The father and the mother had witnessed with tempered satisfaction the interest which seemed to be growing up between Ellen and the young minister. By this time they had learned not to expect too much of any turn she might take; she reverted to a mood as suddenly as she left it. They could not quite make out Breckon himself; he was at least as great a puzzle to them as their own child was.
"It seems," said Mrs. Kenton, in their first review of the affair, after Boyne had done a brother's duty in trying to bring Ellen under their mother's censure, "that he was the gentleman who discussed the theatre with Boyne at the vaudeville last winter. Boyne just casually mentioned it. I was so provoked!"
"I don't see what bearing the fact has," the judge remarked.
"Why, Boyne liked him very much that night, but now he seems to feel very much as Lottie does about him. He thinks he laughs too much."
"I don't know that there's much harm in that," said the judge. "And I shouldn't value Boyne's opinion of character very highly."
"I value any one's intuitions—especially children's."
"Boyne's in that middle state where he isn't quite a child. And so is Lottie, for that matter."
"That is true," their mother assented. "And we ought to be glad of anything that takes Ellen's mind off herself. If I could only believe she was forgetting that wretch!"
"Does she ever speak of him?"
"She never hints of him, even. But her mind may be full of him all the time."
The judge laughed impatiently. "It strikes me that this young Mr. Breckon hasn't much advantage of Ellen in what Lottie calls closeness!"
"Ellen has always been very reserved. It would have been better for her if she hadn't. Oh, I scarcely dare to hope anything! Rufus, I feel that in everything of this kind we are very ignorant and inexperienced."
"Inexperienced!" Renton retorted. "I don't want any more experience of the kind Ellen has given us."
"I don't mean that. I mean—this Mr. Breckon. I can't tell what attracts him in the child. She must appear very crude and uncultivated to him. You needn't resent it so! I know she's read a great deal, and you've made her think herself intellectual—but the very simple-heartedness of the way she would show out her reading would make such a young man see that she wasn't like the girls he was used to. They would hide their intellectuality, if they had any. It's no use your trying to fight it Mr. Kenton. We are country people, and he knows it."
"Tuskingum isn't country!" the judge declared.
"It isn't city. And we don't know anything about the world, any of us. Oh, I suppose we can read and write! But we don't know the a, b, c of the things he, knows. He, belongs to a kind of society—of people—in New York that I had glimpses of in the winter, but that I never imagined before. They made me feel very belated and benighted—as if I hadn't, read or thought anything. They didn't mean to; but I couldn't help it, and they couldn't."
"You—you've been frightened out of your propriety by what you've seen in New York," said her husband.
"I've been frightened, certainly. And I wish you had been, too. I wish you wouldn't be so conceited about Ellen. It scares me to see you so. Poor, sick thing, her looks are all gone! You must see that. And she doesn't dress like the girls he's used to. I know we've got her things in New York; but she doesn't wear them like a New-Yorker. I hope she isn't going in for MORE unhappiness!"
At the thought of this the judge's crest fell. "Do you believe she's getting interested in him?" he asked, humbly.
"No, no; I don't say that. But promise me you won't encourage her in it. And don't, for pity's sake, brag about her to him."
"No, I won't," said the judge, and he tacitly repented having done so.
The weather had changed, and when he went up from this interview with his wife in their stateroom he found a good many people strung convalescently along the promenade on their steamer-chairs. These, so far as they were women, were of such sick plainness that when he came to Ellen his heart throbbed with a glad resentment of her mother's aspersion of her health and beauty. She looked not only very well, and very pretty, but in a gay red cap and a trig jacket she looked, to her father's uncritical eyes, very stylish. The glow left his heart at eight of the empty seat beside her.
"Where is Lottie?" he asked, though it was not Lottie's whereabouts that interested him.
"Oh, she's walking with Mr. Breckon somewhere," said Ellen.
"Then she's made up her mind to tolerate him, has she?" the father asked, more lightly than he felt.
Ellen smiled. "That wasn't anything very serious, I guess. At any rate, she's walking with him."
"What book is that?" he asked, of the volume she was tilting back and forth under her hand.
She showed it. "One of his. He brought it up to amuse me, he said."
"While he was amusing himself with Lottie," thought the judge, in his jealousy for her. "It is going the same old way. Well!" What he said aloud was, "And is it amusing you?"
"I haven't looked at it yet," said the girl. "It's amusing enough to watch the sea. Oh, poppa! I never thought I should care so much for it."
"And you're glad we came?"
"I don't want to think about that. I just want to know that I'm here." She pressed his arm gently, significantly, where he sat provisionally in the chair beside her, and he was afraid to speak lest he should scare away the hope her words gave him.
He merely said, "Well, well!" and waited for her to speak further. But her impulse had exhausted itself, as if her spirit were like one of those weak forms of life which spend their strength in a quick run or flight, and then rest to gather force for another. "Where's Boyne?" he asked, after waiting for her to speak.
"He was here a minute ago. He's been talking with some of the deck passengers that are going home because they couldn't get on in America. Doesn't that seem pitiful, poppa? I always thought we had work enough for the whole world."
"Perhaps these fellows didn't try very hard to find it," said the judge.
"Perhaps," she assented.
"I shouldn't want you to get to thinking that it's all like New York. Remember how comfortable everybody is in Tuskingum."
"Yes," she said, sadly. "How far off Tuskingum seems!"
"Well, don't forget about it; and remember that wherever life is simplest and purest and kindest, that is the highest civilization."
"How much like old times it seems to hear you talk that way, poppa! I should think I was in the library at home. And I made you leave it!" she sighed.
"Your mother was glad of any excuse. And it will do us all good, if we take it in the right way," said the judge, with a didactic severity that did not hide his pang from her.
"Poor poppa!" she said.
He went away, saying that he was going to look Lottie up. His simple design was to send Lottie to her mother, so that Breckon might come back to Ellen; but he did not own this to himself.
Lottie returned from another direction with Boyne, and Ellen said, "Poppa's gone to look for you."
"Has he?" asked Lottie, dropping decisively into her chair. "Well, there's one thing; I won't call him poppa any more."
"What will you call him?" Boyne demanded, demurely.
"I'll call him father, it you want to know; and I'm going to call momma, mother. I'm not going to have those English laughing at us, and I won't say papa and mamma. Everybody that knows anything says father and mother now."
Boyne kept looking from one sister to another during Lottie's declaration, and, with his eyes on Ellen, he said, "It's true, Ellen. All the Plumptons did." He was very serious.
Ellen smiled. "I'm too old to change. I'd rather seem queer in Europe than when I get back to Tuskingum."
"You wouldn't be queer there a great while," said Lottie. "They'll all be doing it in a week after I get home."
Upon the encouragement given him by Ellen, Boyne seized the chance of being of the opposition. "Yes," he taunted Lottie, "and you think they'll say woman and man, for lady and gentleman, I suppose."
"They will as soon as they know it's the thing."
"Well, I know I won't," said Boyne. "I won't call momma a woman."
"It doesn't matter what you do, Boyne dear," his sister serenely assured him.
While he stood searching his mind for a suitable retort, a young man, not apparently many years his senior, came round the corner of the music-room, and put himself conspicuously in view at a distance from the Kentons.
"There he is, now," said Boyne. "He wants to be introduced to Lottie." He referred the question to Ellen, but Lottie answered for her.
"Then why don't you introduce him?"
"Well, I would if he was an American. But you can't tell about these English." He resumed the dignity he had lost in making the explanation to Lottie, and ignored her in turning again to Ellen. "What do you think, Ellen?"
"Oh, don't know about such things, Boyne," she said, shrinking from the responsibility.
"Well; upon my word!" cried Lottie. "If Ellen can talk by the hour with that precious Mr. Breckon, and stay up here along with him, when everybody else is down below sick, I don't think she can have a great deal to say about a half-grown boy like that being introduced to me."
"He's as old as you are," said Boyne, hotly.
"Oh! I saw him associating with you, and I thought he was a boy, too. Pardon me!" Lottie turned from giving Boyne his coup-de-grace, to plant a little stab in Ellen's breast. "To be sure, now Mr. Breckon has found those friends of his, I suppose he won't want to flirt with Ellen any more."
"Ah, ha, ha!" Boyne broke in. "Lottie is mad because he stopped to speak to some ladies he knew. Women, I suppose she'd call them."
"Well, I shouldn't call him a gentleman, anyway," said Lottie.
The pretty, smooth-faced, fresh-faced young fellow whom their varying debate had kept in abeyance, looked round at them over his shoulder as he leaned on the rail, and seemed to discover Boyne for the first time. He came promptly towards the Kentons.
"Now," said Lottie, rapidly, "you'll just HAVE to."
The young fellow touched his cap to the whole group, but he ventured to address only Boyne.
"Every one seems to be about this morning," he said, with the cheery English-rising infection.
"Yes," answered Boyne, with such snubbing coldness that Ellen's heart was touched.
"It's so pleasant," she said, "after that dark weather."
"Isn't it?" cried the young fellow, gratefully. "One doesn't often get such sunshine as this at sea, you know."
"My sister, Miss Kenton, Mr. Pogis," Boyne solemnly intervened. "And Miss Lottie Kenton."
The pretty boy bowed to each in turn, but he made no pretence of being there to talk with Ellen. "Have you been ill, too?" he actively addressed himself to Lottie.
"No, just mad," she said. "I wasn't very sick, and that made it all the worse being down in a poky state-room when I wanted to walk."
"And I suppose you've been making up for lost time this morning?"
"Not half," said Lottie.
"Oh, do finish the half with me!"
Lottie instantly rose, and flung her sister the wrap she had been holding ready to shed from the moment the young man had come up. "Keep that for me, Nell. Are you good at catching?" she asked him.
"Yes! People," she explained, and at a sudden twist of the ship she made a clutch at his shoulder.
"Oh! I think I can catch you."
As they moved off together, Boyne said, "Well, upon my word!" but Ellen did not say anything in comment on Lottie. After a while she asked, "Who were the ladies that Mr. Breckon met?"
"I didn't hear their names. They were somebody he hadn't seen before since the ship started. They looked like a young lady and her mother. It made Lottie mad when he stopped to speak with them, and she wouldn't wait till he could get through. Ran right away, and made me come, too."