Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

. (page 10 of 14)
Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 10 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"We shan't upset - probably," said Maud. "It will be better if you two
sit in the bottom of the boat. I'll try to steer and hold her steady.
This isn't the first time I've been blown off shore and then on shore. I
suppose I ought to apologize for the weather, but it really isn't my
fault. Who would have thought this morning that we were in for a storm?"

"If only you don't mind," said Colonel Meredith. "It's all _our_ fault.
You probably didn't want to come. You just came to be friendly and kind,
and now you are hungry and wet to the skin - - "

"But," interrupted Bob Jonstone, "if only you will forget all that and
think what pleasure we are having."

"I can't hear what you say," called Maud.

"I beg your pardon," shouted Mr. Jonstone. "I didn't quite catch that.
What did Miss Darling say, Mel?"

"She said she wanted to talk to me and for you to shut up."

Mr. Jonstone made a playful but powerful swing at his cousin, and the
guide boat, as if suddenly tired of her passengers, calmly upset and
spilled them out.

A moment later the true gallantry of Mr. Bob Jonstone showed forth in
glorious colors. Having risen to the surface and made good his hold upon
the overturned boat, he proposed very humbly, as amends for causing the
accident, to let go and drown.

"If you do," said Maud, excitement overcoming her sense of the
ridiculous, "I'll never speak to you again."

Colonel Meredith opened his mouth to laugh and closed it a little
hastily on about a pint of water.




XXIII


The water was so rough, the weather so thick, and their point of view so
very low down in the world that Maud and the Carolinians could neither
see the shore from which they had departed nor that toward which they
were slowly drifting. The surface water was warm, however, owing to a
week of sunshine, and it was not necessary to drop one's legs into the
icy stratum beneath.

It is curious that what the three complained of the most was the
incessant, leaden rain. Their faces were colder than their bodies. They
admitted that they had never been so wet in all their lives. Maud and
Colonel Meredith, not content with the slow drifting, kicked vigorously;
but Bob Jonstone had all he could do to cling to the guide boat and keep
his head above water. His legs had a way of suddenly rising toward the
surface and wrapping themselves half around the submerged boat. An
effort was made to right the boat and bale her out. But Maud's
water-soaked skirt and a sudden case of rattles on the part of Jonstone
prevented the success of the manoeuvre.

Half an hour passed.

"Personally," said Jonstone, "I've had about enough of this."

His clinging hands looked white and thin; the knuckles were beginning to
turn blue. He had a drawn expression about the mouth, but his eyes were
bright and resolute.

"I've always understood," said Colonel Meredith, "that girls suffer less
than men from total submersion in cold water. I sincerely hope, Miss
Darling, that this is so."

"Oh, I'm not suffering," said she; "not yet. My father used to let us go
in sometimes when there was a skin of ice along shore. So please don't
worry about me."

Mr. Jonstone's teeth began to chatter very steadily and loudly. And just
then Maud raised herself a little, craned her neck, and had a glimpse of
the shore - a long, half-submerged point, almost but not quite
obliterated by the fog and the splashing rain.

"Land ho!" said she joyfully. "All's well. There's a big shallow off
here; we'll be able to wade in a minute."

And, indeed, in less than a minute Bob Jonstone's feet found the hard
sand bottom. And in a very short time three shipwrecked mariners had
waded ashore and dragged the guide boat into a clump of bushes.

"And now what?" asked Colonel Meredith.

"And now," said Maud, "the luck has changed. Half a mile from here is a
cave where we used to have picnics. There's an axe there, matches, and
probably a tin of cigarettes, and possibly things to eat. It's all
up-hill from here, and if you two follow me and keep up, you'll be warm
before we get there."

Her wet clothes clung to her, and she went before them like some swift
woodland goddess. Their spirits rose, and with them their voices, so
that the deer and other animals of the neighboring woods were disturbed
and annoyed in the shelters which they had chosen from the rain.
Sometimes Maud ran; sometimes she merely moved swiftly; but now and then
while the way was still among the dense waterside alders, she broke her
way through with fine strength, reckless of scratches.

The following Carolinians began to worship the ground she trod and to
stumble heavily upon it. They were not used to walking. It had always
been their custom to go from place to place upon horses. They panted
aloud. They began to suspect themselves of heart trouble, and they had
one heavy fall apiece.

Suddenly Maud came to a dead stop.

"I smell smoke," she said. "Some one is here before us. That's good
luck, too."

She felt her way along the face of a great bowlder and was seen to enter
the narrow mouth of a cave.

"Who's here?" she called cheerfully.

The passageway into the cave twisted like the letter S so that you came
suddenly upon the main cavity. This - a space as large as a
ball-room - had a smooth floor of sand, broken by one or two ridges of
granite. At the farther end burned a bright fire, most of whose smoke
after slow, aimless drifting was strongly sucked upward through a hole
in the roof. Closely gathered about this fire were four men, who looked
like rather dissolute specimens of the Adirondack guide, and a young
woman with an old face. Maud's quick eyes noted two rusty Winchester
rifles, a leather mail-bag, and the depressing fact that the men had not
shaved for many days.

It is always awkward to enter your own private cave and find it occupied
by strangers.

"You mustn't mind," said Maud, smiling upon them, "if we share the
fire. It's really our cave and our fire-wood."

"Sorry, miss," said one of the men gruffly, "but when it comes on to
rain like this a man makes bold of any shelter that offers."

"Of course," said Maud. "I'm glad you did. We'll just dry ourselves and
go."

She seated herself with a Carolinian on either side, and their clothes
began to send up clouds of steam.

The young woman with the old face, having devoured Maud with hungry, sad
eyes, spoke in a shy, colorless voice.

"It would be better, miss, if you was to let the boys go outside. I
could lend you my blanket while your clothes dried."

"That's very good of you," said Maud, "but I'm very warm and comfortable
and drying out nicely."

One of the men rose, grinned awkwardly, and said:

"I'll just have a look at the weather." With affected carelessness he
caught up one of the Winchesters and passed from sight toward the
entrance of the cave. This manoeuvre seemed to have a cheering effect
upon the other three.

"What do you find to shoot at this time of year?" asked Maud, and she
smiled with great innocence.

"The game-laws," said the man who had spoken first, "weren't written for
poor men."

"Don't tell me," exclaimed Maud, "that you've got a couple of partridges
or even venison just waiting to be cooked and eaten!"

"No such luck," said the man.

Neither of the Carolinians had spoken. They steamed pleasantly and
appeared to be looking for pictures in the hot embers. Their eyes seemed
to have sunk deeper into their skulls. Men who were familiar with them
would have known that they were very angry about something and as
dangerous as a couple of rattlesnakes. After a long while they exchanged
a few words in low voices and a strange tongue. It was the dialect of
the Sea Island negroes - the purest African grafted on English so pure
that nobody speaks it nowadays.

"What say?" asked one of the strangers roughly.

Colonel Meredith turned his eyes slowly upon the speaker.

"I remarked to my cousin," said he icily, "that in our part of the world
even the lowest convict knows enough to rise to his feet when a lady
enters the room and to apologize for being alive."

"In the North Woods," said the man sulkily, "no one stands on ceremony.
If you don't like our manners, Mr. Baltimore Oriole, you can lump 'em,
see?"

"I see," said Colonel Meredith quietly, "that that leather mail-bag over
there belongs to the United States Government. And I have a strong
suspicion, my man, that you and your allies were concerned in the late
hold-up perpetrated on the Montreal express. And I shall certainly make
it my business to report you as suspicious characters to the proper
authorities."

"That'll be too easy," said the man. "And suppose we was what you think,
what would we be doing in the meantime? I ask you _what_?"

Mr. Jonstone interrupted in a soft voice.

"Oh, quit blustering and threatening," he said.

"Say," said a man who had not yet spoken, "do you two sprigs of jasmine
ever patronize the 'movies'? And, if so, did you ever look your fill on
a film called 'Held for Ransom'? You folks has a look of being kind o'
well to do, and it looks to me as if you'd have to pay for it."

"Why quarrel with them?" said Maud, with gravity and displeasure in her
voice, but no fear. "Things are bad enough as they are. I saw that the
minute we came in. Just one minute too late, it seems."

"That's horse-sense," admitted one of the men. "And when this rain holds
up, one of us will take a message to your folks saying as how you are
stopping at an expensive hotel and haven't got money enough to pay your
bill."

"And that," said Colonel Meredith, "will only leave three of you to
guard us. Once," he turned to Maud, "I spent six hours in a Turkish
prison."

"What happened?" she asked.

"I didn't like it," he said, "and left."

"This ain't Turkey, young feller, and we ain't Turks. If you don't like
the cave you can lump it, but you can't leave."

"We don't intend to leave till it stops raining," put in Mr. Jonstone
sweetly.

"Miss Darling," said Colonel Meredith, "you don't feel chilled, do you?
You mustn't take this adventure seriously. These people are desperate
characters, but they haven't the mental force to be dangerous. It will
be the greatest pleasure in the world both to my cousin and myself to
see that no harm befalls you." He turned once more to the unshaven men
about the fire.

"Have you got anything worth while in that mail-bag?" he asked. "I read
that the safe in the Montreal express only contained a few hundred
dollars. Hardly worth risking prison for - was it?"

"We'll have enough to risk prison for before we get through with you."

"You might if you managed well, because I am a rich man. But you are
sure to bungle."

He turned to the woman and asked with great kindness:

"Is it their first crime?"

"Yes, sir," she said. "Mr. - - "

"Shut up!" growled one of her companions.

"A gentleman from New York turned us out of the woods so's he could have
them all to himself and after we'd spent all our money on lawyers. So my
husband and the boys allowed they had about enough of the law. And so
they held up the express, but it was more because they were mad clear
through than because they are bad, and now it's too late, and - and - - "

Here she began to cry.

"It's never too late to mend," said Maud.

"Have you spent any of the money they took?" asked Colonel Meredith.

"No, sir; we haven't had a chance. We've got every dime of it."

"Did you own the land you were driven off?"

"No, sir, but we'd always lived on it, and it did seem as if we ought to
be left in peace - - "

"To shoot out of season, to burn other people's wood, trap their fish,
and show your teeth at them when they came to take what belonged to
them? I congratulate you. You are American to the backbone. And now you
propose to take my money away from me."

Colonel Meredith turned to his cousin, after excusing himself to Maud,
and they conversed for some time in their strange Sea Island dialect.

"Can that gibberish," said one of the train robbers suddenly. "I'm sick
of it."

"We shan't trouble you with it again, as we've already decided what to
do."

The robber laughed mockingly.

"In view of your extreme youth," said Colonel Meredith sweetly, "in view
of the fact that you are also young in crime and that one member of your
party is a woman, we have decided to help you along the road to reform.
In my State there is considerable lawlessness; from this has evolved the
useful custom of going heeled."

He spoke, and a blue automatic flashed cruelly in his white hand. His
action was as sudden and unexpected as the striking of a rattlesnake.

"All hands up," he commanded.

There was a long silence.

"You've got us," said the youngest of the robbers sheepishly. "How about
the man on guard with a Winchester?"

"My cousin Mr. Jonstone will bring him in to join the conference. And,
meanwhile, I shall have to ask the ladies to look the other way while my
cousin changes clothes with one of you gentlemen."

Of the three villains, Jonstone selected the youngest and the tidiest,
and with mutual reluctance, suspicion, and startled glances toward where
the ladies sat with averted faces, they changed clothes.

A broad felt hat, several sizes too big for him, added the touch of
completion to the Carolinian's transformation. He took the spare
Winchester and, without a word, walked quietly toward the mouth of the
cave and was lost to sight.

Maud did not breathe freely until he had returned, unhurt, carrying both
Winchesters and driving an exceedingly sheepish backwoodsman before him.

He expressed the wish to resume his own clothes. This done, he and his
cousin broke into good-natured, boyish laughter.

The oldest and most sheepish of the backwoods-men kept repeating, "Who
would 'a' thought he'd have a pistol on him!" and seemed to find a world
of comfort in the thought.

"What are you going to do with them?" Maud asked almost in a whisper. "I
think I feel a little sorry for them."

"Bob!" exclaimed Colonel Meredith.

"What?"

"_She_ feels a little sorry for them. Don't you?"

"Yes, _sir_!" replied Mr. Jonstone fervently.

Colonel Meredith addressed himself to the young woman with the old face.

"Do you believe in fairies?" he asked.

She only looked pathetic and confused.

"Miss Darling, here," he went on, "is a fairy. She left her wand at
home, but if she wants to she can make people's wishes come true. Now
suppose you and your friends talk things over and decide upon some
sensible wishes to have granted. Of course, it's no use wishing you
hadn't robbed a train; but you could wish that the money would be
returned, and that the police could be induced to stop looking for you,
and that some one could come along and offer you an honest way of making
a living. So you talk it over a while and then tell us what you'd
like."

"Aren't you going to give us up?" asked one of the men.

"Not if you've any sense at all."

"Then I guess there's no use us talking things over. And if the young
lady is a fairy, we'd be obliged if she'd get busy along the lines
you've just laid down."

All eyes were turned on Maud. And she looked appealingly from Colonel
Meredith to Mr. Jonstone and back again.

"What ought I to say? What ought I to promise? _Can_ the money be
returned? Can the police be called off? And if I only had some work to
give them, but over at The Camp - - "

"Every good fairy," said Colonel Meredith, "has two helpers to whom all
things are possible."

"Truly?"

The Carolinians sprang to their feet, clicked their heels together into
the first position of dancing, laid their right hands over their hearts,
and bowed very low.

"Then," said Maud laughing, "I should like the money to be returned."

"I will attend to that," said Colonel Meredith.

"And the police to be called off."

Again the soldier assumed responsibility.

"But who," she asked, "will find work for them?"

"I will," said Mr. Jonstone. "They shall build the house for my cousin
and me to live in. You can build a house, can't you? A log house?"

"But where will you build it?" asked Maud. "You found fault with all the
best sites on the lake."

"The very first site we visited suited us to perfection."

"But you said the spring contained cyanide or something."

"We were talking through our hats."

"But why - - "

The Carolinians gazed at her with a kind of beseeching ardor, until she
understood that they had only found fault with one promising building
site after another in order that they might pass the longest time
possible in her company.

And she returned their glance with one in which there was some feeling
stronger than mere amusement.




XXIV


Concerning information, Mark Twain wrote that it appeared to stew out of
him naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter. With
the narrator of this episodical history, however, things are very
different. And just how the good fairy, Maud Darling, was enabled to
keep her promises to the outlaws seems to him of no great moment. But
the money _was_ returned to the express company; the police _were_
called off; and the four robbers, with the woman to cook for them, went
to work at building a log house on the point of pines to be occupied in
the near future by the Carolinians.

They were not sorry to have been turned from a life of sin. It is only
when a life of sin is gilded, padded, and pleasant that people hate to
turn from it. When virtue entails being rained on, starved, and hunted,
it isn't a very pleasant way of life, either.

The face of the young female bandit lost its look of premature old age.
She went about her work singing, and the humming of the kettle was her
accompaniment. The four men looked the other men of the camp in the face
and showed how to lay trees by the heels in record time. To their
well-swung and even better-sharpened axes even the stems of oaks were as
wax candles. It became quite "the thing" for guests at The Camp to go
out to the point and admire the axe-work and all the processes of
frontier house-building.

When people speak of "love in a cottage," there rises nearly always, in
my mind, the memory of a log house that a friend of mine and I came
across by the headwaters of a great river in Canada.

It stood - the axe marks crisp, white, and blistered with pitch - upon the
brink of a swirling brown pool full of grilse. The logs of which it was
built had been dragged from a distance, so that in the immediate
neighborhood of the cabin was no desolation of dead tree-tops and dying
stumps. Everything was wonderfully neat, new, and in order. About the
pool and the cabin the maples had turned yellow and vermilion. And above
was the peaceful pale blue of an Indian-summer sky.

We opened the door, held by a simple latch, and found ourselves in the
pleasantest of rooms, just twenty feet by fifteen. The walls and the
floor had been much whitened and smoothed by the axe. The place smelt
vaguely of pitch and strongly of balsam. There was a fireplace - the fire
all laid, a bunk to lie on, a chair to sit on, a table to write on, a
broom to sweep with. And neatly set upon clean shelves were various jams
in glass, and meats, biscuits, and soups in tins. There was also a
writing (on birch bark) over the shelves, which read: "Help yourself."

We took down the shutters from the windows and let in floods of autumn
sun. Then we lighted the fire, and ate crackers and jam.

It hurt a little to learn at the mouth of our guide that the cabin
belonged to a somewhat notorious and decidedly crotchety New York
financier who controlled the salmon-fishing in those waters. I had
pictured it as built for a pair of eminently sensible and supernaturally
romantic honeymooners or for a poet. And I wanted to carry away that
impression. For in such a place love or inspiration must have lasted
just as long as the crackers and jam. And there is no more to be said of
a palace.

One day Mary Darling and Sam Langham visited the new cabin. And Sam
said: "If one of the happy pair happened to know something of cooking,
what a place for a honeymoon!"

Shortly afterward, Phyllis and Herring came that way, and Herring said:
"If I was in love, and knew how to use an axe, I'd build just such a
house for the girl I love and make her live in it. I believe I will,
anyway."

"Believe what?" asked Phyllis demurely. "Believe you will make her live
in it?"

"Yes," he said darkly - "no matter who she is and no matter how afraid of
the mice and spiders with which such places ultimately become infested."

Lee and Renier visited the cabin, also. They remarked only that it had a
wonderfully smooth floor, and proceeded at once thereon, Lee whistling
exquisitely and with much spirit, to dance a maxixe, which was greatly
admired by the ex-outlaws.

Maud came often with the Carolinians, and as for Eve, she came once or
twice all by herself.

Jealousy is a horrid passion. It had never occurred to Eve Darling that
she was or ever could be jealous of anybody. And she wasn't - exactly.
But seeing her sisters always cavaliered by attractive men and slipping
casually into thrilling and even dangerous adventures with them
disturbed the depths of her equanimity. It was delightful, of course, to
be made much of by Arthur and to go upon excursions with him as of old.
But something was wanting. Arthur's idea of a pleasant day in the woods
was to sit for hours by a pool and attempt to classify the croaks of
frogs, or to lie upon his back in the sun and think about the girl in
far-off China whom he loved so hopelessly.

Thanks to her excellent subordinate, and to her own administrative
ability, Laundry House made fewer and fewer encroachments upon Eve's
leisure. And often she found that time was hanging upon her hands with
great heaviness. Memory reminded her that things had not always been
thus; for there are men in this world who think that she was the most
beautiful of all the Darlings.

It was curious that of all the men who had come to The Camp, Mr. Bob
Jonstone had the most attraction for her. They had not spoken half a
dozen times, and it was quite obvious that his mind, if not his heart,
was wholly occupied with Maud. Wherever you saw Maud, you could be
pretty sure that the Carolinians, hunting in a couple, were not far off.
Of the two, Colonel Meredith was the more brilliant, the more showy, and
the better-looking. Added to his good breeding and lazy, pleasant voice
were certain Yankee qualities - a total lack of gullibility, a certain
trace of mockery, even upon serious subjects. Mr. Jonstone, on the other
hand, was a perfect lamb of earnestness and sincerity. If he heard of an
injustice his eyes flamed, or if he listened to the recital of some
pathetic happening they misted over. Once beyond the direct influence of
his cousin there was neither mischief in him nor devilment. It was for
this reason, and in this knowledge, that he had put his newly acquired
moneys in trust for himself.

In the little house by the lake where the cousins still slept,
conversation seldom flagged before one or two o'clock in the morning.
Having said good-night to each other at about eleven, one or the other
was pretty sure to let out some new discovery about the Darlings in
general and Maud Darling in particular, and then all desire for sleep
vanished and their real cousinly confidences began.

But these confidences had their limits, for neither confessed to being
sentimentally interested in the young lady, whereas, within limits, they
both were. And each enjoyed the satisfaction of believing (quite
erroneously) that he deceived the other. I do not wish to convey the
impression that they were actually in love with her.

When you are really in love, you are also in love before breakfast.
That is the final test. And when love begins to die, that is the time
when its weakening pulse is first to be concerned. What honest man has
not been mad about some pretty girl (in a crescendo of madness) from tea
time till sleep time and waked in the morning with no thought but for
toast and coffee the soonest possible? and gone about the business of
the morning and early afternoon almost heart-whole and fancy-free, and
relapsed once more into madness with the lengthening of the shadows? A
man who proposes marriage to a girl until he has been in love with her
for twenty-four consecutive hours is a light fellow who ought to be
kicked out of the house by her papa. As for the girl, let her be sure
that he is bread and meat to her, comfort and rest, demigod and man,
wholly necessary and not to be duplicated in this world, before she even


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14

Online LibraryGouverneur MorrisThe seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; → online text (page 10 of 14)