Read CHAPTER XXIII of Madge Morton's Victory , free online book, by Amy D. V. Chalmers, on ReadCentral.com.

THE VICTORY OVER FATE

Early the next morning word was brought by a small boy that Captain Jules Fontaine wished Miss Madge Morton to come out to “The Anchorage” alone, as he had some important business that he wished to talk over with her.

It was a wonderful morning, all fresh sea breezes and sparkling sunshine. Madge had not felt so gay in a long time as when the other houseboat girls fell to guessing as to why Captain Jules desired her presence at his house.

“He intends to make you his heiress, Madge,” insisted Lillian. “Then, when you are an old lady, you can come down here to live in the house with the roof like three sails, and ride around in the captain’s rowboat and sailboat and be as happy as a clam.”

Madge shook her head. “No such thing, Lillian. I don’t believe the captain wants me for anything important. He may be going to lecture me, as he did yesterday afternoon. At any rate, I’ll be back before long. Please save some luncheon for me.”

Madge was surprised when her boat landed near “The Anchorage” not to see Captain Jules in his front yard, with his funny pet monkey on his shoulder, waiting to receive her. She began to feel afraid that the captain was ill. She had never been inside his house in all their acquaintance. But Captain Jules had sent for her, so there was nothing for her to do but to march up boldly to his front door and knock.

She lifted the heavy brass knocker, which looked like the head of a dolphin, and gave three brisk blows on the closed door.

At first no one answered. The little captain was beginning to think that the boy who came to her had made some mistake in his message and that Captain Jules had gone out in his fishing boat for the day, when she heard some one coming down the passage to open the door for her.

She gave a little start of surprise. A tall, middle-aged man, with a single streak of white hair through the brown, was gazing at her curiously.

“I would like to see Captain Jules,” murmured Madge stupidly, unable to at once recover from the surprise of finding that Captain Jules did not live alone.

The strange man invited Madge into a tiny parlor which rather surprised her. The room was filled with bookshelves, reaching almost up to the top of the wall. The young girl had never dreamed that her captain was much of a student. The only things that reminded her of Captain Jules were the fishnets that were hung at the windows for curtains and the great sprays of coral and sponge which decorated the mantelpiece.

The man sat down with his back to the light, so that he could look straight into Madge’s face.

“Captain Jules will be here after a little, Miss Morton,” he said gravely, “but he wished me to have a talk with you first.”

Madge looked curiously at the unknown man. She could not obtain a very distinct view of his face, but she saw that he was very distinguished looking, that his eyes seemed quite dark, and that he wore a pointed beard. He did not look like an American. At least, there was something in his appearance that Madge did not quite understand. It struck her that perhaps the man was a lawyer. It could not be that Lillian was right in her guess. The treasure in the iron safe had not yet been sold, so it might be that this man wished to make some offer for it. Whoever he might be the silence was becoming uncomfortable. The little captain decided to break it.

“I wonder if you wish to talk to me about the treasure that we found?” she inquired, smiling. “I would rather that Captain Jules should be in here when we speak of that.”

The stranger shook his head. He had a very beautiful voice that in some way fascinated the girl.

“No, I don’t wish to talk about your treasure, but I do wish to speak of something else that was lost and is found again. I don’t know that you will value it, child, or that it is worth having, but Captain Jules thinks you might.”

Madge’s heart began to beat faster. This strange man had something of great importance to tell her. She wondered if she had ever seen him anywhere before. There was something in his look that was oddly familiar. But why did he look at her so strangely and why did not her old friend come to her to end this foolish suspense?

“I have been down here on a visit to Captain Jules a number of times this summer and he has always talked of you,” went on the fascinating voice. “I have longed to see you, but Miss Morton, Captain Jules Fontaine and I knew your father once, long years ago. The news that you had proof of his innocence made us very happy last night.”

Madge would have liked to bounce up and down in her chair, like an impatient child. Only her age restrained her. Why didn’t this man tell her the thing he was trying to say? What made him hesitate so long?

“Yes, yes,” she returned impatiently, “but do you know whether my father is alive now? That is the only thing I care about.”

Madge gripped both arms of her chair to control herself. She was trembling so that she felt that she must be having a chill, though it was a warm summer day, for the stranger had risen and was coming toward her, his face white and haggard. Then, as he advanced into the brighter light of the room, Madge saw that his eyes were very blue.

“Your father isn’t dead,” the man replied quietly. “He is here in this very house, and he cares for you more than all the world in spite of his long silence!”

The little captain sprang to her feet, her face flaming. “Captain Jules! He is my father? He seemed so old that I didn’t realize it. Yet he has said so many things to me that might have made me guess he knew everything in the world about me. Oh, where is he? My own, own Captain Jules?”

The stranger, whose arms had been outstretched toward Madge, let them fall at his sides, but Madge had no eyes for him. Captain Jules had entered the room and she had flung herself straight into his kindly arms.

So, after all, it was Captain Jules Fontaine who had to make it clear to Madge that he was not her father, but her father’s lifelong and devoted friend. The captain told Madge the story while he held both her cold hands in his big, rough ones, and the man who was her own father sat watching and waiting for her verdict.

Jules Fontaine had never been captain of anything but a sailing schooner, but he had been a gunner’s mate on Captain Robert Morton’s ship. He alone knew that Captain Morton had been forced into the fault that he had committed by order of his admiral. When Captain Morton was dismissed from the United States Naval Service Jules Fontaine, gunner’s mate, had procured his discharge and followed the fortunes of his captain. The two men drifted south to the tropics. Every American vessel is equipped with a diving outfit, and some of the men are taught to go down under the water to examine the bottoms of the boats. Jules Fontaine liked the business of diving. When the two men found themselves in a strange land, without any occupations, Captain Jules joined his fortunes with the pearl divers and for many years followed their perilous trade.

Captain Morton had a harder time to get along, but after a while he studied foreign languages and began to translate books. Five years before the two men had come back to the United States. Since that time Captain Morton had tried to follow every movement of his daughter. Captain Jules wanted his friend to make himself known to his own people, but Robert Morton feared that they would never forgive his long silence or his early disgrace. He believed that Madge would be happier without knowledge of him. It was her own longing for her father, reported by Captain Jules, that had impelled Robert Morton at last to reveal himself to her.

Madge could not comprehend all of this at once. She did not even try to do so. She realized only that, after being without any parents, she had suddenly come into two fathers at the same time, her own father and Captain Jules, who was her more than foster father.

With a low, glad cry she went swiftly across the room. She did not try to think or to ask questions at that moment about the past, she only flung her young arms about her father’s neck in a long embrace, feeling that at last she had some one in the world who was her very own.

While Madge, her father, and Captain Jules were trying to see how they could bear the miracle and shock of their great happiness, a small, dark object darted into the room and planted its claws in Madge’s hair. It pulled and chattered with all its might.

The little captain laughed with the tears in her eyes. “It’s that good-for-nothing monkey!” she exclaimed as she disentangled the creature’s tiny hands. Then she kissed her father and afterwards Captain Jules. “Now I know why this monkey is called Madge, and I am sorry to have such a jealous, bad-tempered namesake.”

The captain scolded the monkey gently. “Don’t you fret about this particular namesake. If you only knew all the others you have had! Every single pet that two lonely old men could get to stay around the house with them we have named for you.”

Captain Morton did not go back to the houseboat with his daughter. Madge thought she would rather tell her friends of her great happiness alone. She wouldn’t even let Captain Jules escort her. “You’ll both have plenty of my society after a while,” she argued, “for I am going to come to keep house for you at ‘The Anchorage’ some day.”

Madge rowed slowly back to the “Merry Maid.” She was thinking over what she would say to Miss Jennie Ann and the girls. How should she announce to them that her quest was ended, her victory over Fate won?

As she neared the houseboat she saw that her companions were gathered on deck, evidently watching for her. Madge rested on her oars and waved one hand to them. Four hands waved promptly back to her. A moment more and she had come alongside the “Merry Maid.” As she clambered on deck she cast a swift upward glance at her friends, who, with one accord, were looking down on her, their faces full of loving concern.

With a little cry of rapture Madge threw herself into Miss Jenny Ann’s arms. “O, my dear!” she cried, “I’ve found him! I’ve found my father!”

And it was with her faithful mates’ arms around her that Madge told the strange story of how her quest had ended in the little sitting room of “The Anchorage.”