The last day of the conclave had come. It was the intention of the committee to make the festivities of the day equal, if they did not surpass, the pleasure of the preceding one. An excursion up the river to an island, located in a not distant lake, and the banquet at night were to round out the closing hours of the conclave in blaze of glory. In order to accommodate the large number of excursionists, two palatial lake steamers were lashed together. The brass band, stationed upon an improvised platform built well to the front and between the two boats, discoursed sweet music for the occupants of both steamers, and the substitution of a plank gang-ways, flanked on either side by ropes, virtually converted the two boats into one. The day was delightful. A gentle breeze sweeping down from the lake gave to the occasion an exhilarating zest, unfolded the flags which hung from the jack-staffs of the boats and fluttered into uncontrolled gaiety the tri-colored bunting which everywhere bespoke the patriotism of the promoters.
The scene at the landing was interesting in the extreme. The ticket agents, their satchels hung over their shoulders, pushed back and forth through the surging mass, apparently trying to accommodate everyone who anted a ticket at the same time.
Clement and Lotus were there in time to see the excited crowd, elbowing each other right and left, excitingly securing tickets and hurrying aboard the boats.
"Nobody seems to be going," said Clement.
"My, what a crowd! Where do the people come from?" Lotus replied.
And it was a crowd. The fat woman was there, boisterous and self-assertive; the lean woman was there, spiteful and sarcastic; the refined woman, sad and disgusted; and the jolly woman, jostled, crushed, but delighted. Every size, class, cast and color of the Afro-American woman was on that quay, each knowing her rights, and, if belligerent looks are any indication, ready to maintain them. It was virtually a war between women, and with tongue and eyes was it bitterly waged. Nor was this scene void of other amusing incidents. More than one old lady, with a son or daughter taller than herself, labored in vain to jew the perplexed ticket agent from full fare to half that amount. So great was the rush that many in hasty disgust despaired of ever being able to get a ticket, and accordingly returned to their lodging places. These last were principally married women, whose husbands' slothfulness had rendered the pleasures of the trip "stale, flat and unprofitable," when compared with the future prospect of reminding these poor men of the disappointment their execrable conduct had occasioned. Some of the gay gallants halted between two opinions, undecided whether to go on the excursion or attend the banquet. Many could not attend both for financial reasons. It had begun to dawn slowly upon many of the young men and a few of the old, who had been living like princes for the past three days, that an awful financial catastrophe was staring them in the face. Others, as they hesitated, wondered who in all that knightly band would lend them the price of admittance to the banquet, provided they hazarded their last available penny on a trip up the river. Among the last to come aboard the boats were Regenia and Lucile; in fact the last warning tap of the bell had sounded before they pushed through the crowd and ascended the stairs. Mrs. Levitt and Mrs. Underwood waved a fond adieu as the two steamers backed away from the landing and slowly swung out into the river. Dr. Frank Leighton, a victim of curiosity, sat on the upper deck dreamily smoking a cigar.
It was a mixed multitude. A vast number of citizens, piqued by curiosity or from motives more friendly, grouped in little knots, seemed to be enjoying the prospect of a pleasant trip, quite as much as the Afro-Americans. The boats were fairly under way before Clement and Lotus were able to get in anything like speaking distance of Lucile and Regenia. The girls were comfortably seated in the after recess of the cabin. The young men had tried in vain to catch the eyes of the girls as they swerved back and forth through the talking, gesturing throng.
"At last!" said Clement, as he and Lotus approached the girls. "Do you know we have been trying every second the last half hour to reach this promised land, surrounded on all sides by water."
"Where have you been?" asked Lucile, with her usual impetuosity. "We thought you were left."
"We have been trying to find you, I believe I just informed you," answered Clement, smiling. "We have been in sight of the delectable spot for some time, but how to reach it without climbing over the head of some one who is here on equal terms with ourselves has kept us impatiently waiting until this blessed moment."
"And, Mr. Stone," said Lucile, who had been addressing Clement, "are you in good spirits after the severe test of yesterday?"
"A little the worse for so much marching," said Lotus, "but an excess of that sort of thing is so infrequent that the change is as beneficial as discipline."
"I prefer my discipline in broken doses," said Clement.
"Mr. St. John has a predilection for homeopathic treatment in this particular," said Regenia.
"I am regular," replied Lotus, divining Regenia's implied question.
"Oh, that's your school, is it? I am gaining information for which I did not ask," she replied naively.
The young men, dressed a la negligee, leaning against the guard rail, the girls, in their jaunty outing suits, made a picture that few of the moving mass passed without a second look.
Regenia introduced the young men to Dr. Leighton, who, after a few haughty words, went back to his chair a little distance away, whence he watched the group with eyes of jealousy, if not hatred. Dr. Frank Leighton's feeling toward Regenia, alternated between desperate love and blind hatred. Sometimes he has wished her out of his life and would have gladly stood by her open grave and dropped on her lowering bier, a tear of mingled joy and regret.
Regenia alone stood between Dr. Leighton and the Underwood estates. Cherishing such feelings toward Regenia, he was possessed with a spasm of hate as he saw her actually enjoying the company of Lotus and Clement. When in Regenia's presence, her gentle manner and sweet face, almost persuaded Dr. Leighton to marry her, and end his agony; but when he thought of his social position and the pride of his relations he abandoned the idea and heartily wished her dead. To-day, as he sat there observing every move and mood of Regenia, he was a prey to the tortures of conflicting emotions. While the party in which we are most interested are conversing as light hearted, high-spirited young people will do, they have not noticed that the chairs are being moved back, and one or two sets are preparing to engage in dancing. Clement St. John and Lucile, after looking on for a while, joined in the in the merriment.
"As I shall be too busy to dance to-night, will indulge to-day," he remarked to Lucile.
She readily consented and they were soon whirling in the dizzy waltz, the gayest of the gay.
Regenia declined to accept Mr. Stone's invitation to participate. "I rarely dance," she said, "and when I do, it is not in public."
Lotus was an inveterate lover of dancing, and when, after a half hour of looking on, Clement, insisted that he and Regenia should make the final couple in a set of the Lanciers, he persuaded Regenia to forego her scruples and yield to the wishes of her friends. Regenia enjoyed the sparkling conversation of Mr. Stone much more than she did the dancing. She was not quite clear upon the propriety of dancing in public; from a moral standpoint she did not object, but found herself to-day, as on the evening before, wondering if it was good form to pass the time so freely with a man whose acquaintance she had so recently made. She greeted the last figure of the dance with secret delight.
When the girls were again comfortably seated, the young men proposed a lemon ice. The girls are requested to remain where they are, and Clement and Lotus started, edging their ways through the crowd intent upon their errand. The refreshments were upon the lower deck of the boat. The dancers, in their enjoyment, had not observed a dark cloud gathering toward the northeast, and that since the steamers had struck the open lake they did not move so smoothly. The young men noticed, as they pushed through the crowd, that the loud laugh had sobered somewhat and that here and there groups of wiser heads stood earnestly talking. Intent upon the business of the moment, they pushed on, shouldering right and left, and then, standing still until some one changed position. At last they succeeded in making the gang way leading to the other boat. Here the same process of inching to the stairway, stopping and waiting and creeping down had to be repeated.
"Well," said Clement, as he stood mopping his forehead, "we have at last reached the goal, but it seems longer since we started than it took Columbus to find a new world."
"What will you have?" sharply asked the woman selling ices for their weight in silver.
"Anything, so it is cold," answered Clement, good naturedly.
"How we shall ever carry a lemon ice back, through that crowd, it what knocks me," said Lotus, turning from the table with the precious aliment in hand.
"If those young ladies imagined what straits we are being put to in order to cater to their palates, they would worship us while they lived, and dying remember us in their wills," said Clement, laughingly.
"The average young lady gives herself but little worry about our sufferings when her pleasure is concerned," answered Lotus, ruefully.
As they stood there talking, the spray from a wave that dashed against the boat awakened them to a sense of their danger. Glancing toward the cabin of the opposite boat, they beheld a scene of greatest commotion. Hastening to the stairway, they try in vain to mount to the upper cabin. The steamer trembles and lurches and now and then a scream of terror shakes the multitude like an aspen leaf.
"What is the matter up there?" cried Clement to those above, but received no answer.
"We have struck the lake and are meeting a little heavier seas," remarked Lotus, noting the water dashing against the side of the vessel and breaking over the guards.
To stand there unable to lift his hand in Lucile's behalf, fills Clement St. John with a wild desire to be at her side or die in the attempt. Again he tries to mount the stairs; he throws himself against the wedged-in mass of men and women, but his efforts are in vain; he might as well kick against the rock of Gibraltar, so far as any visible impression is made. He vented his disappointment upon the inoffensive head of a nervous old man who sat at the foot of the stairs, weeping as if his heart would break.
"Lord have mercy on us! Mister, are we all going to be drowned?" queried the old man in a piteously piping tone, as he noticed the water dashing over the guards.
"That's the way it looks," said Clement.
"Oh, my Lord, oh my Lord!" cried the old man.
"If you don't shut up I'll pitch you into the lake. I'd put you there anyway," he said his good nature getting the better of his anger, "if I did not have so much respect for the fish. They would need a dentist down there, sure, after one or two attacks on your tough hide."
"Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" cried the old man, as he dropped a piece of lemon pie which he was eating, and with big hot tears chasing each other down his wrinkled cheeks, and the remains of the pie clinging to the corners of his mouth, he fell on his knees and began to pray lustily.
Lotus, too, was baffled and out of humor, but he could not suppress the smile which Clement's droll remark called up.
"There, now," he said, kindly to the old man. "You are all right, no danger if you just keep quiet."
He had hardly ceased speaking to the old man when he heard an officer's voice above the roar of the wind and dash of the waves: "Stand back! That cable is going to part." He could hear the shuffling of feet above, and then like the report of a musket, the rope holding the boats together in front, snapped.
He could feel the boats swinging away from each other. His heart sank within him as he thought of Regenia. The tremor of the boats as they swing away from each other and alternately return, causes the passengers crowding the stairs to move a little; with the agility of a cat Lotus springs into the opening, and snatching the man above him backward, rushes into his place. He serves the man above him in the same way and in an incredibly short time has gained the cabin. As he reached the cabin, to his infinite horror, he sees the boats gradually swinging apart. He starts for the gang-way, climbing down, thrown back only to begin again with redoubled determination. As he pushes his way against the tremendous odds to the guards, he sees the stage planks between the boats inching nearer and nearer toward the edge he hears the platform fall and for a moment despairs. Looking across the abyss, what a sight meets his eyes! Regenia, pushed on by the force behind her, clings to one of the uprights of the guard, on the verge of the opening which made the passage between the boats. One of her feet hangs over the side, and the treacherous gang plank, one end of which has fallen to the deck of the boat on which Lotus is standing, while the other end is on the upper deck of the other boat, within a foot of Regenia. A motion of the boat will throw that plank forward, in falling it will crush the girl, break her hold on the upright and the cruel waves or more cruel wheel will hide her sweet face forever. All of this passes through Lotus Stone's mind in a moment. Glancing toward the stern of the boat he saw that the cables were being unloosed. This would separate the boats. Seeing his teeth and tightening every muscle in his wiry body and whispering "God help me," he sprang forward. Throwing those in his way to the deck and walking over them, he mounted the guard rail just as the boats began to separate. Balancing himself for a moment, he sprang across the yawning, ever-widening chasm, and, catching the upright to which Regenia clung, he dropped upon the deck beside her. Throwing himself between Regenia and the slowly approaching stage plank, while he held to the upright with one hand, it was but the work of a moment to catch the stage plank with the other. Bending forward with almost superhuman strength, he threw the heavy plank into the foaming lake.
This done, he waved back the crowd and led the exhausted girl beyond the fear of danger. For a moment the people on both steamers forgot their fears and sent up a wild cheer that fairly rent the sky. The enthusiasm which the heroic deed created drowned for a time the mad plash of the waters and the moan of the threatening wind.
As Lotus glanced over his shoulder, he saw Dr. Frank Leighton, standing on the opposite side of the open guard rail, nonchalantly twisting the ends of his mustache, a disappointed sneer on his handsome face, an angry consuming fire burning in his black eyes. The eyes of the two men met but for a moment, but each read in the soul of the other that hatred which the other felt and gloried in the feeling. Lotus could not express the contempt he felt for the man who by the slightest effort could have rescued Regenia from the fate he must have seen so certainly pending, if that dead stage plank but moved six inches more. Dr. Leighton, as usual, being doubtful whether to be glad or sorry at the rescue of his fair cousin, nevertheless hated Lotus Stone for saving her.
As the crowd gave way, Lotus helped Regenia to a chair. She had swooned. In the act of seating her, he unintentionally lowered his left arm allowing her head for a moment to drop toward the floor. The movement was fortunate, as the blood, at the command of gravity, rushed back to her brain, thus reviving her.
When Regenia opened her eyes for a moment, she was at a loss to know what had happened. But seeing Lotus, it all came back to her. "Oh, thank you, thank you," was all she could say.
But that was enough for Lotus. For such a look as she gave him, he would have willingly made a second leap.
The boats were separated, but not before Clement St. John had pushed his way to the rear end of the boat, and, crossing with less danger than Lotus had incurred, found Lucile. The boats having the separated, slowly steamed back to Mt. Clare. On the way back Regenia had ample time to thank Mr. Stone for his timely help. Lotus protested that he had done nothing to be thanked for. When they were again safe on land, Clement and Lucile joined them.
"Where is Dr. Leighton?" said Regenia. "He made one of our party and ought to return with us."
"I do not see him," said Clement, "but I dare say he will put in an appearance when he is neither wanted nor expected."
"Why Mr. St. John," said Lucile, "you ought not to speak with so much asperity of one you have known so short a time.
"I only met him to-day, it is true, but I am as well acquainted with him as if I had been seeing him an age. Some people we know at a glance, others we never know," said Clement, dryly.
"To which of these classes does Dr. Leighton belong?" asked Regenia.
"To both of them," answered Clement. "One knows enough of Dr. Leighton to thoroughly detest him the first time he sees him; he would not know more if he made him the study of a lifetime."
"You are bitter," said Regenia. "The doctor has his faults, perhaps, but perhaps the rest of us are not faultless. Some of us are better than we seem," she added.
Clement was bitter. He was standing where he could look into Dr. Leighton's face when Lotus saved Regenia, and Clement declared to Lotus afterward that Dr. Leighton bit his lips with suppressed rage when, in the nick of time, his cousin was rescued.
It was five o'clock when the party arrived at the "Elms." Before they left, however, they had persuaded the girls to attend the grand finale at Fraternity Hall.
Chapter 5 -- Chapter 7