It was a magnificent evening, in balmy June, on the far-famed St. Lawrence.
The steamer "St. Lawrence" was making her nightly search-light excursion down the bay, laden to her utmost capacity.
The passengers were all summer tourists, light of heart and gay of speech; all save one, Hubert Varrick, a young and handsome man, dressed in the height of fashion, who held aloof from the rest, and who stood leaning carelessly against the taffrail.
The steamer was making its way in and out of the thousand green isles, the great light from the pilot-house suddenly throwing a broad, illuminating flash first on this and then on that.
As the light swept across land and water from point to point, Varrick lightly laughed aloud at the ludicrous incidents, such as the sudden flashing of the light's piercing rays on some lover's nook, where two souls indulging in but one thought were ruthlessly awakened from sweet seclusion to the most glaring publicity, and at many a novel sight, little dreaming that at every turn of the ponderous wheels he was nearing his destiny.
"Where are we now?" he inquired of a deck-hand.
"At Fisher's Landing, sir."
The words had scarcely left his lips ere a radiant flood of electric light swept over the jutting bit of mainland. In that instantaneous white glare Varrick saw a sight that was indelibly engraved upon his memory while life lasted.
The dock was deserted by all save one person—a young girl, waving her hand toward the steamer.
She wore a dress of some white, fleecy material, her golden hair flying in the wind, and flapping against her bare shoulders and half-bared white arms.
"Great heavens! who is that?" Varrick cried.
But as he strained his eyes eagerly toward the beautiful picture, the scene was suddenly wrapped in darkness, and the steamer glided on.
"Who was that, and what place was it?" he asked again.
"It was Fisher's Landing, I said," rejoined the other. "The girl is 'Saucy Jessie Bain,' as they call her hereabouts. She's Captain Carr's niece."
"Has she a lover?" suddenly asked Varrick.
"Lord bless you, sir!" he answered, "there's scarcely a single man for miles around that isn't in love with Jessie Bain; but she will have none of them.
"There's a little story about Jessie Bain. I'll tell it to you, since you admire the girl."
But the story was not destined to become known to Varrick, for his companion was called away at that moment.
He could think of nothing else, see nothing but the face of the girl he had seen on the dock at Fisher's Landing.
This was particularly unfortunate, for at that moment Hubert Varrick was on his way to be married on the morrow to the beautiful heiress, Miss Northrup.
She was a famous beauty and belle, and Varrick had been madly in love with her. But since he had seen the face of Jessie Bain he felt a strange, half-defined regret that he was bound to another. He was not over-impatient to arrive at his destination, although he knew that Gerelda Northrup and a bevy of her girl friends would undoubtedly be at the dock to welcome him.
This proved to be the case, and a moment later he caught sight of the tall, stately beauty, who swept forward to meet him with outstretched jeweled hands and a glad welcome on her proud face.
"I am so delighted that you have come at last, Hubert," she murmured.
But she drew back abashed as he attempted to kiss her, and this action chilled him to the very heart's core.
He was quickly presented to Gerelda's girl friends, and then the party made their way up to the Crossmon Hotel, which was only a few yards distant, Varrick and Miss Northrup lagging a little behind the rest.
"I hope you have been enjoying your outing this season, my darling," said Varrick.
"I have had the most delightful time of my life," she declared.
Varrick frowned. It was not so pleasant for him to hear that she could enjoy herself in his absence. Jealousy was deeply rooted in his nature.
"Is there any special one who has helped to make it so pleasant?" he asked.
"Yes. Captain Frazier is here."
"Have you been flirting with him, Gerelda?" he asked.
"Don't be jealous, Hubert."
"I am jealous!" he cried. "You know that is the curse of the Varricks."
By this time they had reached the hotel. Throngs of beautiful women crowded the broad piazzas, yet Varrick noticed with some pride that Gerelda was the most beautiful girl there.
"You must be very tired after your long journey," she murmured. "You should retire early, to be fully rested for to-morrow."
"Do you mean you wish to retire early?" asked Hubert, rather down-hearted that she wanted to dismiss him so soon. "If you think it best I will leave you."
Was it only his fancy, or did her eyes brighten perceptibly?
A few more turns up and down the veranda, a few impassioned words in a cozy nook, and then he said good-night to her, delivering her to the care of her chaperon.
But even after he had reached his room, and thrown himself across his couch, Varrick could not sleep.
The sound of laughter floated up to him.
Though it was an hour since he had bidden Gerelda good-night, he fancied that it was her voice he heard in the porch below; and he fancied, too, that he knew the other deep rich voice that chimed in now and then with hers.
"That is certainly Frazier," he muttered.
Seizing his coat and hat, he donned them hurriedly, left his room, stepped out of the hotel by a rear entrance, made a tour of the thickly wooded grounds, until at last, from his hiding-place among the trees, he could gain an excellent view of the brilliantly lighted piazza, himself unseen.
His surmise had been but only too true.
Mad with jealous rage, Varrick turned on his heel.
He rushed down the path to the water's edge. A little boat was skimming over the water, heading for the very spot where he stood. Its occupant, a sturdy young fisherman, was just about to secure it to an iron ring, when Varrick approached him.
"I should like to hire your boat for an hour," he said, huskily.
Varrick wanted to get away, to be by himself to think.
The bargain was made with the man, and with a few strokes from his muscular arms the little skiff was soon whirling out into the deep waters of the bay. Then he rested on his oars and floated down with the tide.
Suddenly a clear and yet shrill voice broke upon his ear.
"Halloo! Halloo there! Won't you come to my rescue, please?"
Varrick could hear the girlish voice plainly enough, but he could not imagine whence it came.
Again the shrill cry was repeated. Just then he observed a slight figure standing down near the water's edge of the island he was passing.
Varrick headed for the island at once, and as he drew so near that the face of the girl could be easily distinguished, he made a wonderful discovery—the girl was Jessie Bain.
"I am so glad for deliverance at last!" she cried.
"How in the world came you here?" exclaimed Varrick.
"I came out for a little row," she said, "and stopped at this island for some flowers that I had seen here yesterday. I suppose I could not have fastened my boat very securely, for when I came to look for it, it was gone; and, oh! my uncle would be so angry; he would beat me severely!"
Somehow one word brought on another, and quite unconsciously pretty little Jessie Bain found herself chatting to the stranger, who vowed himself as only too pleased to row out of his way to see her safely home.
"Your home does not seem to be a happy one," he said at length.
"It wouldn't be, if they could have their way. It used to be different when auntie was alive. Now my cousin beats me badly enough, and Uncle John believes all she tells him about me. But I always get even with her.
"In the morning my cousin went to her work
she clerks in one of the village stores
, but before she left the house she picked the biggest quarrel you ever heard of, with me—because I wouldn't lend her the only decent dress I have to wear. She expected her beau from a neighboring village to come to town.
"I would have lent it to her, but she's just the kind of a girl that wouldn't take care of anything, unless it was her own, and I knew it would be ruined in one day.
"It took me a whole year to save money enough to get it. I sold eggs to buy it, and, oh, golly! didn't I coax those chicks to lay, though!"
Varrick could not help but smile as he looked at her.
And she was so innocent, too. He wondered if she could be more than sixteen or seventeen years old.
"About four o'clock she sent a note to the house, and in it she said:
"'Dear Cousin Jessie, I am going to bring company home, so for goodness' sake do get up a good dinner. I send a whole basket of good things with the boy who brings this note. Cook them all.'
"Well, I cooked the supper just as she wanted me to do. Oh! it was dreadfully
tempting, and right here let me say, whenever there's a broken cup or saucer or plate in the house, or fork with only two prongs, or a broken-handled knife, it always falls to me. My cousin always says: 'It's good enough for Jessie Bain; let her have it.'
"I prepared the dainty supper, ran and got every good knife and fork and plate and cup and saucer, and hid them under an old oak-tree fully half a mile away.
"I left out on the table only the broken things, to see how she'd like them.
"By and by she and her beau came. I ran out the back door as I heard them cross the front porch.
"Oh! but wasn't she mad! I watched her through the window, laughing so hard I almost split my sides, and she fairly flew at me. Then I went down and jumped into my little boat, and pushed away for dear life, to be out of her reach. I rowed down to this island, thinking to fetch her back some flowers to appease her mighty wrath; but I was so tired that I fell asleep. I was frightened nearly to death when I awoke and saw that it was dark night. I had a greater fright still when I discovered that my little boat was gone—had drifted away."
Varrick had almost forgotten his own turbulent thoughts in listening to the girl.
"Are you not afraid of punishment?" he asked, as they neared Fisher's Landing.
He could see a quick, frightened look sweep over the girl's face.
"I don't know what they will do with me," she said.
"If they attempt to abuse you come straight to me!" cried Varrick, quite forgetful in the eagerness of the moment what he was saying.
By this time they had reached Fisher's Landing. He sprung from the skiff and helped her ashore.
"Good-night, and thank you ever so much," she said. And with a quick, childish, thoughtless motion, she bent her pretty head and kissed the strong white hand that clasped her own.
He had been so kind, so sympathetic to her, and that was something new for Jessie Bain.
He watched her in silence as she flitted up the path, until she was lost to sight in
Then he re-entered his boat and made his way slowly back to the bay.
The spacious corridors of the grand Hotel Crossmon were wrapped in silence when he reached it.
He half expected to see the two whom he had left in that flower-embowered lovers' nook at the end of the piazza still sitting there.
Then he laughed to himself at the folly of the thought.