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Much Ado About Peter/Chapter 9

 

MRS. CARTER AS FATE

 

 

IX
MRS. CARTER AS FATE

AS the summer wore to an end, the course of affairs between Peter and Annie became a matter of interested comment among the other servants. They had all seen Peter recover from many incipient attacks of love, but this they unanimously diagnosed as the real thing. Joe and his wife talked the matter over upon his return from the hospital, and decided that the time had definitely come for the livery stable; Peter, in all fairness, had served as groom long enough. They would move out of the coachman's cottage the following spring, and give the young people a chance. Thus was the way open for a happy conclusion, and everyone was preparing to dance at the wedding, except Peter and Annie themselves. They alone were not certain as to the outcome. Neither was quite comfortably sure that the other was in earnest, and when it came to the point they were both a little shy. Annie, with laughing eyes, tempted Peter at every point, but when he showed a disposition to control matters himself, she precipitously fled.

The two were standing on the back veranda one moonlight night, and Annie was engaged in pointing out to Peter the lady in the moon. Peter was either stubborn or stupid; he frankly declared that he saw no "loidy," and did n't believe there was one. In her zeal in the cause of astronomy, Annie unwarily bent her head too near, and while her eyes were turned to the moon, Peter kissed her. She slapped him smartly, as a well-brought-up young woman should, and fled into the house before he could catch her. Peter, strong in his new-found courage, waited about in the hope that she would reappear; but she did not, and he finally took himself off to his room over the carriage-house, where he sat by the window gazing out at the moonlight for two hours or more before he remembered to go to bed. The slap had hurt neither him nor his feelings; he liked her the better for it. She was n't really mad, he reflected happily, for she had laughed as she banged the door in his face.

The next morning Peter went about his work with a singing heart and many a glance toward the kitchen windows. He swashed water over the stable floor and rubbed down the horses with a mind happily intent upon what he would say to Annie when he saw her. About ten o'clock Mrs. Carter ordered the victoria, but as the carriage horses were at the shop being shod, Joe sent Peter in to ask if Trixy and the phaeton would do as well.

Peter dropped his sponge and started for the house at exactly the wrong moment for his future peace of mind. He arrived at the kitchen door just in time to see the man from the grocery put his packages on the table and his arms around Annie, and kiss her with a smack that resounded through the room and would, to Peter's outraged senses, resound through all time. Annie turned with a startled cry, and as her gaze fell upon Peter, her face paled before the look in his eyes. Without a word he whirled about and strode back to the stables with white lips and clenched fists, and murder in his heart for the grocer's man. He did not hear what Annie said to him, nor did he know that she locked herself in her room and cried; what he did know was that she had been making a fool of him, and that she flirted with every man who came along, and that that was n't the kind of a girl he wanted to do with.

Several days before, as Peter was driving Mr. Lane, who was visiting at Willowbrook again, and Master Bobby to the village, Annie had been sweeping the front veranda as they passed, and had thrown a friendly smile in the direction of the cart. The smile was intended for Peter, but Mr. Lane had caught it, and had remarked to Bobby:

"That's a deuced pretty maid you've got there."

"Annie's the bulliest maid we ever had," Bobby had returned appreciatively. "She swipes cake for me when Nora is n't looking."

But Peter had frowned angrily, as he longingly sized up Mr. Lane, and wished he were not a gentleman so that he could punch him. It was none of Mr. Lane's business whether Annie was pretty or not.

At that time Annie could do no wrong, and Peter had not thought of blaming her for Mr. Lane's too-open admiration, but now he wrathfully accused her of trying to flirt with gentlemen, than which, in Peter's estimation, she could do no worse. As he could take it out of neither of them in blood—which his soul thirsted for—he added it to the grocer's score, and his fingers fairly itched to be at work. The grocer was just the sort of man that he most enjoyed pummelling—big and florid, with curling hair, a black moustache, and a dimple in his chin.

Annie, after her contretemps with the grocer, passed a miserable day. In vain she tried to get a word with Peter; he was not to be seen. Billy was the groom who came to the house on all further errands from the stables. That evening she put on her prettiest frock and sat for two hours on the top step of the back veranda with her eyes turned expectantly toward the carriage-house, and then she went to bed and cried. Had she but known it, Peter was in a vacant lot back of Paddy Callahan's saloon, blissfully remodelling the features of the grocer's man.

Annie passed a wakeful night, and the next morning she swallowed her pride and went to the stables in the hope of seeing Peter alone. Peter, too, in spite of his victory of the evening, had kept vigil through the night. He was listlessly currying one of the carriage horses when he saw Annie leave the house and come slowly down the walk toward the stables. His heart suddenly leaped to his mouth, but a moment later he was bending over the horse with his back to the door, whistling as merrily as though he had not a care in the world. He heard Annie's hesitating step on the threshold, and he smiled grimly to himself and whistled the louder.

"Pete, I'm wantin' to speak to you, if ye 're not busy."

Peter glanced up with a well-assumed start of surprise. He looked Annie over, slowly and deliberately, and then turned back to the horse.

"Aw, but I am busy," he returned. "Lift up!" he added to the horse, and he solicitously examined her foot.

Annie waited patiently, struggling between a sense of pride which urged her to go back and never speak to Peter again, and a sense of shame which told her that she owed him an explanation.

"Pete," she began, and there was a little catch in her voice which went to Peter's heart; in his effort to resist it and mete out due punishment for all the misery she had caused him, he was harder than he otherwise would have been. "Pete, I wanted to be tellin' ye that it was n't my fault. He—he niver kissed me before, and I did n't know he was goin' to then."

Peter shrugged.

"Ye need n't be apologizin' to me. I ain't interested in yer amoors. If ye wants to be apologizin' to any one go an' do it to his wife."

"His wife?" asked Annie.

"Aye, his wife an' his three childern."

"I did n't know he was married," said Annie, flushing again, "but 'tis no difference, for it were n't my fault. I niver acted a bit nicer to him than to anny other man, an' that's the truth."

"Oh, ye 're a lovely girl, ye are! Flirtin' around with other women's husbands, and lettin' every fool that comes along kiss ye if he wants to."

"Ye need n't talk," cried Annie. "Ye did it yerself, an' ye 're no better than the grocer man."

"An' do ye think I'd a-done it if I had n't knowed ye was willin?"

Annie backed against the wall, and with flushed cheeks and blazing eyes, stared at him speechlessly, angry with herself at her powerlessness to say anything that would hurt him enough. As she stood there, Master Bobby and Mr. Lane came in on their way to visit the kennels. Mr. Lane looked curiously from the angry girl to the nonchalant groom, who had resumed his work, and was softly whistling under his breath. Master Bobby, being intent only upon puppies, passed on without noticing the two, but Mr. Lane glanced back over his shoulder at Annie's pretty flushed face, and paused to ask:

"My dear girl, has that fellow been annoying you?"

"No, no!" Annie said wildly. "Go away, Mr. Lane, please."

Mr. Lane glanced from one to the other with a laugh. "Ah, I see! A lovers' quarrel," and he followed Master Bobby.

Peter echoed his laugh, and in a tone which would have justified Mr. Lane in knocking him down had he heard.

"So ye 're his dear girl too, are ye? He's a nice gentleman, he is! Ye ought to be proud o' him."

Annie straightened herself with her head thrown back.

"Peter Malone," she burst out, "I came here to 'pologize, 'cause, without meanin' any harm, I thought as I'd hurt yer feelin's an' was owin' an explanation. I niver had anything to do with that groc'ry man nor any other man, an' ye know it as true as ye 're standin' there. Instead o' believin' what I say like a gentleman would, ye insult me worse than anybody's iver done in the whole o' me life, an' I 'll niver speak to ye again as long as I live." She choked down a sob, and with head erect turned and walked back to the house.

The two had had differences before, but never anything like this. Peter, his arms dropped limply at his side, stood watching her go, while the words she had spoken rang in his ears. Suddenly a lump rose in his throat, and he leaned his head against the horse's neck.

"Lord!" he whispered. "What have I done?"


The week which followed was one of outward indifference and inward misery to both. Annie mourned when alone, but under the eyes of the stables she flirted openly and without conscience with one of the painters who was opportunely engaged in re-staining the shingle roof of the Jasper house. Peter watched her with a heavy heart, and formed a brave determination never to think of her again, and ended by thinking of her every minute of the day. He made one awkward attempt at reconciliation which was spurned, whereupon he, too, plunged into a reckless flirtation with Mary, the chambermaid, who was fat, and every day of thirty-five. As neither Peter nor Annie had any means of knowing how wretched this treatment was making the other, they got very little comfort from it.


Annie sat at the kitchen table polishing silver with a sober face. It was six days since the grocery man's historic visit, and the war clouds showed no sign of lifting. There was a houseful of company at Willowbrook, and the work was mercifully distracting. Mary, this morning, had hung a long row of blankets and curtains on the line to air, for the sole purpose, Annie knew, of being near the stables. Peter was visible through the open window, greasing harness in the carriage-house doorway, and exchanging jocular remarks with Mary. Annie's eyes were out of doors oftener than upon her work. Nora, who was sitting on the back veranda shelling peas, remarked on Peter's newly awakened interest in the chambermaid, but as Annie did not answer, she very wisely changed the subject.

"I guess that Mr. Lane what's visitin' here has got a heap o' money," she called in tentatively.

"I guess he has," Annie assented indifferently.

"He seems to be pretty taken up with Miss Ethel. That was an awful becomin' pink dress she had on last night. Mrs. Carter would be pleased all right."

Annie received this remark in silence, but Nora was not to be discouraged. She felt that this new freak of taciturnity on Annie's part was defrauding her of her rights. A maid whose duties call her to the front part of the house is in a position to supply more accurate gossip than it is given a cook to know, and it is her business to supply it.

"Mr. Harry would feel awful, havin' growed up with her like," Nora continued. "He's a sight the best lookin' o' the two, and I'm thinkin' Miss Ethel knows it. It ud be convenient, too, havin' the places joined. The Jaspers has got money enough, an' him the only son. I guess they would n't starve if she did marry him. I 've always noticed 'tis the people who has the most money as needs the most. I don't think much o' that Mr. Lane," she added.

Annie suddenly woke up.

"I don't neither. 'Tis too fresh he is."

"That's what I'm thinkin' meself," said Nora, cordially. "An' I guess so does Mr. Harry. I'm after observin' that he has n't been around much since Mr. Lane's been here."

Annie's mind had wandered again. Her own affairs were requiring so much attention lately that Miss Ethel's were no longer a source of interest. Out in the stable Peter was proclaiming, in tones calculated to reach the kitchen, "There's only one girl in this world for me." Annie's lip quivered slightly as she heard him; a week before she had laughed at the same song, but as affairs stood now, it was insulting.

The peas finished, Nora gathered the yellow bowl under her arm and returned to the kitchen, where she concentrated her attention upon Annie and the silver.

"I'm thinkin' ye must be in love!" she declared. "Ye 've cleaned that same spoon three times while I 've been watchin', an' ye did n't count the plates right last night for dinner, an' ye forgot to give 'em any butter for breakfast."

Annie blushed guiltily at this damning array of evidence, and then she laughed. "If it's in love I am whiniver I forget things, then I must a-been in love since I was out o' the cradle."

"An' there's him as would be in love with you, if ye'd only act dacent to him—and I'm not meanin' the painter."

Annie chose to overlook this remark, and Nora's sociability was suppressed by the entrance of Mrs. Carter.

"We have decided to have a picnic supper at the beach to-night, Nora," she said. "You will not have to get dinner for anyone but Mr. Carter."

"Very well, ma'am."

"I am sorry that it happens on your afternoon out, Annie," she added, turning to the maid, "but I shall need you at the picnic to help about serving."

"Certainly, ma'am," said Annie. "I don't care about goin' out anyway."

"We shall start early in the afternoon, but I want you to wait and help Nora with the sandwiches, and then Peter can drive you out about six o'clock in the dog-cart."

Annie's face clouded precipitously.

"Please, ma'am," she stammered, "I think—that is, if ye please——" she hesitated and looked about desperately. "I'm afraid if ye 're after wantin' coffee, I can't make it right. I'm niver sure o' me coffee two times runnin', and I should hate to be spoilin' it when there's company. If ye could take Nora instead o' me, ma'am, I could just be gettin' the lovely dinner for Mr. Carter when he comes."

"Why, Annie," she remonstrated, "you 've always made excellent coffee before, and Nora does n't wait on the table. Is it because you want to go out this afternoon? I am sorry, but you will have to wait until Miss Ethel's guests have gone."

"No, ma'am," said Annie, hastily, "I'm not wantin' the afternoon, an' it's willin' I am to help Miss Ethel, only—only—will you tell Peter, ma'am, about the cart?" she finished lamely, "’cause if I tell him he's likely to be late."

Mrs. Carter passed out of the kitchen door and crossed the lawn toward the stables, casting meanwhile a sharp eye about the premises to be sure that all was as it should be. Mary was shaking blankets with an air of deep absorption; Peter was industriously cleaning the already clean harness, and Joe could be heard inside officiously telling Billy to grease the other wheel and be quick about it. Unless Mrs. Carter approached very quietly indeed, she always found her servants oblivious to everything but their several duties. As she drew near the doorway, Peter rose from the harness and respectfully touched his cap with a very dirty hand, while the coachman, with a final order over his shoulder to a brow-beaten stable-boy, came forward hastily, and stood at attention.

"Joe, we are going to have a picnic at the beach this afternoon, and I want you to have the horses ready at three o'clock. Miss Ethel, Mr. Lane, and Master Bobby will ride, and you will drive the rest of us in the waggonette."

"Very well, ma'am," said Joe.

"And Peter," she added, turning to the groom, "I want you to bring out the supper with Trixy and the dog-cart at five o'clock."

"All right, ma'am," said Peter, saluting.

"Be sure to be on time," she warned. "Stop at the kitchen for Annie and the hampers promptly at five."

Peter's face suddenly darkened. He drew his mouth into a straight line, and looked sullenly down at the harness. "Beggin' yer pardon, ma'am," he mumbled, "I don't think—that is——" He scowled defiance at Joe, who grinned back appreciatively. "If it's just the same to ye, ma'am, I'd like to drive the waggonette an' let Joe fetch the lunch. If I'm to be coachman, ma'am, I'd sort o' like to get used to me dooties before he goes."

Mrs. Carter was frankly puzzled; she could not imagine what had suddenly got into her servants this morning. A lady who has a grown daughter, of some attractions and many admirers, to chaperone, cannot be expected to keep au courant of her servants' love affairs.

"You have had a month in which to get used to your duties while Joe was in the hospital; that is sufficient for the present. Joe will drive the waggonette and you will follow with the supper—I wish you to help Tom put new netting in the screen-doors this afternoon."

Her tone precluded argument. As soon as she was out of hearing, Joe remarked softly, "Now, if she'd only said Mary instead of Annie I 'spose——"

"Aw, let up," Peter growled, and he fell to rubbing in the grease with unnecessary vehemence. His misunderstanding with Annie was a subject he would stand no fooling about, even from his chief.

At five o'clock, Peter, in a spotless top-hat and shining boots, looking as stiff as if he were clothed in steel armour, drew up before the kitchen door and piled the hampers and pails he found on the back veranda onto the seat beside him. He climbed to the box again with an air of finality, and gathering his reins together made a feint of starting.

"Peter!" Nora called from the kitchen window. "Where is it ye 're goin'? Wait for Annie."

"Annie?" Peter looked as if he had never heard the name before.

"Yes, Annie. Did ye think ye was to cook the supper yerself?"

"I did n't think nothin'," said Peter. "Me orders was to stop for the lunch at five o'clock, an' I done it. If she wants to come along she 'll have to sit on the back seat. I ain't a goin' to change these baskets again."

Annie appeared in the doorway in time to hear this ungracious speech; she clambered up to the somewhat uncomfortable footman's seat in silence, and they drove off back to back, as stiff as twin ramrods.

The cart rolled along over the smooth roads, past country clubs and summer cottages, and the only sign either of the two gave of being alive was an occasional vicious crack of the whip from Peter when patient little Trixy showed signs of wishing to take a quieter pace. At such times Annie would instinctively stretch out a deterring hand and form her mouth as if to say, "Please, Pete, don't whip her; she's doin' her best," and then suddenly remembering that formidable vow, would straighten up again and stare ahead with flushed cheeks.

The beach was five miles away, and there is an element of ludicrousness in the spectacle of two people in one small dog-cart riding five miles without speaking. Annie's sense of humour was keen; it struggled hard with her sense of wrong. She was never an Indian to cherish vengeance; her anger could be fierce at the moment, but it rarely lasted. And Peter was sorry for what he had said, she reminded herself; he had already tried to make up. By the end of the second mile two dimples appeared in her cheeks. At the third mile she shut her mouth tight to keep a laugh from escaping. At the fourth mile she spoke.

"Say, Pete, why don't ye talk to me? Are ye mad?"

Peter had been gazing at Trixy's ears with an air of deep preoccupation, and he came back to the present with a start of surprise, apparently amazed at finding that he had a companion in the cart.

"Ma'am?" he said.

Annie glanced around at his uncompromising back.

"Why don't ye say somethin'?" she repeated more faintly.

"I ain't got nothin' to say."

Annie's dimples gave way to an angry flush. Never, never, never again would she say a thing to him as long as she lived. The remainder of the drive was passed in a tumultuous silence. Peter, with grim mouth, kept his unseeing eyes on the road in front, and Annie, with burning cheeks, stared behind at the cloud of dust.

When the cart arrived among the straggling cedar trees which bordered the beach, they found drawn up beside the Carter horses, Mr. Harry's hunter and a strange drag which betokened impromptu guests. Annie had barely time to wonder if the plates would go around and if there would be salad enough, when the cart was welcomed with joyful shouts by a crowd of hungry picnickers. She caught a glimpse on the edge of the group of Miss Ethel, debonair and smiling, in another new dress, with Mr. Lane scowling on one side of her and Mr. Harry on the other. Ordinarily, she would have taken a lively interest in such a situation, and would have had an appreciative fellow-feeling for Miss Ethel; but she saw it now with an unhappy sense that the blessings of this world in the shape of dresses and men are unevenly distributed.

Annie usually accepted the pranks of the young ladies and gentlemen in good part, no matter how much extra trouble they caused; but to-day as she caught a plundering hand on one of the hampers, she called out sharply:

"Master Bobby, you let that cake alone! Them olives are for supper."

A general laugh greeted this outburst, and she turned away and began unpacking dishes with a bitter feeling of rebellion. Mrs. Carter bustled up, and having driven off the marauders, briskly took command.

"Now, Peter, as soon as you have hitched Trixy, come back and help about the supper. Annie will tell you what to do."

Annie cheered up slightly at this, and for the moment waived the letter of her vow. As Peter reluctantly reappeared, she ordered: "Get a pile o' drift wood and fix a place for the fire. Them are too big," she commented, as he returned with an armful of sticks. "Get some little pieces and be quick about it; you 're too slow."

Peter looked mutinous, but the eyes of Mrs. Carter were upon him, and he obeyed.

"Now, take those two pails and go to the farm-house for water," Annie ordered.

When he returned with the two heavy pails, cross and splashed, she fished out a bug or two with an air of dissatisfaction, and told him to build the fire. Peter built the fire, and, at Annie's suggestion, held the coffee-pot to keep it steady. He burnt his hands, and swore softly under his breath, and Annie laughed. Mrs. Carter, having started preparations, suddenly recalled her duties as hostess and hurried off again, leaving Annie to superintend the remainder alone.

"Here, Peter," said Annie, "I want ye to open these cans o' sardines."

Peter looked after the retreating figure of Mrs. Carter. She was well out of hearing; he took from his pocket a cigarette and leisurely regarded it.

"I want these cans opened," Annie repeated more sharply.

Peter lighted his cigarette.

"I 'll tell Mrs. Carter if ye don't."

Peter threw himself down on the grass, and blowing a ring of smoke, looked dreamily off toward the ocean.

Mrs. Carter showed no signs of coming back, and Annie saw that her brief dominion was over. She picked up the can-opener and jabbed it viciously into the tin. It slipped and cut an ugly gash in her finger. She uttered a little cry of pain, and turned pale at sight of the blood, and Peter laughed. She turned her back to keep him from seeing the tears of anger that filled her eyes, and for the third time she solemnly swore never, never, never to speak to him again.

The two served the supper with the same grim silence behind the scenes that they exhibited before the guests. When it was over, instead of eating with Joe and Peter, Annie commenced gathering up the dishes and repacking them in the hampers ready for departure. The two men laughed and joked between themselves, without taking any notice of her absence, and Annie angrily told herself that she would n't speak to Joe any more, either. Just as she had everything packed and was comforting herself with the thought that she would soon be back home, and the miserable day would be ended, Mrs. Carter reappeared.

"Your coffee was excellent, Annie," she said, pleasantly, "and you and Peter served very nicely indeed. And now, instead of going home, I should like to have you wait and make some lemonade to be served later in the evening. It will be a beautiful moonlight night, and you and Peter can stay and enjoy yourselves."

"Very well, ma'am," said Annie, dully.

Peter, at this news, lighted another cigarette and strolled off with Joe, while Annie, who was growing apathetic under a culmination of troubles, busied herself in making the lemonade, and then sat down by her baskets to wait. She could see through the gathering dusk the merry crowd upon the beach, as they scattered about gathering driftwood for a fire. She heard every now and then, above the sound of the waves, a gay shout of laughter, and, nearer at hand, the restless stamping of the horses. She turned her back to the beach half pettishly, and sat watching Mr. Harry's sorrel as he nervously tossed his head and switched his tail, trying to keep off the sand flies. From that she fell to wondering how Mr. Harry happened to be there, and what Mr. Lane thought about it, and if there would be a fight. There probably would not, she reflected, with some regret, for gentlemen did not always fight when they should. (She had heard through the butcher's boy the story of Peter's prowess, and the knowledge had given some slight comfort.) Her reflections were suddenly interrupted by the sound of steps crashing toward her through the underbrush, and she looked up with a fast-beating heart. Her first thought was that it was Peter coming to make up, and she resolutely stiffened herself to withstand him, but a second glance showed her that it was Mr. Lane.

"Where's Joe?" he demanded.

"I don't know, Mr. Lane."

"Where's Peter, then?"

"I don't know. The two o' them has n't been here since supper."

"Well, damn it! I 've got to find some one." Mr. Lane was evidently excited. "See here, Annie," he said, "you 're a good girl. Just give a message to Mrs. Carter from me, will you, please? Tell her a boy rode out on a bicycle with a telegram calling me back to New York immediately, and I had to ride back to the house without finding her in order to catch the ten-o'clock train. Don't say anything to Miss Ethel, and here's something to buy a new dress. Good-bye."

"Thank you, sir. Good-bye."

He hastily rebuckled his horse's bridle, led him into the lane out of sight of the beach, and mounted and galloped off. Annie looked after him with wide eyes; his bearing was not very jaunty; she wondered if Mr. Harry had whipped him. It did not seem likely, for Mr. Lane was the larger of the two; but for the matter of that, she reflected, so was the grocer's man larger than Peter. She did not understand it, but she slipped the bill into her pocket with a shrug of her shoulders. She could afford to be philosophic over other people's troubles.

It was growing dark in among the trees and she was beginning to feel very lonely. A big red moon was rising over the water, and a bright fire was crackling on the beach. The sound of singing was mingled with the beating of the surf. Annie wandered out from the shadow of the trees and strolled up the beach away from the camp-fire and the singers. Presently she dropped down in the shadow of a sand dune and sat with her chin in her hands pensively watching the black silhouettes against the fire. By and by she saw two figures strolling along the beach in her direction. She recognized them as Miss Ethel and Mr. Harry, and she crouched down behind the dune until they passed. She felt lonelier than ever as she watched them disappear, and the first thing she knew, she had buried her head in her arms and was crying to herself—but not very hard, for she was mindful of the ride home, and she did not wish to make her eyes red. Not for the world would she have let Peter know that she felt unhappy.

Suddenly into the midst of her misery came the sound of scrunching sand and the smell of cigarette smoke. Then, without looking up, she felt that some one was standing over her and that that some one was Peter. She held her breath and waited like a little ostrich, with her head burrowed into the sand.

Peter it was, and a mighty struggle was going on within his breast, but love is stronger than pride, and his Irish heart conquered in the end.

He bent over and touched her shoulder lightly.

"Annie!" he whispered.

She held her breath and kept her face hidden.

He dropped on his knee in the sand beside her. "Annie, darlin', don't be cryin'. Tell me what's the trouble." He forcibly transferred her head from the sand bank to his shoulder, and her tears trickled down his neck. "Is it yer finger that's hurtin' ye?"

She raised a tear-stained face with a quick smile quivering through at this purely masculine suggestion.

"It's not me finger; it's me feelin's," she breathed into his ear. Peter tightened his arms around her. "But they 're not hurtin' any more," she added with a little laugh.

"An' this time we 'll be friends f'r always?"

She nodded.

"Gee!" he whispered. "I 've been spendin' the week in hell thinkin' ye did n't care nothin' for me."

"So uv I," said Annie.

As they sat watching the rippling path of moonlight on the water, from far down the beach they could hear the voices singing, "It's the spring time of life and the world is all before us." Annie laughed happily as she listened.

"I was wishin' a while ago that I was Miss Ethel 'cause she has everything she wants, but I don't wish it any more. She has n't got you, Petey."

"And I'm thinkin' she is n't wantin' me," said Peter, with his eyes on the beach above them, where Miss Ethel and Mr. Harry were coming toward them hand in hand. The two stopped suddenly as they caught sight of Annie and Peter and hastily dropped each others' hands. Then Miss Ethel ran forward with a conscious little laugh.

"Annie, you shall be the first to congratulate me—but it's a secret; you must n't tell a soul."

Annie looked back with shining eyes. "I'm engaged, too," she whispered.

"You dear!" said Miss Ethel, and she put her arm around her and kissed her.

Peter and Mr. Harry stood a moment eyeing each other awkwardly, then they reached out across the gulf that separated them and shook hands.