Simpkins were to go as chaperons, and Mr. Meigs had been invited by Mrs. Cortlandt, King learned to his disgust, also to act as a chaperon. All the proprieties are observed at Bar Harbor. Half a dozen long buckboards were loaded with their merry freight. At the last Mrs. Pendragon pleaded a headache, and could not go. Mr. King was wandering about among the buckboards to find an eligible seat. He was not put in good humor by finding that Mr. Meigs had ensconced himself beside Irene, and he was about crowding in with the Ashley girls--not a bad fate--when word was passed down the line from Mrs. Cortlandt, who was the autocrat of the expedition, that Mr. Meigs was to come back and take a seat with Mrs. Simpkins in the buckboard with the watermelons. She could not walk around the "carry"; she must go by the direct road, and of course she couldn't go alone. There was no help for it, and Mr. Meigs, looking as cheerful as an undertaker in a healthy season, got down from his seat and trudged back. Thus two chaperons were disposed of at a stroke, and the young men all said that they hated to assume so much responsibility. Mr. King didn't need prompting in this emergency; the wagons were already moving, and before Irene knew exactly what had happened, Mr. King was begging her pardon for the change, and seating himself beside her. And he was thinking, "What a confoundedly clever woman Mrs. Cortlandt is!" There is an informality about a buckboard that communicates itself at once to conduct. The exhilaration of the long spring-board, the necessity of holding on to something or somebody to prevent being tossed overboard, put occupants in a larkish mood that they might never attain in an ordinary vehicle. All this was favorable to King, and it relieved Irene from an embarrassment she might have felt in meeting him under ordinary circumstances. And King had the tact to treat himself and their meeting merely as accidents. "The American youth seem to have invented a novel way of disposing of chaperons," he said. "To send them in one direction and the party chaperoned in another is certainly original." "I'm not sure the chaperons like it. And I doubt if it is proper to pack them off by themselves, especially when one is a widow and the other is a widower." "It's a case of chaperon eat chaperon. I hope your friend didn't mind it. I had nearly despaired of finding a seat." "Mr. Meigs? He did not say he liked it, but he is the most obliging of men." "I suppose you have pretty well seen the island?" "We have driven about a good deal. We have seen Southwest Harbor, and Somes's Sound and Schooner Head, and the Ovens and Otter Cliffs--there's no end of things to see; it needs a month. I suppose you have been up Green Mountain?" "No. I sent Mr. Forbes." "You ought to go. It saves buying a map. Yes, I like the place immensely. You mustn't judge of the variety here by the table at Rodick's. I don't suppose there's a place on the coast that compares with it in interest; I mean variety of effects and natural beauty. If the writers wouldn't exaggerate so, talk about 'the sublimity of the mountains challenging the eternal grandeur of the sea'!" "Don't use such strong language there on the back seat," cried Miss Lamont. "This is a pleasure party. Mr. Van Dusen wants to know why Maud S. is like a salamander?" "He is not to be gratified, Marion. If it is conundrums, I shall get out and walk." Before the conundrum was guessed, the volatile Van Dusen broke out into, "Here's a how d'e do! "One of the Ashley girls in the next wagon caught up the word with, "Here's a state of things!" and the two buckboards went rattling down the hill to Eagle Lake in a "Mikado" chorus. "The Mikado troupe seems to have got over here in advance of Sullivan," said Mr. King to Irene. "I happened to see the first representation." "Oh, half these people were in London last spring. They give you the impression that they just run over to the States occasionally. Mr. Van Dusen says he keeps his apartments in whatever street it is off Piccadilly, it's so much more convenient." On the steamer crossing the lake, King hoped for an opportunity to make an explanation to Irene. But when the opportunity came he found it very difficult to tell what it was he wanted to explain, and so blundered on in commonplaces. "You like Bar Harbor so well," he said, " that I suppose your father will be buying a cottage here?" "Hardly. Mr. Meigs" (King thought there was too much Meigs in the conversation) "said that he had once thought of doing so, but he likes the place too well for that. He prefers to come here voluntarily. The trouble about owning a cottage at a watering-place is that it makes a duty of a pleasure. You can always rent, father says. He has noticed that usually when a person gets comfortably established in a summer cottage he wants to rent it." "And you like it better than Newport?" "On some accounts--the air, you know, and--" "I want to tell you," he said breaking in most illogically--" I want to tell you, Miss Benson, that it was all a wretched mistake at Newport that morning. I don't suppose you care, but I'm afraid you are not quite just to me." "I don't think I was unjust." The girl's voice was low, and she spoke slowly. "You couldn't help it. We can't any of us help it. We cannot make the world over, you know." And she looked up at him with a faint little smile. "But you didn't understand. I didn't care for any of those people. It was just an accident. Won't you believe me? I do not ask much. But I cannot have you think I'm a coward." "I never did, Mr. King. Perhaps you do not see what society is as I do. People think they can face it when they cannot. I can't say what I mean, and I think we'd better not talk about it." The boat was landing; and the party streamed up into the woods, and with jest and laughter and feigned anxiety about danger and assistance, picked its way over the rough, stony path. It was such a scramble as young ladies enjoy, especially if they are city bred, for it seems to them an achievement of more magnitude than to the country lasses who see nothing uncommon or heroic in following a cow-path. And the young men like it because it brings out the trusting, dependent, clinging nature of girls. King wished it had been five miles long instead of a mile and a half. It gave him an opportunity to show his helpful, considerate spirit. It was necessary to take her hand to help her over the bad spots, and either the bad spots increased as they went on, or Irene was deceived about it. What makes a path of this sort so perilous to a woman's heart? Is it because it is an excuse for doing what she longs to do? Taking her hand recalled the day on the rocks at Narragansett, and the nervous clutch of her little fingers, when the footing failed, sent a delicious thrill through her lover. King thought himself quite in love with Forbes--there was the warmest affection between the two--but when he hauled the artist up a Catskill cliff there wasn't the least of this sort of a thrill in the grip of hands. Perhaps if women had the ballot in their hands all this nervous fluid would disappear out of the world. At Jordan Pond boats were waiting. It is a pretty fresh-water pond between high sloping hills, and twin peaks at the north end give it even picturesqueness. There are a good many trout in it--at least that is the supposition, for the visitors very seldom get them out. When the boats with their chattering passengers had pushed out into the lake and accomplished a third of the voyage, they were met by a skiff containing the faithful chaperons Mrs. Simpkins and Mr. Meigs. They hailed, but Mr. King, who was rowing his boat, did not slacken speed. "Are you much tired, Miss Benson?" shouted Mr. Meigs. King didn't like this assumption of protection. "I've brought you a shawl." "Hang his paternal impudence!" growled King, under his breath, as he threw himself back with a jerk on the oars that nearly sent Irene over the stern of the boat. Evidently the boat-load, of which the Ashley girls and Mr. Van Dusen were a part, had taken the sense of this little comedy, for immediately they struck up: "For he is going to marry Yum-Yum-- Yum-Yum! For he is going to marry Yum-Yum-- Yum-Yum!" This pleasantry passed entirely over the head of Irene, who had not heard the "Mikado," but King accepted it as a good omen, and forgave its impudence. It set Mr. Meigs thinking that he had a rival. At the landing, however, Mr. Meigs was on hand to help Irene out, and a presentation of Mr. King followed. Mr. Meigs was polite even to cordiality, and thanked him for taking such good care of her. Men will make such blunders sometimes. "Oh, we are old friends," she said carelessly. Mr. Meigs tried to mend matters by saying that he had promised Mrs. Benson, you know, to look after her. There was that in Irene's manner that said she was not to be appropriated without leave. But the consciousness that her look betrayed this softened her at once towards Mr. Meigs, and decidedly improved his chances for the evening. The philosopher says that women are cruelest when they set out to be kind. The supper was an 'al fresco' affair, the party being seated about on rocks and logs and shawls spread upon the grass near the farmer's house. The scene was a very pretty one, at least the artist thought so, and Miss Lamont said it was lovely, and the Ashley girls declared it was just divine. There was no reason why King should not enjoy the chaff and merriment and the sunset light which touched the group, except that the one woman he cared to serve was enveloped in the attentions of Mr. Meigs. The drive home in the moonlight was the best part of the excursion, or it would have been if there had not been a general change of seats ordered, altogether, as Mr. King thought, for the accommodation of the Boston man.
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