the
minute it's uttered."

"It was a shock to be undeceived, just at the last!" sighed Phyllis. "My
nerves are quite upset."

"I shall dream of them to-night," said Nell; "so don't be surprised,
everybody, if you hear screams in the dark hours. Still, I'm glad we
went; I wouldn't have missed it."

"Nor I," added the Chaperon. "I feel as if we'd paid a visit to some
village of the Orient, and been repulsed by savages with great
slaughter. And--I wasn't going to mention it if they'd stayed nice, it
would have seemed so _treacherous_; but did you notice, in that
wonderful little waxwork house, there was no visible place to _wash_?"

"They don't wash," said I, "except their hands and faces. Most Dutch
peasants consider bathing a dirty habit. They say they are clean, and
so, of course, they don't need to bathe."

"That makes them seem more like birds than ever," exclaimed Nell; "their
clothes are only plumage. I think of them as real people living real
lives. It's true, Marken's a theater, three thousand meters long and a
thousand meters wide, and you pay the actors for your seats. The harbor
itself isn't half as picturesque as Spaakenberg, with its crowding masts
and brown haze of fishing-nets; but the people are worth paying for."

"Tourists like ourselves have spoiled them; they were genuine once," I
said. "Probably Spaakenberg, which is so unsophisticated now, will be
like Marken one day; and even at Volendam, though the people have kept
their heads (which shows they have a sense of humor), they're not
unaware of their artistic value.

"They look down on the islanders as theatrical; but it's partly
jealousy. Marken has a history, you know; it was once connected with the
mainland, but that was as long ago as the thirteenth century, and ever
since the inhabitants have prided themselves on their old customs and
costumes. They're proud of the length of time they've dared to be
Protestant; and no Marken man would dream of crossing to Papist Volendam
for a wife, though Volendam's celebrated for beautiful girls. Nor would
any of the 'fierce, tropical birds,' as you call them, exchange their
island roost for the mainland, although Marken, in times of flood, is a
most uncomfortable perch, and the birds have to go about in boats. But
here we come to Volendam, and you'll be able to make up your mind which
of the two fishing-villages is more interesting."

We had crossed the short expanse of sea, and passing a small lighthouse
were entering a square harbor lined with fishing-boats. Stoutly built,
solid fishing-boats they were, meant for stormy weather; and their metal
pennons, which could never droop in deadest calm, flew bravely, all in
the same direction, like flags in a company of lances in an old
Froissart picture.

"Is Volendam celebrated for tall men as well as beautiful girls?" asked
Nell, as we drew near enough to see figures moving. "There are several
there, but one is almost the tallest man I ever saw--except my cousin
Robert."

"He looks singularly like your cousin Robert," added Starr, not too
joyously.

"I think it _is_ your cousin Robert," said I.

"I'm sure it is your cousin Robert," murmured Miss Rivers.

"But why is your cousin Robert here?" inquired the Chaperon. "Could he
have known you were coming?"

"I didn't write to him," said Nell.

"I didn't," said I.

Nobody else spoke; but Miss Rivers blushed.



PHYLLIS RIVERS' POINT OF VIEW



XXI


I wrote to Mr. van Buren because he asked me to. He never approved of
the trip, and he said that he would be much obliged if I'd drop him a
line every few days to keep him from worrying about Nell.

I didn't mention the conversation to her, as she would be sure to think
it nonsense, since he lived without hearing about her welfare for twenty
years, and never gave himself a moment's anxiety. But, of course, that
was different. She is in his country now, and he feels in a way
responsible for her, as if he were a guardian; only he can't make her do
things, because he has no legal rights. Besides, he is young--not more
than five or six years older than she is--but I wish I had such a
guardian. Instead of going against his advice, I would obey, and even
ask for it.

Mr. van Buren is the wisest young man I ever met, as well as the best
looking, and I am vexed with Nell because she treats him as if he were a
big school-boy. To make up for her ingratitude--I'm afraid it amounts to
that--I have tried to show that _I_ appreciate his kindness. As he's
engaged, I can be nice without danger of his fancying that I'm flirting;
and the poor fellow has seemed pleased with the few little things I've
been able to do by way of expressing our thanks. I wish I could believe
that the girl he's going to marry is good enough for him, but she is
_so_ plain, and seems to have rather an uncertain temper. Nell says she
is a "little cat," but I should be sorry to call any girl such a name,
though I've known many cats better looking and more agreeable than she.

I have always been brought up to think it rather rude to send postcards,
unless they are picture ones for people to put in their albums; and of
course it would be silly flooding Mr. van Buren with pictures of places
he has seen dozens of times, so when I have written to him, I felt
obliged to write regular letters.

I meant to scribble a line or two; but Holland is so fascinating that I
have found myself running on about it, and Mr. van Buren has seemed
grateful because it's his native land, and the places he likes best have
turned out to be my favorites. In that way we have happened to write
each other quite long letters, almost every day, for he has wanted to
tell me I must be sure to see so and so, or do so and so, and I have had
to answer that I have seen it or done it, and liked it as much as he
thought I would.

If our trip could be improved it would be by having Mr. van Buren with
us; but naturally that's impossible, as he's a man of affairs, and
Freule Menela van der Windt would hardly sympathize with his kind wish
to take care of his cousin, if he carried it so far as to leave her for
any length of time, simply on account of Nell. As it is, his letters,
and exchanging ideas with him, have been a pleasure to me, and I should
have liked to share it with Nell--as we always have shared
everything--if I hadn't been afraid she would laugh. Her cousin is too
fine a fellow to be laughed at, so I have protected him by keeping our
correspondence to myself.

I didn't want to come to Holland, as it seemed such a terrifying
adventure for Nell and me to rush away from England and go darting about
in a motor-boat; and so horribly extravagant to spend all the money poor
Captain Noble left, in enjoying ourselves for a few weeks. However, it
_was_ to be, and there is something about Holland which appeals to me
more than I dreamed any country except England could. I loved it almost
from the minute we landed; but when you like any person in a foreign
place it makes you like the place itself better.

I do think Holland is the most complete little country imaginable. While
you are in it, it feels like the whole world, because you appear to be
in the very middle of the world; and, when you look over the wide, flat
spaces, you think that your eyes reach to the end of everything.

And then, all you see is so characteristic of Holland, even the sunrises
and sunsets. Nothing that you find in Holland could be in its right
place anywhere else on earth; but perhaps one can hardly say that
Holland _is_ on earth. Now I've got to know the "Hollow Land" (as
Jonkheer Brederode often calls it), I think if I were kidnapped from
England, taken up in a balloon, and dropped down here, even in a town
I'd never seen, and without _any_ canals, I should say, the minute I
opened my eyes and found my breath, "Why, I'm in dear little Holland."

I should like to be here in winter. Mr. van Buren says if we'll come
he'll teach me to skate; and, according to Jonkheer Brederode, he is a
"champion long-distance skater." But then Mr. van Buren told me the same
thing about Jonkheer Brederode. They are great friends. And talking
about the Jonkheer, I don't know what to make of him lately.

I believed at first that he was in love with Nell, and had got himself
asked on board "Lorelei" so that he might have the chance of knowing her
better. She had the same impression, I think, though she never said so
to me, and she was very angry about something Freule Menela told us. It
seems there was a bet, I don't know exactly about what, except that Nell
was concerned in it, and Mr. van Buren mentioned it to his fiancée. She
oughtn't to have repeated it to us, but she did, and gave the impression
that Jonkheer Brederode was a tremendous flirt, who fancied himself
irresistible with women. She warned us both that if he won his bet, and
contrived to meet us again, we weren't to be carried away by any signs
of admiration on his part, for it was just his way, and he would be too
pleased if we showed ourselves flattered.

This made Nell _furious_, and she said that in her opinion Jonkheer
Brederode ought to be flattered if we were in the least nice to him, but
she for one didn't intend to be.

I was a little prejudiced against him, too, although I admired him very
much when I saw him in the Prinzenhof at Delft, and afterwards at the
_Concours Hippique_. I thought Nell might, in any case, be grateful to
him for saving her when the bathing-machine horse ran away with her into
the sea.

I didn't tell Mr. van Buren what Freule Menela said, for it would have
been mean, as he might have felt vexed with her. But for his sake, as
Jonkheer Brederode is such a hero in his eyes, I determined if ever we
saw the Jonkheer again I wouldn't judge him too severely, and would give
him the benefit of the doubt as long as I could.

It was a surprise, though, to find that he was the "friend" Mr. Starr
had got as skipper, when the real skipper--the professional one--failed
at the last moment.

Naturally, I remembered instantly about the bet, which somehow concerned
his being introduced to Nell within a certain length of time--so Freule
Menela said--and I couldn't help thinking it was impertinent, winning it
in such a way on Nell's own boat.

However, Nell was so horrid to him from the first minute, I grew sorry
for the poor fellow, and he took her snubs like a combination of saint
and gentleman. The more I saw of him the more I began to feel that
Freule Menela van der Windt must have done him an injustice, at least in
some of the things she told us.

I try to keep watch over my temper always, and I hope it isn't too bad;
yet I'm certain that in Jonkheer Brederode's place I couldn't have
endured Nell's behavior, but would have stopped being skipper the second
day out, even if I left a whole party of inoffensive people stranded.
Instead of leaving us in the lurch after undertaking to act as skipper,
however, he has worked for us like a Trojan. Not only has he been
skipper, but guide, philosopher and friend--to say nothing of chauffeur
on shore, and "general provider" of motor-cars, carriages,
surprise-dinners, flowers, and fruit on board the boat.

The trip would have been comparatively tame, if it hadn't been for him,
as none of the rest of us know anything about Holland, and he knows
everything. No trouble has seemed too much for him, if it could add in
any way to our happiness; and I thought it was all for Nell.

He looked at her so wistfully sometimes, and such a dark red came up to
his forehead when she said anything particularly sarcastic or snubbing,
that even if he deserved it I couldn't bear to see him treated so, while
he was doing everything for our pleasure. So I tried to be nice to him,
just as I have to Mr. van Buren; and, oddly enough, both times with the
same motive--to make up for Nell's naughtiness.

I could see that the Jonkheer was grateful, and liked me a little; but
the night Mr. van Buren met us at Volendam so unexpectedly Lady
MacNairne gave Nell and me both quite a shock. She said she had it on
very _good authority_ that it was entirely a mistake about Jonkheer
Brederode being in love with Nell. Perhaps he had wished to blind people
by making them think so, but it was really for _my_ sake he had
suggested to his friend, Mr. Starr, that he should be skipper of
"Lorelei."

"I won't go so far as to say," Lady MacNairne went on, "that he's
actually in love with Phyllis" (she calls us "Phyllis" and "Nell" now),
"but he was so much taken that he wished to make her acquaintance. At
present it entirely rests with Phyllis whether he goes on to fall in
love or stops at admiration."

She said this before Nell; and although Nell has behaved so hatefully to
him (except for the last three or four days, when she has been nicer),
she didn't look as much relieved as I should in her place. She went very
pink, and then very pale, with anger at Lady MacNairne for talking on
such a subject, she explained afterwards. But at the time she didn't
show any resentment against Lady MacNairne. She only laughed and said,
"Dear me, how interesting. What shall you do about it, Phil?"

"I shall show him that I am _his friend_," I answered decidedly. "I like
and admire him, and I hope I shall keep his friendship always."

"That's a pretty beginning to what may be a pretty romance, isn't it,
Tibe, darling?" asked Lady MacNairne.

I tried not to blush, but usually the more you try not to blush the more
you do. It was so with me then, just as it was when we were coming into
harbor at Volendam, and everybody said to Nell, "There is your cousin
Robert!" or "Why is your cousin Robert here?"

I was glad to stoop down and pat Tibe, who is the nicest dog I ever
knew. It's true, as Nell says, he is "geared ridiculously low"; and
having such a short nose and stick out lower jaw, when he wants to eat
or smell things, he has practically to stand on his head; also he can
never see anything that goes on under his chin. She says, too, that when
he's troubled, and a lot of lines meet together at one point in the
middle of his forehead, his face looks exactly like Clapham Junction;
and so it does. Nevertheless, he's beautiful, and has the sort of
features Old Masters gave dogs in pictures, features more like those of
people than animals, and a human expression in the eyes.

[Illustration: _I was glad to stoop down and pat Tibe_]

It is odd, Nell and I used to tell each other every thought we had,
and we talked over all the people we knew; but now, though I think a
good deal about Jonkheer Brederode, and wonder how he really does feel
toward us both, I never speak about him to Nell when I can avoid it, and
she never mentions his name to me.

I don't know what happened to make her suddenly nice to him at
Amsterdam, but something did, and she is nice still, only her manner is
different somehow. I can hardly tell what the difference is, but it is
there. At first, when we went to Spaakenberg and the other places,
before Lady MacNairne said that thing, she was agreeable to the Jonkheer
in a brilliant, bewitching, coquettish sort of way, as though she wished
after all to attract him. But since that evening at the Hotel Spaander,
in Volendam, she has been quite subdued. Jonkheer Brederode is quiet and
rather distant, too, and sometimes I think he speaks to Nell coldly, as
if he distrusted such shy signs of friendliness as she still shows.

Now, it seems to me that he and Mr. van Buren and Mr. Starr are three
friends worth having, not just the accidental sort of friends
("friendines" Nell calls that kind) who happen to be your friends
because you were thrown with them somewhere, and you would not miss them
dreadfully if by-and-by you drifted apart. They seem ones you were
_destined_ to meet, just as much as you are destined to be born, and to
die; friends intended to be in your life and never go out of it. I
scarcely knew in the beginning of our acquaintance which of the three I
liked best; and now that I _do_ know, I'm equally nice to them all,
because one should do as one would be done by, and I love to have people
nice to me.

Mr. van Buren has been with us the last two days, and I can see that he
watches his friend and me, if we chance to be together. I should like to
know if he, too, has the idea that Jonkheer Brederode cares about me,
and, if so, whether he wonders how it's possible for any man to admire
me more than Nell, who is so beautiful and brilliant and amusing? I
can't help being flattered that such an interesting person as the
Jonkheer _should_ like my society better than Nell's, though I can
hardly believe it's true. But somehow it would be nice to have Mr. van
Buren believe it, as then he would be obliged to think me quite a
fascinating girl, even though it probably wouldn't have occurred to him
before--being engaged and so on--to regard me in that light of his own
accord.

I should love to talk to Nell about all this in the sweet old way we
used to have, and I do miss a _confidante_. Lady MacNairne is a most
wonderful little woman, who manages every one of us, and we would do
anything to please her; yet I should never dream of confiding in her. I
don't know why, unless it's because she's all blue spectacles and gray
hair. And if you never can see what people are thinking about behind
their glasses, whether they're sighing over your troubles or laughing,
how can you tell them sacred things about yourself?

Sometimes I think it a pity that Mr. Starr is a man. If only he were a
girl he would be the most delightful person to have for a confidant. In
spite of his impish moods, which make him seem often like an "elfin
boy," as Jonkheer Brederode says, he's extraordinarily sympathetic. I
feel that he understands Nell and me thoroughly, and as he is good to
look at, and clever and fascinating in his manner when he chooses, I
wonder why neither of us has fallen in love with him. But very likely
Nell has. If she hasn't she has been flirting with him horribly.



XXII


It was like finding an old friend to see Mr. van Buren waiting to meet
us at quaint little Volendam. He explained that Freule Menela had gone
to Brussels to pay a visit; so, hearing from me when we would arrive, he
ran out to inquire how his cousin was getting on. When his fiancée came
back, he said, he would bring her and his sisters to see us.

Our first sight of Volendam was at sunset. Everything seemed so
beautiful, and I felt so happy walking up to the hotel where we were to
spend the night, that I should have liked to sing. Great clouds had
boiled up out of the west; but underneath, a wonderful, almost
supernatural light streamed over the sea. The sky was indigo, and the
water a sullen lead color; but along the horizon blazed a belt of gold,
and the sails on a fleet of fishing-boats were scarlet, like a bed of
red geraniums blooming in the sea.

It was in this strange light that we walked from the harbor up the main
street of the village, which is a long dyke of black Norwegian granite,
protecting little pointed-roofed houses, the lower stories of a sober
color, the upper ones with the peaked gables pea-green or blue, and the
sabots of the family lying on the door-steps. Here and there in a window
were a few bits of gaudy china for sale, or a sabot over a door as the
sign of a shoe-shop; but we hardly looked at the houses, so interesting
were their inmates, who seemed to be all in the street.

Along the dyke squatted a double row of men, old and young--mostly old;
but all as brown as if they had been carved out of oak. Every one had a
tight-fitting jersey and enormously baggy trousers, like those other men
round the corner of the Zuider Zee at Marken. But at Marken the jerseys
were dark and here of the most wonderful crimson; the new ones the shade
of a Jacqueminot rose, the faded ones like the lovely roses which Nell
calls "American beauties."

There they sat, tailor-fashion, with their legs crossed and their cloth
or fur caps tilted over their eyes as they smoked (very handsome, bold
eyes, some of them!) and, passing up and down, up and down in front of
the row as if in review, with a musical clatter of sabots, bands of
women, lovely girls, and charming little buttons of children.

Nell and I admired the costumes more than at Marken, though they're not
as striking, only innocently pretty. But I can't imagine anything more
becoming than the transparent white caps that fold back and flare out
over the ears like a soaring bird's wings. Perhaps it was partly the
effect of the light, but the young girls in their straight dark bodices,
with flowered handkerchief-chemisettes, full blue skirts--pieced with
pale-tinted stuff from waist to hips--and those flying, winged caps,
looked angelic.

They walked with their arms round each other's waists, or else they
knitted with gleaming needles. Quite toddling creatures had blue yokes
over their shoulders, and carried splashing pails of water as big as
themselves, or they had round tots of babies tucked under their arms.
But whatever they were doing--men, women, girls, boys, and babies--all
stopped doing it instantly when they spied Tibe. I don't believe they
knew he was a dog; and though he has invariably had a _succés fou_
wherever we have been, I never saw people so mad about him as at
Volendam.

The Jonkheer says there are nearly three thousand inhabitants, and half
of them were after Tibe on the dyke as we walked toward the hotel. The
news of him seemed to fly, as they say tidings travel through the
Indian bazaars. Faces appeared in windows; then quaint figures popped
out of doors, and Tibe was actually mobbed. A procession trailed after
him, shouting, laughing, calling.

Tibe was flattered at first, and preened himself for admiration; but
presently he became worried, then disgusted, and ran before the storm of
voices and wooden shoes. We were all glad to get him into the hotel.

Such a quaint hotel, with incredibly neat, box-like rooms, whose
varnished, green wooden walls you could use for mirrors. I didn't know
that it was famous, but it seems that it is; also the landlord and his
many daughters. Every artist who has ever come to Volendam has painted a
picture for the big room which you enter as you walk in from the street,
and I saw half a dozen which I should love to own.

It was fun dining out-of-doors on a big, covered balcony looking over
the Zuider Zee, and seeing the horizon populous with fishing-boats. In
the falling dusk they looked like the flitting figures of tall, graceful
ladies moving together hand in hand, with flowing skirts; some in
gossiping knots, others hovering proudly apart in pairs like princesses.

It is wonderful how our chaperon makes friends with people, and gets
them to do as she likes. If she were young and pretty it wouldn't be
strange--at least, where men are concerned; but though her complexion
(what one can see of it) looks fresh, if pale, and she has no hollows or
wrinkles, her hair is gray, and she wears blue spectacles, with only a
bit of face really visible. One hardly knows what she does look like.
Nevertheless, the men of our party are her slaves; and it is the same at
hotels. If at first landlords say Tibe can't live in the house, the next
minute, when she has wheedled a little, they are patting his head,
calling him "good dog," and telling his mistress that they will make an
exception in his case.

The morning after we arrived in Volendam I got up early, because Mr. van
Buren offered to show me the place if I cared to take a walk. It was
only half-past eight when we strolled out of the hotel, and the first
person I met was Lady MacNairne. She had been walking, and was on her
way back, looking like the Old Woman in the Shoe, surrounded by children
of all sizes. She had made friends with them, and taken their
photographs, and their grown-up sisters had told her lots of things
about Volendam.

She had found out that as soon as the fisherfolk's sons begin to dress
like boys, they are given their buckles and neck-buttons: the gold or
silver knobs which are different for each fishing-village of Holland; so
that, if a man is found drowned, you can tell where he comes from by his
buttons.

She had learned that the trousers are baggy, because in storms the men
don't get as wet as in tight ones. That the women wear eight petticoats,
not only because it's "the mode," but because it's considered beautiful
for a girl to look stout; and besides, it's not thought modest to show
how you are shaped.

Another thing she learned was that, just as the boys must have their
buckles and buttons (and ear-rings, if they can get them), each Volendam
girl, if she wishes to be anybody, must have a coral necklace with a
gold cross; several silver rings; a silver buckle for her purse; and a
scent-bottle with a silver top and foot. No girl could hope to marry
well, Lady MacNairne said, without these things; and as the ones who
told her had no rings or scent-bottles in their collections, she would
get her nephew to buy them. It wouldn't do for him to make the presents
himself, as the girls were proud, though their fathers earned only five
gulden a week; but she would give them, and then it would be all right.
One of the girls was unhappy, as she was in love with a young fisherman,
and they were too poor to marry, so she expected to go to Rotterdam as a
nursemaid.

"It seems," said Lady MacNairne, "that Volendam girls are in demand all
over Holland, as nurses; they're so good to children and animals. But
this one won't have to go, for dear Ronny must supply her _dot_."

"Have you asked him?" I inquired.

She laughed. "No," said she. "He'll do it, though, to please me, I
know."

These things were not all she had found out. She knew that Volendam had
first been made famous twenty or thirty years ago by an artist named
Clausen, who came by accident and went away to tell all his friends. She
knew how the Hotel Spaander had been started to please the artists, and
how it had grown year by year; and all the things that people told her
she had written in a note-book which she wears dangling from a
chatelaine. It does seem odd for a Scotswoman, and one of her rank, to
be so keen about every detail of travel, that she must scribble it down
in a book, in a frantic hurry. But then, many things about Lady
MacNairne _are_ odd.

The sun was blazing that morning, but a wind had come up in the night,
and beaten the waves into froth. The dark sea-line stretched unevenly
along the horizon, and there were no fishing-boats to be seen. All were
snugly nestled in harbor, with their gay pennants just visible over the
pointed roofs of the houses; and we had an exciting breakfast on the
balcony, because, though it wasn't cold, the tablecloths and napkins
flapped wildly in the wind, like big white rings of frightened swans.

Jonkheer Brederode had planned to go northward, skirting the coast to
see two more Dead Cities of the Zuider Zee, Hoorn and Enkhuisen, and cut
across the sea to Stavoren on the other side, to enter the Frisian
Meers. But now he refused to take us that way. The men might go, if they
liked, he said, and there really wasn't much danger; but in such rough
weather he couldn't allow women to run the risk in "Lorelei."

"But it wouldn't be in 'Lorelei,' Lady MacNairne put in. 'Lorelei' has
ceased to exist."

Nell grew pink and I think I grew pale. It was an awful shock to hear
her speak so calmly about the loss of our dear boat, of which we have
grown so fond.

"Ceased to exist!" I repeated, cold all over. "Has she _gone under_?"

"Only under a coat of paint," said Mr. Starr, hurriedly. "You know, Miss
Van Buren consented to humor my aunt, who thought the name unlucky, by
rechristening the boat 'Mascotte,' so I did it myself, this morning, the
first thing, before there were many people about to get in my way."

"I'd forgotten," said Nell. "But if she's 'Mascotte' now, isn't that a
sign she could take us safely through the sea? They're only miniature
waves."

"You wouldn't think so if you were in their midst in a motor-boat," said
the Jonkheer.

"I'm ready to try," Nell answered.

"But I'm not ready to let you," he said, with one of his nice smiles.

However, this didn't conciliate Nell. In an instant she bristled up, as
she used to with him, before Amsterdam.

"It's my boat," she said.

"But I'm the boat's skipper. The skipper must act according to his
judgment. Joking apart though----"

"I'm _not_ joking. If men can go, why can't women? We're not afraid. It
would be fun."

"Not for the men, if they had women to think of. You see, the boat is
top-heavy, owing to the cabin superstructure, and it wouldn't be
impossible for her to turn turtle in a heavy sea. Besides, rough waves
might break the cabin windows, and if she began to take in water in that
way, we should be done, for no bailing could help us. Do you still want
to make the trip, Miss Van Buren?"

"I do," Nell insisted. "Because I don't believe those things will
happen."

"Neither do I, or I shouldn't care to risk your boat. But there's a
chance."

"I shouldn't dream of venturing," said Lady MacNairne, "and I'm sure
Phyllis wouldn't go without her chaperon, would you, dear?"

"No," I answered; and that mercifully settled it for Nell, as she
couldn't take a trip alone with the men.

"In any case, it's pleasanter to drive from here to Hoorn and
Enkhuisen," went on the Jonkheer, "and the only real reason for sticking
to the boat even in fine weather would have been that you came to 'do'
Holland in a motor-boat, and wanted to be true to your principles. The
coast is flat and low, and you'd have seen nothing except a line of land
which would have looked uninteresting across the water, whereas in my
car----"

"But your car isn't here," objected Nell.

"It may be, any minute now. I've been expecting it for the last hour. I
wasn't trusting entirely to luck, when we came; and my chauffeur had
orders to hold himself in readiness for a telegram. Last night, as soon
as I saw the wind getting up, I wired him in Amsterdam, where he was
waiting, to start as soon as it was light."

"You're a wonderful fellow," said Mr. van Buren, and I complimented him
too; but Nell didn't speak.

A few minutes later we heard the whirr of a motor, and the buzz of
excited voices. We had just finished breakfast, so we rushed from the
balcony at the back of the house, through the big room of the pictures,
to the front door; and there was Jonkheer Brederode's car (on the dyke,
which is the only road), with the smart little chauffeur smiling and
touching his cap to his master, amid a swarm of girls and boys.

By-and-by it was decided that only Jonkheer Brederode and Hendrik (with
Toon on the barge) should test the motor-boat's seaworthy qualities,
while Mr. van Buren and Mr. Starr stopped with us. This was the
Jonkheer's idea. He would prefer it, he said, as the fewer there were on
"Lorelei"--alias "Mascotte"--the better. And Mr. van Buren ought to be
with us, to tell us about places.

I think all the men would have liked the adventure, but they couldn't
say that they didn't want to be of our party, and Lady MacNairne
actually begged her nephew to come in the motor. She didn't confess that
she was afraid for him. The reason she gave was that she couldn't take
care of Tibe in the car without his help. I was sure she was anxious.
Though I couldn't help being glad for his family's sake that Mr. van
Buren was safe (as safe as any one can be in a motor-car) it did seem
sad that Jonkheer Brederode was left to brave the danger without his
friends.

All Lady MacNairne's thought was for her nephew, and so I felt it would
be only kind to show the Jonkheer that some one cared about _him_. I
begged him to let Hendrik manage the boat alone, for I said we should
all be so worried, that it would spoil our drive. I supposed Nell would
join with me, as Lady MacNairne did, if only enough for civility, but
she wouldn't say a word. However, though she pretended to be more
interested in examining the car than listening to our conversation, she
was pale, with the air of having a headache.

Jonkheer Brederode was pleased, I think, to feel that some one took an
interest in him; but he made light of the danger, and saw us off so
merrily that I forgot to worry.

Mr. van Buren didn't want to drive; Mr. Starr doesn't know how; and as
Nell said she would like to sit in front with the chauffeur, Lady
MacNairne and I had the two men in the _tonneau_ with us.

We were gay; but Nell didn't turn round once to join in our talk. She
sat there beside the chauffeur, as glum as if she had lost her last
friend. Perhaps she was alarmed for her boat, as she doesn't care about
the Jonkheer.

Now we began to see what a Dutch dyke really is, and I could imagine men
riding furiously along the high, narrow road, carrying the news to
village after village that the water was rising.

There was just room on top for anything we might meet to pass; but the
chauffeur drove slowly, and Mr. van Buren said there was no danger, so I
wasn't afraid. There was a sense of protection in sitting next to him,
he is so big and dependable. I felt he would not _let_ anything hurt me;
and once in a while he looked at me with a very nice look. I suppose he
has even nicer ones for Freule Menela, though, when they are alone
together. It is a pity her manner is so much against her.

Although I wasn't terrified, it was an exciting drive, running along on
the high dyke (I could hardly believe it when Mr. van Buren said there
were bigger ones in Zeeland), with the Zuider Zee on one side and the
wide green reaches of Jonkheer Brederode's Hollow Land on the other.

I shivered to think what would happen if the hungry sea, forever gnawing
at the granite pile, were to break it down and pour over the low-lying
land. Many times in the past such awful things happened; what if to-day
were the day for it to happen again?

I asked Mr. van Buren if he didn't wake up sometimes in the night with
an attack of the horrors; but he seemed anxious to soothe me, as if he
didn't want his country spoiled for me by fears.

"The corps of engineers who look after the coast defenses is the best in
the world," he said.

Edam was our first town; and it was odd to see it, after nibbling its
cheeses more or less all one's life, and never thinking of the place
they came from. The funniest thing was that it smelled of cheese--a
delicious smell that seemed a part of the town's tranquillity, just as
the perfume seems part of a flower. In most of the pretty old houses
with their glittering ornamental tiles, there was some sign of
cheese-making; and all the people of Edam must have been busy making it,
as we saw only two or three.

We stopped in a large public square, with a pattern in the colored
pavement, like carpet, and the place was so quiet that the sound of the
silence droned in our ears.

"And this," said Mr. van Buren, "was once one of the proudest cities of
the Zuider Zee!"

"My goodness!" exclaimed Lady MacNairne, "is this little old thing
another of the Dead Cities? Well, I'm sure it couldn't have been half as
nice when it was alive." And down something went in her note-book.

We drove by a park, a noble church, and the loveliest cemetery I ever
saw, not at all sad. I could not think of the dead there, but only of
children playing and lovers strolling under the trees.

As soon as we were outside Edam we began to pass windmills quite
different from any we had seen before. They were just like stout Dutch
ladies, smartly dressed in green, with coats and bonnets of gray thatch
and greenish veils over their faces, half hiding the big eyes which
gazed alway toward the dyke that imprisons the Zuider Zee.

We had been off the dyke and skimming along an ordinary Dutch road for a
while; but presently we swerved toward the right and were again on a
dyke sloping toward the sea. Sailing along its level top we could see
far off the embowered roofs and spires of a town which Mr. van Buren
said was the once powerful city of Hoorn.

"Isn't there a Cape somewhere named after it?" asked Lady MacNairne
gaily; and Mr. van Buren (answering that William Schouten, the sailor
who discovered the Cape, named it after his native town) looked
surprised at her ignorance.

She doesn't seem to know much about history, but she will know a great
deal about Holland before we finish this trip if she goes on as she is
going now.

In ten minutes we were in the suburbs; in five more we were in the Dead
City itself; but it had the air of having been resurrected and being
delighted to find itself alive again. We passed row upon row of
wonderful carts, shaped like the cars of classical goddesses, though no
self-respecting goddess would have her car painted green outside and
blue or scarlet within.

"By Jove, now I know why Brederode was so keen on our getting off early
and not waiting at Volendam till to-morrow for the wind to die!"
exclaimed Mr. van Buren. "What a fellow he is to think of everything!
This is the one and only time to find Hoorn at its best--market-day. And
now you will see some nice things."

He had the chauffeur slow down the car in a fascinating street, with
quaint houses leaning back or sidewise, and bearing themselves as they
pleased.

"Which way for the cheese market?" Mr. van Buren asked an old man with a
wreath of white fur under his chin.

He asked in Dutch, but so many Dutch words sound like caricatures of
English ones that I begin to understand now. Besides, I have bought a
grammar and study it in the evenings. This pleased Mr. van Buren when I
told him, and he says I have made splendid progress. I've got as far as
"I love, you love, he loves," and so on. I think Dutch an extremely
interesting language.

The old man told us which way to go, and turning up a street we should
never have thought of, we came out in a huge market-place presided over
by a statue of Coen, a man who founded the Dutch dominion in the West
Indies, or something which Mr. van Buren thought important.

We have often wondered where the people of the towns hide themselves;
but there was no such puzzle in Hoorn. The market-place looked as if
half the population of North Holland might be there. The whole of the
square was covered with cheeses, large shiny cheeses, yellow as
monstrous oranges. They glittered so radiantly in the sunlight that you
felt they might at any instant burst out into a flame. Between the great
glowing mounds little paths had been left, and along these paths walked
lines of solemn men inspecting the burning globes and bargaining with
their possessors; while outside the huge, cheese-paved space there was a
moving crowd, gay and shifting as the figures made by bits of colored
glass in a kaleidoscope.

[Illustration: _Solemn men inspecting burning globes, and bargaining
with their possessors_]

We expected to create a sensation with the motor, but the cheeses were
more interesting, and nobody had time for more than a glance at us.
Suddenly, as we sat gazing at the scene, affairs in the market-place
came to some kind of crisis. A stream of men appeared, dressed in
spotless white from head to foot, and wearing varnished, hard straw hats
of different colors. Soon, we saw it was the hats which determined
everything. The blue-hatted men walked together; the red hats formed
another party; the yellow hats a third; and so on. Each corps carried
large yet shallow trays suspended from their shoulders--two men to a
tray--and falling upon the piles of cheeses they gathered them up with
incredible quickness. Then, when the trays were loaded with a pyramid of
cheeses, off rushed the men to a wonderful Weigh House which Mr. van
Buren says is famous throughout all North Holland. Inside were many men,
busy as bees, weighing cheeses with enormous scales. Down dropped the
trays; the weight was taken, and away darted the men bearing the yellow
treasures to some neighboring warehouse.

We watched the weighing for a long time, until we were so hungry that we
could feel no enthusiasm for anything except lunch. But as we drove
through crowded streets to a hotel, it was interesting to pass
warehouses where cheeses were being stored. The porters with the
bright hats (worn to denote their ancient guilds) were standing on the
pavement tossing up cheeses, like conjurors keeping a lot of oranges in
the air. Men above, standing in open lofts, caught the golden balls as
they flew up, and stored them among crowds of others that seemed to
illuminate the dim background like half-extinguished lanterns glowing in
the dark.

We lunched at an old-fashioned hotel with enormous rooms; and then, as
we had time, we wound through the chief streets of the Dead City,
stopping now and then to study _bas-reliefs_ on ancient houses, telling
of stirring events when the name of Hoorn sounded loud in the world.

There was one stone picture of many old ships in commotion among
impossible waves, and the description was all in one
word--"Bossuzeeslag." It seemed very impressive to sit staring up at it
while Mr. van Buren told how "we" whipped the Spanish ship "Inquisition"
after thirty hours' fighting on the sand-bank, and all the people of
Hoorn assembled to look on.

After seeing the house where Graaf Bossu was kept prisoner our interest
in the Hoorn of long ago was kindled to a blaze. Mr. van Buren proposed
taking us to the Museum, so we all went, except poor Mr. Starr, who sat
in front of the handsome building in the motor-car, on "dog duty," as he
calls it.

I liked the reproduction of an old Dutch inn, and the plans of the Dead
Cities as they used to be; but the paintings of determined-looking
burgomasters in black with ruffles and conical hats, were pathetic. The
men in their short frilled trousers and high boots, thought themselves
so important, poor dears, with their piteous forefingers proudly
pointing to maps and specifications, that it was sad to see them still
doing it when all their plans had come to nothing long ago. We admired
Hoorn as it is, but it would break their hearts if they could see it,
given up to cheese, and only of importance in the cheese world.

We were not in the Museum long, but Mr. Starr had suffered tortures
meanwhile, and looked ten years older when we came out. Tibe had been
asleep on the floor of the _tonneau_ while we were in the market-place
before lunch, so nobody had seen him. But, deserted by his mistress, he
sat up in the car to look for her, and the passers-by caught sight of
him. Word went round that there was a strange monster, a cross between a
monkey and a goblin, sitting in an automobile, and all the people of
Hoorn poured into the street to see the show, just as they had poured to
the harbor more than three hundred years ago when the "zeeslag" was
going on.

We came out to find the car almost lost to sight in the crush; but Mr.
van Buren, who is like a great, handsome Viking, pushed the people
aside, and said things to them in Dutch which made some laugh and others
grumble.

To escape, we drove out of the town into toy-like suburbs, with little
streets, and tiny houses on dykes, each one with its drawbridge across
the stream running on either side a dyke-road. And now we seemed to be
in the heart of toyland. It was like a place built by Santa Claus, to
come to at Christmas time, and choose presents to fill his pack.

Aalsmeer and Broek-in-Waterland, which we had thought toy-like, were
grown-up villages for grown-up people compared to this toy-world.

On we went, penetrating further into the doll-country, instead of
running out of it. The brown, yellow, green, and red carts, ornamented
with festoons of flowers in carved wood, which were returning from
market, were the only grown-up things we saw--except the trees, and they
seemed abnormally tall by way of contrast.

Mile after mile, the road to Enkhuisen led on between two lines of
dolls' houses and gardens. Some must have been meant for very large
dolls, but that made no difference in the toy effect, as the great
farmhouses, apportioned off half for toy animals, half for
farmer-dolls, were just as fantastic in design and decoration as the
tiny ones.

Backgrounds of meadows, canals, and windmills, I suppose there must have
been, as every picture has to have its background; but backgrounds are
seldom obtrusive in Holland, as Mr. Starr says; and here the two lines
of toy dwellings were so astonishing that we noted nothing else.

For the whole ten miles of the drive we were playing dolls. The long,
straight string of houses was knotted now and then into the semblance of
a village, but never was the string broken between Hoorn and Enkhuisen,
and though we saw so many, each new doll-house made us laugh as if it
were the first.

I tried not to laugh at the beginning, lest it might hurt Mr. van
Buren's feelings; but he didn't mind, and pointed out the funniest front
doors, crusted with colored flowers, like the icing on a child's
birthday cake sprinkled with "hundreds of thousands." After that, I
laughed as much as I liked at everything, though I was sure the people
who had built the houses took them quite seriously, and admired them
beyond words. You felt that each man had put his whole soul into the
scheme of his house, trying to outdo his neighbors in color or
originality.

There would be a house with a red-brick front for the lower story, and
the upper one, including gables, done in wood painted pea-green. Then
the sides of the house would be in green and white stripes, the
window-frames sky-blue, the tiny sparkling panes twinkling out like
diamonds set in turquoises. But these would not be the only colors to
dazzle your eyes as you flashed through the tall Gothic archway of trees
darkening the road. There would be a three-foot deep band of ultramarine
distemper running all round a house, the trunks of the trees and the
fence would be brilliantly blue, and despite a dash of scarlet here and
there, as you approached you had the impression of coming to a lake of
azure water.

Further on would be another house, yellow and scarlet and white, having
a door like a mosaic with raised patterns of flowers in pink, blue, and
purple on a background of gold or black; and the high, pointed roof,
half thatched, half covered with glittering black tiles.

These roofs made the houses look as if they had bald, shiny foreheads,
with thick hair on top, and gave the windows a curiously wise
expression.

But if the homesteads (with their additions for families of horses and
cows) were extraordinary, they were commonplace compared with the
chicken or pigeon-houses, shaped like chateaux, or Chinese pagodas,
wreathed with flowers.

When at last we drove under a gateway across the road, and the color was
suddenly extinguished as if a show of fireworks were over, we all felt
as though we had come back to the everyday world after an excursion into
elfland.

It was the entrance to Enkhuisen, the last of the Dead Cities which we
were to visit--a strange, sad old town, with a charming park, churches
three times too big for it, and beautiful seventeenth-century houses,
small but perfect as cameos. We drove to the harbor, not only to see the
wonderful humpbacked Dromedary Tower, but to find out whether there were
any news of our boat, before going to the hotel.

A stiff wind was blowing; the sea was gray, and waves tossed angrily
against the breakwater.

Nothing had been heard of "Lorelei-Mascotte," and though we left the car
and walked to the outer harbor, straining our eyes in the direction
whence she should come, no craft resembling her was in sight.

The beauty of the day had died; sky and water were dull as lead, and
Nell's face, as she stood gazing out to sea, looked pallid in the bleak
light.

Suddenly we felt depressed, though Mr. van Buren said it was hardly time
to expect news. As we lingered, the most exquisite music began to fall
over our heads, apparently from the sky, like a shower of jewels.

"The chimes of the Dromedary," said Mr. van Buren, looking up at the
strong, dark tower looming above us. Our eyes followed his, and the
music sprayed over us in a lovely fountain. Had the bells been all of
silver, rung by fairies, the notes could not have been sweeter. In
itself the air was not sad, yet it pierced to the heart; and as the
chimes played I found that I was a great deal more anxious about
Jonkheer Brederode than I had thought. The tears came to my eyes, and
when Lady MacNairne asked what was the matter, I said impulsively that I
couldn't help being frightened for our friend, doing his self-imposed
duty so bravely by Nell's boat.

Going back to the hotel, we were all miserable. Even Mr. van Buren
seemed wretched, though I can't think why, as he said he was not anxious
about the Jonkheer. And Lady MacNairne forgot to put it down in her
note-book when some one told her that Enkhuisen was the birthplace of
Paul Potter.



XXIII


I shall never forget that night at Enkhuisen, or the hotel.

Mr. Starr said it was no wonder Cities of the Zuider Zee died, if they
were brought up on hotels like that.

Ours, apparently, had no one to attend to it, except one frightened
rabbit of a boy, who appeared to be manager, hall porter, waiter, boots,
and chambermaid in one; but when we had scrambled up a ladder-like
stairway--it was almost as difficult as climbing a greased pole--we
found decent rooms, and after that, things we wanted came by some
mysterious means, we knew not how.

It was an adventure sliding down to dinner. Tibe fell from top to
bottom, into a kind of black well, and upset Lady MacNairne completely.
She said she hated Enkhuisen, and she thought it a dispensation of
Providence that the sand had come and silted it up.

We had quite good things for dinner, but we ate in a dining-room with no
fresh air, because the commercial travelers who sat at the same table,
with napkins tucked under their chins, refused to have the windows open.
Mr. van Buren wanted to defy them, but his chin looked so square, and
the commercial travelers' eyes got so prominent, that I begged to have
the windows left as they were.

There are churches to see in Enkhuisen, and a beautiful choir screen,
but we hadn't the heart to visit them. We said perhaps we would go
to-morrow, and added in our minds, "if the boat is safely in."

The Rabbit hardly knew what we meant when we asked for a private
sitting-room, and evidently thought it far from a proper request.

To add to our melancholy, a thunder-storm came up after dinner, and
lightning looped like coils of silver ribbon across the sky and back
again, while thunder deadened the chimes of the Dromedary. Still there
was no news, and at last Mr. van Buren went out in torrents of rain to
the harbor.

We could not bear to sit in the dining-room where the commercial
travelers--in carpet slippers--were smoking and discussing Dutch
politics, so we clambered up the greased pole to Lady MacNairne's room,
and talked about Philip the Second, and tortures, while Tibe growled at
the thunder, and looked for it under furniture and in corners.

Nell was in such a black mood that she would have liked Philip to be
tortured through all eternity, because of the horrible suffering he
inflicted on the people of Holland; but I said the worst punishment
would be for his soul to have been purified at death, that he might
suddenly realize the fiendishness of his own crimes, see himself as he
really was, and go on repenting throughout endless years.

It was not an enlivening conversation, and in the midst Mr. van Buren
came to say that there were no tidings of Jonkheer Brederode and the
boat.

Then Nell jumped up, very white, with shining eyes. "Can't we do
something?" she asked.

Her cousin shook his head. "What is there we can do? Nothing! We must
wait and hope that all is well."

"Are you anxious now?" asked Lady MacNairne.

"A little," he admitted.

"I don't know how to bear it," exclaimed Nell, with a choke in her
voice.

I longed to comfort her; but her wretchedness seemed only to harden her
cousin's heart.

He looked at her angrily. "It is late for you to worry," he reproached
her. "If you had shown concern for Rudolph's safety this morning it
would have been gracious; but----"

"Don't!" she said.

Just the one word, and not crossly, but in such a voice of appeal that
he didn't finish his sentence.

We sat about awkwardly, and tried to speak of other things, but the talk
would drift to our fears for the boat. Nell did not join in. She sat by
the window, looking out and listening to the rain and wind, which made a
sound like the purring of a great cat.

Ten o'clock came, and Lady MacNairne proposed that, as we could do
nothing, we women should go to bed.

Then Nell spoke. "No," she said. "You and Phil can do as you like, and
Cousin Robert and Mr. Starr; but I shall sit up."

Of course I told her I would sit up, too; and as Mr. van Buren said the
commercial travelers had left the dining-room, he and Mr. Starr and Nell
and I bade Lady MacNairne good-night, and went down.

The unfortunate Rabbit was in the act of putting out the light, but he
was obliged to leave it for us, a necessity which distressed him.

By-and-by it was eleven, and the hotel was as silent as a hotel in a
Dead City ought to be. We talked spasmodically. Sometimes we were still
for many minutes, listening for sounds outside; and we could hear the
scampering of mice behind the walls.

"I can't stand this," said Nell. "I'm going to the harbor."

"I will take you," replied Mr. van Buren.

"No, thank you," said Nell. "I'd rather you stopped with Phil. She has a
cold, and mustn't get wet."

"May I go?" asked Mr. Starr.

"Yes," she said.

So they stole away through the sleeping house, and presently we heard
the front door close. Mr. van Buren and I were alone together.

He was good about cheering me up, saying he had too much faith in his
friend's courage and skill as a yachtsman to be very anxious, though the
delay was odd.

Then, suddenly he broke out with a strange question.

"Would it hurt you if anything should happen to Rudolph Brederode?"

I was so surprised that I could hardly answer at first. Then I said that
of course it would hurt me, for I liked and admired the Jonkheer, and
considered him my friend.

"I have no right to ask," he went on, "but I do beg you to say if it is
only as a friend you like Rudolph."

That startled me, for I was afraid things I had done might have been
misunderstood, owing to the difference of ways in Holland.

"Why," I stammered, "are you going to warn me not to care for him,
because he doesn't care for me? How _dreadful_!"

Nell's cousin Robert looked so pale, I was afraid he must be ill. He put
up his hand and pushed his hair back from his forehead, and then began
pacing about the room.

"Rudolph _must_ care--he _shall_ care, if you wish it," he said.

"Oh," I exclaimed, "I didn't mean it was dreadful if he didn't care; but
if you thought _I_ did."

He stopped walking and took one big step that brought him to me.

"You do not?"

"Of course not," said I; "not in _that_ way."

Mr. van Buren caught both my hands, and pressed them so tightly, that I
couldn't help giving a tiny squeak.

"Ah, I have hurt you!" he cried, and a strange expression came into his
eyes. At least, it was strange that it should be for me, instead of
Freule Menela, for it was almost--but no, I must have been mistaken, of
course, in thinking it was like that. Anyway, it was a thrilling
expression, and made my heart beat as fast as if I were frightened,
though I think that wasn't exactly the feeling. I couldn't take my eyes
away from his for a minute. We looked straight at each other; then, as
if he couldn't resist, he kissed my hands one after the other--not with
polite little Dutch kisses, but eager and desperate. As he did it, he
gave a kind of groan, and before I could speak he muttered, "Forgive
me!" as he rushed out of the room.

He must have almost run against Mr. Starr, for the next instant the
"Mariner" (as Jonkheer Brederode calls him) came in, dripping wet.

There was I, all pink and trembling, and my voice did sound odd as I
quavered out, "Where's Nell?"

"Gone to her room," said Mr. Starr, looking hard at me with his
brilliant, whimsical eyes. "I was to tell you----"

With that, I burst into tears.

"Good gracious, poor angel! What is the matter?" he exclaimed, coming
closer.

"I don't know," I sobbed. "But I'm not an angel. I do believe I'm a
very--_wicked_ girl."

"You, wicked? Why?"

"Because--I've got feelings I oughtn't to have."

"And that's why you're crying?"

"I'm not sure. But I just--can't help it."

"I wish I could do something," said he, quite miserably; and I could
smell the wet serge of his sopping coat, though I couldn't see him, for
my hands were over my eyes. I was ashamed of myself, but not as much
ashamed as I would have been with any one else, because of the feeling I
have that Mr. Starr would be so wonderfully nice and sympathetic to
confide in. Not that I have anything to confide.

"Thank you, but you couldn't. Nobody could," I moaned.

"Not even Miss Van Buren?"

"Not now. It's too sad. Something seems to have come between us; I don't
know what."

"Maybe that's making you cry?"

"No, I don't think so. Oh, I'm _so_ unhappy!"

"You poor little dove! You don't mind my calling you that, do you?"

I shook my head. "No, it comforts me. It's so soothing after--after----"

"After what? Has anybody been beast enough----"

"Nobody's been a beast," I hurried to break in, "except, perhaps, _me_."

"Do tell me what's troubling you," he begged, and pulled my hands down
from my face, not in the way Mr. van Buren had caught them, but very
gently. I let him lead me to a sofa and dry my eyes with his
handkerchief, because it seemed exactly like having a brother. It was
just as nice to be sympathized with by him as I had often imagined it
would be, and I liked it so much that I selfishly forgot he was soaked
with rain, and ought to get out of his wet clothes.

"If I knew I would tell you," I said.

"You're worried about Alb--I mean Brederode?"

"Oh, now I _know_ I'm a beast! I'd forgotten to ask about him, or the
boats."

"You'd forgotten--by Jove! No, nothing heard or seen yet. I made Miss
Van Buren come back at last. Had to say I was afraid of catching cold or
she'd be there now. But see here, as it isn't Alb's fate that's
bothering you, may I make a guess?"

"Yes, because you never could guess," said I.

"Is it--anything about van Buren?"

My face felt as if it was on fire. "Why, what _should_ it be?" I asked.

"It might be, for instance, that you're sorry for him because he's
engaged to a brute of a girl who's sure to make him miserable. You've
got such a tender heart."

"You're partly right," I confessed. "Not that he's been complaining. He
wouldn't do such a thing."

"No, of course not," said Mr. Starr.

"It's wonderful how that should have come into your mind," I said.
"Please don't think me stupid to cry, but suddenly it came over me--such
agonizing pity for him. I can't think he loves her."

"I'm sure he doesn't. I always wondered how he could, but to-night I saw
that his engagement was making him wretched."

"You _saw_ that?"

"Yes."

"You're so sympathetic," I couldn't help saying.

"Am I?"

"Yes. Do you know, I feel almost as if you were my brother?"

"Oh, that settles it! It's all up with me."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Whichever way I look I find nothing but sisters. I've had to promise
myself to be a brother to Miss Van Buren, too, to-night."

"Don't you mean you promised her?"

"No, for I haven't done that yet. But it will probably come later."

"Would you rather not be our brother?" I hope I didn't speak
reproachfully.

"We--ell, my first idea was that an aunt was the only relative I should
have with me on this trip. Still, I'd have been delighted to be a
brother to one of you, if I could only have kept the other up my sleeve,
as you might say, to be useful in a different capacity."

"You love to puzzle me," I said.

"There are lots of things I love about you--as a brother," he answered
with a funny sigh. And I wasn't sure whether he was poking fun at me or
not. "But, as for Miss Van Buren, why couldn't she look upon van Buren
as a brother?"

"He's her cousin, and she doesn't love him much," I explained.

"Alb, then."

"She doesn't love him at all."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Oh, certain," I assured him quite earnestly.

"She's sick with anxiety about him anyhow. I had to comfort her."

"That's because she feels guilty for being so disagreeable," I said;
"and she would of course suffer dreadful remorse, poor girl, if he were
drowned looking after her boat, as I pray he won't be."

I began to understand now. Poor Mr. Starr was jealous of his friend, the
Jonkheer.

"Well, I wish she'd love me a little, then, as there's nobody else."

"Do you know, I shouldn't be a bit surprised if she _does_," I almost
whispered. "Perhaps that's what's making her so queer."

"I wish I could think so," sighed Mr. Starr. But he didn't look as
radiant as one might have expected. He seemed more startled than
delighted. "Anyhow," he went on, "you're a dove-hearted angel, and it's
all fixed up that I'm to be a brother to you, whatever other
relationships I may be engaged in. I must try and get to work, and earn
my salt by making you happy."

"I don't feel to-night as if I could ever be happy again," I told him.
"The world seems such a sad place to be in."

"I'll see what I can do, anyhow," said he. "Would it make you happier if
van Buren were happier?"

"Oh yes," I exclaimed. "He's been so kind to Nell and me. But I'm afraid
nothing can be done. An unfortunate marriage for a young man of--of an
affectionate nature is such a tragedy, isn't it?"

"Awful. But it may never come off."

"I don't see what's to prevent it," I said. And the memory of that last
look on Mr. van Buren's face came up so vividly that tears stood in my
eyes.

"I've thought of something that might," said he; and I was burning to
know what when the door opened, and Nell came in without her coat and
hat.

She eyed Mr. Starr reproachfully. "Oh, you promised to ask Robert to go
back with you to the pier," she said. "Has he gone by himself?"

"I don't--" Mr. Starr had begun guiltily, still sitting beside me on the
sofa, when her cousin appeared on the threshold. He was very pale, and
looked so grave that I thought some bad news must have come. Nell
thought so, too, for she took a step toward him as he paused in the open
doorway----

"You've--heard nothing?" she stammered.

"Poor Rudolph," he began; but at the sound of such a beginning she put
out her hands as if to ward off a ghost, and her face was so death-like
I was frightened lest she was going to faint. Then, suddenly, it
changed, and lit up. I never saw her so beautiful as she was at that
moment. She gave a cry of joy, and the next instant our handsome brown
skipper had pushed pass Mr. van Buren at the door, and had both her
hands in his.

He was dripping with water. Even his hair was so wet that I saw for the
first time it was curly.

"Oh, I'm so glad, so glad!" faltered Nell. "Robert said 'poor Rudolph!'
and I thought----"

"I was only going to say poor Rudolph had had a bad night of it," broke
in Mr. van Buren; but I don't think either of them heard.

"Were you anxious about me? Did you care?" asked Jonkheer Brederode.

That seemed to call Nell back to herself. "I was anxious about
'Lorelei,'" she said. "You've brought her back all right?"

"Yes, and 'Waterspin,'" he answered, with the joy gone out of his voice.
"We had rough weather to fight against, but we've come to no harm." He
turned to me wistfully. "Had you a thought to spare for the skipper once
or twice to-day, Miss Rivers?"

I was so grieved for him that, before I knew what I was saying, I
exclaimed----

"Why, I've thought of nothing else!"

I put out my hand to him, and he shook it as if he never meant to let it
go.

"How good you are," he said warmly.

And I didn't dare look at Mr. van Buren, for the idea came to me that
maybe he would not now believe what I had told him a little while ago.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

This morning I scolded Nell before our chaperon for her coldness to
Jonkheer Brederode, when he had done so much for her.

"How could you," I asked, "when the poor fellow seemed so pleased to
think you cared? It was cruel."

"I didn't _want_ him to think I cared," Nell answered.

"Dear girl, you were quite right," said Lady MacNairne. Then she
laughed. "He hoped to make our Phil jealous, I suppose, for his _real_
thought seems to have been for _her_, doesn't it?"

Neither of us answered. I quite fancied last night that she had been
wrong about those surmises of hers; but now, when she put it in this
way, I wasn't so sure, after all.



XXIV


Nell has been very strange for the last few days, but singularly lovable
to everybody except Jonkheer Brederode; and to him she has never been
the same for ten consecutive minutes. Perhaps it is a mercy if Lady
MacNairne is right, and he was never in love with her, though it would
be sad if he thought of me in that way. I should be sorry to have any
one as unhappy as I now am. It's a good thing for me that we were
traveling, for if we were at home I should hardly be able to go through
it without letting Nell or others suspect the change. As it is, there is
always something new to keep my thoughts away from myself and other
people, of whom it may be still more unwise to think.

Nell avoided Jonkheer Brederode as much as she could the morning after
the storm. She said that, as he took no interest in her, it could not
matter what she did so far as he was concerned. She was quite meek and
subdued when she answered any question of his, until they differed about
something. It was about Urk, a little island she had discovered on the
map, exactly in the middle of the Zuider Zee.

When she heard that "Lorelei-Mascotte's" motor had been injured
slightly, and we could not go on, she suggested that while we were
waiting we might take steamer to the island, stop all night, and come
back to Enkhuisen next day. By that time Hendrik, our chauffeur, would
have repaired the damage.

"Urk isn't worth seeing," said our skipper.

Nell asked if he had ever been there.

"No," he replied; but he had heard that it was a dull little hole, and
it would be far better to stop at Enkhuisen till next morning, when we
could get away, if the weather changed, to Stavoren.

"There's nothing to do in Enkhuisen," said Nell.

"No," said he; "but there'll be less in Urk. I strongly advise you not
to go."

"That decides it," said Mr. van Buren, who was stopping on for a day or
two.

At once Nell fired up. "Not at all," said she. "No one who doesn't want
to, need go; but those who do, will. All favorably inclined hold up
their hands."

Up went Mr. Starr's, and Lady MacNairne slowly followed his example.
Whether it is that she wishes to be with her nephew because she's fond
of him, or whether she thinks highly of her duties as our chaperon;
anyway, she generally comes with us if he does. I hated displeasing Mr.
van Buren; but when Nell said, "Phil, you'll stick by me, won't you?" I
couldn't desert her, especially as I feel that, for some reason or
other, she's as restless and unhappy as I am. It may be the poor dear's
conscience that troubles her; but I sympathize with her just the same,
for _mine_ is far from clear. I have such hard, uncharitable thoughts
toward one of my own sex--one perhaps not as much older than I am, as
she _looks_.

I think Mr. van Buren was torn between his desire to stand by his friend
(who said he must stay to superintend the repairs) and his natural wish
to see his cousin through any undertaking, no matter how imprudent. He
went on trying to dissuade Nell from going to Urk, but the more he
talked the more determined she grew. She was surprised at our
indifference to a wonderful pinhead of earth, which had contrived to
stick up out of the water and become an island after the great
inundation that formed the Zuider Zee. Judging from guide-books, the
population was quite unspoiled, as Urk was too remote to be a show
place, although the costumes were said to be beautiful. Such a spot was
romance itself, and it would be almost a crime not to visit it. The
steamer would leave Enkhuisen after luncheon, returning next day, so we
must stop on the island for about eighteen hours; but as the guides
mentioned an inn, it would be as simple as interesting to spend a night
at the idyllic little place.

Jonkheer Brederode made no more objections after the first, and finally
it was settled that all of us should go, except our skipper and Mr. van
Buren.

We packed small bags, and took cameras. And we had to scramble through
luncheon to catch the steamer, which was rather a horrid one, apparently
being intended more for the convenience of enormous bales, sacks, and
fruit-baskets than that of its passengers, who were stuffed in anyhow
among the cargo. Lady MacNairne was furious, because it was too cold for
Tibe on deck, and he wasn't allowed below in the tiny, poky cabin. She
argued with the captain, or somebody in authority and velvet slippers;
but he being particularly Dutch, and very old, even her fascination had
no power. (It is strange, but when Lady MacNairne gets excited she talks
more like an American than a Scotswoman; however, I believe she has been
to the States.) At last we all three formed a kind of hollow square
round Tibe with our skirts over his back, and when he wasn't asleep he
amused himself by pretending that our shoes were bones.

Even Mr. Starr could not keep us gay and laughing for the whole two
hours of the trip, for we were squeezed in between bags of potatoes (he
sat on one), and our feet kept going to sleep. But Nell said, think of
Urk, and how seeing Urk would make up for everything.

Eventually we did see it, and it really did look pretty from a distance,
with its little close-clustered red roofs like a buttonhole bouquet
floating on the sea. As the steamer brought us nearer the island
something of the glamor faded; but there were about a dozen girls
assembled to watch the arrival of the boat, wearing rather nice, winged
white caps and low-necked black dresses.

Quickly we made our cameras ready, expecting them to smile shyly and
seem pleased, as at Volendam; but with one accord they sneered and
turned their backs, as if on a word of command. We "snapped" nothing but
a row of sunburnt necks under the caps. The girls laughed scornfully,
and when we landed they repaid our first interest in them by staring at
us with impudent contempt. There was no one to carry our bags, so we had
to do it ourselves, Mr. Starr taking all he could manage; and as we
trailed off to find the hotel, about forty or fifty ugly and
disagreeable-looking people followed after us, jeering and evidently
making the most personal remarks.

Nobody could, or would, tell us where to find the inn; but it was close
by really, as we presently found out for ourselves, after we had gone
the wrong way once or twice. Perhaps it wasn't strange, though, that we
missed it, for it was a shabby little house with no resemblance to a
hotel; and when we went in, the landlord, who was cleaning lamps and
curtain-rods in a scene of great disorder in the principal room, showed
signs of bewildered surprise at sight of us. But he was a great deal
more surprised when he heard that we wished to stay the night. He had
not many rooms, he said, and people seldom asked for them; indeed, no
tourist had ever done so before within his experience. Still, he would
do his best for us, and--yes, we could see the rooms.

He dropped his cleaning-rags and curtain-rods on the floor, and, opening
a door, started to go up a ladder which led to a square hole in the
floor above. We followed, all but Lady MacNairne, who would not go
because Tibe could not, and at the top of the hole were two little boxes
of rooms with beds in the wall--stuffy, unmade beds, which perhaps the
landlord and some members of the family had slept in.

"This is going to be an adventure," said Nell; but her voice did not
sound very cheerful, and I felt I could have cried when I heard that she
and I would have to bunk together in the wall, in a two-foot wide bed
smelling like wet moss.

We were dying for tea, or even coffee, but it seemed useless to ask for
it, as apparently there were no servants, and the landlord went back to
his cleaning the instant we had scrambled down the ladder.

"Perhaps," said I, "we can find a _café_, if we go out and explore."

So we went, followed by beggars for the first time in Holland, and it
was a hideous island, with no sign of a _café_ or anything else nice, or
even clean. All was as unlike as possible to the ideas we had formed of
the dear little Hollow Land. There were dead cats, and bad eggs, and old
bones lying about the oozy gutters, and people shouted disagreeable
things at us from their doorways.

Mr. Starr tried to be merry, but it was as difficult, even for him, as
making jokes in the tumbril on the way to have your head cut off, and
Lady MacNairne said at last that she would much rather have hers cut off
than stay seventeen more hours in such a ghastly hole.

"I simply can't and won't, and you shan't, either!" she exclaimed.
"We've been here an hour, and it seems a month. Somehow we must get
away."

Poor Nell was sadly crushed. She admitted that she had made a horrible
mistake, which she regretted more for our sakes than her own, though she
herself was so bored that she felt a decrepit wreck, a hundred years
old.

"But the steamer doesn't come back till eight or nine to-morrow morning.
I'm afraid we'll have to grin and bear it till then," said Mr. Starr.

"I can't grin, and I won't bear it," replied Lady MacNairne. "Dearest
Ronny, you are a man, and we look to you to get us away from here."

Poor Mr. Starr stared wildly out to sea, as if he would call a bark of
some sort from the vasty deep; but there was nothing to be seen except
an endless expanse of gray water. Nell had torn her dress on a
barbed-wire fence which shut us away from the only spot of green on the
hideous island; Tibe had unfortunately eaten part of what Mr. Starr said
was an Early Christian egg; I had wrenched my ankle badly on a bit of
banana peel; Lady MacNairne's smart coat was spoilt by some mud which a
small Urkian boy had thrown at her, and Mr. Starr must have felt that,
if he didn't instantly perform a miracle, he would be blamed by us all
for everything.

"We might get a sailing-boat," he said, when he had thought passionately
for a few minutes.

We snapped at the idea, and a moment later we were on our way to the
harbor to find out.

Now was the time that I became a person of importance. Owing to my
studies, in which Mr. van Buren has encouraged me so kindly, I know
enough Dutch to ask for most things I want, and to understand whether
people mean to let me have them or not, which seems odd, considering
that I deliberately made up my mind not to learn a word when Nell almost
dragged me to Holland. Under Mr. Starr's guidance, and at his dictation,
I interviewed every sailor we met lounging about the harbor.

It was very discouraging at first. The men were all sure that no
sailing-boat could get to Enkhuisen, as the wind was exactly in the
wrong quarter; but just as our hearts were on their way down to the
boots Tibe had gnawed so much, a brown young man, with crisp black curls
and ear-rings, said we could go to Kampen if we liked. It would take
four or five hours, and we should have to sleep there, taking the
steamer when it started back in the morning. Kampen was beautiful, he
told us, with old buildings and water-gates; but even if it hadn't been,
we were convinced that it must be better than Urk; so we joyously
engaged a large fishing-boat owned by the brown man and his still
browner father.

We made poor Mr. Starr go back alone to the inn and break it to the
landlord that we were not going to stay, after all; but he paid for the
rooms, so the old man was delighted that he could go on with his
cleaning in peace.

Now we began to be quite happy and excited. Mr. Starr brought us bread
and cheese from the inn to eat on board, and presently we were all
packed away in the fishing-boat, which smelt interestingly of ropes and
tar.

Nell and I sat on the floor, where we could feel as well as hear the
knocking of the little waves against the planks which alone separated us
from the water.

There was not much breeze to begin with, for the winds seemed to be
resting after their orgy of yesterday, and just as the old bronze statue
and the young bronze statue were ready to start, the little there was
died as if of exhaustion.

There we sat and waited, our muscles involuntarily straining, as if to
help the boat along; but the sail flapped idly: we might as well have
tried to sail on the waxed floor of a ballroom with the windows shut.

"Can't they do _something_?" asked Lady MacNairne, in growing despair.

I passed the question on; but the men shook their heads. Without some
faint breeze to help them along they could not move.

When half an hour had dragged itself away, and still the air was dead,
or fast asleep (Mr. Starr said that Urk had stifled it), we began to
realize the fate to which we were doomed. We would either have to spend
the night curled up among coils of rope, with no shelter except a
windowless, furnitureless cupboard of four feet by three, which maybe
called itself a cabin, or we would have to crawl humbly back to the inn
and sue for a night's lodging.

We were hungry and cross, a little tired, and very, very hot. It would
have been a great relief to burst into tears, or be disagreeable to some
one. I don't know why, but I had the most homesick longing to see Mr.
van Buren. It seemed as if, had he come with us, everything would have
been right, or at least bearable.

Suddenly, as we were dismally trying to make up our minds what to do,
and Mr. Starr had proposed to toss a coin, Lady MacNairne pointed wildly
out to sea, crying----

"Look there--look there!"

A dot of a thing was tearing over the water--a dot of a thing, like our
own darling, blessed motor-boat, and the nearer it came the more like it
was. At last there was no room for doubt. "Lorelei-Mascotte" was
speeding to our rescue, across the Zuider Zee, all alone, without fat,
waddling "Waterspin."

I don't believe, if I'd heard that some one had made me a present of the
Tower of London, with everything in it, I should have been as distracted
with joy as I was now, for the Tower couldn't have got us away from Urk,
and "Lorelei-Mascotte" could. Besides, Mr. van Buren would probably not
have been in the Tower, whereas intuition told me that he was coming to
me--that is to us--as fast as "Mascotte's" motor could bring him.

We stood up, and waved, and shouted. I hardly know what other absurd
things we may not have done, in our delirium of joy. As I said to Mr.
van Buren a few minutes later, it was exactly like being rescued from a
desert island when your food had just given out, and you thought savages
were going to kill you in the night.

Jonkheer Brederode was almost superhumanly nice, considering what he had
endured at Nell's hands, and that it was really through her obstinacy
that we'd suffered so much, and made ourselves and everybody else
concerned so much trouble. Mr. van Buren said, for his part, he would
have tried to persuade his friend to punish Nell by leaving her to her
fate, if he hadn't been sorry to have it involve me--and, of course, the
others.

When Jonkheer Brederode found that by ferociously hard work on his part
and Hendrik's, the damage could be repaired sooner than he had expected,
he at once proposed following us to Urk. He knew what it was like, and
how, within a few minutes after landing, we would hate it. He was
certain that we would be in despair at being tied to the wretched island
for the night, and he had proposed to go teuf-teufing to our succor. The
lack of wind which had meant ruin to our hopes, was a boon to the
motor-boat, which had flown along the smooth water at her best speed.
And when "Mascotte" was received by us with acclamations, our noble
skipper did not even smile a superior smile.

He only said that, when he found he could, he thought he might as well
follow, and spin us back, if we liked to go, and he hoped Miss Van Buren
would pardon the liberty he had taken with her boat.

If she had been horrid to him then, I do believe I should have slapped
her; but she had the grace to laugh and say that "Mascotte" really was a
mascot. There is something, I suppose, in having a sense of humor, in
which I'm alleged to be deficient.



XXV


That was the way it happened that we had two nights at Enkhuisen; but
the second we spent on "Lorelei-Mascotte" and "Waterspin," sleeping on
the boats for the first time, and it was great fun. The next morning
early, we had a picnic breakfast on board, making coffee with the grand
apparatus in Mr. Starr's wonderful tea-basket, which he had bought at
the most expensive shop in London, like the extravagant young man he is.
We didn't wait to finish before we were off; and then came the trip to
Stavoren, which Jonkheer Brederode would not have let us make on the
boat, if the weather had not been calm, for once more we had to steer
straight across the Zuider Zee for several hours.

When we had arrived it was hard to realize that Stavoren had once been a
place of vast importance, and that a powerful king had lived there in
old, old days, for the bastion seemed the only thing of importance in
the poor little town now. But no doubt the great sand-bank, with its
famous legend of the Proud Lady, is enough to account for the decline.

Nell smiled in a naughty, mischievous way, when her cousin remarked that
his mother's family came originally from Friesland, I suppose because
Jonkheer Brederode had just told us that the Frisian people are the most
obstinate and persistent in the Netherlands: that all the obstinacy in
any other whole province would not be as much as is contained in one
Frisian man--or woman. But I think they have reason to be proud of
themselves, especially as their obstinacy has kept their ancient customs
and language almost intact, and the Spaniards never could make the
least impression upon them by the most original and terrific kinds of
tortures, invented especially to subdue Frisians. If they were buried
alive, they just went on smiling, and saying, "I will," or "I won't,"
until their mouths were covered up.

I almost wished that Jonkheer Brederode hadn't said, before Mr. van
Buren, that a "Frisian head" is an expression used by the Dutch when
they mean incredible hardness or obstinacy; but he didn't mind at all,
and immediately told us a thing that happened to his mother and some
Frisian cousins of hers when they were girls. A musical genius, a young
man, was visiting at their house, and when he had played a great deal
for them at their request, he made a bet that they would tire of hearing
his music before he tired of making it. They took the bet, and he began
to play again; but he was not Frisian, and had never been in Friesland
before, therefore he was not prepared for what would happen. Still, he
was Dutch, so he did not like giving up, and he went on playing for
twenty-four hours, without stopping for more than five minutes at a
time. The ladies always exclaimed: "Please go on if you can; we're not
tired at all," though they looked very pale and ill; so he didn't stop
until he tumbled off his music-stool, and had to be carried away to bed,
where he lay for two days. But the Frisian girls suffered no bad
consequences, and said, if he had not given up, they would have sat
listening for at least a week.

Once Jonkheer Brederode had a big yacht which he lent to the Belgian
king for a trip, and there was a Frisian skipper. Every morning the
decks were washed at five o'clock, and the king sent word that he would
be glad to have it done later in the day, as it waked him up, and he
could not go to sleep again. Then the Frisian answered, "Very sorry,
King, but we always do wash the decks at five, and it must be done";
which amused his majesty so much that he made no more objections.

If the people of Friesland have great individuality, so have their
meers. There was a canal through which we had to pass after Stavoren,
like a long, green-walled corridor leading into a huge room. The green
wall was made of tall reeds, and we had glimpses of level golden spaces,
and sails which seemed to be skimming through meadows. There was a
crying of gulls, a smell of salt and of peat, which once formed the
great forests swallowed up by the meer. Then, through a kind of
water-gateway, we slipped into our first Frisian meer, where the water
was like glass, the black sails of yellow sail-boats were purple in the
sunlight, and the windmills on the distant shore looked like restless,
gesticulating ghosts.

Our wash raised a golden, pearl-fringed wave, but the water was so clear
that now and then we fancied we could faintly see the old road under the
meer, which they say Frisian farmers use to this day, knowing just where
and how to guide their horses along it, through the water.

Because of this road, and others like it, Jonkheer Brederode had taken
on a pilot at Stavoren, a man able to keep us off all hidden perils. He
seemed to know every person on every heavily-laden peat-boat, or
brightly painted eel-boat, and Nell insisted that even the families of
wild ducks we met nodded to him as we went by.

We passed from the meer called Morra into the biggest in all Friesland,
Fluessen Meer; and it was all rather like the Norfolk Broads, where my
father once took me when I was a child. Always going from one meer into
another, there were charming canals, decorated with pretty little houses
in gardens of roses and hollyhocks, and emphasized, somehow, by strange
windmills exactly like large, wise gray owls, or, in the distance,
resembling monks bearing aloft tall crosses.

It was exquisite to glide on and on between two worlds; the world of
realities, the world of reflections. Villages were far separated one
from another, on canal and meer, though there were many farmhouses,
walled round by great trees to keep cool the store-lofts in their
steeply-sloping roofs. Gulls sat about like domestic fowls, and perched
on the backs of cows, that grazed in meadows fringed with pink and
purple flowers.

Men and girls rowed home from milking, and hung their green and scarlet
milk-pails in rows on the outer walls of their farmhouse homes.
Fishing-nets were looped from pole to pole by the water-side, in such
curious fashion as to look like vineyards of trailing brown vines; and
as we drew near to Sneek, where we planned to stay the night, we began
to meet quaint lighters, with much picturesque family life going on, on
board; children playing with queer, homemade toys; ancient, white-capped
dames knitting; girls flirting with young men on passing peat-boats--men
in scarlet jerseys which, repeated in the smooth water, looked like
running fire under glass.

The old seventeenth-century water-gate at Sneek was so beautiful, that
we expected to like the place with the ugly name; but after all we hated
it, and decided to spend another night in our own floating houses.

All sorts of funny, water-noises waked me early; but then, I hadn't
slept very soundly, because I couldn't help thinking a good deal about
Mr. van Buren, who found a telegram waiting for him at Sneek, and went
away from us by the first train he could catch. I don't know what was in
the telegram, but he looked rather miserable as he read it, and I
wondered a good deal in the night if his mother had called him back
because Freule Menela van der Windt was not pleased at having him stay
so long with us.

Nell thought our next day's run, going through the River Boorn to the
Sneeker Meer, past Grouw and on to Leeuwarden, even more delightful than
the day before; but it didn't seem as interesting to me, somehow.
Perhaps it was having a person who was partly Frisian standing by me all
the time, and telling me things, which made the difference; anyway, I
had a homesick feeling, as if something were lacking. Mr. Starr said it
would be nice to spend a honeymoon on board one of the nice little
wherries we saw in the big meer; but I thought of Mr. van Buren and
Freule Menela having theirs on one, and it gave me quite a sinking of
the heart. I tried not to show that I was sad, but I'm afraid Mr. Starr
guessed, for in the afternoon he gave me a water-color sketch he had
made in the morning, on deck. He called it a "rough, impressionist
thing," but it is really exquisite; the water pale lilac, with silver
frills of foam, just as it looked in the light when he sat painting;
fields of cloth-of-gold, starred with wild flowers in the foreground;
far-off trees in soft gray and violet, with a gleam of rose here and
there, which means a house-roof half hidden, in the middle distance.
Lady MacNairne admired the sketch particularly; and I got the idea--I
hardly know why--that she was not quite pleased to have it given to me
instead of to her.



XXVI


It was late afternoon when we came to Leeuwarden, and the first thing we
found out was, that it was not at all a place where we should enjoy
stopping on the boats, because of a very "ancient" and very, very
"fish-like smell" which pervaded the canal, and made us wear
extraordinary expressions on our faces as it found its way to our
nostrils. But nobody else seemed even to notice it; nobody else wore
agonized expressions; indeed, the girls we met as we drove to the hotel
had dove-like, smiling faces. They were tall and radiantly fair, with
peace in their eyes; and those who still kept to the fashion of wearing
gold and silver helmet-head-dresses were like noble young Minervas. I
could have scolded the ones who were silly enough to wear modern hats;
but all the old ladies were most satisfactory. We didn't meet one who
had not been loyal to the helmet of her youth; and they were such
beautiful old creatures that I could well believe the legend Jonkheer
Brederode told us: how the sirens of the North Sea had wedded Frisian
men, and all the girl-children had been as magically lovely as their
mothers.

The old-fashioned, rather dull streets were crowded with people, who
seemed in more of a hurry to get somewhere than they need have been, in
such a sleepy town; and when we arrived at the hotel all was excitement
and bustle. It happened that we had come in the midst of Kermess week,
the greatest event of the year at Leeuwarden; and if a party of
Americans had not gone away unexpectedly that morning they could not
have given us rooms, though Jonkheer Brederode had telegraphed from
Sneek.

As soon as we were settled, though it was nearly dinner-time, he
proposed that we should dart out and have a look round the fair,
because, he said, ladies must not go at night.

"Why not?" asked Nell, quick, as usual, to take him up if he seems
inclined to be masterful. "I should think it would be more amusing at
night."

"So it is," he admitted calmly.

"Then why aren't we to see it?"

"Because the play is too rough. Tom, Dick, and Harry, as you say in
England, come out after dark, when the fair's lighted up and at its
gayest, and it is no place for ladies to be hustled about in."

"I've always found 'Tom, Dick, and Harry,' very inoffensive fellows,"
Nell persisted.

"You've never been to a Dutch Kermess."

"That's why I want to go."

"So you shall, before dark."

"And after dark, too," she added, as obstinately as if she had been a
Frisian.

"That is impossible," said Jonkheer Brederode, his mouth and chin
looking hard and firm.

Nell didn't say any more, though she shrugged her shoulders; but the
expression of her eyes was ominous, and I felt that she was planning
mischief.

We walked out to the Kermess, which Lady MacNairne and Mr. Starr
pronounced very like a French country fair; but it seemed wonderful to
me. There were streets and streets of booths, little and big, gorgeously
decorated, where people in the costumes of their provinces sold every
imaginable kind of thing. Nell was so well-behaved that she evidently
disarmed Jonkheer Brederode's suspicions, if he had shared mine; and
when she proposed buying a quantity of sweets and cheap toys for us to
give away to families of children upon the lighters we passed on canals,
he was ready to humor her. We chose all sorts of toys and
sweets--enough to last us for days of playing Santa Claus--and bargained
in Dutch with the people who sold, making them laugh sometimes. Then,
Jonkheer Brederode took us to all the best side-shows: the giant steer,
as big as sixteen every-day oxen; the smallest horse in the world, a
fairy beast, thoughtfully doing sums in the sand with his miniature
forepaw; the fat lady, very bored and warm; the fair Circassian, who
lured audiences into a hot theater with tinsel decorations like a
Christmas-tree and hundreds of colored lights. There were other sights;
but Jonkheer Brederode said these were the only ones for ladies, and
hurried us by some of the booths with painted pictures of three-headed
people or girls cut off at the waist, which Nell wished particularly to
see. He wouldn't let us go into the merry-go-rounds either, and by the
time we got back to the hotel--our hands full of dolls, tops, spotted
wooden horses, boxes of blocks, and packets of nougat surmounted with
chenille monkeys--she was boiling with pent-up resentment.

Already we were late for dinner, and we still had to dress; but
Nell--who shared a room with me, as the hotel was crowded--said that she
must slip out again, to buy something which she wished to select when
alone; she would not be gone many minutes.

I was all ready when she ran in again with two large bundles in her
hands. She would not tell me what they were, as she was in a hurry to
change (at least, that was her excuse), but promised that I should see
something interesting if I would come up to the room with her after
dining; and I was not to tell any one that she had been out for the
second time.

We were long over our dinner, as there was such a crowd that the waiters
grew quite confused; and, at the end, we three women sat with Jonkheer
Brederode and Mr. Starr in the garden behind the hotel, while the men
smoked. Nell was so patient that I almost thought she had forgotten the
bundles up-stairs. But at last Lady MacNairne, hearing a clock chime
ten, announced that she had some writing to do before going to bed.

"I suppose you will have a look at the Kermess again?" she said to our
two knights.

"I've seen dozens of such fairs; and when you've seen one, you've seen
pretty well all, nowadays. But if the Mariner would like to go, I shall
be glad to go with him," Jonkheer Brederode answered.

"I'm not sure I didn't see enough this afternoon," said Mr. Starr.
"Anyhow, I mean to have another cigarette or two here; and I do think
the ladies might stop with me, for I have a hundred things to say."

Lady MacNairne and Nell were on their feet, however, and would not be
persuaded; so we bade each other good-night, and three minutes later
Nell was opening her parcels in our room.

"Among the last letters that were forwarded from London, was a larger
check than I expected from the _Fireside Friend_," said she; "so I've
bought a present for you, and for me, from my affectionate self."

With that, she had the paper wrappings off two glittering Frisian
head-dresses, like beautiful gold skull-caps. And in the other bundle
were two black shawls, like those I had seen several girls of Leeuwarden
wearing.

"Oh, how sweet!" I exclaimed. "Thank you so much. I've been wanting some
kind of costume ever since Amsterdam, where they were so expensive.
These are to take home and keep as souvenirs, when we are at work in our
poor little flat, just as if nothing had ever happened to us."

Nell gave a shudder, but she didn't say that we never would go home and
to work again, as she used to say if I spoke of it when we were
beginning our trip. Instead she said----

"I don't know about the future; but I'm going to wear mine to-night."

"What, sleep in that helmet?" I asked.

She laughed. "I'm not thinking about sleep yet. It's just the edge of
the evening--in Kermess week. Watch me."

She undid her hair, which is very long and thick, and seems even thicker
than it is, if possible, because it is so wavy. Then she plaited it
tightly into two braids, and straining, and pulling, and pushing the
little ripples and rings back from her face, as well as she could, she
managed to put on the helmet. Then she tied the shawl over her
shoulders; and as she had on a short dark skirt which was unnoticeable,
she looked, for all the world, like a beautiful Frisian girl.

[Illustration: _She looked, for all the world, like a beautiful Frisian
girl_]

I told her this, and she said, "Will you be a Frisian girl too, and come
out with me to see the Kermess at the time when it's worth seeing?"

I was dreadfully startled, and of course said "No." I had never done
anything in disguise, and I never would.

"Very well, then," said Nell, "I'll go alone."

I tried to dissuade her; but she did not object to shocking Jonkheer
Brederode.

"It would do him good," she said. "Only he won't have the chance this
time, because no one would ever recognize me, would they?"

I looked hard at her, and was not quite sure, though the pushing back of
the hair and the wearing of the helmet did change her wonderfully, to
say nothing of the shawl. But she looked far too beautiful to go out
alone in the night. The golden head-dress gave her hair the color of
copper beech leaves, and the gleam of the metal so close to the face
made her complexion transparent, as if a light were shining through a
thin sheet of mother-o'-pearl.

When I found that she was determined, I told her that I would go, rather
than she should run the risk alone; but she only laughed, and said
there was no risk. Even if our skipper were right about foreigners,
surely two Frisian girls of the lower classes might walk about at the
fair, when the best fun was going on; we should find plenty of others
exactly like ourselves. And when I'd tried the helmet on before the
mirror, I could not resist wishing that Mr. van Buren might have seen
it--simply to amuse him, of course.

The next thing was to steal down-stairs without being seen. We wrapped
our shawls over our heads, helmets and all; but we need not have feared,
every one was away at some entertainment or other, and we did not meet a
soul. Once outside the hotel, we rearranged the shawls, crossing the
ends behind our waists, and Nell said that it did not matter if we met
the whole world now. As we should not have to open our mouths to any
one, and betray our ignorance of Dutch, there would be nothing to show
that we were not Frisian girls.

The full moon was just coming up as we left the hotel, but when we had
turned two or three corners, and reached the streets where the Kermess
was going on, there was such a white blaze of electricity that the moon
and her pale light were swallowed up. In the dazzling illumination, the
booths and merry-go-rounds, and carousels, with their sparkling
decorations of tinsel, seemed to drip gold and silver; and the garlands
and trees and fountains of electric light scintillated like myriads of
diamonds.

There had been crowds in the afternoon, but now they were five times as
dense. The brilliant, open-air _cafés_ were crammed, and the band in
each one was playing a different air. Everybody was laughing, and
shouting and singing; the people had thrown away their Dutch reserve,
and even middle-aged men and women were enjoying themselves like
children.

I felt self-conscious and guilty at first, but it was such a gay scene
that nobody could help getting into the spirit of it; and just as Nell
had prophesied, there were plenty of Frisian girls about, in gold or
silver helmets, like ours, only nobody stared at them particularly, and
everybody did stare at us.

I remarked this to Nell, and the fact that no shawls of our sort were
being worn; but she laughed and said that if people stared we might as
well take it as a compliment; she flattered herself that we happened to
be looking our best.

It really was fun. We dared not buy anything on account of our foreign
accent; but we wandered from street to street, jostled by the crowd,
stopping in front of the gayest booths, and even going into a side-show
where a Javanese man was having fits to please the audience. Jonkheer
Brederode had refused to take us in the afternoon, when we had shown an
interest in the painting which advertised the Javanese creature; but,
after all, the fits were more exciting on canvas than they were inside
the hot, crowded tent, and some young soldiers stared at us so much that
we were glad to get out.

Next door was the most gorgeous _carousel_ I ever saw. It was spinning
round under a red plush roof, embroidered with gold and sparkling
crystals, and festooned with silver chains. To the strains of the Dutch
national air, life-sized elephants with gilded castles, huge giraffes,
alarming lions, terrific tigers, beautiful swans, and Sedan chairs were
whirling madly, with great effect of glitter and gaiety.

"All my life I've wanted to ride in a merry-go-round," said Nell, "and I
never have. Now's our one chance. There's a Spanish bull and a Polar
bear to let. Come on."

She seized my hand, and before I realized what we were doing, I was
sitting on a large bull, wildly clinging to its horns, while Nell, just
in front, perched on the back of a sly-looking white bear.

No sooner were we settled than the four young soldiers who had stared in
the fit-man's tent, jumped on some other animals in the procession, and
as we began to fly round the big ring, they called out and waved their
hands as if they were friends of ours. I was afraid they must have
followed us out of the tent, and I could understand enough Dutch to know
that they were saying things about our looks. Every one in the crowd
laughed and encouraged them, and several people standing by to watch,
spoke to Nell and me as we whirled.

It was an awful situation. What with the embarrassment, the shame, the
horrid consciousness of being part of the show, and the giddiness that
came over me with the motion, it was all I could do to keep from crying.
But if I had sobbed while spinning round the ring on the back of a bull,
I should have been a more conspicuous figure than ever, so I controlled
myself with all my might. Oh, if only I could have got down, to run away
and hide! but there we both had to sit till time for the merry-go-round
to stop, and I would have given all that's left of the two hundred
pounds Captain Noble willed me, to make the horrid machinery break down.

As we sailed round and round my agonized eyes caught the surprised gaze
of a man I knew. For an instant I could not remember how, or where, or
how much I knew him; but suddenly it all came back. I recognized Sir
Alexander MacNairne, whose acquaintance we made in Amsterdam, through
Tibe, and the worst thing was that, from the expression of his face, I
was almost sure he recognized us both, in spite of our disguise.

By this time, the sitting on the bull, and the continued whirling at the
mercy of a thousand eyes, began to seem a torture such as might have
been inflicted by the Inquisition if you had argued with them about some
little thing. I'm sure, if any one had sprung forward at this moment to
tell me that if I would become a Dissenter of any kind, or belong to the
Salvation Army, I needn't be a martyr any longer, but should be saved at
once, I would have screamed "Yes--yes--_yes_!"

At last the animals did slow down, and Nell and I slid off our monsters
before they had stopped; but instead of improving our situation, we had
made it worse.

While we had been sailing round the ring, no one could approach
disagreeably near. The minute we tried to mingle with the crowd and
disappear in it, however, the impudent young soldiers mingled too,
having the evident intention of disappearing with us.

The things that happened next, happened so quickly, one after the other,
that they are still confused in my memory. At the time I knew only that
the soldiers were following and surrounding Nell and me; that my heart
was beating fast, that her cheeks were scarlet and her eyes very large
and bright, either with fear or anger, or both; that I felt an arm go
round my waist, and a man's rather beery breath close to my ear; that I
cried "Oh!" that rude girls were laughing; and then that Nell was boxing
a man's ears. I am not even quite sure that everything was in this exact
order! but just as I heard that sound of "smack--smack," I saw Sir
Alexander MacNairne not far off, and without stopping to remember that
we were supposed to be Frisian peasant girls, I called to him. I think I
said, "Oh, Sir Alexander MacNairne, come--please come!"

With that, he began to knock people about, and break a path through to
get to us; and some of them laughed, and some were angry. Even in those
few seconds I could see that he was a hot-tempered man, and that the
laughs made him furious. He said things in English, with just the
faintest Scotch "burr"; and as there were no Dutchmen of Mr. van Buren's
type in the rude crowd, the Scotsman had soon tumbled the men about like
ninepins--all except the soldiers--and got close to us.

But the soldiers were not to be thrown off so easily, even by such a big
man as Sir Alexander MacNairne, and Nell and I would have been in all
the horrors of a fight--a fight on our account, too--if Jonkheer
Brederode had not appeared in the midst, as suddenly and unexpectedly
as if he had dropped from the round, full moon.

He must have come from behind me, and my mouth was open to exclaim how
thankful I was to see him, when he hastily whispered, just loud enough
for Nell and me to hear, "Don't seem to know me." Then he began talking
authoritatively in Dutch to the young soldiers, looking so stern and
formidable that it was no wonder the fun died out of their faces (they
were mere boys, all four), and they shrank away from Nell and me as if
we had been hot coals which had burnt them when they touched us.

When Jonkheer Brederode first dashed to our rescue, Sir Alexander
MacNairne had been extremely busy with two of the little soldiers, but
overawed by their countryman's distinguished manner and severe words,
they lost their desire to fight and sheepishly joined their companions.
This gave Sir Alexander a chance to see to whom he owed the diversion,
and to my surprise he exclaimed, "Rudolph Brederode!"

He did not speak the name as if he were pleased, but uttered it quite
fiercely. His good-looking face grew red, and his blue eyes sparkled
with anger. I _was_ astonished, for neither Nell nor I had any idea that
they knew each other; and I was still more startled, and horrified as
well, to see Sir Alexander make a spring toward Jonkheer Brederode, as
if he meant to strike him.

Our skipper stood perfectly still, looking at him, though Sir
Alexander's arm was raised as if in menace; but at that instant the
lifted hand was seized, and the arm was moved up and down rapidly, as if
it were a stiff pump-handle that needed oiling.

It was Mr. Starr who had seized it, and began to shake it so furiously.
Before the tall Scotsman had time to understand what was happening, Mr.
Starr had wheeled him round so that his back was turned toward us, and I
heard the nice American voice exclaiming, "How _do_ you do? Never had
such a surprise. Where's your wife?"

"Where's my wife? That's what I mean to ask Brede--" Sir Alexander had
begun, struggling to get his hand out of Mr. Starr's cordial clasp. But
before I could hear the end of the word, much less the first syllable of
another, Jonkheer Brederode was hustling Nell and me, out of sight of
the others, round the carousel.

"Come with me, and get out of this, quickly," he said, but not in a
scolding tone, such as I had dreaded when he discovered us in such a
shocking situation brought on by our own folly.

I was dying to ask questions, but of course I did not dare; and though I
was afraid at first that Nell would resist, she was as meek as a sugar
lamb.

The motive seemed very mysterious, but I couldn't help fancying it was
on Sir Alexander MacNairne's account that Jonkheer Brederode had wished
us not to recognize him; still I could not think why. When we had talked
about Sir Alexander MacNairne the other day at Amsterdam, the Jonkheer
said nothing about their acquaintance. I wondered if there had been a
quarrel, and if so, what it could have been about, though it was
certainly no affair of mine. Still, it is hard to control one's
thoughts; and I wondered more and more as Jonkheer Brederode hurried
Nell and me back to the hotel, not by the short way we had taken before,
but dodging about through a dozen intricate streets as if he were
anxious to give trouble to any one who might be following. Our skipper
seemed preoccupied, too, which was a good thing for us, as it took his
mind off our crimes. As it was, he actually made no allusion to our
strange costume, our escapade, or even the hateful adventure from which
he had rescued us--for that he _had_ rescued us there was no question.
Sir Alexander MacNairne, with his quick temper, and his ignorance of
the Dutch character as well as the Dutch language, and the privileges
of Kermess week, was making matters worse for us, instead of better,
when Jonkheer Brederode dashed in and saved the situation. What would
have happened if he hadn't come, I dared not think, for there would
certainly have been a fight, and Nell and I might presently have found
ourselves, with Sir Alexander MacNairne, in the hands of the police.

The skipper might easily have enlarged on this, and pointed a moral
lesson, but not a word did he say about anything that had happened.
Maybe, this humiliated us even more than if he had scolded, for his
silence was very marked, and he appeared to take not the slightest
interest in either of us, except to get us indoors, where we could do no
further mischief. His manner was cold; and whether this arose from his
strange preoccupation, or from annoyance with us, I couldn't decide. In
either case, I was thankful when we were in our room, and had taken off
our shawls and the beautiful helmets which now I detested.

But we had not had time to undress, when there was a knock at the door.
Nell opened it, and there stood Lady MacNairne, in a dressing-gown, with
a veil wrapped over her head--perhaps to hide curling-pins. I thought
that Jonkheer Brederode must have roused her up to report our crimes,
and sent her to show us the error of our ways, though to do such a thing
was unlike him. But her first words proved that I had misjudged our poor
skipper.

"Girls," she said, "could you be ready to leave the hotel and go on
board 'Lorelei'--good gracious, I mean 'Mascotte'!--in a quarter of an
hour?"

I almost thought she must be talking in her sleep.

"Why, Lady MacNairne!" I exclaimed, "it's half-past eleven."

"I know," said she. "All the more reason for haste. I'm not joking.
There's a reason why we ought to be off at once. Of course, 'Mascotte'
is your boat, dear Nell, and it's your trip. But you and Phyllis are so
kind to me always, that I'm sure you'll consent without asking for more
explanations, won't you, when I say that it's for _my_ sake, and to save
a lot of bother."

When Lady MacNairne wants anybody to do anything for her, she makes
herself perfectly irresistible. I don't know at all how, but I only wish
I had the art of doing it. Sometimes she is domineering--if it's a man
to be managed--or even cross; sometimes she is soft as a dove; but
whichever it is, you feel as if streams of magnetic fluid poured out of
the tips of her fingers all over you, and your one anxiety is to do what
she wants you to do, as quickly as possible.

It was like that with Nell and me, now. We said, both together, that we
wouldn't be ten minutes, and we weren't. But in spite of the wild speed
with which we flung together the few things we had unpacked, and in
spite of the fact that we were dressed, except for our hats, while Lady
MacNairne was in her wrapper, she was ready before us.

We were to meet in her room, and just as we arrived, dressing-bags in
hand--for it was not a time of night to ring for porters--Mr. Starr
appeared round a turn of the corridor. He didn't see us at first, but
began to say something to his aunt about a "narrow shave," when he
caught sight of Nell and me inside the open door.

I was on the point of asking him what had become of Sir Alexander
MacNairne, with whom we had left him violently shaking hands, when I
remembered that Lady MacNairne had said he was a "relation of hers by
marriage," so I thought, since there was evidently trouble of some sort
between him and Jonkheer Brederode, I had better not bring up the
subject in her presence. Whatever might be the mysterious reason which
was taking us away like thieves in the night, Mr. Starr had the air of
knowing it--as he naturally would, since Lady MacNairne was his aunt;
but no matter which of the other two men was to blame, I was sure _he_
was innocent. He was as nice and helpful, too, about carrying down all
our things, as if it were his interest instead of the others', to get us
out of the hotel and on to the boat, although he is such a lazy, erratic
young man, that he must have been quite upset by the surprise and
confusion.

Jonkheer Brederode had been down-stairs, paying our bills and settling
up with the landlady, who seemed to be the only person not at the
Kermess. As we all walked toward him, to show that we were ready to
start, I caught a few words which the landlady was saying. I am not yet
sure of getting things right in Dutch, but it did sound as if she said
in reply to some question or order of his, "Rely on me. No such
impertinent demand shall be answered."

A stuffy cab, which might have been fifty years old, had, it seemed,
been called by Mr. Starr, who was as sympathetic as usual in the
dilemmas of others. We squeezed in, anyhow, except Jonkheer Brederode,
who sat on the box to tell the driver how to go, his cap pulled over his
eyes, as if it were pouring with rain, instead of being the most
brilliant moonlight night; and Tibe sat on all our laps at once.

Hendrik and Toon sleep on "Mascotte" and "Waterspin," and they were on
board, true to duty, though if they had been anything but Dutchmen, they
would probably have sneaked slyly off to the Kermess. They are not the
sort of persons who show surprise at anything (Nell says that if the
motor burst under Hendrik's nose, he would simply rub it with a piece of
cotton waste--his nose or the motor, it would not much matter which--and
go on with what he had been doing before); so no time was lost, and in
ten minutes we were off, finding our way by the clear moonlight, as
easily as if it had been day.

We had not gone far, when I spied another motor-boat, larger than ours,
but not so smart, in harbor, and I stared with all my eyes, trying to
make out her name, for she had not been there when we came in; but
"Mascotte" flew by like a bird--much faster than she ever goes by day,
in the water-traffic, and I could not see it.

Everything was much too exciting for us to wish to sleep, though had we
stopped quietly in the hotel, we should have been in bed before this.
Jonkheer Brederode advised us to go below, as the air was chilly on the
water, and such a wind had come up that it blew away two cushions from
our deck-chairs. But we would not be persuaded.

Out of the narrow canal we slid, into a wide expanse of water, cold as
liquid steel under the moon, and tossed into little sharp-edged waves
which sent "Mascotte" rolling from side to side, so choppily that I was
glad to get into the next canal, even narrower than the first, such a
mere slip of water that cows on shore, vague, shadowy, shapes, puffed
clouds of clover-sweet breath in our faces as we leaned toward them from
the deck.

The windows of little thatched cottages seemed to look straight into our
cabin windows, like curiously glinting, wakeful eyes; and Jonkheer
Brederode said that, by daylight when the canal was crowded with barges
and lighters, it needed almost as much skill and patience to steer
through it, as to guide a motor-car through Piccadilly in the height of
the season.

It took bribery and corruption, I'm afraid, to get the sluice gates
opened for us in the middle of the night; and Jonkheer Brederode had his
Club flag flying, in case any one proved obstinate. But no one did, so
perhaps--as people are supposed to be quite the opposite of their real
selves in disposition, if waked suddenly--Frisians are weak and yielding
if roused in the night.

It was wonderful to see the moonlight fading into dawn, over the canal,
and the gentle, indistinct landscape, and I wished that Mr. van Buren
could have been with us, as I am sure it was the kind of thing which
would have appealed to his heart--especially if Freule Menela were not
with him, to hold him down to earth.

Morning was clear in the sky when we came to Groningen, and we were not
in the least tired, though we had not even tried to doze. At a nice
hotel, called by the odd name of the "Seven Provinces," where Jonkheer
Brederode had arranged for us to stop a night if our plans had not been
suddenly changed, there was a telegram for Nell. It was from Mr. van
Buren, and said, "Can I bring fiancée and sisters to spend a day with
you at Utrecht? Answer, Robert van B., Scheveningen."

Of course, one word costs less than two, and is therefore wiser to use
in a telegram. Besides, she _is_ his fiancée. But it looked so
irrevocable, staring up from the paper, that I felt more sorry for him
than ever. I was a little excited, too, as Nell was wiring back "Yes,
delighted," and adding the date on which we expected to arrive at
Utrecht. I am excited still, as I write this; for I have the idea that
Freule Menela was angry with Mr. van Buren for spending so much time
with us, and that she wants to punish him--or somebody else.



RONALD LESTER STARR'S POINT OF VIEW



XXVII


I should think few men ever loved more passionately, yet picturesquely,
than I loved those two beautiful stepsisters when for their sakes I
started out upon a criminal, motor-boating career.

To have their society, to gaze daily upon their lovely faces, to hear
their charming voices, and to find out which girl I really loved more
than the other, I willingly stole an aunt and then lied about her so
often, that eventually I almost began to believe she was my aunt.
Perhaps--I said to myself, when any barking dogs escaped from the kennel
of my conscience to be soothed--perhaps she had been my aunt in another
state of existence. But then, I would have said anything about her, to
myself or others, by way of furthering the cause; and the game was well
worth the candle--for the first part of the trip.

Alb being frankly and openly a worshiper of the adorable Nell Van Buren,
my own countrywoman, I saw that, out of all the girls I ever loved,
including her stepsister, she was the only one it would be impossible
for me to live without.

That state of mind lasted up to the night when we arrived at the deadest
of all Dead Cities of the Zuider Zee, Enkhuisen. There it broke upon me
out of a clear sky that my Burne-Jones angel, Phyllis Rivers, loved and
was loved by, another; that other, a graven image of a Viking, who could
never appreciate her as she deserved.

Until the blow fell, I had always, half unconsciously, felt that she was
there; that if I lost the incomparable Nell, the exquisite Phyllis was
on the spot to console me; and she is at her best as a consoler. But
suddenly, at a moment when I was soaked with rain, snubbed by Nell, as
well as foolishly concerned about the fate of that white man's burden,
my Albatross, and altogether ill-fitted to bear further misfortunes, I
learnt that Phyllis regarded me as a brother.

I hid my chagrin in sympathy for hers, but Phyllis in tears proved
distracting. She is the one girl I have ever seen who can cry without a
deplorable redness of the nose. Tears rolled like pearls over her lower
lashes, which are almost as long as the fringe of the upper lids, and I
wondered how I could ever have thought another girl more desirable. Too
late for my comfort did she assure me that, in her opinion, my case was
not hopeless with her stepsister. It was Phyllis, not Nell, whom I now
wished to snatch from the arms of a hated rival (not that she was in
them yet, but she might be at any minute unless I secured her) and it
was painful that at such a crisis she should throw her once unattainable
stepsister at my head.

Next day, to be sure, when Alb brought the motor-boat to our rescue at
Urk, the way Nell's big hazel eyes lit up at sight of him, set my heart
vibrating again like a pendulum, and I found myself much in the same
condition I had been in at first; unable to decide which, after all, was
the more indispensable of the two girls. But this return to chaos did
not make for peace of mind, because, though I could not bear to lose
either, I should be lucky if I contrived to keep one. Besides, there was
the worry about Sir Alec MacNairne, and the danger that he might pounce
down upon us to destroy the fabric I had so carefully woven.

Altogether, the features of Friesland were not cut with the same
cameo-clearness upon my perception that other parts of Holland had taken
a few weeks or even days ago, when I was young and happy.

As I remarked early in our black partnership, even an Albatross can
have its uses. Perhaps, if the truth were known, the Ancient Mariner
occasionally fell down and would have broken a bone if the Albatross,
tied round his neck, had not acted as a kind of cushion for his
protection. At Amsterdam, in a moment of peril for our plot, Alb acted
somewhat in this capacity for me, showing himself to be possessed of all
that shrewd adroitness which should furnish the equipment of every
well-regulated villain. At Leeuwarden, therefore, it was for me to do
something desperate when desperate need arose.

I shall never cease to applaud my own presence of mind in the matter of
turning the enemy's flank. My wrists were lame for days after that
famous handshake with Aunt Fay's husband which, in his surprise, spun
the big fellow round like a teetotum, and gave Alb a chance to vanish
with the girls.

If Aunt Fay had indeed been on board "Lorelei," re-named "Mascotte"; if
the "M.," late "L.," had been Brederode's boat, and he had really been
flirting with my aunt through the waterways of Holland, according to Sir
Alec's wild impression, I couldn't have been more anxious to save her
from his jealous wrath by giving him the slip.

Alb had never spoken of a flirtation, and though, at the time it was
first sprung upon me by Sir Alec, I was angry with the Albatross for his
close-mouthedness, my inconvenient sense of justice forced me to admit
afterwards that it wasn't exactly the kind of thing he could have
confided to me of all others.

When that peppery Scotsman opened his heart, and poured forth the true
story of Aunt Fay's mysterious disappearance from the scene, for a
minute or two any feather floating in my direction could have knocked me
down; but I hung on to my captive uncle all the same, while I rearranged
my ideas of the universe at large, and my corner of it in particular.

I told him it was nonsense to be jealous of Aunt Fay. Of course such a
pretty, jolly woman as she, full of life and fun as a girl, was bound
to be popular with men, and to flirt with them a little. There was
nothing in that to make a fuss about, said I. As for Brederode (whom I
had to admit knowing, since we must have been seen together) I assured
Sir Alec that, if he could hear Rudolph talk in a friendly way about my
aunt, he wouldn't have the slightest uneasiness. Finally I made the
fiery fellow confess that Aunt Fay's last little flirtation--the most
innocent in the world, like all her "affairs"--was not with Brederode
but with an Englishman, an officer in some crack regiment. Sir Alec did
not deny that he had scolded his wife. He said that she had "answered
him back," that there had been "words" on both sides, that she had
stamped her foot and thrown a bunch of roses at him--middle-aged,
wet-footed roses snatched from a vase which happened to be handy. That
he had called her a minx; that she had retorted with "beast"; that he
had stalked out of the room and then out of the house, slamming doors as
hard as he could; that when he returned, not exactly to apologize, but
to make up at any price, it was to find her gone, with her maid and
several boxes, leaving no address; that he had tracked her to London,
and eventually--as he believed--to Paris; that while there he had seen a
newspaper paragraph announcing that Lady MacNairne was traveling through
Dutch waterways on a motor-boat belonging to Jonkheer Brederode; that he
had taken train for Amsterdam, where he had presently discovered that
"Lorelei" had been; that he had visited all hotels, hoping to find the
names of the party in the visitors' book, but had not been able to
discover them (luckily we hadn't put our names down, and on leaving Alb
had tactfully hinted to the manager that no inquiries concerning us were
to be answered); that since then all trace of "Lorelei" had been lost.

I replied that it was probably a mistake made by some journalist, and
that Lady MacNairne had never been on board Brederode's boat. I was
going on to say more things, when Sir Alec exclaimed, "Why, _you_ ought
to know where the boat is, and who's on board her. You and Brederode
were together to-night, and----"

"We hadn't been together for ten minutes," I vowed; and kept to the
strict letter of the truth, for I had been smoking alone in the garden
when Brederode came back and proposed that after all we should have a
stroll round the fair. It hadn't taken us ten minutes to get there from
the hotel.

"I didn't ask Brederode any questions about himself after meeting him,"
I went on; and that also was strictly true. "But," I hurriedly added,
seeing a loophole of escape, "I can look him up, if you like, and,
without mentioning your name, find out whether Aunt Fay is, or ever has
been, with his party, which I doubt. Don't you think, for the sake of
her name and yours, that would be better than for you to seek him out
and make a row, before you're sure whether there's anything to row
about?"

Sir Alec reflected for a minute, which was evidently an effort, then
answered that perhaps I was right. But supposing I missed Brederode,
whose haste to slip away went far to prove his guilt?

I would not miss him, said I. And his disappearance proved nothing.
There were those pretty Frisian girls that he--Sir Alec--had been
protecting when Rudolph and I came along. Brederode had probably
escorted them home, not seeing any reason why he should interrupt our
conversation.

My innocent surprise on hearing that, despite their costumes, the girls
were not Frisian girls, but English or American ladies he had met in
Amsterdam, convinced Sir Alec that they were strangers to me. And
finally the scene ended by my promising to find Brederode, who was
certainly--I said--stopping in the town, whether or no he had brought a
motor-boat to Leeuwarden. I was to question Brederode in a diplomatic
manner, and then to report to Sir Alec, on a motor-launch he had hired
in Amsterdam, as the best means of tracking down the craft for which he
sought. This boat, "Wilhelmina," was now in the canal at Leeuwarden,
but, for reasons intimately concerning that canal, he had taken a room
for the night at a hotel recommended by his chauffeur.

Fortunate it was for us that the chauffeur did not happen to prefer our
hotel; and almost equally fortunate that Sir Alec was not spending much
time on board his hired vessel, for, were he lurking there, it would be
difficult to slip past without being followed. He had perhaps seen
"Mascotte" on entering the canal (as it appeared that he had come in
only toward evening), but he had not suspected the innocent-looking
little creature, with her fat chaperon, "Waterspin," of having an alias.
If, however, a motor-boat attempted to glide past his in the night, he
would give chase, and see us on board "Mascotte." For this reason I was
delighted to hear that he was at a hotel for the night, and I advised
him to go there at once, to await my coming.

"How long shall you be?" he asked impatiently.

I assured him that all I had to do might keep me an hour; but I saved a
few tattered rags of conscience by evading a verbal promise to call on
him at the end of that hour. So much he took for granted; and, as the
things I _really_ had to do were to get the whole party on to "Mascotte"
and out of the capital of Friesland, I left my uncle-in-law without much
ceremony.

Nothing could have been neater than the way we gave him the slip, flying
by his deserted motor-boat without a qualm, and, I hoped, beyond his
reach at the same time.

Never, during the whole course of the trip, had I been as glad to arrive
at a place as I was to arrive at Groningen.

We ought, according to the program of our itinerary mapped out by Alb,
to have reached the big town in the afternoon instead of morning, and to
have spent the time till evening in seeing sights. But all was changed
now. Luckily Alb (who is an uncomfortable stickler for truth at all
costs) could conscientiously inform the girls that Groningen's principal
attractions might be seen in a couple of hours.

We tore round the place in the fastest cab to be got, I having bribed
the driver not to spare his horse; yet it was at Alb the girls looked
reproachfully, when they were allowed but three minutes in the largest
market-place of Holland, five for St. Martin's Church and the organ
praised by diplomatic Erasmus, two to search vainly for diamond-gleaming
glass tiles on houses which Amici admired forty years ago; and another
grudging two for a gallop through the Noorden Plantation, of which the
rich town is proud. There must be something about my appearance which
convinces people that, whatever evil is afoot, I, at least, am innocent.
I have noticed this since boyhood, the phenomenon being most conspicuous
when I was least deserving; whereas, with Alb, it is the other way
round. His darkly handsome face, with its severely clear-cut features,
his black hair and brows, his somber eyes, are the legitimate
qualifications of the stage villain. Even the well-known cigarette is
seldom lacking; therefore, if I wished for revenge, I have often had it.
When I am to blame for anything, Alb is sure to be suspected.

Indeed, any one might have thought, from the impatient fire in his eyes,
as he steered "Lorelei" (alias "Mascotte") through the canal after
leaving Groningen, that his was the secret need for haste, his the
guilty desire to escape.

As for me, I hid my rage at the legal mandate which here compelled us to
"go no faster than a man can walk." Under an air of blithe _insouciance_
I disguised my fears, never starting perceptibly at "any toot" behind us
which might mean Sir Alec on our track, and appearing to enjoy with the
free spirit of a boy, the one great amusement of the day.

This consisted in surprising and making happy many families of children
on board the lighters we passed, by bestowing upon them toys and
strange sugary cakes bought at Leeuwarden Kermess. Not all the lighters
had children, but those that had, owned dozens, and all the ugly ones
had whooping-cough.

If I had been given my way, only the pretty children and those who did
not whoop should have got presents; but the extraordinary lady who plays
the part of aunt to me, and chaperon to the Angels, said that the uglier
you are, the more gifts you need. Perhaps it is on this principle she
has demanded so many from me. But--_is_ she ugly? I hardly know. She has
one of those strange little faces which do not seem to express the soul
behind them--a face whose features I can't see when I shut my eyes. I
should like, by the way, to know what hers are like, behind her big blue
spectacles; but she says they are not strong, so possibly the blue glass
is a merciful dispensation.

Her mildest hints, as well as her commands, are invariably acted upon,
and though she seldom insists, she magnetizes. Accordingly, the ugliest
children got the best things; but as there were more pretty than ugly
ones, the toys lasted all the way along the somewhat monotonous canal to
Assen, a little town half lost in its own forests.

It took us till evening to get there, and as we were to sleep on the
boats, rather than risk the hotel, I proposed to Alb that we should
start again early the next morning, before the ladies waked. "There
can't be much to see at Assen," said I, "and if, after he'd been given
the slip, my peppery Scotch uncle tumbled to the idea of 'Lorelei' and
'Mascotte' being one----"

"That would be reason enough for stopping at Assen," said Brederode.
"There _are_ things to see there, very good and unique things; but
ordinary tourists don't often hear about them, and if Sir Alec MacNairne
is chasing us, he'll glide by Assen without a thought."

This put a different face on the matter, and I was able to smile calmly
when Alb whetted the Angels' appetite by describing the treasures
concealed among the groves surrounding Assen. They were not exactly at
Assen, it seemed, but Assen was the starting-point, and from there you
set forth in carriages to Rolde, for the purpose of gazing upon
Hunnebetten.

What these might be, when you found them, I had not an idea, though
pride forbade me to inquire of Alb, especially before the girls. But
pride never forbids Aunt Fay's little counterfeit presentment (perhaps
it will save time if in the future I allude to her as the L.C.P.) to ask
any question. She is never satisfied with guide-books, but demands and
absorbs information about every place we visit, scribbling down notes in
the book she wears on her chatelaine. (There must have been dozens of
"refills" fitted in between the silver covers since we started, though
what she wants of the stuff she collects, I can't imagine.) She did not
hesitate to exclaim, "What on earth are Hunnebetten?" And there was no
ignominy in listening, with a bored air of having been born knowing
these things, while Alb described the objects as supposed graves of
Huns, built of glacier-borne stones.

Next morning we drove out to worship at these ancient shrines, winding
along a charming, wooded road, through avenues of young oaks, balsamic
pine forests, and acres of purple heather, to say nothing of a certain
pink flower which must be heather's Dutch cousin.

Some of the Hunnebetten were hidden in the woods, others rose gloomily
out of the sweet simplicity of a hayfield, but each contrived to give
the effect of a miniature Stonehenge, and had there been only one
monument instead of three, it would have been worth the trouble we took
to see it. Besides, our expedition was rewarded in another way. When we
returned to the boats after breakfasting at a _café_ in the woods, it
was to hear that a motor-launch, patriotically bearing the name of
"Wilhelmina," had gone by, faster than the legal limit, as if in haste
to reach Meppel. According to Hendrik and Toon, a tall gentleman had
sprung up from the deck-chair, rushed to the rail, and stared hard at
"Mascotte"; but "Wilhelmina" had not slowed down.

On hearing this news, I was inclined to make an excuse for lingering at
Assen; but Alb was of opinion that it would be as safe, and far less
dull, to go on. "Wilhelmina" was well ahead; and in any case we did not
mean to stop the night at Meppel. If we saw Sir Alec's launch there, we
could easily slip past, all passengers in the cabin and Hendrik at the
helm; whereas, if we did not see her, she would not be able to see us.

We were in the province of Drenthe now, and it looked as little Dutch as
might be. Even the canal had the air of disguising itself as the Long
Water at Hampton Court, instead of being content to seem what it was;
and after we had passed a few dignified mansions and farmhouses, we came
to a region of squalid cottages with sullen-faced, short-haired women,
and children shy as wild creatures of the wood, staring at us from
low-browed doorways. It was not until we were far on our eight hours'
journey to Meppel, that we slipped once more into a characteristic
region of peace and plenty; marching lines of dark trees, with
foregrounds of pink and azure flowers, or golden grain; mossy, thatched
roofs, and red tiles crusted with golden lichen. But fortunately for the
disposal of our toy supply, renewed at Assen, the watery way was starred
with red, green, and blue barges inhabited by large families of
violet-eyed, tow-headed infants. If by chance we encountered a childless
barge, we glared resentment at the grown-ups. What were they thinking
of, not to have babies, these people?

The meadow-ringed world of water and sky was all charm and grace and
quaintness again, at Meppel and beyond, and I was in a mood to
appreciate its beauty there, for we had a glimpse of "Wilhelmina" in
harbor, and apparently deserted. Passing within distant sight of her as
she lay in harbor, Brederode gaily put on speed; for we had got beyond
the "legal limit" obstructions of the Drenthe canal, into the freedom of
the Ober Issel, a wide glitter of water, noble as the Frisian meers we
had left.

Never was there an evening more exquisite than this, as we floated on
through the sunset, with the old town of Zwolle for our night goal.

We were in the Swarzermeer, said Brederode; but there was nothing black
about it, except the name. Sky and water had all the rich colors of an
opal, and so clear were they, so alike in tints and brightness, that we
seemed to hang in the midst of a rainbow bubble.

Yellow water-lilies lay on a surface of glass, like scattered gold, and
the tall, thin grasses were gold-green wires in the level light of the
sun. Each village we passed was a picture far beyond my art to paint;
and hayricks under their thatches or piles of corn stacked in rows close
to the water's edge, shone like a spray of fireworks as the darkening
sky above slowly turned to a bank of hyacinths. Passing sails were gold
at first, then brown, then pansy-purple, piercing the water with their
sharp and deep reflections. The shore-line was crowded thick with pink
and violet flower-spears, as if--said Nell--ranks of fairy soldiers had
turned out in our honor for a review.

She and Phyllis stood near me, drinking in the delicious water-smell
that mingled with the faint fragrance of closing lilies, and watching
the sun as, beaten into copper, it sent a sudden stream of flame across
the glittering crystal. I tried to feel alone with them, in a wonderful
world which was for us three and nobody else except a few swans, and
tiny water-creatures rustling among the reeds. But there was Alb at the
wheel, looking handsomer and more inscrutable than I could ever look, if
I practised for hours on end before a flattering mirror. How could I
help spoiling everything by wondering if Nell Van Buren were thinking
about him while she talked with me fitfully, dreamily? And how could I
help asking myself whether the image of the Viking did not come
blundering between Phyllis's violet eyes and mine, when she seemed to
look sweetly at me?

But it was the sort of evening when one thoroughly enjoys being restless
and unhappy, and I reveled in my pain.

Little yellow birds, yellow as the lilies which made a blazing line of
gold between green reeds and amethyst water, flitted fearlessly about
the boat, until at last the sun went down like a ruby necklace falling
into a crystal box. Then we moved through mysterious masses of purple
shadow, with here and there a diamond-gleam, or the wing of a swan like
the moon rising. And then our own little lights dipped trailing golden
tassels under the surface of the water.

"Let us anchor," said Nell, at last, "and put out our lights again, and
watch the moon rise. Oh, let us stay here all night, and wake
early--early, to see the dawn come!"

I loved her for thinking of it, and so, I fear, did Alb. We dined on
such picnic things as we happened to have on board, and when a pale
light, like the reflection of pearls in a mirror, began to tremble in
the east, out went the lights. The moon rose, and Phyllis let me hold
her hand, which would have made me happy if I hadn't been almost sure
she was feeling sisterly. And afterwards I dreamed about both girls.
They were both in love with me, and, after all, I was in love with some
one else whose name I did not seem to know, of whose face I could call
up no memory.

It was Alb who waked me by pounding on the door of my cabin on
"Waterspin," and shouting----

"Get up, if you want to see the sunrise."

So I bounded out of bed, wishing I could recall that dream-face, just to
make sure whether or no it was more beautiful than either of the
girls'. And by the time I had dressed, and gone across to "Mascotte's"
deck, the two I loved were on deck also, with the first light of dawn
shining in their eyes.

What did it matter that we had engaged rooms at Zwolle, which we had not
occupied? We breakfasted there instead, and saw a beautiful water-gate,
together with a few other good and very ancient things, about which Alb
seemed to know a great deal.

There were no signs of "Wilhelmina," and my heart felt light as we went
through a great lock into the Geldern Yssel, which would bear us to
Holland's most beautiful province, Gelderland.



XXVIII


My luck was out in Gelderland.

We had a good day, teuf-teufing to pretty little Dieren, big white
clouds swimming with us in sky and under water, where they moved like
shining fish down in the blue depths. Butterflies chased us, white,
scarlet, and gold, whirling through the air as flower-petals blow in a
high wind; and my thoughts flitted as they flitted, for I was too drunk
with that elixir, joy of life, to care, as the others seemed to care,
that Sir Philip Sidney died at the battle of Zutphen; that the River
Geldern Yssel was cut thirteen years B.C. to connect the Rhine with
something else; that by-and-by we were going to see Het Loo, the Queen's
favorite place; or indeed anything else that could possibly be improving
to the mind. I cared only that Nell and Phyllis were more beautiful than
ever, and that I still might have a chance--with one of them.

"Let Alb score a little," I thought, "by his knowledge of history and
Royalties past and present. _I'll_ paint each of the girls a picture,
and they'll forget that he exists."

But I did not yet know my Alb and his resources. I had forgotten that
Gelderland is his special "pitch," the province he annexed at birth.
Fate, however, did not forget.

We got to Appeldoorn that first night; and the palace of Het Loo is
close to Appeldoorn, so we drove out and slept at a hotel near the
palace gates. Here it was that the worm turned. In other words, Alb
became a _persona grata_, while I remained an ordinary tourist.

Alb had influence in high quarters. He got up early, and went off
mysteriously to exert it, returning in triumph as the rest of us,
including Tibe, were breakfasting on the broad veranda of the hotel in
the woods. Anybody could go into the palace-grounds, but he had got
permission to take his friends into the palace itself.

The girls were delighted at this, and so was the L.C.P., who flew off so
quickly to get a "refill" for her note-book, that Tibe nearly upset an
old peasant with a broad hat and silver ear-rings, who was eating and
drinking of the best, at a table near ours.

All this feminine enthusiasm over Alb's idea piqued me just enough to
keep me from joining the party. I volunteered for dog duty while the
others saw the palace, and by special favor, Tibe (in leash) wandered
reluctantly with me through the fragrant, green alleys of Het Loo. With
me he saw shining lakes, and crossed miniature bridges guarded by mild
stone lions, at which he smelled curiously; with me he sadly visited the
Queen's bathing-place, and the pretty little dairy and farm, reminiscent
of poor Marie Antoinette's beloved Trianon; and when we were joined by
his mistress and the others he was ungrateful enough to pretend that I
had not amused him.

Alb was in the ascendant, and the gilt had not had time to wear off the
gingerbread before we arrived at Arnhem. We got there in a day from
Appeldoorn, by going back over our own tracks as far as Dieren, where
the beautiful little canal seemed to welcome us again, as if we were old
friends. Through the thick reeds on either side we made a royal
progress, a wave of water swiftly marching ahead to give them news of
our approach, so that, as we came toward them, the nearest might bow
before us, bending their graceful green heads down, down, under the
water, and staying there until we had passed on.

It was like a journey through a long water-garden, exquisitely designed
in some nobleman's park, until a thunder-storm rolled up to darken the
landscape, and send Phyllis for protection to her "brother's" side. I
should certainly have asked her, there and then, to forget the Viking,
if a tree near by had not been struck by lightning at that instant, and
Nell, in her sudden pallor and stricken silence, had not been more
beautiful than I had seen her yet.

I did not remember until we had been settled for a night and part of a
day at a hotel with a view and a garden, that Alb was more at home in
Gelderland than elsewhere in Holland. But he was treated with marked
respect at the Bellevue, and people took off their hats to him in the
street with irritating deference. We went about a good deal in the town,
seeing historic inns and other show things (the best of which was a room
once occupied by Philip the Second's Duke of Alva), therefore I had many
opportunities of increasing my respect for Alb as a personage of
importance, if I had been inclined to profit by them; and on top of this
arrived his automobile from some unknown lair. There were some famous
drives to be taken in the neighborhood of Arnhem, he explained in that
quiet way of his, and he had thought it would be pleasant to take them
in his car.

We started out in it on the second morning, and hardly had we left the
big pleasure-town with its parks and villas, when we plunged into
forests as deep, as majestic, as those round Haarlem and The Hague;
forests tunneled with long green avenues of silver-trunked beeches,
where the light was the green light which mermaids know. Here and there
rose the fine gateways and distant towers of some great estate, and
Brederode told us that Gelderland was famous for its old families and
houses, as well as for the only hills in Holland.

"Fifty or sixty years ago," said he, "the nobility of Gelderland was so
proud that no one who wasn't noble was allowed to buy an estate and
settle here."

"Allowed!" exclaimed Nell. "How could they be prevented if they had
money and an estate was for sale?"

Brederode smiled. "There were ways," he answered. "Once a rich banker of
Amsterdam thought he would like to retire and have a fine house in
aristocratic Gelderland. He bought a place, and wished to build a house
to please his fancy; but no architect would make his plans, nobody would
sell him bricks or building material of any kind, and he could get no
workmen. Every one stood in too great awe of the powerful nobles. So you
see, boycotting isn't confined to Ireland--or America."

"What happened in the end?" asked Nell. "I do hope the man didn't give
in."

"Dutchmen don't, even to each other," said Alb. "The banker was as
obstinate as his enemies. He went to enormous expense, got everything
outside boycot limits, put up temporary buildings on his place for
workmen from Rotterdam, fed them and himself from Rotterdam, and so in
the end his house was built. But things are different in Gelderland now.
People who were rich then are poor, and glad of any one's money. Arnhem
is as cosmopolitan as The Hague, though it has the same curious
Indian-Dutch set you find there, keeping quite to itself. A good many of
the famous old places have been sold in these days to the _nouveaux
riches_, but some are left unspoiled, and I'm going to show you one of
them."

With that he drove his car through a wide, open gateway, a lodge-keeper
saluting as we went by.

"Oh, but how do you know we may go in?" asked Phyllis.

"I'm sure we may," said Brederode.

"Are strangers allowed?" the L.C.P. questioned him.

"Harmless ones, like us."

Far away a house was in sight, a beautiful old house, built of mellowed
red brick, its great tower and several minor turrets mirrored in a
lily-carpeted lake which surrounded it on two sides, like an
exaggerated moat. "Fifteenth century," said Brederode. "But the big
tower dates from twelve hundred and fifty."

We all stared in respectful awe of age and majesty, as Alb stopped the
car at a small iron gate about two hundred yards from the house. The
gate, guarded by giant oaks, led through a strip of shadowy park to a
glorious labyrinth of rose-gardens, and gardens entirely given up to
lilies of every imaginable variety, while beyond these was a
water-garden copied from that of the Generalife, which I saw last year
at Granada. Nor was this all of Spanish fashion which had been imitated.
Pedro the Cruel's fountain-perforated walks in the Alcazaar of Seville
had been copied too, and were put in operation for our amusement by a
gardener with whom Brederode had a short confab. When we passed again
through the rose and lily gardens, which were in a valley or dimple
between two gentle hills, all three of the ladies were presented with as
many flowers as they could carry, and Alb informed them that they would
find more, of other varieties, waiting for them in the car.

"What a divine place!" exclaimed Nell, as we came once more to the
little gate whence we had the double picture of the house and its
reflection in the lake. "I don't see how there could be any lovelier
one, even in England. How I should like to live in that wonderful old
house! I'd have my own room and a boudoir in the thirteenth-century
tower."

"Would you care to go in?" Alb asked, looking more at Phyllis than at
Nell.

Nell flushed and left Phyllis to answer. "It would be quite like a fairy
tale; but of course we can't, as the people of the house are evidently
occupying it."

"All the better," said Brederode. "The lady of the house will receive us
and give us tea."

"No, no!" cried Nell. "It would be horried to intrude upon her."

"You'll find she won't consider it an intrusion," Alb insisted. "In
fact, I called yesterday and said I was bringing you out to-day, so it
is an invitation."

The hall was stone paved, with glorious oak walls and a wonderful
ceiling. There were a few Persian rugs, which must have been almost
priceless, a quantity of fine old portraits, and two or three curious
suits of armor. Beyond was a Chinese room, done in the perfect taste of
a nation which loves and understands Oriental treasures; and then we
came into a white-and-gold paneled boudoir, sparsely but exquisitely
furnished with inlaid satinwood which I would wager to be genuine
Sheraton.

In this room sat a woman who rose to welcome us, a woman worthy of her
surroundings. Her dress was nothing more elaborate than black-and-white
muslin, but with the piled silver of her hair, her arched, dark brows
and cameo features, her great eyes and her noble figure, she looked a
princess.

"Ah, Rudolph," she exclaimed, in the English of an Englishwoman born and
bred, "how glad I am that you could come, and bring the friends of whom
you have written me so often."

"My mother," Brederode said; and introduced us.

I am not ashamed to confess that I was tongue-tied. _What_ had he
written? How much had he told? In what way had he described--some of us?

Nell, who usually has some original little thought to put into words,
apparently had no thoughts at all; or they lay too deep for utterance.
The L.C.P. was taciturn too, which was prudent on her part, as this
exquisite lady had probably heard her son speak of his Scotch friend
Lady MacNairne. Had she ever met Aunt Fay, I knew that Alb was too wise,
if not too loyal, to have brought us into her power; still I did not
feel safe enough to be comfortable. And even if I had been personally at
ease, I should have been too busy with my own thoughts to do credit to
myself or country in conversation. As I sipped caravan tea from a
flower-like cup of old Dresden, I wondered what were Nell's sensations
on beholding the home and mother of the despised skipper whom it had
been her delight to snub and tease.

Evidently he is adored, and looked up to as the one perfect being, by
his mother, who would hardly have smiled as graciously on the beautiful
Miss Van Buren, could some imp have whispered in her ear how that young
lady treated her host, when he was nobody but a poor skipper on board a
motor-boat. Through some careless word which gave a turn to the
conversation, I discovered that Liliendaal is not the only house reigned
over by Jonkheer Brederode, alias Alb. There's one at The Hague, but
they "find Liliendaal pleasant in summer."

Indeed, it appears to me that "pleasant" is only a mild and modest word
for the place; yet its owner can cheerfully desert it, week after week,
to rub along as a mere despised Albatross on board a tuppenny ha'penny
motor-boat, running about the canals of Holland.

Of course, he is in love, which covers a multitude of hardships. But it
isn't as clear as it used to be, which Angel he is in love with. Perhaps
the latest snubbing was the last drop in his cup, which caused the whole
to overflow, and he had to fill it up again--for another. He poured
scorn upon me, in our first passage of arms, for being in love with two
girls at once; but how much more poetical and at the same time more
generous to love two at a time than not to love one well enough to know
your own mind!

In any case, it was Phyllis who shone on the occasion of our call at
Liliendaal, and it was she who seemed to make the impression upon the
gracious mother. Whether it was the fact that she is English, or whether
it was because she could talk to her hostess--as if she knew
them--about various distinguished titled beings whom the lady of
Liliendaal had not seen for a long time; or whether it was because
Phyllis once had a cousin who wrote a book about the Earls of Helvelyn
(the lady's father was an Earl of Helvelyn) at all events the honors
were for Phyllis; and if Alb really had changed his mind about the two
girls, as the L.C.P. is continually saying, he ought to have been
pleased.

[Illustration: _It was Phyllis who shone at Liliendaal_]

Phyllis and my alleged aunt were both particularly gracious to him on
the way back to Arnhem, as if he had risen in their esteem now that they
realized what an important man he is; but afterwards when I accused the
L.C.P. of this piece of snobbishness, she vowed that it was only because
they both realized how much he was giving up for the sake of--somebody.

Just because I could not be sure which one the somebody was, and whether
he were more likely to prevail, after this _coup d'état_, I was uneasy
in my mind, with the new knowledge of Alb's greatness. What are my
dollars to his beautiful old houses, and a mother who is the daughter of
an English earl? I suppose these things count with girls, even such
adorable girls as Nell Van Buren and Phyllis Rivers.

A thing that happened the same evening has not relieved my anxiety.

At the Hotel Bellevue, each room on the floor where we live, has its own
slip of balcony, separated from the next by a partition. I was sitting
on mine, after we had all said good-night to each other, smoking a
cigarette and waiting for the moon to rise, an act which she selfishly
postpones at this time of the month, so as to give her admirers as much
trouble and as little sleep as possible.

Suddenly I heard Phyllis's voice on the other side of the balcony
partition.

"Dearest," she was saying dreamily, "isn't it strange how, on a night
like this, you seem to see things clearly, which have been dark
before?"

"It isn't so very strange," Nell answered practically. "The moon's
coming up. And that's a sign we ought to be going to bed."

"I didn't mean that," said Phyllis. "I mean, there's a kind of
_influence_ on such a beautiful night, which makes you see into your own
heart."

"What do you see?" asked Nell.

I wanted to know what, as much as Nell did, and a great deal more,
judging from her tone. But unfortunately I had no right to try and find
out, so I got up, and scraped my chair and prepared to go indoors. But I
had forgotten to shut my match-box when I lighted a cigarette a few
minutes before, and now I knocked it off the table where it had been
lying, scattering over the floor every match I had left in the world.

If they intended to say anything really private, I had made noise enough
to prevent them from doing it; so I thought I might conscientiously
remain and pick up some of the matches. The _personnel_ of the hotel had
gone to its beds, therefore, if I wanted to smoke later, it must be
these matches or none.

"After all, I'm not quite sure what I _do_ see, when I come to ask
myself, like that, in so many words," said Phyllis. "I do wish you'd
advise me. Will you, dear?"

"Of course, if I can," came the answer, a little shortly.

"Well, supposing _you_ cared more than you thought you ought, for a man
it couldn't be right to care for at all, because he belonged to some one
else, what would you do?"

"Try to stop caring for him," said Nell.

"That's what I think, too; only it might be hard, mightn't it? Do you
suppose it would be easier if a girl did her best to learn to love
another man, who was free to care for her, and did seem to care for her,
so as to take her mind off the--the _forbidden_ man?"

No answer. (I realized that they could not have heard the falling
match-box, and I was at my window-door now, going in. But the door is a
Dutch door, which means that it is cleaned and varnished every day; and
the varnish stuck.)

"You might tell me what you think, Nell. You have had so much
experience, in serials."

"Oh!" exclaimed Nell. "I--I _hate_ you, Phil!"

Their door evidently did not stick, for suddenly it slammed, and I
guessed that Nell had rushed in and banged it shut behind her.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Now, it is the next day but one after this episode, and we are at
Utrecht, after having visited an old "kastel" or two more in the
neighborhood of Arnhem, and then following the Rhine where it winds
among fields like a wide, twisted ribbon of silver worked into a fabric
of green brocade. Its high waves, roughened by huge side-wheel steamers,
spilt us into the Lek; and so, past queer little ferries and a great
crowded lock or two, where Alb used his Club flag, we came straight to
the fine old city of which one hears and knows more, somehow, than of
any other in Holland.

I planned to do a little painting here; but, after all, I don't seem to
take as much interest in composing pictures as in trying to puzzle out
the meanings of several things.

I suppose a man never can hope to understand women; but even a woman
sometimes fails to understand another woman. For instance, goaded by
unsatisfied curiosity to know, not only my own fate, but everybody
else's fate, all round, I was tempted to take advantage of nephewhood,
and put the case, as I saw it, to the L.C.P.

I ventured to tell her what I overheard between the girls on their
balcony.

"Now, you must know," I said, "that I'm in love with Phyllis."

"I thought it was Nell," said she.

"So did I, for a while; but I've discovered that it's Phyllis. And I
shall be very much obliged to you if you can tell me something. In fact,
if you _can_, your dear nephew Ronny will present his aunt with a
diamond ring."

"You mean if I tell you what you want to hear."

"No. It must be what you honestly think."

"I don't want a diamond ring," said she, which surprised me extremely.
It was the first time anything worth having has been mentioned which she
did not want, and, usually, ask for.

"A pearl one, then," I suggested in my astonishment.

"I don't want a pearl one--or any other one, so you can save yourself
the trouble of working through a long list," replied the lady who is
engaged to be my obliging relative. "But go on, and ask what you were
going to ask. Anything I can do for you, as an aunt, I will. I am paid
for it."

This grew "curioser and curioser," as Alice had occasion to remark in
her adventures. But having embarked upon my narrative, I went on----

"Whom do you think Phyllis meant when she spoke of trying to learn to
love a man who seemed to love her? Was it Alb, or----"

"Mr. Robert van Buren, perhaps you were going to say," cut in the L.C.P.

"No, I don't mean him," I answered hurriedly. "Modesty forbids me to
mention the name in my mind."

"But it was given to you by your sponsors in baptism. Will it make you
very unhappy if I say I don't think that _was_ the name in her mind?"

"I shall have to bear it," I said. "But, of course, I shall be unhappy."

"We all seem to be unhappy lately," remarked the L.C.P.

"Except you."

"Yes, except me, of course," she responded. "Why should I be unhappy?
Tibe loves me."

"You don't deserve it; but so do we all," said I.

She brightened.

"You are harmful, but necessary," I went on. "We are used to you. We
have even acquired a taste for you, I don't know why, or how. But you
have an uncanny, unauntlike fascination of your own, which we all feel.
At times it is even akin to pain."

"Oh well, the pain will soon be over," said she. "We're at Utrecht now.
Soon we'll be going to Zeeland, from Zeeland back to Rotterdam; and
that's the end of the trip--and my engagement. It will be 'good-by'
then."

"I feel now as if it would be good-by to everything," I sighed. "I never
nursed a fond gazelle----"

"You tried to nurse two," said she. "You're like the dog who dropped the
substance for the shadow."

"Which is which, please?--though to specify would perhaps be ungallant
to both. Besides, I haven't dropped either of them. If Phyllis is lost
to me, I may still be able to fall back on Nell, whom nobody else seems
to claim at present."

"Oh, don't they?" murmured the L.C.P.

"Do they?"

"She may have left dozens of adorers at home, to pick up again when she
goes back. She's a beautiful girl," said her chaperon.

"Radiantly so, and I used to think also possessed of a beautiful
disposition. But since she flew out at poor little Phyllis, who was
asking for advice and comfort, and cried, 'I hate you, Phil--' Now,
you're a woman. What had Phyllis said to put her in a rage?"

The L.C.P. laughed. "Enough to put a saint in a rage," said she. "And
Nell isn't a saint. But they've been more devoted to each other than
ever, since, so she must have repented and apologized, and been
forgiven, before the moon went down. Oh, you poor puzzled creature! I
wouldn't be a _man_ for anything!"

And that was all the satisfaction I could get from her. I remain as much
in the dark as ever. But Robert van Buren, his sisters, and his fiancée
are arriving immediately, and perhaps I may get enlightenment during the
visit. I ought to have some reward, since it is through me that the
Viking is coming with the females of his kind, at this particular time.

In a moment of quixotic generosity at Enkhuisen, I promised Phyllis, as
a newly adopted, if reluctant, brother, that I would make everything
right for her. Afterwards, I was inclined to repent of the plan which
had sprung, Minerva-like full-grown and helmeted, from my suffering
brain. But it was too late then. I had to keep my word, for I was sure
that, deep down in her mind, Phyllis was expecting me to perform some
miracle.

Rather than disappoint her--and lower my self-esteem--I had a talk with
Robert the day he was leaving. Not an intimate talk, for we aren't on
those terms; but I managed to get out of him that he was parting from us
before he had intended because of a letter from the fiancée.

"Young ladies are a little exacting when they are engaged, I suppose,"
said the poor fellow. "They feel they have more right than others to a
man's society."

Then it was that I asked why he didn't bring Freule Menela, chaperoned
by the twins, to Utrecht instead of waiting until we had got as far as
Zeeland, which the fiancée might think too long a journey with such an
object in view. He said that he would ask her.

"Don't seem too anxious," said I, airily. "And don't tell her you want
her to be better acquainted with your cousin and step-cousin. Just
remark that it will be a jolly excursion, eh? And you might add that
Brederode and I--particularly I--are awfully keen on seeing her."

"Very well, I will give that message," said he. And I think he probably
did give it, or something like it; for Nell had a telegram from him,
while we were still doddering about in Friesland, asking if he might
bring the ladies on a visit to Utrecht.

Now, it is "up to me" to carry out that plan made on the impulse of an
unselfish moment.

Moral: do not have unselfish moments.



XXIX


I believe that, in the dark ages, I was rather a good little boy. I used
often to tell the truth, and the whole truth, even when most
inconvenient to my pastors and masters. I gave pennies to the poor,
unless I very much wanted them myself; I said "Now--I--Lay--Me," every
night, and also in the morning till advised that it was inappropriate;
and I sang in a boy's choir, so beautifully and with such a soulful
expression in my eyes, that people used to pat my curls, and fear that I
was destined to die young.

In those days, or even until a few weeks ago no one who looked at me
would have believed me capable of plotting against young and innocent
girls, annexing aunts on the hire system, or deluding uncles-in-law with
misleading statements. Yet these things I have done, and worse; for I
have kept my word to Phyllis Rivers.

If I must commit a crime, my artistic sense bids me do it well; and
then, of course, when one has started in a certain direction, one is
often carried along a little farther than one intended to go at first.

That was what happened to me, in the affair of Robert van Buren and his
fiancée.

I was pledged to Phyllis and myself to free the Viking somehow--anyhow.
It was rash of me to give this pledge, also it was quixotic; and many
hours did not pass after making it, before I was seized with regret, and
convictions that I had been an ass.

Exactly how I was going to do the deed did not occur to me at the time,
but I had an idea which fitted in with my other villainies so well,
that it seemed really a pity not to add it to the richly colored
pattern.

It was for this reason that I dreaded returning to the Hotel du Pays Bas
from a walk about Utrecht, knowing as I did that the van Buren party
would have arrived.

I stayed out, sketching, as long as there was any light, and got a few
good bits of the old town; a shadowed glimpse of one of Utrecht's
strange canals, unique in Holland, with its double streets, one above
the other; an impression of the Cathedral spire, seen beyond a series of
arched bridges; a couple of fishermen bringing up a primitive net,
fastened on four branches, and sparkling as it came out of the water,
like a spider-web spun of crystal.

I was careful not to appear till dinner-time; but one is obliged in
self-defense to dine early in Holland, because what seems early to a
foreigner seems late to a Dutchman. At seven o'clock I went to the
L.C.P.'s sitting-room (it has become a regular thing for her to have a
sitting-room), and behold, they were all assembled.

Nell was plainly dressed in the simplest kind of a white frock, but
Phyllis had made quite a toilet. Poor child! I could guess why. She need
not, however, have given herself the pains. The fiancée, compared with
her, was like a withered lemon beside a delicately ripening peach.

The van Buren twins are delicious creatures; but they did not count in
the little drama. Besides, they are, in any case, too young for drama.
They are just beginning to rehearse for the first act of life; and I
think for them it will be a pretty pastoral, never drama or tragedy, or
even lively comedy.

I knew from Phyllis's description what sort of girl the fiancée would
turn out to be, except that I didn't expect to find her quite so smart.
Her dress, and the hat she had put on for the hotel dinner, might have
come from the Rue de la Paix; which was all the more credit to her, as I
have heard a dozen times if I have heard it once, that she is very
poor--as poor as she is proud.

Now was my time to set the ball rolling; and valiantly I gave it the
first kick. I feigned to be much taken at first sight with the young
lady from The Hague. At once I flung myself into conversation with her,
in which we were both so deeply absorbed, that when the L.C.P. suggested
going down to dinner, nobody can have been surprised when I said,
"Please, all whom it may concern, I want to sit next to Freule Menela
van der Windt at the dinner table." Indeed, most of the party have long
passed the stage of being surprised at anything I do; a state of mind to
which I have carefully trained them. The Viking, however, has not often
seen me at my best, so he stared at this audacity, but on second
thoughts decided not to be displeased.

Neither was the fiancée displeased. I did not attribute her pleasure to
the power of my manly charms; but the young lady is the sort of young
lady to be complimented by almost any marked attention from any man,
especially when other girls, prettier than herself, are present.

I continued to absorb myself in Freule Menela.

She has, I soon discovered, a veneering of intelligence, and a
smattering of information on a number of subjects useful in a
drawing-room. We talked about Dutch art, and French art, and so many
facts was the maiden able to launch at my head, that the lovely
pink-and-white twins gazed at their future sister-in-law with ingenuous
admiration.

Evidently she had gleaned from Robert all he had to tell about me, as
well as about the other members of the party, for she is not the sort of
girl to lay herself out for strangers unless she considers them worth
while.

Apparently she did consider me worth while; and during dinner she had
hardly a word for the Viking, who sat on her other side; but that was
all the better for him, because it gave him a chance to talk across the
table to Phyllis, and to look at her when he was sitting dumb.

"There's going to be an illumination this evening," said Brederode. "You
know the parks and gardens you admired so much last night, as we came
through the canal into Utrecht? Well, there will be colored lights
there; and a walk along the towing-path would be rather nice, if any one
feels inclined for it."

"Oh, do let's go!" exclaimed Phyllis; and the twins echoed her
enthusiastically.

That was enough for Brederode, though neither Nell nor the L.C.P.
replied; and I asked myself by whose side he was planning to walk. Had
he proposed the excursion with an eye to monopolizing the English or the
American Angel?

I stifled the pang which I could not help feeling at the thought that he
should have either, and in a low voice asked Freule Menela van der Windt
if I might be her cavalier, in order to continue our very interesting
argument? I had already forgotten what the last one was about; but that
was a detail.

Had she been a little less well-bred, I think she would have bridled. As
it was, she really did smirk a little, in a ladylike way.

We took cabs, and drove out past all that was commercial, to the place
where the towing-path began to be prettiest, and the illuminations the
most fantastic.

I was in a cab with the fiancée and her prospective sisters-in-law; but
when we got out to walk, I self-sacrificingly flung the twins to the
Chaperon, and, alone with the young lady from The Hague (she never lets
you forget for five minutes together that she is from The Hague) I
slackened my pace and regulated hers to it, that we might drop behind
the others.

The towing-path and the canal were beautiful and fantastic as some night
picture of Venice. A faint mist had risen out of the water at sunset,
and the red, green, and gold lamps suspended from trees and barges
seemed to hang in it like jewels caught in a veil of gauze. The trees
arched over us tenderly, bending as if to listen to words of love. The
soft rose-radiance that hovered in the air made lovely faces
irresistible, and plain ones tolerable. Any normal man would have been
impelled to propose to the nearest pretty girl, whether he had been
previously in love with her or not, and the nearest pretty girl would
have said "yes--yes," without stopping to think about her feelings
to-morrow.

Freule Menela van der Windt is not pretty; but without her _pince-nez_,
she looked almost piquant in the pink lights and blue shadows which
laced our features as we passed, for which I was devoutly thankful, as
it made my task comparatively easy. I found her softer, more feminine,
more sympathetic, than she had been in the hotel. She would, she said,
like to see America; and that gave me my chance. It was a pity, I told
her, that such an intelligent and broad-minded young lady should not
travel about the world before settling down in such a small, though
charming, country as Holland.

Instantly she caught me up, with a little laugh. "Why should you take it
for granted that I am going to 'settle down' anywhere?"

"Oh," said I, rather embarrassed at this direct attack, "I--er--was told
that Mr. van Buren had been lucky enough to persuade you to live in
Rotterdam."

"Never!" exclaimed Freule Menela, deeply interested in this conversation
about herself. "I will never live in Rotterdam!"

"But," I ventured, with an air of eagerness, "if you should marry a man
whose interests are in Rotterdam----"

"It isn't at all decided that I shall marry such a man," she answered
sharply.

"Not decided?" I repeated anxiously. "Look here, you know, I don't
think it's fair to other men that it should be taken for granted you're
engaged, if you're not really."

"Why should it matter to other men?" asked the lady.

"Oh, well, it might, you see. There might--er--be some man who met you
for the first time after he'd heard of your engagement, and who for his
own peace of mind didn't dare let himself admire your brilliant talents
as much as he would like to."

Now, I had got as far as I intended to go. Some dim idea of rescuing the
Viking from the girl he doesn't love, to give him to the girl he does
(and I do), had been floating in my mind ever since that stormy night at
Enkhuisen. I had thought that Freule Menela was the sort of girl who
might drop the meat for the sake of the shadow; but having indicated the
presence of a floating, ghostly shadow--which might belong to any one or
no one--I had no idea of advancing further, even to bestow happiness on
Phyllis.

I had argued with my conscience, "If she's a woman who's ready to throw
over the man she's engaged to, just because he isn't very rich or
particularly eligible in her eyes, and because some other vague person
looming on the horizon has more money than Number One, why, it's a sure
sign that she accepted Number One because she couldn't get any one else,
therefore she doesn't deserve to keep him, and she does deserve not only
to see him slip away, but to see the shadow go with him."

However, I had not taken Freule Menela's talents into due account--or my
own failings.

"Is there such a man?" she asked.

"There might be," I cautiously repeated. "The question is, are you
engaged to Mr. van Buren, or are you not?"

"There has been an understanding between his family and mine, for many
years, that some day we should marry," she answered. "And, of course,
he's very fond of me, though you might not think it from his manner. He
often appears to feel more interest in women for whom he cares nothing,
than in me, to whom he is devoted. That is a characteristic of men who
have his reserved nature."

"I'm afraid I don't understand reserved natures," said I. "If I care for
any one, I can't help showing it."

"I have often thought," went on Freule Menela, "of telling Robert van
Buren that he and I are not suited to each other. My ideal man is very
different. And besides, as I said, _nothing_ could induce me to settle
down in Rotterdam."

"You might make that the determining point," I suggested, "if you were
looking for an excuse to save his feelings."

"Do you really think so?" she asked.

"I certainly do. Then you could leave him the choice. Rotterdam, without
you; the more lively place, with you. Oh! don't you think, for your sake
and his, you ought to do this at once?"

"And a little for the sake of--the other man?" she asked, archly.

I dared not inquire, stonily, "What other man?" lest the work I had
accomplished should be destroyed in a single stroke. So I said----

"Yes, and for the sake of the other man."

"You believe it would really matter to him?"

She looked up so anxiously as she put this question that, quite apart
from the interests of Phyllis Rivers, I could not have dashed hers, or
any other woman's hopes, by giving an unchivalrous answer. Let come what
might, I could not deliberately bring the pallor of humiliation to a
female face, especially after words of mine had once caused it to glow
with pleasure.

"How could I believe otherwise?" I demanded; and my tone sounded almost
too sincere in my own ears.

For a moment Freule Menela van der Windt did not answer, and I hoped
that her thoughts had hopped to some other branch of the subject; but
presently she broke out, as if impelled by impulse to utter her thought
to a congenial soul.

"Isn't it strange how sometimes one seems to know a person one has only
just met, better than another, with whom one has been intimate for
years?"

"That is often so," I hurried to assure her, with the idea of
establishing the commonplaceness of such an experience.

"You feel it, too?" Her eyes were fixed on me, and I answered "Yes,"
before I had time to decide whether, at this point, it would not be
safer not to feel it.

"I've often been told that American men are very impulsive. But--are
there many like you?" asked Freule Menela.

"Lots," I said quickly.

"Oh, then it's really true that it is quite a usual thing among your
country people, for a man to tell a girl he cares for her, when he has
seen her only once?"

"I--er--really don't know about that," I answered, beginning to be
disturbed in soul.

"You know only how it is with yourself?" Freule Menela murmured, with a
girlish laugh that betrayed suppressed excitement. "Well, Mr. Starr, I
think it would be foolish to pretend to misunderstand. I have heard much
about you--perhaps you have heard a little of me?--yet you have taken me
by storm. The thing I love best is art. You are a great artist--and you
are a man of the world. You have all the fire of genius--and geniuses
have a right to do things which other men may not do. I believe you have
made me more interested in you, in these last two hours we have spent
together, than I have been in any one else in as many years. And because
of you, and what you have said--so delicately yet so unmistakably--I am
going now to take your advice about Robert."

Before I could stop her, even if I had had the courage and presence of
mind, she walked quickly away from me, and joined Phyllis and van
Buren, who were sauntering a few yards ahead.

My brain whirled, and threatened to give way in the horror of the
situation. I could have shouted aloud with the shrill intensity of a
drowning man, "Alb, save me!" But Alb was far in front, strolling with
the van Buren twins, while the one van Buren in whom he is really
interested walked behind him with my temporary aunt. And in any case, he
could have done nothing. Before my stunned wits had time to rebound,
Phyllis the sweet and gentle had turned and flown to me, as if for
refuge, like a homing dove threatened by a hawk.

"Brother dear," she whispered, "may I walk with you, please? Freule
Menela says there is something she has been wanting all day to talk over
with Mr. van Buren; so I thought I had better leave them alone, and drop
behind with you--if you don't mind having me?"

"Mind!" I echoed in my turmoil of spirit. "It's a happy relief."

"I thought you seemed quite fascinated by Freule Menela," exclaimed the
poor innocent one, "I asked Mr. van Buren if he were not jealous."

"How unkind of you!"

"I didn't mean to be unkind--at least, I _hope_ I didn't," said Phyllis.
"Only, do you know, dear brother--since I am to confide my real feelings
to you--I'm never quite sure of myself where that girl is concerned. I
can't stand her. I'm _so_ sorry for poor Mr. van Buren. What do you
suppose he answered when I asked him that question about being jealous
of you--that rather naughty question? He said, 'Would to Heaven she were
his, not mine!'"

Had I been on St. Lawrence's gridiron, I could not have helped
chortling.

"I'm not at all sure she isn't," I muttered, under my breath; but
Phyllis caught the words.

"What do you mean?" she gasped. "Oh, it _can't_ be you mean anything,
_do_ you?"

"Well, anyhow, I mean that it's very likely she won't long be his," I
explained, fired with anxiety to please the girl at any cost.

"It sounds too glorious to be true. It _can't_ be true! But if it could!
It's no use saying I wouldn't be glad--for poor Mr. van Buren's sake;
he's so much too nice for her--mercenary, conceited, selfish little
creature."

"Right, on every count," said I.

"I don't quite understand you," said Phyllis. "But I can't help feeling
that, if anything splendid does happen, it will be all through
you--somehow. You promised me, didn't you?--well, I don't know exactly
what you promised; but it made me feel happy and sure everything would
come out well, that night when you said you'd like to have me for a
sister."

"_Did_ I say that?" I asked in surprise.

"_Didn't_ you? I thought----"

"Go on thinking so, then," I sighed; "and anything else that will make
you happy--little sister."

"Thank you. Now I know, by the mysterious way you're looking at me, that
you _have_ done something. I believe you made him--I mean Mr. van
Buren--come to see us again sooner than he intended to."

"Perhaps. And perhaps I made him bring Freule Menela with him."

"Did you? I wish--but no. I mustn't think of that."

"Wait a few hours and then think what you like," said I. Yet I spoke
gloomily. I could see where the Viking was to come in. But I could not
so clearly see how I was to get out.

We walked a very long way before any one seemed to wonder where we were
going, and why we should be going there; but at last we came to a
tea-garden, or a beer-garden, or both; and the L.C.P. said that we must
stop and give Tibe a bowl of milk.

Not a member of the party who did not appear singularly absent-minded,
on stopping and grouping with the others again, not excepting Tibe
himself; but his absent-mindedness was caused only by the antics of a
water-rat, which he would have liked to see added to his milk. When it
occurred to him to drink the milk, unenriched by such an addition, we
were all eating pink and white ices, and Dutch cakes that must have been
delicious to those who had no Freule Menela sticking in their throats.

Phyllis walked beside me all the way back to the hotel, and was dearer
than ever now that, through my own quixotic act, I saw her rapidly
becoming unattainable. But, as the ladies said good-night to us at the
foot of the stairs, Freule van der Windt contrived to whisper, as she
slipped her hand into mine--"For better for worse, I've taken _your_
advice, Mr. Starr. I am absolutely _free_."

"How did you manage it?" I heard myself asking.

"Robert _insisted_ on living in Rotterdam. He wouldn't even consent to
winter at The Hague, though it's so near; so his blood is on his own
head."

"And joy in his heart," I might have added. But I did not speak at all.

"Haven't you _anything_ to say?" she asked coyly; though her eyes, as
they fixed mine, were not coy, but eager; and I felt, eerily, that she
was wondering whether the millions, of which she'd heard, were in
English pounds or American dollars.

I hesitated. If I replied "Nothing," she would probably snatch Robert
back from Phyllis lips, and I had not gone so far along the path of
villainy to fail my Burne-Jones Angel now.

"I will tell you what I have to say to-morrow," I answered, in a low
voice; and then I am afraid that, to be convincing, I almost squeezed
her hand.



XXX


We were called early in the morning, to take the twins and Freule
Menela--the fiancée no longer--for a drive through Utrecht, to see the
beautiful parks and the Cathedral before starting on the day's journey.
Since the making of this plan, however, many things were changed. Robert
and Menela were both "disengaged," and how they would think it decorous
to behave to each other, how the twins would treat the lady (if the
truth had been revealed), remained to be seen. If I had had no personal
interest at stake, I should have found pleasure in the situation, and in
watching how things shaped themselves; but, as it was, I realized that I
might be one of the things to be shaped, and that I should be lucky if I
were allowed to shape myself.

I thought it well to be late to breakfast, lest the erstwhile fiancée
and I should meet _en tête-à-tête_; and it was evident, at a glance,
that Lisbeth and Lilli already knew all. The admirable Menela had
probably told them in their bedroom over night, thus giving the pair
plenty of solid food for dreams; and the pretty creatures were pale,
self-conscious, and nervous, not knowing how to bear themselves after
the earthquake which had shaken the relationship of years.

Robert also was uneasy; but, to my regret, emotion enhanced his good
looks. What I had done had not been done for his benefit. I had not
jeopardized my happiness to make him more attractive, to give fire to
his eyes, and an expression of manly self-control striving with passion,
to his already absurdly perfect features. Though, plainly, he was
undergoing some mental crisis, he held his feelings so well in leash
that no outsider could have judged whether he were the saddest or the
happiest of men, and his sisters watched him anxiously, hoping to
receive a guiding clue for their own behavior.

As for Freule Menela, she was as composed as ever, and had a
self-satisfied air, as though, having slept on it, she was more pleased
than ever with the course she had adopted.

Phyllis knew nothing yet, except what she had gleaned from me last
night, I was sure of that; but I was not so sure about Alb, who wore a
clouded brow. Whether he was worrying over his own affairs, or whether
friend Robert had commandered his hero's sympathy, I could not guess,
and dared not ask. Nor had I much time to speculate upon Alb's business,
for I saw by Freule Menela's eye that my own was pressing, and all my
energies were bent in steering clear of her during the good-by excursion
through Utrecht.

Luckily, the party distributed itself in two carriages, and though I
could not resist the fair Menela's "Come with me, Mr. Starr,"
fortunately the L.C.P. jumped in with Tibe, whose mood was so
obstreperous that clearly he did not find canal life relaxing. Then
arose a discussion between Nell and Phyllis as to which should sit in
the other carriage, and Nell came to us, wishing, perhaps, to avoid Alb,
whose society seems of late to cast a blight of silence upon her.

"Now," said I to myself, "if the late fiancée can't wind her tentacles
round a new victim in this vehicle, neither can Robert escape her toils
by proposing to Phyllis in that one, surrounded by his family circle. If
he doesn't seize his chance soon, he'll miss it forever; because once
his Freule discovers that she isn't to be claimed by another, she'll
find it convenient to change her mind about life in Rotterdam. I may be
saint--or villain--enough to keep her dangling till sunset; but then, at
latest, I shall have to cut her down; and woe to any Viking who happens
to lie about loose and unattached, when she falls to earth with a dull
thud."

Far be it from the clever lady of The Hague to admit that there was a
place on earth of which she did not know everything; and though I have
reason to believe that she never saw Utrecht till yesterday, she was so
busy telling us about it that we were behind the others in arriving on
board "Mascotte," our appointed rendezvous.

I noticed instantly that Phyllis was not on deck, helping Alb to
entertain the twins, as her kind soul would have prompted her to do. Of
course, she might be below, in one of the cabins; but where was Robert?
It was a coincidence that he, too, should be missing. Yet no one
attempted to offer an explanation. Lilli and Lisbeth merely looked
flurried and pink when Freule Menela came airily on board with me, and
Alb appeared interested in giving instructions to Hendrik, who disputed
respectfully with Tibe possession of countless yards of his beloved
cotton waste.

At last, however, I began to wonder why we did not get away. The day's
trip was to be a return to Amsterdam, not with the object of reviving
impressions of that city, but for the pleasure of the run through the
River Vecht, which Alb praised as the prettiest stream in the
Netherlands, and named a miniature Thames.

It was ten o'clock, and, as usual, we were timed to start at ten; but I
did not consider it my place to ask the reason why, or any other
question about starting. Mine, but to do or die--and keep out of reach
of Freule Menela.

It was through Nell that the mystery was solved, as we stood chatting on
deck.

"Where's Phil?" she inquired of the twins.

"Gone back to the hotel to find something she forgot to pack," said
Lilli.

"And brother Robert has taken her," said Lisbeth, with a fleeting glance
at the self-deposed fiancée.

This revelation of Phyllis's diplomacy came upon me with a shock. She is
such a simple-minded Angel; but I suppose all girls are alike in some
ways. And she is so kind-hearted, she must have been anxious to put
Robert out of his misery as soon as she could. Well, she couldn't have
done it much sooner.

"There they come," cried Lilli. And perhaps I should have been tempted
to search their faces for news if Freule Menela had not turned her back
upon the advancing figures, and begun to talk, with an air of
proprietorship, to me.

"It's found!" cried Phyllis, to all whom it might concern. "I was
so--fond of it, I should have hated losing it. And it was _so_ kind of
Mr. van Buren to help me."

I wondered whether there were others on board beside myself who detected
in this announcement a double meaning? Something in her voice told me
that she really was thankful not to have lost the thing of which she was
so fond, the thing for which she had gone back to the hotel, the thing
Mr. van Buren had kindly helped her to find. But there was no chance for
a self-sacrificing brother to question his sister. Freule Menela saw to
that.

It was my luck at its worst, to be torn in my mind on this exquisite day
on the Vecht. Once in a while it dimly comes back to me that, in a past
existence unbrightened by Nell Van Buren and Phyllis Rivers, I came to
Holland with the object of painting pictures. Never, since my arrival in
the bright little country of wide spaces, have I had a keener incentive
to improve the shining hours; but how can a man remember that he's an
artist when the girl he loves has engaged herself to another man, and
one of the few girls he never could love is rapidly engaging herself to
him?

It was in self-defense, not a real desire for work, that I fled to
"Waterspin" and screened myself behind easel and canvas. And then it was
but to find that I had jumped from the frying-pan into the fire.

My move was made while "Mascotte" and her fat companion lay at rest,
that Alb might buy fruit for us from a fruit boat; and Freule Menela
also availed herself of the quiet interval.

"May I come and watch you paint?" she asked, in a tone which showed that
vanity made her sure of a welcome.

I longed for the brutal courage to say that I could never work with an
audience; but I remembered letting slip last night the fact that I
constantly sat sketching on the deck of "Mascotte," during the most
crowded hours of life.

I murmured something, with a smile which needed oiling; and, accepting
the grudging help of my hand, she floated across with an affected little
scream.

"I saw a lovely picture you painted for Miss Rivers," she said, when she
was settled in a camp-stool at my side. "Will you do one for me?"

"With pleasure," I answered. "This one shall be for you. But if you want
it to be good, we mustn't talk. I shall have to concentrate my mind on
my work."

"Thanks for the compliment," she laughed. "I give you leave to forget
me--for a little while."

So I did my best to take her at her word, and tried impressionist
sketches of the charming and ever-changing scene, upon which her
presence was the sole blot; the beautiful old houses set back from the
river on flowery lawns, faded coats-of-arms glowing red and blue and
gold over quaint doorways shaded by splendid trees; fairy villas rising
from billows of pink peonies and green hydrangeas; humble cottages, with
tiny window-panes of twinkling glass, shining out from bowers of late
roses; dove-gray windmills beckoning across piles of golden hay; above,
clouds like flocks of snowy sheep, racing along wide sky-pastures, blue
with the blue of forget-me-nots; below, a crystal flood foaming white
with water-lilies that dipped before the prow of our advancing boat.

Over this crust of pearl, poised always long-stemmed, yellow lilies,
like hovering butterflies; and, in a clear space of water, each little
wave caught the sun and sky reflection, so that it seemed rimmed with
gold and set with a big, oval turquoise.

"Well--have I pleased you?" Freule Menela asked at last.

[Illustration: _"Well--have I pleased you?" Freule Menela asked at
last_]

The moment had come for an understanding. With my two hands, unaided I
had saved Phyllis, and now I must save--or lose--myself. Of course there
was no choice which to do. I had played my fish and caught it, and as it
was not the kind of fish I liked for dinner, I must tear it off the hook
and throw it back into the sea, wriggling. I told myself that it was a
bad, as well as an unattractive fish, that if I hadn't hooked it, most
surely it would have bolted the beautiful little golden minnow I had
been protecting. Still--still, there it was, smiling on the hook, that
bad fish, trusting the hand which had caught and would betray it. It
deserved nothing of that hand or any other hand; but suddenly, I found
mine powerless.

"Phyllis, Phyllis," I groaned in spirit, "you will be my death, for to
save you I caught this fish; now I may have to eat it, and it will
surely choke me."

Before my eyes stretched a horrible vista of years, lived through with
Freule Menela--mean little, vain, disloyal Freule Menela--by my side,
contentedly spending my money and bearing my name, while I faded like a
lovely lily on the altar of self-sacrifice.

In another instant I should have said yes, she had pleased me; she would
have answered; and just because she is a woman I should have had to say
something which she might have taken as she chose; so that it would have
been all over for Ronald Lester Starr; but at this moment the two boats
began to slow down. I suppose that Toon, at the steering-wheel of
"Waterspin," must have received a message, which I was too
preoccupied to hear; and as speed slackened, came the voice which others
know as that of my Aunt Fay.

Never had it been so welcome, sounded so sweet, as now, when it brought
my reprieve.

"Ronald dear," cooed the mock-Scottish accents, "you'd better get ready
at once to lunch on shore, for Jonkheer Brederode has another surprise
for us--and I know that by this time your hands, if not your face, are
covered with paint."

Wonderful woman! It was as if inspiration had sent her to my rescue. Not
that I am at all sure she would have laid herself out to rescue me from
any snare, had she known of its existence; for though, before the watery
world I am "Ronny dear" to her, she is not as considerate with me in
private as she used to be when we first started.

We have been frank with each other at times, the L.C.P. and I, and the
pot has said in plain words what it thinks of the kettle's true
character. When the time comes for us to part it may be that her little
ladyship will be still more frank, and let me know, in polite language,
that seeing the last of her borrowed nephew is "good riddance of bad
rubbish." Nevertheless, her extraordinary, though indescribable,
cleverness has woven a kind of web about us all; and whether I am able
to respect the L.C.P. or not, I was conscious of passionate gratitude to
her as she arrested me with the bad fish half-way to my mouth.

The boats stopped at a private landing, small, but so remarkable that I
thought for an instant the whole thing must be an optical illusion.

We had come to rest in the deep shadow of enormous trees. Leaning over
the rail of a snug little harbor two dummy men in rakish hats and dark
coats stared at the new arrivals with lack-luster eyes. And the dummies,
and the wooden wall on which they were propped, with a strange painted
motto consisting of snakes, and dogs, and sticks, and a yard measure,
were all repeated with crystal-clear precision in the green mirror of
quiet water.

"How annoying, just as we were going to have another delicious talk!"
exclaimed Menela.

"Yes," said I. "But it can't be helped. Where are we? Is this
fairyland?"

"It must be the place of Heer Dudok de Wit," answered the young lady,
snappily. "He is a wonderful man, and many people say that no visit to
Holland can be complete without a visit to his house. He's a great
character--has walked all over the world, and brought back curiosities
for his museum, to which he gives free admission. And from what I hear,
there is nothing else he won't give, if asked for it--he's so
generous--from a night's lodging or all his best peaches, up to a
present of a thousand gulden to a distressed stranger. This can be no
other house than his; and I believe Rudolph Brederode is a far-off
cousin of Heer de Wit, just as Rudolph is of mine, on the other side. I
don't see our host, though. Perhaps he is away on one of his walking
tours."

"Or in bed," said I. "Taking a noon-day nap, to forget the heat."

"No, for one of his peculiarities is, never to go to bed. He hasn't been
in bed for twenty-five years. I don't know how he sleeps--but, look!
there he is now. I recognize him from photographs in newspapers."

My eyes followed her nod, which appeared to be aimed at the river. I
looked for a boat, but spied a head floating among water-lilies.

It was not a loose head of some early Dutch martyr miraculously
preserved--as seemed possible in a place of such surprises--for it
smiled and bowed, and addressed Brederode as its dear Rudolph.

Its wet hair, glittering like silver in the water, was rather long, its
eyes were like brown jewels, it had faultless features, not at all of a
modern cast, but like those one sees in a seventeenth-century portrait;
and its smile, even when visible only as far down as the lower lip, was
charming.

The famous Mr. Dudok de Wit, bobbing nearer, explained that he had
unduly prolonged his daily swimming bath, owing to the sultriness of the
day. As it was, he had been in the water no more than an hour or two,
but he was delighted to see us, would come out at once, and expect us to
lunch with him at Breukelen, which is the name of his place.

He did come out, in a neat bathing-suit, desiring us to follow him into
the house, where we might amuse ourselves until he was dressed,
wandering among his treasures in the drawing-room.

The luncheon in the quaint old house, the stroll through the grounds and
the hour in the museum, were among Alb's successes; but I was past
grudging it to him; besides, he flaunted no triumphant airs. Why should
he, when Phyllis had eyes only for her Viking, and Nell, in a newly
developed appreciation of her twin cousins, had no time to remember his
existence?

I did think that she might have stretched out a hand to save me from
Menela, but if she had any conception of what was going on, she thought
me able to take care of myself, and I should have been left to the
tender mercies of the creature I had freed had it not been for the
L.C.P.

During the afternoon, when we had left Breukelen and were gliding on,
along the lily-burdened river toward Amsterdam, she unobtrusively made
it her business to protect me from the sallies of the enemy, even
engaging that enemy herself, as if she were my squire at arms. Now, if
never before, she was worth her weight in gold, and as I saw her
politely entangle the unwilling Menela in conversation, I vowed to buy
her a present worth having when we arrived in Amsterdam.



XXXI


When a man sacrifices himself for a woman, he naturally likes to have
the satisfaction of knowing that he has made a success; and I felt that
a melancholy pleasure would be mine should I learn that Phyllis had
profited by my kindness. It would have been flattering to my
self-esteem, also, though perhaps disastrous to my ribs, if Robert van
Buren had thrown himself upon my bosom, thanking me for his deliverance
from bondage. I had to remind myself that he could not possibly know
what he owed me, or I should have been unjust enough to accuse him of
ingratitude.

A heavy shower came on while we were driving in open cabs through
Amsterdam, therefore the moment we arrived at the well-remembered hotel
of our last visit, the various members of the band had to skurry off to
their rooms and change their drenched garments. As no plan of campaign
had been arranged for the rest of the day--it was then past five--we did
not meet again, as a party, until dinner-time, when we all came together
with the exception of Brederode, who absented himself to dine with a
friend.

It was the first time that he had been away, and to my surprise I
discovered that, when a Mariner has carried an Albatross about with him
week after week, he actually misses the creature if he mislays it.
Somehow, we seemed to be at loose ends without Brederode. Lacking an
organizer, nobody knew what to do; and if he had wished to enhance his
value, he couldn't have chosen a better way. As if at a loss for any
other subject of common interest, we fell to talking of the absent
one--all save Nell, who listened in silence, not once joining in until
Freule Menela capped an anecdote of Robert's in praise of his hero, by
remarking----

"Of course Rudolph's brave enough; but that's no particular credit to
him. All Brederodes have been brave, since the days of the Water Beggar.
But I'm afraid he's quite aware of that, and all his other perfections.
He _is_ rather conceited, and as for obstinacy----"

Then at last Nell had something to say for herself. "Doesn't it strike
you," she asked with elaborate sweetness, "that a person may have
self-respect and firmness without being either obstinate or conceited?"

"Well!" exclaimed Robert, in the pause which followed, "that's the first
time I've ever heard you defend Rudolph, Cousin Helen."

"He has proved himself such a faithful skipper that it's my duty, as the
owner of the boat, to defend the good qualities which have served us
best," replied Nell, looking so brilliantly pretty, with her flushed
cheeks and sparkling eyes, that I felt there might still be consolations
in life for me, if only I could attain them.

The situation was now becoming strained on all sides. Not that it was
made so by the conversation I have just set down, but by the peculiar
relations of several persons in the party.

The original plan of the Robert-Menela-Twins visit was that, having
arrived at Utrecht, they should be taken on by us to Rotterdam, before
"Mascotte" and "Waterspin" bore us northward again to Zeeland. This
roundabout way of journeying was the penalty of our beautiful day on the
Vecht; because, to see the Vecht after Utrecht, we were obliged to land
at Amsterdam; and as there was no nearer way of reaching Zeeland than by
passing Rotterdam, we were not going out of our way in landing the van
Buren party so near home. But to go by canal from Amsterdam to
Rotterdam would take us one long day; and as we had a pair of severed
lovers among us, that long day's association, on a small boat, would be
awkward.

The obvious thing was for Robert to invent a pretext and vanish. But
Robert, no doubt, had his own reasons for wishing to stay, and besides,
he had the excuse that he could not go without taking his sisters. If
his sisters went, they could not well leave the friend they had brought
with them; neither did it seem practicable for her to depart in their
company as she had just jilted their brother, who would have to act as
escort for all three. This difficulty must have presented itself to
Freule Menela, for she gave no indication of a desire to leave us.
Perhaps she thought it better to endure the ills she knew than fly to
others she knew not; and by way of accustoming herself to those ills,
she kept unremittingly near me, when, after dinner, we assembled in
"Aunt Fay's" inevitable sitting-room.

If I were a woman I should have been on the verge of hysterics, but
being handicapped by manhood, I merely yearned to bash some one on the
head as a relief to my feelings; and lest that some one should be Freule
Menela, at last I got to my feet and announced my intention of taking a
walk in the rain.

"What wouldn't I give to go with you!" exclaimed the young lady. "It's
so close here, and I've had no exercise to-day. I am fond of walking in
the rain."

"I will chaperon you," said the L.C.P.

"Oh, we need not trouble you, Lady MacNairne," protested Menela. "It
might give you rheumatism; and girls in Holland are allowed to be very
independent."

My heart sank. How could even the ever resourceful L.C.P. get round that
sharp corner?

She was equal to it. "You are very considerate," she replied, "but I am
old-fashioned and used to _Scotch_ ways; and in Scotland even _elderly_
persons like myself are used also to walking in the rain, otherwise we
should seldom walk at all. Indeed, we rather like rain, in pleasant
company."

With this, she got up briskly, and it was as a trio that we had our wet
walk through the streets of Amsterdam.

The shops were still bright, however, and I stopped my two companions
under their dripping umbrellas, in front of a window blazing with a
display of jewelry.

"Now, what should you say was the most beautiful thing of the lot?" I
asked.

"That ring," promptly answered Menela, pointing to a pigeon-blood
cabuchon ruby, of heart shape, set with clear white diamonds.

It was a ring for a lover to offer to his lady.

[Illustration: _It was a ring for a lover to offer to his lady_]

"You are right," agreed the L.C.P. "There's nothing else in the window
to touch that."

"Let's go in and buy it, then," I said. "I have a friend to whom I
should like to make a little present."

"Little present!" echoed Menela. "It will cost you three thousand gulden
at the least."

"That is not too costly, considering everything," said I, mysteriously.
And I was bubbling with malicious joy, as, by right of purchase, the
ring became mine. "Each one of them considers it as good as hers," I
said to myself. "To-morrow evening, at Rotterdam, if I am safely spared
from Freule Menela, and she is gone out of my life forever, that ring
may change hands; but it won't go to The Hague."

I dreamed all night that I was pursued by Robert's escaped fiancée, and
dodging her, ran into the arms of Sir Alec MacNairne, who denounced me
fiercely as a murderer. Nor was there much relief in awaking; for I knew
that in her room, divided from me only by a friendly wall or two, Freule
Menela lay planning how to trap me.

"If I am to be saved," I said to myself, "I'm afraid it won't be by my
own courage or resource. I must look to my aunt. She fought for me nobly
all day; but there are still twelve hours of danger. With her and Menela
it's a case of Greek meeting Greek. Will she be clever enough to pull me
through?"



XXXII


I knew I looked haggard, and hoped I looked interesting, when I appeared
in the big hall of the hotel after breakfast in the morning, ten minutes
before the time at which we were to start for Rotterdam.

There were the twins, talking to Nell. There was Brederode, studying a
map of the waterways; there was the L.C.P. teaching Tibe a trick which
for days he had been mildly declining to learn; there were Phyllis and
the Viking wrapt in each other in the seclusion of a corner. But where
was Freule Menela?

I asked the question aloud, and self-consciously.

"She's gone," announced the lady who is not my aunt.

"Gone?" I echoed.

"Yes, home to The Hague. She had a telegram, and was obliged to leave at
once, by the first train, instead of waiting to travel slowly with us."

"Oh!" said I; adding, hypocritically, "What a pity!"

The small and rather pretty mouth of the L.C.P. arched upward, so I
suppose she smiled.

"Yes, isn't it?" said she.

Nobody else spoke, but I felt that the silence of Robert and the twins
was more eloquent than words.

When I had overcome the first giddy rapture of returning life, and was
sure that I was steady on my feet, I dared to dally with the subject. I
asked if bad news had come for Freule Menela, expressed devout relief
that it had not, and piped regret at being deprived of a farewell.

"She left a message," explained the L.C.P. "I saw her off--as was my
duty, since she did not care to disturb dear Nell, so early in the
morning. You see, I alone was in her confidence. I knew, last night,
after you had all gone to bed, that the telegram _might_ come, and I
promised if it did, to go with her to the station. Remind me to give you
the message--when we've started."

As she said this, I felt instinctively that I should have seen deep
meaning in her eyes, were they not hidden by their blue glasses; and
curiosity to know the worst battled with reluctance to hear it. Perhaps
it was well that at this moment Alb gathered us for a start, and that
there was no chance for private conversation in the carriage, which took
Nell, one of the twins, and the Chaperon with me to the Rowing and
Yachting Club, where "Mascotte" and "Waterspin" awaited us. This respite
gave me time to get on my armor, and fasten up several, if not all the
buckles--some of which I realized were lamentably weak.

On board, there was the usual business of putting our belongings to
rights after an absence on shore; and when I came on to "Mascotte" from
"Waterspin," already Amsterdam--with its smoke cloud and widespreading
mass of buildings, like gray bubbles against the clear sky--was sinking
out of sight. We were teuf-teufing comfortably along a modest canal,
leading us southward, and Alb was explaining to the L.C.P. and the van
Buren girls that, to reach Rotterdam by the shortest way, he meant to
avoid the places we had seen: Aalsmeer, with its menagerie of little
tree-animals, and the great Haarlemmer-meer Polder. Suddenly, as the
motor's speed increased, after taking me on, Phyllis left Robert and
Nell, to come to my side. A look from her beautiful eyes warned me that
something interesting was due, and by one accord, we moved as far as
possible from our friends.

"Best of brothers," she whispered; "I've been dying to thank you. At
last my chance has come. You are wonderful! You _said_ you would, you
know, and that I was to trust you; but I never thought you _could_. How
did you do it?"

"With my little hatchet," I answered dreamily.

Her eyes opened wide. "Your--what?"

"It needed a sharp instrument," said I. "But how did you know it was
mine?"

"You were with her so much, and had so many private talks. I felt you
had a plan. But I could only _hope_, not expect. Do tell me everything."

"Suppose you tell _me_ everything," I bargained. "We may be playing at
cross purposes. What has happened to you?"

"I'm engaged," said Phyllis. "Isn't it glorious?"

"I don't know that I should go so far as to say that," I replied,
wondering why my heart was not aching harder.

"Perhaps, then, you've never been in love?" she suggested.

"Oh, haven't I? I've been in nothing else lately--except hot water."

"You do say such odd things. But I bless you, if I can't understand you.
You've made me _so_ happy."

"You didn't tell me you were in love with Robert."

"Of course not--_then_. It would have been too bold, even to tell
myself, when--he was engaged to some one else. But pity's akin to love,
isn't it? And there was no harm in pitying him because he was bound to
a--a _creature_, who could never deserve his love."

"Even if he hadn't given it to you."

"That was _fate_, wasn't it? But if it hadn't been for my clever
brother, we could never have belonged to each other."

"Some men are born brothers, some achieve brotherhood, others have it
thrust upon them," I muttered. "You and he had better take advantage of
the lull to be married," I said aloud.

"The lull?"

"In Freule Menela. She'll be hailing and thundering and lightning
soon."

"Oh, do you think she'll try to get Robert back again?" gasped Phyllis.

"Unless another and riper fruit drops into her mouth."

"As if it would! You frighten me. Robert did beg last night that I'd
marry him almost at once, and not go back to England--unless--on our
honeymoon. I told him I wouldn't think of such a thing.
But--perhaps--oh, we _couldn't_ lose each other now. I do believe we
were made for one another."

"I begin to believe so, too," said I.

And as that belief increased, so decreased the pain of my loss. Phyllis
still is, and ever will be, a Burne-Jones Angel; and when, with her
sleeves rolled up, she makes cake in the six-foot-by-six kitchen of
"Waterspin," among the blue china and brasses, she is enough to melt the
heart of Diogenes. Nevertheless, I cannot break mine at losing a girl
who was born for a Robert van Buren. After all, Nell is more
bewilderingly beautiful, and has twice Phyllis's magnetism. She has too
fine a sense of humor to fall in love with a man's inches and muscles.
That one speech of Phyllis's taught me resignation, and showed me in a
flash that, despite her charms, she is somewhat early Victorian.

I glanced toward Nell, on whose brilliant face indifference to her
good-looking cousin was expressed, as she stood talking to him--probably
about himself--and wondered how, for a little while, my worship could
have strayed from her to Phyllis. A girl born for Robert van Buren!--A
sense of calm, beatific brotherliness stole through my veins. Nell had
never been so lovely or so lovable, and I resolved to find out from my
sister if she still thought there might be hope for me in that
direction.

"I shouldn't keep Robert waiting," I went on, without a pang. "There's
no telling what Freule Menela mightn't do. She's clever--as well as
spiteful."

"And poor Robert is so honorable," sighed Phyllis. "If he'd known that
you were working to--to free him, he might have felt it was a plot, and
have refused to accept his release. You don't think I ought to tell him,
do you?"

"Certainly not," said I. "That's our secret."

"How good you are! Well, I'll take your advice. Yet it does seem so
strange--to be married, and live in Holland, when I never thought that
anything could be really nice out of England. But Robert seems to me
exactly like an Englishman: that's why I love him so dreadfully."

"And I suppose you seem to him exactly like a Dutch girl: and that's why
he loves you so dreadfully," was the answer in my mind; but I kept it
there. It might have dashed Phyllis's happiness to realize this truth.

"If I let Robert make arrangements for our marriage almost at once,
Freule Menela couldn't get him back, could she, for he would be more
bound to me than he ever was to her," said my sister.

"In that line alone lies safety," I replied. "Have you told Miss Van
Buren--your stepsister, I mean?"

"Oh yes, as soon as it happened, of course. Nell and I never have
secrets from each other--at least, we haven't till lately. I thought she
would have guessed, but do you know, she _didn't_? She fancied, from
things I'd said, that I was making up my mind to--that is, to try and
learn to care for _another person_. She disapproved of my doing that, it
seems, which is the reason she's been so odd. Not that she didn't
consider us suited to each other--the other one and I--but she thought,
with all his faults, he was so much of a man that it wasn't fair for a
girl to accept his love if she had to try and learn to care for him
simply because he happened to be _there_. I see now, in the light of
this new happiness, that she was quite right. But I didn't dream then,
that the one man I could _really_ care for, could ever be more to me
than a dear friend. And a girl feels so humiliated to be thinking of a
man who's engaged to some one else. She gets the idea that the best
thing would be to occupy her mind with another man, if there's anybody
who likes her very much. And Lady MacNairne has always been hinting this
last fortnight--but, oh no, I'm not thinking what I'm saying! Even
though you are my brother, I've no right to tell you that."

"Sister, I insist that you shall tell me," I said, with all my native
fierceness. And Phyllis is not a girl to rebel, if a male person
commands.

"Well, then--but she is perhaps mistaken. I hope now that she _is_."

"In thinking what?"

"That--that Jonkheer Brederode cares more for me than for Nell."

"I wonder," said I.

"Oh course," went on Phyllis modestly, "Nell's a hundred times prettier
and more interesting than I am (though, thank goodness, Robert doesn't
think so), but she snubbed the Jonkheer so dreadfully at first, and
then, after she'd changed and been nice to him for a day or two, she got
worse than ever. At least, she hardly ever speaks to him at all. She
just keeps out of his way, and leaves him to--others. So his
self-respect may have been hurt (I can't say vanity as I might with some
men, because Jonkheer Brederode isn't a bit vain, though he has a right
to be) and he may have turned his thoughts toward one who sympathized
with him. Several little things lately have looked as if it were so; but
I do pray it's not, now that I'm so happy. It would be too hard if he
were to bear a double disappointment, after the trouble he has taken,
and the sacrifices he has made--leaving his beautiful home and all its
luxuries, and the friends who appreciate him as a splendid fellow and a
grand sportsman, to be skipper week after week on this little boat."

"You forget that he has had the privilege of _my_ society," I reminded
her.

"Oh yes, I know you must be great chums, or he wouldn't have come. But
Robert says----"

"What does Robert say?"

"Nothing. Only that he and Jonkheer Brederode have known each other so
long, he thinks it odd never to have heard him mention your name as his
friend."

"Alb is singularly reserved," I remarked.

"So I said to Robert, and he admitted it. But it was rather a
coincidence that he wanted to know us, wasn't it? However, I suppose
your friendship must have made up to him for everything he's suffered. I
did dread his learning about Robert and me, for fear it might hurt him,
and Robert did too, a little; for Robert is so adorably foolish, he
thinks every one must care for me. But he told him this morning."

"What did Alb say?" I asked.

"He congratulated Robert as sweetly as possible; but Robert said his
face changed when he heard the news. I didn't dare to look up when the
Jonkheer came and made me nice wishes, for fear he might be looking sad;
and there _was_ a heavy sound in his voice, I thought. Oh dear, life's
very complicated, isn't it?"

"Yes," I admitted. "Even in Holland."

Perhaps these women are right. Perhaps Alb's heart has been caught in
the rebound; but, lest it hasn't, and he undertakes to cut me out with
Nell, it is necessary that I lose no time in using my best wiles with
her.

While Phyllis was hanging in the balance, she was as desirable as a rosy
apple just out of reach; but now that she is smugly satisfied to be in
the hands of another her ethereal charm is fled.

"I must congratulate van Buren," I said, "or he will believe I'm
jealous."

So I shook hands with the Viking, having blessed the pair, and was in
the act of annexing Nell when the alleged Lady MacNairne found it
convenient to give me Freule Menela's message.

"You wanted to hear it, didn't you?" she asked, when Nell had drifted
away to the twins, whose society, though not enlivening, she apparently
preferred to poor Alb's.

"I've waited so long, that I could have waited a little longer," I said,
following the copper-gold head with wistful eyes.

"This is your gratitude!" exclaimed the L.C.P. "You don't seem to
realize that I've saved you."

I looked at her, only to be baffled as usual by the blue barrier of
glass.

"You don't deserve all the trouble I've taken," she went on. "Or that I
should tell you anything about it. Come, Tibe, let's go below. Darling
doggie, you've spoiled me for everybody else. _You_ are always
appreciative. Nobody else is."

"You think that, because he happens to have a tail to wag, and others
haven't," said I. "I consider myself as good as Tibe, any day, though
handicapped in some ways. I'll soon show you that I'm not ungrateful,
when you've let me know exactly what cause I have for gratitude. Have
you murdered the late fiancée, and thrown her out of your hotel window
into the canal?"

"I've got rid of her just as effectively," returned the L.C.P. "I went
and talked to her in her room last night, when she was undressing. Ugh!
but she was plain in her wrapper. It was a pink flannellet one. Imagine
it, with her skin."

"I'd rather not," said I.

"If it weren't for me, probably you'd often have had to see her in it.
Well, I made an excuse that she'd looked tired, and complained of the
noise under her windows preventing her sleeping. I offered her some
trional, and then--I just lingered. She thought it wise to be nice
to--_your_ aunt, and I turned the conversation to you. She said you were
charming. I said you would be, if you hadn't such a terrible temper. I
said you were almost mad with it sometimes, when you were a little boy.
Yes, I did, really--you ought to thank me. I dare say you _were_ a
horrid little boy. But she didn't seem to mind that much. She told me
that she got along splendidly with bad-tempered people: they were always
nice to her. That discouraged me a tiny bit, but I hadn't played any
really high trumps yet. I went on to say you were very delicate, but she
seemed quite pleased at that, although, if she only knew it, she'd be
_hideous_ in black. She said she thought delicate men were the most
interesting, so that drove me to desperation, and after I'd praised you
a little, just enough to be realistic for an aunt, I said what a shame
it was about that will of your father's. She pricked up her ears then,
and wanted to know what I meant. 'Hasn't he _told_ you?' I asked. And I
was shocked to hear you hadn't, because, I said, it would be more honest
to let people know how one stood, the position being so peculiar. Your
father had left every _red cent_ away from you, I said, in case you
married a foreigner; and it was such a blow that she didn't even notice
that I'd committed an Americanism. She couldn't speak for a whole
minute, and then she asked if you hadn't tried to dispute the will. That
would have been no use, said I. It wasn't the kind you could dispute.
You often fell in love with girls, not Americans, but you were bound to
marry a compatriot in the end, unless you could find a foreigner with
enough money to support you. Even after all that she held on to you by
the ragged edge. Couldn't you make a lot of money, she asked, with your
pictures, which are so famous? They weren't _popular_, I said, and
though the critics always praise them, you could hardly ever sell.
'Besides,' said I, 'he's so lazy, he doesn't paint a decent-sized
picture once in three years.'"

"Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "What a character you gave me. It's a
wonder she didn't rush to Robert van Buren's door, and cry to him that
she'd reconsidered."

"I saved him, too, for Phyllis's sake. It was too late for her to go to
him at that hour, or even send a note, as I saw by her eye she thought
of doing. I stayed with her till after twelve, on purpose. And the last
thing I said was, that I thought her decision not to accept Mr. van
Buren so wise, as such an intelligent woman as she might marry any one.
It showed, said I, how undeserving he was, that the minute she took
herself from him, he asked another girl to be his wife. 'Has he?' she
almost screamed. 'Yes,' said I. 'Didn't you know? He is now engaged to
Miss Rivers, with the approval of his sisters, and a telegram has been
sent to his mother, telling her _all_.'"

This was news worth hearing, and I forgave the L.C.P. the
inopportuneness of her interruption with Nell.

"Who told you about van Buren's engagement to Phyllis?" I asked.

"No one. But I thought they ought to be engaged, if they weren't, and
knew they never would be if Menela weren't got rid of.

"But about the telegram to Mrs. van Buren----"

"The minute I went to my room, I sent for a waiter, and wrote one,
without signing it. I hoped she'd think it came from her son, and that,
in his excitement, he'd forgotten to put his name."

"She'll be furious," said I. "Freule Menela told me--and probably it's
true--that her future mother-in-law had done everything she could to
bring about the match."

"Perhaps. But she's tremendously proud of Robert, so the twins say. Once
she knows that Menela deliberately threw him over, she'd never want him
to have anything to do with the girl again. And Phyllis Rivers isn't
penniless, you know. You've paid a generous half of the expenses of this
trip, for which, it seems, some money she'd had left to her was to be
used. She's kept most of that; and she has about a hundred and fifty
pounds sterling a year besides. She'll have enough for pocket-money,
when she and Robert are married; and she comes of very good people: her
great-great-grandfather was a viscount, or baron, or something. That
will appeal to old lady van Buren, when she finds it out."

"And if Nell should happen to marry a rich man, he would be charmed to
do something for the sweet little stepsister," I added.

The L.C.P. turned on me shrewdly. "You seem to be very sure of that. I
suppose you judge him by _yourself_. You think Nell's husband may be a
rich _American_?"

"I hope so," said I. "And a generous one. But talking of generosity--I
promised to prove to you that I am no less grateful than Tibe, though I
may not have as effective ways of showing it. Strange little stage-aunt
of mine, I _do_ thank you for saving me. I _do_ realize that, if it
weren't for you, Freule van der Windt at all events, would have secured
a rich American husband, no matter what Miss Van Buren's luck may be. I
do realize that, but for your fibs and fancies, I should have been a
lost man, for certainly I should not have been equal to saving myself
from that woman. By this one night's work alone, if by nothing else,
you've more than earned your aunt-salary and extras. That ring you
helped me choose last night----"

"Don't go on," she cut me short. "Didn't I tell you the other day when
you were offering me a bribe, that I didn't want anything, and wouldn't
have it--not a diamond ring, a pearl ring--nor even a ruby ring. I know
you think me a mercenary little wretch, and that you've put up with me
all this time only because you couldn't do without me; while as for
you, of course you're only an _episode_ in my life. Still, I'd like you
to understand that I haven't done this thing for what I could get out of
it. I've done it--for you. Please remember that, when you're counting up
how much I've cost you on this trip. Count what I've saved you, too."

"By Jove, I'm not likely to forget _that_!" said I. "If the thing had
ended by _my_ being the fiancé--it doesn't bear dwelling on. But I want
you to have the ring. I saw, all yesterday afternoon and evening, what
you were up to on my behalf, and I bought the ring on purpose to give to
you, if you pulled me through, as I half thought you would."

"It was born and bred for an engagement ring," she said. "Give it
to--the girl you're going to marry."

"I haven't asked her yet."

"You mean to, I suppose."

"I suppose so. But she may not accept me. Do you think she will?"

"If I have an opinion, I'm not going to tell you. Only--keep your ring."

So I had to keep it. And all day, while again we passed flowery Boskoop
(not so flowery now) quaint Gouda, and the other little towns which
carried me back in mind to the beginning of our trip, I wondered and
puzzled over the change in that lady of mystery, the L.C.P.



XXXIII


We slept in Rotterdam, at the old hotel in the park where the Angels
were staying when first they came into my life.

The next day was a memorable one in van Buren annals, for the new
fiancée was to be received as such, into the bosom of the family.

Robert and the twins had left us on our arrival in Rotterdam, for the
town house is still closed for the summer, and the "residence" is at
Scheveningen. It was for the brother and sisters to pave the way for
Phyllis, and solve (if they could) the mystery which must have wrapped
the unsigned telegram announcing the engagement.

In the morning, before any of us had had breakfast, back came Robert in
one of Brederode's cast-off automobiles (Alb seems to shed motor-cars
and motor-boats along the path of life, as most people shed old shoes)
bringing a note from Madame at the Villa van Buren.

What it said I shall probably never know, but Robert's too handsome face
was a shade less tranquil than usual, and I guessed that, as Nell would
say, he had had to be very Frisian before he succeeded in persuading his
still more Frisian mother that Phyllis Rivers is a desirable substitute
for Freule Menela van der Windt.

In any case, he had persuaded her--he wouldn't be the Viking that he is,
if he hadn't; and though by the shadow round his calm gray eyes, it had
probably taken half, or all of the night, the note he produced must have
been satisfactory, for Phyllis brightened as she read it.

Soon after, the visit to Scheveningen was arranged; but Robert had, no
doubt, prepared the girls for the necessity of making it, for Nell and
Phyllis both came down to breakfast in their prettiest dresses, looking
irresistible. And an hour later, with motor-veils over their hats, they
went off with Robert in the automobile.

They were to spend the day, for people in the Hollow Land enjoy their
pleasures as much by quantity as quality, especially their friends'
society; and I could only hope that a certain wistfulness of expression,
as she looked back from the _tonneau_ of the red car, meant that Nell
would rather have remained with some of those who were left behind.

If she had stayed in Rotterdam, and relied upon me for entertainment, I
should certainly have proposed to her. As it was, I passed the day
somewhat gloomily, reflecting on the time I had wasted, while I had her
by my side. Now, I reminded myself, the trip as planned was drawing to a
close. There remained the visit to Zeeland--an affair of a few days.
After that, what? Getting back to Rotterdam again, for the last time.
Good-bys. Selling the boat, perhaps--at least, Nell used to talk of that
in the first days, when the end seemed far-off and vague.

The L.C.P. kept to her sitting-room on the plea that she had "a lot of
writing to do," and Tibe was on guard. As for the Albatross, he went off
without excuse to seek the friends of his past, with which the Mariner
has no connection.

A premonition of the future came upon me. I remembered the Prince in the
fairy tale, who was given by the Fates three magic citrons, and told
that each one contained a beautiful sylph, who would appear to him as he
cut the rind of her prison. She would ask for a drink of water, and if
he wished to keep her for his wife he must instantly obey or she would
vanish, never to return, even in response to the most fervent prayer.
When the Prince cut the first citron, the fairy vision which flashed
before his eyes was so dazzling, that, bewildered, he let her go. With
the second the same thing happened, and it was only by the greatest
effort of self-control that he preserved the third beauty for his own,
eventually marrying her, as a virtuous Prince should.

"Now," said I to myself, "I'm not as well off as that Prince. Being only
a commoner, I ought to consider that I'm lucky to have two citrons,
where he had three. I've let the first sylph vanish, and if I don't
secure the second, I need never hope to get such another present of
fairy citrons, for they'll have run out of stock."

The thought of going gray-haired to my grave, bereft of Phyllis and Nell
citrons, all through my own folly, made me feel elderly at twenty-seven;
and perhaps my day of gloom was not wasted, because, long before the red
car brought back the girl I have lost and the girl I have still to win,
I had made up my mind to propose to Miss Van Buren before I should be
twenty-four hours older.

When Alb appeared, it seemed that he had been among his aquatic friends,
tactfully seeking news of Sir Alec MacNairne and "Wilhelmina." But he
had learned nothing; and we had to console each other by saying that "no
news is good news." There's a chance, of course, of running across him
again in Zeeland: but it's only one in ten, for there are other places
where he is more likely to be pursuing us, since he lost the trail in
Leeuwarden. Or perhaps he has given up the idea that Aunt Fay is on
Rudolph Brederode's boat, and has gone to search for her in some other
less watery country. In any case, the trip will be over in a few days
now; and once the L.C.P. has vanished with Tibe into the vast obscurity
whence she emerged in answer to my advertisement, poor hot-tempered Alec
may pounce upon me when he likes.

If I can persuade Nell that she and I were born for each other, as
Robert seems without difficulty to have persuaded Phyllis in his
regard, it ought to be easy to convince her that a sin for her sake is
no sin. Having confessed all, and been forgiven, I can defy Alec to do
his worst.

As for Alb, he has had his fun for his wages. And there are many
beautiful girls in Holland and other countries, who ask nothing better
than to become Jonkheeresses.



XXXIV


Robert came on board with us as a matter of course in starting for
Zeeland. Has he not more right than I to the deck of "Mascotte," as the
cousin of the owner and the fiancé of her stepsister? He and Phyllis
were the only ones among us who had the same air of cheerful,
light-hearted anticipation at setting off for new scenes, which all used
to have when the trip was but a few days old. For them there is no
thought of any end, since the tour of life together is just beginning,
full petrol ahead.

Even when she was "Lorelei," and had no concealments from the world,
"Mascotte" never sped more bravely. Through the wide Noord Canal she
took us as unconcernedly as if our hopes and fears for the future were
nothing to her. Out of sheer spite at her lack of sympathy, I enjoyed my
private knowledge that, whatever happens to her, she is certain to lose
her companion, "Waterspin." But she didn't know that; so she jogged on,
purring, in blissful ignorance of the separation in store for her.

If Dordrecht had come under our eyes when they were fresh to Dutch
waterways, we could not have passed it. Even now, _blasé_ with
sight-seeing, and preoccupied with private heartburnings, it seemed
rather like passing Venice without troubling to stop; for Dordrecht
appeared to me more reminiscent of Venice than any other place seen
during the trip.

So attractive did it look, as we peered up its pink-and-green canals,
that I did suggest pausing.

"It would give us one more day together," I said, "if we took this for
exploring Dordrecht and arrived at Middelburg to-morrow. Why are we in a
hurry?"

Brederode laughed. "Ask Robert," he said.

But Robert's face and Phyllis's both answered before the question could
be put. I guessed that Robert would have liked to stop the tour at
Rotterdam (for what to him are the joys of traveling with a party
compared to the bliss of the honeymoon?), but that Phyllis would not
cheat Nell of Zeeland, which has always been talked of as the climax of
the trip; Zeeland the mysterious, Zeeland the strange, proud daughter of
the sea.

"Some time we shall meet again, for you must all join in paying a visit
to Phyllis and me. Then we will take you to Dordrecht, and we will all
speak together of this day," said Robert.

That settled it, for though Nell is owner of the boat and mistress of
the situation, she would do nothing to postpone Phyllis's happiness.
Something of the sort she murmured to me as we puffed past Dordrecht;
but I could see by her face that Phyllis's idea of happiness is not
hers.

"Good excuse to get in my entering wedge," I thought. "Ask her if she
doesn't think it a risk for a girl to marry anybody but one of her own
countrymen. If she says 'yes,' there's my chance. If she's inclined to
argue, try to convince her, with our case in point."

No sooner, however, had I got my blue-serge shoulder closer to her white
serge shoulder, as we both leaned over the rail, looking back toward the
old town founded by great Count Dietrich, than up sidled the lady who
sometimes over-estimates her duties as chaperon. She wanted to know
about Dordrecht and John of Brabant and the siege, and the inundation
that set the town upon an island; nor would she be discouraged when I
told her flatly that I knew nothing about it, and advised application to
Baedeker.

She lingered, prattling pleasantly of the Merevede, and of the peace and
watery silence into which we had passed, now that Dordrecht was left
behind. She drew Tibe's attention to the low-skimming gulls, and our
attention to Tibe. She asked if we did not smell salt, and insisted on
our sniffing actively to make sure; then cried, "I told you so!" when,
after slipping under a huge railway-bridge, hanging so high that the
train upon it looked like a child's toy, we turned westward and floated
out upon a wide arm of the sea.

Altogether, she would not let us forget her presence for a moment, and
blandly refused to understand when my raised eyebrows telegraphed, "I
didn't hire you for this."

We seemed now to have said good-by to the sheltered coziness of Holland,
just as we had said good-by to several other pleasant dreams of the
past. On either side the land ran away from us and hid beneath the
dancing waves which ruffled the sea's sleeve, so that we saw of it only
long stripes of green, which were great dykes, and irregular frillings
of red, which were steeples and tiled roofs of houses.

The tide was in our favor, and we moved so quickly that Alb thought we
would have no difficulty in reaching Middelburg by nightfall. Large
steamers passed us, their decks piled with cargo, passengers crowding to
the side to stare curiously down upon us as we rocked coquettishly in
their wash. Save for these big floating houses, and broad bowed,
coughing motor-barges, "Mascotte" and "Waterspin" had the wide waterway
to themselves; and when we had taken a southerly course, to enter a
channel between low-lying islands, we were in Zeeland. Still, though we
were skirting the shore of the island of Schouwen, it was as if it
ducked its head rather than submit to the ignominy of being seen by
strangers. It was just as Alb said, "Zeeland was witch-like, illusive,
with the power of making herself invisible." The endless, straight lines
of the dykes protecting Schouwen and Tholen from the terrible power of
the sea, stretched like close-drawn ranks of devoted soldiers--each
stone a knight in armor--defending their liege ladies from an invading
giant, hiding the besieged damsels' beauty behind their shields, so that
the monster's appetite might not be whetted by their charms.

Schouwen on the one hand, Tholen on the other, seemed to fall apart as
Brederode cast us upon the broad bosom of the Oster Scheldt, steering
for North Beveland, and told us legends the while of that strange
archipelago which has for its arms a lion swimming in deep waters. He
told of the yellow-haired Siren, who would sing to lure sailors to her
rock because she was bored by the society of the Merman, her husband;
how some fisherman one night caught her in a net, and, because she was
beautiful, would not give her back to the Merman, though he begged and
prayed, offering a rich bribe of pearls and coral; how the Merman swam
away at last, cursing the fishermen and their country, vowing never to
rest till he and his brothers, with their own hands, had brought enough
sand to choke all the city ports.

He told, too, of the tempests which throw on the shores of Zeeland's
little isles the bodies of strange mummied monsters, part man, part
boat; and of still, clear dawnings when the fisherfolk of Domburg can
discern, far down under the green water, pagan temples of marble, and
gleaming statues more perfect than any fashioned by known sculptors,
even the greatest masters, when Greek art was in its prime. He told of
the great dyke building, and how, at high tide, the North Sea beats
fiercely on Zeeland's locked door. He told of the inundations, and how
Schouwen, North and South Beveland, Tholen and Walcheren, had all been
devoured by the sea, only to rise up again braver and stronger than
before. He told how the men of Zeeland had fought against the men of
Spain in the old, bad days; and it was all very interesting and
instructive; but how was I to oppose my frail vow against such a tide
of information? There were no dykes built round my resolve to propose to
Nell within the space of four and twenty hours; and between Alb's
eloquence and the L.C.P.'s persistence, it dissolved like a Dutch town
in an inundation.

Still I was not as furious as I ought to have been. My steeples and
chimneys remained above water, and the sky was so cloudless that I could
not despair. It seemed like old times to hear Alb holding forth upon the
history, drama, and legend of the little country of which he is so
proud, and in spite of myself my heart was warm for him. I rather
wondered how Nell had contrived to harden hers so relentlessly against
those clear brown features, those deep brown eyes, and the firm mouth
which is not cold.

"A good thing for me," thought I, "that she has. And if I don't get a
chance to ask her to-day, I'll write a note and beg the L.C.P.--no, I'll
get Sister Phyllis to give it to her this evening."

I was arranging the wording of the note, after tea, which we had on
deck, when, quite idly at first, my eyes dwelt upon a black speck moving
far away, in our wake. It amused me to see the speck grow, for at the
moment I had no one to talk to, and Tibe was asleep with his chin on my
knee. I lost track of a sentence which was shaping itself nicely in my
mind and ought to have been irresistible to Nell, in wondering what the
speck would turn out to be, by-and-by.

It was growing fast, which meant that it was moving fast, perhaps faster
than we. Could it be a motor-barge? But why should a motor-barge be
forging out to sea, where no motor-barges or motor-boats of any sort,
except racers, had any need to venture, unless they were navigated to
gratify the whim of a wilful American girl?

Now, it did not appear likely that in Dutch waters there could be at
this moment an indefinite number of American girls, wilful or
otherwise, owning motor-vessels, and wishing to visit Zeeland in them.

If it were not such a fine day, Alb would not have taken the risk with
"Mascotte" and "Waterspin," even to please his particular American girl,
and if it were not to please her, he would probably not have come in any
case. Yet that thing behind us was skimming along too fast to be
anything else save a motor-boat. What then was its errand in this wide,
lake-like expanse of water, which did not lend itself to the
encouragement of promiscuous motor-boats?

It was gaining on us now, for it had no fat "Waterspin" to drag. One
might almost think it was following, it came so straight, and--Suddenly
my ears and the top of my head felt hot.

I got up, and went to Alb, who was standing silent at the wheel. Before
I spoke to him I glanced at the others to see that they were all fully
occupied in listening to Robert talk of the house, next door to his
mother's in Rotterdam, which he had the intention of buying "as a
wedding present for Phyllis."

"Alb," said I, "just throw a look over your shoulder, and say what
manner of thing you think that is coming after us."

He threw the look. "I think," he answered slowly, "that it's by way of
being Sir Alec MacNairne's 'Wilhelmina.'"

"Good heavens!" I exclaimed, "you take it pretty calmly." But even as I
reproached him, I was conscious of an increase of speed. Alb can
regulate this by means of a long lever which goes down through the deck
to the motor.

"What makes you think it's Sir Alec?" I asked. "You can't tell yet what
the thing looks like."

"Neither can you," said Alb. "You _felt_ what it was. It's the same with
me. I feel it's 'Wilhelmina,' and I'm going to try and give her the slip
again, if I can. But honestly, if it's she, and she wants to overhaul
us, we haven't got much chance weighted down by 'Waterspin.' If it
weren't for that, I'd guarantee to let 'Wilhelmina' see nothing but our
heels."

"Let's cut 'Waterspin' adrift," I whispered, glaring at poor Toon, who
stood steering the squat little barge, with an irritatingly complacent
look on his nice face.

"Impossible, my dear fellow. But you don't mean it, of course."

"I'm capable of meaning anything," said I. "See here, old Alb, you've
pulled me through a lot of things, since you tied yourself round my
neck; pull me through this, and you shall be best man at my wedding."

"Who'll be the bride?" he asked, as I stared back at the following
craft, which was now too big to be called a speck. It was a black blot
upon the water, as upon my hopes.

"The bride?" I repeated. "Why, N--Oh, by Jove! wasn't she the one _you_
wanted at one time? You never would tell which, you know, so you can't
blame me."

"Are you engaged to her?" he asked, in rather a queer voice; and I
realized how much I was at his mercy, as, fascinated, I watched his
brown hand tighten on the wheel. If he liked, he could stop "Mascotte"
in mid sea, and let me lie at the mercy of the enemy. _I_ could do
nothing. Hendrik would obey him, not me. Even Tibe would not seize him
by the throat to please me. Tibe likes and respects Alb even more,
strange to say, than he does me.

But, to do Alb justice, he was not slowing down. On the contrary, he was
putting on speed, as much, I feared, as "Mascotte" was capable of
making.

"I'm not engaged," I admitted; "but I was going to propose to her
to-day, if this hadn't happened. For goodness' sake, hurry."

"I wonder you have the cheek to tell me that, and then ask me to hurry.
Why should I help you to get her?"

"Do you still want her?" I asked.

"More than I ever wanted or shall want anything else."

"Then it's all up with me!" I groaned.

"Do you mean----"

"I only mean that you can make me lose her. If Alec MacNairne boards us
like a pirate, and yells for his Fay, I shall be discovered as a
perjured villain, just in the very hour when it's necessary for me to
appear most virtuous. Heavens! If this could only have happened
_afterwards_. Once I was sure of her, I'd have confessed everything, for
I could have made her understand how it was all done for her sake--for
love of her."

"And her stepsister," said Alb, bitterly, as he did to the wheel what
perhaps he would have liked to do to my throat.

"That was a mere boyish fancy," said I. "I love Nell Van Buren with a
man's love. You can stop this boat if you choose to be a revengeful
Albatross----"

"I shall not stop the boat," he said, in a grave, hard voice, which made
my tone sound light, almost humorous. "I shall not rob you of your
chance with her. If it depends upon me, you shall have it."

I really did admire Alb, as he stood there, not looking at me, but
straight ahead, as if into a blank future.

"Do you care for her a lot?" I asked, half remorsefully.

"Only more than for the rest of the world put together. But I tell you
honestly, I haven't had much hope lately. I suppose I was a conceited
ass to make up my mind that nothing should stop me from winning the
girl, in spite of herself. Well, she's punished me--shown me my folly.
But for all that, I regret nothing. If it were to do over again, I'd
come on board this boat and work for her as I have worked, even knowing
as I know now that she'd end by disliking me as much as she did in the
beginning. You're an attractive fellow to women, Starr."

"Phyllis preferred Robert," I said thoughtfully.

"Yes. I confess I hoped you and Miss Rivers would make a match: then I'd
have had nothing to fear from you in the other direction. But it wasn't
to be; and she and Bob van Buren will be perfectly happy. You needn't
fear I'll turn against you. Depend on me to do my best with the
boat--though of course you won't expect help in any other way."

"Of course not," I said.

"Nor need it, I suppose," he added, harshly.

"Perhaps we may be mistaken about the boat being Alec's," I said.

"We both know we're not," said he. "Still--there's my glass. Have a
squint through it."

I took up the binocular which the skipper always keeps handy, and had
the squint, as he recommended. It was not an encouraging squint, for,
though our follower had not been gaining for the last few minutes, all I
could see of her made me more confident than before that she was
"Wilhelmina." Whether Alec MacNairne was actually in chase of us, or
whether it merely happened that he had to-day made up his mind to try
Zeeland, in his quest, remained to be seen; but be that as it might, we
were in the greatest danger of being overtaken.

In my agitation and fear of losing all, I could not concentrate my mind
upon the thinking out of any stratagem to outwit Alec if he came upon
us, and I dared not interrupt Alb's task by imploring him to rack his
brains. The thing for him to do, I told myself, was to keep ahead of
"Wilhelmina" at any price, especially while we were in open water. Once
we could gain the region of canals and narrow cross channels, we might
slip round a water-corner and disappear. Anything, anything, then, to
keep ahead!

"Run down and tell Hendrik to see that there's plenty of water," said
Alb. "It won't do for the motor to get hot. Say to him that we're going
to have a race."

"I can't make him understand," I wailed.

"I forgot. Well, take the wheel a minute, then----"

"I daren't. If I do, something's sure to go wrong; or I shall snap it
short off on its stem."

"You are a helpless chap, I must say."

"So would you be, if I told you to finish one of my pictures, perhaps."

"That's true. Well, say this."

And he uttered useless-sounding words in Dutch, which I repeated after
him until I knew them by heart. Then I went below and gabbled them to
Hendrik, not more than half wrong, for he seemed to understand. But
while the pink youth abandoned the operation of rubbing brass with
cotton waste in favor of bailing up water, I stood gazing at the motor,
praying it to do its best.

It was hot in the motor's den; so hot that it was no wonder the deck,
which formed the roof, often felt warm underfoot. Chump, chump, went the
engine, sounding stolid and Dutch and obstinate, as if nothing on earth
or water could induce it to go faster than it chose. It even seemed to
me as I gazed that it was slowing down, out of spite. I longed to feel
its pulses with a stop-watch in the other hand, and make sure. Could it
be that, after all, Alb had changed his mind, and meant to betray me?
No, it must be a trick of my amateurish fancy.

I assured myself of this two or three times over; but when Hendrik came
back with a big pail of water, I saw by his face that I had not been
deceived. Something was wrong.

There was no use in trying to question him, since I have no Dutch, and
he has no English, except "Thank you," and "Good day." He flew at the
motor, his cheeks pinker than ever, and I flew up on deck to find Alb in
the act of giving over the wheel to Nell.

He pushed past me with a quick, "Don't stop me. I've got to see what's
wrong." And I joined Nell, who looked very proud of herself as skipper.

Every one on deck was alert now, knowing that something had happened,
for the first time in all our peaceful watery weeks. They were not yet
aware of the pirate in pursuit, or that this day was the one of all
others when the motor ought not to fail us: but they knew that, after
putting on a fine spurt of speed for some reason or other, the engine
had turned suddenly sulky, and was threatening to stop.

"Have I the evil eye?" I asked myself. "Did I 'overlook' the beastly
thing when I went below and stared at it?"

"What's the matter?" I inquired of Nell, feeling a certain relief in
talking to her, she looked so beautiful and so dependable.

"Don't speak to the man at the wheel," she said, smiling, but keeping
her eyes straight ahead.

"Jonkheer Brederode says it's nothing serious; we aren't to worry,"
remarked the L.C.P. from her deck-chair. "I think it's rather fun to
have a nice little accident. It breaks the monotony. And it's really
exciting, being out at sea."

"It _is_ rather exciting," said I, signaling danger, with a glance that
swept the water as far back as the now plainly visible pursuer.

She may or may not have caught my meaning; but Robert van Buren's eyes
chanced at that instant to fall upon the distant craft.

"Ah!" he observed, in a tone of careless interest, for which I could
have boxed his ears, "there is another motor-boat, I believe. It is
coming as straight as if it were following us."

I saw the L.C.P. give a start. She looked at me, and our eyes would have
met had it not been for the blue glasses. She understood, and knew just
_how_ exciting her "nice little accident" might turn out to be.

At this moment the motor gave a groan and stopped. As its heart ceased
to beat, I was astounded by the apparition of a totally new Alb.

Two minutes ago, at most, he had disappeared in the garb of a
self-respecting gentleman with a yachting turn of mind. He reappeared in
a suit of Hendrik's blue overalls, and, apparently, nothing else, his
feet being bare. In his hand were a hammer and a chisel.

"Motor's all right. It must be the propeller that's wrong. I'm going
down to see," he explained, no trace of excitement on his face, no hint
of flurry in his voice. Alb is a good plucked one, and for presence of
mind and _savoir faire_ I've never met his equal.

As "Mascotte" had slowed down, and then stopped, "Waterspin" came
lolloping alongside. Toon, looking scarcely more flustered than his
superior, kept the barge from bunting into her consort, fending her off
with a pole. Alb, with a rope round his waist to keep him steady at his
work under the water, slid over the side of the boat, and groped about
with his free hand under the water-line.

"There's something round the screw shaft," he called up to Robert and
me. "Queer thing! It feels like a coil of wire. We must have picked it
up in the canal by Dordrecht, and ever since it's been slowly winding
itself round the shaft, until now it's so tight that the propeller can't
work."

"Then all hope's over," I said, with a meaning which he alone--or
perhaps the L.C.P.--could understand. "We're caught in a trap."

"This hammer and chisel will gnaw our way out," he answered. "The game
isn't up yet. Good-by. I've got to work in Davy Jones's workshop."

Drawing a deep breath, he dropped down under water, which hid him from
sight like a roof of thick gray glass. Then, in a few seconds, we heard
a knocking, muffled, mysterious, somewhere below that glass roof.

After a time which seemed long to every one, and an age to me, up came
Alb's head, wet, black, and glittering.

"Wish I had a diver's helmet," he said, when he had breathed; and
promptly dipped out of sight again.

Once more the knocking came. Alb was working hard and loyally for my
interests, and against his own, I couldn't help remembering; but
meanwhile we were floating idly, losing precious time, while the pirate
gained upon us. Fifteen minutes more of this inaction, and he would be
on our backs. I almost wished that he were a true pirate, and that it
might be a war of knives and cutlasses, instead of wits and tongues. I
could be brave enough then; but as a fraudulent nephew detected with his
false aunt, so to speak, in his mouth, what wonder if I felt my heart
turn to water?

Twice more Alb came up to breathe, and dived again. The last time all
was still underneath the water, and a fear came over me that Alb had
knocked his head against something, or got a cramp. But he appeared,
spluttering, and announced that he had been cutting the wire through
with the chisel. There it was in his hand, a thick, ugly coil, dangerous
as an octopus.

"Start the motor, Hendrik," he called, even before he had clambered on
deck. "Now, ladies, unless you go below you may get a shower bath, for
we're going to have a race with the motor-boat that's coming along--just
for the fun of the thing, you know--and I can't trust the wheel to any
one while I run down and change."

"We shan't mind a wetting," said Nell, whose eyes were shining with
something very like admiration. "We want to see the race."

"I would rather you saw it from the cabin windows," said Brederode; and
I guessed at once that he had more than one object in hustling the women
of the party below. The L.C.P. guessed also, and headed a reluctant
procession.

Now the pursuing Vengeance was not five hundred yards behind, and if we
had ever doubted that she was "Wilhelmina," we doubted no longer. I
could distinctly see a man's figure in the bow, and would have felt safe
in staking any sum that it was Sir Alec's.

Alb, dripping like a fountain-statue, stood at the wheel, and as I had
never seen him look more attractive, perhaps it was as well for me that
Nell had gone below.

"They'll think me a madman when we come to a lock," said he; "but who
cares? I'm bound to get you out of this scrape if I can."

Never was sound more melodious in my ears than the quickening throb of
the motor. I felt intimate and at home with it, as with the beating of
my own heart. On we went, pounding along at recovered speed, and were
well into the channel between North and South Beveland, but there also
was "Wilhelmina." Oh, for some small side canal into which we could slip
and somehow disappear!

As my eyes searched the waste of green water and the low coasts of
Beveland, all unexpectedly to me we rounded a point, and there was a
half-hidden town, one graceful spire seeming to beckon where safety lay.

"It's Veere," said Alb. "You're sure to have heard of it: all artists
have. But the thing of importance to us now is the canal which begins
here, crosses the island of Walcheren and goes to Middelburg and
Vlissingen. If only we can get in, and shut 'Wilhelmina' out!"

"Can we?" I gasped.

"Look!" he answered. "What luck!"

I looked, and saw from afar two great sea-gates of a monster lock
standing open, while into its jaws poured a train of barges,
sailing-boats and small steamers, which had been biding their time
outside.

"Joy!" I cried. "We're saved."

"Not yet," said Alb, as we dashed on, full speed ahead, going as
we had never gone yet. "We may be too late. Quick, run for'rad,
haul down the stars and stripes, and hoist the Club flag instead.
That'll carry more power even than the whole Navy of the United
States, and I mean to use it for all it's worth, right or no
right."

I darted to the bow and changed the flags, fumbling in my haste; then,
when the talisman was floating bravely, I hurried back to Alb, who was
imperiously clanging our bell with one hand, and steering with the
other.

I stood ready with the long boat-hook, not daring to look back and see
what speed "Wilhelmina" might be making. Toon was alert on "Waterspin,"
with a coiled rope in his hand. All the boats were in the lock now, and
the sound of our bell, and the colors of the Club flag alone kept the
lock-keeper from closing the great gate-jaws. Time was up: we must make
a spurt for it if we were not to exhaust his patience. We could see him
beckoning eagerly, and with a rush we were at the gates, in the tail of
the long procession. It was only as I knew they were slowly, inexorably
closing behind us that I could bring myself to look back. There was
"Wilhelmina" just coming into sight round the point, Alec MacNairne
gesticulating wildly, a figurehead "come alive," and furious.



XXXV


"Great Scott, but that was a narrow shave!" I sighed in ecstasy. "He's
out of it now."

"He may be out of the lock, but we're not out of the wood," said Alb.

He had slowed down, reversed the engine, and quietly passed into a
water-lane between some huge barges, looking not a whit disconcerted by
the curious gaze of the barge-folk who wondered at his bare feet and
soaked overalls.

"Why, what can he do?" I asked. "He'll have to wait an hour before the
lock opens again."

"You'll see presently what he can do," said Alb. "At least, you will if
he has any sense. It will be time for us to crow by-and-by--if ever."

I burned to ask what he meant by these ominous prognostications; but he
began to jabber in Dutch to our staring water-neighbors. Any stranger
would have thought him in the pleasantest mood in the world. He had a
friendly nod for the brown-faced skipper of a smoking tug, a few words
for another, and smiles for every one.

"I'm telling them that I've a wager on, and begging their kind help to
win it," he explained to me, as gradually he pushed "Mascotte" and
"Waterspin" through, and ahead of, the other craft. "I'm saying nothing
about the Club flag; but they can see it, and they all know what it
means. But, to save rows, I'm being extra polite, and, you see, it pays.
Nobody yet has resented our getting ahead, though theirs is the right of
precedence."

On we went toward the top of the lock, sneaking, sidling, pushing, here
and there thanks to a good-natured, helping hand, here and there thanks
to a shout from the lock-keeper to a sulky bargeman. On the lock-keeper
the sight of the Club flag had a magic effect, and he evidently intended
to make its rights respected, no doubt counting on a five gulden "tip"
at the end.

Ignorant of the perils at which Alb had hinted, the time seemed
intolerably long as the water foamed in through the upper sluice-gates,
filling the lock inch by inch, and lifting its load of creaking boats
and tugs. When we entered the lower gates, we could see only the green
and slimy wall of the lock; but by-and-by we found ourselves looking
over green fields to a picturesque old town no more than a stone's throw
away.

Alb's pleasantries and the might of the Club flag had brought us near to
the top of the lock, and I had begun to hope that his dark prophecies
were not to be fulfilled, when I jumped at the sound of a shout from
shore.

The voice was the voice of Alec MacNairne, and turning my head with a
start, I saw his tall figure tearing toward us on the narrow parapet
made by the edge of the lock.

"That's what you meant?" I quavered.

"That's what I meant," answered Alb. But his hand was on the starting
lever, and the upper gates had begun to swing back.

Alb was looking particularly debonair, and taking pattern by him, I
turned away from my aunt's husband, pretending that I had neither seen
nor heard him.

"Hi, you there! Starr--Brederode! Scoundrels!" he roared at our backs.

"If he jumps into one of these boats and gets across to us!" I murmured.

"He will if he can, but----"

Before Alb could finish his sentence the first half of my fear was
verified. Sir Alec gathered himself for a spring, and leaping across
the narrow water-lane between his parapet and the nearest barge, landed
with a crash on the gunwale.

At that sound my heart seemed to stop for repairs; for there were two
barges in front of us, the biggest in the lock, and we had not been able
to pass them before the doors began to open. Now we could not escape
until they had floated out into the canal, and, meanwhile, there might
be a little private tragedy in high life on board "Mascotte."

But a Dutchman's lighter is as sacred, Alb has explained to us all, as a
Dutchman's house; and when the loud, explosive Scotsman arrived on the
gunwale, uninvited and breathing fire, the lighter's owner proceeded
also to breathe fire. He swore; his Kees dog yapped; his children cried
and his wife vituperated. An understudy took the helm, and before Sir
Alec could jump across to another barge, in his pursuit of us, he found
himself engaged in an encounter with the skipper of his first choice.

The one could speak no English, the other could speak no Dutch; and in
his fury at seeing us slip out through the gates behind the two great
barges, he could do nothing but stammer with rage, and try to push past
the stout form which strove to detain him for argument.

Naturally, the push made matters worse. Sir Alec does not know Dutchmen,
especially lightermen, as well as I have learned to do, or he would have
refrained from that extreme--and on the man's own barge. His push was
given back with interest, and the last we saw of him, as other boats
surged round the scene of the contest, was in a gallant attempt to make
a twelve-foot jump, while a stout Dutch skipper and a stout Dutch
skipper's stout Dutch wife held on to his coat-tails.

Again I drew a full breath of relief, and I saw by Alb's face that he,
too, hoped for the best, for--whatever his private feelings might be--he
is too good a sportsman not to feel the spirit of a race.

We were out of the lock, our propeller churning the water, but--again
there was a "but." Alb made a dash for freedom by trying to glide
between the two immense barges which, alone of all the late denizens of
the lock, had refused to give us precedence. But his gracious ways had
not softened the hearts of these skippers, nor did they care for his
Club flag. All they did care for was to keep one another from getting
ahead.

Evidently they were old enemies, and this was not the first time that
they had engaged in deadly duel. Ancient scores had to be paid, and a
fig for those who came after!

Each glared at the other. Each tried to push his big craft ahead. Crash!
They stuck, and jammed, the man at the right, the man at the left,
pushing with all his force with a giant pole, each push locking both
barges the tighter.

We were on their heels, and on ours was the whole press of boats let out
from the lock, surging heavily forward.

Alb shouted something in Dutch. "I'm saying that the only thing is for
one to give way, and let the other go by in advance, not both try to
strain through together," he explained, when I anxiously demanded to
know what was happening.

Both men shook their heads, and grumbled, while from behind rose a Babel
of cries and adjurations.

"They won't," said Alb. "They say that they will never give way to each
other. They would smash their boats first. If anything happens to part
them they won't mind, because it will be fate, and neither one will have
given up for the other. Meanwhile, they say they're sorry, but they
won't move, and the rest of us must fare the best we can."

"Can't the lock-keeper do anything?" I asked.

"He can swear." Alb smiled; and I believe there was something in him
that sympathized with the two obstinate brutes.

"For goodness' sake tell them we'll give each one a hundred--no, a
thousand--gulden, if necessary, if only they'll agree as to which is to
yield, and move out of our road."

"I'll tell them," said Brederode, dubiously; and a few words passed
between the three.

"I knew what they'd answer," he announced, in a moment. "They say they
won't do it for a million. 'Every man has his price,' is a proverb that
doesn't count with Dutchmen, where principles are concerned. Now, I'm
going to try and force a way, but I'm afraid 'Mascotte' hasn't force
enough, and if not, it's all up, for here comes MacNairne."

I looked back and saw my uncle-in-law picking his way toward us from
boat to barge, from barge to lighter. He had lost his hat in that
argument of which I had not seen the end, but he had not lost his
determination, and at his present rate he would reach us in about two
minutes.

[Illustration: _At his present rate he would reach us in about two
minutes_]

Suddenly Alb put on full speed ahead, and gallantly little "Mascotte"
rammed her dainty nose between the two black and bulky barges. But her
strength did not match her courage. She got only a pinching for her
pains, and, as Alb exclaimed, we were caught.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I've done all I could, and don't see what I can
do more, short of knocking poor MacNairne on the head with a pole."

"You've been a brick, and I won't forget it," said I. A strange coolness
had come upon me with the knowledge that the worst was inevitable. I
felt that my small-sword alone could win me through. "All I ask is that,
whatever I do or say, you'll stand by me," I finished.

"Have you a plan?" he asked.

"Part of a plan. I----"

Before I had a chance to finish either plan or sentence the enemy was
upon us. I heard him coming, and turned round just in time to meet my
aunt's husband face to face as, climbing across from the nearest barge,
he leaped over the rail on to our little deck.



XXXVI


I smiled brilliantly at the dear fellow. I sprang to him, holding out a
welcoming hand.

"Why, Sir Alec, this _is_ a delightful surprise!" I exclaimed. "Where
_did_ you come from? I thought I had lost you, at Leeuwarden."

So utterly was he dumfounded, not to say flabbergasted, by the manner of
his reception, that I had time to spring these three quickly following
remarks upon him before he was able to answer.

When he did, it was with a sledge-hammer. "Well, I'm d--d!" said he.

I stared in gentle amazement; then, glancing quickly at Alb, appeared
suddenly to apprehend his meaning.

"Why, of course, you must be surprised to find me on a boat with
Jonkheer Brederode."

"You lied to me at Leeuwarden," went on Sir Alec. He was never a man to
mince words, as I noticed when visiting my aunt. Poor, pretty,
flirtatious Aunt Fay!

I now gathered dignity. My simple delight at an unexpected meeting with
a relative (in law) in a foreign waterway, froze into virtuous
indignation.

"Really, Sir Alec, I am at a loss to understand you," I said. "I greet
you in the most friendly----"

"Because you're a scoundrel and a hypocrite," said he.

This interruption I scorned to notice, save by proceeding as I had
intended to proceed.

"And you insult me. What do you mean, Sir Alec MacNairne?"

"I mean"--he caught me up without hesitation--"that you, though you
pretended to sympathize when I confided in you, were in league with
Rudolph Brederode to outwit and deceive me in the most shameless way."

"You forget yourself," said Brederode, turning red, and contriving to
keep his dignity in spite of Hendrik's sopping overalls. "I have never
deceived or injured you. If this were my boat, I should have to ask----"

"Don't try that on," said Sir Alec, scornfully. "It _is_ your boat."

"It happens to be the property of Miss Van Buren, a young American lady,
for whom I'm acting as skipper," returned Alb.

"Rot," was the terse comment of my uncle-in-law.

Alb bit his lip, and his eyes were growing dangerous. I had seen that
look on his face once or twice.

"And he's engaged to her," said I.

That is, something inside of me popped out those words, and there they
were, spoken, not to be taken back. Alb and I looked at each other. He
flushed again. But he did not speak.

"Produce this Miss Van Buren," sneered Sir Alec.

"I will," I promised. "But before I do, calm yourself. You are in no fit
state to speak to ladies."

"I wish to talk to my wife," said he.

"Aunt Fay is not on board this boat, and never has been," I pronounced,
each nerve on edge lest one lovely feminine head or another should pop
up from below. I knew well that we owed the extraordinary obedience of
the girls to the magnetic influence of that remarkable woman their
chaperon, and how long she could continue to exert the charm which
meshed them in the cabin, as Vivien meshed Merlin in the hollow oak, it
was impossible to guess. At any instant we might hear a girlish voice
calling the name of Lady MacNairne. Even if Tibe--but I dared not think
of Tibe.

Horatius holding his bridge alone, was nothing compared to me. No one
could help me now.

"Pooh! Do you expect me to believe that? After what happened at
Leeuwarden--when I trusted you?"

"You trusted me," said I, coldly, "with good reason, and it would be
well if you did so again. Kindly state what, from your point of view,
_did_ happen at Leeuwarden to bring this storm of unmerited abuse upon
my head."

"I dare say it would be convenient to you to forget. I met you with
Brederode at the Kermess. You seized me and prevented me from following
him as I wished to do. Then, when he had got out of my way, you assured
me that you'd find him. You said you were not with him on his boat, that
you hadn't been together ten minutes----"

"Neither had we," said I. "That was perfectly true. And I'm not on his
boat. As he told you, I'm on Miss Van Buren's. And if I didn't look you
up to tell you where you could find Jonkheer Brederode, it was because I
thought you would only lose your dignity by meeting him, and do Aunt Fay
and yourself both more harm than good. I know for a certainty that
Alb--that Brederode hasn't seen Aunt Fay since July anyhow. And why
should I let you and your stupid suspicions make trouble between a very
good fellow and--and--the girl he's in love with?"

This time I did not meet Alb's eyes. I was looking straight and with a
noble defiance into Sir Alec's.

"You are very high and mighty," said he. "But I'm not to be fooled again
by either of you. I've been chasing Brederode for weeks in that beastly
motor-launch, and I'm about sick of the whole business. I've got him
now, and you, too. And though you may both tell me till you're blue in
the face that my wife hasn't been and isn't on this boat, I won't
believe you till I've searched every hole and corner of it."

"Perhaps I had better go and ask Miss Van Buren whether she will kindly
permit my uncle-in-law to make such an examination of her property," I
said, with the ice of conscious rectitude in my voice.

"Very well," returned Sir Alec. "Go and fetch her."

With head aloft, I stalked to the top of the steps which I defy any
human being to descend with dignity.

What would happen between Sir Alec and Alb while I was gone, or what I
should say when I got below, I knew not. I could only trust to luck. Was
it going to turn out in vain, I asked myself, that all my life I have
been called "lucky Starr"?

The canvas curtain at the door of the outer cabin, which protects the
ladies from the heat of the motor-room, was unfurled and hanging at
length. Standing behind it, I spoke Miss Van Buren's name.

All was silent on the other side. But, after a delay of a few seconds,
Nell half pushed aside the heavy folds of canvas and looked out at me.
Her charming face was, for an instant, within twelve inches of mine. I
drew back in resignation. With my own hand I had given her to another.
Whether or no she would eventually become his, I could not tell, but I
felt that, after what I had done, she would never belong to me.

There was, however, very little time to think of that now. My business
was pressing.

"Come outside in the passage a minute," I said, in a low voice, still
hearing no sound from the other side of the curtain. "I want to speak to
you."

"Lady MacNairne----" she began.

I put my finger to my lips. "Sh!" said I.

"Oh, did you know she was ill?" asked Nell.

I shook my head.

"She is, poor dear. She had the most sudden attack, just after we came
down, and Phyllis and I haven't been able to leave her. She wouldn't let
one of us go up to tell you."

"Wonderful little woman!" I could scarcely refrain from exclaiming. "Her
cleverness--I mean her consideration--is extraordinary."

"It was her heart," explained Nell. "She's been lying down ever since,
holding Phyllis's hand and mine. But she's better now, and I'm not sure
she hasn't gone to sleep, for when I heard you call me, and tried to
slip my hand out of hers, she didn't seem to notice."

"She wouldn't," I said--to myself. "Where's Tibe?" I asked aloud.

"She's using him for a footstool."

All accounted for and under control! Yes; thrice wonderful little woman.

"We couldn't see anything of the race after all," went on Nell. "Did we
beat?"

"That's what I've come to talk to you about," I said, not knowing in the
least what I was going to say next. "It turned out," I went on slowly,
"that a man I--er--know, was on board the boat we were racing. We beat
it, but we didn't beat him; for he's walked on board since we've been
jammed by a couple of brutes on barges. Oh, no harm done--don't be
worried. The man is--in fact--Sir Alec MacNairne."

"Oh, the nice man we met at Amsterdam, and again at Leeuwarden, when
we--we--" She blushed at the recollection. "He's a distant relation
of----"

"Hush! Please don't speak her name or his loud enough for either to
hear," I whispered. "I can't explain all to you; but--will you trust
me?"

"Why, of course," said my lost Angel.

"Sir Alec MacNairne thinks his wife is on board, and he's very angry
with Brederode and me, because, you see, he and his wife have had a
quarrel," I vaguely explained. "He's got everything mixed up; and
because he's heard that a Lady MacNairne's on this boat, he's been
chasing us, full of fury. He's silly enough to believe that Brederode's
in love with his wife, and--I can't make you understand precisely why,
without giving away a secret of my _aunt's_--that nonsense of his is
likely to work _our_ Lady MacNairne a lot of harm."

"What a shame!" exclaimed sympathetic but puzzled Nell. "Can't anything
be done about it?"

"Something has been done," said I. "That's what I want you to forgive me
for, and--and help me to carry out, for Aunt Fay's sake. Poor Aunt Fay,
who's suffering with her heart at this minute! What will she have to
endure, if you don't stand by her!"

"I'll stand by her with all my might and main," said Nell. "What can I
do?"

"I'm breaking it to you--by degrees. The first degree is, I told Sir
Alec that Alb was--is--in love with you."

"Oh--how _could_ you?"

"It was fatally easy. And then I said you were engaged to him. That's
the second degree; and the third and last is, that I beg and implore you
to come on deck with me, and tell him it's true."

The girl had actually turned pale. "I can't possibly. Anything else--but
not that," she said.

"It's the one thing to save my poor aunt. Miss Van Buren--Nell--I tell
you frankly, if you won't do this, she--I'm afraid she won't much longer
be Lady MacNairne."

"Good gracious! How awful!" stammered the girl.

"Tragic!" I agreed. "And for me--but I say nothing of my feelings. You
know how devoted I am to my aunt. She'll be alone in the world--with
Tibe--if you refuse to sacrifice yourself in this way for her."

Nell's face was now white and set. I felt a brute; but what was I to do?
For the sake of every one concerned, I couldn't have the L.C.P. exposed,
or be exposed myself, and the trip broken up at the last, in contumely
for all.

I hung on her lips.

"Where is Jonkheer Brederode?" she asked.

"He's on deck, too."

"And you expect me to say--before him--that----"

"He's said the same, already. Or, at least, he agreed while I said it."

"Oh! Well, I don't see how I'm to go through with it. But for Lady
MacNairne's sake, I'll--do it. Come, let's get it over."

"Wait a minute," I urged, restraining her impatience. "I must explain a
little more, first. After Sir Alec has talked with you, he'll want to
come below to the cabins, and everywhere, searching for his wife; for he
won't believe, till he's made sure with his own eyes, that she's not on
board. If you're willing that he should, I am; but don't tell him that a
person named Lady MacNairne's really with us, or I can't answer for the
consequences."

"If he comes below, he'll see her."

"That doesn't matter, as they've never met; so long as he doesn't know
her name."

"Very well, he shan't learn it from me."

"And he mustn't from Miss Rivers. Will you warn your stepsister, not
under any provocation whatever, to speak the name of Lady MacNairne?"

"I will. But why couldn't you have said Phil was engaged to Jonkheer
Brederode?"

"Robert van Buren wouldn't have stood it."

"I see. But what about him? It's no use my telling him anything; he
would go and do the opposite. He's sitting in the outer cabin, alone,
where Lady MacNairne asked him to stay and keep guard over her, while
Phyllis and I stopped beside her in the inner room.

"Dear Aunt Fay," I murmured. "If you'll just warn Miss Rivers, and tell
my aunt that she'd better be asleep when Sir Alec MacNairne peeps in,
I'll tackle your cousin."

"Come, then," said Nell.

And I followed her into that tasteful little cabin which, in the dim
past, I decorated for my own use.

Luckily, it is a far more difficult task to persuade Robert van Buren to
say something than not to say anything at all; and though he was
puzzled, and not too pleased at being plunged into a mystery, I extorted
from him a promise to glare as much as he liked at the intruder but not
on any account to speak.

"He won't know you understand English," I said, determining to
strengthen in Sir Alec's mind, by every means in my power, the
impression of Robert's Dutchness.

I had just arranged matters when Nell came back with the strained air of
a martyr who hears the lions. We went up on deck together, and a glance
showed Sir Alec that no introduction was needed.

"What! This is Miss Van Buren, the young lady who is engaged to marry
Jonkheer Brederode!" he exclaimed.

Nell bowed, thankful no doubt that his way of putting it relieved her of
the necessity for words.

"You said in Leeuwarden that you didn't know the two young ladies in
Dutch costumes," my uncle-in-law flung at me.

"You may have gathered that impression. I certainly never said so," I
answered promptly--and truthfully too. "Perhaps I thought, at the time,
that the less attention bestowed on the ladies the better they would be
pleased," I added.

"You were right," remarked Nell, bravely.

"Oh, very well," said Sir Alec. Then, abruptly, "How's the dog?"

"He's as nice as ever," replied the girl.

Silence for an instant. MacNairne was visibly reflecting. The sight of
Miss Van Buren, and her tacit confirmation of my statement, was cooling
him down. He is a gentleman, and a good fellow when not in one of his
jealous rages; and evidently he did not wish to distress her, or shake
her faith in a man she was going to marry.

"I expected to find my wife on board this boat," he said at last
abruptly. "Is she here?"

"No," said Nell, "she is not, and never has been."

"It's your boat--not Brederode's?"

"It's my boat. He is--kindly acting as our skipper. If you would care to
go below, and satisfy yourself that La--that your wife isn't on board,
please do so."

Sir Alec looked at her, and she looked at him, straight in the eyes, as
why should she not, poor girl, having no guilty secret of her own to
conceal?

"Thank you," he said. "If I've your word for it, that's enough. I won't
go below. Instead, I will bid you good afternoon, and get back to my own
boat--if I can. But first--Starr, do you know where my wife is?"

"I don't," said I. "That I swear. I only wish I did, and I'd tell you
like a shot. Why don't you advertise in the papers: 'Come home. Forget
and forgive. I'll do the same.' Or something of the sort? I'm perfectly
sure that would fetch her, for she's very fond of you, you know--or
ought to know. She told me once that, in spite of all, you were one of
the best fellows in the world."

"Did she really?" the poor chap asked, his face flushing up--not with
rage this time.

"She did, indeed."

"Thank you," he said absent-mindedly. He thought for a moment, and then
spoke quickly, "Well, Brederode, I'm not sure that I oughtn't to
apologize."

"I _am_ sure, Sir Alec," Alb answered. But he was smiling.

"Here goes, then." The big Scotsman held out his hand. The tall Dutchman
in the blue overalls took it.

"I don't know about you, Starr," said Sir Alec. "I'm inclined to feel
that you, at all events, have treated me rather badly. As my wife's----"

"I've meant well all through," I broke in hurriedly. "And just now I
gave you a bit of good advice. You'll thank me when you've taken it."

"Perhaps I will take it," he muttered.

"Hurrah!" said Alb. "The grand pressure of the whole flock of us is
forcing the barrier apart. We shall make our way through in a few
minutes now."

"Good-by, then, all," exclaimed Sir Alec. "I must be getting back to my
boat. The bargees don't mind me much now it's dawned on their
intelligence that I'm neither mad nor an anarchist. Brederode, I
congratulate you on your engagement to Miss Van Buren. I hope, Miss Van
Buren, that you will be very happy. As for me, probably I shall leave
Holland to-morrow."

With that he turned his back upon us resolutely and made off, scrambling
on board the barge jammed nearest "Mascotte's" side. So he went on, from
one to another, until he had disappeared from sight.

"Miss Van Buren," said Brederode, "can you forgive us?"

"It is hard," she said, picking up a fold of her white dress and playing
with it nervously. "But we won't talk of it any more--ever. I must go
now, and see how Lady MacNairne is."

"Not yet. One moment. There's something I must say in justice to
myself," Brederode persisted.

She hesitated. And there was that in her face, that in his voice, which
made me realize suddenly that my explanations were not needed. I could
trust Alb not to give me away; and, as for him, he had forgotten all
about me--so had Nell. And I crept off unnoticed.

The one place for me was on board "Waterspin," and before the barrier
had done more than show signs of yielding I crawled over, slinking into
my cabin.

"Well, well!" I said to myself. "Well, well!" I said again, with my head
between my hands as I sat on my lonely bunk. There seemed nothing else
to say.

I stayed for a long time, until the press had broken, and we were going
on at full speed once more. Then I went to a window of the kitchen,
which Phyllis so much admired, and looked out. I could see the deck of
"Mascotte," and Brederode and Nell, who were still alone there together.

"Well, well!" I repeated idiotically; "it's I who did that. If it hadn't
been for me--but I don't know. I suppose it was bound to happen, anyway.
I wonder?"

Then I returned to my cabin and flitted about restlessly. Soon I became
conscious that I was humming an air. It was not, in itself, a sad air;
but there was a certain sadness as well as appropriateness in its
meaning for me----


  _Giving agreeable girls away--
   One for you, and one for you, but never (how does it go?),
        never one for me!_


We were stopping. We had come to Middelburg. I looked out again. Nell
was on deck alone. Doubtless Alb had at last gone below to the
motor-room, and was exchanging the blue overalls for something more
decorous. Would he, even for the sake of conventionality, have left her
at such a moment unless everything were settled?

"Mascotte" and "Waterspin" were at rest, and I could avail myself of
Alb's absence to find out if I liked. I was not at all sure that I did
like. Nevertheless, something urged me to go, and before I quite knew
how or why I had come there, I stood beside the pretty white figure.
Nell looked up at me, radiant with emotion.

"Oh, Mr. Starr, you were just the one I wanted to see," she exclaimed.
"I was _willing_ you to come."

"Well, I came," I said, smiling. "I'm glad you want me."

"I want to ask you what to do. I sent him away. You know, we must stop
on board till Lady MacNairne's better, so--there's no hurry, and--he had
to change. At first he _wouldn't_ go without an answer. But I told him I
_must_ have ten minutes to make up my mind. He's explained everything.
He was never to blame. It was all Freule Menela's fault--and mine.
Please say what you think. You know him so well; you're old friends.
There's no one else I can talk to, and--I feel somehow--I have for a
long time--almost as if you were a kind of--adopted brother."

Brother again! Blow after blow; let them fall now, one upon another. I
had feared this, yet would not expect it. But I suppose I must
unwittingly have been born a brother.

"That's right," said I. "Go on--little sister." The words were getting
quite familiar now.

"He says that he has never stopped loving
me--dreadfully--desperately--from the very first. But I was _so_ sure it
was only a fancy, and--and that when I was so bad to him, and Phyllis so
kind, he began to care for her instead. Just now, when you said I must
pretend to be engaged to him, I was thinking how horrid it would be for
him to feel, 'Oh, if it were only Phyllis!' Didn't you suppose he was in
love with Phyllis?"

"Never," I heard myself assuring her; "never."

"I'm _so_ glad. You're sure, then, that he knows his own mind, that he
isn't asking me to go on being really engaged to him just to save my
feelings after that scene with Sir Alec MacNairne?"

"I'm _dead_ sure," I said.

"You perfect dear! I _do_ like you. Oh, wasn't it too funny--I can say
it, now we're brother and sister--he thought I might be in love with
_you_."

"Owl!" I remarked.

"And all the time I was so horribly afraid he might suspect I cared
that I would hardly speak a word to him. Besides, I didn't suppose he
could be bothered listening to anything _I_ might have to say. And I
felt quite _sorry_ for him when Phyllis was engaged to Robert. Dear
Phil, I've been horrid to her, too. You see, she was trying to persuade
herself to take Rudolph without loving him, and I just _hated_ her for
it."

"Oh, that was what you meant, then!" I exclaimed.

"What I meant?"

"It doesn't matter. Well, make your mind easy, sweet sister. Alb adores
you--has adored you since the first moment he set eyes on you, and will
till he closes them in death. That's my conviction as his lifetime
friend. And my advice is, go on being engaged to him until you marry
him."

"Mariner, what an old trump you are!" broke in Brederode. And there he
was behind me, neat as a pin, in his own suit of clothes, and radiant in
his new suit of happiness.

"I give her to you, Alb," said I. And then I strolled away again,
humming to the air of the Dead March, in Saul, or something equivalent,
those haunting words--


  _Giving agreeable girls away----
  One for you, and one for you, but never, never one for me!_



XXXVII


I felt, when I waked up on the morning of butter-market-day at
Middelburg, as if I had not slept at all, but had listened throughout
the night to the sweet, the incredibly sweet chimes that floated like
perfume in the air. Yet I suppose I must have slept, for the bells had
sometimes stopped playing their one melodious tune, to tinkle in my
dreams, "One for you, and one for you, but never, _never_ one for me?"

The hotel is a nice hotel, and there is a garden. After breakfast, I was
so tired of brotherliness, of beaming at happy couples, and hearing
plans about weddings, that instead of going forth to see the famous
Thursday Middelburg sights, at which the world comes from afar to gaze,
I slipped away and hid in the garden.

Phyllis and Robert were out together. Rudolph and Nell were out
together. Both parties conscientiously believed that they were out for
sight-seeing; that their object was to behold matrons and maidens in
white caps, quaint fichus, meek, straight bodices, and swelling skirts;
to admire pretty faces, with tinkling gold ornaments at their temples;
to stare at young arms, red under incredibly tight short sleeves, as
they bore baskets of eggs or pats of butter to market. How well I knew
the whole scene from photographs!--the bell-like figures of the women;
the booths in the big market square; and the cool arcades of the
butter-market. How well I knew, too, that neither Phyllis and Robert,
nor Rudolph and Nell would see anything at all, or remember it, if by
accident they did see aught save each other.

"This," I said to myself, "is the end. We may go back to Rotterdam
together, if we like. But everything's as much changed as if it were
another party. And this, this is what I've slaved for--fibbed
for--plotted for! 'Giving agreeable girls away!' Faugh!" I felt as much
injured as if I were a misunderstood saint, though, when one comes to
look at it, perhaps I have not always played precisely the part of
saint.

While I lolled gloomily on an extremely uncomfortable seat, not meant
for lolling, I heard a faint rustling in the grass behind me, and Tibe
appeared, to lay his head, in a matter-of-course way, upon my knee.

"Where's your mistress?" I asked mechanically. "Have you changed, too,
like all the rest, and left her alone?"

"Here I am," answered the L.C.P., as if the question had been addressed
to her. "I thought you'd be in the garden, so I came to find you. Why
don't you go out and see things?"

"Why don't you?" I echoed.

"Because I didn't like to feel that you were all by yourself," she
answered.

"You needn't have troubled about me," I said. "Nobody else does."

She laughed that quaint, quiet little laugh, which suits her. "That's
different. They're engaged to each other--all the rest of them. I'm
engaged--_by_ you."

"Don't let that engagement keep you from amusing yourself," I said. "The
bargain's off now. I hired an aunt to further my interests. Every one
else's have been furthered except mine."

"That's not my fault, is it?"

"I know it isn't," I assured her. "Don't think I'm finding fault with
you. On the contrary, you're really a marvelous being. But Othello's
occupation's gone."

"Yes," said she. "For both of us. I retire from aunthood, you retire
from nephewhood, with mutual respect, Is that it?"

"I suppose so," I gloomily replied. "Yet I'm loth to part with you,
somehow. You and Tibe are all I have left in the world. But now I
must lose you both."

"You don't need an aunt," she said.

"No, but I need some one; I don't know exactly who. Robert has snatched
one of my loves, Rudolph the other. What am I to do?"

"Come to the house and into my sitting-room, and let's talk it over,"
she suggested invitingly.

I obeyed.

There were flowers in her sitting-room. There always are. The scent of
late roses was sad, yet soothing.

"Excuse me a minute. I'm going into the next room to make myself pretty
before we begin our talk; but I won't be long, and Tibe shall keep you
company," said the L.C.P.

"You're well enough as you are," I said.

But she went, smiling; and I hardly missed her, I was so busy with my
own thoughts.


  _One for you, and one for you, but never, never one for me?_


I must have hummed the words aloud, for her voice answered me, at the
door.

"Never's a long word, isn't it?"

I looked up.

A neat little figure stood on the threshold between the two rooms, the
same neat little figure I had seen constantly during the past eight
weeks. But it was not the same face. She had said, lightly, that she was
going to "make herself pretty," and she had. She had performed a
miracle. Or else I was asleep and dreaming.

The gray hair, folded in wings, was gone; the blue glasses were gone;
the big bow under the chin was gone. A pretty young woman was smiling at
me with the pretty little mouth I knew; but I did not know the bright
auburn hair, or the beautiful brown eyes that threw me an amazing
challenge.

"Good heavens!" I exclaimed.

"You told me you didn't want your aunt any more," said she.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Don't you remember? I'm Mary Milton. If you'd lived in your own
country, instead of gadding about in foreign ones, you'd know who Mary
Milton is without asking--at least, you would if you ever read _The New
York Meteor_."

"I suppose this is a dream, and that I shall wake up," said I. "I slept
very badly last night."

"Don't call for help under the impression that it's a nightmare," said
my late aunt, twinkling.

"I have the impression that it's a vision," I answered. "But if you
don't explain yourself instantly, I shall die in the dream--of heart
failure."

"There's no great mystery," said Miss Milton. "I didn't particularly
want to disguise myself, but you advertised for an aunt, and as it's
difficult for a girl to make herself look middle-aged, I had to look
_old_. That's all, except that your advertisement came in very handy,
because--as you'd know if you were a patriotic American--Mary Milton's
an enterprising and rather celebrated young journalist making it her
business to go round the world for her paper without spending a penny of
her own. That was the understanding on which _The Meteor_ started and
'boomed' me; for it was my own idea. I wanted to see things, and I
hadn't money enough--so I went to call on the editor, and--I talked to
him, till he was quite fired with the project. _The Meteor_ has given me
a good send-off, and I've given it good copy. My adventures--as they
look in print--have been sensational, and, I believe, popular. I've been
at it for two years, and all America has read me, if you haven't. I've
done all the countries of Europe, now. Holland was the last, and I
seemed stuck on the threshold till I saw your advertisement. It couldn't
have suited better--except for the blue glasses and the wig. But one
can't have everything as one likes it. I've enjoyed the tour immensely,
thanks to you; and so have the readers of _The Meteor_. I'm afraid
I've teased you a good deal, and spent a lot of your pennies; but it
_was_ fun! And you shall have your presents all back--every one of them.
Heaps of money will be waiting for me from my paper when I get home to
New York. They're delighted with my work; and then I intend to send you
a check for all that you've paid me to be your aunt. I would rather,
_really_; and only keep one little thing to remember you by,
perhaps--and our days together."

"Did you always send back the money spent by persons you hypnotized to
conduct you through the different countries?"

"No. That was different. I--don't exactly know why, but it was. And you
needn't look at me so queerly. I've never done anything to be ashamed
of."

"I'd knock the person down who suggested that you had," said I. "I was
looking at you because I was thinking you more marvelous than ever. You
hypnotize _me_. You hypnotize everybody. I suppose you hypnotized the
editor into giving you your job?"

"Perhaps I did," she laughed. "Often I can get people to do things for
me--big things--if I want them to very much."

"You could get me to do anything!" I exclaimed. "You're a witch, and
what's more, I believe you're a beauty. Great Scott! How you grow on
one! Can this be why--because you are You--that in my heart of hearts I
don't care a rap if Nell and Phyllis are engaged to others? I wonder if
my instinct saw under the gray hair and blue glasses? Look here, are you
Miss or Mrs. Mary Milton? and if you're Mrs., are you a widow, grass, or
otherwise?"

She laughed. "Why, how old do you take me to be? As an aunt, my official
age was over forty. But Miss Mary Milton isn't much more than half Lady
MacNairne's age. It's as good to throw off the years as the wig and the
spectacles. I'm only twenty-three. I haven't had _time_ to marry yet,
thank goodness!"

"Thank goodness!" I echoed. "And thank goodness for You as you are. You
seem to me perfect."

"But I should never have done like this, for an aunt."

"Certainly not. But to think I should have been wasting you all this
time as a mere aunt!"

"I wasn't wasted. I saved you lots of things--if I didn't save you
money. Really, I _did_ earn my salary--though you often thought me
officious."

"Never!"

"Not when I kept you from proposing to Nell Van Buren?"

"That was a blessing in disguise."

"Like myself. But truly, I only did it to spare you humiliation in the
end. I knew all along that she was in love with Rudolph
Brederode--though perhaps _she_ wouldn't have found it out so soon if it
hadn't been for me."

"You've been our good genius all round," said I. "And I owe you----"

"Now, don't offer me more rewards! It was fun wheedling things from you
at first; but bribes have been getting on my nerves lately. The play was
played out."

"Let's pretend it was only a curtain-raiser," I suggested. "I'd like you
to be 'on' in the next piece, in the leading part. Mary Milton! What a
delicious name! And _you're_ delicious! It's a great comfort to
understand why I was never really in love with either of those Angels.
You are not an angel--but I'm going to be madly in love with you. I feel
it coming on. I shall adore you."

"Nonsense! A man mustn't be in love with his aunt."

"I strip you of your aunthood. But I can't give you up to _The Meteor_.
If you go to America, you must personally conduct Ronald Lester Starr.
You oughtn't to mind. You're used to looking after him."

I took a step toward her; but she stooped down and framed the ugly pansy
of Tibe's face between her little hands.

"Tibe, what do you say to him?" she asked.

Tibe wagged his tail.

While he was wagging, the others came in. Their looks of radiant new
happiness changed to surprise at sight of my companion. In spite of the
dress nobody recognized the pretty girl with the wonderful eyes and
crisp masses of sparkling auburn hair.

Yesterday I would have sacrificed anything, up to Tibe himself, to avoid
explanations, but now I enjoyed them.

Everybody laughed and exclaimed (except Robert), and Brederode helped me
out so nobly that I would have given him Nell with my own hand if she
had not already made him that present.

"It's like one of Nell's stories," cried Phyllis. "Only she used to love
to make hers end sadly."

"I should have died if this had ended sadly," Nell said frankly, holding
out both hands to Brederode, with a lovely look in her eyes.

"So should I, I'm sure," said Phyllis. "Oh, isn't it glorious that we
all adore each other so!"

"Do we?" I asked the _Meteor_ lady.

She smiled. "I suppose it would be a pity to make a jarring note in the
chorus."

While she was in that mood I took out the ruby ring which she had said
ought to be an engagement ring.

"With this ring I thee----"

"No!"

"Engage thee as my perpetual chaperon."

This time she did not draw back her hand. And I kissed it as I slipped
on the ruby.

THE END





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