Of course John was there at every available minute, whenever he could escape the searching of his guardian’s eye and tongue; but Mr. Scraper himself came several times to the “Nautilus;” so did pretty Lena Brown. There was no doubt that Lena was a charming girl. She looked like moonlight, Rento thought; John thought so, too, though he knew that the resemblance went no further than looks. Her hair was soft and light, with a silvery glint when the sun struck it, and it had a pretty trick of falling down about her forehead in two Madonna-like bands, framing the soft, rose-tinted cheeks sweetly enough, and hiding with the pale shining tresses the narrowness of the white forehead.
Lena was apt to come with John, to whom she was always kind, though she thought him “cracked,” and after a little desultory hovering about the shells, for which she did not really care, except when they were made up with glass beads, she was apt to sit down on the after-deck, with John beside her (unless the Skipper appeared, in which case the boy flew to join his new friend), and with Franci, or Rento, or both, sure to be near by. The monkeys never failed to come and nestle down beside the boy, and examine his pockets and chatter confidentially in his ear; and John always nodded and seemed to understand, which Lena considered foolishness. She thought she came out of pure kindness for the boy, because “that old gimlet never would let him come alone, and the child was fairly possessed about the shells;” but it is to be doubted whether she would have come so often if it had not been for Franci’s admiring glances and Rento’s deeper veneration, which seldom dared to look higher than the hem of her gown.
She would sit very demurely on the after-deck, apparently absorbed in the shells and corals that lay spread before her; and by-and-by, it might be, Franci, who did not suffer from shyness, would venture on something more definite than admiring glances.
He would show her the shells, making the most of his knowledge, which was not extensive, and calling in invention when information failed; but he liked better to talk of himself, Franci, and on that subject there was plenty to be said. He was a prince, he told Lena, in South America, where he came from. This was a poor country, miserable country; but in his own the houses were all of marble, pink marble, with mahogany door-steps.
“Is that so?” Lena would say, raising her limpid eyes to the dark velvety ones that were bent so softly on her.
“Oh, fine! fine!” said Franci. “Never I eat from a china dish in my country; silver, all silver! Only the pigs eat from china. Drink wine, eat peaches and ice-cream all days, all time. My sister wear gold clothes, trimmed diamonds, when she do her washing. Yes! Like to go there?” and he bent over Lena with an enchanting smile.