“And you came right through the fire to help us! We would have been burned alive but for you.”
“I’m glad I was in time. Oh!” Eben tried to smother the groan, but in vain. The intense excitement on the lake while seeing from the flames had kept his mind from his burns, but now in the darkness and stillness of the mine it was different. His sufferings increased, and he felt like screaming with the pain. He could sit still no longer.
“You stay here,” he ordered, “while I go an’ see how things look outside.”
“Be careful of yourself, and keep out of the fire,” Mrs. Hampton warned.
“Oh, I’ll be keerful,” Eben faintly replied, as he groped his way along the dark passage. “I won’t run no risk.”
Left alone, the women talked about the fire, and the bravery of their young rescuer.
“Eben is certainly a hero,” Mrs. Hampton remarked. “How can we ever repay him for what he has done for us to-day?”
“He must have done it for your sake?” Jess replied. “I am sure he didn’t do it for me.”
“Why not?” Mrs. Hampton asked in surprise.
“He doesn’t like me. I feel certain that it was Eben who threw the stone which hit me that night at the quarry. And then when he came home yesterday and met John and me on the shore he was very angry. He picked up a stick and threw it with all his might. It hit John, but I really believe it was meant for me.”
“This is all news to me, dear,” Mrs. Hampton replied as she pressed the girl’s hand in hers. “What reason has Eben for disliking you?”
“I don’t know. But he has acted very strangely ever since those two men were injured at the quarry. He was so pleasant and agreeable before that.”
“John met you there that night, did he not?” Mrs. Hampton asked.
“Oh, yes. We were together all the next day, and had such a happy time.”
“But what of Eben?”
“I didn’t see him at all, and when we went down to the boat in the evening he wasn’t there. I asked for him, and one of the workmen said he had run away when he saw us coming. The rest of the men thought it was a big joke and had a great laugh.”
Owing to the darkness Jess could not see the smile that flitted across her mother’s face. Mrs. Hampton was somewhat amused at the girl’s simplicity, although to her the reason for Eben’s strange behaviour was quite apparent.
“Eben doesn’t dislike you, dear,” she told her. “He loves you instead, and loves you so much that he is jealous of John because he thinks he has taken you from him.”
“Eben loves me!” Jess exclaimed in surprise. “Why, I never thought of such a thing.”
“I know you didn’t. But I believe it is true, nevertheless. And I don’t blame the boy, for how could anyone help loving you?”
Before Jess could reply a peculiar muffled sound drifted into the mine. It startled them, for it was like a cry of someone in distress.