“Well, here you are in a long dress, Miss Sweet Sixteen. I remember you home from boarding school on a vacation.”
“What did you think of me?” asked Mae, “didn’t we have a nice time that summer? O, how silly I was!”
She hurried on, because the eyes had given her that peculiar look again, which put her heart in a tremble. “I did have a beautiful time at boarding school,” she continued, “the darlingest principal and such girls.”
“Then I suppose you wrote a salutatory in forlorn rhyme to end off with,” laughed Norman, “and read it, all arrayed in white, in a trembling voice, and everybody applauded, and even old Judge Seymour admired it, while you were reading, with your pink cheeks and trembling hands and quivering voice.”
“Abominable! I didn’t have the salutatory, and the girl who did, read a superb one, as strong and masculine—”
“Then the Judge went to sleep, I’m sure,” declared Norman.
“Well,” said Mae, “you are leaving out two years,” for Norman had leaned back against the rock with his arms folded.
“By and by,” said Norman, “we all come off to Europe, and some of us go through the heart-ache, don’t we?”
“Yes,” replied Mae, softly.
“But come out ahead one day at Sorrento, perhaps?” asked Norman. To which Mae made no direct reply.
“All the Mae Maddens have faded away,” she said, looking down at the sand again. “The tide is rising.” And she walked forward to the ripples of water, and then came slowly back and stood before Norman seriously. He laughed.
“Why, Mr. Mann,” said Mae, “I have been so very, very wicked.”
The dreadful Mr. Mann only laughed again.
“You act as if it were all a joke. I never saw you so merry before.”
“I have never been as happy before in my life.”
“Why?” asked Mae, in a low voice.
“Because I have found you,” he answered earnestly, and before she knew it Mae was lifted in the strong, manly arms, her pink cheek close to Norman’s brown one, and his lips on hers. She leaned her face against his and clung tightly to him,
“O, Mr. Norman Mann,” she said, “do you really want me as much—as I do you?”
And Norman, still holding her tightly, bent his hand, with hers clasped in it, to the sand, and after the Mae Madden, he wrote another name, so that it read:
MAE MADDEN MANN.
Then he said a great many, many things, all beginning with that electric, wonderful little possessive pronoun “my,” of which he had discoursed formerly, and he held her close all the while, and they missed the next train for Naples.
The gay peasant costume fell about the girl’s round lithe form like the luxuriant skin of some richly marked animal; but out of her eyes looked a woman’s tender, loving, earnest soul. Norman Mann had saved her.