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- Sara, a Princess - 43/43 -
Jasper pulled out from the sleepy little wharf. "You are as brown and rosy as any fisher-girl of us all."
As she spoke, half-idly, her glance taking in both figures before her, she could almost have sworn that a lightning-like eye-signal passed between them, before Bertha answered, with a conscious little laugh,--
"Well, I enjoy the life as if I had been born to it. Do you know, I can row--yes, and swim--as well as anybody, and I know all your old nooks, and"--
She paused suddenly, and Sara cried,--
"All mine? Why, who told you? Some of them you could never have found, I'm sure."
Bertha blushed, but Jasper spoke up bravely,--
"Oh, I showed her. She's a great climber as you used to be, Sairay."
"That was nice of you, Jasper! So you know the 'Mermaid's Castle,' and the pine walk, and all?"
Bertha assented, then turned the subject to Mrs. Searle, the cottage, etc., while Sara began to have a dawning feeling that, possibly, she need not worry over Jasper's future happiness, at least to the exclusion of her own.
Miss Prue greeted her warmly; and everything was so exactly the same, from the white, curving beach, and long fish-sheds, the unpainted houses and the plants in the bow-windows, to the red and green carpet, and dragon-china in her little parlor, that Sara could hardly believe she had ever been away. Hester, seemingly not a day older, and wearing the identical turban she had last seen her in, Sara felt certain, greeted her with respectful warmth, and Polly grunted,--
"Come in--shut the door--how d'ye do?--Git out!" in her old familiar style.
Jasper had come with her to the door to carry the large valise, which was the only luggage she had brought; but Bertha bade them _au revoir_ at the turn, saying she must hurry back to Mrs. Searle.
"Won't you come in and stay to supper, Jasper?" asked Miss Prue, as he set the valise down and prepared to depart.
"No, thank you, Cousin Prue, I've got some marketing to take home to mother that she sent for to Norcross."
"Well, come down this evening, then."
"Guess I will, thank you. I told Bertha I'd call around after her--she'd like to come too."
"Humph! very well," said his cousin, closing the door after him with more vim than was strictly necessary.
"How good it seems to be here once more!" exclaimed Sara, looking all about her. "You've had a new set of book-shelves put in, haven't you? That's all the change I see."
"Yes, and all you'll find in the whole village, likely, except in your own house--that you'd never know."
"Have you made acquaintance with Mrs. Searle and Bertha?" asked Sara, after Miss Prue had returned from trotting away with her wraps. "Oh, yes; she's a nice woman when she isn't under the dominion of her nerves, and she says she hasn't been so well in years as she is here; the air seems to agree with her, and she enjoys the quiet."
"I'm glad of that. How do you like Bertha?"
"Oh, she's a nice girl," carelessly; "she thinks the world of you."
"Does she?" smiling a little; "it's mutual."
Then her hostess asked after the twins, the Macons, etc., after which they went out to supper.
In the evening Bertha came with Jasper. There was an abounding joyousness in her manner, which so tallied with Sara's deep happiness that she could not but notice it; and it was evident that there was at least perfect good feeling, if nothing more, between her and Jasper.
After they had gone, Sara turned with a mischievous look to her old friend.
"I've an idea, Miss Prue, that Bertha is quite in love with--Killamet and its environs; she seems really enthusiastic. But how does it happen that Jasper is at home now?"
"Well, the season is nearly over, and I believe his schooner is undergoing repairs--he's his own master now, and goes and comes as he likes."
"Yes; that must be pleasant! He seems unusually well; I never saw him looking so handsome."
"Humph!" said Miss Prue, and drew the curtain sharply, after which they adjourned for the night.
Sara found Miss Prue was right about her own house. Two coats of paint outside gave it a decidedly spruce appearance, while, inside, that lady's vision as to its capabilities had been more than realized. The blending of roughness and luxury, of camp and home characteristics, gave the large central apartment a quaintness that had real charm for eyes weary of too great sameness in house-decoration; and when Mrs. Searle began negotiations for buying the place, Sara felt, for a moment, very loath to sell. But she quickly conquered the feeling, knowing its uselessness; and as the purchaser was in real earnest, and no haggler, while the seller had not an idea how to drive a hard bargain, they soon came to terms satisfactory to both.
As Mrs. Searle held out her feeble hand from her invalid chair to bid Sara farewell, she retained the young girl's a moment to say,--
"You will not mind an old woman's congratulating you upon your future, will you? I knew Robert Glendenning's father in my youth; and if the son is like him in character, you may well be congratulated."
Sara blushingly murmured her acknowledgments, and the lady continued,--
"I want to thank you for sending me Bertha, also; she's a real little treasure."
"I'm so glad you like each other, Mrs. Searle! Do you know, that whole affair has always seemed providential to me? I was a passive instrument in wiser hands." "As we all are, more often than we think---well, good- by, and when you long for a sight of the old home, and the sea, you will always be welcome here."
It was Sara's only visit to the cottage, for her stay in Killamet was necessarily short. She spent all the time possible with her dear old friend, who she could plainly see, was losing in vigor daily. But though she frankly referred to her approaching marriage, and discussed her future plans in detail, it was not till the last day that either touched upon the subject as affecting Jasper.
He had sailed away that morning, bidding her a kind farewell, but reserving his last look and handclasp for Bertha; and as the two girls walked back together from the beach, stopping to call on Zeba Osterhaus and Mrs. Updyke by the way, she could but notice how quiet her friend seemed, and mentioned it later to Miss Prue, with the bold comment,---
"She will miss Jasper greatly, for, as I understand, they have been together almost constantly these last two months."
Her hostess knitted a round or two before she answered.
"Well, and I suppose you think that shows conclusively that he never cared anything for you---but it doesn't. Jasper's as steady and faithful as the sun, and if you had married him he would have been a loyal husband to his dying day. But you wouldn't. At least that's my explanation of matters; I know he went down to Norcross on business, and came home looking as if he had buried all his friends. He acknowledged he had seen you, and it didn't take me long to figure out the matter-- and, Sara Olmstead, I will own I was disappointed in you--dreadfully disappointed! He met Bertha right here at my house--happened in one day when she was here on an errand--and she said something pleasant about you. That caught his attention, and I really believe, for a while, he sought that girl out just to hear her praises of you; and if it has grown to be something different with time, you ought to be the last one to blame him."
"Blame him? My dear Miss Prue, I think it's the nicest thing in the world--only, I came down here, you know, on purpose to win your forgiveness, and I'm not willing to go back without it."
"Oh, of course you'll get it--you know that--but I've got to go and plan out a whole new will, for I had determined to leave everything equally divided between you and Jasper which I can't do now without splitting everything in two, so"--
"I'm to be cut off with a shilling?" gayly; "but I won't complain, if you'll only continue to give me your love--ah! dear Miss Prue, I am mercenary in one way, only--I do want all the affection I can beg or borrow!"
For answer, the elder maiden took the younger in her arms and gave her a most tender kiss--so peace was made, and the ambassador who had failed to bring about the nuptials so ardently desired was at last propitiated.
This time it was old Adam Standish who rowed Sara over the bay to Norcross,--Adam, unchanged in lineament or costume,--while faithful friends, as before, watched from the beach. Again she looked back with tear-dimmed eyes; for tender memories of father, mother, baby-brother, and all childhood's associations, tugged at her heart-strings--but there was now no dread and fear to paralyze her.
She faced an uncertain future, it is true, but one bounded by tenderness and care, whose horizon-line glowed before her with rosy visions, which stretched away in glad promise to the infinite deeps of Heaven!
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