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Tides of Barnegat

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One lovely spring morning—and this story begins on a spring morning some fifty years or more ago—a joy of a morning that made one glad to be alive, when the radiant sunshine had turned the ribbon of a road that ran from Warehold village to Barnegat Light and the sea to satin, the wide marshes to velvet, and the belts of stunted pines to bands of purple—on this spring morning, then, Martha Sands, the Cobdens' nurse, was out with her dog Meg. She had taken the little beast to the inner beach for a bath—a custom of hers when the weather was fine and the water not too cold—and was returning to Warehold by way of the road, when, calling the dog to her side, she stopped to feast her eyes on the picture unrolled at her feet.

To the left of where she stood curved the coast, glistening like a scimitar, and the strip of yellow beach which divided the narrow bay from the open sea; to the right, thrust out into the sheen of silver, lay the spit of sand narrowing the inlet, its edges scalloped with lace foam, its extreme point dominated by the grim tower of Barnegat Light; aloft, high into the blue, soared the gulls, flashing like jewels as they lifted their breasts to the sun, while away and beyond the sails of the fishing-boats, gray or silver in their shifting tacks, crawled over the wrinkled sea.

The glory of the landscape fixed in her mind, Martha gathered her shawl about her shoulders, tightened the strings of her white cap, smoothed out her apron, and with the remark to Meg that he'd "never see nothin' so beautiful nor so restful," resumed her walk.

They were inseparable, these two, and had been ever since the day she had picked him up outside the tavern, half starved and with a sore patch on his back where some kitchen-maid had scalded him. Somehow the poor outcast brought home to her a sad page in her own history, when she herself was homeless and miserable, and no hand was stretched out to her. So she had coddled and fondled him, gaining his confidence day by day and talking to him by the hour of whatever was uppermost in her mind.

Few friendships presented stronger contrasts: She stout and motherly-looking—too stout for any waistline—with kindly blue eyes, smooth gray hair—gray, not white—her round, rosy face, framed in a cotton cap, aglow with the freshness of the morning—a comforting, coddling-up kind of woman of fifty, with a low, crooning voice, gentle fingers, and soft, restful hollows about her shoulders and bosom for the heads of tired babies; Meg thin, rickety, and sneak-eyed, with a broken tail that hung at an angle, and but one ear (a black-and-tan had ruined the other)—a sandy-colored, rough-haired, good-for-nothing cur of multifarious lineage, who was either crouching at her feet or in full cry for some hole in a fence or rift in a wood-pile where he could flatten out and sulk in safety.

Martha continued her talk to Meg. While she had been studying the landscape he had taken the opportunity to wallow in whatever came first, and his wet hair was bristling with sand and matted with burrs....