The stage stopped, and in another instant Ruth was hugging and kissing, and being hugged and kissed, by her “very dearest, darlingest friend” Edna May, and Mark was being slapped on the back and hauled this way and that, and was shaking hands with all the boys in Norton.
Uncle Christopher’s “Great scheme.”
How pleasant it was to be in dear old Norton again! and how glad everybody was to see them! Good old Mrs. Wing said it made her feel young again to have boys in the house. She certainly had enough of them now; for the Norton boys could not keep away from Mark. From early morning until evening boys walked back and forth in front of the house waiting for him to appear, or sat on the fence-posts and whistled for him. Some walked boldly up to the front door, rang the bell, and asked if he were in; while others, more shy, but braver than those who whistled so alluringly from the fence-posts, stole around through the garden at the side of the house, and tried to catch a glimpse of him through the windows.
All this was not because Mark kept himself shut up in the house. Oh no! he was not that kind of a boy. He only stayed in long enough to sleep, to eat three meals a day, and to write letters to his father, mother, and Frank March, telling them of everything that was taking place. The rest of the time he devoted to the boys—and the girls; for he was over at Captain May’s house almost as much as he was at the Wings’. He was enjoying himself immensely, though it didn’t seem as though he was doing much except to talk.
If he went fishing with the boys, they would make him tell how he and Frank caught the alligator, or how the alligator caught Frank, and how he killed it; and when he finished it was time to go home, and none of them had even thought of fishing since Mark began to talk.
There was nothing the boys enjoyed more than going out into the woods, making believe that some of the great spreading oaks were palm-trees, and lying down under them and listening, while Mark, at their earnest request, told over and over again the stories of the wreck on the Florida reef, and the picnic his father and mother and Ruth and he had under the palm-trees, or of hunting deer at night through the solemn, moss-hung, Southern forests, or of the burning of the Wildfire.
“I say, Mark,” exclaimed Tom Ellis, after listening with breathless interest to one of these stories, “you’re a regular book, you are, and I’d rather hear you tell stories than to read Captain Marryat or Paul du Chaillu.”
But there was one story Mark never would tell. It was that of his terrible experience in the buried river. Of this he tried to think as little as possible, and when the boys saw that it really distressed him to talk of it they forbore to urge him to do so.
Of course Ruth did not feel as Mark did about it, and she told the story many times, and everybody who heard it declared it was a most wonderful experience. They also seemed to think that in some way the mere fact that the hero of such an adventure was a Norton boy reflected great credit on the village.