Sara Ware Bassett.

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some of her neighbors that a termination of the engage-
ment " seemed best." But Miss Elizabeth, always more
garrulous and indiscreet than her sister, had affirmed
outright that it was Penelope who had put an end to the
romance. As for old Captain Jabez, nobody dared in-
terrogate him. It was a well-known fact that he never
gratified the gossips and that in place of information one
was liable to receive a stinging rebuke. Therefore it
was the more significant that he should voluntarily refer
to the affair in the post office, and observe, in offhand
fashion to Eddie Cowan that the marriage was not to
come off after all.

Young folks change their minds," acclaimed he
jauntily, and with this ambiguous affirmation he gath-


ered up his mail and sauntered out, leaving his audience
to content itself without more specific data.

At a loss to solve the enigma the town twisted and
turned the puzzle, examining it from every possible and
impossible angle.

Evidently irreconcilable as it might appear, Captain
Jabez cherished no resentment toward Dick Morton for
he was overheard to greet the young soldier on the street
with even more than ordinary cordiality and there were
those m the town who went farther, asserting that the
Old Deacon actually seemed glad the affair was over and
that the rise his spirits had taken since the catastrophe
was scarcely in good taste. However that may have
been, certain it was that he trod the dunes as if moving
on air and pushed off to bait his lobster traps with a
snatch of song on his lips; and when he beheld Dick's
father on the beach spreading his nets to dry, he gave
him a hail ringing with such heartiness that it echoed
lustily above the roar of the breakers.

But the greatest wonder of all was when Penelope
Turner made her debut on the village street. How peo-
ple openly craned their necks to watch her or peeped out
from behind closed blinds to see her pass ! Why, it was
well over a year since she had been outside her own door
and in the meantime so fantastic were the tales which
had been woven about her the populace was ready to be-
lieve almost anything. Gossip whispered that she had
lost thirty pounds nay, fifty; that her hair had turned
white; that she was so emaciated and feeble that she had
to be carried about on a pillow ; and yet here was Penel-
ope in the flesh, giving the lie to all these rumors.
Cheated of its romance and the prospective column in
the cemetery with the intertwined hearts, Belleport made
as much as it could of the scanty tatters that remained
of the tragedy.


Poor Penelope could go nowhere without being the
cynosure for prying eyes. Fingers pointed at her ; frag-
ments of comment reached her ears. Nevertheless she
did not allow this publicity to daunt her but went her
way between the rows of elms that lined the village street
with chin tilted up and an air of independence a* unas-
sailable as that of the Old Captain himself. She at-
tended church and gradually drifted back into the Eastern
Star, the town gatherings, and the store until the sight
of her at length became so ordinary a spectacle that
curiosity as to her affairs lagged. Perhaps a cowtributary
cause to this collapse of public interest was that already
she had been pulled so completely to fragments that noth-
ing more remained to be said about her. Be that as it
may, gossip concerning her died down and although the
hamlet was none the wiser as to what had really caused
the rupture 'twixt her and Dick Morton, like a balked
and exhausted child whose repeated interrogations re-
ceive no answers, it grudgingly abandoned further

Meanwhile Penelope began to take on a less haggard
appearance and the salt tang of the winter wind slowly
brought a glow of wild-rose color into her cheek, caus-
ing some of the more disgruntled of the scandalmongers
to doubt she ever had been sick ; insinuate that they had
been duped; and regret the jellies, soups, and dainties
they had in sympathy lavished upon her. The majority
of the townsfolk, however, were of kindlier disposition
and after having reconstructed their previous impressions
they greeted the girl with reassuring welcome.

Yet notwithstanding their good will, Penelope was un-
able to shake off the consciousness that beneath their
friendliness lurked a repressed, ungratified inquisitire-
ness; and that the myriad questions that trembled on
their lips were only held back by force of will. It seemed


impossible to believe that eventually the day would not
arrive when all that had passed between herself and Dick
would not filter out through the community and humil-
iate her before the whole world. But to her surprise no
such event occurred. Her own family shielded her to
the very brink of falsehood, and her former lover, ever
chivalrous toward womanhood, did the same. Seekers
after information were chagrined to find how adroitly
young Morton evaded their inquiries. In accepting their
fellowship he seemed all frankness. He talked of France
and the Great War; discussed the Armistice; and gave
his ideas as to terms for peace. But there were two
subjects on which he closed his mouth : one was his Croix
de Guerre and the other was Penelope Turner.

1 How the lad has changed since he went away ! " com-
mented Joel Hendricks to Dick's father. " You'd hardly
know him for the same boy. He's a man now."

Ah, the mystic wand of a world conflict had wrought
similar magic in many a youth who had gone out from
his home a stripling ! Distance, peril, solitude ; a horizon
that encompassed two hemispheres instead of one all
these had broadened and matured until more than one
mother had received into her waiting arms a stranger in
place of the child she had sent forth. So it had been
with Richard Morton. War had brought resurrection
not alone to the dead but to the living, awaking qualities
that had gone into the making of a new mart.

" You may well be proud of your son, Jake Morton,"
observed Adam Baker. ' He's as promisin' a chap as
there is anywhere abouts."

Dick was promising, and had Adam known it, it was
this very promise' which was bringing anxiety to the
young man's parents.

" You'll be findin' Belleport dull, I'm thinkin'," Mr.
Morton at last ventured desperately to the boy, when one


evening at sunset the two were swabbing out the old
dory together. ' It's different from France, I reckon."

For days the thought had been on the father's mind
until a moment had arrived when even at the price of
precipitating a crisis he felt he must free his soul of

"Well, rather!"

Although the boy smiled the r.mile did not conceal the
sigh that accompanied it.

His father regarded him uneasily out of the corner of
his eye and after a pause continued :

"Yes, it's a quiet spot. Still, Hain't such a bad place,
as places go."

" It is heaven ! ' was the fervent reply. " A hundred
times while I was gone I thought of its peace and still-
ness. It seemed impossible that the same world could
contain the hell I was in and this paradise."

He motioned toward the horseshoe of mica-studded
sands that circled the expanse of ocean. The last glow
of evening was on the waters, tinting with rose the gulls
that wheeled low over the shore, and touching with crim-
son the marshy inlets that wound in serpentine maze
through the coarse salt grass.

The sea comes mighty close to a man's heart," mused
the elder Morton soberly. " Sometimes I think its pull
is stronger than our love for God or for woman."

He spoke as he would not have dreamed of speaking
to his son two years ago. The words were an uncon-
scious recognition of the boy's manhood. Dick nodded

' I don't believe that one bred by the sea ever gets its
salt out of his veins," he mused. " I had plenty of sky
and open country while I was away; but there were mo-
ments when I would have sold my soul to have been in
the navy instead of on land."


" You wouldn't like to go away from the shore, then,"
ventured the elder man hopefully.

" One cannot always choose his environment, Father,"
was the gentle response. ' Circumstances lead us this
way and that, and we must seize the chances that come
our way especially if we wish to get on in life."


" I've been wanting to talk this over with you, Dad,
ever since I came home," continued Dick with slight hesi-
tation. " You see, before I went away I did not know
what a big place the world was, and so I was perfectly
satisfied to remain here; but I have seen a lot since I've
been gone a lot of countries and men and I realize
how much there is outside the borders of Belleport. I
realize, too, what a vast deal there is to learn, and how
much there is to be done everywhere. Somehow, since
I've had a part in helping to clean up the universe and
make it more decent, I want to keep right on. You don't
sense, staying at home here, what a bully country ours
is, if only we live up to the best in it. You can't go
through what we fellows have and simply not care. It
all gets hold of you. You want America to be finer and
you want to be finer yourself."

As if unconscious of his father's presence, his eyes
wandered to the horizon, whose sharply defined line was
fast melting into violet mistiness.

While I was at one of the camps, waiting to get into
the mix-up," went on Dick reminiscently, ' : I had a chance
to do some studying engineering, economics, and stuff
like that. It opened up a new world to me, I can tell
you. I decided right then, that when I came home I'd
chuck clamming and fishing and try for something

If the words were cruel the boy was too deeply in
earnest to be cognizant of the fact.


"You mean to go away to college?' faltered Jake

" Perhaps not college, Father. I'm too old for that
now, and besides I've had no preparation and couldn't
get in. I'd have to go into 1 business of some sort."

For the first time a wave of self-consciousness swept
over the speaker, leaving a blush behind it, and when he
continued it was to speak carefully as if he were choos-
ing his words.

" A good position isn't so easy to find. They don't
grow on trees in a large city. But my Colonel has of-
fered me a job in his banking house. I I happened
to be able to do something for him while I was across
and he wants to give me a lift."

" There' d be your board an' room if you w r as to go to
the city, an 5 they'd cost money/' objected Morton, senior.

" Oh, I should be earning enough to cover all that."

" He's goin' to start you in at a good figure, then? '

" Yes, I guess so. But I imagine he'd do as much even
if the business didn't merit it."


" Oh, it is a long and mixecl-up story," answered Dick,
digging his foot awkwardly into the sand and watching
the impression of his heel fill slowly with water. You
see, his daughter was over there doing canteen work with
the Red Cross. She was stationed quite near my post
and one day the infernal Huns bombed the place blew
it higher than a kite. A few of us Yanks happened to
be on the scene, and well her father got the notion
that if we hadn't rushed in just when we did . It was
a nasty business, I'll admit. In spite of all we could do,
some of the women died. But Margaret '

"The daughter?"

" Yes, Miss Wilmot," explained Dick with confusion.
" Luckily she escaped serious injury. In fact, I hap-


pened to come home on the same ship with her and her

" Oh ! "

" Yes," said Dick in an offhand tone, nervously re-
peating the assertion, ' both she and the Colonel were
aboard my ship. They live in Boston."

Morton, senior, was silent. It was as if he had stum-
bled upon a hidden mine, the existence of which he had
not suspected. Being a slow man mentally it took a lit-
tle time for him to right his ideas. It was, then, neither
chagrined pride nor a broken heart that was taking Dick
to Boston; nor was it wholly the craving for a career.
These might be the factors that figured in the foreground ;
but in the background, whether Dick sensed it or not, was
a woman's beckoning hand. Mr. Morton's days may
have been passed with only ships and sun and sand for
company, but he was a clear-sighted reader of human
nature nevertheless. Therefore when he advanced the
guarded query,

' An' what is this this Miss Wilmot goin' to do,
now the war is over? I s'pose she's come home uneasy
as you," he was taken aback to receive the reply :

1 1 believe she is to be married. She has been en-
gaged for a long time to an Englishman who has charge
of her father's London office."

The young soldier traced an elaborate pattern in the
hard beach sand.

'And was he on the ship, too?" came from Dick's

' No, oh, no ! ' was the terse reply. " He was



ANY one thoroughly understanding Penelope would
very soon have realized that the upward tilt of her chin;
her smiling lips and her sharp repartee were but devices
to conceal from detection a wound so acute that it rankled
day and night with burning intensity. Inherently proud
and high-spirited, the girl's self-esteem had been dragged
in the very dust by Dick Morton's censure, and although
she was honest enough to admit the justice of the de-
nunciation, the knowledge that it was merited did not
make it any easier to bear. To the depths of her. being
she was mortified humiliated.

Up to the present she had, as if by instinct, acted an
imaginary part. Now, again she acted; but this time a
very real emotion impelled her and her acting became
both deliberate and conscious. No longer did she depict
art for art's sake. Her masquerading was transformed
into a defense. She must let neither Dick Morton nor
her family know how his words had stung or how the
cadence of their scorn still echoed in her ears.

He had come back penitent the day after he had spoken
and pleaded earnestly that she reconsider her decision;
but with self-restraint and courtesy she had dismissed
him, firmly refusing to renew their former relation. The
engagement was better broken, declared she with a pleas-
ant smile. Such mistakes often occurred and were but
episodic. How fortunate that each of them had discov-
ered the error before it was too late to remedy it !


And she had colored charmingly when they parted;
taken his hand and wished him every sort of good for-
tune, leaving the discomforted young soldier with a real-
ization that since yesterday the tables had shifted and
that it was now 4 he who was put to rout. Here, con-
fessed the bewildered hero, was a new Penelope. What
had become of the sensitive dreamer, the poet of clouds
and sunsets? Like a wraith of the mists, existing only
in the imagination of the seer, she had vanished, and in
her stead there remained a worldling whose coquetry and
artifice, irritating as it was, awoke one's admiration.
Her gayety was high-pitched, her laughter hard, her in-
difference cutting in its mockery. Why, she even dared
to banter him with having imbibed the French volatility !
The soul that had for a moment lain quivering and naked
before his gaze on that fateful day of his return where
was it now? Apparently it had either been a creation
of his fancy and never actually existed, or it had van-
ished altogether. Not for an instant would Penelope
be serious. As if transformed by a fairy wand she had
become as finished an actress as ever trod the board of

When afterward the two met in the village, as it was
unavoidable they should do, she continued to preserve
her demeanor of friendly politeness and jesting irony
until under the lash of her tongue Dick fumed and chaffed
and onlookers speculated, stared, and marveled. Penel-
ope, bowed with grief to absolute inertia, had been a
spiritless, pitiable creature, but this Penelope, with head
held high and lips that laughed, was the epitome of wit
and animation.

Checking every expression of sympathy her family
ventured to offer, she had locked in a chest in the garret
the crisp white lawn, dainty edgings and blue ribbons that
had busied her during the first happy days of her ro-


aiance, and without a word had plunged vigorously into
the domestic duties of the home. She brewed and baked,
cleaned and polished, washed and ironed and all to the
tune of a gay little song which she hummed so merrily
that it would have taken a musician of trained ear indeed
to detect in the melody any vibration of the sinister.

Even the Old Captain was sufficiently misled to believe
her quite happy and assert to< his daughters that praise
the Lord, Penelope was her old self again.

As for the girl, the strain under which she lived was
almost more than flesh and blood could endure. Never
for a moment could she relax the tension or drop the
mask that concealed her real feelings. Should she do
so her aunts, whose eyes scrutinized her every mood,
would be quick to surprise her secret. Both they and her
grandfather had become so apprehensive that there was
not a place in the house where she could go without some
one tagging after her to bear her company lest she be sad
or lonely. That this motive was well intentioned Penel-
ope knew and therefore she tried valiantly to accept the
kindness with tolerance. But if they would only let her
alone !

Still there was one mitigating circumstance. If the
house held no solitude, at least Belleport contained cor-
ners that were remote, and to one of these, a secluded
little inlet that cut a path across the meadows, Penelope
escaped on a day when the solicitude of her relatives
could be endured no longer with graciousness. The
winter had been a mild one and already the soft breath
of coming spring tempered the air. There was a hint
of green in the salt marsh grass, a flicker of yellow in
the stems of the willows. The little curve of beach where
the creek made in was sheltered by a group of silvered
fish shanties and in the lee of them, where the sun poured
down, Penelope took refuge.


It Was a silent place. Save for the lapping of the
water among the reeds that edged the stream, and the
rhythmic breaking of the waves where sea and rivulet
joined, there was not a sound. Eefore her stretched the
ocean, as blank and infinite as her own empty future.
They seemed strangely akin that day, and in harmony
with the sobbing of the heaving expanse she threw her-
self down and began to cry as if her heart would break.
It was the first time she had given way and oh, the relief
of it! Had she been asked why she was weeping, it is
doubtful if she could have told. Certainly not for Dick
Morton, whom she now realized she had never loved.
Perhaps it was for her disappointed hopes, the destruc-
tion of the air castles she had builded ; or was the outburst
only the accumulation of a general, indefinable misery?
Who could tell? Certainly not. Penelope, although she
sobbed and sobbed, her face buried in her hands, and her
slender form shaking convulsively.

So lost was she in grief and so assured of solitude that
the thought of an intruder did not enter her mind and
the footfall of the trespasser upon her peace was entirely
unheard. That the newcomer was city bred his carefully
tailored suit of tweed acclaimed, and the ease with which
he wore it, together with an olive-drab sweater, rub-
ber-soled shoes and negligee collar and tie, made it evi-
dent that he was quite at home in the athletic garb of
the out-of-doors. Erect and ruddy-cheeked he came on
with free stride up the beach, his head thrown back
and his powerful lungs drinking in the intoxication
of the day. That he, too, thought he was alone was
evinced by the fact that he* was whistling beneath his
breath the march from A'ida to which he buoyantly kept

For all the youth fulness of his figure, however, one
could see, as he drew nearer, that he was not really young


but a man in the glory of his strength. Either to enjoy
the breeze or because the exertion of his rapid walk had
made him warm, he had removed his soft felt hat, and
his fine head, with its closely cropped iron-gray hair, was
visible. One could see, too, his keen dark eyes ; the nose
large but not ill formed; and the smooth-shaven lip and
chin, deeply chiseled and resolute. He was a person of
force and intelligence; one to command and to see that
his commands were obeyed. Nevertheless there was
kindliness in the somewhat severe features and a saving
twinkle in his eyes which lent a magnetic quality to his

As he approached closer still it became apparent that
he also had as his goal the shelter of the gray fish houses,
for as he reached them he drew from his pocket a briar-
wood pipe which, with anticipatory earnestness, he began
to fill from a pouch of soft leather. Even the match
was alight and ready in his hand when his gaze was sud-
denly arrested by Penelope lying huddled and weeping in
the shadow of the old green dory.

" My word ! " ejaculated he with a start. " I beg your
pardon, young woman, but are you hurt ? '

Startled Penelope raised her head, her tear-stained
countenance showing wan in the blazing sunlight.

" No I'm not hurt/' she contrived to gasp out,
turning hurriedly away. " There is nothing the matter."
A nervous sob concluded the sentence.

" But there must be something the matter since you
cry like this."

" It's nothing," she repeated, still panting with emotion
and struggling to regain her composure.

He watched as she sat up, drew out her handkerchief
and mopped her eyes. Then she wheeled a thin shoul-
der sulkily upon him as if ashamed at being discovered
in such a humiliating plight and, dropping her head, made


it apparent that she wished he would leave her. But
the man was not to be rebuffed.

" You have been crying yourself all to bits," declared
he with pitiless directness.

" I know it," snapped Penelope. " I've a right to if
I choose."

: Undoubtedly you have," agreed the stranger.
' Nevertheless by so doing you have aroused my curios-
ity. What can such a storm of tears be about, if it is
not too great an impertinence to inquire ? J

Beneath the bantering words reechoing with blended
irony and sympathy, Penelope felt the last shred of her
dignity slip away.

c I'm just miserable," she blurted out childishly.
" Oh ! "

: Don't you ever feel wretched ? ' persisted she, with
rising spirit.

Well er not often to the extent of tears," an-
swered he, flashing her a smile.

That's because you're a man and can do as you
please," asserted she. "If I could do as I like, I
shouldn't cry either."

1 So it's because you can't have your own way that
you are crying ! " he announced.
Penelope flushed.


Well, suppose you could do as you pleased, what
then? : he went on with a touch of cynicism. "What
would you do or can't you answer that question?
Some women can't. They merely want whatever they

The playful derision in the words stung the girl to
quick retort

' I know perfectly well what I want," declared she.
: I'd leave Belleport to-morrow and my aunts, too. I
want to be by myself."


" That is rather a broad hint to me, isn't it? !

In spite of herself, Penelope smiled.

" Well, and once out of Belleport, what next ? ' he

" Why " for an instant she hesitated, then rushed
on, " I'd go to the city and live there and write a book."

" Mercy on us ! '

She was rewarded by seeing him start at her impetuous

" And why not write here? " he presently interrogated,
coming back to his former quizzical manner.

" Oh, I can't. Aunt Martha and Aunt Elizabeth run
after me every minute. They never let me go off alone."

" Humph ! " reflected the man. He seemed to be con-
sidering her plaint. " So you wish to write, do you ? '
he at length inquired.

" Yes."

" Ever done anything of the sort ? '

Penelope shook her head.

" No," she owned. " But I've wanted to."

" You couldn't have wanted to* very much or you would
have done it," was the sharp response.

" But I never realized until just now that that was
what I wanted to do," smiled Penelope, a flicker of mer-
riment in her jade eyes.

" The career comes as a sudden inspiration, eh ? '

" You're making fun of me," she asserted with an in-
jured air.

" Not a whit. I am just trying to understand."

" I've always had stories at the back of my mind,"

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Online LibrarySara Ware BassettGranite and clay → online text (page 5 of 21)