Tamawaca Folks/Chapter 4
She was rather pretty, judged by the ordinary standards. The other girls called her "the heiress," because she so frankly confided to them the information that her uncle—an enormously wealthy man—had no one to inherit his millions but herself, and so had made his will in her favor. Meantime, while he continued to live, this estimable old gentleman gave his niece "just anything I want, girls! He just begs me to spend all the money I can, and is sorry I don't spend more."
Such opulence was not observable in the appearance of the young lady, nor did it lead her to reckless extravagances. She bought about as many ice-cream sodas as the other girls who were shy of rich uncles, and dressed equally as well as the majority of the young women at Tamawaca, but no better. She had no jewel cabinet, or automobile, or pug dog or embroidered underwear; so her chums and comrades, who only knew her at this summer resort, were wicked enough to rally her upon her vast wealth and slyly insinuate "they were from Missouri" by dubbing her "the heiress."
Clara accepted the title with much content. She felt she was entitled to the distinction and held her chin a bit higher when she passed common folks on the street.
This afternoon, however, she was not on dress parade. Dressed in her bathing uniform she reclined upon the sands in company with several companions likewise attired and listened eagerly to the comments of two young ladies who had made an important discovery.
"He came this morning, girls," said Betty Lowden, impressively, "and he's just the cutest thing that ever came off from the boat. Such eyes, my dears!—and such lovely fluffy hair—"
"And the air of a real gentleman, girls," broke in Mary Newton; "you could n't mistake him anywhere; and before we passed him he looked at me twice!"
"No dear, once at the weather signal and once at you," corrected Betty. "I noticed especially, for afterward he stared at me a whole minute."
"Why, you mean, disagreeable—"
"Seems to me," remarked little Susie, quietly, "that it's a bit of good luck to have any sort of a young man drop down upon us so early in the season. I'm told they're scarce enough at any time in Tamawaca, so I did n't expect to meet a real Charles Augustus for a whole month yet."
"His name is James—James Ingram. Mary and I ran to look at the hotel register, and he's the only man that arrived today."
"And you have n't met him yet, either," suggested Mary, with an exasperating air of proprietorship.
"No?" said Susie, demurely, as she dipped her hands into the sands and let the shining grains run through her fingers. "But," glancing dreamily over the heads of the others, "I expect to meet him—within the next half hour."
"I'll bet you the sundaes for the crowd, Betty, that I'll be able to introduce him to all of you in half an hour from this second."
"And you've never met him before?" suspiciously.
"You must be crazy," said the heiress, scornfully.
"Don't turn around quickly—take your time, Mary. But just let me know if that's James," continued the girl, in a soft voice.
They gave a jump, then, and every one of them stared ruthlessly. They saw a tall young man come down the walk at a swinging stride, glance hungrily at the sparkling waves, and then enter "Wilder's Bathing Establishment," which stood near by, at the water's edge.
"It must be him!" gasped the heiress.
"It is him!" cried Betty, triumphantly. "Is n't he splendid?"
"Say, girls," observed Gladys McGowan, "let's take Susie's bet. It'll be worth a round of sundaes to meet our Jim right away, without losing precious time."
"Half an hour, Susie?"
"Half an hour at the most, girls."
"Then it's a go! How will you manage it?"
Susie still played with the sands, while the others watched her nervously. She was a tiny thing, and not especially beautiful, but the girls liked her because she was "good fun" and exhibited a rare cleverness at times. All they knew of her history was that Susie was visiting at the Carleton cottage.
"You'll help me, girls?" enquired the adventurous one.
"Of course. But what's your plan, dear?"
Presently a bather emerged from Wilder's Establishment, walked down to the shore near them, gave a glance of brief interest at the group of girls reclining upon the sands, and straightway plunged into the lake and swam out with bold, vigorous strokes.
Every feminine eye followed him.
"Jim can swim, all right," observed Gladys, admiringly.
"I thought he could," she said. "Now, girls, in we go!"
"What! Into the water?"
"And get wet?"
"It'll take a week to dry our hair again!"
Susie ignored the protests.
"Oh, we'll just putter around a bit. It won't hurt us," she said.
They arose reluctantly and one or two dipped a stockinged toe into the cool water and cringed. But Susie waded in without a quiver, and realizing the importance of the occasion they grew bold and slowly followed her. The heiress waited until the very last, and hesitated even then. But there was "Jim" in the water, and it would n't do to let the other girls get an advantage over her.
So presently they had all trailed along the gently shelving bottom until the water had reached their waists, and in the case of little Susie, who was in the lead, it came quite up to her chin.
The young man had cleaved his way a good distance out; but now he was returning more slowly, leaping and turning like a dolphin at play and then floating luxuriously upon his back for awhile. As he drew nearer to the girls Susie whispered:
"Now scream—and scream loud, mind you!"
In amazement they watched her swim out a few strokes—for the girl could actually swim—and then saw her throw up her hands and heard her cry out.
Wildly they shrieked a chorus. It was the real thing in the way of a scream, and owed part of its vigor to the fact that Susie's action seemed horribly natural.
Instantly the young man rolled off his back and elevated his head, treading water. He saw a girl struggling madly and heard the shrill outcry of her companions. A moment more he was dashing to the rescue.
Did Susie see him coming through one corner of her eye? She disappeared entirely, and was under water an alarming time. When she finally bobbed up a strong arm was folded around her waist.
"Don't struggle! Keep quiet and leave it to me," said Jim, calmly; and the sound of his voice seemed to have a soothing effect upon the drowning girl. She rested in his circling arm quite comfortably, and before another minute he found a footing and then waded ashore with both arms around her, while Susie's envious friends scampered out beside him and insisted upon helping to restore her.
Very gently the big fellow laid her on the sand and knelt anxiously beside her. But she had been rescued at exactly the right moment, so now she opened her eyes, smiled sweetly, and heaved a sigh.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you, sir, for saving me!" she said. The voice was pretty husky for a girl that had to be held, but Jim was young and did not notice that.
"Don't mention it," he replied, delighted to find she was likely to live. "You'd better get home as soon as possible, and have a good rub-down and a glass of tonic. May I assist you?"
"If you please. I know it's foolish and—and silly; but I'm so frightened and weak yet."
"Naturally," replied the sympathetic hero; and then the heiress, who could stand no more foolishness, jerked Susie to her feet before she had a chance to smile into the boy's grave eyes again. That was wasted energy, of course, for Susie just now absolutely controlled the situation. Her delicate form swayed so visibly that the boy seized her arm at once, and Clara thoughtfully usurped the other arm and began to lavish such tender devotion upon her that Gladys laughed outright—a cold, harsh laugh that sent a shiver down the heiress' back and made her vow to "get even" at the first opportunity.
Mischievous Susie was dying for a good laugh herself at the complete success of her stratagem; but she mastered the impulse and, letting Jim support her as much as he would, tottered slowly along the beach in the direction of home. The girls surrounded her, flooding her with eager questions of how it had happened and how she felt, and generous praises of her brave and noble rescuer. For none except the heiress could withhold her admiration for Susie's cleverness or was the least bit jealous.
On the way they were all introduced, in the most natural manner, to the man of the hour, and then the heroine enquired in a languid tone that could not disguise her meaning: "What time is it, Clara dear?"
"Oh, less than half an hour since you attempted suicide," returned the heiress, composedly. "Brace up, Susie dear, for I'm going to buy you a sundae tonight."
Of course the young man did n't understand this speech. He left the girl "whose life he had saved" at the Carleton porch, and begged permission to call in the evening and enquire after her—a permission instantly granted.
Then, with Betty and Mary and Gladys and the heiress all chattering in a breath as they surrounded him, Jim returned to the bathing establishment, where they separated. The heiress was a pretty girl, and the boy smiled as he bade her good-bye.
As he dressed himself he could not help congratulating himself upon his good luck in meeting this "bunch of nice girls" on the very day of his arrival. It augured a pleasant vacation.
As for the "bunch," Gladys said on the way home:
"Is n't Susie a deep one, though?"
"She thinks she is," answered the heiress, with a toss of her shapely head. "Do you remember, dear, how the cat's paw once pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for some one else?"
"Oh, yes;" answered Gladys, sniffing. "It was for a monkey, was n't it?"
Those sweet, sweet girls!