THE somebody moving about in the “Grayling” was Flutters. He was arranging boat cushions, folding up wraps and shawls, and putting things generally to rights. Dear little fellow! No one had told him he ought to do this; he did it quite by grace of his own thoughtful intuition, and he found so many little things all the while to do, and did them all so gladly, that he wondered a trifle proudly how the Bonifaces had ever managed without him, and the Bonifaces wondered too.
Finally, when Flutters had gotten everything into literally ship-shape condition, and quite to his mind, off he started up the bank, bending far over, as one must when one attempts to scale a steep place rapidly. So it chanced that he did not see Miss Pauline at all until she spoke to him, and he was himself directly under the scant shadow of the apple-tree.
“Not so fast, sir,” said Pauline, in an authoritative way, which brought Flutters, surprised and breathless, to a standstill.
“Sit down,” she added in a moment, pointing to a rock covered with gray moss, and confronting the limb where she was sitting.
Flutters mechanically obeyed. He knew she must be one of the family, and as he had met many queer people in his day, did not marvel that here was somebody, to all appearances, a little queerer than the rest. She looked very pretty balanced there on the low limb of the tree, in her full-skirted gray gown, and with the western sunlight shining on her back and turning her curling yellow hair into a sort of halo about her forehead. Flutters sat and stared at her.
“Do you like my looks?” she asked complacently.
“Yes,” replied Flutters, astonished; “you are a Miss Van Vleet, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m Miss Pauline Van Vleet.”
“I thought so,” Flutters remarked, just by way of saying something.
“It is best never to say what you think,” said Miss Pauline solemnly. “Folks get themselves into trouble that way.”
Flutters felt inclined to suggest that people would be very stupid and uninteresting if they did not sometimes say what they thought, but wisely concluded it was better not to start an argument with this peculiar young person.
“Are you a new Boniface?” asked Pauline, scanning him closely.
“No, not exactly,” laughed Flutters.
“I did not ask what you were exactly; are you a new Boniface at all?”
What a queer question, thought Flutters, and then went to work to answer it to the best of his ability.
“No, I am not a Boniface at all, but I am new in this part of the country. I used to live in England.”
“What is your name?”
Miss Pauline seemed very much amused at this, saying it over to herself two or three times. “Did your father use to call you Flutters?” she asked presently, looking at him searchingly.
“No,” he answered, the color rushing into his brown face, for no one had asked him that direct question before.
“What did he call you?”
“He called me—he called me—but that is one of the things I do not tell to anybody.”
“But, Flutters, child, you will tell me, just me,” and Pauline looked at him with a look as pathetic as though she were pleading for her life.
“But I can’t, Miss Pauline, really I can’t;” whereupon Miss Pauline buried her face in her two pretty hands, and began to cry like a child.
“Why, you’re not crying for that, surely?” Flutters asked, never more astonished in his life.
“Yes, just for that—just for that—and I’ll cry harder and harder until you tell.”
The truth was, all the Van Vleets were so in the habit of humoring this poor sister of theirs, and never crossing her will if it could possibly be helped, that this refusal on Flutters’s part truly seemed to her most preposterous, and she was shedding actual tears. Flutters saw one or two of them find their way through her fingers, and, like other heroes, relented at the sight; besides, what else was to be done?
“I will tell you, I will tell you,” he said softly; “my real name is Arthur Wainwright;” and the mere sound of it, whispered though it was, made him start. It was so long now since he had heard it on the lips of any one! Indeed, it did not seem as though it belonged to him at all.
“That’s a pretty name,” replied Pauline, beginning to be comforted and to dry her tears; “now tell me all about you.”
“Oh, I can’t,” replied Flutters, pained at the need of refusing; “I must keep it a secret.”
“You can keep it a secret all the same,” said Pauline sadly, and with that insight into her own deficiencies which sometimes flashes across a distraught mind, “for, you see, I cannot remember it long enough to tell it to anybody, so tell me, please—please tell me; nothing makes Pauline so happy as a real true story.”
The entreaty in her voice was too much for Flutters, and he dreaded more than he could express a fresh outburst of tears, therefore he decided to run the risk, and try if he could to make Miss Pauline happy, especially as he thought it highly probable that what she said was true, and that she really would not remember anything long enough to repeat it.
“There is not much about me,” he began, “but I will tell you all there is.” It did not occur to his honest little soul that any story he might have chosen to concoct would have answered just as well for Miss Pauline. He neither added to nor in any way digressed from the exact truth.
“My father was an Englishman,” he continued, “and he lived for a while in India, for he had some business there, and my mother was a colored woman.”
“Oh, dear me!” said Pauline, “I would not like a father of one sort and a mother of another; which kind did you like best?”
“I do not remember my mother at all, but my father said she was beautiful and a good woman, but not just what people call a lady. She died when I was two years old, and then my father took me to England, and then after a while he married a real lady, a white English lady like himself, and they had some lovely white children; but the English mother never liked me. I think she couldn’t somehow, Miss Pauline”—he seemed to reason as though he were afraid of blaming anybody—“and I thought I was in the way—in the way even of my father; and so one day I ran off and joined a circus that was coming to America. But I did not care for the circus very much, and so Job Starlight and Miss Hazel helped me to run away from that, and now I’m Miss Hazel’s body servant, and the Bonifaces seem to like me, and I never was so happy in all my life before.”
“That’s a very nice story, too nice for a secret. Why don’t you tell it ‘round?”
“Oh, because I don’t want my father ever to hear of me, for then he might send for me, and I want to stay with the Bonifaces always. You won’t tell, will you, Miss Pauline?”
“I would if I could,” she answered, with a spirit of mischief, “but you can’t tell things if your head’s like a sieve, and lets everything through, can you? Now is there nothing more?”
“No, there isn’t,” Flutters answered, a little shortly, indignant at her answer. It hardly paid, he thought, to be kind to a young lady who acted like that. But fortunately Pauline did not notice the curtness of his reply.
“Then give me your hand, Flutters, and we’ll go up to the house.”
“No, I thank you. Boys as big as I am don’t need to be helped along by the hand.”
“Flutters,” she said solemnly, “give—me—your—hand or I’ll—I’ll cry harder than before.”
“Oh dear, dear, dear,” thought Flutters, “is there no way out of this?” and he looked furtively down the bank toward the boat, as though he seriously contemplated taking to his heels and launching out upon the river as the only adequate means of escape. But suddenly Miss Pauline put one hand to her ear, and Flutters, looking in the direction in which she pointed with the other, saw that some one up at the house was ringing a bell, and at the same time too heard its tinkling, which Pauline’s keen hearing had been quick to detect.
“Flutters,” she said, gazing down at him with the most satisfied smile imaginable, “that means supper. Come on up;” then away she flew toward the house, leaving Flutters to follow at a reasonable gait, and profoundly thankful to be relieved from the alternative of either being led by the hand or taking refuge in ignominious flight.