"What are you going to wear to-night in case you can go, Mary Bell?" said Ellen Brewster in her lowest tones.
"Come upstairs and I'll show you," said Mary Bell Barber, glancing, as they tiptoed out of the room, toward the kitchen's sunny big west window, where the invalid mother lay in uneasy slumber.
"My new white looks grand," said Ellen on the stairs. "I made it empire."
Mary Bell said nothing. She opened the door of her spacious bare bedroom, where tree shadows lay like a pattern on the faded carpet, and the sinking sun found worn places in the clean white curtains. On the bed lay a little ruffled pink gown, a petticoat foamy with lace, white stockings, and white slippers. Mary Bell caught up the gown and held the shoulders against her own, regarding the older girl meanwhile with innocent, exultant eyes. Ellen was impressed.
"Well, for pity's sake--if you haven't done wonders with that dress!" she ejaculated admiringly. "What on earth did you do to it?"
"Well--first I thought it was too far gone," confessed Mary Bell, laying it down tenderly, "and I wished I hadn't been in such a hurry to get my new hat. But I ripped it all up and washed it, and I took these little roses off my year-before-last hat, and got a new pattern,--and I tell you I worked! Wait until you see it on! I just finished pressing it this afternoon."
"Oh, say--I hope you can go now, after all this!" said Ellen, earnestly.
The other girl's face clouded.
"I'll never get over it if I don't!" she said. "It seems to me I never wanted to go anywhere so much in all my life! But some one's got to stay with mama."
"I'd go crazy,--not knowing!" said Ellen. "Who are you going to ask?"
"There it is!" said Mary Bell. "Until yesterday I thought, of course, Gran'ma Scott would come. Then Mary died, and she went up to Dayne. So I went over and asked Bernie; her baby isn't but three weeks old, you know, and I thought she might bring it over here. Mama would love to have it! But late last night Tom came over, and he said Bernie was so crazy to go, they were going to take the baby along!"
"You poor thing!" said the sympathetic listener.
"I was nearly crazy!" said Mary Bell, crimping a pink ruffle with careful finger-tips. "I was working on this when he came, and after he'd gone I crumpled it all up and cried all over it! Well, I guess I didn't sleep much, and finally, I got up early, and wrote a letter to Aunt Matty, in Sacramento, and I ran over to Dinwoodie's with it this morning, and asked Lew if he was going up there to-day. He said he was, and he took the note for Aunt Mat. I told her about the dance, and that every one was going, and asked her to come back with Lew. He said he'd see her first thing!"
"Oh, she will!" said Ellen, confidently. "But, say, Mary Bell, why don't you walk over to the hotel with me now and ask Johnnie if she'll stay if your aunt doesn't come? I don't believe she and Walt are going."
"They mightn't want to leave the hotel on account of drummers on the night train," said Mary Bell, dubiously. "And that's the very time mama gets most scared. She's always afraid there are boes on the train."
"Boes!" said Ellen, scornfully, "what could a bo do!"
"Well, I will go over and talk to Johnnie," said Mary Bell, with sudden hope. "I'm going to get all ready except my dress, in case Aunt Mat comes," she confided eagerly, when she had kissed the drowsy mother, and they were on their way.
"Say, did you know that Jim Carr is going to-night with Carrie Parmalee?" said Ellen, significantly, as the girls crossed the clean, bare dooryard, under the blossoming locust trees.
Mary Bell's heart grew cold,--sank. She had hoped, if she did go, that some chance might make her escort no other than Jim Carr.
"It'll make me sick if she gets him," said Ellen, frankly. Although engaged herself, she felt an unabated interest in the love-affairs about her.
"Is he going to drive her over?" asked Mary Bell, clearing her throat.
"No, thank the Lord for that!" said Ellen, piously. "No. It's all Mrs. Parmalee's doing, anyway! His horse is lame, and I guess she thought it was a good chance! He'll drive over there with Gus and mama and papa and Sadie and Mar'gret; and I guess he'll get enough of 'em, too!"
Mary Bell breathed again. He hadn't asked Carrie, anyway. And if she, Mary Bell, really went to the dance, and the pink frock looked well, and Jim Carr saw all the other boys crowding about her for dances--
The rosy dream brought them to the steps of the American Palace Hotel, for Deaneville was only a village, and a brisk walker might have circled it in twenty minutes. The hideous brown hotel, with its long porches, was the largest building in the place, except for hay barns, and fruit storehouses. Three or four saloons, a "social hall," the "general store," and the smithy, formed the main street, and diverging from it scattered the wide shady lanes that led to old homesteads and orchards.
"Johnnie," Walt Larabee's little black-eyed manager and wife, and the most beloved of Deaneville matrons, was in the bare, odorous hallway. She was clad in faded blue denim overalls, and a floating transparent kimono of some cheap stuff. Her coal-black hair was rigidly puffed and pinned, and ornamented with two coquettish red roses, and her thin cheeks were rouged.
"Well, say--don't you girls think you're the whole thing!" said the lady, blithely. "Not for a minute! Walt and me are going to this dance, too!"
She waved toward them one of the slippers she was cleaning.
"Walt said somethin' about it yes'day," continued Mrs. Larabee, with relish, "but I said no; no twelve-mile drive for me, with a young baby! But some folks we know came down on the morning train--you girls have heard me speak of Ed and Lizzie Purdy?"
"Oh, yes!" said Mary Bell, sick with one more disappointment.
"Well," pursued Johnnie, "they had dinner here, and come t' talk it over, Lizzie was wild to go, and Ed got Walt all worked up, and nothing would do but we must get out our old carryall, and take their Thelma and my Maxine along! Well, laugh--we were like a lot of kids! I'm crazy to dance just once in Pitcher's barn. We're going up early, and have our supper up there."
"We're going to do that, too," said Ellen, with pleasant anticipation. "Ma and I always help set tables, and so on! It's lots of fun!"
Mary Bell's face grew sober as she listened. It would be fun to be one of the gay party in the big barn, in the twilight, and to have her share of the unpacking and arranging, and the excitement of arriving wagons and groups. The great supper of cold chicken and boiled eggs and fruit and pickles, the fifty varieties of cake, would be spread downstairs; and upstairs the musicians would be tuning their instruments as early as seven o'clock, and the eager boys and girls trying their steps, and changing cards. And then there would be feasting and laughing and talking, and, above all, dancing until dawn!
"Beg pardon, Johnnie?" she stammered.
"Well, looks like some one round here is in love, or something!" said Johnnie, freshly. "I never had it that bad, did you, Ellen? Ellen's been telling me how you're fixed, Mary Bell," she went on with deep concern, "and I was suggestin' that you run over to the general store, and ask Mis' Rowe--or I should say, Mis' Bates," she corrected herself with a grin, and the girls laughed--"if she won't sleep at your house tonight. Chess'll tend store. It'll be something fierce if you don't go, Mary Bell, so you run along and ask the bride!" laughed Johnnie.
"I believe I would," approved Ellen, and the girls accordingly crossed the grassy, uneven street to the store.
An immense gray-haired woman was in the doorway.
"Well, is it ribbon or stockings, or what?" said she, smiling. "The place has gone crazy! There ain't going to be a soul here but me to- night."
Mary Bell was silent. Ellen spoke.
"Chess ain't going, is he?" she asked.
The old woman shook with laughter.
"Chess ain't nothing but a regular kid," she said. "He was dying to go, but he knew I couldn't, and he never said a word. Finally, my boy Tom and his wife, and Len and Josie and the children, they all drove by on their way to Pitcher's; and Len--he's a good deal older'n Chess, you know--he says to me, 'You'd oughter leave Chess come along with the rest of us, ma; jest because he's married ain't no reason he's forgot how to dance!' Well, I burst right out laughing, and I says, 'Why didn't he say he wanted to go?' and Chess run upstairs for his other suit, and off they all went!"
There was nothing for it, then, but to wait for Lew Dinwoodie and the news from Aunt Mat.
Mary Bell walked slowly back through the fragrant lanes, passed now and then by a surrey loaded with joyous passengers already bound for Pitcher's barn. She was at her own gate, when a voice calling her whisked her about as if by magic.
"Hello, Mary Bell!" said Jim Carr, joining her. But she looked so pretty in her blue cotton dress, with the yellow level of a field of mustard-tops behind her, and beyond that the windbreak of gold- tipped eucalyptus trees, that he went on almost confusedly, "You-- you look terribly pretty in that dress! Is that what you're going to wear?"
"This!" laughed Mary Bell. And she raised her dancing eyes, to grow a little confused in her turn. Nature, obedient to whose law blossoms were whitening the fruit trees, wheat pricking through the damp earth, robins mating in the orchards, had laid the first thread of her great bond upon these two. They smiled silently at each other.
"I'm not even sure I'm going!" said Mary Bell, ruefully.
The sudden look of concern in his face went straight to her heart. Jim Carr really cared, then, that she couldn't go! Big, clever, kindly Jim Carr, who was superintendent at the power-house, and a comparative newcomer in Deaneville, was an important personage.
"Not going!" said Jim, blankly. "Oh, say--why not!"
Mary Bell explained. But Jim was encouraging.
"Why, of course your aunt will come!" he assured her sturdily. "She'll know what it means to you. You'll go up with the Dickeys, won't you? I'm going up early, with the Parmalees, but I'll look out for you! I've got to hunt up my kid brother now; he's got to sleep at Montgomery's to-night. I don't want him alone at the hotel, if Johnnie isn't there. If you happen to see him, will you tell him?"
"All right," said Mary Bell. And her spirits were sufficiently braced by his encouragement to enable her to call cheerfully after him, "See you later, Jim!"
"See you later!" he shouted back, and Mary Bell went back to the kitchen with a lightened heart. Aunt Mat wouldn't--couldn't--fail her!
She carried a carefully prepared tray in to her mother at five o'clock, and sat beside her while the invalid slowly finished her milk-toast and tea, and the cookies and jelly Mary Bell was famous for. The girl chatted cheerfully.
"You don't feel very badly about the dance, do you, deary?" said Mrs. Barber, as the gentle young hands settled her comfortably for the night.
"Not a speck!" answered Mary Bell, bravely, as she kissed her.
"Bernie and Johnnie going--married women!" said the old lady, sleepily. "I never heard such nonsense! Don't you go out of call, will you, dear?"
Mary Bell was eating her own supper, ten minutes later, when the train whistled, and she ran, breathless, to the road, to meet Lew Dinwoodie.
"What did Aunt Matty say, Lew?" called Mary Bell, peering behind him into the closed surrey, for a glimpse of the old lady.
The man stared at her with a falling jaw.
"Well, I guess I owe you one for this, Mary Bell!" he stammered. "I'll eat my shirt if I thought of your note again!"
It was too much. Mary Bell began to dislodge little particles of dried mud carefully from the wheel, her eyes swimming, her breast rising.
"Right in her part of town, too!" pursued the contrite messenger; "but, as I say--"
Mary Bell did not hear him. After a while he was gone, and she was sitting on the steps, hopeless, dispirited, tired. She sombrely watched the departing surreys and phaetons. "I could have gone with them--or with them!" she would think, when there was an empty seat.
The Parmalees went by; two carriage loads. Jim Carr was in the phaeton with Carrie at his side. All the others were in the surrey.
"I'm keeping 'em where I can have an eye on 'em!" Mrs. Parmalee called out, pointing to the phaeton.
Everybody waved, and Mary Bell waved back. But when they were gone, she dropped her head on her arms.
Dusk came; the village was very still. A train thundered by, and Potter's windmill creaked and splashed,--creaked and splashed. A cow-bell clanked in the lane, and Mary Bell looked up to see the Dickeys' cow dawdle by, her nose sniffing idly at the clover, her downy great bag leaving a trail of foam on the fresh grass. From up the road came the faint approaching rattle of wheels.
The girl looked toward the sound curiously. Who drove so recklessly? She noticed a bank of low clouds in the east, and felt a puff of cool air on her cheek.
"It feels like rain!" she said, watching the wagon as it came near. "That's Henderson's mare, and that's their wooden-legged hired man! Why, what is it?"
The last words were cried aloud, for the galloping old horse and driver were at the gate now, and eyes less sharp than Mary Bell's would have detected something wrong.
"What is it?" she cried again, at the gate. The man pulled up sharply.
"Say, ain't there a man here, nowhere?" he demanded abruptly. "I've been banging at every house along the way; ain't there a soul in the place?"
"Dance!" explained Mary Bell. "The Ladies' Improvement Society in Pitcher's new barn. Why! what is it? Mrs. Henderson sick?"
"No, ma'am!" said the old fellow, "but things is pretty serious down there!" He jerked his hand over his shoulder. "There's some little fellers,--four or five of 'em!--seems they took a boat to-day, to go ducking, and they're lost in the tide-marsh! My God--an' I never thought of the dance!" He gave a despairing glance at the quiet street. "I come here to get twenty men--or thirty--for the search!" he said heavily. "I don't know what to do, now!"
Mary Bell had turned very white.
"There isn't a soul here, Stumpy!" she said, terrified eyes on his face. "There isn't a man in town! What can we do!--Say!" she cried suddenly, springing to the seat, "drive me over to Mrs. Rowe's; she's married to Chess Bates, you know, at the store. Go on, Stumpy! What boys are they?"
"I know the Turner boys and the Dickey boy is three of 'em," said the old man, "and Henderson's own boy, Davy--poor leetle feller!-- and Buddy Hopper, and the Adams boy. They had a couple of guns, and they was all in this boat of Hopper's, poking round the marsh, and it began to look like rain, and got dark. Well, she was shipping a little water, and Hopper and Adams wanted to tie her to the edge and walk up over the marsh, but the other fellers wanted to go on round the point. So Adams and Hopper left 'em, and come over the marsh, and walked to the point, but she wasn't there. Well, they waited and hallooed, but bimeby they got scared, and come flying up to Henderson's, and Henderson and me--there ain't another man there to- night!--we run down to the marsh, and yelled, but us two couldn't do nothing! Tide's due at eleven, and it's going to rain, so I left him, and come in for some men. Henderson's just about crazy! They lost a boy in that tide-marsh a while back."
"It's too awful,--it's just murder to let 'em go there!" said Mary Bell, heart-sick. For no dragon of old ever claimed his prey more regularly than did the terrible pools and quicksands of the great marsh.
Mrs. Bates was practical. Her old face blanched, but she began to plan instantly.
"Don't cry, Mary Bell!" said she; "this thing is in God's hands. He can save the poor little fellers jest as easy with a one-legged man as he could with a hundred hands. You drive over to the depot, Stumpy, and tell the operator to plug away at Barville until he gets some one to take a message to Pitcher's barn. It'll be a good three hours before they even git this far," she continued doubtfully, as the old man eagerly rattled away, "and then they've got to get down to Henderson's; but it may be an all-night search! Now, lemme see who else we can git. Deefy, over to the saloon, wouldn't be no good. But there's Adams's Chinee boy, he's a good strong feller; you stop for him, and git Gran'pa Barry, too; he's home to-night!"
"Look here, Mrs. Bates," said Mary Bell, "shall I go?"
The old woman speculatively measured the girl's superb figure, her glowing strength, her eager, resolute face. Mary Bell was like a spirited horse, wild to be given her head.
"You're worth three men," said the storekeeper.
"Got light boots?"
"Yes," said the girl, thrilled and quivering.
"You run git 'em!" said Mrs. Bates, "and git your good lantern. I'll be gitting another lantern, and some whiskey. Poor little fellers! I hope to God they're all sneakin' home--afraid of a lickin'!--this very minute. And Mary Bell, you tell your mother I'll close up, and come and sit with her!"
It was a sorry search-party, after all, that presently rattled out of town in the old wagon. On the back seat sat the impassive and good-natured Chinese boy, and a Swedish cook discovered at the last moment in the railroad camp and pressed into service. On the front seat Mary Bell was wedged in between the driver and Grandpa Barry, a thin, sinewy old man, stupid from sleep. Mary Bell never forgot the silent drive. The evening was turning chilly, low clouds scudded across the sky, little gusts of wind, heavy with rain, blew about them. The fall of the horse's feet on the road and the rattle of harness and wheels were the only sounds to break the brooding stillness that preceded the storm. After a while the road ran level with the marshes, and they got the rank salt breeze full in their faces; and in the last light they could see the glitter of dark water creeping under the rushes. The first flying drops of rain fell.
"And right over the ridge," said Mary Bell to herself, "they are dancing!"
A fire had been built at the edge of the marsh, and three figures ran out from it as they came up: two boys and a heavy middle-aged man. It was for Mary Bell to tell Henderson that it would be hours before he could look for other help than this oddly assorted wagonful. The man's disappointment was pitiful.
"My God--my God!" he said heavily, as the situation dawned on him, "an' I counted on fifty! Well, 'tain't your fault, Mary Bell!"
They all climbed out, and faced the trackless darkening stretch of pools and hummocks, the treacherous, uncertain ground beneath a tangle of coarse grass. Even with fifty men it would have been an ugly search.
The marsh, like all the marshes thereabout, was intersected at irregular intervals by decrepit lines of fence-railing, running down from solid ground to the water's edge, half a mile away. These divisions were necessary for various reasons. In duck season the hunters who came up from San Francisco used them both as guides and as property lines, each club shooting over only a given number of sections. Between seasons the farmers kept them in repair, as a control for the cattle that strayed into the marsh in dry weather. The distance between these shaky barriers was some two or three hundred feet. At their far extremity, the posts were submerged in the restless black water of the bay.
Mary Bell caught Henderson's arm as he stood baffled and silent.
"Mr. Henderson!" she said eagerly, "don't you give in! While we're waiting for the others we can try for the boys along the fences! There's no danger, that way! We can go way down into the marsh, holding on,--and keep calling!"
"That's what I say!" shrilled old Barry, fired by her tone.
The Chinese boy had already taken hold of a rail, and was warily following it across the uneven ground.
"They've been there three hours, now!" groaned Henderson; but even as he spoke he beckoned to the two little boys. Mary Bell recognized the two survivors.
"You keep those flames so high, rain or no rain," Henderson charged them, "that we can see 'em from anywheres!"
A moment later the searchers plunged into the marsh, facing bravely away from lights and voices and solid earth.
Stumbling and slipping, Mary Bell followed the fence. The rain slapped her face, and her rubber boots dragged in the shallow water. But she thought only of five little boys losing hope and courage somewhere in this confusing waste, and her constant shouting was full of reassurance.
"Nobody would be scared with this fence to hang on to!" she assured herself, "no matter how fast the tide came in!" She rested a moment on the rail, glancing back at the distant fire, now only a dull glow, low against the sky.
Frequently the rail was broken, and dipped treacherously for a few feet; once it was lacking entirely, and for an awful ten feet she must bridge the darkness without its help. She stood still, turning her guttering lantern on waving grasses and sinister pools. "They are all dancing now!" she said aloud, wonderingly, when she had reached the opposite rail, with a fast-beating heart. After an endless period of plunging and shouting, she was at the water's very edge.
There was light enough to see the ruffled, cruel surface of the river, where its sluggish forces swept into the bay. Idly bumping the grasses was something that brought Mary Bell's heart into her throat. Then she cried out in relief, for it was not the thing she feared, but the little deserted boat, right side up.
"That means they left her!" said Mary Bell, trembling with nervous terror. She shouted again in the darkness, before turning for the homeward trip. It seemed very long. Once she thought she must be going aimlessly back and forth on the same bit of rail, but a moment more brought her to the missing rail again, and she knew she had been right. Blown by the wind, struck by the now flying rain, deafened by the gurgling water and the rising storm, she fought her way back to the fire again. The others were all there, and with them three cramped and chilled little boys, crying fright and relief, and clinging to the nearest adult shoulder. The Chinese boy and Grandpa Barry had found them, standing on a hummock that was still clear of the rising tide, and shouting with all their weary strength.
"Oh, thank God!" said Mary Bell, her heart rising with sudden hope.
"We'll get the others, now, please God!" said Henderson, quietly. "We were working too far over. You said they were all right when you left them, Lesty?" he said to one of the shivering little lads.
"Ye-es, sir!" chattered Lesty, eagerly, shaking with nervousness. "They was both all right! Davy wanted to git Billy over to the fence, so if the tide come up!"--terror swept him again. "Oh, Mr. Henderson, git 'em--git 'em! Don't leave 'em drowned out there!" he sobbed frantically, clutching the big man with bony, wet little hands.
"I'm going to try, Lesty!"
Henderson turned back to the marsh, and Mary Bell went too.
"Billy who?" said Mary Bell; but her heart told her, before Henderson said it, that the answer would be, "Jim Carr's kid brother!"
"Are you good for this?" said Henderson, when the four fittest had reached that part of the marsh where the boys had been found.
She met his look courageously, his lantern showing her wet, brave young face, crossed by dripping strands of hair.
"Sure!" she said.
"Well, God bless you!" he said; "God--bless--you! You take this fence, I'll go over to that 'n."
The rushing, noisy darkness again. The horrible wind, the slipping, the plunging again. Again the slow, slow progress; driven and whipped now by the thought that at this very instant--or this one-- the boys might be giving out, relaxing hold, abandoning hope, and slipping numb and unconscious into the rising, chuckling water.
Mary Bell did not think of the dance now. But she thought of rest; of rest in the warm safety of her own home. She thought of the sunny dooryard, the delicious security of the big kitchen; of her mother, so placid and so infinitely dear, on her couch; of the serene comings and goings of neighbors and friends. How wonderful it all seemed! Lights, laughter, peace,--just to be back among them again, and to rest!
And she was going away from it all, into the blackness. Her lantern glimmered,--went out. Mary Bell's cramped fingers let it fall. Her heart pounded with fear of the inky dark.
She clung to the fence with both arms, panting, resting. And while she hung there, through rain and wind, across darkness and space, she heard a voice, a gallant, sturdy little voice, desperately calling,--
Like an electric current, strength surged through Mary Bell.
"O God! You've saved 'em, you've got 'em safe!" she sobbed, plunging frantically forward. And she shouted, "All right--all right, darling! Hang on, boys! Just hang on! Hal-lo, there! Billy! Davy! Here I am!"
Down in pools, up again, laughing, crying, shouting, Mary Bell reached them at last, felt the heavenly grasp of hard little hands reaching for hers in the dark, brushed her face against Billy Carr's wet little cheek, and flung her arm about Davy Henderson's square shoulders. They had been shouting and calling for two long hours, not ten feet from the fence.
Incoherent, laughing and crying, they clung together. Davy was alert and brave, but the smaller boy was heavy with sleep.
"Gee, it's good you came!" said Davy, simply, over and over.
"You've got your boots on!" she shouted, close to his ear; "they're too heavy! We've got a long pull back, Davy,--I think we ought to go stocking feet!"
"Shall we take off our coats, too?" he said sensibly.
They did so, little Billy stumbling as Mary Bell loosened his hands from the fence. They braced the little fellow as well as they could, and by shouted encouragement roused him to something like wakefulness.
"Is Jim coming?" he shouted.
Mary Bell assented wildly. "Start, Davy!" she urged. "We'll keep him between us. Right along the fence! What is it?" For he had stopped.
"The other fellers?" he said pitifully.
She told him that they were safe, safe at the fire, and she could hear him break down and begin to cry with the first real hope that the worst was over.
"We're going to get out of this, ain't we?" he said over and over. And over and over Mary Bell encouraged him.
"Just one more good spurt, Davy! We'll see the fire any minute now!"
In wind and darkness and roaring water, they struggled along. The tide was coming in fast. It was up to Mary Bell's knees; she was almost carrying Billy.
"What is it, Davy?" she shouted, as he stopped again.
"Miss Mary Bell, aren't we going toward the river!" he shouted back.
The sickness of utter despair weakened the girl's knees. But for a moment only. Then she drew the elder boy back, and made him pass her. Neither one spoke.
"Remember, they may come to meet us!" she would say, when Davy rested spent and breathless on the rail. The water was pushing about her waist, and was about his armpits now; to step carelessly into a pool would be fatal. Billy she was managing to keep above water by letting him step along the middle rail, when there was a middle rail. They made long rests, clinging close together.
"They ain't ever coming!" sobbed Davy, hopelessly. "I can't go no farther!"
Mary Bell managed, by leaning forward, to give him a wet slap, full in the face. The blow roused the little fellow, and he bravely stumbled ahead again.
"That's a darling, Davy!" she shouted. A second later something floating struck her elbow; a boy's rubber boot. It was perhaps the most dreadful moment of the long fight, when she realized that they were only where they had started from.
Later she heard herself urging Davy to take just ten steps more,-- just another ten. "Just think, five minutes more and we're safe, Davy!" some one said. Later, she heard her own voice saying, "Well, if you can't, then hang on the fence! Don't let go the fence!" Then there was silence. Long after, Mary Bell began to cry, and said softly, "God, God, you know I could do this if I weren't carrying Billy." After that it was all a troubled dream.
She dreamed that Davy suddenly said, "I can see the fire!" and that, as she did not stir, he cried it again, this time not so near. She dreamed that the sound of splashing boots and shouting came down across the dark water, and that lights smote her eyelids with sharp pain. An overwhelming dread of effort swept over her. She did not want to move her aching body, to raise her heavy head. Somebody's arm braced her shoulders; she toppled against it.
She dreamed that Jim Carr's voice said, "Take the kid, Sing! He's all right!" and that Jim Carr lifted her up, and shouted out, "She's almost gone!"
Then some one was carrying her across rough ground, across smooth ground, to where there was a fire, and blankets, and voices--voices- -voices.
"It makes me choke!" That was Mary Bell Barber, whispering to Jim Carr. But she could not open her eyes.
"But drink it, dearest! Swallow it!" he pleaded.
"You were too late, Jim, we couldn't hold on!" she whispered pitifully. And then, as the warmth and the stimulant had their effect, she did open her eyes; and the fire, the ring of faces, the black sky, and the moon breaking through, all slipped into place.
"Did you come for us, Jim?" she murmured, too tired to wonder why the big fellow should cry as he put his face against hers.
"I came for you, dear! I came back to sit with you on the steps. I didn't want to dance without my girl, and that's why I'm here. My brave little girl!"
Mary Bell leaned against his shoulder contentedly.
"That's right; you rest!" said Jim. "We're all going home now, and we'll have you tucked away in bed in no time. Mrs. Bates is all ready for you!"
"Jim," whispered Mary Bell.
"Darling?"--he put his mouth close to the white lips.
"Jim, will you remind Aunty Bates to hang up my party dress real carefully? In all the fuss some one's sure to muss it!" said Mary Bell.