BY WILLIAM JOHN HOPKINS
MARVEL'S BEACH is that long, crescent-shaped stretch of fine, white sand between Barnaby's Head and the Long Stone, facing a little east of south, and open to the Atlantic; with a noble surf in a southerly gale, a surf which beats the sand into a surface hard and smooth and infinitely pleasant.
They call it Marvel's Beach, but it is not my beach, of course. They call it that from a laudable desire to ridicule, I suppose. Five years ago I should have had that laudable desire if I were accustomed to see a man, not turned thirty, shunning the companionship of his fellow-men and trying to turn hermit; and all this effort at hermiting on account of Betty Bethune, who may not have been worth it, anybody would have said, no doubt. I am inclined to think, though, that it would not have been best for anybody to hint in my hearing that she was not worth it.
But let us put Betty Bethune out of our minds if we can. I cannot for very long; that has been the trouble with me for the five years just past, and it was because of that inability that I took ship suddenly at Hull upon the completion of that voyage with the Honorable Mr. Bethune and his daughter. I shipped before the mast—I could not do better—on a bark bound for Valparaiso. She was neither very good nor very bad, although I thought her very bad. I did not know how bad a ship can be, but I found out before I got through. At Valparaiso I shipped for Singapore; and in the course of three years I went around the world twice. Little good it did me. I saw many things that I should not have seen, and I failed to see the things that I should have seen; no doubt I did many things which I should not have done, and left undone the things which I should have done. I cannot say with truth that there was no health in me, for my morals were not noticeably impaired, and I was but one great lump of sinew when I got home again—cured, as I flattered myself. I had not reckoned on the fact that Mr. Bethune was no longer our representative at a foreign court, but my near neighbor here, if neighbors can be said to be near whose houses are two miles apart. My house overlooks the harbor, which does very well if one cannot do better, and his the ocean, which does very well indeed—always; and he does not appreciate it. I do not believe he can, although Miss Bethune may. Marvel's Beach is his—the Honorable Mr. Bethune's—and he lets them call it Marvel's without so much as raising a finger or his voice to protest, no doubt snickering to himself with every repetition. I believe that Betty, now—but let us put Betty Bethune out of our minds, as I said at the beginning, and talk of something else.
By the middle of September the beach is all mine; all mine through the autumn storms, with their winds so wild that I can scarcely stand up against them, and which often, in my pacing to and fro, have brought me to a halt or even forced me back a step; winds which whip the spray and the rain about me and tear at my coat and lash my face with wet sand. The great surges thunder down upon the beach with a continuous roar, stirring up the sand and leaving their foam in mounds which stay but an instant, quivering, then are seized by the wind and are scattered and go racing off before it, so that the whole beach is white, It is glorious. I ride home with an exaltation of spirit. I could do great deeds.
Not that I do any. I don't. As I draw near home I get to thinking again of Betty Bethune, and the exaltation of spirit slips from me like an old cloak. Probably it is no more than that. And I take my horse to the barn and see him properly rubbed down and turned into his box. He gives a great sigh of content and stretches his lean neck over the door and looks at me; and I rub his nose gently, and I heave another sigh—not of content—and I go to the house, in which there are four maids, so called, and a man, to look after the comfort of one other man. And the four maids and the man take care of the house well enough and look after my bodily comfort; my happiness is no concern of theirs.
It was after just such a day as that that I rode my rounds and started for the beach. I lay a straight course for the beach always. To be sure, it takes me across the land of the Honorable Mr. Bethune; over his walls and through the middle of a hay-field and through another field which is his truck-garden, with some berry vines near the wall. I do not know what kind of berries they bear. I have never stopped to look, and my horse always clears them nicely, anyway. I took some pains to avoid his vegetables last year, but it is not possible to avoid standing grass without going too far out of my way. I do not know whether the Honorable Mr. Bethune objects to my going across his land or not. I hope he does. But I have observed that this year my course across his hay-field has been kept mowed and the ground well softened, so that it is no more than a bridle-path. The feet of my horse might well keep the ground soft from wall to wall, with his going to and fro upon it several times each day, but that would not account for the take-off on either side of the wall nor for the path through the vegetable-garden which makes it unnecessary for me to deviate a hair's-breadth from a straight line. I suppose it is as easy to make a path in one place as another, but—confound the Honorable Mr. Bethune!
As I thought these thoughts, cantering lightly over the bridle-path through the hay-field, I found myself saying over, rhythmically, in time with the rapid hoof-beats: "May he always be confounded! May he always be confounded!" This comforted me somewhat; and we were coming to the take-off, my horse and I, and his stride lengthened a little, and he jumped as I lifted him.
It is a pretty stiff jump, that wall; a good four feet high, and two feet wide on top, with cap-stones that might serve as a table. My horse has always cleared it easily enough, but it is a jump that is like to break my neck some day—which will be no great matter—and my horse's legs, which will matter much. He is a good horse. As we were in the air I looked down and saw some cold-frames which had been put there that morning, close beside my path. They had not been there the night before, I could swear. Wrath surged within me, and I did swear.
"Damnation!" I cried aloud. "Who put those things there to cut a horse's legs?"
I had not noticed the man who leaned over one of the cold-frames. He straightened up, and I saw that it was the Honorable Mr. Bethune himself.
"Hello, Roger!" he said, in that soft voice of his.
I had stopped my horse and sat facing him. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Bethune. I did not suspect that you were here. I should have been more careful."
He was silent for a long instant, eying me with some sort of amusement. "It is a long time since we met, Roger," he said at last.
"Yes," I replied, curtly.
He laughed at that. "You have changed very little in five years."
He laughed again, low and with evident satisfaction. "Betty came down with me for a while. Had you heard," he asked, "that she got thrown? It was much such a jump as this that you take so confidently."
My heart leaped up into my mouth and almost choked me. "And was she hurt—badly?"
He glanced at me quickly. "No, no, not badly. She has to be very careful and cannot ride for a time. Not seriously hurt, though. She would be glad to see you, I think, Roger, and so should I—at the house."
"Thank you," I said.
I was still in a sweet temper as I came to the place where I generally tie my horse: behind a high dune which has become overgrown with beach-grass and wild peas and some weed the name of which I do not know, but which bears some resemblance to a diminutive spruce. It also bears fine nettles, which you perceive only when you touch them. There is no shade about the dune, of course, but it is sheltered from the usual winds, which are from the southwest.
Betty and I used to tie our horses within the shelter of this same dune. I use the same post now. Betty does not, so far as I know. What I thought while I was tying my horse is of no consequence. At any rate, I do not mean to tell it. And I got him well tied, and I rubbed his nose gently, and I left him there looking after me, and walked slowly out upon the beach, gazing at the fine, white sand and thinking my thoughts.
There are three bath-houses here, rather more than half-way toward the Long Stone from Barnaby-Head. The bath-houses are now tumble-down affairs of rough boards, once painted red. I must have been about eight years old when they were last painted, and I remember how defiantly they glared at me in their new coats of brilliant scarlet. As I approached them now I recalled it vividly; and I smiled involuntarily, and I raised my eyes and I saw, sitting on the sand, a little yellow-haired boy—scarcely more than a baby—of between three and four.
He was a very pretty boy, very busy with some little piles of fine sand on pieces of wood which he had picked up, and with various white pebbles of different sizes, which were arranged in some sort of order. He seemed to be all alone, sitting in front of those ancient bath-houses. When I had come so near that he could not help knowing of my presence, he looked up in an absent-minded way, saw me standing over him, and smiled a friendly smile.
"Hello!" he said slowly, in a gentle voice.
"Hello!" I cried. "Who are you?"
He got up at that, came to me, and held out his hand gravely.
"I'm pretty well," he replied, in the same gentle voice; a voice so very gentle that I had to stoop to catch his words.
I perceived that his hand, as I held it in mine, was soft and lovely and small—so very small; and I would not have let it go, but he drew it away without impatience but with decision, and would have gone back to his playing.
I bent and held him, one hand under each of his arms.
"I'm glad that you are pretty well," I said, "but I asked who you are, and not how you are."
His attention had been attracted by my riding-clothes, and he had looked at them with some care. Now, instead of answering my question, he looked earnestly into my eyes, brought his face nearer, as if he thought me deaf, and asked a question in his turn.
"Did you ride on a horse?"
He spoke, as before, in a very gentle voice, very slowly and carefully and correctly. I could not help smiling at his grave little face set in a halo of short, yellow hair.
"Yes, you dear little chap, I did."
"Do you think your horse would like to have me ride him?" he continued, with gravity.
I laughed. "I have no doubt that he would be delighted," I said. "But he is rather far away now. I'll tell you what. If you are a good boy and answer my question, I'll see what can be done about it."
"Who are you?"
A smile of sly humor curled the corners of his mouth. It was a very lovely mouth. I longed to kiss it, but I did not. His mother might have objected to his being kissed by any stray stranger. He murmured something which I could not hear. I bent my head to hear the better, my ear close to his mouth.
"I'm a giant," he said. Then the temptation was too strong for him.
"Boo!" he cried, in my ear.
I straightened up, carrying him with me; then held him on high at the full stretch of my arms.
"That's all I care about a giant like you," I cried, looking up at him.
He was laughing and looking down at me with merry eyes. He gurgled, but nothing intelligible. At last I gave him a shake and set him down. He murmured something, I could not hear what.
"What did you say?" I asked, stooping.
"Do it again," he commanded, slowly. "I like it."
And I did it again and yet again, until my arms were tired. Then I bethought me.
"You have not answered my question yet," I reminded him. "What is your name?"
"My name is Roger Caxton," he replied, earnestly.
He spoke slowly and as distinctly as he could, but even at that the "Caxton" got a bit tangled. It was in that habit, I judged.
"Hello!" I cried. "That's my name."
"Is your name Roger Caxton?" he asked, politely.
He laughed. "Isn't that funny?"
"Very funny," I agreed. "And now, about the horse." It occurred to me that I knew nothing about the dear little boy but his name. "Where do you live?" I asked.
"In that big house," he replied, readily, pointing in the general direction of the Honorable Mr. Bethune's.
I had expected it; I had known it. But it was a shock to me, I found. Betty might have let me know. To be sure, four years ago I was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, foremast-hand on the ship Tempest. But she might have let me know—somehow.
I sighed. "Well, Roger," I said, without enthusiasm, "if your mother says you may, you shall ride up and down the beach to-morrow as long as you like. You ask her—will you?—and come. Say that Roger Marvel asked you. She will not have forgotten, I hope, who Roger Marvel is."
I might have said next year as well as to-morrow, but I had forgotten.
He nodded soberly and certainly. "I will ask her and I will come."
"And you just see if my horse doesn't say he's delighted."
He came a step forward, smiling. "Oh, will he? How will he say it?" If I could only keep him smiling always! He did not wait for an answer, but held up his arms. "Do it again," he commanded, his eyes twinkling.
I laughed and swung him high; but he had no sooner got up there than he began to struggle and kick.
"No!" he cried. "No! I'm the doctor."
I put him down hastily. "I beg your pardon, Doctor. I was under the impression that you were a giant."
"No, I'm the doctor," he said, surprised at my mistake. "People don't lift up doctors," he added, slowly, in a tone of mild reproof.
"Well, Doctor," I said, "aren't there any sick people who may perhaps need your attention?"
"Flossie," he answered, gravely, "is behind that old house. She is sick."
Flossie was behind the old bath-house, was she? No doubt she had been enjoying my interview.
"Don't you think, Doctor, it is time you went to see Flossie again? I will go with you, if you don't object—to hold your horse, you know."
He assented with alacrity, and he again put his dear little hand confidingly in mine. It was so warm and soft and small! I welcomed the excuse and held it fast, and together we began our journey of twenty feet, while he explained that he had had an otteromobile, but it had changed into a horse, quite suddenly and without apparent reason. Then he asked me what an otter was; but before I had a chance to reply we rounded the corner of the bath-house and perceived Flossie, and he forgot that he had asked me anything.
Flossie sat upon the sand, her back propped against the bath-house, and regarded us with amusement. She seemed rather small, and she was dark, with hair that was a very dark brown—almost black. I did not notice at the time whether she was pretty or not.
Roger went to her with a pace which comported with the dignity of a doctor.
"Flossie," he said, "I've brought Roger with me to hold my horse."
Flossie looked at me merrily and held out her hand. "I am much too sick to get up, but I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Marvel."
I laughed, for I found myself in some slight embarrassment.
"And I expected to find a little nursemaid," I said. "I beg your pardon."
"Why?" she asked. "I am a nursemaid at present, and I am little."
I smiled, and Roger, who had no idea of being left out, leaned over her and brought his face very near to hers. It seemed to be a trick of his.
"Just think, Flossie," he said, "Roger's name and mine are just the same. Isn't it funny?"
She kissed him. I wished that I might. "Not such a coincidence as you think, dear."
"What did you say?" he asked, slowly.
"Much too long a word, sweetheart."
I still held the little doctor's hand in mine. "Doctor," I ventured, "it seems to me that your patient might be moved to the other side of the bath-house."
He considered the matter seriously for an instant. "Yes," he replied, nodding, "she is well enough, but she can't walk. Do you think that I could carry her?"
"I would hardly advise it," I said, "but I can."
"Oh," cried Flossie, in some haste and with a bit of color in her cheeks, "I can manage it. It is only a little bit of a way."
So we went around the bath-house and sat us down upon the sand by Roger's rows of stones, and she began to talk about the weather.
"What a beautiful day!" she said.
I smiled. "And I expected something better of you."
She looked at me quickly and gave a little laugh. "Well," she said, challenging, "isn't it?"
"I don't think so. I don't like northwest weather."
There fell a brief silence, and we both looked out over the sparkling water. There was something odd about the day, after all, in the lee of the bath-houses, but it was not soothing; and I like to be soothed. Roger had sat on the sand before me and was looking up into my face.
"Let's pretend some more," he said, softly. "You tell about it."
I laughed at his little, earnest face. "Last winter the ice was piled high here; as high as Haman—fifty cubits, wasn't it?"
Flossie laughed, too. "What is a cubit?"
"I don't know exactly. It doesn't matter, does it?"
"I have been wondering," said she, irrelevantly, "what you do with yourself in the winter."
"Look after my fields and my men and my stock and myself, and get ready for spring. My days are well filled."
"But your evenings?"
"I read for an hour or two, or until the acetylene-tank stops working and my gas goes out. Then I light a candle, and presently I go to bed."
She laughed at that. "It is a picture of joy. And now Roger and I must go." She got up. "Come, Roger dear." She turned again to me. "Won't you come up to the house?"
"Not now, thank you."
"At some other time?" she rejoined, smiling. She evidently knew that I would not. "Betty would be glad to see you, I think."
I stooped to Roger. "And don't forget to ask about the horse and to come." I was greatly tempted, and I turned to Flossie. "Betty wouldn't mind if I kissed him?" I asked.
"Why in the world should she?" I could feel Flossie's look of surprise boring through my head. "Did you think she might be jealous?" she asked, in tones of levity.
"No," I replied; and I kissed Roger.
"I see," Flossie observed, looking at me thoughtfully.
"I know of no reason why you should not see. We are not ashamed, are we, Roger?"
"No," said Roger, not in the least knowing what I was talking about. "I will ask my father. He is coming to-night—in a train and a otteromobile."
I felt a sudden sinking of the heart. And I kissed Roger again and bade him not to forget, and I strode off to my horse, who was unaffectedly glad to see me, and we set out for home at a great pace.
We started out again that night, my horse and I. Out of regard for the horse's legs I did not go over the walls and through the vegetable-garden, but by the road. It is Mr. Bethune's road, and it leads to his front door, and thence, by various windings and wanderings, to his stable or to his front door again. When I was half-way on the road a car hummed past me, with a great light, but silently. I had no doubt it was Roger's otteromobile, bearing his father. I rode my horse out upon the hard beach, near the water.
There was a gentle breeze blowing from the water, and dull, phosphorescent gleams showed where the white horses rode in, shaking mane and tail. They are better when the wind is more; but I watched them, fascinated, as I am always, and I got to thinking of Mr. Caxton and Betty and Roger, and I thought it out to the end. It was the first time I had thought it out to the end. But it was idle to think such thoughts, and I put them from me as soon as I could, which was none too soon. One cannot give up the dream of years at a word—without a struggle. At last, having definitely abandoned my dream, I thought of Flossie. I found the thoughts pleasant enough, and I turned my horse and rode home somewhat comforted.
So it happened that I was more cheerful than usual the next morning; which was a condition that seemed to excite surprise in the bosoms of my men and my maids, and they smiled at me or looked as if they would like to and as if my happiness were, after all, some concern of theirs. And that in its turn gave me food for thought. When I had ridden my rounds I was perilously near whistling; and I set my horse on his way over Mr. Bethune's hay-field and vegetable-garden and the walls, with never a thought of Betty.
I found Roger and Flossie and nobody else. It occurred to me, as I lifted the grave little boy up to my horse's back, that I did not know Flossie's name. But that was of no importance, either. The horse looked slowly around at Roger. He bent his dear little yellow head and whispered in my ear:
"Do you think he would like to be patted?"
"He dotes on it," I answered. "And he likes to have his nose rubbed—gently."
He smiled. "Likes to have his nose rubbed," he murmured, as though he thought it excruciatingly funny. "P'r'aps," he whispered again, "I could rub his nose." He tried rubbing his own nose with his soft little palm, and he laughed. "Tickles," he said.
I lifted him off and held him so he could reach the horse's nose; but he was half afraid.
"I will get on his back now, Roger," he announced. And I put him up and we started off, I on one side and Flossie on the other.
I do not know how long we were at it, but I know that I devoted a lot of time to toting him up and down the beach—with Flossie on the other side of the horse. I did not see why it was necessary for her to be on the other side—always. My horse is perfectly safe, and I was holding Roger on, anyway. She got a good deal of exercise for a person who has just risen from a sick-bed, for we went the whole length of the beach several times—even to the Life Saving Station—and it is a long way from Barnaby's Head to the Long Stone.
For some time after that the days were alike: Roger riding gravely back and . forth upon the beach, with his attendants on foot on either side of his horse. He developed a great fondness for the Long Stone, and I went there sometimes with him and Flossie and sat for half an hour, telling him stories of the sea—suited to his years, I suppose, although I do not know. He seemed more a comrade than he did a baby of three. The Long Stone had one advantage over the beach: there was no horse there to get on the other side of, and Flossie and I sat side by side, with Roger facing us. Occasionally Flossie dropped a remark about Betty. To these remarks I made no reply, if the circumstances permitted, and Flossie smiled.
One night the great storm began, and in the morning it was in full fury. I rode over to the beach, not with any hope of seeing Roger and Flossie, but because the storm was raging and the beach was Marvel's Beach and would be a sight worth seeing; and I might, perhaps, stride up and down and shout and nobody to hear me. Nobody could hear me, for that matter.
As I came out upon the beach the wind whipped the spray and the rain about me, and tore at my coat and lashed my face with wet sand. I laughed aloud; and instantly the wind drove the breath of my laugh down my throat and nearly choked me. I turned my head and looked up the beach toward Barnaby's Head—you could not well see the Head for the spray and the rain that drove in sheets between—and, to my astonishment, I saw dimly the Life Savers' boat on its great wheels, and but four men tugging at it. Then I looked farther along toward the Long Stone. There she was, almost upon Long Stone Ledge—a second outcropping of the ledge, some half-mile out. I could not make her out well, but I did not wait to try. I was running for my horse.
When I came out again upon the beach, my horse running his best in that wind and driving rain, the men stopped their tugging, and one of them waved his hand; then they went on again. I jumped off as I met them and quickly hitched a line to my horse and took hold myself, and we went on at a good pace. In broken breaths they told me that the season had not quite begun—they have seasons for saving lives, it seems—and there was but one man at the station; but, it being such bad weather, the other three had come, and they had been needed. They were going out to the little schooner, in spite of having but four men, and they would set her on her way into the harbor if they could.
"You have five men," I said.
"Thank you, Mr. Marvel," he shouted, with a brief smile. "I thought you would."
And I turned my horse loose to wander to his post in the shelter of the dune—or home if he would—and we got the boat out and stood hip-deep in the water, and we waited for the right sea to run out with it.
We tried three times—and failed three times—before we finally got her out, and tumbled into her and seized the oars, four to row and one to steer. It was heart-breaking work, but we did it; and we managed to board the schooner—a little fisherman—and to work her away from the ledge at last, and to send her on her way into the harbor. Then we went back and were cast up by the sea and put our boat back on her wheels and trundled it slowly to the station; and I walked back, drenched and dripping. I went by the dune because I thought there was a chance of my horse being there—he is a good horse—and because it was the way home; and I rounded the dune, and there I saw two horses tied to the same post, and on the sand, in close against the side of the dune, a slender, black-clad figure hugged its knees and rocked to and fro.
My heart stood still, then leaped into my throat. I forgot everything.
"Betty!" I cried. "Betty!" And I held out my arms.
She did not speak, but she lifted her face, wet with the spray and the rain and with tears; and she held out her arms too.
She looked long into my eyes. No doubt she saw love and longing there. They were in my heart, and at the moment I did not try to keep them out of my eyes. I had forgotten; those five long years were blotted out as completely as though they had not been.
"Roger, Roger," she whispered, hiding her face, "I saw you go and I couldn't—couldn't wait any longer. I had to come. I had to."
Before she hid her face against my dripping coat I had seen love and longing shining from her eyes. I held her close; my own tall, slender Betty, her sot, brown hair all wet now and clinging close in little curls and ringlets; my own tall, slender Betty, her eyes very soft and tender—
"Oh, Betty, Betty!" I said, holding her closer yet. I could say no more.
She yielded herself to me with one sob and a sigh of happiness. Then I bethought me of my coat.
I laughed low. "My coat—all my clothes are drenched, Betty. You will be soaked."
She looked up at me again and smiled. "Does it matter? Does anything matter? We have lost five years, Roger, five years of happiness. But I had a good reason, dear, and it wasn't a selfish reason. Believe that, Roger, will you?"
I did believe it. Instead of speaking I kissed her again.
"And," she went on, "when little Roger told me—"
Then I remembered what I ought never to have forgotten. But I had forgotten; and here was I, Roger Marvel, who passed for a gentleman, holding in my arms the wife of another man. My face grew stern, and I undid her clinging arms and I put her from me gently.
"I beg your pardon," I said, coldly—I could not speak otherwise—"for forgetting. I will try not to do so again. I have been under some strain this morning," I was at some pains to keep the beating of my heart out of my voice.
I shall never forget her look of astonishment—of amazement. She was puzzled—perplexed. I might as well have struck her in the face. As she looked at me the quick tears rushed to her eyes but did not overflow. She looked hurt mortally. God help me! I had done it! But her pride saved her. She went very white, and again she looked me over.
"I don't in the least know what you are talking about," she replied, as coldly as I had spoken. "It doesn't matter, I suppose."
She paused, and I—fool that I was—said nothing.
"Will you help me mount?" she asked. "I am not quite well of my hurt or I would not ask it."
I helped her, again in silence, and I untied her horse and mine, and I was mounting.
"Do not come with me," she said. She was biting her lip, but her voice did not quiver, and she rode around the dune, out of sight, proudly erect.
I could not let her go so; but what else was there to be done? I went around the dune. She was no longer proudly erect, but rode with her head bent upon her horse's neck and her shoulders shaking and the wind tearing at her dress and the driving rain beating upon her back and her horse running. I went home with that picture ever before my eyes. I could not stay in, but must out again and fight the wind and the rain for the rest of the day; and in the evening I could not read, but always between my eyes and the printed page there would come the picture of a girl, her soft, brown hair wet and blowing, who rode with her head bent upon her horse's neck and her shoulders shaking and the wind tearing at her dress and the driving rain beating upon her back and her horse running. And the girl was the one that I loved the best and always should love, no matter whose wife she might be; and I—I had sent her away so; I had seemed to be passing judgment on her. I was not—it was myself I passed judgment on. Who was I that I should judge others?
I know that I ought to have had a sleepless night, but I did not. I had been lighting that storm all day; and after an hour or two of wakefulness I slept. In the morning there was nothing left of the storm but a high wind. I rode over to the beach.
The tide was nearly in and the great rollers were pounding the beach. I stopped a moment to watch them and heard a hail in a voice which I knew.
I looked. Out upon the old wharf which I have mentioned—that pile of rocks—were two figures, a little one and one not so very much larger. Their pile of rocks was an island now, and Flossie was preparing to wade and to carry Roger, I supposed. They were in no danger unless a wave should carry Flossie off her feet, but I waved to them to wait for me.
The horse hesitated for an instant, then went in. The water was just below the saddle when we had come to the shore-ward end where Flossie and Roger were waiting.
"Now, dear little chap. I'll take you on my shoulders."
"All right," he said. He thought it a lark. "I thought you would come, Roger."
I carried him up, dumped him gently on the sand before the bath-houses, and went back for Flossie. I could not take her on my shoulders, and she got wet up to her knees.
"See, Roger," she said. "Flossie got wet and must go home. Come, sweetheart. Don't forget your message."
"Oh yes." He turned to me, very proud to have a message. "My mother would like to see you, Roger. She said to tell you that she hoped you would come because she can't come here because—" He was puzzled and turned to Flossie. "Why is it, Flossie? Why can't she come?"
"Don't you remember, darling? She was hurt and she can't walk very well."
"Yes," he said, nodding. "She's lame."
"Yes." He considered. "I think her back is broken," he added then.
I laughed unexpectedly. The laugh was unexpected by me, at least. It stopped as unexpectedly. So Betty asked me to come. Why? What good could come of it? Was it not the part of wisdom to make some excuse? I decided that it was.
"Tell your mother, Roger, that I will do myself the honor of calling upon her this afternoon."
Roger bubbled with low laughter. "Do myself honor," he murmured. Flossie laughed, too, and joyously.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Oh, you are so—so chesty about it. But I am too wet to spend time correcting your mistakes."
I went up that afternoon, clad in suitable raiment. I found Roger sitting on some rugs spread upon the floor of the piazza and playing with some old weather-beaten fragments of wood.
He looked up slowly. "Hello!" he said, gently. "See, Roger, do you know what these are? They are—"
"Is your mother in, Roger?" I did not know my own voice.
He showed no resentment at being interrupted. He scrambled to his feet.
"No, she isn't. She's out there. Let's go and find her. We'll find her, won't we?"
He laughed gleefully, and confidingly he put his hand in mine, and we hurried down the steps, Roger going down one step at a time and waiting to plant both feet securely before he tried the next; but it was as fast as he could go. Poor little chap! He might as well expect to run nimbly up the Great Pyramid.
He led me to a pleasant spot, our feet making no sound in the soft grass. While I was yet wondering, we turned around some trees and came upon a reclining-chair. There was a girl in the chair.
Roger ran to her, laid his arms gently across her lap, and looked up into her face.
"Mother," he said, in his little, soft, slow voice, "is your back mended yet?"
She laughed low. It was not Betty's laugh.
"Not quite, dear little son, but it's better every minute. It will be quite mended in time. In time it will."
"Mother, here's Roger. I brought him."
She turned in her chair, and I saw a lovely face framed in fair hair; a lovely face, but not Betty's. My heart stood still. If this was Roger's mother—what had I done? What had I done? Fool that I was!
She gave me her hand and was saying something about thanking me for giving little Roger so much pleasure. I murmured something in reply. I hope it was suitable, but I do not know what I said or what I did. I wanted only to get away and find Betty. What I should say to her I did not know, either. I had to find her first.
Flossie came to the rescue. Flossie always seemed to come to the rescue.
She took Roger's hand. "Come, Roger dear, you may tire your mother. She is not strong yet, you know."
"Not strong yet," Roger repeated after her, "but you will be when your back is mended, won't you, mother?"
I seized the hint with alacrity, and we wandered off together, all three. We were scarcely out of hearing when I stopped short.
"Where is Betty?" I demanded.
"Do you think you deserve to know?"
"I know that I do not. But tell me."
She did not answer directly. "Did you know," she asked, thoughtfully, a smile in her eyes, "that Betty was certain, five years ago, that she had an incurable trouble of some kind?"
"No," I said, as calmly as I could. "What—what was—"
"I don't know what it was. She never would tell me. But she went abroad, five years ago. You may remember?" I did remember. "She went all over Europe, consulting doctors, for more than a year. I think it interfered with her wishes—her prospects. I first met her in Vienna." Flossie was silent for a moment, looking at me. "She thought that she ought not to marry, you know."
She looked at me gravely. If I had only been patient—or kept within reach! But I must stay at the ends of the earth.
I am afraid that my voice was none of the steadiest when I replied.
"She found that she was mistaken?" I asked. "She hasn't—she isn't—"
Flossie looked away. "She found that she was mistaken. I believe that it was too late to do any good—then," she added, in a low voice. She sighed. "I am sorry for Betty."
I said nothing.
"And you did not know, of course, that it was Betty who named this dear little boy. His father and his mother"—she smiled as she spoke—"could not agree upon a name, and they left it to Betty. Can you imagine why he was named Roger?"
I lifted little Roger in my arms and kissed him. "Will you have me for a godfather?" I asked, in a voice that shook.
Then I set him down and turned to Flossie. "Will you tell me where Betty is?"
She smiled again. "Betty is not well to-day. I'm afraid that you cannot see her. She was out in yesterday's storm."
"I know it. I must see her. I have done her a wrong—a wrong that must seem cruel, but I did not know. I thought she was Roger's mother, and I—"
"I know," said she. She was smiling still.
"I must try to set it right. Will you tell me where she is, or must I find her for myself?"
We were standing by a high wall, Flossie leaning against it. "I will not drive you to that extremity, for you would undoubtedly be put out by the force of gardeners. There are enough of them to overpower even you, Roger Marvel." She had had her hand behind her, and now she opened a door in the wall. I had not noticed the door. "She is in there. Go, and make your peace with her if you can." She gave me a little push. "I hope you can. Come, Roger, sweetheart." And she shut the door behind me.
I stood by the door for a moment, somewhat dazed. It was a little terrace garden that I was in, and from it you could see the whole stretch of Marvel's Beach, from the Long Stone to Barnaby's Head, now hazy in the distance; and the house and the garden were on the high land back of the Long Stone, so that you looked down upon the beach and had it all spread out beneath you. It must have been from that garden that Betty saw me go out the day before. And with that thought I looked about me, and I saw Betty leaning against a sun-dial, regarding me with a rather proud and distant look and waiting.
I started and held out my arms. "Betty," I said, somewhat doubtfully, "Betty."
She sighed. "I am waiting, Roger, to hear what you have to say."
"Betty," I said, "I—I thought that you were married."
"Why should you have thought that, Roger?"
I thought I saw the flicker of a smile in her eyes, and I took heart.
"Why shouldn't I have thought it, Betty? There was little Roger. He—"
"Oh, I heard what you said to Flossie just now." She took a slow step toward me. "There is one thing, Roger, which I find it hard to forgive. If you thought I was married and little Roger's mother—I wish that I were!" she cried, passionately. "I wish that I were! But if you thought that, why should you think—oh, why?—" The blood rushed to her face in a flaming flood. "How could you think it of me—that I would come to you as—as—"
She stopped and I bowed my head. What answer could I make?
"There is no reason, Betty, no excuse for me. I can only ask your forgiveness. I'm afraid I did not think of you at all. The past five years have not been happy years for me, and I was filled with bitterness. It was no less bitter to find that I loved you just the same—when I thought you another man's wife."
"Do you suppose," she asked, softly, "that those five years were happy years for me?"
"Will you forgive me, Betty?"
She had taken another slow step toward me and yet another. "Do you suppose that it was a happy time for me when for three years I could not find you and did not know whether you were living or dead?"
"Will you forgive me, Betty?" A little space yet separated us. I cleared it in two strides. "Will you forgive me? It was only my love for you that made me hurt you. Will you?"
I held out my arms again. She slowly raised her eyes. I shall not tell what I saw there; but it made my heart swell so that I could not speak. I felt her soft hair brush my cheek.
"Kiss me, Roger," she whispered.
"Oh," she sighed, as soon as she could speak, "there is nothing to forgive—I'm afraid. I'm afraid there isn't." She laughed a little and hid her face. "I'm afraid, Roger, that I might have come to you just the same, if—if—it had been as you thought."