It was late on the morning after the scene described in a previous chapter when Lucile and Regenia made their appearance at the breakfast table. The fierce rays of an August sun had been gilding the turrets and spires of the beautiful little city between the inland seas, for more than two hours. All night the rain had been falling and the evidences of holiday attire of which the city had not entirely disrobed herself, hung limp and unpicturesque from the wilting effects of the last night's down pour.
The reaction from nearly a week of continuous gaiety was plainly discernible, as the two young ladies seated themselves to partake of their morning's repast.
"Well, how do you feel the morning after?" said Mrs. Levitt, in her pleasant way.
"Very well, indeed," answered Lucile, "except perhaps a little duller and heavier than usual. An overdose of pleasure always leaves one with a sense of hollow pain. You see, Regenia, you are not quite up to this sort of thing and ought not to have been given such a lion's share at initiation."
"You would better take than admonition individually. If we except the late hours I was obliged to keep, my part has been anything else but lion-like," said Regenia.
"Do not look so solemn. You will ruin your digestion," said Lucile, with a merry laugh. "If you did not act the lion's part, you did duty as lamb very acceptably, being saved and taking the greatest pains to be rescued by the very nicest young man that attended the conclave," she continued in her tantalizing way.
"As I had to be rescued," said Regenia, catching some of Lucile's buoyant spirits, "Providence seemed to have chosen my savior with a singleness which I could not have improved upon had I personally supervised the list."
"Nor could a braver, more unselfish deed have been done. I shall love Mr. Stone all of my life for that one act of disinterested goodness," replied Lucile with one of her instant transfers from playful chaffing to sober earnestness.
"What would Mr. St. John think of that avowal, I wonder?" asked Mrs. Levitt, smiling with conscious satisfaction of her own depth.
"He would applaud that opinion. Mr. St. John never tires of praising the good qualities of his friend," said Lucile, trying to look uninterested, but feeling decidedly uncomfortable under Mrs. Levitt's knowing smile.
"And so would any other man or woman whose heart is in the right place. I am too grateful to Mr. Stone to know how to express my appreciation of his gallant conduct. But Mr. St. John would have been equally as noble," replied Regenia, as a kind of echo to the preceding thought.
"It is such a grand thing to be a man, anyway," said Lucile seriously. "A good man has unbounded opportunities to help everybody. Men are not hedged about with rules of conduct as women are. Our sphere of usefulness is so often circumscribed by the fact of sex."
"That is rather a strange admission to come from you, Lucile," said Regenia. "I thought you were inclined to be strong minded."
"And so I am in every respect that is womanly. I believe thoroughly in women preparing themselves for useful positions and filling them with the same skill as men; but I do not think a woman can ever be a man. When a woman attempt that she looses the graces of her own sex without attaining the powers of the sex to which she aspires," said Lucile rising.
Regenia made no answer, but motioning Lucile to follow, led the way to a hammock beneath the trees.
"Do you know," said Regenia, as she threw herself lazily into the hammock, "that I was haunted all night with premonitions of evil -- and I had the strangest dream?"
"Tell me your dream. I have the gift of second sight," said Lucile, archly.
"I never pay any attention to dreams, nor do I think anything will come of this; but it seems to hang to me this morning with the persistency of fate," replied Regenia, soberly.
"I am waiting very patiently to hear your dream," said Lucile, "and when I do hear it I shall weave about it all the mysteries of the sibyl."
"Very well, put on the air impenetrable, take my hand as they do in all the story books, cross it twice, stare into vacancy and I will to you a tale unfold that will ruffle your spirits for the rest of the day," said Regenia, pleasantly.
"How is this?" said Lucile, as she assumed an attitude corresponding as nearly as possible with Regenia's suggestions.
"Excellent," said Regenia. "Now I will begin. I dreamed," she said, dropping into a low earnest key, "that Mr. St. John, you and I were standing in the Public Square, watching a sort of 'Wild West' parade. At Mr. St. John's suggestion, we started to move along with the crowd to the place where the exhibition was to be given, you and I arm-in-arm and Mr. St. John a few feet behind us, as a sort of rear guard to keep the crowd from jostling us. We had walked along in this way for some time when, looking around, Mr. St. John had disappeared and we were unable to stop to find him or to extricate ourselves from the mass of human beings who pushed us steadily onward. At last, in order to escape the crowd and if possible find our way back home, we stepped off the sidewalk into the street. Here, surrounded by Indians, buffaloes, dogs and ponies, we walked along as part of the pageant. We finally came to a dense woods and wandering forward we hoped to come to some place or meet some person we knew. Growing tired and hungry, we sat down on the body of a fallen oak and began to cry. We had been sitting there but a few moments when to our consternation we heard the most unearthly noise, accompanied by the splashing of water in the near distance.
"Looking in the direction from which the sounds came, we say a long embankment, on the top of which ran a rail fence. Fearing some worse fate would befall us, I started in an opposite direction. With your usual fearlessness you urged me to go over to the embankment, and essayed to lead the way. Gaining courage from your boldness, I accompanied you to the bank, were, after numberless slips and falls, we reached the top. We climbed upon the fence, and there, sitting bolt upright between us, as we resume a vertical position, was Mr. Stone. He did not speak, but as he turned from you to me, in his sad eyes and despairing countenance were depicted a world of sorrow that smote me to the heart. He gazed out into the lake, flanked by the embankment, a picture of dejection. In the lake, as we followed his gaze, I saw a huge fish, with massive head, enormous jaws, and capacious mouth, snapping up the other inhabitants of the lake as they fled before him. The huge leviathan followed his destructive course until he came to the shore. On the shore by the side of the lake, grazing in unconscious security, were the animals belonging to the Wild West combination we had left in the woods, but the number had increased to a respectable menagerie. This fish, when he had reached the shore, assumed the form of a turtle, and rushing from the water crushed first one animal, then another until he came to a giraffe, which catching in his teeth, the huge beast began to make a circuit of the grounds. I could hear, amidst the wild cries of the terror-stricken animals, the grinding sound of the turtle's iron jaws, as he crushed the giraffe between them. Suddenly the beast stopped, turned toward the place where we were sitting, and dropping the lacerated giraffe from his bloody mouth, made toward us.
"In vain we entreated Mr. Stone to fly with us for his life, but leave he would not. He sat there sadly smiling into the open jaws of approaching death. Now in the woods near the embankment was a sawmill. An incline to carry the lumber down to the lake was between us and the approaching animal. I had jumped down from the fence, but unable to induce Mr. Stone to leave, had resumed my seat, fully resolved to die with him. As the turtle attempted to cross the track of the incline, a heavy car load of lumber caught him beneath its wheels and cut him into a thousand pieces, the animals on the shore, seeing this, burst into ghostly laugh, at the sound of which I awoke."
Lucile had long since dropped Regenia's hand in her excitement, and with wonderment portrayed in every line of her face, gave expression to her astonishment by injecting after every pause in the story, "How strange!" "Well, did you ever!" "I declare!" "I never heard anything like it!" etc., etc.
As she was about to ejaculate "How strange!" for the "steenth" time, Dr. Leighton, who had been listening to nearly every word of the story said in sepulchral tones, "And did you marry Mr. Stone and live happily ever after?"
The girls, thus taken by surprise, bounded from the hammock with a scream, and turning were half vexed to see who the unwarrantable intruder was.
Lucile quickly gained her composure sufficiently to say: "What a scare you gave us?"
"How long have you been here?" asked Regenia, trying hard to hide her vexation.
"Long enough to hear a most amusing story. Is it original, or was is rescued from Fairy-land?" said the doctor, with a good-natured laugh at Regenia's discomfiture.
"It was a dream," said Lucile, and you managed to speak just in time to interrupt the grand finale." Lucile had either forgotten or preferred to ignore the fact the Regenia had signified the conclusion of the dream by saying "I awoke."
"Oh, it was a dream! I though it was one of the good stories your friends seem to keep on ice for special occasions," remarked the doctor, a trifle sarcastically.
"It was one of my friend's good stories, and I am happy to know that I have more than one friend who can tell a good story," said Lucile, turning to Regenia with a smile, "Is it not true, dear?" she added.
"Mr. St. John seemed proof for the occasion yesterday, and I doubt not on better acquaintance he would be ample for all demands.
"Has Mr. St. John been shying his castor in more than one direction? I thought it was the silent fellow on the fence that you had sworn to never, never leave?" said the doctor, as he turned to Regenia with a look on his handsome face which would have done credit to the melancholy Dane, when contemplating whether "to be or not to be."
"It its certainly of no interest to you Dr. Leighton, which way Mr. St. John shies his castor, whatever that may mean. Better make sure that he never shies it in your direction -- stranger things have happened," said Lucile with a proud toss of her head.
"A real gentleman would not seek to mischievously distort a conversation insidiously heard," said Regenia, rising, now unable to further conceal her anger.
"What a tempest!" said the doctor laughing heartily at the breeze he had unintentionally stirred up. "I leave you ladies, discomfited and virtually driven from the field," he added as he turned away, still laughing, and went into the house.
The girls sat for a time staring after Dr. Leighton, when Lucile remembered how irresistible droll Dr. Leighton had looked when talking of the other fellow on the fence, burst into a fit of laughter. Regenia laughed also. Not that she divined the cause of Lucile's amusement, but because laughter in youth is contagious.
"Well it was too funny of the doctor to come in and spoil the strangest dream I ever heard," said Lucile, when she had ceased to laugh. "I am not in the spirit to interpret it now. A shadow has fallen between us."
"Perhaps the shadow has something to do with the unraveling of the mystery," added Regenia, thoughtfully.
"Perhaps it has. Who can say? Do you know I am becoming morbid? I shall begin to believe in dreams and ghosts and bogie men pretty soon?" said Lucile.
"Come, let us go for a long ride," said Regenia, starting toward the house, "and by the time we return we shall have driven away from the shadow of a dream."
As they passed by the gate a half hour later, Dr. Leighton, standing beneath the shade of the elms, twirling his cane, cried after them: "Mind you do not get lost in the woods before you return."
"If we do we shall expect you along in good time to find the 'Babes in the Woods,' answered Regenia, with every vestige of her late anger dispelled.
"If you come to a high embankment with a rail fence upon it, you will find me sitting there waiting," he cried. As they drove away, they heard the silver laugh of Dr. Leighton ringing after them, the very index of the pleasure which he felt when contemplating the little war of words he had engaged in with the girls a half hour before.
Chapter 9 -- Chapter11