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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGlory Of Youth - Chapter 10. Storm Signals
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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 10. Storm Signals Post by :svesty Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :May 2012 Read :837

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Glory Of Youth - Chapter 10. Storm Signals

CHAPTER X. STORM SIGNALS

The wind, rising, blew Miss Matthews' green veil into a long thin wisp which flapped toward the northwest.

The captain, noticing it, glanced over his shoulder.

"We'll have a storm before we know it," he said. "It's dark enough over there in the south----"

Above the horizon rose the clouds, black with wind; the waves began to murmur and run in, in long lines of white.

"There'll be no getting back now," said the captain.

Justin's eyes searched the land for shelter. Beyond the rocky wall was a hillside of hemlock, which formed part of the estate of a magnate from the West. Beyond the trees was a great house, shut up now, and in the hands of a caretaker. Nothing else seemed to offer refuge from the storm.

"What do you think, captain?" he asked. "Had we better try to make the house?"

"I've got my oilskins," the captain said. "I'll stay here, but perhaps you folks had better run in."

Miss Matthews protested. "I've lived too long on this coast to mind a storm. I'll wrap up in my rubber coat and let it rain. But we'd better get that child in somewhere; she's scared of storms."

"Are you?" Justin asked Bettina.

"If there's going to be wind," she said, "I'm awfully afraid."

"Then we'll run for it," he told her; "up the hill to the house."

As he helped her climb the rocks, they took a last glance back at the stolid pair who didn't mind storms. Captain Stubbs in brilliantly yellow new oilskins and Miss Matthews in a sad-colored waterproof coat sat side by side with their backs against the beached boat.

"Perhaps we should have stayed with them," said Bettina, doubtfully, as Justin drew her up to his level.

But Justin had no doubts. Ahead of them was the dimness of the hemlock forest; the solitude of the storm. He coveted the brief moments when they might be alone together.

"Come," he urged, and they entered upon the darkness of the wood.

As they sped along over the cushioned earth, Justin helped her strongly, half lifting her at times over the rough places.

"Are you afraid?" he asked her, and she shook her head.

With a roar and a rush the storm was upon them. For a few moments they were in the midst of chaos. The air was full of flying things, and the branches crashed and fell.

To Bettina, emotionally tense, the real world had disappeared. She was a disembodied spirit, floating through infinite space with another spirit as joyous, as exalted, as triumphant as her own.

When he asked her again, "Are you afraid?" and she again shook her head, it came to her, suddenly, that she was not afraid because she was with him. She felt no wonder that it was so. In this wild world there was no place for wonder. She and Justin were laughing madly as they raced. Her hair, loosed by the wind, streamed out behind her. Once it caught on a button of Justin's coat, and held her so close to him that, when he unwound it, she felt the quickened beating of his heart.

As they again sped on, she felt as if never before had she been alive in such a radiant wonderful sense.

"Are you afraid?" he asked for the third time, bending down to catch her answer.

"It's glorious," she panted. Then as the rain came, he shielded her with his arm, and shouted:

"We'll have to make a dash through the open; here's the house ahead!"

The great house was closed and deserted, but they found a cloistered porch from which they could look out on the storm.

Below them the trees were whipped and bent by the gale. Against the horizon the sea rose like a great gray wall. Straining their eyes, they could catch a glimmer of the captain's yellow coat on the strip of sand.

"The worst of the wind is over," said Justin; "we were lucky to escape the heavy rain."

Bettina, who was braiding her hair, looked up at him. "Wasn't it wonderful down there in the wood?"

"Did you think it wonderful?"

Something in his eyes made her say, hastily "I've never been out in a storm before."

He did not reply at once. He was watching her slender fingers twist the shining strands.

"Let me do that for you," he said, suddenly.

"No, oh, no----"

"Why not?"

"Because." She walked away from him, and seated herself on a marble bench under one of the closed windows.

He sat down beside her. "I didn't mean that impertinently; truly I did not. I used to braid my little sister's hair. She was lame and I took care of her, and, as I watched you, I thought of--my little sister."

"Tell me about her."

"There isn't much to tell, except that when I was a great hulking youngster, with only her to love--she died----"

"Oh,--I'm so sorry----"

He went on slowly, still watching her busy fingers "Since then I have never had a friend. Not the kind she was. Why, she used to love to listen to my boy's talk--of how I was going to be great, of how I was going to conquer the world,--and she has been dead ten years--and I have done nothing."

It was a new Justin who spoke in this fashion. To Bettina he had always seemed as light as air, and she had enjoyed his frivolity, but now she felt something more than enjoyment,--a yearning to be of use to this big boy who was all alone, and who missed his little sister.

Surely to be his friend need not interfere in any way with Anthony's claims. She loved Anthony and was going to marry him, of course. But friendship and love were different things. Why, Mrs. Martens was married, and she had been Justin's friend in Germany.

She spoke her thought. "But Mrs. Martens?"

"She was a dear--but she is older than I--and I stood a bit in awe of her--she sympathized with me--but she could not dream with me, and I wanted some one to share my dreams."

Bettina's blue eyes were wistful. What a wonderful thing it would be to share somebody's dreams. She was perfectly sure that she did not share Anthony's. He had never told her of his dreams. Perhaps he didn't have any. His life was so practical and full of work, and then he was old--oh, yes, indeed, he was older than Mrs. Martens--and Justin had said that Sophie was too old to understand.

She found herself asking, "What were your dreams?"

"Shan't I bore you?"

"No--please----"

"Well, there was one dream which my little sister and I used to discuss as I braided her hair at night. It was a dream that some day I should be great. She had a different idea of greatness from mine, and we used to argue the question. I don't think she ever wanted me to be President of the United States or to hold high office; she wanted me to do something which would help humanity. She used to wish that I might preach or teach; she was such a good little thing. And I would tell her that none of these vocations were for me; I must win fame in a different way. I wanted to invent something which would make the world stare. Perhaps that's the reason I took up aviation after she died. I thought I might make some great advance on the inventions of other men. But the other men made them first, you see, and I've just frivoled and played. Yet, as I saw you braiding your hair, it brought back my little sister so vividly, and I wondered what she would think of me--now."

For the first time in her life her heart was stirred by the maternal tenderness which is the heritage of good women. Her timid hand touched his sleeve, lightly.

"I am sure," said her little voice, unsteadily, "that if she knew you now, she would think you were--very nice."

"You darling," he was saying in his heart, but he dared not say it with his lips. And he went on as calmly as he could.

"I wish I could make you see my little sister as I knew her. She was such a pale little thing, with pale gold hair, and a little narrow face, and pale blue eyes. When I began to read Tennyson, I found my little sister again in 'Elaine'--and do you know, I was half glad she didn't live to grow up. Some man might have hurt her as Lancelot hurt Elaine. I know I haven't realized her dreams for me--but I've tried to hold on a bit to her ideal of goodness, and it has kept me from things which might have made me less of a man----"

She was thrilled as she had never been. Justin began to loom up in her mind's eye as the Knight of the Tender Heart--that was what Sophie had called him. And how wonderful that he should be telling her all this!

"Then," he continued, "the money came to me, and since then I've been a butterfly. I have not made good use of my wealth. I have needed a friend, you see, to help me make my dreams come true."

He looked down at her. "Would you?" he asked.

"Be your friend?"

"Yes."

"Oh, but I'm not good enough. I've always been a little selfish thing, except with mother. I loved her and I wasn't selfish with her. But I've wanted a good time, and I haven't cared for anything but my own pleasure. I'm not like your little sister, you see. I'm just a butterfly, too."

"Oh, you--you're an angel," ardently.

Again she was thrilled. Anthony had never said such things to her. Anthony had called her a child, and he had not needed her. And Justin wanted her friendship! All her awakened womanhood rose to meet his demand.

So intent was she on her thought that she did not feel the cold. But her lips were blue, and she shivered as the wind swept around the corner.

Justin jumped at once to his feet.

"I'm a brute to keep you here. There must be some one around the place who can take us in."

He left her, to come back presently with the news that there was a man down at the stables, and that there was a fire in the harness room. He brought a rain coat, and wrapped her in it, scolding himself all along the way for his neglect of her comfort.

The stables of the Western magnate were vast and wonderful. They had been divorced somewhat from their original use as a place for horses, two-thirds of the space being given up to motor cars and electrics. But the riding horses were in their stalls, and, as Bettina entered, their heads went up.

She stopped to pet them, then the groom led the way to the harness room.

It was a picturesque place, with its lacquered leather, its shining brass, its racing trophies, blue ribbons, gold-handled whips and crops, silver cups and medals.

"I'll telephone for my car," Justin said, "and send a boy down to Captain Stubbs and Miss Matthews. They'll probably go back in the boat, now that the storm is over."

With the message sent, and the smiling groom, pleased with Justin's generous tip, dismissed, the two were again alone.

"This is better," said Justin, as they settled themselves in front of the fire. "Now you'll get some color in your cheeks."

With her chin on her hand, she said slowly, "Do you know that nobody ever asked me to be his friend before?"

"That's luck for me. There'll be no one else to share----"

She glanced up at him with enchanting shyness. "The trouble with most men is, I imagine, that they don't want friendship--they want love, and that isn't easy for a woman to give, is it?"

Silence, then at last, uncertainly, "I suppose not."

"Any man can fall in love with a woman," she informed him, "but it seems to me that it must take certain kinds of men and women to be friends. That's why it seems so wonderful. Why, even if I married some one else, I could still be your friend, couldn't I?"

"Ye-es. Oh, yes, of course."

"Perhaps that's what I've missed all my life--the chance to really inspire some one. You know it's nice to feel that you're helping. And some men are so self-sufficient, so secure. You wouldn't feel that you'd dare to suggest. You'd only be a child to them--and while it might be nice to marry a man like that, it would be nice, too, to have the other kind for a friend."

Of all the bewildering little creatures! If she married some other man, forsooth! He set his teeth. Well, she _shouldn't marry any other man.

"Look here," he asked, suddenly, "have you ever been in love?"

She nodded, all rosy color and drooped lashes. The unexpectedness of her answer made him hesitate, but finally he ventured, "How did it feel?"

She considered gravely. "Why, it's comfortable to know that you'll always have some one to take care of you, some one who's tender and good--too good, perhaps----"

Justin was perplexed. She had spoken in the present tense. Was it possible that her fancy was really held by Anthony? Had their wild race in the storm meant nothing to her? To him it had seemed a sort of spiritual mating, with the storm crashing out a brilliant bridal chorus.

He leaned forward. "What you're talking of isn't love," he said, almost roughly. "Love doesn't mean being comfortable; it doesn't mean being petted and coddled like a pussy cat, or being looked after like a child. It means what it meant to Romeo when he killed himself for love of Juliet. It means what it meant to Orpheus when he followed Eurydice to the underworld. It means what it will mean to me when I have found the one woman--that I'll work for her, live for her, die for her, and count the future blank if she does not love me in return."

"How wonderful!" she whispered after a moment "How wonderful--to be loved--like that----"

His heart leaped. Some day he would make it wonderful! But not now. It was too soon to say the things he had to say.

"The most wonderful thing right now," he said, "is that you are going to be--my friend."

She responded radiantly. "It will be lovely to have a--big brother."

"It will be lovelier to have--a little sister."

He held out his hand to her, and she took it, laughing lightly. And just then the smiling groom came to say that the gentleman's car was at the door.

The rain had stopped, but storm signals still showed in the south where the heavy clouds hung over the horizon. Overhead the sun shone, making kaleidoscope effects of the spring flowers in the checkered beds. Against the gray wall of the terraced garden the peach trees had been trained in foreign fashion and were full of rosy bloom.

Bettina, coming out of the darkened stable, opened her eyes wide.

"What a different world it seems," she said, "from the one we left in the storm."

Justin helped her into the car. "We'll reach home before the next storm breaks," he remarked, as he took his seat beside her, "but there's trouble ahead."

To him the words held no sinister meaning, nor to Bettina. In their hearts was no fear of the future, nor of the storms which might some day wreck their happiness.

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