Love and the Machine
LOVE AND THE MACHINE
BY ARTHUR STANWOOD PIER
In the combination passenger and freight car, our canoe was the only freight, and Fred and I were the only passengers. Our car was the only car on the train; our train was the only train on the railroad. It was the Northern Newfoundland Trunk Line; and inevitably Fred, with his tendency to be facetious, had termed it the Junk Line.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the traffic was from Marshall to Wingates; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, from Wingates to Marshall. The distance was about sixty miles and the train traversed it in approximately five hours. Fred and I were going to Wingates. There we expected to set our canoe in the river indicated on our map, paddle up stream, carry across to another river, and come down fifty miles to St. John's.
The rolling stock of the Northern Newfoundland had no doubt been discarded by some American railway years ago; the locomotive had the funnel-shaped smokestack, small boiler, and large wood-burning capacity—for wood it burned—of an antiquated period. But the train crew were modern and original. Our acquaintance with them was developed in the three stops made for water—one of which was prolonged into a stop for luncheon; the engineer, the fireman, and the conductor sat with us under the pines and shared our feast.
"Is n't travel unusually light this trip?" I asked.
"Well, no," the conductor acknowledged. "You see, there's nobody at Wingates now; place is all closed up. When the fishing season's over, the folks all navigate down to Marshall."
"Then why do you run this train?"
"We run it only a month longer There's a steamer over from Labrador every Tuesday, and then there's folks from the States like yourselves every now and then, going into the interior. The road don't lose much money by it, and it's a convenience to some people."
"’T will be the fine, money-makin' road some day," quoth the engineer, an enormous man, with a sandy beard and blue believing eyes. "Some day they'll be shippin' at Wingates this here asbestos. Oh, we'll be havin' the big place at Wingates some day."
"It will be doubling its population within a week—and tripling it, maybe, in a year," said the conductor.
"Eh?" The engineer looked puzzled.
"Ain't we delivering Tommy McCance his bride day after to-morrow?" said the conductor.
The fireman chuckled; but mirthful intelligence dawned more slowly upon the engineer's face.
"What's the joke?" asked Fred.
"Wingates has now a population of one," explained the conductor,—"Tommy McCance,—telegraph operator, railroad and steamship agent, and generally caretaker for the town. He never leaves. He has some notion of staying and building up the place. He's bound to make it a metropolis."
"So he's gettin' married to begin with," added the engineer.
"To a little French girl from Queebec," stated the fireman.
"She come to teach school at Marshall, and Tommy met her there last winter—the time his aunt died, and he went down and spent three days burying her. The little French girl was boardin' in the aunt's house."
"And she could n't speak much English then—for she was just green from Queebec," said the fireman. "And Tommy, he could n't speak no French. I wonder how he managed it. I ain't ever managed yet—and me and my girl, we both speak the same language."
"I guess it's in the French blood to be readier about yieldin' in such matters," said the conductor.
"Tommy is savin' up to surprise her with his parleyvooing when she comes. Do you mind how he warned us to say nothing to her about the talkin' machine?"
"I'll bet," remarked the fireman, "that when we get in he'll be sittin' with that rubber hose-pipe to his ear."
"I'll bet," agreed the engineer. "It is sure the cute little trick, is that there talkin' machine."
"It's about time for us to be sa'ntering along," remarked the conductor.
Fred and I would have questioned him further in regard to this vaguely sketched romance; but he settled himself into two seats for a nap—a desire which we respected. So we sat in chairs before the open doorway of the baggage-end of the car and looked out upon the passing scenery. It was now a small growth of forest, spruce and fir, and now barren tableland, in either case monotonous. Once we caught sight of an inquisitive staring caribou,—which in its motionless moment, with its grotesquely stupid face and fantastic antlers, seemed more conceivable as a bizarre idol set up by dwellers of the wilderness than as the native living creature of the land.
Then suddenly we came into an area of desolation. Fire had ravaged it; there remained blackened skeletons of trees still standing on blackened earth, and nowhere a spray of green. Now and then a crow, startled by the train, winged its way tirelessly out over the charred branches; there was no other living thing.
"Nice country we've come to," said Fred. "I suppose our wood-burning locomotive did this."
"We must be near Wingates." I drew out my watch.
At that moment I was thrown forward with a lurch and sprawled on the floor. The train, which had seemed for an instant to stop short, proceeded by a series of bumping shocks. The conductor flew by us and leaped out through the open doorway. I caught sight of him landing on all fours; then, shouting to Fred, "Come on!" I followed.
By the time I had picked myself up, the train had stopped a few yards farther on, and the engineer was clambering down from his cab.
Fred and I ran forward, and, with the disconsolate crew, inspected the damage. The connecting rod of the locomotive had broken, and in the shock the forward truck of our car had been derailed.
Our concern was purely selfish.
"Are we far from Wingates?" I asked.
But in their sorrow they paid no attention to this trivial inquiry.
"That's the first what you might really call a breakdown I've had," said the engineer lugubriously.
"Can you mend her, Bill?" asked the conductor.
"Maybe I'll get an idea—maybe I will."
The fireman threw out a suggestion. "I bet Tommy McCance can fix her."
The engineer's face brightened.
"Why, maybe he could; I think likely. Why don't you and Jake go and fetch him? I'll stop and tinker."
"All right." The conductor looked at us. "If you folks want to come along, it ain't much of a walk."
So we all four stumped, single file, up the narrow-gauge track. It was a fine warm afternoon, but even the bright sun had no power to cheer that forlorn country. The soil was full of peat, which, in the fire that had swept the forest, had smouldered until all the vegetation had been killed. The breeze that was stirring bore the acrid smell of old wood ashes; and sooty particles floated in the air and smudged our faces. Occasionally through the charred trees we saw stagnant pools, from which clouds of mosquitoes and black flies came joyfully dancing to us. In the course of twenty minutes we emerged upon the town of Wingates—the terminus of the road.
It was worse than the desolation by which it was surrounded. Fifty or a hundred cabins made of rough slabs of pine, each with its little stovepipe protruding from its slanting roof, littered an area of open level plateau. Beyond we had sight of the wholesome sea, into which it would have seemed a gracious thing to sweep the town of Wingates. How the little tinder-boxes had escaped the fire I wondered, for it had eaten to the very edge of the village. All grass about the houses seemed to have been trampled out by the feet of the departed dwellers and their animals. Rotting caribou hides lay in the dust or were tacked upon the cabin walls. But in one cabin, through an open window fluttered a white dimity curtain; and on a small flagpole projecting from the house labeled "General Store," flapped the Union Jack.
"Let's crawl up on Tommy and see what he's about," said the fireman.
The conductor had a quality of boyishness, and assented. So we all advanced with a felonious caution, making no sound—which was easy in walking through such powdery dust. We crept up to the General Store and there, I confess, we crouched and listened. Within, a singular faint whine, hardly human, was continuous. The conductor and the fireman peered through the window, then politely made room for Fred and me.
With his back to us sat a young man, collarless, in his shirtsleeves, holding to his left ear a rubber tube and listening attentively. In his right hand he had a book on which his eyes were fixed. On the table before him was a small machine to which the rubber tube was attached and which was producing the continuous half-human whine. I picked out one sentence—"La prononciation est très difficile—" and then to my ears the thing became inarticulate. After a while it began to count, distinctly, emphatically,—"Un, deux, trois, quatre,—" up to trente. Then the student laid down the book, pressed a small lever, and the obedient teacher subsided.
I looked round, thinking the conductor would make some demonstration, but our unsuspecting subject spoke aloud and held us all silent. It sounded like this: "Asa Kevoo, Mamie? Asa Kevoo, Mamie, ma Sherry?" Then he began dreamily to chant,
and all same," he added whimsically. "Women and men—both got to do it."
The conductor coughed, and I dodged.
The young man came out with a jump.
"Jake! Sammy! How'd you get here? Where's the train?"
"Back up the road a bit. Busted. Bill can't fix it."
"Busted!" The shocked expression on his face seemed to me humorously out of proportion to the accident. "We'll go down and see what can be done. I'm afraid you gentlemen are put to some inconvenience."
"We have a canoe aboard, and we don't much fancy lugging it and all our stuff to the river," Fred answered.
"We can transport that for you on our handcar." He pointed to the miniature object that stood on the rusty siding.
He was a good-looking, clean-cut chap; when a man who wears no collar makes that impression, it means something. Alert, sensitive, and resolute—I wondered that one whose face showed these qualities should be a dweller of the solitudes.
During the brief walk to the siding, I noticed for the first time his scarred and discolored hands.
"You've had a pretty bad fire here, have n't you?" I said.
"Yes, three weeks ago. It was quite bad."
"I don't understand why the town did n't go."
"Well, it had a pretty close call—and if the wind had n't changed and the rain had n't come at just the right time, there'd have been no saving it."
I saw the fireman nudge the conductor.
McCance unlocked one of the huts, which seemed to be a tool and repair shop. He brought out various implements and loaded them on the car, and last of all he directed the conductor and the fireman to put aboard a jackscrew and rollers.
"We have so much to carry that I'll have to ask you gentlemen to help pump," said McCance. "I'm rather ashamed—but—my hands"—
So we four, the conductor and Fred on one handle, and the fireman and I on the other, sent the car trundling along, while McCance squatted on the jackscrew. When we arrived at the train, we found the engineer sitting beside his locomotive dejectedly. McCance made a brisk examination and ordered up the jackscrew. Under his superintendence, after an hour's labor, we restored the truck to the rails.
It was then nearly sunset; the light was striking horizontally through the trees. McCance stood for a few moments looking at the broken connecting-rod. "That's not so easy," he said at last. He crawled under the tender and removed the brake rods. Then he took off the two broken pieces of the connecting-rod. "If I can drill through and rivet these pieces together with the brake rods—"he muttered; and with his hand-drill he set to work. "The steel needs tempering; it will be a long job," he said at last with a sigh. "Nothing more we can do here to-night."
He turned to Fred and me. "We'll take your canoe on the hand-car now, and in the morning we'll put it in the river for you."
With the canoe on the car, there was room for only three of us. "I like running this machine," said Fred. "I'd rather run it than walk."
I agreed with him; we took the fireman aboard to help us and started off.
"What's the matter with his hands?" Fred asked.
"Burned," said the fireman. "We left these woods green enough one morning three weeks ago; come back to 'em the next afternoon to find 'em like this, or still smoulderin', and dirty gray smoke comin' up in places from the earth. Tommy McCance was hunched over on his doorstep with his two arms across his knees, and his hands looking like big greasy swabs—all done up loose they were in rags, and soaked with oil. He'd bandaged 'em with his teeth. I had to laugh when he told you the town would have gone except for the shift in the wind."
"He saved it, did he?"
"Well, he never said so. He carried water and wet down the houses and beat out the fire with wet caribou hides,—and got both his hands cooked. He looked on it as his duty to save everything—and he done so."
"Pretty hard just when he's about to be married."
"Yes, but it's mighty lucky he is to be married. He needs another pair of hands to help him. Lord knows how he's managed to take care of himself."
That evening at any rate he was relieved of certain duties. The conductor cooked the supper, and afterwards the train crew insisted on the privilege of washing the dishes. McCance invited Fred and me to accompany him to his shop. There he made a fire in the charcoal stove and began heating his drill.
"Awkward time for the train to break down," he observed. "I was expecting to be married day after to-morrow."
We expressed our interest and good wishes.
"But I don't know now if I can be. The minister comes to-morrow from Labrador; the steamer to St. John's drops him on the island out there, and I'll bring him over in my row-boat. Then the next day he takes the steamer back to Labrador. He's an old friend of mine, and used to be in charge of this settlement; we both wanted to have him. Now the train, day after to-morrow, if it was n't late, would get Marie here three hours before the clergyman would have to leave. But most likely it won't be running. Even if I can fix it up so that it can crawl back to Marshall, they won't let it go out on the road again until it's been more permanently tinkered. So it looks to me as if I'd have the minister but not the bride."
"Is there no other way of getting her here?"
He shook his head. "It's pretty hard on Marie anyway. She's French and has some taste about the—the form of things, you know. We'd planned to have it done out under the trees, in the forest; that would have been about right. But the forest has kind of gone back on us, as you saw. So then my idea was to go down on the beach and turn our backs on that desolation, and have it done looking out over the water. But maybe that was just a notion."
"Well, if one has it," I said, "it seems a pity that it should n't be gratified."
McCance drew out the drill, hammered sparks from it, and thrust it back into the fire.
"There's another thing that bothers me," he confided. "If I could patch the train up and it should get through and bring her here—yet not in time—not until after the minister's sailed for Labrador—why, it would n't do. You see, she's trusting me—coming on to marry me when I can't go to her. But I don't know why I should be putting my puzzles up to you gentlemen."
"Because we can help you solve them!" I cried. "Let us take the handcar to-morrow morning, run it down to Marshall, and bring back the bride."
"Fine!" It wasn't often that Fred was so enthusiastic over one of my suggestions. "We can do it—sixty mile each way, and if we make an early start, nearly thirty-six hours."
"Ah, thank you. But it's impossible."
"Of course," I said, "I realize that you don't know us—and that it's asking you—and her—to trust a couple of strangers. But if you'd be willing to do it—"
He laid a roughened, twisted hand on mine.
"How," I asked, "can you row a boat?"
"Oh, I make out to do it.—I'd trust you. But you don't know what it would be to run a handcar over this road in that time."
"I came up here for exercise," said Fred. "I could get as much running a handcar as paddling a canoe—and more novelty."
McCance laughed and shook his head. "You'd keel over before you'd gone half the distance."
"Now we'll do it just to show you."
"The hand-car is subject to my orders."
"Very well; why don't you take it yourself, then? We'll help you—and you have a whole train crew in there."
"We have the business of the road to attend to—fixing up the train and starting it back."
"The business of the road!"—Fred began in an exasperated voice. I struck in.
"You won't be using the hand-car—so let us take it and see what we can do. We're here for exercise; we expect to have blistered hands and lame backs anyway. So why not give us the hand-car?"
McCance did not answer. For some time he devoted himself to the tempering of his drill.
Finally, after he had hammered the steel and thrust it back into the fire, he rose.
"I'll show you where you can sleep," he said. "If you take the hand-car, you'll have to make an early start. So you'd better go to bed now."
We did n't question him; we thought that it was probably a sacrifice of pride on his part to concede so much.
"This is my own house," he said as he opened the door of the cabin with the dimity curtains. "That other belongs to the road."
We knew, the moment we entered it, that we were in the bridal chamber; it was all so spotless. There was a large new white enamel bed, with fresh pillows and counterpane. McCance turned down the covers and said, "I hope you'll sleep well."
After he had gone we stole down to our canoe, brought back our blankets, and made with them our bed on the floor.
"The girl's name is Mamie; who is Asa?" said Fred when I was almost asleep.
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't you remember his mumbling to himself, with that machine—something about Asa and Mamie?"
"The girl's name is Marie, not Mamie. And he said nothing about Asa. He was practicing a phrase for her—'Est-ce que vous m'aimez? Shall I translate?"
"No," Fred muttered sulkily.
At half past four o'clock the next morning McCance roused us.
"If you gentlemen are still in the mood to help me out—" he said. "But a night on the floor is not the best preparation."
"We came here to rough it," Fred answered, "not to have all the comforts of home. There's nothing like a night on the floor for putting a man into condition."
McCance grinned. "Anything for an argument when you want to dodge a fellow's thanks; ain't it so? This is what I've written to Marie: 'These two gentlemen that take my love to my love will bring my love to me.' I'm educating her all I can in the fine points of the language." He laughed and gave Fred the note.
"I had an idea," said Fred, "that you spent your time learning her language."
"Well, yes. I'd just as soon you would n't mention to her that I'm studying French; I'd like that to be a surprise."
"And we need no other introduction?" I asked.
"I'll telegraph her that you 're coming. The minister will be here until four o'clock to-morrow. So if you reach Marshall this afternoon, you can get some sleep, and start back early in the morning."
By the time we had finished breakfast the engineer, the conductor, and the fireman had appeared. They took us on the handcar down to the stalled train; then all five of us trundled the car past this obstacle and set it again upon the track. That was such violent exertion that after it my knees shook and my hands trembled. I noticed that Fred was panting; but we climbed aboard and laid hold of the handles. "Good luck!" "Goodby!" cried the conductor and the engineer as the car rolled away; and the fireman sang, "Bring back, bring back, bring back my bonny to me."
"That was about the equal of ten miles to begin with," grunted Fred.
"This will rest you," I answered. The perspiration was already starting on my face.
At five o'clock that afternoon Fred and I walked up the main street of Marshall. Our hands were raw and swollen, our bodies ached, our weary legs supported us but languidly. We limped in at the gate of a cottage on the outskirts of the town. The door was opened before we knocked.
"Oh, you have arrive'—from Tommy, is it not?"
She had tripped down the steps, holding out a hand to each of us, with a sunny smile—a slender, pretty, dark-eyed girl.
"From Tommy," I said; "and you are Miss Marie Perret."
Fred drew our credentials from his pocket.
"Ah, so fatigue as you mus' be! In the house we will sit."
She led us into a little room furnished with the marble-topped table and black walnut chairs of avuncular gentility. I adjusted myself on the tightly rounded, slippery horsehair surface of a sofa; Fred slid about on the rocking-chair; and Marie read Tommy's note.
"You bring me his love—but for you it is all hard work. It is so very good—so kind." She broke off suddenly in her rapid speech. "Your hands—you will let me baze ze hands. In one moment—queeck."
She darted from the room. Fred looked at me and laughed. "I don't feel half as tired as I did," he said.
"She will be quite a help going back," I answered.
It was luxurious to let her wrap cool damp bandages about my hands and to glance from her deft and pretty fingers to her absorbed, unconscious face.
"Such dirty hands!" I said when she touched them.
"In ze good cause!" she answered.
"It's too bad you could n't have done this for Tommy." Then I was sorry I had said it; a shadow fell across her face; she paused in her bandaging and looked at me with grave, anxious eyes.
"His hands will not be well?"
"Oh yes." I wished I could have been sure of that! "But so much sooner if you'd bandaged them."
Then she laughed, thinking it an idle compliment. Roguishness and tenderness seemed to melt together in her eyes.
"And you mus' use your hands so soon again," she said commiseratingly. "But to return will not be so bad." She crossed over to Fred. "I am a strong lady. I will help."
"We can't allow that," said Fred. "Why, if you helped, your fingers would all swell up and Tommy could n't slip on the wedding ring."
She laughed merrily. "If he balance it on ze tip—it will be enough."
"We can't take any chances. Now, Miss Perret, when will you be ready to start?"
"When you say. But you mus' eat and sleep."
"We ought to leave soon after midnight. Suppose we say one o'clock. We'll go to the hotel and rest all we can—and come for you at that hour."
"I will be all in readiness." She accompanied us to the gate. "But sleep so long as you wish. For when I am aboard—I will make ze car arrive—no matter when we start."
Her merry laughter followed us down the narrow street.
At a quarter to one o'clock I was roused from my troubled slumbers. So lame was I in every joint that I drew on my shoes with difficulty; Fred moved about the room groaning. We limbered up somewhat in our walk to Marie's house; but I wondered how I could ever stand and pump for sixty miles.
A light in an upper window proclaimed that Marie was stirring. When we knocked, she appeared at the door, with a lantern in one hand and a small traveling bag in the other. I took the traveling bag, Fred took the lantern, Marie locked the door—and we started on our journey.
It was a dark night; our lantern was the one illumination in the town. By its light Marie disposed herself on the car, and Fred and I resumed our treadmill task. In the darkness, and with our shrinking hands, and protesting muscles, we did not fall readily into the rhythm of the movement; and every unexpected jerk, every unanticipated recoil gave poignancy to our suffering. I lost my temper and muttered fiercely at Fred under my breath; he shot back a retort—and then Marie began to sing:
"Roulant, en roulant,—
In her voice, so modestly raised, was a quality of such sweetness that ill temper could not hold; our ugliness was reproached and rebuked, consoled and forgiven. When she had finished, we asked her to sing more, and so she did, lifting up her voice now freely and joyously; she gave us "Bergère legère;" the rattling of the car wheels and the clicking of the lever made a discordant accompaniment, but true and sweet her notes floated away, and as they died awoke through the woodland gentle echoes. I think she would have gone on singing indefinitely to keep the peace between us; but the night air was chill and damp, and at last we forbade her to put her voice to any further test.
"We'll call on you when the sun comes out," said Fred. "But I promise now to be good."
After a while she said,
"It is now my turn; I wish to pump."
"Oh no," I answered. "You're just a passenger."
"I wish to pump," she repeated. "I wish to be warm."
Of course if she was cold, she must be allowed to exercise, and I surrendered my place. By and by she insisted that Fred drop out and I go on again.
"It is what ze fishermen call—my trick at ze wheel," she explained.
"It was a trick all right, or you'd never have got there," said Fred. "I don't believe you were cold."
"I did not say I was cold. I say I wish to be warm."
Later we circumvented her. When we had to yield to her claim that it was her turn, we both discovered that we needed a rest; and the best way of obtaining that was to get off and push the car. Then she would walk with us; after a little while we would spring aboard, take our places at the handles, and declare we were rested. Even with this stratagem and such others as we could devise, she bent her slender back far too many times and blistered her unaccustomed hands; I caught her twice blowing pathetically upon her palms.
The sun came up, gorgeous and golden, the birds began chattering in the trees, the day grew rapidly warm. At seven o'clock we stopped for breakfast; a nine we crossed the stream that meant we had traveled forty miles. By ten o'clock the heat was making us wretched; and Fred and I were again wearing on each other's nerves. When one of us bent down, the other inevitably straightened up; and consequently our occasional remarks often miscarried. The repeated failure to hear, the reiterated "What?" became irritating. Finally after I had said "What?" three times, Fred bawled at the top of his voice in one continuous sentence,—
"I said we ought to get to Wingates by three o'clock for heaven's sake say something else than what!"
"Comprenez vous francais?" interposed Marie.
"Un petit," responded Fred with instant urbanity.
"Un petit!" I scoffed. "Un peu, you mean—or pas du tout, to be accurate. Un petit!"
I laughed sarcastically as I straightened up; Fred gave me a glowering glance as he bent down.
"I," said Marie in her even, gentle voice, "I do not care if one knows not French. I marry a man who knows not French. A man may be as good as anozzer—and yet know not French."
"Ya-a!" bleated Fred in the instant that our eyes were level.
"Un petit!" I retorted.
"I will now sing a little song," said Marie. "In English—pour jaire comprendre. I learn it from my school children." And she sang:—
"'I woke before ze morning, I was happy all ze day,
I never said an ugly word, I smiled and stuck to play.'"
"Quit it," cried Fred, "quit it! I'll be good."
"I beg everybody's pardon," I said. And Marie cooed gently to herself with satisfaction, and, when we begged her, sang for us some more French songs.
At last we entered the burned-over region and began rejoicing. We did not at first notice that Marie sat silent. We both stopped our labors, arrested by the tone in which she asked,—
"And is it all—so?"
"Yes," I said. "Didn't you understand?"
"I—I did not have ze picture."
Fred and I looked at her in distress. Poor little girl, of course she could never have had any realization of this, however honestly Tommy had written about the conditions. To see that brave and cheerful spirit so appalled was utterly disheartening. Tears started from her eyes.
"And Tommy has lived here all alone!"
She rose and pushed me aside gently, saying, "It is my trick at ze wheel. Maybe"—she smiled a little,—"you will help your friend on his side. For I am so strong now—so strong for two. I wish to have Tommy wait for me no longer."
We were bound to finish after that. But the stops for rest became more frequent, the sun climbed up overhead and dropped behind our shoulders, and in the blackened waste was no landmark to tell us how far we had to go. As we were laboriously pumping up a grade, we heard a thin whistle.
"That's the train!" cried Fred.
I dropped off the car and ran ahead. Round a curve poked the locomotive; I stood and waved my hands. The train whistle let go once more, the steam was shut off, and the train coasted slowly to a stop. But before it had stopped, the conductor, the fireman. Tommy McCance, and a stranger in a black coat were on the ground and running towards me.
They didn't bother much with me; they dashed past and on down the track, and the engineer and I followed. We saw Tommy and Marie fly into each other's arms—but when we came up Marie was talking with the clergyman.
The train crew tumbled our hand-car off the track.
"Pretty near dead?" asked Tommy.
"Depends on how near home we are," I answered.
"Less than an hour. But you'll ride as passengers the rest of the way."
"No indeed," declared Fred. "We want to have the credit of bringing in the bride."
"With just a little help from me," pleaded the clergyman.
He was a fine, strapping big man, and we yielded. I was afraid for a moment that Fred would be too proud.
The engineer ran his train past us; I noticed the connecting-rod of the locomotive—the two broken pieces beautifully riveted and bolted together.
"Ain't that a good job!" said the conductor. "Well, Tommy, I wish't I could stay and hear the wedding bells—but orders is orders and I'm takin' 'em from you."
"Yes, you'd better be pegging on into Marshall," said Tommy. "Marie and I will give you all a wedding supper, French cooking, on your next trip—eh, Marie?"
The crew pushed the hand-car back upon the rails; Marie, Tommy, the clergyman, Fred, and I climbed aboard, and with the clergyman at one handle, Fred and I together at the other, we bowled away, while the engineer, the fireman, and the conductor waved their caps and cheered.
The bride and groom sat on either side of the car and smiled at each other.
"Je parle français, Marie," said Tommy. "Voila! Je vous aime—oh, très bien. Est-ce que vous m'aimez, Marie, ma cherie?"
"Oh, je t'aime on ne peut davantage, mon petit drôle!" Marie answered with a gay laugh. "Mais ton accent—pardon, c'est à rire! N'importe; je vais te l'enseigner. Dites moi; comment les pauvres mains vont-elles?"
I was facing Tommy; I was sorry for him, such hopeless bewilderment was in his eyes.
"The machine never handed me out those words," he complained. "Give it to me in English, Marie."
But after that they did not talk much; I suspected that they were both thinking of the ceremony that was before them.
We arrived at last. The clergyman had an hour before he must start for the island. Marie went into her little house to prepare; Fred and I made our toilets on the beach. In half an hour came the clergyman, the bride, and the groom. Marie's head was bare; she wore a white waist and a black skirt; nobody passing would have guessed from our little group that a wedding was in progress.
The bride and groom faced the sea; its quiet waves purred on the sand. It stretched away beyond the bleak island, shining, clean, and pure. It held the island close and firm; in its mood that day it seemed the perfect type of gentleness and strength, and I understood why Tommy had clung to the thought of a marriage by the sea.
The clergyman had spoken the last words; the husband kissed his wife.
Fred and I stepped forward.
"If it's the custom in these parts," began Fred.
Marie, with tears in her eyes and an emotional little laugh rippling on her lips, turned up her face.
"And now. Professor,"—which was Fred's informal title for the parson,—"whenever it's time for you to go, we'll take you."
"No, no!" cried Tommy. "I'll see to that."
"I think not," said Fred. "You don't desert your bride at this time."
As a matter of fact, on the way to the island the clergyman did most of the work. We landed him just as the steamer hove in sight. And when we had seen him safely aboard, we turned and made our way back to the shore where two figures stood watching us—and where half an hour later we left them to themselves.