Four Winds by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Alan Douglas threw down his pen with an impatient exclamation. It was high time his next Sunday's sermon was written, but he could not concentrate his thoughts on his chosen text. For one thing he did not like it and had selected it only because Elder Trewin, in his call of the evening before, had hinted that it was time for a good stiff doctrinal discourse, such as his predecessor in Rexton, the Rev. Jabez Strong, had delighted in. Alan hated doctrines--"the soul's staylaces," he called them--but Elder Trewin was a man to be reckoned with and Alan preached an occasional sermon to please him.
"It's no use," he said wearily. "I could have written a sermon in keeping with that text in November or midwinter, but now, when the whole world is reawakening in a miracle of beauty and love, I can't do it. If a northeast rainstorm doesn't set in before next Sunday, Mr. Trewin will not have his sermon. I shall take as my text instead, 'The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds has come.'"
He rose and went to his study window, outside of which a young vine was glowing in soft tender green tints, its small dainty leaves casting quivering shadows on the opposite wall where the portrait of Alan's mother hung. She had a fine, strong, sweet face; the same face, cast in a masculine mould, was repeated in her son, and the resemblance was striking as he stood in the searching evening sunshine. The black hair grew around his forehead in the same way; his eyes were steel blue, like hers, with a similar expression, half brooding, half tender, in their depths. He had the mobile, smiling mouth of the picture, but his chin was deeper and squarer, dented with a dimple which, combined with a certain occasional whimsicality of opinion and glance, had caused Elder Trewin some qualms of doubt regarding the fitness of this young man for his high and holy vocation. The Rev. Jabez Strong had never indulged in dimples or jokes; but then, as Elder Trewin, being a just man, had to admit, the Rev. Jabez Strong had preached many a time and oft to more empty pews than full ones, while now the church was crowded to its utmost capacity on Sundays and people came to hear Mr. Douglas who had not darkened a church door for years. All things considered, Elder Trewin decided to overlook the dimple. There was sure to be some drawback in every minister.
Alan from his study looked down on all the length of the Rexton valley, at the head of which the manse was situated, and thought that Eden might have looked so in its innocence, for all the orchards were abloom and the distant hills were tremulous and aerial in springtime gauzes of pale purple and pearl. But in any garden, despite its beauty, is an element of tameness and domesticity, and Alan's eyes, after a moment's delighted gazing, strayed wistfully off to the north where the hills broke away into a long sloping lowland of pine and fir. Beyond it stretched the wide expanse of the lake, flashing in the molten gold and crimson of evening. Its lure was irresistible. Alan had been born and bred beside a faraway sea and the love of it was strong in his heart--so strong that he knew he must go back to it sometime. Meanwhile, the great lake, mimicking the sea in its vast expanse and the storms that often swept over it, was his comfort and solace. As often as he could he stole away to its wild and lonely shore, leaving the snug bounds of cultivated home lands behind him with something like a sense of relief. Down there by the lake was a primitive wilderness where man was as naught and man-made doctrines had no place. There one might walk hand in hand with nature and so come very close to God. Many of Alan's best sermons were written after he had come home, rapt-eyed, from some long shore tramp where the wilderness had opened its heart to him and the pines had called to him in their soft, sibilant speech.
With a half guilty glance at the futile sermon, he took his hat and went out. The sun of the cool spring evening was swinging low over the lake as he turned into the unfrequented, deep-rutted road leading to the shore. It was two miles to the lake, but half way there Alan came to where another road branched off and struck down through the pines in a northeasterly direction. He had sometimes wondered where it led but he had never explored it. Now he had a sudden whim to do so and turned into it. It was even rougher and lonelier than the other; between the ruts the grasses grew long and thickly; sometimes the pine boughs met overhead; again, the trees broke away to reveal wonderful glimpses of gleaming water, purple islets, dark feathery coasts. Still, the road seemed to lead nowhere and Alan was half repenting the impulse which had led him to choose it when he suddenly came out from the shadow of the pines and found himself gazing on a sight which amazed him.
Before him was a small peninsula running out into the lake and terminating in a long sandy point. Beyond it was a glorious sweep of sunset water. The peninsula itself seemed barren and sandy, covered for the most part with scrub firs and spruces, through which the narrow road wound on to what was the astonishing; feature in the landscape--a grey and weather-beaten house built almost at the extremity of the point and shadowed from the western light by a thick plantation of tall pines behind it.
It was the house which puzzled Alan. He had never known there was any house near the lake shore--had never heard mention made of any; yet here was one, and one which was evidently occupied, for a slender spiral of smoke was curling upward from it on the chilly spring air. It could not be a fisherman's dwelling, for it was large and built after a quaint tasteful design. The longer Alan looked at it the more his wonder grew. The people living here were in the bounds of his congregation. How then was it that he had never seen or heard of them?
He sauntered slowly down the road until he saw that it led directly to the house and ended in the yard. Then he turned off in a narrow path to the shore. He was not far from the house now and he scanned it observantly as he went past. The barrens swept almost up to its door in front but at the side, sheltered from the lake winds by the pines, was a garden where there was a fine show of gay tulips and golden daffodils. No living creature was visible and, in spite of the blossoming geraniums and muslin curtains at the windows and the homely spiral of smoke, the place had a lonely, almost untenanted, look.
When Alan reached the shore he found that it was of a much more open and less rocky nature than the part which he had been used to frequent. The beach was of sand and the scrub barrens dwindled down to it almost insensibly. To right and left fir-fringed points ran out into the lake, shaping a little cove with the house in its curve.
Alan walked slowly towards the left headland, intending to follow the shore around to the other road. As he passed the point he stopped short in astonishment. The second surprise and mystery of the evening confronted him.
A little distance away a girl was standing--a girl who turned a startled face at his unexpected appearance. Alan Douglas had thought he knew all the girls in Rexton, but this lithe, glorious creature was a stranger to him. She stood with her hand on the head of a huge, tawny collie dog; another dog was sitting on his haunches beside her.
She was tall, with a great braid of shining chestnut hair, showing ruddy burnished tints where the sunlight struck it, hanging over her shoulder. The plain dark dress she wore emphasized the grace and strength of her supple form. Her face was oval and pale, with straight black brows and a finely cut crimson mouth--a face whose beauty bore the indefinable stamp of race and breeding mingled with a wild sweetness, as of a flower growing in some lonely and inaccessible place. None of the Rexton girls looked like that. Who, in the name of all that was amazing, could she be?
As the thought crossed Alan's mind the girl turned, with an air of indifference that might have seemed slightly overdone to a calmer observer than was the young minister at that moment and, with a gesture of command to her dogs, walked quickly away into the scrub spruces. She was so tall that her uncovered head was visible over them as she followed some winding footpath, and Alan stood like a man rooted to the ground until he saw her enter the grey house. Then he went homeward in a maze, all thought of sermons, doctrinal or otherwise, for the moment knocked out of his head.
She is the most beautiful woman I ever saw, he thought. How is it possible that I have lived in Rexton for six months and never heard of her or of that house? Well, I daresay there's some simple explanation of it all. The place may have been unoccupied until lately--probably it is the summer residence of people who have only recently come to it. I'll ask Mrs. Danby. She'll know if anybody will. That good woman knows everything about everybody in Rexton for three generations back.
Alan found Isabel King with his housekeeper when he got home. His greeting was tinged with a slight constraint. He was not a vain man, but he could not help knowing that Isabel looked upon him with a favour that had in it much more than professional interest. Isabel herself showed it with sufficient distinctness. Moreover, he felt a certain personal dislike of her and of her hard, insistent beauty, which seemed harder and more insistent than ever contrasted with his recollection of the girl of the lake shore.
Isabel had a trick of coming to the manse on plausible errands to Mrs. Danby and lingering until it was so dark that Alan was in courtesy bound to see her home. The ruse was a little too patent and amused Alan, although he carefully hid his amusement and treated Isabel with the fine unvarying deference which his mother had engrained into him for womanhood--a deference that flattered Isabel even while it annoyed her with the sense of a barrier which she could not break down or pass. She was the daughter of the richest man in Rexton and inclined to give herself airs on that account, but Alan's gentle indifference always brought home to her an unwelcome feeling of inferiority.
"You've been tiring yourself out again tramping that lake shore, I suppose," said Mrs. Danby, who had kept house for three bachelor ministers and consequently felt entitled to hector them in a somewhat maternal fashion.
"Not tiring myself--resting and refreshing myself rather," smiled Alan. "I was tired when I went out but now I feel like a strong man rejoicing to run a race. By the way, Mrs. Danby, who lives in that quaint old house away down at the very shore? I never knew of its existence before."
Alan's "by the way" was not quite so indifferent as he tried to make it. Isabel King, leaning back posingly among the cushions of the lounge, sat quickly up as he asked his question.
"Dear me, you don't mean to say you've never heard of Captain Anthony--Captain Anthony Oliver?" said Mrs. Danby. "He lives down there at Four Winds, as they call it--he and his daughter and an old cousin."
Isabel King bent forward, her brown eyes on Alan's face.
"Did you see Lynde Oliver?" she asked with suppressed eagerness.
Alan ignored the question--perhaps he did not hear it.
"Have they lived there long?" he asked.
"For eighteen years," said Mrs. Danby placidly. "It's funny you haven't heard them mentioned. But people don't talk much about the Captain now--he's an old story--and of course they never go anywhere, not even to church. The Captain is a rank infidel and they say his daughter is just as bad. To be sure, nobody knows much about her, but it stands to reason that a girl who's had her bringing up must be odd, to say no worse of her. It's not really her fault, I suppose--her wicked old scalawag of a father is to blame for it. She's never darkened a church or school door in her life and they say she's always been a regular tomboy--running wild outdoors with dogs, and fishing and shooting like a man. Nobody ever goes there--the Captain doesn't want visitors. He must have done something dreadful in his time, if it was only known, when he's so set on living like a hermit away down on that jumping-off place. Did you see any of them?"
"I saw Miss Oliver, I suppose," said Alan briefly. "At least I met a young lady on the shore. But where did these people come from? Surely more is known of them than this."
"Precious little. The truth is, Mr. Douglas, folks don't think the Olivers respectable and don't want to have anything to do with them. Eighteen years ago Captain Anthony came from goodness knows where, bought the Four Winds point, and built that house. He said he'd been a sailor all his life and couldn't live away from the water. He brought his wife and child and an old cousin of his with him. This Lynde wasn't more than two years old then. People went to call but they never saw any of the women and the Captain let them see they weren't wanted. Some of the men who'd been working round the place saw his wife and said she was sickly but real handsome and like a lady, but she never seemed to want to see anyone or be seen herself. There was a story that the Captain had been a smuggler and that if he was caught he'd be sent to prison. Oh, there were all sorts of yarns, mostly coming from the men who worked there, for nobody else ever got inside the house. Well, four years ago his wife disappeared--it wasn't known how or when. She just wasn't ever seen again, that's all. Whether she died or was murdered or went away nobody ever knew. There was some talk of an investigation but nothing came of it. As for the girl, she's always lived there with her father. She must be a perfect heathen. He never goes anywhere, but there used to be talk of strangers visiting him--queer sort of characters who came up the lake in vessels from the American side. I haven't heard any reports of such these past few years, though--not since his wife disappeared. He keeps a yacht and goes sailing in it--sometimes he cruises about for weeks--that's about all he ever does. And now you know as much about the Olivers as I do, Mr. Douglas."
Alan had listened to this gossipy narrative with an interest that did not escape Isabel King's observant eyes. Much of it he mentally dismissed as improbable surmise, but the basic facts were probably as Mrs. Danby had reported them. He had known that the girl of the shore could be no commonplace, primly nurtured young woman.
"Has no effort ever been made to bring these people into touch with the church?" he asked absently.
"Bless you, yes. Every minister that's ever been in Rexton has had a try at it. The old cousin met every one of them at the door and told him nobody was at home. Mr. Strong was the most persistent--he didn't like being beaten. He went again and again and finally the Captain sent him word that when he wanted parsons or pill-dosers he'd send for them, and till he did he'd thank them to mind their own business. They say Mr. Strong met Lynde once along shore and wanted to know if she wouldn't come to church, and she laughed in his face and told him she knew more about God now than he did or ever would. Perhaps the story isn't true. Or if it was maybe he provoked her into saying it. Mr. Strong wasn't overly tactful. I believe in judging the poor girl as charitably as possible and making allowances for her, seeing how she's been brought up. You couldn't expect her to know how to behave."
Somehow, Alan resented Mrs. Danby's charity. Then, his sense of humour being strongly developed, he smiled to think of this commonplace old lady "making allowances" for the splendid bit of femininity he had seen on the shore. A plump barnyard fowl might as well have talked of making allowances for a seagull!
Alan walked home with Isabel King but he was very silent as they went together down the long, dark, sweet-smelling country road bordered by its white orchards. Isabel put her own construction on his absent replies to her remarks and presently she asked him, "Did you think Lynde Oliver handsome?"
The question gave Alan an annoyance out of all proportion to its significance. He felt an instinctive reluctance to discuss Lynde Oliver with Isabel King.
"I saw her only for a moment," he said coldly, "but she impressed me as being a beautiful woman."
"They tell queer stories about her--but maybe they're not all true," said Isabel, unable to keep the sneer of malice out of her voice. At that moment Alan's secret contempt for her crystallized into pronounced aversion. He made no reply and they went the rest of the way in silence. At her gate Isabel said, "You haven't been over to see us very lately, Mr. Douglas."
"My congregation is a large one and I cannot visit all my people as often as I might wish," Alan answered, all the more coldly for the personal note in her tone. "A minister's time is not his own, you know."
"Shall you be going to see the Olivers?" asked Isabel bluntly.
"I have not considered that question. Good-night, Miss King."
On his way back to the manse Alan did consider the question. Should he make any attempt to establish friendly relations with the residents of Four Winds? It surprised him to find how much he wanted to, but he finally concluded that he would not. They were not adherents of his church and he did not believe that even a minister had any right to force himself upon people who plainly wished to be let alone.
When he got home, although it was late, he went to his study and began work on a new text--for Elder Trewin's seemed utterly out of the question. Even with the new one he did not get on very well. At last in exasperation he leaned back in his chair.
Why can't I stop thinking of those Four Winds people? Here, let me put these haunting thoughts into words and see if that will lay them. That girl had a beautiful face but a cold one. Would I like to see it lighted up with the warmth of her soul set free? Yes, frankly, I would. She looked upon me with indifference. Would I like to see her welcome me as a friend? I have a conviction that I would, although no doubt everybody in my congregation would look upon her as a most unsuitable friend for me. Do I believe that she is wild, unwomanly, heathenish, as Mrs. Danby says? No, I do not, most emphatically. I believe she is a lady in the truest sense of that much abused word, though she is doubtless unconventional. Having said all this, I do not see what more there is to be said. And--I--am--going--to--write--this--sermon.
Alan wrote it, putting all thought of Lynde Oliver sternly out of his mind for the time being. He had no notion of falling in love with her. He knew nothing of love and imagined that it counted for nothing in his life. He admitted that his curiosity was aflame about the girl, but it never occurred to him that she meant or could mean anything to him but an attractive enigma which once solved would lose its attraction. The young women he knew in Rexton, whose simple, pleasant friendship he valued, had the placid, domestic charm of their own sweet-breathed, windless orchards. Lynde Oliver had the fascination of the lake shore--wild, remote, untamed--the lure of the wilderness and the primitive. There was nothing more personal in his thought of her, and yet when he recalled Isabel King's sneer he felt an almost personal resentment.
* * * * *
During the following fortnight Alan made many trips to the shore--and he always went by the branch road to the Four Winds point. He did not attempt to conceal from himself that he hoped to meet Lynde Oliver again. In this he was unsuccessful. Sometimes he saw her at a distance along the shore but she always disappeared as soon as seen. Occasionally as he crossed the point he saw her working in her garden but he never went very near the house, feeling that he had no right to spy on it or her in any way. He soon became convinced that she avoided him purposely and the conviction piqued him. He felt an odd masterful desire to meet her face to face and make her look at him. Sometimes he called himself a fool and vowed he would go no more to the Four Winds shore. Yet he inevitably went. He did not find in the shore the comfort and inspiration he had formerly found. Something had come between his soul and the soul of the wilderness--something he did not recognize or formulate--a nameless, haunting longing that shaped itself about the memory of a cold sweet face and starry, indifferent eyes, grey as the lake at dawn.
Of Captain Anthony he never got even a glimpse, but he saw the old cousin several times, going and coming about the yard and its environs. Finally one day he met her, coming up a path which led to a spring down in a firry hollow. She was carrying two heavy pails of water and Alan asked permission to help her.
He half expected a repulse, for the tall, grim old woman had a rather stern and forbidding look, but after gazing at him a moment in a somewhat scrutinizing manner she said briefly, "You may, if you like."
Alan took the pails and followed her, the path not being wide enough for two. She strode on before him at a rapid, vigorous pace until they came out into the yard by the house. Alan felt his heart beating foolishly. Would he see Lynde Oliver? Would--
"You may carry the water there," the old woman said, pointing to a little outhouse near the pines. "I'm washing--the spring water is softer than the well water. Thank you"--as Alan set the pails down on a bench--"I'm not so young as I was and bringing the water so far tires me. Lynde always brings it for me when she's home."
She stood before him in the narrow doorway, blocking his exit, and looked at him with keen, deep-set dark eyes. In spite of her withered aspect and wrinkled face, she was not an uncomely old woman and there was about her a dignity of carriage and manner that pleased Alan. It did not occur to him to wonder why it should please him. If he had hunted that feeling down he might have been surprised to discover that it had its origin in a curious gratification over the thought that the woman who lived with Lynde had a certain refinement about her. He preferred her unsmiling dourness to vulgar garrulity.
"Are you the young minister up at Rexton?" she asked bluntly.
"I thought so. Lynde said she had seen you on the shore once. Well"--she cast an uncertain glance over her shoulder at the house--"I'm much obliged to you."
Alan had an idea that that was not what she had thought of saying, but as she had turned aside and was busying herself with the pails, there seemed nothing for him to do but to go.
"Wait a moment." She faced him again, and if Alan had been a vain man he might have thought that admiration looked from her piercing eyes. "What do you think of us? I suppose they've told you tales of us up there?"--with a scornful gesture of her hand in the direction of Rexton. "Do you believe them?"
"I believe no ill of anyone until I have absolute proof of it," said Alan, smiling--he was quite unconscious what a winning smile he had, which was the best of it--"and I never put faith in gossip. Of course you are gossipped about--you know that."
"Yes, I know it"--grimly--"and I don't care what they say about the Captain and me. We are a queer pair--just as queer as they make us out. You can believe what you like about us, but don't you believe a word they say against Lynde. She's sweet and good and beautiful. It's not her fault that she never went to church--it's her father's. Don't you hold that against her."
The fierce yet repressed energy of her tone prevented Alan from feeling any amusement over her simple defence of Lynde. Moreover, it sounded unreasonably sweet in his ears.
"I won't," he promised, "but I don't suppose it would matter much to Miss Oliver if I did. She did not strike me as a young lady who would worry very much about other people's opinions."
If his object were to prolong the conversation about Lynde, he was disappointed, for the old woman had turned abruptly to her work again and, though Alan lingered for a few moments longer, she took no further notice of him. But when he had gone she peered stealthily after him from the door until he was lost to sight among the pines.
"A well-looking man," she muttered. "I wish Lynde had been home. I didn't dare ask him to the house for I knew Anthony was in one of his moods. But it's time something was done. She's woman grown and this is no life for her. And there's nobody to do anything but me and I'm not able, even if I knew what to do. I wonder why she hates men so. Perhaps it's because she never knew any that were real gentlemen. This man is--but then he's a minister and that makes a wide gulf between them in another way. I've seen the love of man and woman bridge some wider gulfs though. But it can't with Lynde, I'm fearing. She's so bitter at the mere speaking of love and marriage. I can't think why. I'm sure her mother and Anthony were happy together, and that was all she's ever seen of marriage. But I thought when she told me of meeting this young man on the shore there was something in her look I'd never noticed before--as if she'd found something in herself she'd never known was there. But she'll never make friends with him and I can't. If the Captain wasn't so queer--"
She stopped abruptly, for a tall lithe figure was coming up from the shore. Lynde waved her hand as she drew near.
"Oh, Emily, I've had such a splendid sail. It was glorious. Bad Emily, you've been carrying water. Didn't I tell you never to do that when I was away?"
"I didn't have to do it. That young minister up at Rexton met me and brought it up. He's nice, Lynde."
Lynde's brow darkened. She turned and walked away to the house without a word.
On his way home that night Alan met Isabel King on the main shore road. She carried an armful of pine boughs and said she wanted the needles for a cushion. Yet the thought came into Alan's mind that she was spying on him and, although he tried to dismiss it as unworthy, it continued to lurk there.
For a week he avoided the shore, but there came a day when its inexplicable lure drew him to it again irresistibly. It was a warm, windy evening and the air was sweet and resinous, the lake misty and blue. There was no sign of life about Four Winds and the shore seemed as lonely and virgin as if human foot had never trodden it. The Captain's yacht was gone from the little harbour where it was generally anchored and, though every flutter of wind in the scrub firs made Alan's heart beat expectantly, he saw nothing of Lynde Oliver. He was on the point of turning homeward, with an unreasoning sense of disappointment, when one of Lynde's dogs broke down through the hedge of spruces, barking loudly.
Alan looked for Lynde to follow, but she did not, and he speedily saw that there was something unusual about the dog's behaviour. The animal circled around him, still barking excitedly, then ran off for a short distance, stopped, barked again, and returned, repeating the manoeuvre. It was plain that he wanted Alan to follow him, and it occurred to the young minister that the dog's mistress must be in danger of some kind. Instantly he set off after him; and the dog, with a final sharp bark of satisfaction, sprang up the low bank into the spruces.
Alan followed him across the peninsula and then along the further shore, which rapidly grew steep and high. Half a mile down the cliffs were rocky and precipitous, while the beach beneath them was heaped with huge boulders. Alan followed the dog along one of the narrow paths with which the barrens abounded until nearly a mile from Four Winds. Then the animal halted, ran to the edge of the cliff and barked.
It was an ugly-looking place where a portion of the soil had evidently broken away recently, and Alan stepped cautiously out to the brink and looked down. He could not repress an exclamation of dismay and alarm.
A few feet below him Lynde Oliver was lying on a mass of mossy soil which was apparently on the verge of slipping over a sloping shelf of rock, below which was a sheer drop of thirty feet to the cruel boulders below. The extreme danger of her position was manifest at a glance; the soil on which she lay was stationary, yet it seemed as if the slightest motion on her part would send it over the brink.
Lynde lay movelessly; her face was white, and both fear and appeal were visible in her large dilated eyes. Yet she was quite calm and a faint smile crossed her pale lips as she saw the man and the dog.
"Good faithful Pat, so you did bring help," she said.
"But how can I help you, Miss Oliver?" said Alan hoarsely. "I cannot reach you--and it looks as if the slightest touch or jar would send that broken earth over the brink."
"I fear it would. You must go back to Four Winds and get a rope."
"And leave you here alone--in such danger?"
"Pat will stay with me. Besides, there is nothing else to do. You will find a rope in that little house where you put the water for Emily. Father and Emily are away. I think I am quite safe here if I don't move at all."
Alan's own common sense told him that, as she said, there was nothing else to do and, much as he hated to leave her alone thus, he realized that he must lose no time in doing it.
"I'll be back as quickly as possible," he said hurriedly.
Alan had been a noted runner at college and his muscles had not forgotten their old training. Yet it seemed to him an age ere he reached Four Winds, secured the rope, and returned. At every flying step he was haunted by the thought of the girl lying on the brink of the precipice and the fear that she might slip over it before he could rescue her. When he reached the scene of the accident he dreaded to look over the broken edge, but she was lying there safely and she smiled when she saw him--a brave smile that softened her tense white face into the likeness of a frightened child's.
"If I drop the rope down to you, are you strong enough to hold to it while the earth goes and then draw yourself up the slope hand over hand?" asked Alan anxiously.
"Yes," she answered fearlessly.
Alan passed down one end of the rope and then braced himself firmly to hold it, for there was no tree near enough to be of any assistance. The next moment the full weight of her body swung from it, for at her first movement the soil beneath her slipped away. Alan's heart sickened; what if she went with it? Could she cling to the rope while he drew her up?
Then he saw she was still safe on the sloping shelf. Carefully and painfully she drew herself to her knees and, dinging to the rope, crept up the rock hand over hand. When she came within his reach he grasped her arms and lifted her up into safety beside him.
"Thank God," he said, with whiter lips than her own.
For a few moments Lynde sat silent on the sod, exhausted with fright and exertion, while her dog fawned on her in an ecstasy of joy. Finally she looked up into Alan's anxious face and their eyes met. It was something more than the physical reaction that suddenly flushed the girl's cheeks. She sprang lithely to her feet.
"Can you walk back home?" Alan asked.
"Oh, yes, I am all right now. It was very foolish of me to get into such a predicament. Father and Emily went down the lake in the yacht this afternoon and I started out for a ramble. When I came here I saw some junebells growing right out on the ledge and I crept out to gather them. I should have known better. It broke away under me and the more I tried to scramble back the faster it slid down, carrying me with it. I thought it would go right over the brink"--she gave a little involuntary shudder--"but just at the very edge it stopped. I knew I must lie very still or it would go right over. It seemed like days. Pat was with me and I told him to go for help, but I knew there was no one at home--and I was horribly afraid," she concluded with another shiver. "I never was afraid in my life before--at least not with that kind of fear."
"You have had a terrible experience and a narrow escape," said Alan lamely. He could think of nothing more to say; his usual readiness of utterance seemed to have failed him.
"You saved my life," she said, "you and Pat--for doggie must have his share of credit."
"A much larger share than mine," said Alan, smiling. "If Pat had not come for me, I would not have known of your danger. What a magnificent fellow he is!"
"Isn't he?" she agreed proudly. "And so is Laddie, my other dog. He went with Father today. I love my dogs more than people." She looked at him with a little defiance in her eyes. "I suppose you think that terrible."
"I think many dogs are much more lovable--and worthy of love--than many people," said Alan, laughing.
How childlike she was in some ways! That trace of defiance--it was so like a child who expected to be scolded for some wrong attitude of mind. And yet there were moments when she looked the tall proud queen. Sometimes, when the path grew narrow, she walked before him, her hand on the dog's head. Alan liked this, since it left him free to watch admiringly the swinging grace of her step and the white curves of her neck beneath the thick braid of hair, which today was wound about her head. When she dropped back beside him in the wider spaces, he could only have stolen glances at her profile, delicately, strongly cut, virginal in its soft curves, childlike in its purity. Once she looked around and caught his glance; again she flushed, and something strange and exultant stirred in Alan's heart. It was as if that maiden blush were the involuntary, unconscious admission of some power he had over her--a power which her hitherto unfettered spirit had never before felt. The cold indifference he had seen in her face at their first meeting was gone, and something told him it was gone forever.
When they came in sight of Four Winds they saw two people walking up the road from the harbour and a few further steps brought them face to face with Captain Anthony Oliver and his old housekeeper.
The Captain's appearance was a fresh surprise to Alan. He had expected to meet a rough, burly sailor, loud of voice and forbidding of manner. Instead, Captain Anthony was a tall, well-built man of perhaps fifty. His face, beneath its shock of iron-grey hair, was handsome but wore a somewhat forbidding expression, and there was something in it, apart from line or feature, which did not please Alan. He had no time to analyze this impression, for Lynde said hurriedly, "Father, this is Mr. Douglas. He has just done me a great service."
She briefly explained her accident; when she had finished, the Captain turned to Alan and held out his hand, a frank smile replacing the rather suspicious and contemptuous scowl which had previously overshadowed it.
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Douglas," he said cordially. "You must come up to the house and let me thank you at leisure. As a rule I'm not very partial to the cloth, as you may have heard. In this case it is the man, not the minister, I invite."
The front door of Four Winds opened directly into a wide, low-ceilinged living room, furnished with simplicity and good taste. Leaving the two men there, Lynde and the old cousin vanished, and Alan found himself talking freely with the Captain who could, as it appeared, talk well on many subjects far removed from Four Winds. He was evidently a clever, self-educated man, somewhat opinionated and given to sarcasm; he never made any references to his own past life or experiences, but Alan discovered him to be surprisingly well read in politics and science. Sometimes in the pauses of the conversation Alan found the older man looking at him in a furtive way he did not like, but the Captain was such an improvement on what he had been led to expect that he was not inclined to be over critical. At least, this was what he honestly thought. He did not suspect that it was because this man was Lynde's father that he wished to think as well as possible of him.
Presently Lynde came in. She had changed her outdoor dress, stained with moss and soil in her fall, for a soft clinging garment of some pale yellow material, and her long, thick braid of hair hung over her shoulder. She sat mutely down in a dim corner and took no part in the conversation except to answer briefly the remarks which Alan addressed to her. Emily came in and lighted the lamp on the table. She was as grim and unsmiling as ever, yet she cast a look of satisfaction on Alan as she passed out. One dog lay down at Lynde's feet, the other sat on his haunches by her side and laid his head on her lap. Rexton and its quiet round of parish duties seemed thousands of miles away from Alan, and he wondered a little if this were not all a dream.
When he went away the Captain invited him back.
"If you like to come, that is," he said brusquely, "and always as the man, not the priest, remember. I don't want you by and by to be slyly slipping in the thin end of any professional wedges. You'll waste your time if you do. Come as man to man and you'll be welcome, for I like you--and it's few men I like. But don't try to talk religion to me."
"I never talk religion," said Alan emphatically. "I try to live it. I'll not come to your house as a self-appointed missionary, sir, but I shall certainly act and speak at all times as my conscience and my reverence for my vocation demands. If I respect your beliefs, whatever they may be, I shall expect you to respect mine, Captain Oliver."
"Oh, I won't insult your God," said the Captain with a faint sneer.
Alan went home in a tumult of contending feelings. He did not altogether like Captain Anthony--that was very clear to him, and yet there was something about the man that attracted him. Intellectually he was a worthy foeman, and Alan had often longed for such since coming to Rexton. He missed the keen, stimulating debates of his college days and, now there seemed a chance of renewing them, he was eager to grasp it. And Lynde--how beautiful she was! What though she shared--as was not unlikely--in her father's lack of belief? She could not be essentially irreligious--that were impossible in a true woman. Might not this be his opportunity to help her--to lead her into dearer light? Alan Douglas was a sincere man, with himself as well as with others, yet there are some motives that lie, in their first inception, too deep even for the probe of self-analysis. He had not as yet the faintest suspicion as to the real source of his interest in Lynde Oliver--in his sudden forceful desire to be of use and service to her--to rescue her from spiritual peril as he had that day rescued her from bodily danger.
She must have a lonely, unsatisfying life, he thought. It is my duty to help her if I can.
It did not then occur to him that duty in this instance wore a much more pleasing aspect than it had sometimes worn in his experience.
* * * * *
Alan did not mean to be oversoon in going back to Four Winds, but three days later a book came to him which Captain Anthony had expressed a wish to see. It furnished an excuse for an earlier call. After that he went often. He always found the Captain courteous and affable, old Emily grimly cordial, Lynde sometimes remote and demure, sometimes frankly friendly. Occasionally, when the Captain was away in his yacht, he went for a walk with her and her dogs along the shore or through the sweet-smelling pinelands up the lake. He found that she loved books and was avid for more of them than she could obtain; he was glad to take her several and discuss them with her. She liked history and travels best. With novels she had no patience, she said disdainfully. She seldom spoke of herself or her past life and Alan fancied she avoided any personal reference. But once she said abruptly, "Why do you never ask me to go to church? I've always been afraid you would."
"Because I do not think it would do you any good to go if you didn't want to," said Alan gravely. "Souls should not be rudely handled any more than bodies."
She looked at him reflectively, her finger denting her chin in a meditative fashion she had.
"You are not at all like Mr. Strong. He always scolded me, when he got a chance, for not going to church. I would have hated him if it had been worthwhile. I told him one day that I was nearer to God under these pines than I could be in any building fashioned by human hands. He was very much shocked. But I don't want you to misunderstand me. Father does not go to church because he does not believe there is a God. But I know there is. Mother taught me so. I have never gone to church because Father would not allow me, and I could not go now in Rexton where the people talk about me so. Oh, I know they do--you know it, too--but I do not care for them. I know I'm not like other girls. I would like to be but I can't be--I never can be--now."
There was some strange passion in her voice that Alan did not quite understand--a bitterness and a revolt which he took to be against the circumstances that hedged her in.
"Is not some other life possible for you if your present life does not content you?" he said gently.
"But it does content me," said Lynde imperiously. "I want no other--I wish this life to go on forever--forever, do you understand? If I were sure that it would--if I were sure that no change would ever come to me, I would be perfectly content. It is the fear that a change will come that makes me wretched. Oh!" She shuddered and put her hands over her eyes.
Alan thought she must mean that when her father died she would be alone in the world. He wanted to comfort her--reassure her--but he did not know how.
One evening when he went to Four Winds he found the door open and, seeing the Captain in the living room, he stepped in unannounced. Captain Anthony was sitting by the table, his head in his hands; at Alan's entrance he turned upon him a haggard face, blackened by a furious scowl beneath which blazed eyes full of malevolence.
"What do you want here?" he said, following up the demand with a string of vile oaths.
Before Alan could summon his scattered wits, Lynde glided in with a white, appealing face. Wordlessly she grasped Alan's arm, drew him out, and shut the door.
"Oh, I've been watching for you," she said breathlessly. "I was afraid you might come tonight--but I missed you."
"But your father?" said Alan in amazement. "How have I angered him?"
"Hush. Come into the garden. I will explain there."
He followed her into the little enclosure where the red and white roses were now in full blow.
"Father isn't angry with you," said Lynde in a low shamed voice. "It's just--he takes strange moods sometimes. Then he seems to hate us all--even me--and he is like that for days. He seems to suspect and dread everybody as if they were plotting against him. You--perhaps you think he has been drinking? No, that is not the trouble. These terrible moods come on without any cause that we know of. Even Mother could not do anything with him when he was like that. You must go away now--and do not come back until his dark mood has passed. He will be just as glad to see you as ever then, and this will not make any difference with him. Don't come back for a week at least."
"I do not like to leave you in such trouble, Miss Oliver."
"Oh, it doesn't matter about me--I have Emily. And there is nothing you could do. Please go at once. Father knows I am talking to you and that will vex him still more."
Alan, realizing that he could not help her and that his presence only made matters worse, went away perplexedly. The following week was a miserable one for him. His duties were distasteful to him and meeting his people a positive torture. Sometimes Mrs. Danby looked dubiously at him and seemed on the point of saying something--but never said it. Isabel King watched him when they met, with bold probing eyes. In his abstraction he did not notice this any more than he noticed a certain subtle change which had come over the members of his congregation--as if a breath of suspicion had blown across them and troubled their confidence and trust. Once Alan would have been keenly and instantly conscious of this slight chill; now he was not even aware of it.
When he ventured to go back to Four Winds he found the Captain on the point of starting off for a cruise in his yacht. He was urbane and friendly, utterly ignoring the incident of Alan's last visit and regretting that business compelled him to go down the lake. Alan saw him off with small regret and turned joyfully to Lynde, who was walking under the pines with her dogs. She looked pale and tired and her eyes were still troubled, but she smiled proudly and made no reference to what had happened.
"I'm going to put these flowers on Mother's grave," she said, lifting her slender hands filled with late white roses. "Mother loved flowers and I always keep them near her when I can. You may come with me if you like."
Alan had known Lynde's mother was buried under the pines but he had never visited the spot before. The grave was at the westernmost end of the pine wood, where it gave out on the lake, a beautiful spot, given over to silence and shadow.
"Mother wished to be buried here," Lynde said, kneeling to arrange her flowers. "Father would have taken her anywhere but she said she wanted to be near us and near the lake she had loved so well. Father buried her himself. He wouldn't have anyone else do anything for her. I am so glad she is here. It would have been terrible to have seen her taken far away--my sweet little mother."
"A mother is the best thing in the world--I realized that when I lost mine," said Alan gently. "How long is it since your mother died?"
"Three years. Oh, I thought I should die too when she did. She was very ill--she was never strong, you know--but I never thought she could die. There was a year then--part of the time I didn't believe in God at all and the rest I hated Him. I was very wicked but I was so unhappy. Father had so many dreadful moods and--there was something else. I used to wish to die."
She bowed her head on her hands and gazed moodily on the ground. Alan, leaning against a pine tree, looked down at her. The sunlight fell through the swaying boughs on her glory of burnished hair and lighted up the curve of cheek and chin against the dark background of wood brown. All the defiance and wildness had gone from her for the time and she seemed like a helpless, weary child. He wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her.
"You must resemble your mother," he said absently, as if thinking aloud. "You don't look at all like your father."
Lynde shook her head.
"No, I don't look like Mother either. She was tiny and dark--she had a sweet little face and velvet-brown eyes and soft curly dark hair. Oh, I remember her look so well. I wish I did resemble her. I loved her so--I would have done anything to save her suffering and trouble. At least, she died in peace."
There was a curious note of fierce self-gratulation in the girl's voice as she spoke the last sentence. Again Alan felt the unpleasant impression that there was much in her that he did not understand--might never understand--although such understanding was necessary to perfect friendship. She had never spoken so freely of her past life to him before, yet he felt somehow that something was being kept back in jealous repression. It must be something connected with her father, Alan thought. Doubtless, Captain Anthony's past would not bear inspection, and his daughter knew it and dwelt in the shadow of her knowledge. His heart filled with aching pity for her; he raged secretly because he was so powerless to help her. Her girlhood had been blighted, robbed of its meed of happiness and joy. Was she likewise to miss her womanhood? Alan's hands clenched involuntarily at the unuttered question.
On his way home that evening he again met Isabel King. She turned and walked back with him but she made no reference to Four Winds or its inhabitants. If Alan had troubled himself to look, he would have seen a malicious glow in her baleful brown eyes. But the only eyes which had any meaning for him just then were the grey ones of Lynde Oliver.
* * * * *
During Alan's next three visits to Four Winds he saw nothing of Lynde, either in the house or out of it. This surprised and worried him. There was no apparent difference in Captain Anthony, who continued to be suave and friendly. Alan always enjoyed his conversations with the Captain, who was witty, incisive, and pungent; yet he disliked the man himself more at every visit. If he had been compelled to define his impression, he would have said the Captain was a charming scoundrel.
But it occurred to him that Emily was disturbed about something. Sometimes he caught her glance, full of perplexity and--it almost seemed--distrust. She looked as if she felt hostile towards him. But Alan dismissed the idea as absurd. She had been friendly from the first and he had done nothing to excite her disapproval. Lynde's mysterious absence was a far more perplexing problem. She had not gone away, for when Alan asked the Captain concerning her, he responded indifferently that she was out walking. Alan caught a glint of amusement in the older man's eyes as he spoke. He could have sworn it was malicious amusement.
One evening he went to Four Winds around the shore. As he turned the headland of the cove, he saw Lynde and her dogs not a hundred feet away. The moment she saw him she darted up the bank and disappeared among the firs.
Alan was thunderstruck. There was no room for doubt that she meant to avoid him. He walked up to the house in a tumult of mingled feelings which he did not even then understand. He only realized that he felt bitterly hurt and grieved--puzzled as well. What did it all mean?
He met Emily in the yard of Four Winds on her way to the spring and stopped her resolutely.
"Miss Oliver," he said bluntly, "is Miss Lynde angry with me? And why?"
Emily looked at him piercingly.
"Have you no idea why?" she asked shortly.
"None in the world."
She looked at him through and through a moment longer. Then, seeming satisfied with her scrutiny, she picked up her pail.
"Come down to the spring with me," she said.
As soon as they were out of sight of the house, Emily began abruptly.
"If you don't know why Lynde is acting so, I can't tell you, for I don't know either. I don't even know if she is angry. I only thought perhaps she was--that you had done or said something to vex her--plaguing her to go to church maybe. But if you didn't, it may not be anger at all. I don't understand that girl. She's been different ever since her mother died. She used to tell me everything before that. You must go and ask her right out yourself what is wrong. But maybe I can tell you something. Did you write her a letter a fortnight ago?"
"A letter? No."
"Well, she got one then. I thought it came from you--I didn't know who else would be writing to her. A boy brought it and gave it to her at the door. She's been acting strange ever since. She cries at night--something Lynde never did before except when her mother died. And in daytime she roams the shore and woods like one possessed. You must find out what was in that letter, Mr. Douglas."
"Have you any idea who the boy was?" Alan asked, feeling somewhat relieved. The mystery was clearing up, he thought. No doubt it was the old story of some cowardly anonymous letter. His thoughts flew involuntarily to Isabel King.
Emily shook her head.
"No. He was just a half-grown fellow with reddish hair and he limped a little."
"Oh, that is the postmaster's son," said Alan disappointedly. "That puts us further off the scent than ever. The letter was probably dropped in the box at the office and there will consequently be no way of tracing the writer."
"Well, I can't tell you anything more," said Emily. "You'll have to ask Lynde for the truth."
This Alan was determined to do whenever he should meet her. He did not go to the house with Emily but wandered about the shore, watching for Lynde and not seeing her. At length he went home, a prey to stormy emotions. He realized at last that he loved Lynde Oliver. He wondered how he could have been so long blind to it. He knew that he must have loved her ever since he had first seen her. The discovery amazed but did not shock him. There was no reason why he should not love her--should not woo and win her for his wife if she cared for him. She was good and sweet and true. Anything of doubt in her antecedents could not touch her. Probably the world would look upon Captain Anthony as a somewhat undesirable father-in-law for a minister, but that aspect of the question did not disturb Alan. As for the trouble of the letter, he felt sure he would easily be able to clear it away. Probably some malicious busybody had become aware of his frequent calls at Four Winds and chose to interfere in his private affairs thus. For the first time it occurred to him that there had been a certain lack of cordiality among his people of late. If it were really so, doubtless this was the reason. At any other time this would have been of moment to him. But now his thoughts were too wholly taken up with Lynde and the estrangement on her part to attach much importance to anything else. What she thought mattered incalculably more to Alan than what all the people in Rexton put together thought. He had the right, like any other man, to woo the woman of his choice and he would certainly brook no outside interference in the matter.
After a sleepless night he went back to Four Winds in the morning. Lynde would not expect him at that time and he would have more chance of finding her. The result justified his idea, for he met her by the spring.
Alan felt shocked at the change in her appearance. She looked as if years of suffering had passed over her. Her lips were pallid, and hollow circles under her eyes made them appear unnaturally large. He had last left the girl in the bloom of her youth; he found her again a woman on whom life had laid its heavy hand.
A burning flood of colour swept over her face as they met, then receded as quickly, leaving her whiter than before. Without any waste of words, Alan plunged abruptly into the subject.
"Miss Oliver, why have you avoided me so of late? Have I done anything to offend you?"
"No." She spoke as if the word hurt her, her eyes persistently cast down.
"Then what is the trouble?"
There was no answer. She gave an unvoluntary glance around as if seeking some way of escape. There was none, for the spring was set about with thick young firs and Alan blocked the only path.
He leaned forward and took her hands in his.
"Miss Oliver, you must tell me what the trouble is," he said firmly.
She pulled her hands away and flung them up to her face, her form shaken by stormy sobs. In distress he put his arm about her and drew her closer.
"Tell me, Lynde," he whispered tenderly.
She broke away from him, saying passionately, "You must not come to Four Winds any more. You must not have anything more to do with us--any of us. We have done you enough harm already. But I never thought it could hurt you--oh, I am sorry, sorry!"
"Miss Oliver, I want to see that letter you received the other evening. Oh"--as she started with surprise--"I know about it--Emily told me. Who wrote it?"
"There was no name signed to it," she faltered.
"Just as I thought. Well, you must let me see it."
"I cannot--I burned it."
"Then tell me what was in it. You must. This matter must be cleared up--I am not going to have our beautiful friendship spoiled by the malice of some coward. What did that letter say?"
"It said that everybody in your congregation was talking about your frequent visits here--that it had made a great scandal--that it was doing you a great deal of injury and would probably end in your having to leave Rexton."
"That would be a catastrophe indeed," said Alan drily. "Well, what else?"
"Nothing more--at least, nothing about you. The rest was about myself--I did not mind it--much. But I was so sorry to think that I had done you harm. It is not too late to undo it. You must not come here any more. Then they will forget."
"Perhaps--but I should not forget. It's a little too late for me. Lynde, you must not let this venomous letter come between us. I love you, dear--I've loved you ever since I met you and I want you for my wife."
Alan had not intended to say that just then, but the words came to his lips in spite of himself. She looked so sad and appealing and weary that he wanted to have the right to comfort and protect her.
She turned her eyes full upon him with no hint of maidenly shyness or shrinking in them. Instead, they were full of a blank, incredulous horror that swallowed up every other feeling. There was no mistaking their expression and it struck an icy chill to Alan's heart. He had certainly not expected a too ready response on her part--he knew that even if she cared for him he might find it a matter of time to win her avowal of it--but he certainly had not expected to see such evident abject dismay as her blanched face betrayed. She put up her hand as if warding a blow.
"Don't--don't," she gasped. "You must not say that--you must never say it. Oh, I never dreamed of this. If I had thought it possible you could--love me, I would never have been friends with you. Oh, I've made a terrible mistake."
She wrung her hands piteously together, looking like a soul in torment. Alan could not bear to see her pain.
"Don't feel such distress," he implored. "I suppose I've spoken too abruptly--but I'll be so patient, dear, if you'll only try to care for me a little. Can't you, dear?"
"I can't marry you," said Lynde desperately. She leaned against a slim white bole of a young birch behind her and looked at him wretchedly. "Won't you please go away and forget me?"
"I can't forget you," Alan said, smiling a little in spite of his suffering. "You are the only woman I can ever love--and I can't give you up unless I have to. Won't you be frank with me, dear? Do you honestly think you can never learn to love me?"
"It is not that," said Lynde in a hard, unnatural voice. "I am married already."
Alan stared at her, not in the least comprehending the meaning of her words. Everything--pain, hope, fear, passion--had slipped away from him for a moment, as if he had been stunned by a physical blow. He could not have heard aright.
"Married?" he said dully. "Lynde, you cannot mean it?"
"Yes, I do. I was married three years ago."
"Why was I not told this?" Alan's voice was stern, although he did not mean it to be so, and she shrank and shivered. Then she began in a low monotonous tone from which all feeling of any sort seemed to have utterly faded.
"Three years ago Mother was very ill--so ill that any shock would kill her, so the doctor Father brought from the lake told us. A man--a young sea captain--came here to see Father. His name was Frank Harmon and he had known Father well in the past. They had sailed together. Father seemed to be afraid of him--I had never seen him afraid of anybody before. I could not think much about anybody except Mother then, but I knew I did not quite like Captain Harmon, although he was very polite to me and I suppose might have been called handsome. One day Father came to me and told me I must marry Captain Harmon. I laughed at the idea at first but when I looked at Father's face I did not laugh. It was all white and drawn. He implored me to marry Captain Harmon. He said if I did not it would mean shame and disgrace for us all--that Captain Harmon had some hold on him and would tell what he knew if I did not marry him. I don't know what it was but it must have been something dreadful. And he said it would kill Mother. I knew it would, and that was what drove me to consent at last. Oh, I can't tell you what I suffered. I was only seventeen and there was nobody to advise me. One day Father and Captain Harmon and I went down the lake to Crosse Harbour and we were married there. As soon as the ceremony was over, Captain Harmon had to sail in his vessel. He was going to China. Father and I came back home. Nobody knew--not even Emily. He said we must not tell Mother until she was better. But she was never better. She only lived three months more--she lived them happily and at rest. When I think of that, I am not sorry for what I did. Captain Harmon said he would be back in the fall to claim me. I waited, sick at heart. But he did not come--he has never come. We have never heard a word of or about him since. Sometimes I feel sure he cannot be still living. But never a day dawns that I don't say to myself, 'Perhaps he will come today'--and, oh--"
She broke down again, sobbing bitterly. Amid all the daze of his own pain Alan realized that, at any cost, he must not make it harder for her by showing his suffering. He tried to speak calmly, wisely, as a disinterested friend.
"Could it not be discovered whether your--this man--is or is not living? Surely your father could find out."
Lynde shook her head.
"No, he says he has no way of doing so. We do not know if Captain Harmon had any relatives or even where his home was, and it was his own ship in which he sailed. Father would be glad to think that Frank Harmon was dead, but he does not think he is. He says he was always a fickle-minded fellow, one fancy driving another out of his mind. Oh, I can bear my own misery--but to think what I have brought on you! I never dreamed that you could care for me. I was so lonely and your friendship was so pleasant--can you ever forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive, as far as you are concerned, Lynde," said Alan steadily. "You have done me no wrong. I have loved you sincerely and such love can be nothing but a blessing to me. I only wish that I could help you. It wrings my heart to think of your position. But I can do nothing--nothing. I must not even come here any more. You understand that?"
There was an unconscious revelation in the girl's mournful eyes as she turned them on Alan. It thrilled him to the core of his being. She loved him. If it were not for that empty marriage form, he could win her, but the knowledge was only an added mocking torment. Alan had not known a man could endure such misery and live. A score of wild questions rushed to his lips but he crushed them back for Lynde's sake and held out his hand.
"Good-bye, dear," he said almost steadily, daring to say no more lest he should say too much.
"Good-bye," Lynde answered faintly.
When he had gone she flung herself down on the moss by the spring and lay there in an utter abandonment of misery and desolation.
Pain and indignation struggled for mastery in Alan's stormy soul as he walked homeward. So this was Captain Anthony's doings! He had sacrificed his daughter to some crime of his dubious past. Alan never dreamed of blaming Lynde for having kept her marriage a secret; he put the blame where it belonged--on the Captain's shoulders. Captain Anthony had never warned him by so much as a hint that Lynde was not free to be won. It had all probably seemed a good joke to him. Alan thought the furtive amusement he had so often detected in the Captain's eyes was explained now.
He found Elder Trewin in his study when he got home. The good Elder's face was stern and anxious; he had called on a distasteful errand--to tell the young minister of the scandal his intimacy with the Four Winds people was making in the congregation and remonstrate with him concerning it. Alan listened absently, with none of the resentment he would have felt at the interference a day previously. A man does not mind a pin-prick when a limb is being wrenched away.
"I can promise you that my objectionable calls at Four Winds will cease," he said sarcastically, when the Elder had finished. Elder Trewin got himself away, feeling snubbed but relieved.
"Took it purty quiet," he reflected. "Don't believe there was much in the yarns after all. Isabel King started them and probably she exaggerated a lot. I suppose he's had some notion like as not of bringing the Captain over to the church. But that's foolish, for he'd never manage it, and meanwhile was giving occasion for gossip. It's just as well to stop it. He's a good pastor and he works hard--too hard, mebbe. He looked real careworn and worried today."
The Rexton gossip soon ceased with the cessation of the young minister's visits to Four Winds. A month later it suffered a brief revival when a tall grim-faced old woman, whom a few recognized as Captain Anthony's housekeeper, was seen to walk down the Rexton road and enter the manse. She did not stay there long--watchers from a dozen different windows were agreed upon that--and nobody, not even Mrs. Danby, who did her best to find out, ever knew why she had called.
Emily looked at Alan with grim reproach when she was shown into his study, and as soon as they were alone she began with her usual abruptness, "Mr. Douglas, why have you given up coming to Four Winds?"
"You must ask Lynde that, Miss Oliver," he said quietly.
"I have asked her--and she says nothing."
"Then I cannot tell you."
Anger glowed in Emily's eyes.
"I thought you were a gentleman," she said bitterly. "You are not. You are breaking Lynde's heart. She's gone to a shadow of herself and she's fretting night and day. You went there and made her like you--oh, I've eyes--and then you left her."
Alan bent over his desk and looked the old woman in the face unflinchingly.
"You are mistaken, Miss Oliver," he said earnestly. "I love Lynde and would be only too happy if it were possible that I could marry her. I am not to blame for what has come about--she will tell you that herself if you ask her."
His look and tone convinced Emily.
"Who is to blame then? Lynde herself?"
"The Captain then?"
"Not in the sense you mean. I can tell you nothing more."
A baffled expression crossed the old woman's face. "There's a mystery here--there always has been--and I'm shut out of it. Lynde won't confide in me--in me who'd give my life's blood to help her. Perhaps I can help her--I could tell you something. Have you stopped coming to Four Winds--has she made you stop coming--because she's got such a wicked old scamp for a father? Is that the reason?"
Alan shook his head.
"No, that has nothing to do with it."
"And you won't come back?"
"It is not a question of will. I cannot--must not go."
"Lynde will break her heart then," said Emily in a tone of despair.
"I think not. She is too strong and fine for that. Help her all you can with sympathy but don't torment her with any questions. You may tell her if you like that I advise her to confide the whole story to you, but if she cannot don't tease her to. Be very gentle with her."
"You don't need to tell me that. I'd rather die than hurt her. I came here full of anger against you--but I see now you are not to blame. You are suffering too--your face tells that. All the same, I wish you'd never set foot in Four Winds. She wasn't happy before but she wasn't so miserable as she is now. Oh, I know Anthony is at the bottom of it all in some way but I won't ask you any more questions since you don't feel free to answer them. But are you sure that nothing can be done to clear up the trouble?"
"Too sure," said Alan's white lips.
* * * * *
The autumn dragged away. Alan found out how much a man may suffer and yet go on living and working. As for that, his work was all that made life possible for him now and he flung himself into it with feverish energy, growing so thin and hollow-eyed over it that even Elder Trewin remonstrated and suggested a vacation--a suggestion at which Alan merely smiled. A vacation which would take him away from Lynde's neighbourhood--the thought was not to be entertained.
He never saw Lynde, for he never went to any part of the shore now; yet he hungered constantly for the sight of her, the sound of her voice, the glance of her luminous eyes. When he pictured her eating her heart out in the solitude of Four Winds, he clenched his hands in despair. As for the possibility of Harmon's return, Alan could never face it for a moment. When it thrust its ugly presence into his thoughts, he put it away desperately. The man was dead--or his fickle fancy had veered elsewhere. Nothing else could explain his absence. But they could never know, and the uncertainty would forever stand between him and Lynde like a spectre. But he thought more of Lynde's pain than his own. He would have elected to bear any suffering if by so doing he could have freed her from the nightmare dread of Harmon's returning to claim her. That dread had always hung over her and now it must be intensified to agony by her love for another man. And he could do nothing--nothing. He groaned aloud in his helplessness.
One evening in late November Alan flung aside his pen and yielded to the impulse that urged him to the lake shore. He did not mean to seek Lynde--he would go to a part of the shore where there would be no likelihood of meeting her. But get away by himself he must. A November storm was raging and there would be a certain satisfaction in breasting its buffets and fighting his way through it. Besides, he knew that Isabel King was in the house and he dreaded meeting her. Since his conviction that she had written that letter to Lynde, he could not tolerate the girl and it tasked his self-control to keep from showing his contempt openly. Perhaps Isabel felt it beneath all his outward courtesy. At least she did not seek his society as she had formerly done.
It was the second day of the storm; a wild northeast gale was blowing and cold rain and freezing sleet fell in frequent showers. Alan shivered as he came out into its full fury on the lake shore. At first he could not see the water through the driving mist. Then it cleared away for a moment and he stopped short, aghast at the sight which met his eyes.
Opposite him was a long low island known as Philip's Point, dwindling down at its northeastern side to two long narrow bars of quicksand. Alan's horrified eyes saw a small schooner sunk between the bars; her hull was entirely under water and in the rigging clung one solitary figure. So much he saw before the Point was blotted out in a renewed downpour of sleet.
Without a moment's hesitation Alan turned and ran for Four Winds, which was only about a quarter of a mile away around a headland. With the Captain's assistance, something might be done. Other help could not be obtained before darkness would fall and then it would be impossible to do anything. He dashed up the steps of Four Winds and met Emily, who had flung the door open. Behind her was Lynde's pale face with its alarmed questioning eyes.
"Where is the Captain?" gasped Alan. "There's a vessel on Philip's Point and one man at least on her."
"The Captain's away on a cruise," said Emily blankly. "He went three days ago."
"Then nothing can be done," said Alan despairingly. "It will be dark long before I can get to the village."
Lynde stepped out, tying a shawl around her head.
"Let us go around to the Point," she said. "Have you matches? No? Emily, get some. We must light a bonfire at least. And bring Father's glass."
"It is not a fit night for you to be out," said Alan anxiously. "You are sheltered here--you don't feel it--but it's a fearful storm down there."
"I am not afraid of the storm. It will not hurt me. Let us hurry. It is growing dark already."
In silence they breasted their way to the shore and around the headland. Arriving opposite Philip's Point, a lull in the sleet permitted them to see the sunken schooner and the clinging figure. Lynde waved her hand to him and they saw him wave back.
"It won't be necessary to light a fire now that he has seen us," said Lynde. "Nothing can be done with village help till morning and that man can never cling there so long. He will freeze to death, for it is growing colder every minute. His only chance is to swim ashore if he can swim. The danger will be when he comes near shore; the undertow of the backwater on the quicksand will sweep him away and in his probably exhausted condition he may not be able to make head against it."
"He knows that, doubtless, and that is why he hasn't attempted to swim ashore before this," said Alan. "But I'll meet him in the backwater and drag him in."
"You--you'll risk your own life," cried Lynde.
"There is a little risk certainly, but I don't think there is a great one. Anyhow, the attempt must be made," said Alan quietly.
Suddenly Lynde's composure forsook her. She wrung her hands.
"I can't let you do it," she cried wildly. "You might be drowned--there's every risk. You don't know the force of that backwater. Alan, Alan, don't think of it."
She caught his arm in her white wet hands and looked into his face with passionate pleading.
Emily, who had said nothing, now spoke harshly.
"Lynde is right, Mr. Douglas. You have no right to risk your life for a stranger. My advice is to go to the village for help, and Lynde and I will make a fire and watch here. That is all that can be expected of you or us."
Alan paid no heed to Emily. Very tenderly he loosened Lynde's hold on his arm and looked into her quivering face.
"You know it is my duty, Lynde," he said gently. "If anything can be done for that poor man, I am the only one who can do it. I will come back safe, please God. Be brave, dear."
Lynde, with a little moan of resignation, turned away. Old Emily looked on with a face of grim disapproval as Alan waded out into the surf that boiled and swirled around him in a mad whirl of foam. The shower of sleet had again slackened, and the wreck half a mile away, with its solitary figure, was dearly visible. Alan beckoned to the man to jump overboard and swim ashore, enforcing his appeal by gestures that commanded haste before the next shower should come. For a few moments it seemed as if the seaman did not understand or lacked the courage or power to obey. The next minute he had dropped from the rigging on the crest of a mighty wave and was being borne onward to the shore.
Speedily the backwater was reached and the man, sucked down by the swirl of the wave, threw up his arms and disappeared. Alan dashed in, groping, swimming; it seemed an eternity before his hand clutched the drowning man and wrenched him from the undertow. And, with the seaman in his arms, he staggered back through the foam and dropped his burden on the sand at Lynde's feet. Alan was reeling from exhaustion and chilled to the marrow, but he thought only of the man he had rescued. The latter was unconscious and, as Alan bent over him, he heard Lynde give a choking little cry.
"He is living still," said Alan. "We must get him up to the house as soon as possible. How shall we manage it?"
"Lynde and I can go and bring the Captain's mattress down," said Emily. Now that Alan was safe she was eager to do all she could. "Then you and I can carry him up to the house."
"That will be best," said Alan. "Go quickly."
He did not look at Lynde or he would have been shocked by the agony on her face. She cast one glance at the prostrate man and followed Emily. In a short time they returned with the mattress, and Alan and Emily carried the sailor on it to Four Winds. Lynde walked behind them, seemingly unconscious of both. She watched the stranger's face as one fascinated.
At Four Winds they carried the man to a room where Emily and Alan worked over him, while Lynde heated water and hunted out stimulants in a mechanical fashion. When Alan came down she asked no questions but looked at him with the same strained horror on her face which it had borne ever since Alan had dropped his burden at her feet.
"Is he--conscious?" asked Lynde, as if she forced herself to ask the question.
"Yes, he has come back to life. But he is delirious and doesn't realize his surroundings at all. He thinks he is still on board the vessel. He'll probably come round all right. Emily is going to watch him and I'll go up to Rexton and send Dr. Ames down."
"Do you know who that man you have saved is?" asked Lynde.
"No. I asked him his name but could not get any sensible answer."
"I can tell you who he is--he is Frank Harmon."
Alan stared at her. "Frank Harmon. Your--your--the man you married? Impossible!"
"It is he. Do you think I could be mistaken?"
* * * * *
Dr. Ames came to Four Winds that night and again the next day. He found Harmon delirious in a high fever.
"It will be several days before he comes to his senses," he said. "Shall I send you help to nurse him?"
"It isn't necessary," said Emily stiffly. "I can look after him--and the Captain ought to be back tomorrow."
"You've no idea who he is, I suppose?" asked the doctor.
"No." Emily was quite sincere. Lynde had not told her, and Emily did not recognize him.
"Well, Mr. Douglas did a brave thing in rescuing him," said Dr. Ames. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Harmon remained delirious for a week. Alan went every day to Four Winds, his interest in a man he had rescued explaining his visits to the Rexton people. The Captain had returned and, though not absolutely uncivil, was taciturn and moody. Alan reflected grimly that Captain Anthony probably owed him a grudge for saving Harmon's life. He never saw Lynde alone, but her strained, tortured face made his heart ache. Old Emily only seemed her natural self. She waited on Harmon and Dr. Ames considered her a paragon of a nurse. Alan thought it was well that Emily knew nothing more of Harmon than that he was an old friend of Captain Anthony's. He felt sure that she would have walked out of the sick room and never reentered it had she guessed that the patient was the man whom, above all others, Lynde dreaded and feared.
One afternoon when Alan went to Four Winds Emily met him at the door.
"He's better," she announced. "He had a good sleep this afternoon and when he woke he was quite himself. You'd better go up and see him. I told him all I could but he wants to see you. Anthony and Lynde are away to Crosse Harbour. Go up and talk to him."
Harmon turned his head as the minister approached and held out his hand with a smile.
"You're the preacher, I reckon. They tell me you were the man who pulled me out of that hurly-burly. I wasn't hardly worth saving but I'm as grateful to you as if I was."
"I only--did--what any man would have done," said Alan, taking the offered hand.
"I don't know about that. Anyhow, it's not every man could have done it. I'd been hanging in that rigging all day and most of the night before. There were five more of us but they dropped off. I knew it was no use to try to swim ashore alone--the backwater would be too much for me. I must have been a lot of trouble. That old woman says I've been raving for a week. And, by the way I feel, I fancy I'll be stretched out here another week before I'll be able to use my pins. Who are these Olivers anyhow? The old woman wouldn't talk about the family."
"Don't you know them?" asked Alan in astonishment. "Isn't your name Harmon?"
"That's right--Harmon--Alfred Harmon, first mate of the schooner, Annie M."
"Alfred! I thought your name was Frank!"
"Frank was my twin brother. We were so much alike our own mammy couldn't tell us apart. Did you know Frank?"
"No. This family did. Miss Oliver thought you were Frank when she saw you."
"I don't feel much like myself but I'm not Frank anyway. He's dead, poor chap--got shot in a spat with Chinese pirates three years ago."
"Dead! Man, are you speaking the truth? Are you certain?"
"Pop sure. His mate told me the whole story. Say, preacher, what's the matter? You look as if you were going to keel over."
Alan hastily drank a glass of water.
"I--I am all right now. I haven't been feeling well of late."
"Guess you didn't do yourself any good going out into that freezing water and dragging me in."
"I shall thank God every day of my life that I did do it," said Alan gravely, new light in his eyes, as Emily entered the room. "Miss Oliver, when will the Captain and Lynde be back?"
"They said they would be home by four."
She looked at Alan curiously.
"I will go and meet her," he said quickly.
He came upon Lynde, sitting on a grey boulder under the shadow of an overhanging fir coppice, with her dogs beside her.
She turned her head indifferently as Alan's footsteps sounded on the pebbles, and then stood slowly up.
"Are you looking for me?" she asked.
"I have some news for you, Lynde," Alan said.
"Has he--has he come to himself?" she whispered.
"Yes, he has come to himself. Lynde, he is not Frank Harmon--he is his twin brother. He says Frank Harmon was killed three years ago in the China seas."
For a moment Lynde's great grey eyes stared into Alan's, questioning. Then, as the truth seized on her comprehension, she sat down on the boulder and put her hands over her face without a word. Alan walked down to the water's edge to give her time to recover herself. When he came back he took her hands and said quietly, "Lynde, do you realize what this means for us--for us? You are free--free to love me--to be my wife."
Lynde shook her head.
"Oh, that can't be. I am not fit to be your wife."
"Don't talk nonsense, dear," he smiled.
"It isn't nonsense. You are a minister and it would ruin you to marry a girl like me. Think what the Rexton people would say of it."
"Rexton isn't the world, dearest. Last week I had a letter from home asking me to go to a church there. I did not think of accepting then--now I will go--we will both go--and a new life will begin for you, clear of the shadows of the old."
"That isn't possible. No, Alan, listen--I love you too well to do you the wrong of marrying you. It would injure you. There is Father. I love him and he has always been very kind to me. But--but--there's something wrong--you know it--some crime in his past--"
"The only man who knew that is dead."
"We do not know that he was the only man. I am the daughter of a criminal and I am no fit wife for Alan Douglas. No, Alan, don't plead, please. I won't think differently--I never can."
There was a ring of finality in her tone that struck dismay to Alan's heart. He prepared to entreat and argue, but before he could utter a word, the boughs behind them parted and Captain Anthony stepped down from the bank.
"I've been listening," he announced coolly, "and I think it high time I took a share in the conversation. You seem to have run up against a snag, Mr. Douglas. You say Frank Harmon is dead. That's good riddance if it's true. Is it true?"
"His brother declares it is."
"Well, then, I'll help you all I can. I like you, Mr. Douglas, and I happen to be fond of Lynde, too--though you mayn't believe it. I'm fond of her for her mother's sake and I'd like to see her happy. I didn't want to give her to Harmon that time three years ago but I couldn't help myself. He had the upper hand, curse him. It wasn't for my own sake, though--it was for my wife's. However, that's all over and done with and I'll do the best I can to atone for it. So you won't marry your minister because your father was not a good man, Lynde? Well, I don't suppose he was a very good man--a man who makes his wife's life a hell, even in a refined way, isn't exactly a saint, to my way of thinking. But that's the worst that could be said of him and it doesn't entail any indelible disgrace on his family, I suppose. I am not your father, Lynde."
"Not my father?" Lynde echoed the words blankly.
"No. Your father was your mother's first husband. She never told you of him. When I said he made her life a hell, I said the truth, no more, no less. I had loved your mother ever since I was a boy, Lynde. But she was far above me in station and I never dreamed it was possible to win her love. She married James Ashley. He was a gentleman, so called--and he didn't kick or beat her. Oh no, he just tormented her refined womanhood to the verge of frenzy, that was all. He died when you were a baby. And a year later I found out your mother could love me, rough sailor and all as I was. I married her and brought her here. We had fifteen years of happiness together. I'm not a good man--but I made your mother happy in spite of her wrecked health and her dark memories. It was her wish that you should be known as my daughter, but under the present circumstances I know she would wish that you should be told the truth. Marry your man, Lynde, and go away with him. Emily will go with you if you like. I'm going back to the sea. I've been hankering for it ever since your mother died. I'll go out of your life. There, don't cry--I hate to see a woman cry. Mr. Douglas, I'll leave you to dry her tears and I'll go up to the house and have a talk with Harmon."
When Captain Anthony had disappeared behind the Point, Alan turned to Lynde. She was sobbing softly and her face was wet with tears. Alan drew her head down on his shoulder.
"Sweetheart, the dark past is all put by. Our future begins with promise. All is well with us, dear Lynde."
Like a child, she put her arms about his neck and their lips met.