Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Instead of the Thorn
Author: Burnham, Clara Louise
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 "Instead of the Thorn" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Internet Archive (https://archive.org/)



Note: Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive. See
      https://archive.org/details/insteadofthornno00burn



INSTEAD OF THE THORN

A Novel

by

CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM



[Illustration]

Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge

Copyright, 1916, by Clara Louise Burnham
All Rights Reserved

Published April 1916



                                          TO

                                        C.T.R.

                            WITH LOVING AND GRATEFUL MEMORIES
                                    OF JOCKEY HILL



_Contents_


        I. AT THE SOUTH SHORE                         1

       II. HOT TEA                                   10

      III. COLD WATER                                25

       IV. THE JUNE NIGHT                            44

        V. THE CAPE                                  57

       VI. THE SHINGLED COTTAGE                      73

      VII. THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED                    94

     VIII. A BUSINESS INTERVIEW                     109

       IX. CORRESPONDENCE                           122

        X. THE SPELL BREAKS                         134

       XI. EASTWARD HO!                             145

      XII. EN ROUTE                                 160

     XIII. HOME-COMING                              174

      XIV. BLANCHE AURORA                           189

       XV. THE HARBOR                               201

      XVI. THE VOICE OF TRUTH                       218

     XVII. THE RAINBOW                              231

    XVIII. THE PINK DRESS                           247

      XIX. THE WILD ROSE                            261

       XX. BEHIND THE BIRCHES                       278

      XXI. REVELATION                               293

     XXII. THE PENITENT                             306

    XXIII. A GOOD NEIGHBOR                          321

     XXIV. WHITCOMB'S CONFESSION                    335

      XXV. THE MAN AND THE MAID                     350

     XXVI. A DIPLOMATIST                            366

    XXVII. THE FULL MOON                            379



                              INSTEAD OF THE THORN



                             _Instead of the Thorn_



CHAPTER I

AT THE SOUTH SHORE


On a June evening, Mr. and Mrs. Radcliffe were entertaining their
New York friends the Lindsays at dinner at the South Shore Club. The
dining-room, with its spacious semicircle of glass, is a place where
Chicago may entertain New York with complacence, for the windows give
upon Lake Michigan, whose billows break so close to the border of
velvety grass that the effect is of dining on a yacht.

The Lindsays were enamored of the great marine view, lovely in the long
June evening, and with many an admiring comment watched the white gulls
hover and wheel above the sunset water.

Mrs. Radcliffe was a stout, white-haired woman, costumed with disregard
of expense, and she habitually wore an expression of countenance which
betokened general optimism.

Mrs. Lindsay, of about her friend's age, was spare and lined of face,
offering a contrast to the hostess's plump smoothness. She again raised
a jeweled lorgnette to watch the wheeling gulls.

"Oh, Chicago wouldn't be anything without the lake," remarked Mrs.
Radcliffe complacently.

"And this clubhouse is such a perfect place to watch it," returned her
friend.

"We have a very charming ballroom here," said Mrs. Radcliffe. "I'm
sorry it isn't a formal dance night."

The orchestra was playing a Hesitation Waltz, which reminded her.
For the Hesitation had not yet been driven from the field by troops
who cantered, and those strains were always sufficient to people the
spacious ballroom until it was alive with dancers, old and young.
Indeed, as one comic paper had it that season, "He who does not
hesitate is lost." Just when or why silver threads among the gold
ceased to relegate advancing years to a shelf above the dancers, it
would be hard to say; but certain it is that the rosy walls behind the
pure white columns in the popular ballroom threw their diffused and
becoming light that season upon sometimes agile but always determined
middle age, as well as upon slender youth.

There is a point, however, where Terpsichore stands inexorably and
says, "Thus far and no farther": a point where the wistful dancer
realizes that all is Hesitation, and the Waltz balks. This is reached
in the matron at the weight of two hundred pounds, and Mrs. Radcliffe
had arrived there; so, like the spinster of the story, who settled down
to contentment with her lot when she had "stopped strugglin'," Mrs.
Radcliffe enjoyed peacefully her visits to the club, and invaded the
ballroom only as a spectator.

She looked up now at her friend. "Have you and Mr. Lindsay joined the
one-stepping legion?" she asked.

"No, we have not. We have children and rheumatism. You know that does
make a difference." Mrs. Lindsay's bright, nervous eyes snapped, and
she showed a set of artistic teeth.

Mrs. Radcliffe shrugged a comfortable shoulder. "Well, I have one
child, but that wouldn't stop me. He has a child of his own. Let him
attend to his own affairs. I haven't the rheumatism, but neither have
I any breath to spare. You look at me and you see that."

The two ladies laughed and sipped their coffee. Their husbands, with
chairs moved sidewise, were talking in low tones over their cigarettes.

"We have such a charming ballroom!" repeated the hostess. "It makes me
hate my flesh to go in there; but Mr. Radcliffe says it's the terror
of his life that I may lose an ounce and want to dance, and he is
always urging delicious salads on me." The plump speaker shook again,
till the diamonds on her ample breast scintillated. "He's the laziest
man in Chicago. I suppose I ought to be thankful that he doesn't
improve his slimness and the shining hour by coming and dancing with
these buds. Lots of other gray heads do, and the buds can't help
themselves, poor little things. Isn't that an attractive nosegay over
there?" The speaker indicated the spot where twenty-four young girls
and men were gayly dining at a round table, whose roses, violets, and
lilies-of-the-valley strove with the material feast.

"My daughter-in-law, Harriet, is giving that dinner for her sister,
who has just graduated from our University. If you want to see a
spoiled child of fortune, look at Linda Barry now. That is she, holding
up the glass of grape-juice. Aren't her dimples wonderful? Look at
those brown eyes sparkle Doesn't her very hair look as if electricity
were running through the locks? I tell you she's a handful! I've always
been so thankful that Henry chose her sister Harriet. Such a quiet,
sensible young woman, Harriet is. She wouldn't let them have any wine,
you see. She says it sounds like Fourth of July all the year around at
this club, and she's terribly particular about Henry. That's Harriet,
sitting with her back to us: the one with the velvet around her throat.
I admire my daughter-in-law, but I always feel she thinks I'm too
frivolous, and spend too much time playing cards."

The speaker's husband caught a part of what she was saying.

"Yes, Lindsay," he said. "You knew one of Barry's daughters married my
boy, didn't you? That's the other one facing us."

Mr. Lindsay turned his iron-gray head until he could observe the
smiling girl, offering a grape-juice toast. The family of the head of
the firm of Barry & Co. was of interest to him.

Some one had stuck a spray of leaves in the thick, bright waves of her
hair.

"Make a corking study of a Bacchante, if some one should paint her just
as she is," remarked the New York man.

"Shades of my daughter-in-law--if she should hear you! She'd say that
Linda had outwitted her after all." Mr. Radcliffe smiled across at his
wife. "Harriet is the modern progressive woman,--goes in for Suffrage
and Eugenics and all that; but with the reserve and quiet of a Puritan.
She can't understand Linda, who is athletic, a comrade of boys, the
idol of her father, and a law unto herself."

Mr. Lindsay was regarding the girl, who was smiling confidently and
making a speech inaudible from the distant corner. "She looks as if she
had the world by the tail," he remarked.

"That about describes her state of mind," responded the other. "Life
has been a triumphal progress for her, so far. She hasn't had a mother
for ten years, and her father couldn't spare her to go away to school,
so here she has been educated, right in our burg, though she's a
millionaire's daughter. You've been in that old-fashioned stone pile of
a house of Barry's up there on Michigan Avenue? I should think Barry'd
be sick of keeping a boarding-house for servants, and I've told him so."

"He's sick of something," returned Mr. Lindsay quietly, "or so it
seemed to my wife and me. We dined there last night."

"Oh, you did?"

"Yes. The daughter wasn't there. Her father said she was away at one of
her graduation festivities. What's the matter with Barry?"

The speaker's eyes left the dimpling girl with the dancing eyes and
came back to his friend as he asked the quiet question.

"Why, nothing that I know of," replied the other, surprised. "Cares of
state, I suppose."

"No rumors on the street?" The slow question was put in a still lower
tone.

"Haven't heard any," was the quick reply.

The other nodded. "Good," he said.

"Why, have you?"

"There's some talk in the East about the Antlers project. Probably
nothing but gossip."

"Nothing else, I'm sure. All these big irrigation deals have something
of a black eye just now, but Barry & Co. know what they're about. They
never buy a pig in a poke."

"What are you saying about pigs, Cyrus?" asked Mrs. Radcliffe smartly.
"You know it's a tabooed subject in our best families."

Mr. Radcliffe paid no attention to her in his disturbance. "You know my
nephew, Bertram King? He came straight out of college into that bank,
and has been there nearly ten years. Barry likes him, and he's had
good luck, and I think another year'll see him in the firm. Everybody
believes that Barry doesn't go into any big deal unless King approves.
I see Bertram quite often. He's over there in that dinner party now:
sitting on Harriet's right. You've met my daughter-in-law?"

"Oh, yes, and King, too. He dined with us last night. Seemed to be a
brainy chap."

"Oh, he's sedate as they make 'em. I often think he's the one that
ought to have married Harriet. See Henry sitting between those pink and
blue girls, and keeping 'em in a roar? He gets his frivolity from his
mother."

Mrs. Radcliffe drew down the corners of her lips. "Frivolity that
captured Harriet Barry, you'll notice. There they go," she added, as
the gay young people at the round table pushed back their chairs;
"there they go to their dance. Happy young things!" Mrs. Radcliffe
sighed. "With all their troubles before them," she added, and the
perfunctoriness of the addition made Mr. Lindsay smile.

"I hope they all weather it as well as you have, Mrs. Radcliffe," he
said.

The host smiled too as they rose from the table.

"So say we all of us," he remarked. "Let's go and have a game. Do you
play nullos, Mrs. Lindsay?"

"I play everything I can get my hands on," she returned promptly.



CHAPTER II

HOT TEA


Linda Barry was looking in the glass. She liked her own reflection, and
no wonder. She was coolly critical of her own appearance, however, and
granted it her approval only when her costume and coiffure reached the
standard of her own prescription. Whether any one else criticized her
was a matter of profound indifference. She had been known in her class
in the University as a good fellow, a good sport, carelessly generous,
and confident of her own powers, physical and mental.

Emerson says, if you would have friends you must know how to do without
them. Linda Barry was a born leader and took her friends for granted.
She never went out of her way to make one. That sort of girl always has
some enemies, impotently resenting all that she arrogates to herself
and that her admirers grant to her. But such clashes as had taken place
left no mark on Linda. Triumphant and careless of triumph, she emerged
from college life and asked of an obliging world, "What next?"

She was looking in the glass now, this Sunday afternoon, because she
had been romping with her nephew, aged five, and he had pulled her hat
awry.

She had dropped in for tea at her sister's apartment by the lake. It
was two days after the dinner dance, and she was still feeling high
approval of Harriet for the way in which she had managed the whole
affair.

Bertram King was sitting opposite her now, holding the panting small
boy, whose cheeks were red with exertion, and who chuckled with joy
at having won a sudden and tempestuous battle by the simple move of
jerking his aunt's hat over her eyes.

"I beated Aunt Linda. I beated her," he shrieked gayly.

"Hush, hush, Harry dear," said his mother from the tea-table. "Aunt
Linda lets you get too excited."

Aunt Linda, whose very presence was suggestive of intoxicating rough
and tumble to her nephew, winked and nodded at him from the glass.

"I'll catch you alone some day," she said, with a significance which
filled him with ecstatic terror.

He jumped up and down in the encircling arms.

"No, you won't, no, you won't!" he shouted. "Uncle Bertram won't
let you." The child's active arms caught the ribbon that held his
protector's eyeglasses, and jerked them from his nose.

"Now, Linda, Linda," protested the mother, looking proudly at the lusty
youngster, whose rumpled hair and floating tie-ends told of the bout
just finished. "Listen, Harry, there's father coming. If I let you take
him his tea, will you be very careful?"

Linda, rehabilitated, turned from the mirror and seated herself near
the window.

"Let him bring me _my_ tea," she said, gazing at the child with eyes
that set him again to effervescing with delicious apprehension.

"No, _no_, she'll grab me!" yelled the boy, on a yet higher pitch of
joy.

"Linda dear, it's Sunday. Let's have a little quiet," pleaded her
sister.

At this moment, the head of the house entered, and his hopeful broke
his bonds and, rushing to meet him, was lifted to a safe perch from
which he looked down in rosy triumph on his dearest foe.

"Hello, everybody," said Henry Radcliffe. "If there isn't the girl that
knows everything--including how to dance! You're a bird, Linda. How
are you, Bertram?" The men shook hands, then the host approached the
tea-table and kissed his wife.

"Put Harry right down here, dear. He's going to be a little gentleman
and pass the tea."

"But not to Aunt Linda," shouted the child.

"No, no," agreed his mother pacifically. "You can take her tea to Uncle
Bertram, and he'll pass it."

"Look out, Uncle Bertram, she'll tickle you," advised the boy out of
long experience.

Linda, leaning lazily back in her armchair, met King's gray eyes and
gave a low laugh.

"Just imagine such _lèse majesté_," she said, and the provoking arch
of her lips made Bertram feel, as he always did, that she was laughing
at him, not with him. He was too used to it to be disconcerted. He had
a serious, even-featured, smooth-shaven face, light hair which would
have liked to wave had its owner been willing, and short-sighted eyes,
which, nevertheless, saw far enough to understand Linda Barry and
deplore her.

"She'll catch your heels, too, if you go upstairs in front of her,"
continued the small boy, chuckling breathlessly as he watched his
lazily reclining adored one, the sparks in whose eyes gave every hope
that she was as ready as ever to spring.

"That sort of thing isn't good for a child. It overexcites him,"
remarked Bertram, unsmiling, dangling his eyeglasses by the ribbon.

"Dear, dear," said Linda. "Excuse me! I meant, Hear, hear!"

"Now, Harry darling," said Mrs. Radcliffe, "can you be careful? Father
will sit between you and Aunt Linda, and don't go the other side of him
_at all_. Do you understand?" Then to her sister, "You know how I value
these cups, Linda. Please be good."

Linda stifled a yawn behind her white-gloved hand and looked very good
indeed.

"Henry and I," went on the hostess complacently, "think we can't begin
any too soon to make Harry at home in the drawing-room. Why, already he
can stand and drink his cambric tea, and manage his cup as well as any
of you, can't you, dear?"

Harry, finding himself under discussion, ceased smiling and scuffed
violently across the rug.

"That isn't pretty, darling. Now, this is for Uncle Bertram to take to
Aunt Linda. Come here. Now, be careful."

Henry Radcliffe took a seat near his wife's table, and the little boy
seized a lettuce sandwich and took a bite of it before he attempted the
cup.

"Oh, oh, put that down, Harry. You can have it in a minute." The mother
laughed as she placed the cup in the child's hands. "He wouldn't eat a
bit of lettuce at his own supper, but because grown-ups are having it
he wants it!" she remarked. "That's a good boy," as the transit of the
cup was made safely. "Now, come here and get one for Uncle Bertram."

As the child obeyed, his mother continued: "I must tell you a very good
joke Harry made the other day. He was playing with the cat, and she
stretched herself out on the rug, and he lay down with his head on her
and said, 'This is my caterpillar.' Wasn't that clever?"

Harry glanced around the assembly rather sheepishly.

"Bully for the boy!" laughed his father. "Come here, Turk."

"Now, don't romp, Henry," pleaded his wife. "Here's Father's tea, Harry
dear. Take it nicely. He's learning such a number of German words these
days. Fräulein says he has a real talent for languages." The mother
regarded her darling fondly. The child's gayety had entirely subsided,
and he took his father's cup stolidly. Mrs. Radcliffe gave a low laugh
as she continued, "_Now_, whenever he uses a big word in English and
isn't quite sure that it is right, he says very carelessly, 'Oh, I
said that in Germany.'" The soft laugh increased in merriment, and the
speaker looked at her sister and King for appreciation. Linda laughed.

The subject of her remarks, having landed his father's cup safely in
the paternal hands, eased his embarrassment by stamping again up and
down the rug, making guttural noises in his throat.

"Now, dear, if you're going to do that you'll have to go away," said
his mother, and, the German nurse appearing at that moment in the
doorway, she accosted her: "Is Harry's supper ready? Yes? All right. Go
on, then, darling, we'll excuse you. Fräulein has your nice supper all
ready. I'll come and see you in a little while."

When the child, too self-conscious even to exchange parting hostilities
with Aunt Linda, had left the room, Bertram King looked up from
stirring his tea.

"Henry," he said shortly, "have I your leave to lecture Harriet?"

"Dear me, Bertram," ejaculated Linda, "are you going to take on
another? You'll soon not have time to go the rounds, and the world will
go to smash!"

King didn't look at her.

Henry Radcliffe closed his hand over his wife's as it rested on the
handle of the teapot.

"Certainly, if you can think of anything to lecture her about."

"Can't _you_?" As King asked it he rose and, coming to the tea-table,
took a plate of sandwiches and carried them to Linda, and then back to
Henry, finally setting them on the table and helping himself.

His cousin shook his head. "Rather not!" he ejaculated. "I hope I know
my place. I trip after Harriet at a respectful distance." This time he
picked up his wife's hand and kissed it.

"This is fulsome," murmured Linda from her armchair.

"Then you share the lecture, that's all," returned King firmly,
resuming his seat. "Here's my text: 'No one should ever talk about a
child before him--or her.'"

"Harriet has only one, please remember, Bertram," protested Linda
kindly.

Mrs. Radcliffe set down her teacup, and color began to come up in her
cheeks as she regarded King. "Bertram, I never--" she began, for he
paused. "It's the rarest thing! But here where we're all Harry's own
people"--a little rigidity crept into the speaker's voice--"I didn't
mean to bore anybody. Don't you"--with defiance--"don't you think that
was very witty for a child of his age, that about the caterpillar?
I keep his sayings in a book, and he's really a remarkable baby.
It isn't at all because he's ours, is it, Henry? Oh"--with sudden
impatience--"it's foolish of me to talk to you about it, Bertram. What
do you know about children!"

"I've been one; and I see one occasionally; and I marvel to Heaven to
see how parents cut themselves out of half the fun they might have with
them. You don't seem to have grasped my text. People shouldn't talk
_about_ children _before_ them."

"Of course, I wouldn't _scold_ a child before others," said Harriet,
with some excitement. "Now, Bertram, you know a lot about bonds that I
don't, but I know a lot about children that you don't. I'm not just an
animal mother. I've looked into pedagogy and kindergarten principles.
Harry can work beautifully in cardboard already; but, of course, if it
bores you to hear about him--"

"Yes," interrupted King, "parents should also take into consideration
that the general public doesn't care a copper to hear anything
about their children; but I'm not the general public where Harry is
concerned. I'll guarantee to sit between you and Henry and listen to an
antiphonal recital of everything Harry has said and done since he was
born, and not yawn once--with one provision."

Harriet flashed him a look. "I don't care to hear your provision.
You'll not be called to the martyrdom."

"And the provision is," went on Bertram equably, "that Harry shall
not be present. Now, Henry, if you will kindly place your hand over
Harriet's mouth, I will proceed."

Linda stirred. There was something about Bertram King's arrogation of
superiority that always exasperated her.

"How about my placing my hand kindly over _your_ mouth?" she suggested.

He turned and looked directly at her. "I should enjoy that very much,"
he returned.

Linda was disconcerted for only a moment, then her provoking smile
shone.

"Wonderful facilities for biting me, I suppose," she remarked.

"Now, if the children will all be quiet a moment," said Bertram,
turning back, "I will take up the cudgels for the rising generation.
One of the most charming things on earth, probably the most charming,
is a child, unconscious of itself; the most graceful, the most
winning; untrammeled in their little speeches as in their movements.
Then some grown-up discusses them in their presence, no matter
whether flatteringly or not. Their grace changes to awkwardness,
their unconsciousness to embarrassment, their freedom to reserve
or to resentful, meaningless noises such as those with which Harry
lately favored the company. Under moments of flattery they show some
chestiness and conceit at times, but for the most part they're stolid
under the infliction, and their parents and friends have lost all the
joy of their charm until they can forgive by forgetting. One of the
bitterest leaves of their tree of knowledge is discovering that the
well-meaning giants around them are laughing at them, not with them."

"Say, there's something in that, Harriet," remarked her husband
good-naturedly. "Harry grew as red as a turkey-cock when you told about
his excusing himself for using wrong words. I noticed it."

Linda nodded in King's direction. "It's surely a duty Bertram owes to a
benighted world to marry."

He turned to her again with the same direct, quick movement as before.

"Very well. Will you have me, Linda?"

She met his gaze, finding some difficulty in giving her own just the
right proportion of light scorn.

"I should like to see myself married to you!" she exclaimed slowly.

"Would you?" he responded with lively interest, and rising, strode
across to her, while she retreated to the furthest corner of her chair.
"Then we're of the same mind for once." He seized her hand, while
the teacup in the other rocked and tinkled in a manner to cause the
liveliest apprehension in its owner. "Witness, both of you. Linda and I
are engaged."

The girl's strong heart pounded violently as she found that vigorous
efforts could not free her hand. Color burned her cheeks. Her father's
factotum had never seemed to consider her affairs or herself as of any
importance, and her habit of thought toward him was an effort to assure
him of absolute reciprocation.

"Let me go," she said sharply. "Don't be silly."

"Come on," he urged. "Let's give your father a pleasant surprise.
Henry, Harriet, speak up. Tell her what's for her good."

Harriet, the conventional, was anxious under the growing anger in her
sister's dark eyes.

"Behave, Bertram," she said severely. "I don't like joking on those
subjects. Go back to your chair and I'll give you a lecture much more
sensible than yours to me."

"I'm not joking. I believe I could make something fine out of Linda."
He gazed down into the girl's face as he spoke.

Henry Radcliffe laughed derisively. "You poor nut," he remarked.
"Better not try the Cave-Dweller stunt on Linda. The club would be
likely to change hands."

The captured fingers struggled a moment more, while the two pairs of
eyes exchanged their combative gaze.

There had never been any jocose passages between the girl and her
father's favorite co-worker. There had been moments when she had
even felt desire for his approval. The present audacity amazed and
disconcerted her, and coercion was simply hateful.

Finding effort to free herself futile, she set her tea down on the arm
of her chair, and quickly taking up the cup, deliberately poured the
hot, creamy liquid over as much of her captor's cuff as was visible.
The cuff collapsed, the tea was hot. King abruptly dropped the girl's
hand, and set himself to wiping his own with his handkerchief.

"Now, will you be good?" laughed Henry; but Harriet fixed anxious
eyes on the arm of the chair, hoping that Bertram's hand and cuff had
received the whole of the baptism, and groaned within herself over the
talents of her young sister as a trouble-maker.

"And who calls it 'the cup that cheers'?" remarked King drily.



CHAPTER III

COLD WATER


June heat dropped down on Chicago promptly that year and caused the
Barrys to plan to leave town earlier than it suited the banker to go.
Indeed, no weather condition ever made Linda's father willing to leave
business.

One evening, a few days before their intended departure, Bertram King
came to the house to see his employer. The heavy door stood open after
the hot day, and with the familiarity of an intimate he stepped inside,
intending to take his way to his old friend's den, but in the hall he
met Linda: Linda, blooming, dressed in white, and altogether lovely to
look upon. Over her arm she carried a silk motor coat and a chiffon
veil.

The young man's face looked haggard by comparison with her fresh
beauty, and he smiled unconscious admiration as he greeted the
exhilaration of her breezy appearance.

"Father is out," she said, "and I'm so glad!"

"Why? Did you want to see me alone?"

"I can't see you at all. I'm going out."

"But he hasn't come yet."

"Who?"

"Your motoring friend. Why are you glad your father is out?"

"Because I think he sees enough of you in the daytime. Too much.
Father's very tired. Can't you see it? I'm going to run away with him
on Saturday."

"So I hear.--I'm somewhat seedy myself. I think I'll accept your urgent
invitation to sit down until he comes."

"He isn't coming. He'll be out all the evening."

"I'm talking about your beau." There was an empty, nerveless quality to
the visitor's voice which began to impress his companion.

"Let's set a spell, as they say in Maine," he added. "I've been
thinking about Maine to-day."

Linda followed his lead into a reception room, where they sat down.

"A pretty good place to think about, when Lake Michigan sizzles," she
replied; "but I've chosen Colorado. We're going to Estes Park."

"Yes, so Mr. Barry told me. I should like to go there too." King's tone
was wistful.

"Perish the thought!" returned Linda devoutly. "I wouldn't have you
within a thousand miles of father."

"That's what the doctor says," remarked King, his pensive gaze bent on
the ribbon bordering of Linda's thin frock.

She started and leaned toward him. "The doctor!" she repeated. "Has
Doctor Flagg been talking to you about father? Is he--is he worried
about him?"

King shook his head. "I didn't go to Doctor Flagg. I went to Doctor
Young. We've been getting some golf together lately, and he's a good
sort."

"What's the matter with _you_, Bertram?" Linda sat up again, and her
voice and manner cooled. "What do you want of a doctor?"

King shook his head. "Never in my life before: first offense.
Everything seemed to go back on me all of a sudden. Sleeping, eating,
and all the rest of it." The speaker scowled. "The mischief of it is,
Young says I've got to get away for a month at least. He says--Oh, you
don't care what he says."

Linda regarded the downcast one. He was speaking to her as to an
equal, not, as usual, with tacit rebuke for some misdemeanor. This
blunt reproach, if it were reproach, merely referred casually to her
indifference.

"I care a great deal," she returned, with spirit. "I'm sure it will
make my father very anxious to have you away at the same time he is."

King lifted his weary eyes to hers, eager and bright.

"I'm sure Doctor Flagg could give you a tonic or something to tide you
over till we return in September," she went on. "You could go then."

Her companion leaned back in his chair with a long, inaudible breath.
"We have arranged all that. Mr. Barry wants me to go."

The speaker did look rather cadaverous. Linda realized it now. It was a
strange thing to have in any degree a sense of compassion for him: this
masterful man on whom her father leaned, the man who alone in all the
world had a hundred times without a word put her in the wrong, and whom
as often she had fervently wished she might never see again. She had
chafed against that chain of her father's reliance which bound herself
as well. There was no escaping King, and when in her busy college
life she thought of him at all, it was as a presumptuous creature who
was continually making good his presumption; and what could be more
exasperating than that?

King was a self-made man, one with few connections in Chicago, one of
whom was Linda's voice teacher, Mrs. Porter. The girl never had exactly
understood this relationship, but the fact that some of Mrs. Porter's
blood ran in his veins constituted Bertram's only redeeming trait in
the eyes of that lady's adorer. Now as she regarded him, staring with
discontented eyes at the rug, a sense came over her for the first time
that King was a lonely figure. It was all very well for a man in health
to live at the University Club and have his mind and life entirely
wrapped up in business; but when eating and sleeping became difficult
and the brain was over-weary, the evenings might seem rather long to
him.

"It serves a young man right," thought Linda, "when he will bind
himself on the wheel of business and act as if there was not one thing
in the world worth having but money!" Hadn't she seen to what such a
course had brought her father? She spoke:--

"There's a lot of nonsense in all this kow-towing to business," she
said. "Why do men make such slaves of themselves?"

"So their women can have a house like this, several gowns like yours,
and a motor like the one you're going out in," responded King dully.

Linda's rosy lips curled. "Fred Whitcomb's motor is last year's model."

Her companion smiled.

"There, you see!" he remarked. "There's nothing for me to do but to
keep on hustling so you can always have the latest."

Color flashed over Linda's face, but she shrugged carelessly.

"Oh, of course," she retorted, "everything is Eve's fault."

"Pretty sure to be," returned King, nodding slowly. "_Cherchez la
femme. Toujours cherchez la femme._" He regarded her for a moment of
silence, during which she was so uncomfortable that she raised both
hands to arrange an imaginary hairpin at the back of her head.

"Where have you decided to go?" she asked at last, continually warmer
under his eyes, and wondering if Fred Whitcomb had had a puncture.

"Why, I thought it would be great to spend long Colorado days in the
saddle with you."

"Did you really?" Linda's little laugh had a most discouraging note.

"Yes, but Dr. Young jumped on that. He said I mustn't go within gunshot
of your father."

Linda shook her head. "I should advise you not to myself. I'm a pretty
good shot."

King looked up. "It would be great, though. Think of having you through
with all this college foolery, and having plenty of time to talk to
you."

The girl's eyes brightened. "Pray, did you consider Yale foolery?"

"A lot of it, yes," replied King, wearily; "but never mind, Linda,
we're through with all that. I thought of the long days out there in
Estes Park, the divine air, 'the dark pilasters of the pines,' and you,
sparkling and radiant, on a good horse, and I with time enough to tell
you how I love you!"

"Bertram!" Linda shot rather than rose to her feet, and her eyes
launched arrows.

"Sit down. Sit down. I shall have to stand if you don't, and I'm
dog-tired. Didn't you know I loved you, Linda, honest now?"

The girl sank into her chair. She was trying to think of the cruelest
way to crush him. She opened her lips once or twice to speak and closed
them again. King regarded her immovably, his worn look meeting her
vital gaze.

"Your taste in jokes is very poor," she said at last, and her tone was
icy, "and you may rest assured that no regard for you will prevent my
telling my father exactly what you have said."

"You needn't. He knows it," returned King. His voice, which had
brightened, relapsed into nervelessness.

"My father knows it!" The girl could not restrain the exclamation.

"Yes, of course. I believed you did, upon my honor. I've had so little
time, you see, and you've been so busy."

He seemed so innocent of offense that her anger gave way to the
habitual exasperation.

"Bertram King," she said,--and if there is such a thing as stormy
dignity her manner expressed it,--"I believe the grind of business
has dried up your brains. I could count on the fingers of one hand
the occasions on which you have expressed even approval of me." Her
nostrils dilated as she spoke.

Her companion's solemn visage suddenly beamed in a smile. "You remember
them, then," he returned, with a pleased naïveté which nearly wrecked
her severity; but she held her pose.

"You dared to speak to my dear father--I think you have him mesmerized,
I really do--you dared to speak to him seriously of--of--caring for me,
when you have criticized nearly every move I have made at home for four
years."

"Have I? I don't remember saying anything discourteous to you."

"You didn't need to," retorted Linda. She didn't wish to snap, she
wished to freeze, but old wounds ached. "Your actions, your looks, were
quite enough."

"My looks?" repeated King mildly. "I'm sure you exaggerate. It must
have been these glasses: the wrong shape or something." He took them
off and regarded them critically.

"I hate your jokes!" retorted the girl, hotly.

"Hate what you like so long as it isn't me!"

"It is you!" The words came with emphasis.

"Then you do like me." King nodded. "It's an admission."

"You disgust me with your silliness," she returned, turning away. "I
wonder what has become of Fred Whitcomb." She rose and swept to the bay
window.

King followed her.

"Fred's a good fellow. I always liked Whitcomb," he said.

Linda made no response to this. She scanned the road anxiously up and
down.

There was another interim of silence; then:--

"Your father would be pleased, Linda," ventured King. "He said so."

"You hypnotize him. _I_ said so. My father," she added with scorn,--"my
father like me to marry a man who always disapproved of me?"

"Is that why you try to hate me?" asked King thoughtfully. "I have
disapproved of you a good many times, but I do think that--considering
everything--you've done very well."

Linda, the all-conquering, the leader, the criterion, turned upon the
speaker a gaze of amazement; then she laughed.

"How kind! You overwhelm me."

"Yes, I do really think so. Considering your beauty, your strength,
your easy finances, your college crushes, your empress-like reign,
you've done pretty well to consider others as much as you have."

"Others?" the echo came crisply. "What others?"

"Your father mainly."

"My father!" Linda faced him now, and sparks were flying from the brown
eyes. "Bertram King, I adore my father!"

"Yes, I know,--when you have time."

"What--what is it? Would you have had me not go to college?"

"No,"--King spoke in a reasonable tone,--"you did right to go to
college."

"Thank you--a thousand times." The crisp waves of the speaker's hair
seemed to snap as on a cold night while she bowed her thanks.

King played with his glasses; and she turned quickly back to the window
in order that he should not see that sudden tears quenched the fire in
her eyes. Her father's preoccupied face rose before her. Was it true
that she had ever neglected him? A habit of sighing unconsciously had
recently grown upon him. She had noticed that, and also that in late
months new lines of harassment had come in his face. Never mind, she
was going to run away with him, devote herself to him, far from this
man who dared to comment, and to pick flaws in her behavior. He should
never see her change.

"I did want to do some riding with you, Linda. The idea comes to me
like a picture or a poem when I think of those forests:--

  '--here and there in solemn lines
  The dark pilasters of the pines
  Bore up the high woods' somber dome;
  Between their shafts, like tapestry flung,
  A soft blue vapor fell and hung.'

Nice, isn't it?"

"On what bond issue did you find that?" inquired Linda, tapping the
window pane with restless fingers, and watching impatiently for her
laggard cavalier.

"I told Dr. Young I wanted to play with you and your father, but he
said Mr. Barry and I didn't know how to play."

"He was quite right."

King regarded his companion's averted, charming head with a pale smile.
"You know," he remarked after a little, "we can love people while
seeing their imperfections."

"Not I! I love only perfection."

King gave a noiseless whistle, and raised his eyebrows. "I'm so glad
I'm perfect," he said at last.

Linda looked around at him slowly. How pale he was! Ripples of the
flood of tenderness that had bathed the thought of her father flowed
grudgingly toward her companion, as he stood there in the long
twilight, regarding her with lack-lustre eyes.

"There are pines outside of Colorado," she remarked.

"That's what Mrs. Porter says."

"Mrs. Porter?" Linda echoed him with interest; "but she has left town.
I went to the studio yesterday, and she's gone; gone to Maine without
letting me know."

"You've been pretty hard to locate, remember. She told me she was
going."

Linda sighed. "If she could have gone West with Father and me, it would
have been perfect."

"I'm said to resemble Maud very strongly," suggested King.

Linda regarded him with quick appraisement. "I never thought of it."
She turned back to the window. "I can quote poetry, too, when I think
of her. The other day I found a verse that fits her:--

  'He that of such a height hath built his mind,
  And reared the dwelling of his thoughts so strong,
  As neither fear nor hope can shake the frame
  Of his resolvéd powers; nor all the wind
  Of vanity or malice pierce to wrong
  His settled peace, or to disturb the same:
  What a fair seat hath he, from whence he may
  The boundless wastes and wilds of man survey.'

A man named Daniel wrote that. Isn't it perfect?"

"H'm," agreed King. "A Daniel come to judgment. Maud likes you very
much," he added.

"She loves me, thank you," flashed Linda, against his tepid speech.

"Then it runs in the family. I've told her how I felt toward you
myself."

"And told her all my faults, I suppose." The girl bit her lip.

"Oh, I knew she could see those. Maud is very penetrating." Fire and
dew flashed at him again. "Linda," he added in a different tone,
"Whitcomb can't be much longer. Do you know I'm asking you to marry me?"

An inarticulate sound from his companion, and continued drumming on the
window pane.

"I came to your father's employ ten years ago. I climbed the ladder
slowly, but just three years and eight months ago I reached the rung
from which I could see you." A pause. "You've haunted me ever since."

"Unintentional, I assure you." But Linda, her cheeks burning, could not
look around again. In her tumult of hurt pride and indignation there
penetrated a strain of triumph.

"Certainly," returned King; "you had other things to attend to, and so
had I. You've attended to them with vast credit, and your father will
tell you that I'm not so bad. Now a new chapter begins. Probably no one
will ever love you as comprehendingly as I do."

"I shouldn't think of marrying any one who didn't consider me perfect,"
announced Linda clearly.

"Remember the chromo that goes with me--Mrs. Porter. Maud would be your
cousin." King dangled his eyeglasses as he made the suggestion, and
regarded a short curl of hair that had dropped against his companion's
white neck.

Linda was silent for a moment. "I suppose you'll poison her mind
against me now," she said.

"No. You've poured hot tea and cold water on my budding hopes, but
I'm strictly honorable; and besides, I'm going to remember that both
douches are good for plants. Ask your father if I know how to hang on
to a proposition."

Silence. Linda's strong heart beat against her ribs as the man came a
step nearer to her.

"Don't you touch me!" she exclaimed.

"I wasn't thinking of touching you, Linda. I just wanted to fix your
hair. Something has fallen down here; just wait, I see a hairpin."

The girl preserved her pose under the caressing hands for a second, but
he fumbled the soft lock, and she suspected him.

"That will do," she said, jerking her head away.

"Oh, well, I fixed it. You might thank me, going out as you are."

"I should think Fred had fallen dead!" she exclaimed.

"Yes; Maud prescribes Maine for me. She knows the lay of the land
pretty well up there. She says she has known it for thirty years. I
think that's an exaggeration, don't you?"

"I don't know how old she is, and I don't care; I only know that it
must have nearly killed her husband to die and leave her."

King rocked back and forth on his toes. "I've heard that it did,
entirely," he responded.

Linda gave her head a quick shake. "No wonder I say idiotic things!"
she exclaimed. "It's catching!--Fred! Fred!" The sudden call was a cry
of relief, and the girl quickly stepped out of an open glass door upon
the piazza, and hurried down the steps. A motor had stopped beside the
walk. King caught up his hat and followed her.

"I thought you'd never come!" cried Linda, to the joy of the distracted
chauffeur.

"Great Scott! I thought I never would either!" he responded.

"What have you been doing? Climbing trees?" asked King. "Linda and I
had nearly decided to be reckless and go to a movie."

"Nothing of the sort," averred Linda, "but I had begun to believe all
four were punctured."

"One was," admitted Whitcomb, "and I've had a dozen delays." And he
gnashed his teeth over a wasted hour of June as he handed his fair one
into the front seat.

"Whither away?" inquired King.

"To the North Shore," responded Whitcomb, with fire in his eye which
portended speeding.

"Drop me at the club, then, will you, Freddy?" And without waiting for
the assent Bertram landed in the tonneau as the car started.

In front of the University Club he descended, and stepped forward
beside Linda.

"I may not see you again," he said, standing between the wheels,
hatless, and holding her hand. "Have a good time. If you send me a
picture postal, it will be all off between us."

"What did he mean?" asked Whitcomb, as with a whirr and a jerk they
were on their way again.

"Why, I'm going to Colorado with my father; or he's going with me. He's
tired."

"Well, he has nothing on King," remarked Freddy. "Never saw any one
run down as that chap has the last month. He'd better get some smaller
collars. Don't you care, Linda! Send _me_ a picture postal, and I'll
frame it."

The look that accompanied this outburst was lost on the adored one. She
was trying to remember if Bertram King's collar had looked too large.

The University Club was a lonely place!



CHAPTER IV

THE JUNE NIGHT


Linda enjoyed the long flight under the June stars between the waves
of the freshwater sea and the star-filled lagoons of Lincoln Park, and
returned late to the dark house on the avenue.

"Did you ever see anything look so inhospitable!" she exclaimed, as her
escort ran with her up the steps. "I wonder why Sedley didn't light up."

"Do you want me to go in and look under all the beds for you?" asked
Whitcomb gayly.

"No. Father's bound to be in one of them by this time. I'm afraid to
look at my watch. You shouldn't have kept me out so late, Freddy. You
know it was against my will."

He could see her dimples in the starlight. They had been dear to him in
grammar school; dear to him all the years while he was bereft of them
at Harvard.

"If I could keep you always!" he ejaculated, in a lower tone.

"Against my will?" she laughed. "How about your promise, Freddy?"

"Yes, I know I did," was the incoherent response, "but you're going
away--and--are you sure you don't feel a bit--not the least bit
different, Linda?"

She shook her head at the pleading tone, and its low vibration set
some chord within her to stirring. The sudden vision of Bertram King
rose before her, dangling his eyeglasses and watching to see what
she would say and how she would say it. Freddy had none of Bertram's
hateful way of taking things for granted. He was all that was manly and
humble and appealing. She could see in the dim light his square, strong
hands clenched, and she felt again King's slender fingers on her hair;
insolent, presumptuous: a man who had never courted her.

She liked Whitcomb so much. She approved of him so deeply.

"I ought not to have gone with you to-night," she said, and the gentle,
regretful voice was so unlike Linda Barry that it frightened her
devoted suitor.

"No, no. No, no!" he exclaimed quickly, taking a fresh grip on the
situation. "I assumed all the responsibility. I haven't forgotten it."

His teeth closed, and the two regarded one another. She again
contrasted his athletic build and efficient effect with King, very much
to the latter's disadvantage.

"Oh, Freddy!" she exclaimed appealingly, and her fingers locked
together, "there are so many nice girls." She paused, but he was
silent. "I should just love your wife, I know. What fun we would have
together!"

"Afraid not, Linda. Three's a crowd." A sudden thought corrugated
the speaker's forehead. "Were you thinking--thinking of making it a
quartette?"

"What an idea!"

The corrugation remained. "I've been suspecting that that dry-as-dust
King would pounce on you as soon as you left school."

"Really, Freddy, your language--"

Linda's cheeks flushed. Were not the boyish words extremely graphic!

"Well, wouldn't it occur to any one? He must have some human moments
when the machine's resting, and he has eyes in his head. Each man of
us wants the best of everything, and aren't you the best of everything?
I don't care a hang for your father's money. I got a raise last week."

"Bless your dear heart, Freddy!"

"Don't!" The young fellow winced. "I abhor that big-sister tone of
yours. King's hand in glove with your father. Everybody says Barry &
Co. take on nothing that King doesn't sanction, and your father is some
business man, as you may know. I only hope he won't ever regret such
absolute faith. I know I bought something, and--well, I believe it's
shaky to tell the truth, and I've begun to wonder if, after all, King
is such a wizard. But--all this is nothing to you. I just want to be
sure that if I'm not the leading man it'll be somebody with more flesh
and blood than King, somebody gaited more like myself, only a better
man. If I've got to give you up, I want it to be to a better man,
Linda; not to a long-legged, cadaverous, conceited prig!"

"Why, Freddy, Freddy!" Bertram was all that. Why should Linda object to
hearing it in good nervous English? "I had no idea you disliked Bertram
so," she said.

"Didn't you think he had his nerve to start out with us to-night? I
don't understand how he was able to make me feel that way, but somehow
it was just as if he said: 'Yes, you have my permission to take her
driving this once. Be good children and enjoy yourselves.'"

Linda laughed. "Imaginative, too! Why, I'm learning a lot about you
to-night; and here I was thinking you were an open book!"

"Not if you didn't know I was imaginative," declared Whitcomb. "If I
should tell you of some pictures I draw--"

He came a step nearer, and the girl shrank.

"Good-night!" she exclaimed; "Father's pretty indulgent, but if he
should wake up he might be worried. Good-night; I've had such a good
time, Freddy." She gave him her firm, brief, boyish hand-shake, and
glided within the door. It was still open and the house not lighted!
Then her father--

"Linda, I'm in here, daughter."

The voice came from the reception room, where earlier she had talked
with King.

With a swish of her motor coat the girl turned and entered the room,
noting instantly and with relief that her father was leaning back in
an armchair in the corner of the dark room farthest from the window.
Then he had not overheard Whitcomb's talk.

"Why aren't you in bed? Were you worried, dear?" she asked repentantly.
"These June nights are all like day, aren't they?" She hurried forward,
and sitting on the arm of her father's chair drew his head toward her
and kissed his forehead, taking one of his hands into her lap. "One
hasn't sense enough to go in on such a night. We left Sheridan Road as
lively as if it were noon. Really I don't know what time it is now. Is
it awfully late? I'm sorry if I worried you."

"No, little one." The reply was gentle and abstracted. "I knew you were
all right. I knew you were with Fred."

"Why, how did you know it?" The sprightly, fresh voice sounded gay
after the tired one.

"Bertram told me."

"Bertram!" The ejaculation was accusing. "Where have you seen him?"

"At the office."

"The office! Of all places this glorious night! Father, dear,"
reproachfully, "I thought you went off with Mr. Radcliffe to paint
the town. That's what he told me. How could Bertram get hold of you?
I'd have made Freddy tie him to our machine if I had suspected such a
thing."

"Mr. Radcliffe had some business to talk over, and the data were at the
office."

The utter weariness of the reply made the fresh face cling again
against the speaker's gray head.

"But Bertram came here to find you."

"Yes, I got him at the club."

Linda gave an inarticulate exclamation. "Oh, doesn't it just do me good
to think how soon you'll be where offices and Bertrams are unknown!"
she said slowly.

The man in her embrace lifted her hand to his lips in silence.

"You're the stunningest thing on horseback that was ever seen," she
went on, "and the only time you'll be out of the saddle is when you're
in bed."

Silence.

"Why don't you say something?" she mumbled against his hair. "Did you
know I was good-looking?" she added after a pause, lifting her head
and squeezing him.

"Yes, child."

"Oh, Father, don't be so meek! Say something nice and impudent, or I'll
think you're _too_ tired, and take you away to-morrow. I was leading up
tactfully to thanking you for being the best-looking man in Chicago so
your daughter could have a nice nose." She burrowed the feature into
his thick hair, and kissed it again.

"You're my darling girl," he said soberly. "You've been a joy to me
ever since you were born."

"Hurrah for us!" ejaculated Linda. "I've been no kind of a joy compared
to what I'm going to be. Now I have all this school business off my
hands, I'm going to trail you--just dog your footsteps. Now, don't say
that I won't be near so much of a joy that way, because I can think of
more ways to make you have a good time than you dream of now!"

"You aren't the sort of girl who stays with Father long."

"Do you mean marriage? My dear sir, don't you know that handsome girls
are far less apt to marry than the nice, commonplace, cozy ones with
turn-up noses? I admit coyly that I'm something of a peach, but I'm
going to stay with you."

"Have you ever thought,"--the question came gravely,--"have you ever
thought of--Bertram?"

Color mounted richly over the face against the gray hair.

"Thought of him! I should say so! The most critical, disagreeable,
_nosey_ man; always interfering and--and trying to make people over
into his mold. It never occurs to him that his ideas could be anything
less than perfection."

"I'm surprised to hear you speak so," came the monotonous voice, "and
disappointed too."

"Father, dear, don't! You make me sad! When I know you've come into
this tired condition, just working for me,--that's one of the pleasant
things Bertram said to me to-night."

"He was wrong. It wasn't working for you, Linda. Remember that.
Money-making gets to be a disease. A millionaire should be satisfied;
but the multi-millionaires are ahead of him, and the game is
exciting." There was no excitement in the colorless voice. "Mere
prosperity palls. He takes chances, hoping and expecting to do great
things for himself and every one involved with him. There's the pinch.
He should never allow others to take chances with him. That's criminal."

"Oh, well." Linda opposed a light tone to what she considered the
morbidity of over-fatigue. Her heart reproached her for not having seen
the symptoms long ago. She should have thrown up college and taken her
dear one away long ago. Resentment against King again flared up in her.
His had been daily companionship with her father. How could he have let
it come to this!

"If Barry & Co.," she went on, "should ever have a setback, they would
simply deal out,"--she gestured as if dealing cards,--"deal out to the
little people and make up their losses. That would be Barry & Co.'s
way," she added proudly.

Her father's next words were irrelevant, and came after a short silence.

"I'm surprised that you give Bertram such a bad character. He is
unconscious of offending you, I'm sure."

"Oh, Daddy, dear, don't bother about that. I don't hate him, you
understand. It's only that he is flint and perhaps I'm steel. At any
rate, there are fireworks when we mingle in society."

"Not flint at all, Linda. He loves you."

"A queer sort of love, then. It isn't so much what he says,
dear,"--Linda's cheeks were burning,--"it's that compelling--oh, sort
of--well, compelling's the best word,--that always wants to--to guide
me; and I won't be guided by anybody but you. I'll tell you what,
Daddy, you haven't any son, and I'm going to be your son after this.
If you're very good for two whole weeks after we get out to Colorado,
and don't say one word about business, after that I'll get you to tell
me all about your affairs, and I'll put my whole mind on understanding
them. You know, Daddy, I have a good head for mathematics and for
business generally,--truly I have. This isn't bluffing. If you'll
take a little pains with me, you'll find Bertram isn't the only one
you'll confide in. I think I'd like business. My heart isn't much to
boast of, but my head, now, when it comes to my head--Thank Heaven,
Bertram will be where he can't write to you about anything but fish.
Mrs. Porter has persuaded him to go to Maine. Just think what she did,
Daddy. She went off without saying a word to me. I went down to the
studio and there was no one there but a caretaker, packing up. The
calendar hadn't been torn off, so I tore off a leaf and wrote her a
message on the date I was there. It's a calendar of Bible promises,
and this one was, 'When thy father and thy mother forsake thee, then
the Lord will take thee up.' I added something about her inhumanity in
forsaking me."

"Why--why,"--Mr. Barry's brow wrinkled,--"I'm afraid I've been remiss.
I paid the bill for your lessons, and when she sent back the receipt
she wrote something about having tried to get you on the 'phone, but
that you were too popular, and that she was going East to tell your
aunt that you were a good girl."

"Then she has gone to the Cape!" exclaimed Linda, with interest. "I
remember when Aunt Belinda was here at Christmas Mrs. Porter talked
about it with her."

"Yes," responded Mr. Barry, "and I think the plan is for Bertram to
join her there if--when he can go."

"Right away, won't he?" demanded Linda eagerly. "His doctor says--"

"Yes, poor Bertram," said Mr. Barry slowly, "he does need it; but,
little one,"--he patted Linda's hand slowly,--"we can't either of us go
quite so soon as we expected."

"Now, Father!" exclaimed the girl acutely.

"Something very important, Linda,"--his voice increased as he repeated
it,--"very important. I think we must--" he rose; "but it's late. We
must go upstairs now, little one."

His repetition of the term of affection impressed Linda. It was
associated with sadness. She remembered how often he had used it during
the week that her mother died.

"I shall read you to sleep, dear. Please let me," she said as they rose.

"No, no need of that. Go to bed, little girl. I'll lock up. Good-night,
daughter."

He put his arms around her, and she clung to him, kissing him again and
again.



CHAPTER V

THE CAPE


Maine. Mrs. Porter loved the very word. Always when the train left the
North Station in Boston she sank into her chair with a sense of shaking
off the cares of life; and to-day the smile she gave the porter as he
placed her suit-case beside that chair was valued, even by him, more
than the coin she placed in his hand.

The cares of life in her case were represented by a busy music studio,
where, luckily for her, every half-hour was a busy one; but there were
the pupils who didn't supply their own steam, but had to be urged
laboriously up the steeps of Parnassus; there were those in whom a
voice must be manufactured if it ever appeared; and those whose talent
was great and whose application was fitful; those whose vanity was
fatuous, and those whose self-depreciation was a ball and chain; those
who had been badly taught and who must be guided through that valley of
humiliation where bad habits are overthrown. Taking into account all
the trials of the profession, any voice teacher in Mrs. Porter's place
to-day might give a Boston and Maine porter a seraphic smile as if he
were opening to her the gate leading to Elysian Fields where pianos and
_vocalises_ have no place.

"That woman sure do look happy," was the soliloquy of this particular
red-cap as he pocketed the silver and left the car.

The traveler leaned back in her chair with a glorious sense of
unlimited leisure, and prepared to recognize the landmarks grown as
familiar to her as the scenes on the Illinois Central suburban railroad.

Probably none of her pupils save Linda Barry, although there were
other hero-worshipers among them, would deny that Mrs. Porter's nose
was too short, her mouth too wide, and her eyes too small; but the
kindly lips revealed such even teeth, and the eyes such light, that no
one commented on Maud Porter's looks, nor cared what shape her nose
was. One saw, as she leaned back now in her chair, that her brown hair
was becoming softly powdered with gray. Her eyes half closed as the
express train gained speed, flying away from care, and her humorous
lips curved as she considered the mild adventure on which she was
embarking.

When Miss Belinda Barry had visited her brother during the holidays,
she had dropped some remarks concerning her home which had roused
Mrs. Porter's curiosity and interest. The idea had been growing on
her all the spring that, instead of going out as usual to one of the
islands in Casco Bay, she would explore this corner of the mainland
from whence had sprung the Chicago financier. She had not, however,
communicated since with Miss Barry. She did not wish that lady to feel
any responsibility for her.

A picture of Linda's aunt rose before her mind as she reflected. Tall,
thin, with a scanty coiffure and long onyx earrings. These ornaments
Miss Barry had donned in her youth, and declined to renounce with the
fashion; so that when they began to be worn again by the daring, they
gave her the effect, as Linda had confided to her teacher, of being
"the sportiest old thing in town."

The naturally severe cast of Miss Barry's features, Mrs. Porter had
always observed, rather increased in severity when the good lady looked
at her niece, and that holiday visit had been a strain on both sides.

It was happy history repeating itself when the traveler alighted
to-day at the Union Station in Portland. The same involuntary wonder
rose within her that any face could look harassed, ill, or care-worn
here. It was Maine. It was the enchanted land! the land of pines, of
unmeasured ocean, of supernatural beauty in sunset skies; of dreamful
days and dreamless nights.

She smiled at her own childish ignoring of the seamy side of existence
as evidenced in the look of many of the crowd hurrying through the
busy clearing-house of the station. She beamed upon a porter who took
her to a waiting carriage--a sea-going hack, Linda would have called
it--and drove to a hotel. She would not risk arriving in the evening in
a locality where the only inn might be that of the Silver Moon.

Till supper time--it would be supper, she considered exultantly--she
wandered up Congress Street to some of her favorite shops. Undeniably
there are other streets in Portland, but to the summer visitor the
dignified city is much like a magnified village with one main street
where its life centers.

Maud Porter entered one shop after another, repressing with difficulty
her longing to tell every clerk how happy she was to be back, and
enjoying all over again the good manners and obligingness of everybody.

Next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, she made her inquiries and
took her train. It was one that stopped at every station, and when,
after three quarters of an hour of this sauntering, she alighted on a
desolate and unpromising platform, her first thought was to inquire in
the small depot for the first train back. The little house seemed to
be deserted for the moment, however, and she observed an elderly man
with a short white beard, who, with trousers tucked into his boots and
thumbs hooked in his armholes, stood at a little distance, regarding
speculatively the lady in the gray suit and floating gray veil. Near
where he was standing a carryall was waiting by the platform.

In Mrs. Porter's indecision she looked again within the weather-beaten
station, then across at the motionless, weather-beaten face.

"There doesn't seem to be any one in here," she said.

"I cal'late Joe's out in the shed luggin' wood," responded the man.
His pleasant tone, his drawl, the sea-blue of his eyes, caused her to
move toward him as the needle to the magnet. She knew the type. All the
suspended Maine exhilaration rushed back upon her. How clean he was!
How rough! How adorable!

"I've come," she said, gazing up into the eyes regarding her steadily,
and said no more.

"Want me to haul ye?" he asked kindly, not changing his position.

"Yes."

"Where to?"

"I don't know." The sunlight of her smile evoked a grin from him.

"Come on a chance, have ye?"

"Yes, So did you, I should think. Nobody but little me getting off
here."

"No, 't ain't time for 'em really to come yet."

"Who? Summer people, do you mean?"

"Yes. Folks is beginnin' to think they like it down here; but we don't
take summer boarders to the Cape, ye'll have to know that."

A prodigious wink enveloped one sea-blue eye.

"Oh, I'm so sorry." Mrs. Porter's smile vanished in her earnestness.
"Wouldn't--wouldn't your wife, perhaps--"

"Haven't got none."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"I ain't. Ben glad on't always. Hain't ever repented."

"Then you mean you never were married."

"That's what I mean." The speaker nodded as if to emphasize a triumph.

"But isn't there some one in your--your village--I suppose it's a
village, isn't it?"

"Shouldn't wonder if 'twas."

The visitor tasted that "'t wa-a-as" with appetite, and echoed it
mentally.

"Some one who would take a boarder if--if I want to stay?" The
monotonous landscape was not inviting.

"Wall, for accawmodation's sake I cal'late they would; but it's only
for accawmodation's sake, ye understand." The speaker winked again.
"The Cape don't take boarders."

"Oh, I see," laughed the visitor. "But you must have expected somebody.
You're here."

"Usually git somebody. I haul 'em for hard cash, not for
accawmodation's sake, so ye see I'm on hand."

"I should hope so. What should I have done if you hadn't been here?"

"Oh, they'se a car you could git over there a little piece." The
speaker unhooked one thumb and gestured.

"I'd far rather go with you, Mr.--Mr.--"

"Holt. Jerry Holt. Most folks forgit the Mister. Shall I take yer bag?"

It was standing where Mrs. Porter had descended from the train, and
Jerry unhooked his thumbs and clumped across the platform in the heavy
boots in which he had gone clamming that morning.

Maud Porter, her spirits high, entered the old carryall. She suddenly
decided not to mention her acquaintance with Miss Barry, but to pursue
her way independently.

Deliberately her companion placed her bag in the carriage, then lifted
the weight which anchored his steed to duty, and took his place on the
front seat, half turning with a sociable air to include his passenger.
"Git ap, Molly," he remarked, and Molly somewhat stiffly consented to
move.

"You have a nice horse," remarked his passenger fatuously. She knew her
own folly, but reveled in it. Pegasus himself could not have pleased
her at this moment so well as Jerry Holt's bay. It proved that her
remark was the open sesame to her driver's heart.

"There's wuss," he admitted. "Ye see me lift that weight jest now?
It's nonsense to use it, but Molly's a female, after all, and in-gines
comin' and goin' might git on her nerves; but take her in the ro'd,
now, that hoss, she ain't afraid o' no nameable thing!" The sea-blue
eyes met his listener with a challenge.

"Not autos even?" with open admiration.

Jerry Holt snorted. "Shoot! She looks down on 'em. Miss--Miss--"

"Oh, excuse me. I forgot you didn't know me. I'm Mrs. Porter, from
Chicago."

"Chicago, eh? We've got a neighbor out there. Barry his name is. A
banker. Ever hear of him?"

"Oh, yes, certainly."

"Sister lives here still. We all went to school together."

They were driving on a good road between green fields, and Mrs. Porter
scented the crisp sea air.

"There's a handsome new house started over there," she said, indicating
a hill which was to their left. "Who's building that?"

"Wall, now," the driver responded in his slow, mellifluous tones, "I
couldn't tell ye--sudden."

Mrs. Porter leaned back in the carriage with a sigh of ineffable
contentment, and thought of the corner of State and Madison streets.

In a minute more the glorious blue of the ocean came in sight, and
scattered cottages, which with delightful irregularity were set down at
random, some of them surrounded with trees and shrubs.

Mrs. Porter leaned forward with sparkling eyes.

"Don't take me anywhere just yet," she said. "Drive about a little.
Have you time?"

"Plenty," declared her companion. "Hain't got to go to the station only
once more to-day. Git ap, Molly."

"Oh, let her walk if she wants to. This is beautiful!"

The Cape ran out into the sea, bearing lighthouses, and was bordered
with high, jagged rocks among which the clear waves rushed and broke in
gay, powerful confusion. As they neared the water the visitor observed
on the side toward the ship channel a cottage whose piazza touched the
rocks. The hill upon which it stood ended abruptly at the water, and
daisies waved in the interstices of the natural sea-wall.

"Who is the lucky woman who lives clinging to the rocks like that?"
asked Mrs. Porter, indicating the shingled house with her slender
umbrella.

"That? Oh, that's Belinda Barry's cottage. Might's well live in the
lighthouse and done with it, I say; but she's got a spyglass and likes
to watch the shippin'. See the New York bo't out there comin' in now?
There! Hear her blow? Bet Belinda's got her eye on her this minute.
Seems if Belinda set on them rocks a lot when she was a girl, and had a
cottage in the air, ye might say, 'bout livin' there some day; so when
her brother began to have more money'n he knew what to do with, he give
Belinda that place. Nobody else wanted it, I can tell ye that. When I'm
ashore I'd ruther _be_ ashore, myself."

A man with a bucket of clams passed their slow-moving carriage, and
looked curiously at Mrs. Porter.

"Hello, Cy," said Jerry Holt, jerking his head toward the other's nod.

The visitor looked after the figure in the dilapidated coat. "That man
had a fine head," she said.

"H'm," ejaculated the other. "A pity there ain't more in it."

"Oh, is the poor creature--do you mean--"

"Oh, no, not so bad as that; but ye know how there are some folks no
matter what they try at, they 're allers poundin' and goin' astern.
Cy's that kind."

"It's a mercy there are always clams," said Mrs. Porter, and Jerry
Holt's sea-blue eyes twinkled at her.

The visitor's plans for independence suddenly weakened. That cottage
clinging to the rocks was undermining it more swiftly the further the
carriage advanced.

"I believe, Mr. Holt, you'd better leave me at Miss Barry's," she said
suddenly.

He shook his head. "Not a bit o' use," he replied. "She won't even
accawmodate ye, let alone takin' a boarder. Belinda ain't stuck up. Her
worst enemy can't say it changed her a mite to have a brother that eats
off gold plates. She was always jest that way."

"What way?"

"Oh, high-headed ye might call it. I dunno exactly what; but Belinda
allers claimed to steer; and now she lives to Portland winters in any
hotel she's a mind to, she don't act a mite different from what she
allers did, though lots o' folks claim she does. 'T ain't no use,
though, Mis' Porter, your goin' there. I'd--I'd kind o' hate to have
Belinda refuse ye."

The speaker cast a kindly glance at his passenger, who smiled back at
him appreciatively.

"Thank you, but I do know Miss Barry. I met her in Chicago, and I'll
just stop for a call, and she'll advise me where to go; for I tell you
I'm going to stay, Mr. Holt, even if you have to let me sleep in your
carryall. Why haven't you a nice wife, now, who would take me in?"

"That's jest why. 'Cause that's the specialty o' wives, and I didn't
want to be took in."

Mrs. Porter laughed, and the carryall drew up beside Miss Barry's
sunlit piazza. She opened her purse. "How much, Mr. Holt?"

"Well, I'll have to charge ye twenty-five cents for this outin'," he
returned with deliberate cheerfulness. "One minute, till we see if Miss
Barry's to home."

He got out upon the piazza and knocked on the cottage door, opening it
at the same time.

"Belinda!" he called.

"Leave it on the step," came a loud voice from the back of the house.

"Hear that?" he grinned, turning. "She's home, and I'm to leave ye on
the step."

"That's all right," said Mrs. Porter, alighting. Jerry Holt's clean,
rough hand assisted her, and lifted out her suit-case "I'm perfectly
charmed to be left on the step," she added, handing her guide a
quarter, which he pocketed with a nod. "I'll try not to envy the girl
who sat on these rocks and built a cottage in the air that came to
earth."

"She's welcome to it, welcome to it," observed Jerry, as he climbed
back into the carriage. "When I'm to sea I want to be to sea. When I'm
ashore I druther be to shore."

"Did you ever go to sea?"

"Cap'n of a schooner fifteen year or more."

"Why didn't you tell me? You're Captain Holt, of course."

"Oh," he shook his head, "hain't got nothin' to steer but Molly now."
He smiled, nodded a farewell, and turned his horse around with many a
cluck of encouragement.

The sound of departing wheels was lost in the swish of surf on the
rocks. Maud Porter stood looking seaward. Again the New York boat in
the distance, lost to sight now, boomed its signal to smaller fry as
it advanced to the harbor. The rioting wind carried her thin gray veil
out straight. She heard the house door open, and turned to meet the
surprised gaze of Miss Barry, in a checked gingham gown, but with her
scanty coiffure and long onyx earrings precisely as she had seen them
last.

Mrs. Porter smiled radiantly, and captured her streaming veil.

"I'm what he left on the step," she said.

Miss Barry's surprised gaze grew uncertain. There was a familiar look
about this radiant face, but where--

"Was you one of the Portland Aid--" she began.

"No, no!" Mrs. Porter stepped forward and held out both her hands.
"Don't let my suit-case frighten you, dear Miss Barry. I've only come
to call. Remember last Christmas in Chicago, and Linda's teacher, Mrs.
Porter?"

"Mrs. Porter!" exclaimed Miss Barry, letting her hand be captured in
the two outstretched ones. "Do excuse me!" Her face beamed welcome. She
had liked Linda's voice teacher, and when Belinda Barry liked a person
it was once and forever. "Come right into the house this minute," she
said cordially. "I'm ashamed o' myself!"



CHAPTER VI

THE SHINGLED COTTAGE


Miss Barry's hard, kindly hands helped remove the visitor's hat and
veil, although Mrs. Porter repeated her declaration that she had come
only for a call.

"You're going to stay to dinner with me," returned the hostess. "I
always do have enough for two."

Her lips, which had returned to their rather grim line, twitched a
little as she spoke, and Maud Porter glanced about the living-room with
its old-fashioned furniture and rag rugs. Beyond was the dining-room,
divided from this only by an imaginary line, and the table stood ready
set for one.

"You live here all alone?" asked the visitor.

"Not half as alone as I'd like to be. I don't mind the fish and the
barnacles, but it's the folks coming to the back door. Sit right down,
Mrs. Porter."

"Don't let me detain you if you were getting dinner." The caller
laughed. "How about these folks that come to the _front_ door; the
things Captain Holt leaves on the step?"

"Oh, I'm in no hurry. I'm going to sit right down with you now. Things
are stewing out there. There's nothing to hurt."

Miss Barry suited the action to the word. Mrs. Porter regarded her with
curious interest as she sank into a rocker with chintz cushions. The
hostess's narrow face, usually as devoid of expression as a mask, was
now lighted by pleasure.

"How comes it you didn't let a body know?" she asked.

"I was going to be so wonderfully independent! I was going to come to
the Cape, and find a place to live, and then some day saunter over to
your cottage bareheaded, and surprise you."

"And all you accomplished was the surprise, eh?"

"That's it, and it's entirely your fault. I was driving about with
Captain Holt to see the lay of the land, when suddenly the rocks and
the water, and this cottage perched on them like a gull's nest, did
something to me. I don't know what. I think it gave me a brain-storm.
When he told me you lived here, what could I do but rush in to
congratulate you?"

Miss Barry's lips twitched again. "I ain't any gull, I will maintain
that, but--it is sightly, ain't it?"

"Wonderful. Nothing less than wonderful. But in a storm, Miss Barry?"

"Yes, the windows are all spray then, and the waves try to swallow me
up, and I can't hear myself think, but--"

"Yes,"--Mrs. Porter nodded as the other hesitated,--"I understand that
'but.'"

"How'd you leave my brother?"

"Very tired."

"That so? Wouldn't you think he'd come up here and rock in the cradle
o' the deep awhile? You write him about that hammock out there."

Mrs. Porter looked out through the open window toward the end of the
porch, where a hammock hung.

"The doctor says Colorado," she replied.

"Doctor? Is it as bad as that?" Miss Barry frowned questioningly.
"Lambert never writes. I don't care for his stenographer's letters, and
he knows it. If he can't take time to write himself, let it go." The
speaker threw her head to one side, as if disposing of the matter of
fraternal affection.

"Linda is blooming," remarked Mrs. Porter.

Miss Barry's lips took a thinner line. "Let her bloom," she responded
dryly; and her visitor laughed again.

"Doesn't she write either?"

"I should say not."

"It will be less difficult now she's out of college," said Mrs. Porter
pacifically. "Those girls are absolutely occupied, you know."

"Never play at all, I presume," returned her hostess, with a curling
lip.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that."

"Better not if you care where you go to.--No," after a slight pause,
"I understand my niece a good deal better than she thinks I do. It's
enough that she scorns her own name. She was named for me. Belinda's
been good enough for me, and she's no business to slight the name her
parents gave her."

"Oh, Linda is such a free lance," said Mrs. Porter apologetically; "and
'Linda' sounds so breezy, so--so like her. 'Belinda' is quaint and
demure, and--and you know, really, she isn't demure!"

"Not a great deal," agreed Miss Barry curtly. "I'm sorry my brother
isn't well," she added.

"These business men let themselves be driven so. You remember my cousin
Bertram King. He and Mr. Barry have been worn down in the same vortex,
and both are ordered away. I told Bertram Maine was the best place in
the world for him. As soon as I find an abiding-place I shall let him
know."

Miss Barry rose suddenly. "I'm forgetting that you're starved. Just
excuse me while I dish up the chowder," she said, and vanished.

Mrs. Porter clasped her hands and lifted her eyes.

"Chowder!" she repeated sententiously; then she too rose, went to the
open window, and stood looking out.

The tide was rising, and the waves, climbing higher and higher, threw
white arms toward the shingled cottage, as if claiming its boulder
foundation, and striving to pass the barrier of daisies and draw the
little house down to its own seething breast.

As the visitor stood there, a woman, bareheaded, stepped up from the
grass upon the porch, and giving one glance from her prominent, faded
eyes at the gray figure standing in the window, crossed the piazza to
the front door, which was closed.

Mrs. Porter, advancing, opened it, and came face to face with a scrawny
little woman, who stood with her head apologetically on the side.
Her temples were decorated with those plastered curls of hair known
as "beau-catchers," and across the forehead it was strained back and
caught in a comb set with large Rhinestones. Her red-and-green plaid
calico dress was open girlishly at the throat, around which a red
ribbon was tied with the bow in the back.

"Why are they always thin here?" thought Maud Porter. "Is it eating
fish? Do they never have to reduce?"

"Oh, pardon me!" exclaimed the newcomer, with such an elegant lift of
her bony shoulders that it twisted her whole body. "I expected to see
Belinda--that is--pardon me!--Miss Barry."

"She's in the kitchen just at present. Won't you come in?"

The newcomer accepted with alacrity, her prominent eyes openly scanning
Mrs. Porter's costume.

"I wouldn't have thought of intruding had I supposed Miss Barry had
a guest. I didn't notice Jerry brought anybody." Another writhe, and
a rearrangement of a long necklace of imitation coral beads, which
suffered against the red plaid.

"Yes, he brought happy me," returned Mrs. Porter, wondering whether,
with the chowder so imminent, she should ask this guest to be seated.

The newcomer relieved her of responsibility by sinking into the nearest
chair.

"Comin' for the summer?" she asked hurriedly, as though she felt that
her time was short.

"I don't know. It's a place to tempt one, isn't it?"

"The views is called wonderful," returned the other modestly. "Of
course, 't ain't for _us_ to call 'em sumtious, but artists _hev_
called 'em sumtious."

"They deserve any praise," was the reply, and Mrs. Porter gave the
speaker her sweet smile.

"It's very difficult, one might almost say comple-cated, for visitin'
folks to find any place to reside on the Cape. We ain't got any hotel."

Pen fails to describe the elegant action of shoulders and eyebrows
which accentuated this declaration, and Mrs. Porter's smile broadened.

"I've understood so," she replied.

"My name's Benslow," said the visitor, casting an apprehensive glance
toward the dining-room. "I've got one o' these copious houses with
so much more room than I can use that sometimes I _hev_--I _hev_
accawmodated parties. I suppose you're from the metrolopous."

"Well, we think it is one. I'm from that wild Chicago!"

"Oh, I s'posed it was Boston."

Here Miss Barry entered, bearing a steaming tureen, which perfumed the
atmosphere temptingly.

"Hello, Luella," she said quietly.

At the word the visitor started from her chair with guilty celerity,
and brandished an empty cup she was carrying.

"I hadn't an idea you was entertainin', Belinda, and you must excuse
my walkin' right in on--on--"

Miss Barry kept her eyes fixed imperturbably on the tureen, and turned
to get a plate of crackers from a side table.

"Mrs. Porter is my name," said the guest, taking pity on Miss Benslow's
embarrassed writhings.

"Oh, yes, on Mis' Porter. I just wanted to see if you could spare me a
small portion of bakin' soda."

"Why didn't you come to the back door as you do commonly?"

"Why--why, the mornin' was so exhilaratin', I made sure you'd be
watchin' the waves, and I thought it would expediate matters for me to
come around front." An ingratiating smile revealed Miss Benslow's full
set.

"Just go right out and help yourself, Luella. You know where 't is,
and you can let yourself out the back door. Come, Mrs. Porter, the
chowder's good and hot."

It was, indeed. Miss Benslow's prominent eyes rolled toward the
white-clothed table as she passed it, and inhaled the tantalizing
fragrance. She would presently go home and eat bits of cold mackerel
with her old father, at the oilcloth-covered table in the kitchen.
Neither he nor she was a "good provider."

Miss Barry laughed quietly to herself as she and her guest sat down.

"Luella did get ahead of me," she said appreciatively. "I don't know
how she slid by. Her uniform never blends with the landscape, either.
Perhaps she climbed under the lee of the rocks."

"Oh, _why_ does she wear those beads with that frock?" asked Mrs.
Porter, accepting a dish of chowder.

"I guess if we could find that out we'd know why she does lots of
things," returned the hostess.

"Simply delicious," commented Mrs. Porter, after her first mouthful.
"Do show me how to do it, Miss Barry."

"Surely I will; but serve it after an early start from Portland and a
ride across country with the wind off the sea. That's the sauce that
gives the finishing touch."

"Why are all the people in Maine thin? Is it fish? You all have the
best things to eat, yet you never get cushiony like us."

Miss Barry cast a glance across at the round contours, so different
from her own angles.

"I think a bit of upholstery helps, myself," she remarked.

"Now, that Miss Benslow--why, she's really--really bony."

"Yes," responded Miss Barry, eating busily, "but she's got beauty
magazines that's full of directions how to reduce, and she's delighted
with her bones. Unlucky for her father, because she might do more
cooking if she believed flesh was fashionable. Luella's dreadfully
slack," added Miss Barry, sighing; "but so's her father, for that
matter. He goes out to his traps twice a day, but he wouldn't mind his
chicken-house if he lost the whole brood; and just so he has plenty of
tobacco the world suits him all right. You know folks can just about
live on this air."

Mrs. Porter regarded her hostess thoughtfully. "Then," she said, "I
don't believe their house would be a very good place to board."

Miss Barry looked up suddenly. "Board!" she repeated explosively. Then,
after a silent pause, she added, "Is that what Luella came over for?"

"Probably not; but she mentioned--"

"Yes, I guess she did. She saw Jerry bring you--"

"No, she said she didn't see him bring me."

Miss Barry snorted. "Luella says lots o' things beside her prayers,
and if she uses the same kind o' language for _them_ that she does for
other folks, I doubt if the Almighty can understand her half the time.
I often think the futurists ought to get hold of her and her clothes
and her talk."

Mrs. Porter laughed. "Perhaps she was born too soon."

"Indeed she was for her own comfort. Luella's as sentimental as they
make 'em, and she still feels twenty. Board with her, indeed! You'd
reduce fast enough then, I assure you. Folks have lived with her till
they were ready to eat stewed barnacles; and the only way they got
along was finally to get her to live somewhere else and let them have
the house to themselves. They've done that sometimes, and Luella and
her father camped out in the boathouse, I guess; I don't know exactly
what they did do with themselves. Tried to get you! Well, I do
declare! Luella's nerve is all right, whatever else she may lack."

"What _I_ want to know," laughed Mrs. Porter, "is, when she says the
view is 'sumtious,' whether she means 'scrumptious' or 'sumptuous.'"

Miss Barry smiled at her plate. "Luella ought to write a dictionary or
a key or something," she said.--"Oh, I don't know what's the matter
with women, anyway," she added with a sigh of disgust.

"Why, Miss Barry, what do you mean? They're finer every year! There are
more of them every year for us to be proud of."

"A few high lights, maybe," admitted Miss Barry, "but look at the rank
and file of 'em. Look at the clothes they'll consent to wear--and not
wear. Just possessed with the devil o' restlessness, most of 'em, and
willing to sell their souls for novelty. Isn't it enough to see 'em
perspiring under velvet hats and ostrich feathers with muslin gowns
in September, and carrying straw hats and roses above their furs in
February? I get sick of the whole lot. Do you suppose for a minute they
could wait for the season to come around, whichever it is? H'm!" Miss
Barry put a world of scorn into the grunt.

Mrs. Porter, as she accepted a second helping of chowder, had a vision
of Linda, capriciously regnant, and realized the status she must hold
in her aunt's estimation.

"Oh, I'm an optimist," she replied, "especially when I'm eating your
chowder. I don't see how you can look out of these windows and not love
everybody."

She regarded her vis-à-vis as she said it. It was hard to visualize
this spare and hard-featured woman as the young girl who used to sit on
these rocks and build castles in the air.

"Mortals are ungrateful, I guess," was the reply. "I'm glad you like it
here."

"It's a paradise to one who is tired of people and pianos," declared
Mrs. Porter.

"Think you could look out of these windows and love 'em all, do you?"
inquired Miss Barry dryly.

Mrs. Porter laughed. "At this distance, certainly," she answered.
"Some of them I could love even if they were in the foreground," she
continued. "I'm very fond of Linda, Miss Barry."

"A point in her favor," remarked the hostess, with a cool rising
inflection.

"Thank you for saying so. One must make lots of allowance for a girl so
pretty, so rich, and so overflowing with life."

"Let her overflow, only nowhere near me."

"Don't say that. She'll settle down under the responsibilities of life.
Do you remember my cousin Bertram King?"

"Oh, yes. The long-legged, light-haired fellow that aids and abets my
brother in overworking."

"That's the very one. I must tell you that he's heart and soul in love
with Linda."

"H'm. I suppose so. I only wish she'd marry him and live out on
Sheridan Road somewhere, then I could live with my brother and take
care of him winters. He'd get some care then. Are they engaged?"

"Oh, no. She's just out of school. He hasn't asked her yet."

"What's the matter with him? Is he the kind with boiled macaroni for a
backbone?"

"No, Bertram's backbone is all right. He wanted to let her get out of
school. He has no relations but me. He had to confide in somebody."

"Well, he'll get all that's coming to him if he marries her." Miss
Barry sniffed. "I guess if there was a prize offered for arrogance
she'd get it. I speak plain because you're fond of her, and you're
aware that you know her much better than I do, so I couldn't set you
against her even if I wanted to; and _I_ need somebody to confide in
too."

Mrs. Porter smiled. "You'll change your tune some day. Linda has lots
of goods that aren't in the show window."

Miss Barry nodded. "If she keeps her distance I may change in time. It
all depends on that."

The visitor could picture how in little things the high-spirited,
popular girl might have shown tactlessness during the holidays, and
created an impression on the taciturn aunt which it would be hard to
efface. Words could never do it, she realized, and wisely forbore to
say more.

Dinner was over, and the visitor was just considering that during
the process of social dishwashing she could broach the subject of a
boarding-place, when Jerry Holt's steed again approached the shingled
cottage. Both women discerned him at the same moment.

"Did you tell Jerry to come back for you? You can't go yet," said Miss
Barry.

"I didn't, but it might be a good plan for him to take me the rounds."

"What rounds?"

"Of possible boarding-places."

Miss Barry did not reply, for she had to answer the knock at the door.
There stood Captain Holt, holding a telegram gingerly between his thumb
and finger, and his sea-blue eyes gazed straight into Belinda's.

"I want you should bear up, Belinda," he said kindly. "There ain't no
other way." His voice shook a little, and Miss Barry turned pale as she
took the sinister envelope.

Mrs. Porter heard his words, and hastening to her hostess stood beside
her as she tore open the telegram. Captain Holt's heavy hand closed the
door slowly, with exceeding care, as he shut himself out.

Mrs. Porter's arm stole around the other woman as she read the
message:--

 Mr. Barry died last night. Please come at once.

 HENRY RADCLIFFE.

Miss Barry's limbs shook under her, and she tottered to a chair.

Captain Holt sat on the edge of the piazza and bit a blade of grass
while he waited.

In the silence a pall seemed to fall over the little house, broken only
by the sharp rending apart of mounting waves against the rocks.

Mrs. Porter knelt by her friend and held her hands.

"What can I do for you?" she asked.

"Look in the desk over in that corner, and find the time-tables in the
drawer."

"I know the Chicago trains, Miss Barry. Let me arrange it all for you.
You wish to leave to-night?"

Miss Barry nodded without speech.

Mrs. Porter went out on the piazza and sent Jerry to telegraph, telling
him to return.

"Did you know my brother was ill?" asked Belinda, when she returned,
still without moving.

"No. I thought him just overtired."

The other nodded. "That's the way they do it. Rush madly after money
and more money till they go to pieces all of a sudden."

The bereft sister's eyes were fixed on space, seeing who knows what
pictures of the past, when a barefooted boy romped with her over these
rocks that held the nest he had given her. Suddenly her far-away look
came back, and focused on the pitiful eyes regarding her drawn, pale
face.

"I'm glad you're here," she said simply.

"And I am so glad," responded the other, her thoughts busy with Linda
and Bertram, and longing to fly to them.

"Will you stay here in my cottage till I come back? I have a little
girl that comes every day to help. She cooks pretty well. She'll stay
with you."

"Yes, Miss Barry." It was on the tip of the visitor's tongue to say,
"You'll bring Linda back with you," but she restrained the words. This
common sorrow would do its work between aunt and niece, she felt sure.

There was no further inaction. A trunk was packed, and Mrs. Porter
accompanied the traveler as far as Portland, spending the night again
at the hotel where she had left her belongings; and Miss Barry pursued
her sad journey.

Henry Radcliffe met her at the station in Chicago; and when they were
in the motor Miss Barry turned to him with dim eyes.

"What was the matter with Lambert?"

His pale face looked excited and sleepless.

"You haven't seen the papers?"

"No. My head ached and I didn't read them. What do you mean?" Her voice
grew tense.

"Barry & Co. have gone to pieces."

"What do I care for that? Lambert! My brother! Tell me of him!"

"But it carried a lot of innocent ones down in the crash."

"Oh, my poor brother! What of him, Henry? Tell me. Tell me."

The young man turned his head away, and his voice grew thick. "He died
down in the office."

"Heart trouble?"

"Yes. He never told us if he knew he had a weak heart. The shock was
terrible."

The young man took his companion's groping hand.

"Linda is prostrated. We have had to save her in every way. Poor
Harriet! She has had to be a heroine."

The speaker's voice thickened and choked again, and hand in hand the
two kept an unbroken silence until the motor drew up before the house
on Michigan Avenue, where lilies and ferns hung against the heavy door.



CHAPTER VII

THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED


During the monotonous days following the funeral, Miss Barry and her
niece dwelt alone in the big, echoing house. Harriet had gone home
to her husband and child. The papers still resounded with the Barry
tragedy, but it was not difficult to keep them from Linda, whose stormy
grief had changed to utter listlessness.

One morning Miss Barry sat by the window in her niece's room with
some mending, while Linda, in her white négligée, dragged herself
about the apartment as if all the spring in her supple young body had
grown flaccid. Occasionally the older woman glanced over the rim of
her glasses at the girl's expressionless face. Miss Belinda herself
felt numbed by shock, but there was present with her the instinctive
necessity which all had felt, of standing between Linda and a complete
understanding of the situation.

Ever since the girl's breakfast tray had been removed that morning they
had remained here in silence.

"There's one way I can't make any mistake," thought the aunt, "and
that's by holding my tongue. She knows I'm here, and that if I can do
anything for her I want to do it."

The housekeeper had answered her appeal for something to keep her hands
busy, and so she worked while Linda moved languidly about, apparently
forgetful of her presence.

While they still remained thus, a card was brought up.

Miss Barry took it from the maid.

"Bertram King, Linda," she said. "Will you see him?"

She was surprised by the life which sprang for a moment into the girl's
eyes.

"No," answered Linda clearly.

Her aunt stood undecidedly, the linen in one hand and the card in the
other.

"Shall I see him, then?" she asked.

"I don't care, Aunt Belinda."

The maid waited, casting curious glances from one to the other.

"Henry says Mr. King's been wonderful," said Miss Barry, after a
moment of waiting. "The greatest help in the world: always kept his
head, and thought of the right thing to do, though he was suffering so."

"I'm not--" Linda tried to reply, but her lips quivered, and she bit
them. "I can't see him," she ended abruptly.

Miss Barry nodded comprehension. The associations would naturally be
overwhelming.

"I'll go down, then," she said, sighing, and laying down her work. "I
suppose I shall tell him you thank him for all he has done, and for the
flowers every day."

"No." Linda faced her aunt, and again life leaped in her eyes. "I'm not
sending any message. Remember that."

Miss Barry frowned in perplexity, thinking of Mrs. Porter's confidences
concerning King.

"Oh, law," she thought wearily, "I suppose she's refused him."

So downstairs the good lady went, her black dress trailing after her,
to the reception room, where stood a hollow-eyed young man. His face
had become familiar to her in the past days.

"Good-morning, Mr. King."

"Good-morning, Miss Barry." His eyes interrogated her hungrily. "I
suppose I should apologize for coming at this hour, but I'm so anxious
to know how Linda is."

"She's up and about. Sit down."

"Would it be impossible for me to see her?" The speaker did not
sit, though Miss Barry did so. His wistful eyes were still fixed
questioningly.

"Yes, Mr. King. Just impossible. She hasn't seen anybody. She doesn't
even see me." Miss Belinda smiled ruefully. "I just sit there with her.
I don't know whether she knows I'm there or not."

Now King did sit down, and his companion proceeded:--

"To tell the truth, I need to see you alone, Mr. King. I need to know
what Henry means when he says Barry & Co. have gone to pieces. That
isn't so, is it?"

"Yes, practically." King looked at the floor, and locked his hands
together. "A very big undertaking has failed, and it was the knowledge
that it was impossible to satisfy all the investors that killed your
brother. A run on the bank put the finishing touch to our misfortunes;
but I am taking every step which I know Mr. Barry would wish to have
taken, and the excitement will abate when the public sees that we are
fellow sufferers."

"Then Linda is--Linda will be poor?" Miss Barry asked it in hushed
tones.

"Comparatively, yes; she will call it poor, but I know Linda. She
would wish justice done. I want to see her. I must see her, in fact,
as soon as she is able to meet me with Harriet. I know what Mr. Barry
would wish, but it must be a mutual agreement. I'm not forgetting, Miss
Barry," added the young man, kindly, "that this hits you financially
too."

"You mean my allowance? I'm very thankful, Mr. King, that I've spent
but little of it, and I have the home my dear brother gave me. I never
felt perfectly certain that there wouldn't be any reverses. Business
men when they get as rich as Lambert are like aëronauts. Who can tell
when some current of wind they didn't count on will strike their ship?"

"I'm glad you've been so wise. I assure you that since the catastrophe
I have often thought of you."

Miss Barry regarded the speaker kindly. The difficulties of his
position surged upon her.

"Have I told you I left Mrs. Porter in my house?"

"I knew she expected to see you."

"Yes; she was there when the message came, and she helped me in every
way. Best of all, she was willing to see that nobody ran off with my
cottage while I was gone."

"I wish she were here with Linda, though," said King. "I believe she
could get nearer to her than anybody."

"I suppose there isn't any doubt," returned Miss Barry without
enthusiasm, "that my niece will go to her. There don't seem any doubt
that I ought to take her home with me and let the sea tone her up. She
may prefer to stay with Harriet. I shall give her her choice. I suppose
this house will be sold."

"I suppose so. That is one of the things Linda will have to help
decide."

They sat for a moment in silence, Miss Barry liking her companion
better and better, finding it easy to believe on general principles
that Linda had been cruel to him.

King rose suddenly from his brown study. "Will you give her these
flowers, please?" he said, indicating a box that lay on a chair. "I
shall get Harriet to arrange a meeting for us to discuss the matters
that are pressing."

Miss Barry rose, and they looked into one another's eyes.

"I had hoped that it might be some comfort to Linda to see me, as one
who stood so close to her father," said King wistfully.

Miss Barry found him pathetic.

"Seems to work the other way," she answered curtly. "Some folks would
think of your side of it. I can tell you, though, Mr. King, the rest of
the family appreciates all you have done and are doing."

Miss Barry's hand gave the young man's a decided squeeze as they
parted. Her handshakes ordinarily were of the loose and hard variety.

She turned and took up the box of flowers. King's offering had come
daily among others since the funeral, but Linda would not allow any
flowers to be left in her room.

"I'd like to know just what she means by flashing up at the mention of
that poor fellow's name," soliloquized Miss Belinda, as she mounted
the stairs. "Lambert's gone and left him to take the brunt of the
situation. Shouldn't wonder if going down to that office every day is
some like going to a torture chamber."

She entered her niece's room. Linda was sitting before the dresser,
pulling over with languid fingers the contents of a drawer. Each
article in it was associated with happy, remote days separated from the
present by a cold, dark, impassable gulf--the gulf of grief, remorse,
and despair. Nothing could bring her father back. Every interest that
had kept her from him loomed hateful in her eyes. Just as Miss Barry
entered the room her hand had fallen on a morocco box. It contained the
necklace which had been her graduation gift from him. She had worn it
at the dinner dance at the South Shore Club.

What had her father been doing that night? Why had she not insisted on
his presence at the dinner? How she loathed each of those triumphant
hours when the gems had risen and fallen on her happy breast. Her head
suddenly fell forward on the dresser, and her shoulders heaved in
deep-drawn sobs.

Miss Barry dropped the flower box on a chair, and her cheeks flushed as
she advanced uncertainly. Her niece's previous reserve made the older
woman feel that Linda might resent her presence now. She retreated a
step toward the door; but no. The girl was her own flesh and blood.
She didn't know what to say to her, and her own eyes dimmed under the
repressed agony of those despairing sobs; but she approached and put a
timid hand on the convulsed shoulder.

"Linda, Linda," she said. "I wish, poor child, I could do something."
And the tremor in her voice carried to the young aching heart.

The girl did not raise her bowed head, but she reached up one strong,
smooth hand, and quickly it was locked in Miss Belinda's.

The latter's eyes regarded the open morocco box on the dresser, and
noted the lustrous pearls lying on their white velvet. "That necklace
means something special, I suppose," she thought, and winked away big
drops from her own sight.

"Maybe it'll do you good to cry, Linda," she said. "Did your father
give you the beads, dear?" she added tenderly, and the smooth hand
clutched hers tighter.

After a minute more of the sobbing silence, Miss Belinda reached out
her free hand and closed the morocco box.

"I wouldn't look over these things yet," she said; and Linda freed her
hand, and crossing her arms on the dresser rested her head upon them.

"I never did anything for Father," she declared in a choked voice.

Miss Barry thought this was probably true, and she winked hard in a big
struggle with her New England conscience.

"He didn't think that way," she replied at last.

"Yes. Yes, he thought that way."

"What do you mean, child?"

"He left me." The words seemed wrenched from the depths of grief.

Again Miss Barry's conscience objected to making the sweeping
contradiction for which the occasion called.

"How could he help that?" she asked at last, gently.

"He couldn't help it, but perhaps I could have helped it," came the
weary answer. "If I had been more to him--filled a larger place in his
life--been a companion instead of just his pet--"

Miss Barry felt coerced to extend meager comfort. "But your school,
Linda. I know your time was all taken up."

"Yes, because I let it be. I've wasted four years when I was old enough
to have been a companion to Father."

"Why, you had visits with him once a week. Supposing you had gone East
to college."

"That is something, no doubt," returned Linda, slowly lifting swollen
eyes and looking listlessly out of the window; "but I didn't make
myself count with him."

"Nonsense, child," said Miss Barry, trying to speak stoutly. "That's
morbid, isn't it?"

Linda shook her head slowly, still with the dreary eyes looking into
space.

Miss Barry sank into the nearest chair, and regarded the stricken girl
helplessly.

"I know you suffer, too, Aunt Belinda," said the girl, at last. "I know
I'm selfish, but life--everything--seems blotted out for me. It is
only once in a while that I can feel anything."

Linda recalled her far-away gaze and looked at her aunt. She saw her
now, not as a negligible figure with too-long earrings and too-thin
hair, brushed with a New England thoroughness which concealed rather
than exhibited what there was of it. Aunt Belinda was a fellow
sufferer, and Linda recognized it, but without sympathy. She turned
back to the sorting of the articles in the open drawer. Her handbag
lay there, and a piece of paper projected from it. She took out the
crumpled leaf, and remembered how on one of those remote happy days
she had gone to Mrs. Porter's studio and discovered her departure. She
had torn off a leaf of the calendar, and seeing no place to bestow it
had crumpled it and placed it in her bag. She straightened it now,
reflecting on the date, and how little she had known then that it was
one of the days she would now give half her life to recall. The clearly
printed words looked up at her, and her eyes rested on them heavily.

"Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the
brier shall come up the myrtle tree."

In the present passionate longing to escape from her nightmare, the
words seemed significant. Oh, if they could be anything but words! If
there were any hope! Her lips moved as she read the verse again. Her
aunt was watching her, motionless, helpless, dim-eyed.

"Did you ever hear this, Aunt Belinda?" she asked, and read the
sentences aloud in her colorless voice.

"I think I have," responded Miss Barry. "It's in the Bible, I think."

"Yes, it's in Isaiah," returned the girl, her eyes on the paper. "I
tore it off Mrs. Porter's calendar. It's a calendar of promises. What's
the use of promises made thousands of years ago?"

Her breath caught in her throat.

"Mrs. Porter is very fond of you, Linda," ventured Miss Barry.

The girl nodded. She seemed to see the soft light in her teacher's
eyes. The calendar message would probably find response in her optimism.

"We took a course in the Bible at school," she went on. "We had to;
but Mrs. Porter says she reads it because she likes to. I gave her this
calendar as a kind of a joke."

Miss Barry made no comment on the dreary irreverence.

"I haven't told you," she replied, "that Mrs. Porter is keeping house
in my cottage."

The girl turned her slow regard upon the speaker.

"When the right time comes," went on Miss Barry, "I want you should go
back with me, Linda."

"I wish to stay here," returned the girl quickly, "and, Aunt Belinda, I
don't want you to wait. I know you must long to get home, and there's
nothing, really nothing, for you to wait for here. All I wish is to be
quiet and just stay where--" her throat closed. She glanced once more
at the calendar leaf, and started to drop it in the basket, but changed
her mind and put it back in the open drawer.

"All in good time, Linda," was the reply. "Here are some flowers Mr.
King brought you."

The girl turned with a frowning glance toward the long box. "He seems
to have plenty of money to waste," she said, "in spite of Barry &
Co.'s troubles. Probably his own nest is well feathered."

"Why, my child!" exclaimed Miss Barry, bewildered at sight of that
strange fire which again illumined the heavy eyes. "What can you have
against that poor young man?" Linda's lassitude seemed to drop from
her like a garment. She rose suddenly, took the flower box, and moving
to the door pushed it into the hall with her foot, and closed the door
upon it. Then she stood, her back against the wall, tall in her white
garments, and pressed a hand to her throat, choking with her sudden
passion.

"Not much against him," she said in a stifled voice, her eyes shining
upon her bewildered companion. "Bertram King murdered my father. That's
all!"



CHAPTER VIII

A BUSINESS INTERVIEW


Miss Barry's brow was troubled as, that afternoon, in much harassment
of mind, she wended her way to the home of her elder niece. Miss
Belinda had always approved of Harriet. She was wont to declare with
energy that there was no nonsense about Harriet. To-day when she went
into the apartment she found the young wife in a violet tea-gown
sorting a pile of little stockings.

"Harry does go through his clothes so," were her first words after
their greeting.

"Give me a needle, for mercy's sake!" exclaimed Miss Barry avidly,
pulling off her black gloves. "If I could feel for five minutes that I
was of some use, it would put flesh on my bones."

"Then take off your hat, Aunt Belinda, and in a few minutes we'll have
a cup of tea. Selma has taken Harry down into the park, but he'll be
back before you go. Do you know, he misses Linda dreadfully? You must
tell her when you go back. He was asking for her again this morning.
There's scarcely been a day since she left school that she hasn't had a
romp with him until--and he adores her. Perhaps it would divert her if
I should bring him over. What do you think?"

The traces of grief and strain were still in Harriet's face, and she
asked the question with solicitude.

Miss Barry seated herself by the dainty workstand, and seizing the
little stockings with eagerness shook her head.

"I find my best way is not to think, Harriet," she said emphatically.
"Linda acts like a sleep-walker most of the time, but this morning she
got to looking over some things in her bureau drawer, and she's been
crying her eyes out."

Harriet dashed away a quick tear as she sat opposite her aunt,
replacing a button on a little white blouse.

"I do want to get her away from here, and I broached the subject this
morning, but she took fright at once." Miss Belinda's busy needle ran
in and out of the spot where a small active toe had peeped through.

"I wish," replied Harriet, "that there were something in the world she
_must_ do. There's no such blessing at a time like this as not to be
able to brood. A husband and baby have rights that can't be put aside.
I do wish Linda cared for some one of the men who admire her. I don't
believe there's one who would let the changes in her fortune weigh with
him at all. I hope, Aunt Belinda, it doesn't hurt your feelings to
see me wearing this colored gown." The speaker lifted her eyes to her
aunt's somber black. "Father never believed in mourning, but he was a
prominent man, and I want to wear the badge of respect before people
who would expect it. I'll wear black in the street, but Henry and
little Harry would feel the gloom of it in the house, and though Henry
hasn't said anything about it, I have decided not to wear mourning at
home."

"You've got a lot of sense," was her aunt's response. "I believe in
that."

"We can't mourn any less," and Harriet dashed away another tear. "No
girls ever had a better father than ours."

Miss Belinda lifted her eyes from her work.

"Mr. King called this morning, and brought more flowers for Linda. If
flowers would heal hearts Linda would never shed another tear, but she
can't seem to bear them. She won't let one blossom be in the room."

"I suppose they look too cheerful," said Harriet. "How is poor Bertram?"

"Thin as a rail. Looks as if he had the weight of the nation on him,
and I suppose he has. I guess from what I hear these days are terribly
hard on him."

"Terribly," echoed Harriet. "Henry's just heart-broken over the
situation."

"Has Henry lost money in Barry & Co.? Don't tell me if you don't want
to."

"No. Of course Henry's young, and has never had much money to invest,
but Father never wanted family connections mixed up in his business. I
know that sounds as if he didn't feel certain of his propositions; but
there isn't a man who knew Father and Barry & Co. who wouldn't tell you
he believed in their absolutely honest intention. I've had only one
talk with Bertram about the business since--but he called me up this
noon and said he must see Linda and me together as soon as she is able."

Miss Barry dropped her work again, and regarded her niece's dark head,
drooped over her work.

"You like Bertram King, don't you?"

"Indeed I do." Harriet looked up in surprise. "Henry and I both love
him like a brother."

"Well, I just wanted to know if you felt him worthy of all confidence."

"Oh, you've heard that talk, have you?"

"What talk?" asked Miss Belinda cautiously.

"About his being the moving spirit of Barry & Co. That always irritates
Henry and me beyond everything. As if my father were invertebrate, and
couldn't think for himself."

"Well, Linda believes it. That is, she believes Mr. King had an
abnormal influence over your father. In fact, she blames Mr. King for
the disaster."

"She's in an abnormal state herself. That's what's the matter. I
know her grief at losing Father is profound, and no doubt the money
loss means more to her than it does to me. Henry and I have talked
it over, and we feel it will be just as well for Harry if he doesn't
have so much money to look forward to as we expected. With Linda it's
different. It does deprive her of much that perhaps she expected to
do. We don't know what her thoughts have been all these days she has
lain there so quiet. She thinks Bertram is to blame for taking on that
irrigation business?"

"To blame for everything. She--she used some pretty strong language
this morning."

"Oh, but that's Linda," responded Harriet quickly. "She's always
extreme."

"Do you think Mr. King is in love with her?" asked Miss Barry bluntly.

Her niece looked up curiously. "Why? Do you?"

Miss Belinda made a protesting gesture with one stockinged hand.

"My dear! You'll never prove anything of that sort by me. I think he's
all stirred up about her, but if she's right, that might be remorse on
his part. He looked to me this morning as if some able-bodied woman
ought to take him in her lap and rock him."

Harriet smiled and returned to her sewing. "Bertram has always seemed
too wrapped up in business to care for girls. He likes to tease Linda
and play with her, but her interests have all been apart from him.
Henry and I have often talked about it, and said how nice it would be
if they should care for each other. I should dislike to believe that
he was the cause of our misfortunes; but Henry says that is the rumor
and the general feeling. Even Father Radcliffe credits it, but I'm too
loyal to Daddy to believe that a young man like Bertram could sway him."

"I think," said Miss Barry, "that you girls should give him the
interview he wants, and soon. He needs all the help he can get."

"I know he does. I promised him we would see him to-morrow."

Miss Belinda glanced up. "But you haven't Linda's consent."

"She must consent. It will be good for her. It's what she needs, to
have something she must do."

"She's so fond of Mrs. Porter I thought she'd be glad to go home with
me and join her, but she shrinks from everything like a sensitive
plant."

"She has leisure to think of what she wants, you see," returned
Harriet. "I haven't. Perhaps she will come and make me a visit."

"Well, you come back with me to the house this afternoon, anyway, and
make the plan for to-morrow. I think an interview with Mr. King is
just what Linda needs to make her sense what the poor fellow is going
through."

Accordingly, a little later Harriet donned her black street clothes,
and accompanied her aunt to the house on the avenue.

They found Linda in her room, stretched in a _chaise longue_ and
looking out of the open window at the June sky. An incessant whirr of
motors filled the spacious room.

"Don't get up," said Harriet, as the white figure moved to rise. She
kissed her sister. "I'm so glad to see you dressed. You must soon get
over to us. Harry talks about you every day."

As this declaration called forth no answering smile, Miss Barry left
the sisters together, shaking her head as she went.

"I'm glad it isn't my job to persuade her," she thought.

Harriet came straight to the point. "I can't stay long, Linda, for I'm
never away when Harry has his supper, but I came over to tell you that
we must meet Bertram to-morrow."

"I can't," returned Linda, her eyes looking startled but determined.

"Yes, you can, dear. We can see him right up here if necessary, but it
isn't fair not to answer his questions, and help him as much as we can."

"He doesn't need to ask any questions. He knows a hundred times as much
about it all as we do; and no one can help him. He never wanted any one
to help him."

"Well, we won't discuss that, dear. He must have our sanction about
certain things, and every hour counts. Surely you'll bestir yourself
for the honor of Barry & Co."

"For the honor of Barry & Co.," repeated Linda, in the tone of one
whose fires have burned out.

So when the appointed hour arrived next day, it found Linda dressed and
ready to descend the stairs at her sister's summons. Any effort was
better than to allow King to come up to her room. A stranger he was and
a stranger he should always remain.

The first sight of her, white and tall in her thin black gown, was a
shock to King. The lips held in a tight line, the colorless face and
manner, were in such marked contrast to the exuberance of the Linda he
had last seen, that he marveled at the change, with a sinking of his
tired heart and brain. She might well have been disturbed by his own
appearance, but she scarcely looked at him.

Miss Belinda was present. The four sat around the massive table in the
den; while King slowly and carefully outlined the business situation.
Lambert Barry's will left bequests to various charities, ten thousand
dollars to his sister in addition to the investment from which for
years she had drawn what he called her allowance, and the rest of his
fortune was to be divided equally between his two daughters. Bertram
paused, and Linda met his hollow gaze.

"I judge the chief thing you wish to know from us," she said, "is
whether we wish to give more than the law compels, to satisfy
creditors."

King wondered whether grief could be responsible for the inimical look
in her eyes.

"Mr. Barry, the day before he died," he returned, "expressed a
longing to prevent as far as possible suffering resulting from
the--the--misfortunes of Barry & Co." "I'm sure of that," returned
Linda. "We spoke of it together one evening. I said that would be Barry
& Co.'s way."

"Did you see trouble coming, Linda?" asked King gravely.

The girl was sitting straight and tense, and her eyes did not drop from
his tired gaze.

"No. I thought at that time there was no trouble in the world that
could touch my wise, honorable father."

Miss Barry moved uncomfortably, watching the girl's expression.

"I'd like to say," she put in, "that the ten thousand my brother left
me I want should go to make up arrears as far as it can."

"Dear Aunt Belinda," said Harriet, putting a hand on her aunt's knee as
she sat next her. "Now, we don't any of us want to be quixotic," she
went on in her moderate manner. "We want to be calm and sensible."

"Harriet," her younger sister turned to her, "we do want to be
quixotic, if that is what the world calls returning money secured
under false pretenses. So far as I am concerned, there is only one
possibility for peace for me, and that is to keep our father's memory
as clean before the world as it always has been. I can speak only for
my share, of course, but my wish is this: that this house, the motors,
and all these belongings, be sold--"

"You can keep your electric, Linda," interrupted King.

She brought her eyes back to him.

"You cannot tell me what I may keep," she answered, slowly and
incisively, and the young man frowned wonderingly at her tone.

"I want everything sold," she went on. "I want my share of money,
property, life insurance, everything, added together, and applied _pro
rata_ to the losses of every one who put a misplaced trust in Barry &
Co."

"Linda--" began Bertram gently.

She rose suddenly and turned upon him, her nostrils dilating.

"Tell me this, Bertram King. Have you a dollar invested in the Antlers
Irrigation Company?"

King started to his feet, and viewed the girl in amazement. Her brow
was furrowed, and the eyes in her white face blazed.

"Speak," she insisted.

A flood of color rushed to the man's very forehead as he realized her
open enmity. In silence they stood thus for a moment.

"I refuse to answer you," he said at last.

Her gaze swept him scornfully. "It is what I expected." Then she turned
to her sister, speaking gently. "Settle it between you now, Harriet.
I suppose I may dispose of my own, and you know my wishes. They won't
change."

After she had gone out, Harriet seized Bertram's hand as he stood dazed.

"Forgive her, Bertram," she said anxiously. "I do believe she's nearly
crazy."

He sat down again, very pale, and with no comment proceeded to sort his
papers.

Miss Barry's earrings were trembling, and she thought with longing of
the peace of her "Gull's Nest."



CHAPTER IX

CORRESPONDENCE


Before Miss Barry's train had reached Chicago, Linda had received a
telegram conveying sympathy from Mrs. Porter. A pile of notes and
letters lay now unopened on her desk. Her sister had read the telegram
at the time of its arrival, and left it on the table beside Linda's
bed, where one day she read it; but the girl refused the least pressure
on her wound from even the most friendly and delicate fingers. This
very afternoon, when, tingling with excitement and antagonism, she
swept from the room, she passed the maid who was at the door, just
bringing in the mail. Somewhat hesitatingly the girl offered the
letters to her young mistress. She and all the other servants stood in
awe of the suffering that had so altered the jolly, careless, imperious
young woman.

Linda, her heart beating tumultuously with its indignation, accepted
the package automatically, and went on upstairs to her room.

She raised her hand to her throat in the effort to stop its choking,
and threw down the letters. The handwriting on the top one was familiar
and full of happy association. Here was one person who loved her, and
understood her, and whose patience had never failed.

With the picture vividly before her of the faces of her scandalized
sister and aunt, she caught up this letter and held it to her breast,
her large gaze fixed straight ahead. The kindly expression, the
humorous smile, the loving eyes of her teacher as they had rested on
her hundreds of times, strove with the other picture. She felt she
could bear to have Mrs. Porter talk to her. She moved to the door and
locked it, conscious suddenly that she was trembling; then she sank
into a chair and opened the letter.

 _My dear Linda_ (it began),--

 I have waited a full week to write to you because I felt that at first
 you wouldn't care to read a letter even from me. Do you notice that
 "even"? Yes, I feel sure you love me as I do you, sincerely, and it
 gives me courage to talk to you just as if you were lying beside me on
 these sun-warmed rocks, with the cool wind trying in spurts to snatch
 off the duck hat that is shading my eyes. It can't succeed, for the
 hat is tied on with the white veil you gave me. There is a little
 scent of orris in it still, marking it as yours, and giving me the
 pleasant feeling of one of your "bear's hugs."

 I am sorry to be a thousand miles off from my little girl's troubles,
 and so all this week I have been trying to know that the opposite of
 this sense of separation is the truth; that all that I love in you is
 mine still, and that the greater part of what I could do for you if
 I were there it is my privilege to do here. The personal touch, the
 interchange of loving looks, is dear to our human sense, but sometimes
 even these get in the way of the loftier, broader mission which God's
 children may perform for one another.

 I have been thinking much about your father, a man whose keen sense of
 honor, and large charity, will be discerned more and more clearly when
 the present confusion is straightened out.

Linda's suddenly blinded eyes closed, and she again held the letter to
her breast a minute before going on.

       *       *       *       *       *

 He is incapable of wrong intention. Do you notice that I say "is"? I
 wonder if you are feeling that sense of continuous immortal life which
 is your rightful and best comfort at this time. All that you loved
 best in your father were traits which your hands could not touch. Your
 heart and mind only discerned them. They are yours still, and they
 were that real part of him which God sustained and now sustains, and
 which were the reflections of His Light and Love.

 I cannot touch your body now, any more than if it had ceased to dwell
 upon this earth,--any more than you can touch your father's,--but that
 makes you no less real to me. My tall little Linda speaks to me in
 her generosity, her lovingness, her gayety, as vividly as if you were
 beside me this minute, and it would be so if I knew I was never to
 look upon your face again. "The flesh profiteth nothing," the Bible
 says; and it is one of those lightning flashes of truth that glance
 away from us until the trained thought is sensitized to receive it;
 but after that, little by little it proves itself.

 Perhaps I am talking too long, but please know that I am thinking of
 you daily, with thoughts full of love.

 The Comforter that Jesus promised us is a real Existence, and
 "underneath are the everlasting arms."

 "As one whom his mother comforteth so will I comfort you, saith the
 Lord." How I love to think of that when I think of my dear girl.

 I found those words a few weeks ago on the calendar you gave me, and
 now I give the wonderful promise back to you. Say it over to yourself,
 dear child, even if you don't now see how or when it will come true,
 for His promises are sure. It only rests with us to open our hearts to
 receive them.

  Your loving friend,
  MAUD PORTER.

Linda's lip was caught between her teeth, and her brow frowning, as
she finished reading. She turned the letter back to read again the
sentences about her father. Here was no uncertain note.

She crumpled the sheets between her hands and closed her eyes.

"Oh, God, You have taken away my father. Help us now to clear his name!"

It was a cry from her heart, the first time in all this eternity of
days that her thought had turned to the Higher Power with any feeling
save resentment. She saw her friend lying on the sun-warmed rocks
in the sunlit atmosphere of a joyous June day, longing to help her,
longing to impart to her the sustaining calm of her own faith, and
gratitude woke feebly in her.

She rose, and carried the letter to her bedroom, folding it again in
its envelope. It did not belong in her desk. Such a message from the
woman who had long been her ideal was a thing apart. She placed it in
the back of a drawer in her dresser, and there her hand encountered
a scrap of paper which she drew forth. Its clear lettering stood out
against the ivory-white background.

"Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree--"

She read no further. The calendar again! She recalled also that leaf
which in the studio she had marked for Mrs. Porter's reproach:--

"When thy father and thy mother forsake thee, then the Lord will take
thee up."

She dropped the papers and covered her eyes again with her hands.

"Oh, Mother, Mother!" she moaned above her breath. "How could God, if
there is a God, comfort me as you would!"

Supposing immortality, in which every Sunday in church she declared
her belief, were really true. Supposing her father and mother were
together. Supposing her mother were now consoling him for his
mistakes,--for Bertram King's mistakes,--would that thought not bring
consolation? Her worried father! Her lonely father! She sank into a
chair, weeping helplessly. She had worn his pearls and danced, while he
was lonely! If she could only die and go to her father and mother. Life
here was ruined, and no one needed her. Harriet was engrossed with her
family. Aunt Belinda's heart was in her home, stern duty alone holding
her in this place.

After a few minutes the mourner lifted her bowed head, pulled a sheet
of paper toward her, and wrote:--

       *       *       *       *       *

 I am bleeding. Please write to me again.

 LINDA.

When she had addressed the note to Mrs. Porter, she washed her face
and made herself ready for the tête-à-tête dinner with her aunt, which
would shortly be served in her sitting-room. She had never entered the
dining-room since the last meal she ate there with her father.

She set her door open in order that Aunt Belinda should not be afraid
to come in, and shortly the much-tried lady did appear, her lips set in
a line of endurance. Miss Barry had never approved less of her niece
than at the moment of the girl's exit from that business interview. She
gave a sharp glance now at her, sitting as usual with eyes gazing from
the window at nothing, and hands loosely folded in her lap.

"Harriet left her good-bye for you," she said. "She had to hurry home
for Harry's supper."

"Yes," responded Linda.

Miss Belinda sat down, and the gaze she fixed on her niece waited for
an explanation or an apology. None came.

Miss Barry cleared her throat. "Harriet wishes to put herself on
record," she said distinctly, "as entirely disowning any such feeling
toward Mr. King as you expressed."

"You know he is her husband's cousin," returned Linda passively. "One
must keep harmony in a family."

"More than that, Linda Barry," continued her aunt crisply, "that young
man would have had to be guilty of designing your father's downfall to
deserve such words and such a manner as yours."

The girl eyed the speaker steadily, and again the fire of excitement
glowed in her look.

"You saw that he could not answer my question."

"I saw that he would not."

"It would be a good plan for you to talk with some of the prominent
business men of the town," remarked Linda, the light going out of her
eyes.

"I don't need any business man to tell me that that poor boy is about
used up--and in whose service, pray? Answer me that, Linda Barry."

"Mammon," was the sententious reply.

"Pshaw!" ejaculated her aunt. "A clever man like your father didn't
trust that man for no reason. Harriet's and my heart just ached for
the poor fellow this afternoon. I thought for a minute after you went
out that he was going to faint."

"Yes," returned Linda listlessly; "I suppose he had been sure no one
would hold him in any way responsible."

The servant here came in to spread the little table for dinner, while
Miss Barry, her hands tightly locked together, gave her indignant
thoughts free rein, and followed Bertram King to his room at the club.

Had she really been able to see him, she would have witnessed his
finding upon his arrival a letter in Mrs. Porter's handwriting.

His white, stoical face did not change while he read it:--

       *       *       *       *       *

_Dear Bertram_,--

 I want to send you a few lines to the club, because I feel sure there
 will be a quieter atmosphere there than at the office these troublous
 days. There is never an hour in which my thoughts do not go to you
 and Linda, fellow sufferers and both so dear to me. I can scarcely
 wait for the day when your duties will let you leave Chicago and come
 here. Doubtless Linda will arrive soon, and here you will both find
 healing for your sorrow, and if it is right, find each other. She will
 have a double reason for nearness to you as the chief earthly link
 with her dear father, and here in this simplicity and quiet the real
 things of life are more easily discernible. Complications seem to have
 no place in these broad, harmonious spaces, and both you dear ones can
 forget the fevers of sorrowful excitement.

 Let me hear from you.

  Yours as ever,
  MAUD.

It was by return mail that Mrs. Porter received the answer to this
letter. She opened it with eagerness:--

       *       *       *       *       *

 _Dear Maud_,--

 Thank you for your letter and far more for your affection. It is some
 comfort, while I am locking horns with enemies, or endeavoring to
 untangle labyrinths, to know that there's a good little woman ready to
 coddle me when I have time to be coddled.

 I see you remember the heart-to-heart talk you drew me into one
 day--and I admit I was easy to draw. Now I ask you to forget all that
 I said if you can. My wishes and plans have undergone a complete
 change, and I am glad you are the only person living who knows what my
 designs and hopes were, for they have vanished.

 Pardon brevity. I'm "that druv," as your Maine friends would have it,
 that I don't know whether I'm afoot or horseback. I'll look forward,
 however, to an hour when you and I can elope to some Arcadia for a few
 weeks, and I'll let you know when such a day looms on the horizon.

 Your devoted cousin,

 BERTRAM.

Mrs. Porter's face had slowly undergone a change from eagerness to
dazed and sad surprise.

"I wouldn't have believed it!" she soliloquized, as she let the sheet
fall. "People have so often said that Bertram cared for the dollar mark
above all else, but I laughed at them. How I hope she doesn't care! How
I hope it!"



CHAPTER X

THE SPELL BREAKS


That spot in Miss Belinda's heart which had softened toward her niece
in the latter's misery of bereavement bid fair to harden over again
every time she thought of Linda's attitude toward Bertram King. It
was bad enough to harbor the absurd theory that so young a man had
been able to mould the opinions and actions of his employer; but it
was unthinkable that in this time of grief and stress the girl had
been able to sneer at him, and so evidently cut him to the heart with
her accusation. Every time that scene rose before Miss Barry's mental
vision her earrings quivered again. What did these weary days that she
was undergoing amount to? Linda was civil to her, but indifferent to
everything and everybody. The girl made no effort to conceal that the
visits of her own sister were a weariness, and, unthinkable to Harriet,
she made excuses not to see little Harry.

Day after day of the big empty house and the silent girl, the constant
whirr of motors through the wide-open windows, caused Miss Barry to
find that she was guilty of nerves. Again and again she hinted to Linda
that the sea air was what she needed. The girl was usually deaf to
the suggestion, or else returned, gently and civilly, it is true, to
pleading with her aunt not to remain longer, protesting that she was
entirely recovered and able to be left alone.

One day her answer became more frank.

"Mrs. Porter has written me that she is trying to get Bertram to come
there to rest," she said.

Miss Barry gazed at the speaker. "Sits the wind in that quarter?"
thought she. Her earrings quivered again, and she counted ten. Of what
use was it to contend with a statue? At last she spoke.

"I only wish we could do something for him," she said, "but it won't
be that. I met him on the street yesterday, and he said it wouldn't be
possible for him to get away before autumn."

Linda making no reply to this, Miss Barry stared at her for a minute
more, then sought her own pleasant, spacious room. Hers was not the
pen of a ready writer, but she sat down now at her well-appointed desk,
and wrote a letter.

 _Dear Mrs. Porter_,--

 I begin to see a loophole of light on our situation. I wrote you a
 week ago how crazy I am to come home. I'd like to burn every devilish
 automobile in Chicago, I'm so sick of their noise; but Linda's kept
 on just as obstinate as a mule, saying she must stay, but wanting me
 to go. I can't go unless she does. She's taken against everybody.
 Harriet thinks she's out of her mind because she refuses to see the
 wonderful baby; and I assure you I'd be squeamish about leaving her,
 for I couldn't be sure she wouldn't do away with herself, she's so
 morbid. I haven't told you the greatest proof of her morbidness
 (perhaps it ought to be morbidity, but no matter)--she acts like the
 devil incarnate to your cousin Bertram King. You know you told me he
 wanted to marry her. Well, I guess he's graduated from that notion. At
 any rate, it seems she thinks he led her father into the business deal
 that brought on most of this trouble--that big irrigation project out
 West. My brother wasn't anybody that could be led by the nose, but
 Linda won't hear to reason, and my patience with her is exhausted.
 Well, this morning when I returned to the charge about going home, it
 came out that she was afraid Mr. King was going to you. Now he isn't,
 because he can't get away for months to come. So won't you write her
 that you've given up trying to get him, and that you want to see
 her--if you can make up your mind to a whopper--and that you hope for
 my sake she'll exert herself and bring me home! That's a good one!
 Bring me home! If any one can persuade her, you can, for so far as I
 can find out you're the only person on earth she hasn't taken against.
 Sometimes I speak of you, sort of carelessly, and say I hope you ain't
 feeling it too much responsibility to take care of the cottage when
 you'd _hoped_ to have an entire rest! And if she hears what I say she
 looks at me real human for an instant.

 Once I asked her if she wouldn't sit down to that little piano in her
 sitting-room and let me hear her voice. Law! You ought to have seen
 the way her eyes turned on me. Truly I never saw anybody who could
 look so near as if they had a knife in their heart as she can.

 I'm getting as nervous as a cat. After we've dragged through a day,
 then comes on the night, when everything on wheels goes past our
 house. If Gatling guns came small enough I'd rig one in my window and
 do some of the shooting myself.

 Now, you do your best to fix it up, Mrs. Porter, and if you can
 just get us to the Cape, then you can go off somewhere else where
 there won't be any wet blanket to spoil your fun. Linda ought to be
 outdoors; but I've never got her out once since we came back from the
 cemetery. She asks every day if the cars are sold. She has it on the
 brain to pay back everybody who lost anything in the catastrophe.

 I'm hanging all my hopes on you, and am

  Yours truly,
  BELINDA BARRY.

While reading this letter Mrs. Porter's cheeks grew pink, and upon
finishing she fell into a prolonged brown study. So it was not
mercenary considerations which had altered Bertram's aspirations. Her
heart went out to him. She had never known till now how much she cared
for Bertram. The impulse attacked her to leave this peaceful scene and
take the first train for the spot where her loved ones were in such
distress; but Miss Barry's adjuration must be heeded. To get Linda away
from those scenes and associations was surely the first necessity.
Mrs. Porter found she had to meet and banish some resentment toward
the unhappy girl who could so ruthlessly add to another's woe. But she
had Linda's appeal. When one is bleeding one may be ruthless without
realizing; so again Mrs. Porter sat down and addressed herself to the
task of helping the sufferer:

 _My dear Linda_ (she wrote),--

 I'm not on the warm, breezy rocks to-day. A nor'easter is gathering,
 and I am sitting in Miss Barry's living-room, where her good little
 Blanche has let me build a roaring, glorious fire of birch logs. It
 seems almost wicked to burn anything so beautiful as the white birch,
 and yet anything so airy and poetical should not, perhaps, be allowed
 to wither and fall into decay. Better, perhaps, that it should be
 caught up in a chariot of flame.

 If you knew how lovely it is here, how sweet the smells, how pure and
 clear the silence of all save Nature's sounds, you would, I am sure,
 take the first train out of Chicago. I have given up the hope of
 persuading Bertram to leave. He would far rather die right there than
 leave one duty to your father unperformed. I shall hope to go back in
 August and get him to go West with me for a time before my teaching
 begins.

 I think of you every day, my little Linda. I received your note. We
 do bleed when we are wounded; but blessed are they that mourn, for
 they shall be comforted. The blessing of mourning is the finding of
 real comfort--spiritual comfort; the oil of joy for mourning; the
 realization that we need never mourn; that this world is not all; that
 no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly; that no
 blessing is ever taken away from God's child.

 We hear people say, "Shan't I believe the evidence of my own senses?"
 I once heard a lecturer enlarge upon that theme, showing that our
 whole education is largely for the purpose of instructing us away
 from the evidence of our senses, from learning that the sun does not
 rise or set,--through the whole list of deceitful appearances. If I
 believed what I see now, I should say that the sun had left the world
 to storm and darkness, but we know that the glorious sun and cloudless
 firmament are there to-day as truly as on the brilliant yesterday, and
 we have no fear that we shall not see it again.

 The deceitful appearance which you have now to recognize is that your
 father has died and left you. Life never dies, and Love is immortal.
 Life is progress, too, and he knows more and greater and happier
 things than he knew here. Every right motive and act of his life
 is receiving its logical reward, and opening out new channels for
 progress. Let us not think of him in the flesh, but in the spirit. Let
 us not dwell sadly on his mortal harassment or disappointments. How do
 we know but such thoughts are a drag upon his spirit? Let us speed him
 on with our own love and courage, and let us try every day to harbor
 no thought that will hamper our souls and make us less fit to join him.

 It is easier to sink down under a blow than to rise and go on; and yet
 rising and going on is what will make you keep step with your loved
 one and not be left behind. Your sister has an advantage over you,
 because she _must_ rise and go on. If you are finding that the strong
 leading-spirit, Linda Barry, is faltering and weak now, you are making
 a blessed discovery; finding that the strength of the human will is
 not the true strength, and that like a little child you can turn to
 your Heavenly Father, and receive from Him strength which no mortal
 blow can destroy. Keep the fire of Love glowing in your heart, and you
 will find that it is the fuel that will make strong and bright every
 faculty. Unselfishness follows where that fire burns; but withdraw the
 fuel and the heart is cold, and those about you feel the chill.

 I am hoping daily to hear that you are ready to bring your aunt home.
 Has she ever told you the pretty story of her girlish day-dreams on
 these rocks, and how her barefooted brother resolved mentally that he
 would be a prosperous man some day, and give her a home right here? He
 was able to fulfill that boyish resolve, and somehow this cottage is
 to me very full of him. Many men would have forgotten in the rush of
 business to carry out such a plan, but not your father. I can imagine
 with just what refreshment his thoughts flew here from the clatter of
 the city. I am sure Miss Barry's come here every day, and I am sure
 she will be very happy when you decide to leave. I know you are not
 detaining her willingly, but in her place I should feel as she does
 about coming without you. Do you know that I want very much to see
 you? Here in the nest of your dear father's generous, loving thought,
 I am resting, and waiting for you to rest too. You'll feel nearer to
 him than in the crashing city. Come and try.

  Yours lovingly,
  MAUD PORTER.

Miss Barry had brought this thick letter to her niece, and though her
hands were busied with some work as she sat at a distance from her, she
glanced furtively at the girl from time to time, striving to glean
from her face some hope as to its effect.

When Linda finished reading, she dropped the sheets and looked up so
quickly that she caught her aunt's inquiring glance. Miss Barry flushed
guiltily, and looked back at her work.

"How soon do you think we could go to the Cape, Aunt Belinda?"

In her excitement and eagerness Miss Barry's words stuck in her throat.

"Why--ahem!--how about--how about to-morrow?"

"Let us go to-morrow," said Linda.



CHAPTER XI

EASTWARD HO!


Fred Whitcomb felt his eyes sting, but he scorned to wipe them as he
strode manfully up Michigan Avenue. Instead, he scowled and set his
teeth and threw his shoulders back, as one who yearns to meet the
foe hand to hand. His opportunity was near, for Bertram King, having
forgotten some papers, was walking hastily toward the club, and Fred,
blinded and distrait, turned a corner and ran directly into him.

The lighter and taller man seized his assailant.

"Don't do that again, Freddy. It's a wonder I didn't go over like a
tenpin."

"I didn't see you," growled Freddy, winking hard.

"I gathered that," remarked King, and was hurrying on, but Whitcomb
held him.

"Why weren't you at the station to see them off?" he demanded. "I
thought of course you'd be there."

"More room for you, Freddy," returned the other, looking steadily into
his friend's belligerent eyes.

"I don't see how you could neglect Linda at such a time."

"Do you think she missed me?" asked King quietly.

"Of course she did," hotly. "I found out only by accident by what train
they were going. They didn't let anybody know, Miss Barry said; but of
course you knew. I'd--I'd hardly know Linda."

A terrific lump rose in the speaker's throat, and blinded again by
grief he turned hastily away to continue his march.

This time Bertram detained him. Freddy tried to escape, but it was a
grip of steel on his arm. "Come into the club a minute," said King, and
his companion obeyed the leading. At least it would be a place where he
could use his handkerchief secure from observation.

"Now, you're not taking me to your room," objected the younger man,
as his captor, not relaxing the hold on his arm, led him toward the
elevator.

"Guess again, Freddy," said Bertram; and the visitor, after a moment of
holding back, found himself in the elevator.

When they were in King's room, and the door closed, the host indicated
a chair, but the guest remained standing.

Bertram smiled a little wistfully as he regarded the other's youthful
strength, thinking his face, in its present condition of repressed
emotion, looked as it must have done when he was ten.

"What do you want with me?" asked Freddy, his head held high.

"I wish I knew what you use for a hair tonic," said Bertram, passing
his hand over his own fair locks, beginning to feel thin at the crown.

"Don't be a--What have you brought me up here for?"

"To let you pull yourself together for one thing. You were in a fair
way to assault and batter all down the avenue."

"You--you _fish_!" ejaculated the visitor, changing his mind suddenly,
and dropping into the offered chair. Quite frankly he covered his
flushed face with his handkerchief and choked into it.

King sat down near an open window, and waited for the paroxysm to pass.

"It breaks me up completely to see Linda like that," said Whitcomb at
last, wiping his eyes and shaking his shoulders impatiently. He faced
his host, and realized the latter's appearance. No one could look
seedier than King, he thought. "Of course I know you're rushed," he
added, "but in your place I'd rather have sat up all night than not to
see her off; and the humorous part of it is that I've been believing
you were crazy about her."

The two regarded each other for a silent space, and for the first time
there crept into the younger man's mind the cold suspicion that the
change in Linda's fortune had affected Bertram King. Even so, it could
not have made such a brute of him as to let Linda creep off alone!

"Harriet was there, and Henry," he said, just for the sake of speaking,
while he strove with this strange idea, one which had elements of
relief for himself while it added fuel to his indignation with King.

"Of course," answered the other coolly. "So that was a pretty good
bodyguard, for you're always a host, Freddy."

"There was very little I could do for her," declared Whitcomb, "and I'm
sure you--you hurt her feelings."

"I'm glad you were there," said King.

"You've no right to be glad," retorted Freddy.

The older man smiled. "Isn't it magnanimous in me to be glad she's
wearing your violets instead of mine, eating your chocolates instead of
mine, reading your magazines instead--"

"Stop!" said Whitcomb, raising his hand imperatively. "It's sacrilege
to joke about her."

"You're a nice chap, Freddy," declared King slowly.

The visitor rose. "Don't you dare to patronize me," he said. "Thanks to
your cursed bank I'm a _poor_ chap. I'd begun to hope--to hope--What
do you care what I hoped? You're as cold-blooded as that irrigation
swindle that's fooled us all."

A little slow color crept over Bertram King's lantern jaws.

"Sit down," he said briefly. "I brought you up here to talk about that.
You didn't attend the meeting of the stockholders last night."

"No. I was doing errands for Miss Barry; and I didn't care to sit there
and listen to empty platitudes."

King hesitated a moment, but he put constraint upon himself. Freddy was
desperately in love, and had had a desperate disappointment.

"I don't blame you for feeling sore," he said at last, "but I believe
I have good news for you. The irrigation proposition would have gone
through all right if the panic in that region hadn't suddenly knocked
the bottom out for the time being. It's a legitimate thing, and we were
able to show the stockholders last night that if they would be patient
and give us time, we would issue notes and the bank depositors would be
paid."

"What?" asked Whitcomb incredulously, and again sat down.

King nodded. "The bank closed, but it didn't fail, and if Barry & Co.'s
people will trust us, I firmly believe everybody is going to have his
own--say in a year or two."

"Two!" echoed Whitcomb, the hopeful light fading somewhat.

"Of course. Money in the bank, boy." King rose and advanced to him and
slapped him on the shoulder. "You don't need it to live on."

"No, I need it to get Linda," returned the other bluntly.

Bertram smiled wanly, and balanced back and forth on his heels and toes.

His visitor regarded him curiously. "I'll bet you've done some tall
working on this," he said slowly.

"No fish ever worked harder," admitted Bertram.

"But when you knew it was your own fault--" suggested Whitcomb.

King's quizzical eyes regarded the speaker. "That conviction does
always make a fellow rather hump himself, Freddy."

The caller rose. He didn't like the look in his host's face. All this
heart-breaking business should be treated seriously. King looked worn,
but he didn't look humble; and as Mr. Barry's factotum he had been
frightfully neglectful of Linda this morning. No, Whitcomb didn't feel
like shaking hands with him, even after King had lighted for him a
beacon of hope. The caller suddenly assumed an abrupt, businesslike
manner.

"This won't do for me," he said. "So long, King," and he started
precipitately for the door. One backward glance at his host, who was
still standing with feet wide apart and thumbs hooked in his vest, gave
him pause. King's face showed so plainly the battle he had fought.
Freddy returned and took Bertram's hand and wrung it.

"Do you know, I was sure you wanted Linda," he said, with sudden
frankness.

King's slender fingers gave his a viselike grip, and his lips smiled
calmly. "It isn't so much a question of what we want as what she wants,
is it?" he said.

A cloud passed over Whitcomb's face, and again Bertram thought he could
see exactly how Freddy had looked at the age of ten.

"Don't you believe she'll ever want me?" he asked naïvely. Now that he
knew King was out of the running--whether from mercenary reasons or
otherwise--he could put the question as to an intimate friend of the
family.

King laughed softly for the first time since Lambert Barry's death.

"Don't know, Freddy. If I were a girl I'd want you, I know that. You're
all right."

Whitcomb blushed and scowled; and as he took the elevator on its
downward trip he reflected on Bertram King's power to irritate his
fellowman.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ensconced in their stateroom on the train for Boston, Miss Barry heaved
a sigh of relief scarcely concealed by the mutter of the moving wheels.
They had not taken a stateroom without protest from Linda on the
ground of extravagance. Linda considering economy! It was a wonderful
circumstance; but Miss Barry, anxious as she was to be gone, delayed
their departure a few days to secure the room. Instinctively she felt
that a door which she could close on her niece would give her a sense
of security. She regarded her now, while the train gained swiftness,
with something of the triumph the captor of an elusive, valuable wild
animal might feel at seeing it safely in his possession.

Linda, passive and white, did not resemble a wild creature at the
present moment. The first thing she did after the train started was
to withdraw the pin from the huge bunch of violets she had put on to
please Whitcomb, and toss them over on the divan. Miss Barry, taking
off her hat, watched her furtively.

"Put my hat in the bag when you do yours, will you, Linda?"

The girl looked vaguely surprised. It was long since she had performed
a service for any one, and she even held her own hat a moment
uncertainly, after she had removed it, as if she expected her aunt to
take charge of it; and she looked at Miss Belinda questioningly.

"Yes, put them both in, and hang them up over there."

Miss Barry handed her the bags, leaned back in her corner, and sniffed.
A dog wags its tail to express emotion. Miss Belinda sniffed--a dry,
sharp little sound, which just now expressed determination.

"It's time for her to give up sleep-walking," she thought, and she
looked industriously out of the window.

Linda's eyes fell to the hats, and she slowly performed the office, and
more slowly climbed on the seat and hung up the bags.

As Miss Barry noted the languid motions of the erstwhile captain of
a basket-ball team, she realized that her niece was like a person
convalescing from a siege of illness. Was she convalescing? Was she
improving or retrograding? No matter which; they were going home,
home to the Cape, where Miss Barry would not feel at a constant
disadvantage; and her heart sang. Linda was too feeble to jump off the
train, and they were as good as there. Miss Belinda sniffed again.

Her eye fell on the violets. Linda had sunk back into her corner, her
lips apart, her eyes languid. The train was very warm. An electric fan
whirred above their door.

Miss Barry leaned across and took up the violets. Whitcomb's face had
been vibrant with emotion as he left them.

"The poor boy!" thought Miss Barry. She had learned a number of
masculine names through reading the different cards coming repeatedly
with boxes of flowers for Linda; but Fred Whitcomb had been more
pushing and insistent than the others. He had, as it were, often put
his heart in Miss Belinda's hands to be offered to Linda on a salver;
and in the stress of emotion this morning Miss Barry had been afraid
once or twice that her niece was going to be kissed by proxy. She
certainly felt sorry for Freddy Whitcomb, almost as sorry as for
Bertram King, whose absence had moved her keenly.

"Wouldn't you like to hold these? They're so refreshing," she said,
holding out the violets toward their owner. The girl made a faint,
protesting gesture with one hand, and shook her head. Miss Barry
plunged her nose into the velvet depths, and looked over the bouquet at
the white, immobile face in the opposite corner.

"Ch-ch-_choo_, ch-ch-_choo_," went the wheels, faster, faster. Welcome
sound. Sweet violets. The scattered fragrance of woodland places,
massed together for the joy of woman, offered by an eager heart to a
cold one.

"Violet time is over at the Cape," she remarked.

"What?"

"I say, violet time's over at the Cape. Daisies and clover now, and the
wild roses swelling up and getting ready."

Even the preoccupied Linda observed a new vitality in her companion's
face, and life in her eyes in place of endurance.

"You're riding backward, Aunt Belinda. I didn't notice till this
minute. Change with me." The girl leaned forward.

"Sit still, child. It makes no difference to me."

"Then come here beside me." Miss Barry hesitated. Once she would have
declined on the ground of mutual comfort, but an overture from her
captive was remarkable.

"Well, if it won't crowd you," she said, and after a moment of
reluctance she obeyed.

"Don't you want to sit by the window?" asked the girl.

"Law, no. I wish the artists who do the Castoria signs would adopt
futurist methods." As she spoke, Miss Barry made herself as small as
she could against the arm of the seat, and again caressed her nose with
Freddy Whitcomb's violets. The divan opposite was filled with American
Beauties, magazines, and bon-bon boxes.

"I ought to put the flowers in water," she remarked.

Linda's large, somber gaze rolled toward the display.

"Yes, please do," she said.

"H'm," thought Miss Barry as she rose. "One word for the flowers and
two for herself. She wants 'em out of sight."

"I think we ought to enjoy the violets," she said aloud. "Such a
cabbage of 'em must have cost that boy a pretty penny, and they won't
live only so long, anyway. Poor Mr. Whitcomb, didn't he look pretty
near ready to have apoplexy when he got off!"

"He's got over it by now," said Linda, in her quiet expressionless
voice.

"He's the kindest boy that ever lived. I didn't realize how many little
things there were to attend to in leaving, or I'd have had Henry do
them; but Mr. Whitcomb came and put himself at my disposal, and I
certainly disposed of him, the good boy."

"He is a good boy. He ought to hate us," declared the girl languidly.

"Why's that?"

"He told me a long time ago that he had invested in--in--" the speaker
caught her lip under her teeth.

"Now, now," returned Miss Barry soothingly, as the other paused. "He's
young, and able to stand a few knockdowns. Every business man gets them
sooner or later, and they're lucky when disaster comes early in their
career instead of late. Now, now, Linda!" for the girl's handkerchief
dried a drop stealing under her eyelid. "He adores you, the nice lad."

"Don't you see that makes it harder--as if I ought to marry him to make
up?"

"Now, now!" Miss Barry tried to speak lightly. "He'd be worse than
Shylock. I'll bet it's a hundred and thirty pounds when you're in good
case. Aren't those candy boxes wonderful! I must take 'count of stock."

She started up and laid the violets on the vacated seat. Linda looked
at them. She could hear Freddy Whitcomb's voice as it broke boyishly on
that last evening of her life:--

"I don't care anything about your father's money, Linda. I had a raise
last week."

Her hand fell gently on the velvet mass, and rested there. Miss Barry's
Argus eyes observed the movement.



CHAPTER XII

EN ROUTE


Miss Barry took the rest of the flowers and placed their stems in
the washbowl, where the lovely blossoms lolled over awkwardly in an
increasing haze of dust, after the manner of train flowers; then she
stepped back to the divan and inspected the boxes of bon-bons, stuffed
dates, mints, and so on. A flat tin box met her eye, and a note was
tied against the cover.

"I didn't notice that preserved ginger," she reflected, and picked up
the box with satisfaction, for the confection was her favorite. Her
own name appeared on the note in a small, close chirography which was
unfamiliar. She slipped off the metal cord and opened the letter. Its
beginning brought a smile to her lips, and a recollection of jocose
passages between herself and the writer, away back in the Christmas
holidays.

 _Dear Lady of the Earrings_ (she read):--

 If you knew the circumstances under which I stopped to buy these coals
 to send to Newcastle, you would never doubt my devotion. However,
 I'll not pose, but hasten to tell you of the meeting to-night of
 stockholders and depositors from which I have just come. There was
 much antagonism to be overcome, and I'm beginning to feel a little
 dull in the upper story, so it wasn't an easy experience; but the
 outcome was so good that I slight my bed to tell you briefly that I
 now feel the first relief from the crushing pressure of the last few
 weeks. Those people could have put Barry & Co. in a hole out of which
 we couldn't climb, and some of them were bitter and inclined to do it;
 but the majority were willing to listen to my representations, and the
 minority were finally persuaded.

 We shall issue notes to everybody concerned, and they have agreed to
 wait and give Barry & Co. a chance to turn around, and I have good
 ground for hoping that the memory of that grand man, Lambert Barry,
 will be cleared of every particle of the reproach which some angry and
 disappointed people have been flinging about. This night has been a
 great epoch in my career, and if I anticipated that there were any
 more such coming to me, that little crib out in the lake would suit me
 for a downy couch. As it is, I will now surprise my neglected bed by
 getting into it before three G.M.

 Bon voyage, dear lady, and I hope you will sleep the better to-night
 for this message. I shall not communicate with Harriet until after you
 have gone.

  Sincerely yours,
  BERTRAM KING.

Miss Barry had stood in the aisle during the reading of this epistle,
too absorbed to notice the discomfort of lurching about. Now she
held the letter for a space, in excited thought. Her thin face was
flushed. She looked at Linda, whose gaze was fixed on the flat, flying
landscape. The violets lay on the seat beside her, disregarded.

Miss Barry's lips tightened. "She doesn't deserve to know," she
thought. "Oh, that wonderful young man! That poor boy!"

She seated herself opposite her traveling companion, and Linda
languidly turning her head at the movement, her attention was caught
by the fact that her aunt was wiping her glasses, and that her eyes
were wet. An open letter lay in her lap.

Miss Barry was keenly aware of King's failure to mention Linda in this
matter so nearly concerning her. It was only the relief of the news to
her own heart which softened her sufficiently not to be glad of this
punishment to the cruel young sufferer opposite. She hoped remorse
would follow the reading in Linda's case.

She held out the letter in silence. The girl shrank and made a quick,
protesting gesture.

"I can't--I can't bear any more!" she said.

"You can bear this," returned Miss Barry.

"But you're crying!"

"With joy, Belinda."

When her aunt gave the girl her full name it meant either a climax of
indignation or a moment of sacred solemnity. That she knew well.

She regarded the letter with apprehension as she accepted it, and at
once recognizing King's writing a sort of hard strength stole over her
expression as she instinctively prepared to resist his statements. He
was smooth and self-contained and clever. He could deceive Aunt Belinda
and Harriet, but he could not deceive her.

After a moment of vigorous application of her handkerchief to her eyes,
Miss Barry put on her spectacles again, and leaning back in the seat
deliberately prepared to watch the effect upon her niece of Bertram
King's letter.

Linda's lips, set firmly as she began, slowly relaxed as she read on,
and her eyes grew darker. She began to breathe faster, and before she
finished such an expression came over the young face that the older
woman could no longer look, but closed her eyes and waited. It seemed
to her a long time before she opened them again to find Linda regarding
her. Life had revived in the large mourning eyes.

"Thank you, Aunt Belinda. May I keep it a little while?"

"You may keep it always," said Miss Barry solemnly. "It is more yours
than mine. Isn't that a wonderful young man, Belinda Barry? Didn't I
always say your father was too clever to trust the wrong people?"

"Bertram is clever," said Linda simply.

Miss Barry eyed her curiously, far from satisfied. "It's just," she
thought, "as if some mental starch had gone all through the girl."

She wondered if her niece had no regret, no shame, that she had put
herself so beyond the pale that Bertram ignored her.

"Really she is a handsome creature," thought Miss Barry, still
regarding her vis-à-vis with some sternness.

"I hope as soon as we get home you will make haste to tell Mr. King
that you appreciate all he has done."

"I do appreciate all he has done," said Linda, still with the exalted
look in her eyes, "but he is doing his best to make up for it, Aunt
Belinda." She leaned over far enough to put her hand on Miss Barry's
knee, "If this comes out as Bertram hopes I will believe in God."

"Why, my dear child!" exclaimed the other.

"I tell you if a man like my father could be remembered in Chicago as
touched by the faintest shade of dishonor, I should know that there
couldn't be any God of justice."

"Very well, Belinda," replied Miss Barry warmly; "if you think so
highly of justice you'd better try to practice it more yourself." Her
nostrils dilated.

Linda relaxed and gave a little one-sided smile as she shook her head
and leaned back again.

"Well, I never did!" thought Miss Barry; and she too leaned back in the
corner, where her niece forgot all about her.

What a gift, what a wonder, to dare to think about her lost one!
Hitherto to dwell upon the thought of him was to be cut with knives.
The only peace possible had been negative; had been to harden herself
to insensibility.

"It is the Spirit Flower," she thought, and her lips took a tender
curve that matched the melting eyes above them. The association of
ideas brought thoughts of Mrs. Porter, for it was the song Linda had
last studied with her teacher whose words flowed now through her mind.

  "My heart was frozen, even as the earth
    That covered thee forever from my sight.
  All thoughts of happiness expired at birth;
    Within me naught but black and starless night.

  "Down through the winter sunshine snowflakes came,
    All shimmering, like to silver butterflies;
  They seemed to whisper softly thy dear name;
    They melted with the tear-drops from mine eyes.

  "But suddenly there bloomed within that hour,
    In my poor heart, so seeming dead, a flower
  Whose fragrance in my life shall ever be:
    The tender, sacred _memory_ of thee."

Linda's eyes closed, and slow crystal drops stole under the lids, but
for the first time they were not bitter tears. The journey would now
not be wearisome. For a long time she sat motionless, her eyes on the
flying clouds, nurturing that spirit flower.

She had put Mrs. Porter's letters in her traveling-bag, and after a
time she took them out and read them over, this time with more open
vision. She could not realize how recent was her bereavement. She
seemed to have lived years in this new world into which she was born
the day they brought her father home. It was to look back ages to think
of their last breakfast together, his last embrace. She had asked that
morning to come downtown to lunch with him, and he had told her that
he couldn't spare the time. At least she had been assiduous that last
week. With that world she had had nothing to do for so long. It was
with this world, this world without her father in it, that she had now
to deal, a world in which it seemed to her she had had time to grow old.

Her mind roved busily to and from the lines of Mrs. Porter's loving
letters as she read. This new liberty to think, this hope contained in
Bertram King's letter, endowed her with an unrestraint which seemed
wonderful, and she sometimes read a line six times before the roving
mind grasped its meaning.

Miss Barry had fallen asleep in her corner. How weary and haggard her
face looked in its repose. Linda's wakened heart went out to the signs
of her aunt's unregarded sorrow.

An express train going in the opposite direction crashed suddenly by
the open windows with a deafening racket. Miss Barry started and waked.

Blinking, she realized her surroundings, and sat up. She met her
niece's eyes. Linda had taken up the violets and her nose was buried
in their soft fragrance.

"That was too bad, Aunt Belinda," she said, leaning forward. "It's
growing very warm. Can't I get you a drink?" she said.

"Glory be!" thought Miss Barry. "Yes, I wish you would," she said
aloud. Her eyes followed the girl, as she slowly rose and moved away
to get the water. "At last," continued Miss Barry mentally, "she isn't
walking in her sleep."

She accepted the glass when it came, and drank thirstily, although she
had not been thirsty.

When Linda returned, moving slowly and holding by the seat, she did not
take the place she had vacated, but sat down beside her aunt.

"Tell me something about Father," she said.

"What sort of thing? What do you mean?"

"Not the things the newspapers have printed, about his beating his
way to Chicago on the trains, and being an errand boy, and having no
education, and all that--his phenomenal rise to fortune. Not that."

Miss Barry snorted. "No education! Absurd! The newspapers make me sick.
He had education enough to make him one of the smartest men in the
country. I should think folks would know better than to believe such
stuff."

"And you took care of him, didn't you, Aunt Belinda? I never used to
want to know anything about his childhood. I grew tired of hearing
people say he was a self-made man, and I was ashamed to know that he
was barefooted and poor. That was another thorn," finished Linda, under
her breath.

"Another what?"

"A thorn."

Miss Barry looked around at the speaker. "Oh, a thorn in your side,
you mean. I guess you have always been some high-headed, Linda." She
used the past tense instinctively as she viewed the pale, languid face
leaning back beside her.

"You took care of him like a little mother," persisted the girl. "He
has told me so."

"Yes, I was only ten when Ma died, and I guess the papers would
'a' been right about your father's education if I hadn't saved her
slippers."

"You mean figuratively? You stepped into them."

"No, I don't. I mean it just as literal as anything could be meant. Pa
was easy-going and had enough to attend to, black-smithing and selling
flour and feed, so if anybody was going to spank Lambert it had to be
me."

Linda's lips, pressed tightly against the violets, quivered against
them.

"I'm sure you loved him tremendously," she said unsteadily.

Miss Barry sniffed, with a one-sided smile. "I didn't have much time
to think about that. I had to get breakfast and get to school myself,
and spank him when he ran away, and when he hitched on trains, and
robbed apple orchards, and so on, but mostly when he wouldn't go to
school. Ma's slippers were 'most done for, when one day I caught him,
and took one of the old tattered things and was going to give him what
he deserved, when he just caught my arms in his two hands, and began
to laugh. I noticed then for the first time that he was as tall as I
was, and his eyes looked straight into mine the fullest of mischief
you ever saw. I could feel myself getting as red as a beet. 'Let me
go this minute,' I yelled at him. 'Let me go, Lammie.' That's what the
schoolboys called him when they wanted to be mean. He fought a lot o'
boys for that before they learned better, and I remember exactly how he
managed to get both o' my calico sleeves into one hand, and boxed my
ears with the other; not real hard, he was laughing all the time.

"'Come on, Belinda,' he said, 'let's bury the slipper.' I knew what
he meant, because the boys were always playing Indian, and burying
hatchets; but, do you know, he made me bury that shoe then and there?
He took me outdoors and made me take the hoe and bury that slipper in
the garden. He stood over me, and before I finished I was crying, I was
so mad. I was fifteen then, and he was eleven, but I was small for my
age; and that was the end of the spankings. But you see by that time,"
continued Miss Barry complacently, "I'd made him a real good boy."

"Yes, yes, you did," agreed Linda warmly. "What then?"

"Oh, then it was lobster traps, and I helped him with them, and I got
Father to buy lobsters off him, and buy his clams, too, and I think
Lambert was always sort of sorry for me even when I was scolding him.
He knew I had a lot to do for a young one."

"Yes," said Linda, with eagerness, "and he resolved to make it up to
you, I know."

"He did make it up to me. He was the best brother in the world,"
answered Miss Barry simply.

The girl's lips trembled again against the violets, and the two watched
the flying landscape in silence.



CHAPTER XIII

HOME-COMING


Often during the remainder of the journey Linda questioned her aunt
about her own and her father's childhood. Hitherto she had avoided
as far as possible all mention or knowledge of his antecedents and
the struggles which preceded his success. Again she felt the relief
consequent upon opening a mental door until now painstakingly kept
closed. Instead of the thorn again came up the fir-tree, as her
thoughts, led by Miss Barry, roved about the hard but wholesome past,
and she acquainted herself with the good stock which had produced her
lost treasure.

"Don't grieve. Speed him on," had been Mrs. Porter's tender and strong
admonition. Linda tried to remember it every time that submerging wave
of realized loss went sweeping suffocatingly over her head.

Miss Barry, rousing from practical thoughts of her home and
housekeeping, or waking from a nap, usually saw her niece poring over
letters, and occasionally it was Bertram King's that she held in her
hands.

Once when this was the case Miss Belinda held out a metal box. "Try
some of this ginger," she said. "Coals to Newcastle! Did you ever?
Isn't Mr. King the impudent one?"

Linda leaned politely toward the confection, then drew back again.

"Don't waste it on me, Aunt Belinda. I don't seem to care for sweets."

"Well, I hope Mrs. Porter will. I can't eat all these things alone,"
replied Miss Barry, casting a glance toward the varied boxes.

At the same time she let that eagle glance come back to her niece.

"I hope you're going to remember," she said impressively, "that that
fine man to whom we owe so much is related to Mrs. Porter."

"What?" asked the girl absent-mindedly. "Oh," suddenly gathering her
aunt's meaning. "Yes, certainly."

Miss Barry sniffed. "Linda," she said, "I don't know but I'd ought to
go and dig up your grandmother's slipper!"

The girl smiled, and the older woman shook her head. "She is a handsome
thing," she thought.

Mrs. Porter thought so too when she met them in Portland. In spite of
the change wrought in her pupil's appearance during the last month she
reflected how beauty at twenty-one will be beauty still.

"There's no place like home!" exclaimed Miss Barry, as she accepted
Mrs. Porter's embrace. "I'm aching for one look at the ocean."

"Isn't she saucy to our grand lake?" asked Mrs. Porter, putting her
hand through Linda's arm, and leading the way to the motor waiting
outside.

"What does this mean?" asked Miss Barry. "The train's good enough for
us."

"No, it's such a beautiful afternoon. It will rest you both to motor
home," said Mrs. Porter. She supported Linda's arm, noting the
feebleness of the girl's movements.

The two black-clothed women entered the car, the porter put in their
suit-cases, Mrs. Porter jumped in, and they started. As yet Linda
had scarcely spoken. It was curious to her to see her teacher thus,
off duty, wearing an outing hat and corduroy. She, who had always
been surrounded with a wall of delicate formality which no pupil save
herself had ever had the audacity to break down, now smiling, tanned
and rosy, girlish in her soft white hat, seemed another identity. Linda
regarded her teacher gravely, while the latter responded cheerfully to
Miss Barry's questions. The sun shone, the breeze was crisp.

As they emerged into the suburbs and countryside, all the joyousness of
June smote upon the travelers' tired senses.

Linda turned her wistful eyes away when Mrs. Porter met them, a
reassuring strength in her regard.

"Jerry was so disappointed when I told him he needn't come to the
station for us," she said. "All your neighbors are excited over your
home-coming."

"H'm," sniffed Miss Barry in a one-sided smile. "Luella accommodatin'
any boarders?"

"Yes, a mother and daughter from New York."

"H'm. Their bones beginning to show yet?"

Mrs. Porter laughed. "If it is as you say, why shouldn't Miss Luella
advertise a reducing establishment? I'm sure it would pay."

The speaker's cheer covered a pang. Linda's slenderness and pallor
spoke eloquently, and made her forget the girl's probable injustice to
Bertram King.

Linda had made but one visit before to the Cape. That was ten years
ago, when her aunt's cottage was first built. It had been a flying trip
with her father and mother, and she had slight recollection of the
place. Her mother had cared more for mountains than sea, and Linda had
visited them on both sides of the ocean. It was now to a practically
new place that the motor was carrying her.

She straightened herself with interest when the settlement came in
sight, and her large gaze sought for the little house that had been her
father's gift of love to his sister.

Mrs. Porter saw her eagerness. "Just about three minutes away now," she
said.

"Is that it? The brown one?" asked the girl as they neared the rocky
point.

"Yes, the Gull's Nest," replied Mrs. Porter. "I don't know what Miss
Barry calls it, but how could it have any other name?"

"Lambert was always telling me to name it and he'd give me some writing
paper, stamped."

"And why didn't you?"

"I did." Miss Barry tossed her head a little toward the welcoming waves.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Porter eagerly.

"Oh, no matter," returned Miss Belinda.

"You haven't told? Do you mean you haven't _told_?" Mrs. Porter's eyes
twinkled at the proof of New England reticence.

"What's in a name, anyway?" returned Miss Belinda evasively.

Her niece regarded the flush on her aunt's thin cheek wistfully, and
wondered what bit of sentiment she was concealing.

The wonder heightened the interest with which she entered the cottage.
The little house was unexpectedly roomy within. Lambert Barry had given
his sister _carte blanche_ as to coziness, provided she would have
room enough for him and his when they could arrange to come; but the
nearness to the great diapason of the waves had repelled his wife, and
after he lost her the engrossed business man could make only flying
visits to the scenes of his childhood. There were the rooms, however,
and Linda was soon led to hers.

"It's the one I always called your father's room, Linda," said Miss
Barry, as she ushered her in.

Mrs. Porter, after brief explanation of her preparations, had remained
below stairs to leave them alone.

Linda looked from the windows on the limitless ocean, dotted with
distant sails; on the fleecy islands of cloud in a sky as blue, as
limitless.

She turned back to her companion. A look of satisfaction had overspread
her aunt's wan face.

"You've been very good to me, Aunt Belinda," she said deliberately.
"I've known it all the time, but I shall appreciate it more and more."

"Well, well, that's all right, child," returned the other hastily. "I
think there's everything here to make you comfortable. The bathroom's
here, between your room and mine; and if there's anything you want that
you don't see, just let me know."

She went out and left Linda standing there, her wide gaze fixed on the
open sea and ships. Islands were but distant scenes from the Cape.
Here the granite cliffs rose high and higher. She could get glimpses
along the shore of their hollows, which soon would shelter luxuriant
deep-pink wild roses, but now waved with snowy daisies, flirting with
the foam which ever sought to reach them.

An hour afterward she went downstairs, and found Mrs. Porter sitting
with a book in the glassed-in end of the veranda.

"See? I've been saving this hammock for you," said Mrs. Porter, looking
up.

Linda stood still and smiled, looking with fascinated eyes at the sea.

Mrs. Porter remained quiet, watching the girl's face grow grave.

"It's very wonderful after the city, isn't it?" she asked at last.

"Yes. The noise on the avenue was constant, then the banging and
confusion of trains. This is like being born into a new world. I was
wondering just now if Father felt that same great contrast and peace
when he waked up."

"I'm sure he did," replied Mrs. Porter. She said no more to urge her
friend to lie down, but dropped her book and took up some sewing that
lay on the table beside her.

Pretty soon Linda came over to the hammock and seated herself on
its edge, and at that moment Miss Barry appeared with an armful of
neglected bon-bon boxes.

"This is day before yesterday's candy," she announced, "but most of
them haven't been opened at all, and any that you don't want will
find a market in the neighborhood." The speaker raised her eyebrows
significantly.

Mrs. Porter smiled. "Poor little Blanche Aurora, for instance. She's
been a good little helper."

"You don't mean to say she hasn't broken dishes."

"Well, not so very many, really. She's been very much excited over your
home-coming."

When Jerry came with the trunks, his sea-blue eyes regarded Linda with
respectful interest, while he shook hands with her aunt.

"Ye look some faded, Belinda," he remarked.

"I'll pick up," was the reply. "This is my niece, Cap'n Holt."

Linda brought her absent-minded gaze back with a start, realizing that
the "expressman" was being introduced to her.

He put out his rough hand kindly, and she saw by his expression that he
was acknowledging her bereavement. She put her hand in his in silence.

"Cap'n Holt knew your father, Linda," said Mrs. Porter.

The girl's eyes met his. "Did you work for my father?" she asked.

"Dunno 'bout that," was the good-humored response. "I was the oldest,
and I guess mebbe he worked fer me some."

Cap'n Holt's lips twitched as if a humorous continuation of his
declaration was imminent, but Linda's grave looks and her black gown
restrained him. A faint color mounted to the girl's cheeks. She must
remember hereafter!

"He was well liked around here, your father was," finished Jerry Holt
warmly.

"Thank you," said Linda, and Jerry dropped her smooth young hand
awkwardly.

"Sometime you must tell me about when he was a little boy," she
continued, still gazing at him.

Jerry Holt winked hard as he drove his team away from those appealing
eyes. "She takes it hard," he said to himself, "she takes it hard."

Luella Benslow had seen him drive by with the trunks, and she was
working in her garden as he returned. Luella had not succeeded in
entirely breaking down the reserve of that pleasant-faced Mrs. Porter,
who had been keeping house for Belinda. The socially experienced
musician had known how to awe her. Luella was by no means certain that
Belinda Barry's loss had dulled her speech, so she restrained the
curiosity which urged her to create an immediate errand at the Barry
cottage.

Jerry must pass her house on his return, so she set herself to work at
piling some wood, her father not being amenable to the performing of
such an arduous task.

Her regimentals for such labor consisted of a deep shaker bonnet
provided with a flowing collar, in which her complexion was shielded.
She also wore a complication of capes, and a terraced arrangement of
aprons, one above the other, the whole giving the strong, sportive sea
wind an assorted lot of banners, which it tossed in all directions.

As Jerry's wagon approached, Luella was too deafened by the wind
and her shaker to hear the wheels on the soft earth. She was at the
roadside, gathering the smaller wood which had fallen by the way,
and the back view of her stooping figure presented an appearance
which Jerry's steed, mentally consulting a long experience, could not
remember to have seen paralleled. Deciding that it would be on the safe
side to approach no nearer, Molly planted her forefeet, and all Jerry's
adjurations failed to persuade her to move. Her eloquent ears went
forward and back.

At last there came borne to Luella a stentorian yell.

"Git up! Git up, I tell ye, Luella."

She slowly lifted her head, turned, and brushing her hair out of her
eyes beheld Molly with feet planted and ears laid back. Jerry was
standing up in his wagon, gesticulating with his whip.

"Git up, I tell ye! The hoss won't go _by_ ye!" he yelled.

Luella arose with alacrity, but slowly, her arms full of kindling.
This she dropped incontinently, and Molly shied as the fluttering
figure ran forward.

"I want to speak to you, Jerry. Don't go till you tell me about 'em!"
she said breathlessly. "Do excuse my looks," she added with a simper.

"I can overlook 'em if Molly can," replied Jerry.

Both Molly and Luella seemed to be indulging in a return to the
skittishness of youth.

Jerry had twice taken Luella home from singing school in days gone
by, and he had been ticketed as one of her beaux ever since! A
might-have-been with whom she consistently played the game.

She pushed her shaker back. "Have you seen the orphan?" she added,
again brushing stray locks of hair out of her curious eyes.

"Yes."

"What's she like? Awful proud, I s'pose."

"Mebbe. She favors Lambert. He went some on looks, you remember."

"How should I remember?" returned Luella with a coy smile, which showed
dentally the evenness of piano keys. "I was so _much_ younger than you
and Mr. Barry."

"I wish Luella's teeth wouldn't kind o' drop," reflected Jerry Holt.
"It makes me dizzy."

He snapped his whip gently, while Molly, reassured, rested in the first
position.

"I think I'd ought to call real soon," said Luella. "Don't you?"

"Well, 'f I was you I'd let 'em ketch their breath," remarked Jerry
impersonally.

"The Mrs. Lindsay and her daughter stayin' with me, they're related to
a young man in Chicago that's a dear friend o' the Barrys," went on
Luella eagerly. "I think 't would make the orphan feel more to home to
know she had a mewchal friend in the neighborhood. Don't you?"

"Couldn't say," drawled Jerry.

"_Sh!_" hissed Luella, lowering her voice portentously. "The ladies are
about sure their relation had all his money in Lambert Barry's bank.
_Sh!_ They think from all they've heard he was a scoundrel. You can't
talk about folks that's dead, though, can you?"

"Well, some folks find it's the safest time."

"Well, what do _you_ think, Jerry?" she asked, still low-voiced,
pressing close to the wagon.

"I think I got to be goin'. Careful there, Luella. Don't let Molly step
on ye."

"Well," she returned, retreating, "I've always believed I could write
a play as good as anybody else for those here emotion pictures, and
this'd be a splendid story, with Lambert Barry for the villain, and his
beautiful daughter believin' in him; don't you think so? I'd make her
beautiful, you know."

Jerry Holt's lips twitched as he gathered up the reins.

"Well, one thing sure, Nature's saved ye the trouble there, Luella. Git
ap, Molly."

Luella looked after the wagon, her mouth open in her interest. Her
friend's meaning slowly percolated. Then she hurried toward the house,
removing aprons as she went, to inform her boarders of the arrival.



CHAPTER XIV

BLANCHE AURORA


When Linda waked next morning, she had been dreamless for nine hours;
sunk so deep in slumber after weeks of restless, fitful naps that the
return to earth was a slow, scarcely credible process. A soothing,
rhythmic sweep of sound seemed saying, "Sleep _on_, Sleep _on_"; but a
song sparrow perched on the corner of the sloping roof above her window
was loudly declaring that it was ecstasy to waken. The rapturous burst,
often repeated, won her slow attention. The sun shone through the rosy
curtains and a breeze fanned her opening eyes. She turned her face into
her pillow. Her first thought as ever of her father, she seemed to
commune with him.

"I'm here in your room, dear. I dare think about you. The insults are
going to cease, dearest, _dearest_!"

Her rested brain recalled those sentences in one of Mrs. Porter's
letters, prophetic words of what the public verdict would be when
truth began to appear. Then had come King's reassurance. She knew each
phrase of both letters by heart.

Mrs. Porter had put Miss Barry's best photograph of her brother on
the dresser in this room. Turning, Linda again opened her eyes and
they rested upon it. For a moment she gazed, then rose with a sense of
refreshment. How quiet the house was! She took her bath and dressed,
still without hearing a human movement, and at last went downstairs
to the empty living-room. The old-fashioned clock above the fireplace
pointed to nine forty-five.

"I surely am a petted child!" thought Linda. She moved through the
dining-room and was going to the kitchen when the swing door suddenly
opened, nearly striking her, and a girl of thirteen years appeared.
By dint of peeking around the corner of the house, Blanche Aurora had
obtained a glimpse of the tall slender figure in black when aunt and
niece arrived yesterday; and of the two, Linda was the more surprised
at the sudden encounter now.

In any case, Blanche Aurora was not easily daunted. She had spent
years in twitching smaller brothers and sisters into the path of
duty. Perhaps the necessity of her being "careful about many things,"
notwithstanding her youth, had drawn Miss Belinda to her in sympathetic
remembrance of her own childhood; but if that was the case, it had
resulted in no tenderness given or received. Theirs was a relation of
armed neutrality in which neither ever got much the better of the other.

Blanche Aurora's eyes were round, expressionless, and light blue. Each
of the two pigtails of her red hair had a string braided in with it to
discourage relaxation, and this cord was twisted around their ends with
a determined hand, the whole so tightly reined that each braid turned
up at the end like a fishhook.

A dozen times this morning she had pushed open the swing door under the
impression that she heard the guest descend: the wonderful guest, who
never had to touch foot to the ground, but rolled around in carriages
and ate off gold plates. Blanche Aurora had vaguely expected something
so overwhelming in the appearance of the millionaire's daughter that
the apparition of Linda in a plain white gown, not glittering at any
point, was somewhat disappointing. The flat-chested little maid viewed
the tall girl's shining, waving hair and her large, grave eyes for a
moment; then she spoke:--

"Pretty near hit you, didn't I?" she said airily.

"My aunt--" murmured Linda.

"They've gone to see the chickens, and I'm to give you your breakfast.
There's your place."

Blanche Aurora's businesslike, no-time-to-spare finger pointed to the
white table which bore a dish of fruit and a single goldbanded plate
with its complement of silver and napkin.

Linda sat down meekly.

"I s'pose you'll want a finger-bowl," said Blanche Aurora.

"If--if it's convenient," replied Linda.

The other actually smiled. "Ho! We've got lots of 'em," she returned,
and stalked to the sideboard, where she poured water into a bowl and
placed it close by Linda's elbow.

While the guest opened an orange, the light-blue eyes watched her
white ringless hands. "She don't look a bit rich," thought Blanche
Aurora, "but I'll bet she's stuck-up."

She withdrew against the wall, from whence Linda felt her unwinking,
round stare.

"Are you my aunt's little maid?" asked the girl, after the silence
began to be embarrassing.

"No," came the prompt reply, "I'm her help." All Blanche Aurora's
remarks were made in a loud tone as if she were talking against the
sound of the sea. "I come after I git the children to school."

"Children?"

"My brothers and sisters."

Linda glanced up at the short, slight form clad in a faded gingham
dress that was outgrown.

"Don't you go to school yourself?"

"Ho! No! I got through last year; I'm thirteen."

A pause, during which the help reluctantly admired Linda's hands and
her deft manner of manipulating spoon and orange. As the guest laid
down the empty rind, her companion's voice rent the air.

"Oatmeal, wheatena, and all the cold cereals!" she vociferated.

Linda started. "I--I don't really care--"

"One's jest as easy as the other. They're all handy."

"I'll take the--oatmeal, please," replied Linda under the pressure of
that strenuous reassurance.

During the brief absence of the small maid, the girl leaned back in her
chair, and looked through the open windows fronting the sea.

Presently, Blanche Aurora's foot kicked open the swing door and she
advanced with the cereal and noted that the guest shivered.

"Be ye cold?" she questioned sharply; "I can shet the winders."

"Yes, I wish you would. This is like eating on a boat."

"I hate bo'ts," vouchsafed the help, and crossing to the windows
slammed them down, after which she resumed her position against the
wall while Linda served herself with oatmeal.

"There's coffee and rolls and eggs," shouted Blanche Aurora after half
a minute of dead silence during which the clock ticked.

Linda jumped again. The help was so very responsible and so clean and
wiry that she smiled as she lifted her eyes.

"I've got an hourglass and you're to tell me when you want 'em put on."

"What?"

"The eggs; they're good and fresh. Luella Benslow's hens laid 'em."

"Are those the hens Aunt Belinda has gone to see?"

"Yes; Mis' Porter wanted to see the hens that have hot-water bags."

Linda kept on smiling.

"Dear me!" she said. "What is your name, please?"

"Blanche Aurora Martin," came the prompt report; "but you don't have to
say the Martin. It's Blanche Aurora for short."

"I see; and I am Miss Barry."

"Yes, I know," was the prompt reply; "but I made up my mind to call you
Miss Belinda 'cause if there was two Miss Barrys, I couldn't stand it."

"Really? Very well; but what did you mean about hens with hot-water
bags?"

"Why, Luella puts 'em in every nest when it comes cold, and Mis'
Porter, she laughed and laughed when she heard about it; Luella's some
slack about lots o' things, but she's got real good ideas about helpin'
the hens along and Mis' Porter wanted Miss Barry should take her over
and see 'em." Blanche Aurora's sharp gaze noted the guest's languid
appetite as evinced by the slight diminution of the oatmeal. "The eggs
is real good," she continued, "and I've got an hourglass."

Linda lifted her somber eyes and showed the tips of her white teeth
again.

"I hope you don't boil them an hour, Blanche Aurora?"

It wasn't very often that Miss Barry's maid was offered a joke, but the
relaxing of her thin cheeks now showed that she could take one.

"No danger!" she returned smartly. But the suggestion of eggs, even
those laid luxuriously in the proximity of a hot-water bag, could not
tempt the pale guest this morning.

"Coffee and toast sound very good," she said. "No eggs this morning, I
think."

"Hev it your own way," returned the help; "we cal'late to give you
what you want," and at once she attacked the swing door. The little
creature's sudden energy of motion after absolute repose was like her
stentorian tones breaking dead silence.

When coffee and toast were set before the guest, Blanche Aurora again
supported the wall and watched her charge with an unremitting stare.

"You don't need to wait," said Linda.

"I druther," returned Blanche Aurora with a finality which admitted of
no argument.

The guest followed the line of least resistance.

"Is Mrs.---- is the hen lady one of your neighbors?"

"Luella Benslow? Yes, she and her father. Her father's a wonderful
man--Luella's father is."

"What does he do?"

"Well, he don't do nothin' much. He never did support his family nor
anythin' like that; but he has such wonderful 'complishments. There
ain't nobody can ketch a frog like Cy Benslow can."

Linda looked up and felt color coming into her cheeks in the novel
desire to laugh.

"How does he do it?"

"Like this." The round light eyes gained a spark of interest as Blanche
Aurora began describing large circles in the air with her right
hand, and advancing toward the table with a stealthy tread. As she
approached, the circles contracted gradually, until close to the guest
they had narrowed to a small ring out of which the hand made a jab
toward the victim's face, and Linda jerked her head back.

Blanche Aurora smiled in triumph and returned to her place.

"I--I really thought you had my nose!"

"That's jest it. Ye see the frog's got to look so many directions, he
don't know which way to jump, so he's jest kind o' par'lyzed and gits
ketched."

"Very ingenious," laughed Linda.

Yes, she laughed. Blanche Aurora, unconscious that she had performed a
feat eclipsing Cy Benslow's, warmed to her theme.

"And you jest ought to see him git worms for bait."

"Now, Blanche Aurora, it was bad enough to be a frog. I positively
decline to be a worm."

"You don't have to be. I'll jest tell ye about it. He goes up to a
post, Cy does." The speaker moved forward, and Linda put out a warning
hand.

"Nor a post either, Blanche Aurora. I firmly decline to be a post."

"And he takes a board and scrapes it back and forrard across the post;
it grits somethin' awful, and the shakin' gets to the worms somehow
and they begin comin' up out o' the ground to see what's goin' on,
and"--Blanche Aurora nodded significantly--"and that's the last they
_do_ see, I can tell ye. They go whack into Cy's pail and ketch his
dinner for him."

"What a wizard!"

"No, he don't get no lizards, and I'm glad we don't have 'em. There was
a lady once boardin' to Benslows' and she had one with a chain to its
leg and she let it run all over her. Bah!" the speaker shuddered. "I'd
hate to feel their scrabbly feet, wouldn't you?"

"I've finished, Blanche Aurora," said Linda hastily. She pushed her
chair back from the table. There was pressure in her throat and in her
eyes. She rose abruptly.

"Say! you forgot your finger-bowl," shouted her waitress after the
figure swiftly retreating toward the piazza.



CHAPTER XV

THE HARBOR


Blanche Aurora's prey could not so easily escape her. She had been left
in charge of Linda and she followed her now to the porch: that exciting
porch surmounting a castle wall of rock, with soft niches of green
where Nature's mother-hand found vulnerable spots to plant her lovely
ferns and flowers.

To Blanche Aurora the situation of the cottage was objectionably noisy
and windy, and she often wished her employer's house could be moved
back on the road where one could see the passing. She scowled now
against the dazzling sun and boisterous wind.

"Be you goin' to set out here?" she roared at Linda.

"How beautiful it is!" escaped involuntarily from the guest.

"Then I'll git you some warm things. You're sick and delicate!" yelled
Blanche Aurora as one whom the roar of old Ocean could not down.

Linda looked at the slim child in the faded gingham. The salt air went
through her piercingly.

"I'm not delicate at all!" she protested, but little cared her mentor
for her defense.

She straightway brought a steamer-rug, shawl and pillows from a near-by
closet.

"There!" she said, depositing them in the hammock on the glassed-in end
of the porch. She gave her queer little grimace of a smile and again
her thin cheeks wrinkled. "Miss Barry said you looked like a hothouse
plant, so I guess you'd better stay under glass for a spell."

"Aren't you cold yourself in that cal--that thin dress?" asked Linda.

"I dunno. I don't believe so."

Linda's eyes grew softer. It was so evident that the little caretaker
had small leisure to think of her sensations.

"Lay down and I'll cover you," commanded Blanche Aurora.

"Lie down? No, indeed. I'm just up."

The help paused with the rug in her thin arms. She was undecided as to
whether to humor this rebellion.

"Blanche Aurora, do you like candy?"

The slender face lost its worried expression and grew younger.

"There ain't much sense to that question," she returned.

"Then come into the house with me," said Linda.

The wraps were dropped in the hammock and willing feet followed the
guest.

From a cabinet in the corner of the room Linda chose the reddest of red
boxes, generous in size, and placed it in a pair of eager hands.

Blanche Aurora viewed the prize, amazed. "I ain't ever in my life had
all the candy I wanted," she said in such awed tones that Linda smiled
and reached for a violet box which she piled upon the other.

"Oh!" gasped the recipient. She looked up at the pale guest with a
new realization of what it meant to be a millionaire's daughter. Gold
plates and carriages sounded fine, but it was only like hearing about
Cinderella and other impossible maidens. Here were tangible chocolates
given away recklessly and with nonchalance. What a consciousness that
bespoke!

As they stood there, Linda, watching her erstwhile mentor endure an
ecstatic paralysis, Miss Barry and Mrs. Porter entered.

"What are you doing, Linda Barry!" exclaimed her aunt. "I'll keep those
boxes myself and give the child a few at a time. She'll make herself
sick." She hurried forward, but Linda pressed her back.

"Let her make herself sick," she pleaded. "I'll take care of her."

Miss Barry looked from one to the other undecidedly. She recognized
this surprisingly good symptom in her niece, but such a wholesale
relaxation of discipline toward the most willful, stubborn child on the
Cape was unheard of.

While she hesitated, Linda stepped to one side and made room for the
"help" to pass, which Blanche Aurora made haste to do, the wonderful
boxes clutched in her arms, and the fishhook braids vibrating with the
double excitement of her gift and getting the better of her employer.

Mrs. Porter watched Linda thoughtfully. When she and Miss Barry a few
minutes ago had left Luella Benslow and her pampered hens, and their
hilarious mood had quieted, the younger woman had at once brought up
the subject of Bertram King, whose situation dwelt much in her mind. As
they walked across the soft grass she took Miss Barry's arm.

"Tell me about my cousin, Mr. King. How does he look?"

"Like the last run o' shad," returned Miss Barry promptly.

"I never met a belated shad."

"Well, you've eaten 'em, haven't you? I'd just as soon eat a fried
paper of pins."

"You mean that Bertram is thin?"

"Just so. He looks as if he'd been through the war, and so he has."

"I feel as if I ought to go back to him."

"Law! Don't leave me yet!" exclaimed Miss Barry in a panic. "You're the
only person Linda can stand the sight of. Oh! if I'm not glad to get
home!" The speaker inflated her lungs and stepped lightly.

"You say she blames Bertram for her father's misfortunes."

"Yes; and I guess she ain't the only one, from what Harriet says. Lots
o' folks think my brother pinned his faith to Mr. King's judgment in
taking on a new proposition."

"Yes," returned Mrs. Porter thoughtfully. "I've heard it said."

Miss Barry glanced around at her companion quickly. "Well, I hope you
didn't take any stock in it," she returned sharply. "Lambert Barry had
a backbone of his own. I'm surprised at his own daughter's not knowing
him well enough to scout such a notion."

"Bertram is very clever. He had been with him a long time."

"Clever! I guess he is clever. I could just about worship that man for
all he's done," was the warm rejoinder; "and if that cock-and-bull
story was true about Bertram King dragging the bank into that Antlers
thing that broke the camel's back, he's made up for it with pretty near
his life's blood, working night and day to undo the damage."

Mrs. Porter's eyes glowed with interest and surprise at such heat from
the reserved New England woman.

"You do feel that way! I'm so glad. Then, why doesn't Linda?"

"Because if Mr. King laid down and died it couldn't bring back her
father," returned Miss Barry slowly.

Mrs. Porter looked away and shook her head. "How dreadful it seems,"
she said in a low tone. "Then you have no blame for Bertram?"

"Not a particle."

"What is the situation now? What has he been able to do?"

"Wonders," returned Miss Barry sententiously. "He sent me a letter to
the train. I ought to have given it to you as soon as I touched home. I
ought to have realized that you were so close to Mr. King that it would
mean a lot to you as well as to us. You'll never see the Linda that was
before that letter came. It gave her new life."

"Then didn't it make her feel kindly toward Bertram?" asked Mrs. Porter.

"No. She just accepted it as penance and the best restitution the
poor fellow could make for a tragic and unpardonable--mind you,
_unpardonable_ mistake."

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," murmured Mrs. Porter.

"I know it," returned Miss Barry; "and you'll see when you read that
letter that he has some forgiveness to do himself. He never mentioned
Linda in it, and good enough for her. She had flouted him and refused
to see him for days before he rightly sensed how deep her feeling was
against him. It was at a business meeting we had that she came out flat
with her suspicion and meanness. Oh, it was perfectly awful. I just
have to remember and _remember_ how much provocation she would have had
if all she believed was true. That poor boy nearly fainted away in his
tracks, the way she spoke to him."

Mrs. Porter bit her lip. She could picture the scene and her eyes
filled.

"He loved her so!" she said softly.

"Yes, and there's that Fred Whitcomb, too: as nice a boy as ever lived.
He just adores Linda; and it seems there's lots of others. I didn't
believe before that I could ever get sick of arranging flowers; but
really they were a pest. Linda wouldn't look at one, and I got so I
passed them over to the waitress. She fixed them perfectly awful,
too. They looked like crazy quilts when she got through--such colors
together! Linda was a buxom, healthy girl, and good-looking enough, but
for the life of me I can't see why she's such a snare."

"Poor child. She shows how she has suffered, but why didn't it soften
her? How could she inflict suffering at such a time? I can hardly wait
to see that letter," added Mrs. Porter, unconsciously hurrying her
steps.

"I haven't got it. I gave it to Linda for her comfort, and hoping, too,
that she'd get some punishment out of Mr. King's ignoring her. Never
mentioned her name, you know."

"And didn't she feel it at all?"

"Not a mite."

"Then I suppose, after all, she never did care anything for Bertram,"
mused Mrs. Porter. "It was as well, perhaps, for him that she shocked
him out of his dream. As well for him--not for her, poor child, it
wasn't well for her to be cruel."

"I don't want to be too hard on her," said Miss Barry. "Maybe she
wasn't really responsible. Land! What we went through! Well," she
added, briskness coming into her voice, "that chapter's closed."

"Let me," said Mrs. Porter, "let me be the one to ask Linda for the
letter. You have been so tried, Miss Barry. I don't want to ask you
to reopen the sorrowful chapter; but I long to see what Bertram has
to say. I have always thought him an extraordinary young fellow and
respected him as much as I loved him."

"Just so. Just so," responded Miss Barry warmly. "All right. You ask
for the letter. I pass my niece over to you now."

They had reached the porch of the shingled cottage and in another
minute they walked in upon Linda's presentation scene.

Miss Barry was quite prompt in following her maid into the kitchen,
but the minute's delay in hanging up her hat and coat was sufficient
for all sign of the candy boxes to have disappeared. When she opened
the door Blanche Aurora was at the sink letting floods of hot water
into the dishpan and singing with vigor, "A charge to keep I have,"
meanwhile rattling pans and china, the whole giving an amazing effect
of clatter.

Miss Barry involuntarily clapped her hands to her ears.

"You needn't sing," she remarked loudly.

"All right," returned the help, ceasing, "but you told me 'twas good
for my lungs."

"That's all very well when you're alone, Blanche Aurora; but I'm going
to be busy out here seeing what shape you've got the closets into
while I've been gone and how many dishes I've got left. To-morrow I'm
going to begin putting up strawberries."

Miss Barry was in the habit of preparing in the summer time of peace
for the war of winter, when boarding-houses could not supply her with
home-prepared fruit.

Meanwhile, in the living-room the light of amusement had died from
Linda's pale face and she sank into a chintz-cushioned wicker rocker.
Mrs. Porter took a neighboring chair.

"You had a good sleep, I hope, Linda."

"Wonderful. I went completely out of the world for the first time in--I
don't know how many weeks." The girl met the kind regard fixed upon
her. "I can't get used," she added, "to seeing you far away from your
busy life. It seems as if I must hurry to say what I wish because in
half an hour I shall be turned out by another pupil."

"Vacation is astonishingly pleasant when you've earned it," replied her
friend. "I fancy that a lot of people who thought it would be great
fun to retire from business soon made the discovery that when one
stops working he stops playing too, because vacation has lost its zest.
Familiarity breeds contempt in lots of ways."

Linda's large eyes rested upon the speaker, who had retained an orange
silk sweater over her white waist and white corduroy skirt. The
hero-worship that for two years she had laid at the feet of this woman
was among the enthusiasms of that vital past, now gone forever. Once
it would have meant wild elation to claim unlimited companionship with
the adored one in this isolated, romantic spot. To-day, as she gazed at
the wholesome, calm face of her teacher, it was that other teaching she
had received from her, those words of balm that had proved the first
comfort in her affliction, which gave her friend value.

"I owe you so much, Mrs. Porter," she said suddenly, after a mutual
silence, full to each of them.

"I'm glad," returned the other as simply. "My heart cried out to help
you, Linda."

The speaker knew that if the hurt, groping soul can find something for
which to feel gratitude, healing has begun.

She came no nearer to the girl nor took her hand. It was a new Linda,
cold, white, and undemonstrative except for her cruelty to Bertram
King. Mrs. Porter steadied her own thought as it fled to him, and tried
to think only of the needy one before her.

"You believed in my father--believed in him from the first. Bertram
says now that he will be vindicated to all before very long; but I
shall never forget those who believed in him from the first."

Mrs. Porter listened quietly to the low, vibrating voice. She saw the
girl swallow and exercise self-control.

"Miss Barry tells me that my cousin wrote a letter to her, telling of
hopeful conditions. She says that you have it. May I see it?"

"Yes. You deserve to see it. It is in my envelope of treasures: your
letters." Linda's heart spoke through her eyes, then she arose.

"Let us go out of doors and read it," said Mrs. Porter. "We waste time
in the house on such a day. Bring a warm wrap when you come down."

Linda went upstairs slowly. Her friend's eyes followed her inelastic,
slow movements. Could this be Linda Barry!

She returned wearing a white sweater and Mrs. Porter pinned a white
corduroy hat on the dark head and flung a polo coat over her own arm.
She also took a cushion from the hammock as they passed.

"We won't sit on the piazza this morning," she said. "I have a surprise
for you."

Leading the way around the corner of the house, the two walked away
from the blue breakers, across a wide, grassy field.

"Your father did a fine thing in buying so much ground for his sister,"
said Mrs. Porter. "She says when he built the house he was afraid she
would be lonely and he planned to build other attractive cottages
through here, but she told him she didn't want any one near enough to
shoot. She says he laughed and gave her the deed to all this land and
told her to go ahead and suit herself. Do you see that mowing machine
at work? That is Cap'n Jerry, who brought your trunk. See him mounted
on his little throne and driving Molly--that wonderful horse that he
says 'ain't afraid o' no nameable thing.' He is opposed on principle to
doing anything 'sudden,' so he has taken his time to get at the mowing;
but how sweet it will smell here to-morrow! Passengers will have to
get over from the train the best way they can to-day. Cap'n Jerry says,
very reasonably, that he can't be 'in two places to once,' and he's
just a little bit afraid of your Aunt Belinda. He won't put off her
work too long."

Linda's grave lips were parted as she looked across the field toward
the machine where Captain Jerry was cheering Molly on and calming
her disgust when the clipping knife encountered a stone, balking her
efforts.

"He is the one who went to school with my father?"

"They all did. You'll meet others." They crossed the field, then Mrs.
Porter turned inland. "Now, down this path, Linda. See, it is a path.
I made it myself. Partly by constant use, partly with a sickle. I wish
Miss Barry would sell me this spot. I don't believe she could shoot as
far as this, do you? And--what do you think of it?"

Mrs. Porter paused and regarded her companion in triumph. She had led
her around a clump of white birches, the advance guard of a forest
of pine and balsam which held back the prevailing south wind. The
zephyrs, forcing their way through, here and there, brought delicious
odors of the firs. The ocean was sufficiently distant for its roar to
be muffled, and an enchanting spring bubbled up in a natural rock pool,
falling like liquid crystal over the granite barrier, and meandering
away toward the steep bluff where it fell in a narrow rivulet down to
the sea. The brooklet had worn a rut for itself and was bordered by
greener grass and larger flowers than dotted the surrounding field. It
made a gurgling sound, dear to its discoverer, and one of the gray,
slanting rocks of a New England pasture rose in the bower of the
birches, rising to a sufficient height to serve as a comfortable back
for two people sitting side by side on the green couch, secure from the
wind.

"See what a proof of my affection," said Mrs. Porter, "that I bring you
here. I sneak away--I steal away! Not even Blanche Aurora knows where I
am when I come here."

"I should incline to doubt that," returned Linda.

Mrs. Porter laughed. "Those round eyes do see about all that's going
on, I admit; but I like to believe in my own cleverness sufficiently to
feel that I have guarded this."

The speaker proceeded to spread the polo coat in front of the rock.
"Sit down," she said, and when Linda obeyed she fitted the pillow in
behind her back.

"No, indeed," protested Linda. "Blanche Aurora cried aloud that I was
sick and delicate, but it's nothing of the kind. You must take the
pillow yourself."

"Oh, to please me," urged Mrs. Porter. "I never bring a pillow. This
sun-warmed rock just fits my back. We haven't tried it on yours yet,
and I wanted your first experience to be positively sybaritic."

"My first," returned Linda; "then you do intend to let me come again?"

"Indeed, I do," was the cheery reply. "I don't know a better object
lesson in the fact that nothing is too good to be true."



CHAPTER XVI

THE VOICE OF TRUTH


"And I," returned Linda, clasping her hands behind her head as she
leaned back beside her friend, "I have felt that nothing was too bad to
be true."

Mrs. Porter did not speak; and after a short silence, the girl
continued:--

"In the happy days, I tore off a leaf from your Bible calendar, and
one morning, when everything was black and despairing, I found it in
my bag. It read, 'Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.' I suppose I was
like the drowning man, and this promise, impersonal and silent, was a
straw to be clung to blindly. At any rate, I couldn't throw it away;
and it persisted in ringing through my confused head. Soon your letter
came. Oh, Mrs. Porter--" Linda choked and ceased.

Her companion laid a comforting hand upon her for a moment and withdrew
it.

"You will never know what you did for me," went on the girl presently:
"do you know what it means to a despairing one to be given a gleam of
hope? You can't, unless you know it by experience."

"I know it by experience," returned Mrs. Porter quietly.

Her companion glanced around at the calm face for a fleeting instant.
Could it be possible that such poise would ever be won for herself?

"It was a willingness to listen to you, and the hope that I could
believe you, that brought me, shrinking and shuddering as I was, out
of my home and into the train and here. Then, on the train, came this
letter that Aunt Belinda told you about. It brought me more of peace
and hope than I had dreamed of. I have dared to think since then. Here
it is."

The speaker passed to her companion the envelope she had been holding
tightly.

Mrs. Porter accepted it in silence and took out the letter. As she
read, a deeper color mounted to her cheeks, but Linda did not observe
this. She had dropped her hands in her lap and her eyes were fixed on
the clear-cut horizon line.

"Dear Bertram!" exclaimed Mrs. Porter as she finished. Then she read
the letter again. Finally, she folded the sheet, put it in its envelope
and handed it back to Linda. Her face wore the radiance for which her
pupils were wont to watch as the highest reward for achievement.

"Splendid," she said. "Tell me why news so vital should have been
addressed to Miss Barry instead of to you."

Linda's grave gaze met hers.

"I don't like to tell you, Mrs. Porter," she answered.

"You needn't fear, dear child."

"Oh, I can't go into it again, I can't!" exclaimed Linda, suddenly
averting her head.

"As you please, dear. I don't want to force you; but I know so well
that what you quoted a few minutes ago is as true as that two and two
make four. Instead of the thorn _will_ come up the fir tree, as soon as
you cease to give the thorn nourishment."

"I give it nourishment?" Linda's brow contracted. "Do you mean that I
nurse grief? You're mistaken."

"No, I didn't mean that. I love Bertram, and something very wrong must
have occurred to cause him not to mention you in that letter. I want
you to be happy. I want for you just what your father is getting now:
greater knowledge of God and His love and wisdom and guidance. You see
that guidance is the most everyday thing in the world: the closest;
not anything far away or mysterious. If it is your fault that Bertram
ignores you in this--"

"Oh, no, no!" interrupted Linda. "It is not my fault. It is poor
Bertram who brought us all to this. I appreciate more every time I
read that letter--and I know it by heart--how valiantly he has worked
to undo the mischief. At first I didn't pity him in the least, because
the crime of getting my father into all that trouble overwhelmed my
thoughts at every turn; but, of course, I can see now that it has been
a hard experience for Bertram as well."

Linda ceased, catching her lower lip between her teeth.

"I know something of what you refer to," rejoined Mrs. Porter. "I know
Bertram's reputation for influence in Barry & Co."

"And you have been so good to me," said Linda hurriedly, "and Bertram
is your cousin, and, as you say, you love him, I--I can't bear to
discuss him with you."

"But I can bear it, Linda, if you will allow me to ask you one
question. Do you believe that Bertram intended any harm to your father?"

"No," came the quick answer; "but he is so conceited and so
opinionated--"

"If you believe him innocent of wrong intention, should you become his
enemy--"

Linda's pale cheeks flushed and she straightened up.

"When a person strikes you a murderous blow, Mrs. Porter, can you,
before recovering breath, care much whether it was accidental or
intentional?"

"No! but after recovering breath, you can. What do you believe your
father would say to your treatment of Bertram?"

Linda glanced around at her companion quickly. "Aunt Belinda has been
talking to you," she said.

"She wrote me something of it before she came home. This letter that I
have just read tells me most, however. You were very dear to Bertram,
Linda. This double and treble sorrow of his appalls me." Linda saw
her companion's eyes fill. "You are right," added Mrs. Porter, not
very steadily, "we would better not talk about it at present. Better
thoughts will come now that, as you say, the clouds have cleared
sufficiently for you to think."

They both leaned back against the rock for a silent minute and Linda
saw her friend press her handkerchief to those brimming eyes. Tears and
Mrs. Porter! Impossible connection of thought.

"I would like you to tell me one thing, Mrs. Porter," she said. "Are
you pitying Bertram, or me?"

The older woman turned to her with a sudden flashing smile.

"I am not going to pity the devil in any form," she returned, "because
there ain't no sech animal. All this discord is no part of the reality
of things."

Linda frowned in her earnestness and grasped her friend's arm.

"I know all that you have written me by heart too. I'm trying to
believe in God; but even if I do, that stupendous fact arises--He took
my father away from me."

"No, little Linda"--Mrs. Porter shook her head slowly. "This world is
very full of awful happenings at the present day. Mankind is confronted
with the choice between a God of Love or none at all. Love doesn't send
war and unspeakable suffering, yet such is existing now in this mortal
life of ours. Aren't we reduced to finding some philosophy which will
give us an anchor? The arbitrary will of a God of war is no anchor of
hope. It would be a cause for apprehension--even terror--to believe
in such a power. To come to your own individual loss, your father has
gone from your sight like thousands of other girls' fathers, dead on
battle-fields; but God, who created man in His image and likeness,
knows nothing but the unbroken current of life."

"Then, why--where do all these awful things come from? What is the
source?"

Mrs. Porter smiled. "Where does darkness come from? Did you ever think
of trying to trace darkness to its source? Every minute of the day we
are called upon to divide between reality and unreality."

Silence fell between the two friends in the wide sweep of peace that
surrounded them. The heaped foam of cloudlets sailed across the blue
and a crow cawed in the neighboring wood.

"We had such an amusing visit this morning, Miss Barry and I," said
Mrs. Porter at last. "One of the neighbors is a character."

"I heard that you went to see her hens."

"Yes. Oh, it is funny to see your aunt brought up against the kind of
person who lives in a lax, slipshod sort of way."

"Yes," assented the other; "Aunt Belinda has no half-tones. Everything
with her is either jet-black or snow-white; and if there is anything
she can't bear it is a thing she doesn't like."

Mrs. Porter smiled and sighed. "That is true; and poor Luella Benslow
is such a mixture of airy affectation and slack housekeeping that
Miss Barry is obviously on the eve of explosion all the time they are
together. Her hens are her fad, and she has hot-water bags for them,
Linda. Can you believe it! She puts them in the nests during a cold
snap." Mrs. Porter's laugh rang out as merrily as though sorrow had
never entered the world.

Linda smiled. "Blanche Aurora told me so. It seems that the ingenious
lady belongs to a very talented family."

"Really? In what way?"

"You must get Blanche Aurora to tell you that. I couldn't do the
subject justice."

"Well, I'm afraid it isn't a talent for cooking. Luella has a couple of
boarders; a Mrs. Lindsay and her daughter from New York. Fortunately,
they have a sense of humor. It's quite necessary that Luella's
boarders should have a sense of humor. Mrs. Lindsay walked with us
to the gate when we came away and told us some of their trials; but
she is one of those efficient women who are capable of managing, and
she and her daughter have funny times. It seems that Miss Lindsay has
just been enjoying her first winter in society and has overdone it
so greatly that the doctor ordered a dry-land sea voyage, like this,
in an uninhabited spot like this, and told her to live the life of a
vegetable. Mrs. Lindsay is one of these thin, snappy women, strung on
wires, and I judge nervous to a degree. She has a busy time trying to
dominate the circumstances. She says if they only were vegetables and
didn't have to eat, or to care whether their rooms were swept, it
would all be quite simple. The daughter is rather skin-and-bone-y too;
but she's the sort who would look smart even in bed. You can see that
she is a New Yorker of the New Yorkers."

"Oh, why did you visit them, dear Mrs. Porter! You want to get away
from people too, don't you?"

"No danger, I fancy, of their troubling us. Vegetables don't return
calls. Mrs. Lindsay was very much interested, though, in knowing that
you were here. She and her husband dined with your father last June,
and they are related distantly to that friend of yours--Mr. Whitcomb."

"Fred?"

"Yes; Mrs. Lindsay said he had told them a great deal about you. Isn't
the world small!"

"Too small," sighed Linda. "I hope they'll not try to see me."

"Miss Lindsay was quite lackadaisical and seemed to have no interest
beyond her hammock; and I can easily defend you from the mother," said
Mrs. Porter reassuringly.

That evening Linda received a letter from her sister.

 _Dear, dear Linda_ (it began)--

 I can hardly wait for the word that will tell us that you are
 safely at your journey's end. You had such a hot trip; I hope you
 bore it well. I'm sure the good news Bertram sent by letter helped
 wonderfully. If Bertram has any sin of commission on his conscience,
 he has done all he could to make up for it. He looks so badly.
 I wonder, at times, if he worries at night over misleading Papa
 instead of sleeping; but Henry says he has had a lot to do nights,
 beside worrying or sleeping either. Henry thinks Bertram is one in
 a thousand, even if he has made mistakes. He came to us the evening
 of the day you went away--it's such a blessed thing Henry wasn't an
 investor in the Antlers, because it does away with embarrassment--and
 he told us what he has accomplished for Barry & Co. He didn't express
 any regrets,--sometimes I think it's strange that he never does,--but
 he just told us, in a rather light way, the arrangements he has made
 and I assure you Henry shook hands with him hard. I could see that
 if he had been a girl he would have hugged him. So I hope that as
 you grow stronger you can see things more temperately and come to
 the place where you can write a letter of acknowledgment to Bertram.
 He deserves it, Linda; he really does. I referred to you once in our
 talk, but he made no response and I could feel my very ears burning.
 He knew, and I knew, that we were both thinking of that moment in the
 library when you rose and left us. You mustn't think I blame you too
 much, dear, but remember, to err is human--to forgive, divine, and
 Bertram was young for such heavy responsibilities. If he made mistakes
 which in any way hastened dear Papa's end, can't you see he will carry
 the scars forever? We don't need to add to his punishment.

 Harry is standing by me, and  )  )  )  there, he made those
 wiggles. He says they are his love. He has grown a lot since you saw
 him, etc., etc., etc.

       *       *       *       *       *

Linda could not keep her mind on Harry. She was standing in the
living-room reading her letter by the twilight, and she looked up now
far across the ocean. The darkness fell while she stood there and a
great planet began to ascend the sky. Its brilliancy sent a narrow
path across the sea. The isolation and peace were healing. A great
thankfulness filled the girl that she was far from those scenes called
up by her sister's letter. She wished fervently that she need never
return to them. Here was peace: consolation: relief.



CHAPTER XVII

THE RAINBOW


Bertram King, in all the years she had known him, had not dwelt in
Linda's mind so often as in these days. She felt aggrieved to have the
thought of him thrust upon her as it had been by her aunt and Mrs.
Porter and now by Harriet.

It had been a settled fact in her thought that she and Bertram could
never again be friends. The mental picture of his haggard face as he
made love to her on a June evening, again as he bade her good-bye
before the University Club, and later, the dazed look in his eyes
under her accusation in the library--all these pictures of him were a
gallery apart from the remembrance of the successful man whose unspoken
criticism had so often piqued her.

She thought also of that Sunday afternoon at Harriet's when he had laid
his teasing admiration at her feet. She had admired him too, reluctant
as was her approval. She exulted in achievement, and Bertram King
stood high among young Chicago men who had achieved. Considerable
jealousy had entered into her feeling for him. The words, "Bertram
thinks," or "Bertram wishes," were often on her father's lips, and
occasionally she had felt that she herself was gently set aside in
deference to some plan of Bertram's. An unwilling secret acknowledgment
of his superiority had fled in the cataclysm of her wild resentment and
despair; and now that she was made to feel that she stood alone in her
condemnation, and was silently condemned for it by those who loved her,
Bertram's image persistently arose as something to be reckoned with.

Fairness had been the characteristic upon which, in school, Linda had
greatly prided herself: fairness which excluded preferences. She had
so impressed her impersonality upon her classmates that she had won a
high reputation as social umpire and was often called upon to decide
vexed questions. Now, therefore, she looked Bertram King's insistent
image straight in the tired eyes, with her grave, severe estimate, and
sustained no pricks of conscience. Time, the wondrous healer, brought
her, however, as weeks went on, to raise him from the status of a mere
criminal to the rank of a fellow sufferer. All the same, they could
never again be friends. The thought of her wronged father, her beloved,
must rise between them to the end of their lives. It went without
saying that the young man must suffer, even though his pride would not
permit him to confess his error. He was not a callous person. Doubtless
his punishment had been heavy. Thus her thoughts would run on in the
hours that she spent alone.

She was granted the boon of utter freedom. Mrs. Lindsay and her
daughter Madge had essayed to be neighborly, but Mrs. Porter acted as
an effective buffer between Linda and all social assaults, and as the
weeks went by, slowly they brought the girl back from morbid dwelling
on a dead past to recognition of the living present. She remained
subdued and quiet, but elasticity was returning to her mind and body.

Miss Barry, busy about her home duties, left her niece, with lessening
anxiety, to her own devices, and Mrs. Porter was careful to allow Linda
to make every advance; but the steady shining of the older woman's
happy personality was a magnet toward which the girl was constantly
attracted and they were often together.

Blanche Aurora was also a little unconscious missionary. There was
something about her youth, her intrepid spirit, stern practicality, and
scanty wardrobe which continually touched Linda's sense of humor and
compassion.

One day she sent for the child to come up to her room. Blanche Aurora
was always glad when duty sent her to sweep and dust this apartment.
The hint of violets in the air, the dainty toilet articles on the
dresser, the filmy lingerie, which she put in place caressingly with
her tanned hands, all bespoke the world of which she had read. She had
adored Linda from the moment when unlimited chocolates had been pressed
upon her acceptance, but never before had the guest sent for her to
come to her room.

As she ascended the stairs, Miss Barry's "help" swiftly reviewed her
own sins of commission, but decided that neglect of any duty toward
Linda had not been among them. Indeed, her mistress often reprimanded
her for lingering over her duties above stairs where perhaps the
small chambermaid was hanging hypnotized over a wrist-watch with tiny
sparkles that caught the light, or endeavoring to decipher the monogram
on a handbag, or examining some other object in the fascinating room
from which her round orbs could scarcely detach themselves.

To-day as she entered, Linda in her black gown was sitting by her
charming window, reading.

She looked up as Blanche Aurora, conscience-free, and expressionless as
ever of countenance, stepped inside and stood waiting.

The faded gingham was getting more outgrown and hueless every day.
Linda wondered that her aunt never seemed to observe or care about the
child's clean forlornness.

"What do you want?" asked the "help" bluntly.

Harriet Radcliffe, at this moment rowing her small son around a
Wisconsin lake, would have enjoyed seeing her sister's eyes suddenly
sparkle and match the little laugh that fell from her lips.

"You should say," she remarked to the small maid, all wrists and with
her thin legs looking long above the sneakers she wore,--"you should
say, 'Did you call me, Miss Linda?'"

"Well, you did, didn't you?" returned Blanche Aurora.

Linda regarded her for a silent moment, appreciatively.

"Are you in a hurry?" she asked then.

"If I wasn't I'd get fired," returned the "help" promptly.

Linda laughed again. "I do really believe you exaggerate," she
returned. "I'm sure Aunt Belinda thinks a great deal of you."

"She knows I'm the only kind of a girl she can keep," said Blanche
Aurora coolly, "Grown-up ones won't stand it."

"What do you mean by 'it,' you naughty child?" asked Linda, her eyes
laughing toward the fishhook braids and the freckles. "Aunt Belinda is
a very kind woman."

"Oh, yes, if you was sick she'd call the doctor, but even if you was
sick you'd have to hang each rag on its own separate hook and let her
smell o' the fish-pans after you'd scrubbed 'em."

"It's nice to be particular," returned Linda, laughing again.

"Huh!" vouchsafed Blanche Aurora; but her eyes, roving around the magic
room, had seen something unusual.

"Good," she thought. "She's goin' out o' mournin'. I'll bet she looks
pretty in them." Her round gaze cleaving to the bed saw three gowns
lying there; one of blue, one of pink, and a tailored skirt and coat of
a small black-and-white check.

"Do you like those dresses?" asked Linda, following her regard.

"Yes, they're real sightly."

"Come here, Blanche Aurora."

The child advanced slowly until she stood beside the black-clothed
figure. Linda indicated her father's photograph in its silver frame
on a neighboring stand. Before it stood a single wild rose in a small
glass: a wild rose of the sea: deep in color and twice the size of its
inland sisters.

Linda took one of the child's hard tanned hands in her satin-smooth
one, and Blanche Aurora started and held her own imprisoned hand stiff
and straight.

"Every morning when I come upstairs I find a fresh rose like that
in front of my father's picture. At first I couldn't speak of it."
Silence. "There are some things too precious to speak of. At last
one day I thanked Mrs. Porter for the lovely thought. She said it
was a lovely thought, but not hers. Then I wondered if Aunt Belinda
could possibly--but one day I met you as you were coming downstairs."
Silence. "Blanche Aurora"--Linda's voice stopped again.

Had Blanche Aurora been accused of highway robbery she could not look
more guilty. Not one freckle was discernible in the sea of red; but her
unwinking stare was fixed on the window.

Linda placed her other hand over the one she held.

"I thank you," she added.

"You gave me the candy," blurted out Blanche Aurora. "I couldn't think
of anything else to do. My Pa's dead, too. He drinked, though," she
added in a tone which seemed to suggest no flowers.

Linda squeezed the hard little hand and released it, to its owner's
relief.

"Your mother has so many children, and so little time to sew. Have you
a suit at home, Blanche Aurora?"

"What do you mean--a suit?"

"A coat and skirt alike."

"Not alike. I've got a brown skirt that was Ma's and a jacket I wear to
church when it's cold. 'Tain't cold now, though. I wear a white waist
on Sunday."

No suspicion of Linda's intentions enlightened her.

The girl arose and walked over to the bed and the blue eyes followed
her.

"I sent to Chicago for these dresses of mine."

"I seen the big box come yesterday," returned the other, gravitating
toward the bed, and gloating over the color of the fine fabrics.

"Yes, I thought perhaps I could fix some of my things for you."

"What things?" returned Blanche Aurora mechanically.

"These," indicating the bed.

Blanche Aurora gasped.

"For me!" she cried, the loudness of her usual tones restored, with a
crack of excitement added. "They ain't serviceable nor durable."

Linda bit her lip. "This one is," she said, picking up the
black-and-white checked skirt.

Blanche Aurora handled it reverently. "Why, Miss Linda," she said in
the same high key, "how can you give away--"

"You'd better ask how can I fix them for you. I'm such an ignoramus,
and yet I'm just conceited enough to try. Aunt Belinda has a machine."

"Oh, yes,"--eagerly,--"she's got a real good one. I can run it, too, if
you want me to, and she can spare me."

"All right, child." Linda patted the bony shoulder. "Run along now."
Her eyes had a humorous light as she observed the string woven tightly
in the tortured red braids. "I'll have to do some ripping to these
dresses first, and then I'm sure Mrs. Porter will help me, though
probably she doesn't know much more than I do."

The child's reluctant feet drew slowly away from the bed, but not
before she had laid her hand lovingly on the pink and blue gowns.

"Miss Linda," she said, looking beatifically at her benefactress, "I
used to think that more than anything in this whole world I'd rather
have that teeny clock o' yourn that you punch and it tells you jest
what time it is; but now I don't even want that!"

Without another word she walked on clouds out of the room, and Linda
went up to her father's picture, and lifting it, pressed her cheek
against the cool glass.

"'Instead of the thorn,'" she murmured.

Blanche Aurora tripped downstairs, the red still obliterating the
freckles on her cheeks. She was too absorbed in her daydream to observe
her usual caution in opening the swing door, and simultaneously with
her energetic shove a cry sounded from Miss Barry accompanied by a
clattering of glass on tin.

"Blanche Aurora, will you ever remember to come through that door
carefully? You knocked my arm and I nearly spilled all this jelly."

Miss Barry glared at the help as she spoke. She had just sealed a
trayful of glasses and was about to deposit them on a shelf near the
swing door.

"I'm glad--I mean I'm sorry!" said the culprit, her eyes still looking
far away.

"Well," snapped Miss Barry, her elbow still smarting, "it would be
well for you to be certain _which_. I _was_ going to give you a glass
of this jelly to take home to your mother, but now I think I ought to
punish you."

"Yes'm," replied Blanche Aurora, gliding through the pantry into the
kitchen.

Her employer caught her expression as she passed.

"Come here," she said sharply, and the little maid obeyed.

"Help me set these glasses on the shelf. Don't they look good?"

"Yes'm.--Real pink, some of 'em."

"Aren't you sorry I can't give you one?"

"No'm. Yes'm. I'm tryin' to be."

"Let them alone! I never knew you so awkward. You'll break one
yet,"--as the glasses tinkled together dangerously.

Again Miss Barry scrutinized the flushed face and shining eyes above
the flat-chested little figure.

"Where have you been, Blanche Aurora?"

"Up in Miss Linda's room."

"What doing? You got through up there hours ago."

"She hollered to me down the stairs to come when I got through in the
dinin'-room."

Miss Barry's eyes wore their extracting expression. She wondered what
form of intoxicant Linda had been administering now. The Scylla of
the chocolate gorge had passed safely. What was this Charybdis that
threatened?

"Well?" said Miss Barry suggestively.

"Well," returned the "help," dancing defiance in the round eyes which
returned her employer's regard brazenly.

"Don't you be sassy, Blanche Aurora," warned Miss Barry.

"I ain't," answered the other; and as her mistress watched her radiant
countenance, she had her first doubt as to whether Blanche Aurora was
really so very homely. There were such things as ugly ducklings who
outwitted their neighbors. "Has Miss Linda been giving you more candy?"

"No. Clo'es," returned the other in such a high key of ecstasy that
Miss Barry recoiled and winked.

"How many times must I tell you that I'm not deaf!" she said sternly.
"What kind of clothes?"

"Pink--and blue--and not worn out," was the blissful reply.

"Absurd. I can't imagine my niece having anything sensible and durable
enough for a little girl."

"They ain't," declared Blanche Aurora, her eyes seeing visions.
"They ain't sensible--nor durable--nor serviceable." Her smile was
near-seraphic.

"Then they're not appropriate," said Miss Barry severely.

"No'm," assented the other sweetly.

Silence for a moment, then the mistress broke forth:--

"That's what came in that great package yesterday, then."

"Yes'm. She sent 'way to Chicago. She can't wear 'em 'count of her Pa
dyin'," explained Blanche Aurora, with an evident tempering of grief at
the loss of Lambert Barry, Esq., respected head of Barry & Co.

"Linda has no judgment!" The low vexed soliloquy was not directed at
Miss Barry's "help," but she caught it.

"No, she ain't got no judgment," shrilled Blanche Aurora triumphantly,
"but I bet she knows how a girl feels that ain't got anything pretty
to wear, and has to go 'round lookin' like somethin' put up in the
field to scare the crows."

The child's eyes glistened anew and her voice grew passionate.

"I tell you what I'm goin' to do, Miss Barry, the first day I wear that
pink dress. I'm goin' to take this one,"--she plucked scornfully at a
fold of the faded gingham,--"and I'm goin' to kick it into the ocean.
Kick it--_hard_." She suited the action to the word, and the glasses
tinkled again as she thumped the baseboard.

"That's very wrong, Blanche Aurora. That dress isn't ragged. Your
mother mended that last tear very neatly. It would do quite well for
your little sister."

"No, sir--I mean ma'am. Nobody else is goin' to have to hate this the
way I have!"

"Pink," repeated Miss Barry disapprovingly. "The blue would look quite
well on you, I dare say, but pink.--Don't you know your hair is red,
and you'd look--"

Blanche Aurora winced. She was afraid to let her mistress go on for
fear she was intending something crushing about freckles.

"I don't care--I don't care," she struck in wildly. "You don't know,
_she_ don't know, nobody knows how I love pink. Pink's happiness, pink
is, whether you see it in the sky or in the roses or where! Don't, Miss
Barry, don't!"

The loud voice broke, and two big tears suddenly overflowed from the
round eyes and rushed down the freckled cheeks, while Blanche Aurora
ran stormily through the second swing door into the kitchen.

The door swept back and forth under the swift impact, and Miss Barry
stared at her jellies.

"Don't what!" she said to herself in silent amazement and injury.
"Don't what!"



CHAPTER XVIII

THE PINK DRESS


Mrs. Porter was Miss Barry's prop and stay in matters regarding her
niece, and she turned to her when succeeding days revealed the fact
that Linda had set out deliberately to spoil the "help."

The mistress of the house left the kitchen one morning after her plans
were perfected for dinner and sought Mrs. Porter. She could hear the
faint buzzing of the sewing machine which lived by the front window in
the hall upstairs.

She ascended with a firm tread. "This is a shame," she announced
warmly, as she stood beside her friend, viewing the lengths of silky
soft pink stuff which were running beneath the swift needle.

"What's a shame?" asked Mrs. Porter, without stopping her work.

Miss Barry sat down in a chair opposite her.

"That you should be penned up in the house this beautiful morning
stitching away hour after hour. You were doing the same thing
yesterday."

"It's fun," returned Mrs. Porter.

"Oh, fun!" scornfully. "You always say everything's fun--walking to the
village when Blanche Aurora has carelessly forgotten something, going
out in the rain to take in the towels she's overlooked--everything's
fun with you."

Mrs. Porter smiled without raising her eyes from her fine seam.

"I don't believe you ever taught music eight hours a day," she said.

"Where's Linda?" demanded Miss Barry, but she lowered her voice. She
still regarded her niece as an uncertain quantity, possibly dangerous.

"Gone to Portland."

"For the land's sake!" ejaculated Miss Barry, her tone no longer _sotto
voce_. There was no danger of Linda's hearing from the trolley car.
"What takes her there?"

"Sh!" warned Mrs. Porter, still with her gay smile. "Underclothes for
the little girl, I think. I'm only guessing."

"Now, look here!" responded Miss Barry. "Where is this going to stop?
I understand Blanche Aurora better than any one else does. Doesn't
Linda suppose I take any care of her? She's high-headed enough by
nature. She needs a strong hand, and I've held a tight rein over her
on principle. She's a loud, stubborn, willful young one who thinks she
knows it all."

"I'm not sure, I'm not sure," replied Mrs. Porter. "I kept her
here nights while you were gone and I used to read to her in the
evening--'Little Women' and 'Heidi,' and so on. She was very gentle and
nice and seemed to enjoy it."

Miss Barry sighed.

"I've had her two summers with me. This makes the third. I've taught
her quite a little about cooking and I've nearly lost my immortal soul
doing it; and I've taught her to be neat. Yes, Blanche Aurora's neat.
I ain't afraid to eat after her. I've taught her to take proper care
of herself, to brush her teeth and to use plenty of soap. I _give_ her
plenty of soap; and such things are enough to give her. This!" Miss
Barry picked up a fold of the soft pink and rubbed its thinness between
her fingers. "Why, she'll catch it on a nail the first day and it'll
be in slithers in no time, and her taste for good tough calico will be
gone too."

"There's plenty of pink calico," suggested Mrs. Porter. "It's color
that makes the difference to a child."

Miss Barry continued to regard the zephyr gingham gloomily. That
frenzied defiance, "Pink's happiness," seemed to sound again in her
ears.

"Linda's just going to fill the child's head full of notions and make
her discontented," she declared.

"Perhaps she has been more discontented than you realized," suggested
Mrs. Porter. "Anyway, Miss Barry," she added, stopping the machine and
looking up, "I fancy we are more interested in Linda than in any one
else just now. Aren't we?"

"Well, of course, we are," acknowledged Miss Barry grudgingly,
realizing whither the admission tended.

"To provide her with a wholesome interest is no small matter."

Miss Barry sniffed. "I don't know how wholesome it is. Blanche Aurora's
as insubordinate a young one as ever lived. I'd hate to have her think
any more of herself than she does already. All these expensive clothes
now, and then next winter, nothing. That ain't going to help her mother
any."

"That black-and-white checked suit can be made warm," returned Mrs.
Porter, beginning to stitch the hem of the pink dress.

"What started her on it, anyway?" asked Miss Barry. "'Taint a mite like
anything I ever knew of Linda."

Mrs. Porter smiled at her work for a silent space.

"Linda has been born again in some ways," she said at last. "In the
school of this world you must have noticed that if people's eyes are
not opened by truths vital to right living, they have to learn by
suffering. Linda has suffered greatly. It has softened her heart. In
this little experience right here she shows she longs to do something
for another: to make the lot of another happier. This humble little
girl happens to be to her hand."

"Humble! Not so you'd notice it," commented Miss Barry.

"I feel as if we could just lend a helping hand and be thankful."

"Of course, I'm glad she's stopped moping," admitted Miss Barry; "but
I don't yet see what started her out on this. It really isn't Linda's
business." The speaker was still smarting under the invasion of what
she considered her own private and particular territory.

"Oh, I'm not so sure. We are our brother's keeper after all and our
little sister's too."

"It don't do them any good to make them vain," declared Miss Barry.
"However," she added, "Blanche Aurora's as homely as a mud fence. I
don't know as there's much danger."

"Sh! Sh!" warned Mrs. Porter.

"Oh, she's outdoors, she won't hear me."

"You ask what started it," said Mrs. Porter. "Linda's awakened
observation and her desire to add to the sum of happiness might have
done so, but it really was Blanche Aurora's own thoughtfulness that did
it." And Mrs. Porter told the story of the daily wild rose.

"Of all things," remarked Miss Barry when she had finished. "Well, I
certainly never would have thought that of that sharp little thing."

"We're none of us such sharp things as we seem," returned Mrs. Porter.

"I don't know how it is with you," said Miss Barry presently, "but I
think a great deal about that poor Mr. King," and her long earrings
swung in a challenge.

"I do, too," returned the other quietly.

"Linda's clothed now and in her right mind, as you might say. I think
instead of dressing dolls it would be more to the point, if her heart's
so soft, if she'd write that young man a letter with some human
kindness in it."

Mrs. Porter looked out over the sea which seemed as ever ready to
encroach on the cottage and carry it off in triumph.

"Perhaps she has done so," she replied.

"No, sir. I don't believe it," was the energetic response, earrings
swinging in the strong head-shaking. "If she had, he'd have answered,
and I've seen every letter that's come to her. I know his writing."

"No one sees it very often," said Mrs. Porter, stitching steadily. "I
should feel much easier if he would write to me, yet I don't urge it
because I won't add a straw to his burdens."

"Well, I don't see how Linda, with some of the memories she's got of
her own actions, can have the heart to think of clothes instead of
trying to atone for her injustice."

"We don't have to take care of that," said Mrs. Porter. "I love Bertram
so dearly that I've had something to meet, to conquer resentment; but
the last thing we need worry about is that people won't get sufficient
punishment for their mistakes. The law is working all the time, and
when we strike against it until we're sufficiently hurt we turn to the
gospel: Love."

"H'm," grunted Miss Barry. "Lots o' folks don't seem to get hurt. They
just go ahead and flourish like the green bay tree."

"You don't see far enough," returned Mrs. Porter, smiling, "that's all.
Everything isn't finished when we're through with this world; but many
times you can see the working right here."

"I'd like to," snapped Miss Barry sententiously.

Mrs. Porter finished her hem and drew the dress from the machine. It
had a tucked skirt, and narrow fine embroidery edging the sailor
collar and cuffs. She shook it out and held it before the other's eyes.
"Pretty, isn't it?" she said.

Miss Barry made some inarticulate response, arose, and went into her
own room. She had some calico in her lower drawer now, designed as a
parting gift to her "help" when the summer should be over. It was stone
gray with white spots.

A little color burned in her cheeks as she opened the drawer and looked
at it.

"Sensible and suitable," she said to herself: "sensible and suitable.
She'll be glad enough of it some day when those flimsy things are in
ribbons."

It was supper time when Linda returned from the city, and as soon as
Blanche Aurora had done the supper dishes she always went home.

She kept her eyes on Linda, while she was waiting at table to-night, as
nearly all the time as possible; and this evening there was no change
in her expression; but she too had been listening for several days to
the delectable music of the sewing machine. She had even been fitted
to the pink and blue dresses and she saw them in a heavenly mirage
floating above dishes, washtubs, and scrubbing-pails.

To do Miss Barry justice she never allowed the child to do any heavy
work, and the latter's laundry efforts were limited to the dishtowels.

From three to five every day Blanche Aurora had two hours to herself;
but she was expected to remain within call and to answer the door.

She had enjoyed the high happiness, therefore, of doing some of the
ripping on these gowns of a millionaire's daughter which were designed
to clothe her own slight form.

The way her ears listened for Linda's call now at three o'clock of an
afternoon, and the celerity with which she obeyed the voice and fled
up the back stairs, every freckle on her expectant face seeming to
radiate, was observed by her mistress.

All the morning of the day following Linda's visit to Portland she
received rebukes from Miss Barry for slap-dashing, as that lady called
it.

Blanche Aurora felt, in every one of her small but evident bones, that
the pink dress must be finished. Mrs. Porter had promised her that it
should be the first one in hand. She panted for three o'clock to arrive
while Miss Barry gave her sundry dissertations on the wear and tear
on solid silver when whacked together and the sinfulness of chipping
goldbanded china.

"You know I told you," she warned, "that I bought a stock set on
purpose this summer, so that I could replace everything you break and
take it out of your wages. You have fair warning."

"Yes'm," replied Blanche Aurora with the loud pedal down. She was
possessed by a recklessness of anticipation. What did she care for
wages! What had they ever brought her comparable to the treasures,
unearned, which had descended upon her from a paradise named Chicago
where a Cape boy had been able to pick up a million dollars in the
golden streets!

It was her experience that three o'clock did finally come every
afternoon; but this day was evidently going to be an exception.

At dinner, the weather being unusually warm, Linda looked like a
dark-haired angel in a plain gown of white crêpe de chine. Blanche
Aurora was faintly disappointed because her quiet manner was just as
usual. Surely, if her dream was to come true, and to-day was the day,
Linda and Mrs. Porter couldn't behave as if nothing had happened.

Wandering about within sight of the cottage, those vacation hours were
the ones during which the little girl found the perfect wild rose
designed for Mr. Barry's picture. She carried it always to the room at
the back of the house which was hers, and where she slept when Miss
Barry wished her to stay all night.

There was a closet there, curtained off, where her waterproof and
rubbers and umbrella reposed in bad weather, and a dark calico dress
also hung there in case she got wet and had to change. Three hooks in
the middle of the closet had lately attained significance. No human
being could be cruel enough to ask another to be separated from the new
dresses all day by leaving them at home. Besides, her sister Letty was
almost as tall as herself. She would be sure to try on those sacred
habiliments and wear them all around the neighborhood. The thought was
paralyzing.

Although Blanche Aurora was quite certain several times between
one-thirty and three that the clock had stopped, it did finally
laboriously drag its hands around until they looked like the legs of
a ballet-dancer she had once seen on a circus poster. It was actually
three o'clock. She tiptoed toward the stairs. No sound.

"If I don't get the rose I'm afraid I'll forgit it," she soliloquized.
So she went out the back door and around to the front of the house to
a great rock under whose lee some rosebushes cuddled out of the wind.
The minute she felt herself out of sight of Linda's window, however,
she panted back for fear by some tragic mischance her fairy godmother
might call, and receiving no answer imagine that she had gone home for
an hour as Miss Barry sometimes gave her permission to do.

Finally, after much darting back and forth, Blanche Aurora secured the
rose, and returning to the house, placed it as usual in a glass in her
own room to wait for the morning.

As she emerged she heard her name called at the head of the back stairs.

She landed on the lower step in two leaps.

"Yes, Miss Linda," she answered, the heart under the outgrown gingham
going like a triphammer.

"I want you now."

It was as the voice of an angel in the yearning ears.

"Yes, ma'am," and Blanche Aurora ascended, two steps at a time. Her
dingy sneakers would not have bent daisies had they been growing upon
the staircase.



CHAPTER XIX

THE WILD ROSE


As the panting little figure approached and hesitated in her doorway,
Linda turned from some white stuff she had been piling on the bed and
met the round, expectant eyes, "Come here, Blanche Aurora," she said.
"I want to show you something."

With long steps the beneficiary was beside her.

"Here are some things I found for you in Portland yesterday."

Blanche Aurora dragged her gaze from the pink and blue dresses that
were lying there, finished, and beheld white underclothing, and large
enveloping aprons--a pink-and-white checked one, a blue-and-white
checked one, and one all white in a satiny-looking plaid. There was
also a pile of stockings and some black low shoes and white sneakers. A
bride, inspecting a complete trousseau just arrived from Paris, might
experience in faint degree the elation that choked Blanche Aurora now.

"For me?" she uttered mechanically.

"For you, you good little thing," said Linda. "Now take these, and go
into the bathroom and put them on."

Like one in a dream, Blanche Aurora accepted the underclothing,
stockings, and sneakers put into her arms, and marched toward the
bathroom, her head held high and the fishhook braids quivering down her
gingham back. She went in and closed the door.

Linda smiled, and seating herself in her wicker rocker clasped her
hands behind her head.

Mrs. Porter came to the door.

"What did she say?" she asked, smiling.

"Oh, nothing. She's far beyond speech. What did you do with Aunt
Belinda?"

"Mrs. Lindsay arrived and Miss Barry is showing her her rockery and the
ferns, so I thought she was safe and I'd come up for the fun."

"You certainly deserve to." Linda sighed unconsciously. "Wouldn't it be
wonderful if everybody could be made happy so easily! I believe that is
the only satisfaction there is in the world, after all--making others
happy, whether you are so yourself or not."

Mrs. Porter came in and took another of the wicker chairs.

"I don't believe you can avoid the latter if you do the former," she
remarked.

Linda regarded the speaker, a line appearing in her smooth brow. She
often suspected Mrs. Porter to be thinking of Bertram. She had no right
to ask impossibilities. The superhuman should not be required of the
merely human.

"It is easier said than done, though, as a usual thing," said the girl
aloud. "There is one man in Chicago, for instance, to whom I owe much
kindness, whom I couldn't make happy except by marrying him."

"Not Bertram," returned Mrs. Porter quickly.

"Of course not Bertram," said Linda coolly.

"It may be some relief to you to know that Bertram no longer wishes
that," said Mrs. Porter, after a moment of silence.

Linda's lip curled as she kept her lazy attitude, her hands clasped
behind her dark head.

"Of course not," she repeated. "Bertram may make business mistakes
occasionally, but he will not commit that of marrying a poor girl."

"Linda!" ejaculated Mrs. Porter. Color rushed over her face and she
waited a moment to gain control. "How can you insult him in his
troubles!" she finished.

"Please forgive me," returned the girl in the same tone. "It is the
hardest thing in the world for me to remember your relationship."

"Your thinking it is quite as bad as saying it."

"Be fair to me, dear Mrs. Porter. You can't blame me for not having
illusions, after my sledgehammer blows."

"You can feel compassion instead of hatred, if any one has wronged you."

"That isn't human nature."

"Of course not. We have to learn that we can't have any respect for
human nature. Spiritual nature is the only thing we must nurture.
We don't have to take care of punishing those who have wronged us.
'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.' In other words,
the working of spiritual law brings inevitable punishment to all
who violate it. We may well exercise compassion instead of hatred
to wrongdoers. If Bertram has, humanly speaking, deserved all the
contempt you send him, you can well afford to feel more kindly toward
him than before. Nothing but his own repentance and amends can end his
punishment; and rest assured you do not need to add to it."

"Mrs. Porter,"--the girl dropped her nonchalant attitude,--"I meant it
when I asked you to forgive me. If I lost your friendship I should lose
the greatest treasure I have left."

"You won't lose it, poor child," was the response, as the deep color
faded from Mrs. Porter's face. "You strain it when you speak so of
Bertram, but I have to remember exactly the truths I have been telling
you."

"That I shall be punished?"

"Assuredly, dear child--just as far as you are wrong."

Linda leaned forward suddenly and laid an affectionate hand on the
other's knee.

"But I'm right, dear," she said, her eyes bright.

Mrs. Porter patted the hand in silence and the bathroom door slowly
opened.

Blanche Aurora, looking very young indeed, clad in white, with white
arms and neck, and tanned face and hands, stood with the old plaid
gingham over her arm. Her gaze fled to the bed, then returned to the
rusty plaid. So might a butterfly regard the chrysalis from which it
had just emerged.

"Do I put this on again?" she asked.

"No," returned Linda. "Fold it and put it on that chair over there."

Light scintillated in Blanche Aurora's eyes as she obeyed; a light
which boded ill for the faded gingham.

Linda rose and placed a chair in front of her dressing-table.

"Come here and sit down," she said.

Blanche Aurora hesitated but for an instant before complying.

"What be you goin' to do?" she asked as Linda lifted the tortured
braids and inspected the white string. "Goin' to cut my hair off?"

"Do you want me to?"

"I don't care. It's only a bother, anyway. I have to braid it every few
days."

"Every few days? Oh, Blanche Aurora, you ought to brush it every
night."

"I should worry," ejaculated the other. "Red hair don't deserve
anything like that. If I didn't have red hair I wouldn't have so many
freckles and I'd look nicer in the pink dress. I pinch it good when I
braid it," added Blanche Aurora savagely.

"I should think you did," returned Linda, whose deft fingers were
meanwhile unbraiding the hair and removing the disciplinary string. "It
is kinky enough to stuff a little mattress. You have a nice lot of it.
Mrs. Porter, will you hand me that box at the foot of the bed? I'm glad
I remembered to get you these." And Linda opened the box, displaying a
white brush and comb which she began using on the bright hair while its
owner colored with excitement through all her tan at the possession of
such grandeur.

She sat silent, watching in the glass the amazing vision of Linda
combing and brushing the freed locks which seemed making the most of
their escape to fly in all directions and encircle the excited face
with a bright aureole. Linda turned and smiled at Mrs. Porter, who
nodded appreciation. Many a fine lady would gladly pay a small fortune
for the luxuriant shining waves that rippled now under Linda's brush.

"I suppose your hair is straight," she said.

"As a poker," agreed its owner promptly. "I douse it good when I have
to braid it over and you'd better too, Miss Linda. You can't never
braid it the way it is now; and it likes to git the best of you."

The speaker eyed her halo vindictively. Her hair was an ancient enemy
and only her mother's commands had protected its existence.

"When did you wash it?"

"Last week. I don't never wash it winters, but summers Miss Barry makes
me."

"You don't need to wash it often in this clean place; but brush it a
lot with your white brush. Will you, Blanche Aurora?"

This was a more awful demand than Linda realized. Overwhelmed as she
was with benefits her beneficiary demurred.

"I can't only once in a few days."

"But you're going to braid it every day now."

"Oh, Miss Linda," was the aghast response. "I ain't got time. I
couldn't! You don't know my hair. It acts as ugly as sin; jest as if
it knew it was botherin' the life out of me. I have to git the children
off to school--"

"Not now."

"Well, not now; but Miss Barry wants me the middle o' May, and I have
to git over early--"

"Yes, but it's July now."

Blanche Aurora ceased protesting and winced.

"Oh, did I pull? I'll be careful."

"Pull it good if you want to. Good enough for it."

"You must like your pretty hair," said Linda.

"Pretty!" uttered Blanche Aurora.

Of all the surprising things that had happened to her, that adjective
was perhaps the most surprising.

"Certainly it is, and it deserves good treatment."

Blanche Aurora looked in the mirror at her friend's face. Could Linda,
every tiny escaping hair of whose wavy locks curled in a curve of
beauty,--could she call this red stubborn mane pretty? Then there was
no more to be said.

Blanche Aurora leaned back and studied the narrow trimming on her new
clothes and rubbed her hard hands surreptitiously against the soft
fabric of her white petticoat. Linda divided the modified waves of hair
into two parts.

"Now your hair will soon straighten out," she said. "Let it stay
straight and smooth and well-brushed."

"I'd like curly hair like yours," returned Blanche Aurora; "but I guess
I'd pretty near die tryin' to comb it."

Linda smiled. "You remind me of the tramp who said he didn't see how
folks stood it to comb their hair every day. He did his only once a
year, and then it most killed him. Now, you mustn't strangle your hair
with that string any more," she added.

"Strangle it! I think that's real funny," said Blanche Aurora
judicially. She was radiant. There was only one small cloud on her
horizon and that was the prospect of a daily wrestle with that hair.
That hair! Why, angels couldn't go through it and keep their religion.

"Now, see what I'm doing?" said Linda. "You'll be glad to do this when
you see how nice it looks."

With round and solemn gaze Blanche Aurora watched the braiding of first
one half and then the other of her captured locks.

"Be sure to begin as near the middle of your neck as you can."

Linda swiftly doubled the two ends of the braids and fastened them.

She looked at Mrs. Porter again as the fluffy braids hung down the
slender back, and again Mrs. Porter nodded.

"Miss Barry wants 'em tight," declared the child.

"Miss Barry will be satisfied with this," rejoined Linda. Then she
proceeded to cross the braids and wind them around the small head,
tucking the ends out of sight with hair pins. This loosened the hair at
the temples and the round eyes took in the fact that the arrangement
was becoming even to freckles; but the breath-taking moment was to come.

Linda opened a box on her dresser and revealed a fresh pink and a blue
ribbon. She took out the pink one and soon a generous bow surmounted
those braids, and Blanche Aurora gasped with pleasure. Her white,
low-necked, short-sleeved reflection with the new coiffure held her
happy gaze, and when Mrs. Porter brought the pink dress and slipped it
on and buttoned it up, the red beneath the freckles was very deep, and
the modern Cinderella was speechless.

At last she turned to Linda and threw her slender arms around her.

"I can't say nothin'," she gulped.

Linda pushed her gently back and took hold of the hard hands and
her eyes were soft with an inner flame as they looked down into the
glistening ones.

"I can say something, Blanche Aurora," she answered kindly. "I can say
that you look like a wild rose. Do you understand?"

She put her arm around the happy girl and led her to the small table
where stood her father's picture, and blooming before it, the child's
offering. "Like a wild rose, Blanche Aurora," she repeated slowly.

The pink-crowned head lifted to her. "Oh, Miss Linda," she exclaimed
breathlessly.

"Now, then," said the fairy godmother in a different tone, "you have a
chest of drawers down in your back room; and after a while I want you
to put white paper in them and come up and get these things," waving a
hand toward the bed. "But first you go down and see Miss Barry."

"I'm 'most afraid," declared Blanche Aurora, wringing her hands
together. "She thinks a pink dress and red hair is awful."

"She won't," returned Linda. "Run along. I think she's outdoors. Yes,
I see her there, stooping over the rockery. Mrs. Lindsay has gone and
she's alone."

Blanche Aurora left the room. She even forgot the chrysalis and her
determination to kick it into the ocean. Seraphs, wafted on rosy
clouds, forget such earthly longings.

Mrs. Porter and Linda stood at the window where they could see all
that occurred, and despite Linda's assured words she was not sure that
she wished to hear what would be said. Her college chums would have
recognized Linda Barry again in the mischievous sparkle of her eyes.

Miss Barry, rising from her labors among the ferns, beheld a bareheaded
little girl coming slowly toward her. The stranger was clothed in a
pink dress with spotless white stockings and sneakers, and as she
advanced the sun turned to gold the fluffy hair under a billowy pink
bow.

Miss Barry pulled her spectacles down from the top of her head, and
even then for a second she thought some summer boarder was straying too
far from home. In another moment full recognition burst upon her.

"For the land's sake!" she exclaimed; and the two stared at one another
for a silent space. It would have taken a hard heart to resist the
beatified, yet shy, expression on the face of Blanche Aurora, and Miss
Barry's was not hard.

"Pink's happiness. Pink's happiness!" Miss Belinda saw the statement
exemplified.

"Come here, you little monkey," she said.

It wasn't so pleasant to be called a monkey as a wild rose, but Miss
Barry's smile was different from any her "help" had ever yet received
from her. Perhaps she liked monkeys.

Blanche Aurora came nearer, aware every moment of the fine materials
touching her skin.

"Well, well, so my niece hasn't got by the doll-dressing stage," said
her mistress.

The lenient tone restored confidence and unloosed an eager tongue.

"Oh, Miss Barry, I ain't a doll. I'll work just as hard. I'll work
harder. I've got aprons to cover me all up and I won't break a dish
nor slam the silver. The aprons is the most beautiful you ever see and
these stockings they feel just like silk."

The reference to the stockings flowed forth because Miss Barry was
stooping and running her hand down the slim leg.

The watchers above were edified to see her lift up the pink skirt and
examine the underwear.

"You're good clear to the bone," declared Miss Belinda at last,
approvingly. "Pretty sensible things, considering that Linda bought
them."

The speaker rose again to her full stature and looked curiously at her
maid's head.

"What under the canopy--" she began slowly. "Have you got a wig on?"

The broad wavy braids, glinting in the sun as Blanche Aurora turned her
head, seemed to bear no relation to the strained tightness usual over
her temples.

"No'm, it's my same horrid red hair, but I don't look at it, I look at
the pink bow," was the eager response. "The kids at school was always
teasin' me,"--a gulp of hurting memory interrupted the speech,--"they
said I was the homeliest girl on the Cape, and it's nice for homely
girls to have somethin' pretty on their heads so folks can look at that
instead of at them."

"H'm," returned Miss Barry, touched by the ingenuous burst. She had
never suspected her willful help of feelings. "Well, you certainly look
very nice, and I'm glad that you're happy."

"Oh, Miss Barry, may I put some of the white shelf paper in the burer
drawers in my room? Miss Linda told me to, and I'm to go back and get
the rest o' the clo'es and and fix 'em nice in the burer."

"You're going to keep them here, are you?"

"Don't you think I'd better?" Blanche Aurora wrung her hands together
eagerly.

Miss Barry took a mental survey of the child's crowded home and the
small marauders who would be likely to molest her treasures. She
nodded.

"Yes, that's best," she agreed sententiously, and instantly there was a
pink flash, and a twinkling of white pipe-stem legs across the grass,
and Blanche Aurora was not.



CHAPTER XX

BEHIND THE BIRCHES


When Linda wrote to Chicago for the dresses to be sent on, she asked
the caretaker of the house to send a photograph of her mother which she
would find in her dresser drawer.

The woman had been in doubt as to which picture was wanted, as there
were several in the box indicated, so she had packed box and all, and
it now lay on Linda's table waiting to be opened.

When the radiant little Cape girl had carried downstairs the last of
her possessions and Mrs. Porter had gone to her own room, Linda turned
her attention to this box.

Taking off the string she lifted the cover, and straight up into her
eyes looked Bertram King. The likeness was a striking one and color
flowed over her face. As she gazed, the thought came to her that
Bertram must have consummated a good business deal on the day he sat
for this.

There was lurking humor in the eyes and lips. It was Bertram at his
best: his most prosperous. A clean-cut face, she thought, as she
looked, a well-born face: intelligent, full of character and confidence.

"Overconfidence," murmured the girl, and turned the picture face
down. She closed her eyes in endurance of the flood of associations
the photograph had evoked, and stood motionless thus for a minute
before delving deeper into the box. It held pictures of several of her
friends, among them one of Fred Whitcomb. Her sad lips smiled as she
encountered his wide-awake countenance.

"Good old Fred," she thought. "Some day I must write to him."

She found her mother's pictures and those of several girl friends: also
one of Mrs. Porter. Some of these she left out; but the one of Bertram
King went back into the box. She took one more glance at it and the
veiled humor in the eyes seemed to mock her. Face down it went in,
quickly, the cover was put on, and the whole placed in her closet.

At the same time her thought was contrasting the pictured face taken
one year ago with Bertram's appearance the last time she saw him.

At the supper table that evening Blanche Aurora, as she waited on
table, was enveloped in the white apron with satiny plaids.

"She's not a bad-looking child," said Linda on one occasion when the
girl had left the room to get more biscuit. "That little turn-up nose
of hers is cute and her teeth are so white."

"Those teeth!" ejaculated Miss Barry. "The time I had! But I finally
taught her to keep them properly."

"Everybody knows happiness is the best beautifier, anyway," remarked
Mrs. Porter. "It looks as if you would have an angel in your kitchen
from now on, Miss Barry."

"Yes, 'looks,'" retorted the hostess. "Familiarity breeds contempt and
I don't know how long Blanche Aurora can be subdued by her dry goods. I
ought to make her put on her brown calico to go home in."

"Oh, don't, Aunt Belinda. Let her have all the fun there is in it."

So Miss Barry consented to leave her "help" in freedom; but the shrewd
little brain under the fluffy red wig was working. Blanche Aurora
knew about where the dividing line would occur in the bosom of her
family between respect and ridicule. She felt instinctively that the
limit would be reached before that crown of glory, the pink bow, should
dazzle the irreverent vision of the home circle. She, therefore, when
the dishes were dried, went to her room, took off the ribbon, and
laid it reverently in her upper drawer beside the blue one. She gazed
soulfully for a minute on the effect, then closed the drawer softly.

There was a clean towel on the bureau and upon it reposed the white
brush and comb and near that a bottle of violet toilet water. Yes, the
last thing the wonderful one had put into her hands was this bottle of
green liquid which the child said to herself "smelled purple."

She hated to go home. A thief might break in during the night and
bereave her. She lifted up the closet curtain and looked at the pretty
blue dress hanging there.

Well, she thought, with firm lips, the thief shouldn't get the pink
one, for she was going to wear it. Further cautious thoughts of rough,
teasing brothers caused her to remove the hairpins from her braids and
let them hang down her back as of old. Then she put on her new white
sweater and started to run across the fields to a properly awestruck
family.

A week later Blanche Aurora was alone in the house one afternoon
cleaning silver. The day was beautiful, and no one stayed indoors who
was not obliged to. She glanced up occasionally at the kitchen clock
and saw that in half an hour she too would be at liberty to go out and
get Miss Linda's rose, and hunt for four-leaved clovers.

She enjoyed finding these and placing them beside Linda's plate at the
table.

"But," objected her friend one day, "I have to find them myself, don't
I, in order that they should bring me luck?"

"Perhaps so," returned the donor; "but while you're waitin' I'd like to
give you some o' my luck.--I got so much."

Indeed, Blanche Aurora was beginning to gain curves, and the round eyes
to find expression.

She sang at her work to-day, the pink bow on her head shaking with her
energy as she rubbed. Suddenly the iron knocker on the front door sent
a sharp rap-tap through the house.

Blanche Aurora arose, laid down a fork, and moved through the rooms to
answer the summons.

Pulling open the door she beheld behind the screen a broad-shouldered
man with a bright, expectant face, and his seeking eyes saw a
pink-and-white aproned figure with red hair, and a perky pink bow atop.

She was delighted at the prompt manner in which the stranger lifted his
hat.

"I wonder if I have the right house," he said.

"I dunno. What house do you want?" came the stentorian response.

"What is your name, please?" asked the young man.

"Blanche Aurora."

He smiled, a nice gleeful smile. "I mean your last name."

"Martin."

"I'm sorry. I'm looking for Miss Barry."

"Oh, she lives here. I'm the help."

"Really? I didn't dream it. I thought you were the nice little daughter
of the house."

"Miss Barry ain't married," replied Blanche Aurora practically, but she
gave full credit to the pink bow.

"Is her niece--is Miss Linda Barry here?" The eagerness of the question
and of the very good-looking visitor was fully appreciated by the
little maid who recognized a kindred spirit.

"Oh, yes, she's here,"--the freckled face shone radiant. "Ain't she
grand?"

"The grandest ever. I want to see her. Aren't you ever going to open
the screen door?"

Upon this the screen door opened. "But she ain't in the house," replied
Blanche Aurora, coming out on the piazza. "There ain't anybody in the
house, so I can't leave it to hunt for her, but I can tell you where I
bet she is."

"You're a good--a particularly good child," was the earnest response as
Blanche Aurora's finger pointed across the field.

"Do you see that clump o' trees and then there's woods beyond?"

"Yes."

"Near them white birches you'll likely find her. Mrs. Porter and she's
got a secret place."

The visitor laughed. "Secret from whom?"

"Everybody but me, I guess."

The man looked at the smile that was keeping his laugh company.

"What do you think they'll say to your telling their secrets?"

"Well"--Blanche Aurora gave a comprehensive glance at the city clothes
and the gay face above her. "I kinder think Miss Linda might be glad to
see you, and if she would, what's the use o' waitin'!"

"That's what I say," was the hearty response. "I can't wait. I'm going
to scour this Cape till I do find her, and then if she _isn't_ glad to
see me, do you know what I'm going to do?"

Blanche Aurora's neatly coiffed head shook a denial.

The visitor grasped her small shoulder with a strong hand.

"I'm going out to that point of rock there,"--he pointed to the height
of the cliff,--"and throw myself--dash myself into the sea!" He scowled
portentously.

"Well, you might wait till she gits used to you," suggested Blanche
Aurora. "She might like you better."

"I've been waiting two years, but your advice may still be good."

"Be you her beau?" the question was roared solemnly.

"I be; and if I don't find her this afternoon you tell her that her
beau has come to town, and for her not to leave the house again till he
arrives."

"All right, sir," answered Blanche Aurora, her eyes nearly starting
from her head with interest as the caller jumped off the piazza and
swung whistling across the field.

The soft turf was springy beneath his feet.

"'A vagrant's morning, wide and blue,'" he muttered to himself.

Gulls wheeled high over his head in the landward sallies from which
they sailed back above the sea, their wings glinting like the distant

  "Foam of the waves,
    Blown blossoms of ocean,
  White flowers of the waters."

Whitcomb strode along, the picture of Linda as he last saw her in the
railway station still fresh in his mind.

Miss Barry's "help" had been galvanized into interest at the mention
of the girl. She had called her "grand." It sounded hopeful.

Beyond the clump of birches, in their favorite spot, the two friends
were sitting against their rock with their books and work.

Talk amounts to very little. It was Emerson who said, "Don't talk! What
you are thunders so loud above what you say, that I can't hear you."

What Mrs. Porter was, had in their daily contact impressed itself so
increasingly upon her young friend, that Linda, though reluctant, had,
through very curiosity, come to be willing to look into the source of
her friend's faith and strength. That little nook behind the birches
had become dear to her. Near by rose the rich dark grove of firs and
pines, the sea murmuring in their tops, and the spring bubbled with a
silvery plashing.

Here Whitcomb found them. They both started at his sudden appearance
and he halted, and rapped on a white birch stem.

"May I come in?" The gay, hearty voice set Linda's heart to beating
fast. "Don't let me disturb you," and the visitor hurried forward, his
hat off, and kneeling on the grass before her, took Linda's hand.

"You have met Mrs. Porter?"

"Once, I think," said that lady, shaking hands graciously with the
young man. The devouring eyes with which he was taking in every detail
of Linda's improved appearance made the older woman certain that here
was the Chicago man whose happiness the girl had said she could not
secure save by extreme measures.

"You look wonderful, Linda. Good for the Cape!" said Fred, seating
himself comfortably on the grass, and continuing to observe her with
huge satisfaction.

"But how did you know where to find us?" inquired the girl.

"Blanche Aurora told me. Happy name! Dickens himself couldn't have done
better. Blanche A-roarer."

"But she didn't know about this place. Nobody knows."

"So she observed--howling it to high heaven; but you might as well try
to keep a locality from the sparrows as from kids of that age."

"Well, I'm glad she did know," said Linda graciously, "It's good to see
you, Fred,--you have a sort of a white, city look, as if a vacation
couldn't hurt you."

"Mrs. Lindsay told me you were related to them," said Mrs. Porter. "I
suppose you came through her."

"Yes, I did. I wouldn't have known there was any place to stay here
except for her; and I did feel a bit seedy, as well as King, so I
pulled up stakes--there being a strong magnet in this vicinity." He
flashed a still further enlightening smile around at Linda.

But Mrs. Porter had suddenly lost interest in his possible romance.
"Mr. King--Bertram," she said, leaning forward. "He has been ill?"

Whitcomb gave a soft significant whistle. "Rather!" he returned briefly.

"I'm his cousin, Mr. Whitcomb. Tell me all about it, please."

"I know you are. He has talked to me of you."

Linda's lips had gained the close line the mention or thought of King
always evoked.

"Good old King. He's some fighter. You ought to be proud of him, Mrs.
Porter."

"I am. Tell me all you know of him, please. How is he now?"

"On the upward way. He's going to come out all right, but"--the speaker
cast an almost apologetic look at Linda--"you doubtless know that
King was up against it for a while. It seems that one night there at
the club when the strain was over, he felt himself going to pieces
and he wrote me a note asking me, in case of his illness, to keep his
papers--the contents of his desk--from Henry Radcliffe until he should
recover."

The blood pressed into Linda's face. She was too charitable to her
friend even to glance her way.

"The note was not finished. King had evidently taken the precaution to
address and stamp the envelope before he began, and the last sane thing
he did was to seal the letter inside it. By the time I received it and
got over to the club, King was gone."

"Gone!" Mrs. Porter gasped. "You said--"

Fred nodded reassuringly toward her questioning face as she leaned
forward.

"Yes, they had taken him to the hospital, you know."

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Porter, "and I here. Why didn't somebody write me?"

Linda sat erect, in an attitude of courteous attention.

"I never thought of it, Mrs. Porter. To tell the truth, I didn't know
till he was convalescing that you were at all near to one another, and
I didn't want to write anything to add to Linda's worries." He glanced
at the girl's unmoved face.

"Did you keep his papers from Henry?" she asked dryly.

"I'll tell you about that."

"But you stayed with him--" There was a little break in Mrs. Porter's
low, even voice. "You helped him."

"You bet I stayed with him, just as much of the time as my boss and the
nurse would stand for. I was there every night."

"Oh, Mr. Whitcomb," exclaimed Mrs. Porter gratefully, "you don't know
what that means to me. Bertram wasn't entirely deserted."

"No. Harriet was up in Wisconsin or she would have wanted to help, too.
Henry kept King's illness from her; because even if she had been at
home she couldn't really have done anything, you know."



CHAPTER XXI

REVELATION


Linda, looking at Mrs. Porter, saw in the light of their many talks
that her friend was striving for the composure with which it was her
wont to meet adverse circumstances.

Fred Whitcomb, too, recognizing that the older woman was the more
interested of his listeners, began to address his narration chiefly to
her.

"King was pretty badly off," he went on. "He was nutty for days, and
some of the things he said in his delirium made me feel that--well,
that perhaps he'd had a rather lonely time of it. At any rate, he had
asked only that his papers should be kept from Radcliffe, so I made up
my mind that I'd go through them myself."

Fred paused and gave a rather doubtful and wistful look at Linda's
immovable countenance.

Mrs. Porter's eyes were shining in their attention.

"Well, I hadn't spent much time at his desk before I discovered why
King had written me those directions. Henry can do what he pleases
about Harriet, but I know Linda's a good sport. I know she wants the
truth."

"I do," returned Linda, with cold promptness. "What had Bertram against
Henry?"

"Nothing, bless your heart. The telltale package of papers concerned
the Antlers Irrigation proposition. Your father was out in the West
on the spot and King was in Chicago and these letters and telegrams
were their correspondence at the time. It seems that Mr. Barry was
completely fascinated by the proposition, but King knew the people
connected with it better than Mr. Barry did; and though it appeared
entirely legitimate, King begged your father to have nothing to do
with it. He admitted that if it succeeded it would be a fortune, but
the whole thing was on such a big scale and would involve Barry & Co.
so deeply that King advised strongly and even urged that they let it
alone; but after an argument of days Mr. Barry decided against him."

Fred met Linda's frowning gaze. He waited while her face flushed, then
watched while the red tide sank. In her concentrated look she appeared
to be angry; and Fred hurried on defensively.

"I tell you, Linda, I thought you ought to know this. You've always
stood for fair play, and there the whole business world has been
knocking Bertram King for months. He was a good fighter--but they
knocked him down at last. If you'd seen him as I did, lying there,
burning up with fever, and babbling scraps of talk that showed how he
has worried--"

Linda leaned forward and took Fred Whitcomb's surprised hand in one as
cold as ice. Her brow still frowned, but the relaxed lips parted.

"Thank you for telling me; thank you," she said.

Mrs. Porter hurriedly gathered together her sewing materials, stuffed
them into her silk workbag, and rose.

Whitcomb, much relieved by Linda's words, also stood up.

"Don't disturb yourselves," said Mrs. Porter; "I am going home to pack.
I shall go at once to Chicago."

"Do you mean to King?" asked Whitcomb.

"Of course." Mrs. Porter also seized the young man's hand, and her
moist eyes poured out their gratitude. "I can't tell you, Mr. Whitcomb,
how I thank you, for befriending him: it's impossible."

Fred smiled broadly. "Oh, say," he returned, "you don't need to pack.
King is here."

"What!"

"Sure thing. I wouldn't have come without him. Not on your life. He
didn't care much about it, but then he didn't care much about anything,
and Mrs. Lindsay had said it was doing Madge a world of good--and Linda
was here,"--the speaker turned and looked down at Linda, leaning back
against the rock with a face as stony as its gray wall,--"so I bundled
the poor chap on the train, and here we are."

"At that awful Benslow place?" gasped Mrs. Porter.

"It isn't so worse," said Fred. "I'm a dandy camper and I'll take care
of King myself. The doctors told me just what to stuff him with, and,
believe me, I'm going to stuff him. He doesn't slide off this planet
till he gets some of the justice that's coming to him. Not if I know
it. I haven't talked to him yet about my discovery of the letters, but
I told Henry Radcliffe all about it the night before we left and he can
do as he pleases about telling Harriet."

"Mr. Whitcomb, you have earned my life-long gratitude," repeated Mrs.
Porter. "Between us we will put that dear boy on his feet again. I'm
off to see him. Good-bye."

Linda felt hurt that not by word or look did her friend recognize the
misery Mrs. Porter must have known she was suffering. Lightly that lady
sped away around the clump of birches and was gone; and Fred Whitcomb's
sturdy shoulders dropped down again near Linda's rock divan.

"I thought you were looking great when I came up a few minutes ago," he
said, examining her, "but it seems to me you might raise a little more
color in this perfectly wonderful air."

"You've given me a great shock, Fred."

"Well, I hated to seem to disparage your father in any way," he
returned tenderly, "but I knew--I just knew, Linda, you'd want to see
King get fair play."

"I do. I have blamed him cruelly myself."

"How could you help it when everybody was feeling the same way? Does he
know you blamed him?"

"Yes."

"I wonder if that had anything to do with his not seeing you off that
morning in Chicago?"

"Probably."

"I blamed him for that; but now," added Whitcomb, happily, "everything
is understood. We mustn't have another sorrowful minute." Linda's lips
were looking as if there were only sorrow on earth. "There's a great
reaction in Chicago in favor of your father," he added. "The excitement
has calmed down, and when Lambert Barry is spoken of now it's with the
same old respect, Linda; the same old respect."

"And Bertram has done that," she said slowly.

"Indeed, he has, and as he comes back to strength he's going to feel
pretty good over it, too, I can tell you. So--take a brace, Linda. I'm
so happy to see you, I can hardly contain myself."

"What a good fellow you are, Fred!"

"You mean for standing by King? Think what he's done for me. Snatched
my savings like brands from the burning. My boss, too, is a big
beneficiary by King's efforts, and he gave me an extra long vacation so
I could come up here and look after him."

"Is he very weak?"

"Not any worse than you'd expect." Whitcomb's constitutional inability
to look on the dark side shone in his happy eyes. "That Cap'n Jerry of
yours is a dandy, though. He brought us over from the station and he
whiled the time away telling how suddenly people either convalesced or
died here. King coughs a little, and that inspired the genial captain
to tell of his brother who'd been 'coughin' quite a spell'; and how
'sudden' he went off at the last. He said, 'Bill got up one mornin', et
a good breakfast; then all to once he fetched a couple o' hacks and was
gone!'"

"Fred!" Linda frowned and smiled.

"He did, for a fact. King says he positively refuses to fetch two
consecutively."

"He jokes, then," Linda spoke wistfully.

"Oh, yes. He's as game as ever."

"Fred,"--Linda clasped her hands tightly together,--"you don't know
how cruel--how beastly I've been to Bertram."

"Oh, forget it," Fred's worshiping eyes met the mourning gaze.

"I'd like to; and I could if Bertram would, but he never will, I'm
afraid. He hates me."

"He'll get over it."

"Tell me, Fred,--you must have spoken to him about me. What does he
say?"

Whitcomb looked off as if consulting his memory. "I can't remember
his mentioning your name since Reason resumed her throne. He used to
babble about you and your father, too, during his illness; but nothing
connected: nothing that I can remember."

"I'm really surprised that he was willing to come where I was staying."

"I don't believe he knew it till we were on the train. I told him about
the Lindsays and that I believed it was the right place for him."

"But he must have known this was where Mrs. Porter was, and that she
was with Aunt Belinda. He must have known I was with them."

Whitcomb shrugged his shoulders under this insistence. "Perhaps he
did," he admitted. "I spoke several times about you on the train, of
course,--how I anticipated seeing you and all that." The speaker's eyes
again sought some personal reassurance from his companion's distant
gaze.

"And he didn't say anything?"

"I don't remember. I didn't notice. I don't think so."

"Fred,"--Linda leaned forward in her earnestness and wrung her hands
together,--"you don't know how hard it is for me to sit here and wait
instead of running--_running_ to Bertram and confessing the wrong I've
done and imploring his forgiveness."

"None of that: none of that." Whitcomb raised a warning hand. "You
mustn't say things to King to excite him. He's glassware, remember,
glassware." The speaker sank on his elbow, bringing his eager, boyish
face nearer the girl's white gown. His hat was on the grass beside him
and his thick hair fell forward in his movement.

"But here _I_ am, Linda," he added, in a different tone, "husky to the
limit. When it comes to me, go as far as you like. You haven't seemed
conscious of me yet."

"Oh, yes, I'm conscious of you. I'm very grateful to you for finding
out the truth and taking such care of Bertram." The girl's eyes were
glowing in her pale face. "'Instead of the thorn';--Fred, did you ever
read the Bible?"

Whitcomb sat up under the sudden question, and stared at her.

"The Bible!" he repeated. "Why, sure thing--some of it."

"There's a promise in it, 'Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir
tree.' It struck some chord in me when first I read it and it seems to
mean more and more. See those firs,"--Linda waved her hand to where
on the other side of the little brook the soft variation of color in
the evergreens stood against the sky. "Breathe the balm they send out
in the air? Mrs. Porter has shown me how it just rests with us to do
away with the wounding thorn, and receive the peace of the stanch,
unchanging fir tree, with its soft, invigorating perfume and color, and
the music in its branches. It has come to be a great symbol to me--the
fir tree."

"Hurrah for the Tannenbaum," returned Whitcomb, mechanically, not
knowing what to say to this changed Linda with the exalted eyes.

"You have done a wonderful thing for me to-day, Fred; and if only I
could wipe out from my own and Bertram's memory my wickedness, the
fir tree could at once begin to come up; but my father suffered for
his mistake and I must suffer for mine. To be patient--to put down
my willfulness--to be willing just to guard my thoughts and to think
right and to leave all the rest to God--that's my lesson; and you know
how hard it is for me, Fred. You know how I've always managed, and
dictated, and carried my point, and never had any patience."

"You suit me all right, whatever you've done," blurted out Whitcomb,
upon whom Linda's matter-of-course mention of the Creator had made
a profound impression. "You've changed a lot in some ways," he went
on, rather dejectedly, "but in a certain line where I'm interested,
you don't seem to have made much progress. I'm the biggest donkey
this side of Cairo, I know that; but when I'm away from you, I forget
all the discouraging things you've ever said, and I build a lot of
castles-in-the-air, each one more attractive than the last, and then
the minute I get with you, with a simple twist of the wrist you tumble
them all about my ears."

"Oh, Freddy!"

"Don't you 'Oh, Freddy' me. I was awfully afraid of King at one time,
but when I found he wasn't in the race, I felt there wasn't anybody
ahead of me and Holdfast's a good dog. I made up my mind to win."

"Oh, Fred!"

"Why shouldn't my thorn be pulled up, too? Why shouldn't _I_ have a
nice Tannenbaum with just one gift hanging on it?"

"Because, Fred, we can't any of us outline. We must be faithful and
unselfish and let things grow right, and they will, because we were
created for happiness. Mrs. Porter says so."

"Oh, she has inside information, has she?" returned Whitcomb, with as
near an approach to a sneer as his wholesome nature could come.

"Yes, that's a very good name for it," returned Linda promptly. "Even
I, Fred," she added humbly, "even I have had some inside information.
In not getting me," she added gently, "you will get something better if
we're all thinking right."

Silence, during which Whitcomb gloomily uprooted such long grasses as
grew near him.

"I have no expectation of marrying anyone," said Linda, "and you are a
hero in my eyes to-day, if that is any comfort to you."

Whitcomb lifted a frowning, obstinate gaze to hers.

"Holdfast's a good dog," he said sententiously. Presently he spoke
again. "It's time for King to eat. I must go."

"I'll walk with you as far as Aunt Belinda's."

Whitcomb helped her gather up books and work and they moved away
together.



CHAPTER XXII

THE PENITENT


Blanche Aurora caught sight of the two strolling through the field
toward the house and she called her mistress's attention to them.

"There's the man I told you come, Miss Barry," she said eagerly; and
Miss Belinda pulled down her glasses and viewed the approach.

"Why, if that isn't Mr. Whitcomb!" she said. She groaned. "I don't
think I've got a supper for a man; I do hate to cater for the great,
walloping things."

She craned her neck, keeping well out of range of the window in the
forlorn hope that the threat might pass by. Forlorn, indeed. What place
was there for the visitor to go to?

To her surprise the young man's firm step lingered but a moment at the
door, then from her vantage-ground she saw him lift his hat, jump off
the piazza, and walk away.

From another window Blanche Aurora's round eyes were watching too, with
an unwinking gaze. She wished to see whether the stranger would seek
the rock cliff; but evidently Miss Linda had been glad to see him, for
he swung energetically across the grass in the opposite direction.

Miss Barry, guiltily conscious of her inhospitable attitude, and
remembering with a rush the helpfulness with which Whitcomb had
smoothed her path away from Chicago, met Linda as she entered.

What meant the glowing expression in her niece's face? Had there really
been more than appeared in her friendship for Fred Whitcomb?

"That was Mr. Whitcomb, wasn't it? Why didn't he come in? What a
surprise to see him here," said Miss Barry. "After all," she added
mentally, "those broiled lobsters would probably have satisfied him."

Linda put an arm about her aunt's shoulders and drew her into the
living-room.

There was a roseate gleam in the dusky distance as Blanche Aurora
withdrew through the swing door.

Miss Barry could feel a nervous tension in the arm about her, and as
she looked curiously into the pale, excited face she felt certain that
portentous news was impending.

"I don't care if she has,"--the swift thought fled through her mind.
"He's young and only beginning life, but he's a good boy. I like him;
and I grudged the poor fellow a meal!"

"Yes, it was Fred," said Linda, seating herself and her captive on a
wicker divan.

"Why didn't you ask him in?"

"Because he had to go to Bertram."

"Mr. King here?"

"Yes, convalescing from a serious illness; a terrible illness, Aunt
Belinda,"--the girl's voice began to shake,--"an illness I helped
to bring on. If"--the voice refused to go further, but broke in a
flood of tears as the speaker collapsed in Miss Barry's amazed arms.
"Wait--wait," sobbed Linda.

"There, there, child. There, there," was all Miss Belinda could think
of to say in the way of comfort while she, her curiosity effervescent,
patted the sufferer. "Where are they, Linda?" she asked gently. "In
Portland?"

"No, at the Benslows'."

"The Benslows'!" ejaculated Miss Belinda. "And I grudged that boy a
meal!"

"Did you say Mr. King is convalescing from something, dear?"

"Yes--yes."

"Do they want to kill him, taking him to Luella's?"

"It's--it's the Lindsays' doings,--and--and--Fred thinks it's all
right. He--he has a tent, and he's taking care of him."

Miss Barry's voice was very kind and she kept on her mechanical patting
of the sobbing figure. "I didn't know they were such special friends,
Linda."

"They were--weren't before; but everybody wants to help--help Bertram
now. You were right all the time, Aunt Belinda. He was--was behaving
nobly and--and protecting Father. It was--was dear Father's mistake
about--about the Antlers. It has--has all come out now. Oh, why was I
so cruel!"

"Now, now, dear. Now, now," soothed Miss Belinda, snapping her moist
eyelids together. Feeling her helplessness to say the right thing
brought to mind her ally. "Where's Mrs. Porter, Linda?"

"Gone to see Bertram. Oh, if I only could!"

"Why, you can, of course. He isn't in bed, is he?"

"I wouldn't care if he was in bed; but how can he ever want to see me
again?"

Miss Barry pursed her lips and her head gave a little shake over the
bowed one. The remorse she used to wish for her niece had evidently
come in an avalanche; and the New England conscience could but admit
that it was good enough for her.

"Oh, there's such a thing as forgiveness in the world," she suggested
comfortingly.

"You know Bertram stood next to Papa. I don't think Papa knew any
difference in his love of us and him. He was just like a son to him,
always so faithful and efficient."

Miss Barry raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. A few words longed
to pass them, but she bit them back.

"I fought my admiration of him always because I thought he didn't
admire me. I was jealous of him, too. I was the most selfish girl in
the world. I wanted to be absorbed in my own trumpery interests nearly
all the time; then when I had an hour for Father I wanted him to put
me above Bertram in his confidence and consideration; whereas Bertram
was always standing shoulder to shoulder with him."

"Now, Linda, do be reasonable. You had to go to school. Don't blame
yourself too much."

The girl slowly lifted her head and drew a long, sighing breath. "I
can't eat supper, Aunt Belinda," she said after a moment of gazing into
space. "You'll forgive me, won't you? I feel as if I must rest and
think until to-morrow morning, and then I promise to go on as before."

"How about Mr. Whitcomb? You don't say a word about him."

"He's been splendid--wonderful. We owe it all to him that we know the
truth. Bertram would have lived and died and kept silence; but Fred
read the letters in his desk while he was ill. His delirious talk
had roused Fred's suspicions." Linda gave another sobbing sigh, the
aftermath of the storm.

"I'm awfully tired, Aunt Belinda. I'll go upstairs and perhaps I'll go
to bed. Don't think of me again until to-morrow."

"Suit yourself, child," returned Miss Barry kindly. "We shall miss you
at supper."

Linda vanished up the stairs and Miss Barry went out to the kitchen,
where she found her maid with a very red little nose and extremely
dolorous wet eyes.

"What are you crying for, Blanche Aurora?" she demanded.

"'Cause--'cause _she_ did." A loud sniff.

"You've been listening," said Miss Barry sternly.

The little girl fairly stamped in her outraged feeling.

"I guess you ain't got no business to say that," she returned, and the
honest wrath of her gaze caused her mistress to clear her throat.

"Well, well, I don't suppose you did. Miss Linda has a friend who is
ill."

"He's a-goin' to drown himself, that's what," gulped Blanche Aurora,
the relief of speech overbalancing her righteous wrath.

"What do you mean, you crazy child?"

"He told me he would if she wasn't glad to see him; and if Miss Linda
wants me to, I'll go after him, and stop him."

The girl's hands and feet moved restlessly as if she longed to be up
and doing.

"Nonsense, child. Mr. Whitcomb is always joking."

"Oh, no, Miss Barry. He warn't jokin'. He said he was her beau, and
Miss Linda wouldn't cry like that--" a spasm constricted the speaker's
throat--"if she hadn't given him the mitten and warn't scared what he'd
do."

"Law! Blanche Aurora, it's another man she was crying about."

The restless hands quieted and the little maid listened doubtfully.
Her mind was so thoroughly made up as to the tragedy that it changed
reluctantly.

"Wherever Miss Linda is," went on Miss Barry solemnly, "men spring up
through the ground. Who'd ever think of those two coming here to have
the finishing touch put on a sick man at Luella Benslow's! If I should
hire a boat and take Miss Linda out there,"--Miss Barry indicated the
sea,--"out as far as the eye can reach, mermen would begin coming to
the surface and swarming up the side of the vessel."

"Oh, dear," gasped Blanche Aurora. The situation was worse than she
had feared, thus complicated by a man so dear to Miss Linda that
loyalty to her beau could not prevent her from sobbing her heart out
about him.

"Let's take him _here_," she said as the fruit of her swift cogitation.

"Who?"

"The sick man."

"Mr. King!" ejaculated Miss Barry.

King! His name was King! That settled it. Blanche Aurora's heart bled
for the gay, broad-shouldered young man who had gained her sympathy,
but Miss Linda's wishes were paramount.

"Let's take him here and cure him," she repeated stoutly.

"You're perfectly crazy, child," was the startled reply. "I shouldn't
consider taking a man into my house; and I think they'll make out all
right at Luella's with our help. I shall let you take nice things over
to him once in a while."

Blanche Aurora's breast swelled with excitement. She should see the
King: see the wonderful person who could wring tears from the powerful
and self-contained Miss Linda; but at the same time she felt very,
very sorry for Fred Whitcomb. Going about to get supper she narrowly
escaped scorching the biscuit and she poured the tea into the water
pitcher.

The long evening had dimmed to twilight when Mrs. Porter appeared at
Linda's open door. The girl had left it ajar as an invitation to her.

"What's this? What are you doing?" asked the older woman cheerily as
she descried the face on the pillow.

"Hating myself," returned Linda briefly.

Mrs. Porter's pleasant laugh sounded. "There's nothing in that," she
returned, and she came and sat on the foot of the bed.

"He's better, or you couldn't laugh," said Linda.

"Yes, he is. That nice Whitcomb is a regular steam engine. He has a
tent with all the outdoor sleeping paraphernalia and they don't expect
to spend many nights indoors. Of course, it's just the right season for
the experiment."

"Does Bertram--does he look very--very ill?"

"Oh, rather frail, of course; but he looks very good to me with his
nice gray eyes so care-free."

"He has the most lovely teeth I ever saw," said Linda with a gulp.

"Yes; they're just as nice as ever."

"I wish you were in a serious mood, Mrs. Porter."

"How can I be when I'm so relieved and grateful?"

"Can't you be a little sorry for me, who am absolutely miserable?"
Linda's words were interspersed with catches in the throat, but she was
determined to weep no more.

"No one should be that. Cheer up, girlie. That nice Whitcomb--"

Linda jerked her face around into the pillow. "Oh, don't go on calling
him 'that nice Whitcomb!' It seems as if I was born just to make
everybody miserable!"

Mrs. Porter squeezed the ankle by which she was sitting. "Not
everybody. I'm sure Madge Lindsay will give you a vote of thanks if you
don't absorb Mr. Whitcomb."

"Why? Has she come to life?" inquired Linda gloomily.

"I should say she has. Everybody over there is galvanized with all this
excitement. Mrs. Lindsay says Luella nearly went out of her mind at
first with two men impending, and she told Mrs. Lindsay she couldn't
do so much cooking: that she'd have to get a 'chief' from Portland;
but I tell you, Mrs. Lindsay is a general. She promised Miss Benslow
to help her. She exiled Pa to his boathouse and hired Letty Martin to
wash dishes,--that's Blanche Aurora's sister,--and Luella, from being
desperate, is now on the top of the wave. That nice Whitcomb--excuse
me,"--the speaker gave the ankle a little shake,--"I mean that strong,
good-natured Freddy has kissed the blarney stone, probably. At any
rate, Luella is his bond slave already."

"What relation are the Lindsays to him?"

"Mrs. Lindsay told me. She and Fred's father are own cousins."

"That's not too near," said Linda dismally.

"No, but don't order any wedding presents yet, though I assure you
Madge looked very fetching this afternoon in a rose corduroy gown and
hat."

"Oh, I shan't do anything pleasant yet," responded Linda. "Mrs.
Porter, I don't see how you can keep me in suspense. Didn't Bertram
speak of me at all?"

"I--I don't think so."

"Don't think so! Wouldn't you be certain if he had?"

"I'm sure he didn't, then."

"You know all you've said to me about our being punished for everything
wrong we do."

"Yes."

"How long--how long do you think my punishment will last?" asked Linda
naïvely.

"What does it consist in? What do you mean?"

"Bertram's not forgiving me. I have that awful feeling that Bertram
never will forgive me--never can like me again, when--when"--the
nervous excitement in the low voice increased--"he's the most important
person in the world to me: the one Father loved best and who has helped
him most. Think what I've done! Put myself beyond the pale of his
liking: his forgiveness." A dry sob shook the speaker. "And Fred hasn't
told him about the letters. He doesn't dream yet that we know the
truth; and Fred says I mustn't tell him: that he mustn't be excited."

"Hush, Linda. Think, dear. You know enough truth to steer by now. 'Cast
thy burden on the Lord, and He will sustain thee.' All your part is to
think right and do right to-day. You don't want to escape punishment,
do you?"

"Yes, I do. I've been punished enough, just in the last few hours.
I want Bertram to know I suffer and to forgive me, and to accept my
appreciation of all he has done."

"Look out there, Linda,"--Mrs. Porter indicated the starry firmament
visible through the broad window, every golden point scintillating
in the crystal clear air. "The marvelous order and peace of that sky
will rest you and make you realize what it is to allow yourself to be
guided by the same Mind that planned those unthinkable depths yet which
notes the sparrow's fall. Turn to Him. Never mind Bertram King and
Linda Barry. Just know that God is Love, and that to-morrow you will be
guided to take steps in the right direction. 'Commit thy way unto Him
and He will bring it to pass.'"

"Bring what to pass?" asked Linda eagerly. "What?"

"Ah, there comes in the temptation to outline. We can't tell what; but
we must have faith that it will be the best thing, the happiest thing."

"Yes, I know," dejectedly. "I preached it all to Fred."

"That's it, dear. We don't really know these truths--they're not ours
until we've lived them."

A few minutes longer Mrs. Porter sat on the foot of Linda's bed. The
crescent moon dropped into the west, and the waves lapped the rugged
shore in long, murmurous sweeps.

They talked no more, and when Mrs. Porter said good-night and went to
her own room, had it not been so dark she would have observed that a
photograph of Bertram King had found a place on Linda's table.



CHAPTER XXIII

A GOOD NEIGHBOR


Miss Benslow was wont to refer to her weather-beaten house, woefully in
need of paint, as "the homestead." In her grandfather's time the place
had been a small farm, but Cy Benslow had sold all of it but a couple
of acres to Portland people who had put up cheap summer cottages.

The house was set back some two hundred feet from the sea and a few
Balm-of-Gilead trees relieved the monotony of the wind-swept landscape.

Madge Lindsay had found places for a couple of hammocks, which Fred
Whitcomb observed with satisfaction on his arrival with his charge.

"You're perfectly welcome to them," Miss Lindsay assured him. "Did you
ever play the rôle of a head of cabbage for six weeks?"

"Is it anything like a blockhead?" inquired Whitcomb. "I've played that
all my life."

"Yes, they're ever so much the same," drawled Madge. Perhaps she had
affected a drawl to offset her devoted mother's snappy, nervous manner.
At any rate, it was second nature now. "You're not allowed to have an
idea when you're assigned the rôle of cabbage head; so it amounts to
the same thing as your limitation."

"Thanks awfully," returned Whitcomb. "It's worth everything to discover
sympathy." He was establishing King in a steamer chair on the piazza
while they were talking: a precarious piazza it was, with a list to
leeward.

Mrs. Lindsay looked on solicitously and held ready a steamer rug.
"These slanting boards used to make me seasick at first," she said,
"but after a while you don't mind anything here, the air is so divine
and there's so much of it." She extinguished King's evident shiver with
her rug.

"Thank you, Mrs. Lindsay," he said. "Do you guarantee that in a short
time I shall act and feel less like a shaky old woman? Or, perhaps,
I'm more like a baby. Whitcomb's brought everything along but a
nursing-bottle, and his beefiness makes me feel like a rattling
skeleton."

"Oh, just be a cabbage, Mr. King," advised Madge, "and you'll come out
all right. You know how much stress is laid on _thinking_ these days.
Don't think a shaky old woman, and don't think a baby, but think a
cabbage. It's the most restful thing in the world; and there's nothing
and nobody here to inspire a thought."

"You have neighbors," said King, "according to Whitcomb. A cousin of
mine, Mrs. Porter, is staying here with Miss Barry. Mrs. Porter is the
sort to inspire even a cabbage."

"Not when she's being one herself," returned Madge. "She's a music
teacher! Who can blame her? I know if I were one, I'd be a murderess
too.--Yes, they are over there, and so is Linda Barry. I hope neither
of you is attached to her, for I think she's the coldest, most
impossible girl I ever met."

"Surely you know of her sorrow?" said Whitcomb, and his expression was
a reproach to the girl's drawling speech.

"Oh, so you _are_ attached! Forgive me, won't you? All the same, if
I'm ever in mourning I'm determined not to freeze my sister-woman and
slink away from her into by-ways."

"Madge, dear," warned Mrs. Lindsay.

"Oh, Mother and Miss Barry have had some traffic over ferns; and Mrs.
Porter's offishness is different from Linda Barry's. She's a queen,
Mrs. Porter is. I'd take lessons of her just for the companionship,
only that she'd think _I_ thought I had a voice."

"And so you have, a very nice one," chirped Mamma.

"Her goose is such a swan," exclaimed Madge, with a lazy smile. "No one
should be without a mother."

"Shoo, all of you," said Whitcomb, motioning with his hands. "I want
King to go to sleep."

The convalescent's eyes closed as his head rested against the pillow of
his reclining chair. "There goes Whitcomb, again," he announced through
his nose. "Baby always goes to sleep in his carriage when he hits the
oxygen, you know."

"No, no, Mr. King. Cabbage, cabbage," exclaimed Madge in reminder, as
she jumped off the rickety steps.

Her acquaintance with Whitcomb had been very casual heretofore. There
had been a few hours in New York and a few hours in Chicago at various
times when cousinly amenities were exchanged; and now, as her youthful
vitality had reasserted itself, the rôle of vegetable was becoming a
frightful bore, and this invasion of the two young men restored an
interest in life.

There was a level plain back of Miss Benslow's house and Madge had
discovered signs that previous boarders had essayed to play tennis
there. She led Whitcomb to it now.

"Don't you think we might fix it up?" she asked.

He looked dubiously at the tufts of grass. "And crack a few tendons
over these hummocks?" he suggested. "Do you play much?"

Her dark eyes gave him a provocative glance. "I might surprise you,"
she drawled.

"Good enough. It will be better than nothing."

"Which? A girl antagonist or the court?"

"I'll tell you that later."

"Then go and ask Luella for a scythe and a lawn mower. Let's begin
right off. I'm aching to play."

"Don't believe I can this afternoon," returned Whitcomb, rather
consciously. "I ought to go over to Miss Barry's and call the first
thing."

"Oh, yes. I forgot the attachment." Madge's dark, tanned face lighted
brilliantly with a gleam of white teeth. She feigned a shiver. "Be
careful that she doesn't freeze you. To call on Linda Barry seems an
intrepid act to me."

"You didn't grow up with her."

"I suppose she's really charming when one knows her," said Madge, as
they turned away from the potential court and strolled toward the
house. Whitcomb's manner as he replied had suggested danger. "She's
certainly lovely to look upon."

"You haven't seen her yet in a normal condition," he replied, somewhat
mollified. "People can't get over shocks like hers in a minute. This
must have been a great place for her, though."

Whitcomb's eyes swept the vastness of sea and sky.

"If you don't find her much improved, tell her of the cabbage stunt,"
said Madge. Then she pointed out to her companion the low, broad,
shingled cottage, clinging to the rocky shore, and turned away toward
the house.

"To-morrow morning for the tennis court," said Whitcomb gayly as he
left her.

"How tiresome," she thought. "That Barry iceberg will never like me,
and now Fred will want to drag her into everything. If only Mr. King
had his sea legs."

She looked disapprovingly toward the piazza, where the convalescent's
clear-cut face showed, sleeping against the blue chintz pillow.

"Where has Fred gone, dear?" asked her mother's voice at her elbow. The
sharp eyes had witnessed her child's desertion.

"Gone over to call on Linda Barry. I think that's all he came here for."

"H'm. Shows Fred's not mercenary. Still, you know, things aren't going
to turn out so badly as people expected. I had a talk with Fred this
morning and he's quite optimistic. It seems that that Mr. King is the
hero of the whole affair. I'll tell you about it sometime. Hasn't he
an aristocratic face!" added Mrs. Lindsay, with an approving snap of
her eyes toward the steamer chair.

"I wanted to fix the tennis court. I wish that human Thermos bottle was
in Kamchatka."

Mrs. Lindsay laughed. "They retain heat as well as cold, remember.
Perhaps Fred knows what is inside that one better than you do."

Madge yawned and put an arm around her mother as they walked toward the
house. They were excellent friends.

The following morning, when Whitcomb had finished ministering to the
convalescent's needs, and had placed him comfortably in the hammock, he
was ready for the tennis court proposition.

It proved that Luella's lawn mower was an antique whose working days
were over; and she indicated to the young people a house where one
could be borrowed. It was not Miss Barry's cottage!

When they had traversed some distance across the field on the errand, a
demurely stepping figure approached them. It was a very young girl in
a blue frock, bareheaded, and carrying with great solicitude a bowl
covered with a napkin.

As she approached, Whitcomb recognized her, and it was with some relief
that she recognized him, bareheaded, and in khaki trousers and sweater,
with a general appearance of being long for this world. He was laughing
and talking with Luella's boarder in a reassuring manner, and when his
eyes fell upon her, he spoke. "Why, good-morning, Blanche Aurora."

"Good mornin', Mr. Whitcomb," she responded loudly in her best manner
and with a sharp glance at the dark young lady in the rose gown.

"Whither away, Blanche Aurora?"

"I'm carryin' jell to the king," she announced.

"What's this?" Fred's eyes lighted curiously on the snowy napkin.
"Something nice for King, eh? Bertram the first?"

"Lemon jell," announced Blanche Aurora, with a proud accession of lung
power, and an evident desire not to be delayed.

"Well, Mr. King's over there in a hammock," said Whitcomb, looking
doubtful. "I don't believe I need to go back."

"Go back? Of course not!" cried Madge.--"Ask for Mrs. Lindsay when you
get to Miss Benslow's and she'll see to it. Come on, Fred."

Blanche Aurora gave the young lady one look, as cold and impersonal as
china-blue optics are capable of bestowing, and moved on her way. Call
for Mrs. Lindsay! Not likely, now that she knew the king was easy prey
in a hammock.

"But poor King," protested Whitcomb, as he followed Madge's determined
march. "Is it fair? No cotton for his ears."

"Oh, she probably won't see him at all. The young one will give the
jelly to Mother and she'll attend to it."

Little Madge Lindsay knew of the swelling heart beneath the blue
gingham frock. Blanche Aurora's confused and excited meditations had
conferred royalty upon the mysterious stranger, and should she find him
informally wearing a crown in his hammock, it would not astonish her in
the least.

Arriving at the Benslow house, she cast glances askance toward piazza
and windows, fearing that some one might inquire her business; but it
was ten-thirty in the morning, a busy time for housekeepers, and she
proceeded unmolested toward the Balm-of-Gilead trees.

One hammock hung empty, its fringes stirring but lightly in the
protected nook to which the trees owed their life.

The visitor caught sight of fair hair on the pillow of the second
swinging couch, and continuing from the head a long black chrysalis.

She approached eagerly. King, glancing around at a sound, suddenly saw
beside him a blue-clothed figure with long, white, pipe-stem legs, and
white sneakers. The newcomer's red braided hair glinting in the sun was
surmounted by a voluminous blue bow.

As he turned his head, the better to see his visitor, she burst forth
in one breath: "I'm Miss Belinda Barry's help, Blanche Aurora Martin,
Blanche Aurora for short, and I've brought you a snack, O King."

The invalid turned, chrysalis and all, the better to view the bowl
being extended to him.

"Why--why"--he said, exhibiting broadly the teeth Linda had
commended,--"somebody is being very kind to me."

"It's Miss Barry; but I made the jell and she sent it with her
compliments. Snacks is good for folks that's sick and delicate."

As she spoke, the visitor was devouring the royal features with
intent to verify her suspicion concerning the new photograph, and to
understand the great man's influence on Miss Linda.

"What did you say was your name?"

"Blanche Aurora."

"Well, you're a very kind little girl. Do you say that jelly is for me?"

"Yes, and you'd better eat it right off, O King, 'cause the middle o'
the mornin' is the time for snacks. I've got a spoon in here,"--she
took off the napkin and revealed it. "If you eat it now, you see, I can
take the bowl back; 'cause if it once gits in with Luella's things, no
tellin' when we'd ever see it again."

King's gray eyes twinkled. "Blanche Aurora, you're a joy," he declared
mildly, "and never in my life have I seen anything look so good as that
jelly."

"It is good, O King," admitted the visitor, stentorianly modest. "It's
got orange juice in it, too."

"Then, get that chair over there under the tree, and bring it here
where you'll be more sociable; and would you mind getting the pillow
out of the other hammock so I can be royally propped up. If I'm a king,
nothing's too good for me, eh?"

"Of course, nothin's too good for you," declared Blanche Aurora
solemnly, as she carried out his directions.

"I'm afraid somebody has been--well--stringing you, to put it
informally, concerning myself," remarked the invalid when his visitor
had propped his shoulders to her liking. "If my head should lie any
uneasier if it wore a crown, the game wouldn't be worth the candle.
Could you pull that pillow a little higher--there, that's fine. Now,
then, for the jelly."

The visitor took it from the chair, and handing it to him, seated
herself, with her demurest company manner.

"One thing more, you good child. Can you tuck the end of that rug under
my feet?"

"Is your feet cold?" asked Blanche Aurora sharply as she jumped up and
complied. "Do you wish you had a hot-water bag?"

"I dare say Whitcomb brought one."

"But the hens can lend you all you want," declared Blanche Aurora
earnestly. "They don't need 'em this weather."

"The hens? What sort of a place have I got into?"

So the visitor explained Luella's invention, and King laughed till he
was weak, while the little girl eyed him solemnly.

"Do stop," he begged. "Spare me this last humiliation of being in the
old hen's class. Now, Blanche Aurora, here goes." And he began an
appreciative attack on the jelly.



CHAPTER XXIV

WHITCOMB'S CONFESSION


Blanche Aurora never removed her eyes from her beneficiary.

"The best jelly ever," he remarked between two mouthfuls.

"You don't talk a bit like a king," she declared judicially.

"Have you known many?"

"Only in stories."

"Somebody evidently has told you a fairy story about me,"--the speaker
continued to eat industriously. "Who tried to induce you to believe
that I was anything but an American rack of bones?"

"I knew you was a great man, and they said King."

"A great man, eh? How's that?"

"And I believed nobody but a king could make Miss Linda cry."

The gray eyes lifted for a look at the visitor before the eating
recommenced.

"Not guilty," said King.

"She cried somethin' terrible 'cause you was sick."

The memory seemed to make the small piquant nose tingle, for Blanche
Aurora wiggled it and snapped the china-blue eyes.

"She cries a good deal, I suppose."

"She never cries," declared the small maid indignantly. "Why should
anybody that can have anythin' in the world and do anythin' in the
world _cry_? I didn't know Miss Linda could cry; but her beau came
over--"

The gray eyes lifted again, for a moment, but the convalescent's
appetite appeared to be still ravenous.

"--And she was walkin' with him, and she come into the house and told
Miss Barry you was sick, and--" Again Blanche Aurora's nose and lips
wiggled in grievous reminiscence.

"Do you mean Mr. Frederick Whitcomb?"

"That's him. He told me he was her beau, but I guess he ain't no
longer. I don't believe"--a shrewd look coming into the blue gazing
eyes--"I don't believe she'd cry like that about _him_, 'cause she
never does cry." The addition was made with a return of indignation.
"She's the beautifulest, kindest lady in the whole world."

"H'm," mumbled King, over an extra large spoonful.

"She give me this dress"--the speaker grasped a fold of the azure
gingham--"and a pink one, too, and ribbons. She used to wear the
dresses herself, 'fore her pa died. When she come here first I looked
like a scarecrow."

"My compliments, Blanche Aurora." King bowed toward his companion whose
small white teeth gleamed in a face thrilled into vivacity. "You do
Miss Linda credit."

"So I wondered what you was like, O King--I mean Mr. King. I guess
you're just plain Mister, ain't you?"

"There never was a plainer."

"And so, when I seen this new likeness on Miss Linda's table, standin'
by her pa's, I wondered if perhaps 'twas you, and it is!" finished
Blanche Aurora with all the triumph of a Sherlock Holmes. "I put a wild
rose front of her pa every day, and says I to her this mornin', 'Shall
I git a rose for the new picture, too?'--but she looked awful sad and
she shook her head and says, 'I'm afraid not, Blanche Aurora. We need
pansies for that'; and we ain't got a pansy on the place. I'm awful
sorry."

"Do you know, I don't believe I can quite finish this delicious jelly?
I feel now as if my sweater wouldn't give any more."

"Well, you've et quite a lot," observed the visitor, looking into the
bowl.

"I certainly have; and will you thank Miss Barry for me, and tell her
that I feel in these noticeable bones that I'm going to be up and
around before very long?"

"I'll tell her; and, oh, yes! Be you able to see folks?"

King's eyes twinkled. "Well, I seem to have seen you without any
danger."

"Yes, but they didn't expect I was goin' to see you." There was a
triumphant gleam in the speaker's eyes. "They told me to leave the
jell."

"You think for yourself, don't you, Blanche Aurora?" laughed King,
settling down comfortably into his pillow.

"I was bound I was goin' to see who it was could make Miss Linda sob,
and _sob_, and besides, I wanted to see if the likeness was you that
wasn't ever on her table before."

Long after the visitor's departure King lay, a deep line between his
brows, his perplexed thoughts accompanied by the constant sound as of
rain in the rustling Balm-of-Gilead leaves above him. Linda in wild
tears; Linda placing a photograph of himself beside that of her father
and all following Fred Whitcomb's visit; there was something here to be
inquired into.

It was nearly noon when the laborers on the tennis court returned. King
could hear their laughter as they approached the house; and shortly
Whitcomb appeared beside the hammock, exasperatingly robust and gay,
and wiping his moist brow.

"How goes it?" he asked, grasping the rope and swinging the couch.

"Stop that, or I'll murder you," growled King.

"Sure thing. I forgot," said Whitcomb as he tightened his hold and
brought the chrysalis to a standstill. "Madge Lindsay's a scream," he
continued. "She's more fun than a barrel of monkeys. She knows every
word of the Winter Garden and Follies songs for the last two years.
I'll get her started so you can hear her one of these times."

"Good Lord, deliver us!" uttered King devoutly.

"Got a grouch, old man?" asked Whitcomb with a solicitous change of
tone. "Did Blanche A-roarer, the human siren, blow her whistle too near
you? We met her and she said she was bringing you jell."

"She did, and it's safely stowed away under my sweater. What are you
going to do next?"

"Why, we thought we'd go into the water. We both took a Turkish bath
out there on that Transgressor's Boulevard that we're trying to turn
into a tennis court. It's high tide, and Madge says there's a beach
down here where we can get a ducking when the water's high. That's the
trouble with this place. It's so jagged and deep, only a submarine
could go bathing here at low tide. Why?" added Whitcomb. "Did you want
me for anything?"

"No. What should I want you for? Get out."

"All right. You'll be coming with us in a little while. So long. We're
watching the time and we'll be on hand for dinner. Mackerel, the fair
Luella told me. I can hardly wait."

King gazed after his friend as the latter ran across the grass and
disappeared within their tent. He closed his eyes, and opening them in
a few minutes at a sound, found beside him a figure in a long black
cloak, with a dark face beneath a red bathing-cap. Miss Lindsay was
smiling down at him.

"We're going for a dip, Mr. King. I wish you could come."

"Pardon my not rising," said the invalid.

"It's such fun to have somebody to play with. I'm so glad you brought
Fred here. I was getting so bored."

"That's a consoling way of putting it," remarked King. "It's a proud
moment when I am spoken of as taking anybody anywhere."

"Oh, you'll be out of that hammock in a week. Do you like the banjo,
Mr. King?"

"I hate it," he replied distinctly; then seeing the dark face fall,
"but not more than I do everything."

"So discouraging," drawled Madge. "I was going to promise to give you
some perfectly jolly darky tunes to-night."

"Good Lord, deliver us!" again rose to King's lips, but he swallowed
the phrase. "Don't mind about me," he said. "Just give me a few
board nails to bite, and let it go at that. I'm not worse than other
convalescents, I dare say."

"Lemon jelly wasn't the thing to feed him," said Madge to Whitcomb, as
a few minutes later they were scrambling down the bank toward a short
stretch of pebbly beach. "He should be fed saccharine and nothing else.
You never do know what to do with such people. You don't like not to
be civil. You have a wonderful disposition, Fred. Yes, you have. I've
always noticed it."

"I fancy I am something of an optimist," admitted Whitcomb, "but I need
to be, as badly as anybody that ever lived. Now I'm trying to think
that that sunny water will feel the way it looks."

"Come on, then," cried Madge, flinging aside her cloak, and seizing his
hand she drew him, protesting and howling, into the icy flood. The wind
was offshore, and Madge, thoroughly acclimated, had been anticipating
mischievously the effect upon the tenderfoot.

He was game, however, and Lake Michigan had made him practically
amphibious, so they had an exhilarating swim before coming out on the
white pebbles for a sun bath.

"I'm afraid it will be a long time before King can stand that,"
remarked Whitcomb.

"What did you mean," asked Madge, "by saying a few minutes ago that you
need a happy disposition more than other people? Is it because Mr. King
is so difficult?"

"No," replied Whitcomb, gathering up a few pebbles and beginning to
play jackstones. He avoided his companion's very good-looking but
enterprising eyes.

"Well, aren't you going to tell me?"

"I don't know why I shouldn't. You're my cousin. I adore a girl who
doesn't care a hang for me."

"The Thermos bottle," thought Madge acutely. "But you won't tell me
who?" she hazarded aloud.

"Why should I?"

"You don't have to; but just remember this, Freddy Whitcomb. Look at
this great ocean. It's like the great world. That saying, 'there's just
as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it,' is true; and"--Madge
captured Whitcomb's reluctant gaze with as bright eyes as ever sparkled
under a red cap--"some people are only fish with gold scales," she
drawled.

"She isn't," blurted out the young man defensively.

"Of course not," laughed Madge. "Want to go in once more?"

Whitcomb sprang to his feet. "Once more, and then what ho! for the
mackerel!"

As he helped Madge up the bank a little later he said: "I must stay
with King this afternoon."

"And call at the Barrys'," thought his companion.

"I'm afraid he got sort of down this morning, all alone."

"Well, we'll have another go at the court to-morrow," replied Madge
good-naturedly. "Freddy needn't have worried," she thought. She was far
too clever to satiate a man with her society.

King came to the dinner table and did full justice to the meal. "I'm
quite sure," he said to Mrs. Lindsay, "that those hammocks were
dedicated to the naps of yourself and your daughter, and I want to
assure you that I've had my share of them for to-day."

The ladies protested kindly.

"I've had my eye on a big rock there is over there nearer the water,"
said King. "I'm going to try my rickety legs that far."

A chorus of approval of the plan arose, and after a short time of
sitting about the discouraged piazza, he and Whitcomb rambled slowly
off.

To King's disgust, his friend as they left had picked up a steamer rug.

"Oh, cut it out," begged the convalescent.

"Shut up!" returned the other cheerfully.

Arrived at their goal, he threw down the rug and King was glad to sit
on it under the lee of the big rock.

"What did you do yesterday, Freddy?" asked King, going directly to the
subject uppermost in his mind.

"I called on Linda and Mrs. Porter. Mrs. Porter told you, didn't she?"

"Yes. She came over, exuding gratitude to you at every pore, and
adorably sympathetic and charming to me."

"Well, that's all right, isn't it?" returned Whitcomb, a little
uncomfortable under his friend's gaze, which seemed more portentous
than was necessary. "Women always overdo the gratitude business. Just
like her to praise me for engineering an extra long vacation for
myself."

"Freddy, you haven't told me everything," said King sternly. "Now, spit
it right out in Papa's hand."

"What are you talking about?" asked the other uneasily.

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out. When Linda left Chicago I was
the blackest sheep on her black list. What did you tell her to change
her attitude? It wasn't that I had been ill, for she would have buried
me cheerfully. Now, out with it!"

"Is this the third degree?" Whitcomb was gathering the daisies within
reach.

"Yes. It wasn't any opinion you had of me contrary to hers. She thinks
for herself; so give me the real stuff."

"Why do you believe she has changed?" Whitcomb returned the other's
gaze now doggedly.

"Because, after you left, she wept;--according to impartial testimony,
loud and long. Also she dug up my photograph and placed it on a table
beside her father's. This information was fed to me with the jelly."

"Blanche Aurora!" exclaimed Whitcomb, scowling.

"Exactly. Now, then!"

"Well," said Whitcomb, "it seems the time to tell you. While you were
in the hospital your jabbering aroused my suspicions. I wasn't Henry
Radcliffe and I hadn't been forbidden; so I went through some of your
papers. When I had found the Antlers correspondence I didn't need to go
any farther."

King's thoughtful frown deepened and his face grew slowly and darkly
red.

Whitcomb maintained his steady regard. "At that time I didn't know
whether you were going to live or not, but I did know that justice was
going to be done you."

Recollection of Whitcomb's devotion swept over the other man like a
tide, submerging the first sensation of outraged privacy: of having
been outwitted.

"You meant well," he said in a low tone.

"Yes, and I did well," said Whitcomb slowly. "I didn't tell Radcliffe
till the night before we left Chicago. Harriet was in Wisconsin. I
don't know her so well as Linda; but Linda is as fair-minded as another
fellow. There was only one thing to do in her case."

There was a short silence, then Whitcomb continued:--

"I'll tell you frankly that if I had had any idea of the depth of her
feeling in the matter, I should have hesitated. This laying down your
life for a friend isn't in my line. It's beyond me. You know how I've
banked on seeing her. Well, she can't see me. I used to be awfully
afraid of you and it passed. Now I'm afraid of you again."

King saw his friend's increasing difficulty of speech, and he put a
hand on the big brown arm.

"No cause, Freddy. Absolutely no cause," he said.

There was silence for a time, then King sank back from the erect
posture he had maintained.

"It can't be helped," he said, speaking low. "It can't be helped."

"No," said Whitcomb roughly, "and it ought not to be helped. There was
no sense in your quixotism."

"Would you, do you believe," asked King slowly,--"would _you_ do as
much for Linda?"

The other looked up at him sharply.

"Did you do it for Linda?"

"Yes; every act of my life I believed was for Linda," returned King
quietly.

"Then"--began Whitcomb excitedly.

"Yes; _then_," interrupted King, still quietly. "Then; not now. It's
over. It's finished."

Whitcomb frowned off toward the illimitable sea; and Madge's attempt
at consolation came back to him. He repudiated it. Linda Barry was
peerless.



CHAPTER XXV

THE MAN AND THE MAID


King's improvement was slow, but steady, and the stretch of good
weather upon which he happened on arriving at the Cape enabled him to
live out-of-doors and was a great factor in his favor.

Miss Barry called on him very early in his stay, bringing with her an
appetizing little custard. It was a form of food which King had always
detested, but feigning polite enthusiasm he tasted it to please her,
and promptly discovered that the gastronomic question was no longer,
"What is it?" but merely, "Where is it?" He finished the custard.

Mrs. Porter was a daily visitor, and one afternoon, when they had
walked over to the big rock and were resting there, she told him of her
own Arcadian retreat beside the spring.

"In such a little while you will be able to walk as far as that," she
said. "You will enjoy seeing Miss Barry's cottage, too. Did you know
it was her brother's gift?"

King nodded. "She was telling me about it the other day."

The sun had already begun to paint hues of health on his face and his
voice was gaining resonance. "I try to visualize Mr. Barry here in his
rôle of 'barefoot boy with cheek of tan,' but it's a hard proposition."

"So it is for Linda. She follows up old Jerry or any one else she can
find who went to school with her father, and gleans every possible
anecdote of his boyhood."

King leaned his head back on the rock and gazed up into space. "Isn't
it wonderful here?" he said. "I've thought many times since I arrived
of the old woman who, when she first beheld the ocean, exclaimed,
'Thank the Lord, that at last He's let me see enough of something!'"

"Yes, it's emancipation. Linda and I have often remarked that it would
seem impossible to have narrow thoughts here. She doesn't wish to
intrude, Bertram, but she would like to come to see you."

King met the sweet, questioning expression of his companion's eyes. "I
see plainly," he answered with a smile, "that you and I must have it
out about Linda. Your persistent references to her each time you come
show that she is very much on your mind."

"She is very much on my mind," returned Mrs. Porter gravely. "I wish
you would send a kindly message to her by me, and say that you would be
glad to see her."

"But I wouldn't, Maud," returned King mildly. "What would you do in
that case? Of course, you know the whole situation, and know that
Whitcomb with his grand little revelation bouleversed all Linda's fixed
ideas."

"Oh, she is so changed, Bertram," exclaimed Mrs. Porter. "She's not the
Linda you knew."

"Perhaps; but it's safe to say that she's still--still tremendous. I'm
more or less shaky yet; and I must confess that the prospect of an
interview with Linda in a cyclone of repentance makes me--well, shrink.
It croozles me, if you know what that means. Sort of takes me in the
pit of the stomach."

"You're all wrong. She has been through the fire, and she has learned
self-control." Mrs. Porter paused to choose her words. "She longs,
Bertram--longs for your forgiveness.

"I've nothing to forgive her," he returned pleasantly. "She had plenty
of company in the mistake she made."

Something in Mrs. Porter's loving look and wistful eyes caused the
speaker to change his tone.

"I won't fence with you, Maud. I told you once I loved Linda. I did,
with a depth which seemed to exhaust my power of loving. It's true
that one doesn't feel a pin-prick when at the same moment he is struck
a mortal blow. The fatal fact was not that Linda blamed me for the
sorrow that had fallen upon her. It was that there was no desire on
her part to give me a chance: to hear my side of the story: none of
the extenuation which one ray of love would have naturally expressed.
Instead, there was hatred in her eyes. That was the only thing that
mattered."

King leaned back against the rock, breathing fast. "I tell you this,
Maud. You're the only person in the world who will know it, and
we won't speak of it again. I know Linda so well. I know how this
revulsion of feeling would express itself with her. She would like
to come over here and wait on me by inches. My wish would be her law;
but that would matter no more than her mistake about the Antlers. The
essential fact has been revealed, and--nothing else matters."

"Is your present feeling for her dislike, then?" asked Mrs. Porter.

"Certainly not."

"It would be no pain to you to meet her?"

"It would be a bore," returned King gently. "Isn't that enough? Of
course, it will have to come some day; but I've been a good deal
indulged lately, and I believe in putting off an evil day. I should
like Linda to have worked off some of her repentant steam before we
meet."

King, his self-possession regained, smiled again into his companion's
face. "Whitcomb is devoted to her. Let her work it off on him," he
added.

"She will never marry him," said Mrs. Porter.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," was the polite response.

Mrs. Porter leaned toward her companion with her broad, charming smile.

"Bertram King, that's a lie," she remarked slowly.

He winked and lifted his eyebrows.

"There's a lot for you to learn about love," she went on. "To love
unselfishly is the best thing that can happen to anybody."

"There's no such thing as unselfish love," declared King.

"Oh, yes there is, and you proved that you experienced it. You put
Linda's happiness above your own. You willingly endured injustice to
mitigate her pain. Don't you know that your nature was enriched by
that? Don't you know that your action, now that she understands it,
reflects upon her, and uplifts her nature and her ideals? We can't
crystallize, because we're the children of God; and God is Infinite
Love, and Love is a divine principle which is ever active. You
assume too much when you hold Linda to the narrow development of her
school-girl days. You can remain behind your human defenses and refuse
to forgive her if you choose--"

"I told you, and honestly, that I have nothing to forgive."

Mrs. Porter shook her head. "God doesn't treat us so when we turn
to Him repentantly. He doesn't say there is nothing to forgive and
leave us with the sharp thorn unremoved. That sweet sense that God is
Love is borne in upon us after a genuine repentance, and gives the
consciousness that we shall be upheld if we long to be, and guarded
from a repetition of the offense."

"My dear Maud, you're way beyond my depth."

"No, Bertram, I am not. You reflected something of the divine in that
tender protecting love you felt for Linda. I don't despair of you. In
spite of all the things you have been saying to fortify your human
self, I know, for actions speak louder than words, that a very lofty
affection once found place in your heart, and that pure flame cannot
die because it was a reflection of that which is immortal and eternal.
Never mind Linda. God will take care of her, too. Your business is with
your own thought, to keep it in a high place, trusting to be led to
that happiness which God has prepared for them that love Him, without
outlining what that happiness shall consist in."

King drew a long breath and smiled, looking long and affectionately at
his companion.

"Isn't she the great little preacher!" he remarked.

"Oh, it's all so simple!" exclaimed Mrs. Porter softly, clasping her
hands together. "Why can't everybody see it!"

When she went home to-day, she told Linda nothing of this interview.
The girl had ceased to cross-question her friend on her return from
these visits; for she never received any satisfaction, and the
invitation she longed for never came.

Blanche Aurora was very much alive to the fact that her adored one was
the only member of the family who had not called on the convalescent.
She was not entirely satisfied to have it so. King's photograph had
been framed, and Blanche Aurora in the growing scarcity of wild roses
made little bouquets of clover and daisies and placed them between the
two pictures, and she noticed that Linda allowed the sharing.

Whitcomb came to call sometimes, but between his attentions to King
and the carrying out of Madge's various plans, his time was pretty well
occupied.

Late one afternoon Blanche Aurora found Linda in the hammock and alone.
She seized her opportunity.

"Say, Miss Linda," she began, "we've got a real good Bavarian cream for
Mr. King's supper. 'Tain't convenient for me to take it over. I wonder
if you could."

Linda sat up, and regarded the white-aproned short figure. The pink bow
atop quivered with the depth of its owner's imaginings and deep-laid
schemes. The keen eyes observed that Linda flushed and hesitated.

"Mrs. Porter is still in Portland?" she asked.

"Why, yes, and didn't you know Miss Barry went too? I've got to get
their supper, you see; and the cream come out awful good."

Linda rose. "Yes, I'll go," she said quietly; but there was no quiet
within.

All the way across the field, her heart hurried. She had never called
at the Benslow house. To go for the first time to see King, without his
request, and risk his betraying, perhaps, before the others, that she
was unwelcome, was an ordeal which she dreaded, but the desire to see
him rose above the confusion of her crowding thoughts, and though her
hands trembled on the covered bowl she pushed on.

The lovely late afternoon light struck across the field. Bertram King,
wandering down from the piazza, noted the golden sheen upon the grass
and the majestic cloud-effects in the vast arch above. His near-sighted
eyes beheld a white figure advancing in the golden light.

He hastened his steps in welcome.

"Good for you," he cried. "I was getting very tired of myself. There's
been an exodus from here to Portland to-day. I know I'm a big boy now,
since Whitcomb was willing to leave me. Even Miss Benslow is out and
I'm holding the fort."

All the time that his words were calling through the still air, he
was walking toward the visitor. Linda's face from doubt grew radiant.
The relieved, happy color rose in her cheeks. Her lovely eyes beamed.
In her white gown and with her shining, grateful joy, she was very
beautiful as her light springing step brought her near and into
King's field of vision. His breath caught in the shock and he stood
stock-still.

"I'm glad to see you, too, Bertram," she cried. Her eyes were starry,
her smile enchanting.

"Why, Linda! I beg your pardon. I thought you were Maud," he exclaimed.

The change in his tone, his blank surprise and ebbing eagerness, set
Linda's heart to beating wildly. The stricture in her bosom drew back
the radiant promise from her face.

King saw the transformation with a pang. "Forgive my shouting at you
like that," he went on, struggling for his self-possession. It was
as if Linda's soul had been revealed to him for an instant, joyous,
hopeful, humble: the new Linda of whom Maud had spoken.

"You have something for me, I'll wager," he continued. He could see
the white napkin trembling in the suddenly unsteady hands. "Let me
take it," suiting the action to the word. "I've grown arrogantly used
to bowls coming across this field filled with something delicious,
designed to upholster these bones."

Linda had made good use of the time he gave her. Her throat was free
again. She could speak. "You look better than I expected," she said
quietly.

"And you, too, Linda. You do credit to the place." King was trying to
regain some of the plans he had formulated for their first interview;
but they had been designed to baffle effusiveness, and this girl in the
white gown seemed to radiate calm.

"Yes," she returned. "I have Blanche Aurora's word for it that the
Bavarian cream in that bowl is good. There has been an exodus to
Portland from our house, too, so she asked me to bring it over."

"Awfully good of you," said King, hot with mingled sensations. "There
never was any one so spoiled as I."

"I must run back now," said Linda. "I can see that you will soon have
the freedom of the neighborhood, and we shall be looking for you at
Aunt Belinda's."

"Oh, don't desert me," begged King. It was as if he had obtained the
promise of a wonderful gift: the lavish outpouring of a rich nature.
A veil had fallen, concealing it: a veil, pure, white, impenetrable.
Linda's eyes and voice were friendly, self-possessed.

"Blanche Aurora says snacks are good for you when you're sick and
delicate," he went on; "but never have I been reduced to eating a snack
alone. It's tea-time, too. Couldn't you make me some tea?"

Linda's dimple appeared. "I'm afraid the duty of a host presses upon
you. I'd better not. I've never called at the Benslows'. Besides, you
say there's not a chaperone on the place."

"There are the hens," said King eagerly. "Won't they do? You never saw
so many in your life. Come. We'll have tea on the piazza. Whitcomb has
rigged up an old sail across one end so Boreas shan't strike my frail
form too roughly."

He turned back toward the house, beseeching her with his eyes, and
Linda followed in silence. "I'm getting to know this bowl," continued
King, lifting it and investigating its blue stripes. "It's a magic
one, never empty excepting when I get through with it. We'll have two
spoons. I'm not stingy."

As they ascended the rickety piazza steps, King continued: "The
tea-table is in there in the living-room. I'll get--" he staggered,
and stopped. Whitcomb had been right when he said that his friend
couldn't yet bear excitement.

Linda, looking up, saw him grow ghastly pale.

"Oh, confound it!" he gasped.

The blue-and-white bowl fell from his hands down among Luella's
sweet-pea vines. He managed to take a step toward the steamer chair,
collapsed into it, and fainted away ignominiously.

Linda threw herself on her knees beside him. "Bertram, Bertram!" she
cried in grief and terror. It was for her father and for her that the
strong man had come to this. She slipped her arm around him. In her
inexperience she thought he might be dying.

"Oh, Bertram, speak to me!" she cried. There was a pitcher of water on
the neighboring table. She dipped her handkerchief into it and dabbed
his brow and his fair hair, and softly between dry sobs she called his
name. They were alone in the remote, tumbledown house. Even the ocean's
mighty grasp of its rocks sounded distant. There was no one to call
upon save the invisible Reality, and Linda turned her full heart to
the very present help.

In a minute, which seemed to her an hour, consciousness began to return
to King. Her arm was around him; she had drawn his cheek against her
bosom. As he slowly realized his position and heard her low voice, he
seemed again to see Linda as she had come toward him in her white gown
across the green gold of the field. Every paining haunting memory was
submerged in a strange, ineffable bliss.

Without opening his eyes he spoke her name.

"Yes, Bertram, yes," she responded joyfully.

"I love you, Linda."

Her heart bounded, and he felt it; and she did not change her position.

"I shall always love you. Whitcomb has stirred your gratitude toward
me. I don't care for it."

"Yes, I know," answered the girl, still holding him close.

"You wouldn't palm that off on me, would you?"

"I want to be fair"--the response was low. King's hands lay loosely
before him. "All that I am sure of is that I belong to you, Bertram."

"Are you certain that's all? It's a good deal, but it's not enough."

Linda's bosom labored. She remembered the longings of the last weeks,
the many moments of despair.

"Father loved you so," she uttered.

"That's not enough, either."

She drew herself gently away from him, but remained on her knees. He
sat up in the low chair, and their faces were on a level. Into hers
returned that look of riches unutterable and her eyes poured their gift
into his. She clasped her hands across her breast as she gazed.

The arms that had held him so close and protectingly felt empty.

"I love you, Bertram," she said, the words falling from her lips like a
vow.

Instantly the man's loose-lying hands became vital. King clasped her to
him. Their cheeks clung together and they kissed.



CHAPTER XXVI

A DIPLOMATIST


Luella Benslow had enjoyed her round of afternoon calls. She had
paraded the importance of the guests she was "accommodating" and had
swelled with satisfaction in the interest she had elicited.

In this complacent state of mind she was passing near Belinda Barry's
cottage on the way home when she observed a strange object on the roof
of the shed. The thing, whatever it was, moved, seeming to grow and
shrink again before her eyes. Luella owned some spectacles, but they
were worn only in private and reposed in these days in the kitchen
drawer, from which they occasionally emerged stealthily when some
exigency arose like the reading of a label on a spice box.

It was out of her way to go nearer to the cottage, but that mysterious
manifestation on the roof of the shed was too great a temptation for
flesh and blood to resist.

She changed her route and approached. In a minute the object,
recognizing her, rose to its full height and faced her cautious advance.

"For the land's sake!" exclaimed Miss Benslow in a minute more. She
stood still.

"Blanche Aurora Martin, what under the canopy are you doin' up there?
Don't you know you'll defame them shingles?"

Blanche Aurora looked down on the newcomer, who was dressed in her
very best. About her neck hung chains enough to excite the envy of the
aborigines. On her head she wore a hat with an ostrich feather which
stood up bravely, although its appearance suggested that a sea-bath had
been one of its many trying experiences.

"I'll bet Belinda ain't to home," went on Miss Benslow accusingly, and
the culprit stood at ease, her arms akimbo.

"I should think you was old enough by this time not to go caperin'
around on roofs. What you up there for?"

"Lookin' for my gum," replied Blanche Aurora.

"You needed a spyglass for that, did you?"

Indeed, the accused was balancing a long slender glass on one hip.

"You know the store Miss Barry sets by that glass, and I'll bet she
wouldn't let you touch it. Your folks must be all out, the way you're
actin'. The idea o' stickin' your gum up on that roof. Get it and come
down this minute. It's dretful bad for them shingles."

"Oh, I don't care 'bout my gum anyway. I don't chaw no more 'cause Miss
Linda don't like to have me."

With surprising ease and carelessness the speaker dropped to a sitting
posture, slid down the low shed roof and landed upright at Miss
Benslow's feet.

The visitor started back. "My heart!" she exclaimed, clapping to her
breast the hand not burdened with a blue parasol. "A wonder you didn't
drop that glass, you naughty girl."

"Oh, dry up!" remarked Blanche Aurora nonchalantly.

"How dare you address me so! Don't you know your sister is in my
employ?"

"What's that got to do with the high price o' putty?" inquired the
other in a swaggering manner.

"Well!" ejaculated Miss Benslow wrathfully. "Your wonderful Miss
Linda don't seem to have improved your manners as much as she has your
attire. I hope Letty Martin knows there's nobody at my house that's
goin' to rig _her_ up in pink ribbons. We ain't such fools over there:
though I guess the Lindsays could buy and sell Linda Barry since her
c'lamities, and the _gentlemen_ that I'm accawmodatin'--" Miss Benslow
raised her scanty eyebrows impressively--"is simply _made_ o' money!
Good gracious," she added in a different tone, "here I am wastin' my
time with you, and Mr. King left alone all this time. He might want
somethin'!" She turned with an air of pressing business.

Blanche Aurora had pricked up her ears at the last remark.

"Alone?" she repeated, with sudden interest. "Has your folks all gone
too?"

The spyglass from the roof had discerned a white gown on the Benslow
piazza, but the disturbing question had been to whom it belonged. Mrs.
Lindsay or her daughter might have been keeping the invalid company,
while Miss Linda wandered away for a walk. The little girl's brain
worked fast.

"Say, I'm sorry I was impident to you," she said, with conciliatory
meekness.

"Well, you'd better be," snapped Luella, pausing to loosen a point of
her parasol from the fringe of her cape.

"Say, you don't need to hurry right off, do you? I'm all alone."

Miss Benslow looked suspiciously at the speaker. It was too much to ask
one to believe that saucy Blanche Aurora, with her tip-tilted nose and
her bold eyes, was really penitent.

"Yes, I do," she retorted, unmollified. "If this pesky parasol will
ever let go that fringe."

"Let me fix it," offered the meek one; and she did fix it so
effectively that for almost five minutes more Miss Benslow stood there,
fuming.

"Oh, pshaw, let it go!" she exclaimed at last, jerking away; and with
the jerk the parasol freed itself.

"Oh, say, Luella--I mean Miss Benslow. I feel so kind o' lonely. You've
got a fireless cooker, hain't you? I don't see why you have to hurry
so."

"Of course I've got a fireless cooker, and a new blue-flame stove, and
a receipt book better than any thing _you_ ever saw."

"Well, I was only goin' to say wouldn't you like some violet perfume
on your handkercher? I've got some perfectly ellergunt and you're
a-carryin' such a pretty handkercher."

"That there handkercher," announced Miss Benslow proudly, "was brought
me by a gentleman, the last time he was to Portland."

"Oh, I didn't know as Mr. King was strong enough to go to Portland,"
said Blanche Aurora humbly, touching the handkerchief admiringly.

"He ain't," declared the visitor, with a grand air. "'T warn't him.
'T was somebody quite different: somebody that calls me Luella." The
visitor giggled. "He asked me if he might."

"I wonder," said Blanche Aurora with an awestruck air, "if it could 'a'
ben that spullendid Mr. Whitcomb!"

"Well," returned the other, smiling and bridling, "that's jest who
it is. He wants me to call him Fred, but I'm awful shy that way. I
may some day, but I haven't yet. You needn't tell nobody, but Madge
Lindsay is perfectly crazy over him. She tries to hide it, but she
can't from me. I've got eyes and ears. She sings to him on the piazza
these moonlight nights and plays on a thing that looks like a big
potater-bug. She calls it a bandelin."

"I think you're real smart to get along with such a big family," said
Blanche Aurora with the same admiring air.

"Well, I didn't know's I could, fust off; but you see, it was this way.
Miss Lindsay she confided in me. Madge was gittin' strong and beginnin'
to hanker to git away where things was gay,--the merry whirl, you
know--"

Oh, yes; Blanche Aurora's nod, and her close, respectful attention
showed that though young and inexperienced she did know.

--"So jest at that crucical time there come this appeal from Fred--I
mean Mr. Whitcomb--in Chicago, and Mis' Lindsay says to me, she
says, 'I b'lieve if my daughter had her cousin here to play with
she'd settle down contented again. I don't want her to go away yet.'
Cousin!"--contemptuously--"'T ain't any very near cousin, I guess;
and I can tell you she does play with him--and _to_ him--and _at_ him.
Oh"--with sudden recollection--"ain't I smart! I must go."

"Well, jest a minute, Miss Benslow. I'll bet it would please Mr.
Whitcomb like everything to have that spullendid handkercher smellin'
good. Jest come in my room a minute."

Once in the room Luella found her hostess so entertaining that she
stayed another ten minutes, admiring the pretty things which closet
and dresser revealed, and which under ordinary circumstances their
owner would have guarded sedulously from these inquisitive eyes and
loquacious lips. However, it was all for Miss Linda. Of course, Blanche
Aurora couldn't be certain that her adored one wanted this extra
latitude, but her absorption in Linda had made her preternaturally
observing; besides, she remembered those sobs.

Her quick conclusion was that it were better to let Luella Benslow tell
all over the neighborhood about her stockings and petticoats than to
interrupt the interview which the spyglass had revealed.

"Why, it must be time for the folks to be gettin' home!" ejaculated
Miss Benslow at last, with a return of panic. "I'll have to run every
step o' the way."

Blanche Aurora gave a sweet smile of contentment and sought no further
to detain her guest. She watched from the window, and laughed wickedly
as the ostrich feather veered and swung in the half-lope, half-run of
its conscience-smitten wearer.

Halfway across the field Miss Benslow met a white-clothed figure moving
unhurriedly.

"Why, Miss Linda, I thought you was to Portland," she said, breathless
from her race. At the same time a hope sprang within her. "Was you to
my house?" she added.

"Yes."

"I'm real sorry we was all out, 'cause you ain't ben neighborly." Miss
Benslow strove for easy elegance, but she was out of breath, and again
that pesky parasol had caught in her fringe. "Did you see Mr. King?"

"Yes."

"I'd ought to ben home sooner to give him his tea, but I hadn't a
time-piece with me."

"I gave him his tea."

"Oh, I'm so thankful! Now I can ketch my breath. You'll call again,
won't you?"

The radiant young girl blessed Miss Benslow with a wonderful smile.

"Yes. I'll come again to-morrow," she answered graciously, and passed
on her way.

Miss Benslow turned to look after the lithe, graceful figure crossing
Elysian fields.

"It's the first time I ever got a square look at her," she soliloquized
in surprise at her own impression. "She's a--a"--she hesitated for a
simile for the perfect simplicity of the girl's appearance, and that
enchanting smile. "I'd call her a sunlight beauty," she finished, and
trudged on.

Blanche Aurora, watching the road at the back of the house for Captain
Jerry's carriage, didn't see Linda until she had nearly reached the
piazza. The child then ran to the front door and in her eagerness
slammed the screen behind her and stood waiting.

As soon as she met her friend's eyes she began to flush. Yes, it had
been worth while! It surely had been worth while! Her heart hammered.

The white figure came on out of the sunshine into the shadow where
Blanche Aurora stood transfixed.

"You good little thing," said Linda slowly, and she put an arm around
the small shoulders and stooping, kissed a burning cheek.

"Where's the bowl?" demanded Blanche Aurora, her emotion driving her to
take refuge in the practical.

"Among Miss Benslow's sweet-pea vines," returned Linda, her dimple at
its deepest. "He--we dropped it, and it broke."

"And that Bavarian cream?"

"I suppose the hens ate it up in no time," confessed the messenger.

"I won't trust you again," said Blanche Aurora, with shining eyes. "Mr.
King must be starved."

"No, I fed him with tea and cakes. Please trust me again. Please send
me back to-morrow."

The little girl and the big girl exchanged a long look; and during it
the possibility dawned upon the elder that this infant had designed and
carried out a plan!

She colored slowly, continuing to gaze into the shining eyes, but
Blanche Aurora retired demurely with a word about supper, and alone in
the kitchen executed a dance which threatened every stick of furniture
in the place.

Linda was still standing there watching the violet sea, so different
from its morning dazzle of blue, when Jerry Holt's carryall approached.
His voice was loud and defensive.

"I telled Mis' Lindsay and Madge they could sqwut to the depot till I
got back," he was saying.

"Why, Jerry," said Miss Barry. "I would have let you take them home
first. I thought they decided to go in the street car and walk the
half-mile."

"My rule's fust come, fust served," responded Captain Jerry inexorably.
"I seen you git off the train fust."

"But they have an invalid over at their house," pursued Miss Barry.

"I know they hev. Thet Whitcomb feller seen a car comin' and he said
he could make it quicker'n Molly could." The Captain's feelings had
evidently been hurt in the most sensitive spot. "Says I, 'Go it then,
young man;' and I made up my mind to haul you fust. Madge wanted to go
with him, but her mother didn't want to sqwut alone, nor she didn't
want to walk the half-mile neither, so Madge stayed."

"Why, we had room for Mrs. Lindsay," said Mrs. Porter.

"No"--the driver's response was firm. "Not with all them bags and
bundles." He smiled a smile of satisfaction at the punishment he had
meted out. "Now, I guess I'll go back and haul 'em," he added, as his
passengers alighted. "They'll be tired o' sqwuttin'. They're dretful
uneasy folks, anyway. What ye lookin' at, Linda?" he added, loud and
cheerfully.

The girl turned toward him, and came to meet the arrivals. "My future,"
she answered.

He regarded her admiringly. He had never seen her like this.

"Seems to be a bright one," he remarked, grinning. "Ye'd better git
some smoked glasses if ye're goin' to look at it long. Git ap, Molly."

With a grating of wheels the old carryall turned around and moved on
its way.

"You bet the Cape agrees with them city folks," he soliloquized.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE FULL MOON


"I declare that was too bad of Jerry," said Miss Barry. "He's usually
so"--her voice died away because she became aware of Linda, standing
before her, a sort of glorified presence. "Hey?" she finished sharply.

The girl had one of Mrs. Porter's hands and with the other arm she now
softly embraced her bewildered aunt, then drew away far enough to look
into the questioning eyes of first one and then the other.

"You've both had so much trouble with me," she said.

"Well?" returned Miss Barry crisply. "Is it over?"

The girl nodded.

"Linda," said Mrs. Porter, with excited urgency, "what has happened,
dear?"

The girl continued to look at them for a moment of silence, as if loath
to let her secret pass her lips.

"Bertram!" exclaimed Mrs. Porter.

Linda nodded.

Miss Barry gave her niece a shake. "Speak out," she said, cross in the
mounting excitement of the moment. "Has he been over here?"

"No. I went there. Blanche Aurora sent me with a snack. The hens got
the snack; but--we had tea."

"Oh, you darling!" exclaimed Mrs. Porter under the eloquent eyes and
dimples. "You shall kiss her first, Miss Barry. Hurry up. I can't wait."

"I don't see any reason for kissing her," said Miss Barry, and her
earrings quivered with what she was repressing. "Feeding dainties to
the hens. The idea!"

"Oh, there is a reason, there is a reason, Aunt Belinda." Her namesake
spoke softly, and taking her in her arms kissed her. "How good you've
been to me!" she said tenderly.

Then Mrs. Porter had her turn, and the eyes of both women grew wet in
their long embrace.

"Well, give _me_ some place to sit down," said Miss Barry desperately.
She looked around and found a piazza chair, into which she dropped. "In
all my born days I never saw such a girl. She's either got to hang a
man to a sour apple tree, or else she's got to marry him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Over at the homestead Bertram King was winning golden laurels from his
self-appointed caretaker.

At the supper table his novel vivacity and good appetite gave him the
appearance of complete recovery.

"See here," remarked Whitcomb, "solitary confinement is evidently all
you've been needing. We'll clear out soon again. Even you went away,
didn't you, Luella?" The speaker turned to Miss Benslow, whom on his
return he had discovered scrambling about to get supper in her robes
of state. She was now waiting on table and blessing Jerry Holt for his
dilatoriness in bringing the Lindsays home.

"I did step out for a spell," she returned in her best manner; "but I
guess I warn't missed," she added coyly. "Miss Linda Barry gave Mr.
King his tea."

"Really!" drawled Madge Lindsay. "How cleverly she chose the right
moment for her first call."

"There are cats in the room," announced Whitcomb, helping himself to
honey.

Madge lifted her eyebrows and made a defiant grimace.

"I met her as she was a-comin' back," said Luella. "I guess she felt
dretful bad not findin' me home, 'cause she said she'd call again
to-morrer."

This remark coming under the head of what Madge called "juices," she
glanced at Whitcomb for sympathy, but he was preoccupied. He was
looking curiously at King's debonair countenance.

"It's jest as well I warn't in, _I_ think," continued Miss Benslow,
casting Whitcomb her most kittenish glance. "Mr. King's tay-a-tay seems
to 'a' done him a world o' good."

The object of her remark caught his friend's eye and laughed frankly.
Whitcomb reflected the laugh with a smile, but his curious interest
precluded much notice of Luella's sallies. He regarded King's good
cheer and increased color questioningly. Evidently Linda had used tact
and succeeded in making her peace, and the talk had relieved King as
well as herself. He wondered whether his friend would tell him of the
interview or leave it to his imagination.

"To-morrow, tennis!" cried Madge triumphantly; "and don't we deserve
it, Freddy?"

"We do, we do," he replied, returning with gusto to the hot biscuit and
honey and lobster salad.

When the meal was finished, Whitcomb pantomimed throwing a ball at
Madge and raised questioning eyebrows.

"All right," she said, rising with alacrity.

"Oh, you crazy children," protested Mrs. Lindsay, "are you going to
play ball? Can't you be satisfied to be still a minute? Freddy, you'll
take all her nice new ten pounds off her."

But the young people only laughed. Though Madge Lindsay might drawl,
she could throw a ball like a boy, and in default of King, Whitcomb,
whose muscles were always crying out to be used, was glad to accept her.

Mrs. Lindsay went to the kitchen with Luella to bestow the provisions
she had purchased, and King strolled out on the piazza and watched his
friend and Madge.

The girl was still in her smart tailor gown. From previous observation
of her tactics he believed that when the game was over she would change
her dress before starting in on her evening; and he watched for that
psychological moment when she should disappear.

The moon was full to-night, and with the marvelous obligingness
of Maine weather the wind had gone down with the sun, making the
out-of-doors even more attractive by night than by day. As the twilight
deepened, the great planet changed from silver to gold.

When at last the ball players took off their leather gloves, Madge
spoke wistfully.

"I wish we could go out on that moon path! Think of this heavenly night
and no boat except that old smelly tub of Mr. Benslow's! When we come
again, Freddy--"

She stopped, and he smiled down at her brilliant dark face, rosy with
exercise and brown from the sun.

"Yes, next time sure," he said. "You see I didn't want to do anything
about a boat so long as King couldn't go out."

"You're the best friend I ever knew," declared the girl. "Wait till
I get on another frock. We'll drag him with us over to the rock. The
Loreleis will be singing to-night, I am sure."

"One will, I hope," returned Whitcomb. She skipped before him. "You've
never seen me dance," she said. "Before the moon goes I must dance for
you on the grass. I have a costume here and my castanets."

"You'd be a wonderful Carmen," returned Whitcomb, regarding her lithe
dipping and swinging, admiringly.

"Oh, mar-velous!" she rejoined. "So long," and taking the rickety
piazza steps two at a time she disappeared into the house.

King immediately buttonholed his friend. "Come over to the tent, will
you?" he said.

"Sure thing," returned Whitcomb, flinging an arm around the other's
shoulders.

They crossed the grass and entering the tent sat down on camp-stools in
the opening, where the increasing mystery and magic of the night was
spread before them.

"I can see that you and Linda have fixed it up," said Whitcomb. "She
has worried her head off for fear the old friendship would never be
renewed. She thinks an awful lot of you, old man."

At the beginning of this speech King looked up eagerly. Could it be
that his task was going to be so easy?

But as Whitcomb continued, his look veered away, back to the moon path.

"Yes, we fixed it up," he replied.

There was a space of silence during which he tried to decide how to go
on.

"You've been frank with me, Freddy, at various times regarding Linda,
and I've been rather surprised lately to notice that you're not very
assiduous in your attentions over there."

Whitcomb's eyes also sought the moon path and a perplexed line came in
his forehead.

"No," he admitted. "Something has happened to Linda. She's different.
I can't say that she ever let me come very near to her, but now--since
she left Chicago, she has grown away from me; far away. She seems to
have a lot of new ideas that I can't follow. I don't seem to get on
with her."

"And you do get on with Madge Lindsay?" suggested King.

"Isn't she a peach?" ejaculated Whitcomb, turning to his companion a
suddenly bright face. "Why, it's like owning a whole vaudeville company
to be with her. Little slender thing that looks as if you could snap
her in two between your thumb and finger; but game! Gee, but she's
game!"

"She is game," agreed King, the vapor-cloud which had obscured a trifle
the full sun of his happiness melting away.

"Of course, a man doesn't connect sentiment with that sort of girl,"
went on Whitcomb, "but she's a comrade: just as good as a chap, you
know."

"I understand perfectly," returned King, "but sometimes these
delightful chaps in petticoats have very feminine hearts; and you don't
want to break them in two between thumb and finger."

"Oh, rot," returned Whitcomb, trying not to look pleased. "There she
is," he continued, starting up from his camp-stool as a figure in a
pale wrap of some sort came out on the piazza. "That's another thing
about Madge. She can change her clothes in a jiffy."

"Hold on a bit, will you?" said King quietly.

"Sure. Long as you like. Madge and I thought perhaps you'd come over to
the rock with us and listen to the Loreleis."

"I haven't quite finished telling you, Freddy. You know I said
something to you about the past being dead and all that."

"Yes."

"Well--I was mistaken. Linda and I--"

Whitcomb turned like a flash and dropped back on the camp-stool.

"What?"

"We fixed it up this afternoon for all time."

"_What!_"

"Yes. It's a trite thing for a fellow to call himself the happiest man
on earth, but Linda has given me back everything I had lost. I am as
much a new man as if I had been created to-day."

The quiet words thrilled through Whitcomb. He tried to answer and
gulped. Tried again, and shook his friend's responsive hand.

"You deserve it," was all he could manage to utter.

"I want to go over there to-night, Freddy."

"You can't walk that far."

"Try me. I've never seen Miss Barry's cottage, and I--well, I can't
stay away."

"We'll walk over with you, then," said Whitcomb gravely. He walked
toward Madge and called her, and she came springing across the grass.

"Ho for the rock?" she cried gayly.

"No. King wants to go to Miss Barry's. He thinks he's up to it. We'll
walk over with him."

The three moved away across the enchanted field. The night was hushed.
Even the tide whispered. Not yet sounded the _crescendo_ which would
culminate at midnight in a crashing, magnificent choral.

Madge scented something novel in the mental atmosphere. Her companions
were grateful for her easy chatter.

When they neared the shingled cottage she protested tentatively.

"Oh, do we have to go into the house on such a glorious night?"

"You and I are not going in," answered Whitcomb quietly.

They stood a moment near the piazza steps.

"Good-night, King." The two men shook hands. "I think that is Linda now
over there in the hammock. Give my love to her, will you?"

"I will."

Above the dazzle of golden water and under the pulsing beat of the
stars, King moved up the steps.

There was a stir in the shadow at the end of the piazza and in a moment
one word sounded on the still air.

"Bertram!"

The voice and its tone wrenched some deeply rooted fiber in Whitcomb's
being and all his blood seemed trying to rush at once to his heart.

Madge, too, heard the revealing joy of the single word. As they turned
to walk back, her clinging silken draperies stirred, and she slipped
her hand through her companion's arm, and clasped it.

"It's a vast sea," she said softly.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Instead of the Thorn" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home