Chapter XXVIII. Excitement at the Anchorage
 

A deep gloom settled suddenly over the scouts after Whyn left. The enthusiasm and excitement of the last few days had departed, leaving them much depressed. They had little to work for now, as all hope of winning the prize was gone. Their logs had been sold, and the money placed in the bank where it would remain until needed for the sick girl. The boys never for a moment regretted the step they had fallen. There was something lacking, however, and they found it difficult to take up their regular scout work where they had left it off. They met at Headquarters as usual, and spent much time with the captain out on the water, but whenever they came ashore and looked up at the window where Whyn had so often greeted them, their hearts became heavy. They wrote long letters to her and upon the arrival of the mail each day they expected letters from her. But none came. Only to the captain did Mrs. Sinclair write, telling him of their safe arrival in New York.

Mrs. Britt received a letter about the same time, which caused her to set to work house-cleaning in a most energetic manner. Every room was turned upside down, swept, and dusted, while the captain beat carpets and mats until his back and arms ached. Miss Arabella was taken into the secret, and she came to the Anchorage every day to give a helping hand.

It was Whyn's room which received special attention. A carpet was ordered from the city to take the place of the old hooked-mat, and new curtains were put up to the window.

"My, that looks fine," Miss Arabella exclaimed, when the last finishing touches had been given to the room. "It will certainly be a surprise."

The captain chuckled when he was brought in to give his opinion. In fact, he had been chuckling ever since Mrs. Britt had received the letter which started her upon the special cleaning of her already neat house. The scouts felt that something out of the ordinary was pleasing the captain by his jolly manner. They often discussed it among themselves, but the more they talked, the more puzzled they became. They all knew about the house-cleaning, the new carpet, and curtains for Whyn's room, and that Miss Arabella was at the Anchorage most of the time.

"I guess I know what it's all about," Tommy Bunker confided one afternoon, when the scouts were discussing the matter.

"What do you know?" Rod asked.

"Jimmy's going to get married."

"Married!" was the surprised shout from all.

"Yes. He's going to marry Miss Arabella. Pa said last night that she's been looking for a man ever since he knew her, and if it wasn't to be her wedding, he was mighty sure she wouldn't be so mighty chummy with the captain and his wife."

"But they wouldn't live at the Anchorage," Phil replied. "Miss Arabella's got a home of her own, hasn't she?"

"Pa says that Jimmy and Tom Simpkins don't agree, and so they couldn't live in the same house," Tommy explained.

The scouts no longer scoffed at this idea. It did seem to them that something like a wedding was about to take place. The captain was so mysterious and full of fun, while Miss Arabella beamed upon the boys whenever she met them. It must surely be her wedding, they agreed.

At the close of the second week of all this excitement, the scouts received orders from the captain to meet him at the wharf in full uniform upon the arrival of the evening boat. They were all there half an hour ahead of time, wondering what was going to happen. Maybe Jimmy and Miss Arabella had gone to the city that day, had been married, and were coming up on the steamer. What else could it be?

When at last the steamer did arrive, and the gang-planks had been run out, the scouts strained their eyes in an effort to find out who were coming ashore. Several landed, and then to their astonishment, who should step out but Anna Royanna!

When Rod first saw her he could hardly believe his eyes. Instantly the meaning of all the excitement of the past few days flashed upon his mind. It was for her that the Britts had been getting ready. He seemed almost dazed as he stood there watching the wonderful woman coming forward. He joined the others in the cheer of welcome which the captain ordered to be given; he felt her hand grasping his, and saw the smile of pleasure upon her face. But it all appeared like a marvellous dream, too good to be true. He walked by her side with the rest of the scouts, and listened to her conversation with the captain. But he said nothing, unless directly spoken to. He was too happy for speech, and he preferred to remain silent that he might think over the joy which had so suddenly come into his life. The singer held his hand that evening as he was about to leave the Anchorage. He promised that he would come to see her every day, and then sped home to impart the great news to Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal.

There was considerable excitement throughout Hillcrest when it was learned that the famous Anna Royanna had come to the Anchorage to stay for several weeks. It caused the greatest stir among the people from the city, especially the ones of the fashionable set. They could not understand why such a woman should wish to take up her abode at the Anchorage, of all places. To them, the Britts were very inferior people. They knew the captain by sight and reputation, but his wife they had never met.

After a week's hesitation and consideration, several women called upon Miss Royanna one fine afternoon. But she was not in. She spent most of her time with the scouts, so Mrs. Britt informed them. She lived out of doors during the day, and in the evening was generally at the rectory.

The Royals were charmed with the singer. She was so quiet and gentle, and made herself perfectly at home. How her presence brightened up the house. At times she played on the little piano, and sang several of her sweetest songs.

One evening when she was about to return to the Anchorage, a furious thunder-storm burst upon the land, accompanied by a torrent of rain. It continued so long that the Royals were able to induce their visitor to remain all night.

"I am afraid that I shall give you too much trouble," Miss Royanna told them.

"Oh, no," Mrs. Royal hastened to assure her. "It will be a great pleasure to have you. There is one room which is always ready, and," here her voice became low, "no one has slept in it for over thirteen years. It was my son's room," she explained, seeing the look of surprise in her guest's eyes.

As Mrs. Royal uttered these words, she turned and lighted a lamp, and, therefore, did not notice the strange expression which overspread Miss Royanna's face. Together the two went upstairs and entered the sacred chamber.

"It was Alec's room," Mrs. Royal remarked, as she placed the lamp upon the dressing-table. "He was fond of all those things," and she motioned to the walls lined with books, fishing-rods, rifle, banners, snow-shoes, and pictures. "I have aired the bed, and made it up every week since he went away. I know it will seem childish and foolish to you. But, oh----" she suddenly paused and sat down upon a chair by the side of the bed. "You little realise how much he meant to us. He was our only child, and his memory is very dear."

"I know it," Miss Royanna replied, dropping upon her knees, and throwing her arms around Mrs. Royal's neck. "I think I understand how much you have suffered during all of these years. But is it right for a stranger to occupy this room? Could I not sleep on the sofa downstairs? I would be quite comfortable there."

"No, no. You must stay here. I could never before bear the thought of any one sleeping in this room. But with you it is so different. You seem to me like my own daughter, and that you have a right here which no one else ever had. I cannot understand the feeling."

"May I be your daughter, then?" the younger woman eagerly asked, as she caught Mrs. Royal's hands in her own hot ones. "It will make my heart so happy to be able to call you mother, and to feel that this is my home."

In reply, Mrs. Royal kissed the fair face so close to hers, and gave a loving pressure to the firm white hands. For some time they remained in this position, unheeding the storm which was still raging outside. Tears were in their eyes, but a new-found joy had entered their hearts, which made that chamber of sacred memories a more hallowed spot than ever.

When at last alone, and with the door closed, the singer stood as if spellbound. Could it be possible, she asked herself, that this was his room, just as he had left it years before? The memory of the past rose suddenly and vividly to her mind. She saw again his straight manly figure, with the light of love in his eyes, as he kissed her and bade her good-bye on the morning of that fateful day years ago. She recalled his words of cheer and comfort as he told her how he would win in the battle of life, and make a home for her and their little one. Then came the terrible news, followed by the fearful days and weeks of struggle in her effort to earn a living as she carried her boy from place to place. The memory was more than she could endure. Sinking upon a chair, she buried her face in her hands and wept as she had not wept in years. Outside the storm rolled away, and the moon rose big and bright. The house was very still, but within her room Anna Royanna sat alone through the long watches of the night. How could she sleep in such a place, with so many conflicting emotions agitating her heart and mind?

Mr. and Mrs. Royal both noticed that their guest was very pale when she came down to breakfast.

"I am afraid you did not sleep well last night, dear," Mrs. Royal remarked, as she gave her an affectionate kiss. "It must have been the storm which disturbed you."

"I did not mind it," was the reply. "I have restless nights sometimes, and last night was one of them. But I shall be all right presently."

Parson Dan said nothing to any one about the idea which had come to him concerning the noted singer. But the more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that his suspicion was well grounded. He watched her very carefully, and noted her special interest in Rod. Another thing which confirmed his belief was the stopping of all letters from Rod's mother as soon as Miss Royanna arrived at Hillcrest. In her last one she had stated that she expected to be away for a number of weeks, and would be unable to write until her return. The parson's mind was greatly puzzled over the whole matter. If the famous singer was really the boy's mother, why did she not say so? Was there something which she wished to keep hidden?

He also watched the two when they were together, and as he studied their faces, he was sure that he could see a remarkable resemblance. No one else noticed it, so he believed, and not likely he would have done so but for the idea which had come to him that day he was driving along the road. Several times he was tempted to discuss the whole affair with his wife in order to find out if she had suspected anything. He always delayed, however, hoping that something of a more definite nature would turn up to set his doubts at rest.