Caught on the
Ebb-Tide by E. P. Roe
The August morning was bright and fair, but Herbert Scofield's
brow was clouded. He had wandered off to a remote part of the grounds
of a summer hotel on the Hudson, and seated in the shade of a tree,
had lapsed into such deep thought that his cigar had gone out and the
birds were becoming bold in the vicinity of his motionless figure.
It was his vacation time and he had come to the country ostensibly
for rest. As the result, he found himself in the worst state of
unrest that he had ever known. Minnie Madison, a young lady he had
long admired, was the magnet that had drawn him hither. Her arrival
had preceded his by several weeks; and she had smiled a little
consciously when in looking at the hotel register late one afternoon
his bold chirography met her eye.
"There are so many other places to which he might have gone," she
Her smile, however, was a doubtful one, not expressive of gladness
and entire satisfaction. In mirthful, saucy fashion her thoughts ran
on: "The time has come when he might have a respite from business.
Does he still mean business by coming here? I'm not sure that I do,
although the popular idea seems to be that a girl should have no
vacation in the daily effort to find a husband. I continually
disappoint the good people by insisting that the husband must find me.
I have a presentiment that Mr. Scofield is looking for me; but there
are some kinds of property which cannot be picked up and carried off,
nolens volens, when found."
Scofield had been animated by no such clearly defined purpose as
he was credited with when he sought the summer resort graced by Miss
Madison. His action seemed to him tentative, his motive ill- defined
even in his own consciousness, yet it had been strong enough to
prevent any hesitancy. He knew he was weary from a long year's work.
He purposed to rest and take life very leisurely, and he had mentally
congratulated himself that he was doing a wise thing in securing
proximity to Miss Madison. She had evoked his admiration in New York,
excited more than a passing interest, but he felt that he did not know
her very well. In the unconventional life now in prospect he could see
her daily and permit his interest to be dissipated or deepened, as the
case might be, while he remained, in the strictest sense of the world,
uncommitted. It was a very prudent scheme and not a bad one. He
reasoned justly: "This selecting a wife is no bagatelle. A man wishes
to know something more about a woman than he can learn in a
drawing-room or at a theatre party."
But now he was in trouble. He had been unable to maintain this
judicial aspect. He had been made to understand at the outset that
Miss Madison did not regard herself as a proper subject for
deliberate investigation, and that she was not inclined to aid in his
researches. So far from meeting him with engaging frankness and
revealing her innermost soul for his inspection, he found her as
elusive as only a woman of tact can be when so minded, even at a place
where people meet daily. It was plain to him from the first that he
was not the only man who favored her with admiring glances; and he
soon discovered that young Merriweather and his friend Hackley had
passed beyond the neutral ground of non- committal. He set himself the
task of learning how far these suitors had progressed in her good
graces; he would not be guilty of the folly of giving chase to a prize
already virtually captured. This too had proved a failure. Clearly,
would he know what Mr. Merriweather and Mr. Hackley were to Miss
Madison he must acquire the power of mind reading. Each certainly
appeared to be a very good friend of hers—a much better friend than
he could claim to be, for in his case she maintained a certain
unapproachableness which perplexed and nettled him.
After a week of rest, observation, and rather futile effort to
secure a reasonable share of Miss Madison's society and attention, he
became assured that he was making no progress whatever so far as she
was concerned, but very decided progress in a condition of mind and
heart anything but agreeable should the affair continue so one-sided.
He had hoped to see her daily, and was not disappointed. He had
intended to permit his mind to receive such impressions as he should
choose; and now his mind asked no permission whatever, but without
volition occupied itself with her image perpetually. He was not sure
whether she satisfied his preconceived ideals of what a wife should be
or not, for she maintained such a firm reticence in regard to herself
that he could put his finger on no affinities. She left no doubt as to
her intelligence, but beyond that she would not reveal herself to him.
He was almost satisfied that she discouraged him utterly and that it
would be wiser to depart before his feelings became more deeply
involved. At any rate he had better do this or else make love in dead
earnest. Which course should he adopt?
There came a day which brought him to a decision.
A party had been made up for an excursion into the Highlands, Miss
Madison being one of the number. She was a good pedestrian and rarely
missed a chance for a ramble among the hills. Scofield's two rivals
occasionally got astray with her in the perplexing wood-roads, but he
never succeeded in securing such good-fortune. On this occasion, as
they approached a woodchopper's cottage (or rather, hovel), there were
sounds of acute distress within—the piercing cries of a child
evidently in great pain. There was a moment of hesitancy in the party,
and then Miss Madison's graceful indifference vanished utterly. As she
ran hastily to the cabin, Scofield felt that now probably was a chance
for more than mere observation, and he kept beside her. An ugly cur
sought to bar entrance; but his vigorous kick sent it howling away.
She gave him a quick pleased look as they entered. A slatternly woman
was trying to soothe a little boy, who at all her attempts only
writhed and shrieked the more. "I dunno what ails the young one," she
said. "I found him a moment ago yellin' at the foot of a tree.
Suthin's the matter with his leg."
"Yes," cried Miss Madison, delicately feeling of the member—an
operation which, even under her gentle touch, caused increased
outcry, "it is evidently broken. Let me take him on my lap;" and
Scofield saw that her face had softened into the tenderest pity.
"I will bring a surgeon at the earliest possible moment,"
exclaimed Scofield, turning to go.
Again she gave him an approving glance which warmed his heart.
"The ice is broken between us now," he thought, as he broke through
the group gathering at the open door.
Never before had he made such time down a mountain, for he had a
certain kind of consciousness that he was not only going after the
doctor, but also after the girl. Securing a stout horse and wagon at
the hotel, he drove furiously for the surgeon, explained the urgency,
and then, with the rural healer at his side, almost killed the horse
He found his two rivals at the cabin door, the rest of the party
having gone on. Miss Madison came out quickly. An evanescent smile
flitted across her face as she saw his kindled eyes and the reeking
horse, which stood trembling and with bowed head. His ardor was a
little dampened when she went directly to the poor beast and said,
"This horse is a rather severe indictment against you, Mr. Scofield.
There was need of haste, but—" and she paused significantly.
"Yes," added the doctor, springing out, "I never saw such driving!
It's lucky our necks are not broken"
"You are all right, Doctor, and ready for your work," Scofield
remarked brusquely. "As for the horse, I'll soon bring him around;"
and he rapidly began to unhitch the over-driven animal.
"What are you going to do?" Miss Madison asked curiously.
"Rub him into as good shape as when he started."
She turned away to hide a smile as she thought, "He has waked up
The boy was rendered unconscious, and his leg speedily put in the
way of restoration. "He will do very well now if my directions are
carried out strictly," the physician was saying when Scofield
Mr. Merriweather and Mr. Hackley stood rather helplessly in the
background and were evidently giving more thought to the fair nurse
than to the patient. The mother was alternating between lamentations
and invocations of good on the "young leddy's" head. Finding that he
would come in for a share of the latter, Scofield retreated again.
Miss Madison walked quietly out, and looking critically at the horse,
remarked, "You have kept your word very well, Mr. Scofield. The poor
creature does look much improved." She evidently intended to continue
her walk with the two men in waiting, for she said demurely with an
air of dismissal, "You will have the happy consciousness of having
done a good deed this morning."
"Yes," replied Scofield, in significant undertone; "you, of all
others, Miss Madison, know how inordinately happy I shall be in
riding back to the village with the doctor."
She raised her eyebrows in a little well-feigned surprise at his
words, then turned away.
During the remainder of the day he was unable to see her alone for
a moment, or to obtain any further reason to believe that the ice was
in reality broken between them. But his course was no longer
noncommittal, even to the most careless observer. The other guests of
the house smiled; and Mr. Merriweather and Mr. Hackley looked askance
at one who threw their assiduous attentions quite into the shade. Miss
Madison maintained her composure, was oblivious as far as possible,
and sometimes when she could not appear blind, looked a little
surprised and even offended.
He had determined to cast prudence and circumlocution to the
winds. On the morning following the episode in the mountains he was
waiting to meet her when she came down to breakfast. "I've seen that
boy, Miss Madison, and he's doing well."
"What! so early? You are a very kind-hearted man, Mr. Scofield."
"About as they average. That you are kind-hearted I know—at least
to every one except me—for I saw your expression as you examined the
little fellow's injury yesterday. You thought only of the child—"
"I hope you did also, Mr. Scofield," she replied with an
exasperating look of surprise.
"You know well I did not," he answered bluntly. "I thought it
would be well worth while to have my leg broken if you would look at
me in the same way."
"Truly, Mr. Scofield, I fear you are not as kind-hearted as I
supposed you to be;" and then she turned to greet Mr. Merriweather.
"Won't you let me drive you up to see the boy?" interposed
"I'm sorry, but I promised to go up with the doctor this morning."
And so affairs went on. He thought at times her color quickened a
little when he approached suddenly; he fancied that he occasionally
surprised a half-wistful, half-mirthful glance, but was not sure. He
knew that she was as well aware of his intentions and wishes as if he
had proclaimed them through a speaking- trumpet. His only assured
ground of comfort was that neither Mr. Merriweather nor Mr. Hackley
had yet won the coveted prize, though they evidently were receiving
far greater opportunities to push their suit than he had been favored
At last his vacation was virtually at an end. But two more days
would elapse before he must be at his desk again in the city. And now
we will go back to the time when we found him that early morning
brooding over his prospects, remote from observation. What should he
do—propose by letter? "No," he said after much cogitation. "I can see
that little affected look of surprise with which she would read my
plain declaration of what she knows so well. Shall I force a private
interview with her? The very word 'force,' which I have unconsciously
used, teaches me the folly of this course. She doesn't care a rap for
me, and I should have recognized the truth long ago. I'll go back to
the hotel and act toward her precisely as she has acted toward me. I
can then at least take back to town a little shred of dignity."
He appeared not to see her when she came down to breakfast. After
the meal was over he sat on the piazza engrossed in the morning
paper. An excursion party for the mountains was forming. He merely
bowed politely as she passed him to join it, but he ground his teeth
as he saw Merriweather and Hackley escorting her away. When they were
out of sight he tossed the paper aside and went down to the river,
purposing to row the fever out of his blood. He was already satisfied
how difficult his tactics would be should he continue to see her, and
he determined to be absent all day, to so tire himself out that
exhaustion would bring early sleep on his return.
Weary and leaden-spirited enough he was, as late in the afternoon
he made his way back, but firm in sudden resolve to depart on an
early train in the morning and never voluntarily to see the obdurate
lady of his affections again.
Just as the sun was about sinking he approached a small wooded
island about half a mile from the boat-house, and was surprised to
notice a rowboat high and dry upon the beach. "Some one has forgotten
that the tide is going out," he thought, as he passed; but it was no
affair of his.
A voice called faintly, "Mr. Scofield!"
He started at the familiar tones, and looked again. Surely that
was Miss Madison standing by the prow of the stranded skiff! He knew
well indeed it was she; and he put his boat about with an energy not
in keeping with his former languid strokes. Then, recollecting
himself, he became pale with the self-control he purposed to maintain,
"She is in a scrape," he thought; "and calls upon me as she would upon
any one else to get her out of it."
Weariness and discouragement inclined him to be somewhat reckless
and brusque in his words and manner. Under the compulsion of
circumstances she who would never graciously accord him opportunities
must now be alone with him; but as a gentleman, he could not take
advantage of her helplessness, to plead his cause, and he felt a sort
of rage that he should be mocked with an apparent chance which was in
fact no chance at all.
His boat stranded several yards from the shore. Throwing down his
oars, he rose and faced her. Was it the last rays of the setting sun
which made her face so rosy, or was it embarrassment?
"I'm in a dilemma, Mr. Scofield," Miss Madison began hesitatingly.
"And you would rather be in your boat," he added.
"That would not help me any, seeing where my boat is. I have done
such a stupid thing! I stole away here to finish a book, and—
well—I didn't notice that the tide was running out. I'm sure I don't
know what I'm going to do."
Scofield put his shoulder to an oar and tried to push his craft to
what deserved the name of shore, but could make little headway. He
was glad to learn by the effort, however, that the black mud was not
unfathomable in depth. Hastily reversing his action, he began pushing
his boat back in the water.
"Surely, Mr. Scofield, you do not intend to leave me," began Miss
"Surely not," he replied; "but then, since you are so averse to my
company, I must make sure that my boat does not become as fast as
yours on this ebb-tide, otherwise we should both have to wait till
"Oh, beg pardon! I now understand. But how can you reach me?"
"Wade," he replied coolly, proceeding to take off his shoes and
"What! through that horrid black mud?"
"I couldn't leap that distance, Miss Madison."
"It's too bad! I'm so provoked with myself! The mud may be very
deep, or there may be a quicksand or something."
"In which case I should merely disappear a little earlier;" and he
sprang overboard up to his knees, dragged the boat till it was
sufficiently fast in the ooze to be stationary, then he waded ashore.
"Well," she said with a little deprecatory laugh, "it's a comfort
not to be alone on a desert island."
"Indeed! Can I be welcome under any circumstances?"
"Truly, Mr. Scofield, you know that you were never more welcome.
It's very kind of you."
"Any man would be glad to come to your aid. It is merely your
misfortune that I happen to be the one."
"I'm not sure that I regard it as a very great misfortune. You
proved in the case of that little boy that you can act very
"And get lectured for my intemperate zeal. Well, Miss Madison, I
cannot make a very pleasing spectacle with blackamoor legs, and it's
time I put my superfluous energy to some use. Suppose you get in your
boat, and I'll try to push it off"
She complied with a troubled look in her face. He pushed till the
veins knotted on his forehead. At this she sprang out, exclaiming,
"You'll burst a blood-vessel."
"That's only a phase of a ruptured heart, and you are used to such
"It's too bad for you to talk in that way," she cried.
"It certainly is. I will now attend strictly to business."
"I don't see what you can do."
"Carry you out to my boat—that is all I can do."
"Oh, Mr. Scofield!"
"Can you suggest anything else?"
She looked dubiously at the intervening black mud, and was silent.
"I could go up to the hotel and bring Mr. Merriweather and Mr.
She turned away to hide her tears.
"Or I could go after a brawny boatman; but delay is serious, for
the tide is running out fast and the stretch of mud growing wider.
Can you not imagine me Mike or Tim, or some fellow of that sort."
"No, I can't."
"Then perhaps you wish me to go for Mike or Tim?"
"But the tide is running out so fast, you said."
"Yes, and it will soon be dark."
"Oh, dear!" and there was distress in her tones.
He now said kindly, "Miss Madison, I wish that like Sir Walter
Raleigh I had a mantle large enough for you to walk over. You can at
least imagine that I am a gentleman, that you may soon be at the
hotel, and no one ever be any the wiser that you had to choose between
me and the deep—ah, well—mud."
"There is no reason for such an allusion, Mr. Scofield."
"Well, then, that you had no other choice."
"That's better. But how in the world can you manage it?"
"You will have to put your arm around my neck."
"You would put your arm around a post, wouldn't you?" he asked
with more than his old brusqueness.
"But the tide is going out. My own boat will soon be fast. Dinner
will grow cold at the hotel, and you are only the longer in
dispensing with me. You must consider the other dire alternatives."
"Ob, I forgot that you were in danger of losing a warm dinner."
"You know I have lost too much to think of that or much else. But
there is no need of satire, Miss Madison. I will do whatever you
wish. That truly is carte blanche enough even for this occasion."
"I didn't mean to be satirical. I—I—Well, have your own way."
"Not if you prefer some other way."
"You have shown that practically there isn't any other way. I'm
sorry that my misfortune, or fault rather, should also be your
misfortune. You don't know how heavy—"
"I soon will, and you must endure it all with such grace as you
can. Put your arm round my neck, so—oh, that will never do! Well,
you'll hold tight enough when I'm floundering in the mud."
Without further ado he picked her up, and started rapidly for his
boat. Stepping on a smooth stone he nearly fell, and her arm did
"If you try to go so fast," she said, "you will fall."
"I was only seeking to shorten your ordeal, but for obvious
reasons must go slowly;" and he began feeling his way.
"Mr. Scofield, am I not very heavy?" she asked softly.
"Not as heavy as my heart, and you know it."
"I'm sure I—"
"No, you are not to blame. Moths have scorched their wings before
now, and will always continue to do so."
Her head rested slightly against his shoulder; her breath fanned
his cheek; her eyes, soft and lustrous, sought his. But he looked
away gloomy and defiant, and she felt his grasp tighten vise-like
around her. "I shall not affect any concealment of the feelings which
she has recognized so often, nor shall I ask any favors," he thought.
"There," he said, as he placed her in his boat, "you are safe enough
now. Now go aft while I push off."
When she was seated he exerted himself almost as greatly as
before, and the boat gradually slid into the water. He sprang in and
took the oars.
"Aren't you going to put on your shoes and stockings?"
"Certainly, when I put you ashore."
"Won't that be a pretty certain way of revealing the plight in
which you found me?"
"Pardon my stupidity; I was preoccupied with the thought of
relieving you from the society which you have hitherto avoided so
successfully;" and bending over his shoes he tied them almost
There was a wonderful degree of mirth and tenderness in her eyes
as she watched him. They had floated by a little point; and as he
raised his head he saw a form which he recognized as Mr. Merriweather
rowing toward them. "There comes one of your shadows," he said
mockingly. "Be careful how you exchange boats when he comes
along-side. I will give you no help in such a case."
She looked hastily over her shoulder at the approaching oarsman.
"I think it will be safer to remain in your boat," she said.
"Oh, it will be entirely safe," he replied bitterly.
"Mr. Merriweather must have seen you carrying me."
"That's another thing which I can't help."
"Mr. Scofield," she began softly.
He arrested his oars, and turned wondering eyes to hers. They were
sparkling with mirth as she continued, "Are you satisfied that a
certain young woman whom you once watched very narrowly is entirely
to your mind?"
He caught her mirthful glance and misunderstood her. With dignity
he answered, "I'm not the first man who blundered to his cost, though
probably it would have made no difference. You must do me the justice,
however, to admit that I did not maintain the role of observer very
long—that I wooed you so openly that every one was aware of my suit.
Is it not a trifle cruel to taunt me after I had made such ample
"I was thinking of Mr. Merriweather—"
"Since he has seen me with my arm around your neck—you know I
couldn't help it—perhaps he might row the other way if—if—well, if
he saw you—what shall I say—sitting over here—by me—or— Somehow I
don't feel very hungry, and I wouldn't mind spending another hour—"
Scofield nearly upset the boat in his precipitous effort to gain a
seat beside her—and Mr. Merriweather did row another way.