A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter VIII. "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
A summer hotel that boasts a thousand acres of forest, more or less, which serve the purposes of a back-yard, affords its guests, even if all its multitude of rooms are occupied, at least one spot for each visitor to regard as his or her favorite nook. So large an extent of woodland successfully defies landscape gardening. It insists on being left alone, and its very immensity raises a financial barrier against trimly-kept gravel walks. There were plenty of landscape garden walks in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, and some of them ambitiously penetrated into the woods, relapsing from the civilization of beaten gravel into a primitive thicket trail, which, however, always led to some celebrated bit of picturesqueness: a waterfall, or a pulpit rock upstanding like a tower, or the fancied resemblance of a human face carved by Nature from the cliff, or a view-point jutting out over the deep chasm of the valley, which usually supported a rustic summer house or pavilion where unknown names were carved on the woodwork-- the last resort of the undistinguished to achieve immortality by means of a jack-knife.
Dorothy discovered a little Eden of her own, to which no discernible covert-way led, for it was not conspicuous enough to obtain mention in the little gratis guide which the hotel furnished-- a pamphlet on coated paper filled with half-tone engravings, and half-extravagant eulogies of what it proclaimed to be, an earthly paradise, with the rates by the day or week given on the cover page to show on what terms this paradise might be enjoyed.
Dorothy's bower was green, and cool, and crystal, the ruggedness of the rocks softened by the wealth of foliage. A very limpid spring, high up and out of sight among the leaves, sent its waters tinkling down the face of the cliff, ever filling a crystal-clear lakelet at the foot, which yet was never full. Velvety and beautiful as was the moss surrounding this pond, it was nevertheless too damp to form an acceptable couch for a human being, unless that human being were brave enough to risk the rheumatic inconveniences which followed Rip Van Winkle's long sleep in these very regions, so Dorothy always carried with her from the hotel a feather-weight, spider's-web hammock, which she deftly slung between two saplings, their light suppleness giving an almost pneumatic effect to this fairy net spread in a fairy glen; and here the young woman swayed luxuriously in the relaxing delights of an indolence still too new to have become commonplace or wearisome.
She always expected to read a great deal in the hammock, but often the book slipped unnoticed to the moss, and she lay looking upward at the little discs of blue sky visible through the checkering maze of green leaves. One afternoon, deserted by the latest piece of fictional literature, marked in plain figures on the paper cover that protected the cloth binding, one dollar and a half, but sold at the department stores for one dollar and eight cents, Dorothy lay half-hypnotized by the twinkling of the green leaves above her, when she heard a sweet voice singing a rollicking song of the Civil War, and so knew that Katherine was thus heralding her approach.
"'When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah! The men will cheer, the boys will shout, The ladies they will all turn out, And we'll all feel gay When Johnny comes marching home.'"
Dorothy went still further back into the history of her country, and gave a faint imitation of an Indian war-whoop, to let the oncomer know she was welcome, and presently Katherine burst impetuously through the dense undergrowth.
"So here you are, Miss Laziness," she cried.
"Here I am, Miss Energy, or shall I call you Miss-applied Energy? Katherine, you have walked so fast that you are quite red in the face."
"It isn't exertion, it's vexation. Dorothy, I have had a perfectly terrible time. It is the anxiety regarding the proper discipline of parents that is spoiling the nervous system of American children. Train them up in the way they should go, and when they are old they do depart from it. There's nothing more awful than to own parents who think they possess a sense of humor. Thank goodness mother has none!"
"Then it is your father who has been misbehaving?"
"Of course it is. He treats the most serious problem of a woman's life as if it were the latest thing in 'Life.'"
Dorothy sat up in the hammock.
"The most important problem? That means a proposal. Goodness gracious, Kate, is that insurance man back here again?"
"What insurance man?"
"Oh, heartless and heart-breaking Katherine, is there another? Sit here in the hammock beside me, and tell me all about it."
"No, thank you," refused Katherine. "I weigh more than you, and I cannot risk my neck through the collapse of that bit of gossamer. I must take care of myself for his sake."
"Then it is the life insurance man whose interests you are consulting? Have you taken out a policy with him?"
"Dear me, you are nearly as bad as father, but not quite so funny. You are referring to Mr. Henderson, I presume. A most delightful companion for a dance, but, my dear Dorothy, life is not all glided out to the measures of a Strauss waltz."
"True; quite undisputable, Kate, and them sentiments do you credit. Who is the man?"
"The human soul," continued Katherine seriously, "aspires to higher things than the society columns of the New York Sunday papers, and the frivolous chatter of an overheated ball-room."
"Again you score, Kate, and are rising higher and higher in my estimation. I see it all now. Those solemn utterances of yours point directly toward Hugh Miller's 'Old Red Sandstone' and works of that sort, and now I remember your singing 'When Johnny comes marching home.' I therefore take it that Jack Lamont has arrived."
"He has not."
"Then he has written to you?"
"He has not."
"Oh, well, I give it up. Tell me the tragedy your own way."
For answer Katherine withdrew her hands from behind her, and offered to her friend a sheet of paper she had been holding. Dorothy saw blazoned on the top of it a coat-of-arms, and underneath it, written in words of the most formal nature, was the information that Prince Ivan Lermontoff presented his warmest regards to Captain Kempt, U.S.N., retired, and begged permission to pay his addresses to the Captain's daughter Katherine. Dorothy looked up from the document, and her friend said calmly:
"You see, they need another Katherine in Russia."
"I hope she won't be like a former one, if all I've read of her is true. This letter was sent to your father, then?"
"It was, and he seems to regard it as a huge joke. Said he was going to cable his consent, and as the 'Consternation' has sailed away, he would try to pick her up by wireless telegraphy, and secure the young man that way: suggests that I shall have a lot of new photographs taken, so that he can hand them out to the reporters when they call for particulars. Sees in his mind's eye, he says, a huge black-lettered heading in the evening papers: 'A Russian Prince captures one of our fairest daughters,' and then insultingly hinted that perhaps, after all, it was better not to use my picture, as it might not bear out the 'fair daughter' fiction of the heading."
"Yes, Kate, I can see that such treatment of a vital subject must have been very provoking."
"Provoking? I should say it was! He pretended he was going to tack this letter up on the notice-board in the hall of the hotel, so that every one might know what guests of distinction the Matterhorn House held. But the most exasperating feature of the situation is that this letter has been lying for days and days at our cottage in Bar Harbor. I am quite certain that I left instructions for letters to be forwarded, but, as nothing came, I telegraphed yesterday to the people who have taken our house, and now a whole heap of belated correspondence has arrived, with a note from our tenant saying he did not know our address. You will see at the bottom of the note that the Prince asks my father to communicate with him by sending a reply to the 'Consternation' at New York, but now the 'Consternation' has sailed for England, and poor John must have waited and waited in vain."
"Write care of the 'Consternation' in England."
"But Jack told me that the 'Consternation' paid off as soon as she arrived, and probably he will have gone to Russia."
"If you address him at the Admiralty in London, the letter will be forwarded whereever he happens to be."
"How do you know?"
"I have heard that such is the case."
"But you're not sure, and I want to be certain."
"Are you really in love with him, Kate?"
"Of course I am. You know that very well, and I don't want any stupid misapprehension to arise at the beginning, such as allows a silly author to carry on his story to the four-hundredth page of such trash as this," and she gently touched with her toe the unoffending volume which lay on the ground beneath the hammock.
"Then why not adopt your father's suggestion, and cable? It isn't you who are cabling, you know."
"I couldn't consent to that. It would look as if we were in a hurry, wouldn't it?"
"Then let me cable."
"You? To whom?"
"Hand me up that despised book, Kate, and I'll write my cablegram on the fly-leaf. If you approve of the message, I'll go to the hotel, and send it at once."
Katherine gave her the book, and lent the little silver pencil which hung jingling, with other trinkets, on the chain at her belt. Dorothy scribbled a note, tore out the fly-leaf, and presented it to Katherine, who read:
"Alan Drummond, Bluewater Club, Pall Mall, London. Tell Lamont that his letter to Captain Kempt was delayed, and did not reach the Captain until to-day. Captain Kempt's reply will be sent under cover to you at your club. Arrange for forwarding if you leave England.
When Katherine finished reading she looked up at her friend, and exclaimed: "Well!" giving that one word a meaning deep as the clear pool on whose borders she stood.
Dorothy's face reddened as if the sinking western sun was shining full upon it.
"You write to one another, then?"
"And is it a case of--"
"Sure it is nothing more than that?"
Dorothy shook her head.
"Dorothy, you are a brick; that's what you are. You will do anything to help a friend in trouble."
"I have so few friends that whatever I can do for them will not greatly tax any capabilities I may possess."
"Nevertheless, Dorothy, I thoroughly appreciate what you have done. You did not wish any one to know you were corresponding with him, and yet you never hesitated a moment when you saw I was anxious."
"Indeed, Kate, there was nothing to conceal. Ours is a very ordinary exchange of letters. I have only had two: one at Bar Harbor a few days after he left, and another longer one since we came to the hotel, written from England."
"Did the last one go to Bar Harbor, too? How came you to receive it when we did not get ours?"
"It did not go to Bar Harbor. I gave him the address of my lawyers in New York, and they forwarded it to me here. Lieutenant Drummond was ordered home by some one who had authority to do so, and received the message while he was sitting with me on the night of the ball. He had got into trouble with Russia. There had been an investigation, and he was acquitted. I saw that he was rather worried over the order home and I expressed my sympathy as well as I could, hoping everything would turn out for the best. He asked if he might write and let me know the outcome, and, being interested, I quite willingly gave him permission, and my address. The letter I received was all about a committee meeting at the Admiralty in which he took part. He wrote to me from the club in Pall Mall to which I have addressed this cablegram."
There was a sly dimple in Katherine's cheeks as she listened to this straightforward explanation, and the faintest possible suspicion of a smile flickered at the corner of her mouth. She murmured, rather than sang:
"'A pair of lovesick maidens we.'"
"One, if you please," interrupted Dorothy.
"'Lovesick all against our will-- '"
"'Twenty years hence we shan't be A pair of lovesick maidens still.'"
"I am pleased to note," said Dorothy demurely, "that the letter written by the Prince to your father has brought you back to the Gilbert and Sullivan plane again, although in this fairy glen you should quote from Iolanthe rather than from Patience."
"Yes, Dot, this spot might do for a cove in the 'Pirates of Penzance,' only we're too far from the sea. But, to return to the matter in hand, I don't think there will be any need to send that cablegram. I don't like the idea of a cablegram, anyhow. I will return to the hotel, and dictate to my frivolous father a serious composition quite as stately and formal as that received from the Prince. He will address it and seal it, and then if you are kind enough to enclose it in the next letter you send to Lieutenant Drummond, it will be sure to reach Jack Lamont ultimately."
Dorothy sprang from the hammock to the ground.
"Oh," she cried eagerly, "I'll go into the hotel with you and write my letter at once."
Katherine smiled, took her by the arm, and said:
"You're a dear girl, Dorothy. I'll race you to the hotel, as soon as we are through this thicket."