IV

On the height their footing changed to bare pink ledges with grass-grown intervals of thin earth. A spiked wall of dark firs and a little grove of white birches disappointed him by cutting off all view of Black Harbor on the seaward side. Powell’s cove, too, had vanished: the hollow field, the spring, the house itself, had, in a few steps from the edge of the ascent, dropped from sight so utterly that the island seemed one great table-land some ten miles long, continuous, though curving at the middle to a narrow ridge. From their way along the verge, they could look back, straight down upon the shining channel, the low mainland, and the smoke-blurred elms, masts, and crisscross streets of the petty town. Alone and aloft, they walked slowly, their shadows already spindling before them over the ledge and the yellow grass. Sometimes they crossed a bare scar of rattling pebbles, that in the shelving places rolled from under their feet, and unless stopped in some green slant of matted ground-pine, fell silently over the cliff, down to the black seaweed at the foot of that dizzy height.

“I come here often,” said Helen, after the long silence of outdoor companions.

“This little faint path is all my own making. Oh, it was your boat I saw crossing yesterday afternoon! — Two of you ? — But you could n ’t have seen me, for I was lying down close to the edge, and just saw you disappear round the southern end.”

“It must be melancholy to come up on this height all alone,” said Archer.

“Oh, no,” she returned. “That’s the strangest part of it. I never feel alone anywhere on the island, partly because I used to make believe so much. And then I’ve always had a queer feeling that there was some one moving along parallel to me, not far off, and not very near — a kind of invisible person that you might almost see out of the corner of your eye — especially in or near woods, and among white birches more than anywhere. My father says it’s very interesting, and shows how paganism begins. I don’t know. But it seems real. Sometimes — like drinking from the witch’s spring, you know — I’ve looked up quickly to catch a sight of it — the presence. But it never appears. It makes you feel quite safe —and yet somehow — cautious. See how I talk about my notions! It’s your fault. You’ve been silent. Tell me more about what you’ve seen and done.”

“No, please,” said Archer. “I’ve told you most of it. It’s been a pretty dull life, sailing round; and yours is so much better.” Walking behind her again, he could see the neat springing of her ankles, the free play of white-clad shoulders, the bronze gleams in her hair, blown away from him. But he was thinking of this childhood into which she had given him glimpses; and pity strove with admiration.

“The white birches I spoke of,” she continued, gayly voluble, facing about and pointing, “see, there they are, behind, against the firs. You should see them in winter, too. Once, after a storm, they were all weighed down with ice till I was afraid they would break. But it was very beautiful — bending along together under the evergreens behind —and made me think of princesses in a fairy story, all stealing by the foot of a dark wall, you know, to escape.”

They clattered across a frail foot-bridge, spanning a narrow black gorge, in which the sea splashed somewhere down in the darkness. Then, between the empty sunlit air of the verge to the right and the wall of firs to the left, the breadth of yellow grass led them upward to the skyline and the southern end of the island. Often Archer had to climb ahead and pull her up the arduous hillside. As they gained the top, the firs gave place to pines and cedars, whose trunks, bleached by salt winds, had been blown about till the roots writhed above ground and the distorted branches grew away from the sea. From among the trunks gleamed the eastern sky. This was the same tempestuous grove that Archer had seen from the boat; and perhaps it was some remembrance of the lurking ambiguity of movement among these trunks that made him ask: —

“Have n’t the fellows in Black Harbor ever troubled your father or you ? They seem a rough set” —

“No indeed,” replied Helen, wonderingly. “They’re just poor fishermen, I think. They only came and lived there; my father said nothing. But he has forbidden me to go up on the hill above the harbor, so I’ve never even seen them. Oh, that’s not true. Once last spring an awful man met me up here — a young man, but dreadful, with a kind of flat face and nose — and began to speak to me. I was so frightened I almost started to run, and did n’t hear what he said. And then another man, very tall, in a blue jersey, with very bright eyes, and blue veins in his forehead, overtook him and spoke to him, and they both went away. I did n’t come up here for weeks after, not even on the Sunday mornings. But I did n’t see them again. There! if I’ve not told you the only secret I have from my father!”

Archer rejoiced in this guileless compliment. At the same time he seemed to recognize two acquaintances in the narrative, and was greatly disturbed. But just then the ocean lay before them. They had come to the very end of the island.

One peep over the edge, where blue harebells quivered in the wind, made him look well to his footing on the parched grass. He drew back beside Helen, and the two stood looking down the great sheer drop of shattered brown rock, — broken pillars of basalt, stained with orange, and rust, and deep green, and whitened with bird-droppings. From the foot of the cliff’s and the little crescents of shingle beach below, the tide was ebbing away almost without a sound, it was so calm under the lee of the head. Helen tossed over a pebble, and a score of white gulls started up from among the rocks, to go wheeling from headland to headland, with peevish cries as of lonely wickedness. Amazingly high in the sunlight the big birds soared, with heads bent down; amazingly far beneath moved the sea, — endless, inward-toiling lines, rising away to the weary, straight, infinite circumscription of the horizon.

“It is beautiful,” said he at last, “and unspeakably sad. One is very little — and yet glad to feel so.”

“That was well added,” said the girl thoughtfully. There was nothing further to be said.

Out here at the meeting of earth, air, and water, the wind seemed more cold, the sunlight pale, and the girl’s face, from being young, had taken on the mysterious look of age that sometimes comes to one who has long watched the sea. Their comradeship grew closer, — little human allies tacitly united in the face of vast and melancholy nature. A slow-forming thought suddenly overwhelmed him: here was a girl who, in her eyes, her speech, her acts, showed that her life could include and master sorrow. And he had walked with her hardly two hours, and he could not bear to leave her.

“The hardest part,” said the girl, sadly, as if speaking to herself in the void of ocean air, “ is not to know what my father really believes and really does n’t. He answered me once that God was the Ether of Euripides. Now what can a young girl make of that?” Suddenly her wide brown eyes turned to him. “Oh!" she exclaimed, “I was thinking — what have I said? — But you’ll forget it — and you’re not a stranger” —

“No,” he faltered, his voice thick and coming with an effort. “No, I’m not a stranger — I won’t tell — and even if I did, no one aboard ship would care — or know who— My three days’ leave are up. I’ll be gone to-morrow, anyway.”

She cried out in pure dismay.

“Oh, you must n’t!” Then, flushed and confused, — “I forgot, of course. You ’re such a wanderer — and have your duties, too”— She smiled uncertainly. “ Why, I must have been making believe once more — it becomes a habit, probably — even to playing I had a big brother again. It was very nice to have one — just for an afternoon — but silly — and for a grown-up! — I beg your pardon ”

“Helen!” he cried, forgetting everything, and stepping in front of her, as if to intercept her look and her thoughts from going wide upon the sea. What he would have said further, he never knew; for in the wild manœuvre he nearly slipped from his feet.

“Come back from the edge!” she cried, and seized him by the jacket. “ You must n’t!” The movement swung them together, she still grasped the rough cloth by instinct, and for one fiery moment their faces were perilously close, their spirits passed in flame between the shining eyes.

“Oh,” she cried again, letting go and shrinking back astounded, staring at him with a pale face of terror. “Oh, what have we done? We don’t know each other, not even know each other!” She covered her face. “Something passed between us, it can’t be unsaid or undone. What must you — please, please go away! I shall pay for this alone,— oh, the long retribution!” She cried bitterly, bowed down and trembling.

Archer drew near, neither allowed nor forbidden, and tried to console her, like a clumsy child striving to put together the fragments of some priceless thing.

“Helen,” he said. “Don’t cry so. Don’t.” He awkwardly patted her head, but she only nodded once as if to acknowledge the consolation. The slanting sunlight fell kindly round these two troubled children, aloft on the lonely headland.

“I mean it for good, always,” he begged hurriedly. “The time is no matter — long or short — if it had n’t been then it would have been never. Don’t you see, Helen? Just believe. I can’t prove it to you. Why,” he cried in despair, “if I had n’t meant it for always, I’d no more have done it than I*’d have tried to kiss good old Barbara the cook!”

The girl still hid her face, but laughter mingled funnily with her sobs.

“You can prove it,” she declared suddenly. And seizing him by the hand, but with her face averted, she began to lead him away from the precipice, toward the grove of windswept cedars and pines. “You can say it to me before my brother,” she said, eagerly tugging him along.

Wondering, he followed. They found themselves in a little natural clearing among the bleached trunks and dark, distorted branches. At the back of the clearing a tall wooden cross, with gray arms wide-stretched, faced out toward the sea. Helen dropped his hand, and they entered side by side, quietly, as if into a little chapel. They stood in shadow, the sunlight barely tipping the dark trees.

“Here is where I come on Sunday mornings,” she said with reverence. “ It’s my — it’s everything to me.”

Together they read the inscription on the gray cross.

“To the Memory of Arthur Powell buried at sea February 7, 18—Lat. 10° 24' 17" N. Long. 118° 0' 43" W.”

“He was my brother,” said Helen, almost in a whisper. “Older than I, and dearer to me than any one else. I can’t remember my mother, but he seems to have been here only yesterday. You were just his age, and somehow like him: that was what made my father — made him more sad even than usual, last night.”

The gulls complained in the wide solitude of the air.

“This is your church,” said Archer, at last. “And if your brother were here, I would tell him just what I told you outside.”

The girl gave him her hand with a kind of grave joy.

“Perhaps he hears you,” she said, and her voice was full of mystery. “My father comes here seldom; but once after he had stood here for a long time, he said at last, ‘Henceforth thou art the genius of the shore.’ I like to believe that of Arthur.”

Hand in hand they moved away.

“Was that a noise in the trees?” she asked, stopping suddenly. They looked about, but saw nothing, and went on, slowly, out of the little clearing. Still silent, they faced the homeward way along the cliff.

Archer took her hand in both of his.

“You believe now,” he said.

Swiftly, for an instant, she clung about him, astonishingly small at close quarters, and hiding her face comically under his elbow.

“Oh, I knew you would come!” she said brokenly, laughing and crying together. “I knew you’d come. When you drank from the spring, and answered the two questions, I knew it was you — all the time. No, no, you must n’t.” She sprang away, laughing, and raced down the slope toward the sunset.

Archer could run, but the chase lasted to the brink of the farthest hill. They stopped, laughing with what breath they had, and from the height, still lit by the sun, looked down into the cove and the fields of home, — a deep bowl of soft evening shadows.

“Oh, my poor father,” said Helen, changing. “I’d forgotten his side of it.” She paused, in a study. “You must n’t come to dinner,” she said. “Come in late, and make some excuse. I could n’t carry it off with you there. Do go over the hill and see them fish. He has n’t forbidden you.” Her face was clouded at the prospect of deceit.

“I’ll go, then,” said Archer, bitterly disappointed, and yet happy as a lord of the world. “But I can’t stay.”

“Oh, to-morrow,” she called back from below, “to-morrow we must talk — a great deal. We must know each other first. But your ship ?”

“Oh, I’ll go see the captain, and he’ll swear,” said Archer. “There she is.” And he pointed to the masts of a barkentine lying at a wharf in the distant town. “But she can sail without me,” he laughed, and tossed his hand gayly in the air, snapping his fingers at the mainland. Then he watched Helen as she ran down the lower slope, into the pastoral shadows.

V

He walked slowly over ledges and grass, the long shadows creeping to meet him. The sunlight stole upward, left his face, left the white birch tops, left the fir points, and was gone from the island. The breeze grew cool. And when he stood on the pink ledge above the downward pass to Black Harbor, lights already twinkled from the town, and the northern headlands were black against the afterglow. He stood looking for a while, his joy quiet and deep. Yesterday, and the two years before, he had been a cheerful runaway, letting money and goods lie fallow ashore, rejoicing in bare, hard life and in youth. He had come over to this island to fill an idle day or two, — and here was Helen, — and in the twinkling of an eye life had changed, had grown more complex, serious, yet strangely fortunate. He had given some fugitive thought to such matters. “But I did n ’t know it would be like this, exactly,” he said to himself. Always before he had craved to have things go swiftly ahead, event succeeding event while his mind still tugged forward to the future; but now a little pause in the present, a breathing space, to look happily about in, was his sole desire. It was only his promise to Helen that made him renounce the temptation of smoking his pipe and thinking there on the summit, and go slowly down through the black firs.

For the first few steps he could look down the evergreen glacier, miles down, it seemed, upon the dimly shining harbor, two or three boats at anchor, the dark curve of the bar, and a sombre headland along which a single belated gull went winging swiftly. Then he was immersed in darkness. As he stumbled downward, he found his thoughts strangely mingled: Helen with her shining hair confused somehow amid a new-born pity for her father, a new inquisitiveness as to his life and the lives of others, the man with the blue-veined forehead, his pert little brother, the fishermen silent in their cups. “He must have had a hard deal sometime, her father,” thought the young man; “and the others, too.” Last night they had seemed mere figures in the darkness, the pawns in a game of adventure, the “persons who do not count.” Tonight he would like to learn more of them.

In this friendly spirit he finally broke into the open, on the hillside behind the huts. The barroom, as he passed, was lighted but empty, save for the little man waiting before his bottles. Archer went on, through the stink of fish among the gray huts, down to the beach; and here he came upon small groups, some twenty men in all, smoking, talking, and looking down over the long slope of wet pebbles and seaweed to where a few boats waited at the water’s edge.

One of the groups he joined, with an odd reluctance. They peered at him through the dusk, with perhaps a little surprise, then smoked and spat with unconcern. They were sober to-night. By their faces —all dark and thin, some vicious, some dull—they were simple men enough, quiet, ordinary, and poor.

“Wha’d ’ ye git under-runnin ’ yer trawl, Kellum?” one asked finally, between puffs.

“Nothin’ but hakes and skates,” answered a sad-faced little old man, whom Archer recognized as the dulse-gatherer of the night before. Back into his yellowstained beard he thrust his pipe, like a stopper to his mouth.

“I seen him knockin’ ’em off,”said a young man, with a loud, empty laugh. Then conversation flagged.

“The’ must ’a’ been thirty-five bar’ls in the Grab-All to-night,” said the first speaker. “She did n’t hold a tubful o’ herrin’ last tide. They ’re comin’ in, I tell ye.”

“Thirty-five berrils!” twanged a Yankee voice. “They was forty in that wyre if they was a fish. They’re thick as fiddlers in Tophet.”

“Well,” replied the other peaceably, “we’ll git some more this flood, spudgin’, anyway.”

Silence fell again.

“Cap’n Kellum, you was sayin’,” ventured another, as if resuming a debate which Archer had interrupted, “you was sayin’ that the Regina had a centreboard. Now that’s no kind o’ use on a schooner. She’s too big a bo’t.”

“Too big a bo’t fer you, ’cause you’d knock the bottom out of ’er,” retorted Kellum placidly. “Some men is proper fools about bo’ts, if they hev been out from Gloucester.”

“Haw, haw!” the loud young man shouted in ecstasy.

“That shows how much ye know,” the old one went on, suddenly excited. He took out his pipe, and argued with bent fingers pegging at his opponent in the dusk. “The longer yer bo’t, the more wood ye got at each end o’ the hole to keep ’er solid. The Regina, — if I had the money to buy ’er back, I’d not stay in this stinkin’ cove, — why, I see ’er comin’ out from Freeport with ’er centreboard down, an’ by Godfrey, she’d go like a horse!”

“Yeah, she’d go like a horse,” assented the Yankee. “That’s right.”

Another listener wagged his head. “She would, too. She’d go like a horse.”

The loud young man laughed again. “I seen ’er, ’ he echoed. “She’d go like — like a horse.”

This simile exhausted by popularity, the group was silent once more, with pipes glowing in the dusk. A bent figure slouched past them down the beach.

“Hey, Mulb’ry,” some one called after it. “Goin’ out a’ready ?” There was no answer.

“Mulb’ry’s sore ’cause he didn’t git all that bottle o’ gin las’ night,” mocked the Yankee.

Another figure tramped down through the pebbles.

“ Muckahi! ” came a yell from a neighboring group. “Sebattis, ain’t you got that bo’t down yet?”

The soft voice of an Indian replied. With quiet command of the vernacular, he advised his questioner to go deeper than Purgatory. Old Kellum straightened his curved shoulders.

“Sebattis,” he shouted, “you go git that bo’t off ’fore I give ye a lift.”

There came the hollow grating of a boat pulled down to the water. “That Injun’ll be takin’ charge round here,” growled Kellum.

Other figures went crunching downward through the dark, till the footsteps glimmered with phosphorus on the distant seaweed. A newcomer joined the group. “Here’s Blue Peter,” said the Yankee.

“ I was puttin’ another bow on my dipnet,” explained the deep voice of Archer’s young friend. The net, on its long pole, stood high above his head, like some drooping standard, obscure in the starlight. “Beaky’s bo’t ’s off a’ready,” he added, “an’ Joe’s, an’ Benny’s.”

The men started down the beach.

“Can I go out with you, Peter?” asked Archer, on the impulse.

The reply came in an odd tone of surprise mingled with something else.

“Oh, that you, sir? Yes. sure, if you VI like.” As Archer slipped his money into his shirt, and threw his coat on the beach, he wondered at the touch of respect.

They trooped down together. Under the heavy boots, glow - worm drops of phosphorus filled the wet seaweed with spreading blots of brightness. To the “ chock - chock ” of oars on thole-pins, some half - dozen boats were already crowding out through the gap in the seawall, every keel a running line of bluegold fire. Among the half-dozen more which now put out, Archer found himself in the bow of Peter’s roomy skiff. “Let me row,” Hippolyte had begged. So the youngster pulled out ably, while Peter sat in the stern. Liquid gold dripped from the oars; fan-shaped clouds of blue-gold smoke swept astern with each pull; and to Archer, in the bow, seeing the dim shining of the oarblades, the bright arrowhead of ripples that spread from the cutwater behind him, it seemed that they must be rowing forward into the lights of a great town. So strong was the delusion that he turned his head, and was surprised to find only the looming of the sea-wall as the boat slipped through, the blackness of the ocean outside, the running lines of golden fire under the other keels.

Their small flotilla moved somewhere to the southeast, hugging the shore under the cliffs, skirting the bunts of a weir or two, rugged blacknesses picked out with lapping phosphorus round the foot of the poles. A deep, irregular drumming started up ahead, like horses running confusedly across abridge, or empty trucks rumbling over a stony road.

“What’s that?” said Archer.

“They’re spudgin’,” replied Peter, from the stern. “Show him, boy.”

The youngster began jumping his oars about on the gunwale. The boats astern took it up, till the wide air rumbled with the heavy drumming and the echoes of the cliffs.

“It’ll make ’em rise,” Peter explained. “You take the oars, sir, and Hippolyte, you come down stern here. I ’ll go in the bow.”

They crawled past each other over the thwarts. Archer soon caught the knack of drumming and rowing by turns. The boy pounded the sides with both fists.

“ See,” called Peter suddenly. “ There’s some.”

The water was stirred into millions of tiny golden globules; golden streaks shot in crisscross multitudes, like tiny comets smothered in deep sea. Peter plied his dip-net swiftly. With a swash and a thump, some half-barrel of herring fell aboard, in a writhing, flipping heap, alight with phosphorus.

More splashing, and a few more tumbled in. “ ’T won’t do,” grunted Peter. “Not’s many’s they seem. Head ’er out again, sir. They’re tryin’ to drive ’em

— with the torches.”

Archer turned the boat, and pulled out to sea, until the order came to turn again.

“I’ll light the dragon,” said Peter. “This is against the law, ye know, sir, but the law ain’t got’s long an arm’s they say.”

With a crackle of birch-bark and the smell of burning kerosene, a light flared up as if their bow had been on fire. Other torches flared far along the water, coursing shoreward till the giant shadows of men and rocks tossed and swung high on the dim red crags.

“Keep ’er headed just as she is,” commanded Peter. “ Now pull like the devil, sir.”

Archer obeyed till the sweat trickled down his forehead. “A little faster, sir

— a little faster” — his captain kept urging; and Archer tugged with all his young muscles. Other boats flamed alongside of them. “We’ve caught up, going famously,” he thought.

Just why it happened he never could have told. Suddenly a torch-lighted bow swerved astern of them, — nearly ran them down; and he saw above the smoky flame the goblin face of Beaky Lehane,

— the flat, cartilaginous nose, the widespaced teeth, the evil little eyes, a face distorted in a mania of drunken passion.

“God damn yer soul! ” he raved. “Git out o’ my way!”

The boy in the stern half rose in terror.

Behind the grinning face a hand left the pole of a dip-net, and tried to catch Lehane by the shoulder. But in the same instant he swung out savagely with the torch. The iron-shod stake crashed down on the head of the little boy, who fell with a kind of whimper into the bottom of the boat. Archer, rising in a rage, heard Peter roar at his back, and felt him leap astern. But he himself had the better place, and swung the oar like an axe with all his strength. It struck Lehane with a wooden resonance and a tingling shock that ran through Archer’s forearms. Both boats upset in a souse of phosphorus.

The water was shockingly cold. Squirting a salt and golden jet from his mouth, he looked about. Two black hands, the fingers spread stiffly apart, sank in the boiling witch-fire. They were too large to be the boy’s. Next instant he bumped into Peter, whose face was smeared with an unearthly glow as if rubbed with wet matches, and who held the little body under one arm, while he lashed out the other through the blue-lighted spray.

“No, no!” gasped Peter. “You can’t help! Swim ashore! I’ve got him. They can all swim. Get out! Swim to the ledge, anyway. Go on, man. Oh, by God!” He was sobbing as he swam.

Archer could see other men splashing lustily away in luminous patches.

“It’s every man for himself,” he thought, and struck out vaguely for the shore. Through the cold, shining water he swam, through shoals of fish quick and startling to the touch, and at last pulled himself out, shedding glow-worm drops, upon the round stones of the seawall. Here he waited. But by the torches, the other boats seemed to be looking for something. He dimly saw men pulled aboard, and still the search went on. No one came to join him. Then he remembered a little ledge offshore, bare at low tide. The others must have swum to that. He grew very cold as he waited; still the torches hovered aimlessly in the distance; and at last, with teeth chattering in the night air of autumn, he clambered over the breakneck stones, followed the inside curve of the wall, until, after many falls and infinite groping, he stumbled upon his coat. Carefully drying his hands in the beach-grass, he hunted matches out of the pocket. Old grass, broken fishflakes, and cedar shavings from weirpoles, soon snapped and blazed on the pebbles. He sat drying himself as well as might be, and waited for news of this sudden and strange mishap. He was uneasy over the stroke he had dealt with the oar; yet the thought of the little boy braced his conscience at the same time that it made his heart sink.

In these thoughts by the fire, growing warm and sleepy, he was startled by a growling voice.

“Who the hell are you, buildin’ fires on my beach ? " The speaker was a man of middle height, prodigiously broad and bulky, with a wide red face in which the eyes were so staring and the big red nostrils so far apart that he had the aspect of a bull. As the question came rumbling again in a thick bass, Archer noticed that the hands, in the firelight, were fat, freckled, and immensely powerful, like the hand thrust in at the barroom door. This, then, was the Old Man, and, by the resemblance to the face at which Archer had swung his oar, it was Beaky Lehane’s father.

“Oh, go to the devil,” he answered, too cold, and tired, and bitter to let any man stare so at him. “This is n’t your beach, anyway. It’s Mr. Powell’s. Go stare at somebody else.”

“Well, by the” — wheezed the man, and stopped, cut speechless by wonder and rage. Then the hulking body lurched nearer.

“Look here!” cried Archer, jumping up and shaking his fist. He had lost his temper, as in a bad dream. “Be off with you! This is my beach as much as yours, if it comes to that. I’ve lighted a fire, and I’m going to sit alone by it. Alone, do you hear ? You ’re only a squatter. Well, here I squat, too. You’d better go look after your son, — he’s got himself into a pretty mess, and serve him damned good and right!”

He expected that on the heels of this they would be rolling down the pebbles in a clinch, Instead, the big man breathed hard with a startled puff, and asked anxiously, —

“Where? Where is he? What was it?”

“Oh, over there,” said Archer wearily, pointing by guess toward the foot of the cliffs. “Been a fight — overboard— I don’t know, go look for yourself.”

The man reeled off into the dark. Archer was so tired that he merely felt relieved, as from a bore. He piled the fire till it blazed high, dried himself fairly well, and waited sleepily. Still nothing appeared from harbor mouth or sea-wall. Suddenly it flashed through his drowsy brain that he was expected back at Powell’s that night. This bit of civilized obligation came like something laughable, out of some other person’s life. It was in a droll dismay that he hurried off up the hill.

Once, through a gap in the black layers of the fir branches, he caught the shine of lights far below. “Let them go till morning. I’ll be back,” he thought. Perhaps the little boy was not hurt so much, after all. Like one in a heavy dream he climbed wearily over the hill and downward through starlit fields to the house.

A candle, burning low, waited for him in the little brown hall. He locked the door without a sound. “ What a mess for a visitor! ” he pondered ruefully. But the thought that Helen was in the same house, even though she were asleep, came to him like a comfort.

VI

All night a land-breeze swept overhead from the north, as if streaming down an interminable valley. Despite his weariness, he slept ill; his dreams were a riot of pictures, — the firs, the gulls, the witchfire, Helen looking away from him at the sea, the boy rising, in fear, against the torchlight,— and through it all a troubled half-remembrance of the blow he had struck with the oar. When he woke, at sunrise, the wind had fallen. The house still lay drowned in sleep. He dressed, stole downstairs, and looked about for his cap, which he had left there two nights before. It was not to be found. He did not know then that Helen had taken it to her room, laughed and cried and committed pretty follies over it, and at last gone to sleep, intending to leave it in the hall before he should be up. So he went outdoors bareheaded.

The wind had swept away with it all vestiges of summer, and brought in a pure dawn of uncompromising autumn. The night had drawn a sharp line between the seasons. The air was crisp and chilly; gossamer films of frost silvered the grass; and round the upper outline of the headland that shut off the south and east, a faint, cold smoke rose in the first warmth of morning. What remained of sky and sea was a dull sepia touched with flakes of pale yellow.

Climbing over the fields to the pass, he was aware that some one sat waiting for him on the edge against the sky. He climbed faster. The figure resolved itself into the lean, solid body of Peter, his blue jersey, his heavy rubber boots rolled down below his knees in the fashion of some uncouth cavalier.

“How is he ? ” called up Archer. “How did it come out?”

The blue eyes under the blue-veined forehead looked down gravely, as Peter shook his head. Even through the dirty growth of beard, the lines of his face were hard and old. With fears suddenly full grown, Archer sprang upward and stood before him. Something made him wait for the other to speak.

“It’s bad,” said Peter, at last. “Bad,” and he stared out over the fields and the channel, like a steersman, who has the air of listening to talk in the boat, while his eyes look miles out to sea. Then he said abruptly, “The boy’s dead.”

“Oh, Peter!” cried Archer, and was struck dumb. “Oh, my God, I’m sorry

— I ’m sorry for you.” He could find no words, but the tone must have meant something, for the other suddenly lost his set composure and covered his swarthy face and blue-scored forehead with his hands.

“I knowed you was a good feller all right,” he said brokenly.

For a time neither spoke. It was Peter who began.

“I was up on the cliffs yesterday afternoon,” he slowly declared, “and saw you. She heard me in the trees” —

“What!” cried Archer in surprise. And then with disappointment, “Well, I did n’t think it of you, if” —

“Why,” said the other, once more gazing off before him, “how was I to know, then ? I had n’t no means o’ tellin’ for sure that you was any diff’rent from the others” —

“Others!” Archer exclaimed, hotly and yet with wonder. “There are n’t any others. That’s a lie. There never were any.”

The blue eyes looked squarely at him, deep, with a weary brightness.

“Oh, yes, the’ was,” the fisherman replied. “The’was one other. Wait!” he added sternly. “I’m slow at these things, but you ’ll ketch my drift. It’s eight years that I’ve kept an eye on her. Beaky was round after her. She never knowed it. The’ was a girl ashore, over in town, he got after, that — Never mind. That was n’t goin’ to happen here, if I c’d stop it. I’ve licked Beaky twice; and so long’s he was on the island, I never left it,— never, for all his old man ordered me off. Don’t ye see? When she’d go round down there all alone, playin’ — God, I’ve knowed ’er longer’n you, anyway

— or up on the head — why, I was always round,spyin’out. Why, man,that’s only why I stayed here.” He looked down and fumbled with the dirty cloth lining of his boots, in a pathetic kind of bashfulness. “I’d never ’a’ told this to a soul, but I see you was all square — an’ meant right by ’er — an’ how it was between ye. Well, she’s never come to harm, an’ ’t was me that had the hand in that.” He ground both fists between his knees, with the effort of expressing these long-stifled thoughts. Then he looked up once, in the pale light of sunrise. “I’ll ask ye to take that back what ye said about lyin’. ”

“I beg your pardon,” said Archer, deeply humbled. “I took it wrong. I did n’t understand all this. I beg your pardon.”

“That’s all right, then,” he answered simply. “Now to come to the point. The’s no time to lose. Beaky Lehane’s paid for it. He’s gone.”

Sunlight, ledge, black firs, and circle of air, looked pale and sickly round Archer. He thought he could not have understood.

“You don’t mean ” — he began weakly, trying to stave off what he knew would be the truth.

“Yes,” said Peter. “They found him ’bout four this mornin’, on the beach.”

Archer, wrestling with this thought, found that the fisherman had risen and was patting him roughly on the shoulder. “That ’sail right,” he was saying. “ Don’t look so cut up. That’s all right. ’T was n’t you. He started out drunk — jus’got drowned, that’s all. You did n’t no more’n give him a clip on the shoulder, jus’ bruised him. That’s straight. If ye had n’t, I’d ’a’ given worse to him. An’ if ye had done it, I’d ’a’owed ye one. He’s a good riddance. Don’t ye sec, sir, he was crooked, bad clean through. It’s better for her now that he’s gone. Don’t take on, now. ’T was him that killed the little boy.”

Archer was ashamed that he could receive better comfort than he had given this man. He pulled himself together.

“You said there was no time to lose,” he ventured, remembering dizzily. “Well, what’s to be done ?”

“That’s it!” cried Peter, with bitterness. “What? It’s a bad business. Matt Lehane — the old man — they told ’im it was you that done for Beaky. He thinks it was about her — the girl. He’s down there ever since, holdin’ a reg’lar devil’s wake over ’im — it — there. An’ drunk! Lord! But he don’t lose his legs, nor his head; the drink jus’sharpens’im. Well, he’ll git ’em all drinkin’, — likely he’s started that by now. Then he’ll bring his gang up over here; it’s you he’s gunnin’ for, but I won’t answer for what’ll happen at Powell’s, when they git started. It’ll be a pretty crowd. An’ here’s you an’ me, an’ old man Helium, — an’ p’raps Benny, — an’ for a long guess Sebattis,—’cause Beaky wras always cuffin’ ’im round, — if he don’t git drunk first. ’Twon’t do. ’T ain’t enough of us. He’ll git fifteen or twenty, — the devil’s rinsin’s they are. too.”

“I’ll go down and see him,” said Archer. “ That’ll keep them away from thehouse. I’m not afraid of him, I hope.” And he told briefly of the encounter by the fire. “He did n’t seem so terrible.”

“That may all very well he—for last night,” declared Peter, his blue eyes alight with keen thought. “He’s rotten, an’ a brute, but you must remember the’ was jus’ one good thing in ’im, he thought the world o’ Beaky. He’s the only one to do that. Oh, I tell ye he’s a devil anyway, an’ worse when he’s drunk. They’ll be too scairt not to feller ’im, anywheres he says. That’s all that kep’ ’em together as a gang. No, ’t would jus’ be murder if ye went down there now” an’ you can’t be spared. An’ I’m not guessin’ about this, for I went round, quick, too, — to sneak a bo’t —mine got lost last night, — an’ blessed if lie ain’t stole every pair o’ oars out of every bo’t. An’ if we had ’em, it ’ud be no go, ’cause Benny’s bo’t’s lent to his brother to go after smoke-wood, an’ Kellum don’t even own one, — poor old feller, he useter own a schooner once. An’ the’ ain’t a stitch o’ canvas on them pinkies. Oh, the Old Man’s cute! He don’t mean to have you git off this island. When he gits ’em lo’ded, he’ll go up to the house, an’ whether you’re there or not, they’ll raise hell! An’ now how’ll wc stop ’em ? We ain’t got no guns. But they’s axes an’ bo’t-hooks,” he cried savagely. “We’ll do for some one ’fore we git laid out.”

“Powell let his boat go adrift last spring,” Archer reflected, with bitterness. “There’s just one way to get help. Swim it.”

“By the Lord!” cried the other, astonished. Then, shaking his head, “Can’t live in that cold for two miles an’ a half. An’ it’s slack water now. By young flood it’ll be the whirlpools.”

“We must try it,” said Archer. “It’s been done once, years ago. I must take the chance. You delay them down there.”

Blue Peter thought for a second, then nodded grimly. “You’re all right,” he said. “I’ll put a spoke in his wheel. You ’re all right. ’T won’t be no easy job for’em.” He hesitated. “Look here, somethin’ may happen. After this is over, — if she comes out of it all right, — I ’m off for good, anyway. Nothin’ left on this island for me. The poor little kid — he was what you call a — wdiat is it ? — massacree ? no, they useter tell about ’em out o’ the Bible—‘sacrafice’ the word ? Well, he was bein’ spoilt here in this crowd. Might ’a’ gone to school an’ learnt somethin’; but I kep’ puttin’ it off — usin’ him to help me keep an eye out — he’d lie up here watchin’, whole afternoons. Might ’a’ done better’n me, nearin’ thirty an’ good for nothin’ but fish. I want ye to promise me one thing,” he jerked out. “Quick, ’cause we’ve been standin’ here talkin too long.”

“I’ll promise it,” said Archer.

“ Don’t tell her — Helen,” said Blue Peter, looking down, “none o’ what I told ye — ’bout me or the boy — an’ our doin’s. I knowed some one ’ud come along like you— I ain ’t a damn fool. Just you promise that.”

“All right, then,” said Archer. Suddenly he held out his hand. “Peter, you’re the best fellow I ever knew anywhere.”

Their grip was strong but brief.

“I wish we’d ’a’ growed up together — Hugh,” said the fisherman. “ Now hurry. Swim like hell. I’ll hold on till you git

back. That’s my promise, for yours. I’ll hold ’em, damn their souls.”

He went scrambling downward to his desperate politics. Archer bounded off down the slope, through the field and the frost-bitten rows of vegetables, to the back door.

The good old woman was lighting her kitchen fire. He cut short her wrinkled smile of welcome.

“ Barbara,” he said, snatching a bottle of oil from her shelf, “I must frighten you a little, but you must stand it, for Miss Helen’s sake. There’s danger from that crowd over in Black Harbor. Just how much, I can’t say. I’m going across to the town, and bring over some men to see no harm’s done. But meantime, you must keep the house shut up, tight. Don’t let them go out, or any one in.”

The old woman’s face looked very white, but there was pluck in her eyes.

“It’s for Miss Helen’s sake,” he repeated. “Keep up your courage. I’ll be right back.”

“All right, Mr. Archer, sir,” she faltered. “I’ll do it, sir.”

He was off, running to the beach, and along it northward, to make his start as far as possible above the line where the whirlpool might appear. Ripping off his clothes, he ran naked down to the water’s edge, doused the oil over his body, and rubbed hastily till the great white muscles glistened in the sun. He felt hollow from lack of food and sleep; the water stretched hopelessly far to the mainland; but the excitement as he ran splashing out, and the cold shock of the plunge, set his heart thumping stoutly. His first thought was one of despair, — “It’s too cold.” But he shut his mind to that, and clove his way ahead through the bright green water, swimming with a powerful side stroke. That lowness of vision over a flat surface which is peculiar to swimming made colors and lines abnormally distinct. With his cheek gouging through the water, he could see the ruddy cliffs retreating behind him, the greenness and the black shadows of little trees that clung in crevices, the pink curve of the beach, the shining, shifting lines of the water, his own legs, distorted by refraction till they looked ridiculously pale and green and thin, kicking away like alien marine things in pursuit of his body and of the big, glistening deltoid that capped his shoulder, strongly contracting and relaxing. Ahead, as he shot his arm forward, appeared his first distance mark, a white can-buoy two thirds of the way across the channel; beyond that, a broad eddy of the tide, a slightly raised surface, smooth and yellowish-white, like a sheet of ice, where hundreds of white gulls wheeled or floated in search of breakfast; and beyond these again, the wharves and meagre shipping of the town, — the squarerigged shapely tangle of his own ship, the Elizabeth Fanning.

The numbness began to leave him, though an ice-cold ring circled his neck where wind and water met. Like all swimmers, he grew confused in his sense of time, and had strange thoughts. Half way to the can-buoy now; no longer slack water; must hurry. A half-eaten apple came bobbing peacefully toward him on the young flood. He wondered who had eaten it, and whether it were sweet or sour. But where the devil had all his Latin gone to? Her father had said “enaviganda.” Did that mean it could be swum through, or it could n’t? He suffered a morbid worry over the meaning of this word, as if it contained the secret of his present fate. The thing had been done—that fellow in ’56. At all events, he shifted his stroke again, and swam on tediously.

Of a sudden he noticed that the apple was bearing rapidly down, — was alongside, on a little raised rim of water like a moving flaw in glass. Next instant he had spun about and was facing seaward. Something below twirled his legs violently.

“Hello!” he sputtered aloud. “Good Lord!” he thought. “This is bad. I must get out of this.”

But the running ocean was stronger.

The water hissed, curved on a slant, boiled upward, regurgitated in patches wdiite as with melting snowflakes. A submarine force, gigantic and appalling, spun him round and round and whirled him downward. He wrestled frantically. His head sank inside a wide cylinder of smooth green glass, laced about spirally with running silver threads. His ears, long deafened by the noise of swimming, were filled wTith a strange roar. “Whirlpool! It’s all up. I ’ll see where it goes to, anyway,” he thought insanely, and strained for a last breath as he shot under. In a green light he was slatted about dreadfully, spinning upright, then horizontal, his useless arms and legs flying wide and shaken. A giant weight, a personal, hateful weight, began pressing on his back, pressing him slowly down into the dark. Acute worry seized him because this thing was unfair — would not give him a chance to get just one more breath—was squeezing him down into a funnel, and he did not think the bore at the end was big enough to let him through. “Why,” he thought, “why, this is It! This is dying. What they call Death! — I’m very sorry for them all up there.” And then he thought, as suddenly, “Hold on! I can’t yet, because before this sort of thing I’m due to come back to the island, — I’ve drunk from her spring — Helen — that was the agreement”—But still he was pressed downward, and the pain grew heavy and dull. No one would ever tell her of the cold, the dark, the loneliness. It was all years ago, anyway, and very deep.

Slowly he was rising. “Where next ?” he thought cynically. Perhaps it was over now, and this was just the fellow’s soul going up, up. “No, by golly, there’s too much pain about it. It’s lighter — The sun —It’s me, and I’m out — Air!”

He struck out in leaden imitation of swimming, just to take it up where he had left off; then stopped; then began again. He was more interested in a pale thing that accompanied him, large and speckled, like a potato, but twitching round the edges, round the nostrils.

“ Why, it’s my nose, and I ’ve got one eye shut. How silly!” The humor of this woke him up, and now he really swam. “I’ve wasted a lot of time down there,” he mourned.

Something large, white, and round came rushing at him through the water. The can-buoy, — the tide was carrying him past, he must n’t lose that. He lashed out for it blindly, and managed to be flung against the slope. Though it dipped, swayed, and rolled, he slowly climbed up, over barnacles and painted sheet-iron, to where he could grasp the iron ring at the top. It must have been for a long time that he clung there. The tiny knives of the barnacles had sliced his legs, and blood ran in slow red streams through the hair on his shins. “It’s all up,” he reflected, watching the tide race by. “I’ve come through the upper tip-edge of the whirlpools, off there. Just a baby one that got me; but it’s done the trick. This is a mighty poor exhibition. What wall Peter say, and Helen?” The only answer was despair; he grew colder and weaker, his aching fingers loosened, time dragged on, and he longed to go to sleep.

There came a puffing from somewhere. He looked up to see a smoky, brindlecolored tug off to the left, making for the town. He waved one arm, and gave a feeble hail. Nothing happened. He tried again and again, without much hope. At last she gave a short toot of her whistle, came about, headed toward him, turned near at hand, and stood off in a lathering wake. Two staring men lifted him precariously into a rowboat, and pulled back through the sweep of tide.

“How many men have you got aboard ? ” he kept asking, as plainly as he could for the chatter of his teeth.

“He’s bughouse,” flatly asserted the man at the oars. “Lord, he’s blue as my shirt. Git him down into the engineroom, Spike, an’give him a slug o’whiskey.— What’d ye try to swim it fer? — No use askin’, he’s bughouse.”

Then all that Archer remembered was being lowered into the warm depths of the tug, and standing before the red blaze of the furnace door, with the water forming inky puddles round his feet in the coal dust. And the deck-hands choked him with vile Irish whiskey. Then he found himself talking lucidly with a fat, jovial, and astonished captain, and, by a last effort of the will, making him understand that he, Archer, this naked swimmer, could pay a hundred dollars to have a posse of men taken over at once to the island. And then they had touched at a wharf, where dozens of men had sprung aboard, shinning down the slimy green spilings. The tug was off again. The engineer gave him cotton waste to rub down with, and dressed him in a blue jumper and overalls. They sped past the can-buoy again, where already the whirlpools had vanished in the tide. Throughout this dream every one was wonderfully kind to him, and seemed to think him a decent fellow, somehow. The captain introduced him formally to Sheriff Moriarty, a keen, elderly man with a gnawed mustache, who asked many questions briskly, and kept repeating, “Always said so. Knew something of the kind would happen. Old man Powell’s a damn fool. I knew it.” And then in admiration, “ Young man, there’s few could have swum to that boo-y at any time of tide.”

Yet all this was unreal; it was only when they steamed into the cove, and could see the close-shuttered house, that men and things seemed to Archer more than a tangled farce of dreams. Three boatloads pulled quickly landward. But as they rowed, Archer saw a little squad of men appear over the slope, running toward the house; and a man in a blue jersey was running with the first of them. The island was very still in the growing warmth of late forenoon.

VII

The battering of blows on the door came down to them while they struggled up the sand, more boatloads racing after them; but when they reached the field, they saw the little mob still outside, swarming like hornets round the doorstep. Something had checked them: there was a surge of conflict, but no advance. As the townsmen ran up the slope, two figures rolled down past them, — the dark Indian face of Sebattis, who was trying to bite a white man’s ear, — both growling and punching in a drunken dogfight entirely beside the point of the main quarrel. Some of the less eager among the sheriff’s men stopped to separate them, but Archer and the others swept on. Already a few of the gang scattered from the door in flight, running unsteadily round the house and up through the vegetable garden. One man fell blindly through the beanpoles, with loud oaths and breakage. Those who stood their ground had their backs turned, and were apparently absorbed in something before them.

While he raced, Archer saw what it was. Before the broken panels of the door, old Lehane and Peter stood in a clinch so desperate that the rest had fallen back to watch them. Even in the heat of running Archer could see the wrench of muscles under the blue jersey of the one and the coat, green with age, that covered the broad back of the other. Peter, with both hands aloft, gripped Lehane’s wrist so that a pistol pointed skyward; but round his own throat a great, fat hand was murderously at work. Both bodies, the lithe and the bulky, were strained to the last fibre.

“Old fool!” grunted Peter. His eyes were almost shut against the sun, the blue veins showed like a Biblical seal on his forehead. “Quit it!” A sudden ripple of tense motion ran through his body from boot-heel to wrist. There was a sound like a stick snapping.

“Ah!” bellowed the big man. The pistol fell. Archer and the others breasted the bright surge of flowers in the garden, and ran upon them all in a victorious scuffle. It was more than two to one, and with old Lehane surrounded, the fight was laughably simple.

Archer found himself shoving off an overzealous deckhand who would have seized Kellum. The old man sat against the red stone wall, his little knees drawn up with a comical air of comfort, but a red stream from his cheekbone trickling into his yellow-stained beard.

“He hit me a proper hard poke,” he was muttering, dazed but philosophic. “ It could n’t ’a’ come square on, though.”

Helen appeared from somewhere with towels, a basin, and a bottle. Her brown eyes sought Archer’s for one bright instant, and then she was at work over Kellum, deftly and sensibly. The old man looked up at her like a dirty, bearded child.

“Ye done well, Hugh,” said the deep voice of Peter. The two big men grinned at each other like schoolboys. Peter was breathing short, and wore round his throat the red stripes from the old man’s fingers. “To speak plain, ye done better ’n I thought ye could. ’T was an awful resk.”

“I have n’t done so much as you,” replied Archer. He meant far more than this, for new and strange thoughts had been swarming in his mind through all this tumult. “Nothing like, Peter.”

Both men had stopped smiling.

“ It was both of us,—both fer the same thing, anyway,” the fisherman said. “ ’T was a narrer squeak,” he added, with forced cheerfulness. “We had n’t ought ter complain, ’cept fer the boy.” He turned away slowly, and walked a little distance down the field, where Archer did not follow him. In the meantime Helen had disappeared.

Farther down the slope old Lehane was raving in the midst of a group. “ Leggo, damn ye, my arm’s broke, — no need o’ grabbin’ that way. That’s the feller, up there, — the red-headed one in the overhalls; he done fer Beaky, I tell

ye”

“That’ll all come out at the inquest,” Sheriff Moriarty called down to him.

“Take him over to town and get his arm set,” he ordered, and came stalking upward to engage in conversation with Mr. Powell. The scholar had now ventured out, pale and bewildered, into the sunlit flower garden; and over the tangle of sweetpeas Archer could see him shaking hands timidly with the sheriff, like a mild curate receiving congratulations on a discourse. The sheriff was introducing several other men.

“ Mr. Powell,” he said briskly, “I want you to know my brothers, Mr. John Moriarty, and Mr. Michael, and Mr. Florence Moriarty; he’s a lawyer, sir, and may be able to help you about this matter of the squatting; and Mr. Hugh Moriarty, that I think you’ve dealt with in groceries; and Mr. Ferris, my half-brother, sir.”

The pale little man shook hands very precisely, all round. “I am glad to meet you, sir,” he repeated, without an inkling of what this intrusion from the great world was all about. “Ah, Mr. Ferris, — non omnis Moriarty,” he chirped, and in spite of the blank looks from the group of kinsmen, was visibly pleased with his joke.

Archer turned to Kellum. The old captain was not much hurt; in fact, after Helen’s ministration he seemed almost neat, and looked up with sage and weatherbeaten resignation. They fell into the friendly talk of allies, in which Archer caught, by the light of many a homely phrase, glimpses of how Peter had played for time, played with craft and force, delaying, desperately delaying, the drunken crew in the harbor. Yes, it all strengthened what he himself had been thinking.

“He’s a good lad, Blue Peter,” said the old man, stanching his cut with gingerly dabs of Helen’s handkerchief. “We call him that for a joke. He’s a good lad, the only one o’ the lot, an’ he’ll be goin’ away now he tells me. He seems dretful cut up about the boy. Well, they’ll most all be goin’ in a month, fer the winter. It’s only a summer camp, — ’cep’ fer a few of us, the devil’s orts, that has to stay all the year round.”

“Captain Kellum,” asked Archer, suddenly, “what would you do if you had your choice, instead of staying here ? ”

The little old sailor wagged his yellow’ beard sadly. “ ’T ain’t no use talkin’ so. But by the powers,” he ejaculated, “if I had the money, I’d buy back the Regina. Lyons ’ud sell ’er; he wants a bigger bo’t. Some fools ’ll tell ye a centreboard schooner’s no good,” he cried, warming with enthusiasm. “But she, — I had ’er fourteen year, an’ ’ud hev ’er yit but fer bad luck, — why, she’d go like — like a horse! The’ ain’t much left fer ye, my boy, wrhen ye come to my age, p’r’aps. But I’d ask nothin’better than jes’ to come up on deck again on a winter mornin’ and see where the vessel’s lyin’.”

“If I buy her,” said Archer, “will you take her and pay me a quarter of what she brings you in two years? She’s yours on those terms.”

The old man’s eyes peered at him, hard and bright at this cruel joke.

“Where’d ye git the money?” he retorted.

“I’ve got enough for that,” replied Archer, laughing. “What do you say? I’ll get Moriarty to telegraph Lyons today, when he goes over. You say he’ll sell. You can go aboard the first of the week.”

Captain Kellum was astonished at this magic.

“Why,” he faltered, “if ye mean it — ’T ain’t a fair bargain to you, but if ye mean it”— His old face looked very queer and puzzled.

Helen was coming from the house.

“I mean it. Think it over,” said Archer, as he moved away to meet her. By tacit assent they walked together apart from the groups of men, past the house, between the rows of frost-bitten vegetables. Her hair shone once more with bronze gleams in the sunshine. He felt infinitely glad to be with her again, as if he had come back to her after a long time and from a far country, — indeed, from the dark limbo of the farthest country, where time is unknown. She was good to look upon; he loved her with all his heart; yet what should have been happiness was overpowered with sorrow and selfreproach .

“Tell me,” she asked in her quiet voice, “what is it all about? I’m in the dark. You look so funny in those dirty things, and barefoot. What does it all mean — Hugh?”

He answered her smile at this first use of his name. Then very seriously he explained it all, — the fight in the dark, what he had done by water that morning, what Peter had done by land; everything save what his promise to Peter forbade him to tell. Her clear brown face was alight and alive with the swift-changing emotions. When he had ended this story of rough deeds, she was deeply moved and silent; but he knew she had acquitted him of his worst responsibility.

“But why,” she asked in a puzzled way, “why did that old man think it started about me? What have I” —

She had gone so straight to the point that he was both amused and dismayed.

“You must n’t ask me that now, Helen,” he answered. “I’ve promised not to tell it all” —

“ Not to me ?” she asked, disappointed.

“Just that,” he assented, soberly. “Not to you.” In the long silence he stooped and plucked at the withered tops of potatoes. “Oh, Helen!” he broke out at last. “It’s that that worries me and makes me ashamed — the promise, and a great deal more that I’ve been thinking all the way over, through it all. I’m ashamed. I came here,” he hurried on breathlessly, “I came here and stole it from you, all at once, as if I’d been the only man in the world, — or the best,— without giving you a chance, even, to know what the others were like — Oh, I’m ashamed!” he cried. “It was like a cad, —it was n’t fair to you, dear.”

Her face had turned pale in the sunlight.

“Are you sorry?” she asked, with a cold voice that was not her own, and that did not conceal her distress and fear.

“No,” he cried eagerly. “It’s the happiest and truest thing in my life. Oh, don’t you see why? It’s just because it is n’t fair to you. I wanted you to know that there were better fellows, off the island — and on it. Here goes my word!” he exclaimed in dismay. “I can’t keep it. You said, the other time, that you never used to feel alone, — that there was a kind of — of presence, you said, among the trees and places. Well, there was.” And he told her all that Peter had said that morning. “There, I’ve broken my promise to him. But it’s best. He’s given up everything, thought, and care, and work, and his little brother, and I just came along and stole it. Why, Helen, you grew up in a kind of garden — an enchanted garden you might have played it was — and this man built and kept the walls round it, walls you could n’t see. And what am I before a man like that? Just look, without any make-believe. We have n’t even talked things over as we were going to this morning. But see. I’ve run away from everything — just drifted along — never thought much — took chances — only had good luck. Don’t you see ? ”

She surveyed him oddly. In her eyes was a shine as of transfiguration, but he could not understand it.

“You’re very young about some things,” she said. “Younger than I — years. Did n’t you see, up there — can’t you remember — that our one look — and what it meant? Did n’t you see that it settled it all? I know there are other men, and noble and good — the world full of them — not getting their deserts — deserts much bigger than a girl like me. I know that. But what of it? This Peter, oh, I’m sorry for him, and grateful, and he must be wonderfully good. But — don’t you see?” she begged helplessly. “I can’t explain — but if you don’t — if you have the least doubt — then we’ve made a mistake”— Her eyes shone pitifully and her lip trembled.

“Helen, you know I could n’t,” he said, frightened at the thought. “You know that. Why, when I was in the whirlpool, and it on my back — this Death your father spins words about — pressing me down, what do you suppose I thought ? Just that I could n’t die then, because the drink from your spring, — our poor little foolish game, lasting through it all, right to the end of everything, down there in the dark. Oh, just believe that! I can’t explain, either, half of it.”

The color of reassurance came back to her cheeks.

“ Look,” he said, pointing before them. They had come to the end of the shriveled rows, where a lane went by to the pastures on the northern headland. “This will help. See, this puddle of water here, where your cow’s been drinking. It’s full of her hoof-marks, and shallow, and dirty, and everything. Now stand over here,”

Moving away, they leaned forward together and looked. The light so caught the little surface that the water was deep as the sky, and the clouds and the blue air were in it.

“There, you see. That’s my life, before you, and since. I don’t know how else” —

The girl was the first to speak again.

“I can’t tell you so well,” she said. “But the long winter evenings with the snow against the panes, — and the summer nights and no one to talk to, — there’ll be no more of those.” Then she changed, happily mocking his sober face. “Parables in puddles, — and a preacher in blue overalls.” They both laughed.

“I know,” he confessed. “But I’ve been through something that’s made me preach these things to myself. And two persons I met this morning, one on the island, and one in the water. Let’s not talk about it. But I’m not going to let things go to waste any longer, or run away. Old Kellum’s happy; there’s a beginning, and there are lots of chances. You ’re at the bottom of it all. If we could only do something for Peter” —

Helen looked thoughtfully down toward the house and the cove.

“Poor fellow,” she said at last. “ I’m glad you told me. I must talk with him, though it will be very hard for us both. Let’s go back now; and good-by, for a while, dear. Oh, you’ll tell my father soon, won’t you? It’s best not to keep the truth hidden. Good-by. You’ve no more doubts?”

“Not one!” he answered earnestly. “I wish I could do it for you — this” —

“No,” she said. “You did your part this morning. There are other hard things that only a woman can do.”

From the little flower garden, all crushed and torn with the recent scuffle, they saw the men moving away, part climbing the hill toward the harbor, part returning to the beach. At the edge of the slope toward the cove, Peter, alone in the field, stood looking toward the mainland. Helen walked slowly down toward him.

Archer pattered indoors barefoot, and at the desk in the dark corner of the library, began a letter.

“Powell’s Island, Wednesday.

To Captain Berry,

Barkentine Elizabeth Fanning.

My dear Sir: —

An accident involving the death of two persons” —

Her father’s commonplace book lay open before him. As he cast about for the right words, his eye lighted on a recent addition in the scholar’s neat manuscript : —

“Schopenhauer: Metaphysics of Love. —This ablest of modern thinkers has said very wisely: ‘And yet, amid all this turmoil we see a pair of lovers exchanging longing glances, — but why so secretly, timidly, and furtively ? Because these lovers are traitors secretly striving to perpetuate all this misery and turmoil that otherwise would come to a timely end.’ ”

“Hm!” — he pondered. “It seems her father may not need so much information as we supposed. She fails as an actress,” he thought with joy. Then he took the liberty of closing the book and putting it away in the scholar’s drawer, where Helen should not see the odious words. He sat thinking. “Old Lehane was not the worst person she must be saved from,” he concluded.

Through the battered door she entered, her face streaked with tears. She went swiftly to the foot of the stairs, then turned, fled to him, and for an instant stood with her hands on his shoulders and her tousled head pressed against him.

“Oh, Hugh,” she whispered. “He is a good man. And so were you to tell me. The little boy is to be — we agreed — up there by Arthur’s cross. It’s little enough, is n’t it? He is a good man.”

She hurried from him and up the stairs. When her door had closed, .Archer turned to the window, and stood looking out.

“I could spit in the face of that ablest modern thinker,” he said to himself. “For he’s a liar. Peter is worth a thousand of him.”

Out on the pitch of the slope, the tall figure, black against the shining channel, stood looking off at the mainland.

“But sometimes,” said Archer to himself, “we build our happiness at the expense of others” —

A footstep grated lightly on the stone, and the scholar entered, looking fatigued.

“Ah, Mr. Archer,” he said kindly, “you two young men have done very well by us, it seems, in some mysterious way.”

“Not I, sir,” said Archer. “I only brought this trouble on you. I ’m sorry to give you all such a bad morning.”

But his host’s mind was already off the subject.

“I went down thinking to comfort that old fisherman about his son,” he explained. “But I found it quite impossible, he is so violent in his grief. That was a fine saying of Solon’s,” he mused, “an heroic reply to the news of his son’s death, ‘I knew that I had begotten a mortal being.’ Or was it Anaxagoras, as some say, or Xenophon ? But that is the pathos of the past; the truth of matters becomes obscured.”

He looked very worn and white as he sank into the big armchair.

“ He ’s been through a good deal to-day — for him,” thought the young man. “We’ll let it wait till to-morrow. I’d better go down for my clothes before the tide gets them.”

“Obscured or lost,” added Mr.Powell. “And the future holds only one certainty ” —