AUGUST , 1912
BY WILLIAM JOHN HOPKINS
I LIVE with my father and my sister down on the Point, a little way beyond the village. To be strictly truthful, I suppose I should say that my father and my sister live with me; a peculiar combination of circumstances made such an arrangement easy and natural.
The house is not so very large, but it is large enough, and it has every convenience that is to be had down on the end of a point almost out at sea. It has far more conveniences than any house in the village, and it has one virtue in addition. It is mine. And the barn is mine, and the two cows in it, and the horse. I have not kept pigs for reasons which must be obvious to any one who has kept them. But I keep chickens,— or hens, whichever you please to call them, — and at certain seasons I keep both hens and chickens; and I have reason to believe that I keep several families of skunks, and some mink. The skunks confine their attention to my chickens and do not bother us, and the mink are a source of entertainment on the rare occasions when we catch a glimpse of them. The large brown or gray rats which infest the shore furnish entertainment, in turn, for the mink and for my dog. I have sometimes wondered how the rats themselves are entertained.
We have the waters of an unimportant sound on three sides of us, with the lightship on Singing Reef — of course the lightship is not on the reef— Singing Reef Lightship, I say, about four miles away, on our right. Lesser Pungatit, five miles off, stretches briefly before us to the south; and Greater Pungatit stretches, not so briefly, to the southeast. Greater Pungatit always makes me think of a sleeping whale. It is not very high and it gives an impression of immense leisure, and somehow it does not seem to be anchored. I should not be surprised to look out some morning and find that it had waked in the night and made off.
The narrow passage between the islands is put down in all the charts as Pungatit Passage; it is known in the vernacular as ‘Punk Hole,’ which title betrays its origin and some of its characteristics.
Then there is the lighthouse on the next point, less than two miles away on our left. That lighthouse does bother me. It is a flashing light, and the light is very bright during the flashes, which come just as you are beginning to recover from the last one. There is no getting away from it, and it makes me nervous. But I am not going to complain to the Lighthouse Board. It would not do any good, and it might do harm, and I should only get laughed at for my pains. I have blocked off the easterly end of my piazza with vines. I wish that it were as easy to block off my east windows without shutting out the view and the sun.
Having such a natural barrier on three sides, it occurred to me that it might be as well to put up an artificial barrier on the fourth side. Accordingly, two years ago, I ran a high wall in a straight line from shore to shore. This wall is punctured at the road by a great gate and at one other point by a lesser gate; and it is surmounted by a low fence of a very inconspicuous and tasteful design. In addition, I was at considerable expense in setting out vines and creepers all along the wall. I have admired that wall, with its living green, many a time. I still admire it. I was doing that very thing this morning and reflecting how excellently and unobtrusively it fulfills its purpose. But I am informed that my wall is not so generally admired in the village.
I do not care. I do not hold with those who have been all for pulling down their walls and fences in these last twenty years. We poor land-owners are entitled to some measure of privacy, and that wall was built chiefly for the purpose of keeping people out. Six acres is but six acres, but it is all I have. I have none of your socialistic tendencies, I am afraid, to be willing to give Marzwk Zcknjczwskwch the free and unencumbered use of my grounds. I prefer that he should stay out, at least until I ask him in. That is not likely to happen soon.
My father has no regular occupation. He is over seventy, although he does not look more than sixty, and he has deserved his leisure. He busies himself about the garden and the barn much of the time. His boyhood was spent on a farm, and he seems to enjoy pretending that this is just such another. It is not, of course. Mike looks out for the horse and the cows, and does all the disagreeable work about the hens and the garden. Mike is devoted to my father. Almost everybody is. Indeed, I need not have qualified the statement.
When he is not busy about the place in the way I have mentioned, my father is apt to be poking about the shore, or sitting on our piazza, reading. I spend as much time with him as possible because — well, because I like to, and because he seems to like to have me. But he never wants to go out with me — or with anybody else — in my boats. As that is the thing I enjoy the most, his unwillingness is unfortunate.
Felicia keeps the house. Felicia is my sister. She keeps the house, as I started to say, to our utter satisfaction
— when she is at home. She came back from England two years ago, at about the time that I built the wall. She had been away for two years, and it was only my hint that I would like to see her again before I die that brought her back. It was then she began her keeping of the house. She did not seem so cheerful as one likes to have one’s sister seem, and I wondered whether I had made a mistake. She became more cheerful as time went on, however, so I concluded that there was nothing the matter except that she had had no regular occupation for some years. That
— the lack of a regular occupation — plays the devil with us all when we let it get a good hold.
Felicia is away, at present, on a round of visits. I am unable to see why people like to spend so much time away, visiting. When you have found the place that you like best in the world, why under the sun should you go away from it in order to visit in other places which can’t possibly suit you so well, and to see people whom you generally do not care an old copper about seeing? But Felicia appears to like to do it. It occurs to me that possibly this place is not the one that Felicia likes best in the world.
If my observations upon the lack of a regular occupation ever reach the ears or the eyes of the villagers, they will have one more thing to laugh at me about. It does not matter — or it matters very little. Nobody likes to be laughed at, even by villagers; but they laugh at me so much already that one laugh more or less can make little difference. And they would have some reason on their side, for I — but it is of no consequence. I may seem to be idle, but I am not, although my occupation is a secret for the present. Not even the members of my immediate family know about it. I have hopes that I may be willing to make it known in time; if I succeed, it will be known, in the nature of things, whether I will or not. But whatever that occupation of mine is, I am not idle. Most people consider me so, and appearances are against me, I confess. I accept the situation and go sailing.
I went sailing this morning. Yesterday was a wild day, with a great wind out of the southeast, and rain which came in gusts with no more than a cold drizzle between. But last night! All the wind-devils were let loose. They howled and shrieked about the house, which rocked and swayed as if it would leave its foundations; the great seas thundered and crashed over my Rock on the shore; and rain in sheets beat upon the windows until I feared lest it break them in. I closed the shutters, getting drenched in the brief process; but the rain made such a noise, beating upon the slats of the closed shutters, that I could not sleep; and the noise of wind and rain usually soothes me and lulls me to slumber. The very sound of it fills me with a deep content. But not last night. Toward morning, the rain ceased and the wind was less, and it hauled to the south, and I slept; and when I woke this morning there was left of it only a smashing breeze from the southwest and ragged drifts of scud vanishing before it.
My father was down long before me. He can never sleep after four or five o’clock. He looked up from his paper as I came in.
‘Good morning, Peter,’ he said.
‘Good morning, father,’ I replied. ‘I hope you managed to sleep better than I did.’
‘ I did pretty well,’ he answered quietly. ‘It was a terrible night. I’m afraid you’ll find some damage.’
‘It would be strange if I did not,’ said I. ‘There is always damage to be found if I look for it. I ’ll have my breakfast first.’
He looked at me queerly. ‘I suppose, then, that you’ll have your breakfast before you look about at all.’
‘Why,’ I said, returning his queer look, ‘that was my intention. Is there anything wrong? Anything in particular, I mean?’
‘There’s a vessel on Singing Reef,’ he remarked. ‘It seems to be a large one.’
I uttered some exclamation, I do not know just what. I hope it was a proper one, but I have my doubts, for my father smiled again. I went to the window and tried to see the reef, but there was a screen in the window and I nearly twisted my neck off, trying to see round a corner. The dining-room windows give upon the east and the south, while Singing Reef is almost due west.
‘It’s no use,’ I said. ‘I shall have to go out to see, and I will have my breakfast first. If any vessel got on in last last night’s blow, she’ll stay for half an hour, I guess.’
My father laughed. ‘A safe guess,’ he agreed.
So I ate my breakfast comfortably: a modest one, of a huge bowl of porridge and two eggs and some English bacon and graham toast and a cup of strong coffee, with the fruit last. I can’t bear to have the taste of the fruit taken away at once, as it is if I begin with it. Then I lit my pipe and went out and stood upon my great Rock at the end of my point, and looked out toward the reef.
There she was: a large vessel, as my father had said, a four-masted schooner, hard and fast. She must have struck at just about the flood, she was so high out of water now. And the tide had gone out and was half in again, and the storm had left great smooth rollers, three hundred feet or more from crest to crest, with a smaller and more active cross-sea from the southwest. These great rollers began to gather as they got into shallow water, and changed their direction, as all seas will in such a case; and they joined forces with the smaller seas and made a magnificent surf. When one of the rollers broke against the Rock, the spray went high and fell in sheets over quite half of it, so that we had to stand well back or we should have got drenched. My father had joined me.
We looked for a long time in silence. There was nobody on the schooner, so far as I could see through my glass — which is a good one. There was nobody about her, cither; at least, the waters on my side, which was her lee, were deserted. But there was the fishermen’s fleet, just passing the point and evidently bound for the wreck. Fishermen catch more than fish sometimes.
‘Well, what do you make of her?’ asked my father at last.
My father is a very patient man, perhaps because he is old. I am neither patient nor old.
I said nothing, but handed him the glass. ‘Thank you, Peter,’ said he, and put it to his eye.
I waited. I waited for a long time. ‘Well?’ I said then, not as patiently as he had spoken.
He still held the glass to his eye. ‘There seems to be a great crowd on the lightship,’ he answered slowly. I had not thought to look at the lightship. I am no less than a fool. I always knew it. ‘Perhaps the crew have gone there,’ my father added.
‘They must have. I am going out to her, father, and I am afraid I shall have to take that glass. The big one on the piazza will be more convenient for you.’
‘Certainly, Peter.’ He handed me the glass.
‘Won’t you go with me?’
It was an afterthought. I knew that he would not.
‘What are you going in?’ he asked, hesitating. ‘I don’t believe it matters,’ he added, smiling. ‘It is blowing almost too hard for me.’
‘I am going in the dory. I want to be able to get near. I should like to have you.’
He shook his head and smiled again. ‘Thank you, Peter, not in the dory. I like smoother weather.’
So I called good-bye and left him and went to the place where I keep my boats, in the lee of a tiny breakwater; scarcely a wall, but it serves to protect the boats. My father waved to me as I passed in the dory — he was still standing on the Rock—and, as I cleared the point and went after the fishing fleet, I saw him turn and walk slowly back to the house, stopping several times to look after me. My heart smote me, although I don’t know why it should exert itself in such an inconvenient manner. Father is left alone a good deal, now that Felicia is away. I wish that he liked to sail with me — but it is not to be expected that I should stay ashore, especially when there is a fourmaster on Singing Reef.
I enjoyed that sail down to the reef, short as it was. The wind was still strong and I could not make the reef on one tack, so I stood over toward Lesser Pungatit for a little way. Perhaps my father was wise not to come with me. Sailing in an open boat in nearly half a gale is not all that could be desired for an oldish man. I spent most of my time on that sail sitting over the weather gunwale and holding on by my toes to the opposite scat. I dislike to reef, because the sails are not so well-balanced when they are reefed, and the dory does not sail so well.
However, I managed to keep the lee rail clear of the water most of the time, so that there were not more than a couple of buckets of water in her when I came about; and I managed to get a moment, now and then, to look about me and to enjoy what I saw. We seldom have such a sea rolling in as the storm had left. It was no more than an immense swell, perfectly smooth, with the sea from the southwest placed upon it as exactly as if it had been a millpond. But when I was in a trough between two of those rollers I could see nothing but those great hills of water rolling on; and when they had rolled on half their length, and had lifted the dory to the top, I saw the two Pungatits ahead of me, and the great stretch of dark-green water, changing to darkblue in the distance, covered with white caps. The foam was dazzlingly white, for the sun had not come out completely, and there was a sort of half-light on the water which seemed to make the dark water darker and the white foam brighter. And always there were the great rollers, marching on majestically at the double-quick, as if nothing on earth could stop them. I could almost see them marching on behind me and rolling over my point and swallowing my house and my wall, and rolling on, unchecked, over the village, and so disappearing in the distance. It seemed so real to me that I looked back once, to make sure that my house was still there, and not rolling waters in its place. I almost swamped the boat. It does not do to look back.
I caught and passed the fishermen before they had got to the wreck. One after another lifted a hand and waved to me, and Ole Oleson did more.
‘Hello, Peter!’ he called. ‘How you makin’ it?’
I got there before them all, and I went up close under her stern and read her name, the Mary Sayles of Belfast. She was loaded with lumber. The water in her lee was very smooth, but I did not dare go there, even in the dory. The tide was more than half in, but even so there was an ominous sucking sound, now and then, and the water opened with a roar and closed again in a smother of foam, and I heard, very briefly, the singing of the reef.
Then I stood over to the lightship. Men were crowding at her rail as she rolled, and I hailed and learned that the crew of the schooner were safe on board, all but one man who had disappeared at some time during the night. I expressed a regret which I fear I did not feel. How is it possible to feel a real regret for a man one never saw or heard of? Then I offered to take any two men ashore. There was a sudden smile and a shaking of heads.
So I stood away for home and we just flew. A dory is very fast before the wind, or nearly before it. I had it just aft of the quarter, so that the jib was kept full and drawing most of the time, and in not much more than twenty minutes I was stepping out on my stage. I made the dory fast, bow and stern, and hauled her out to her stake. Then I felt impelled to go upon my great Rock again. That is an impulse which I often feel, for the Rock is a satisfying place. It gives one a wide prospect, and it is something to see the seas breaking on that granite buttress and the many lesser boulders, especially when the tide is somewhat more than half in, and when we have such a sea as there was this morning. So I started walking along the shore to the tip of the point.
I have no trees here, which is a grief, but real trees cannot be induced to grow along this shore. I had trouble enough to keep the few alive about the house, and they look like very old men, bent with rheumatism. It is the wind that does it. But if I have no trees along the shore, bushes will grow without help from me. I came to a part of the shore which curves a little and where there is more sand than elsewhere, and I saw a man asleep under a low scraggly bush. I was startled and angry, and something rose within my bosom, and there was a curious feeling at the roots of my hair, and I almost growled. I know how a dog feels when the hair on his neck rises and he walks slowly around, stiff-legged and snarling. But I did not growl. I only stood and regarded the man.
His arm was thrown over his eyes and he had no hat, and his clothes did not promise much. But what of that? Where should I be at this moment if a man were to be judged by his clothes? In jail, very likely, or breaking stone on the road. But what right had he there? The creature! Sleeping on my bank! Had Marzwck Zcknjczwskwch passed my wall, then? The man’s chin showed below his arm. It seemed a good chin enough, good American or English, for they mean the same thing. No one, when he says American, means naturalized Syrian; at least, not yet. And his chin indicated a face tanned to a bronze by the weather: sun and rain and fogs, and that damp, hazy southwest wind that I love. But what did I care what he was? Out upon him!
I would have roused him rather roughly; but the creature stirred. He raised his arm; he opened one eye, smiled engagingly, and opened the other.
‘How are you?’ he said — but he called it ‘yah.’ With that, he sat up.
English, I thought, very. I was greatly relieved. He drew a briar-pipe from one pocket and a pouch from another, and he began to fill his pipe.
‘Ought to be goin’, really,’ he remarked further.
I noted that the pipe was a good one and somewhat old. And I noted that the pouch was 舒 had been — a good one, too. It was a duplicate of my own. I also noted that it was almost empty. There was nothing in it that could be called tobacco, but only a few pinches of snuff, and that was but a soggy mess. I tossed him mine.
‘Here,’ I said.
‘Thank you,’ said he, and proceeded to use it.
As he filled his pipe, I noted his hands. I could not help it. They were well-formed and evidently strong, with fingers that tapered as much as a man’s should and no more. He shut the pouch with a snap and handed it back.
‘I’m a little shy on tobacco,’ he observed, with another engaging and somewhat apologetic smile. His teeth were excellent; regular and strong and white. No doubt I should have said ‘are,’ for that was only this morning. ‘Can’t get any in the village, I suppose,’ — he was talking of tobacco, not teeth, — ‘ better than navy plug?’
I shook my head. ‘I’m afraid not. I send away for mine. Come up to the house and I’ll fill your pouch.’
He seemed surprised. ‘Thank you. Very kind, really! I will. Got a match? Mine got wet.’
I tossed him my match-safe. He caught it deftly and opened it. ‘Ah,’ he said with evident satisfaction, ‘vestas.’
He lit his pipe while I stood and watched him. ‘How did your matches get wet?’ I asked.
He waved his hand toward the tossing water of the Sound. ‘Water,’ he replied. ‘It’ll go through anything if you’re in it long enough.’
‘Then,’ said I, ‘perhaps you can tell me something of the man who was lost from the Mary Sayles during the night.’
He grinned. ‘That’s me. So they think I was lost, do they? The others are on the lightship, I suppose?’
‘You might have seen them if you had taken the trouble to look.’ I handed him the glass from my belt.
‘They weren’t when I came ashore,’ he murmured, as he put the glass to his eye. ‘ I’ve been sleepin’ ever since, and dry in’ off.’
‘ I’ve been out to the reef. I’ve just got back. They told me but one man was lost. I offered to take any two ashore in the dory, but nobody would come.’
I felt aggrieved about that, almost sore. They had as good as made fun of the dory.
He chuckled. ‘They’re a crowd of quitters. I’m almost sorry I came ashore when I did. I’d have come with you in your dory. Been glad to. But I did n’t know I should have the chance. Awf’Iy sick of the old hooker, you know.’
‘How did you get ashore?’ I asked.
‘Swam,’ said he briefly.
‘And you swam,’ I inquired, ‘all the way from the reef?’
‘Swam,’ said he, nodding. ‘Swimmin’ is easier than walkin’.’
‘Oh,’ said I, under my breath. ‘Rather rough water for swimming.’
He smiled again. ‘ Rather rough,’ he agreed, ‘but easy swimmin’. Wind at my back, you know. Left the old hooker at daylight and just paddled along before it, lookin’ for a human habitation. None on that beach opposite her, and I’d have had to walk miles with no shoes. Ever try walkin’ miles with no shoes?’
I shook my head. ‘Going barefoot is one of the privileges of youth of which I have been deprived. But I — I have some shoes which you might like to wear until you can get some of your own.’
‘Thank you,’ he said gratefully. ‘Very kind, really. A pair of sneakers, perhaps.’
‘And some sort of a hat, perhaps,’ I went on, smiling. ‘Come on.’ A sudden thought struck me. ‘Aren’t you wet through? You might like some dry clothes.’
‘ Pretty dry now, thank you. I don’t want to borrow a whole wardrobe. I ’ll do very well with the sneakers.’
‘And the hat.’
‘And the hat. I think I ought to introduce myself. My name’s Stoke; Burbury Stoke.’
‘Mine is Harden.’
I thought that a curious gleam came into his eyes at the mention of my name, but the gleam died out almost at once. He seemed to think that he ought to explain it.
‘I knew of some people named Harden — or my people did.’
We were walking slowly toward the house; slowly, because the stubble on what I like to call my lawn hurt the feet of Burbury Stoke. My father was coming to meet us.
My companion stopped short. ‘I say,’ he broke out, ‘if there are any ladies, would it be askin’ too much to ask for a bath and a razor? And can’t we go in at the back?’
I reassured him, telling him that my sister was away for the present, at which news he seemed relieved; and I introduced him to my father. It was somewhat strange that I should consider it necessary formally to introduce a sailor who had been cast up on my shore by the sea, and whom I was about to supply with a bath and a razor and nearly all the necessary articles of clothing; but it did not seem strange at the time or unnecessary. It did not seem to strike my father as strange, either.
When I came down to breakfast the other morning, my father was not in his usual place, reading the usual paper. There was nobody to be found but the servants. I was surprised, for if I was not early, at least I was not late, and I went to look for him, a sort of nameless fear gripping my heart. I always have that fear, although there is no reason for it at all, except that he is an old man, over seventy.
As I stepped out upon the piazza, I heard a burst of distant laughter. It seemed to come from behind the house; perhaps from the neighborhood of the barn. I thought that I recognized my father’s laugh, less quiet than usual, and Mike Hannerty’s. There was a third, which I knew very well. I had been hearing it often enough in the past three weeks. It was Burbury Stoke’s. I started round, the fear in my heart having given way to irritation.
I feel that I ought to give some explanation of Burbury Stoke’s continued presence. The truth is, my father had got fond of the insinuating vagabond and did not want him to go. If you must have the whole truth, I did not want him to go, either. he is a very amusing companion, and he likes to sail — in anything. I believe he would go out in a tub if nothing better offered. My boats are better than tubs. And Mike seemed to like him; so that we rather pressed him to stay. He was properly backward about staying, no more; but seeing that we really wanted him, and having no engagements, pressing or otherwise, — nothing in this wide world that he ought to do, and nothing that he had rather do, as he said, — and having money enough for the moment, he yielded.
‘Why, thank you,’ he said, his eyes suspiciously bright; ‘it’s awfully kind of you, really. Man spewed up by the sea, you know. Might be a rotter.’
And 1 laughed, and we shook hands all round, Burbury giving me a grip that I shall long remember. I found myself shaking hands with my father.
‘I’m very glad,’ he said, with quiet satisfaction. ‘It’s a pleasure to have him, is n’t it, Peter?’
It was, then. I did not feel any particular pleasure when I started round to the barn in pursuit of that laughter, nor a moment later, when I came in sight of the group I sought. Mike was in the barn doorway, ostensibly engaged in rubbing down my horse, but his attention was elsewhere. My father was seated on a box, and Burbury Stoke stood beside him, shouting encouragement to something, I could not see what. I called to them, mildly, that breakfast was ready and waiting.
‘Go away, Peter,’ Burbury said, with a wave of the hand. ‘We’re busy. What’s breakfast, when you ’re livin’? ’
I suggested that breakfast was desirable if one would keep on living. I was going on with some further observations when I came into view of the objects of their interest. My own great Brahma, almost as big as a turkey, and a great prize-winner, was engaged in a tilt with an absurd little game cockerel, and was getting the worst of it.
I drove the Game into an unoccupied pen which would serve as a pound. He was a stranger and an intruder. My wall would not even keep out wandering chickens.
Breakfast was rather a silent meal. There was nothing that I wanted to say that I could say with dignity; my father was in process of being rebuked by his conscience; and Burbury said nothing, but broke out into fits of chuckling, now and then. At last my father joined him in one of his fits of chuckling. I may have been wrong about my father’s conscience, and too solicitous. I rose and started out. I had finished my breakfast.
‘I say, Peter,’ Burbury called after me, remorse in his voice; ‘I say, old chap, don’t go off mad. If it’s anythin’ I’ve done, I apologize. It generally is, you know. Where are you goin’, anyway?’
I defy anybody to stay angry with Burbury Stoke. I am afraid I smiled as I replied that I contemplated going to the shore.
‘We’ll go with you, if you don’t mind,’ he went on calmly. He turned to my father. ‘Won’t we, Mr. Harden?’
So the three of us strolled down to the Rock. Father and I seated ourselves in our favorite seats. Burbury lay at full length in the sun with his hat partly over his eyes. Nobody felt like speaking.
At last Burbury sighed. ‘Rippin’ day!’ he said.
It was. The water was like glass, with a gentle ground-swell which broke at the foot of the Rock with a soothing hissing and bubbling sound. The sea toward Greater Pungatit was a blaze of light with the strong glare of the sun; but toward Lesser Pungatit were all manner of shades of a blue-gray on the water and in the air itself, it seemed. I am no artist, to analyze colors; often enough, indeed, I cannot even tell what I see; but it looked blue-gray to me, the shades and tones shifting continually. Lesser Pungatit itself was bathed in a soft, luminous haze which was golden and a tender blue, by turns, or both at once. There were no vessels in sight except the Singing Reef Lightship and the schooner, hard and fast on Singing Reef, and a wrecking tug near, all shrouded in the same haze and in a dense silence. It did not seem real. It was like a picture, but better than any picture that ever was painted; better than any that could be painted. It was as if we were lifted up and looking down upon a quiet earth untroubled by the affairs of men.
The wrecking tug moved lazily toward the reef, — it was the only way it could move on such a day, — and we saw the long puff of steam, and presently the long blast of the whistle came to us faintly. Then silence again, except for the sound of the water breaking with a bubbling hiss, and washing gently up among the rocks, and for an occasional note of a bird. Even the terns, as they sailed back and forth over the shallow water before us, seemed not so intent upon their business as usual, and their harsh cries were subdued.
Off on the water beyond the lightship there was a dark streak. It announced our daily southwest wind. It might be nearly an hour in getting over the four or five miles which lay between us and it, now seeming to disappear as the wedge of wind was thrown up into the air and clear of the water; and now appearing again as the wind struck the water with renewed strength. That wind would grow with the day until, about two in the afternoon, it would blow half a gale, perhaps; then, again perhaps, it would wane with the waning day. But it might not. And whether it waned or grew, it would be a long time before the fish-hawk felt it in his high, serene sailing. What would he care, anyway? What is a little wind to a fish-hawk? I found him, at last, with my glass.
Burbury was watching the fish-hawk, too. ‘ I say, Peter,’ he cried with eagerness, ‘look at that fellow.’ I was looking already. ‘Would n’t you like to fly like that? Don’t you just wish you could? He does n’t move his wings, give you my word.’
He was mistaken. The hawk did move his wings the merest trifle as he turned. I could see him through the glass. It was not to be expected that Burbury could see it.
’I always wanted to fly like that. But I—’
Burbury stopped. The hawk had closed his wings and dropped like a shot, swerving a bit to follow the course of the fish. He struck the water with a resounding splash, sending the spray high, and disappeared completely. We heard the noise of the splash as we sat there. After so long an interval that we thought he must be drowned, he reappeared, the water dripping in showers from his feathers with each beat of his great wings, and from the glistening fish which he bore between his talons, and he rose heavily and winged off over the water and over the shore to his home in the woods. By some misadventure in that struggle beneath the water, he had seized his prey the wrong way about, and he paused a moment in the air to turn it so that he could carry it head-first. I saw the sides of the squirming fish drip red where his talons had clutched it.
Burbury had relapsed into silence for a moment. ‘Now, that hawk,’ he said, when he was ready to put his thought into words, ‘was efficient. That’s the word. Are you efficient, Peter?’
‘No,’said I, fervently. ‘ThankGod!’ I added.
Burbury laughed lightly. ‘The fish was n’t efficient. Hah! I made a pun, Peter. But I did n’t mean it, give you my word. Forgive me, won’t you?’
My father laughed, and so did I.
Burbury was forgiven. The Emperor of the Germans was chasing rats among the boulders and having a beautiful time of it. The Emperor of the Germans is my dog: an Irish terrier, seeming always ready for a fight, but never getting into one, for one reason or another. The Emperor of the Germans is his bench-name. I have no reason to think he would answer to it. We call him Bill.
‘Bill is n’t efficient, either,’ Burbury pursued thoughtfully. ‘He makes no end of fuss, but when did he catch a rat? I ask you.’ I said nothing and Burbury went on. ‘I should think you’d be ashamed, Peter, to confess it. Not to be efficient! I don’t believe you ever try, even, and it’s all the go, Peter.’
I grunted — or growled. ‘ If I were a machine, Burbury. But what do you think this life is for?’
‘I was wonderin’. If it’s for loafin’, I’m as efficient as they make ’em. That Game was efficient, this mornin’.’ He chuckled. ‘I say, Peter, I’ll take him off your hands. I won’t put him up to fightin’ your bird; give you my word.’
The first breath of the wind fanned our faces. Burbury raised his head.
‘Can you look upon this water and not want to go sailin’? And I should n’t wonder if Mr. Harden would go, if we go in the little ketch.’
‘We can’t go out this morning, Burbury,’ I replied, sighing. I wanted to go. ‘We’ve to go after Felicia in an hour.’
Burbury was starlled. He seemed almost frightened as he sat up. ‘Your sister cornin’ to-day, Peter?’ he said. ‘ Don’t you think — perhaps I’d better be goin’, really? I could have my traps ready in five minutes. Save you a trip, you know.’
‘Burbury,’ I answered, ‘I ’m ashamed of you.’
‘But, Peter,’ he protested earnestly; ‘I say, you know, I could —’
’I don’t know,’ I returned sternly; ‘and 1 don’t care whether you could or not. Don’t talk rot, Burbury. Go, of course, if you want to; but if you do, it will be only because you want to.’
‘Thank you. Awfully kind of you, really!’ He spoke with some hesitation. ‘I suppose I ought to be goin’, but I don’t want to.’ He hesitated again. ‘Well, I won’t, then.’
‘Then that’s settled.’ My father was smiling with satisfaction. I knew it would please him to have Burbury stay. ‘ Can you be ready to go with me in an hour?’
‘Go with you!’ he cried. ‘Oh, I say, Peter —’
‘Don’t you want to meet my sister?’ I asked. ‘It looks queer.’
‘Of course I want to meet her,’ he answered indignantly. ‘Dyin’ to. But you don’t want to shove me down her throat, you know; now do you?’
‘She’s very particular about what she eats,’ I remarked.
Burbury chuckled again. ‘I believe you,’ he said. ‘She would be, you know,’ he explained, ‘bein’ your sister. And I suppose she’s rather particular about — er — what acquaintances she picks up. Would n’t take to a poor sailor picked up on the beach, now, would she?’
‘Judging by the actions of her father and her brother,’ I replied severely, ‘whom she remotely resembles, she will not take to you. That is an exhibition of pure vanity, Burbury, which I should n’t have expected of you.’
‘Not vanity, Peter; give you my word. Mere modesty. Sense of my own unworthiness, you know. I should n’t expect to be taken to.’
’I should advise you to continue in that state.'
Burbury sighed and said nothing, but gazed out over the water. I said nothing, either, nor did my father. But that is not unusual. My father is not given to many words, but is satisfied with living. Who would not be, — here?
At last I rose and roused Burbury Stoke. ‘Come, Burbury,’ I said. ‘It’s time we were starting.’
He got to his feet slowly, gave a long look out toward the wreck on the reef, and came with me as cheerfully as if he were going to his hanging. My father came, too.
‘What’s the matter with you, anyway, Burbury?’ I asked. ‘What ails you?’
He looked at me quickly, his ready smile lighting up his handsome face. ‘I’m shy, Peter. Haven’t you found that out? I ’m probably the most bashful man on this whole point.’
‘ I can hardly get my breath; give you m’ word,’ Burbury continued. ‘Not that it matters. I feel like runnin’ away, but I shan’t; and that, old chap’,— at that point in his remarks he hit me a resounding thump on the shoulder, — ‘shows true courage.’
We found the horse waiting for us, ready harnessed to a light road-wagon; not too light, for a wagon needs to be strongly made for my use.
‘The gate, Mike,’ I said.
Mike was already running for the gate, and he made no reply. I got in and Burbury beside me. At the last moment, the Emperor of the Germans jumped into the rear seat, and we cast off our mooring-lines and, Mike having his hands on the gate, I leaned out and pulled a rope, and a gong over our heads rang loudly. At the stroke of that gong the horse dashed out on the dead run, and made for the gate. Burbury waved his hand to my father as we went. Mike had got the gate open, which was lucky, for the horse would have gone through it, anyway. One day last year he wrecked the gate and cut his leg. The gate had stuck; and I had to have a new gate which could not stick. Burbury was still looking back when Mike shut the gate, and I heard him laugh suddenly.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Your sign,’ he said. ‘Could n’t get it surely, we’re goin’ so fast, but it seemed to be to the effect that automobiles were to keep out.’
I had that sign put up last week: ‘Motor vehicles not admitted,’ painted in large plain letters. It was plain enough for anybody who knew his alphabet, and it was needed, although one would think that a gate slammed right athwart the road would be a gentle hint. The gate seemed to have been left unlatched, inadvertently, although Mike swore that it was not, and some party who were all perfect strangers to me came in in an automobile and made a mess of turning round, cutting deep gouges in my lawn. I could have laid a water-main in their wheel-tracks if it would have served any purpose. It is trouble enough to make grass grow well on that exposed point without having it spoiled in that way. The leader of the party said that they supposed the road was a public road and that it led to the shore, and he made some sort of apology to Mike; and I ordered the sign that afternoon.
Burbury chuckled again. ‘Is it on account of their excessive speed, Peter, that you don’t like automobiles?’
At the moment, we were coming up behind an automobile, and seemed likely to pass it.
‘ It is not. Their speed is not excessive. It is because of their clumsiness. Wouid you have a locomotive or a steam yacht coming up to my front door?’
And I urged the horse to even greater speed; but the fellow in the car had looked round, and he did something with his levers, and his machine gave a series of rapid coughs and snorts and drew away, slowly, very slowly. I suppose he thought that the noises would frighten my horse, but he did not know the horse. The Emperor of the Germans was annoyed, as I could tell by the noises he made, but the horse was only surprised.
My horse is a great slashing brute, handsome and mild as milk, and unafraid, and he weighs fourteen hundred or more. He was trained for a firehorse and, in pursuance of that duty, he was accustomed to whirl a battalion chief to fires without regard to the other traffic in the streets. He expected everything to get out of his way, and it did. He has not got over that expectation, although it docs n’t, now, and I have to look sharp. But he can go some, especially if he runs. He generally runs when I drive him. It gives me some satisfaction.
We covered the eight miles in a surprisingly short time and came to the outskirts of the town, and I had to pull the horse in, for fear of running over some of the wretched children playing about the streets. It might be the best thing that could happen to them, but it undoubtedly would not be the best thing for me, and I suppose that I should feel some measure of sorrow at having run over even a child of Marzwk Zcknjczwskwch, I cannot speak with certainty, as I have never tried it.
On the way through the town to the railroad station, going at a very modest pace, the horse got a stone in his foot and went dead lame. But we were almost there and we kept on. I had counted upon ten minutes for an interview in the freight office about some shrubs which I had been expecting. Burbury heard me growling and he offered to attend to the stone.
‘You see, Peter,’ he said, pulling a knife from his pocket, ‘ I ’ve had this a long time and no chance to use it.’ I don’t know whether I was right in calling the thing a knife. It bristled with corkscrews and screw-drivers and can-openers and devices for cutting the wire from the necks of bottles, and everything under the sun except knifeblades. ’Somebody gave it to me when I was a little chap, you know. Now, this,’ he explained, struggling with it and at last getting it open, ‘is for getting stones out of horses’ feet, you know. The one chance of my life.’
So I laughed and ran into the freight office, while Burbury got down and Bill moved to the front seat to watch him. Before I had done my business, I heard the train come in. But Burbury was there, and Bill could introduce him to Felicia. So I waited two minutes more and saved my shrubs. When I got out again, there was Felicia standing by the horse and looking about rather anxiously, while the Emperor of the Germans was executing leaps straight into the air in vain attempts to reach her face. I did not see Burbury.
I kissed Felicia. ‘I’m glad to see you,’ I said. ‘But, Felicia, have you seen anything of— a man?’
She would not know who Burbury was; she would probably think I was talking about some town.
She laughed quickly. ‘Why, Peter,
‘ I’ve seen more or less of several men. I’ve been visiting, you know. What did you think?’
‘None of your levity, Felicia. I seem to have lost a man. I left him here with Bill and now there’s no sign of him. He was getting a stone out of Chief’s foot.’
‘There was a man running across the street when I came. I thought his figure seemed familiar. Bill was looking after him with interest. Who was he, Peter? It was n’t Mike.’
‘It was nobody you ever saw,’ I replied; ‘only a sailor cast up on our beach from a wreck. I wrote you about it the same day, did n’t I?’
She shook her head. ‘ I don’t remember it. But it does n’t matter, does it? Was he going to take this train?’
That had not occurred to me. ‘I don’t know that he was, but I’d better look.’
The train was just starting. I knew that it was foolish to think of going through it unless I wanted to go on to the next stat ion. I did not; and there was Felicia, anyway. I came back to her and proposed waiting until the man turned up. I could be seeing about her trunks. If Burbury did not put in an appearance by that time, — well, what was there to be done? He might have slipped away, but I hoped not. It was not quite like Burbury Stoke; not just what would be expected of him as I had come to know him, although it is a pretty small man that you can know in three weeks. And whatever Burbury was, he was not a small man. We knew that well enough. But my father would be sorry.
I saw to Felicia’s trunks. There were three of them. Without Burbury, I could have taken one in the wagon, but not three, and why make two bites at a cherry? I went back to Felicia, who was waiting rather impatiently where I had left her, her foot tapping the pavement.
‘Well?’ I asked. ‘He has n’t turned up, then?’
I sighed. Really, I did n’t know what to do. If I had only known what motive impelled him to run away — but I did n’t. I had no idea where to look for him. I might notify the police, but that notion did not appeal to me.
‘Well?’ Felicia inquired, her calm somewhat forced.
‘I am stumped,’ I answered. ‘What would you do?’
‘I should go home,’ she said with decision. ‘If you are not satisfied, you might investigate the saloons in the neighbourhood. I see two. Sailors have been known —
Felicia has no more patience than I have. She seemed to think that it was not worth while to keep up appearances any longer.
‘I want to go home, Peter. If your sailor chooses to come back, he can walk.’
It was somewhat more than eight miles, but I had no doubt that Burbury could do it, if he wanted to, easily enough. Indeed, I had no doubt he could do anything that he thought it worth while to do. He is a splendid animal.
I sighed again. ‘Will you sit on the back seat with Bill,’ I asked, ‘or on the front seat with me?’
‘With you, Peter. I have a lot of things to tell you.’
Chief started off with quite as much speed as I wanted, although there was no gong to ring. Burbury seemed to have extracted that stone. I was busy with my driving through the streets, and busy with my thoughts, and I fear that I was forgetting Felicia.
‘Peter!’ she cried suddenly. ‘Wake up! Here I’ve been talking a steady sfreak for the last ten minutes and you have n’t said a word, and I don’t believe you’ve heard a word I said.’
‘What? Have you? I beg your pardon, Felicia,’ I replied contritely. ‘I was busy. What have you been saying?’. _
Felicia looked sweetly at me. ‘Does your sailor weigh on your mind so much, Peter?’ she asked softly. ‘Turn round, and find him if you want to. I don’t mind, truly. I was horrid.’
I shook my head. ‘No. He can walk. Besides, I’m going to send Mike down for the trunks this afternoon.’
She laughed a little, suddenly. I did not see what there was to laugh at. Of course, her trunks .had to be sent for. We had again reached the outskirts of the town and she suggested t hat I run the Chief. Felicia is a good sport.
‘I was telling you about my visits, Peter,’ she said, when I had the horse running and could give her some attention. ‘But that is not important and I can’t say it all over again now. I shall have to tell father about them and you can listen if you want to. The really important thing that I wanted to tell you is that Mary Alnwick is coming over and I have made her promise me a whole month, at least.’
Mary Alnwick is an English girl, and an especial friend of Felicia’s. Felicia visited her off and on for the better part of two years. I have never seen Mary Alnwick, and I can’t be expected to feel any very active interest in a person whom I have never seen.
‘That’s nice,’ I replied perfunctorily. ‘When is she coming?’
‘That’s nice!' Felicia repeated after me with withering contempt. ‘Is that the best you can do, Peter?’
‘What’s the mat ter with it?’ I asked. ‘It is nice, is n’t it?’
‘The expression strikes me as inadequate,’ said Felicia coldly. ‘ Mary Alnwick is lovely; perfectly lovely, Peter.’
‘You must remember, Felicia, that I do not know her.’
‘Well,’ sighed Felicia, ‘there is some excuse for you. But just you wait until the middle of August, and you do know her! ’
‘I will,’ I said.
Burbury came back that afternoon. I had been sitting in my room for an hour trying vainly to busy myself with what I hope may prove to be my profession. There had been a gentle breeze blowing through my windows and stirring the curtains, and everything had been as favorable as possible, but I had seemed unable to think and I had accomplished nothing. And that was strange, too, with such material at hand that I ought not to have to think at all. Nothing had happened; and I had thrown down the pen and had gone out to the barn and sent Mike down after the trunks.
I was wandering aimlessly about the barn, rather anxious about the man I had lost, and wondering whether Mike would manage to find him,—I had given him private instructions, — when I saw Burbury himself come in, timidly, and with his tail between his legs. He looked much as Bill looks when he returns from one of his infrequent foraging expeditions and encounters me unexpectedly. To be sure, Bill has no tail to speak of,—not enough to get it anywhere near his legs, — but neither has Burbury.
I confronted him. ‘Well?’ I said, with what sternness I could muster. I was much relieved at seeing him again, but I would not say so yet. He did not deserve it.
There was an ingratiating smile on his face; at least, I suppose he meant it to be ingratiating. ‘Well, Peter,’ he replied, drawing a deep breath which must have increased his chest measure about ten inches. Burbury’s lungs are all right and his heart must be all right, too. I speak of his heart as a functional organ. But there was a curious little quiver in that deep breath which betokened nervousness.
‘Well, Peter, here I am. I came back to apologize, you know, and I do. I had a bad case o’ funk. Ran away. I don’t excuse it. Can’t, you know; and I should n’t think it strange if you couldn’t.’ He laughed a little. ‘I just funked it, Peter, and that’s the truth. And now I’d better be goin’, really. I — I’d take it as a favor if you’d slip out my things while I wait here.’
I disregarded the appealing tone in his voice. ‘Rot!’ I said.
‘But, Peter,’ he protested plaintively, ‘just put yourself in my place — that is, if you can. You run away from a girl you’re most anxious to meet. Nothin’ else to do but to slip out and not remind her that you’re livin’.’
‘Rot!’ I repeated. ‘You’re not going.’
He wavered. I could see it. I took his arm lest he escape again.
‘Besides,’ I said, ‘it would disappoint my father. You don’t want to do that. As for Felicia, you can’t remind her of what she never knew.’
‘Eh? What?’ He was startled, although I don’t know what at, and then he laughed. ‘No, of course not,’ he agreed, chuckling. ‘I never thought of that.’
‘Come along, then. Do you contemplate an explanation? Because if—’
He interrupted me there. ‘ I never give ’em, Peter,’ he answered simply. ‘I never explain. It saves me trouble, and other persons not interested in my explanations. No. You need n’t be afraid.’
I was not. This philosophy of Burbury’s—if it is philosophy — commended itself to me.
Felicia was on the piazza. A magazine lay in her lap, but she was not reading. She was gazing out over the Sound past Lesser Pungatit, very nearly in the direction of the lightship. She may have been watching the deliberate and seemingly well-considered movements of the wrecking tug; she may even have been watching the wreck on Singing Reef, the wreck that seemed likely never to make another well-considered movement. It would have been strange if she could have been satisfied to read, with that spread out before her. Father was sitting, apparently doing nothing at all, and literally bathed in content.
As soon as Felicia caught sight of me, she gave me a welcoming smile that warmed my heart. She had not particularly noticed Burbury; she knew, of course, as soon as I turned the corner, that I was bringing somebody. Now she did notice him. He produced a most extraordinary effect upon her. She went very white, and rose precipitately, so that the magazine which had been upon her lap fell on the floor; and she made a movement with her hand toward her heart, but the movement was quickly checked; and the welcoming smile upon her face disappeared as if by magic. It was extraordinary behavior for Felicia.
I felt Burbury hanging back, and I glanced at him. He looked as utterly miserable, at the moment, as any man I ever saw, with the humbly-beseeching look of a dog coming to be punished. He reminded me more than ever of Bill with his tail between his legs. But he was not looking at me. He looked at Felicia.
It had passed in an instant. Burbury seemed to have braced up as I glanced at him. Once more he was the Burbury whom I knew; but very grave and serious, and with something defensive in his attitude, and not defensive of himself either. And Felicia stood and awaited us, a woman of ice, and rather pale, as a woman of ice should be. My father came down and took Burbury’s other arm and, together, we took him up to Felicia and I presented him.
I felt no more than a reasonable resentment at her manner. What if I have picked up a man on my shore? If I choose to present him to my sister I am ready to answer for him, and it is not becoming in her to show too evident a dislike for his acquaintance.
Felicia inclined her head slightly,— very slightly, — but she did not speak. Burbury waited for a seemly interval; for more than that. Then he murmured something, stammering and hesitating at first, but ending smoothly. I did not hear what he said. Probably it was no more than any man would say under like circumstances; perhaps not so much. Felicia inclined her head again, even more slightly than before, but she uttered no more than a single syllable. She did not seem inclined to talk, and Burbury could find nothing to say, and I found the silence awkward. Felicia did not seem to find it so. She was looking past Burbury, and she did not seem to be interested in anything whatever. She seemed never in her whole life to have been interested in anything whatever for a single instant. She might have been one of the wooden images from a Noah’s Ark. No one would expect speech to issue from the mouth of a Noah’s Ark figure, the mouth which is but a dab of paint clumsily put on. Felicia’s is not clumsily put on; it is something better than a dab of paint.
Burbury stood waiting, and looking at Felicia’s face. I wondered what he was waiting for.
I glanced from one to the other. ’Is there anything the matter, Felicia?’ I asked. I asked purely for information.
Felicia flushed; but not even then did she say anything. She only smiled in a manner which I thought supercilious. Burbury flushed too, but he did not smile in any manner. He did not speak either.
Again I glanced from one to the other. I could make nothing of it, and I turned and found my father smiling as though he was amused at something. I should have been glad to know what he was amused at. I could see nothing amusing in the situation. I went and sat down beside him and looked out toward the reef, leaving Felicia and Burbury to work out their own salvation. The wrecking tug was as near the reef as it was at all safe for her to go, and there was something connecting the two vessels that looked like an enormous cable.
‘She can’t be going to try to pull her off!’ I observed in astonishment. ‘If she stirred her at all it would only be to pull her to pieces.’
I took the glass off my belt and put it to my eye and gave no more attention to the two Noah’s Ark figures standing there. And I saw that the thing which connected the tug and the wreck was no cable, but a great hose. They were trying some new method of wrecking with which I was not familiar.
‘I must go out there and see what they are about,’ I said.
‘I’d like to go with you, Peter,’ said a voice at my shoulder; and I turned and found that Burbury stood close behind me.
Felicia, it seemed, had stolen away without further words. I did not understand it. She never did such a thing before.
I felt as if I ought to do something about it; get down on my knees and tender my heartfelt apologies to Burbury, perhaps. I did n’t, of course. One does n’t apologize in that abject manner for one’s sister. I must have shown something of my feeling in my look, for he smiled.
‘Come on,’ he added. ‘There’s time.’ He looked at my father. ‘ Comin’, Mr. Harden?’
My father smiling and shaking his head, Burbury took my arm and piloted me firmly and steadily toward my boats,
‘Burbury,’ I began, not quite knowing how I was coming out, ‘Felicia may be tired, you know, and —’
He interrupted me. ‘Miss Harden’s quite right. Very presumin’ of a sailor picked up on the beach, you know, Peter, — but she’s quite right. Shall we go in the dory?’
The subject of Felicia having been disposed of in that summary manner, we went in the dory. Burbury was strangely silent and sober. He did not speak, on the way down, except to chide me gently for letting the dory fall off, and to suggest that we might flatten the sheets a bit. He proceeded to carry out the suggestion while he made it.
We had loafed about the wreck for half an hour, watching the operations of the tug, when Burbury spoke again, suggesting that it was getting late and that we had better go back. I obediently put about. I do not know why I should have done so, except that it was the natural thing to heed his suggestions. The wind dropped rapidly, and Burbury lay on his back, in a most uncomfortable position, gazing up at the clouds and the sail, and saying nothing.
Felicia met us as we went into the house. ‘You are late, Peter,’ she said. That was all, and she did not smile while she said it, or look pleasant or anything. It was not the sort of greeting that I was used to from Felicia, and I could not help concluding that the remark was meant for Burbury.
‘I should be much later,’ I replied, ‘if it had not been for Burbury.’
We pursuaded my father to go down with us the next morning in the ketch. I did not expect to persuade Felicia, although she is very fond of sailing in my ketch.
The ketch is scarcely longer than the dory. She is but twenty-three feet long, but she draws nearly five. She was built after my own design and turned out to be very fast, as I expected. I had her rigged as a ketch for convenience in reducing sail, for I am often alone in her; but, practically, I never reduce sail. She will stand anything short of a hurricane.
Burbury came near not going. At the last minute he made some excuse and went back to the house, calling to us not to wait more than two minutes for him. It could scarcely have been two minutes when I saw him emerge, running; and he ran down to the stage and jumped into the boat.
‘Afraid I might miss you,’he explained, red and breathless.
He did not look back once. We cast off our lines hastily, and then I heard a whistle which I knew well, and there was Felicia, with the Emperor of the Germans, making her dignified way from the house. She did not hurry, even when I called to her.
‘I ’m going with you, Peter,’ she announced clearly, and without emotion, except that she seemed annoyed, as though she did n’t want to go and was only going to oblige me.
So we put back and she stepped aboard and calmly took the wheel and kept it. Burbury talked, but not to Felicia, and he played with Bill, who has become very fond of him. Felicia scarcely spoke and did not look at Burbury except to glance at him, now and then, in a half-scornful way, but she could not help hearing what he said. He has not spoken of himself—has not told me the least thing, although I should be glad to have him. But I have faith that he will, and I can wait. Felicia’s behavior made me, at least, very uncomfortable. It did not seem to have that effect upon my father, who was occupied with Burbury. Burbury, so far as I could see, was not aware of it. He must have supposed that it was the usual thing with Felicia. It is not.
That was ten days ago. And now, although Felicia has been at home for ten days, not once has she asked me anything about Burbury Stoke. It is queer and it is not natural. And I was all ready to tell her all that I know of him, which, to be sure, is hardly more than she knows. But she gives me no chance to talk about him. She will not ask.
I have one comfort. Felicia seems to be drawn, in spite of her very obvious intention and against her will, to go with us wherever we go. It makes her cross. I should think it would. To go where you had determined not to go, and not to be able to make any fight against it; to have to go out in the ketch, to know that you will have to, — even although you like it better than anything else, — when you had made up your mind firmly to sit on the piazza, or to go to the village, or to do anything rather than go in the ketch! It gives one a feeling of helplessness which is peculiarly irritating to any one who has had an idea that she had a strong will. I say ‘she’ because I refer to Felicia. And I thought she had a strong will, too; but she has to go. Her only remedy — and it is not a remedy — is to be cross and out of sorts. If she were a man she would probably curse heartily and feel much better. As she is a woman, she persuades my father to go when he does not wish to,—my father is very obliging,— and she makes us all uncomfortable. Perhaps I should except Burbury, who gives no evidence of uncomfort, although he’ can hardly help feeling it. The whole thing distresses me. And, having got us all out in the ketch, she sails the boat herself, and does not condescend to tell us where we are going or when she means to get back. She sails a boat very well; as well as I do or as any of the fishermen. She does not sail as well as Burbury does. He is one of the few people who can sail better than I can. He does everything a little better than I can do it.
As for Burbury, he does not exactly follow Felicia about, but he seems to want to, which is not strange. I have known several men who had that same inclination. And I have surprised a sort of hungry look in his eyes when Felicia was present, and when he thought himself unobserved. Felicia ignores him.
Although Felicia does not condescend to tell us where we are going, as I said, we always know now, for we are sure to bring up at Singing Reef and the Mary Sayles, and the wrecking tug when the tug is there. When we started yesterday morning in quite the opposite direction, heading for the eastern end of Greater Pungatit, we knew well enough our destination. We had the wind just aft of the beam and it was light, for it had not been long growing. It was the kind of sailing that my father likes, but I was a little worried, for it is a long way around Greater Pungatit to Singing Reef.
‘Don’t you think, Felicia,’ I asked, ‘that we had better try Punk Hole?’
‘No, Peter,’ she answered quietly. ‘The tide is not half down yet.’
What has the tide to do with it ? It is easier, to be sure, to make the passage of Punk Hole with the tide in your favor; but it was in our favor, and it is no great matter, anyway. I looked at Burbury, but he was looking ahead, and I thought that he smiled. Felicia was gazing off to leeward and saw none of us.
I said no more. No doubt Felicia had her own plans, and those plans of hers would bring us to the reef, and then home in the time that she saw fit.
We rounded Greater Pungatit in time, — not so long a time, either, — and it is all of twelve miles from my house to the Whale’s Nose, and the wind light most of the way. But when we rounded, we ran into a greater sea and more wind, for we were in the open ocean. We had to beat the whole lengt h of the two Pungatits, a short tack off-shore, and then a long one, until Felicia thought we were as near as was safe. I thought we were nearer than that to the shoals which make out here and there. I remonstrated accordingly, but Felicia smiled calmly and replied that there was no sea to speak of, and that she wanted Mr. Stoke to see the points of interest along the shore. Points of interest! Why, the Pungatits are mere wastes of sand, with no more than the Life Saving Station and a few scrubby oaks in the middle.
I got Felicia’s meaning when she began to name the coves and beaches as we passed them and to give a catalogue of ships which had been wrecked on each stretch of beach. I was surprised at the extent of her information. She began with a time more than a hundred years ago and she named over a very long list of vessels, with their tonnage and rig and port of departure and the number of men lost from each. She did not give their destination. Their destination was the beach. She must have spent days in acquiring that information, and it almost seemed as if she must have got it up for the occasion. Burbury seemed appreciative, but secretly amused.
‘Felicia,’ I said, ‘you should lecture on the points of interest of the Pungatits.’
She smiled rather scornfully. ‘I could,’ she replied; and changed the subject. ‘See, Peter, we are catching the fishermen. We shall pass Ole in a quarter of an hour.’
I had been watching them. The fleet was well scattered over miles of ocean. There was no concerted movement, but the time for catching fish was past, or the boats had a full fare. The best time for catching fish is early in the morning, for the fish bite better then. I do not know why. Perhaps because they are hungry. And the boats were all making for Punk Hole.
Felicia’s guess was accurate. In fifteen minutes we were abreast of Ole, who had changed his course so as to be near us. We went so near him that I could almost have reached his boat with the boathook.
We had the wind more nearly abeam when we had passed Lesser Pungatit and stood over for the reef. My father was sitting on the weather side with his feet well braced, although that is never necessary in the ketch. Burbury was on the lee side, watching the swirling, hissing water go past the rail, always three or four inches below it. He watched it for some time.
‘I say, Peter,’ he said at last, ‘I see she never takes any water over the rail, you know. I ’ve noticed. I never saw a boat do that way before; give you my word. Why is it, Peter?’
I shook my head. The water never comes over her lee rail, however fast she goes.
‘I don’t know, Burbury. No doubt I should know, being her designer, but I confess without shame that I don’t.’
Burbury was about to make some further observation; but there came to us clearly a note that, without being very loud, seemed to fill the air all about us, so that it was quite impossible to tell where it came from. It was an exact middle C, as though blown on some gigantic horn, soft and melodious, and there was a fairly long note first, nearly as long as a swell of the ocean, and several short ones after.
Burbury looked up, startled. ‘I say now, what’s that?’
Felicia was smiling. Her expression was positively pleasant. I wished that Burbury could see her often with that expression. She is lovely so, if she is my sister.
‘It is the singing of the reef,’ she answered. ‘It is a contrary thing, and it sings only when the tide is nearly out, and when there is just the right sea. I thought that it would sing to-day and I thought that it would be interesting for you to hear it. It is one of the points of interest.’
So that was why we had come round Greater Pungatit. That explained her remark about the tide.
‘Singing Reef,’ Felicia went on, ‘has many vessels to its credit.’ And she proceeded to give the list, ending with the Mary Sayles of Belfast, from Savannah, loaded with lumber, one man lost.
Burbury looked up again, but he was smiling. ‘But I say, you know, Miss Harden, the man was n’t lost.’
Felicia looked full at him. She did not smile. ‘His family think he was, I have no doubt. They have no reason to know that he is safe. They probably mourn him.’
Burbury turned away, muttering something about writing them.
‘I had a letter from Mary, yesterday, Peter,’ Felicia remarked.
‘Did you?’ I asked. ‘And is—'
‘She is very well,’ said Felicia, interrupting me. ‘That completes the list of ships, Mr. Stoke.’ There was a curious emphasis on the name. ‘I trust you found it edifying.’
‘Oh, yes, thank you,’ said Burbury quickly, ‘very instructin’. And with a moral, too. But I’ll write my people, Miss Harden, directly we get home; I give you my word.’
‘Thank you,’ Felicia returned quietly. ‘That will please me.’
Burbury acted as if his sole wish was to please Felicia. He may have been about to say something to that effect. He began to speak twice, but hesitated and stammered and did not get it out after all, because Felicia interrupted him.
‘What is the tug doing?’ she asked.
We had reached the reef and were just hanging round between it and the tug.
‘Pumpin’ air into her,’ answered Burbury.
‘Oh,’ said Felicia slowly; ‘I see. And will they get her off? I supposed her case was hopeless.’
‘I don’t know,’ answered Burbury again. ‘They ’re just tryin’ her, now, to see if she’s tight, you know.’
‘Oh,’ said Felicia as slowly as before. She was silent for a little. ‘Would Mr. Stoke show us his quarters — where he slept?’ Again that strange emphasis on the name.
Burbury was surprised, but he pointed. ‘In the fo’castle. Very humble; give you my word. You know where the fo’castle is, Miss Harden.’
‘Of course,’ she returned coldly. ‘I meant show it to us. Could you?’
‘I’m afraid I could n’t.’ He seemed somewhat distressed that he had to refuse any request of Felicia’s. ‘I have n’t any right aboard of her now, and there’s the tug.’
Without another word Felicia turned toward home. I heard my father sigh with relief.
Burbury was busy for an hour after luncheon with his letters home. Then, with them fluttering in his hand, he sought Felicia. Neither saw me at first.
‘ Will you look at these, Miss Harden, and tell me if they’re all right?’
Felicia did not seem as much surprised as I had expected. She looked up at him with a curious expression.
‘Why?’ she asked softly and slowly. Then she saw me. ‘ Why should I, Mr. Stoke?’
There was no softness in her voice now, but it was as it had been usually on the few occasions when she had spoken to Burbury at all.
‘No reason, of course, if you don’t want to. I thought that, perhaps, — but I beg pardon for troublin’ you, Miss Harden. Do you happen to know where Peter is?’
Felicia waved her hand toward me without other reply. I was half-concealed from her and behind Burbury. The concealment was not intentional.
‘I say, Peter, goin’ swimmin’?’
I nodded; and I noted Felicia’s look of suppressed eagerness and the note of self-scorn in her voice as she spoke. No doubt she was doing just what she had determined not to do.
‘I am going swimming, too, Peter,’ she said firmly; as if she had just had to take some medicine and did n’t like the taste of it.
‘Good girl!’ I replied. ‘Come on.’
Burbury and I had been in almost every day, but this was the first time that Felicia had offered to go with us, although she is very fond of it. It was the one thing she had been able to hold out about.
Burbury was ahead and I was having some difficulty in keeping pace with Felicia. He reached the shore and turned round and waited for us.
‘Friend o’ yours, Peter?’ he asked, nodding in the direction of my wall.
I looked. There was a man, of some outlandish race, I did not know what, and he was coming along the shore. He had evidently climbed over the wall where it is low, although I did not make the wall low until it was well into thew^ater. He had a bundle in his hand. I advanced to meet him.
‘Here! ’ I said. That was not what I meant. I should have said, ‘Hence!’ but I did not. ‘Here! What do you want ? ’
The man smiled and began to speak earnestly. It sounded as if he had set off a bunch of fire-crackers. He spoke so earnestly that his smile faded and he pointed to the water and he unrolled his bundle. It contained a cake of yellow laundry soap and a towel.
I laughed in spite of myself. He smiled again. It was a very winning smile, but I was adamant.
‘ Not here,’ I said, shaking my head. ’You can’t do it here.’
He set off another bunch of firecrackers and gesticulated wildly. I took him by the shoulders and turned him round, gently, and urged him toward the wall.
‘Over you go.’
And I helped him to it, still gently, with one hand; and he came down on the other side and went slowly down the road, setting off a fresh bunch of fire-crackers now and then. I could hear them spluttering for some distance down the road. When I was satisfied that he was well on his way, I went down to the water and washed my hand. Then I walked back to Felicia and Burbury.
Burbury ran down the plank onto the stage as I came.
‘Here’s Peter,’ he called. ‘Been speedin’ the partin’ guest, Peter?’
I could hear Felicia, in her bathhouse, chuckling. Burbury had not stopped and he did not wait for an answer, but dived into the water from the edge of the stage. Perhaps I should give a more accurate idea of his movement if I said that he slipped into the water. He just pushed himself into it, head first, without the least splash, and that was all. He did not reappear, puffing and blowing, as I should have done. There is a second float-stage, about a hundred yards off-shore, equipped with a ladder and a springboard. I watched the water, but I saw no trace of Burbury—not the least ripple to mark his progress — until he popped out at the edge of the second stage and drew himself up on it in one motion. It was as if he had been shot out and landed on his feet on the stage. Instantly, he whistled clearly and peculiarly. No lack of breath there. That deep chest of his must hold a lot of air. I should really like to know what his chest capacity is.
Burbury in his swimming-rig is a sight for a painter or a sculptor. I, who am neither, could be content to watch him for hours. I usually do watch him for half an hour at a time, sitting on the float meanwhile. He is the best swimmer that I ever expect to see. I have never seen any one who could compete in the same class with him. He could probably swim the English Channel with the same ease with which he swam from Singing Reef, and think no more of it as a feat. I have no doubt that he could take his hot tea and toast on the way and never turn a hair. If he said that he could make the toast on the way over I would stake a good deal on his doing it.
When Burbury whistled, Felicia ran out and dived into the water, too. No doubt it was no more than a coincidence, her coming just at the whistle, but I should think she would want to avoid such coincidences. She did not try to swim under water to the second stage, but she kept under for as much as twenty feet, so that I began to be anxious, and I pushed my tender into the water and rowed after her. It is not safe for Felicia to swim even a hundred yards without a boat near. Of course she can do it, but I see nothing to be gained by taking any chances, and I told her so when I had caught her.
‘Please let me alone, Peter,’ she replied, panting a little. ‘It is perfectly safe.’
There was gratitude for you! I rowed back to get my own things on.
Burbury amused himself, and exasperated Felicia, by doing stunts. He did all kinds of dives that I ever heard of, and some that I had known nothing about, from the springboard. He turned double backward somersaults, and entered the water as straight as a pikestaff. He dived to the bottom once and brought up some stones.
‘I don’t care for deep divin’,’ he remarked, smiling. ‘It makes my head feel bad. I won’t try it again.’
And Felicia tried all his stunts, and some of them she did and some she failed to do. I do not know what possessed Felicia. She should have known that she would fail, but it made her angry, and she tried again and again. There was something splendid in her determination. I was proud of her. Seeing her so determined, Burbury looked about for a diversion. He had already tried all the strokes there were and some that he invented himself, swimming out about a hundred yards and back, and he ended with a crawl of his own, which was the fastest stroke I have ever seen and done without overmuch splashing. The very perfection of his performance seemed to provoke Felicia, and she was apparently about to try the same thing. There was a flock of terns fluttering and plunging and screaming a little way out and, almost under them, a school of menhaden was milling, as is their custom. It is not likely that the presence of the menhaden had anything in particular to do with the actions of the terns, but there they were.
‘See those fish?’ Burbury asked hastily, to keep Felicia busy, I suppose. ‘Well, watch ’em.’
And he slipped silently into the water, swimming rapidly and strongly, but with the water washing over his head and half his length. When he was half-way to the fish he sank out of sight. He did not dive, he simply sank. The fish were still milling senselessly, and as I could not see any sign of Burbury, I watched them. Suddenly, in the very middle of their senseless circle Burbury shot out of the water to his waist, and shouted and waved his arms. You should have seen those fish and the terns. Not having the brains of a fish, I cannot imagine what sort of monster they thought he was, but the menhaden vanished with a tremendous flurry of tails, and the terns fled, incontinent, not even waiting to give one scream. When I had stopped laughing, I turned to make some observation to Felicia. She was not there. She had seized that opportunity to try that crawl of Burbury’s.
She was already well out from the float and making some progress with her crawl, but she did not seem to have got the hang of the breathing. There is some difficulty in getting it, for the face is down most of the time, and you have to know just when you are going to snatch your breath, or you don’t get it at all. Felicia seemed to be in that case, but she would not give up. She would much prefer to drown. I thought it was quite time that she had some help, and I dived in after her.
Burbury was farther from her than I was, but he got to her first. I doubt if he knew how near I was. I doubt if he was aware of me at all. He got to her and raised her chin. She was too far spent to resist and, for an instant, her head rested in the hollow of his arm, and her unseeing eyes looked up into his.
‘Felicia! ’ he said. His voice was low and pleading, — scarcely more than a whisper. ‘Why will you?’
She made no reply, and then I was there, and she withdrew her head from its resting-place.
‘I will go back,’ she said. Her voice was not steady, but that was not to be wondered at. She would have been very near to being drowned if we had not been near. ‘I can do it alone, thank you. It seems to be all that I can do—alone,’ she added bitterly.
Burbury seemed distressed beyond words, but he had no reply ready. We swam slowly back, one of us on each side of Felicia. She was swimming on her side, and her face was turned away from Burbury.
We were sitting on the Rock one morning, Burbury and I, while Bill chased rats among the boulders. My father had been with us, but he had become restless and had gone to the garden and begun to work. It was a rare thing for my father to become too restless to sit still, and I followed him with my eyes and saw him get a hoc from the tool-house and go to the garden and wander about, hoeing spasmodically, a little here and a little there. The spirit of restlessness was with him still. I did not know where Felicia was. It occurred to me as strange that she was not with us.
‘Rotten weather!’ said Burbury. ‘Beastly! Don’t you think it’s beastly, Peter?’
I could have loved him for that, if for nothing else. I did think it was beastly. I never before found anybody who would agree with me. It was a bright day, with the sun shining out of a cloudless sky and a brisk wind which came in gusts out of the northwest, hard and dry. Every gust set my nerves quivering afresh. It does not need to be a gust. Every minute of northwest weather keeps me keyed up to the breaking-point —every nerve in my body. My muscles are all tense, in spite of my conscious effort to the contrary. It is fatiguing to have to keep your muscles all tense. I do not like to be strung up. Such weather is hateful to me. After three days of it I could commit murder more easily than I refrain from it.
I welcome the southeast wind, heavy with wet; and when the wind has set in from the southwest, with its haze and its dampness, — perhaps its fog, — I am filled with peace once more. I do not object to fogs, so long as they are from the salt sea.
It is strange that a mere change of wind should have such effect, but it has, upon me at least, and upon some others, too, as I believe, even if they do not know it. It has that effect upon Burbury, it seems, and he does know it.
Until this year, I have concealed the fact that I do not like this weather, and I have always replied suitably, I think, and as was expected of me, to the rhapsodies of my friends. I don’t know why; probably because of some lingering fear of what people would think. Hypocrite that I was! I shall no more answer that the weather is charming — perfectly lovely! when I hate it. I broke the ice last month and gave Mrs. Armstead a hint.
In reply to her remark, I smiled as charmingly as I could, so that she did not suspect what was coming.
‘Hellish!’ I said. ‘Is n’t it?’
And the poor lady looked as if she had been struck by lightning, and she stammered a little, and she giggled, and she laughed, and she turned away, not knowing how to take my observation, nor whether I had been talking English or German. It does make a difference.
Burbury sat up, sighing, and looked out toward the reef. Whenever we have nowhere else to look, now, our eyes turn toward the reef instinctively. The tug was there, pumping air. She has pumped a lot of air into the Mary Sayles, of Belfast, loaded with lumber, one man lost. What becomes of it? Even as we looked, the tug stopped her everlasting pumping, and pulled in her hose and steamed away.
Burbury sighed again, but he said nothing; and he got up slowly, and wandered up to the tool-house, leaving me sitting on the Rock. And he, too, got a hoe and joined my father in his spasmodic hoeing. After a while, I saw them both leaning on their hoes. Burbury seemed to be talking. After another while, I saw them sitting on a great stone that I pulled out of the garden last year, their hoes in their hands, and Burbury was talking earnestly. There was no doubt about it.
Suddenly, I saw my father break out into a hearty laugh and grasp Burbury’s hand and wring it. Then tjjey got up, still shaking hands, and my father had an arm about Burbury’s shoulders, and he gave them a gentle thump. And Burbury turned and ran, juggling his hoe as though it had been a drummajor’s staff, throwing it up into the air, and turning it and catching it as it came down. He cast the hoe into the tool-house and went to the pen where he keeps that game cockerel.
The Game came to his whistle, and Burbury took him out and sat down in front of the barn and proceeded with his education. The education of the Game has progressed astonishingly. He already knows several tricks and is learning others. Then I saw Felicia come out of the house and walk with slow and manifestly unwilling step toward the barn where sat Burbury with his Game.
I wondered. Why had Felicia come
— or gone ? Had that whistle anything to do with it?
‘Faugh!’ I cried in disgust.
And I got up and went along the shore to my little breakwater, where my boats were. I had a mind to go out in the ketch — and alone.
I had not reckoned with Felicia and Burbury. They came, almost running, before I could get off.
‘Peter!’ said Felicia reproachfully,
— rather more than that. She seemed to mean it as a rebuke. ‘You were not going without telling me? I’m going.’
Burbury said nothing, but waited. I asked him, of course. Indeed, Felicia suggested it in a way.
’I have no doubt,’ she added, ‘that Mr. Stoke meant to go, too.’
But I noted that she did not look at Burbury.
So they both got in, but I had the wheel and I kept it. I had a mind to sail my own boat for once. I headed for the wreck. We should inevitably end up there, and I thought we might as well go where we were going.
We had a fair wind and smooth water, and we sailed very fast. Felicia fiddled round — no other word expresses it — as though she wanted to take the wheel and expected me to let her. I affected not to see her and kept my eyes fixed on the distant waters. The tug had become hardly more than a speck on the horizon, hull down already. I saw her stack, belching smoke, and occasionally her house when she lifted on a sea. There was no mirage. There never is, with a northwest wind, but with a southerly wind you see strange things on the water. It is a bit disconcerting to see a stack as tall as a factory chimney and a pilot-house that must be thirty feet high, at least, go floating over the waves with nothing to support them, apparently.
Felicia seemed embarrassed, being deprived of her usual occupation and her usual excuse for seeming to pay no attention to what Burbury was saying. But Burbury was not saying anything so far as I could see, and three people have to sit pretty close in the cock-pit of a boat twenty-three feet long. It holds only four. I think I should have known it if he had whispered. By the time we got to the reef, Felicia had wearied of the silence.
‘I’m going aboard of her,’ she announced, referring to the Mary Sayles.
Burbury was grieved and distressed. ‘ I beg you won’t, Miss Harden,’he said quietly. ‘We’ve no right to go aboard, you know, any more than any stranger has a right to walk into your house when you’re not there. The wreckin’ company has charge now, you know. I beg you won’t.’
Felicia looked at him — that was all. ‘I said that I was going aboard,’ she repeated.
Burbury gave a shrug and sighed. ‘Bring her up under the starboard quarter, Peter, so we can get aboard. Lee there and plenty o’ water.’
He was giving me orders as though it were I who was the sailor; and the strange thing about it was that I obeyed without question. Burbury went up first, by a rope that hung there, no doubt for that purpose. He tried the rope and then went up it easily, handover-hand, swinging between heaven and earth, for there were many feet to go before he could touch her side. That rope was hanging well astern. Then he got a Jacob’s ladder — he knew where to find it — and dropped it over the side, farther forward, and hauled us along to it, and Felicia went up. Then they went forward.
The ketch was nearly opposite the mizzen-hatch, I judged. Of course I could see nothing of what went on up there, on the deck of the Mary Sayles, and I only guessed that I was nearly opposite the mizzen-hatch. There was nothing to be seen — by me — but the high black side of the schooner. After a while I heard footsteps on the deck and then silence again. Then I heard Felicia’s voice say something, coldly and incisively, but I could not distinguish the words.
Then, suddenly, there came a gigantic cough from the bowels of the schooner and the hatch-cover shot high in air, struck the rigging, and bounded far over the side into the water. I heard a shout from Burbury, a brief scuffling sound, as of somebody running over t he deck without shoes; and nothing more. 1 thought that Burbury had shouted something about the ‘other side,’ and I cast off hastily and got round the schooner’s stern as quickly as I could. It took some minutes, even with as handy a boat as the ketch; and, as I rounded the stern, I saw Burbury swimming, on his back, and Felicia was lying with her head on his left shoulder and his arm about her. She seemed as limp as a rag and was not helping herself at all.
Burbury was heading for the boat of Ole Oleson, which lay with flapping sail. I had not seen Ole because of the schooner. He leaned far over the side, and took Felicia as Burbury passed her up to him. How Burbury managed to do it passed my comprehension, but Burbury does many things which pass my comprehension.
I brought the ketch alongside Ole’s boat and made her fast, while Burbury swung himself over the side. Then, together, we got Felicia into the ketch and laid her down, and Burbury dived below and got the brandy.
‘The old hooker blew up,’ Burbury murmured. I had inferred as much. ‘Felicia’s not hurt, I think. But she was standin’ on the hatch, and the shock, you know —’ And his voice trailed off into silence. No doubt he was unaware that he had called her Felicia.
She came round in a few minutes, although she was much shaken and did not seem herself.
‘If there’s anything I can do, Peter,’ said Ole, sympathetically, ‘I’ll be glad to do it.’
All the fishermen call me Peter. I thanked him. There was nothing. The ketch would get. in before him, anyway. Burbury suggested that he would be glad if Ole would get his hat and coat, and shoes, which he had shed on the deck of the schooner; and, Ole undertaking to do it, we cast off again and put out for home.
Burbury sat beside Felicia, who did not seem herself, as I said. Her hurt must have been more serious than he thought, for she was feeling round for something. That something was Burbury’s hand; and when she had found it she kept fast hold of it and would not let it go once, all the way home. And she closed her eyes and looked happy. I had not seen her look happy — as happy as that — for a long time. Why, bless me, it was nearly four years. But she was not responsible; she could not have known what she was doing.
As for Burbury, he was plainly in the seventh heaven. He did n’t care whether she was responsible or not. He forgot me entirely.
Felicia came to herself completely in two or three days. She had to, for Mary Alnwick was due on the fourth day. As Felicia recovered, she resumed her old manner toward Burbury. That litlle episode in the ketch had passed from her mind entirely. At least so it seemed. Burbury did not remind her of it — not in my hearing. He acted as if it had passed from his mind, too, and he was as he had been. That is, — no doubt I spoke hastily, for I meant that he seemed so to me. Whether he seemed so to Felicia I have no means of knowing.
It was the eve of the festival of Mary Alnwick. I can call it no less than that. I had been called out to the other side of my wall by a deputation of the inhabitants of the village who wished to dicker with me for the use of my horse to draw their fire-engine. It is a new engine and rather light, they said; and they gave the weight of it, but I have forgotten it. And, casting about in their minds for a suitable horse to pull it, they had chanced to think of mine as being by nature, size, weight, and education fitted to turn the trick. So he is; but they did not reflect, it seems, that the connection between my horse and their engine is normally rather remote. He is stabled at some distance from it; and however fleet and welltrained he may be, it would be more for their advantage and less for the advantage of the occasional fire, to have a horse that was not quite so good, provided that he was at hand when wanted. I told them of a case I knew of, — I saw it myself, — where the horses engaged for the purpose of hauling the engine were hauling sand, instead, four miles away, when a fire started in a church. The horses ran all of those four miles, dragging their heavy cart, and were hitched up to the engine and had started with it when one of them dropped dead. They were a very handsome pair. The church burned down. ‘Call’ horses, so to speak, may prove a very expensive frugality.
All this, of course, took some time; and when I left the deputation digesting my answer it had grown dark.
I found my father alone on the piazza.
‘Where’s Burbury?’ I asked in surprise.
I could just see him shake his head.
' I don’t know, Peter.’
‘And where’s Felicia?’
‘I don’t know, Peter,’ he said again. ‘She was sitting here a while ago.’
A sudden suspicion seized me. ‘Did they disappear together?’ I asked.
He gave a quiet laugh. ‘I think not,’ he replied. ‘In fact, I know they did not. Felicia was here for some time after Burbury left. He started down toward the Rock.’
I moved back and forth for a minute or two. ‘I am going to disappear, too,’ I said then, ‘Don’t you want to come, father?’
‘You are n’t going to the Rock, Peter?’ he asked, rather anxiously, I thought.
‘I am not going to the Rock,’ I answered. ‘ I am going somewhere out of range of that devilish lighthouse.’
He laughed again, quietly, and came with me. We walked aimlessly at first, but there was no protection from that blinding flash except on the west side of the house, and that is not a pleasant place to stroll. My driveway comes around there, and it is too close to the barn. I bethought me of some lilac bushes and a honeysuckle trellis behind which I had seen Mike putting up a rustic seat. They are on the east side of the house and exposed to the full glare of the flash, but the seat is in shadow; or I had flattered myself—or Mike — that it was. It was not completely in shadow, but I did not find that out at the moment.
We strolled round toward the seat I have mentioned, our feet making no sound on the short grass, and were nearly there, when that abominable lighthouse turned on its searchlight. I saw the sheen of a dress on the seat. I could not see more, the light dazzled my eyes so. It must have dazzled Felicia’s eyes, too. The dress was Felicia’s. I was about to call to her when I heard her voice.
‘Oh!’ she cried rather low. ‘That light is so bright!’
The light was gone, leaving me staring into utter blackness. And there came another voice from the direction of the seat. It was Burbury’s, and it was very low, so that I scarcely heard the words.
It was something about ‘only one girl in the world for me.’ And ‘ — always have been.’
‘But you went away,’ Felicia murmured in reply, her voice unsteady. ‘You went away without a word. Why, Burbury?’
Again I heard Burbury’s voice. ‘Vagabond—’ and ‘could n’t ask—’ were all I heard.
Evidently that was no place for me. It was no place for any one but those two. I put my hand on my father’s arm to enjoin silence, and we stole away on tiptoe before the lighthouse should flash again. There was no need to enjoin silence upon my father. I found that out in another minute.
‘ Well! ’ I said as soon as we were safe on the piazza. ‘What do you know about that, father?’
He was smiling quietly, I knew, although I could see nothing.
‘I suppose I know all about it, Peter,’ he answered. ‘Burbury told me the whole story the other day. I promised to tell nobody until Mary Alnwick comes.’
‘That means me, I suppose. But why Mary Alnwick? What has she to do with it?’
‘That’s a part of the story. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tomorrow, Peter.’
I was not to hear more, apparently, and I went to my room to engage in that occupation which I have mentioned.
As I was going to bed, a little later, I heard a man’s voice singing snatches from various familiar operas. The voice was rich and powerful, and welltrained. It was Burbury’s voice, of course. I had been stupid not to think of him as having a voice, with that great chest of his, but he had never said anything that would lead me to think that he knew how to sing. It was like him. He never exploits himself.
He ended up with the Sextette from Lucia. It may seem strange that I could derive any pleasure from one voice trying to sing a sextette. I did. It may be because I am very fond of it, in spite of what modern critics may say, — not that I know what they say,— and very familiar with it. His voice is a baritone of wonderful power and richness and beauty; and he filled in the other parts by humming or singing them, when he was not singing his own,
— even the soprano, in a clear falsetto,
— in a remarkable way which served to suggest six voices instead of one. It may be because I knew it so well that I seemed to hear all the parts going at once, but I could not doubt that he heard them all as I did. Altogether, it was a great performance. I did nothing at all but stand at my window, scarcely drawing breath, until it was over.
As I turned back again there was a soft step at my door.
‘Good-night, old Peter,’ said Felicia softly.
Old Peter! And I am but five years older than Felicia. She is no spring chicken, if it comes to that; twentyfour years old on the fourth of June.
‘Good-night, my child,’ I answered, with the smooth tones of a promoter. ‘Sleep well!’
There was one of Felicia’s sudden bursts of laughter and I heard her going on to her own room. I had not heard a sudden burst of laughter from Felicia since the day she got back.
I had got into bed, and was just dropping off to sleep when there was another step at my door.
‘I say,’ called Burbury’s voice, ‘ Peter! ’
‘Go to the devil!’ I growled, exasperated. ‘What do you want?’ This was no time for confidences.
At that there was a sudden burst of laughter from Burbury, but subdued, as though he were afraid of disturbing somebody. He did n’t mind disturbing me.
‘I say,’ he asked, ‘is your horse good for two trips to town in one day?’
What did the fellow mean? Was he going after a license? But I did n’t care. I wanted to sleep.
‘Yes, he is,’ I answered. ‘Twice in a morning if you like.’
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘That was what I really wanted t’ know. Sorry to disturb you, Peter. Good-night.’
He went away, stepping lightly. No doubt he would have whistled if he had dared. VI
When I got down, this morning, I found my father sitting in the diningroom alone. I looked at him inquiringly, half expecting to learn that Burbury and Felicia had gone off together, leaving me to welcome Mary Alnwick. He smiled and answered my look.
‘Good-morning, Peter.’ I had forgotten my greeting. Trust father not. to forget his to me or to any one! ‘Burbury went off to town about seven o’clock. He wanted to go earlier, but I persuaded him that it would be of no use. Felicia is not down.’
I was somewhat relieved, I found. Probably Burbury ran Chief at the top of his speed all the way, but that would not tire him so much as going slowly. Father and I ate our breakfast in silence; a companionable silence. Felicia did not. appear. She is not accustomed to be late.
‘Shall I call Felicia?’ I asked.
‘Felicia was rather tired,’ he replied. ‘I would n’t call her, I think. She will be down presently.’
‘Oh, if she is all right—’ I began. And I did not finish what I had begun, but I strolled over to the window and looked out; and because I could not see the reef I went out. Father did not come with me.
Presently I wandered over to the barn and then down to my boats, and took an old broom and fell to cleaning their bottoms; as much of them as I could reach. Suddenly I felt a breath of air. I straightened up, threw the broom on the float, hoisted my sails, and went out.
It was a lovely morning. There was a gentle breeze coming in from the southwest and a soft bluish haze over the whole horizon; over things as near as Lesser Pungatit and Singing Reef. The outlines of the island were not sharp, but softened — glorified by the haze into things of beauty on which the sun shed a softened light. Even the Mary Sayles, the wreck on the reef, partook of that glory, and the tug, too. And the imagination has little chance with a four-masted coasting schooner, — I don’t know why they seem so awkward, but they do, — the imagination, I say, can do little with a fourmasted coaster, and still less with a tug.
So I cast myself into the arms of the morning; and the ketch sailed herself while I — but I have no recollection of doing anything. I did not even steer, I think.
What was time to me? I did not care if I did not get home before the crack of doom.
But the ketch seemed to know. It was just twelve o’clock, — I knew it was twelve, for I heard the village bell, and I counted the strokes, —it was just twelve when I was near enough to my Rock to perceive that it was a stranger who stood upon it. I looked at him through my glass. The slight motion of the ketch prevented me from seeing clearly, but I saw well enough to be sure that it was a stranger. If a man were to be judged by his clothes, this man was a gentleman. I know better than to judge a man by his clothes, I hope, but at least it was no Syrian. Would a Syrian be clad in a well-fitting suit of tweeds and carry a stick as though he had been born with it? I hurried.
The gentleman was still standing there when I came upon him, but he had his back to me. I made some noise in going over the stones, and he turned.
‘How are you, Peter,’ he said, smiling rather shyly. ‘Obliged for the horse. I hope it won’t hurt him, goin’ there twice in a mornin’.’
I was puzzled, and I must have shown it, for Burbury seemed to feel obliged to make some explanation.
‘I went for some clothes I ordered,’ he went on, ‘from my tailor.’ He appeared ashamed of mentioning the matter.
‘Your tailor!’ I exclaimed incredulously. ‘In the town?’
‘Oh,’ said I.
And there fell a silence which neither of us knew how to break. We stood until I was tired of it.
I seated myself. ‘Afraid to sit down, Burbury?’ I asked.
He grinned gravely — a man can grin gravely — and sat down. He said nothing; and we sat there like two graven images, watching the tug, which was industriously pumping air.
‘The tide is almost in,’ I remarked finally, becoming tired of the silence.
He nodded, but he did not speak.
‘Is anything the matter, Burbury?’ I asked, when I could stand it no longer.
‘I’m nervous, Peter,’ he answered. ‘I have hard work to breathe; give you my word. You would n’t believe it, but there are times when I’m overcome with shyness.’
He stopped and swallowed hard, and did not speak for some time. I waited. I knew it would come: the whole of his story, probably.
‘I think you ought to know, Peter,’ he resumed at last. He spoke slowly and was tracing patterns on the rock with his stick. ‘Somethin”s happened. It’s what I’d given up hopin’ for.
Felicia, you know. Nothin’ sudden about it. I’ve been waitin’ for it for — ’
He stopped again and looked toward the house. I looked. There stood Felicia, waving to us.
‘They want us, Peter,’ said Burbury, with a sigh of relief.
He got up hastily and started off at a tremendous pace.
‘Hold on!’ I cried. ‘Don’t you know that a fellow can’t walk so fast over stones a nd stubble with no shoes?’
He glanced back in surprise; then he smiled and came back and held out his hand. I took it.
‘Thank you, Peter, for remindin’ me,’ he said. ‘I had n’t really forgotten, you know. We’ll walk up together.’
He dropped a step or two behind me as we mounted the steps. We had not more than got onto the piazza when Mary Alnwick came out. I supposed that, of course, it was Mary Alnwick. I don’t know what she could have thought of me. My mouth hung open, I am reasonably sure, and I have no doubt that I was staring. I don’t know what I thought of her. I have thought enough about her since; enough to please even Felicia. I wonder if it would please Mary Alnwick.
There was a certain triumph in Felicia’s manner as she presented me. She had a right to feel it. I am afraid that I only smiled like any fool and mumbled unintelligible things. I did n’t know what I was saying. There is some excuse for me. As for Mary Alnwick, I thought she seemed unnaturally grave, perhaps a little sad, although I had no means of knowing what degree of gravity was natural to her, being at that moment in the process of meeting her for the first time. I thought, too, that she seemed to be a little reproachful of Felicia for being gay. I did not see what reason there was why Felicia should not be gay, and there seemed to be abundant reason why she should; but perhaps Mary Alnwick did not know it. Felicia need not have been flippant. She was.
I saw Mary Alnwick, — I was watching her face, you may believe, — I saw her stop suddenly in the midst of her greeting to me, and her face went as white as a sheet. She was looking over my shoulder, and it was just as if she saw a ghost there. Then the color flooded her face and she brushed me aside.
‘It is!’ she cried. ‘It is!’
I turned and saw Burbury standing there, bashful and grinning, with Mary AInwick’s arms round his neck. She kissed him on both cheeks.
‘Why, Bubs!’ she cried. Who wouldn’t be Bubs? ‘Why-ee, Bubs! And we thought —’
She could not speak for a moment. Then she turned and saw me staring at them.
‘You know, of course, Mr. Harden,’ she began; and then Burbury chuckled, and Felicia laughed, and Mary Alnwick went on. ‘You don’t mean that you have n’t told him!’ she said, addressing Burbury and Felicia. ‘Well, I think that is disgraceful.’ It was, and ungrateful, too. ‘Burbury is my cousin, Mr. Harden, and a very dear one. We had been trying to trace him — to find him, for a very special reason, although we don’t, usually, when he is off on his vagabond trips. Three weeks ago we heard that he had been lost. That will explain my joy at seeing him — risen from the dead! ’ she cried softly, looking fondly at Burbury again. She gave a nervous little laugh. ‘And here, of all places! Did you do it on purpose, Bubs?’
‘I did n’t; give you my word,’answered Burbury with an attack of entirely unnecessary laughter. ‘Pure accident, ’pon honor.’
Meeting something strange in his look, I suppose, — I don’t know what it was, — Mary looked at Felicia and back at Burbury.
‘Tell me!’ she commanded, giving him a little shake. ‘ What have you gone and done?’
Burbury looked helpless and thoroughly distressed. He glanced at Felicia.
‘Felicia,’ he said appealingly. ‘Don’t you think you’d better?’
Again Mary Alnwick looked accusingly from Burbury to Felicia and back at Burbury.
‘Have you two — ’ she began slowly. She did not finish, for Burbury laughed and glanced once more at Felicia; and Felicia laughed happily, and she went to him and took his hand with a pretty air of proprietorship.
‘Behold!’ she said, blushing faintly. ‘Are n’t you going to congratulate us, Mary?’
‘Well, —I’m —glad.’
That was all the congratulation they got out of Mary Alnwick. At least, it was all I heard. I was still staring at her. I suppose I shall get past that stage in time, but the time is not yet. Felicia had reason to feel impatience at my fatuous remark about her. Mary Alnwick — but I must not forget that this is supposed to be the story of Burbury Stoke, not of Mary Alnwick.
While I had stood staring, Mary Alnwick had been talking earnestly to Burbury.
‘Well, I say,’ he exclaimed with as much irritation as I had ever known him to show, ‘that’s a go! Now, is n’t it? Give you my word.’
He looked over at me. He seemed to think that I deserved an explanation, and I have no doubt that he meant to give it, but he did n’t.
‘Very annoyin’, Peter,’ he said. ‘Got to go back to England directly. So prepare to speed the partin’ guest again,’ he went on gayly. ‘You’re good at that.’
Of course he would have to go back to England! But I was not prepared for such a sudden announcement. And I suppose that Mary Alnwick will go with him — perhaps.
‘But you’re coming back, Burbury? ’
‘Oh, I’m cornin’ back very soon, directly I finish my business. Comin’ here, if I have to wreck another vessel and swim it. I see,’ he added, smiling, ‘that they’ve cleared her berth. Kind of ’em. Room for another.’
He nodded in the direction of the reef and laughed contentedly. And Felicia smiled, and she reached over shyly and took his hand again. I don’t know what they did then, for I had turned and was looking in the direction of the reef, and I saw the Mary Sayles going off in tow of the tug.
I felt rather lonely. I might as well go, too, — in tow of my tug. And I slipped away and went up to my room to finish the story of Burbury Stoke. But I do not know the story of Burbury Stoke. It will have to be pieced together from the scraps that I have told—I have told all that I know; and, besides, his story seems to be but just begun.