HOOKS AND EYES
"NOISIER than loons! There won’t be a bird or beast left in these parts. City girls don’t seem to have no sense of decency when they come to the woods.”
Ben Niggs straightened up from his potato peeling, wiped the back of his hand across his wet brow and peered keenly through the fringe of pines. The sparkling blue waters of the Northern Ontario lake were patched here and there with laughing, boyish faces or fluffy polls. Enthusiasm, as unrestrained by the vast engirdling wilderness as that of a babe in a bathtub, rose into screams and ejaculations and tempestuous laughter. A slim, straight figure in a poppy-red swimming suit sprang onto a rock, lifted her white arms and pitched forward in an arc of flame.
heads, ranging in color from corn-silk to crow-black, bent studiously over their plates. Ben’s discreet, semi-averted gaze took no stock of the perfection of arms and necks pinked with the sun, half-revealed curves of shoulder and breast, dance-developed calves and twinkling toes. It was sacrilege to reveal what the Great God Convention had ordained should be hidden and he would have no part in it.
After dinner the chorus scattered to mossy nooks with
“Worst of the lot, she is,” muttered the guide. “Wouldn’t be surprised to hear she learned the rest their tricks. If she don’t come to a bad end I’m a Dutchman.” He dropped beside the potatoes with a hitch of resignation.
After all was said and done it was none of his responsibility. His business was to give sports three good meals per day and a few fish and see that they did not set the woods on fire. Most of them were queer one way or another, a few embarrassingly so, and he had always managed to restrain his zest for reformation and to let “folks go to hell their own particular way.” But the present case was a little unusual, he had to admit. Seven girls, young enough to be his daughters, without parent or guardian and execrably raised, created a serious problem for any guide to handle. He had taken for granted that “Miss Phyllis” was a maiden lady of considerable experience and discretion, and her “six friends” were either junior teachers or else a Sundayschool class. That they should turn out to be the frontline chorus of the “Sugar Plum Tree" was a dilemma as unforeseen as it was undeserved.
However, Ben’s regret was not unrelieved by a feeling of self-sacrifice. What if one of the younger boys had been engaged? No, he alone could depend upon a longestablished reputation for immunity and resourcefulness where the fair sex were concerned and carry the affair through with propriety. If he could keep Sam
and Ned, his two assistants, out of harm’s way---.
That was a pretty smart trick, sending them back to the settlement after extra grub. Youngsters were such goldarn fools were women where concerned—especially town women!
A S THE guide was slicing the last potato into the A pan of spluttering grease he heard the scuffle of bare feet in pine needles and saw streaks of poppy-red and emerald bearing down upon him.
“We want to get warm, Mr. Niggs,” panted Phyllis. “The wind’s kind o’ cold. Come on, Fay, here’s a spiffy spot.” She plumped down beside the pile of rocks doing duty as a fireplace and patted the turf for her friend. Ben refused to lift his head.
“If you’d pull on a few clothes maybe you wouldn’t feel the wind,” he drawled. Ten desperate days had not rendered him immune from the one-piece costume.
“Say, Mr. Niggs. don’t you ever take a duck? Haven’t seen you in since we came,” chadenged Fay.
The guide shook the frying-pan to keep the contents from sticking. His diffidence was cheating him out of a most delectable picture, because Fay was a front-liner with a smile that swept the boxes like a flare-bomb and a figure like the Venus of Milo, and Phyllis’s green eyes and old-gold hair played a sort of partnership con game with the senses that was quite irresistible. As for their limbs, a most exacting producer had failed to discover a flaw.
“Cold water is all right for them who likes it. If you’d seen as much of it as I have in my day you wouldn’t be so blamed anxious to risk the rheumatiz for no call whatsoever.”
“But swimming is barrels of fun. Of course you know how to swim?”
“I wouldn’t say I couldn’t if I tried. Folks can do most anything if they try hard enough—even work. There’s some things I leave to ducks.” Ben poked at the fire with a sneaking hope that the smoke would smudge away his visitors.
“You mean to say,” persisted Fay, “that you’ve been living on all these lakes and rivers all your life and never learnt to swim?”
“I mean to say, Miss Fay, that what with guidin’ in summer and lumberin’ in winter and doing the chores all the rest of the time I ain’t found no time for dancin’ and singin’ and swimmin’.”
“Dancing and singing is no cinch either,” broke in Phyllis.
“You don’t call dancin’ work, do you? The girls in these parts do it for fun.” •
“Oh, but ours is a special brand. It takes lots of hard training to kick over your head and spin on your toes and all that. Did you ever try?” Phyllis’ red lips were as serious as such lips could be.
“And you mean to say they pay you for it?”
“To the tune of fifty per week or more, and believe me we earn it.”
Ben permitted his gaze to leap the fireplace suspicious-
“That’s higher than they give the school-mam’. What do you do with it all? Put it in the savings bank?”
The girls giggled delightedly. “Only wish I could,” said Fay, “but the landlady’s too sharp for me.”
“And remember a girl has to provide her own make-up, to say nothing of clothes and taxis and things. Your school-ma’m is rich along side of us,” explained Phyllis.
“I ain’t going to argy the point with you ladies and you know your own business best, but I do say that it’s a mighty mean job where you can’t put a little aside every week for a rainy day. Supposin’ you was fired now?”
“That’s nothing; we’re being fired all the time. Then we borrow from the other girl,” and Phyllis tossed her pointed chin airily.
“The Bible says, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’ and them’s my sentiments. Dinner will be ready in about two shakes.”
OHOUTS for Phyllis and Fay resounded through the ^ island. “Your friends are lookin’for you,” said Ben hopefully.
“Hey, here we are,” shouted Fay. There was a stampede of dripping, scantily-clad figures in the direction of
the cook’s sanctuary.
“Gee, but you’re comfortable,” cried a petal-lipped brunette. “Is there room for little me?” For a few seconds they twittered and squeaked like a flock of sparrows taking possession of new quarters. The guide bent more assiduously in sulky silence, over his pots.
“It gets cold when you’ve been in long. Move over there; don’t hog all the bed,” scolded one, and “Say,
Phyl, 1 turned a back-header. It took some nerve, believe me,” gasped another. “What are we having for dinner, Mr. Niggs?” The Sugar Plum Tree chorus banked themselves picturesquely about the disgusted guide as though he were the camera man.
“Say, girls, what do you think Tom would say if he could see me now,” giggled a Syrian beauty.
“Don’t worry none about him. Ten to one he’s at Luna Park with Kate this very minute.”
“Tom’s all right,” reassured another.
“You’ve said it,” agreed the dark one. “But he’d say we were all lunatics spending our holidays this way. He’d croak right off if he found himself over forty-five minutes from Broadway.”
“It’s simply swell. Phyllis, you old thing, whatever made you think of it?”
“Anything for a change. I knew you’d like it once you got here. It was worse than pulling teeth getting you started though,” said Phyllis.
“I was scared stiff at first,” admitted a plump little blonde in a baby-blue one-piece that rather accentuated her curves. “Thought there’d be oceans of snakes and spiders and other horrible crawling things getting into bed with me, but there isn’t even a mosquito.”
“This ain’t Coney Island,” retorted Fay contemptu-
“Grub is ready, ladies, if yer callatin’ on dressing—” and he threw a handful of tea into boiling water.
Phyllis jumped up with a joyous clap. “What do you say, girls, to an undress party?”
There was a chorus of assent and a rush for the rustic table behind the tents. Ben stared after them with knitted brows.
“Lost all sense of modesty. Never saw such a bunch in all my born days, and that Phyllis is the worst of the lot.”
The chorus not only ate as one but for the most part talked as one, exuberantly, flippantly, with their bobbed
of scandai in a district where scandal was as the staff of life and rumor as solid as circumstantial evidence? Should he risk everything for a girl’s whim? Ought he not rather to retreat while the going was good—plead a dose of “rheumatiz,” his old enemy? After all he was there in a purely professional capacity and backing down would suggest cowardice. Besides the minx might beguile Sam to go. or worse still, Ned, and that would never do.
As she stepped into the canoe, adjusted a shingle behind her back and lit a cigarette she noticed that all their kit was packed in one small bundle. To think of being satisfied for twelve hours with only enough worldly goods to fill a shopping-bag! “Me for the simple life after this,” she mused, deciding to drop that new hair lotion and perhaps the massage instrument. The mist wisped the surface of the water like smoke through which islands and points unexpectedly thrust and withdrew. The silence was absloute.
“Do you think it will rain?” she anxiously inquired.
“No, hot day.” he answered shortly and did not again use his tongue until the end of the lake was reached. In the meantime the sun had lifted higher and in a very few minutes had sucked up all the moisture, leaving the surface like blue steel and driving life back into the deepest, blackest recesses of woods and waters. Phyllis saw the black forest close up with relief. They landed. Ben carried the canoe into the shade of the alders, threw the paddle into a fern bed where it was effectually hidden, buckled the kit-bag to his back and armed only with rod, reel and net started inland.
HOW dark and green and cool it was after the pitiless glare of open lake! The intertangled branches allowed only a few blobs and spangles of light to spatter through. Moss, groundpine, partridge-berry gave softly crisp beneath her feet. Far off, frail and clear as a young Pan’s flute, sounded the long, reiterated call of the rainbird. A wholesome fragrance from the sun-steeped leaves changed as the rising and falling trail snaked through alderswamp and pine ridge and brambled clearing. It was so different from Fifth Avenue or even Central Park! Phyllis would not have missed it for anything. The girls would still be fussing over their breakfast—and the best part of the day over—the poor simps! Wouldn’t she rub it in when she returned with the king fish! That would be the best part of the show indeed. It would be nice to talk it over with the guide, only he pumped along like a steam-engine almost forcing her to run to keep up. She was not used to such treatment, except from stagemanagers. It piqued her. Then suddenly they emerged into the dazzle of open waters again.
“Oh, Ben, how perfectly lovely!” she gasped, gazing out upon a wide expanse of still blue, dotted down the centre with a row of small round islands, like humpy green buttons on a blue waistcoat.
The guide grunted and plunging into the underbrush dragged out a frail wooden craft. It was made of shiplap, well-tarred at the seams, high and narrow, and when the girl stepped in over one side she came within an ace of going out over the other.
“You’ve got to treat her easy till you get used to her,” warned Ben, throwing in the pack and pushing off.
“Like other things feminine, what?”
He indiscreetly raised his eyes and caught a glint of beryl green through a golden mesh.
“You better fix the rod,” he growled.
She obeyed, smiling enigmatically.
“Put on the chub.” Although he stared straight over her head he managed to correct her a dozen times before the tackle was arranged entirely to his satisfaction. Once the step had been taken he was too good a guide to be careless about results. She should have her fish if it took all day. She was a good sport. Not a complaint out of her, and that trail was no cinch, especially on a hot
Phyllis watched the gleaming thread of copper running swiftly off the reel and disappearing into the mysterious depths behind the boat. Her eyes shone with excitement, like a child's before a Christmas tree, her ripe lips were parted, her slim fingers were clenched ferociously on the butt; she awaited a signal from the watery abyss.
“You’re a dear old thing to bring me,” she declared. The guide’s leathery neck reddened a deeper shade. “Let her out a mite.”
“Do you really think I’ll catch it?" she asked.
“Not if you let the line slack up on you. Keep your eye on the reel.”
“That’s what I’m doing, Ben," disobeying him as she spoke. Next instant she screamed.
“I’ve got it—I've got it!” The boat rocked under her excitement.
“Easy there, easy, Miss,” drawled the imperturbable steersman. “Watch your line don't kink. Keep your tip up. Reel in now -reel in.” And she reeled in so fast that he knew that it was a small one even before it broke the surface.
“Five pounder," he announced callously, lifting the net. “Oh, horrid!” groaned Phyllis. ' I thought 1 had a
monster." ... , . , , .
“You’ll know it when you do think the whole blame
easins, and stepped out into a mist-wrapped world. The guide already had coffee and porridge and toast on the oilcloth-covered table.
“Where’s your friend,” he questioned anxiously.
“There's only me. Wild horses wouldn’t drag the others over the trail. My, but the coffee smells good?”
Ben turned away with a shrug of his shoulders. “I thought likely you’d prefer company.”
“Oh, you’re all the company I want, old dear. The girls would only spoil the fun.”
Ben waited on her in troubled silence. What would the world say to his hiking off for a whole day with a New York chorus girl? How could he escape the breath
'iuyi c og-.nl rtf
“Sure they can. What do you think they are, leading ladies?”
“I’m paid to look after the bunch. Sorry, Miss Phyllis—nothing I’d love better,” and he began whittling at his plug.
Phyllis turned away with a flick of her head. (How often that flick has won the battle!)
“Oh, very well. I’ll get Sam or Ned to take me.”
“Now look a-here, Miss—.” She paused. “It wouldn’t be safe to trust to either of ’em. They’d lose yer, sure as my name’s Ben Niggs. I ain’t at all sure they’ve ever been over the trail.”
“I’d risk more than that for a fish. Besides they’re such dears, I’m sure they’d find it for me.”
HOW persistent she was! Well, there seemed to be no help for it. Anything was preferable to allowing one of the youngsters off without a chaperon. But he lit and puffed at his pipe very deliberately before capitulating.
“Seein’ they won’t be back for a couple of days and you’re so almighty set on getting that fish I reckon maybe I had better take yer myself.”
“You old thing, I knew you would,” she exploded. “When do we start?”
“’Fore sun-up—it’s quite a piece.”
As she swung toward the tents to break the news, Ben stopped her again.
“Wouldn’t be surprised if there was considerable mosquitoes over there, Miss Phyllis, so I advises yer to go pretty well togged out.”
Phyllis’ enthusiasm failed to strike sparks from the rest of the chorus. “Go to it, dearie,” encouraged the little plump blonde, “only if you love me don’t give me an invite. I’m here for a holiday not an exploring expedition.” “I much prefer to let the poor fish come to me, instead of running after them,” explained Laura. Only Violet pricked up her ears and for an anxious moment the fisherman thought she might offer her services.
“I don’t think there are any bigger fish over there than the one I caught. It’s simply knowing how to do it, what kind of bait to use, you know. If you don’t mind very much I want to stay here and finish my book. But I wish you all kinds of success, Phyl, darling.”
She would not be so darn patronising when her rival returned with a twenty-pounder, thought Phyllis, and a twenty-pounder it would be if she had to spend the night
Ben aroused her at dawn by chucking spruce cones at the tent. In the narrow space between Fay and Maisie she slipped on bloomers and shirt, stockings and moe-
“There’s a parcel of fish in Button Lake, whoppers, too, most any time of year,” he confessed, “but it ain’t no place for ladies, Miss. It’s a blamed rough trail.”
“A lot I care how rough it is,” returned Phyllis eagerly. “With a bathing-suit and moccasins I could go anywhere. Will you take me?”
But the guide shook his head. “And leave your friends to starve? If they was the kind that could take care of themselves now—”
cigarettes and paper-backed novels, or launched out onto the bosom of the lake. It was a big, free life, filled to the brim with strenuous idleness and irresponsibility. After ten days of it even the Lyceum had shrunk to normal proportions, the roar of Sixth Avenue had sunk to a dreamy murmur—or was it the wind in the pines?—the stupendous tragedies and triumphs of the profession had faded to bird-like specks on the blue-green horizon, and one, even the most careless one, had begun to wonder what all her breathlessness had been about. It was absurd to be continually flashing ones femininity upon a manless desert, or to be juggling for a spot-light, whether from moon or sun, that showed not the slightest partiality among the members of the caste. So the bones of contention were replaced by the bonds of love and the only rivalry was the rivalry of fish.
THE second day after their arrival at Loon Lake, Violet had hooked a fifteen-pounder and, with the guides assistance, brought it ashore. Violet had never so much as handled a rod before, whereas Phyllis had caught bluefish in Great South Bay and knew Izaak Walton by name. The latter felt decidedly hurt and showed it by indefatigible fishing. Half-a-dozen victims of respectable dimensions fell into her net but she would not be appeased. It was not so much Violet’s fault as it was the guide’s. Why couldn’t he tell her where the big fellows were lurking and the kind of bait that would cause their downfall? She had trolled the whole lake, from Wigwam Island to the Narrows, had used everything from a pearl spoon to a livid chub, had run out three hundred feet of copper wire and had not left undone any of those things she should have done nor done any of those things she should not and if she had no luck it was certainly not her fault. The lake must be fished out.
When Fay paddled her back at sunset, she sought out the guide in his usual place behind the lean-to. Ben had been asleep, but at the sound of her approach he removed the battered felt from his face and sat up.
“I suppose you’re wanting your supper,” he said wearily.
“No, it’s a fish I want—a real big one. I’ve been wasting all my time and haven’t got anything over seven pounds. It’s simply too provoking for words.” “They’re lyin’ low this hot spell, off’n their feed a bit.” “Well, I’m sick of it. Isn’t there some other place around where there’s better fishing?”
Ben rose, feeling for his pipe.
bottom’s coming up. Better luck next time.” With a neat scoop he encircled his victim and brought it into the
“Sure, here’s to better luck.” She threw a kiss after the chub and released the brake.
IX) R half an hour he sent the boat forward with an even stroke. His hat brim was pulled well down over his eyes; his pipe smoked incessantly. The only sound was a trickle of water from his blade and the wail of a distant loon.
Conditions were conducive-to musing. If she would let her hair grow and dress decently like a girl should she would be a pretty fine looker, hethought. If she was cheeky it was the way she was brought up, and her parents were chiefly to blame for that. There were some folks who made fun of red hair, but he never held it against a girl, and indeed there was a certain shade of red that was real downright catching, especially when the sun was shining in it.
A low reverberant thud interrupted him. A glance at the sky showed a cloud castle building up into the intense blue. A shower would be a relief. The mainshore was a long way off but they could take cover on a nearby island before the storm broke. In the meantime he would not interrupt the fishing, not for a hundred dollars.
Just as the first puff of wind pounced upon them and a squint upward showed the heavens smutty with dark clouds the fish struck. She knew instantly that it was the fish, for when she went to wind in she found to her amazement the reel turning in the opposite direction.
“Jimminy Christmas, I’ve got it this time!” she screamed, clutching the butt for dear life.
“I guess you’re right,” admitted Ben, holding himself in check. “Wind in as I paddle. Don’t give him leeway. Easy—Easy!”
But it was anything but easy. Gradually the line began to crawl in, only to be suddenly lost again as the trout made a fresh spurt for freedom. Phyllis’ fingers and wrists soon went numb with the strain, but her little pointed chin was up and her jaw clenched stubbornly. Ben leaned forward, stroking, backing, whipping his paddle from side to side, his eyes riveted on the cutting line. The boat began to pitch crazily; wave-tips spat over the gunwale; the rain dropped over them like a cold wet blanket, but except for an instinctive effort to keep the bow into the wind the storm was ignored.
“There he is!” shouted the guide as the fish twisted an instant between the waves. The glimpse was enough to confirm their expectations. It was indeed a whopper, miles bigger than Violet’s. It would be some trick to net it.
“Hold him—hold him,” he roared as the line started out. “That’s it, draw him in toward me. Look out, he’ll be under the boat. He's clean tuckered out. That’s the business—easy now—easy.”
The boat lurched dangerously, letting a bucket of water into the girl’s lap. Her hat had gone by the board; her cheeks streamed water; her waist and bloomers clung to her boyish figure. She had never enjoyed herself so thoroughly before, not even the night she had been transferred to the front line of the chorus. The light of battle gleamed in her green eyes.
At last the big lake trout rose unresisting to the surface and was dragged toward the stern. Ben quickly exchanged the paddle for the net and leaned out over the water, somewhat like a rider on a bucking broncho. Then “Slack up,” he yelled and she released the brake. Feeling the give or fearing the swooping net, the fish screwed its tail convulsively; the guide lunged; a wave rammed the boat’s quarter at same instant—and the whole lake came over and trampled them down into its cold depths.
Phyllis rose to the surface and glanced about her. The boat’s black-streaked bottom was wallowing heavily to leeward. A pair of clutching hands thrust up between the waves. A stroke, a dive and the girl had her fingers in the guide’s hair and had brought him back to the surface. Seeing she could not overtake the boat she struck out for the nearest island, not more than a hundred yards distant. It was heart-breaking work. The crested waves tried their best to strangle her. Luckily the man had ceased to struggle, but his inert body dragged as heavily as a log, and it was almost impossible to keep his face free. She turned on her back. Twice she stopped to rest, but fearful of being carried below the point struggled on desperately. When she finally felt rock beneath her feet she was forced to wait for fresh strength before she could pull her burden up on the beach.
She stared about her. In every direction the whitetoothed billows bore down upon the little islet; the mainland was hopelessly far away; the. sky bleak: the wind sighed mournfully in the tuft of pines beside her. Help could come only from within. The two were as much alone as were their first progenitors, and if the guide did not awake—! The thought drove her to instant action. She dropped on her knees beside him, striving frantically to recall what she had read about first aid for the drowned. The word manipulation came to mind and she began a vigorous pump-handling of his arms. In a very short
time her breath failed her. As she stared in consternation into his passive features his gray eyes opened.
"Did it get away on yer?” he whispered.
She laughed hysterically. “It sure did, and took the whole shooting match with it. How are you feeling, old thing?”
“Pretty nigh froze,” he mumbled.
There was a slight hollow, cushioned with moss and blueberry bush, in the centre of the islet and she aroused the man sufficiently to gain this shelter from the wind. He closed his eyes.
“There’s a match in the watch-back if yer think yer can make a fire.”
She thought that she could and glad of something to do went on a search for dry fuel. At first her quest seemed hopeless; everything was sodden with rain. Then she found a ledge on the lower side of the island beneath which a few bleached twigs had lodged in the spring freshet. She secured his jack-knife and whittled a neat pyramid of shavings. The back of his watch held a few wax matches, placed there ten years before for just such an emergency. Her first attempt was successful and she fed the blaze with brush and driftwood into a comfortable bonfire. A cheerier atmosphere now' pervaded the wilderness world.
During this time the guide had been watching the slim, bedraggled figure through half-closed eyes. “Poor little kid,” he ruminated. “Darn shame to get her in a fix like this, and she used to pretty clothes and swell times. Not a kick out of her neither, even though she lost that fish. Yes, sir, and if it hadn’t been for her, Old Ben would be at the bottom of the drink this very moment. The water has kinder taken the cur! outer her locks—it’s a darn shame.”
Phyllis stepped aside and wrung out her few garments. She was feeling amazingly fit and beginning to enjoy the adventure now that Ben had come around. As for the fish—no' doubt Violet would smile superciliously over her description of the one that got away, dubbing her a cheerful liar behind her back. It was provoking, but it could not be helped. She crusted that their absence that night would cause some stir in the camp, interrupt their sleep and maybe bring on a few tears. It was nice having the ■principal part in a real melodrama.
A LL afternoon and late into the night she wandered ■f*about her small domain or cuddled up to the fire, while the guide slept heavily. Finally, because there was nothing better to do, she curled up by the fire and went to sleep.
She awoke with a complaining drawl in her ears.
“Say, Miss, chuck some more wood on the fire.”
She sat up dazedly, to a scene of leaden water and sky, except where a hectic flush showed between the pine trunks. The air felt miserably raw.
“Didn’t know where I was,” she explained cheerfully. “Thought I was back in little old New York I guess. Are you cold?.”
“Worser than that,” he groaned. “The rheumatiz has got me bad again. Can’t you poke up the fire?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She threw on fuel and blew at the coals until her eyes were smarting with smoke.
“Never had it take me just this way before,” he continued. “Sleepin’ in wet clothes is what did it. Helpless as a baby I am. Whatever will become of us Heaven
“You keep still, Ben. I know where there’s heaps of wood. Cheer up, the worst is yet to come.”
“We’re in a darn bad fix,” he persisted bitterly. “Nonsense, they’ll come for us before evening.”
“No hope. The boys won’t get to Loon Lake ’fore dark and how do they know where we went?”
“I think I told the girls.”
“They wouldn’t remember if you had. Anyway they will find our bodies sooner or later, that’s one comfort.” Phyllis looked at him sharply. No, he was not kidding her; he was in deadly earnest. The backwoodsman’s courage and resourcefulness seemed to have completely deserted him. She had thought those qualities ingrained in his very nature and yet they had gone at the first shock of accident or disease. She noted that his ragged hair was slate-gray and that his collar bone ridged sharply through his shirt and sudden compassion swept away her disgust. He was older than she had supposed. Poor old Ben! She had a strong desire to put her arms about him and mother him.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll swim ashore and go for help,” she volunteered.
“It’s all of two miles.”
“I can do it—that is, I can try,” she ended weakly.
Ben sniffed contemptuously. “You’d be sure to drown, or else get lost in the bush.” Then, pleadingly, “Don’t leave me here to die alone, Miss Phyllis.”
“Perhaps I could find the boat?”
"It s sunk or bust up on the rocks. Don’t leave me, Miss. The rheumatiz has got me bad. I’m weak as a
“All right, I’ll stay,” she consented with great relief. The thought of those vast watery depths made her shudder with dread. After piling on more brush she squatted beside him and watched the sun drift like a huge poppy petal above the distant forest.
“V/'OU’LL be all right in a little while,” she soothed.
A “Wouldn’t you like me to tell you a story I read lately, just to pass away the time you know?” Without waiting for an answer she launched into her tale. Although the author might not have recognised his “best seller” transposed into the stage vernacular there was a piquancy about it that the original decidedly lacked. The guide kept his gaze fixed on her bright, flower-like face and forgot to complain.
“You should have gone in for something worth while,” he said at length. “A girl as smart as you be could have been a school-ma’m if you’d tried.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I do. It’s a darned shame for you to be fiddlin’ away your time play-actin’. Did you ever think seriously of settlin’ down and having a house of your own?”
“Sure, I’ve thought of it, Ben. But you see I’m not cut out for a buxom matron with twenty-two children and forty-four pair of socks to mend. I guess I’m too frivolous for that.”
“Now, I ain’t so sure of that, Miss. The way you’ve caught ahold and tended the fire and done your best to make a filler comfortable shows you’ve got the right stuff in you. I’ve known heaps of girls, right here in the settlements, who’d have done a blqmed sight worse.” “My, but you’ll make me conceited, Ben. What time 'is it?”
He glanced at his watch. “Going on twelve.”
“Doesn’t the time just crawl when you’re starving!” “The third day is a darn sight worse. After that you get sort of numb-like, they say, and pass away painless but clear-headed.”
“Surely we can find something to eat—moss or leaves or bark,” she protested.
The guide shook his head. “They only does that in books.” And after a pause, “I hope they find us ’fore the crows do.”
During the afternoon the sun beat down hotly and the two castaways sprawled in the scanty shade of the stunted pines dozing uneasily. Now and then the guide would rouse up to complain bitterly of his plight and the certainty of approaching dissolution, at which the member of the Sugar Plum Tree would attempt to refute his logic with a happier brand of her own.
“They’ll be here by morning, old dear,” she would announce once again.
“Like as not I’ll cash in ’fore mornin’, I’m that sick.” “Nonsense. A fellow can go a whole week easy without eating. I read of a man going forty days once.”
“Bet yer he didn’t have the rheumatiz. Even if I pulled through I’d like as not be a cripple all my days.”
“A big husky woodsman like you! No danger. Now poor little me, tljat’s different. Would you like another drink?” •;*-
He rose on his elbow and drank the water she brought him in a curved slab of hemlock bark.
“Look ahere, Miss Phyllis, I’ve been doing a heap of thinking since we was wrecked. The long and short of it is this: if we should happen to be saved—which ain’t at all likely—folks are bound to talk about us. It’s human nature. Maybe you’ll say talk never hurt nobody. But when you’ve built up a reputation for thirty years more or less you don’t like to have it kicked intq a heap all along of an accident like this. If you weren’t on the stage now it wouldn’t be so bad. But you know what folks say about actresses as well as I do, though I think it a darned shame and that lots of ’em are just a$ good as any other folks.” He paused for breath.,
“I’m awfully sorry,” breathed Phyllis.
“It ain’t your fault, Miss. But we’re here and got to face it. Now I see what’s the right thing to do for you as well as for me and I says plain out, will you marry me?”
AS BEN was now sitting bolt upright and staring intently she dared not reveal her emotions ip hes
“Really now, Ben, this is so sudden,” she gasped.
“Not so sudden either. I’ve been weighing it up and down and from all sides. I seen from the moment you set foot on here that you was real capable and with a little practice would make a right smart woman. I might as well tell you I got ten thousand in thq bank, so that you wouldn’t have to slave. I might be younger and friskier I’ll admit, but exceptin’ the rheumatiz I’m still sound*as a whistle.”
The girl’s face was now resting on her knees. Sha dared not trust herself to speak. The guide went on: “Even if we don’t pull through I thought maybe you’d die easier knowin’ my sentiments toward you, Miss.”
“It does lighten things up,” she admitted. And then' “You are a dear old thing and I thank you from tht, Continued on page 1,9
Hooks and Eyes
Continued from page 32
bottom of my heart. But as you say yourself, Ben, I’m not your kind. I’d shock all the neighbors terribly and I couldn’t make the bread and I’d burn the pancakes and starve the chickens and— and not want to go to bed at nine and get up at four. I’d be a ghastly failure.” “Don’t let those things worry you. I’m pretty handy myself around the house, having done the chores ever since ma died the winter of ’96.”
“I’m more than grateful, but really now—” and she floundered for a kind and yet effectual excuse.
“Don’t mention it. I’ve never proposed to a girl before and never reckoned I would, but I think we’ll get along real great once we get acquainted. That’s if it’s God’s will to save us,” he hastily added.
“Just because I fished you out of the water doesn’t give me any strings on you. Any of the girls would have done the same and been just as good sports afterwards. You see in the profesh we’re used to hard knocks and we pretty near always land on our feet. I don’t think either of us was ever meant to marry.”
“Well, think it over, Miss. I like you better the more I see of you. If you got lonely we could take a run down to New York and call on your pals. Think it over.” The guide dropped back and went to sleep.
PHYLLIS proceeded to think it over with mixed emotions. Never before had she been embarrassed over a courtship. If the suitor was undesirable she would take a kind of malicious pleasure in crushing his aspirations, if he contained possibilities she was an adept in sorting them out and bringing them into play, if he was altogether desirable no eyes could be so shyly provocative while the lips lied “No.” But here was neither conceited fop, nor mischievous rich out for plunder, but a shrewd, kindly old backwoodsman, willing, yea anxious, to divide his physical and spiritual substance with one of whom his Burt’s Corners’ standards heartily dis-
approved. This was a compliment indeed. She had saved him from drowning and in return he would now save her from moral bankruptcy whatever the consequences to himself. Her face and efficiency of course made it easier to follow the stern path of duty, but never had her hand been sought with such a small percentage of selfishness. ■
It turned cool at sunset and Phyllis stoked the fire intermittently throughout the night, while the guide groaned and snored unromantieally in his sleep. Her limbs were growing peculiarly light and her head spun dizzily at the least exertion. Chewing wintergreen leaves eased the' pangs of hunger slightly. For the first time in her life she had lost the desire to talk or even to think coherently, and hour after hour crawled by in a silence broken only by the lap-lap of the wavelets and the thin sardonic laughter of the loon. She finally dozed, to be almost immediately awakened by the guide’s sepulchral voice.
“Are you awake, Miss?”
“Sure. What can I do for you?” She forced herself to say.
“Seeing as how we are as good as engaged I thought you wouldn’t mind if I were to ask you to tend my funeral and see to having a middlin’ good stone put up, omething costing about seventy-five dollars.”
“I’ll likely have no choice about being there,” she scoffed.
“White carnations are my favorite flowers, don’t forget,” he continued, his thoughts turned wholly inward.
“Oh, cut it out, Ben, or you’ll get my goat. This isa farce not a tragedy. They’ll be along any time now.” His pessimism was getting even on her nerves.
“I was wonderin’ if you’d sing Nearer My God to Thee? It’s my favorite hymn.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know any hymns, Ben,” she parried. “But I’ll sing you some of the Sugar Plum choruses. They’re awful pretty.” Without giving him time to complain she began in a sweet clear contralto to render parts of New York’s latest hit to the vast empty auditorium of the wilderness. The guide listened to the
gay ragtime and mushy sentiment with grave satisfaction.
“My, but them are pretty pieces!” he whispered at her first pause for breath “I had no idea you sang that kind of stuff. What comes next?”
She was glad she had found something to amuse him with. “You ought to hear the whole forty of us singing and dancing at the same time. It brings down the
“Good as a circus, eh?” he complimented.
“Then Lula Lassie comes in with:
You are just the sweetest, neatest little Honey—bug—
Y es—y ou—are—
I won’t be happy till I get that bunny—hug—
A shout rang mellowly over the water and crashed into the song. “Oh, my glory - what was that!” Phyllis’ lips rej mained wide apart.
Again the shout, echoing back and forth at long intervals. Then Phyllis screamed with joy, screamed loud enough for the rescuers to hear, and old Ben forgetting his ailments got nimbly to his feet, slapping his fist into his palm and declaring most emphatically, “What did I tell yer— what did I tell yer!”
Throughout the remainder of the sojourn on Loon Lake Ben did not exchange so much as one word with Phyllis in private, nor did he by sign or look betray a memory of anything that had passed
between them, and she was inclined to think that he had repented of his deathbed conscience. Not until the party, very hot and uncomfortable in their civilized clothes, was back on the station platform at Burt’s Corners, did the veteran guide lounge up to the girl and tap her mysteriously on the shoulder.
“Just a jiffy, Miss,” he invited.
She followed him a hundred yards into a buckwheat field.
“Well, have you thought it over?” His voice was very matter of fact.
“Yes, Ben, I have,” she replied firmly. “It’s this way; I’ve gone too far to reform now; I’d die if I got away from the smell of grease and paint and welshrabbits and things. But I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if ever you come down my way we’ll give you the time of your life.”
Ben chewed reflectively on a buckwheat stalk.
“Maybe you’re right, Miss,” he admitted rather reluctantly, “maybe you’re right. But don’t forget this,” he perked up, “the offer holds good for one year from date, if at any time you think to change your mind.”
“You old thing, I won’t forget. There’s my train,” and with a squeeze of the hand she raced for the platform. '
As the train gathered momentum again, a pretty brown face ringed in bronze thrust from an open window and threw the daintiest, most alluring of kisses to a gaunt gray figure, standing knee-deep in the buckwheat.