Chapter XX. The Happy Reunion
 

A beautiful day had grown out of the dreadful storm.

The sun seemed stronger each time it made its way out from behind a cloud, just as little girls and boys grow strong in body by exercise, and strong in character by efforts to do right.

And everybody was so happy.

The Neptune--the vessel that had struck on the sand bar--was now safely anchored near shore, and the sailors came in and out in row-boats, back and forth to land, just as they wished.

Of course Captain Bingham, Hal's uncle, was at the Bingham cottage, and the first mate, Nellie's father, was at Minturn's.

But that evening there was a regular party on Minturn's veranda. Numbers of cottagers called to see the sailors, and all were invited to remain and hear about the strange voyage of the Neptune.

"There is not much to tell," began the captain. "Of course I knew we were going to have trouble getting that mahogany. Two vessels had been wrecked trying to get it, so when we got to the West Indies I decided to try canoes and not risk sails, where the wind always blew such a gale, it dragged any anchor that could be dropped. Well, it was a long, slow job to drag those heavy logs around that point, and just when we were making headway, along comes a storm that drove the schooner and canoes out of business."

Here Mate McLaughlin told about the big storm and how long it took the small crew to repair the damage done to the sails.

"Then we had to go back to work at the logs," went on the captain, "and then one of our crew took a fever. Well, then we were quarantined. Couldn't get things to eat without a lot of trouble, and couldn't go on with the carting until the authorities decided the fever was not serious. That was what delayed us so.

"Finally, we had every log loaded on the schooner and we started off. But I never could believe any material would be as heavy as that mahogany; why, we just had to creep along, and the least contrary wind left us motionless on the sea.

"We counted on getting home last week, when this last storm struck us and drove us out of our course. But we are not sorry for our delay now, since we have come back to our own."

"About the value?" asked Mr. Bobbsey, who was down from the city.

"The value," repeated the captain aside, so that the strangers might not hear. "Well, I'm a rich man now, and so is my mate, McLaughlin, for that wood was contracted for by the largest and richest piano firm in this country, and now it is all but delivered to them and the money in our hands."

"Then it was well worth all your sacrifice?" said Mr. Minturn.

"Yes, indeed. It would have taken us a lifetime to accumulate as much money as we have earned in this year. Of course, it was hard for the men who had families, McLaughlin especially; the others were all working sailors, but he was a landsman and my partner in the enterprise; but I will make it up to him, and the mahogany hunt will turn out the best paying piece of work he ever undertook."

"Oh, isn't it perfectly splendid!" declared Nan and Dorothy, hugging Nellie. "You will never again have to go back to that horrid store that made you so pale, and your mother will have a lovely time and nothing to worry about."

"I can hardly believe it all," replied their little friend. "But having father back is the very best of all."

"But all the same," sighed Dorothy, "I just know you will all be going home before we leave for the city, and I shall just die of loneliness."

"But we have to go to school," said Nan, "and we have only a few days more."

"Of course," continued Dorothy; "and our school will not open for two weeks yet."

"Maybe Aunt Emily will take you down to the city on her shopping tour," suggested Nan.

"Indeed I do not like shopping," answered the cousin. "Every time I go in a store that is crowded with stuff on the counters under people's elbows, I feel like knocking the things all over. I did a lot of damage that way once. It was holiday time, and a counter that stuck out in the middle of the store was full of little statues. My sleeve touched one, and the whole lot fell down as if a cannon had struck them. I broke ten and injured more than I wanted to count."

"And Aunt Emily had to pay for them?" said Nan.

"No, she didn't, either," corrected Dorothy. "The manager came up and said the things should not be put out in people's way. He made the clerks remove all the truck from the aisles and I guess everybody was glad the army fell down. I never can forget those pink-and-white soldiers," and Dorothy straightened herself up in comical "soldier's arms" fashion, imitating the unfortunate statues.

"I hope you can come to Lakeport for Thanksgiving," said Nan. "We have done so much visiting this summer, out to Aunt Sarah's and down here, mamma feels we ought to have a grand reunion at our house next. If we do, I am going to try to have some of the country girls down and give them all a jolly good time."

"Oh, I'll come if you make it jolly," answered Dorothy. "If there is one thing in this world worth while, it is fun," and she tossed her yellow head about like a buttercup, that has no other way of laughing.

That had been an eventful day at Ocean Cliff, and the happy ending of it, with a boat and its crew saved, was, as some of the children said, just like a story in a book, only the pictures were all alive!

The largest hotel at Sunset Beach was thrown open to the sailors that night, and here Captain Bingham and Mate McLaughlin, together with the rest of the crew, took up comfortable lodgings.

It was very late, long after the little party had scattered from Minturn's piazza, that the sailors finished dancing their hornpipe for the big company assembled to greet them in the hotel.

Never had they danced to such fine music before, for the hotel orchestra played the familiar tune and the sailors danced it nimbly, hitching up first one side then the other--crossing first one leg then the other, and wheeling around in that jolly fashion.

How rugged and handsome the men looked! The rough ocean winds had tanned them like bronze, and their muscles were as firm and strong almost as the cables that swing out with the buoys. The wonderful fresh air that these men lived in, night and day, had brightened their eyes too, so that even the plainest face, and the most awkward man among them, was as nimble as an athlete, from his perfect exercise.

"And last night what an awful experience they had!" remarked one of the spectators. "It is no wonder that they are all so happy to-night."

"Besides," added someone else, "they are all going to receive extra good pay, for the captain and mate will be very rich when the cargo is landed."

So the sailors danced until they were tired, and then after a splendid meal they went to sleep, in as comfortable beds as might be found in any hotel on Sunset Beach.