“And—and you’ve remembered me all this time?” she asked, with a little tremble in her voice. “I did not know people cared like that.”
“And you’re not sorry?” persisted Sandy. “You’ll let me be your friend?”
She held out her hand with an earnestness as deep as his own. In an instant he had caught it to his lips. All the bloom of the summer rushed to her cheeks, and she drew quickly away.
“Oh! but I’ll take it back—I never meant it,” cried Sandy, wild with remorse. “Me heart crossed the line ahead of me head, that was all. You’ve given me your friendship, and may the sorrow seize me if I ever ask for more!”
At this the vireo burst into such mocking, derisive laughter of song that they both looked up and smiled.
“He doesn’t think you mean it,” said Ruth; “but you must mean it, else I can’t ever be your friend.”
Sandy shook his fist at the bird.
“You spalpeen, you! If I had ye down here I’d throw ye out of the tree! But you mustn’t believe him. I’ll stick to my word as the wind to the tree-tops. No—I don’t mean that. As the stream to the shore. No-”
He stopped and laughed. All figures of speech conspired to make him break his word.
Somewhere from out the forgotten world came six long, lingering strokes of a bell. Sandy and Ruth untied the canoe and paddled out into midstream, leaving the willow bower full of memories and the vireo still hopping about among the branches.
“I’ll paddle you up to the bridge,” said Ruth; “then you will be near the post-office.”
Sandy’s voice was breaking to say that she could paddle him up to the moon if she would only stay there between him and the sun, with her hair forming a halo about her face. But they were going down-stream, and all too soon he was stepping out of the canoe to earth again.
“And will I have to be waiting till the morrow to see you?” he asked, with his hand on the boat.
“To-morrow? Not until Sunday.”
“But Sunday is a month off! You’ll be coming for the mail?”
“We send for the mail,” said Ruth, demurely.
“Then ye’ll be sending in vain for yours. I’ll hold it back till ye come yourself, if I lose my position for it.”
Ruth put three feet of water between them, then she looked up with mischief in her eyes. “I don’t want you to lose your position,” she said.
“Then you’ll come?”
Sandy watched her paddle away straight into the heart of the sun. He climbed the bank and waved her out of sight. He had to use a maple branch, for his hat and handkerchief, not to mention less material possessions, were floating down-stream in the boat with Ruth.
“Hello, Kilday!” called Dr. Fenton from the road above. “Going up-town? I’ll give you a lift.”
Sandy turned and looked up at the doctor impatiently. The presence of other people in the world seemed an intrusion.