A shorter selection this time, “I’ll Tell the World!” (1919) is set in Blue Hill, Maine–much of it right in Blue Hill Bay. If you’ve had a chance to visit, you may recognize some landmarks. If you’re waiting to go, you can make mental notes for your visit.
I’ll Tell the World! by Emilie Loring
He’d Had an Uncomfortable Time of It Thinking Things That Weren’t So.
The sun had transformed the sea into sparkling sapphires, the light breeze had bewitched every ripple into a tiny diamond crested wave. A trim twenty-eight-foot motor boat cut smoothly through the water.
From the wheel of the boat, the Saucy Sally, David Houston looked out to sea, at the clock in the bow, then at the cove which lay to starboard. He altered his course and when within a few feet of the shore threw off the switch. The boat nosed easily into a crevice between two boulders far out on the larger of which a solitary twisted cedar writhed upward in true Japanese fashion.
The steamer wasn’t due yet. If he appeared too early Pen would think–oh, well, what the dickens was the use trying to camouflage what he felt for Penelope Drayton? He was deeply, furiously in love with her–in love with all the intensity of his southern nature.
He tore his thoughts away from Penelope to test the ignition system of her boat. It had shown signs of temperament lately. As they were off on an all day trip it would be well to look things over. The boy who took care of the Saucy Sally was a better fisherman than mechanician. He closed the electrical circuit, loosened the wire from the igniter and drew it across the igniter plug. A large green spark and a vicious hiss came simultaneously.
“Righto!” he commended. “Now–“
“My word, Pen Drayton, where did you meet up with that magnificent specimen of the Lone Star state you presented to me last night?” laughed a girl’s voice just above his head. “David Houston’s the cleanest cut, finest looking, most fascinating man I’ve seen in a blue moon. I felt a perfectly insane desire to smooth out that adorable kink in his hair. That you’re the only girl in the world glint in his blue eyes reduced me to stammering inarticulateness. He’s grand seigneur to his finger tips, and he has a nose like–like–“
“A Greek god,” supplied another voice, with a suspicion of crisp impatience. “That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it? Every one makes that comparison. Why be original?”
Houston opened his lips to shout, thought better of it, pulled the soft brim of his hat low over his eyes, and stretched out on the seat. He steadied the boat against the ragged boulder. All was fair in love and–the world war had wiped the rest from that maxim. He’d remain where he was. He might gain a strategic advantage, and the Lord knew he needed it. The girl above him had been friendly, tender, aloof, alluring in turn, until he didn’t know where he stood. Sooner or later he’d make her love him; meanwhile–his eyes narrowed as the girl whom he had met for the first time the night before spoke.
“Better leave him lay, Penny-Wise. There’s a primitive man note in his voice and a set to his jaw which irresistibly lures and conversely warns. Besides, big, tame Dug Lawton with his sordid millions has a vested interest in you, hasn’t he?”
Houston’s lips whitened. Penelope Drayton’s musical laugh floated down to him.
“The world lost a great district attorney when you were born a girl, Grace. You’d make the blood of the accused turn to liquid air with your third degree expertness. I ‘met up’ with the ‘magnificent specimen’–sounds like a zoo catalogue, doesn’t it?–while on War Camp Community service work. He was training for aviation. Since then he’s earned his pilot’s wings and had downed two hostile planes on the western front when the allies presented a piece of paper, warranted unbearable, to the enemy, and he was sent home, fairly tugging at his leash to go back and finish dropping a few little bombs he’d left undropped.”
“Thrilling, but not to the point. Why does a man who proclaims Texas to be ‘God’s country’ come to Maine the moment he’s foot loose?” with tormenting insistence.
“Not being a mind reader, I can’t tell you why he came to Maine,” with superb scorn. “But I’ll tell you about the first time I saw him. An older woman and I were detailed to be at the recreation room at camp, to talk with the boys, when they wanted to talk, and to meet their girl friends or their people; in short, to help in any way we could. One day David Houston and another cadet chatted with us for an hour. During the conversation we discovered that the Texan’s family owned an enormous cattle ranch near San Antonio, and that that favored city was the one in this great U. S. A. which retained its atmosphere of history and romance. Houston’s chum fairly snorted with rage at that statement. He hailed from New Orleans, so to avert bloodshed I hurriedly asked if Texas girls were attractive.”
“What did he say?” interrupted the visiting girl, with an anticipatory gurgle of laughter.
“Everybody was ‘telling the world’ just then, and he began enthusiastically, ‘I’ll tell the world!” then launched into a glowing account of the manifold fascinations of the girls of his native state.
Houston’s ears burned smartly, and not from the heat of the sun. The muscles of his firm jaw tightened as Penelope continued:
“I couldn’t let such a challenge as that pass, could I? Wasn’t it up to me to demonstrate the charms of the girls of the effete east? So–so I decided to be nice to him. My co-worker took a tremendous fancy to him and fairly smothered him in week-end invitations, in many of which I was included.”
“A-ha–vamp stuff! Poor boy, he was merely smoldering with longing for his home time and the girls he’d left behind him. Your question as to their charms was the spark which set him off. Well, victory perches on your banner; that’s patent to the eye of the beholder. But why lure him here?”
“Not guilty! I was honestly surprised when he appeared here a week ago. Dad–you know dad, with his near sighted eyes and far reaching heart–took to him at once. Dad’s a little mad on the subject of Americana, and when he found that Dave knew the history of his great state backward, why, that settled it. David must be our guest.”
“The plot thickens. Enter Douglas–Douglas tender and true. If you’d like me to take the cattle puncher off your hands–“
“Thank you; I can manage quite well”
“Don’t be a dog in the manger, P. D. Of course, I’m not the charmer you are, but–“
“It’s a pity about you! I—” a long, shrill whistle sounded. It echoed from shore to shore till it died away in a faint rumble.
“There’s the steamer! We’ll have to scurry if we mean to meet it at the pier. Dave’s to bring Saucy Sally round there. He runs her like a breeze. The maid’s put my baskets in the boat. Dug’s sister wrote him to come prepared to go to the Neck from the steamer. I hope—” her voice died away in the distance.
Houston remained motionless until the steamer passed the buoy off Heron Ledge. He had the sudden sense of the universe gone topsy-turvy. His eyes blazed with anger in his white face. So Penelope had been merely avenging hurt vanity when she had been “nice” to him? He was glad that he’d been jolted out of his complacency before he’d made all kinds of a fool of himself. He pushed off from the Lone Cedar Rock, started the engine and the Saucy Sally cut smartly through the water, the Stars and Stripes floating gayly at her stern. Houston came alongside the float of the pier just as the two girls came running down the road. They saw him and waved. Penelope went on to the steamer and Grace Haven came to him.
“Good morning,” she called in the soft voice which harmonized so perfectly with her pastel type of prettiness. “Pen’s gone to meet Dug Lawton. May I come with you?”
“May you! Ask me; that’s all, just ask me. I’ll tell the world, nothing could please me more,” he responded with laughing fervor. Not since he had seen the tragedy and suffering overseas had he used that expression. Penelope had reminded him of it, and it seemed to fit in with his mood. He held out his hand for the girl’s and steadied her while she stepped into the boat, which was bobbing imply from the wash of the steamer.
“Sit near the wheel with me. We’ll leave the stern to Penelope and Lawton,” Houston suggested.
“I’d love it, but doesn’t Pen run her own boat?”
“Not when I’m aboard. Says she feels my critical eye on her every minute.”
“Hm-m, your critical eye? She must be afraid of it. She could navigate a super dreadnaught between these ledges.”
He reddened at her tone. He glanced at the sky, then at the white caps in the bay and observed, irrelevantly:
“It will be rough crossing to the Neck. Are you afraid of getting wet?”
Her eyes swiftly answered the laughing challenge in his.
“Afraid! I adore being drenched.”
“I’ll pull out the oilskins. We—“
“O, Dave!” called a voice behind him, which set his pulses beating madly, but he kept his head bent to the locker. He pulled out a slicker and handed it to Grace Haven.
“This looks as though it might fit—“
“Ship ahoy, there!” interrupted a crisp voice. With a surprised start and a murmured apology Houston turned to the girl who stood waiting on the float. His heart flamed with passionate admiration. Was there anyone quite so lovely, quite so buoyantly, physically perfect as she, he wondered. His glance flashed from her slightly flushed, slightly disturbed face to that of the man beside her. He liked him at once. He was tall, blond, good looking, but too boyish for Pen. He had about as much initiative as a coddled Chinese chow, he decided. His voice was unaffectedly cordial as he held out his hand.
“Glad to meet you, Lawton. Sorry to have kept you waiting, Pen. I’ll hold the boat steady while you get in. That confounded wash keeps her bobbing. We’ve left the stern for you and Lawton. Grace and I are personally conducting this tour. You don’t mind if I chuck ‘Miss’ into the discard, do you? Vacations are too short for formalities, aren’t they?” he pleaded as he smiled at the girl forward. He lost her answer as Penelope steadied herself by a hand on his shoulder. His heart pounded like a trip hammer.
“Look out for the tender, Lawton!” he called as he gave a mighty push and the Saucy Sally shot clear of the pier.
The sea had roughened. Waves slapped impudently against the side of the boat, broke into spray which dashed high above it, then descended in a shower of salty, wet diamonds. Houston held the wheel steady with one hand while he tossed two slickers back to the stern. He released it a moment while he solicitously helped Grace Haven into one and tied the strings of a sou’wester under her chin. Her laughing eyes met his.
“Thank heaven that I’m securely and irrevocably engaged,” she whispered, “otherwise my young and susceptible heart—“
“Dave!” called Penelope peremptorily, “If Grace requires so much assistance I’ll take the wheel. This boat is rocking like–“
Grace Haven’s usually merry eyes were serious as she confided in a low tone:
“I hope that cloud doesn’t mean a thunder storm, for Pen’s sake. She’s the best sport I know about everything but an electrical storm; that terrifies her.”
“We’ll get home before that one materializes,” Houston answered, and turned his attention to rounding the ledge which protected the small bay where they were to anchor. A group of young people waved from the shore. A man pushed off in a tender to meet them.
“Take the girls ashore, will you, Lawton?” Houston asked as he threw off the engine switch and dropped anchor. I’ll come in later. I want to mop up here and spread the slickers to dry.”
“I’ll stay and help, Dave,” volunteered Penelope. “Let Dug and Grace–“
“Obey orders!” Houston interrupted with a brusqueness born of hammering pulses rather than design, as he turned to help Grace Haven peel off her wet oilskins. He inwardly cursed himself for a brute as he saw the warm color surge to Penelope’s hair and amazed anger fire her eyes. But there was some limit to what he could stand. By her own confession, the girl had led him on to care for her while all the time there had been another man. There was a white line about his lips as he steadied the tender. Lawton stepped in, his fair face sulkily indifferent as he turned to assist the girls. Houston held out his free hand.
“Come on, Pen, you’re first. Give me your hand. This boat’s rocking like a cradle gone mad.”
She ignored his proffered aid and smiled dazzlingly at Lawton.
“Dug, you won’t let me go overboard, will you?” she pleaded in mock terror.
“Poor little snubbed boy, I’ll take his hand. Somebody loves him,” murmured Grace Haven as she prepared to descend into the tender.
As Houston prepared to leave the Saucy Sally he looked toward shore. Before him lay a sandy, sun drenched beach behind which rose a wall of jagged rock flanked by a fern carpeted, pine crowned hill. Against the dark background of stone a fire glowed and crackled busily. Above it swung a crane from which a blue granite kettle hung. A woman in white wielded a long spoon as she stirred the cooking mixture.
Around another fire a group of men and girls chatted and laughed while they toasted bacon, dangling it from forked sticks over the coals. Grace Haven, on her knees, was making an elaborate design of ferns on a white cloth spread on the sand. The appetizing odor of chowder and cooking shellfish filled the air. Near the green slope, Lawton in high rubber boots presided over a mass of steaming seaweed. He deftly poked and patted the glistening, slippery stuff with a long handled pronged fork. Penelope, yellow sweater tied about her waist, was poking about the weed with a stick.
“Taste and tell me if it’s cooked, Dug,” Houston heard her say as he landed near them. Lawton seized the hand which offered a clamshell and raised it to his lips. The Texan saw red for a moment. Evidently the late unpleasantness between the two was at an end. Well, it was time Pen put one poor devil out of his misery. She shouldn’t see this victim squirm on the hook.
After lunch Houston helped pack the baskets, then strolled off for a smoke.
“Why so elusive?” challenged a gay voice as Penelope Drayton dropped to the sand beside him. He abandoned his lounging attitude in a flash.
“I hand’t realized that I was alone.”
“No? What a subtle compliment to the rest of us. Dreaming of Texas–perhaps?” she asked as she became absorbed in a pebble game of jackstones.
“No, I’m through with dreams.” His voice was icily casual as he continued, “You see, I overheard your conversation with Grace on Lone Cedar rock this morning.”
She gave a quick gasp of dismay. He watched relentlessly as the warm color dyed throat and face and crept up under the soft waves of dusky hair.
“You listened?” she demanded contemptuously.
He reddened furiously at her tone, but his eyes met hers steadily.
“I did. Now that I understand why you have been ‘nice’ to me, I won’t bore you any longer.” He rose and leisurely joined the rest of the party.
An hour later the inoffensive shadow on the horizon had developed into something tangible and threatening. With disconcerting suddenness the sky darkened. There was a scurry to collect baskets and wraps. Houston pulled off to the Saucy Sally to make it ready. He pressed the self-starter, but the engine, with that innate sense of the timely so indigenous to engines, balked.
“O, Law-ton!” he shouted. “Take the girls in one of the other boats. En-gine’s on the b-l-ink!”
He saw Douglas Lawton turn to the girl beside him before he answered:
“Pen says to come in for her! She’ll fix it!”
“Nothing–do-ing! Get the girls home! I’ll follow!”
Houston threw off his coat and set to work. He could range at the engine–that was some relief to his feelings. As the tenders passed each occupant made a suggestion or offered to stay with him. It was a relief when he heard the last boatload puff away.
They were mere specks in the distance when the engine with a protesting splutter decided to be good. Houston listened to the steady purr of wheels for a few moments, then wiped his oily hands on a bunch of waste. He looked toward shore. He’d remember this day as long as he lived, remember Pen as she had poked at the steaming seaweed. What was that spot of yellow on the bank?
“Well, what do you know about that! She’s forgotten her sweater!” he exclaimed aloud. He stared at it for a moment; he wouldn’t have believed that an inanimate thing could look so appealingly helpless. He glanced up at the angry sky. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. A jagged streak of lightning seared the heavens. The engine still chugged evenly.
With incredible swiftness, Houston freed the tender, jumped in, and picked up the oars. When he landed he broke his own record for sprinting as he shot for the spot of yellow. As he reached it the first heavy drops of rain fell. He tucked the silken thing inside his shirt and had the instant sensation of a warm, vital hand closing gently about his aching heart. For a moment he stood motionless; then, as though for a reminder, the heavens opened and the rain descended. It pelted. It lashed. It stung. It drenched. It drove in a white sheet as he reached the motor boat.
He gripped the wheel and set the boat on its course. He bent forward at the bow trying to see into the hissing sheets of rain. The swift transitions from glaring light to inky darkness blinded him. The lightning flashes transmuted the rain into millions of fiery drops, then, before he could see, the course would be swallowed in blackness again. If only the confounded fireworks would flare steadily till he had passed the Ledge buoy! In the calm that followed a crash he could hear a somber, oily lash–he was nearing the ledges. He glanced down at the clock. Six! This certainly was some storm to darken the sky at this time of day.
There came a flash which seemed to rip the heavens open. He bent forward eagerly. Good Lord, what was that to starboard! A boat with a girl in white? Houston’s heart went into a tail spin and turned over twice before it righted. The thunder crashed as though all the guns in the world had combined in one deafening volley. In the sinister stillness which followed he heard a voice call:
“O-O-O, Da-ve! Make for me! I’m in the channel!”
Was that Pen’s voice, or had he gone mad with longing? Houston never remembered how he reached the small boat with its auxiliary engine; he only remembered the wild prayer in his heart for the girl’s safety. The storm flashed and crashed with hellish vigor. It was as though the titanic armies of the elements, locked in desperate battle, raged for supremacy. His face was livid as he seized the gunwale of the small boat and brought it alongside. He stared as though his eyes were tricking him. Penelope sat there in her drenched white frock smiling at him–it was a mere ghost of a smile, but it was there. Her face was white and her lips traitorously unsteady, but she remarked casually:
“I thought you’d need help to find Heron Ledge buoy.”
With a dry sob which seemed to tear its way to his lips Houston held out his free hand. The girl steadied herself by it and stepped into the Saucy Sally.
“I’ll pay out the line so we can tow this back of the tender,” she explained coolly as she went aft with the painter of her boat.
Houston’s mind was in a ferment as he gripped the wheel and set his course again. Why–why had she—
“Can you see that spark of light ahead? That’s Connor’s beacon. Steer straight for that,” directed a soft voice beside him.
Two tiny flames flared in his blue eyes as they searched the gray ones of the girl. A rivulet of water ran down his face from the lock of hair with the “adorable king” which was plastered to his forehead. A slender hand reached up and smoothed it back.
“I’m doing that for Grace,” Penelope laughed with the old tormenting note in her voice. He was tinglingly conscious of her beside him as they passed the buoy and nosed their way cautiously among the craft with which the little harbor was crowded.
“Stand by to pick up the float when we come round!” ordered Houston sharply.
“Aye, aye, sir!” Penelope responded promptly, and seized the boathook.
As they silently made their way up the road toward home, the girl’s wet skirts swishing at every step, the sun showed its red rim for a moment above the horizon before it dropped out of sight. A great expanse of blue sky flecked with rosy clouds spread slowly overhead. The world, fragrant and refreshed after the rain, showed vivid green and the rich brown of earth. Thunder rumbled faintly in the distance and somewhere in the woods a thrush broke into sudden, ecstatic song.
Glowing with youth and beauty in her frock of filmy white, Penelope faced her father and Houston at supper. She chatted with nervous animation, breaking every threatened silence with gay comments. Her father observed her quizzically above the rims of his spectacles. His fine, thoughtful face, crowned with rings of hair like white spun silk, crinkled with amusement.
“Why this exuberance of spirit, Penny-Wise? You twinkle, twinkle like the proverbial star. You’re dazzling; isn’t she, David? By the way, where’s Lawton? I thought that he was to have supper with us.”
The color stole to the girl’s temples.
“He–O, he has to return to the city tomorrow, so he’s spending the evening with his sister.”
“Tomorrow! Why, I thought–” then, with that discretion which fathers with attractive daughters acquire in time, Mr. Drayton changed the subject.
The moonlight silvered the vine leaves, which cast fantastic shadows on the flagging of the terrace; it made a crinkled, golden path on the waters of the bay for the boats of lovers, the very air was vibrant with its magic. Up from the harbor floated the sound of a ship’s bell striking the hour. From his seat on the wall of the terrace Houston looked at Penelope as she sat almost eclipsed by the sides of the great wicker chair. The fickle moonlight deserted the leaves to linger on her lovely face, it accentuated the wistful curves of her vivid lips, the sheen of her dark hair, it shone on her white throat. With sudden, grim determination he flung his cigaret away and approached the girl.
“Pen, look at me,” he commanded. “Why–why did you, who are terrified at a storm, risk your life by coming out to meet me?”
Her eyes dropped to the pink tipped fingers which were ruthlessly bent on removing a glistening crystal from her frock. Throbbing seconds lengthened into minutes before she scoffed unsteadily:
“Who–who’s afraid of a storm!”
He caught the restless hands in his and drew her to her feet. The sway of her slender figure in the moonlight set his blood racing. His voice was rough with repression as he demanded again:
“Why did you do it?”
Her eyes were brilliant with the menace of tears as they met his.
“Because–because–you didn’t know the danger spots among the ledges. I forgot that there was a storm when I remembered that. When we landed I slipped away from the others, made some silly excuse, and raced for my little boat. I couldn’t let anything happen to you while you thought –you thought–Dave, you didn’t hear all I told Grace this morning. On the way to the steamer I confessed that no sooner had you sailed for the other side than I did some long distance thinking. I realized what a–a–contemptible s-sniper I’d been to let you believe that I cared when I was only trying to make you admit that at least I was as–as attractive as those–those horrid girls in Texas. I used to open the paper with my heart in my mouth for fear something had happened to you. I’d have followed you on my knees–I’d have oiled the engines on your planes if that would have restored my self-respect. Then—“
Houston gave a short, incredulous laugh and thrust his hands hard into the pockets of his coat to keep them from seizing her.
“Then what?” he reminded inexorably.
“Then–then when you appeared here I wondered if I hadn’t made a mountain out of a molehill, you seemed so–so maddeningly unimpressionable”–there was a hint of breathless daring in the words.
The effort to keep from crushing her in his arms whitened Houston’s lips and steeled his voice.
“O, I did? What about Lawton?” he asked relentlessly.
“Shylock! You insist upon your pound of flesh, don’t you?” with a mutinous flash from under her long lashes. “I have never been engaged to him; that was Grace’s nonsense. Dug has known for months that I–I—“
Houston caught her by the shoulders.
“We’ll settle this now,” he announced hoarsely. “Are you going to marry Lawton or–or me?”
She looked up under tear-wet lashes. Her lips were tantalizingly sweet as she whispered:
“I’ll tell the world I’m going to marry you, Dave, you!”
It’s about time for our annual Emilie Loring tea. I’ll get busy on a date and invitation! Until then,
Happy Landings, everyone!