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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Rise of Roscoe Paine By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 38272

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

So she was his daughter. I might have guessed it; would have guessed it if I had possessed the commonest of common-sense. I might have known that the auto was Colton's. No other machine was likely to be traveling on the Lower Road at that season of the year. She was the pretty daughter of whom Dorinda had spoken to Mother. Well, she was pretty enough; even I had to admit that. But I admitted it grudgingly. I hated her for her beauty and fine clothes and haughty arrogance. She was the incarnation of snobbishness.

But to be made twice ridiculous even by the incarnation of snobbishness was galling. She was to be my next-door neighbor; we were likely to meet almost anywhere at any time. When I thought of this and of the two meetings which had already taken place I swore at the blue and white water-pitcher on my bureau because it did not contain water enough to drown me. Not that I would commit suicide on her account. She would not care if I did and certainly I did not care whether she would care or not; but if I were satisfactorily dead I probably should not remember what a fool I had made of myself, or Fate had made of me.

Why had I not got out of that library before she came? Oh, if not, why hadn't I stayed and told her father, in her hearing, and with dignity, just what I thought of him and his remarks to me? But no; I had run away. She-or that Victor-would tell of the meeting at the bridge, and all my independence and the rest of it would be regarded as of a piece with that, just the big-headed "smartness" of a country boor. In their eyes I was a nuisance, that was all. A disagreeable one, perhaps, like the Shore Lane, but a nuisance, one to laugh at and forget-if it could not be gotten rid of.

Why had I gone with Colton at all? Why hadn't I remained at the boathouse and there told the King of New York to go to the mischief? or words to that effect. But I had, at all events, told him that. In spite of my chagrin I could not help chuckling as I thought of it. To tell Big Jim Colton to go to the devil was, in its way, I imagined, a privilege enjoyed by few. It must have shaken his self-satisfaction a trifle. Well, after all, what did I care? He, and his whole family-including Victor-had my permission to migrate in that direction and I wished Old Nick joy of their company.

Having derived this much satisfaction from my reflections, I went downstairs. Dorinda was setting the table for supper. She looked at me as I came in.

"Been visitin', I hear," she observed, wiping an imaginary speck from the corner of a plate with her "afternoon" apron.

"Yes," said I.

"Um-hm," said Dorinda. "Have a good time?"

I smiled. "I had an interesting one," I told her.

"Um-hm, I judged so, from what Lute said."

"Where is Lute?"

"Out in the barn, beddin' down the horse. That is, I told him to do that, but his head was so full of you and what you told him you said to Mr. Colton that I shouldn't be surprised if he's bedded down the hens and was huntin' in the manger for eggs."

"Lute thinks I've gone crazy," I observed.

"Um-hm. He was all for fetchin' the doctor right off, but I told him I cal'lated we could bear with your ravin's for a spell. Did you say what he said you said?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"Um-hm. Well, it didn't do any good, did it?"

"Good? What do you mean?"

"I mean he didn't obey orders-Colton, that is."

"He hadn't when I left."

"I thought not. I never saw any good come from profane language yet; and, besides, judgin' from what I hear about the way that Colton man lives, and what he does on Sundays and all, he'll make the port you sent him to when his time comes. All you need is patience."

I laughed, and she began sorting the plated spoons. We had silver ones, but Dorinda insisted on keeping those to use when we had company. In consequence we used them about twice a year, when the minister came.

"Of course," she said, "I ain't askin' you what happened over there or why he wanted to see you. But I give you fair warnin' that, if I don't, Lute will. Lute's so stuffed with curiosity that he's li'ble to bust the stitches any minute."

"I'll tell you both, at supper," I said.

"Um-hm," said Dorinda. "Well, I can wait, and Lute'll have to. By the way," she added, seeing me about to enter Mother's room, "if it's anything too unpleasant I wouldn't worry Comfort with it. She'll want to know, of course, but I'd sort of smooth the edges."

Mother did want to know, and I told her, "smoothing the edges" all I could. I omitted my final order to "Big Jim" and I said nothing whatever about his daughter. Mother seemed to think I had done right in refusing to sell, though, as usual, she was ready to make allowances for the other side.

"Poor woman," she said, "I suppose the noise of the wagons and all that are annoying to any one with weak nerves. It must be dreadful to be in that condition. I am so sorry for her."

She meant it, too. But I, remembering the Colton mansion, what I had seen of it, and contrasting its splendor with the bare necessity of that darkened bedroom, found it hard to spare pity for the sufferer from "nerves."

"You needn't be," I said, bitterly. "I imagine she wouldn't think of you, if the conditions were reversed. I doubt if she thinks of any one but herself."

"You shouldn't say that, Roscoe. You don't know. You have never met her."

"I have met the rest of the family. No, Mother, I think you needn't be sorry for that woman. She has everything under the sun. Whereas you-"

"Hush! hush! There is one thing she hasn't got. She hasn't a son like you, Boy."

"Humph! That must be a terrible deprivation. There! there! Mother, I won't be disagreeable. Let's change the subject. Did Matilda Dean come to see you this afternoon?"

"No. I presume she was too busy. But, Roscoe, it is plain enough why Captain Dean spoke to you about the Lane at the office this morning. He must have heard, somehow, that Mr. Colton wished to buy it."

"Yes. Or, if he didn't hear just that, he heard enough to make him guess the rest. He is pretty shrewd."

"You promised him you wouldn't sell without telling him beforehand. Shall you tell him of Mr. Colton's offer?"

"If he asks me, I shall, I suppose."

"I wonder what he will do then. Do you suppose he will try to persuade the Selectmen to buy the Lane for the town?"

"I don't know. I shouldn't wonder."

"It will be harder to refuse the town's offer."

"Yes. Although the town can't afford to pay Colton's prices. I believe that man would have raised his bid to a thousand, if I had let him. As a matter of business and nothing else, I suppose I am foolish not to push the price as high as possible and then sell. The land is worthless to us."

"I know. But this isn't just a matter of business, is it? And we DON'T need the money. We're not rich, but we aren't poor, are we, Boy."

"No. No, of course not. But, Mother, just see what I could do-for you-with a thousand dollars. Why, there are so many little things, little luxuries, that you need."

"I had rather not get them that way. No, Roscoe, I wouldn't sell to Mr. Colton. And I think I wouldn't sell to the town either."

"Why not?"

"Well, because we don't have to sell, and selling to either party would make ill-feeling. I should-of course I'm only a woman; you are a man and know much more about such things than I-but why not let matters stay just as they are? The townspeople can use the Lane, just as they have always done, and, as I told you before, every one has been so kind to us that I like to feel we are doing a little in return. Let them use the Lane, without cost. Why not?"

"What do you think the Coltons would say to that?"

"Perhaps they don't understand the real situation. The next time you see Mr. Colton you could explain more fully; tell him what the Lane means to the town, and so on. I'm sure he would understand, if you told him that. And then, if the sight of the wagons was too annoying, he could put up some kind of a screen, or plant a row of fir trees by the fence. Don't you think so?"

I imagined the great man's reply to such a suggestion. However, I did not express my thoughts. I told Mother not to worry, I was sure everything would be all right, and, as Dorinda called me to supper, I went into the dining-room.

Lute was waiting for me at the table, and Dorinda, after taking the tray into Mother's room, joined us. Lute was so full of excitement and curiosity that he almost forgot to eat, a miracle of itself and made greater by the fact that he did not ask a single question until his wife asked one first. Then he asked three in succession. Dorinda, who was quite as curious as he but would not have shown it for the world, stopped him at the beginning of the fourth.

"There! there!" she said, sharply, "this is supposed to be a meal, not a parrot shop, and we're humans, not a passel of birds on a telegraph wire all hollerin' at once. Drink your tea and stop your cawin', Lute Rogers. Ros'll tell us when he gets ready. What DID Mr. Colton want of you, Roscoe?"

I told them as much of the interview at the Coltons' as I thought necessary they should know. Lute kept remarkably quiet, for him, until I named the figure offered by the millionaire. Then he could hold in no longer.

"Five hundred!" he repeated "Five hundred DOLLARS for the Shore Lane! Five-"

"He raised it to six hundred and fifty before I left," I said.

"SIX hundred! Six hundred-and FIFTY! For the Shore Lane! Six hun-"

"Sshh! shh!" cut in Dorinda. "You sound like Sim Eldredge sellin' somethin' at auction. DO be quiet! And you told him, Roscoe-?"

"I told you what I told him," I said.

"Um-hm. I ain't forgot it. Be quiet, Lute. Well, Roscoe, I cal'late you know your own affairs best, but, judgin' from some hints Matildy Dean hove out when she was here this afternoon, I don't believe you've heard the last from that Shore Lane."

"Matilda Dean!" I repeated. "Why, Mother said Matilda wasn't here to-day."

"Um-hm. Well, she was here, though Comfort didn't know it. I took pains she shouldn't. Matildy come about three o'clock, in the buggy, along with Nellie. Nellie was doin' the drivin', of course, and her mother was tellin' her how, as usual. I don't wonder that girl is such a meek, soft-spoken kind of thing. Between her pa's bullyin' and her ma's tongue, it's a wonder she's got any spirit left. It would be a mercy if George Taylor should marry her and take her out of that house. Matildy had a new book on Spiritu'lism and she was figgerin' to read some of it out loud to Comfort, but I headed her off. I know I wouldn't want to be all stirred up about 'tests' and 'materializations' and such, and so I told her Comfort was asleep."

"She wasn't asleep, neither," declared Lute. "What did you tell such a whopper as that for? You're always sailin' into me if I stretch a yarn the least mite. Why, last April Fool Day you give me Hail Columby for jokin' you about a mouse under the kitchen table. Called me all kinds of names, you did-after you got down off the table."

His wife regarded him scornfully. "It's pretty hard to remember which IS that partic'lar day with you around," she said. "I'd told Comfort she'd ought to take a nap and if she wan't takin' it 'twan't my fault. I wan't goin' to have her seein' her granddad's ghost in every corner. But, anyhow, Matildy made a little call on me, and, amongst the million other things she said, was somethin' about Cap'n Jed hearin' that Mr. Colton was cal'latin' to shut off that Lane. Matildy hinted that her husband and the Selectmen might have a little to say afore 'twas closed. If that's so I guess you may hear from him as well as the Colton man, Roscoe."

"Perhaps," I said. I could see no use in repeating my conversation with Captain Jed.

Dorinda nodded.

"Goin' to tell the town to go-where you sent the other one?" she asked, dryly.

"I don't know."

"Humph! Well," with some sarcasm, "it must be fine to be in a position where money's no object. I never tried it, myself, but it sounds good."

I did not answer.

"Um-hm," she said. "Well, anyhow it looks to me-Lute, you keep still-as if there was goin' to be two parties in Denboro afore this Lane business is over. One for the Coltons and one against 'em. You'll have to take one side or the other, won't you, Roscoe?"

"Not necessarily."

"Goin' to set on the fence, hey?"

"That's a good place TO sit, isn't it?"

Dorinda smiled, grimly.

"If it's the right kind of a fence, maybe 'tis," she observed. "Otherwise the pickets are liable to make you uncomf'table after a spell, I presume likely."

I went out soon after this, for my evening smoke and walk by the bluff. As I left the dining-room I heard Lute reiterating his belief that I had gone crazy. Colton had said the same thing. I wondered what Captain Jed's opinion would be.

Whether it was another phase of my insanity or not, I don't know, but I woke the next morning in pretty good spirits. Remembrance of the previous day's humiliations troubled me surprisingly little. They did not seem nearly so great in the retrospect. What difference did it make to me what that crowd of snobs did or said or thought?

However, there was just enough bitterness in my morning's review of yesterday's happenings to make me a little more careful in my dress. I did not expect to meet my aristocratic neighbors-I devoutly wished it might be my good luck never to meet any of them again-but in making selections from my limited wardrobe I chose with more thought than usual. Dorinda noticed the result when I came down to breakfast.

"Got your other suit on, ain't you," she observed.

"Yes," said I.

"Goin' anywheres special?"

"No. Down to the boathouse, that's all."

"Humph! I don't see what you put those blue pants on for. They're awful things to show water spots. Did you leave your brown ones upstairs? Um-hm. Well, I'll get at 'em some time to-day. I noticed they was wearin' a little, sort of, on the bottoms of the legs."

I had noticed it, too, and this reminder confirmed my suspicions that others had made the same observations.

"I'll try and mend 'em this afternoon," went on Dorinda, "if I can find time. But, for mercy's sake, don't spot those all up, for I may not get time, and then you'd have to wear your Sunday ones."

I promised, curtly, to be careful, and, after saying good morning to Mother, I went down to the boathouse and set to work on the engine. It was the only thing in the nature of work that I had to do, but, somehow or other, I did not feel like doing it any more than I had the day before. A little of my good spirits were wearing off, like the legs of my "other" trousers, and after an hour of intermittent tinkering I threw down the wrench and decided to go for a row. The sun was shining brightly, but the breeze was fresh, and, as my skiff was low in the gunwale and there was likely to be some water flying, I put on an old oilskin "slicker" and sou-wester before starting.

I had determined to row across the bay over to the lighthouse, and ask Ben Small, the keeper, if there were any signs of fish alongshore. The pull was a long one, but I enjoyed every stroke of it. The tide was almost full, just beginning to ebb, so there was scarcely any current and I could make a straight cut across, instead of following the tortuous channel. My skiff was a flat bottomed affair, drawing very little, but in Denboro bay, at low tide, even a flat-bottomed skiff has to beware of sand and eel-grass.

Small was busy whitewashing, but he was glad to see me. If you keep a lighthouse, the average lighthouse, you are glad to see anybody. He put his brush into the pail and insisted on my coming to the house, because "the old woman," his wife, would want to hear "all the sewin' circle news." "It's the biggest hardship of her life," said Ben, "that she has to miss sewin' circle when the bay ices in. Soon's it clears she's at me to row her acrost to the meetin's. I've took her to two this spring, but she missed the last one, on account of this whitewashin', and she's crazy to know who's been talked about now. If anything disgraceful has happened for the land sakes tell her; then she'll he more reconciled."

I had nothing disgraceful to tell, but Mrs. Small was glad to see me, nevertheless. She brought out doughnuts and beach-plum jelly and insisted on my sampling both, the doughnuts because they were just made and she "mistrusted" there was too much flour in them, and the jelly because it was some she had left over and she wanted to see if I thought it was "keepin'" all right. After this, Ben took me out to see his hens, and then we walked to the back of the beach and talked fish. The forenoon was almost gone when I got back to the skiff. The tide had ebbed so far that the lightkeeper and I had to pull the little boat twenty feet to launch her.

"There!" said Ben, "now you're afloat, ain't you. Cal'late you'll have to go way 'round Robin Hood's barn to keep off the flats. I forgot about the tide or I wouldn't have talked so much. Hello! there's another craft about your size off yonder. Somebody else out rowin'. Two somebodys. My eyes ain't as good for pickin' em out as they used to be, but one of 'em IS a female, ain't it?"

I looked over my shoulder, as I sat in the skiff and saw, out in the middle of the bay, another rowboat with two people in it.

"That ain't a dory or a skiff," shouted Ben, raising his voice as I pulled away from him. "Way she sets out of water I'd call her a lap-streak dingy. If that feller's takin' his girl out rowin' he'll have to work his passage home against this tide . . . Well, so long, Ros. Come again."

I nodded a goodby, and settled down for my long row, a good deal longer this time on account of the ebb. There was water enough on this side of the bay, but on the village side the channel made a wide detour and I should be obliged to follow it for nearly a mile up the bay, before turning in behind the long sand bar which made out from the point beyond my boathouse.

The breeze had gone down, which made rowing easier, but the pull of the tide more than offset this advantage. However, I had mastered that tide many times before and, except that the delay might make me late for dinner, the prospect did not trouble me. I swung into the channel and set the skiff's bow against the current. Then from the beach I had just left I heard a faint hail. Turning my head, I saw Ben Small waving his arms. He was shouting something, too, but I was too far away to catch the words.

The lightkeeper continued to shout and wave. I lifted an oar to show that he had my attention. He recognized the signal, and began pointing out over the water astern of me. I looked where he was pointing. I could not see anything out of the ordinary. Except for my own skiff and the gulls, and the row boat with the two persons in it there was nothing astir on the bay. But Ben kept on waving and pointing. At last I decided that it must be the row boat he was pointing a

t. I stopped rowing and looked.

The row boat was a good distance off and its occupants were but specks. Now one of the specks stood up and waved its arms. So far as I could see, the boat was drifting; there were no flashes of sunlight on wet blades to show that the oars were in use. No, it was drifting, and, as I looked, it swung broadside on. The standing figure continued to wave its arms.

Those people must be in trouble of some sort, I decided, and it was evident that Small thought so, too. There could no imminent danger threaten for, on a day like this, with no sea running, there was nothing to fear in the bay. If, however, they should drift out of the bay it might be unpleasant. And they certainly were drifting. I resigned myself to the indefinite postponement of my dinner, swung the skiff about, and pulled as hard as I could in the direction of the row boat.

With the tide to help me I made good progress, but, even at that, it took me some time to overtake the drifting craft. She was, as Ben had said, a lap-streaked, keel-bottomed dingy-good enough as a yacht's tender or in deep water, but the worst boat in the world to row about Denboro bay at low tide. Her high rail caught what breeze there was blowing and this helped to push her along. However, I got within easy hailing distance after a while and called, over my shoulder, to ask what was the matter.

A man's voice answered me.

"We've lost an oar," he shouted. "We're drifting out to sea. Lend us a hand, will you?"

"All right," I answered. "I'll be there in a minute."

Within the minute I was almost alongside. Then I turned, intending to speak again; but I did not. The two persons in the dingy were Victor-I did not know his other name-and Mabel Colton.

I was wearing the oilskin slicker and had pulled down the brim of my sou'wester to keep the sun from my eyes; therefore they had not recognized me before. And I, busy at the oars and looking over my shoulder only occasionally, had not recognized them. Now the recognition was mutual. Miss Colton spoke first.

"Why, Victor!" she said, "it is-"

"What?" asked her companion. Then, looking at me, "Oh! it's you, is it?"

I did not answer. Luck was certainly against me. No matter where I went, on land or water, I was fated to meet these two.

Victor, apparently, was thinking the same thing. "By Jove!" he observed; "Mabel, we seem destined to . . . Humph! Well? Will you give us a hand?"

The most provoking part of it was that, if I had known who was in that rowboat, I could have avoided the encounter. Ben Small could have gone to their rescue just as well as I. However, here I was, and here they were. And I could not very well go away and leave them, under the circumstances.

Victor's patience was giving way.

"What are you waiting for?" he demanded. "Aren't you going to help us? We'll pay you for it."

I pulled the skiff a little closer and, drawing in my oars, turned and picked up the slack of my anchor rope.

"Here," I said, brusquely; "catch this line and I'll tow you."

I tossed him the loop of rope and he caught it.

"What shall I do with it?" he asked.

"Hold it, just as it is, for the present. What became of your other oar?"

"Lost it overboard."

"Why didn't you throw over your anchor and wait where you were?"

I think he had not thought of the anchor, but he did not deign to explain. Instead he began pulling on the rope and the two boats drew together.

"Don't do that," I said. "Wait."

I untied the rope, where it was made fast to the skiff's bow, and with it and the anchor in my hands, scrambled aft and wedged the anchor under the stern thwart of the little craft.

"Now," I said, "you can pull in the slack until you get to the end. Then make it fast to your bow somewhere."

I suppose he did his best to follow instructions, but the rope was a short one, the end jerked loose suddenly and he went backward in a heap. I thought, for an instant, that he was going overboard and that mine would be the mixed pleasure of fishing him out.

Miss Colton gave a little scream, which changed to a ripple of laughter. I might have laughed, too, under different circumstances, but just now I did not feel like it. Besides, the rope, having flown out of his hands, was in the water again and the two boats were drifting apart.

"What did you do that for?" demanded the fallen one, scrambling to his knees. I heard a sound from the dingy's stern as if the young lady was trying to stifle her merriment. Victor, doubtless, heard it, too.

"Where are you going?" he sputtered, angrily. "Give me that rope."

I gave it to him, literally gave it, for I pulled alongside and put the end in his hands.

"Tie it in the bow of your boat," I said. He did so. I drew in the slack until a fair towing length remained and made it fast. While he was busy I ventured to glance at Miss Colton. Her eyes were snapping with fun and she seemed to be enjoying the situation. But, catching my look, her expression changed. She turned away and looked indifferently out to sea.

I swung the skiff's bow around.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked.

Victor answered. "Back to Mr. Colton's landing," he said. "Get as much of a move on as you can, will you? I'll make it worth your while."

I was as anxious to get there as he was. I did not care for a quarrel, and I knew if he continued to use that tone in his remarks to me I should answer as I felt. I pulled with all my strength, but against the tide towing was hard work.

Victor sat on the amidships thwart of the dingy, with his back to me. But Miss Colton, seated in the stern, was facing me and I could not help looking at her. She did not look at me, or, if she did, it was as if I were merely a part of the view; nothing to be interested in, one way or the other.

She was beautiful; there was no doubt of that. Prettier even, in the blue and white boating costume and rough-and-ready white felt hat, than she had seemed when I saw her in the auto or her father's library. She represented the world that I had lost. I had known girls like her. They had not as much money as she, perhaps, but they were just as well-bred and refined, and almost as pretty. I had associated with them as an equal. I wondered what she would say, or think, if she knew that. Nothing, probably; she would not care enough to think at all. It did not matter to me what she thought; but I did wish I had not put on those fool oilskins. I must look more like a country longshoreman than ever.

If I had any doubts about it they were dispelled when I had rowed the two boats up the bay until we were abreast the Colton mansion. Then Victor, who had been talking in a low tone with his fellow passenger in the dingy, looked at the distant shore and, over his shoulder, at me.

"Here!" he shouted. "Where are you going? That's the landing over there."

"I know," I answered. "But we shall have to go around that flat. We can't cross here."

"Why? What's the reason we can't?"

"Because there isn't water enough. We should get aground."

He stood up to look.

"Nonsense!" he said. "There's plenty of water. I can't see any flat, or whatever you call it."

"It's there, though you can't see it. It is covered with eelgrass and doesn't show. We shall have to go a half mile further before we turn in."

"A half mile! Why, confound it! it's past one o'clock now. We haven't any time to waste."

"I'm sorry, but we can't cross yet. And, if I were you, I shouldn't stand up in that boat."

He paid no attention to this suggestion.

"There are half a dozen boats, bigger than these, by the landing," he declared. "There is water enough for them. What are you afraid of? We haven't any time to waste, I tell you."

I did not answer. Silence, on my part, was the safest thing just then. I continued rowing up the bay.

Miss Colton spoke to him and he sat down, a proceeding for which I was thankful. They whispered together for a moment. Then he turned to me.

"See here," he said; "this lady and I have an appointment. We must get ashore. Go straight in. If you're afraid I'll take the risk. If there is any danger I'll pay for that, too."

There was no question of risk. It was a certainty. I knew that channel.

"We can't cross here," I said, shortly.

"Why, confound you-"

"Victor!" cautioned Miss Colton.

"Hush, Mabel! This is ridiculous. You and I saw two boats go straight out from the beach this morning. We went out that way ourselves. Here you-Paine, or whatever your name is-we've had enough of this. I've hired you to take us ashore, and I want to go there and not a half mile in another direction. Will you do as I tell you?"

When the dingy and the other boats crossed the flat the tide had been hours higher, of course; but I was in no mood to explain-to him.

"No," I said, shortly.

"You won't? Then you give me an oar and I'll row the rest of the way myself."

There were only two oars in the skiff, but I could get on perfectly well with one. And it would serve him beautifully right to let him go. But there was the girl. I hesitated.

"Give me that oar," he repeated, angrily. "You won't? Then, by Jove, I'll do without it. Stop! Stop where you are! do you understand. We don't require your services any longer."

He turned and began untying the tow line. I stopped rowing.

Miss Colton looked troubled.

"Victor!" she cried. "What are you doing?"

"I know what I'm doing. Can't you see this fellow's game? The longer the row the higher his price, that's all. He can't work me. I've seen his kind before. Don't be frightened. If we can't do anything else we can anchor and wait until they see us from the house."

Idiot! At that point the channel was deep and the bottom soft mud. I doubted if his anchor would touch and, if it did, I knew it would not hold. I backed water and brought the skiff alongside the dingy, the rail of which I seized and held.

"Keep off!" ordered Victor, still fumbling with the rope. "We don't want your help."

I wasted no breath on him. I addressed my remarks to the girl.

"Miss Colton," I said, "will you listen to me, please. You can't anchor here because your anchor will not hold. And you can't cross that flat at this stage of the tide. I can give you an oar, of course, but it won't do any good. My oars are too light and small for your boat. Unless you wish to drift back where you were, or beyond, you must let me tow you around the head of this flat."

I don't know what answer she might have made. None, perhaps; although I am sure she was listening. But Victor, who had succeeded in untying the tow line, cut in ahead of her.

"Mabel," he warned, "don't pay any attention to him. Didn't your father tell us what he was? There!" throwing the end of the rope overboard and addressing me; "now, you may clear out. We've done with you. Understand?"

I looked at Miss Colton. But I might as well have looked at an iceberg. I slid one of my oars over into the dingy.

"There you are," I said, grimly. "But I warn you that you're in for trouble."

I let go of the rail and the boats fell apart. Victor seized the borrowed oar with a triumphant laugh.

"Your bluff wouldn't work, would it, Reuben," he sneered. "I'll send you the oar and your pay later. Now, Mabel, sit tight. I'll have you ashore in fifteen minutes."

He began rowing toward the weed-covered flat. I said nothing. I was furiously angry and it was some moments before I recovered self-possession sufficiently to get my remaining oar over the skiff's stern and, by sculling, hold her against the tide. Then I watched and waited.

It was not a long wait. Victor was in difficulties almost from the beginning. The oar belonging to the dingy was a foot longer than the one I had given him and he zig-zagged wildly. Soon he was in the edge of the eelgrass and "catching crabs," first on one side, then on the other. The dingy's bow slid up on the mud. He stood up to push it off, and the stern swung around. Getting clear, he took a fresh start and succeeded only in fouling again. This time he got further into the tangle before he grounded. The bow rose and the stern settled. There was a mighty splashing, as Victor pushed and tugged, but the dingy stuck fast. And there she would continue to stick for four hours unless I, or some one else, helped her off.

I did not want to help. In fact, I looked all up and down the bay before I made a move. But it was dinner time and there was not another soul afloat. More than that, I noticed, as I had not noticed before, that brown clouds-wind clouds-were piling up in the west, and, if I was anything of a prophet, we would have squalls and dirty weather long before those four hours were over. And the dingy, in that position, was not safe to face a blow. No, as the small boys say, it was "up to me." I wished it was not, but it was.

So again I went to the rescue, but this time in an entirely different frame of mind. My anger and resentment had settled to a cold determination, and this trip was purely business. I was not at a disadvantage now, as I had been when I first met that girl and her friend, in "Big Jim" Colton's library. I was master of this situation and master I intended to be.

I sculled the skiff straight in to the edge of the flat, at a point where the bank sloped sharply to deep water. I threw over my anchor, shortened the rope and made it fast. Then I stepped out into water above my shoe tops and waded toward the dingy. The water was icy cold, but I did not know it at the time.

I splashed through the eelgrass. Victor saw me coming and roared an angry protest. He was still trying to push the boat off with an oar.

"Here!" he shouted. "You keep away. We don't want you."

I did not care what he wanted. I splashed alongside the dingy and looked at her and the position she was in. My mind was made up instantly.

"You'll never get her off if you both stay aboard," I said. "Let the lady move amidships and you get out and wade."

He glared at me as if I were as crazy as Colton or Lute had declared me to be. Then he laughed contemptuously.

"You go back where you came from," he ordered. "I'm running this."

"Yes, I've noticed that. Now I'll state the facts as plainly as I can. This boat is fast aground in the mud, the tide is still going out, and there are squalls coming. She must be got off or there may be danger. You can't get her off until she is lightened. Will you get out and wade?"

He did not answer; instead he continued to push with the oar. I turned to the girl.

"Miss Colton," I said, "I must ask you to stand up. Be careful when you rise."

She made no move, nor did she reply. The look she gave me was enough.

"You must stand up," I repeated, firmly. "Either your-this gentleman-must get out, as I tell him to, or I shall have to carry you to my skiff. We haven't any time to spare."

She gazed at me in blank astonishment. Then the color flamed in her cheeks and her eyes flashed.

"We don't wish your help," she said, icily.

"I'm sorry, but that makes no difference. I-"

Victor whirled on me, the oar in his hands. I thought for an instant he was going to strike me with it.

"You blackguard!" he shouted. "Will you go away?"

I looked at him and then at her. It had to be done, and my mind was made up to do it. I waded in until the water was almost to my knees, and I was abreast the stern of the stranded boat.

"Miss Colton," I said, "I am going to carry you to my skiff. Are you ready?"

"You-Why!-" she breathed.

I stooped, lifted her in my arms, and ploughed through the weeds and water. The mud was soft and my feet sank into it. She struggled.

"You must keep still," I said, sharply, "or I shall drop you."

She gasped, but she stopped struggling. From behind me I heard a roar of rage from Victor.

I carried her to the anchored skiff and, plunging in still deeper, seated her on the stern thwart.

"Sit there, please, and don't move," I said. "I shall be back as soon as I've got your boat afloat."

I waded back to the dingy. Victor was frantic, but he did not disturb me. The worst of my unpleasant job was over.

"Now sit down," I ordered. "Do you hear me? Sit down and sit still."

"You-you-" he stammered.

"Because if you don't sit down," I continued serenely, "you're likely to tumble overboard. I'm going to push this boat off."

The first push helped to make up his mind. He sat, involuntarily. I pushed with all my might and, slowly and jerkily, the dingy slid off the shoal. But there were others all about. With one hand on the bow I guided her between them and to the edge of the channel. Then, wading along the slippery bank, I brought her to the skiff. My passenger had been making remarks in transit, but I paid no attention to them.

I made the rope fast for towing, took my oar from the dingy, pulled up the skiff's anchor and climbed aboard.

"Sit where you are," I said to Victor. "Miss Colton, please keep as still as possible."

I ventured to look at her as I said this, but I looked but once. All the way home I kept my gaze fixed on the bottom boards of the skiff.

I made the landing just in time. In fact, the squall struck before I was abreast the Colton place. The channel beyond the flat, which we had so lately left, was whipped to whitecaps in a moment and miniature breakers were beating against the mud bank where the dingy had grounded.

Under the high bluff it was calm enough. The tide was too low to make use of the little wharf, so I beached the skiff and drew the towed boat in by the line. I offered to assist Miss Colton ashore, but she, apparently, did not see my proffered hand. Victor scrambled out by himself. No one said anything. I untied the rope and pulled it in. Then I prepared to push off.

"Here!" growled Victor. "Wait a minute."

I looked up. He was standing at the edge of the water, with one hand in his pocket. Miss Colton was behind him.

"Well?" I asked.

"I haven't paid you yet," he said, sullenly. "How much?"

"What do you mean?" I asked. I knew, of course, but it pleased me to make him say it.

"Why, how much for towing us in? What's your price? Come, hurry up."

"I haven't any price. I'm not in the salvage business."

"Not-Say, don't bargain. What's your price, I ask you?"

"Nothing, of course. Very glad to have been of assistance."

I took up my oars.

"Here!" he shouted. "Stop! hold on! Confound you! do you suppose we don't intend to pay you for this?"

I shook my head. "It has been a pleasure," I said, sweetly. "Good day."

I rowed off, but all the way down to my boathouse I smiled contentedly. I had seen the look on Mabel Colton's face. I rather thought I had evened the account between us; at least I had reduced the balance a trifle. This time it was not I who appeared ridiculous.

Dorinda saw me when I entered the kitchen. Her hands were upraised.

"My soul and body!" she exclaimed. "LOOK at them pants! LOOK at 'em! And I ain't had time to put a needle to your other ones yet!"

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