Gouverneur Morris.

The seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris; online

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says that she will think about it.

In the early morning there would arise in the house of the Carolinians
the sounds of whistling, of singing, laughter, scuffling, and running
water. So that a girl who really wanted either of them must, in
listening, have despaired.

As for Maud Darling, she was disgusted with herself - theoretically. But
practically she was having the time of her life. In theory, she felt
that no self-respecting girl ought to be unable to decide which of the
two young men she liked the better. In practice, she found a constant
pondering of this delicate question to be delightful. It was very
comfortable to know that the moment she was free to play there were two
pleasant companions ready and waiting.

Sentiment and gayety attended their goings and comings. The Carolinians,
fortified by each other's presence, were veritable Raleighs of
extravagant devotion. In engineering, for instance, so that Maud should
not have to step in a damp place, there were displayed enough gallantry
and efficiency to have saved her from an onslaught of tigers. If the
trio climbed a mountain, Maud gave herself up to the heart-warming
delight of being helped when help was not in the least necessary. In
short, she behaved as any natural young woman would, and should. She
flirted outrageously. But in the depths of her heart a genuine
friendship for the Carolinians was conceived and grew in breadth and
strength. What if they did out-gallant gallantry?




XXV


One Sunday, Eve, from her window - she was rather a lazy girl that
Sunday - witnessed the following departures from the camp. Sam Langham
and Mary in a guide boat, with fishing-tackle and an immense hamper
which looked like lunch. Herring and Phyllis could be seen hoisting the
sails on the knockabout. Herring had never sailed a boat and was
prepared to master that simple art at once. Lee and Renier were girt for
the mountain. Renier appeared to have a Flobert rifle in semihiding
under his coat, and it was to be feared that if he saw a partridge, he
would open fire on it, close season though it was. He and Lee would
justify this illegal act by cooking the bird for their lunch. Gay
commandeered the _Streak_ and departed at high speed toward Carrytown.
She had in one hand a sheet of blue-striped paper, folded. It resembled
a cablegram. And Eve thought that it must be of a very private nature,
or else Gay would have telephoned it to the Western Union office,
instead of carrying it by hand. The next to depart from the camp was
Arthur. He moved dreamily in a northwesterly direction, accompanied by
Uncas, the chipmunk, and Wow, the dog. Other guests made departures.

All of which Eve, half dressed and looking lazily from her window,
lazily noted, remarking that for her Sunday was a day of rest and that
she thanked Heaven for it. And she did not feel any differently until
Maud and the Carolinians walked out on the float and began to pack a
guide boat for the day.

Then her lazy, complacent feelings departed, and were succeeded by a
sudden, wide-awake surge of self-pity. She felt like Cinderella. Nobody
had asked her to go anywhere or do anything, and nobody had even thought
of doing so. When she was dead they would gather round her coffin and
remember that they hadn't asked her to go anywhere or do anything, and
they would be very sorry and ashamed and they would say what a nice girl
she had been, and how she had always tried to give everybody a good
time.

Between laughter and tears and mortification, Eve finished dressing, set
her lovely jaw, and went out into the delicious, cool calm of the
mountain morning. She could still hear the voices of many of the
departing ones; and the rattling and creaking of the knockabout's
blocks and rigging. She heard Herring say to Phyllis: "I think it would
be better if I could make the boom go out on this side, but I can't."
Phyllis's answer was a cool, contented laugh. It was as if she said:
"Hang the boom! _We're_ here!"

Have you ever had the feeling that you would like to board a swift boat,
head for the open sea, and never come back? Or that you could plunge
into some boundless, trackless forest and keep straight on until you
were lost, and died (beautifully and painlessly), and were covered with
beautiful leaves by little birds?

Eve enjoyed (and suffered from) a hint of this latter feeling. She ate a
light breakfast (it would be better not to begin starving till she was
actually lost in the boundless, trackless forest), selected a light,
spiked climbing-stick with a crooked handle, headed for one of the
northeasterly mountains, and was soon deep in the shade of the pines and
hemlocks.

After a few miles, the trail that she followed split and scattered in
many directions, like the end of an unravelled rope. She followed an old
lumber road for a long way, turned into another that crossed it at an
angle of forty-five degrees, took no account of the sun's position in
the heavens or of the marked sides of trees. If she came to a high
place from which there was a view, she did not look at it. She just kept
going - this way and that, up and down. In short, she made a conscious,
anxious effort to lose herself. The easterly mountain toward which she
had first headed kept bobbing up straight ahead. And always there was
the knowledge in the back of her head of the exact location of The Camp,
and of all the other landmarks, familiar to her since early youth.

"Drag it!" she said, at length, her eyes on the mountain. "I'll climb
the old thing, put melancholy aside, and call this a good, if
unaccompanied, Sunday."

The morning coolness had departed. It was one of those hot, breathless,
mountain forenoons that kill the appetite and are usually followed,
toward the late afternoon, by violent electrical disturbances.

Eve was not as fit as she had supposed, or as she thought. As a matter
of fact, she was setting too fast a pace, considering the weather and
the angle of the mountain slope; and she was as wet as if she had played
several hard sets of tennis with a partner who stood in one corner of
the court and let her do all the running.

As she climbed, reproaching her wind for being so short, she remembered
that the hollow tip of this particular northeastern mountain was filled
with a deep pool of water. Nobody had ever called it a lake. The map
called it a pond; but it wasn't even that - it was a pool. Springs fed it
just fast enough to make up for the evaporation. It had no outlet. It
was shaped like a fat letter O. At one end was a little beach of white
sand. Indeed, the bottom of the pool was all firm, smooth, and clean,
and the whole charming little body of water was surrounded by thick
groves of dwarf mountain trees and bushes. Not content with being a
perfect replica, in miniature, of a full-grown Adirondack lake, this
pool had in its midst an island, a dozen feet in diameter, densely
shrubbed and shaded by one diminutive Japanesque pine.

When Eve came to the pool, hot, tired, and rather bothered at the
thought of the long walk back to camp, she had but the vaguest idea of
just why the Lord had placed such a pool on top of a mountain, impelled
her to climb that mountain, and made the day so piping hot.

Eve stood a little on the sand beach. She felt hotter and hotter, and
the pool looked cooler and cooler. Presently, a heavenly smile of
solution brightened her flushed, warm face, and she withdrew into a
shady clump of bushes. From this there came first the exclamation "Drag
it!" then a sound of some sort of a string being sharply broken in two,
and then there came from the clump of bushes Eve herself, looking for
all the world like a slice of the silver moon.

And as you may have seen the silver moon slip slowly into the sea, so
Eve vanished slowly into the pool - all but her shapely little round
head, with its crisp bright-brown hair and its lovely face, happy now,
exhilarated, and eager as are the faces of adventurers.

And Eve thought if one didn't have to eat, if one didn't end by being
cold, if one could make time stand still - she would choose to be always
and forever a slice of the silver moon, lolling in a mountain pool.

She had the kind of hair that wets to perfection. But it was not the
sort of permanent wave which lasts six months or so, costs twenty-five
dollars, and is inculcated by hours of alternate baking and shampooing.
Eve had always had a permanent wave. She feared neither fog nor rain,
nor water in any form of application. And so it was that, now and then,
as she lolled about the pool, she disappeared from one fortunate square
yard of surface and reappeared in another.

Half an hour had passed, when suddenly the mountain stillness was broken
by men's voices.

Eve was at the opposite side of the pool from where she had left her
clothes. Between her and the approaching voices was the little island.
She landed hastily upon this and hid herself among the bushes.

Three gross, fat men and one long, lean man, with a face like leather
and an Adam's apple that bobbed like a fisherman's float, came down to
the beach, sweating terribly, and cast thereon knapsacks, picnic
baskets, hatchets, fishing-tackle, and all the complicated paraphernalia
of amateurs about to cook their own lunch in the woods.

All but one had loud, coarse, carrying voices, and they all appeared to
belong to the ruling class. They appeared, in short, to have neither
education nor refinement nor charm nor anything to commend them as
leaders or examples. Eve wondered how it was possible for them to find
pleasure even in each other's company. They quarrelled, wrangled, found
fault, abused each other, or suddenly forgot their differences,
gathering about the fattest of the fat men and listening, almost
reverently, while he told a story. When he had finished, they would
throw their heads far back and scream with laughter. He must have told
wonderfully funny stories; but his voice was no more than a husky
whisper, so that Eve could not make head or tail of them.

After a while the whispering fat man produced from one of the baskets
four little glasses and a fat dark bottle. And shortly after there was
less wrangling and more laughter.

The thin man with the leathery face and the bobbing Adam's apple put a
fishing-rod together, tied a couple of gaudy flies to his leader, and
began to cast most unskilfully from the shores of the pool, moving along
slowly from time to time.

The fat men, occasionally calling to ask if he had caught anything,
busied themselves with preparations for lunch. One of them made
tremendous chopping sounds in the wood and furnished from time to time
incommensurate supplies of fire-wood. Smoke arose and a kettle was
slung.

Meanwhile Eve, cowering among the bushes, for all the world like her
famous ancestress when the angel came to the garden, did not quite know
what to do. She had only to lift her voice and explain, and the men
would go away for a time. She felt sure of that. She had been brought
up to believe in the exquisite chivalry of the plain American man.

But there was something about the four which repelled her, which stuck
in her throat. She did not wish to be under any sort of obligation to
any of them. And so she kept mousy-quiet, and turned over in her mind an
immense number of worthless stratagems and expedients.

Have you ever tried to lie on the lawn under a tree and read for an hour
or two - incased in all your buffer of clothes? Try it some time - without
the buffers. Try it in the buff. And then imagine how comfortable Eve
was on the island. Imagine how soft it felt to her elbows, for instance.
And imagine to yourself, too, that it was not an uninhabited island - but
one upon which an immense gray spider had made a home and raised a
family.

From time to time the inept caster of flies returned to the camp-fire,
always in answer to a boisterous summons from his friends. And after
each visit, his leathery face became redder and his casting more absurd.

Finally his flies caught in a tree, his rod broke, and he abandoned the
gentle art of angling for that time and place. Meanwhile steam ran from
the kettle and mingled with the smoke of the fire. The sound of voices
was incessant. Ten minutes later the gentlemen were served.

Midway of the meal, some of which was burnt black and some of which was
quite raw, there was produced a thermos bottle as big as the leg of a
rubber boot. And a moment later, icy-cold champagne was frothing and
bubbling in tumblers.

In that high air, upon a thick foundation of raw whiskey, the brilliant
wine of France had soon built a triumphant edifice, so that Eve, cold
now, miserable, and frightened, felt that the time for an appeal to
chivalry was long since past.

Far from their wives and constituents, the four politicians were
obviously not going to stop short of complete drunkenness. Indeed, it
was an opportunity hardly to be missed. For where else in the woods
could nature be more exquisite, dignified, and inspiring?

It got so that Eve could no longer bear to watch them or to listen to
them. Pink with shame, fury, hatred, and fear, she stuffed her fingers
in her ears and hid her face.

Thus lying, there came to her after quite a long interval, dimly, a
shout and a howl of laughter with an entirely new intonation. She looked
up then and saw the thin man, waist-deep in the bushes, just where she
had left her clothes, making faces of beastly mystery at his companions,
beckoning to them and urging them to come look. They went to him,
presently, staggering and evil.

And then they scattered and began to hunt for her.




XXVI


"Tired?" queried Mr. Bob Jonstone, with some indignation. "I'm not a bit
tired. I haven't had enough exercise to keep me quiet. And if it wasn't
your turn to make the fire, your privilege, and your prerogative, I'd
insist on chopping the wood myself. No," he said, leaning back
luxuriously, "I find it very hard to keep still. This walking on the
level is child's play. What I need to keep me in good shape is mountains
to climb."

"Like those we have at home," said Colonel Meredith, and if he didn't
actually wink at Maud, who was arranging some chops on a broiler, he
made one eye smaller than the other.

"What's wrong with _this_ mountain?" asked Maud.

"Why, we are only half-way up, and the real view is from the top!"

"Of course," said Colonel Meredith, "if you want to see the view, don't
let us stop you. We'll wait for you. Won't we, Miss Maud?"

She nodded, her eyes shining with mischief.

"But," the colonel continued, "Bob is a bluff. He's had all the climbing
he can stand. Nothing but a chest full of treasure or a maiden in
distress would take him a step farther."

"After lunch," said Mr. Jonstone, "I shall."

"Do it now! Lunch won't be ready for an hour. Any kind of a walker could
make the top of the mountain and be back in that time. But I'll bet you
anything you like that you can't."

"You will? I'll bet you fifty dollars."

"Done!"

Mr. Jonstone leaped to his feet in a business-like way, waved his hand
to them, and started briskly off and up along the trail by which they
had come, and which ended only at the very top of the mountain. It
wasn't that he wanted any more exercise. He wanted to get away for a
while to think things over. He had learned on that day's excursion, or
thought he had, that two is company and that three isn't. The pleasant
interchangeableness of the trio's relations seemed suddenly to have
undergone a subtle change. It was as if Maud and Colonel Meredith had
suddenly found that they liked each other a little better than they
liked him.

So it wasn't a man in search of exercise or eager to win a bet who was
hastening toward the top of a mountain, but a child who had just
discovered that dolls are stuffed with sawdust. He suffered a little
from jealousy, and a little from anger. He could not have specified what
they had done to him that morning, and it may have been his imagination
alone that was to blame, but they had made him feel, or he had made
himself feel, like a guest who is present, not because he is wanted but
because for some reason or other he had to be asked.

He walked himself completely out of breath and that did his mind good.
Resting before making a final spurt to the mountain-top, he heard men's
voices shouting and hallooing in the forest. The sounds carried him back
to certain coon and rabbit hunts in his native state, and he wondered
what these men could be hunting. And having recovered his breath, he
went on.

He came suddenly in view of a great round pool of water in the midst of
which was a tiny island, thickly wooded. Just in front of him a fire
burned low on a beach of white sand.

Upon the beach, his back to Jonstone, stood a tall, thin man who
appeared to be gazing at the island. Suddenly this man began to shout
aloud:

"She's on the island! She's on the island!"

From the woods came the sound of crashings, scramblings, and oaths,
and, one by one, three fat men, very sweaty and crimson in the face,
came reeling out on the beach, and ranged themselves with the thin man,
and looked drunkenly toward the island.

"She's hiding on the island, the cute thing," said the thin man.

"Did you see her?"

"I saw the bushes move. That's where she is."

"How deep's the water?"

"I'll tell you in about a minute," said the thin man. He threw his coat
from him, and, sitting down with a sudden lurch, began to unlace his
boots.

"Maybe you don't know it," he said, "but I'm some swimmer, I am."

There was a moment of silence and then there came from the island a
voice that sent a thrill through Mr. Bob Jonstone from head to foot. The
voice was like frightened music with a sob in it.

"Won't you please go away!"

"Good God," he thought, "they're hunting a woman!"

The drunken men had answered that sobbing appeal with a regular
view-halloo of drunken laughter.

Mr. Bob Jonstone stepped slowly forward. His thin face had a bluish,
steely look; and his eyes glinted wickedly like a rattlesnake's. Being
one against four, he made no declaration of war. He came upon them
secretly from behind. And first he struck a thin neck just below a
leathery ear, and then a fat neck.

He was not a strong man physically. But high-strung nerves and cold,
collected loathing and fury are powerful weapons.

The thin man and the fat man with the whispering voice lay face down on
the beach and passed from insensibility into stupefied, drunken sleep.
But with the other two, Mr. Jonstone had a bad time of it, for he had
broken a bone in his right hand and the pain was excruciating. Often,
during that battle, he thought of the deadly automatic in his pocket.
But if he used that, it meant that a woman's name would be printed in
the newspaper.

The fat men fought hard with drunken fury. Their strength was their
weight, and they were always coming at him from opposite sides. But an
empty whiskey bottle caught Mr. Jonstone's swift eye and made a sudden
end of what its contents had begun. He hit five times and then stood
alone, among the fallen, a bottle neck of brown glass in his hand.

Then he lifted his voice and spoke aloud, as if to the island:

"They'll not trouble you now. What else can I do?"

"God bless you for doing what you've done! I'm a fool girl, and I
thought I was all alone and I went in swimming, and they came and I hid
on the island. And I - I haven't got my things with me!"

"Couldn't you get ashore without being seen? These beasts won't look.
And I won't look. You can trust me, can't you?"

"When you tell me that nobody is looking I'll come ashore."

"Nobody is looking now."

He heard a splash and sounds as of strong swimming. And he was dying to
look. He took out his little automatic and cocked it, and he said to
himself: "If you do look, Bob, you get shot."

Ten minutes passed.

"Are you all right?" he called.

"Yes, thank you, all right now. But how can I thank you? I don't want
you to see me, if you don't mind. I don't want you to know who I am. But
I'm the gratefulest girl that ever lived; and I'm going home now, wiser
than when I came, and, listen - - "

"I'm listening."

"I think I'd almost die for you. There!"

Mr. Jonstone's hair fairly bristled with emotion.

"But am I never to see you, never to know your name?"

The answer came from farther off.

"Yes, I think so. Some time."

"Do you promise that?"

Silence - and then:

"I _almost_ promise."

* * * * *

Having assured himself that the drunken men were not dead, Mr. Jonstone
sighed like a furnace and started down the mountain.

His hand hurt him like the devil, but the pain was first cousin to
delight.




XXVII


The Camp was much concerned to hear of poor Mr. Jonstone's accident. A
round stone, he said, had rolled suddenly under his foot and
precipitated him down a steep pitch of path. He had put out his hands to
save his face and, it seemed, broken a bone in one of them. And at that,
the attempted rescue of his face had not been an overwhelming success.

It was not until the doctor had come and gone that Mr. Jonstone told his
cousin what had really happened. Colonel Meredith was much excited and
intrigued by the narrative.

"And you've no idea who she was?" he asked.

"No, Mel; I've thought that the voice was familiar. I've thought that it
wasn't. It was a very well-bred Northern voice - but agitated probably
out of its natural intonations. Voices are queer things. A man might not
recognize his own mother's voice at a time when he was not expecting to
hear it."

"Voices," said Colonel Meredith, "are beautiful things. This wasn't a
motherly sort of voice, was it?"

"But it might be," said Mr. Jonstone gently. "I wonder if they've
anything in this place to make a fellow sleep. Bromide isn't much good
when you've a sure-enough sharp pain."

"You feel mighty uncomfortable, don't you, Bob?"

The invalid nodded. He was pale as a sheet, and he could not keep still.
He had received considerable physical punishment and his entire nervous
system was quivering and jumping.

"I'll see if anybody's got anything," said Colonel Meredith, and he went
straight to the office, where he found Maud Darling and Eve.

"My cousin is feeling like the deuce," he said. "He won't sleep all
night if we don't give him something to make him. Do you know of any one
that's got anything of that sort - morphine, for instance?"

"The best thing will be to take the _Streak_ and get some from the
doctor," said Maud. "Let's all go."

"I think I won't," said Eve, looking wonderfully cool and serene. "But
I'll walk down to the float and see you off. What a pity for a man to
get laid up by an accident that might have been avoided by a little
attention!"

Colonel Meredith stiffened.

"I am sorry to contradict a lady," he said, "but my cousin has given me
the particulars of his accident, and it was of a nature that could
hardly have been avoided by a man. I think, Miss Maud, if you will order
a launch, I had better tell my cousin where I am going, in case he
should feel that he was being neglected."

"Don't bother to do that," said Eve. "I'll get word to him."

"Oh, thank you so much, will you?"

"He's lying down, I suppose."

"Yes; he has retired for the night."

"I'll send one of the men," said Eve, "or Sam Langham."

So they went one way and Eve went the other, walking very quickly and
smiling in the night.

"Mr. Jonstone - oh, Mr. Jonstone! Can you hear me?"

With a sort of shudder of wonder Mr. Jonstone sat up in his bed.

"Yes," he said, "I do hear you - unless I am dreaming."

"You're not dreaming. You are in great pain, owing to an accident which
could hardly have been avoided by a man, and can't sleep."

"I am in no pain now."

"Colonel Meredith has gone to Carrytown for something to make you
sleep, so you aren't to fret and feel neglected if he doesn't come back
to you at once."

"Just the same it's a horrible feeling - to be all alone."

"But if some one - any one were to stay within call - - ?"

"If _you_ were to stay within call it would make all the difference in
the world."

"You don't know who I am, do you?"

"I don't know what you look like, and I don't know your name. But I know
who you are. And once upon a time - long years ago - you promised, you
half promised, to tell me the other things."

"My name is a very, very old name, and I look like a lot of other
people. But you say you know who I am. Who am I?"

Mr. Bob Jonstone laughed softly.

"It's enough," said he, "that I know. But are you comfortable out there?


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