THE SNOWY E G R E T
COSGRAVE, as a Canadian, was a lover of the open. Yet there were times, after coming down from his secluded Lake Trevor retreat to the forested steel and stone of New York, when Fifth Avenue could unroll so appeasingly panoramic before him that he found himself willing enough to exchange its odors of exhaustive fumes for his lost aroma of northern balsam. The Avenue, on this particular morning, cerned at its best to him He luxuriated in the privilege of pioneering impersonally along that ever brilliant tideway of life, Hts eye. so sedulously train •d in observation, found a nt and stir and color of what seemed to him the greatest of earth’s great fairways of traffic. And then, of a sudden, his careless joy came to an end. The glamor went out of the pectacle. For, quite w ithout warning, he found himself c mfronted by a snowy anomalous Greek beauty of the Public Library. He had intended continuing south, to his publisher's office, but he promptly headed north again. For that egret was to him very much what an aniseed bag might be to a beagle or what a red rag might be to a bull. Nor was it the snowy egret alone that awakened his anger The thing seemed doubly offensive because the wind-tossed white feathers cascaded about a small and slightly tiptilted turban most unmistakably made of nerring-gull's plumage. And both were interdicted; were illegal as hat ornaments. He had no knowledge as to who was wearing these forbidden decorations, but he had his >wn opinion of the woman who would deck herself out in such things. She was a violator of the 'aw, an enemy of the precious wild life that her pretty vanities had all but exterminated. She must pay for her thoughtlessness.
Yet so briskly did she waik up the early morning avenue that Philip Cosgrave was compelled to follow her for three blocks before catching up with her.
When he did so, he tapped her on the arm, very much as a patrolman might. She turned sharply, at that unlooked-for affront, and made her shoulder movement away from him a perceptible one. But his stern eye was fixed on the snowy egret.
*T suppose you know you’re breaking the law in wearing those feathers,” he proclaimed, noticing for the first time that the soft gray of the herring-gull plumage matched her soft gray eyes.
“What feathers?” she demanded with open hostility on her face. It was a pretty enough face, but Cosgrave had no intention of permitting a pretty face to come between him and a moral obligation
"The^ieahbSrs on your hat tríére.” he announced, with ail the acebrity at his command.
"Is it any particular business of yours what I wear on my hat?” she challenged, resuming her walk up the avenue and compelling him to fall into step or be left behind. She was looking straight ahead of her by this time, and he noticed the quick flush of annoyance which had deepened the coloring of her oval cheek.
"It’s very much my. business,” asserted Cosgrave. nettling under her obvious contempt. “It’s my business, not only as a member of the Migratory Birds’ Protective Association and an officer of the Audubon Society, but abo as a decent citizen, decently interested in seeing our laws enforced.”
“From which 1 am to infer that I’m not even a decent citizen,” site said, smiling for the first time. Her face, he noticed, was not as hard as he had expected. The head wearing the snowy egret, indeed, had just nodded gayly to an old lady in sables, stepping out of a limousine. “That,” ho told the girl at his side, “is not the important point." "Then what is?” she demanded. “The fact that there’s a law against the use of the snowy egret and herring-gull plumage as apparel and that you are at the present moment breaking that law.” Her gloved hand went up to the tiptilted turban, giving it, if possible, a slightly saucier angle than before. WOULD you be good enough to tell me about that law?" she said, quite solemnly. And Cosgrave explained to her the enactment of the migratory birds’ convention act, after which he told her, as graphically as he could, how the dorsal plumes of the American egret, the Ardea candidissima, were plucked during the breeding season, and how such pot-hunting for venal milliners had almost succeeded in exterminating one of the loveliest of the native herons. “You know, I never thought of that,” she said, favoring him with her first oblique glance of appraisal. “Too few of you do,” snapped Cosgrave, determined not to be sidetracked by any last moment parade of humility. “But in some cases,” she gently suggested, “there may
be some very extenuating circumstances.” “That,” he coldly announced, “is a matter for the court to decide.” “The court?” she echoed, sweeping him with still another sidelong glance. still another sidelong glance. “They are maintained for precisely that purpose,” he announced-« “Am I to understand, then, that you insist on proclaiming me a lawbreaker?” The peach-glow that had come into her cheeks, Cosgrave noticed, had now given way to a gardenia-white. “Since you’re breaking the law, I intend to see that you’re arrested,” he said, with a firmness which kept her silent for a full half block. “Do you realize just how humiliating that might be to me?” she finally asked. “It should be humiliating to any woman of imagination enough to perceive how much suffering her vanity can impose on the dumb creatures of this eartn.” - He spoke with more heat, perhaps, than he had intended. But in the tiptilted turban and the woman beside him he found something on which to center his nebulous hatred for these city peacocks who decked themselves out in feathers and furs ravaged from the bodies of God’s helpless creatures of the wild. “You accuse me of cruelty, of unthinking cruelty,” the girl beside him was saying. “But don’t you think that deliberate cruelty is quite as bad as the other kind? And you are being deliberately cruel with me.” “My own feelings,” he announced, “are not important. The law exists, and you broke it.” “But aren’t you really breaking another sort of law?” she quietly inquired. “What law?” he demanded. face
She glanced up at his face again before she answered him. And he resented the momentary show of timidity in her eyes. “The law of chivalry, of tolerance,” she told him, “a generosity toward the weak.” “You don’t impress me as weak,” he curtly informd her. “But I am a w ornan!” “A woman subject to the laws of your land,” he corrected. “But we have so many laws,” she protested with a serio-comic little gesture. “And an equally regrettable frequency of violation,” heamended, set in his purpose that no feminine Handishments should steer him away from the straight and narrow paths of duty. And that duty seemed plainer than ever as he looked up and saw, a block ahead of him, the blue uniform of a policeman on patrol. “Can’t we go somewhere and talk this over quietly?” the girl suggested, also conscious, apparently, of the officer's approach. I IMAGINE we’ve said about all there is to say,” was Cosgrave’s altogether unsympathetic rejoinder. He had been examining her with a less impersonal glance. It annoyed him, in a vague sort of way, to discover that her crown of interdicted plumage perversely added to her beauty. “And you insist on this public humiliation?” she asked, without looking at him. “I insist that a law which 1 helped to frame should be respected,” he maintained. And she nodded, comprehendingly. after turning that statement over for a
moment or two, as though it required serious thought.
“You must hate me very much,” she said, with her meditative Mona Lisa smile. He resented that essentially feminine tendency to reduce everything to the personal. His one desire, he reminded himself, was to remain judicial. And he strove to sustain that pose by staring pointedly at her head gear as he remarked:
“I am a member of the Audubon socciety.”
“Which means, I take it, that you love birds much more than you do human beings,” she suggested, not without bitterness.
“I’m afraid you will be quite unable to argue me out of what I’ve accepted as a matter of conscience,” he announced to the Philistine in silken hosiery and serge beside him. The only soul she could claim, he began to feel, was that shining shell of one which she got every morning from her milliner and her masseuse.
“0, it’s conscience!” she said, with a small hand gesture of enlightenment. And he flushed, in spite of himself, as she added: “That, of course, leaves it quite hopeless!”
Yet, even as she spoke, she quickened her pace and stepped slightly ahead of him. Before he could fully realize the meaning of that manoeuver she stopped short before the approaching figure in the blue uniform.
“Officer,” she promptly proclaimed,
“this man is annoying me.”
The opaque Celtic eye leisurely and none too approvingly inspected Cosgrave’s person. Then it quite as leisurely and much more approvingly inspected the girl wearing the herring-gull turban.
“Do yuh know him?” inquired the policeman.
“I never saw him before he accosted me here on the street,” was her spirited reply. And Cosgrave winced perceptibly at the “accosted.”
“Do yuh want him arrested?” inquired the officer.
“I certainly do not want him annoying me,” retorted the girl.
“Will yuh lay a charge?” insisted the arm of the law, with another none too flattering inspection of the man beside her.
Cosgrave, at that, felt that he had endured about enough of such treatment.
“On the contrary, officer, I want this woman arrested!”
“So yuh want her arrested?” repeated the still impassive Celtic giant. “And just why should yuh be wantin’ her arrested?”
“For breaking the law in wearing those egret feathers on her hat,” announced Cosgrave.
Timothy McArthur, the officer, inspected the egret feathers. He did so with a leisured approval which did not add to Cosgrave’s peace of mind.
“And how’m I t’know them’s eaglet feathers,” inquired the large bodied man in blue.
“Egret,” corrected Cosgrave.
“Well, whatever yuh call ’em they suit the lady fine, to my way o’ thinking! They may be eaglet feathers and they may be rooster feathers. But yuh’ve got a divil of a lot to do yuh big omadhaun, wanderin’ around and pokin’ your long nose into what a gerrl’s wearin’ on her head. Yud’d better be gettin’ back to the millinery department.
I don’t care who yuh are or what yuh are. Yuh be on your way. And if yuh speak to this gerrl again I’ll gather yuh in so quick yuh won’t know an eaglet feather from the tail of a Cochin-China!”
The one thing Cosgrave noticed was that the oval face under the herring-gull turban was wearing the softest of smiles.
“We’ll meet again perhaps,” she said, over her shoulder.
“I hope that never happens,” retorted Cosgrave, with a glance at the nightstick of the intervening Celtic giant, implacable as fate, pointing in a direction opposite to that which the girl in the snowy egret was taking.
DUT Cosgrave and the snowy egret girl did meet again.
They met quite unexpectedly on the second evening after his lecture on “The Gulf Bird Sanctuaries,” when he was dining at the Wolcotts.
He was unaware of her presence there until a footman, going from group to chattering group, passed around the cocktails. She turned on him suddenly as he took a diffident sip of the amber mixture which meant so little to him.
“Doesn’t your conscience trouble you?” she demanded with an accusatory eye on the glass in his hand.
“Why should it?” he asked, noticing that she was looking lovelier than ever in her dinner gown of nastur-
tium red But there was no mistaking the enmity behind her pose of levity.
“Don’t you know that you are breaking one of the laws of this land?” she magisterially inquired.
“I never thought much about it,” he retorted as he put down his glass.
“But there are so many who never think much about it,” she pointed out with mock solemnity. He was able to laugh a little, but he could see that she was still intent on making him seem ridiculous.
“Few of us are perfect,” he observed, though he was wondering at the time why nothing proved so devastating as the scorn of a beautiful woman.
“Yet so many of us demand perfection in others,” she proclaimed. She said it light-heartedly enough, but he was not unaware of the sabre sheathed in rose leaves. He stood studying her face with an impersonal intentness which brought the faintest touch of color into her cheek.
“I fancy it’s going to be hard for us to be friends,” she observed, with her discounting small smile.
“I rather imagine it’s going to be quite impossible.” he found the brutality to retort.
He was very sorry, the next moment, that he had said it, and he was still sorrier when, a few minutes later, he found himself confronted by the lugubrious pleasure of taking her in to dinner. He had no wish to nurse grudges. But he was not unconscious of the enmity which she necessarily entertained for him. And he had small liking for the type. He flattered himself that he knew it only too well, the youthfully arrogant, and unchallenged, the indulged and self-indulgent and blightingly derisive jeune fille of modern America, imperious in her pursuit of pleasure, trading casually on her beauty, and cynically persuaded that both the problems and the laws of this world were for persons other than herself. What began to puzzle him, however, was her sustained air of meekness. It reminded him, in a disturbing sort of way, of the dissimulative wounded bird movements of the mother pheasant when frightened from her nest.
“It’s a small world, isn’t it?” she observed toward the end of a dinner which could still show' perversely pleasant moments to him. “Especially to the evil doer!”
He ásked her why she said that.
“Because I’ve discovered that it’s on Lake Trevor you have your bird sanctuary. And I find that I’m to spend a month with the Wolcotts, almost side by side with it.”
“I shudder to think of the consequences!” He was able, however, to smile as he said it.
“Your fears, I feel, are quite groundless," she countered
with her quiet smile. “I intend, in fact, to find out a great deal about bird life.”
“I trust it will change your point of view,” he remarked, wondering why she should sit studying him with such a meek and meditative eye. Yet his sense of triumph in scoring against a too open-handed enemy was not as enduring as it might have been. For, a few minutes later, he had the dubious pleasure of hearing her recite to a youth whom she addressed as “Kennie” the lines of a new song which she lightly asked him to set to music.
“It ends up, Kennie, something like this:
‘Remember, gent'e neighbors then,
‘ ’Tis wrong to tease the bat: ‘Embrace the badger in his den,
‘Be friendly with the rat,
‘And love the little birdies when ‘They love you, tit for tat;
‘And never pluck the jenny-wren ‘To decorate you hat!’ ”
Cosgrave turned slowly about and looked at the girl with the flushed cheeks. It seemed strange that he could both despise her and admire her in the same breath.
“Your poem,” he solemnly informed her, “is much prettier than the motive which inspired it.”
She merely shrugged a slender shoulder under its slender metalled strap.
“Motives,” she casually remarked, “are so terribly hard to fathom.”
COSGRAVE, with the advance of spring, found himself an unexpectedly busy man. He was not so preoccupied, however, that he failed to note when the over-elaborate “camp” of the Wolcott's was opened for the season. Nor was he, with his trained sharpness of vision, altogether unconscious of the arrival of an alert bodied young lady, who in rather resplendent sweaters and peg top breeches went paddling and tramping and angling above his beloved demesne. She halloed to him once, across the bay, and he quite solemnly halloed back to her. So when he came face to face with her, while fungus hunting in a bit of woods on the mainland, she seemed reprovingly reserved in her manner and he went on his way again, oppressed with a vague sense of disappointment at the young lady’s indifference.
But he found himself unconsciously' on the lookout for the resplendent sweaters and the alert young body which wore them. The thought of her -wandering about his lonely hills added an unfamiliar warmth to that familiar landscape, sending him about his devious tasks with a feeling of being immersed in a wide but undefined adventure. He tried to cooper together a claim that he disliked this intrusive young person with the perplexing, mocking eyes. But he was never quite able to make out a case. And when young men arrived at the Wolcott’s for the weekend Cosgrave was indeterminately jealous of those gaylyapparelled youths who disturbed his nesting water fowl and went fishing on his private reserve.
It was when returning from an investigation of certain of the depredations that he unexpectedly' encountered Caroma Reeder. He found her beside his hilltop trail, huddled against a rock. He stopped short, disturbed by the quiescence of that customarily active figure.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
“I’m afraid I’ve sprained my ankle,” she replied with her fingers clasped about one of her high laced tan brogans.
He knelt down beside her and examined the injured foot. She winced as he pressed on the leather covered ankle.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to get this shoe off,” he announced, and proceeded to unlace it. And he noticed that she winced again as she carefully' worked her foot out of the shoe.
“Now the stocking,” he proclaimed.
But she demurred at that.
“It hurts too much,” she objected, coloring a trifle.
So he re-examined the ankle through its ribbed w'ooien stocking. He could detect nothing alarming in its condition. There was no swelling that he could see, and there were obviously' no broken bones, though she ventured a little cry or two of pain as his strong fingers explored the injured area.
“Can you walk?” asked Cosgrave, looking for the first time directly into her face. It impressed him as a singularly appealing face, wdth its misty gray ey'es and its turkey-spotted small nose and its mobile red mouth with just a trace of wilfulness about the curving line of the lips.
The girl shook her head in negation.
‘T tried,” she acknowledged. ‘‘But 1 couldn’t quite manage it.” ‘‘Shall we try again?” he asked, quite impersonally. “All right.” she agreed, with no great parade of hopefulness. They had considerable trouble in getting the shoe on agam. It was Cosgrave who laced it up. repeatedly asking if he was making it too tight And it was Cosgrave who helped her to her feet and supported her with one stalwart arm while she essayed a none too promising effort to hobble along at his side -It s no use,” she said, sitting down on a stone and nursing the injures! ankle between her clasped fingers. “I think you'd better leave me here.” “And then what?” he asked. ”You might send somebody up from the Wolcott’s to come and get me." she suggested, adding with unlooked for meekness: “If you will be so kind.” Cosgrave laughed. ”1 imagine 1 can manage you as well as anybody from the Wolcott house,” he announced. How do you mean manage me?” she asked, massaging her foot w ith a meditative hand. ‘ I’ll have to carry you.” he told her. speaking as impassively as possible. "But you couldn’t to that.” she said, without looking up at him. And still again he laughed. ‘ It s a little over a mile and a quarter,” he admitted. “But we’ll manage without any trouble. I carried a deer hunter with a broken leg over four miles of broken country once and he was a trifle heavier than you.” She inspected him with an appraising eye. ‘T know you must be strong," she admitted. "But it doesn’t seem—” “Doesn't seem what?” he inquired almost brusquely, •s she suddenly broke off in her remarks. "Doesn’t seem fair,” she said, evading his eye, ”W*e can decide about that later,” he told her. "The important point is to tell me when you're tired. Then we can try a new position."
LIE SEEMED very businesslike ** about it all. She had thought at first that he would carry' her in his arms. Instead of that, however, he carried her in the approved manner of the woodsman when faced by such contingencies. He carried her “pick-a-back" with the weight of her body resting along his spine and her arms clasped about his neck and his own hands linked under her knees. It was. she supposed, a sensible and comfortable way of carrying people. But it began to impress her as deplorably lacking in dignity. She might have been a bag of meal on a miller's back or a bale of jute reposing on a stevedore’s shoulder blades. And her gallant knight, as the journey proceeded, betray'ed no undue tendency toward conversation. "Would you mind letting me down a moment?" she said in a somewhat stifled tone of voice as they emerged from the wooded higher land and came within sight of the Wolcott lodge. He did as she asked. He let her down as casually as though she were a child grown tired of a gambol. But his eyes were solemn as he studied her somewhat flushed face. "I think I can manage by myself for the rest of the way',” she found the courage to suggest. But Cosgrave would not hear of it. ’ You're tired, of course,” he admitted“So this time we’ll try another position.” "But it's you who must be tired,” she protested. “Not a bit of it,” he stoutly asserted. “So take hold, and 111 have you home in ten minutes.” The "taking hold,” she found, consisted in being compelled to wrap one arm closely about his neck, for this time he was carrying her in his arms. And in this way he carried her right to the wide verandah of the Wolcott lodge, which he mounted with his silent
and slightly Hushed burden amid a chorus of ejaculations from the assembled company. Cosgrave made it a point to ignore those jubilant and slightly derisive cries. The one person he found it hard to forgive, however, was the knickerbockered youth with a languid smile who clicked a camera as Caroma Reeder came up the steps in his arms. That, Cosgrave felt, was going a bit too far.
"No, it’s nothing serious,” he solemnly assured Mrs. Wolcott. "It’s merely that Miss Reeder has sprained her ankle. As you see. she’s not able to walk. So I’ll send Doctor Angus over as soon as 1 can get in touch with him. I’ve found him a very dependable physician.” Then Cosgrave turned to the young man with the camera. "I’d prefer," he announced with unexpected spirit, "not perpetuating the ridiculous.” Whereupon he violently took possession of the camera, flung it to the floor, and crushed it with his heel. There was a moment of silence as Cosgrave wheeled about and went down the steps. “Isn’t it amazingly like something out of the Bronze Age,” murmured a young woman in a rose silk sweater. . “And a most amazing disregard for other people’s property!” added Kennie Fillmore the rueful eyed owner of the camera, as he stooped with a shrug to gather up the ruins... IT WAS a week later, when Cosgrave and Doctor Angus were fishing for rainbow trout in the back hills, that the man of medicine was prompted to comment on the case. “Say, Phil, I’m afraid they’ve got the laugh on you down at the Wolcott cottage,” he observed as he bent over a book of flies. Cosgrave, without looking up, inquired as to the reason for this. “You remember that city girl with the sprained ankle I went down to see?” “Yes, I rather remember her,” acknowledged Cosgrave. “Well, there was nothing more wrong with her foot than there is with mine.” “You mean she could have walked if she wanted to?” asked Cosgrave, with deepening color. The doctor nodded as he threaded a Coachman.
“I may be wrong, but I’ve got a lurking suspicion she laid a bet she’d make you carry her in.” Cosgrave sat thinking this.over. “Well I carried her,” he finally said. “For about a mile and three-quarters, as I figure it out,” commented the other, with the ghost of a smile. “I don’t regret it,” announced Cosgrave out of a second long silence.
“I shouldn’t think you would,” observed Angus with a tug at his wader straps. “She impressed me as something pretty easy to look at.” “What do you mean by that?” demanded the solemn eyed Cosgrave. “I suppose I mean that she’s an extraordinarily attractive young woman,” said the man of medicine, who was left wondering why his companion of the reel should remain so morosely silent for the rest of the afternoon. DHILIP COSGRAVE wakened up to the fact that something was wrong with him. He was moody and abstracted and found little interest in his work. He also found himself thinking about Caroma Reeder a great deal more than he cared to acknowledge. He tried to tell himself that he disliked the girl, still doing his utmost to carpenter together a case against her. Then he found himself just as eagerly fabricating excuses for her and wondering when he would have the good luck to see her again. He thought of a hundred things to say to her when that meeting should come about. And he ended up by asserting that he had no wish to see a person who had done her best to make him ridiculous. Yet his customarily steady pulse quickened a little when he caught sight of her, one warm and limpid evening on the sloping, sandy shore of Lake Trevor. She was sitting on a many antlered pine root, as motionless as a beach bird, watching the sunset. And she merely smiled her Mona Lisa smile as he came and stood before her. “I’ve a confession to make,” she said, after a moment of silence. “I don’t want to hear it,” he told her, almost roughly. “But I think you ought to know it,” she asserted with her eyes on the black fringe of the pines that brought the sunset closer.
“Ought to know what?” he asked with an involuntary
glance down at her saddleback shoes. “That I’ve contributed five hundred dollars to the new bird sanctuary fund,” she quietly announced. “What prompted you to do that?” he inquired. “You did,” she acknowledged, turning her face to him. It impressed him as a singularly lovely face. And it also impressed him as an honest one at the moment. But he studied it long and earnestly, apparently in search for some traces of guile. “I see you still don’t approve of me,” she finally asserted. “It’s your different efforts to make me appear as ridiculous as. possible that I don’t approve of,” he amended. “I’m sorry,” she said with her barricaded smile. “Why?” he demanded. “Because I really wanted to know more about these things you’re so interested in. I had no chance before of understanding.” Then she added with just a touch of color in her cheeks: “the saints, you know, are only the sinners who kept on trying.” He sat down on the sand in front of her. “I wonder if you’d actually let me teach you a few of the things I’ve learned about nature?” he questioned. The twilight was deepening slowly about them and from far out toward Thor island a bittern cried. “Would you?” she asked, with her solemn gray eyes on his face. He stared back at her for a full minute of silence. “On one condition,” he said with quite unlooked for grimness. “What is that?” she asked, following his movement. He looked at her with an eye which might at first glance have been accepted as a hostile one. Yet it betrayed more of the emotional upheavals which were making a small Vesuvius of his heart than he imagined. “What is that?” she repeated, with the last of the laughter gone from her lips. And they were adorable lips, he felt, with their poised half pout of solemnity. “That you marry me!” was his abrupt declaration. And that ultimatum
seemed to surprise him almost as much as it must have surprised the young woman confronting him. It became, in fact, her turn to remain silent for a disturbingly prolonged space of time. “I’m sorry you said that,” she finally observed. “Why?” he inquired. “Because that’s something which Kenneth Fillmore
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The Snowy Egret
has just asked me to do!” He felt that the bottom had dropped out of his world. But he did his best to bear up.
“Who’s Kenneth Fillmore?” he demanded.
“That’s the man whose camera you smashed up the other day,” she casually explained.
“Then I wish I’d smashed more than the camera,” he retorted, though he laughed a little as he said it. “And are you going to marry him?”
“That was what I was thinking about as I sat here. Kenneth, you see, doesn’t take life very seriously.”
“While I rather imagine you’d accuse me of taking it too seriously,” he prompted.
“On the contrary,” she quietly amended, “I’d accuse you of taking yourself too seriously!”
“That seemed to give me a great deal to think over.
“Life with me has been rather a solemn business,” he finally acknowledged. The unexpected note of humility in his voice to disturb her.
“While with me, obviously, it hasn’t been solemn enough.”
“Then we each ought to have something for the other,” he sturdily maintained. She laughed, but her gray eyes were as sober as the light above the black-fringed pinelands.
“I’m afraid we’ve made a very bad beginning,” she ventured.
“Then we ought to work hard for a better ending,” he valorously informed her.
Her sigh was an audible one.
“I’m afraid,” she observed,” we still don’t understand each other.”
“But I want to understand you,” he found the courage to say.
“I imagine law breakers would never greatly appeal to you!” He winced at that. But the mere fact that he could smile seemed to imply that she had already shaken a little of the solemnity out of him.
“I break a few myself,” he countered. And she rewarded him at that with a smile. It was plain to see that he was getting on a bit. “But if I told you I was already engaged to Kenneth Fillmore what would you do?”
“I’d be sorry,” he replied.
“Is that all?”
“I’m afraid,” she said, and her sigh this time was an inaudible one, “that you’re much better at hunting birds than human beings.”
He couldn’t quite catch the drift of her thought. But her allusion to bird hunting brought his none too happy mind back to what she had already said about studying nature with him. And he asked her, meekly enough, if he couldn’t hope for at least one day with her in the open.
SHE found it necessary to give this considerable thought. “Yes,” she finally agreed. “You can take me canoeing tomorrow afternoon if you care to.”
A load went from him at that and in his confusion of impression he vaguely wished that he had given less time to the study of carnivora and more to that of woman.
“That, at least, will be my day!” he proclaimed.
“Perhaps,” she reminded him, solemn eyed, “the last one!”
And that small speech magnified the cloud hovering along the horizon of his happiness.
“How about young Fillmore?” he inquired, extracting a wayward relish from what impressed him as an adjective of derogation.
“Do you want to take him with you?” she asked with her enigmatic smile.
“Not much!” retorted the dour-eyed Cosgrove.
“Then we’ll have to take the law in our own hands, won’t we?” she said with her inscrutable small laugh as she turned homeward along the hard-packed sand against which the lake water was lisping so musically.
Cosgrave did not sleep well that night.
He had too much to think about. What slowly but surely assumed the aspects of the great hour of his life seemed too close. And he seemed unable, as he lay holding post mortems on his lost and wasted life, to cope with an emergency which called for characteristics which he did not possess. For it appeared to be only too true what Caroma Reeder had said. He had spent more time in studying the ground squirrel and the shorebird than he had in studying men and women— especially women. And the bewildering light that could come and go in a woman’s eyes. And especially when they were gray eyes, the unfathomable gray of woodland valleys and wind-stirred waters. Women, in fact, had always remainded an enigma to him. He had always taken them too seriously. And now that he longed above everything else to win the confidence of one particular woman, to understand her moods and the motives behind her over-paradoxical movements, he merely intimated her with his uncouthness and antagonized her with his solemnities.
That he did long to win Caroma Reeder’s confidence became only too self-evident as he made her comfortable in the bow of his slender-bodied Rice Lake canoe and pushed off from shore. But it was more than her confidence he wanted, he realized as he headed for Thor island, lying low on the windriffled water, a good seven miles away. He knew then that he wanted the woman herself. He wanted her so badly that he could think of nothing more desirable than merely to keep on paddling, to keep on with her into never-ending waterways until all the rest of the world was left behind them.
“I think I like you best this way,” she said as she watched his sinewed brown arms send the tilted canoe along the hooker green surface of the lake.
“Why?” he asked as he noted the odd mixture of gold and mahogany in her hair.
“Because you look masterful,” she told him, “and women like masterful men.”
That, like so many of her little speeches, gave him a great deal to think about. It also revived in him the impulse to keep on paddling into the ever-receding distance.
BUT instead of doing so they landed on the desolation of Thor island, where he beached the canoe and lifted out the carefully packed supper things, after which he took her scrambling over rocks and briars and reedy swales and showed her one of his precarious wood duck nests.
She knelt beside him as he lifted away the screening litter of sticks and twigs and showed her the protective down plucked from the mother bird’s breast and the warm eggs beneath it, explaining how that covering of down could keep the eggs from chilling for a whole day, if need be, should the mother duck be driven away from her nest. Then he adjusted his binoculars and let her study the grebes and divers and sandpipers at long range, and led her to a red wing blackbird’s nest filled with its clamorous young, over which the wondering girl emitted little cries of delight. And they wandered about the desolate little island until the sun began to slope down toward the West and Cosgrove awakened to the much more desolate discovery that his day was slipping away.
So he found a sheltered spot and gathered what wood he could and left her to feed the fire while he went back to the canoe for the supper things.
He went with a heavy heart, glancing morosely back at the vital young figure bent over the smoking campfire. He walked dourly and deliberately to the little cover where the canoe had been beached, stopping still again to look back and making note of the fact that the girl’s stooping body was no longer in sight. Then, after a moment of grim silence, he did an unaccountable and an
inexcusable thing. He slid the canoe slowly down into the water, let it float there for a second or two, and pushed it it out on the lake. It drifted away in a languid half circle, veered about again, and felt the impulse of the gentle offshore breeze. Then it moved less languidly. By the time he had gathered up his camp blanket and skillet and belt hatchet and hamper of provisions it was a good fifty yards away, bearing for the open lake.
Half way back to his campfire he stopped and looked again. By this time it had doubled its distance from the cove, standing high in the water and getting the full effect of the breeze. And he knew that that it was gone for good. There was a grimness to the set of his jaw as he rejoined Caroma beside the fire. His silence, in fact, caused her to look up and sweep him with a quick glance of interrogation.
“What’s wrong? she asked.
“Why?” he temporized as he turned to put more wood on the fire.
“You look so solemn,” she lightheartedly affirmed.
“I’ve just discovered how hungry I am.”
She did what she could to help him in that jovial task, both marvelling at the adroitness of the old-time camper beside her and protesting that she loved to see life made so simple it approached the primitive. An old spirit of hilarity, indeed, seemed to overtake Caroma during that meal in the waning evening light. She appeared waywardly . merry and carefree, impressing the brooding eyed Cosgrove as very much like a child intent on getting the most out of her holiday. He tried not to think of the future, but he was not of the breed that can live its moment alone. Yet he wished, above all things, that the clock of the world would stop. The clock of the world, however, does not stop at the wish of mere mortals. Even the girl looked up, eventually, from the narcotizing glow of the embers, with a glance about at the gathering dusk.
“Don’t you think we ought to be starting back?” she asked out of the silence which had fallen over them.
He sat studying her face.
“Supposing we don’t go back?” he suggested more solemnly than he had intended.
She looked up at him and laughed. And he found something fortifying in her matter-of-factness.
“I’m afraid we haven’t any choice in the matter,” she asserted.
“No, we haven’t much choice in the matter,” he repeated as he watched her rise to her feet.
“There are certain rules of the game, of course, that have to be observed,” explained the girl as she busied herself in gathering up the camp outfit.
“Laws that mustn’t be broken?” he supplemented, as he, too, rose tardily to his feet.
“Or some solemn-eyed person will be stepping up to remind us that we’ve broken them,” she was inconsiderate enough to assert.
COSGROVE seemed unable to find any adequate reply to this thrust. He remained oddly silent as they picked their way out to the narrow curve of the beach where they had first landed from their canoe. The enormity of his offense was not at the moment troubling him. He was too occupied in wondering how she was going to accept the situation with which she was about to be confronted. Yet faintly but persistently the solitariness of her figure as she stood scanning the lonely shore line disturbed him. He began to realize that he had carried her a long way off from the world where she belonged.
She stopped suddenly and looked down at the sand, where the mark of the canoe keel was still discernible. Then she glanced about the shallow cove.
“Where’s our boat?” she asked, with her eyes directly on Cosgrove’s face.
Instead of returning that gaze he preferred looking out over the darkening lake water.
“It’s gone,” he announced.
“But how could it go?” she asked, much more quietly than he had expected.
“It must have got adrift and blown away in the offshore breeze,” he told her. She was silent a moment.
“Have we any other way of getting back?”
“None, whatever,” he was compelled to acknowledge.
“Then what can we do?” she demanded. “We’ll have to wait here until somebody comes and takes us off.”
Still again she stood silent. A loon cried, upwind, and a star or two showed in the high arch of the sky. There was a lonely sound in the lisp of the water at their feet.
“Do they know where you are?” she asked in a slightly sharpened voice. “Who?”
“No,” he replied. And still, again she stood silent.
“I told Kennie I was coming here,” she finally said, “but they’d never think of looking for us until morning. And then it would be too late!”
“Too late for what?” asked the man at her side. And the girl’s laugh was a slightly acidulated one.
“For our good friend, Mrs. Grundy,” she explained.
“I thought that lady belonged to Victorian era,” he contended.
“On the contrary, she still moves in the very best circles. And the better the circle the more terrible you’ll find her disapproval.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m lost,” was her'dolorousv reply.
“Lost to what?”
She preferred, apparently, not answering that question. And Cosgrove began to see that the situation wasn’t as simple as he had imagined.
“I can swim for it if you want me to,” he told her.
“How far is it?” she asked.
“It’s seven miles to the nearest mainland. I think I could make it in a couple of hours.”
She looked at the water and turned away with what he thought was a shudder.
“No, no; you mustn’t do that! Something might happen!”
“Would you care?” he asked. And for the second time she left one of his questions unanswered.
“I suppose we could try a signal fire?” she finally suggested.
“Yes, we could do that. But I don’t imagine they’d understand.”
“No, I don’t imagine they’ll understand,” she admitted as she sat down on the sand.
He unfolded the waterproofed camp blanket and draped it about her shoulders. More than ever she impressed him as something infinitely fragile, as something infinitely fragile betrayed into hands unworthily rough.
“What are we going to do?” she asked staring at him through the uncertain light.
“We’re going to stay here,” he proclaimed.
“No, no; I don’t mean that,” she corrected. “I mean afterward.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to marry me,” he announced, as impersonally as he was able. He waited for her to speak, scarcely breathing.
“Because the situation demands expiation?” she quietly inquired.
“No; because I want you so much,” he just as quietly told her.
“How much?” she asked.
“More than I can ever tell you,” he said.
She started to laugh, but it ended in a sigh.
“I’m afraid you’re only trying to make the best of a bad bargain,” she protested.
“I don’t care what it is so long as it brings me you.”
“But how about my feelings?” she demanded with unlooked for spirit.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” he protested as he reached for Ris belt hatchet. “I think we ought to go back to the fire, where I can make you comfortable.”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question to-night!”
BUT she let him lead her back by the hand to where the bed of embers still lay. He left her there and groped his way out to the upper end of the island, where the scrub growth was a trifle heavier. It took him some time to cut enough branches for a windbreak and a bed. When these were carried back he fell to gathering what wood he could find for the fire. When the smoldering sticks broke out into an open blaze he put up his small shelter of cedar and jack pine. On the windward side of it he built a bed of evergreens, carefully
“feathering” the branches so that the softer ends lay along the top. Then he went back to the beach and gathered up the rest of his duffel. When he returned to the fire he found the girl kneeling before it, watching the flames. Her silence filled him with a vague trouble.
“You must be tired,” he suggested as he placed the canoe cushions on the bed of evergreens for her.
“I was never more wide-awake in my life.”
“But I want you to wrap up and keep warm,” he told her conscious of the sharpening tang in the upland night air.
“All right,” she said with consolatory matter-of-factness.
She stood docile as he wrapped her up, mummylike, in his camp blanket. She remained equally impassive as he picked her up and carried her to the wind-break and adjusted a cushion for her head.
“You’re not going away?” she said, sitting up and leaning on her elbow, a moment later. For he had retreated to the far side of the bed of coals.
“I’ll stay up and keep the fire going,” he explained.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” she protested. He added fresh fuel to the coals before he spoke.
“There’s only one thing that keeps this from being the happiest night of my life,” he told her as he sat down, with the fire between them.
“What is that one thing?” she asked, staring up at the star-spangled vault of heaven.
“The thought that it’s the only night we may ever have like this,” he replied. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Of course not,” she said in a slightly flattened voice.
He filled his pipe and struck a match. “Which are the Pleiades?” she asked, out of the silence that had fallen over them. He pointed them out to her with his pipe stem. She stared up at them for a long time.
“Are you comfortable?” he finally asked. “It’s heavenly,” she said with a small sign of contentment.
“And you’re not — not altogether sorry?”
“Are you?” His face was unduly solemn. “Yes,” he said at last. “Why?” she asked. “Because I have something on my conscience.” “I can’t imagine you doing anything very bad,” she said after a moment of silence. “But I did do it,” he asserted. “When?” “To-day!” “I’d rather not talk about it,” she surprised him by saying. “But I want you to know.”
“What is that big star going down in the West?” she quietly interposed.
He told her that it was Venus.
“And is that Orion, almost over our heads?” *
He acknowledged that it was.
“And those lights along the water?” she asked a moment later. “What are they?”
He swung around and stared out over the lake. Then his head sank.
“That must be the Wolcott launch,” he listlessly admitted.” Yes there’s her searchlight! And she’s heading directly for us.” The girl threw off the camp blanket and came and stood beside him.
“Are they coming for us?” she asked in little more than a whisper.
“They must be,” he decorously acknowledged.
“You don’t seem glad!”
She surprised him by moving a little closer to him in the darkness.
“Neither am I,” she said very softly.
“Why do you say that?” he insisted.
“Because I’d rather be here with you.” She found the courage to admit.
“But I’ve got to tell you why you’ve had to be here with me,” he protested.
“Perhaps I know already.”
“No, you don’t understand. But I want you to.” He had to take a deep breath before he could go on. “That canoe didn’t go adrift this afternoon. I pushed it into the water and let it go, deliberately.”
“Why did you do that?” she asked ! with her hand on his arm.
“Because I forgot about everything except that I loved you and wanted to be with you.”
She moved still closer in under his shoulder.
“Then kiss me quick, before they come,” she said in an abandoned smell whisper.
He gathered her in his arms and held her close with her upturned lips warm against his own.
“You know what this means?” he demanded as the voices calling across the water brought him back to a forgotten world.
“What?” she asked with a little catch in her voice.
“That we’ll have to tell them,” he said as he faced the approaching lights,” how we belong to each other now.”
“Perhaps we won’t need to,” said the girl at his side.
“Why won’t we?” asked Cosgrove, with her hand imprisoned in his.
“Because I warned Kennie this afternoon,” she said with quiet candor, “that I was going to set that canoe adrift. But you didn’t give me the chance this time of being the outlaw. And that’s why I feel there’s still some hope for you.