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Title: The Buccaneer Farmer - Published in England under the Title "Askew's Victory"
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Buccaneer Farmer - Published in England under the Title "Askew's Victory"" ***

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                          THE BUCCANEER FARMER

                           BY HAROLD BINDLOSS

                                  1918

        PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND UNDER THE TITLE "ASKEW'S VICTORY"



CONTENTS


PART I--AT ASHNESS

CHAPTER

       I THE LEASE

      II THE OTTER HOUNDS

     III A COUNCIL OF DEFENSE

      IV THE PEAT CUTTERS

       V RAILTON'S TALLY

      VI BLEATARN GHYLL

     VII THE RECKONING

    VIII GRACE FINDS A WAY

      IX THE PLAN WORKS

       X JANET MEDDLES

      XI OSBORN'S PRIDE GETS HURT

     XII OSBORN INTERFERES


PART II--ON THE CARIBBEAN

       I THE OLD BUCCANEER

      II THE PRESIDIO

     III THE GOLD ONZA

      IV THE PRESIDENT'S BALL

       V OLSEN'S OFFER

      VI THE PRESIDENT'S WATCHERS

     VII ADAM RESUMES CONTROL

    VIII THE MANGROVE SWAMP

      IX ADAM'S LAST REQUEST

       X THE ROAD TO THE MISSION

      XI KIT KEEPS HIS PROMISE

     XII THE LAST CARGO


PART III--KIT'S RETURN

       I KIT'S WELCOME

      II A DANGEROUS TALENT

     III THE HORSE SHOW

      IV THE FLOOD

       V KIT TELLS A STORY

      VI THORN MAKES A PLAN

     VII GERALD'S RETURN

    VIII GRACE'S CONFIDENCE

      IX KIT GOES TO THE RESCUE

       X GRACE'S CHOICE

      XI OSBORN'S SURRENDER



PART I--AT ASHNESS



CHAPTER I

THE LEASE


The morning was bright after heavy rain, and when Osborn looked out of
the library window a warm, south-west breeze shook the larches about
Tarnside Hall. Now and then a shadow sped across the tarn, darkening the
ripples that sparkled like silver when the cloud drove on. Osborn
frowned, for he had meant to go fishing and it was a morning when the
big, shy trout would rise. His game-keeper was waiting at the boathouse,
but the postman had brought some letters that made him put off his sport.

This was annoying, because Osborn hated to be balked and seldom allowed
anything to interfere with his amusements. One letter, from a housemaster
at a famous public school, covered a number of bills, which, the writer
stated somewhat curtly, ought to have been paid. Another announced that
Hayes, the agent for the estate, and a tenant would wait upon Osborn, who
knew what they meant to talk about. He admitted that a landlord had
duties, but his generally demanded attention at an inconvenient time.

Osborn was fifty years of age. He had a ruddy skin and well-proportioned
figure, and was, physically, a rather fine example of the sporting
country gentleman. For all that, there were lines on his forehead and
wrinkles about his eyes; his mouth was loose and sensual, and something
about him hinted at indulgence. His manner, as a rule, was abrupt and
often overbearing.

The library was spacious, the furniture in good taste but getting shabby.
In fact, a certain look of age and shabbiness was typical of the house.
Although the windows were open, the room had a damp smell, and the rows
of books that Osborn never read were touched with mildew. Rain was
plentiful in the north-country dale, coal was dear, and Mrs. Osborn was
forced to study economy, partly because her husband would not.

By and by Osborn turned his glance from the window and fixed it on his
son, who stood waiting across the big oak table. Gerald was a handsome
lad, like his father, but marked by a certain refinement and a hint of
delicacy. Although he felt anxious, his pose was free and graceful and
his look undisturbed. Osborn threw the bills on the table.

"This kind of thing must stop," he said. "I haven't grumbled much,
perhaps not as much as I ought, about your extravagance, but only a fool
imagines he can spend more than he has got."

"We have had such fools in our family," the boy remarked, and stopped
when he saw Osborn's color rise.

"It's a pity it's true," the latter agreed, with a patience he did not
often use. "I'm paying for it now and you will pay a higher price, if you
go on as you promise. You must pull up; I've done enough and am getting
tired of self-denial."

Gerald's smile faded. He had inherited his extravagance from his father,
but felt he must be cautious, although Osborn sometimes showed him a
forbearance he used to nobody else.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "Perhaps I was extravagant, but if you don't
want to be an outsider, you must do like the rest, and I understood you
expected me to make friends among our own set. We can't be shabby."

He struck the right note, for Osborn was not clever and perhaps his
strongest characteristic was his exaggerated family pride.

"You had enough and I paid your debts not long since," he said. "In fact,
you have had more than your share, with the consequence that Grace gets
less than hers." He knitted his brows as he indicated the house-master's
curt letter. "Then, you have given a stranger an opportunity for writing
to me like this."

Gerald, knowing his father's humor, saw he was getting on
dangerous ground.

"Brown's a dry old prig, sir. Nothing sporting about him; he's hardly a
gentleman."

Osborn was seldom logical and now his annoyance was rather concentrated
on the master who had written to him with jarring frankness than on the
extravagant lad.

"His letter implies it," he agreed and then pulled himself up. Gerald was
clever and no doubt meant to divert his thoughts. "After all, this
doesn't matter," he went on. "I'll pay these bills, but if you get into
debt at Woolwich, you had better not come home. I have enough trouble
about money, and your allowance is going to be a strain. There's another
thing: Carter, who hasn't had your advantages, got in as a prize cadet."

Gerald smiled. "He hasn't got his commission. Old Harry means well, but
he's not our sort, and these plodding, cramming fellows seldom make good
officers."

"An officer must pay his mess bills, whether he's good or bad," Osborn
rejoined. "If you go into the Horse Artillery, there won't be much money
left when you have settled yours, so it might be prudent to begin some
self-denial now. Anyhow, if you get into debt again, you know the
consequences."

He raised his hand in dismissal and walked to the window when the lad
went out. He had not taken the line he meant to take, but Gerald
often, so to speak, eluded him. The lad had a way of hinting that they
understood one another and Osborn vaguely suspected that he worked
upon his prejudices; but he was a sportsman. He had pluck and knew
what the Osborn traditions demanded. In fact, Gerald might go far, if
he went straight.

Then Osborn thought he needed a drink, and after ringing a bell he sat
down by the window with the tray and glass a servant brought. It was
significant that he had given no order; the servants knew what the bell
meant. When he had drained the glass he vacantly looked out. Boggy
pasture and stony cornfields ran back from the tarn. Here and there a
white farmstead, surrounded by stunted trees, stood at the hill foot;
farther back a waterfall seamed the rocks and yellow grass with threads
of foam; and then a lofty moor, red with heather, shut off the view.

The land was poor at the dale head, but there was better below, where the
hills dropped down to the flat country, and, with the exception of
Ashness farm, all was Osborn's, from Force Crag, where the beck plunged
from the moor, to the rich bottoms round Allerby mill. Unfortunately, the
estate was encumbered when he inherited it, and he had paid off one
mortgage by raising another. He might perhaps have used other means,
letting his sporting rights and using economy, but this would have
jarred. The only Osborn who bothered about money was his wife, and Alice
was parsimonious enough for both. Money was certainly what his agent
called tight; but as long as he could give his friends some shooting and
a good dinner and live as an Osborn ought to live, he was satisfied.
Still, Gerald must have his chance at Woolwich and this needed thought.
Osborn felt he would like another drink, but glanced at his watch and saw
that his visitors would arrive in a few minutes.

They were punctual and Osborn got up when his agent and another man came
in. Hayes was tall, urbane, and dressed with rather fastidious neatness;
Bell was round-shouldered and shabby. He had a weather-beaten skin, gray
hair, and small, cunning eyes. Osborn indicated chairs and sat down at
the top of the big table. He disliked business and knew the others meant
to persuade him to do something he would sooner leave alone. This would
have been impossible had he not needed money.

"Mr. Bell wishes to know if his tender for the Slate Company's haulage
is approved," Hayes began. "His traction engine is suited for the work
and he is prepared to buy a trailer lurry, which we would find useful
in the dale. Mechanical transport would be a public advantage on our
hilly roads."

"It needs a good horse to bring half a load from station," Bell
interposed. "T'lurry would move as much in yan day as farmers'
carts in four."

Osborn agreed. He was not much of an economist, but it was obvious that
time and labor were wasted when a farmer took a few sacks of potatoes to
the railway and another a sack of wool. There was no difficulty about the
tender, because Osborn was chairman of the small Slate Company; the
trouble was that the contract would help Bell to carry out another plan.
The fellow was greedy, and was getting a rather dangerous control; he had
already a lease of the limekilns and Allerby mill. But his rents were
regularly paid, and it was an advantage to deal with one prosperous
tenant instead of several who had not his punctuality and capital.

"The trailer would be useful if you decided to make the new terrace you
thought about," Hayes suggested. "The cost of carting the gravel and the
slabs for the wall would be heavy; but I have no doubt Mr. Bell would
undertake the work with the trailer on very reasonable terms."

"I might forget to send in t' bill. Yan good turn deserves another,"
Bell remarked.

Hayes frowned. He had meant to imply something like this, but Bell was
too blunt. For all that, Osborn was not very fastidious and had long
meant to make the terrace when funds permitted. In fact, he hardly saw
the thing as a bribe; it was rather a graceful recognition of his
authority.

"Very well," he said, "I'll sign the contract."

"There is another matter," Hayes resumed. "Mr. Bell is willing to take up
Harkness' tenancy of the coal yard and seed store at the station. He
hopes you will grant him a long lease."

Osborn pondered. Harkness had been drunken, careless, and often behind
with his rent. He had let his business fall away and it was understood
that Bell, who managed the opposition coal yard, had lent him small sums
and until recently kept him on his feet. This was not because Bell was
charitable, but because if Harkness came down while he had any trade
left, a capable rival might take his place. In the meantime, his
customers gradually went to Bell, and now Harkness had failed there was
no business to attract a newcomer.

"I don't know," said Osborn, "I had thought of advertising the yard
and store."

"You'll get nobody to pay what I'm offering," Bell replied. "A stranger
would want to see Harkness' books and there's nowt in them as would tempt
him to pay a decent rent. Then, with trailer going back from station, I
could beat him on the haulage up the dale. He'd niver get his money back
if he bowt an engine like mine."

This was plausible, but Osborn hesitated. He saw that Bell wanted a
monopoly and had a vague notion that he ought to protect his tenants.

"It's sometimes an advantage to have two traders in a place," he
remarked. "A certain amount of competition is healthy."

"I don't know if it would be an advantage to the estate, and imagine you
would not get a tenant to pay what Bell offers," Hayes replied. "Besides,
rival traders sometimes agree to keep up prices, and competition does not
always make things cheap."

"That's one of the ridiculous arguments people who want the Government to
manage everything sometimes use," said Osborn with a scornful gesture.

Hayes smiled, "It is very well known that I am not an advocate of State
ownership. All the same, unnecessary competition would be wasteful in the
dale. For example, if you have two tenants at the station, the farmers
who deal with the new man must use their carts, each coming separately
for the small load a horse can take up Redmire bank, while Bell's
trailer, after bringing down the slate, would go back empty. Then I hear
some talk about a fresh appeal to the council to make the loop road round
the hill."

For a moment or two Osborn did not answer. Redmire bank was an obstacle
to horse traffic, and the road surveyor had plans for easing the gradient
that would necessitate cutting down a wood where Osborn's pheasants found
shelter. He had refused permission, and the matter had been dropped; but,
if the farmers insisted, the council might be forced to use their powers.
He was obstinate, and did not mean to let them have the wood unless he
could get his price.

"You know my opinion about that?" he said.

"Yes," said Hayes; "I imagine it would be prudent not to have the matter
brought up. However, if Bell can send back his lurry full, the economy is
plain. It will enable him to sell his coal and seed at a moderate price
and pay a higher rent."

"That's so," Osborn agreed, and knitted his brows.

He doubted if Bell would give his customers the benefit of the cheaper
haulage, but the advantage of getting a higher rent was obvious. Osborn
knew he was being persuaded to do a shabby thing and hesitated. Money,
however, was needed and must be got.

"Very well," he said, "Mr. Bell can have the lease."

They talked about something else, and when Osborn went fishing after the
others left the wind had dropped, the sun was bright, and the trout would
not rise. He felt rather injured, because he had paid for his attention
to duty, when he joined his wife and daughter at tea on the lawn.

A copper beech threw a cool shadow across the small table and basket
chairs; the china and silver were old and good. Beyond the belt of
wavering shade, the recently mown grass gave out a moist smell in the hot
sun. The grass grew fine and close, for the turf was old, but there were
patches of ugly weeds. The borders by the house were thinly planted and
the color plan was rude, but one could not do much with a rheumatic
gardener and a boy. There used to be two men, but Mrs. Osborn had
insisted on cutting wages down.

Across the yew hedge, the tarn sparkled like a mirror and on its farther
side, where a clump of dark pines overhung a beach of silver sand, the
hillslopes shone with yellow grass, relieved by the green of fern and
belts of moss. The spot was picturesque; the old house, with its low,
straight front and mullioned windows, round which creepers grew, had a
touch of quiet beauty. Osborn was proud of Tarnside, although he
sometimes chafed because he had not enough money to care for it as he
ought.

By and by he glanced at his wife, who had silently filled the cups and
was cutting cake. She was a thin, quiet woman, with a hint of reserve in
her delicately molded face. Sometimes she tactfully exercised a
restraining influence, but for the most part acquiesced, for she had
found out, soon after her marriage, that her husband must not be opposed.

Grace, who sat opposite, had recently come home from school, and was
marked by an independence somewhat unusual at Tarnside. She argued
with Osborn and was firm when he got angry. Then she had a fresh
enthusiasm for change and improvement and a generous faith in what she
thought was good. Since Osborn was obstinately conventional, this
sometimes led to jars.

"After all, I'm going to have the terrace made," he remarked, and waited
for his wife's approval.

"Is it prudent?" she asked hesitatingly. "If I remember, you thought the
work would cost too much when we talked about it last."

"It will cost very little. In fact, I imagine the haulage of the gravel
and the slabs for the wall will cost nothing," Osborn replied. "Bell has
promised to bring me all the stuff we'll need with his new trailer."

"Oh," said Grace, rather sharply, "I suppose this means you have given
him the lease of the station coal yard? No doubt he offered to bring the
gravel before you agreed. He's cunning and knew you wanted the terrace."

"I can't remember if he offered before or afterwards," Osborn replied,
with a touch of embarrassment. "Anyhow, I don't think it's important,
because I did not allow his offer to persuade me. For all that, it's some
satisfaction to get the work done cheap."

Grace pondered. She was intelligent; contact with her school companions
had developed her character, and she had begun to understand Osborn since
she came home. She knew he was easily deceived and sometimes
half-consciously deceived himself.

"No," she said, "I don't think the work will really be cheap. It's often
expensive to take a favor from a man like Bell. He will find a means of
making you pay."

"Ridiculous! Bell can't make me pay."

"Then he will make somebody else pay for what he does for you, and it's
hardly honest to let him," Grace insisted.

Mrs. Osborn gave her a warning glance and Osborn's face got red.

"It's a new thing for a young girl to criticize her father. This is what
comes of indulging your mother and making some sacrifice to send you to
an expensive modern school! If I'd had my way, you would have gone to
another, where they teach the old-fashioned virtues: modesty, obedience,
and respect for parents."

Grace smiled, because she knew the school Osborn meant and the type it
produced. She was grateful to her mother for a better start.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, but with a hint of resolution. "I
don't want to criticize, but Bell is greedy and cunning, and now he
has got both coal yards will charge the farmers more than he ought.
He has already got too large a share of all the business that is done
in the dale."

"It's obvious that you have learned less than you think," Osborn
rejoined, feeling that he was on safer ground. "You don't seem to
understand that concentration means economy. Bell, for example, buys and
stores his goods in large quantities, instead of handling a number of
small lots at different times, which would cost him more."

"I can see that," Grace admitted, "But I imagine he will keep all he
saves. You know the farmers are grumbling about his charges."

Osborn frowned. "You talk too much to the farm people; I don't like it.
You can be polite, but I want you to remember they are my tenants, and
not to sympathize with their imaginary grievances. They're a grumbling
lot, but will keep their places if you leave them alone."

He got up abruptly and when he went off across the lawn Mrs. Osborn gave
the girl a reproachful glance.

"You are very rash, my dear. On the whole, your father was
remarkably patient."

Grace laughed, a rather strained laugh, as Osborn's angry voice rose from
behind a shrubbery.

"He isn't patient now, and I'm afraid Jackson is paying for my fault.
However, I really think I was patient, too. To talk about people keeping
their places is ridiculous; in fact, it's piffle! Father's notions are
horribly out of date. One wonders he doesn't know."

"Things change. Perhaps we don't quite realize this when we are getting
old. But you mustn't argue with your father. He doesn't like it, and when
he's annoyed everybody suffers."

"It's true; but how illogical!" Grace remarked, and mused while she
looked dreamily across the grass.

She was romantic and generous, and had learned something about social
economy at the famous school; in fact, Osborn would have been startled
had he suspected how much she knew. Nevertheless, she was young; her
studies were half digested, and her theories crude. She had come home
with a vague notion of playing the part of Lady Bountiful and putting
things right, but had got a jar soon after she began. Her father's idea
of justice was elementary: he resented her meddling, and was sometimes
tyrannical. When it was obvious that he had taken an improper line he
blamed his agent; but perhaps the worst was he seldom knew when he was
wrong. Then the agent's main object was to extort as much money from the
tenants as possible.

Grace did not see what she could do, although she felt that something
ought to be done. She had a raw, undisciplined enthusiasm, and imagined
that she was somehow responsible. Yet when she tried to use some
influence her father got savage and she felt hurt. Well, she must try to
be patient and tactful. While she meditated, Mrs. Osborn got up, and they
went back to the house.



CHAPTER II

THE OTTER HOUNDS


Grace's tweed dress was wet and rather muddy when she stood with Gerald
on a gravel bank at the head of a pool, where the beck from the tarn
joined a larger stream that flowed through a neighboring dale. There had
been some rain and the water was stained a warm claret-color by the peat.
Bright sunshine pierced the tossing alder branches, and the rapid close
by sparkled between belts of moving shade. Large white dogs with black
and yellow spots swam uncertainly about the pool and searched the bank; a
group of men stood in the rapid, while another group watched the tail of
the pool. Somewhere between them a hard-pressed otter hid.

A few of the men wore red coats and belonged to the hunt; the rest were
shepherds and farmers whom custom entitled to join in the sport. All
carried long iron-pointed poles and waited with keen expectation the
reappearance of the otter. Grace was perhaps the only one to feel a touch
of pity for the exhausted animal and she wondered whether this was not a
sentimental weakness. There was not much to be said for the otter's right
to live; it was stealthy, cruel, and horribly destructive, killing many
more fish and moorhens than it could eat. Indeed, before she went to
school, she had followed the hunt with pleasant excitement, and was now
rather surprised to find the sport had lost its zest.

The odds against the otter were too great, although it had for some hours
baffled men who knew the river, and well-trained dogs. It had stolen up
shallow rapids, slipping between the watchers' legs, dived under swimming
dogs, made bold dashes along the bank, and hidden in belts of reeds. Its
capture had often looked certain and yet it had escaped. At first Grace
had noticed the animal's confidence, beauty of form, and strength; but it
had gradually got slack, hesitating, and limp. Now, when it lurked,
half-drowned, in the depths of the pool while its pitiless enemies waited
for it to come up to breathe, she began to wish it would get away.

Thorn, the master of the hounds, was talking to his huntsman not far
off. He was a friend of Osborn's, and Grace had once thought him a
dashing and accomplished man of the world, but had recently, for no
obvious reason, felt antagonistic. Alan was not as clever as she had
imagined; he was smart, sometimes cheaply smart, which was another
thing. Then he was beginning to get fat, and she vaguely shrank from the
way he now and then looked at her. On the whole, it was a relief to note
that he was occupied.

For a few moments Grace let her eyes wander up the dale to the crags
where the force leaped down from the red moor at Malton Head. Belts of
dry bent-grass shone like gold and mossy patches glimmered luminously
green. The fall looked like white lace drawn across the stones. A streak
of mist touched the lofty crag, and above it a soft white cloud trailed
across the sky. Then she turned as her brother spoke.

"Alan has given us a good hunt and means to make a kill. He's rather a
selfish beast and a bit too sure of himself; but he runs the pack well
and knows how to get the best out of life. No Woolwich and sweating as a
snubbed subaltern for him! He stopped at home, saw his tenants farmed
well, and shot his game. That's my notion of a country gentleman!"

"Father can look after Tarnside and a duty goes with owning land,"
Grace remarked. "A landlord who need not work ought to serve the State.
That idea was perhaps the best thing in the feudal system and it's not
altogether forgotten yet. Father was right when he decided to make you
a soldier."

"He can send me to Woolwich, but after all that's as far as he can go.
You're not at your best when you're improving," Gerald rejoined; and
added with a grin, "You don't like old Alan, do you? I thought you
snubbed him half an hour since."

Grace colored, but did not answer. She had hurt her foot by falling from
a mossy boulder and Thorn had come to help as she floundered across a
shallow pool. She was draggled and her hair was loose, and Thorn's faint
amusement annoyed her. Somehow it hinted at familiarity. She would not
have resented it once, for they had been friends; but when she came home
and he had tried to renew the friendship she had noted a subtle
difference. Alan was forty, but now she had left school the disparity of
their ages was, in a sense, much less marked. Then a shout roused her and
she looked round.

Where the smooth, brown water ran past the alder roots, a very small,
dark object moved in advance of a faint, widening ripple. Grace knew it
was the point of the otter's head; the animal's lungs were empty since
it remained up so long. Next moment plunging dogs churned the pool into
foam, the object vanished, and men ran along the bank to the lower
rapid, while those already there beat the shallow with their poles. The
dogs bunched together and began to swim up stream; Gerald and one or two
more plunged into the water, and for a few moments the otter showed
itself again.

It looked like a fish and not an animal as it broke the surface, rising
in graceful leaps. Then it went down, with the dogs swimming hard close
behind, and Grace thought it must be caught. It was being steadily driven
to the lower end of the stopped rapid, where the water was scarcely a
foot deep. The animal reappeared, plunging in and out among the shallows
but forging up stream, and the men who meant to turn it back closed up.
There was one at every yard across the belt of sparkling foam. They had
spiked poles to beat the water and it seemed impossible that their victim
could get past.

Yet the otter vanished, and for a minute or two there was silence, until
the dogs rushed up the bank. Then somebody shouted, the huntsman blew his
horn, and a small, wedge-shaped ripple trailed, very slowly across the
next pool. The otter had somehow stolen past the watchers' legs and
reached deep water, but its slowness told that its strength had gone. The
dogs took the water with a splash, and Grace turned her head. She felt
pitiful and did not want to see the end. The animal had made a gallant
fight, and she shrank from the butchery.

The clatter of heavy boots on stones suddenly stopped; there was a
curious pause, and Grace looked up as somebody shouted: "'Gone to holt!
Ca' off your hounds. Wheer's t' terrier?"

The hunt swept up the bank, smashed through a hedge, and spread along
the margin of the neighboring pool. A few big alders grew beside its
edge, sending down their roots into deep water; but for the most part
the bank was supported by timbers driven into the soil, and freshly laid
with neatly-bedded turf. Grace knew this had been done to protect the
meadow, because the stream is thrown against the concave side when a
pool lies in a bend.

As she stopped at the broken hedge a man ran past carrying a small wet
terrier, and two or three more came up with spades. The otter could not
escape now, since the hounds would watch the underwater entrance to the
cave among the alder roots, while the terrier would crawl down from the
other side. If a hole could not be found, the men would dig. They were
interrupted soon after they began, for somebody said, "Put down your
spade, Tom. Hold the terrier."

Grace studied the man who had interfered. He was young and on the whole
attractive. His face was honest and sunburned; he carried himself well,
and was dressed rather neatly in knickerbockers and shooting jacket. She
knew Christopher Askew was the son of a neighboring farmer, who owned his
land. Then, as the men stopped digging, Thorn pushed past.

"What's this?" he asked haughtily. "Why have you meddled?"

Askew looked hard at him, but answered in a quiet voice, "It cost us some
trouble to mend the bank, and if you dig out the otter the stream will
soon make an ugly gap."

"Then it's a matter of the cost!" said Thorn. "How much?"

"Not altogether," Askew replied, coloring. "It's a matter of the damage
the next flood may do. We had an awkward job to strengthen the bank and
I'm not going to have it cut."

"Noo, Kit, dinna spoil sport," the old huntsman urged. "It's none a trick
for a canny lad to cheat the hounds."

"Put terrier in an' niver mind him!" shouted another, and there were
cries of approval.

"Stop digging, Tom," Askew said with quiet firmness. "Pick up the dog."

"We are wasting time," Thorn remarked. "I don't like bargaining; you had
better state your price."

Grace, looking on across the broken hedge, sympathized with the farmer.
For one thing, she wanted the otter to escape; besides, she approved the
man's resolute quietness. He had pluck, since it was plain that he was
taking an unpopular line, and he used some self-control, because Thorn's
tone was strongly provocative. In fact, she thought Thorn was not at his
best; he was not entitled to suggest that the other was trying to extort
as much money as he could.

"No more do I like bargaining," Askew replied. "There will be no digging
here. You have smashed the hedge, and that's enough. Call off your dogs."

"So you mean to spoil sport, even if the damage costs you nothing? I know
your kind; it's getting common."

"Oh, no," said Askew. "I won't have the bank cut down, but that is all.
If you like, you can look for another otter on our part of the stream."

Thorn gave him a searching glance, and then, seeing he was resolute,
shrugged contemptuously. The huntsman blew his horn, the dogs were drawn
off, and Gerald followed the others across the field. Grace, however, sat
down on a fallen tree to rest her foot and for a minute or two thought
herself alone. Then she rose as Askew came through the gap in the hedge.
He began to pull about the broken rails and thorns, but saw her when he
looked up.

"They have left you behind, Miss Osborn," he remarked with a smile.

"I think I had enough; besides, I hurt my foot."

"Badly?"

"No," said Grace. "I have only begun to feel it hurt, but I wish it
wasn't quite so far to the bridge."

Askew looked at the water, measuring its height. "The stepping stones are
not far off. One or two may be covered, but perhaps I could help you
across and it would save you a mile."

Grace went on with him and they presently stopped beneath the alder
branches by a sparkling shallow. Tall brush grew up the shady bank and
briars trailed in the stream. A row of flat-topped stones ran across, but
there were gaps where the current foamed over some that were lower than
the rest. Grace's foot was getting worse, and sitting down on a slab of
the slate stile, she glanced at her companion.

"I imagine it needed some pluck to stop the hunt," she said. "For one
thing, you were alone; nobody agreed with you."

Askew smiled. "Opposition sometimes makes one obstinate. But do you think
it's hard to stand alone?"

"Yes," said Grace, impulsively. "I know it's hard. Yet, of course, if you
feel you are taking the proper line, you oughtn't to be daunted by what
others think."

She stopped, remembering that the man was a stranger; and then resumed in
a different tone, "But why did you really stop the hunt? Are you one of
the people who don't believe in sport?"

"No," said Askew good humoredly. "It's curious that Mr. Thorn hinted
something like that. Anyhow, I'm not a champion of the otter's right to
destroy useful fish. I think they ought to be shot."

"Oh!" said Grace with a touch of indignation; "you would shoot an otter?
Well, I suppose they must be killed; but to use a gun!"

"It's better for the otter. Which do you imagine it would choose--a
mercifully sudden end, or two or three hours of agony, with men and dogs
close behind, until the half-drowned, exhausted animal is torn to pieces
or mangled by the poles?"

"I suppose one must answer as you expect."

"You're honest," Askew remarked. "I imagine it cost you something
to agree!"

"It did," Grace admitted. "After all, you know our traditions, and many
people, not cruel people, like the sport."

"That is so; but let's take the hunt to-day, for an example. There were
three or four men without an occupation, and no doubt they find following
the hounds healthy exercise. The others had left work that ought to be
done; in fact, if you think, you'll own that some were men we have not
much use for in the dale."

"Yes," said Grace, with some reluctance; "I know the men you mean. All
the same, it is really not our business to decide if they ought to
work or hunt."

Askew looked amused and she liked his twinkle. He was obviously
intelligent, and on the whole she approved his unconventional point of
view. Conventional insincerities were the rule at Tarnside. Besides,
although it was possible she ought not to talk to the man with such
freedom, her foot hurt and the stile made a comfortable seat. She liked
to watch the shadows quiver on the stream and hear the current brawl
among the stones. This was an excuse for stopping, since she would not
acknowledge that the young farmer's society had some charm.

After a moment or two he resumed: "It is not my business, anyhow, and I
don't want to argue if otter-hunting is a proper sport; it's an
advantage, so to speak, to stick to the point. All I objected to was the
hunt's breaking down the mended bank. There are not many good meadows at
the dale-head, and grass land is too valuable to be destroyed. Don't you
think this justifies my opposition?"

"I suppose it does," Grace agreed, and then decided that she had talked
to him enough. "Well, I must go on," she added with a doubtful glance at
the stream. "But it doesn't look as if one could get across."

"You can try," Askew replied, and jumping down stood in the water,
holding out his hand. "Come on; there's not much risk of a slip."

Since it was too late to refuse, Grace took his hand and he waded across,
steadying her, while the current rippled round his legs. Some of the
stones were covered, but with his support she sprang across the gaps and
the effort did not hurt her foot as much as she had thought. He was not
awkward. She liked his firm grasp, and his care that she did not fall;
particularly since she saw he was satisfied to give her the help she
needed and knew when to stop. After she got across she thanked him and
let him go.

When she crossed the field Askew went home in a thoughtful mood, though
he was conscious of a pleasant thrill. He had felt the girl's charm
strongly as he stood near her at the stile, and now tried to recapture
the scene; the dark alder branches moving overhead, the sparkle of the
water, and the light and shadow that touched his companion. Her face was
attractive; although he was not a judge of female beauty, he knew its
molding was good. Mouth, nose, and chin were finely but firmly lined; her
color was delicate pink and white, and she had rather grave blue eyes.
Her figure was marked by a touch of patrician grace. Askew smiled as he
admitted that patrician was a word he disliked, but he could not think of
another that quite expressed what he meant. Anyhow the girl's charm was
strong; she was plucky and frank, perhaps because she knew her value and
need not to pretend to dignity. In a sense, this was patrician, too.

All the same, Askew, though young and romantic, was not a fool. He had
had a good education and had then spent two years at an agricultural
college; but he was a farmer's son and he knew where he stood, from the
Osborns' point of view. He had been of help, but this was no reason Miss
Osborn should recognize him when they next met; yet he somehow thought
she would. In the meantime, it was rash to think about her much, although
his thoughts returned to the stile beneath the alders where he had
watched the sun and shadow play about her face.



CHAPTER III

A COUNCIL OF DEFENCE


The sun had sunk behind the moors when Peter Askew sat by an open window
in his big, slate-flagged kitchen at Ashness. All was quiet outside,
except for the hoarse turmoil of the force and a distant bleating of
sheep. In front, across a stony pasture, the fellside ran up abruptly;
its summit, edged with purple heath, cut against a belt of yellow sky.
The long, green slope was broken by rocky scars and dotted by small
Herdwick sheep that looked like scattered stones until they moved.

The kitchen was shadowy, because the house was old and built with low,
mullioned windows to keep out snow and storm, and a clump of stunted ash
trees grew outside the courtyard wall. A fire of roots and peat, however,
burned in the deep hearth, and now and then a flickering glow touched old
copper and dark oak with red reflections. Collectors had sometimes
offered to buy the tall clock and ponderous meal chest, but Askew would
not sell. The most part of his furniture had been brought to Ashness by
his great-grandfather.

Peter's face was brown and deeply lined, and his shoulders were bent, for
he had led a life of steady toil. This was rather from choice than stern
necessity, because he owned the farm and had money enough to cultivate it
well. As a rule, he was reserved and thoughtful, but his neighbors
trusted him. They knew he was clever, although he used their homely
dialect and lived as frugally as themselves. In the dale, one worked hard
and spent no more than one need. Yet Peter had broken the latter rule
when he resolved to give his son a wider outlook than he had had.

Kit had gone from the lonely farm to a good school where he had beaten,
by brains and resolution, the sons of professional and business men. His
teachers said he had talent, and although Peter was often lonely since
his wife died, he meant to give the lad his chance. Somewhat to his
relief, Kit decided to return to the soil, and Peter sent him to an
agricultural college. Since Kit meant to farm he should be armed by such
advantages as modern science could give. It was obvious that he would
need them all in the struggle against low prices and the inclement
weather that vexed the dale. Now he had come home, in a sense not much
changed, and Peter was satisfied. Kit and he seldom jarred, and the
dalesfolk, who did not know how like they were under the surface,
sometimes thought it strange.

Four or five of their neighbors sat in the kitchen, for the most part
smoking quietly, but now and then grumbling about the recent heavy rain.
This was not what they had come to talk about, and Peter waited. He knew
their cautious reserve; they were obstinate and slow to move, and if he
tried to hurry them might take alarm. By and by one knocked out his pipe.

"How are you getting forrad with t' peat-cutting?" he asked.

"We have cut enough to last for three or four months."

"You'll need it aw. Coal's a terrible price," another remarked.

"It will be dearer soon," said Peter. "Since Bell has t' lease o' both
coal yards, he can charge what he likes."

"A grasping man! Yan canna get feeding stuff for stock, seed, an' lime,
unless yan pays his price. Noo he has t' traction-engine, kilns, and
mill, he'll own aw t' dale before lang."

"It's very possible, unless you stop him," Kit interposed.

"Landlord ought to stop him," one rejoined.

Kit smiled. "That's too much to expect; it's your business to help
yourselves. Mr. Osborn takes the highest rent that's offered, and you
missed your chance when you let Bell get Allerby mill."

"Neabody else had t' money," another grumbled.

"Two or three of us could have clubbed together and made a profit after
selling feeding stuff at a moderate price."

The others were silent for a minute of two and Kit let them ponder. He
had learned something about the wastefulness of individual effort, and on
his return to Ashness had urged the farmers to join in bidding for a
lease of the mill. They had refused, and would need careful handling now,
for the old cooperative customs that had ruled in the dale before the
railway came had gone.

"Poor folks willunt have much left for groceries when they have paid
Bell's price for coal," said one. "Since he gets his money for hauling in
t' slate, it costs him nowt to tak' a big load back on t' lurry; but,
with Redmire bank to clim', it's a terrible loss o' time carting half a
ton up dale."

"You won't be able to buy the half-ton unless you deal with Bell. I think
you'll find he has a contract for all the coal that comes down the line."

They pondered this and another remarked, "Peat's terrible messy stuff and
bad to dry at back end o' year."

"It can be dried," said an old man. "I mind the time when iver a load o'
coals went past Allerby. Aw t' folk clubbed togedder to cut and haul t'
peat from Malton. Browt it doon on stane-boats by the oad green road.
Howiver, I reckon it cost them summat, counting their time"

Kit gave him a paper. "This is what our peat has cost us; I've charged
our labor and what the horses would have earned if we had been paid
for plowing."

They studied the figures, passing the paper around, and then one said,
"But peat costs you nowt. Malton moor is yours and I ken nea ither peat
worth cutting. Mayhappen yan could find some soft trash on the back moor,
but I doot if Osborn would let yan bring it doon."

"Osborn does what his agent says, and it's weel kent Hayes is a friend o'
Bell's," another agreed.

Peter smiled and gave Kit a warning glance. He suspected the agent had a
private understanding that was not to his employer's benefit with Bell;
but this was another matter. Peter had taught his son to concentrate on
the business in hand.

"Weel," he said, "you can have aw t' peat you want and we willunt fratch
if you pay me nowt. There's acres o' good stuff on Malton moor, and the
value o' peat t' labor it costs to cut. Aw t' same, it willunt pay to
send a man or two noo and then. You must work in a gang; ivery man at his
proper job."

"It was done like that in oad days," said one.

Peter looked at Kit, who did not speak, for both knew when enough was
said. Indeed, although he was hardly conscious of it yet, Kit had
something of a leader's talent. For a few minutes the others smoked and
thought. They were independent and suspicious about new plans, but it
was obvious that the best defense against a monopoly was a combine. In
fact, they began to see it was the only defense they had. Then one
turned to Peter.

"If you're for stopping Bell robbing us and starving poor folk at
Allerby, I'm with you."

One after another promised his support, a plan was agreed upon, and Peter
was satisfied when his neighbors went away. They were patient, cautious,
and hard to move; but he knew their obstinacy when they were roused. Now
they had started, they would go on, stubbornly taking a road that was new
to them. Bell, of course, would make a cunning fight, but Peter doubted
if he would win.

"I reckon your plan will work," he said to Kit, with a nod of
satisfaction.

Kit nodded and picking up his hat and some letters went out. As he walked
down the dale the moon rose above a shadowy fell, touching the opposite
hillside with silver light that reached the fields at the bottom farther
on. Tall pikes of wet hay threw dark shadows across a meadow, and he
heard the roar of a swollen beck. There was too much water in the dale,
but Kit knew something might be done to make farming pay in spite of the
weather. Land that had gone sour might be recovered by draining, and a
bank could be built where the river now and then washed away the crops.
Osborn, however, was poor and extravagant, and his agent's talents were
rather applied to raising rents than improving the soil.

Kit stopped when he got near Allerby, where the dale widens and a cluster
of low white houses stands among old trees. The village glimmered in the
moonlight and beyond it rolling country, dotted by dark woods, ran back
to the sea. A beck plunged down the hillside with a muffled roar, and a
building, half in light and half in shadow, occupied the hollow of the
ghyll. Kit, leaning on the bridge, watched the glistening thread of water
that trickled over the new iron wheel, and noted the raw slate slabs that
had been recently built into the mossy wall. A big traction engine,
neatly covered by a tarpaulin, and a trailer lurry stood in front of the
sliding door.

Osborn had spent some money here, for Allerby mill, with its seed and
chemical manure stores, paid him a higher rent than the best of his small
farms. It was obviously well managed by the tenant, and Kit approved.
Modern machines and methods, although expensive, were good and were
needed in the dale. The trouble was, they sometimes gave the man who
could use them power to rob his poorer neighbors. Kit saw that
concentrated power was often dangerous, and since unorganized, individual
effort was no longer profitable, he knew no cure but cooperation.

Although young, he was seldom rash. Enthusiasm is not common in the bleak
northern dales, whose inhabitants are, for the most part, conservative
and slow. Wind and rain had hardened him and he had inherited a reserved
strength and quietness from ancestors who had braved the storms that
raged about Ashness. Yet the north is not always stern, for now and then
the gray sky breaks, and fell and dale shine in dazzling light and melt
with mystic beauty into passing shade. Kit, like his country, varied in
his moods; sometimes he forgot to be practical and his caution vanished,
leaving him romantic and imaginative.

He went on, and as he reached the first of the white houses a girl came
out of a gate and stopped where the moonlight fell across the road. She
had some beauty and her pose was graceful.

"Oh," she exclaimed, with rather exaggerated surprise, "it's Kit! I
suppose you'll take this letter? I was going to the post."

Kit did not know much about young women, but hesitated, because he
doubted if she wanted him to post the letter.

"If you like," he said. "I expect the causeway at the water-splash
will be wet."

She gave him a curious smile. "Oh, well; here's the letter. Jim Nixon had
to help me across the water when I went last night, and I don't suppose
you're afraid of wetting your feet. You are used to it at Ashness."

"Yes," said Kit. "My boots are stronger than yours."

"Canny lad!" she answered, with a mocking laugh. Kit felt
embarrassed, for he thought he saw what she meant. Janet Bell was
something of a coquette.

"I heard people coming down the road not long since," she resumed. "Have
you had a supper party? Tell your father I think he's shabby because he
left me out."

"It wasn't a supper party and there were no women. Three or four
neighbors came in."

"To grumble about the weather or argue about the sheep?"

"They did grumble about the weather," Kit replied.

Janet looked amused. "You're very cautious, my lad; but you needn't take
it for granted I'm always on father's side. Do you think I don't know why
your neighbors came?"

"You don't know altogether."

The moonlight was clear enough to show that Janet colored. "And you think
I stopped you to find out?"

"I don't," said Kit, rather awkwardly. "Still, perhaps it's better that
you shouldn't know."

"Oh," said she, with some emotion, "I can't tell if you mean to be nice
or not. It's the lazy, feckless people who dislike father, because
they're jealous; and they try to make things hard for me. Why should I
suffer because he's cleverer than them?"

"You oughn't to suffer. I really don't think people blame you."

"They do blame me," Janet insisted. "You doubted if you could trust me
just now."

This was true enough to embarrass Kit, but he said, "I didn't see why I
should talk to you about our business; that was all. In fact, I don't
mean to talk about it to anybody."

"Now you're nicer. I didn't like to feel you were taking particular
care not to let me know. Well, of course, father's no friend of
yours and perhaps he'll like you worse by and by. But, after all,
does that matter?"

"Not in a way," said Kit, pretending to be dull. "You have nothing to do
with the dispute and we don't want to quarrel with your father, although
we mean to carry out our plans."

Janet looked rather hard at him and there was some color in her face, but
she forced a smile.

"Oh, well! Good-night! I've stopped you, and expect you want to
get home."

She went back through the gate and Kit resumed his walk, struggling with
an annoyance he felt was illogical. He knew something about Bell's
household and imagined that Janet's life was not smooth. He was sorry for
her, and it was, of course, unjust to blame her for her father's deeds.
All the same, the favor she had sometimes shown him was embarrassing. He
was not a philanderer, but he was young and she had made him feel that he
had played an ungallant part. Jane was a flirt, but, after all, it would
not have cost him much, so to speak, to play up to her. Perhaps he had
acted like a prig. This made him angry, although he knew he had taken the
proper line.

By and by he came to the water-splash, where a beck crossed the road. Its
channel was paved, so that one could drive across, and at the side a
stone causeway had been made for foot passengers. Sometimes, when the
beck was unusually swollen, shallow water covered the stones, and Kit saw
the significance of a statement of Janet's as he noted the width of the
submerged spot. It looked as if Jim Nixon had carried her across. Then
his annoyance vanished and he laughed. Gallant or not, he was satisfied
to carry Janet's letter.

As he went on in the moonlight he began to see that there were some
grounds for his reluctance to indulge the girl. He had thought about
Miss Osborn often since he helped her across the stepping stones. He had
not hesitated then, and although the things were different, to dwell
upon the incident was perhaps rasher than indulging Janet. Miss Osborn
had, no doubt, forgotten, but he had not. The trouble was, he could not
forget; his imagination pictured her vividly, sitting beneath the alders
talking to him.

With something of an effort Kit pulled himself up. He was a small
farmer's son and the Osborns were important people. He knew Osborn's
family pride, which he thought his daughter had inherited. In Osborn, it
was marked by arrogance; in the girl by a gracious, half-stately calm.
For all that, the pride was there, and Kit, resolving that he would not
be a fool, went to the post office and put Janet's letter in the box.



CHAPTER IV

THE PEAT CUTTERS


Osborn was dissatisfied and moody when, one afternoon, he stood, waiting
for the grouse, behind a bank of turf on Malton moor. To begin with, he
had played cards until the early morning with some of his guests and had
been unlucky. Then he got up with a headache for which he held his wife
accountable; Alice was getting horribly parsimonious, and had bothered
him until he tried to cut down his wine merchant's bill by experimenting
with cheaper liquor. His headache was the consequence. The whisky he had
formerly kept never troubled him like that.

Moreover, it was perhaps a mistake to invite Jardine, although he
sometimes gave one a useful hint about speculations on the Stock
Exchange. The fellow went to bigger shoots and looked bored when Osborn's
partridges were scarce and wild; besides, he had broken rules in order to
get a shot when they walked the turnip fields in line. Osborn imagined
Jardine would not have done so had he been a guest at one of the houses
he boasted about visiting.

As they climbed Malton Head another of the party had broken Dowthwaite's
drystone wall and the farmer had said more about the accident than the
damage justified. In fact, Dowthwaite was rather aggressive, and now
Osborn came to think of it, one or two others had recently grumbled about
things they had hitherto borne without complaint.

In the meantime, Osborn and Thorn, who shared his butt, looked about
while they waited for the beaters. The row of turf banks, regularly
spaced, ran back to the Force Crags at the head of the dale. The red
bloom of the ling was fading from the moor, which had begun to get brown.
Sunshine and shadow swept across it, and the blue sky was dotted by
flying, white-edged clouds. A keen wind swept the high tableland, and the
grouse, flying before it, would come over the butts very fast.

In the distance, one could distinguish a row of figures that were
presently lost in a hollow and got larger when they reappeared. They were
beaters, driving the grouse, and by and by Osborn, picking up his
glasses, saw clusters of small dark objects that skimmed and then dropped
into the heath. It was satisfactory to note that they were numerous.
Although the birds were rather wild, he could now give his friends some
sport. After a time, however, the clusters of dark dots were seen first
to scatter and then vanish. Osborn frowned as he gave Thorn the glasses.

"What does that mean? Looks as if the birds had broken back."

"Some have broken back," said Thorn. "If they've flown over the beaters,
we have lost them for the afternoon." He paused and resumed: "I think the
first lot are dropping. No; they're coming on."

Picking up his gun, he watched the advancing grouse. They flew low but
very fast, making a few strokes at intervals and then sailing on
stretched wings down the wind. In a few moments they were large and
distinct, but there were not enough to cross more than the first two
butts. When they were fifty yards off Thorn threw up his gun and two pale
flashes leaped out. Osborn was slower and swung his barrel. The sharp
reports were echoed from the next butt and a thin streak of smoke that
looked gray in the sunshine drifted across the bank of turf. Two brown
objects, spinning round, struck the heath and a few light feathers
followed. The grouse that had escaped went on and got small again.

"Missed with my right," said Osborn. "Had to shoot on the swing. Don't
know about the other barrel."

Thorn did know, but used some tact. "I may have been a trifle slow; my
last bird was going very fast."

"I expect you saw whose bird it was," Osborn said to the lad who took
their guns.

"Yes, sir; Mr. Thorn's, sir."

"Oh, well," said Osborn, forcing a smile as he turned to Thorn, "you have
youth upon your side. Anyhow, I don't imagine the others have done much
better, and it looks as if we might as well go home. When the birds broke
back we lost the best chance we'll get. I wonder what spoiled the drive?"

"Something on the old green road, I think. The grouse turned as they
crossed the hollow."

A short distance off there was a fold in the moor, and while Osborn
wondered whether he would walk to the top a man came over the brow,
leading two horses that hauled a clumsy sledge. Another team followed and
presently four advanced across the heath.

"Now you know what spoiled the drive," Thorn remarked with some dryness.
"You can't expect a good shoot on the day your tenants move their peat."

Osborn, who was very angry, picked up the glasses. "The first two are not
my tenants. They're the Askews, and the boundary of their sheepwalk runs
on this side of the green road."

"Then I suppose there's nothing to be said!"

In the meantime, Osborn's friends had left the other butts and come up,
with Jardine in front. He was a fat, red-faced man, and as he got nearer
remarked to his companions: "I call it wretched bad management! Somebody
ought to have turned the fellows off the moor."

Osborn heard and glanced at Thorn as he left the butt. "There is
something to be said; I'm going to relieve my mind."

He went off and signaled the farmers to stop. They waited, standing
quietly by their horses. On the open moor, their powerful figures had a
touch of grace, and their clothes, faded by sun and rain, harmonized with
the color of the heath. Peter Askew's brown face was inscrutable when he
fixed his steady eyes on Osborn.

"You turned back the grouse and spoiled the beat. Do you call that
sporting?" Osborn asked.

"I'm sorry," Peter replied. "If I'd kenned you were shooting, mayhappen
we could have put off loading the peat."

"You knew we were shooting when you saw the beaters."

"Aw, yis," said Peter. "It was over late then. I wadn't willingly
spoil any man's sport, but we had browt up eight horses and had to
get to work."

"You have plenty of work at Ashness."

"It's verra true; but the weather's our master and we canna awtogether do
what we like. The peat's mair important than a few brace of grouse."

"Important to you!" Osborn rejoined. "But what about me and my friends?
One has come from London for a few days' sport."

"Then I'm sorry he has lost the afternoon," Kit interposed quietly. "But
you well know the wages laborers get in the dale, and there are old folks
and some sick at Allerby who need a good fire. The winter's hard and some
of the cottages are very damp."

"The farmers pay the wages."

"None of them make much money. They pay what their rent allows."

"I don't force up the rents. They're fixed by the terms new tenants are
willing to offer when a lease runs out."

"That is so," Kit agreed. "I don't know that my neighbors grumble much
because the rule works on your side. But peat is plentiful and we don't
see why it can't be used when coal is dear."

"I imagine you can see an opportunity of selling the right to cut it,"
Osborn sneered.

"We are willing to sell at the buyers' price. Anybody who can't pay may
have the peat for nothing. None of the day laborers has paid us yet and
none shall be forced to pay."

Osborn did not know whether he could believe this statement or not, but
he said ironically, "Then it looks as if you were generous! However, you
are not a friend of my agent's and no doubt see a chance of making
trouble. When you meddle with my tenants you play a risky game, and they
may find they were foolish to join you."

One of the farmers who had stood quietly by Peter Askew looked up with a
slow smile; another's weather-beaten face got a little harder. They were
seldom noisily quarrelsome, but they were stubborn and remembered an
injury long. Peter, however, interposed:

"We won't fratch; there's not much in arguing. You can beat moor t'ither
side o' green road. Good day to you!"

He spoke to the horses and the sledge lurched forward with its
chocolate-colored load. The other teams strained at the chains; there was
a beat of hoofs, and the row of sledges moved noisily away. Osborn waited
for a few moments, but his face was very red when he went back to the
butts. The farmer's refusal to dispute with him was galling. For all
that, he must try to find his friends some sport, and after consulting
with his gamekeeper sent the beaters on across the moor.

The new drive was not successful, and in the evening the party came down
the hill with a very poor bag. When they reached the Redmire wood Osborn
stopped beside a broken hedge. Red beeches shone among the yellow birches
and dark firs, the sun was low and its slanting rays touched the higher
branches, but the gaps between the trunks were filled with shadow. A few
bent figures moved in the gloom, and Osborn frowned when three or four
children came down a drive, dragging a heavy fallen bough. An elderly
woman with a sack upon her back followed them slowly, and it was obvious
that cottagers from Allerby were gathering fuel.

"Confound them! This is too much!" he exclaimed and beckoned his
gamekeeper. "If that is Mrs. Forsyth, tell her to come up."

The woman advanced and rested her sack upon the hedge. Her wrinkled face
was wet with sweat, but she did not look alarmed.

"Eh!" she said, "sticks is heavy and I'm none so young as I was."

"You have no business in the wood," said Osborn sternly.

"There's nea place else where we can pick up sticks."

"That is your affair. You know you're not allowed to gather wood in my
plantations."

"We canna gan withoot some kindling; when you canna keep it dry, peat is
ill to light. Terrible messy stuff, too, and mak's nea end o' dirt."

The children came up and when they stood, open-mouthed, gazing at the
party one of the sportsmen laughed.

"Then burn coal and the dirt won't bother you," Osborn rejoined.

"Hoo can we burn coal?" the woman asked. "Noo Tom Bell has lease o' baith
yards, he's putten up t' price, and when you've paid what he's asking
there's nowt left for meal. I canna work for Mrs. Osborn as I used, and
with oad Jim yearning nobbut fifteen shilling--"

She paused for breath and wiped her hot face, and Osborn signed to the
keeper. The woman was making him ridiculous.

"Turn them all out, Holliday," he said and went on with his friends.

"The old lady's talkative," one remarked. "Quite frank, but not at all
angry; I thought her line was rather dignified. I've met country folks
who'd have been servilely apologetic, and some who would have called you
ugly names."

"These people are never apologetic," Osborn said dryly. "As a rule,
they're not truculent, but they're devilish obstinate."

"I think I see. After all, it's possible to stick to your point without
abusing your antagonist. I suppose you turned them out because of the
pheasants?"

"Yes; good cover's scarce, and if the birds are disturbed they move down
to Rafton Woods. For a sporting neighbor, Hayton hardly plays the game.
To put down corn is, of course, allowable, but he uses damaged raisins!"

"Then you don't feed?"

"Very little," Osborn replied. "Corn's too dear. The Tarnside pheasants
live on the country."

"I expect that really means they live on the farmers!"

Osborn frowned. It was Jardine's habit to make stupid remarks like that;
Osborn wondered whether the fellow thought them smart.

"The farmers knew my rules when they signed the lease," he said. "Anyhow,
pheasants do much less damage than ground game, and I don't think my
tenants have left a hare in the dale."

Jardine began to talk about something else, and no more was said about
Osborn's grievances until the party met on the new terrace in the
twilight. The tarn glimmered with faint reflections from the west, but
thin mist drifted across the pastures, and the hills rose, vague and
black, against the sky, in which a half moon shone. Osborn, sitting at
the top of the shallow steps that went down to the lawn, grumbled to his
wife about the day's shooting.

"I don't think I'm an exacting landlord," he remarked. "In fact, since I
ask for nothing but a little give-and-take, it's annoying when people
spoil my sport. Dowthwaite made himself unpleasant about his broken
wall, the Askews turned the grouse back, and then I found the Allerby
cottage children, ransacking Redmire Wood when the pheasants were going
to roost."

Grace, who stood close by with Thorn, indicated the smooth gravel and the
low, wide-topped wall on which red geraniums grew.

"This," she said, "is a great improvement on the old grass bank. The wide
steps and broad slate coping have an artistic effect. However, you can't
often get the things you like without paying."

"Very true, but rather trite," Osborn agreed. "I don't see how it
applies."

"Well, I'm really sympathetic about your spoiled day, but it looks as if
all your disappointments sprang from the same cause."

"Ah!" said Osborn, sharply; "I suppose you mean the coal yards' lease?"

"I think I mean Bell's greediness. If he didn't charge so much for his
coal, Askew would not have cut the peat, and the children would not have
been sent to gather wood. Then Dowthwaite might not have grumbled about
his wall; he feels the farmers have not been treated justly, and I
imagine he blames you."

Osborn knitted his brows. "Then it's an example of the fellow's
wrong-headed attitude! He and one or two others are treated better than
they deserve, and would not be satisfied with anything I did. If you had
to manage the estate, pay extortionate taxes, and make the unnecessary
repairs the farmers demand, it would be interesting to see the line you
would take."

"Perhaps the right line isn't easy," Grace admitted. "Still, if I wanted
a guide, there's the motto of our county town: 'Be just and fear not.'"

Osborn looked at her with indignant surprise, and then shrugged
scornfully. Thorn smiled.

"It's an excellent motto; but they chose it some time since. One imagines
it's out of date now."

Grace colored and moved away, feeling embarrassed. She had made herself
ridiculous, and perhaps sentiment such as she had indulged was cheap; but
it hurt to feel that she, so to speak, stood alone. Although she had, no
doubt, been imprudent, she had said what she felt, and Thorn had smiled.
She turned to him angrily when he followed her along the terrace.

"I daresay I am a raw sentimentalist, but I'm glad I'm not up to date,"
she said. "I hate your modern smartness!"

Thorn, noting the hardness of her voice, stopped with an apologetic
gesture and let her go.



CHAPTER V

RAILTON'S TALLY


Winter had begun, and although the briars shone red along the hedgerows
and the stunted oaks had not lost all their leaves, bitter sleet blew
across the dale when Grace went up the muddy lonning to Mireside farm.
Railton's daughter had for a time helped the housekeeper at Tarnside, and
Grace, hearing that the farmer had been ill, was going to ask about him.
It was nearly dark when she entered the big kitchen. The lamp had not
been lighted, but a peat fire burned in the wide grate, where irons for
cooking pots hung above the blaze. A bright glow leaped up and spread
about the kitchen, touching the people in the room, and then faded as she
shut the massive door.

Grace thought her arrival had embarrassed the others, because nobody said
anything for a moment or two. Railton sat in an old oak chair by the
fire, with a stick near his hand; Tom, the shepherd, occupied the middle
of the floor; and Kit Askew leaned against the table, at which Mrs.
Railton and Lucy sat. Grace wished she could see them better, but the
blaze had sunk and the fire burned low, giving out an aromatic smell, and
throwing dull reflections on the old oak furniture, copper kettles, and
tall brass candlesticks. As a rule, the lonely homesteads in the dales
are furnished well, with objects made long since and handed down from
father to son.

Then Mrs. Railton began to talk, rather nervously, and Grace turned to
the farmer as the light spread about the room again. He had a thin, lined
face; his shoulders were bent, and his pose was slack. Sickness no doubt
accounted for something, but Grace imagined his attitude hinted at
dejection.

"How are you to-day?" she asked.

"No varra weel. I'm none so young, and the wet and cold dinna agree with
my oad bones. Mayhappen I'll be better soon, but noo when I'm needed I
canna get aboot."

"He'll not can rest," Mrs. Railton interposed. "He was oot in sleet,
boddering among t' sheep aw day."

"And weel you ken I had to gan," the farmer rejoined.

Mrs. Railton's silence implied agreement and Grace's curiosity was
excited because of something she had heard at home. Railton's lease of
the sheepwalk ran out in a few days, but he was by local custom entitled
to its renewal after a review of the terms. Moreover, it was usual for
the tenant to take the sheep with the farm, and leave them equal in
number and condition when he went. The landlord could then demand a
valuation and payment of the difference, if the flocks had fallen below
the proper standard.

"Why are you forced to go out in this bitter weather?" she asked.

Railton hesitated, and then saw his daughter's meaning glance. Lucy was
clever, and he thought she wanted him to be frank.

"I had to see how sheep were," he answered dully. "Not that it was o'
mich use. T' lambs niver get over wet spring and t' ewes is poor. Then
flock is weel under tally; I've lost two score Swinset Herdwicks, and the
mak-up's next Thursday."

"But how did you lose forty sheep?" Grace asked.

"There was a hole in fell dyke and Swinset sheep are thief sheep, varra
bad to hoad. I bowt ewes there and t' lambs followed when they wandert
back to their heaf."

Grace pondered. She had noted some reserve in Railton's manner when he
mentioned the broken dyke and knew the flockmasters were careful about
their dry walls. The rest was plain; the _heaf_ is the hill pasture where
a lamb is born, and Swinset was fifteen miles away. It was a very large
sheepwalk and much time would be needed to find the sheep on the wide
belt of moor.

"If you know the sheep are at Swinset, they would be allowed for in the
count," she said.

"I have my doubts. Mr. Hayes sent me notice tally would be taken on
Thursday and he's a hard man."

Grace colored. Although she did not like Hayes, he was Osborn's agent.
There was much she wanted to know, but she could not ask.

"Mr. Hayes cannot do exactly as he likes; he must get my father's
consent," she said. "However, as I am going home by the field path, I had
better start before it's dark."

"There's a broken gate that's awkward to open. I will come with you until
you reach it," Kit remarked.

They went out together. The sleet had stopped, but leaden clouds rolled
across the hills that glimmered white in the dusk. As they struck across
a wet field Grace said:

"I suppose Railton's flock is below the proper standard and the count
is short?"

"Yes; the two or three wet years have hit flock-masters hard and Railton
had to sell more stock than was prudent, in order to pay his debts."

"Then if he can't pay the difference in number and value, the lease can
be broken?"

Kit made a sign of agreement and Grace asked: "But do you think Hayes
would break the lease and turn him out?"

"It's possible," Kit answered cautiously.

Grace gave him a sharp glance. "What do you really think, Mr. Askew? I
want to know."

"Then, my notion is Hayes would like to get Mireside for Jim Richardson."

"Richardson is his nephew."

"Just so," said Kit, with some dryness. "All the same he'd make a good
tenant. His father is rich enough to start him well."

Grace's eyes sparkled, for she saw where the hint led, but she hid her
resentment, because, after all, she had doubts. Osborn needed money and
Hayes was cunning.

"I imagine it would hurt Railton to leave."

"It would hurt him much. He was born at Mireside and his father took the
farm from your grandfather, a very long time since. Then he's an old man
and has not enough money to begin again at another place."

"Ah," said Grace, "it would be very hard if he had to go! But if he
hasn't money, he couldn't carry on, even if we renewed the lease."

"We have had remarkably bad weather for two or three years and the cold
rain killed the young lambs, but a change is due. A dry spring and fine
summer would put the old man straight."

Grace was silent for a few moments and then looked at Kit with some color
in her face.

"Thank you for making the situation plain. You were not anxious to do so,
were you? I think you don't trust us!"

"I don't trust Hayes," Kit said awkwardly.

"But Hayes is our agent. We are accountable for what he does."

"In a way, I suppose you are accountable. For all that, when a landlord
has a capable agent it is not the rule for him to meddle. I understand
Mr. Osborn leaves much to Hayes."

Grace pondered. Kit's embarrassment indicated that he was trying to save
her feelings, but he must know, as she knew, that a landlord was rightly
judged by his agent's deeds. Although she rather liked Kit Askew, he had
humiliated her.

"Well," she said resolutely, "something must be done. If the strayed
sheep could be found, it would help."

"Yes," said Kit. "Tom and I start for Swinset to-morrow to try to bring
them back. But if you'll wait a moment, I'll open the gate."

He walked through the mud the cattle had churned up, and, lifting the
broken gate, pushed it back so that Grace could cross a drier spot. Then,
as he stood with his hands on the rotten bars, she stopped.

"Don't start for Swinset until you hear from me," she said. "Thank you.
Good night!"

Grace went on and Kit turned back to the farm with a satisfaction that
made his heart beat. In a way, the girl had given him her confidence;
she had, at least, not hidden her feelings. Her proud calm was only on
the surface; it covered a generous, impulsive nature. Then she had
pluck, because he could understand her difficulties. She was loyal to
her father, but hated injustice and was quickly moved to sympathy. All
the same, he had noted that when she spoke of Osborn renewing the
lease she said we, and since he knew why she had done so, it gave him
cause to think.

It was the code of the old school; the family stood together, a compact
unit to which she belonged and for whose deeds she believed herself
accountable. In a sense, this was rather fine; but Kit, knowing Osborn's
pride, saw it would confine their friendship to narrow limits. Still he
had no ground for imagining she was his friend, and he tried to fix his
thoughts upon the search for the sheep. Grace obviously meant to talk to
Osborn, but Kit did not believe the latter would be moved by her
arguments.

When Kit returned to the farm kitchen Railton was sitting moodily by the
fire and his wife's face was sternly set. They are not an emotional
people in the dales, and her trouble was too deep for useless tears, but
as she glanced about the room all she saw wakened poignant memories. The
old china in the rack had been her mother's; she had brought it and the
black oak meal-chest to Mireside thirty years since. The copper kettles
and jelly-pan were wedding presents, and Tom, her son, who died in
Australia, had sent the money to buy the sewing machine. Now it looked as
if her household treasures must be sold, and to leave Mireside would mean
the tearing up of roots that had struck deep. Besides, while she would
suffer it would hurt her husband worse. When Kit came in she gave him a
keen glance.

"Weel, what had Miss Osborn to say?"

"She didn't say much; I think she means to talk to Osborn."

Railton looked up gloomily. "T' lass has a good heart, but talking to
Osborn will be o' nea use. Hayes is real master and he wants Mireside for
Jim Richardson."

Kit made a sign of agreement. "The fellow's getting dangerous and must be
stopped. I suspect he's backing Bell and now he means to use his nephew;
it's not altogether for Richardson's sake he wants to break your lease.
Some day I imagine Osborn will find his agent owns the estate; but that's
not our business. Well, Peter told me to remind you that you and he are
old friends, and if a hundred pounds would be some help--"

"It would be a big help," said Railton, and Kit turned to the shepherd
when Mrs. Railton awkwardly began to thank him.

"About the broken dyke, Tom? What d'you think brought it down?"

"I canna tell. Dyke's good and there was nea wind."

They were all silent for a few moments, and then Kit said, "Well,
Richardson is a cunning hound." He paused and picked up his hat before
he turned to Railton. "I've a job at Ashness that must be finished
to-night. There's not much time, but if it's possible Tom and I will
find the sheep."

In the meantime, Grace walked home thinking hard. Kit was Railton's
friend, but he had used some tact, until she forced him to tell her the
truth. This, however, was not important, because she had got a jar. It
looked as if Osborn had consented to a cruel plot; a landlord ought to
help his tenants and not take advantage of their need. She tried not to
blame him; he had a bad agent, who used a dangerous influence. She must
try to protect him from the fellow and, in a way, from his own
carelessness.

After all, it was, for the most part, carelessness, because he did not
know Hayes as she knew him. Still, she had not undertaken an easy thing
and she braced herself as she went up the steps of the new terrace. Grace
hated the terrace. It was the price they, the Osborns, had taken for a
shabby deed, and for which poor people and hard-worked women paid. Grace
knew about the extra dust that peat fires caused and how often the bread
was spoiled.

When she entered the library Osborn was studying some documents. He
looked up impatiently, and she said, "I was at Mireside. Railton's no
better and is much disturbed about his lease."

"Not more disturbed than he deserves!" Osborn rejoined. "The fellow has
been getting slack for some time; he sold his store sheep imprudently and
let the flock run down."

"He has been ill and the weather has been bad for some years."

"Exactly. A cautious man provides for bad years; he knows they
will come."

Grace was surprised her father did not see that his statement had a
humorous touch, since improvident extravagance was his rule; but it was
obvious that he did not.

"One cannot save much money when rents are high and prices are low."

"Do you know much about these matters?" Osborn asked.

"I have heard the farmers talk. Sometimes I ask them questions."

Osborn frowned. "You talk too much to the farmers. I don't like it. You
know this."

"Well," said Grace, "I think you ought not to break Railton's lease."

"Why?"

Grace hesitated. She began to see that Osborn could not be moved, but she
had undertaken to plead Railton's cause.

"He's an old man and has been at Mireside all his life. He has worked
hard and always paid his rent. Now he's ill and in trouble, it would be
shabby to turn him out because there's a risk--it's only a risk--that we
might lose something by letting him stay."

"You don't seem to understand a landlord's duty," Osborn rejoined. "He
is, so to speak, the steward in charge of the estate; it belongs to the
family and is not his. He must hand it on in good order and this means he
cannot indulge his sentimental impulses. If he keeps a bad tenant from
pity, or because he's afraid to seem harsh, he robs his heir."

Grace knew there were other, and perhaps worse, ways of robbing one's
heir; but she said, "Aren't you taking Hayes's view that Railton is a bad
tenant? After all, we are responsible."

"Then you suggest that Hayes is mistaken?" Osborn asked ironically.

"I don't know if he's mistaken or not," said Grace, with a steady look.
"I know he's greedy and unjust. But there's a thing you ought not to let
him do. Railton has lost forty sheep, that have strayed back to Swinset,
and Hayes doesn't mean to count them in the tally."

Osborn's face got red and he knitted his brows. "I have tried to be
patient; but this is too much! Do you know more about managing an estate
than a clever agent? Or do you think I'm a fool and Hayes leads me like a
child? Anyhow, you are much too young to criticize my actions. Let us
have no more of it! An unmarried girl is not entitled to opinions that
clash with her parents'."

Grace went out silently. To know that she had failed hurt her pride, and
it hurt worse to suspect that her father had got angry because he knew
she was right. Besides, she felt strangely alone; as she had often felt
since she came home. Gerald was careless and thought about nothing but
his extravagant amusements; her mother's main object was to avoid jars
and smooth over awkward situations. Then, she had household cares; money
was scarce, and since Osborn hated self-denial, she must economize. Grace
could not tell her her troubles; but there was a way by which Railton
might save his lease and Kit could help. Getting a pencil and paper, she
wrote him a very short note:

"You must find Railton's sheep."

Then, knowing that she was rash, she went to look for the gardener's boy,
and sent him to Ashness.



CHAPTER VI

BLEATARN GHYLL


It was getting dark when Kit and Tom, the shepherd, stopped to rest
behind a cairn on the summit of Swinset moor. Close by, the two score
sheep stood in a compact flock, with heads towards the panting dogs. They
were Herdwicks, a small, hardy breed that best withstands the rain and
snow that sweep the high fells in the lambing season. When he had lighted
his pipe, Kit thoughtfully looked about.

On one side the barren moor, getting dim in the distance, rolled back to
the edge of the low country. Here and there patches of melting sleet
gleamed a livid white among the withered ling, and storm-torn hummocks of
peaty soil shone dark chocolate-brown. These were the only touches of
color in the dreary landscape, except for the streak of pale-yellow sky
that glimmered above a long black ridge. On the other side, a line of
rugged fells with summits lost in snow clouds, rose dark and forbidding.
It was very cold and a biting wind swept the heath.

Kit was tired, for he had been on the moor since morning and had not
eaten much. It was an awkward matter to find the sheep, and then the men
and dogs had some difficulty to keep the ewes moving, because the
Herdwick never willingly leaves the neighborhood where it was born and
will, if possible, return. The lambs, now grown large and fat, gave less
trouble, and when they sometimes stopped irresolutely while the ewes
tried to break away Kit understood their hesitation. Two instincts were
at work: it was natural to follow their dams, but Mireside was their
native heath and they knew they were going to be taken home.

Now they had gone some distance, Kit had to make a choice. One could
reach Mireside by a rough moor-land road, but it went round the hills and
there was a shorter way across the range. If he went round, he might
arrive late for the reckoning and some of the lambs would get footsore
and stop. On the other hand, he knew the fells and shrank from trying to
find his way among the crags in the dark. It was, however, important that
he should not be late. Hayes was hard, and the Herdwicks must arrive in
time to be tallied with the rest of Railton's flock. In the dale, a
tenant had a traditional right to have his sheep valued by a jury of his
neighbors and Hayes had fixed the time at eight o'clock next day. The
animals, however, must be sorted and penned before this, and the work
would begin early in the morning.

"We had better try the fells, Tom," said Kit.

The shepherd looked at the threatening sky and fading line of
rugged heights.

"Aw, yes. It's gan t' be a rough neet, but we'll try 't. We can rest a
bit at oad mine-house this side Bleatarn ghyll."

Now their route was fixed, Kit mused about something else. Railton was
his neighbor, but, except for this, Kit had no particular grounds for
helping him; he had obviously nothing to gain. Then, the peat-cutting was
his plan; he had, without altogether meaning to do so, allowed himself to
become the leader of the revolt against Osborn. In a way, of course, he
was the proper man, because Ashness belonged to his father, and Hayes
could not punish him for meddling. Still, Hayes could punish the tenant
farmers and Kit knew they ran some risk.

On the whole, he thought the risk worth while. He had a talent that was
beginning to develop for leading and saw when one could negotiate and
when one must fight. He did not want to fight Osborn, but was being
forced into the conflict, and it was comforting to feel that Miss Osborn
was not against him. Her note, telling him he must find the sheep, was in
his pocket, and he thought it had cost her something to write. She was
generous and plucky and he must not hesitate. After all, the job was his
and since he had accepted it, he must, if needful, bear the consequences.
Knocking out his pipe, he got up.

"We'll make a start, Tom," he said.

The shepherd shouted to the dogs, the flock broke up and trailed out
across the heath. The ewes moved slowly, turning now and then, and Kit
thought it ominous that they met other flocks coming down. The Herdwicks
knew the weather and were heading for the sheltered dales. For all that,
he pushed on, with a bitter wind in his face, and by and by cold rain
began to fall. It changed to sleet and the night had got very dark when
they crossed the shoulder of a stony fell. One could not see fifty yards,
but the steepness of the slope and the click of little hoofs on the wet
rock told Kit where they were.

Two hours afterwards, he stopped for breath at the bottom of a narrow
valley. The sleet had turned to driving snow, the wind howled in the
rocks above, and a swollen beck brawled angrily among the stones. Tom was
hardly distinguishable a few yards ahead and Kit could not see the sheep,
but the barking of the dogs came faintly down the steep white slope. The
Herdwicks were strung out along the hillside, with a dog below and above,
and it was comforting to know they could not leave the valley, which was
shut in by rugged crags. For a time, driving them would be easy; but it
would be different when they left the water and climbed the rise to
Bleatarn ghyll.

"How far are we off the mine-house, Tom?" he shouted.

"I dinna ken," said the shepherd. "Mayhappen two miles. Ewes is
travelling better; t'lambs is leading them."

Kit agreed, and they pushed on through the snow. After a time, the ground
got steeper, and when they crossed the noisy beck and scrambled up a
shaly bank, Kit was glad to see a broken wall loom among the tossing
flakes. This was the shaft-house of an abandoned mine, and there was a
sheep-fold, built with pulled-down material, close by. He shouted and
waited until he heard the dogs bark and a rattle of stones. The Herdwicks
were coming down and presently broke out from the snow in a compact,
struggling flock. Tom shouted and threw a hurdle across the entrance when
the dogs had driven the sheep into the fold.

"I dinna ken if snow'll tak' off or not, but it's early yet and we must
have a rest before we try ghyll," he said.

They went into the shaft-house and Kit struck a match. One end of the
building had been pulled down and the snow blew in through holes in the
roof, but a pile of dry fern filled a corner and rotten beams lay
about. With some trouble, they lighted a fire and, sitting down close
by, took out the food they had brought. The wind screamed about the
ruined walls, the smoke eddied round them, and now and then a shower of
snow fell on their heads, but they had some shelter and could, if
forced, wait for morning.

"Miss Osborn's a bonny lass and kind; but I reckon she couldn't talk her
father round," Tom presently remarked.

"No," said Kit. "I believe she tried."

"Favors her mother," Tom resumed. "Mrs. Osborn's heart is good, but at
Tarnside women dinna count. It's a kind o' pity, because t' Osborn
menfolk are lakers and always was."

A _laker_ is a lounging pleasure-seeker and Kit admitted that the remark
was justified.

"I sometimes think Osborn means well," he said.

"Mayhappen! For aw his ordering folks aboot, he's wake; like his father,
I mind him weel. Might mak' a fair landlord if he was letten and had t'
money; but oad Hayes is grasping and always at his tail."

"The rent-roll's good. The estate could be managed well."

"There's t' mortgages and Osborn canna keep money. When he has it he must
spend. There would be nea poor landlord's, if I had my way. I'd let them
putten rents up if they had money and spent it on the land. Low rent
means poor farming."

Kit knew this was true on the Tarnside estate. Dykes that had kept the
floods off the meadows were falling down, drains were choked, and land
that had grown good crops was going sour. The wise use of capital would
make a wholesome change, but Kit did not altogether like centralized
control. Although it was economical, the landlord got the main advantage,
and there was much a farmer could do, in cooperation with his neighbors,
to help himself, if his lease was long enough. Then, joint action was
once common in the dale. Men pooled their labor and implements at hay
time and harvest, and combined for their mutual benefit in other ways.
Now it looked as if they might combine again.

"Are they grumbling much at Allerby about burning peat?" he asked.

"T' women grumble," Tom said dryly. "But they willunt stop, for aw the
dirt peat maks an' they canna get ovens hot. I reckon Bell has mair coal
coming in than he can get shut of. When I was at station last t' yards
was nearly full."

"I rather think Bell has been too greedy. He must pay for the coal as it
arrives and his money is probably getting short; the traction engine and
trailer cost a good sum, and he has spent something on the lime-kilns. In
fact, if we hold on, he's bound to give way."

"Then we'll brek him. Our folks are slow to fratch, but they're not quick
at letting go," said Tom, who paused and added: "I wunner where Bell got
his money; he had none when he took a job at mill in oad Osborn's time."

This started Kit on another line of thought. Bell had, no doubt, saved
something, for he was parsimonious, and was too keen a business man to
leave his money in the bank. All he made by one speculation was sunk in
another; but, after allowing for this, it was hard to see where he got
the capital for his numerous ventures. Kit wondered whether Hayes helped;
if he did, it was not from friendship. The agent was clever and might be
playing a cunning game, in which he used both Osborn and Bell. In fact,
Kit thought if he were Osborn he would watch Hayes. This, however, was
not his business, and getting up he went to a hole in the wall.

It was snowing very hard; he could see nothing but a haze of tossing
flakes, and the wind filled the valley with its roar. He could hardly
hear the beck a few yards off.

"The drifts will be getting deep, but we can't start yet," he said. "If
we miss the track at the top, there's nothing to stop us falling over the
Ling Crag."

Tom agreed, and Kit shivered when he sat down again. He was cold and
tired, and the worst part of the journey must yet be made. Looking at his
watch he resigned himself to wait, and leaned back with eyes closed
against the wall while a wet dog crouched at his feet. An hour or two
passed and then Tom got up.

"Snow's takin' off," he said. "We must try it."

Kit, pulling himself together, went out and faced the storm. The snow was
thinner, but the wind had not dropped and buffeted him savagely as he
struggled through a drift to the fold. The dogs had some trouble to drive
out the sheep, and when they straggled through the opening Kit imagined
the lambs went in front. In a few moments the flock vanished, and he
breathed hard as he followed their track up hill. Now and then the dogs
barked, but for the most part he heard nothing except the roar of the
wind in the crags. He hoped the dogs could find the path across the
narrow tableland between two branching ghylls, because it was obvious
that his judgment might be at fault. However, there were the lambs; one
could trust a Herdwick to return to its heaf.

When he reached the top the wind had blown away the snow, and he stood
near the middle of a narrow belt of heath, with his feet sinking in a
bog. On each side, he got a glimpse of dark rocks, streaked with white
where the wind had packed the snow into the gullies. In front there was a
gulf, down which his path led. Scattered snowflakes and rolling mist
streamed up from the forbidding hollow. At first he could see nothing of
the sheep, but as he floundered across the bog the dogs barked and he
found them presently, guarding the flock in a hollow among the crags.

The sheep broke away and Kit pushed on across the narrow belt of bog that
was dotted by the marks of little feet. Sometimes he slackened his pace
to wait for Tom; the shepherd was getting old and the long climb had
tired him. Both stopped for some moments when they reached the brow of
the descent, and Kit, bracing himself against the storm tried to look
about. He thought he saw the flock close in front.

"They seem doubtful where to go," he said.

"We can do nowt but leave them to find t' ghyll," the shepherd remarked.

Kit agreed. Bleatarn ghyll was beneath him, but there was another hollow
and it is hard to walk straight down hill in the dark. He must trust the
sheep, and, huddling close together, they refused to leave the crag. When
the dogs drove them out they vanished, and since the ground was bare of
snow they left no tracks. He stumbled on, falling into pools and
stumbling across banks of stones, and soon stopped again. He had come
down the slope, so to speak, blindly, and now stood on the edge of a
vast, dark pit. One could not see beyond the edge, but the confused
noises that came up hinted at profound depth. The gale shrieked, but he
heard the roar of falling water and the rattle of stones the wind
dislodged.

"Do you think this is Beatarn ghyll?" he asked.

"I dinna ken," Tom answered; and added hopefully, "if it's t'ither, we'll
mayhappen find oot before we step over Ling Crag."

They went down at a venture, whistling vainly for the dogs. The drop was
very sharp, and now they were leaving the wind-swept pass, the snow had
begun to pack among the stones and boggy grass. Still, so far as they
could see, there were no marks of little feet and they wondered what had
happened to the flock, until a faint bark came out of the mist. The noise
got louder and Kit knew the dogs were running round the stopping sheep.

"We're right," he said. "They've gone through the broken wall and the
dogs are holding them at the top of the force."

A few minutes afterwards he scrambled over a pile of fallen stones,
shouted to Tom, and began to run, for he understood what had happened.
The broken wall marked the boundary of the Mireside heaf and the sheep
were now on familiar ground. It was his business to drive them to the
farm, but they were trying to turn off to look for shelter among the
crags. At the force, where the Bleatarn beck leaps in linked falls to the
valley, one could get down between the water and the rocks; on the other
side, a path about a foot wide led across the face of a precipice. In
daylight, if the stones were dry, a man with steady nerves could use the
path, but when slab and scree were packed with snow nothing but a
Herdwick could cross it safely. The dogs knew this and were trying to
hold the flock.

When the men came up they saw an indistinct, woolly mass on the other
side of the beck. The mass was not level but slanted sharply, and the
sheep at the bottom sent down showers of stones as they surged to and
fro, with heads turned to the dogs. It was obvious that they did not mean
to go down the ghyll, and Herdwicks born among the crags can climb where
no dog can follow.

"The dogs canna turn them," gasped Tom. "They'll be away ower Eel Scar;
they're brekkin' noo."

The flock began to open out and three or four sheep straggled forward,
but Kit's bob-tailed dog slid down a snowy slab and fell upon the first.
The sheep ran back, but the others stood and Kit saw the dog could not
stop them long. The Herdwicks knew the advantage was theirs on ground
like this.

Jumping from a boulder, he fell into the swollen beck and made his way up
the nearly perpendicular slab. At the top he found a dangerous ledge and
advanced upon the sheep, which had their backs to the stream. Twining his
fingers in a lamb's wool, he picked up the animal and balancing himself
precariously threw it as far as he could. It fell into the beck and
scrambled out on the other side, where the track led down the ghyll. The
effort had cost him much, for his heart beat and he gasped for breath,
but he doubted if he had done enough. Dragging another lamb from the
flock, he hurled it into the water, and then his foot slipped and he
rolled down the slab and fell in the snow.

He got up, badly shaken, and saw that his plan had worked. Sheep will
follow a leader and the flock was straggling down the ghyll behind the
lambs. Kit recrossed the beck and descended cautiously, keeping close to
the rocks. The ghyll is a rough climb in daylight, and summer tourists,
trying to cross the fells, often turn back at the bottom. There is no
path and one scrambles over large, sharp stones, some of which are loose
and fall at a touch. In places, banks of treacherous gravel drop to the
beck, which plunges over ledges into deep, spray-veiled pools. Now the
stones were slippery with snow, the wind raged, and mist and tossing
flakes hid the ground a few yards ahead.

Somehow he got down, but he was exhausted and breathless when he
reached the bottom, where he was forced to wait before he could whistle
to his dog. He heard its bark and stumbling forward, found the flock
bunched together in a hollow. Then he sat down in the snow while Tom
counted the sheep.

"They're aw here," said the shepherd. "A better job than I thowt we'd
mak! Weel, let's gan on."

Kit was tired, and bruised by his fall, but he went forward behind the
dogs. His troubles were over, for a broad smooth path led along the
hill-foot to Mireside.



CHAPTER VII

THE RECKONING

The morning was dark, and although the gale had dropped, a raw, cold
wind blew up the valley past Mireside farm, where three or four farmers'
traps and some rusty bicycles stood beneath the projecting roof of a
barn. The bleating of sheep rose from a boggy pasture by the beck, and
lights twinkled as men with lanterns moved about in the gloom. Now and
then somebody shouted and dogs barked as a flock of Herdwicks was driven
to the pens.

In the flagged kitchen, Mrs. Railton and Lucy bustled about by the light
of a lamp and the glow of the fire. The table was covered with used
plates and cups. The men outside had breakfasted, but one or two more
might come and Mrs. Railton wondered when Kit would arrive. She had lain
awake for the most part of the night, thinking about him and the strayed
Herdwicks while she listened to the gale. Now and then Lucy went to the
door and looked up the dale to the glimmering line of foam that marked
the spot where Bleatarn beck came down. A path followed the water-side,
but she could not see men or sheep in the gloom, and if Kit did not come
soon he would be too late.

Railton sat gloomily by the fire. He had had rheumatic fever, and the
damp cold racked his aching joints; besides, there was nothing for him to
do. He had called in his neighbors to value his flock, but he knew, to a
few pounds, what their judgment would be. Hayes Would presently arrive,
and Railton would be asked to pay, or give security for, the shortage,
which was impossible. Hayes knew this and meant to break his lease.
Perhaps the hardest thing was that the shortage was small; if the next
lambing season were good, he could pay. But Hayes would not wait.

Although Railton was too proud to beg for help from his neighbors, he had
gone to the bank. Osborn, however, used the same bank, and it looked as
if Hayes had given the manager a hint, because he refused a loan. Askew
had offered a hundred pounds, but this was not enough, and even if Kit
arrived with the sheep from Swinset, Railton could not find the rest of
the money. However, the arrival of the Herdwicks would make a difference,
and he did not altogether give up hope. By and by he tried to get up, and
sitting down again with a groan, beckoned his wife.

"Martha, you might gan to door."

Mrs. Railton, knowing what he meant, went to the porch. It was
lighter outside and the hillside was growing distinct. She thought
something moved on the path beside the beck, and turned to her
daughter, who had followed.

"What's yon by the water, Lucy?"

Lucy was silent for a few moments and then said quietly, "I think
it's sheep!"

She watched the path. The mist made a puzzling background and her eyes
were getting dazzled; but there was something. Then she heard a chair jar
on the flags and glanced at Railton, who leaned forward.

"Weel?" he said. "Canna you speak? Is neabody coming yet?"

Lucy threw another glance up the dale and her heart beat. An
indistinct row of small dark objects moved along the path, with two
tall figures behind.

"Kit's coming down the beck; he's brought the Herdwicks!" she cried.

"Canny lad!" said Railton, and leaning back limply, wiped his face.
His forehead was wet with sweat, for he was weak and the suspense had
been keen.

The sheep vanished behind a wall, and Lucy began to put fresh food on the
table. Mrs. Railton hung a kettle on a hook above the fire, and then
turned with a start as a girl came into the porch.

"Miss Osborn!" she exclaimed.

Grace advanced calmly, although there was some color in her face, because
she knew the others were surprised that she had come.

"Is Mr. Hayes here?" she asked.

"Mayhappen he's at the pens," Lucy replied. "I thought I heard his car."

"Then I missed him at the cross-roads," said Grace. "I was going to
Allerby, and my father asked me to give him a note when he stopped at
Lawson's." She hesitated, and then resumed impulsively: "Perhaps I
oughtn't to have come on; but I wanted to do so."

They knew what she meant, but nobody answered, and Grace sat down on a
bench by the table.

"Will you give the note to Mr. Hayes? Has Kit Askew brought the
Swinset sheep?"

"He's coming now," said Lucy, picking up the note, and Grace's
eyes sparkled.

"I knew he would bring them; I told him he must."

Lucy went out and Grace asked Railton about his pains. While they talked
somebody shouted outside, and the old man, getting up with an effort,
hobbled to the door.

"Hoad on; dinna close t' pen," a man called. "Here's Kit and t' lot
fra Swinset."

Three of four more shouted and Grace, who had followed Railton, thought
there was a note of triumph in their cries. Then dogs began to bark,
somebody opened a gate, and a flock of Herdwicks, leaping out with wet
fleeces shaking, and hoofs clicking on stone, ran across a shallow pool
where the beck had overflowed.

A few minutes afterwards, Kit came in. He looked tired, his face was
rather haggard, and his clothes were wet. Tom, the shepherd, followed and
sat down by the fire.

"It was nea an easy job, but we manished it," he said. "Swinset sheep is
thief sheep, but they're none a match for Kit's oad dog."

Kit stopped abruptly as he crossed the floor and his heart beat. "Ah!" he
said. "Miss Osborn?"

Grace smiled as she got up and gave him her hand. "Well done! Have you
brought them all? But of course you have!"

"They're in the pen," Kit answered, with some embarrassment.

Then Railton stood up, leaning awkwardly on his stick.

"I've misdoubted your new-fashioned plans, and ken that I was wrang.
There's nea ither lad in aw t' dale could ha' browt Herdwicks doon
Bleatarn ghyll last neet. Weel, t' oad ways for t' oad men, but I'se
niver deny again that the young and new are good."

He sat down and while Mrs. Railton began to bustle about the table Grace
stole away. She knew she ought not to have come, and had done so with a
feeling of rebellion against her father's harshness, although she tried
to persuade herself that Hayes was most to blame. Now she was glad the
note made a pretext for the visit; she had shown the Railtons her
sympathy and had thanked Kit. After all, he had perhaps gone to look for
the sheep because she told him; she rather hoped he had, and rejoiced
with the others at his success.

Grace admitted that she liked Kit Askew. He was resolute but modest, and
had just done a bold deed by which he had nothing to gain. Railton's
praise had moved her, because she knew the dalesfolk's reserve and that
the farmer would not, without good grounds, have spoken as he did.
Moreover, she knew the fells, and it was something of an exploit to bring
the sheep from Swinset in the storm. Kit was, of course, a farmer's son,
but he was plucky and generous; besides, she approved his steady look,
well-balanced, muscular figure, and clean brown skin. Then she blushed
and began to wonder what she would say about her visit to Mireside when
she went home.

In the meantime, Kit ate his breakfast, and soon afterwards Peter Askew
came in and began to talk to Railton. Until the valuation was agreed upon
there was nothing for them to do, and it was some time before the men
returned from the pens. They were plain farmers with rather hard, brown
faces, and stood about the fire in half-embarrassed silence while Hayes
sat down at the table and opened his pocket-book.

"We have made up the tally," he began, and Railton interrupted.

"Counting in the lambs and ewes fra Swinset?"

"They are counted," Hayes replied. "I'll give you particulars of the
different lots."

He read out some figures and then turned to the group by the fire. "I
think we are all agreed?"

"Aw, yis," said one. "It's as near as yan can mak' it, withoot sending
flock to auction."

Hayes turned to Railton. "Are you satisfied?"

"We willunt fratch. Mayhappen two or three lots would fetch anither pound
or two, but we'll ca' it fair."

"Then we must thank these gentlemen," said Hayes, who shut his
pocket-book and took out a document. "As there is some other business and
they have given us some time, we need not keep them."

The men looked at one another and Peter Askew said, "If Railton doesn't
mind, we'd sooner stop."

"Stop if you like," Railton agreed. "You've got me a just reckoning and
you're neebors aw."

"It's not necessary," Hayes objected. "The business we have to transact
is private."

"They ken it," Railton replied in a stubborn voice. "I've bid them stop
and the hoose is mine until Mr. Osborn turns me oot."

"Very well. You know the sum due to the landlord. Are you ready to pay?"

"I canna pay. It's weel you ken."

"Then, can you give security for the debt?"

"I canna and wadn't give it if I could. There's ways a cliver agent can
run up a reckoning, and when you want Mireside I'll have to gan."

"Then, I'm afraid we shall be forced to break the lease and take measures
to recover the sum due."

"Hoad on a minute!" said one of the group, who turned to Railton. "Would
you like to stop?"

"I would like; I've lived at Mireside sin' I was born. There's another
thing: it's none too good a time for a sale o' farming stock, and when
I've paid Osborn, I'll need some money to mak' anither start. Then
may-happen a dry spring wold put me straight."

"It ought to; you're not much behind," Peter agreed. "Weel, you ken I'm
generally willing to back my judgment, and noo it seems there's others
think like me."

"In a sense, the lease does not run out yet," Kit interposed. "It has
rather reached the half-term, because by our custom Railton is entitled
to take it up again for an equal period if he and the landlord agree
about the necessary adjustment. Our leases really cover a double term."

Hayes turned to him with an ironical smile. "Do you know much about
tenant law?" he asked.

"No," said Kit, rather dryly. "I made some studies when I could get the
books, but they didn't take me far. In fact, I imagine that in this
neighborhood there's very little law and much precedent, which has
generally been interpreted for the landlord's advantage. There are old
Barony laws and Manor rights, and my notion is that nobody knows exactly
how he stands. But we'll let this go. If Railton pays his fine, you will
have some trouble to get rid of him."

Hayes agreed and Railton looked up with a puzzled air.

"But I canna pay," he said dully.

The farmer who had interrupted Hayes took out a bulky envelope and
crossed the floor.

"Well," he said, "I think you're wrang. Your friends have been talking
aboot the thing and wadn't like t' see you gan." He gave Railton the
envelope, adding: "It's a loan."

Railton's hand shook as he took out a bundle of bank-notes. "You're good
neebors," he said in a strained voice. "But I dinna think I ought to tak'
your money. There's a risk."

"Not much risk in backing an honest man," the other rejoined, and taking
the notes from Railton gave them to Hayes. "Noo, if you'll count these--"

Hayes' face was inscrutable as he flicked over the notes. "The total's
correct. It's an awkward bundle; a check would have been simpler."

"A check has the drawback that it must be signed," Kit remarked with a
meaning smile. "We're modest folk, and nobody was anxious to write
himself down the leader."

"I see!" said Hayes. "I don't know if you're modest; but you're certainly
cautious."

"Anyhow, we're aw in this," said one of the others.

"So it seems. I hope you won't lose your money," Hayes rejoined dryly and
took out a fountain pen. "Well, here's your receipt, Mr. Railton. I don't
think there is anything more to be said."

He put the receipt on the table and when he went away a farmer laughed.

"O'ad Hayes is quiet and cunning as a hill fox, but my lease has some
time to go and he canna put us aw oot."

Railton tried to thank them, while Mrs. Railton smiled with tears in her
eyes, but the dales folk dislike emotion and as soon as it was possible
the visitors went away.

An hour or two afterwards Grace heard about the matter from the sick wife
of a farmer, whom she had gone to see, and when she went home thought she
had better not confess that she had taken Hayes' note to Mireside. When
Osborn joined his wife and daughter at the tea-table in the hall after
some disappointing shooting, his remarks about his tenants were
rancorous. Grace thought it prudent not to talk and left the table as
soon as she could. When she had gone, Osborn frowned and getting up
savagely kicked a log in the grate.

"I got a nasty knock this morning," he said. "It's not so much that I
mind letting Railton stop; I hate to feel I've been baffled and made the
victim of a plot."

"After all, wasn't it rather Hayes's idea than yours that Railton ought
to go?" Mrs. Osborn ventured.

"It was; there's some comfort in that! You don't like Hayes much."

"I don't know that I dislike him. I'm not sure I trust him."

"Well," said Osborn thoughtfully, "I sometimes feel he's keenest about my
interests when they don't clash with his, and this last affair was a
pretty good example of nepotism. For all that, his nephew would have been
a better tenant and have paid a higher rent." He paused and knitted his
brows angrily as he resumed: "However, it's done with, and one can't
blame Railton for holding on to his lease. What I hate to feel is, the
others plotted to baffle me. The land is mine, but I'd sooner get on well
with my tenants."

"One cannot, so to speak, have it both ways," Mrs. Osborn remarked
timidly.

"Oh, I know what you mean! But I don't think I'm a harsh landlord. If
money was not quite so scarce, I might be generous. In fact, I don't
know that I'd have agreed to turning Railton out if it hadn't been for
Gerald's confounded debts and his allowance at Woolwich. That's a
fresh expense."

Mrs. Osborn thought the expense did not count for much by comparison with
her husband's extravagance; but he had been rather patient and she must
not go too far.

"Well," she said, "you have got Railton's fine."

"It is not a large sum," Osborn answered with a frown. "I need the money,
but in a sense I'd sooner it had not been paid. Anyhow, I'd sooner it had
not been paid like that. The others' confounded organized opposition
annoys me."

"They were forced to subscribe to a fund if they wanted to help."

"Just so; but they probably wouldn't have thought about subscribing if
Askew hadn't suggested it. They're an independent lot and believe in
standing on their own feet. For a time after I got Tarnside, they used a
sensible, give-and-take attitude; it's only recently they've met with
stupid, sullen suspicion."

"Perhaps it was rather a mistake to give Bell the coal yards' lease."

"The coal yards had nothing to do with it," Osborn declared. "The
trouble began earlier, and I've grounds for believing it began at
Ashness. If I was rich enough, I'd buy the Askews out. They know I've no
power over them and take advantage of the situation. The old man was a
bad example for the others, but his son, with his raw communistic
notions, is dangerous. If I could get rid of the meddling fool somehow,
it would be a keen relief."

He came back to the table and picked up a cup of tea. Then, grumbling
that it had gone cold, he put it down noisily and went out.



CHAPTER VIII

GRACE FINDS A WAY


Soon after the reckoning at Mireside, the snow melted off the fells and
for a month dark rain clouds from the sea rolled up the dale. They broke
upon the hill tops in heavy showers, gray mist drifted about the wet
slopes, the becks roared in the ghylls, and threads of foam that wavered
in the wind streaked the crags. In the bottom of the valley it was never
really light, water flowed across the roads, and the low-standing
farmsteads reeked with damp.

All this was not unusual and the dalesfolk would have borne it patiently
had fuel not been short. Large fires were needed to dry the moisture that
condensed in the flagged kitchens and soaked the thick walls, but coal
could not be got at a price the house-wives were willing to pay. Some
would have had to stint their families in food had they bought on Bell's
terms, and the rest struggled, for the common cause, against the mould
that gathered on clothing and spoiled the meal. They grumbled, but their
resolution hardened as the strain got worse, while Bell waited rather
anxiously for them to give way.

His yards were full and more coal was coming in, but he saw that if he
let the farmers beat him his power to overcharge them another time would
be gone. The new combine was dangerous, since the cooperative plan might
be extended to the purchase of chemical manures, seed, and lime. In the
meantime, there was plenty of peat, stacked so that it would escape much
damage, on Malton Head; but Askew and his friends could not get it down.
Carts could not be used on the fells and the clumsy wooden sledges the
farmers called stone-boats would not run across the boggy moor. The few
loads Kit brought down at the cost of heavy labor were carried off by
anxious house-wives as soon as they arrived.

The weather was helping the monopolist, but he could not tell if a change
to frost would be an advantage or not. Although it would make the need
for coal felt keenly, it might simplify the transport of peat. When Bell
thought about it, and the colliery company's bills came in, he felt
disturbed, but he was stubborn and would not lower his price yet.

At length the rain stopped, and after a heavy fall of snow keen frost
began. The white fells glittered in cold sunshine that only touched the
bottom of the dale for an hour or two. The ice on the tarn was covered,
so that skating was impossible, and Thorn, feeling the need for
amusement, had a few sledges made. He had learned something about
winter sports in Switzerland, and one afternoon stood with a party of
young men and women at the top of Malton Head. They had practised with
a pair of skis farther down the hill, where one or two were sliding on
a small Swiss luge, but Thorn wanted to find a long run for his
Canadian-pattern toboggan.

Grace stood near him; her face touched with warm color and her eyes
sparkling as she looked about. She did not altogether approve of Alan
Thorn, but she was young and vigorous and enjoyed the sport. Besides, she
loved the high fells and now they looked majestic in the pale sunshine.
They were not all white; dark rocks with glittering veins edged the
snowfield, and the scarred face of Force Crag ran down where the shoulder
of the moor broke off four hundred feet below. Where the sun did not
strike, the snow was a curious delicate gray, and the bottom of the dale
was colored an ethereal blue. The pale-gray riband, winding in a graceful
curve round the crag, marked the old green road that was sometimes used
for bringing down dry fern, and Grace's face got thoughtful as she noted
a row of men and horses some distance off. She imagined they were Askew
and his helpers.

In the meantime, Thorn studied her with artistic satisfaction. He had an
eye for female beauty and the girl looked very well in her rather shabby
furs. Her pose was light and graceful, her figure finely modeled, and he
liked the glow the cold had brought to her skin. Moreover, he liked her
joyous confidence when they tried the luge on a risky slide. She was as
steady-nerved and plucky as a man, and was marked by a fine
fastidiousness that did not characterize other girls he knew.

"I think this is about the best spot we have seen," he said. "The drop
is steep but regular, although I expect we'll be breathless when we get
to the bottom. Would you like to try? If not, perhaps somebody else
will come."

He looked at the others, and they looked at the white declivity. It was
much longer than any they had gone down, and a girl laughed.

"To begin with, we'll watch you. I was upset on the last slide and it's
rather a long way to roll down to the dale."

Grace lay down on a cushion with her head just behind the toboggan's
curved front; Thorn found room farther back, with his legs in the snow,
and amidst some laughter and joking the others pushed; them off. The
surface was hard, and for a time the toboggan ran smoothly and steadily;
then the pace got faster, and showers of snow flew up like spray. It beat
into Grace's eyes and whipped her face, until she bent her head in the
shelter of the curled front.

The sharp hiss the steel runners made was louder, the wind began to
scream, and she got something of a shock when she cautiously looked up.
It was hard to see through the snowy spray, but the top of the crag
looked ominously near. Glancing down hill with smarting eyes, she thought
the slope, which, from the top, had seemed to fall evenly to the dale,
was also inclined towards the crag. She could not see much of the latter,
but there was a fringe of dark rock where the white declivity broke off.

"Aren't we getting too near?" she shouted.

"Nearer than I thought," Thorn gasped. "Not sure I can swing the sledge.
Can you get back and help?"

Grace braced herself. Alan's nerve was good, but there was a disturbed
note in his voice; besides he would not have asked her help unless it was
needed. Wriggling back cautiously, she got level with Thorn, although
there was not much room for them side by side. Her feet and the seam of
her short dress brushed in the snow and tore up the surface. She felt the
looser stuff beneath foam about her gaiters, but this was an advantage.
The drag would help to stop the sledge, and if she could put an extra
pressure on one side, to some extent direct it. Still they were going
very fast and at first she was nearly pulled off. She tightened her grasp
with her hands until she felt her gloves split, and then risked another
glance ahead.

The rocks were very close, but the sledge had passed the top, and she
could see a few yards down the dark side as they followed the curving
edge of the crag. The sledge was now running nearly straight down the
hill, but the curve bent in towards them, and she could not tell if they
would shoot past the widest spot or plunge over.

"Perhaps you had better let go," Thorn said hoarsely.

Grace shook her head. If she dropped off, it was uncertain whether she
would stop until she had rolled some distance; perhaps she might not stop
before she reached the edge of the crag. Anyhow, she did not mean to let
go, and tried to catch the snow with her toes in an effort to help Thorn
to steer the sledge. It swerved a little but rushed on again, and she saw
that the edge of the rock curved in yet. She doubted if they were far
enough off to get past the bend.

Then she saw that Thorn had slipped farther back in order to increase the
drag of his legs. His face was dark with blood and she heard his heavy
breathing as he tried to change their course. She helped all she could
while the snow rolled across her dress, and then for a moment lifted her
head. Powdered snow beat into her face and nearly blinded her, but she
thought there was now an unbroken slant in front. They must have passed
the middle of the bend, although Thorn was between her and the side on
which it lay and she was not sure yet. She remembered with horrible
distinctness how she had once stood at the bottom of the crag and seen a
stone that rolled over the top smash upon the rocks.

"Try again!" Thorn gasped. "Swing her to the right!"

Grace let her body slip back. The thrust and drag were telling, for the
sledge had swerved, and then there came a few seconds of keen suspense.
After this she heard Thorn draw a labored breath and felt his hand on
her waist.

"We're past. Hitch yourself up before you're pulled off," he said.

With some trouble Grace got back to her place and lay still, while her
heart thumped painfully and something rang in her ears. The reaction had
begun and she knew she could not move if Thorn wanted help again. It
looked, however, as if he did not, and some moments afterwards she saw
that the way was clear ahead. She wondered whether they would stop before
they reached the bottom of the dale and how far it was. The round
sheepfold in the first field looked no larger than a finger ring. She was
getting numb and the rush of bitter air took away her breath.

"Hold tight!" Thorn shouted presently and she noted that the hillside
broke off not far in front.

Since there were no crags near the spot, it was obvious that they had
come to an extra steep pitch, the brow of which prevented her from seeing
the bottom. Next moment the sledge seemed to leave the ground and leap
forward. Grace thought that for some yards they traveled through the air,
and then the hiss of the runners that had suddenly stopped became a
scream. The speed was bewildering and a haze of fine snow streamed past.
By and by, however, this began to thin, the speed slackened, and Thorn
gave a warning shout. She felt him try to turn the sledge, but they were
going too fast; the light frame canted and turned over, and they rolled
off into the snow. When Grace got up and shook herself, fifty yards lower
down, she saw Thorn standing by the righted sledge. He came to meet her
as she toiled back and his eyes sparkled.

"By George!" he said, "you are fine. You're a thorough sport!"

Grace colored. The compliment was obviously frank and not premeditated;
perhaps she deserved it, but she did not want Thorn to praise her. His
manners were good, but somehow he often jarred. He had not, within her
memory, said anything that could justly offend her, and although he was a
neighbor and there were no secrets in the dale, she had not known him do
a shabby thing. Yet, on the whole, he rather repelled than attracted her.
She studied him as he came down the hill.

He was a big, handsome man, and it was, of course, ridiculous to dislike
him because he was older than she and was getting fat. He was an amusing
talker and a good sportsman, but now and then one got a hint of hardness
and cunning. Somehow, so to speak, he did not ring true.

"I held on because I thought I might fall over the crag if I let go," she
said with a laugh. "Then as I did hold on, it was merely prudent to try
to steer the sledge."

"Oh, yes," Thorn agreed. "But the important thing is you saw this and
didn't lose your nerve. Anyhow, if you had lost it, I couldn't have
blamed you; I blame myself for my confounded thoughtlessness that let you
run the risk. In fact, I'm dreadfully sorry and don't mind owning that I
got a fright."

Grace noted that he was rather shaken, and felt vaguely disturbed. She
had seen him following the foxhounds among the crags, for they hunt on
foot in the rugged dales, and knew his steadiness and pluck. He had not
been afraid for himself, and she did not want him to be afraid for her.

"After all," she said, "the hill seemed to run down evenly when we stood
at the top. If the little slant towards the crag deceived you, it
deceived me."

"I know more about tobogganing and oughtn't to have been deceived. It
hurts to feel I didn't take proper care of you."

"It really doesn't matter," Grace replied with a smile, and Thorn gave
her a steady look.

"Oh, but it does matter! You ought to see that!"

"I don't see it," Grace insisted quietly, although her heart beat. "You
were not accountable, and we got down quite safe. Let's talk about
something else."

Thorn's eyes rested on her for another moment, and then he made a sign of
acquiescence and they went back up the hill. At the top he marked a new
line for the next day's sport, and then as the sun was getting low the
party started home by the old stone-boat road. Near the bottom they
overtook the Askews, and one or two others walking at their horses' heads
as they cautiously descended a steep pitch. Grace noted that although
they were not bringing much peat there was a risk of the sledges running
down upon the teams.

"You have not got on very fast," she said to Peter.

"If we're no verra careful, we'll gan faster than we like."

"I suppose that's why you're only taking half a load?"

"Just that," Peter agreed. "It wadn't suit for load to run ower the team.
Better safe than sorry, though it's a terrible loss o' time."

"Then, why don't you look for an easier way down?"

"There's only the oad green road. Fellside's ower steep for horses."

"Well, if I can think of a better way I'll tell you," Grace replied,
smiling, and hurried on after the others.

They left her at the Tarnside gate and she stopped abruptly as she went
up the drive. It had obviously taken Askew a long time to bring down half
a load because of the risk to his horses; but she had found a better
plan. It was not needful to use horses, after they had pulled the sledges
up. The latter could be heavily loaded and left to run down alone. She
must tell Kit Askew when she saw him next, but she did not reflect that
it was curious she meant to tell Kit and not Peter.



CHAPTER IX

THE PLAN WORKS


Although the air was bracingly keen the afternoon was calm and the
scattered clouds scarcely moved across the sky. The snow in the valley
shone a delicate gray, and soft lights and shadows rested on the hills. A
peak that rose above the edge of the lofty moor gleamed pale-yellow
against a background of deep blue. Grace noted the tranquil beauty of the
landscape, but hesitated now and then as she climbed the steep road out
of the dale.

She had come to meet Kit Askew, and now she reviewed her reasons for
doing so they did not look very sound. In fact, if Kit approved the plan
she meant to suggest, she would perhaps be meddling unjustifiably with
her father's business. After all, however, it was really not his
business. He had allowed himself to be persuaded to help Hayes and the
latter's accomplice, Bell, without quite understanding what this
implied. Her plan would prevent his doing an injustice he did not really
mean to do.

She suspected that there was a touch of sophistry about her arguments,
but would not own that she had come because she wanted to meet Kit. It
was necessary that she should meet him; yet when she stopped at a gate
and heard the tramp of horses' feet behind, her color came and went. For
all that, she looked very calm, when Kit pulled up his team, and went
forward to open the gate. He made an abrupt movement as he recognized
her, but his eyes shone with satisfaction.

"I suppose you are going for some peat," she said.

Kit said he was, and added that Peter and two or three neighbors were
loading the stone-boats on the moor.

"Then, I wonder whether you could let me have a small quantity when you
come down?"

"You can have a load if you want."

Grace laughed. "Two or three basketsful would be enough, and I don't want
them for myself. I went to see Mrs. Waite and found her old father
crippled by rheumatism. The kitchen was cold and damp, but she had a very
little fire. She said her coal was nearly gone and she had got no peat."

"Thank you for telling me; I didn't know," said Kit. "I'll take her a
sack as I go down the dale." He paused and hesitated, with his hand on
the open gate. "But it's rather cold. Am I keeping you?"

Grace noted with some satisfaction that he did not seem to think it
remarkable she had met him at the lonely spot.

"Oh, no," she said. "I am going up the hill. I like the view from the
crag and sometimes go to watch the sunset. When it shines over the
shoulder of the Pike it throws wonderful lights on the snow."

Kit agreed, and after he started his horses they went on together. By and
by Grace resumed: "When I met you yesterday, your father said the sledges
often ran down too fast and you could not put up a proper load."

"That is a drawback. You see, there's plenty peat cut; the trouble is to
bring it down. After the heavy rain, we couldn't drag the stone-boats
across the boggy moor, and although the snow has made this easy, it
hasn't helped much otherwise. If we put up a big load, there's some
danger of the sledges overtaking and knocking down the horses where the
track is steep."

"And you can't see a way of getting over the difficulty?"

Kit said he could not and Grace's eyes twinkled.

"Then I can. I'll show you a way, if you're not too proud to take advice
from a girl."

"Certainly not," Kit said, smiling. "I don't know why you think
I'm proud."

"Then perhaps you're obstinate; some of the dalesfolk are."

"We're slow. We like to try things properly; and then, perhaps we
stick to them longer than is needful if we find them good. But
caution's prudent."

"You're very cautious now," Grace rejoined. "You don't seem curious about
my plan. Are you afraid it isn't practical?"

"No," said Kit, rather earnestly; "since it's yours, it's no doubt
good." Then he pulled himself up and added with a twinkle: "But I
haven't heard it yet."

"Well, while your difficulty is that the peat comes down too fast, I
think it does not go fast enough. You are afraid about your horses, but
you needn't use them. The stone-boats would run down alone. Do you
understand now?"

Kit started. "I expect you have found the way, Miss Osborn, and we owe
you some thanks. In fact, you're cleverer than the lot!"

"The admission doesn't seem to hurt you," Grace rejoined. "But I imagine
to feel you had to make it was something of a shock."

"No," said Kit, with a laugh she liked. "We're often dull and our
womenfolk have helped us much. But somehow I did not expect--"

He stopped, and Grace gave him a level glance.

"You mean you did not expect help from me?"

"Well," he said, "I suppose I did mean something like that"

"Then I'm glad you owned it, because it allows me to clear the ground. I
don't want poor people to be cold in winter in order that Bell may get
rich. Neither does my father want it--you must believe this! He doesn't
know all that goes on; Hayes hides things from him. There is no reason I
shouldn't help you to spoil _Bell's_ plot."

Kit was silent for a few moments. The girl had pluck and he liked her
frankness. She was trying to persuade herself Osborn was not unjust, and,
although he imagined she found it hard, he did not mean to make it
harder. One must respect her staunchness.

"Bell is our real antagonist and he's an awkward man to beat," he said.
"However, the hint you have given us ought to be useful. I'll look for a
way down when we get to the top."

Grace warned him about the inclination of the hillside to the rocks and
stopped at the bottom of the crag.

"I think I'll go across the hill and watch the first sledge come down, if
you're not too long," she said and paused for a moment. "Perhaps you
needn't tell the others it was my plan."

Kit said he would not do so and was strangely satisfied as he went on
with his horses. He understood her hesitation; it was delightful to feel
that she had given him her confidence and they shared a secret. At the
top, he found the others had loaded the sledges and were ready to start.
Since the dales folk are conservative, he had expected some opposition to
his plan, but they listened attentively and an old man supported him.

"I mind hearing my father say that yan hard winter after a wet back end
o' year, they let peat run doon t' fell. What has been done yance can be
done again."

Kit said nothing; for the other, by using a favorite motto, had banished
his companions' dislike of novelties.

"It was deeun no' so long sin'," another remarked. "In my time, they
browt slate doon on t' stane-boats across the Fleet-pike scree. Pushed
them off at top and let them go."

There was some further talk and when they resolved to make the experiment
Kit went down the hill. He said he wanted to see how the first sledge
crossed an awkward pitch, but it counted for much that he saw a small
figure below. Grace looked satisfied with his excuse for joining her and
they waited for a time while the men above moved the first load to the
edge. The sunshine had gone and it was getting cold; the shadows in the
dale had faded from blue to dusky gray and the frost was keen. All was
very quiet, but now and then distant voices and the musical rattle of
chains came down through the nipping air.

"It will be dark before they're ready if they're not quick," said Kit,
and Grace looked up the hill.

"I think they're starting the sledge. If there had been nobody about, I
would have liked to come down with the peat. You can't imagine how
exciting it is."

They watched the sledge slip over the brow of the descent. It got larger
as it came down, but it did not run as fast as the toboggan. One could
see it rock and swerve, shaking off loose peats, where the ground was
broken, and Grace glanced at the steep pitch Kit had come to watch.

"It will go down there with a splendid rush, but I don't think it will
upset," she said. "My plan is going to work."

The sledge got nearer. They saw the snow fly up about its front and heard
the scream the runners made. There was something fascinating about its
smooth but fast descent, and as it approached the top of the dip they
moved back rather unwillingly to let it pass. When it was nearly level
with them it slowed on the changing incline and Grace noted that there
was a narrow space between the back of the frame and the peat. She gave
Kit a quick look as she said, "If one wanted, I think one could jump on."

"Let's try!" said Kit impulsively, and they ran forward.

He reached the sledge first, and throwing himself down held out his hand
to Grace, who fell upon the runner log. Kit pulled her up and although
the light was going saw her face glow after the effort she had made. Her
eyes sparkled with excitement, but Kit felt half embarrassed because he
did not know whether he had persuaded her to venture on an undignified
adventure or she had persuaded him. It was a relief to hear her laugh.

"This is rather ridiculous, and I don't know if we can hold on," she said
as she tried to grasp the shaking peat.

The sledge ran faster and lurched violently as it plunged over the edge
of the steep drop. A shower of peat fell on them, the speed got furious,
and they heard the runners scream, but they were sheltered from the rush
of wind and could not see ahead. After a few moments Grace looked up with
twinkling eyes.

"You could drop off if you liked. Are you, sorry you came?"

"No," said Kit. "I came because I wanted, and now I'm here I'll stop."

"I really think you mean to be nice," Grace rejoined with amusement and
Kit understood; she saw he did not mean to admit that she had suggested
the adventure, but this was not important. It was something of an
adventure for a girl like Miss Osborn, although her having embarked on it
gave him a delightful feeling of partnership in a harmless folly.

"I hope there's nothing in the way," he said. "We're going very fast and
Hindbeck farm can't be far off. I ought to have looked before we jumped."

"It is too late now," Grace answered with an excited laugh. "I imagine
you're not as cautious as you think; but we won't talk. It's hard to hold
on and I haven't much breath."

Kit moved nearer and, seizing the edge of the frame, put his arm round
her waist. She did not seem to resent this, and for a time they sped down
hill with their feet plowing through the snow. Kit did not care how long
the swift rush lasted, but by and by he began to get anxious. The sledge
had gone a long way since they jumped on, and the hillside was steep to
the bottom, where it met the Hindbeck pastures. While he wondered whether
Grace would slide far and get shaken if he made her let go, the sledge
tilted up. It stopped with a violent shock, he heard stones fall, and was
thrown off amidst a shower of peat. When he got up Grace was sitting in
the snow some distance off and he ran towards her. She had lost her small
fur cap and her hair was loose, but to his relief she laughed.

"Oh," she said, "it really was ridiculous! But the plan will work. The
peat will run down!"

"That is so," Kit agreed, with a breathless chuckle. "I think it would
have run into the Hindbeck kitchen but for the wall."

"Then it was a wall that stopped us. It felt like a rock."

"Come and see," said Kit, holding out his hand to help her up.

"I think," she said, "I'd rather you looked for my hat."

He went off and it was two or three minutes before he found the hat among
the scattered peat. When he came back it was nearly dark, but Grace's
hair was no longer untidy, and the snow that had smeared her clothes had
gone. She walked with him to where the sledge rested on a pile of stones,
and looking through the gap, they saw a woman with a lantern cross a
narrow pasture between them and a house.

"What's t' matter?" the woman shouted and turned round. "Janet, gan on
and see what's brokken t' wa'."

Another figure came out of the gloom and Grace looked at Kit.

"I don't know who Janet is, but I do know Mrs. Creighton. She talks," she
said. "If you'll stop and explain matters, I'll go down the lonning. It
was a glorious adventure! Good-night!"

She stole away round the corner of the wall and Kit, who understood that
he was, so to speak, to cover her retreat, waited until the two women
came up. The one who carried the lantern was fat and homely; the other
was slender and looked like Janet Bell.

"It's Kit, an' stane-boat stucken in t' wa'!" said the first as she held
up the light "But where's team? An' hoo did you get here? There's nea
road this way."

Kit laughed. "It's lucky I left the horses at the top. This is a new plan
for bringing down the peat and it certainly works, although next time we
must try to stop a little sooner."

Mrs. Creighton asked him some questions before she understood what had
happened. He was in the light, because she had put the lantern on the
wall, and although he could not see her companion's face, he suspected
from Janet's quietness that she was studying him.

"Then you left the others on the moor," the girl remarked.

"I did," said Kit. "We sent the stone-boat off by itself, and it was
half-way down when I jumped on."

"Then none of the men came with you?"

"No," said Kit, who felt annoyed because he saw Janet suspected
something. "I went down to watch the sledge and see if we had hit the
best track."

"It's strange!" said Janet. "I thought there was somebody else when I
first came out. Still, of course, it was nearly dark."

Kit was puzzled because he could not tell how much Janet had really seen,
and thought the situation needed careful handling. If she knew Miss
Osborn had been with him, it would be a mistake to make the thing look
significant by pretending that she had not; but it was possible that
Janet did not know. Then Grace had hinted that she did not want their
adventure talked about.

"I don't expect you could see very well if you had just come out from the
light in the kitchen," he replied. "Anyhow, none of the men came with me
and I must go back and tell them not to send off another lot. We'll see
about mending your wall to-morrow, Mrs. Creighton."

He went off to a gate that opened into the lonning. This was the wisest
plan, because he did not want to talk to Janet. He was half afraid of
her, but not because he thought she sympathized with her father's plots;
it was known that Bell and his daughter quarreled. The girl was a
dangerous coquette and had tactfully hinted that she rather approved Kit.
This had alarmed Kit, who knew she was clever and resolute.

When he reached the lane he stopped abruptly as he remembered something,
and took out his pipe, although he did not mean to smoke. He must be
cautious, since he was not sure if Janet had gone in. Striking a match,
he held it between his hands as if he were going to light his pipe and
stooped in the shelter of a wall.

The light shone on the ground and he knitted his brows as he saw sharp
footsteps in the snow. The farm people did not wear boots that would
leave marks like these; moreover, the footsteps would lead anybody who
thought it worth while to follow them to the spot where the sledge upset.
Kit threw down the match, and frowned as he went on again.



CHAPTER X

JANET MEDDLES


Bright moonlight sparkled on the snow when Kit left Ashness to post some
letters he had written ordering new machines. He was young, but since he
came home Peter had allowed much of the business of the farm to fall into
his hands. Kit's judgment was sound; he had studied modern methods at the
agricultural college and was progressive without being rash. For the most
part, his experiments had paid, and Peter sometimes thought the lad's
talents were wasted in the quiet dale. Kit had ability, particularly for
management. Then, although he was rather reserved, people trusted him and
often asked his advice.

Peter knew Kit was satisfied to stay at Ashness; but, for all that, if
the lad felt he wanted a wider field for his energies later, he would not
stand in his way. The time might come when he must let him go, for Peter
had a brother who had got rich in America and was willing to give his
nephew a start. Indeed, Adam had written again not long since, asking if
Peter was going to send him. It was a relief when Kit laughed and
declared that he did not mean to leave Ashness yet.

When he passed Allerby mill Kit looked about. Icicles covered the idle
wheel, a snow cornice hung over the flagged roof, and water splashed
softly in the half-frozen race. Farther on, the snowy road was
checkered by the shadows of hedges and bare trees. Low roofs, touched
by hoar-frost, rose behind the trunks, and here and there a gleam of
yellow light shone out. The road, however, was empty, as Kit was
relieved to note.

He had once or twice recently, when he went to the post in the evening,
met Janet Bell coming from the little shop in the village. In fact, the
thing began to look significant. Kit was sorry for Janet, because Bell's
rule was harsh and his neighbors extended their dislike for him to his
family. All the same, Kit did not trust the girl and would sooner she
left him alone. He might be taking too much for granted, but romantic
pity was a treacherous guide; Janet was pretty and clever, and he was
human. He had thought about changing the time he went to the post, but
felt it would be cowardly. Besides, he was occupied all day and letters
could not be written until the outside work was done, while a postman
called at Allerby early in the morning.

There was, however, nobody about and for a minute or two Kit went on at a
quick pace. He passed Bell's house, and then hesitated with a frown as a
figure he thought he knew came round a bend in front. Close by, the tall
hedgerow was broken by a stile, from which a path led across a field and
joined the road farther on. He was in the moonlight and if he vanished
the thing would look too marked. Moreover, there would be something
ridiculous about his running away.

Kit went forward, wondering whether Janet had noted his hesitation, and
she stopped him near a big ash-tree. The shadow of the branches made a
black, open pattern on the snow and a belt of gloom lay behind the wide
trunk. Kit would sooner Janet had stopped in the moonlight, since the
villagers often went to the shop and post in the evening, and his
standing in the shadow gave a hint of secrecy to the accidental meeting.
He thought it strange that Janet did not see this.

"You were walking fast," she said. "I believe you'd have gone by if I
hadn't spoken."

"The frost is sharp enough to make one move briskly and I've something to
do when I get back."

"Busy lad!" said Janet, in a mocking voice. "You're always in a hurry,
Kit I suppose Peter works you hard?"

"He says I work him harder than he likes," Kit replied, smiling. "Perhaps
the truth is he lets me have my way."

"You're lucky," Janet remarked with a sigh. "It's nice to be able
to do what you like. There's only one way at the Mill house, and
that's father's. But I suppose you agree with him that women's
ideas don't count?"

"I daresay their ideas are as sound as ours, but I don't know much about
it. We have no women except old Bella and the dairymaid at Ashness."

"And you never miss them? In that big, lonely house!"

Kit mused for a moment. Sometimes, particularly on summer evenings when
they did not light the lamps and the shadows of the fells rested on the
old building, Ashness was lonely and drearily quiet. He had thought now
and then the difference would be marked if a woman's laugh rang through
the dim rooms and a graceful figure sat by the hearth. Still, his
imagination had not pictured Janet there.

"Oh, well," he said, "we're out all day and when we come home there are
letters to write and books to read."

"Letters and books!" said Janet. "Kit, I wonder if you're quite alive."
Then she laughed, provocatively. "Anyhow, you don't seem to know when
you're given a chance of being nice."

Kit did not answer and wished she would let him go. He felt awkward and
thought Janet knew this, for she resumed: "However, one mustn't expect
too much and you want to get back. It's a habit of yours. You were in a
hurry to get away the last time I saw you, when the stone-boat broke
Creighton's wall."

"I'd been at work since morning in the snow."

"And Miss Osborn was waiting for you in the lonning?"

"No," said Kit sharply; "she was not."

"Anyhow she was with you, before she stole away."

"She didn't steal away," Kit began indignantly, but hesitated. Now he
came to think about it, Grace had gone as quietly as possible.

"You mean Miss Osborn does nothing undignified? For all that, she didn't
want Mrs. Creighton to see her. I don't suppose Osborn would be pleased
to know his daughter and you went for moonlight walks on the fells."

Kit knew Osborn would not like it, and since the dales folk are fond of
gossip saw he must stop the story going round.

"I had not gone for a walk with Miss Osborn. I met her as I came down
from the moor. She didn't know I was coming."

"So she wasn't waiting for you?" Janet remarked, with a hint of mockery.
She stopped, and putting her hand on Kit's arm, pushed him nearer the
hedgerow as a man and woman came round a neighboring corner.

Kit was annoyed, but he waited and watched the people as they passed. The
shadow was not very dark and he thought the woman give him a curious
glance. He knew her and imagined that she knew him. When the people went
through a gate Janet laughed.

"That was very unlucky, Kit! Old Nanny's fond of talking; I'm afraid your
character is gone."

Kit frowned. He did not see much humor in the situation, although Janet
was amused.

"Oh," she said, "you are dull! I expect you couldn't be nice if you
tried. But we were talking about Miss Osborn. You were not riding on the
stone-boat when you met her. I don't suppose you could have stopped it."

"No," said Kit, shortly, "I was not."

"But I saw you and somebody else hardly a minute after the stone-boat hit
the wall."

"You saw _me_."

"I did," said Janet. "The snow was sticking to your clothes as if you
had fallen, and you looked angry when Mrs. Creighton put the lantern
on the wall." She paused for a moment, and went on: "I begin to see;
you did come down on the stone-boat and Miss Osborn came with you. You
were both thrown off by the upset at the wall. Well, if you persuaded
her to join you in an adventure like that, it looks as if you were
pretty good friends."

Kit said nothing. In a sense, Miss Osborn had persuaded him, and it was
difficult to explain that both had really given way to a rash impulse.
Somewhat to his surprise, Janet gently touched his arm.

"Be careful, Kit! I wouldn't like to see you hurt. Miss Osborn's friends
are not your kind of folk; she only wants to amuse herself when they are
not about."

"That's ridiculous," Kit declared. "Miss Osborn is not amusing
herself with me."

"Perhaps you ought to know," Janet rejoined with some dryness. "Now I
come to think of it, you're not always very bright. Anyhow, when she
finds the game tiresome, she'll soon get rid of you."

"I meet Miss Osborn now and then and sometimes she stops and speaks. That
is all," Kit said sternly.

"I imagine it's enough," Janet remarked. "Well, I don't want to see you
made to look a fool; you're rather a good sort, Kit, if you're not very
clever. Be careful and remember you have been warned."

She gave him a friendly nod and went off, but after a few moments turned
and looked back. Kit was walking down the road with swift angry strides.
Janet smiled, but when she entered the mill-house kitchen her face was
flushed. Soon after she sat down by the fire, Bell came in and leaned
against the table with an angry frown.

"There's two mair trucks o' coal, and I canna find room for t' stuff," he
said. "Yards is full and I only sold three or four car loads last week."

Janet knew silence was prudent when her father was disturbed, but he had
given her a lead. Kit was a fool, and although she doubted if he were as
dull as he pretended, she was angry with him. Anyhow, it might be
possible to stop his ridiculous infatuation for Miss Osborn.

"You can't sell coal when the Askews are giving peat away," she said.

"Looks like that," Bell agreed. "I'd ha' broke the others before noo if I
hadn't had Peter and Kit against me. Hooiver, if I canna sell coal, I
canna pay the rent and landlord will have to do something. Mayhappen it
will be easier for him if he kens the Askews started the plot. Osborn's
none too fond of them."

"He wouldn't like them any better if he knew what I know," Janet remarked
with a malicious smile.

"What do you ken about them?" Bell asked scornfully.

"I don't imagine Osborn wants Kit for his son-in-law."

Bell started and then laughed harshly.

"Old wives' crack! Kit's not such a fool!"

"You know best," said Janet. "If you like, I'll tell you what I've seen."

She did so and Bell's mean face got thoughtful. On the whole, Janet did
not exaggerate much, although she now and then made a rather unwarranted
implication. She threw a fresh light on matters the gossips already
talked about; among others were Grace's visit to Mireside the morning
Railton's sheep were counted and her meeting with Kit before he went to
look for the Herdwicks. When she stopped Bell knitted his brows.

"If it was used right, I might mak' some use o' this," he
observed. "We'll see what Osborn says about coal yards and the
alterations at mill."

He went to his office and Janet sat quietly by the fire. Her plot would
work; Miss Osborn should not have Kit.

Bell made some calculations. His money was getting short; he had bills to
pay, and his stock of coal was large. He could not hold it much longer,
and since the Askews were bringing down large quantities of peat, there
was no ground for imagining the dalesfolk would give way. It looked as if
he must meet them and he wrote a notice that coal would be delivered by
the trailer lurry at a reduction of two-and-six a ton.

When he had put this in an envelope for the printers, Bell knitted his
brows. Although his neighbors would sooner burn coal than peat, he was
not sure the reduction would stimulate the demand for the former and he
must look for relief in some other direction. He paid a high rent for
the yards and the landlord ought to help. Osborn would, no doubt, be
reluctant, but he might be forced. Bell's lease of the mill would soon
run out; nobody else could pay as much as he paid, and he would demand
certain expensive alterations. Furthermore, Osborn did not like the
Askews, and Bell imagined he saw how to strike a blow at Kit; Janet had
shown him the way. It would be some satisfaction to punish the
meddlesome fellow.

Two days afterwards the notice was fixed on the gateposts, but a week
went by without its attracting fresh customers. Then a bill from the
colliery arrived and Bell put down his price another two-and-six. For a
day or two, no orders came in, and he resolved to wait until the week was
out and then, if needful, get Hayes to arrange for a meeting with Osborn.

On the last evening of the week, a number of the co-operators met in the
kitchen at Ashness and for a time talked about the weather and the price
of sheep. Askew let them talk and Kit was too preoccupied to give them a
lead. He had been thoughtful since he met Janet Bell, for she had
banished the self-deception he had unconsciously used and thrown a new
and disturbing light on his friendship with Grace. Ridiculous as it was
in many ways, he was falling in love with Grace Osborn. Moreover, he had
met her an hour since and she had talked with a friendly confidence that
made his heart beat. The girl liked and trusted him, and although he
durst not look for more, this in itself was much. It was plain that he
ought to conquer his infatuation, but he doubted if he could.

Listening to the others mechanically, he was silent and absorbed until
one asked, "Weel, what's to be done aboot coal noo? Are we gan t' buy?"

"I dinna ken," said another. "My womenfolk are grumelling an' it's
lang sin' we had good light bread, but they're none for letting Bell
have his way."

"He's come doon five shillings, and we've peat enough to fall back on if
he puts up price again," somebody else remarked. "Hooiver, I reckon he's
forced to sell and we might get anither half-croon off if we wait."

Peter took his pipe from his mouth. "It's a kittle point. T' womenfolk
have been patient and Bell canna rob us much if we buy from him noo. Aw
t' same, we can beat him doon some shillings if we hoad on."

"Then hoad on and break the grasping skinflint!" said one of the
younger men.

"I doot if we can break him and wadn't say it's wise to try. If he'll
come down anither shilling, I think we might tak' his coal. That wad be a
just price and we ought to be satisfied."

"Let him smart!" urged the other. "He's robbed us lang enough."

"Well," said Peter thoughtfully, "I dinna ken if that's a reason for
robbing him, and it's sometimes safer no to push your enemy over hard
when he's willing to give in. You must choose. If you hoad on and
force him to sell at a big loss, the fight can only end in yan o' two
ways. He'll mak' you pay top price for cattle food, lime, and patent
manures; or you'll drive him oot o' dale. You must reckon if you're
strong enough."

"We'll hear what Kit says," one of the rest remarked.

Kit's mood was hardly normal. He was not often rash, but he felt sore and
rebellious and this had a stronger influence than he knew. Miss Osborn
liked him, but her father's rank and traditions were daunting obstacles.
Kit felt this was unjust, and raw passions and prejudices that he was, as
a rule, too sensible to indulge, got the mastery.

"My father is right," he said. "We have started a fight with Bell; he's a
dangerous man to rouse and will make us pay, unless we beat him. Besides,
he has made some pay already. Old rheumatic men and young children
starved by half-empty grates when the snow stopped us getting the peat,
and you have seen the profits you worked hard for melt before the price
Bell charged for cattle-meal. He's been getting greedier, until he
imagined he could rob us as he liked, and since he has forced us into the
quarrel, my notion is we ought to fight it out."

Peter looked surprised, but did not speak, and there was silence for a
few moments. Then one said:

"I'm with Kit. We'll hoad on until Bell comes doon seven-and-six. If he
does, we'll talk aboot it again."

After some argument, the rest agreed, and when they went away Peter
turned to his son.

"Mayhappen you've sent them t' right road, but I dinna ken! I'm none fond
o' fratching, unless I'm forced."

"We are forced," Kit answered moodily.

Peter gave him a keen glance and then spread out his hands.

"It's possible. For aw that, it wadn't ha' done much harm to give t' man
his chance o' makin' peace."

Kit did not answer, but went out, and Askew sat by the fire with a
thoughtful look. Something had happened to the lad, and Peter wondered
what it was. He felt vaguely disturbed, but could see no light.



CHAPTER XI

OSBORN'S PRIDE GETS HURT


Soon after the farmers met at Ashness, Bell, feeling sore and resentful,
sat one evening in the Tarnside library. Osborn, after fixing a time for
his visit, had kept him waiting twenty minutes, and Bell had come to
think himself a man of a little importance. The spacious library was very
cold and the end of a small log smouldered among the ashes in the grate.
Bell knew he had been brought into the library because it was Osborn's
business room; but the latter might have ordered the fire to be made up.

His neglect rankled, although Bell had something else to think about. He
had lowered his price for coal another shilling, without attracting
buyers, and now admitted that the dales folks' resistance was getting
dangerous. To some extent, the Askews were accountable for this, but
Osborn got a large share of the profit Bell had hoped to make. One did
not pay a high rent for nothing. By and by Bell looked at Hayes, who
stood by the hearth.

"The next time I come to Tarnside Mr. Osborn will wait for me," he
remarked.

Hayes made a warning gesture, there were steps in the passage, and Osborn
came in. He sat down at the end of the table and looked at his watch.

"I can give you about a quarter of an hour," he said. "Perhaps we had
better begin."

The big room was nearly dark, but the men sat in the light a shaded
lamp threw across the table. Osborn looked half bored and half
impatient, Hayes was urbanely inscrutable, while Bell's mean face was
marked by greed.

"Mr. Bell finds his stock of coal accumulating faster than he likes,"
said Hayes. "He must pay on delivery, and since his customers have
combined against him, feels he's entitled to some relief."

"I don't see how that is my business," Osborn rejoined. "Bell might get
over the difficulty by lowering his price."

"I've putten it doon," Bell broke in. "The price I can sell at is fixed
by my rent."

"To some extent, the argument is logical," said Hayes.

"Then am I to understand that Mr. Bell expects me to reduce his rent?"

"Not to begin with," Hayes answered, giving Bell a warning glance. "He
imagines he might gain his object almost as well if we stopped Askew
cutting peat."

"You cannot stop him. The peat is his."

"We might embarrass him. While the snow lasts, it saves some awkward
labor to cross Creighton's field and use his lonning. A tenant is not
entitled to grant a way-leave."

"Allowing a friend to use the lane for a week or two can hardly be called
a way-leave."

"Well, although Askew owns the moor, it's doubtful if he is entitled
to remove peat for sale, unless by arrangement with the lord of the
manor. I have seen Sir Gordon's agent and he is not unwilling to
dispute the point."

"At my cost?" said Osborn with a sarcastic smile. "Enforcing the old
manorial rights, which nobody knows much about, would be an expensive
business, and I have no money to risk. However, if Bell is willing to pay
the lawyers--"

"I'll pay nowt but rent. It's high enough," Bell declared.

Osborn shrugged. "Very well! It would cost too much to try to frighten
Askew off. He's confoundedly shrewd and obstinate."

Bell was silent for a few moments, but his face got hard as he fixed his
eyes on Osborn.

"There's another matter. T' mill lease will soon fall in and I canna tak'
it on again, unless I get the repairs and improvements done. Mr. Hayes
has t' list."

The agent took out the list with some builders' and millwrights'
estimates, and Osborn frowned as he studied the documents. It was obvious
that Bell meant to use pressure.

"I don't like to be threatened," he replied.

"It's not a threat," said Bell, with a cunning smile. "If I'm to lose my
money at coal yards, I must earn some at mill, but unless I get t'
repairs and new machines, mill willunt pay to run." He paused and
studying Osborn's face resumed: "There'll be nea peace for either o' us
while the Askews gan aboot makin' trouble."

"I suppose that is so, to some extent," Osborn agreed.

"Then is it fair to leave me to fratch wi' them? After aw, they're mair
your enemies than mine."

"I don't understand you; I have no coal to sell."

Bell looked up with a sour grin. "There's worse ways o' hurting a proud
man than touching his pocket. If you dinna ken what's going on, it's time
you watched young Kit. I'll say nea mair, but aw t 'oad wives are
cracking and you can ask Mr. Hayes. He kens!"

Osborn's face got red, but he gave Bell a haughty look.

"Anything that touches me personally is my private concern--and we are
talking about the lease of the mill. I cannot make all the improvements
you ask for, but perhaps something can be done. When we have studied the
matter Mr. Hayes will let you know."

Bell got up and when he went out Osborn turned to Hayes. "What did the
fellow mean? He said you knew!"

"It's dangerous ground and I frankly wish he'd told you to ask somebody
else. However, there is some gossip--"

"Go on," said Osborn sternly. "Whom are they gossiping about?"

"Miss Osborn, since you insist."

Osborn clenched his fist and the veins rose on his forehead as he said,
"And young Askew?"

Hayes made a sign of agreement and Osborn, getting up, walked across
the floor. He came back with a savage sparkle in his eyes and stood in
front of Hayes.

"Tell me what you know."

With a pretense of reluctance, Hayes obeyed. He told Osborn about
Grace's visit to Railton's and hinted that she had gone to find out if
Kit had brought the sheep. Then he narrated their meeting in the dark
near Creighton's farm and stated his grounds for imagining she had
ridden down the hill on the first load of peat. Hayes was tactful and
apologetic, but he made it plain that the girl was in Kit's confidence
and had known his plans.

Osborn stopped him with a savage gesture. His face was deeply flushed and
his voice was hoarse as he said: "That is enough. The thing looks
impossible! I must try to find out what foundation there is for the
ridiculous tale."

"I shall be relieved if you do find it is ridiculous," said Hayes, who
went off soon afterwards.

For some minutes Osborn leaned against the mantel with his hands
clenched, for he had got a shock. He admitted that the Osborns had some
faults, but they were the Tarnside Osborns and had ruled the dale for a
very long time. It was something to spring from such a stock, and the
wilful girl had disgraced them all. Osborn had suspected Grace of holding
dangerous modern views, but it was unthinkably humiliating that she had
engaged in a flirtation with a farmer's son.

He had declared the thing impossible, but he feared it was true. Hayes
had been very clear about her visit to Railton's, and her coming down
Malton Head on Askew's sledge was ominous. She must have been strongly
attracted by Kit since she had done a thing like that. Besides, she
had obviously sympathized with, and perhaps helped, his plans. This
was treachery, because it was a tradition of the Osborns that they
stood together.

By and by he heard voices in the hall and braced himself. He must go down
to receive his guests and was glad that they had come, since he did not
want to tell his wife about the matter yet; in fact, he did not think he
would talk to Grace. The thing was humiliating, and there was a
possibility that Hayes had been mistaken. Osborn resolved to watch the
girl and then insist on a reckoning if she gave him grounds for doing so.

He went down and carried out his hospitable duties. Next morning he
arranged for a day's shooting; the snow had nearly gone and there were a
few pheasants left in Redmire wood. The party started early, taking their
lunch, and in the afternoon Grace left Tarnside and walked down the dale.
She had no particular object, but the day was fine and she wondered
whether Kit had brought all the peat from Malton Head.

There was no wind and the frost was not keen. Gray clouds trailed across
the sky that was touched with yellow in the west, and soft, elusive
lights played about the dale. Patches of snow on the fellsides gleamed
and faded; mossy belts glowed vivid green, red berries in the hedgerows
shone among withered leaves and fern, and then the light passed on and
left the valley dim. Something in its calm beauty reacted on the girl and
made her thoughtful. She loved the dale and felt that she might be happy
there if it were not for her father's poverty and overbearing
temperament.

After all, they were not really poor; they had enough to satisfy their
needs. Their clinging to out-of-date traditions caused the strain. One
gained nothing by pretending to be rich and important; there was no
logical reason for trying to live like one's ancestors, and the effort
cost the Osborns much. It meant stern private economy, public
ostentation, and many small deceits. Grace was getting tired of this
pretense; she wanted something simpler and dignified. For the most part,
the dalesfolk looked happy and she had come to envy them. They had their
troubles, but they were troubles all mankind must bear, and they had joys
one did not properly value at Tarnside: human fellowship and sympathy,
and freedom to follow their bent. A shepherd's daughter, for example,
could marry whom she liked and was not forced to accept a husband who had
wealth enough to satisfy her parents.

Grace blushed as she thought of Alan Thorn and contrasted him with Kit.
She did not want to marry yet; but perhaps, if Kit were not a working
farmer's son--She pulled herself up, with a smile, for it looked as if
she had not broken free from the family traditions. After all, it did not
matter if Kit were a farmer's son. He was honest and generous; he had a
well-modeled figure, bright eyes, and a clean brown skin. But since Kit
was not her lover, she was indulging in idle sentiment; and then she
admitted that he might love her, although she did not yet love him.
Indeed, if she must be honest, the thing was possible--she had seen his
face brighten and remarked his satisfaction when they met.

Then she stopped abruptly as she saw him coming down the road. There was
a path across a field close by, but it would be admitting too much if she
tried to avoid him, and she went on. Kit came up, dressed in rough
working clothes, with muddy leggings, and a hedge stick in his hand. Two
dogs ran before him and it looked as if he had been driving sheep. Grace
was very calm when he took off his cap and he thought the hint of
stateliness he sometimes noted was rather marked. It did not daunt him;
he, felt it was proper Grace should look like that. She noted that he was
hot and breathless.

"I saw you as I was bringing the sheep down Burton ghyll," he said.

"Then you must have good eyes," Grace remarked. "It's a long way, and I
don't wear conspicuous clothes."

Kit laughed. "I'd have known you much farther off. There's nobody in the
dale who walks like you."

Grace gave him a quiet glance that he met without embarrassment. She saw
that he had not meant to offer her a cheap compliment; yet the compliment
was justified. A dancing master had told her that she walked and carried
herself well.

"But where are the sheep?" she asked.

"I left them in the field at the beckfoot," he answered with a touch of
awkwardness. "We can bring them down afterwards; I remembered I wanted
something at Allerby."

Grace turned her head to hide a smile. It was obvious that he had
remembered he wanted to go to Allerby when he saw her.

"Oh, well," she said, "I am going part of the way. However, I mustn't
stop you if you want to get back to the sheep."

"It isn't at all important," Kit declared. Then he paused and Grace
thought he was studying his old and rather muddy clothes. "But, of
course," he resumed, "it's possible you'd sooner go on alone."

She laughed. "Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Askew! I think you know what I
mean. I didn't want to keep you from your work."

He looked relieved. "Yes. Although I'm not very clever at this sort
of thing, I generally do know what you mean. I can't tell if it's
strange or not."

"It certainly is not worth while puzzling about. I expect I'm rather
obvious--for that matter, so are you."

"Frankness often saves you some trouble and I don't know if it gives your
opponent the advantage some folks imagine. However, it's not our rule in
the dale to say all we feel."

"It's not Bell's, for example. How is the coal campaign getting on?"

"Well," said Kit, thoughtfully, "so far as that goes, I believe we have
beaten him. There's a new notice that lowers the price seven-and-six
altogether, and last night we advised folks to buy. But I don't know if
the fight's over. Bell may find another way of putting on the screw."

"I hope he will give it up," Grace replied. "I tried to help, because I
felt I must; but of course you see I can't help again."

Kit made a sign of understanding. "Yes; you showed us how to bring the
peat down. Now I don't know what to say. It's awkward ground."

They were silent for some time afterwards, for both had said enough and
knew that Osborn's resentment must be reckoned on. It made them feel like
accomplices and drew them together. They were young and not given to
looking far ahead, but they saw the threat that the friendship both
valued might be broken off.

By and by three or four reports rang through the calm air and Grace came
near to stopping, but did not. She had forgotten Osborn was shooting in
Redmire wood and she and Kit must pass its edge. For all that, she could
not turn back. Kit would guess why she did so; it would be an awkward
admission that she was afraid of being seen with him by Osborn or his
friends. She was afraid, but she was proud, and went on, hoping that Kit
had not noted her hesitation. He had not, but was puzzled by her resolute
and half-defiant look.

The guns were silent when they came to the wood, which rolled down the
hillside below the road. Here and there a white birch trunk and a yellow
patch of oak leaves shone among the dark firs; the beech hedge was
covered by withered brown foliage. A belt of grass ran between the wood
and road and Grace took the little path along its edge. Her feet made no
noise and her tweed dress harmonized with the subdued coloring of dead
leaves and trunks. The light was not good and she thought she would not
be visible a short distance off; besides the sportsmen might be at the
other side of the wood. She hoped they were, since she vaguely perceived
that if Osborn saw her it would force a crisis she was not yet ready to
meet. Then her thoughts were disturbed, for somebody in the wood shouted:
"Mark cock flying low to right!"

A gunshot rang out close by and a small brown bird, skimming the top of
the hedge, fluttered awkwardly across the road. Next moment dry twigs
rustled and a young man leaped on to the grass with a smoking gun in his
hand. As he threw it to his shoulder, Kit ran forward and struck the
barrel. There was a flash and while the echoes of the report rolled
across the wood a little puff of smoke floated about the men. Grace stood
still, trembling, for she knew she had run some risk of being shot.

"Why don't you look before you shoot?" Kit shouted in a strange, hoarse
voice. "You've no business to use a gun on a public road. It's lucky I
was quick."

"That is so; my fault!" gasped the other, who took off his cap as he
turned to Grace. "Very sorry, Miss Osborn; didn't see you. Wanted to get
the woodcock. Hope you're not startled much."

Grace forced a smile. She had physical courage and was shaken rather by
what she saw in Kit's face than the risk she had run. Kit looked
strangely white and strained. He had obviously got a bad shock, but she
thought he would not have looked like that had he saved anybody else from
the other's gun.

"My dress is hard to see against the trees. You really needn't be
disturbed," she said.

The young man renewed his confused apologies, and when he pushed through
the hedge and they went on again Grace looked at Kit. He had not got his
color back, his lips were set and his gaze was fixed. The shock had
broken his control and brought her enlightenment. He loved her, but she
needed time and quietness to grapple with the situation. Her heart beat
and her nerves tingled; she could not see the line she ought to take. Yet
he must be thanked.

"You were very quick," she said as calmly as possible although she was
conscious of a curious pride in him. "Somehow I knew if there was need
for quickness you would act like that. I believe I was stupid enough to
stand still until you jumped. Well, of course, you know I thank you--"

She stopped, for Kit, who turned his head for a moment turned it back and
looked straight in front. He durst not trust himself to speak, and they
went on silently.



CHAPTER XII

OSBORN INTERFERES


When Grace and Kit had gone a short distance they heard voices and a
rattle of sticks in the wood, but the noise got fainter and she imagined
the beaters were moving the other way. Ferrars, who shot at the woodcock,
had probably not had time to tell Osborn about his carelessness, and it
looked as if nobody else had been posted near the road. This was
something of a relief, but Grace felt anxious. A gate not far off led to
a drive in the wood, and she thought she had heard Osborn's voice.

She kept on the belt of grass, which got narrower, so that the path ran
close to the hedge. On the opposite side, a clump of silver-firs threw
a shadow across the road, and a patch of pale-yellow sky shone behind
an opening in the trees. The stiff fir-branches cut sharply against the
glow, but where she and Kit were the light was dim. For all that, she
stopped abruptly when a man came out of the wood and turned, as if to
look up the road. It was Osborn and she thought she knew for whom he
was looking.

Grace's judgment failed her. She pushed Kit towards the beech hedge and
they stepped into a small hollow among the withered leaves. Kit like
Grace, had not had time for thought, but as Osborn, looking straight in
front, went past, he felt he had done wrong. For one thing, it was rather
shabby to hide and his doing so reflected on his companion. The feeling
got stronger as Osborn went up the road, and Kit was sorry he had given
way to a cowardly impulse. Yet since he had hidden, he must wait.

After a few moments, Grace turned her head and Kit saw her face was
flushed. It was obvious that she felt much as he felt. She had prompted
him to hide, but she had done so in sudden alarm and he ought to have
kept cool and thought for both, particularly since it was getting plain
that Osborn was looking for them. The latter stopped, hesitated, and came
back, and Grace turned sharply to Kit. Her look was strained, but he got
a hint of haughtiness and resolve. He made a sign that he understood, and
knew he had done well when he moved back from the hedge. A moment's
hesitation would have cost him the girl's respect. They waited in the
road and Kit's heart beat fast, but not with fear.

Osborn stopped a yard or two off and looked at them with sternly
controlled rage.

"It's obvious that I passed you just now," he said.

"You did; I ought to have stopped you," Kit agreed. "For a moment, it did
not strike me that you were looking for Miss Osborn."

Osborn glanced at the hollow in the hedge. "It's curious you stopped at a
spot where there was not much chance of your being seen."

Grace turned, as if she meant to speak, but Kit resumed: "After all, I
don't know that you are entitled to question what I do on a public road."

"Certainly not," said Osborn, with forced quietness. "I have, however, a
right to question my daughter's choice of her acquaintances, and it looks
as if I had some grounds for using my authority." He paused and turned to
Grace. "Your mother is waiting for you. You had better go home."

Grace hesitated, glancing at Kit. It was her fault that they had hidden
and she would have waited had she thought he wanted her. Kit's face,
however, was hard and inscrutable, and with something of an effort she
went away. It was a relief to Kit that she had gone; he had meant to
keep her out of the quarrel and now he was ready to talk to Osborn.

"The matter doesn't end here," the latter remarked. "There's something to
be said that your father ought to know. I am going to Ashness and expect
you to come with me."

"You must wait. I have some sheep at the beckfoot and it will take me
half an hour to drive them home," Kit said coolly.

Osborn looked at him with savage surprise. It was unthinkable that he
should be forced to wait while the fellow went for his sheep, but he saw
that Kit was not to be moved and tried to control his anger.

"Very well. I will meet you at Ashness in half an hour."

Kit braced himself as he went up the road. In a sense, he was not afraid
of Osborn, but he had now to meet a crisis that he ought to have seen
must come. In fact, he had seen it, and had, rather weakly, tried to
cheat himself and put things off. He loved Grace, and Osborn would never
approve. Kit knew Osborn's pride and admitted that his anger was,
perhaps, not altogether unwarranted. For that matter, he doubted if Grace
knew how far his rash hopes had led him. Then he thrilled as he
remembered that when she pushed him back to the hedge, and afterwards
when they left their hiding place, something had hinted that she did know
and acknowledge him her lover.

In the meantime, it was a relief to drive the sheep down the dale; he
could not think while he was occupied and thought was disturbing. He put
the sheep into a field and overtook Osborn as he went up the farm lonning
in the dark. A lamp burned in the kitchen, and when they went in Peter
got up and put his pipe on the table. He looked at them with some
surprise, but waited without embarrassment. Indeed, Kit thought his
father was curiously dignified.

"Mr. Osborn has something to say he wants you to hear," Kit remarked.
"Although the thing's really my business, I agreed."

Osborn refused the chair Peter indicated and stood in a stiff pose. His
face was red and he looked rather ridiculously savage.

"I found your son and my daughter hiding from me in the hedge at Redmire
wood," he said. "I imagine I'm entitled to ask for an explanation."

"Hiding?" said Peter, who turned to Kit. "That was wrong."

"It was wrong," Kit admitted. "I told Mr. Osborn so. In fact, I must have
lost my head when I made a mistake like this. Since I had the honor of
Miss Osborn's acquaintance--"

"Who presented you to my daughter?" Osborn interrupted.

"Nobody," Kit admitted, with some embarrassment. "The day the otter
hounds were hunting the alder pool Miss Osborn wanted to cross the
stepping stones. Some of them were covered and I--"

"Ah!" said Osborn. "Then the thing began as long since as that?" He
turned to Peter. "The girl is young and foolishly proud of being
unconventional, or she would have known that she could make use of your
son's help without an obligation to speak to him again. It's obvious that
he has worked on her rebellious humor until she forgot what is due to
herself and her parents."

"Stop a bit," said Peter. "She was doing her parents no discredit by
speaking to my son."

"No discredit!" Osborn exclaimed, losing his self control. "When I find
her and the fellow skulking out of sight, like a farm hand and a
dairy-maid!"

Kit raised his head and his eyes sparkled. "In a sense, I am a farm hand;
but it would be better if you kept your hard words for me."

"There are verra good dairymaids; modest, hardworking lasses,"
Peter remarked.

"It's rather late to play the part of a rustic cavalier, if that is what
you meant," Osborn said to Kit with a sneer, and then turned to Peter. "I
am forced to own that the girl deserves some blame. Although she's
impulsive and unconventional, she ought to have seen it was ridiculous to
let your son imagine they could be friends."

"You think that was ridiculous?"

"Of course," said Osborn, with haughty surprise. "The absurdity of the
thing is obvious."

"Weel," said Peter dryly, "I reckon they might be friends without much
harm, though I wadn't have them gan farther. Although the lass is yours,
the lad is mine."

Osborn laughed scornfully. "If I understand you, your attitude is
humorous. But do you wish me to believe you didn't know what was going
on? You have made my tenants dissatisfied and plotted against me, and
now, no doubt, you saw another means."

"Stop," said Peter, with stern quietness. "We have not been good neebors,
though I dinna ken that's much fault o' mine; but if you thowt I'd use a
foolish girl to hurt a man I didn't like, you're varra wrang. Hooiver,
you came for an explanation, and I want one, too." He turned to Kit. "You
had better tell us why you kept up Miss Osborn's acquaintance withoot her
father's consent."

"Very well," said Kit, standing very straight and holding up his head. "I
met Miss Osborn, so to speak, by accident, and afterwards we sometimes
talked. Her beauty and talent were plain to me at first, but it was some
time before I knew I loved her, and then it was too late. I knew my
folly--it was a folly I couldn't conquer, and now I think I never shall.
Well, I suppose I hoped that some day things might change."

"Do you imply that Grace knew what you hoped?" Osborn asked.

"No," said Kit, quietly. "I gave her no hint. It was plain that she was
willing we should meet and talk like friends. This was not wrong."

"Not wrong that my daughter should meet you secretly!" Osborn exclaimed
with sudden rage. "Are you foolish enough to imagine you and a member of
my family could meet like equals?"

"I have not pretended to be Miss Osborn's equal. But the inequality I
acknowledge is not what you mean."

Osborn shrugged with scornful impatience. "Pshaw! We'll let that go. You
said you hoped things might change. Do you think any change of fortune
could give you the tastes and feelings of a gentleman? Make you a proper
husband for my daughter? You know the thing's impossible."

Kit colored and hesitated, and Peter signed him to be quiet.

"These meetings must be stopped. I'm as much against such a match as I
think you are."

"Ah," said Osborn, who looked puzzled, "you hinted something of the kind!
I don't know that your point of view's important, but I can't
understand."

"My meaning's no varra hard to see," Peter answered. "The lass is bonny
and, so far as I ken, weel-meaning and kind; but she has been badly browt
up at an extravagant hoose. She'll not can help her husband, except
mayhappen to waste, and she has niver learned to work and gan withoot.
Weel, it seems we are agreed. Miss Osborn is no the lass I would welcome
for my son's wife."

Osborn looked at him with frank surprise. Then he said, "We'll make an
end," and turned to Kit. "If you speak to my daughter again, she will be
forbidden to leave the Tarnside grounds; if you write to her, your
letter will be burned. She cannot resist my control for the next three or
four years. There's nothing more to be said."

He went out and Peter, who walked to the porch with him, came back and
looked quietly at Kit.

"A proud and foolish man, but he's hit hard!" he said. "Mayhappen it
will hurt, my lad, but you must be done wi' this. Osborn's daughter is
none for you."

Kit looked straight in front, with his hands clenched. "So it seems, for
some years. It does hurt. I cannot give her up."

Peter lighted his pipe and there was silence for a few minutes. Then as
Kit did not move he remarked: "I ken something o' what you're feeling; aw
t' same you've got to fratch. There's nowt against the lass except that
she's Osborn's child, but she's none o' our kind and it's sense and
custom that like gans to like."

"It would be easier if I could get away. I can't stop in the dale,
knowing she's about and I mustn't see her."

Peter went into the next room and opened an old desk. He had for some
time expected that the moment he now shrank from would come and his heart
was sore, but he knew his son's steadfast character and meant to save him
pain. Going back he gave Kit his brother's last letter.

"Mayhappen it's better that you should gan," he said quietly.

Kit read the letter and looked up with a strained expression. "I never
thought I'd want to leave Ashness and I feel a selfish brute! All the
same it would be a relief."

"Just that!" said Peter. "I'll miss you when you've gone, but it's no'
my part to stand in your way. We'll write Adam to-morrow and tell him
you'll come."

Kit crossed the floor and put his hand on his father's arm. "Thanks;
I think I know what this means to you. It will cost me something; but
I must go."

He went out and Peter sat still, looking gloomily at the fire. He felt
old and knew he would be very lonely soon. The fire burned low and the
kitchen got cold, but Kit did not come back and when Peter heard his
housekeeper's clogs on the stones outside he got up and crossed the
floor, to get his hat. Old Bella was curious and he did not want to talk,
but there was something to be done in the barn and when his heart was
sore it was a relief to work.



PART II--ON THE CARIBBEAN



CHAPTER I

THE OLD BUCCANEER


It was about four o'clock in the afternoon and Kit Askew lounged in a
chair on the bridge-deck as the _Rio Negro_ steamed slowly across the
long swell of the Caribbean. The wrinkled undulations sparkled with
reflected light in a dazzling pattern of blue and silver, and then faded
to green and purple in the shadow of the ship. A wave of snowy foam
curled up as the bows went down and the throb of the propeller quickened
as the poop swung against the sky. Then the lurching hull steadied and
the clang of engines resumed its measured beat.

The _Rio Negro_ was old and ugly, with short iron masts from which clumsy
derricks hung, tall, upright funnel, and blistered, gray paint. Her boats
were dirty and stained by soot, and a belt of rust at her waterline
hinted at neglect, but no barnacles and weed marred the smoothness of the
plates below. Her antifouling paint was clean, and her lines beneath the
swell of quarter and bows were fine. In fact, the _Rio Negro_ was faster
than she looked when she carried her regular load of two thousand tons
and her under-water body was hidden. She traded in the Gulf of Mexico and
the Caribbean, and at certain ports Customs officials carefully
scrutinized her papers. At others, they smiled and allowed her captain
privileges that strangers did not get.

Kit wore spotless white clothes, a black-silk belt, and a Panama hat of
the expensive kind the Indians weave, holding the fine material under
water. A glass occupied a socket in his chair, and when the _Rio Negro_
rolled a lump of ice tinkled against its rim; a box of choice cigars lay
on the deck. Kit, however, was not smoking, but drowsily pondered the
life he had led for the last three years. He was thinner and looked older
than when he left Ashness. He had lost something of his frankness and
his raw enthusiasm had gone. His face was quieter and his mouth set in a
firm line.

He remembered his surprise when he first met his uncle at a luxurious
Florida hotel. Adam Askew wore loose white clothes, a well-cut Tuxedo
jacket, a diamond ring, and another big diamond in his scarf. His skin
was a curious yellowish brown and his eyes were very black; he rather
looked like a Spanish Creole than an Englishman. He had nothing of his
brother's quiet manner. Although he was getting old, he walked with a
jaunty step; he had a humorous twinkle, and his laugh was careless. In
fact, he had an exotic, romantic look that harmonized with Kit's notions
of the pirates who once haunted the Gulf of Mexico. When Kit afterwards
learned why Adam's friends called him the "buccaneer," he saw that his
first impression was not extravagant.

Now he remembered that when they sat behind the imitation Moorish arches
on the hotel veranda Adam studied him and laughed.

"You're certainly Peter's son," he remarked. "I can imagine I'd just left
him at the end of the Ashness lonning thirty years since. Except that
he's got older, I reckon he hasn't changed, and for that matter, Peter
was never young. Well, you are surely like him, but if you stop in this
country we'll put a move on you."

"If I'm like my father, I am satisfied," Kit rejoined.

Adam's black eyes twinkled. "Now I see a difference; there's red blood in
you. But don't take me wrong. Peter's a white man, straight as a
plumb-line, one of the best; he's a year the younger of us, but when the
old man died he brought me up. There are two kinds of Askews and I belong
to the other lot. I don't know why they called you after roystering Kit."

It was obvious that Adam knew the family history, for Christopher Askew
was a turbulent Jacobite who lost the most part of his estate when he
joined Prince Charlie's starving Highlanders in the rearguard fight at
Clifton Moor. Afterwards the sober quietness at Ashness had now and then
been disturbed by an Askew who inherited the first Kit's reckless
temperament.

Three years had gone since Kit met Adam, and he had learned much. To
begin with, Adam sent him to an American business school, and made him
study Castilian and French. Then he sent him to Mexico and countries
farther south, where he studied human nature of strangely varied kinds.
He met and traded with men of many colors: French and Spanish Creoles,
negroes, Indians, and half-breeds with some of the blood of all. He knew
the American gulf ports and their cosmopolitan hotels and gambling
saloons, but Adam noted with half-amused approval that while he was not
at all a prig he developed Peter's character and not Kit the Jacobite's.
Now they were going south across the Caribbean on a business venture.

By and by Adam came slowly along the bridge-deck. The three years had
marked a change in him and Kit thought he did not look well. Adam
suffered now and then from malarial ague, caught in the mangrove swamps.
He was thin, his yellow face was haggard, and his shoulders were bent.
Sitting down close by, he lighted a cigar and turned to Kit.

"We ought to raise the coast before it's dark and I reckon Mayne will
get his bearings," he remarked. "The lagoon's a blamed awkward place to
enter and I'd have waited until to-morrow only that Don Hernando is
expecting us."

"It will save us a day if we can get in, since you want to land the B. F.
cargo in the dark," Kit said thoughtfully. "We pay high wages and the
_Rio Negro_ is an expensive boat to run."

"That's so," Adam agreed with a smile. "You talk like a Cumberland
flock-master. Counting every cent you spend is a safe plan, but I don't
know that this trip will pan out much of a business proposition."

"Do you feel better for your sleep?" Kit asked.

"Some, though I've got a headache and a pain in my back. Guess they'll
shake off when I get to work."

"I was surprised when you said you meant to sail with us."

"So I imagined," Adam rejoined dryly. "You wondered why I didn't, as
usual, trust you to deliver the goods? Well, there's rather more to
this job than that, and I meant to put you wise before we landed. You
have heard me called a pirate, but I don't reckon on taking home much
plunder now."

Kit mused while Adam beckoned a mulatto steward, who brought him a glass
and some ice. His uncle's character was complex. Sometimes he was hard
and exacted all that was his; sometimes he was rashly generous.
Ostensibly, he was a merchant, shipping tools and machines, particularly
supplies for sugar mills, to the countries round the Caribbean, and
taking payment in native produce. Kit, however, knew the cases landed
from the _Rio Negro_ did not always hold the goods the labels stated, and
that Adam's money sometimes helped to float an unpopular government over
a crisis and sometimes to turn another out. It was a risky business,
carried on with people who had a talent for dark revolutionary intrigue.

"Since Don Hernando Alvarez is president of the republic, I don't quite
see why we need smuggle in his machine-guns," Kit remarked.

"On the surface, the reason isn't very obvious. Alvarez is president now,
but mayn't be very long. It depends on whether he or his rival, Galdar,
gets his blow in first. I reckon the chances are against Alvarez if
Galdar puts up a fight, but the latter's not ready yet and Alvarez means
to arm his troops before the fellow knows. I imagine about half the
citizens are plotters and spies."

"Alvarez has been honest so far. I suppose if he wins he'll pay?"

"That's so," said Adam dryly. "If he goes down, we get nothing. Although
I don't know much about his ancestors and suspect that one was an Indian,
Alvarez is white, but the other fellow's a blamed poor sample of the
half-breed nigger. Well, when Alvarez found things were going wrong, he
sent for me."

"Ah," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I begin to understand."

He did understand, although he would not have done so when he met his
uncle first. He had known Adam play the part of a merciless creditor, and
thought few men could beat him at a bargain, but he kept his bargain when
it was made, and now and then risked his money on lost causes. It looked
as if he had inherited something from Christopher the Jacobite.

"You have known Alvarez long, haven't you?" Kit resumed.

"When I met him first, he was a customs officer with some perquisites and
a salary that paid for liquor and tobacco. Vanhuyten and I ran the old
_Mercedes_ then, and Van made a mistake that put us at the fellow's
mercy. There was a good case for confiscating the schooner, which would
have given Alvarez a lift while we went broke. In fact, the night of the
crisis, I dropped Van's pistol overboard; he'd got malaria badly and was
feeling desperate. Well, all we had given Alvarez didn't cover that kind
of a job, but he'd promised to stand our friend and kept his word like a
gentleman. Guess it needed some nerve and judgment to work things the way
he did, and when we stole out to sea at daybreak past the port guard, I
knew there was one man in the rotten country I could trust with my life.
Now he's in a tight place, he knows he can trust me."

Adam got up and crossing the deck leaned against the rails. In the
distance, where the glitter faded, there was a long gray smear that
seemed to float like a smoke-trail above the water. Higher up, a vague
blue line ran across the dazzling sky. The first was a fringe of mangrove
forest; the other lofty mountains. A minute or two later, the fat,
brown-faced captain came down from his bridge.

"Looks like the Punta; we've hit her first time," he remarked. "In about
an hour I ought to get my marks. When d'you want her taken in?"

"Soon as it's dark," Adam replied. "You'll have to trust your lead and
compass. Can't have you whistling for a pilot, and I'd sooner you put out
your lights."

"It's your risk and not the first time I've broken rules. I guess I can
keep her off the ground. We'll get busy presently and heave the hatches
off. The B.F. cases are right on top."

Adam nodded, and beckoned Kit when the captain went away. "You haven't
been in the Santa Marta lagoon yet. Stand by and watch the soundings and
compass while Mayne takes her across the shoals. You may find it useful
to know the channel."

Kit understood. Malaria and other fevers are common on low-lying belts of
the Caribbean coast and skippers and mates fall sick. Moreover, the _Rio
Negro_ did not always load at the regular ports. Sometimes she crept into
mangrove-fringed lagoons, and sometimes stopped at lonely beaches and
sent loaded boats ashore when her captain saw the gleam of signal lights.

When it was getting dark, Kit and Adam went to the bridge and the former
noted that his uncle breathed rather hard and seized the rails firmly as
he climbed the ladder. The red glow of sunset had faded behind the high
land and a gray haze spread across the swampy shore, but the water shone
with pale reflections. On one side, a long, dingy smear floated across
the sky. It did not move and Kit thought it had come from the funnel of a
steamer whose engineer had afterwards cleaned his fires. Captain Mayne
studied the fleecy trail with his glasses.

"I don't know if that's a coffee-boat going north; I can't make out her
hull against the land," he said. "Sometimes there's a _guarda-costa_
hanging round the point."

"Better take no chances," Adam replied, glancing at the _Rio Negro's_
funnel, from which a faint plume of vapor floated.

Mayne signed to the quartermaster in the pilot house and the bows swung
round. Half an hour afterwards, he rang his telegraph and the clang of
engines died away while the throb of the propeller stopped. In what
seemed an unnatural silence, a few barefooted deck-hands began to move
about, and one stood on the forecastle, where his dark figure cut against
the shining sea. The rest went aft with a line the other held, and when
Mayne raised his hand there was a splash as the deep-sea lead plunged. A
man aft called the depth while he gathered up the line, and Mayne
beckoned another, who climbed to a little platform outside the bridge and
fastened a strap round his waist.

"We're on the Santa Marta shelf, but I'm four miles off the course I
set," Mayne remarked. "I want to work out the angle from the first
bearing I got."

Kit went with him into the chart-room, for he knew something about
navigation. They had taught him the principles of land-surveying at the
agricultural college, and this had made his studies easier. When he
came back the moon was getting bright, but the haze had thickened on
the low ground and the heights behind had faded to a vague, formless
blur. The trail of smoke had vanished, there was no wind, and the
smooth swell broke against the bows with a monotonous dull roar as the
_Rio Negro_ went on. She was alone on the heaving water and steaming
slowly, but the noise of her progress carried far. By and by a light
twinkled ahead, leaped up into a steady glow that lasted for some
minutes, and then went out.

"That's a relief," remarked Adam, who had struck a match and studied his
watch. "The ground's clear and Don Hernando has somebody he can trust
waiting at the lagoon. You can let her go ahead, Captain."

Mayne rang his telegraph and Kit went into the pilot house. The dim light
of the binnacle lamp touched the compass, but everything else was dark
and the windows were down. Kit could see the quartermaster's dark form
behind the wheel, and the silver shining of the sea. There was a splash
as the man on the platform released the whirling hand-lead. When he
called the depth Mayne gave an order and the quartermaster pulled round
the wheel. The swell was not so smooth now. It ran in steep undulations
and in one place to starboard a broad, foaming patch appeared between the
rollers. Kit knew the water was shoaling fast as the _Rio Negro_ steamed
across the inclined shelf. It was risky work to take her in, because the
fire had vanished and there were no marks to steer for. Mayne must trust
his compass and his rough calculations.

"Tide's running flood," he said to Adam. "She'd have steered handier if
we'd gone in against the ebb; but there's a better chance of coming off
if she touches ground."

"You don't want to touch ground and stop there with the B.F. goods on
board," Adam replied.

After this, there was silence except when Mayne gave an order. White
upheavals broke the passing swell on both sides of the ship. She rolled
with violent jerks and at regular intervals the bows swung up. When they
sank, a dark mass with a ragged top cut off the view from the
pilot-house, and Kit knew it was a mangrove forest. He could see no break
in the wall of trees that grew out of the water, but they were not far
off when there was a heavy jar, and the Rio Negro stopped. The floor of
the pilot-house slanted and Kit and the quartermaster fell against the
wheel. Then there was a roar as a white-topped roller came up astern and
broke about the vessel's rail in boiling foam. She lifted, struck again,
and went on with an awkward lurch.

"Port; hard over!" Mayne shouted hoarsely, and Kit helped the
quartermaster to pull round the wheel.

The order disturbed him, since it looked as if Mayne was off his course.
The swell broke angrily ahead, but in one place, some distance to one
side, the wall of forest looked less solid than the rest. A roar came out
of the mist and Kit knew it was the beat of surf on a hidden beach. This
told him where he was, because a sandy key protected the mouth of the
lagoon; but he doubted if Mayne could get round the point. The tide was
carrying the vessel on and there was broken water all about.

She went on, with engines thumping steadily; the hollow in the forest
opened up until it became a gap and Kit could not see trees behind it.
Mayne gave another sharp order, and Kit and the quartermaster pulled at
the wheel. The dark bows swung, the speed quickened, and the rolling
stopped. The throb of the screw and thump of engines echoed across misty
woods and there was a curious gurgling noise that Kit thought was made by
the tide rippling among the mangrove roots. The air got damp and steamy
and a sour smell filled the pilot-house. Kit knew the odors of rotting
leaves, spices, and warm mud.

In the meantime, he was kept occupied at the wheel for Mayne changed his
course as the trees rolled past, until the telegraph rang and the engines
stopped. Then there was silence until he heard the splash of the anchor
and the roar of running chain. As the _Rio Negro_ slowly swung round, the
winches rattled and her boats were hoisted out. Kit got into one with
Adam and landed on a muddy beach. Dark figures came down to meet them,
horses were waiting at the edge of the forest, and a few minutes later
they mounted and plunged into the gloom.



CHAPTER II

THE PRESIDIO


Dazzling sunshine flooded the belt of sand where the shadows of dusty
palmettos quivered beyond the Moorish arch; the old presidio smelt like a
brick-kiln and the heat outside was nearly intolerable. In the middle of
the dirty patio a fountain splashed in a broken marble basin, and it was
dim, and by contrast cool, under the arcade where Kit sat among the
crumbling pillars. The presidio was a relic of Spanish dominion and its
founders had built it well, copying, with such materials as they could
get, stately models the Moors had left in the distant Peninsula. A part
had fallen and blocks of sun-baked mud lay about in piles, but the long,
white front, with its battlemented top and narrow, barred windows stood
firm. In spite of the ruinous patio, the presidio was the finest building
in the town.

The others, so far as Kit could see, were squares of mud, for the most
part whitewashed, although some were colored pink and cream. The glare
they reflected was dazzling, but a row of limp palmettos ran between them
and the space in front of the presidio, and here and there Kit noted
rounded masses of vivid green. Except for the splash of the fountain, all
was very quiet, and although the shadows had lengthened it looked as if
the half-breed citizens were still enjoying their afternoon sleep. Now
and then a barefooted sentry noiselessly passed the arch. He wore a dirty
white uniform and ragged palm-leaf hat, but carried a good modern rifle,
and Kit knew where the latter had come from. The country was rich with
coffee, rubber, sugar, and dyewoods. Its inhabitants, however, for the
most part, preferred political intrigue to cultivation; its government
was corrupt, and prosperity had vanished with the Spaniards' firm rule.

A table carrying some very small glasses and coffee-cups stood in the
arcade. Don Hernando Alvarez occupied the other side, and Kit imagined it
was not by accident he sat with his back to a whitewashed pillar, since
he was in the shadow and as he wore white clothes could not be seen a
short distance off. Don Hernando's hair was coarse and his skin dark. His
face was well molded, although the cheek-bones were prominent; his black
eyes were keen and his thin lips firm. He wore a plain red sash, with no
other touch of color except a bit of riband on his breast. It was obvious
that he was not a Peninsular, as pure-blooded Spaniards call themselves,
but he looked like a man who must be reckoned on. Just then his dark face
was moody.

"You have come in good time," he said to Adam Askew, in Castilian. "I
think the curtain will soon go up for the last act of the drama, but the
plot is obscure and I do not know the end."

"I imagine the action will be rapid," Adam replied. "Unless you have
changed much, you are cut out for your part."

"Ah," said Alvarez, "one gets cautious as one gets old. One loses the
young man's quick, sure touch."

"That is so, to some extent," Adam agreed, and indicated Kit. "It
explains why I have a partner; my brother's son. Still, perhaps one sees
farther when one is old."

Alvarez bowed to Kit. "You have a good model, señor; a man who seldom
hesitates and whose word goes. A rare thing in this country; I do not
know about yours." Then he turned to Adam with a hint of anxiety. "How
far do you see now?"

"I see what I have to do and that is enough. The consequences come
afterwards."

Alvarez's face cleared. "You were always a gambler, but you run some risk
if you bet on me." He was silent for a moment and then resumed: "In a
sense, I envy you; you have a partner you can trust, but I stand alone.
My son was found in the plaza with a knife in his back, and the man who
killed him goes unpunished."

"Galdar was somewhere behind that deed, although I do not see his object
yet," Adam remarked.

"The people liked Maccario and his removal cleared the ground. My enemy
is cunning and, I think, did not mean to force a conflict until my
friends had gone. Now there are not many left and the time has come.
Morales died of poison, Diaz of snake-bite, and Vinoles was shot by a
curious accident. So far, I have escaped; perhaps because I was lucky,
and perhaps because it was not certain the people would choose Galdar if
I followed my friends."

"I have wondered why you hold on. For a president of this country, you
have had a good run. I think I would have left after a few prosperous
years and located at Havana, for example."

Alvarez smiled. "There was a time when we had money in the treasury and I
might have gone; but it was too late afterwards. Part of the revenue
stopped in Galdar's hands--that was one way of embarrassing me--and I was
forced to use the rest to undermine his plots. Now I am drawing on my
small private estate."

"But why didn't you go while there was something left? You are not
extravagant and do not need much."

Kit thought Adam's remark was justified. Alvarez lived with Indian
frugality and looked ascetic; besides he had been long in power and had
no doubt had opportunities for enriching himself at his country's
expense. Kit liked Alvarez, but did not think him much honester than
other Spanish-American rulers he had met.

"It was partly for my daughter's sake I remained," Alvarez replied. "She
is at a Spanish convent and I would not leave her poor. Then I had my
son's death to avenge." He paused and added with a deprecatory smile:
"Moreover I have thought I can rule this country better than my rival."

"That's a sure thing," Adam agreed, in English. "Well, you had better
tell me how you think matters are going. If I'm to help you properly I
want to know."

Alvarez looked about. All was very quiet; there was nobody in the patio,
and it was some distance to the nearest window in the wall that faced the
pillars. For all that, he lowered his voice and answered in hesitating
English with an American accent.

"It is hard to tell; a gamble in which one takes steep chances! Perhaps
half the people with an object are for Galdar, and half for me. Those who
have none will wait and back the man they think will win. So far, I have
the soldiers, but their pay is behind and they are badly armed and
drilled. They will stand by me if I can give them machine-guns and pay
off arrears. But this must be done soon, without Galdar knowing. The next
president will be the man who strikes before the other is ready."

"What will the thing cost altogether?" Adam asked.

He looked thoughtful when Alvarez told him, and then nodded. "All right.
You'll get some of the guns to-morrow and another lot is on the way. Go
ahead; I'll help you put the business over."

Alvarez filled the little glasses with a liquor that had a strong spicy
smell and when his guests lifted them touched theirs with his.

"It is what I had hoped, my friend. If I live, you will not lose."

He drank and then held his glass slackly poised while he mused. Kit, who
was nearest the arch, turned and glanced out. He saw the reflected light
quiver across the trampled sand and the dusty green of the limp
palmettos. Then, below the latter, there was a pale-yellow flash and the
president's glass fell with a tinkle. A pistol-shot rang out and Kit,
swinging round, saw that a flake of plaster had dropped on the table.
There was some dust on Alvarez' brown face and on his clothes, but he
looked unmoved.

Next moment Adam leaned on the table, steadying a heavy automatic pistol,
and three quick flashes streamed from the perking barrel. Three small
puffs of dust leaped up about the roots of a palmetto and as the empty
cartridges rattled on the floor Kit thought an indistinct figure stole
through the shadow of the fan-shaped leaves. He was not certain, because
the light was dazzling and thin smoke drifted about his head.

He threw his chair back and plunging through the arch ran across the sand
and stopped at the top of a narrow street. Men and women of different
shades of color came out of the doors and began to talk excitedly, but
there was nobody who looked like a fugitive. Kit went back after he got
his breath and met two or three untidy, barefooted soldiers who ran past.
When he entered the arch Adam was coolly reloading his pistol while the
president dusted his clothes.

"It is nothing--they have tried again," the latter remarked. "Still, it
looks as if Galdar felt himself stronger than I thought. Now, with your
permission, I will go and give some orders." He smiled as he added:
"There will be some prisoners by and by, men my guards do not like, but
the fellow who fired the shot will not be caught."

"What about the sentry?" Adam asked.

Alvarez shrugged. "It is hot, and perhaps he was half asleep. I think the
man is faithful, and just now I am the soldier's friend."

He went off and Adam filled his glass and looked at Kit. "I feel I'm
getting old and want another drink. I got the bead on the fellow's dark
head and missed him by a yard. Well, I guess you can't expect to have
steady fingers when you've got malarial ague. It's a dramatic kind of
country, anyhow."

Kit lighted a maize-leaf cigarette and mused. He had been startled, but
his nerve was good and he knew something about the dark-skinned, reckless
people of the South. They were robbed by their rulers, who spent the most
part of the revenue to keep themselves in power; and sometimes, when the
vote was useless, assassination seemed the only remedy. But it was on his
uncle's promise Kit's thoughts dwelt. Although Adam was rich, the sum
Alvarez needed was large. The latter was honest, in a sense, and Kit
thought would not rob his friend, but he might be unable to make
repayment. In fact, he had warned Adam that there was a risk and the
bullet that struck the pillar was a significant hint. The venture looked
rash, but Adam had stated that it was not a business proposition. He and
the president were friends and this counted for much. The old Buccaneer
had a sentimental vein.

Then Kit's thoughts strayed and he wondered what Peter was doing in the
north country dale. Kit had prospered since he joined Adam and the latter
had hinted that he might be rich, but he was tired of intrigue and
excitement and the glare of the South. He wanted the bracing winds, and
the soft lights that chased the flying shadows across the English hills.
He smiled as he reflected that he was like the Herdwicks that never
forgot their native heaf; but while he longed for the red moors and
straight-cut valleys he felt a stronger call. He was young and had seen
the daughters of the South; Louisiana Creoles with a touch of old French
grace; dark-haired Habaneras with languid eyes, whose movements were a
delight to watch; octoroons ready to welcome a lover who was altogether
white, and half-breed Indian girls. All had charm and some had shown him
favors that meant much, but their charm had left Kit cold.

He thought about Grace Osborn, steady-eyed and marked by English calm.
She was frank and sometimes impulsive, but even then one got a hint of
proud reserve. There was no touch of southern coquetry about Grace, she
was not the girl to attract a lover and let him go, but if he came and
proved his worth, she would go forward with him steadfastly through the
storms of life. Kit sighed and pulled himself up. Grace was not for him
and he must not be a romantic fool. He looked round and saw that Adam was
quietly studying him.

"What are you thinking about, partner?" he asked and Kit knew the epithet
meant much. Adam had not called him partner at first.

"I was thinking about Ashness," he replied.

"Ah," said Adam softly, "I often think about it too; the old house among
the ash trees, and the Herdwicks feeding on the long slope behind. The
red heath on the fell-top and the beck bubbling in the ghyll.
Everything's clean and cool in the quiet dale, and the folk are calm and
Slow." He paused and resumed with a curious smile: "Once I reckoned I'd
go back when I got rich and make things hum, but when I had the money I
saw that plan wouldn't work. Those quiet folk would have beaten me with
their unchanging ways, and Ashness is too good to spoil. For all that, I
allowed I'd see it again before I died, but now I don't know."

His smile faded and he gave Kit a keen glance. "Why did you pull out? It
wasn't for my money. You haven't told me yet."

"No," said Kit, with some embarrassment. "I hardly think it's much of a
story, but if you like I'll tell you now."

After a few moments he stopped awkwardly, and Adam raised his hand.

"Go on. I want to get the girl properly fixed."

Kit was not skilled at sketching character, but he drew Grace's portrait
well and when he stopped Adam made a sign of sympathy.

"You have helped me place her. Don't know I'd have trusted another man's
judgment when he talked about his sweetheart, but you're not a fool.
Well, it seems to me the girl's worth getting."

"Miss Osborn is not my sweetheart. It is possible I shall never see
her again."

"But you can't forget her?"

"No," said Kit quietly; "I can't forget."

Adam was silent for some moments and then looked up.

"You're like Peter, slow and staunch, but that's one reason you're my
partner. Well, I know Osborn's kind; folk we have no use for in the
United States. White trash, we call them; men with no abilities, whose
foolish pride makes them think it's mean to work. Reckon they've first
claim on the soft jobs and don't belong to the world of fighting men. But
I guess they listen when money talks."

Kit said nothing, although he thought Adam's concluding remark
significant, and the old man went on:

"Don Hernando helped me on my feet when Vanhuyten and I first came along
this coast, with about a thousand dollars and a worn-out schooner. He's
been my friend ever since and now he's hard up against it I've got to see
him out. Guess it's going to cost me high, but when the job's put over
there ought to be some money left and I don't know that you need forget
the girl if she hasn't forgotten you. Well, perhaps I've said enough, and
now I'll go and see where Don Hernando is."

Adam got up and as he crossed the patio Kit noted that his shoulders were
bent and his movement slack. Adam had changed much since their first
meeting at the Florida hotel. He had some very obvious faults, but Kit
knew what he owed him and felt disturbed.



CHAPTER III

THE GOLD ONZA


Kit paused as he wound the long silk sash round his waist, and looked
out of the window of his room at the presidio. Square blocks of houses,
colored white and yellow, ran down the hill. Here and there a palm rose
from an opening, and the dusty green of the alameda broke the monotony
of the flat roofs and straight, blank walls that gave the town an
Eastern look.

Kit noted the strength of the presidio's situation. The old building
stood high, its battlemented roof commanded the narrow streets, and there
was a broad open space all round. He thought a few machine-guns would
make it impregnable, since a revolutionary mob was not likely to be
provided with artillery.

Kit tucked the end of the sash under the neatly-arranged folds. Some time
is required to put on a Spanish _faja_ and at first Kit had thought the
trouble unnecessary, but had found it is prudent to protect the middle of
the body in a hot climate. When he was satisfied, he turned and looked
about the room. There were no curtains or carpets, and two very crude
religious pictures were fixed to the wall. Although the air was not yet
hot, it was not fresh and a smell of spices, decay, and burnt oil came in
through the window that opened on the patio.

A sunbeam touched a small earthen jar, holding a bunch of feather
flowers. The jar was harshly colored, but the outline was bold and
graceful, and Kit knew no pottery like that had been made in the country
since the Spaniards came. He had bought it with the flowers for a few
dollars, and remembered that the shopkeeper had included its contents
when he offered it to him. "_Todo loque hay,_" he said in uncouth
Castilian.

Kit, turning over the jar carelessly, took out the flowers and as he did
so something inside rattled and a large coin fell into his hand. The coin
was old and heavy; indeed, he thought it weighed about an ounce. Taking
it to the window, he rubbed its dull face and when the metal began to
shine sat down with a thoughtful look. Unless he was mistaken, the coin
was gold and did weigh an ounce.

When he finished dressing he went to the little dark shop. The shopkeeper
was making coffee with a handful of charcoal on the doorstep, for the
sake of the draught, and took off his hat politely as Kit came up.

"I found a piece of money in the jar I bought from you," Kit said in
Castilian.

"Then your worship is lucky," the other remarked.

"But the money was not mine."

The shopkeeper shrugged. "What matter? It is yours now. Was the coin
worth much?"

"It was worth finding."

"Well," said the shopkeeper, "I do not know where the money came from,
and it may have been there a very long time. The jar is old and I
bought it from an Indian some years since." He paused and gave Kit a
keen glance. "You will remember that I offered you the jar with all
there was inside."

"You did; it held some feather flowers. Still, as you did know about
the money--"

"Then you want to give it back, if the owner can be found!"

"Certainly," said Kit.

The shopkeeper bowed. "I will make enquiries. If you should need anything
I sell, señor, perhaps you will remember that I am an honest man."

Kit went away, feeling puzzled and somewhat surprised. It looked as if
the fellow was honest, but Kit thought he had studied him and there was
something curious about his manner. Besides, a remark he made implied
that he knew the coin was old.

When he ate his eleven o'clock breakfast with Adam and the President in
the arcade, he took out the coin and told them about the shopkeeper's
refusal to take it back.

"A Spanish onza," Adam remarked. "Worth nearly five pounds in English
money, but a collector might give you more if it's as old as it looks.
One used to see onzas in Cuba, and native merchants in Central America,
who hadn't much use for banks, liked to get them. Now, however, they're
getting scarce."

"In this country, all gold coins are scarce," Alvarez said dryly. "I
agree with the shopkeeper that Don Cristoval is fortunate, and expect he
feels that my people are honester than he thought."

"I was puzzled--" said Kit and stopped, for he saw the president's smile
and began to understand.

"You are shrewd, señor; but that was to be expected from my old friend's
nephew. To begin with, the man who keeps the shop is not a supporter of
the Government."

"Ah," said Kit, "I think I see!"

Alvarez bowed. "One can trust your intelligence, and you can keep the
coin. It looks as if my antagonists were curious about your
character--the honor of a man who would take money that does not belong
to him is open to doubt. The experiment was cheap."

Kit said nothing and the president filled a little glass with scented
liquor. "I know my friends, Don Cristoval, and your uncle has stood much
harder tests."

He touched Kit's glass with his. "Well, I am lucky, because I may need
friends soon."

He got up and when he went down the long arcade Adam looked at Kit
with a smile.

"When I was your age I wouldn't have taken the onza back. I'd have kept
the money and my faith with the president; in fact, in those days, I kept
anything I could get. Now the other fellow knows what you're like, I
reckon he'll find the owner of the coin."

Adam went off after the president, and Kit pondered. A few days later, he
sat one evening at a small table outside the café Bolivar. The café was
badly lighted, hot, and full of flies. There was no door or window, and a
few wooden pillars divided the low room from the pavement, which was
strewn with cigarette ends and cardboard matches. In front, small palms,
and eucalyptus lined the dusty alameda, where groups of citizens walked
up and down. Inside the café somebody sang a Spanish song and played a
guitar. It was not cool on the pavement, although a faint breeze made the
palms rustle. The air was heavy and a smell of aniseed and new rum hung
about the spot.

Presently a man who had been playing dominos got up and came to Kit's
table. He was a white man, with pale blue eyes and yellow hair, and
although rather fat he carried himself well. Kit had met Olsen before,
and he nodded when he sat down.

"Nothing doing at the casino and the place was very hot," he said.
"Besides, I don't quite trust the man who runs the bank. Taking them all
round, these folks are clever crooks."

Kit agreed languidly and noted the order Olsen gave the half-breed
landlord. The fellow did not look as if he indulged much, but Kit thought
a large glass of the strong liquor was not often asked for. As a rule,
the Americans he had met on the Caribbean coast were abstemious, while
the half-breeds and Spaniards were satisfied with small _copitas_ of
fiery spirits distilled from the sugar cane. The English, German, and
Scandinavian adventurers consumed them freely, and perhaps the Germans
drank the most.

"How do you like it here?" Olsen resumed when he put down his glass.
"It's a country that soon palls. Are you staying long?"

"I can't tell," said Kit, who decided not to state that he knew the
country. "You see, I'm not in command."

"No," said Olsen. "I suppose you're a relation of the Buccaneer?"

"A poor relation. He gave me a lift when I needed it."

Olsen laughed. "Well, I guess he makes you hustle. A pretty lively old
pirate, if all one hears is true! I reckon they don't call him the
Buccaneer for nothing, but it's hinted that he's beginning to lose his
grip. I see your copita's empty. Will you take another drink?"

"No, thanks; I've had enough," said Kit, who distrusted Olsen. He thought
the fellow's careless remarks covered some curiosity and had tried to
leave him in doubt. Olsen probably imagined he was Adam's clerk.

"You're cautious, but one soon gets reckless here," Olsen resumed. "We
are all adventurers, out for what we can get, and the chances against our
making good are pretty steep. My notion is to have the best time I can,
pick up as much money as possible, and quit before fever, intrigue, or a
revolution knocks me out."

"It's an exciting life," Kit agreed. "Money doesn't seem plentiful."

"You have got to hustle and back the right man. Since you're stopping at
the presidio, it's obvious that Askew's on the president's side. Well, I
suppose everybody knows my employers have put their money on Galdar."

"Then, I imagine you run some risk."

"Sure," said Olsen, smiling. "Alvarez doesn't like me, and if I wasn't an
American citizen, I'd feel scared. Showed his secretary my naturalization
papers when I put up my shingle. Took them out as soon as I reached the
United States from Norway."

Kit pondered. Olsen spoke English and Castilian Well, but his accent was
not American, nor, Kit thought, Scandinavian. There were a number of
Germans in the country, engaged in extensive but rather dark commercial
schemes, whom the United States consuls watched with jealous eyes. Kit
knew that no one could transact much business without to some extent
meddling with native politics, but while the other adventurers were
satisfied with the money they could get, it looked as if the Germans
wanted something else. It was perhaps significant that Olsen had, so to
speak, insisted that he was a naturalized American and came from Norway.
Kit doubted.

"Askew's judgment is generally pretty good, but he's getting old," Olsen
remarked. "I don't see why he's backing the president; my notion is,
Galdar's surely going to win." He paused and looked at Kit thoughtfully.
"In fact, if I was holding a clerk's job on the other side, I'd consider
if it wouldn't pay me to change."

Kit imagined this was a cautious feeler, made to find out if he could be
bought, but he smiled.

"If Galdar does win, he won't have much to give his friends."

"He certainly won't have much money," Olsen agreed. "It's going to cost
him all he can raise to turn Alvarez out, but he'll have something to
give at the country's expense; sugar and coffee concessions, and perhaps
monopolies. If I can get my share, it will pay my employers well and I
allow they're generous."

He stopped, as if he thought he had said enough, and after ordering
another drink looked up with a grin. Two girls in light dresses had
passed the café once or twice with a male companion and a fat old woman
who wore black clothes. Kit had not noticed them particularly, because
other groups were moving about, but he now remarked that the man had
gone and the _dueña_ was a yard or two in front. One of the girls looked
round and he thought her glance searched the café and then stopped at
his table.

"The señorita's a looker," said Olsen. "I wonder which of us she fancies.
She's been round this way before."

"I'm not remarkably handsome and there are other people in the café,"
Kit replied. "Anyhow, I don't want to get a jealous señorita's knife
in my back."

"You're a blamed cautious fellow," Olsen rejoined in a meaning tone.
"However, you'll find me at the casino evenings if you feel you'd like a
talk, and now I'll get along."

He went off and Kit smoked another cigarette. He thought Olsen had, so to
speak, been sounding him; the fellow had certainly given him some hints.
Kit imagined he had taken a prudent line by keeping the other in the dark
about his partnership with Adam and their plans.

When he had smoked his cigarette he crossed the street to the alameda and
went up a broad walk beneath the trees. The sky had cleared, the moon was
high, and in front of the openings pools of silver light lay upon the
ground. By and by Kit saw the group he had noticed a few yards ahead.
They were moving slowly and although he walked no faster he soon came up
with them. The girl who had looked into the café was nearest and the
moonlight touched her face as she turned her head.

Kit gave her a half curious glance and felt some surprise, for he could
see her better now and thought her a pure-blooded Spaniard. The
_Peninsulares_ were aristocrats, the girl had a touch of dignity, and her
dress was rich. It was strange if a girl like that was willing to defy
conventions and risk an intrigue with a stranger. Yet he imagined he had
seen her smile, and she carried a little bunch of purple flowers in the
hand nearest him. He looked again and saw that she was beautiful and
moved with the grace that generally marks the _Peninsulares_ when they
are young. The path was broad and he could keep level with the group
without exciting curiosity, but he thought it curious that the fat old
woman, who ought to have guarded the others, was in front.

He resolved to go past, and just before he did so the girl gave him a
glance that he thought was half amused and half provocative. Then she
turned her head and next moment he saw a flower near his feet. He noted a
faint smell of heliotrope and knew she had dropped the flower for him.
This meant something, although it would not have much significance unless
he picked up the heliotrope. He did not, and walking past with a quicker
step, heard a soft laugh.

When he reached the presidio he sat down on the balcony that overlooked
the patio outside his room. There was nobody about and he began to muse.
It was rash to take things for granted, but he thought he had been made
the subject of three experiments. Somebody had put a gold onza in the
Indian jar; Olsen had tried to find out if he was ambitious; and the girl
in the alameda meant to learn if he could be moved by beauty. Well, they
ought to know something about him now, but they were not very clever or
they would have extended their experiments over a longer time. It looked
as if they thought him something of a fool, and this was, perhaps, an
advantage.

Kit smiled as he remembered that when Janet Bell tried to flirt with him
he had been rather humiliated and felt himself a prig. He was older now
and had not been much embarrassed in the alameda, although he nearly
picked up the flower. His curiosity was excited and he wanted to find out
the girl's object. Indeed, it was hard to see why he had left the flower
alone, but he had a vague feeling that it was unfair to use a charming
girl in a dark intrigue. Since he had known Grace Osborn, he had given
women a higher place. For her sake, he would not try to gain an advantage
against his and the president's antagonist by embarking on an adventure
with the Spanish girl.

Then he began to wonder whether he would see Grace again, but presently
got up with an impatient shrug. Grace, in all probability, had forgotten
their friendship and married Thorn. Anyhow, she was not for him and it
was futile to indulge a barren sentiment.



CHAPTER IV

THE PRESIDENT'S BALL


Breakfast was over and Alvarez, sitting at a table in the arcade, smiled
as he indicated the transformed patio. The broken pavement had been
swept, the fountain scrubbed until the marble showed white veins, and the
old brass rails of the balconies gleamed with yellow reflections where
the sunshine fell. Small palms and flowering plants in tubs stood among
the pillars, flags hung from crumbling cornices, and barefooted peons
were fastening up colored lamps.

"When the people are discontented they must be amused," the president
remarked. "In Rome, they gave them circuses and I had thought of a
bull-fight. There is a Spanish quadrilla in Cuba but I found it would
cost too much to bring the company across. Besides, I do not know if
strong excitement would be good for the citizens."

"A ball is safer," Adam agreed. "While they have the function to talk
about they'll forget to plot."

"For a week, perhaps! Well, it ought to be some help, if your agents
are prompt."

"They're hustlers and know they've got to get busy. I expect the _Rio
Negro_ back in fourteen days, and then it will be your business to rush
her cargo up. Mule transport's slow on your swamp tracks, and it's
perhaps unfortunate you didn't give my friends the concession for the
light railroad. You might have found it useful now."

Alvarez shrugged. "A railroad can be cut, and locomotives break down at
awkward times when their drivers are bribed. Then, I have granted so many
concessions that there is not much that foreigners think worth getting
left in the country. One must keep something to bargain with."

"Governing a people like yours is an expensive job. However, since they
make it expensive, they oughtn't to grumble if you tax them high."

"They do not always pay the taxes," Alvarez rejoined with a twinkle. "If
they run me out, they will probably disown their debts, and then there
will be trouble with the foreigners. Still, that is not very important,
because I shall be gone and the Americans will not let the others'
consuls use much pressure. The speculators understand the risks."

"That's so," said Adam and added meaningly: "Some of the speculators are
American."

Alvarez put his finely-shaped hand on Adam's arm. "My friend, if it is
possible, you will be paid. If not, it will be because I am dead."

"I know," said Adam. "I'm not scared to take chances and when they go
against me I don't grumble. Anyhow, time is important and if you work
this ball properly it ought to give us another week. You'll get the money
for your soldiers shortly afterwards and Mayne will land your guns."

The president's dark face softened and he smiled.

"I know whom I can trust," he said and went away.

"If it's possible for a half-breed to be an honest man, Don Hernando
meets the bill," Adam remarked. "Anyhow, he's a better president than
these folks deserve, and they'll be blamed fools if they turn him down."
He was silent for a few moments and then resumed: "I gave you a share in
my business, Kit, and now, if you are willing, I'll buy you out."

"But I'm quite satisfied; I'd much sooner stick to our agreement," Kit
said with surprise.

"Well, I guess you're rash. Your share isn't large but it would go some
way to buy an English farm. Raising Herdwick sheep is a pretty tame
occupation, but I reckon it's safer than backing Alvarez."

Kit thought hard and imagined he saw Adam's object. "Of course," he said,
"if you want to get rid of me--"

"I don't know that I'm keen. You're some help, but you came out to
forget the girl in England, and not to stay. Well, if you mean to go,
now's your time."

"The trouble is I haven't forgotten her," Kit answered quietly.

Adam's eyes twinkled. "If you go home, you may get her, and I allow she's
probably worth the effort, but you're not going to side-track me like
that. If you quit now, I can buy you out and you'll have something to
help you make another start; afterwards I mayn't be able. You needn't
hesitate about taking the money; I guess you've earned it."

"I suspected where you were leading. Still you see, I'd sooner stay. For
one thing, I hate leaving an awkward job half finished. You're beginning
to feel the job is bigger than you thought it was when you undertook it?"

"It certainly is," Adam agreed. "However, since you insist, I'll talk
plain. Alvarez has no claim on you, although he has a claim on me, and I
pay my debts. The last to fall due is going to strain my finances, but it
must be paid, a hundred cents for every dollar. All the same, the
liability is not yours. There's no reason why you shouldn't pull out
while you're safe."

Kit shook his head. "I see a reason. I don't know if it's sound, but
after all one's self-respect is worth something."

"Oh, well!" said Adam, "we won't quarrel. You're very like Peter and he's
the staunchest man I know."

He got up and when he went off, Kit, feeling somewhat moved, lighted a
cigarette and smoked thoughtfully. It looked as if Adam did not think the
president would win, but for all that meant to stand by him. Although not
fastidious about his business methods, Adam had his code and was not
afraid, when friendship demanded it, to fight for a lost cause. Moreover,
Kit meant to fight with him. Then he got up and smiled. Adam meant well,
but he was clumsy; if he had wanted to save Kit from sharing his risk, he
might have made a better plan.

When evening came Kit entered the arcade and sat down in a quiet spot to
look about. The moon was nearly full and flooded half the patio with
silver light; the rest was in shadow and rows of colored lamps twinkled
in the gloom. A band played behind the pillars, the rattle of castanets
breaking in on the tinkle of the guitars when the beat was sharply
marked. The music was seductive, unlike any Kit had heard in England, and
he thought it tinged by the melancholy the Moors had brought, long since,
from the East to Spain.

At one end of the patio, groups of young men and women moved through the
changing figures of an old Spanish dance. Their poses were strangely
graceful, and some had a touch of stateliness. This vanished when the
music changed and the well-balanced figures, raising bent arms, danced
with riotous abandon. In a minute or two the melancholy note was struck
again and the movements were marked by dignified reserve. Kit got a hint
of Southern passion and, by contrast, of the austerity that often goes
with Indian blood.

In the meantime, he noted the play of moving color, for the women wore
white and pink and yellow. Some had flowers in their dark hair and some
covered their heads with a lace mantilla. The men's clothes were varied,
for a number wore shabby uniforms, and others white linen with red silk
sashes, while a few had chosen the plain black, and wide sombrero, of the
Spanish don.

At the other end of the patio, portly señoras with powdered faces sat
among the pillars, and grave, dark-skinned citizens moved about the
pavement in talking groups. A heavily-built man with a very swarthy color
and thick lips went to and fro among them, bowing and smiling, and Kit
knew this was Galdar, the president's rival. Kit did not like the fellow
and thought his negro strain was marked. He looked sensual, cruel, and
cunning. For the most part, the president stood outside the crowd,
although now and then a group formed about him. He was tall and thin, his
face was inscrutable, and Kit thought he looked lonely and austere.

By and by an officer Kit had met told him he must dance and took him
along the arcade. The officer stopped where two girls sat under a string
of lamps, with a man in black clothes and a fat old woman behind. At
first, Kit could not see them well, but when they got up he started as he
recognized the girl who had dropped the flower. Then he tried to hide his
embarrassment as he was presented to Señorita Francisca Sarmiento. She
was handsomer than he had thought and as she made him a stately curtsey
her eyes twinkled.

Kit imagined the other girl studied him carefully and wondered whether
she knew about the flower. It was, however, his duty to ask the señorita
to dance, and after a few moments they crossed the pavement. Kit had some
misgivings, because the dance was involved and one used a number of
different steps, but the girl guided him through its intricacies and when
he took her back signed him to sit down. He obeyed, for Francisca
Sarmiento had an imperious air. Other young men came up when the music
began again, but passed on, and Kit imagined the girl had made them
understand they were to do so since one or two frowned at him.

"Well," she said, looking at him across her fan, "how do you like
this country?"

"It has many attractions," Kit replied.

"But some drawbacks?"

"The drawbacks are not very obvious now."

"Ah," she said, giving him a mocking glance, "for an Englishman, you are
polite, but it looks as if you were as cautious as I thought."

"I'm flattered that you thought about me at all." Kit rejoined.

She laughed and played with her fan. "Oh, well; we are curious about
strangers, particularly when they are friends of the president's. One
wonders why they come."

"I imagine most of us come to get money."

"In this country, one gets nothing unless one runs some risk, and you are
cautious," Francisca remarked.

Kit noted her insistence on this trait of his. He thought her remarks had
a meaning that did not appear on the surface.

"I wonder what grounds you have for thinking so," he said.

"Are they not obvious?" she answered. "Not long since you hesitated to
pick up a sprig of heliotrope."

"I durst not think the compliment was meant for me."

Francisca glanced at him with quiet amusement. "You are modest, señor; it
looks as if you had a number of virtues. For one thing, I imagine you are
honest, and honesty is not very common here." She paused and resumed in a
meaning tone: "It is a drawback, if one wants to get rich."

"I don't know that my character is worth your study," Kit replied
carelessly.

"You are of some importance, señor. Although I have admitted that you are
modest, it is strange you do not know."

"Why should I know?" Kit asked.

Francisca studied him over her ebony fan, which hid half her face and
emphasized the curious glow of her black eyes. "I do not think you are as
dull as you pretend. Have you not been experimented on recently?"

"I think I have," said Kit. "After all, a gold onza is not a great
temptation. I found another--a spray of heliotrope--harder to resist."

"But you did resist!" she replied in a quiet voice.

"Yes," said Kit, fixing his eyes on her face. "I am an adventurer like
the rest, but it is rather a shabby thing to try to gain an advantage in
a battle with a woman. Besides, as I'm not clever, I might have failed."

With a languid movement of her head Francisca looked round and Kit
imagined she saw the others were too far off to hear. Then she made him a
half mocking bow.

"We need not quarrel, señor, and I will give you a hint. Since you are
incorruptible, this town is not the place for you. Strangers from the
North sometimes get fever. And I would not like you to suffer because you
are honest, and have chosen the losing side."

"Ah," said Kit, "you think our side will lose?"

Francisca moved her fan, as if to indicate Galdar, who stood in the
moonlight near the fountain. He was smiling urbanely and a number of men
and women had gathered about him. Kit knew they were people of
importance. At the end of the patio, the president stood alone in the
advancing gloom.

"You see!" she said. "Well, I am engaged for the next dance. You have my
leave to go."

Kit left her and sat down in a quiet spot. On the whole, he thought the
president's antagonists had been foolish when they tried to use the girl;
she was, so to speak, too good, and perhaps too proud, for the part they
expected her to play. This, however, was not important; he imagined she
had meant well when she gave him a hint, although the hint was not worth
much, because Kit thought Adam saw how things were going. Then he
reflected with some amusement that he need not bother much about
deceiving the enemy, since Galdar's friends would not suspect that
Buccaneer Askew had knowingly chosen the losing side.

Presently Kit joined Adam, who sat near a lamp. His face was damp and
looked pinched.

"Let's go and get a drink," he said. "I'm thirsty; got a dose of
intermittent fever again."

Some tables behind the pillars were laid out with wine and fruit, and
Adam beckoned a mulatto waiter.

"_Tinto and siphon_. Bring some ice."

"There is no _siphon_, señor. We have sherry, vermouth, and some very
good anisado."

"You have plenty _siphon_" Adam declared. "Go and look."

The waiter went away and Adam frowned. "I can't stand for their scented
liquors; I want a long, cool drink."

After a few minutes, the waiter came back with a large glass, in
which a lump of ice floated in red wine and mineral water. Adam,
sending him away, remarked: "That's a stupid fellow. I wanted to mix
the stuff myself."

He drank thirstily and put down the glass.

"Tastes bitter; too much resin in the wine, or perhaps it's imagination."
He lifted the glass but stopped and threw the rest of the liquor on the
pavement. "Reckon I've had enough. About the meanest drink I've struck.
Give me a cigar. The taste stops in my mouth."

Kit gave him a cigar, but after a few minutes he threw it away.

"I don't feel much better and think I'll go to my room. You might come
along; the stairs are steep."

He got up awkwardly and leaned upon the table, breathing rather hard
while big drops of sweat started from his forehead. "This confounded
ague grips me tight. Don't know when I've felt so shaky. Better give me
your arm."

They started, and keeping in the shadow, reached the outside stairs
without exciting much curiosity, but Kit felt disturbed. Adam went up
slowly, stopping now and then, and stumbled across the balcony at the
top. Bright moonlight shone into the bare room, where a small lamp
burned, and Kit saw that Adam's face was wet.

"Leave me alone," he said. "You can come back by and by and see how I'm
getting on."

Kit did not want to go, but gave way when Adam insisted. He met the
president soon afterwards.

"Where is Don Adam?" the latter asked.

Kit told him and added that his uncle had seemed to get worse after
drinking some wine.

"Ah," said Alvarez thoughtfully. "Fresh lime-juice is better when one is
feverish. Did he drink anything else?"

"No," said Kit. "The waiter wanted to bring some anisado, but he insisted
on the wine."

Alvarez took him to the table where the refreshments were served and
clapped his hands. A waiter came up, but Kit said, "That is not the boy."

"Where are your companions?" the president asked.

"One is washing the glasses, señor. I do not know where the other
has gone."

Alvarez opened a door and Kit saw a man putting small _copitas_
into a pail.

"It was another fellow who brought the wine," he said, and Alvarez
beckoned the waiter.

"Call the mayor-domo."

A man dressed in plain black clothes came in, and Alvarez asked: "How
many of these fellows did you send to serve the wine?"

"Two, señor. It was enough."

"Three came. It will be your business to find the third," said the
president sternly and turned to Kit. "What was the fellow like?"

Kit described the waiter and Alvarez said to the mayor-domo, "You will be
held accountable if the man has got away. Send Doctor Martin to the
bottom of the stairs."

The mayor-domo went away and Alvarez knitted his brows.

"Galdar's friends are bold, but I had not expected this. However, Don
Adam's drinking wine may have balked them and Martin is a good doctor."

Kit asked no questions, for he could trust the president and thought
there was no time to lose. They crossed the patio and found a man waiting
in the shadow at the bottom of the steps. Alvarez said a word or two and
they went up. When they entered the room Adam glanced up from the bed.

"I see you have brought the doctor," he said with an effort.

"In this country, one takes precautions," Alvarez replied. "You look ill,
my friend."

"I'd have looked worse if I'd drunk anisado," Adam remarked. "Anyhow, you
had better light out and let Señor Martin get to work."

The doctor, who felt Adam's pulse, made a sign of agreement, and then
writing on a leaf of his pocketbook gave it to the president.

"Will you send that to my house? I need the things at once."

Alvarez moved away and Adam looked at Kit with a forced smile. "You
needn't be anxious, partner. I didn't drink all the wine; reckon they
haven't got me yet."

Then they went out and left Adam with the doctor.



CHAPTER V

OLSEN'S OFFER


For a time, Kit wandered about the arcade, talking now and then to people
he knew. The doctor had forbidden him to return to Adam's room and the
president said it was important the guests should not know that anything
unusual had happened. Although Kit watched the stairs anxiously, nobody
came down, but he saw the mayor-domo going quietly about and servants
came and went on mysterious errands. When he looked out he found the
sentries had been doubled on the terrace and one stopped when, for a few
moments, Kit left the arch, but the soldier knew him and marched on.
While it was obvious that the waiter was being looked for, Kit thought
the search had begun too late.

At length, Alvarez sent for him, and although his heart beat as he
followed the messenger he felt some relief when he saw the president.

"I have good news," the latter said. "The doctor is no longer anxious and
you may see your uncle in the morning. It looks as if Don Adam's caution
saved him."

"You mean when he refused the anisado?"

Alvarez nodded. "It is a strong-smelling liquor and one drinks a small
quantity, taking water afterwards, if one wants. Don Adam knows the
country, and after all my enemies have not much imagination. To offer him
anisado was a rather obvious trick."

"I'm thankful they failed," Kit said sternly, and clenched his fist with
sudden passion. "If they had not--"

"One understands, Don Cristoval; I have felt like that when the plotters
did not fail," Alvarez answered with grim sympathy. He was silent for a
moment or two and Kit imagined he was thinking about his murdered son.
Then he resumed: "Well, we shall have a reckoning and it will be bad for
the dogs when I send in my bill. But that must wait, and I would like you
to dance. I see Señorita Sarmiento is not engaged and she dances well."

"I doubt if Dona Francisca would care to dance with me again."

"Ah," said Alvarez, "one should not be too modest! Francisca is a
politician, but she is a woman. Perhaps you found she is not on my side?"

"I imagined she was not."

Alvarez shrugged. "Well, I do not fight with women, although they are
sometimes dangerous. Try again, my friend. Just now we are all playing at
make-believe."

Kit obeyed and found Francisca gracious. She danced with him and
afterwards allowed him to sit by her. By and by she remarked: "I have not
seen Señor Askew for some time."

"He was not very well," said Kit.

Francisca studied his face. "I hope his illness is not serious. I thought
I saw Doctor Martin."

"Fever. My uncle gets it now and then."

"I think I warned you against our fevers," Francisca replied meaningly.
"There are two or three kinds, but all are not dangerous."

"Some are?" Kit suggested.

"Yes; to foreigners. We others take precautions and are acclimatized."

"Well," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I have not had fever yet, but I
suppose an unacclimatized adventurer runs some risk."

Francisca played with her fan and Kit imagined she was pondering.

"A risk that leads to nothing is not worth while," she remarked. "I think
it would be prudent if you left the country while you are well."

"I should be sorry if I thought you wanted me to go," said Kit.

"That is cheap, señor. I gave you good advice."

"Oh, well," said Kit, "I really think you did. There are matters about
which we do not agree; but I believe you are too kind to let a rather
ignorant antagonist get hurt."

Franciscans eyes twinkled as she rejoined: "I like the compliment better
than the other. But I am engaged for the next dance and as you are
intelligent there is not much more to be said."

Kit went away, thinking rather hard. The girl had some part in the
intrigue against the president, and it would obviously be an advantage to
her friends if he could be persuaded to leave the country now Adam was
ill. Admitting this, he thought her warning sincere. On the whole, he
liked Francisca Sarmiento and believed she did not want him to be hurt.
If Adam did not get much better and he had to look after things, he would
certainly run some risk of a cunning attack by the president's enemies.

When the guests began to leave, Kit went to his room and after some
hours of broken sleep was told that Adam wanted him. He found Alvarez in
the room and Adam lying, with a flushed face and wet forehead, in a big
cane chair. When Kit came in Adam gave him a friendly smile and turned
to Alvarez.

"If I'd taken that drink at a wineshop, I'd have deserved all I got," he
said. "I allowed I was safe at the presidio."

"It is a stain on my hospitality for which somebody shall pay."

"That's all right," said Adam; "you're not accountable. Looks as if the
other fellow was too smart for both of us; but I had a feeling I'd better
stick to _tinto_ and _siphon_. You can generally taste anything
suspicious in that mixture and I've been doped before. But, as I'm an
American citizen and American influence is powerful, I didn't expect
they'd be bold enough to get after me."

Alvarez smiled. "Our climate is unhealthy, but if you had died and
suspicion was excited, your countrymen would have made the
president responsible. That would have been another embarrassment
and I have enough."

"Galdar's friends are a cunning lot," Adam replied. "Well, I think your
doctor has fixed me up for a time. What about your plans?"

"I had some talk with my supporters last night and we agreed to strike
when the _Rio Negro's_ cargo arrives. We need the guns and money to pay
my troops, and when we get them we will arrest the leading conspirators.
This will start the revolution, but it will fail if my blow is struck
before Galdar is ready."

"Yes," said Adam. "We can trust Mayne; he knows he's got to hustle. I've
fixed it for him to get the Spanish money at Havana and that will mean
losing a day or two, but the old _Rio Negro_ can hit up a pretty good
pace and Mayne won't spare his coal. I reckon we'll hear from him soon."

Adam stopped and Kit, seeing that it cost him an effort to talk, took
the president away. They met the doctor on the stairs and Kit waited at
the bottom until he came down. Señor Martin was a fat, dark-skinned,
Spanish Creole.

"Your uncle is an obstinate man and will not take a hint," he remarked.
"I had some trouble to save him and he may not escape next time."

"Then you imagine there will be another time?"

Señor Martin shrugged expressively, "I am a doctor not a politician, but
in this country much depends upon the risk of being found out. Señor
Askew is old and not strong. One must pay for leading a strenuous life
and he has had malaria for some years. He ought to remain in the North.
It is your business to persuade him, but do not disturb him yet."

"I will try," Kit said doubtfully. "You think it needful?"

"If he does not go soon, he will not go at all," the doctor replied in a
meaning tone.

He went away and some time afterwards Kit returned to his uncle's room.
The shutters were pushed back from the balcony window and the strong
light, reflected by the white wall, showed the thinness of Adam's figure
and the deep lines on his face. His skin was a curious yellow color and
his eyes were dull.

"You haven't been well for some time and the stuff you got last night has
shaken you rather badly," Kit remarked with a touch of embarrassment. "I
think you ought to go back with Mayne."

"You imagine you can manage things better without me?" Adam rejoined.

"No," said Kit, coloring. "It's a big and awkward job, but perhaps I can
manage. I feel you ought to go."

"It looks as if the doctor had put you on my track. He's been arguing
with me. What did he say?"

Kit hesitated and Adam smiled. "I can guess, partner, and perhaps he was
right. Well, I'm getting old and have a notion I won't live long, anyway.
Don't see that it matters much if I go or stay, and I've a reason for
staying you don't know yet. Besides, I hate to be beaten and mean to put
over my last job." He paused and gave Kit a steady look. "There's one
drawback; putting it over may cost you something."

"That doesn't count," Kit said quietly. "What you have is yours; I expect
you earned it hard."

"I certainly did," Adam agreed. "I earned part of what I've got by jobs
that cost me more than my health. I'd wipe out some of my early deals, if
I could. Well, I don't know if playing a straight game on a losing hand
will cancel past mistakes, but I feel I've got to play it out. My wad and
yours are in the pool."

"It's not my wad," Kit objected. "You have treated me generously."

"Oh, well!" said Adam. "Perhaps I'll ask you to remember that by and by.
In the meantime, I've no use for arguing and am going to stop. We'll say
no more about it, but if I'm too sick to handle things, you'll take
control. You know my plans, and that's enough; I don't need your promises
that you won't let me down. Now you can get out. I'm going to sleep."

Kit went away, feeling moved, but anxious. His uncle trusted him and he
had got strangely fond of the Buccaneer. Adam had his faults and his
career had been marked by incidents that were hard to justify, but he was
staunch to his friends. Kit did not know how far Alvarez deserved his
staunch support, and suspected that Adam was, to some extent, moved by
pride. He meant to make good before he let things go. Kit resolved that
when the old man's hands lost the grip he would take firm hold.

Next day Adam was obviously worse and when two or three more had passed
the doctor looked anxious. Then, one hot evening, the president brought
Kit a letter addressed to his uncle.

"Don Adam is asleep and must not be disturbed," he said. "Perhaps you had
better read this. It may be about the _Rio Negro_."

Kit opened the envelope and frowned. The letter was from Mayne, who
stated that he had met bad weather soon after leaving port and the racing
of the engines in a heavy sea had caused some damage. He had, however,
reached Havana, where he had received the Spanish money, and did not know
what to do. Some time would be required to repair the damage, but it
would be risky to resume the voyage with disabled engines. Kit gave the
letter to the president, whose dark face flushed, and for a few moments
he stormed with Spanish fury.

"This dog of a sailor has been bought!" he cried, clenching his hands
as he walked about the floor. "If the money does not arrive soon, it
will be too late; my soldiers will not take our notes. Galdar has paid
him to ruin me."

Kit, knowing the emotional character of the half-breeds, let him rage.
Alvarez did not often lose his self-control and he had some grounds for
feeling disturbed. When he stopped, Kit said quietly, "The captain is
honest, but if he loses his ship with the guns and money on board, it
will not help us much. If my uncle is better in the morning, I will see
what he thinks; if not, I will decide about the orders to send."

When Alvarez left him he went into the town and after walking about the
alameda sat down at a table in front of the café and ordered some wine.
This was safer than the black coffee and scented cordials the citizens
drank, but he tasted it carefully and gave himself up to anxious thought
without draining his glass. The insurance on the _Rio Negro_ did not
cover all the risks Mayne would run if he left port with disabled
engines, and the coast was dangerous. The loss of the ship would be a
blow, but if Mayne did not leave Havana soon the freight might arrive
after the president's fall. Kit, feeling his responsibility, shrank from
the momentous choice, and while he pondered Olsen came up and occupied a
chair opposite.

"Drinking _tinto_!" he remarked. "Well, I guess that's prudent. But how's
the Buccaneer? He's been looking shaky and I heard he was ill."

Kit wondered how much Olsen knew. He said Adam's fever came and went and
he would, no doubt, be better soon. Olsen smiled and shook his head.

"There's no use in giving me that stuff; I know the climate! Askew's
going under fast and will never be fit again. I reckon the old man
knows he's got to let up, if you don't. What are you going to do when
he pulls out?"

"It will need some thought," Kit answered cautiously, since he had
grounds for believing the other imagined he was Adam's clerk.

Olsen ordered some vermouth, and then remarked in a meaning tone: "I
don't have to be careful about my drinks. There's an advantage in taking
the popular side."

"Are you sure yours is the popular side?"

"Wait and see," Olsen rejoined, "though that plan's expensive, because
it may be too late when you find out. My employers don't often back
the wrong man and I trust their judgment now. If you'll listen, I'll
show you."

Kit signed him to go on and Olsen resumed: "The Buccaneer will drop out
soon and you'll be left to do the best you can for yourself. Well, I
don't suppose you'll get another chance like this; we'll pay you ten
thousand dollars if you can keep the _Rio Negro_ back for a week."

"That doesn't indicate that you're sure of winning," Kit remarked dryly.
"Besides, I wouldn't trust Galdar to put up the money."

"I don't ask you to trust Galdar; my people will find the money. In a
sense, it doesn't matter to us who is president, except that we want the
concessions Galdar promised, and they're worth an extra two thousand
pounds. We'll give you American bills for the sum if your steamer lands
her cargo too late to be of use."

Kit thought hard. It looked as if Olsen knew the _Rio Negro_ had broken
down. If so, he was obviously well informed and his employers were
persuaded that the probability of the president's downfall was strong
enough to justify the bribe. Two thousand pounds would go some way to
making Ashness a model farm, while it was plain that Adam might lose the
money he had hinted he meant to leave Kit. Kit, however, did not feel
tempted, although he wanted to find out something about Olsen's plans.

"You seem to take my agreement for granted," he remarked. "You must see
that I could embarrass you by telling Alvarez."

Olsen laughed. "You could put him wise; but you couldn't embarrass us.
The president knows whom he's up against. The trouble is he isn't strong
enough to get after us."

"Well, suppose I refuse?"

"You'll be a blame fool. That's all there is to it."

Kit doubted. He knew what had happened to Adam, and, in spite of Olsen's
statement, imagined Galdar's friends would not let him warn the
president.

"Anyhow, you must give me until the morning. I want to think about it,"
he said, in order to test his suspicions.

"We can't wait; the thing must be put over now. There's no use in trying
to raise my offer. You know our limit."

"Oh, well!" said Kit, "I'm afraid I'll have to let it go. There are
difficulties, and if you can't wait--"

Olsen looked at him with surprise, and Kit saw he had not expected his
offer to be refused. The fellow had a cynical distrust of human nature
that had persuaded him Kit could not resist the temptation; his shallow
cleverness sometimes misled him and had done so when he took it for
granted that Kit was Adam's clerk.

"You don't mean you're going to turn my offer down?" Olsen said sharply.

"You force me. I can't decide just yet."

Olsen hesitated, knitting his brows. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "that's
ridiculous! The thing will cost you nothing, and I'll come up a thousand
dollars. You ought to see you must accept."

"I don't see," Kit replied as carelessly as he could, and got up. "Since
you can't wait, I understand the matter's off."

He went away, and glancing back as he crossed the street, saw that
Olsen's pose was curiously fixed and he seemed to be gazing straight in
front. Some of the customers now left the café and Kit lost sight of him.
The moon was high and clear, but the black shadows of the trees fell upon
the walk through the alameda and there were not many people about. Kit
would sooner not have crossed the alameda, although this was his nearest
way, but thought he had better do so. Olsen might be watching, and Kit
did not want the fellow to imagine he was afraid, since it would indicate
that he knew the importance of his refusal. Yet he was afraid, and it
cost him something of an effort to plunge into the gloom.



CHAPTER VI

THE PRESIDENT'S WATCHERS


When Kit was half way across the alameda he stopped and looked about.
Dark trees rose against the sky; he could smell the eucalyptus and their
thin shadows covered the ground with a quivering, open pattern. There was
a pool of moonlight, and farther on the solid, fan-shaped reflections of
palms. Nobody was near him, although he heard voices across the alameda,
and he stood for a few moments, thinking, while his heart beat.

Since he had refused Olsen's offer, caution was advisable, because Kit
felt sure the fellow had expected him to agree, and it was obvious that
he knew enough to make him dangerous. He distrusted Olsen, who was not a
native American, and probably not a Norwegian, as he pretended. There was
a mystery about his employers, but Kit suspected that they were Germans,
and as a rule the latters' commercial intrigues were marked by an
unscrupulous cunning of which few of their rivals seemed capable. This
was admitting much, since the foreign adventurers did not claim high
principles.

On the surface, it was obviously prudent to take the shortest line to the
presidio, but Kit reflected that Olsen would expect him to do so. It
might be better to put him off the track by going another way and Kit was
anxious to know if he had left the café. Stepping back into the shadow,
he made for another path and a few minutes afterwards returned to the
street. He glanced at the café as he walked past and saw that Olsen was
not there. He thought this ominous, since it indicated that the fellow
had gone to consult his revolutionary friends and Kit imagined they would
try to prevent his reaching the presidio. He seldom carried a pistol,
which was difficult to hide when one wore thin white clothes. On the
whole, he had found a suspicious bulge in one's pocket rather apt to
provoke than to save one from attack; but he was sorry he had not a
pistol now.

Kit went back across the alameda, hoping he had put Olsen's friends off
the track. If so, he would be safe until he got near the presidio, when
he must be cautious. He passed two or three groups of people, and now and
then heard steps behind, but the steps were followed by voices that
relieved his anxiety. For all that, he was glad to leave the alameda and
turn up a street.

The street was narrow, hot, and dirty. There was a smell of decaying
rubbish and the rancid oil used in cooking. One side was in shadow, and
almost unbroken walls rose from the rough pavement. For the most part,
the outside windows were narrow slits, since the houses got light from
the central patio. Here and there an oil-lamp marked a corner, but that
was all, and Kit kept in the moonlight and looked about keenly when he
passed a shadowy door. Perspiration trickled down his face and he felt an
unpleasant nervous tension. Yet nobody came near him and when he
cautiously glanced round nobody was lurking in the gloom. He began to
think he had cheated Olsen, but admitted that it was too soon to slacken
his watchfulness.

At one corner, he saw two figures in shabby white uniform, and hesitated.
In Spanish-American countries, the government generally maintains a force
of carefully picked men, entrusted with powers that are seldom given to
ordinary police. They patrol in couples, carry arms, and are sometimes
called _guardias civiles_ and sometimes _rurales_. Kit knew he could
trust the men, but doubted if they could leave their post; besides he did
not want Olsen to know he thought it needful to ask for protection. Now
he came to think of it, he had seen the _rurales_ outside the café and at
another corner. Perhaps this was why he had been left alone.

He went on, rather reluctantly, and by and by reached the broad square in
front of the presidio. The old building was clear in the moonlight; Kit
could see a sentry on the terrace and a faint glow in the slit in the
wall that marked Adam's room. It was hardly two-hundred yards off and he
would be safe before he reached the arch, but a grove of small palms and
shrubs ran between him and the square. There were rails behind the trees
and the nearest opening was some distance off. A high blank wall threw a
dark shadow that stretched across the road by the rails and met the gloom
of the trees.

Kit looked about, without stopping or turning his head much. There was
nobody in sight, but he somehow felt that he was not alone. It was a
disturbing, and apparently an illogical, feeling that he must not
indulge, and pulling himself together he went on, with his fist clenched.
He was not far from the gate, and although he listened hard could only
hear his own steps and voices in a neighboring street. Yet his nerves
tingled and his muscles got tense. In front, a thick, dark mass that
looked like a clump of euphorbia or cactus stood beside the path, and
just beyond it a bright beam of moonlight shone between the drooping
branches of the palms.

He thought the spot the beam touched was dangerous. As he crossed it his
figure would be strongly illuminated and he would have his back to the
dark bush. He wanted to move aside and go round the bush, but this might
give somebody time to spring out and get between him and the gate. The
gate was close by and he was strangely anxious to reach it. For all that,
he was not going to indulge his imagination.

He plunged into the gloom, without deviating from his path, and conquered
a nervous impulse that urged him to run. When he had nearly passed the
bush he thought he heard a movement and a thick stalk of the cactus
shook. Half instinctively, Kit leaped forward and felt something soft
brush against his shoulder. As he swung round, in the moonlight, with his
mouth set and his hand drawn back to strike, he saw a blanket on the
ground. There was nothing else and he breathed hard as he searched the
gloom. The blanket had not been there before.

Next moment, a dark figure sprang from the shadow and a knife flashed in
the moonlight; then he heard a heavy report and a puff of smoke blew
past his head. The figure swerved and, staggering awkwardly, fell with a
heavy thud. It did not move afterwards, and while Kit gazed at it dully
a man in white uniform ran past and stooped beside the fellow on the
ground. Kit vacantly noted that a little smoke curled from the muzzle of
his pistol.

"One cartridge is enough," he said coolly. "Your worship did not
escape by much."

Another _rural_ came out of the bushes and when they turned over the body
Kit saw a dark face and a long, thin knife clenched in a brown hand. He
understood now that the blanket had been meant to entangle his arm or
head; half-breed peons often carry a rolled-up blanket of good quality on
their shoulder.

"It is Gil Ortega," the _rural_ remarked. "A good shot that will save us
some trouble, comrade!"

"How did you come here when you were wanted?" Kit asked as calmly
as he could.

The _rural_ smiled. "By the president's order, señor. We were watching
the café."

"But it looks as if you had got in front of me."

"It is so, señor. We thought it best to follow this fellow. He lost you
when you turned back."

Kit nodded, for he remembered that he had instinctively avoided one or
two dark lanes that would have given him a shorter line than the streets.
Ortega and the _rurales_ had taken the shorter way. He thought it curious
the report had not drawn a crowd, but although he heard voices nobody
came near and he imagined the citizens were used to pistol shots. Giving
the _rurales_ some money, he crossed the square to the presidio and going
to his room lighted a cigarette. He thought a smoke might be soothing,
for he had got a jar.

After a time, he went to look for Alvarez and found him sitting in front
of a table in the patio. A soldier stood not far off, but the president
was alone and the light of a shaded lamp fell upon a bundle of letters
and documents. Alvarez worked hard and had inherited a rather austere
simplicity from his Indian ancestors. Kit thought his plain white clothes
and quiet calm gave him dignity.

"It looks as if my enemies meant to lose no time," he said, in English,
when Kit told him about his adventure.

"It's their third try in a few weeks," Kit agreed. "Don't you find the
uncertainty about where they'll strike next rather wearing?"

Alvarez shrugged. "One gets used to these affairs; a custom of the
country, and there is something to be said for it. If the plot succeeds,
it is an easy way of turning out a president and changing the government.
Perhaps it is better to kill a man or two than fight round barricades and
burn the town."

"In the North, we find it possible to change our government by vote."

"You are cold-blooded people and don't understand the passions of the
South," Alvarez rejoined with cynical humor. "We have tried your plan,
but one must be rich to buy the votes. Besides, if one is beaten at the
polls, there remains the last appeal to the knife. But you will let this
go. We have something else to talk about."

"That is so," said Kit. "To begin with, I must thank you for sending your
_rurales_ to look after me."

"It is nothing," Alvarez replied in a deprecatory tone. "You are my guest
and we try to take care of foreigners, because if they meet with
accidents their consuls ask embarrassing questions. Besides, watching
them serves two objects."

"Then, I expect you know I met Olsen at the café?" Kit suggested dryly.

Alvarez smiled. "Yes; I know. But I was not suspicious."

"After all, one doesn't generally conspire in a public place. In fact, I
don't understand why Olsen met me there."

"He may have meant to compromise you; to put doubts in my mind."

"It's possible, now I think of it," Kit assented. "I hope he didn't
succeed."

"I know my friends, Don Cristoval. But what did the fellow want? I do not
know all."

"Your spies are pretty smart, but I expect our colloquial English puzzled
them," Kit remarked, smiling. "However, I was going to tell you--"

He narrated what Olsen had said and Alvarez looked thoughtful.

"Galdar must be nearly ready; he has been quicker than I imagined. What
are you going to do about the steamer?"

"I'll wait until tomorrow. If my uncle is well enough, he must decide."

"But if he is no better?" Alvarez asked.

Kit gave him a level glance. "Then I will send Mayne orders to run all
risks and start, whether his engines are repaired or not."

"Ah," said Alvarez with a bow, "Olsen was foolish when he tried to bribe
you! I suppose this is your answer! Well, it is lucky that a fast
schooner sails to a port from which a telegram can be sent. When your
orders are ready I will see that they go."

Next morning Kit found Adam lying half awake after a night of delirium.
The old man's eyes were heavy, his brain was dull, and the doctor, who
came in, made Kit a sign not to disturb him. Kit went out and spent some
time writing a message to Mayne. It was necessary that the captain should
know what he must do, but Kit was anxious to give no hint about the
importance of speed that others would understand. He meant to guard
against his orders being read by spies in Olsen's pay.

When he had sealed the envelope and addressed it as the president had
told him, he went down to the patio and found a peon talking to a guard.

"This man is the mate of the Catalina and wants to see you," said
the guard, and when he went off Kit turned to the other, who looked
like a sailor.

"My wife lives in the town and I have been at home for a day or two,"
said the man. "I am going back to the schooner now and was told you had a
letter for the patron."

Kit put his hand in his pocket. Although he had expected the mayor-domo
would come for the message, there was not much formality at the presidio,
and the fellow was obviously a sailor. Yet Kit hesitated and as he stood
with his hand on the envelope thought the other's eyelids flickered. The
flicker was almost too slight to notice, but it hinted at nervousness and
Kit dropped the message back.

"Very well," he said. "Wait a few minutes."

He went along the arcade and stopping near the end looked back. The
sailor had sat down on a bench and was lighting a cigarette. This looked
as if he did not mind waiting, and Kit wondered whether it was worth
while to disturb the president, who was occupied. He went on, however,
and Alvarez signed him to sit down when he entered his room. After a
minute or two, he put down the document he was reading to his secretary.

"Well," he said, "have you written your message for Captain Mayne?"

"It is here. The _Catalina's_ mate is waiting."

Alvarez turned to the secretary. "My order was that the _patron_
should come."

"That is so, señor. I sent him word."

"The man told me his wife lived in the town and he was starting back,"
Kit interposed.

"The _patron_ has a house here," Alvarez replied. "We will see the man.
But first send an order to the guard to let nobody go out."

He waited for a minute after the secretary went off and then beckoned
Kit, who followed him downstairs and into the arcade. When they reached
it Kit stopped and Alvarez turned to him with a meaning smile. There was
nobody on the bench.

"It looks as if my order was sent too late," Alvarez remarked. "You had
better tell me exactly what happened?"

Kit complied and Alvarez sent for the guard and asked: "How did you know
the sailor was the _Catalina's_ mate?"

"He told me he was, señor. Afterwards, when Don Cristoval did not come
back, he said it was not important and he would not wait."

Alvarez dismissed the man and shrugged as he turned to Kit. "The plotters
are clever, but they made a mistake. The fellow was too modest; he ought
to have said he was the _patron_. Well, we must try to find him, although
I expect we are late. Now give me the message for Captain Mayne. It looks
as if our antagonists knew its importance."

Kit gave him the envelope and went back to Adam's room.



CHAPTER VII

ADAM RESUMES CONTROL


Although the shutters on the balcony window were open, no draught entered
the small, bare room and the heat that soaked through the thick walls was
nearly intolerable. There was not a sound in the presidio and a drowsy
quietness brooded over the dazzling town. It was two o'clock in the
afternoon, and the citizens were resting in their darkened houses until
the sun got low and work and intrigue began again. Adam and Kit, however,
had been talking for some time when the former, leaning back in a big
cane chair, frowned at his nephew. His thin face was wet with sweat, but
he shivered and his hands shook.

"You can quit arguing; I've got to go," he said. "I don't get much
better, anyhow, and can't stand for lying off when there's a big job
to be done."

"I believe I could see the job through," Kit answered quietly.

Adam's dull eyes sparkled. "You might; I guess you're anxious to try your
powers, but so long as I can get about I'm in command."

"It's doubtful if you can get about," Kit insisted.

"I'm going to try. You'll have a quiet mule ready when it's getting dark,
and I'll ride out of town; then, if the saddle shakes me, I'll go in a
hammock. You can cut out your objections. The thing's fixed."

"Very well," said Kit. "We had better make for Corrientes, since the
point commands the port and the lagoon. Mayne will stop for an hour or
two, looking for a signal, when he picks up his marks."

"We'll start for the port and take the other track afterwards. There's no
use in telling the opposition where we're going. I imagine they don't
know if the _Rio Negro_ has sailed or not."

"For that matter, we don't know," Kit remarked.

"Oh, shucks!" Adam exclaimed. "Mayne understands what we're up against
and he'd pull out when he got your telegram. If he can't use his damaged
engine, he'll disconnect and bring her along with the other." He stopped
Kit with a frown. "If you're going to tell me the _Rio Negro_ can't steam
across on one cylinder, you can cut it out. I've taught the men I put in
charge that when a job's needful it has got to be done."

He paused and when Kit said nothing, went on quietly: "Well, I reckon
Galdar's crowd will expect the boat to make for the port. It's easier to
land cargo there and there's a better road. With good luck, we'll have
the goods delivered before they know she's gone to the lagoon. Now you
can go along and get busy."

Kit went away in a thoughtful mood. He agreed with Adam that secrecy and
speed were essential, because if the rebels got a hint of their plans
they might strike before Alvarez could ensure the loyalty of his troops
by distributing their back pay. Much depended upon which party got in the
first blow. In fact, if the guns and money reached the town before the
rebels knew they were landed, Kit thought the president's chance of
winning was good. All the same, he imagined that Adam, whom the doctor
had forbidden to get up, would run a dangerous risk.

At dusk a few barefooted soldiers paraded on the terrace, with two mules
and three or four peons. Since it was impossible to evade the
watchfulness of Galdar's spies, Adam had resolved to set off openly and
not to give them a hint that his journey had an important object by
trying to hide it. He mounted awkwardly, with an obvious effort, and when
he was in the saddle set his lips for a moment or two. Then he turned to
Alvarez and smiled.

"I'm not a back-number yet, but it's lucky the opposition don't know how
hard it was for me to get up."

Alvarez made a sign of understanding. "You must dismount as soon as
possible. You are very staunch, my friend."

"I've got to make good. If everything is fixed, we'll pull out."

"_Adios, señores_," said Alvarez, taking off his hat. "Much
depends on you."

Somebody gave an order, there was a rattle of thrown-up rifles, a patter
of naked feet, and the party moved away. Kit, turning after a few
moments, looked back. He saw the long, straight building, pierced here
and there by lights, rise against the orange sky, and the president's
tall figure, conspicuous in white clothes, in front of the arch. His
attendants had vanished, he stood motionless, as if brooding, and Kit
thought he looked pathetic and lonely. He afterwards remembered his
glance at the old presidio.

They rode down a hot street. The moon had not risen and the place was
dark except for the feeble gleam of an oil-lamp at a corner. The clatter
of the mules' feet on the uneven stones echoed along the walls, and here
and there indistinct figures looked out from shadowy doors. For the most
part, the watchers let them pass in silence, and although Kit imagined
news of their departure would travel fast, he was glad they passed none
of the lighted cafés and open squares. It would be hard to see who was
riding the mules, and while Galdar's spies would probably find out this
would need time and time was important.

After leaving the streets, they followed the road to the port for some
distance, and then turned into a track that wound along a dark hillside
among clumps of trees. When they entered it, Adam stopped his mule and
got down awkwardly.

"I've had about as much as I can stand for," he remarked, breathing hard.
"Looks as if we had got a start, but I reckon the other lot will try to
track us to the port when the moon gets up."

Then with a sigh of relief he lay down in a hammock the peons had got
ready, and when two of the latter took up the poles they went on again.

On the second night after leaving the presidio, Kit sat on the coaming of
a small steam launch that lurched across the long undulations rolling in
from the Caribbean. It had been blowing fresh, and although the wind had
dropped the swell ran high. When the launch swung up, a vague, hazy smear
rather suggested than indicated land astern; the sea ahead was dark, but
in one place a faint reflection on the sky told that the moon would soon
rise. Although the beach was some distance off, a dull monotonous rumble,
pierced now and then by the clank of the launch's engines, hinted at
breaking surf. The furnace door was open and the red light touched Adam's
face as he sat, supported by a cushion, in a corner of the cockpit. He
looked very haggard and Kit thought him the worse for his journey.

"The light's in my eyes, but there was nothing on the skyline a minute or
two ago," Kit remarked. "It will be awkward if Mayne doesn't get across.
You seem persuaded he'll come."

"I know he'd start. We can't tell what may have happened afterwards and
there was more wind than I liked. He'll be here on time, if he's been
able to keep the old boat off the ground."

"Time is getting short. I expect the rebels have found out we're not at
the port and Galdar will have the road watched when the news gets to the
town. It might pay him to risk forcing a conflict if he could seize the
convoy, and I'll feel happier when the guns and money are off our hands.
It will be the president's business to look after them then."

"That's so," Adam agreed. "Our part of the job's to land the goods and
it's unlucky the tides are small. There won't be much water on the
shoals and although we'll have an extra few inches tomorrow, I don't
want Mayne to wait."

Kit pondered, for he had taken some soundings when coming out. They
were probably not correct, because the launch had rolled among the
white combers that swept the shoals while he used the lead, but the
average depth was about the steamer's draught in her usual trim. Mayne,
however, ought to know what depth to expect, and Kit hoped he had
loaded the vessel to correspond. By and by the mulatto fireman shut the
furnace door, the puzzling light was cut off, and Kit searched the
horizon. For some minutes, he saw nothing; and then a trail of red fire
soared into the sky.

"He's brought her across," said Adam. "Get our rocket off."

The rocket swept up in a wide curve and burst into crimson lights. After
this there was darkness for a time until an indistinct black object
appeared against the brightening sky. Then the launch sank back into the
trough, where the gloom was only broken by the glimmer of the
phosphorescence that spangled the water. When she swung up on the top of
the next swell the steamer was plainer and Kit blew the whistle as he
changed their course.

When the moon rose slowly out of the sea he stopped the clanking engine
and the launch reeled up and down, some fifty yards off the steamer. The
_Rio Negro _carried no lights, but the phosphorescence shone upon her wet
plates as she rolled them out of the water. Her side rose high and black,
and then sank until her rail was nearly level with the spangled foam.
Indistinct figures scrambled about her deck, and when Kit sheered the
launch in, her ladder went down with a rattle. A half-breed on board the
launch caught it with his boat hook, and Adam stood at the bow, waiting
for a chance to jump upon the narrow platform that lurched up above him
and then plunged into the sea. Kit felt anxious. He did not think Adam
was equal to the effort and dreaded the consequences of the shock if he
missed and fell.

"Stand by!" he shouted to the seaman on the ladder when the _Rio Negro_
steadied after a violent roll; and then touched Adam. "Now; before she
goes back!"

Adam, jumping awkwardly, seized the seaman's hand, and Kit, leaning out,
pushed him on to the platform as it began to sink. Then he jumped and
coming down in a foot or two of water helped Adam to the deck. Mayne met
them at the gangway and took them to his room, where Adam sat down and
gasped. When Mayne poured out some liquor he clutched the glass with a
shaking hand. After he drained it he was silent for a moment or two; and
then asked in a strained voice: "Have you brought the goods?"

"Got them all. We hadn't a nice trip. Don't know how Finlay kept her
going and I thought I'd lost her on Tortillas reef; but we can talk about
that afterwards."

Adam made a sign of satisfaction and leaned back feebly. "It's some
relief to know the goods are here."

"Finlay can drive her seven knots and has plenty steam," Mayne said to
Kit. "I'm bothered about the water; there won't be too much."

Kit asked the vessel's draught and looked thoughtful when he heard
what it was.

"I can't guarantee my soundings, but imagine she won't float across and
an ugly sea is running on the bar."

"She'll certainly hit the bottom and the chances are she hits it hard,"
Mayne remarked when Kit told him the depth he had got. "I expect, too,
the mist will drift off from the mangroves with the land-breeze and hide
our marks." He paused and glanced at Adam, who leaned back in a corner
with his eyes half shut.

"But I reckon we have got to take her in?"

"Yes," said Adam dully. "Leave me alone; you can fix things with Kit."

Mayne beckoned Kit and they went to the bridge. The moon had risen and
threw a belt of silver light across the sea, but it was a half moon and
would not help them much. Ahead, in the distance, gray haze obscured the
water, and the dull roar that came out of the mist had become distinct.
Mayne rang his telegraph to reduce the speed.

"So far as I can reckon, it won't be high-water for most two hours, and
on this coast you can't calculate just how much the tide will rise.
There's going to be trouble if we find it shoaler than we expect and I
had plenty trouble coming along. Finlay could hardly drive her four knots
in last night's breeze and the current put us on Tortillas reef. She
stopped there twenty minutes, jambed down on her bilge while the sea came
on board."

Kit noted two boats that had obviously been damaged while the steamer
hammered on the reef, and the white crust of salt on the funnel; but
Mayne resumed: "Say, the old man looks shaky; never seen him like that.
You want to get him home."

"He won't go. However, he's rather worse tonight. I think he was anxious
about your turning up in time to catch the tide. The journey tried him
and now a reaction has begun."

"Well, I allow there's not much use in arguing if he means to stay; but
he needn't have bothered about my getting across. When the orders came, I
knew I had to bring her or pile her up. What Askew says goes."

They were silent for a time while the _Rio Negro_, with engines throbbing
slowly, crept towards the coast. The land breeze brought off a steamy
heat and a sour smell. The long undulations were wrinkled by small waves,
and a thin low haze that obscured the moon spread across the water. Kit,
looking up now and then, could see the mastheads swing across the sky.
There was, however, nothing to be seen ahead but a gray line that moved
back as the steamer went on.

"It's sure a blamed bad night for our job," Mayne remarked as he gazed
towards the hidden land. "I'm glad I told your dagos to burn a flare when
they hit the channel."

Kit said nothing. The launch had vanished, and there was no guiding light
in the mist. The turmoil of the surf had got louder and rang through the
dark like the roar of a heavy train. Presently Mayne ordered a sounding
to be taken and looked at Kit when the leadsman called the depth.

"A foot less than we reckoned, and there won't be much rise. I don't like
it, Mr. Askew, and if my employer was not your uncle, I'd heave the old
boat round."

Kit nodded sympathetically. He felt he hated the smothering haze that
rolled in front and hid the dangers, but they must go on and trust to
luck. He knew Adam's plans and no arguments would shake his resolve. Half
an hour later a twinkle broke out some distance ahead and Mayne rang his
telegraph.

"I'm thankful for that, anyhow," he remarked. "We'll let her go, but I
have my doubts about what will happen next."

The throb of engines quickened, the gurgle of water got louder at the
bows, and the _Rio Negro_, lurching sharply, went shorewards with tide
and swell. The twinkle vanished and reappeared, to starboard now, and
chains rattled as the quartermaster pulled round the wheel. Then the
light faded and they were left without a guide in the puzzling haze. Ten
minutes afterwards there was a heavy shock, and a rush of foam swept the
rail as the steamer listed down. She lifted and struck again with a jar
that tried Kit's nerve. A hoarse shout came from the forecastle and men
ran about the slanted deck as a frothing sea rolled on board. Mayne,
clutching his telegraph, beckoned Kit.

"Bring Mr. Askew up. He's got to tell me what I am to do."

Kit met Adam clumsily climbing the ladder and when he helped him to
the bridge Mayne remarked: "She's on the tongue shoal. Don't know if I
can back her off and steam out to deep water, but, if you consent, I
want to try."

"I won't consent," said Adam. "We're going in! What's that light to
starboard?"

"The launch; she's in the channel. I doubt if there's water enough for
us, if we can get there."

"Then, shove her across the sand or let her go to bits."

Mayne rang the telegraph and touched his cap. "Very well! She's your
ship, and we have some sound boats left."

For the next ten minutes Kit clung to the bridge. He wanted to help Adam
into the pilot-house, but the old man waved him off. Clouds of spray
swept the vessel and made it hard to see her rail where the white combers
leaped. Now and then one broke on board and poured in a foaming torrent
across the slanted deck; she trembled horribly as she struck the sand. It
looked as if she were driving sideways across the shoal, but the flare on
the launch had gone out and Kit doubted if Mayne knew where he was.

Sometimes the tall, black forecastle swung in a quarter-circle;
sometimes the stern went round. For the most part, however, she lay with
her side to the rollers and it was plain that the struggle could not
last long. If they did not get off in a few minutes, rivets would smash
and butts open, and one must take one's chances in the boats. Two were
damaged, but others might be launched, and Kit was relieved to note that
two or three deck-hands moved about as if engaged in clearing the
davit-tackles. He sympathized with the men, although he did not think
Mayne had given them orders.

In the meantime, Adam clung to the rails, swaying when the bridge
slanted, but looking unmoved, and Kit knew that so long as the _Rio
Negro's_ engines turned he would go on. It was not for nothing men called
him the Buccaneer, and now that he was staking his life and fortune on a
hazardous chance there was something daunting about his grim resolve.

A sea rolled up astern and buried the poop. Kit felt the steamer lift
and turn, as if on a pivot at the middle of her length. The after-deck
was full of water, but the bows were high and going round, and he was
conscious of a curious shiver that ran through the straining hull as she
shook herself free from the sand. She crawled forward, stopped, and
moved again with a staggering lurch. The next sea swept her on, but she
did not strike, and after a few moments Kit knew she had crossed the top
of the shoal.

Her whistle shrieked above the turmoil of the sea, a light blinked in
the spray, and she lurched on before the tumbling combers. By and by the
water got smooth and an indistinct dark mass grew out of the mist.
Mayne, who was pacing up and down his bridge, stopped near Kit with a
reckless laugh.

"This is the kind of navigation they break skippers for! If those are the
mangroves on False Point, I may take her in; if they're not, we'll make a
hole in the forest."

Kit looked about, but could not see the launch. The dark mass was a thick
belt of trees, but he did not know, and did not think Mayne knew, where
they were, and the easy motion indicated that the tide was carrying the
steamer on. Much to his relief, the indistinct wall of forest seemed to
bend back, away from the sea. It looked as if they were entering the
lagoon; and then he heard the telegraph and the rattle of rudder chains.

The screw shook the vessel as it spun hard-astern, and the bows began to
swing. It was, however, too late; the forecastle would not clear the
mangroves, and Kit knew the water was deep among their roots. Shouting to
Adam, he seized the rails and waited for the shock. It came, for there
was a crash, and a noise of branches breaking. The steamer rolled,
recoiled, and forged on into the forest.

Some minutes later, Mayne stopped his engines and there was a curious
quietness as he came up to Adam.

"We are fast in the mud, sir. Although she'll take a list when the tide
falls, we may be able to work cargo. I'll lay out an anchor in the
morning and try to heave her off, but I calculate it will be full moon
before she floats."



CHAPTER VII

THE MANGROVE SWAMP


Early next morning, Kit went on deck. Although it was hot, everything
dripped with damp, and sour-smelling mist drifted past the ship. Her
masts and funnels slanted and Kit could hardly keep his footing on the
inclined deck. When he looked over the rail, the rows of wet plates ran
up like a wall above broken mangrove roots and pools of slime. Smashed
trunks and branches were piled against the bows and dingy foliage
overhung the vessel's lower side.

Kit walked aft. The screw was uncovered, and shallow, muddy water, dotted
by floating scum, surrounded the stern, which projected into the lagoon.
In one place, however, a mud-bank touched the bilge, and three or four
men, standing on planks, cautiously tried its firmness. They were wet and
splashed, and one who ventured a few yards from the plank sank to his
waist. The others pulled him out and then they climbed a rope ladder. Kit
thought the experiment proved that nothing useful could be done until the
tide flowed round the ship.

Another gang was moving a kedge-anchor across the deck, while a few more
coiled heavy ropes beside the winch. Mayne obviously meant to try to
heave the vessel off, but Kit thought he would not succeed until the moon
was full. In the meantime, cargo could only be landed when there was
water enough to float boats up to the ship, and Kit glanced across the
lagoon. There were no mangroves on the other side, although thick timber
grew close down to a belt of sand. Below this was mud, across which he
imagined heavy goods could not be carried. The heat and steamy damp made
him languid, and he went to Adam's room. Adam had got up and sat,
half-dressed, on the lower berth with a glass on the floor close by. His
hands shook and there was no color in his lips.

"It's rather early for a strong cocktail, but I felt I needed bracing,"
he said. "What do you think about our chance of getting her off?"

"I imagine it's impossible for another week and don't see how we'll get
the cargo out."

"Don't you?" said Adam grimly. "It has got to be done. If Mayne finds the
job too big, I'll put it through myself."

"You ought to leave before the malaria knocks you down," Kit rejoined.
"If I had the power, I'd make you go."

Adam smiled. "You mean well, boy, but you don't understand, and if you
plot with Mayne to bluff me, I'll surely break you both. Now go and see
if the president's men have arrived. Then you can tell Mayne to rig his
derricks and take the hatches off."

Kit went out and after a time three or four figures appeared among the
trees across the lagoon. They came down to the mud, but when Kit shouted,
asking if they could launch a canoe, one shrugged and they turned back.

"I reckon the old man means us to get busy with the cargo," Mayne
remarked.

"Yes," said Kit. "I understand he's ready to undertake the job if we find
it too much for us."

"He's a hustler, sure! So far as I can see, the thing can't be done, but
if Askew wants it done, I guess we've got to try. We'll carry out the
kedge and make fast a warp or two when the tide flows. He'll expect it,
though I don't reckon much on our chance of floating her."

By degrees the muddy water crawled up the plates and the _Rio Negro_ rose
upright; the haze melted and it got fiercely hot when the sun shone. A
canoe, manned by half-breed peons, crossed the lagoon, and with heavy
labor the kedge-anchor was hoisted out and hung between two boats.
Half-naked men toiled at the oars until the lashings were cut and the
boats rocked as the anchor sank. Then their crews, dragging large stiff
warps, forced their way among the mangrove roots and made the ropes fast
where they could. They came back exhausted, dripping with water and
daubed by slime, and Mayne went to the bridge.

The sun pierced the narrow awning and there was not a breath of wind. The
lagoon shone with dazzling brightness and the iron deck threw up an
intolerable heat. Kit felt the perspiration soak his thin clothes, and
big drops of moisture trickled down Adam's yellow face as he sat with
half-shut eyes, in a canvas chair. By and by he took out his watch, and
Kit noted that he moved it once or twice before he could see the time.

"Hadn't you better get busy?" he asked Mayne.

The telegraph clanged, the engines panted, and the _Rio Negro_ began to
shake as the screw revolved. There was no movement but the racking throb,
until Mayne raised his hand and winch and windlass rattled. Puffs of
steam blew about, the cable rose from the water with a jar, and the warps
ran slowly across the winch-drums, foul with greasy scum.

"Hold on to it!" Mayne shouted. "Get in the last inch!"

His voice was drowned by the rattle of chain and hiss of steam, but the
uproar began to die away and the sharp clatter of small engines changed
to spasmodic jars. Then somebody shouted, there was a crash, and the end
of a broken warp, flying back, tore up the dazzling water. The windlass
stopped, and a few moments later a clump of mangroves swayed. Kit heard
green wood crack, as a rope that had stretched and strained began to
move. Then Mayne raised his hand.

"Let go; stop her! You're pulling up the trees."

There was a sudden quietness except for the insistent throb of the screw,
and Mayne turned to Adam.

"If the cable holds, I can smash the windlass, but I can't heave her
off."

"Very well. You quit and get the cargo out. Better hustle while
she's upright."

Mayne went down the ladder and when he unlocked the iron door of the
after wheel-house a gang of men brought out a row of small-boxes. A
mulatto from the beach, who wore neat white clothes and an expensive hat,
counted the boxes and then gave Adam a receipt.

"Don Hernando will be glad to get these goods and we will start at once,"
he said. "Although I have a guard, it will be safe to reach the town
before the president's enemies know."

"That would be prudent, señor," Adam agreed, and turned to Kit when the
mulatto went away.

"I have done my part and it's Alvarez's business to see the chests get
through. Well, we have both taken some chances since he was a
Customs-clerk and I a _contrabandista_ running the old _Mercedes_, but I
reckon this is my rashest plunge. Anyhow, if I get my money back or not,
I've put up the goods. Now you can tell Mayne to break out the guns."

Mayne gave orders, derrick-booms swung from the stumpy masts, pulleys
rattled, and heavy cases rose from the holds. The boats, however, could
not get abreast of the forward hatch and the cases had to be moved across
slippery iron plates to the after derrick that hoisted them overboard. It
was exhausting work, and the heat was intolerable. The white crew threw
off their soaked clothes and toiled half-naked in the sun that burned
their skin, but Adam left the awning and went about in the glare.

At first, the mates grumbled with indignant surprise. Their employer was
breaking rules; working the cargo was their business and nobody else must
meddle. Besides, they had not met a shipowner able to superintend the
job. One who ventured a protest, however, stopped in awkward
embarrassment when Adam gave him a look, and the others soon admitted
that few captains knew more about derricks and slings. Nevertheless, Kit
was anxious as he watched his uncle. He knew Adam would pay for this and
wondered how long he could keep it up.

At noon, the peons refused another load and when Adam addressed them in
virulent Castilian, coolly pulled the boats away from the ship. When they
had rowed a short distance they stopped and one got up.

"More is not possible, señor," he said. "To work in this sun is not
for flesh and blood. After we have slept for an hour or two, we will
come back."

Adam felt for his pistol, but hesitated, with his hand at his silk belt,
and Kit thought he looked very like a Buccaneer.

"It might pay to plug that fellow, and I'd have risked it when I came
here in the _Mercedes_. Still, I guess Don Hernando has enough trouble."

Mayne, standing behind him, grinned. "I reckon that fixes the thing.
Don't know I'm sorry the dagos have lit out; my crowd are used up and
ready to mutiny."

For two hours the tired crew rested while the water sank and the steamer
resumed her awkward list. Then the boats came back and the men crawled
languidly about the slanted deck, until Adam went among them with bitter
words. The sea breeze was blowing outside, but no wind could enter the
gap in the trees, and foul exhalations from warm mud and slime poisoned
the stagnant air. Kit's head ached, his eyes hurt, and his joints were
sore; he felt strangely limp and it cost him an effort to get about.

All the while the winches hammered and pulleys screamed as the cases came
up and the empty slings went down. The heat got suffocating and the slant
of masts and deck made matters worse, because the men must hold the
derricks back with guys while the heavy goods cleared the coamings of the
hatch. Much judgment was needed to drop them safely in the boats. Men
gasped and choked, quarreled with each other, and growled at the mates,
but somehow held on while the tide ebbed and the sun sank nearer the
mangroves' tops. It dipped when the breathless peons pushed the last boat
away from the _Rio Negro's_ side, and the noisy machines stopped.

Darkness spread swiftly across the lagoon and a white fog, hot and damp
as steam, rose from the forest and hung about the ship. Everything was
very quiet, for the men were too limp to talk, but a murmur came out of
the distance where the long swell beat upon the shoals. Kit and Mayne sat
in the chart-room, with a jug of iced liquor on the table in front.
Sometimes they spoke a few words and sometimes smoked in silence, while
Adam lay on the settee, saying nothing. At length, he got up and a
steward helped him to his room. Somehow the others felt it a relief that
he had gone.

"I can hustle, but your uncle makes me tired," Mayne remarked. "If you
get what I mean, it's like watching a dead man chase the boys about; you
feel it's unnatural to see him on his feet. Well, one has to pay for
fooling with a climate like this, and I'm afraid the bill he'll get will
break him. Can't you make him quit?"

"I can't; I've tried."

"The curious thing is he knows the cost," Mayne resumed. "Knows what's
coming to him unless he goes."

"Yes," said Kit in a thoughtful voice, "I believe he does know and
doesn't mind. This makes it rough on me. I'm powerless to send him off
and I'm fond of the old man."

Mayne made a sign of agreement. "He's a pretty tough proposition and was
worse when he was young; but I've risked my life to serve him. The
Buccaneer holds his friends."

Kit said nothing. He was anxious and depressed and soon went off to bed.

When work began next morning, Adam was on deck and superintended the
landing of the cargo in spite of Kit's protest. Kit thought the day was
hotter than the last, and after an hour or two's disturbed sleep in his
stifling room, found it hard to drag himself about. When the exhausted
peons stopped at noon, he lay under the awning and kept close to Adam
when they resumed. He did not like his uncle's fixed frown and thought it
was caused by the effort he made to keep at work. If not, it was a hint
of pain he stubbornly tried to overcome. Besides, his step was dragging
and his movements were awkward.

About the middle of the afternoon, Adam stood near the noisy winch while
a case was hoisted. The winch-man looked up when the heavy load, hanging
from the derrick, swung across the slanted deck.

"Hold her while they steady the boom!" Adam shouted and seized the rope
that slipped round the drum.

The winch-driver was watching the others who struggled with the guy, and
perhaps forgot it was not a strong man who had come to his help. For a
moment or two, Adam kept his grip, and then his hands opened and he
staggered back. Somebody shouted, a pulley rattled, and the case, running
down, crashed against the steamer's rail. Kit ran forward, but reached
the spot a moment too late, for Adam lay unconscious on the iron deck.

They picked him up and carried him to the bridge, where it was a little
cooler than his room, but for some time he did not open his eyes. Then he
looked about dully and seeing Kit gave him a feeble smile.

"You're in charge now, partner; keep the boys hustling," he said.
"There's the coffee to load up when you have put the guns ashore. Looks
as if I had got to leave the job to you."

He turned his head, drew a hard breath, as if it had hurt him to speak,
and said nothing more. The work, however, went on until it got dark, and
when the mist rose from the mangroves and a heavy dew began to fall they
carried Adam to his room. He slept for part of the night while Kit
watched, but now and then tossed about with delirious mutterings. When
morning came he did not wake and Kit, looking at his pinched, wet face,
went on deck with a heavy heart. He had sent for the Spanish doctor, but
thought it did not matter much if Señor Martin came or not. In another
day or two he would be alone.



CHAPTER IX

ADAM'S LAST REQUEST


It was nearly full moon, the night was calm, and the flowing tide rippled
among the mangrove roots. Clammy vapor drifted about the ship and big
drops fell from the rigging and splashed upon the deck. A plume of smoke
went nearly straight up from the funnel, and now and then the clang of
furnace-slice and shovel rose from the stokehold, for Mayne hoped to
float the vessel next tide. For the most part, however, the men were
asleep and it was very quiet in the room under the poop. A lamp tilted at
a sharp angle gave a feeble light that touched Adam's face. Kit sat on a
locker opposite, looking anxious and worn.

"You loaded up some of the coffee," Adam remarked in a strained voice.

"Half of it, I think; the rest's on the beach," said Kit. "It's doubtful
if we'll get the next lot, since Señor Martin understands the fighting
has begun."

"The lot you have shipped will be something to score against the account;
it's prime coffee and ought to sell well. I'd like you to get the
rubber, but Alvarez can't wait long for the goods Mackellar has ready for
the boat. Another voyage and you can pull out for the old country. I'd
reckoned on going with you, but that's done with."

Kit said nothing. The doctor had come and gone, for he was needed
elsewhere and could not help the sick man. One could indulge him and make
things comfortable for a few days but that was all, he said, and Kit saw
that Adam knew. By and by the latter resumed:

"I've been thinking about Peter and Ashness. I'd have liked to see the
old place and the fells again, and when I was half asleep I thought I
heard the beck splash among the thorns and the pee-wits crying. Well, you
are going back, and you'll marry that girl. Though it will cost you
something to see Alvarez through, you ought to be rich enough."

"You mustn't talk too much," said Kit. "Señor Martin told you to rest."

Adam smiled. "It doesn't matter now if I rest or not. My brain's clearer
and I'll talk while I can. I never told you much about my early life, but
I'm going to do so, because there's something I want to ask."

"Then, you have only to ask it," Kit replied.

"I know," said Adam, feebly. "You're staunch. Well, you have seen the
despatch-box in the office, marked _Hattie G._, though I lost the old
boat long before you came out. She was a coal-eater and didn't pay to
run, but I kept her going until she hit the reef. My first steamboat--I
got her when she was going cheap; but she was bought with my wife's
money, and called after her.

"I met Hattie in Florida about the year you were born. She was
Vanhuyten's cousin and the finest thing that ever wore a woman's shape.
Northern grit and Southern fire, for she sprang from New England and good
Virginia stock; I've seen no woman with her superb confidence. Well, I
was a _contrabandista_ with some ugly tales against my name, but I fell
in love with Hattie and married her in a month."

Adam was silent for a few minutes, and while Kit mused, shovels clinked
in the stokehold and the vessel began to lift. The tilted lamp
straightened and its light rested on Adam's wasted form. His silk
pyjamas rather emphasized than hid his gauntness; he looked strangely
worn and weak, but Kit could picture the strong passion of his
love-making. There was something fierce and primitive about the old
Buccaneer, and it was not hard to see how he had, so to speak, swept the
romantic girl off her feet by the fiery spirit that had burned him out.
Yet he had never talked about other women, and though he knew the South,
Kit thought he had cared for none.

"I left her in a few weeks," Adam went on. "Alvarez was putting up for
president and my savings were at stake. Hattie went home to Virginia
while I helped Alvarez on the coast. He was hard up against it, though
he's been president three times since. Well, when things looked blackest,
I was knocked out in Salinas swamps, by fever and a bullet that touched
my lungs. They took me to the old Indian mission--we were cut off from
the ship--and Father Herman put the _rurales_ off my track. I've sent him
wine and candles, he's at the mission yet; it stands between thick forest
and swamps like this, and the padre's the only white man who has lived
there long. Get down the chart and I'll show you the landing place."

Kit did so, feeling that he ought to indulge a sick man's caprice, and
Adam, after giving him clear directions, was quiet for some minutes. Then
he began again, with an effort:

"Vanhuyten told Hattie, and I found out afterwards, that she had had
trouble at home. Her folks had never trusted me and wanted to keep her
back, but she had rich friends who sent her out, like an American
princess, on a big steam yacht. She got to the mission when I was at my
worst, and finding I could not be moved, sent the yacht away. It was some
days before I knew she had come. There was no doctor to be got. Alvarez
could not send help, and the government soldiers were hunting for his
friends, but Father Herman knew something about medicine and Hattie
helped him better than a trained nurse. I can see her now, going about
the mud-walled room in her clean, white dress, without a hint of
weariness in her gentle eyes. That was when she thought I was watching,
but sometimes at night her head bent and her figure drooped.

"It was blisteringly hot and when the sun went down the poisonous steam
from the swamps drifted round the spot. Sometimes I begged her not to
stay, and sometimes I raged, but Hattie could not be moved and my weak
anger broke before her smiles. She was strong and would not get fever,
she said; she had come to nurse me, and, if I insisted, would go home
when I was well."

Adam stopped and asked for a drink, and afterwards Kit hoped he had gone
to sleep, but he presently roused himself again.

"I have got to finish, partner, because there's a reason you should hear
it all. By and by Father Herman had to nurse us both, and when I got
better Hattie died. We buried her by torchlight in the dusty mission
yard--she was a Catholic--you'll see the marble cross. I've been lonely
ever since, and that's partly why I sent for you; Peter came next to
Hattie and you are Peter's son. Now I'm ready to pull out and somehow I
think Hattie will find me when I'm wandering in the dark. Love like hers
is strong. But I want you to listen when you have given me another
drink."

Kit held the glass to Adam's cracked lips. He drank and lay still,
breathing hard, and Kit heard the ripple of the tide. The _Rio Negro_ was
getting upright and as the lamp turned in its socket the light moved
across the wall. After a time, Adam resumed in a clearer voice:

"All I have is yours; Mackellar will prove the will, but you'll see
Alvarez out, as I meant to do. Another thing; Mayne will get the old boat
off tomorrow, and when he's loaded up I want you to take me out and land
me on the creek I marked behind Salinas Point. He can fly the flag
half-mast; I'll have started on the lone trail then. You'll hire some
half-breed boys at the _pueblo_ in the swamp, and take me to the mission
and lay me beside my wife. Hattie was a Catholic and you can tell Father
Herman that what she believed was good enough for me. Afterwards, you'll
send him now and then the box of candles he will tell you about. They're
to burn in the little chapel before Our Lady of Sorrows, where Hattie
used to pray I might get well. You'll do this for me?"

"I will," Kit answered with forced quietness. "Then I've finished," said
Adam. "I'm going to sleep now and mayn't talk much again."

He turned his head from the light and presently Kit, hearing him breathe
quietly, went out on deck.

At high-water next day, the _Rio Negro_ floated off the mud and when she
swung to her anchor Kit went into Adam's room. Adam was very weak, but
looked up.

"Get the coffee on board; I'm afraid you won't have time for the next lot
and the rubber," he said. "Tell Finlay to bank his fires. You'll want
steam to take me out."

Kit understood, and nodded because he could not speak, and Adam, giving
him a quiet smile, went to sleep again.

Some hours later, Mayne joined Kit, who had gone on deck for a few
minutes.

"That's the last of the _hacienda Luisa_ coffee," he said, indicating a
boat alongside. "The peons tell me the next lot's coming down, but if we
ship it, we'll miss the tide."

"You can close the hatches. The coffee must wait."

"It's high-grade stuff and brings top price. I sure don't like to leave
it to spoil."

"We must risk that," Kit said quietly.

"There's another thing; Pedro, the clerk, reckons they're fighting near
Salinas and the president's not popular in that neighborhood. Looks as if
you might have some trouble to take the old man to the mission."

"It's possible," said Kit. "I'm going to try. Have everything ready for
us to get off to-night."

Mayne lifted his hand to his cap. "Very well, sir. We'll start as soon as
there's water enough."

He went away, but Kit knew what he meant. The captain had done his duty
by indicating obstacles, but he approved his new master's resolve and
owned his authority. Kit was persuaded he would have Mayne's loyal help
and went back to Adam's room. When it was getting dark, Adam moved his
head as the engines began to throb and the propeller churned noisily in
the shallow water. It stopped after a few turns and steam blew off.

"Finlay's giving her a trial spin," Adam remarked, in a very faint voice.
"I see you've got things fixed and I'm ready to start." He stopped and
shut his eyes for a minute or two, and Kit did not know if he was
conscious or not. Then he resumed in a strained whisper: "All's ready;
ring for full-speed. I'm going to meet my wife."

He drew a hard breath, sighed, and did not speak again. An hour
afterwards, Mayne met Kit coming out of the room, and glancing at his
face took off his cap.

"I guess it hits you hard and I'll miss him, too," he said. "I'll not get
another master like the Buccaneer."

He went off to give some orders and Kit sat down, feeling very desolate.

When the tide had risen and flowed past, oily smooth, under the full
moon, the windlass began to rattle and the cable clanged. The anchor came
up and when the engines shook the ship Mayne pulled the whistle-line and
a long blast rolled across the woods. Next moment a rocket soared and
burst in a shower of colored lights.

"Vanhuyten and Askew's signal! The head of the house is making his last
trip," the captain remarked.

The echoes sank, the colored lights burned out, and the measured beat of
engines jarred upon the silence as the _Rio Negro_ went to sea. For a
time the land breeze blew the steam of the swamps after her, and masts
and funnels reeled through a muggy haze as she lurched across the
surf-swept shoals. She floated high and light, her muddy side rising like
a wall as she steadied between the rolls that dipped her channels in the
foam. Outside, the swell was regular and the roll long and rhythmical;
the haze thinned, the air got sweet and cool, and the hearts of the crew
got lighter as she steamed out to open sea. For all that, men lowered
their voices and trod quietly when they passed the poop cabin where her
dead owner lay.

At sunrise, Mayne hoisted the house-flag, and the Stars and Stripes
drooped languidly half way up the ensign staff, until the glassy calm
broke and the sea breeze straightened the blue and silver folds. By and
by he changed the course and mountains rose ahead, although a bank of
cloud hid the plain and mangrove forest at their feet. In the afternoon,
he searched the haze with his glasses, and getting a bearing stopped the
engines near Salinas Point at dusk.

"If the weather's good, I'll wait three days," he said. "Then, if you
send no word, I'll pull out for Havana and get the engines properly
fixed. Better take this bag of Spanish money; minted silver goes and you
may find the dagos shy of the president's notes."

Kit took the money, a boat was swung out, and four sailors carried the
plain, flag-wrapped coffin down the ladder. They were rough men, but Kit
imagined he could trust them. Another crew picked up the oars, greasy
caps were lifted, the _Rio Negro's_ whistle screamed a last salute, and
the boat stole away. Mayne steamed off to anchor on good holding ground,
and Kit sat at the tiller, with his eyes fixed on the misty coast.

It was dark when he heard breakers and saw the glimmer of surf. There
were shoals all round him, but he had been told about a bay where a creek
flowed through a sheltered channel. He did not know if he could find the
channel, and if not the boat might be wrecked, but something must be left
to luck and they pulled on before the curling swell. She struck, and
stopped until a comber rolled up astern. It broke and half buried her in
rushing foam, but she lifted, lurched ahead, and did not strike again.
The men were nearly knee-deep as they baled the water out and one was
afterwards idle because his oar had gone. In spite of this, they made the
creek and drifted quietly into the gloom of the mangroves with the
flowing tide.

After a time, the water got shallow and they pushed her across the mud
while leaves and rotting branches floated up the creek. No light pierced
the forest, and the feeble beam of Kit's lantern scarcely touched the
shadowy trunks that moved past until they came to an opening. Kit thought
this was the spot he had been told about and turned the boat. She would
not float to the bank and he and his four men got out and lifted the
coffin. They sank in treacherous mud, but reached a belt of sand riddled
by land-crab's holes. All was very quiet except for the ripple of the
tide and the noise made by the scuttling crabs. The sand, however, was
dry and warm and they sat down to wait for morning when the boat went
away.



CHAPTER X

THE ROAD TO THE MISSION


The sun was high when Kit and his tired men reached the village. He was
wet with sweat and the moisture that had dripped upon him from the leaves
in the early morning, and the men gasped when they put down their load.
Two wore greasy engine-room overalls, and two ragged suits of duck; their
soft hats were stained and battered and they looked like ruffians.
Although Mayne paid good wages, respectable seamen avoided the _Rio
Negro_ and her crew were, as a rule, accustomed to fight with knives and
sandbags on disorderly water-fronts. Now they carried pistols, hidden as
far as possible, but ready for use.

Small, square mud houses occupied the hole in the forest. Where the
plaster had not fallen off, their white fronts were dazzling, but they
were dirty and ruinous and the narrow street was strewn with decaying
rubbish. Although the _pueblo_ had once prospered under Spanish rule, it
was now inhabited by languid half-breeds of strangely mixed blood,
engaged in smuggling and revolutionary plots. They stood about the
doorways, barefooted and ragged, watching Kit with furtive black eyes.

"I want porters and a guide to the mission," he told the _patron_, who
lounged against a wall smoking a cigar.

"It is a long way, señor, and the road is bad. Besides, one cannot travel
when the sun is high."

"The road is, no doubt, safer then than in the dark."

"That is true," agreed the other with a philosophic shrug. "The country
is disturbed."

"I must start at once," Kit said firmly. "I am willing to pay for
the risk."

The _patron_ spoke to the others in a harsh dialect, but none of the
loafing figures moved.

"They say the risk is great," he remarked. "There has been fighting and
the president's soldiers are in the woods."

"The president's soldiers will not meddle with us," Kit answered,
incautiously.

For a moment the half-breed's eyes were keen, but his dark face resumed
its inscrutable look.

"Then the señor is a friend of the president's?"

"If we meet his soldiers, they will let me pass."

"The soldiers are not the worst. There are the _rurales_; men without
shame, who shoot and ask no questions. However, we will see if I can find
porters, if the señor will wait until the afternoon."

Kit distrusted the fellow and thought he had an object for putting off
the start. He had been warned that the _Meztisos_ sympathized with the
rebels, and imagined that his party's safety depended on its speed. But
he did not want to look impatient, and, imitating the other's
carelessness, sat down and lighted a cigarette while he pondered. To
begin with, he suspected that the _patron_ would prevent his meeting any
of the president's soldiers who might be about, and it would be prudent
to finish his business and get back to the ship before Galdar knew he was
in the woods. His men claimed to be American citizens and Mayne knew
where he had gone, but the latter's statements might be doubted if the
party disappeared. It was known that Askew was engaged in a risky trade
and the captain's story would look more romantic than plausible.

Kit saw he must depend upon his own resources and presently noted that a
man was leaving the village. The fellow kept behind the group in the
street as far as he could and moved quickly. There was something stealthy
about his movements and when he looked back, as if to see if Kit were
watching, the latter got up.

"Stop that man," he said.

"But he is going to his work, señor," the _patron_ objected.

"In this country, one does not work while the sun is high," said Kit,
who rather ostentatiously pulled out his pistol. "Call him back!"

The _patron_ shouted and the man returned, but Kit kept his pistol
in his hand.

"Nobody must leave the _pueblo_ until I start," he said. "I want porters
and am willing to pay."

"Very well," the patron agreed, shrugging. "Perhaps I can find a few men,
but they will want the money before they go."

For a time, Kit bargained. The sailors were tired, and few white men are
capable of much exertion in the tropic swamps. He must have help, and
doubting if the _Meztisos_ could be trusted, thought it best to offer a
sum that would excite their greed, but stipulated that half would not be
paid until they returned. When the _patron_ was satisfied Kit turned to
the sailors.

"You'll have to hustle, boys," he said. "The sooner we make the mission,
the sooner we'll get back, and I reckon nobody wants to stop in these
swamps. There's something beside your wages coming to you."

"That's all right, boss," one replied. "The old man drove hard, but he
paid well and he was white. You can go ahead; we'll put the job over."

The peons took up the stretcher-poles lashed to the coffin, a relief
party went behind and they set off. Nobody spoke and the _Meztisos'_ bare
feet fell silently on the hot sand, although Kit heard the dragging tramp
of the sailors' muddy boots. In the open space round the village, the sun
burned their skin and they pushed on as fast as possible for the twilight
of the woods.

Here and there a bright gleam pierced the gloom, but for the most part
deep shadow filled the gaps between the trunks. Creepers laced the great
cottonwoods, tangled vines crawled about their tall, buttressed roots,
and hung in festoons from the giant branches. Some of the trees were
rotten and orchids covered their decay with fantastic bloom. The forest
smelt like a hothouse, but the smell had an unwholesome sourness. Growth
ran riot; green things shot up, choked each other, and sank in fermenting
corruption.

Kit did not know if it was a relief to escape from the glare of the
clearing or not. The sun no longer burned him, but he could hardly
breathe the humid air, and effort was almost impossible.

All the same, he pushed on, floundering in muddy pools and sinking in
belts of mire. The road had been made long since, by slave labor, when
the Spaniards ruled, and had fallen into ruin, like the country, when
their yoke was broken. Kit could trace the ancient causeway across the
swamps and wondered when another strong race would put their stamp on the
land. The descendants of the conquerors had sunk into apathetic sloth;
the blood of the dark-skinned peoples that ran in their veins had
quenched the old Castilian fire.

When the light was fading, the porters declared the swamps in front were
dangerous and put down their load, and after some trouble the white men
lighted a fire. A heavy dew began to drip from the leaves and the blaze
was comforting in the gloom that swiftly settled down. Kit had brought a
piece of tarpaulin and spread it between the roots of a cottonwood. He
did not mean to go to sleep, but his head ached and he was worn out by
physical effort and anxious watching. By and by his eyes got heavy and he
sank down in a corner of the great roots.

The fire had burned low when he looked up and a bright beam that touched
a neighboring trunk indicated that the moon was high. All was very quiet
but for the splash of the falling dew; the glade was a little brighter,
and rousing himself with an effort, he glanced about. He saw the white
men's figures, stretched in ungainly attitudes on a piece of old canvas.
They were all there, but he could not see the _Meztisos_. Getting up, he
walked into the gloom and then stopped with something of a shock. There
was nobody about.

For a few moments, Kit thought hard. To begin with, he had been rash to
pay half the porters' wages before they started. The money was a large
sum for them and they had stolen away; perhaps because they were
satisfied and afraid of meeting the president's soldiers, or perhaps to
betray the party to the rebels for another reward. If the latter
supposition were correct, Kit thought he ran some risk. Galdar's friends
knew he could not be bribed and that Adam was ill, although it was hardly
possible they knew he was dead. They would see that Kit had now control
and since his help was valuable to the president might try to kill him.
His best plan was to push on.

He wakened the sailors, who grumbled, but picked up the coffin when he
tersely explained the situation. Wet bushes brushed against them,
soaking their thin clothes, trailers caught their heads, and the road
got wetter and rougher until they came to a creek. Kit could not tell
how deep it was; the forest was very dark and only a faint reflection
marked the water.

"We must get across, boys," he said, and the others agreed. They were
hard men, but the dark and silence weighed them down and excited vague
superstitious fears. It was a gruesome business in which they were
engaged and they did not like their load.

They plunged in and one called out hoarsely when he stumbled and the
lurching coffin struck his head. Another gasped, as if he were choking,
while he struggled to balance the poles. The current rippled round
their legs; it was hard to pull their feet out of the mud, and when
there was a splash in the dark they stopped, dripping with sweat that
was not altogether caused by effort. One swore at the others in a
breathless voice.

"Shove on, you slobs!" he said. "The old man's getting heavier while
you stop. I want to dump him and be done with the job. Guess I've
had enough."

Splashing and stumbling, they went forward and when they struggled up the
bank Kit wiped his wet face. For a moment or two he had thought the men
would drop their load and as it jolted, vague and black, on their
shoulders, the creaking of the poles had jarred his nerves. He was going
to keep his promise, but he sympathized with the man who had had enough.

After they left the creek, the road got very bad and in places vanished
in belts of swamp. They sank in mud and stagnant water and no light
pierced the daunting gloom, but it was not hard to keep the proper line,
because one could not enter the jungle without a cutlass to clear a path.
At length, when the men were exhausted, the trees got thinner and the
moonlight shining through touched the front of a ruined building. The
rest was indistinct, but the building was large and had evidently
belonged to a sugar or coffee planter. The sailors stopped and Kit
studied a gap in the wall.

The gap did not look inviting and there were, no doubt, snakes and
poisonous spiders inside, but he could go no farther and the broken walls
offered some protection. Perhaps Kit was moved by an atavistic fear of
the dark forest, and he owned that he was influenced by the civilized
man's longing for the shelter of a house. They went in, and after putting
down the coffin in a room where vines crawled about the ruined wall, the
sailors entered the next. One frankly stated that they wanted to get away
from the coffin; Kit could stop and watch it if he liked, but it bothered
them to have the thing about.

Kit let them go, and sitting down in a corner among the rubbish lighted a
cigar. A moonbeam rested on the opposite wall and the room was not dark.
Some light came in through holes, although there was impenetrable gloom
beyond the door by which the men had gone. He could see the wet leaves of
the vines, and the black coffin, covered by the flag. But he was not
afraid of it; the man who lay there had been his friend and claimed the
fulfilment of his promise.

At the same time, it was soothing to hear the sailors' voices, until they
got faint and stopped. Afterwards the silence was burdensome, although a
small creature began to rustle in the wall. Kit did not know if it was a
snake or a spider, and was too tired to feel disturbed. By and by his
cigar fell from his mouth. He picked it up, but it fell again and his
head drooped.

The moonbeam had moved some distance when he opened his eyes and
straightened his body with a jerk. The room was nearly dark, and when he
thought about it afterwards, he imagined he was only half awake, for his
heart beat and he was conscious of an enervating fear. A dark object,
indistinct but like a man, stood beside the coffin.

With something of an effort, Kit recovered his self-control as the figure
turned and came towards him. It moved with a curious stealthy gait,
making no noise, and this was enough for Kit. He had no grounds for
distrusting the sailors, and they wore heavy boots. Trying not to change
his position, he felt for his automatic pistol. The butt caught a fold of
his sash and he was forced to bend his elbow in order to get it out. It
looked as if he would be too late, and he slipped as the movement
dislodged the rubbish on which he sat. Then, as he shrank with an
instinctive quiver from the prick of the knife, the figure swerved and
leaped back.

Kit threw up the pistol and pulled the trigger. There was a flash that
dazzled his eyes and a little smoke curled up, but when he leaned forward
his antagonist had gone. He heard no movement when he sprang to his feet
and almost imagined he had been dreaming, until the sailors shouted and
their boots rattled on the broken floor. They ran in and when Kit told
them what had happened went to the hole in the wall.

The moonlight touched the front of the building and part of the road was
bright, but the shadow of the forest had crept across the rest. All was
very quiet; there was no sound in the gloom. Then a flake of plaster fell
close behind Kit's head and a sharp report rolled across the trees. One
of the men shot at a venture and two of his companions ran savagely along
the road, until Kit called them back.

"Come in," he said when they returned. "You're a plain mark in the
moonlight and can't see the other fellow among the trees."

"Looks as if it was you he wanted," one replied. "Well, I guess we have
no use for being left without a boss, and since we don't like our
camping ground, you have got to come with us. We'll draw cuts for who's
to watch."

Kit went with them. He felt shaken, for the man who had brought down the
plaster was obviously a good shot. He imagined it was another who had
intended to stab him; in fact, a number of his enemies might be lurking
about. He was not, as a rule, vindictive, but the stealthy attack had
induced a dangerous mood and he was sorry he had missed the man. It was
hard to see why he had done so, but he had, perhaps, been half asleep.
Now, however, he resolved to watch until day broke.



CHAPTER XI

KIT KEEPS HIS PROMISE


It was getting light when the man on watch called Kit, who went to the
gap in the wall. Thin mist drifted about the trees and trailed across the
road. There was some open ground in front of the building, but behind
this the forest loomed in a blurred, shadowy mass.

"I reckon I saw something move where the fog's on the road," the
man remarked.

Kit saw nothing. His eyes were keen, for he had searched the hillsides
for sheep, but it looked as if they were not as keen as the sailor's, and
standing in the shadow he watched the indicated spot. After a minute or
two, a figure came out of the fog and signaled with a lifted hand.

"More of them around!" said the sailor grimly. "There's trouble coming to
them if they mean to corral us. Jake's at the side window, and he had to
get out of Mobile because he was too handy with his gun. Not often had to
pull mine, but I can shoot some."

"Quit talking!" Kit rejoined, and his mouth set firm when the
figure vanished.

He thought the rebels meant to surround the building. If so, they were
probably numerous, and the rifle shot some hours before justified the
supposition. They had first tried to kill him quietly and, finding this
impossible, had resolved to seize the party. Well, there was good cover
behind the broken walls, his men were a reckless lot, and he meant to
fight. He wished the others would begin, for standing, highly-strung, in
the dew was nervous work.

The light had got clearer when he noted a movement in a festoon of
trailing vines. The wet leaves shook as if somebody were cautiously
pulling them back, and Kit stiffened his muscles. It was a comfort to
feel his hand was steady, and although he had not used a pistol much he
was a good shot with a gun. He thought he could send a bullet through the
moving leaves, but wanted his lurking enemy to begin the fight.

A face appeared at an opening and an arm pushed through. The man was
coming out and Kit felt his nerves tingle. Then, as the fellow's
body followed his arm, the sailor said quietly, "Don't move, boss.
I'll fix him."

Next moment, Kit swung round, for the man who stepped out into the road
wore a white uniform. The sailor leaned against the wall to steady his
aim, and his tense pose and rigid hand indicated that he was pressing
the trigger.

"Hold on!" Kit shouted. "Don't shoot!"

The sailor lowered his pistol and Kit, springing out of the shadow,
waved his hat.

"Come forward. We are friends."

The _rural_ turned and called to somebody, and then joining Kit glanced
at the sailor's pistol with a dry smile.

"It looks as if I had run some risk. You did not mean to be surprised."

"No," said Kit; "one takes precautions. I came very near being surprised
last night."

"So the _Galdareros_ are about? We suspected something like this."

"I suppose it was why you meant to search the _hacienda_. But did
you see us?"

The _rural_ indicated a plume of smoke that curled up from behind the
ruined wall.

"We saw _that_. When one takes precautions it is prudent to see they are
complete."

Kit nodded. There was no use in getting angry; his men were rash and
careless, but, to some extent, this was why he had chosen them. They had,
no doubt, lighted the fire to cook breakfast.

"Where is your companion?" he asked.

"There are three of us; you will see the others in a few moments. They
watch the road farther on. It is usual for us to patrol in twos, but of
late some have not returned. A revolution is a bad time for _rurales;_
one pays old reckonings then."

Kit smiled. "I imagine it would have been bad for any _Galdarero_ who had
tried to steal away down the road. But I expect you know me?"

"We have orders about you, señor; you see a servant of yours," the
_rural_ answered with a bow. "But it might be better if you told us
your plans."

After giving him a cigarette, Kit sent the sailor to tell the others and
when the _rurales_ came up offered them a share of the breakfast his men
had cooked. While they ate he told them what had brought him there and
where he was going.

"So the American is dead? I have seen him at the presidio," one remarked.
"Well, señor, it would be prudent to finish your business at Salinas
to-night. After that, I do not know. There has been fighting and some of
the president's soldiers have been killed in the swamps."

"I must finish the business," Kit replied. "It does not matter what
happens afterwards."

The _rural_ nodded. "The American talked like that. Quick and short,
but what he said went. However, we will go to Salinas with you when you
are ready."

Kit got up and gave his men an order. "I am ready now."

They set off soon afterwards and reached the mission as the light was
fading. Two small, mud buildings and a little church stood among some
ruins in an opening, and a frail old man met the party at the gate. He
took off his hat when the sailors put down the coffin, and then listened
to Kit's quiet narrative.

"This poor place is yours; it was a prosperous mission long since," he
said. "In this country, men no longer build, but plot and destroy--it is
easier than the other. Now we will put the coffin in the church and then
I will give you food."

Father Herman drew back an old leather curtain and the smell of incense
met Kit as he stood at the door while the sailors went forward with their
load. The church was nearly dark, but Kit saw it had some beauty and
there were objects that hinted at more prosperous days. At the other end,
a ruby lamp glimmered and a wax candle burned with a clear flame before a
statue of the Virgin. Kit knew whence the candle came and that Hattie
Askew had knelt on the stones, beneath it, praying that her husband might
get well. Then he looked at Father Herman, with a doubt in his mind.

The other met his glance and smiled. "The greatest of these is charity,"
he said in Latin, and resumed in fine Castilian: "He was our benefactor,
a man who kept his word, and with such a wife I think our faith was his.
It is a gracious sentiment that they should not be parted."

"In a sense," Kit said quietly, "I think they have not been parted yet.
At the last he said, with confidence, he was going to meet his wife."

"Who knows?" said Father Herman. "There is much that is dark; but one
felt that his spirit reached out after hers. Well, I knew he would come
back; I have long expected him."

He went forward and lighted more candles when the sailors put down the
coffin, and the noise their boots made jarred Kit's nerves as they came
back. The light spread, touching the bare walls and tawdry decorations
about the shrines. It was a poor little church, falling into ruin, and
the beauty its pious builders had given it was vanishing. Yet something
redeemed it from being commonplace, and Kit felt a strange emotional
stirring as his eyes rested on the dim ruby lamp and the rude black
coffin. He thought the light of love could not be quenched and knew the
tender romance that had burned in the heart of the old Buccaneer. It was
with something of an effort he turned away, and followed Father Herman
across the corral.

Two hours later, red torches flared in the dark as they laid Adam in his
grave, and Kit, worn by anxiety and physical strain, listened dully to
the solemn Latin office. Then, when the old priest's voice died away, he
went back to the mission, where he fell asleep and slept twelve hours.

In the morning, he sat beneath a broken arch that had once formed part of
a cloister. Outside the patch of shadow, the sun beat upon dazzling sand,
and a few vivid green palm-fronds hung over a ruined wall. Beyond this
the forest rose, dark and forbidding, against the glaring sky. Although
the rest had refreshed Kit, he felt as if he had got older in the last
few days and now the strain had slackened he was lonely. So far, he had
obeyed orders and when doubtful looked to Adam for a lead, but Adam had
gone and left him control. All that belonged to his youth had vanished;
he was a man, with a man's responsibilities, and a man's problems to
solve. Presently Father Herman came up and sat down opposite. Although he
looked feeble, his glance was clear and kind.

"This house is yours, señor, and I am your servant," he said. "Yet I
cannot hope that you will remain long and the times are disturbed. If I
can help--"

"Since the rebels know I am here, it would not be safe to stay, but I
cannot reach Salinas Point before the steamer sails," Kit replied. "I
must get to Havana as soon as possible."

Father Herman thought for a few minutes and then resumed: "A small
schooner is loading at a beach not far off and I know the _patron_. He
would take you to Arenas, where the president has supporters and you
might get a ship. I think he sails to-night, but I will send a message."

Kit thanked him and went on: "You were my uncle's friend, and now I have
taken his place, you are mine. As you let him send you things the mission
needed, perhaps you will not refuse me."

"I had not hoped for this," Father Herman answered with a grateful look.
"The generous gifts meant much to us, for we are very poor."

"Friendship has privileges. Besides, it was my uncle's wish, and will be
something I can do for his sake."

Father Herman's worn face got very soft and he gave Kit an approving
glance. "You are his kinsman, señor; one cannot doubt that. Like him, you
are staunch and do not forget, but in some ways you are different. I will
take your gifts and pray that yours may be a less stormy life."

"Thank you," Kit said gently and went off to look after his men.

In the afternoon he left the mission, and a week later reached Havana,
where he found a cablegram waiting. He got a shock when he opened it, and
stood for a time with the message crumpled in his hand, for it told him
that Peter Askew was dying at Ashness. Then he sat down on the long,
arcaded veranda of the hotel, with a poignant sense of loss, for the last
blow was heavier than the first. It would be too late when he got home;
Andrew, his English relative, would not have sent the message had there
been any hope.

After a time, Kit began to pull himself together. He felt dull and half
stunned, but saw that he must brace up. Although one duty was denied him,
another was left. He could not bid his father good-by, but he could keep
his promise to Adam, and there was much to be done. Getting up with a
resolute movement, he went to the telegraph office.

Although Peter had not hinted that he was ill, Kit felt he ought to have
gone home before, and now blamed Alvarez for keeping him. He knew this
was not logical, but he hated the country, with its turmoils and plots.
It was not worth helping, and in very truth he did not know if by
supporting the president he were helping it or not. After all, however,
this was not important; Alvarez needed a last supply of munitions that
Adam had agreed to send. Kit doubted if they would be paid for, but the
doubt did not count for much. Adam knew the risk when he agreed and his
engagements bound his nephew. The goods must be delivered and then Kit
would let the business go. When he reached the office he wrote a
cablegram to Andrew at Ashness and another to Mayne, who had left Havana
before Kit arrived.



CHAPTER XII

THE LAST CARGO


Dusk was falling and Kit urged his tired mule up the winding road. His
skin was grimed with dust, for he had ridden hard in scorching heat, and
was anxious and impatient to get on. The _Rio Negro_ was in the lagoon
and some cargo had been landed, but Kit stopped the work when nobody came
to take the goods. It looked as if the message he had sent through a
secret channel had not reached the president, and this was ominous.

He had heard rumors of fighting when he was in Cuba and the United
States, but the newspapers gave him little information and he had driven
the _Rio Negro_ across at full speed in order to finish the contract
before the revolution spread, which was all he wanted. Adam's staunch
loyalty had cost him his life, but the president had no claim on Kit.
Besides, his stopping in the country had kept him away from Ashness when
he was needed there. He smiled as he admitted that he was hardly logical,
since he was stubbornly pushing on when almost exhausted in order that
Alvarez might get the goods he required; but after all, this was for
Adam's sake.

As he rode up the hill the sky got brighter and a flickering illumination
was reflected on the clouds that hung about the mountains. It looked as
if the town were lighted up and Kit wondered whether this was to
celebrate a victory. He struck the mule, but the tired animal came near
throwing him when it stumbled and he let it choose its pace. The jolt had
shaken him and he was very tired.

For a time he skirted a belt of trees, and when he came out on the open
hillside the illumination was ominously bright. Now he was getting
nearer, the clouds looked different from the mist that rolled down the
mountains in the evening; they were dark and trailed away from the range.
Still, he could go no faster and he waited with growing anxiety until he
reached a narrow tableland. It commanded a wider view and he raised
himself in the stirrups as he saw that the light was the reflection of a
large fire.

He sank back and pulling up the mule let the bridle fall on its drooping
neck. It looked as if a number of houses were burning in the town, which
indicated that there had been a fight. The trouble was he did not know
who had won and this was important. If the president were badly beaten,
he would not need the supplies at the lagoon, although they might be
useful to the rebels. Kit imagined it would be prudent to turn back, but
he must find out what had happened and sent the mule forward.

Half an hour afterwards he rode into the town. The small square houses
were dark and there was nobody in the narrow street, but he heard a
confused uproar farther on. Although the glare in the sky was fainter, it
leaped up now and then and a cloud of smoke floated across the roofs. A
red glow shone down the next street and he saw the pavement was torn up.
Broken furniture lay among piles of stones, the walls were chipped, and
when Kit got down he had some trouble to lead the mule across the ruined
barricade. Although he saw nobody yet, the shouts that came from the
neighborhood of the presidio were ominous.

Kit remounted and rode slowly up to the edge of the sandy square where
the palms grew along the rails. The square was occupied by an excited
crowd, but the presidio had gone. A great pile of smoking rubbish and a
wall, broken by wide cracks, marked where it had stood. Flames played
about the ruin and Kit turned his mule. He thought the crowd was waiting
to search for plunder, and did not expect to find anybody calm enough to
answer his questions. Besides, he needed food and drink and might learn
what had happened at the café.

The small tables stretched across the street and were all occupied, but
when Kit had tied the mule to the alameda railings opposite he found a
chair and ordered an omelette and wine. The waiter looked at him with
some surprise and Kit wondered whether it was prudent for him to stay.

"You have been burning the presidio," he remarked.

"We have got rid of a tyrant," the waiter replied.

"You may get another worse," said Kit, as coolly as he could. "What
happened to the president?"

Somebody shouted "_Mozo_" and when the waiter went away Kit rested his
arms on the table. He was very tired, and it was obvious that he had come
too late. Since the president was overthrown, he had lost a large sum of
money and wasted the efforts he had made to carry out Adam's engagements.
He must get back to the lagoon as soon as possible, but he needed food
and wanted to find out if Alvarez had escaped. There was, however, some
risk in asking questions, because the café seemed to be occupied by
triumphant rebels.

Presently the men at the next table got up and their place was taken by
another group, among which Kit noted Francisca Sarmiento and her
relations. He thought they looked surprised, but they saluted him
politely, and soon afterwards the girl, who was nearest, looked round.

"You have courage, señor," she remarked in a meaning tone.

"I do not know if courage is needed," Kit replied, forcing a smile. "It
looks as if I could no longer meddle with politics."

"Then, since you could not help Alvarez, why did you come?"

"I imagined I could help him, until I saw the presidio was burnt," Kit
replied. "In fact, I haven't found out what has happened yet."

The girl studied him with some curiosity, but Kit felt that he had
nothing to fear from her.

"If one did not know that you were incorruptible, one could understand
your rashness," she said, in a mocking tone. "I suppose your steamer is
in the lagoon?"

Kit looked round. The café was crowded, but the people were talking
excitedly, and nobody seemed to notice him and the girl. The noise would
prevent their talk being heard.

"There is no use in denying it, because Galdar's spies have, no doubt,
seen her. I would be glad if you can tell me what has become of the
president."

Francisca gave him a keen glance. "You do not know Alvarez is dead?"

"Ah!" said Kit. "I did not know. Was he killed?"

"He died soon after the fighting began. The doctors say it was apoplexy;
he had been hurrying about in the burning sun."

"I wonder--He was a strong man and used to the sun."

Francisca smiled. "One does not ask questions at a time like this. It is
prudent to believe what one is told. When the soldiers lost their leader
they ran away."

Kit was silent for a few minutes. He had had a faint hope that the
president might rally his supporters and begin the fight again, but the
hope was gone. He knew all he wanted, and must leave the town as soon as
he had had some food.

"Alvarez was a friend of mine, and the news you have given me is
something of a shock," he said. "I think the country will feel its loss,
but that is not my business, and since there is nothing to keep me here,
I shall be glad to get away."

"It would be prudent to go soon," Francisca remarked in a low voice.

"I do not see why. I am no longer important enough for your friends to
meddle with me."

"You are very modest, señor, if you are not rather dull. You have goods
that would be useful to the new president, who has a rival he did not
expect. Don Felix Muñez has turned traitor, and there are people who
support him in the coast province."

"Another president!" Kit exclaimed with a soft laugh, and then bowed to
the girl. "I think you mean well. You have given me a useful hint and you
have my thanks. I will be rash and tell you that Galdar shall not have
the goods I brought."

Franciscans eyes got soft and a touch of color crept into her olive skin.

"One does not often meet a man who puts honor before money. _Adios,
señor!_ I wish you well."

Then she turned to her companions, who presently left the table and soon
afterwards Kit's omelette was brought. While he ate, Olsen came in and
sitting down opposite, lighted a cigarette.

"You'll allow that the Buccaneer backed the wrong man," he said. "I
warned you and reckon your obstinacy has cost you something."

"That is so," Kit agreed. "One must run risks in a business like this,
but I don't expect you to sympathize."

Olsen smiled. "I don't pretend I'm not satisfied, but I can show you how
to get some of your money back. I've learned much about you and Askew
since we had our last talk, and am willing to buy part of the _Rio
Negro's_ cargo."

"You seem to know she has arrived?"

"Oh, yes; I knew some hours since. I've been looking out for you."

"To whom do you mean to sell the goods?" Kit asked.

"Does that matter?"

"Yes; it's rather important."

"The important thing is you'll get paid," Olsen rejoined.

Kit frowned. He imagined he could demand a high price, and now Alvarez
was dead, there was perhaps no reason for refusing to bargain; but he did
not mean to let Galdar have the goods. He thought Adam would not have
done so, and he held the new president, to some extent, accountable for
Adam's last illness.

"The cargo is not for sale," he said.

"Oh, shucks!" Olsen exclaimed. "I reckon you want to put up the price."

"No," said Kit, rather grimly, "I don't want to sell."

"Don't be a fool. The man you backed is dead. You carried out your
contract, and it doesn't matter to him now who gets the truck."

"That's true," Kit replied. "But I won't help his rival."

Olsen looked hard at him and saw he was resolute. "Oh, well! If you're
determined, there's no use in arguing! You're something of a curiosity; I
haven't met a man like you before."

He went away and Kit ordered more wine, for he was thirsty after his long
ride and had borne some strain. He had to wait for the wine, but had
expected this since the café was crowded, and in the meantime he got up
and looked across the street. Nobody had meddled with the mule, which
stood quietly by the railings with drooping head. Kit wondered where he
could get it some food and if he could hire a fresh animal.

Then a waiter brought the wine and when he had drunk some and lighted a
cigarette Kit, listening to the talk of the men at the next table, got a
hint that threw some light on Olsen's offer. Alvarez had used the vaults
under the presidio for a munition store, and when he was dead the
mayor-domo had blown up the building as the rebels forced their way in.
Now there was a new president in the field, it was obvious why Galdar
wanted fresh supplies. This, however, was not important, and Kit drained
his glass and then tried to rouse himself. He must look after the mule
and if it was not fit for the journey get another animal.

He felt strangely reluctant to move; the fatigue he had for a time shaken
off returned with puzzling suddenness and threatened to overpower him.
His head was very heavy, he could hardly hear the people talk, and every
now and then his eyes shut. He could not keep them open, but after a few
minutes he straightened his bent shoulders with a resolute jerk and
clenched his fist. It was not fatigue that was mastering him; the wine
was drugged. He had not noted a suspicious taste, but he was thirsty and
the omelette was strongly flavored with garlic and red pepper.

Holding himself stiffly upright, he tried to think. Olsen had, no
doubt, ordered the wine to be drugged, and his object was plain. He
meant to prevent Kit reaching the lagoon until he had removed the cargo
on the beach and tried to persuade Mayne to land the rest. Well, the
plot would fail, and with an effort Kit got up and crossed the street.
He suspected that he was watched, but nobody tried to stop him and he
mounted the mule.

The animal moved off at a better pace than he had hoped and he tried to
brace himself. His head ached and his brain was very dull, but somehow he
stuck to the saddle, and although he could hardly guide the mule the
animal avoided the people in its way. After a time, the street became
empty, the noise behind was fainter, and the houses were dark. Nobody
seemed to follow him and Kit began to hope he might be able to leave the
town. He did not know what he would do then, and hardly imagined he could
keep up the effort much longer. Perhaps, when he got away from the houses
he could tie up the mule in a quiet place and rest.

When he rode down a rough track into open country he rocked in the saddle
and would have fallen but for the high peak and big stirrups. The
hillside was blurred; distorted objects that he thought were rocks and
cactus lurched about in the elusive moonlight, and the sweat ran down his
face as he fought against the drug. He knew it would conquer him, but he
was going on as long as possible.

At length the mule stepped into a hole, Kit's foot came out of the
stirrup and he fell. For a moment or two, the mule dragged him along;
then he got his other foot loose and for a time knew nothing more.

The moonlight was fading when he opened his eyes and saw that he was
lying beside a clump of cactus. Indistinct objects moved along the road
not far off and he heard the click of hoofs on stones. A mule train was
passing and was, no doubt, going to the lagoon. He could not get up and
was glad he was in dark shadow. The muleteers had probably been told to
look out for him and a blow from a heavy stone would prevent his
interfering with the rebels' plans. The indistinct figures, however, went
on and Kit relapsed into unconsciousness.

It was daylight when he wakened and saw a man bending over him. Kit was
cold and wet with dew; his head ached horribly and he did not try to get
up. His pistol was underneath him and if the fellow meant to kill him he
could not resist.

"What do you want?" he asked.

The man said he had seen him lying there and imagined he was ill. Then
he held out his hand and asked if Kit could get up. Kit was surprised
when he found himself on his feet, although he swayed as he tried to
keep his balance.

"I suppose you are a liberator?" he said dully.

The other clenched his dark fist. "No, señor! Those dogs, the
_Galdareros_, are no friends of mine! But you were for the president; it
was known in the town."

Kit admitted it. The fellow's scornful denial was comforting and after
some talk, walking with a painful effort, he went with him down the hill
to a small mud house. A few minutes after he got there he went to sleep,
but in the meantime the man had promised to help him to reach the lagoon.

He kept his promise, and before it was light next morning Kit dismounted
on the sandy beach. There was no moon and mist drifted about the trees,
but the water shone faintly and the tide was nearly full. The steamer
loomed in the gloom and when Kit shouted there was a rattle of pulley
blocks and a splash of oars. Ten minutes afterwards Mayne met him at the
gangway and gave him his hand.

"It's some relief to see you back," he said. "Finlay has his fires banked
and can get steam to take us out in an hour or two."

Kit went with him to his room and sat down limply. He was covered with
dust and wet with dew; his face was haggard and his eyes were dull.

"I'll tell you about my adventures later," he said. "What about
the cargo?"

"Some dagos came along with a mule train and loaded up part of the truck
on the beach. They had an order that looked as if it had been signed by
you, and as they were a pretty tough crowd and had their knives loose, I
let them take the goods. When I studied the order I wasn't sure about the
hand and brought off all they had left. By and by another gang came
along, but I refused to send a boat until I'd seen you."

"You were prudent," Kit remarked. "The order was forged. Let me see the
mate's cargo-lists."

He studied the book Mayne gave him and then pondered. Olsen had, no
doubt, forged the order and Kit imagined he would have some trouble to
get payment for the goods. The manufacturers might be persuaded to take
back the rest of the cargo at something less than its proper price, but
Kit thought the value of the munitions supplied to Alvarez would be lost.
The new president would certainly try to disown the debt. Kit, however,
had known that Adam's staunchness might cost him much, and something
might, perhaps, be saved. He had had enough of the country, and as soon
as he could straighten out the tangle in which the revolution had
involved Adam's business he was going back to Ashness.

"Heave your anchor when you're ready," he said to Mayne. "We'll call at
Havana and then steam for New Orleans."

At high-water he stood on the bridge, watching the mangroves fade into
the mist. Ahead, the sun was rising out of a smooth sea, the air was
fresh, and Kit's heart was lighter. He had done with plots and intrigue
and was going back to Ashness and the quiet hills. At the same time, he
felt a tender melancholy as he thought about the little church at Salinas
and the marble cross in the sandy yard. Then he lifted his head and the
melancholy vanished as he looked across the sparkling water. The clang of
engines rose and fell with a measured beat and there was a noisy
splashing at the bows. Bright streaks of foam eddied about the _Rio
Negro's_ side, and a long smoke cloud trailed astern as she steamed to
the North.



PART III--KIT'S RETURN



CHAPTER I

KIT'S WELCOME


Kit was comfortably tired when he sat down by the beck at the head of the
dale. He had been at Ashness for a week, and finding much to be done had
occupied himself with characteristic energy. It was a relief to feel that
the heat of the tropics had not relaxed his muscles as much as he had
thought, and that the languidness he had sometimes fought against was
vanishing before the bracing winds that swept his native hills. The ache
in his arms had come from using the draining spade and his knees were
stiff after a long walk through the heather to examine the Herdwick
sheep. His vigor was coming back and he was conscious of a keen but
tranquil satisfaction with the quiet dale.

Filling his pipe lazily, he looked about. The sun was near the summit of
the fells and the long slopes were turning gray in the shadow. The yellow
light touched the other side of the valley, and the narrow bottom,
through which shining water ran, was a belt of cool dark-green. A faint
bleating of sheep came down the hill, and the beck splashed softly among
the stones.

Kit found the quiet soothing. He had had enough excitement and adventure,
and had half-consciously recognized that the life he had led in the
tropics was not for him. On the whole, he thought he had made good. One
did one's best at the work one found, but intrigue was not his proper
job. For all that, he did not mean to philosophize and had something to
think about.

When he sold the _Rio Negro_ and paid his debts he found a larger
surplus than he had hoped. Moreover, his agents had not yet enforced all
business claims and might be able to send him a fresh sum. The money he
brought home would not have made him a rich man in America, but it would
go a long way in the dale, and the soil and flocks at Ashness could be
improved by modern methods and carefully spent capital. Kit had begun at
once and found his task engrossing, but when the day's work was over he
felt a gentle melancholy and a sense of loneliness. Adam and Peter had
gone and he had loved them both; he knew he would not meet their like
again. Yet he had not lost them altogether. They had, so to speak, blazed
the trail for him, and he must try to follow, fronting obstacles with
their fearless calm.

Then he took his pipe from his mouth and his heart beat as a figure came
round a bend of the road. The girl was some distance off and he could
not see her face, but he knew her and braced himself. He had known the
meeting must come and much depended on her attitude. Grace was no longer
a romantic girl, and though he had not forgotten her, she might have
been persuaded that she had nothing to do with him. Now she must choose
her line, and he sat still, half prepared for her to pass him with a
bow. While he waited, his dog got up and ran along the road. Old Bob
knew Grace, and it looked as if she had spoken to, and perhaps petted,
him while his master was away.

She stopped, and Kit felt ashamed when he got up, for she gave him her
hand with a friendly look and he saw she had not changed as much as he
had thought. The proud calm he approved was perhaps more marked, but he
imagined the generous rashness he had liked as well still lurked beneath
the surface. He had met attractive girls in the tropics who knew they
were beautiful and added by art to their physical charm. Grace, however,
used hers unconsciously; he thought she was too proud to care if she had
such charm or not.

"I am glad to see you back," she said and stroked the dog that
leaped upon her. "Bob and I are friends. He knew me when I came
round the corner."

"So did I," Kit rejoined quietly.

He thought he noted a touch of color in her face, but she smiled.

"You did not get up. Perhaps you were not sure, like Bob?"

"I think I was sure. But I have been away some time and it was not my
part to force you to acknowledge me."

"If I didn't want to?" Grace suggested. "Well, I do not forget my
friends, and now, if you are satisfied, we can let that go." She
paused and resumed when he went on with her: "The dalesfolk have
missed you, particularly since your father died. It must have been a
shock--I felt it, too, because I saw him now and then. We were friends
in spite of all."

Kit was grateful for her frank sympathy, and felt he could talk to her
about his father.

"He did not tell me this, but he liked you."

"He was just," Grace replied. "People knew, and trusted him. He had none
of the rancor that often leads us wrong. When he was firm he did not get
angry. That kind of attitude is hard, but it makes things easier. But you
were in America with his brother, were you not?"

"I was in the United States, and afterwards in some of the countries on
the Caribbean."

"Ah," said Grace with curiosity, "that must have been interesting! One
understands that is a beautiful and romantic coast, with its memories of
the great Elizabethan sailors and the pirates."

"It is romantic, and dangerous in parts. You can land at some of the
towns from modern mail-boats and find smart shops and cafés; others have
fallen into ruin and lie, half-hidden by the forest, beside
malaria-haunted lagoons. You steal in through the mist at the top of a
high tide, much as the old pirates did, and when you land, find hints of
a vanished civilization and the Spaniards' broken power. But you seem to
know something about the coast."

Grace smiled. "You look surprised! There is a library at Tarnside,
although it is not often used, and we have books about the voyages of the
buccaneers. One book is rather fascinating. But what were you doing in
the lagoons?"

"Sometimes we loaded dyewoods and rubber; sometimes we lent money to
ambitious politicians in return for unlawful trading privileges, and now
and then engaged in business that was something like that of the old
adventurers."

"After that, you must find the dale very tame," Grace remarked, and
quietly studied Kit.

She had liked his honesty and resolution before he went abroad, but he
had gained something she had not noted then. Although he wore rough
working clothes and had obviously been digging, he had an elusive touch
of distinction, and there was a hint of command in his quiet look. He had
seen the world, confronted dangers, and used power, and this had put a
stamp on him.

"It is hard to imagine you a pirate," she remarked with a twinkle. "You
don't look the part, and, no doubt, like other occupations, it requires
some study."

Kit laughed. "One does the best one can! I rather think taking trouble
and a determination to make good are as useful as specialized training."

"Perhaps that's true. It's curious, in a way, but I expect a good farmer,
for example, might make a successful buccaneer. One understands, though,
that the last pirate was hanged a hundred years since."

"There are a few left, although their methods have changed with the
times. Some day I would like to tell you about my uncle. He was, so to
speak, a survival, and I think you would appreciate him. But how have
things been going in the dale?"

Grace's twinkle vanished, her look became serious, and Kit thought he
noted signs of strain. After all, she had changed since he left Ashness.
It was not that she looked older, although she was now a rather stately
woman and not an impulsive girl; he felt that she had known care.

"On the whole," she said, "things have not gone very well. We have had
wet summers and heavy snow in spring. The flocks are poor and rents have
come down. Bell has gone; he quarreled with Hayes about some new
machinery for the mill. All is much the same at Tarnside, though my
father is not so active. Gerald left Woolwich--perhaps you knew--and is
in a London bank."

Kit hid his surprise. Gerald was not the stuff of which good bank clerks
are made, although Osborn's influence with the local manager had, no
doubt, got him the post. Kit imagined the lad had been forced to leave
Woolwich, but money must be scarce at Tarnside, since he had gone into
business. This threw some light on the hint of weariness he had noted
about Grace. If fresh economy was needful, she and Mrs. Osborn must
carry the load.

"Hayes is still your agent. I met him yesterday and he gave me a sour
nod," Kit remarked.

"Yes," said Grace, and added quietly: "I sometimes wish he were not!"

"Well, I never liked the man. All the same, he's a very good agent, from
the landlord's point of view, and your father's interests ought to be
safe with him."

"I suppose so," Grace agreed, but her look was doubtful, and they
reached the Ashness lonning a few minutes later. When Kit stopped she
gave him her hand. "I hear you are going to make a number of
improvements, and wish you good luck!"

Kit went up the lonning and sitting down in the porch lighted his pipe.
Grace had not forgotten; she had given him his real welcome home and he
thrilled as he thought about her quiet friendliness. Perhaps the meeting
was awkward for her, but she had struck the right note, with the
dignified simplicity he had expected. It said something for her pluck
that she had met him as if the interview at Ashness, when Osborn had
driven him away, had never taken place. All this was comforting, but Kit
was vaguely disturbed on her account.

He had noted a hint of anxiety and she had implied that things were not
going well for the Osborns. He meant to marry Grace; his longing for her
was keener than he had felt it yet, but it was not altogether selfish.
She must be removed from surroundings in which she could not thrive.
Tarnside, with its rash extravagance, pretense, and stern private
economy, was not the place for her. But he felt he must be patient and
cautious; there were numerous obstacles in his way.

In the meantime, Grace met Thorn farther along the road and tried to hide
her annoyance as he advanced. Perhaps it was the contrast between him and
Kit, whose thin, brown face had a half-ascetic look, for Alan was fat and
getting coarse. Grace had noted this before, but not so plainly as she
did now. His manners were urbane and he belonged to her circle; to some
extent, his code was hers and she had his prejudices and tastes. All the
same, she did not like him; for one thing, he was a type her father
approved, a man of local importance and strictly local ideas, and Osborn
had forced her into rebellion. Alan managed the otter hounds well and
knew much about farming, but he was satisfied with this. Although he
belonged to a smart London club, Grace imagined he only went there
because he thought he ought. Yet he was cunning and patient, and knowing
why he bore with Osborn, she was sometimes afraid.

"Was that Askew?" he inquired when he turned and went on with her.

Grace said it was and he gave her a careless look.

"I heard he had come back. Might have been better if he had stayed away.
A fellow like that is rather disturbing."

"I don't think he could do much harm, when you and Hayes are on your
guard," Grace rejoined.

"That is so," Thorn agreed and she could not tell if he knew she had
meant to be ironical. "Anyhow, I don't suppose he wants to do much harm;
I was thinking about his example."

"Is it a dangerous example to improve one's land? I thought you advocated
scientific farming?"

"So I do. I don't mean that, although I don't know if Askew's farming is
scientific or not. One can't judge yet. His independence and habit of
taking his own line might be dangerous."

"Mr. Askew's independence is justified. Ashness is his."

"Yes," said Thorn thoughtfully, "that's the trouble. If he was a farming
tenant, things would be easier."

Grace laughed. "You are delightfully naïve! I'm afraid you'll have to
leave Mr. Askew alone, but I don't expect he'll do anything alarming. I
think you know he is a friend of mine."

"I knew he was, before he went abroad. If you have renewed the
friendship, it means you're satisfied about him and perhaps we needn't be
disturbed. Your judgment is generally sound."

"Thank you," said Grace. "I have relations who would not agree! But why
do you dislike people who take their own line?"

"It would be awkward if one's tenants did so; but perhaps my feeling
springs from envy. The rest of us can't do what we want. You can't,
for example!"

Grace gave him a keen glance, and then laughed. "On the whole, that is
true. We have a number of rules at Tarnside, but one now and then gets
some satisfaction from breaking them."

"Rebellion doesn't pay," Thorn rejoined with a touch of dry humor. "You
are young and adventurous, but you'll find it prudent, so to speak, to
accept your environment and submit. Some people call submission duty,
but that's really cant; they mean it saves them trouble. Anyhow, you
cannot make your own code; when you're born at a place like Tarnside,
it's made for you."

"Ah!" said Grace, "I wonder--Well, you know I am sometimes rash."

Then she was careful to talk about something else, for she thought Alan
had not philosophized without an object and it was not difficult to see
where his hints led. When they reached the lodge, she firmly sent him
away, although he looked as if he wanted to come to the house.



CHAPTER II

A DANGEROUS TALENT


Dinner was nearly over at Tarnside. The meal was served with some
ceremony, although the bill of fare was frugal except when game could be
shot and, as a rule, nobody but Osborn talked much. Now he had satisfied
his appetite he looked about the spacious room. The handsome, molded
ceiling was dark from neglect and the cornice was stained by damp. The
light of the setting sun streamed in through the long casement window
which commanded the shining tarn and the woods that melted into shadow at
the mouth of the dale. It was a noble view, but it did not hold Osborn's
eyes, for the quivering sunbeams searched out the faded spots on the
curtains and the worn patches on the rugs on the polished floor.

"We need a number of new things and I don't know how they're to be
got," he remarked, and when Mrs. Osborn said nothing knitted his brows.
He had put away some money for renovations, but it had gone. One could
not keep money at Tarnside; it vanished and left nothing to show how it
had been spent.

"I understand young Askew is back at Ashness," he resumed, looking
hard at Grace.

"Yes," said Grace. "I met him not long since."

Osborn frowned. He knew she had met Kit, but did not know if he liked her
candor. The girl was independent, but he thought she now understood the
responsibilities of her rank.

"The fellow is obviously prosperous, since he's spending a large sum on
draining. I saw a big stack of pipes and a number of men at work. My
opinion is it's a ridiculous waste of money."

"Perhaps there are worse extravagances," Grace rejoined. "I expect he has
some hope of getting his money back by growing better crops. Ours goes
and never returns."

Mrs. Osborn gave her a warning glance. Osborn hated contradiction and
Grace and he often jarred, but the girl smiled.

"Father and I are not going to quarrel about Mr. Askew's farming; it is
not worth while," she said and studied Osborn with half-penitent
sympathy.

The strong light touched his face, forcing up the deep lines and
wrinkles, and she thought he was getting older fast. His eyes were dull
and his shoulders were slightly bent. She knew about some of his troubles
and suspected others, but the stamp of indulgence that had got plainer in
the last year or two disturbed her.

"The Askews seem fated to give me trouble," he went on. "Now the fellow
has begun to drain, his neighbors will expect me to do so. In fact, Black
and Pattinson bothered Hayes about some plans for buying pipes when they
paid their rent. Besides, the contrast hurts; I don't see why a fellow
like Askew should be able to waste money on rash experiments when we have
not enough. However, this leads to another matter; Gerald comes back
tomorrow, and will no doubt, grumble about his poverty. If he does, you
must give him nothing. He has his pay and I make him an allowance. I
won't have his extravagance encouraged."

Grace smiled as Mrs. Osborn got up with a disturbed look. "Mother cannot
have much to give and I have nothing at all. I'm afraid Gerald's talent
for begging will be used in vain."

She went out with Mrs. Osborn and when they had gone Osborn, crossing
the floor to the sideboard, filled his glass to the top. This was his
regular habit and its futility escaped him, although he knew his wife and
daughter knew. He felt he did enough if he exercised some self-denial
when they were about.

In the meantime, Mrs. Osborn sat down on the terrace and looked across
the untidy lawn.

"We need a new pony mower; Jenkins cannot keep the grass in order with
the small machine. He was very obstinate about the bedding plants he
wanted to buy and the borders look thin, but I felt I must be firm," she
said and added drearily: "I wonder when we shall be forced to get a
sporting tenant and live in a smaller house."

"Father would not leave Tarnside. I suppose you don't know how things are
really going?"

"I know they are not going well and suspect they get worse; but he will
not tell me. One could help if one did know."

"I'm afraid I have disappointed father and given you anxieties you need
not have had," Grace replied with some bitterness. "After all, however,
the fault is hardly mine. I wanted to make my own career, but was not
allowed; to work at a useful occupation, would somehow have humiliated
our ridiculous pride, and there was, of course, only one hope left for
you." She paused, and colored as she resumed: "Well, although I am not
sorry, it looks as if that hope had gone."

"It would have been a relief if you had made a good marriage," Mrs.
Osborn admitted. "Still, since you met nobody you like--"

"The men I might perhaps have liked were poor. Father would, no doubt,
think it my natural perversity, or our bad luck; but I don't believe in
luck. It's an excuse for weak makeshifts and futilities; one can conquer
bad fortune if one is resolute."

"None of us, except you, has much resolution," Mrs. Osborn remarked and
sighed. "So far, your firmness has not helped much; I imagine you know
your father has not given up hope."

"Yes," said Grace, rather harshly. "I do know, and that is why I am often
impatient. He will not be persuaded the thing's impossible."

"After all, Alan has some advantages."

"He has many drawbacks," Grace rejoined, and then her face softened and
she gave her mother an appealing look. "I thought you were on my side!"

"I am on your side where you feel strongly. Perhaps I am reserved and you
do not often give me your confidence."

"I'm sorry. We are seldom quite honest at Tarnside; somehow one can't be
oneself, but now we must be frank. I don't like Alan Thorn; I never liked
him. It's impossible."

"Then, my dear, there is no more to be said."

Grace made a sign of disagreement. "There may be much; that is why I am
disturbed. You and I don't count, mother; we are expected to submit. It
isn't that I don't like Alan; I shrink from him. He is cunning and knows
how to wait. Sometimes his patience frightens me."

"But why should his patience frighten you?"

"Oh!" said Grace, "can't you understand? You know father's habits and
that Gerald is following him. You know our debts are mounting up and this
can't go on. Some day we may be ruined and then I think Alan will seize
his chance. Perhaps I'm imaginative--but such things happen."

Mrs. Osborn put her hand on the girl's arm and her touch was unusually
firm. "You may be alarmed for nothing, my dear. But if the time should
come when my help is really needed, it will be yours."

Grace kissed her. "I can trust you. I was weak--I'm sometimes a
coward--but now I'm comforted."

They were silent for a few minutes and then Mrs. Osborn looked up.

"Is it prudent for you to meet Christopher Askew again?"

Grace colored, but met her mother's glance and answered with a thoughtful
calm; "I see no danger. I liked Kit before he went away, but our
friendship was really not romantic. When father met us in Redmire Wood, a
horribly silly impulse made me hide. I blush when I think about it and
imagine I forgot I had grown up--Gerald and I used to hide when father
was angry. Anyhow, I made Kit Askew hide and he was first to remember and
step into the road."

"But this happened long since and he is older."

"Yes," said Grace, "he's different, although one feels that he has
kept a promise made in his half-developed stage. He has been out in
the world and done strenuous things, while I stayed at home and played
at make-believe. He talks like a man who knows his value and there's a
touch of distinction in his look; a stupid word, but it comes near
what I mean."

Mrs. Osborn glanced at her sharply, but Grace smiled.

"Don't be disturbed, mother; I am trying to tell you all I think.
We were friends, but I imagine Kit knows his drawbacks from our
point of view. Besides, after father quarreled with Peter Askew I
never sent Kit a message, and he must have thought I acquiesced. In
a way, I did acquiesce; it was the best thing to be done. You see
what this implied? If I had loved him, it meant I had no pluck and
was ashamed to acknowledge a farmer's son. But he knew I did not
love him and understood that our friendship would not bear the
strain of father's disapproval. Either way, it hinted that I was
weak and not worth pursuing. Well, he met me without embarrassment
and we talked about nothing important. I may meet him now and then,
but that, I think, is all."

"Very well," said Mrs. Osborn, who looked relieved. "Perhaps it would be
prudent not to meet him often."

Grace smiled and was silent for a time. She had tried to be frank and
thought she had stated things correctly--so far as she knew. Then she
remembered Kit's look when she stopped and spoke, and began to wonder.
Perhaps she had not told all and the little she had left out was
important. By and by she got up and went into the house.

Gerald Osborn came home next day and not long afterwards Kit found him
lying on the gravel beside a tarn on the Ashness moor. Heavy rain had
fallen, but the clouds had rolled away and the water shone with dazzling
light. The sky was clear except for a bank of mist floating about the
round top of a fell, and a swollen beck sparkled among the heather. The
wind had dropped and it was very hot.

When he heard Kit's steps Gerald looked up. He was a handsome young man,
with some charm of manner, although it was obvious now and then that he
had inherited a touch of his father's pride. His glance was keen and
intelligent, but his mouth and chin were weak. Gerald had talent, but was
very like Osborn, since he was sometimes rashly obstinate and sometimes
vacillating.

"Hallo!" he said. "I expect I ought to have asked your leave before I
came to fish. I hope you don't mind."

"I don't mind. Nobody asks my leave," Kit replied. "Have you had
much luck?"

Gerald opened his creel and showed him a number of small, dark-colored
trout. "Pretty good. They rose well until the light got strong. Then I
thought I'd take a rest. Will you smoke a cigarette?"

Kit sat down and looked across the shining water at the silver bent-grass
that gleamed among vivid green moss on the side of the hill.

"You must find this a pleasant change from town. Are you staying long?"

"A fortnight; that's all I get. I wish I could stop for good. It's rot to
spend one's life working in a bank."

"I suppose one must work at something," Kit remarked.

"I don't see why, unless you're forced. The only object for working is
when you must work to live, and it isn't mine, because I can't live on my
pay. In fact, the futility of the thing is plain."

Kit laughed. Gerald's humorous candor was part of his charm, but Kit
thought it deceptive.

"Why did you go to the bank, then?"

"Because my father thought I ought. I expect you know he believes in the
firm hand. I wanted to stop at Tarnside, which would have cost him less.
Besides, I could have looked after the estate. It will be mine sometime;
that is, as much as is left."

"But Hayes transacts the business."

"Just so," said Gerald, rather dryly. "What do you think about Hayes?"

"He's your father's agent and has nothing to do with me. I imagine he's a
capable manager."

"I sometimes think he's too capable." Gerald rejoined.

Kit let this go. Before he went away he had suspected that Hayes had
plans his employer would not approve, and he knew Gerald was shrewd. It
was, however, not his business and he remarked: "You wanted to go to
Woolwich, didn't you?"

"I did not," Gerald declared. "As a matter of fact, I said so, but my
objections didn't count. I might have made a good farmer or
land-steward, but a number of us had been soldiers and that was enough.
I don't know if it was a logical argument, but I had to go, and on the
whole it was a relief when they turned me out. Too many regulations for
my independent taste! Rules are good, perhaps, so long as they're made
for somebody else."

He was silent for a few minutes and Kit mused. He thought there was some
bitterness in Gerald's humor; it looked as if Osborn had not been wise
when he planned his son's career without consulting him. This, however,
was typical. Osborn was satisfied to give orders and expected others to
accept his point of view.

"Well," said Gerald, getting up, "I must be off. Rather a bore to walk to
Tarnside, and the trout will probably rise again if there's wind enough
to make a ripple, but I forgot to ask for sandwiches."

"If you lunch with me, you could come back afterwards," Kit suggested,
and they set off down the hill.

When they reached Ashness, Gerald tried to hide his surprise. Kit had
made some changes in the old house and so far kept to the Spanish rule of
meals. Lunch was a late breakfast, well served in china and silver that
were seldom used in Peter Askew's time. The low room had been cleverly
painted and a casement commanding a view of the dale replaced the
original narrow windows. Specimens of ancient Indian pottery stood on the
sideboard, and there were curtains of embroidered silk, feather-flowers,
and silverwork that Kit had brought from Spanish America. The things gave
the lonely farmstead an exotic touch, but they implied the command of
money and cultivated taste.

"You have a beautiful room," Gerald remarked, when the meal was over.
"Don't know that I'm much of a connoisseur, but some of the things look
rather fine."

"I'll show them to you presently," Kit replied and gave Gerald a small,
dark cigar. "I wonder how you'll like the flavor."

"Our club cigars are dear and good, but the best is nothing like this,"
Gerald declared after a minute or two. "Where did they come from?"

"They were given me in Cuba; I believe the make is not offered for public
sale. In a general way, Cuban tobacco is not what it was, but there are
belts of soil that grow a leaf that can't be equaled anywhere else."

"I suppose they keep the crop for presidents and dictators. The quality
indicates it," Gerald suggested, and Kit smiled.

Gerald tasted his black coffee. "If it's not bad form, where did you get
this? There's nothing of the kind in Cumberland, and it's better than the
Turkish they give you in London."

"It came from a Costa Rican _hacienda,_ and was a gift. I'll get no more
when the bag is done. If you come back in a month, you'll find me living
in plain north-country style."

"I imagine you made up for that while you were away," said Gerald, who
rose and went to the side-board. "A curious little jar and obviously old!
Is this the kind of thing the Aztecs made?"

"I rather think it is Aztec, though I didn't buy it in Mexico. I gave
about a pound for the jar and found a gold onza inside."

"An _onza?_ Oh, yes, an ounce! The kind of coin some countries mint but
very seldom use. Something of a bargain!"

"I suppose it was," Kit replied incautiously. "For all that, the onza
wasn't mine, and in a sense my efforts to find the owner cost me a very
large sum."

Gerald gave him a keen glance. Askew was not boasting; he had enjoyed
the command of money.

"Well," he said, "I think I'd have kept the onza, whether it was mine or
not." He paused and pulled a knife from its sheath. The handle was
ornamented and the narrow blade glittered in the light, although its
point was dull. "But what is this? Has it a story?"

"Take care!" said Kit "It may be poisoned; the _Meztisos_ use a stuff
that will kill you if a very small quantity gets into your blood. The
fellow who owned that knife came near burying it in my back."

"It looks as if you had had some adventures," Gerald remarked, and
leaning against the sideboard he lighted a cigarette.

Kit crossed the floor and stood by the open window. The shadow of a cloud
rested motionless, a patch of cool neutral color, on the gleaming yellow
side of the hill. A wild-cherry tree hung over a neighboring wall, and
bees hummed drowsily among the flowers. He was strangely satisfied to be
at home, and it was hard to realize that not long since he had been
engaged in a dangerous trade among the fever-haunted swamps.

"Have you any more curiosities?" Gerald asked.

Kit opened a drawer in his big desk, where he kept specimens of
featherwork. As he took them out he moved some documents and Gerald
indicated one.

"_Cristoval Askew_? Your name in Castilian, I suppose. You write a
curious hand."

"A matter of precaution! Anyhow, I didn't sign this order, and that's why
I kept it. The thing was rather important and we were lucky to find out
the cheat in time, particularly as I imagined nobody could imitate my
hand. You'll see my proper signature on the next document."

"It's not a very good counterfeit," said Gerald, who compared the writing
with the other, "This is a subject I know something about. Penmanship is
one of my few talents and I keep the customers' signature book at the
bank. Yours is an uncommon hand, but it could be forged. Let's see! May I
use this paper?"

Kit nodded and Gerald, knitting his brows, wrote the name three or four
times and then looked up.

"I think I've got it. Hard to tell which is genuine, if you put them
side by side?"

"Yes," said Kit. "I'm not sure I could tell which is mine."

Gerald laughed. "One has to study these things; part of my job, you see,
and banks are cheated oftener than people think. However, I expect you
want to get to work and I'll go back to the tarn."

He went out and Kit tore up the paper. He thought a talent like Gerald's
might be dangerous if it were used by an unscrupulous man.



CHAPTER III

THE HORSE SHOW


It was a calm evening and Osborn sat on the terrace, studying a printed
notice. Mrs. Osborn poured out coffee at a small table, and Gerald and
Grace occupied the top of the broad steps to the lawn. The sun was low,
the air was cool, and except for the soft splash of a beck, a deep
quietness brooded over the dale.

"It will be a good show," Osborn remarked, reaching for a cup. "I
insisted on the rather early date, because if we had waited until the hay
was in, we might have got wet weather. Two or three objected, but I'm
satisfied I took the proper line. One must be firm with an argumentative
committee."

Gerald's eyes twinkled as he looked at Grace. Osborn generally was firm
with people who gave way, and Gerald had heard some grumbling about his
changing the date for the horse show.

"It's the last time I'll be president," Osborn resumed. "I had meant to
resign, but Thorn could not take the post, Sir George is away, and a
well-known local man is needed to give the thing a proper start."

"Rather an expensive honor!" Gerald observed. "The president's expected
to make up the shortage if the day is wet."

"That was one reason for my fixing the meeting early, when we often get
it fine," Osborn replied naïvely. "The expense is a drawback, but the
committee would not let me drop out."

"Mother and Grace will want new hats and clothes, and I expect the job
will cost you more than you think. You'll have to give them a lead by
bidding for the chapel sheep."

"If that meddlesome fellow Drysdale is going to send his sheep to
the show, the arrangement was made without my knowing," Osborn
replied angrily.

Mrs. Osborn looked disturbed, but Gerald laughed. He rather enjoyed
provoking his father when he thought it safe. Drysdale was treasurer for
a body of Nonconformists, who wanted to build a new chapel and, finding
the farmers reluctant to give money, had asked for contributions from
their flocks and herds.

"The idea was that the sale would be an extra attraction," Gerald went
on. "Still, I admit it's hard for you, because you hate chapels and will
have to bid. In fact, you'll, no doubt, have to buy the sheep at a
sentimental price and sell them at their value."

"I believe in liberty of conscience and do not hate chapels," Osborn
rejoined. "For all that, I own to a natural prejudice against people who
attend such places, largely because they mix up their religious and
political creeds. It would be strange if I sympathized with their plans
for robbing the landlords."

"Anyhow, Drysdale means to bring his flock, and I'm afraid you'll have to
pay. The situation has some humor."

Osborn knitted his brows. Hayes had been talking to him about the estate
accounts and he had resolved to practise stern economy. Economy was
needful, unless he gave a fresh mortgage to pay the interest on his other
debts; and here was an expense he had not bargained for.

"If I'd known about Drysdale, I'd have resigned," he said. "I took the
post again because there was nobody else."

"They might have tried Askew," Gerald suggested.

"Askew? A fellow of no importance, unknown outside the dale!"

"I imagine he'll be better known soon, and he's rather a good sort. Gave
me a very good lunch not long since and has obviously spent something on
the farm. His room is like a museum, and he has a number of valuable
things. Seems to have had some adventures abroad, and found them
profitable."

"You mean he tried to impress you by vague boasting?"

"No," said Gerald, "I don't think he did; the fellow's not that kind. In
fact, he's rather good form, and has somehow got the proper stamp."

Grace looked at her brother, as if she agreed; but Osborn remarked
ironically, "You imagine yourself a judge?"

"Oh, well," said Gerald, smiling, "I've had the advantage of being
brought up at Tarnside, and belong to a good London club. Anyhow, Askew's
much less provincial than some of our exclusive friends."

He strolled off and Osborn went to the library, where he spent some time
studying his accounts. The calculations he made were disturbing and he
resented the possibility of his being forced to help Drysdale's fund.
Nevertheless, the president of the show would be expected to lead the
bidding and the Osborns did things properly.

A week or two afterwards, Mrs. Osborn opened the show in a field by the
market-town, which stood in a hollow among the moors. The grass sloped to
a river that sparkled in the sun and then vanished in the alders' shade.
Across the stream, old oak and ash trees rolled up the side of the Moot
Hill, and round the latter gray walls and roofs showed among the leaves.
A spire and a square, ivy-covered tower rose above the faint blue haze of
smoke. A few white clouds floated in the sky and their cool shadows
crept slowly across the field.

The horses were not very numerous, but the show had other attractions
and was an excuse for a general holiday. The crowd was larger than
usual, Mrs. Osborn's nervous speech was cheered, and for a time Osborn
forgot that the office he had taken might cost him something. He was
carrying out a duty he owed the neighborhood and felt that he could do
so better than anybody else. He did not admit that he liked to take the
leading place.

His first annoyance came with the sheep-dog trials. He had not known
Askew was a competitor and frowned as he saw Grace go up to him when a
flock of Herdwicks entered the field. The girl ought to have seen that it
was not the proper thing for his daughter to proclaim her acquaintance
with the fellow. Then Gerald followed her, and began talking to Askew as
if he knew him well. Gerald, was of course, irresponsibly eccentric, but
his folly jarred.

Grace had found it needful to get a new dress and hat, and Kit thrilled
and tried to hide his delight in her beauty as she advanced. His
rough-coated dog ran to meet her and she stroked its shaggy head.

"I hope Bob is going to win," she remarked.

"It's doubtful," Kit replied. "He's clever, but they don't give us much
time and he's getting slow. One or two of his rivals are very good."

"You'll do your best, old Bob," said Grace, and the dog, looking up at
her with friendly eyes, beat his tail on the ground.

Then Gerald came up, and soon afterwards the judges tied a string to a
farmer's leg and fastened the other end to a post. This allowed him to
run a short distance, after which he must direct his dog by voice.

"First trial, Mr. Forsyth's Merry Lad," a steward announced, and the
crowd gathered round when the judge took out his watch.

Furze bushes had been stuck into the ground to simulate a broken hedge.
Beyond these was a row of hurdles with an open gate, and then a number
of obstacles, while a railed pen occupied a corner of the field. Kit
gave Grace a card showing the way the sheep must be driven round the
different barriers.

"It's a good test, particularly as we can't follow the dogs and they must
take each obstacle in its proper turn."

"They are wonderfully clever to understand," said Grace, and stopped when
the judge shouted, "Time!"

The farmer called his dog, a handsome smooth-haired collie, that set off
with a bound and drove the sheep at full speed towards the furze. As they
came up, with fleeces shaking and a patter of little feet, the man ran to
the length of the string and waved his stick.

"Away back! Gan away back! T'ither slap, ye fule!"

People laughed when the dog in desperate haste stopped the sheep as they
packed outside a hole, but it drove them to the next gap, through which
they streamed.

"Forrad! Gan forrad!" cried the farmer. "Head them, Merry Lad!"

The dog turned the sheep and brought them back through another opening,
after which they raced towards the hurdles, and the collie hesitated as
if puzzled by its master's shouts. The sheep were near the end of the
rails, but it was not the end the card indicated. Then the dog seemed to
understand what was required, and circling round the flock with swift,
graceful leaps, drove them along the hurdles and round the other end.

There was some applause from the crowd and afterwards good-humored
banter when the dog ran backwards and forwards at a loss. The animal
obviously knew the flock must be taken round the remaining obstacles, but
had only its master's shouts for guide to the order in which they must be
passed. Sometimes the farmer got angry and sometimes laughed, but except
for a mistake or two the collie drove the sheep in and out among the
barriers as the card required and put them in the pen.

Two or three more trials took place, and for the most part, the
unoccupied dogs strained at their leads and whimpered, but old Bob sat at
Kit's feet, watching, with his head on one side.

"One can see he's thinking; I believe he wants to remember the right way
round," Grace remarked, and smiled when a steward beckoned Kit. "It's
your turn," she said. "I wish you good luck!"

Kit went off with his heart beating and felt half amused by his keenness
when the steward tied the string to his leg. After his adventures on the
Caribbean and the stakes he and Adam had played for, it was strange he
should be eager to win a box of plated forks at a rustic show. Yet, he
was eager; Grace had wished him luck.

"Number four; Mr. Askew's Old Bob!" the steward announced.

Kit called, and Bob, trotting away deliberately, got the sheep together
and drove them correctly through the holes. He was doing well, in one
sense, and Kit knew he would make few mistakes, but time counted and old
Bob was slow. He had trouble at the hurdles, where the sheep seemed
resolved to go the wrong way, but he stopped them and took them back to
the proper end. Kit gave very few orders, although he looked at his watch
rather anxiously. Bob understood and could be trusted to do his work, the
trouble was he might not finish it in time. At length, Kit drew a deep
breath, and put back his watch. The sheep were in the pen and there was a
minute left.

Kit went back to Grace, and Bob trotted up, panting, with his tongue
hanging out. He looked at Kit, as if for approval; and then, after
wagging his tail when his master spoke, held up his paw to Grace.

"Hallo!" said Kit. "I haven't known him to do that before. It's not a
sheepdog's trick."

"I taught him," Grace replied, with a touch of color. "He has not
forgotten, and really deserves to be stroked."

She went away, but she gave Kit a smile across the railing, behind which
she stood with Mrs. Osborn, when the judge called out:

"First prize, Number Four; Mr. Askew's Bob!"

When lunch was served in a big tent Osborn sat at the top of the table,
but his satisfaction had vanished. For one thing, everybody had applauded
when Askew won the prize; the fellow was obviously a favorite and this
annoyed him. Then, Drysdale's sheep were to be sold by auction after
lunch and the committee had hinted that the president was the proper
person to buy the flock. Drysdale sat next to Kit at the bottom of the
table. He was a little, shabbily-dressed man, with a brown face, and a
twinkling smile.

"Where are the sheep?" Kit asked.

"We'll send t' band for them presently. Are you gan t' bid?"

"I don't know until I've seen them. What about their quality?"

"Weel, it might be better; they're gifts, you ken. There's a young ram
might suit you; he's true Carlside strain."

"I don't know how you got him then. I can't see Mayson giving away good
breeding stock."

Drysdale grinned. "Some big stanes fell on t' ram when Mayson was
Bringing flock doon Barra ghyll. He looks a bit the waur o' it, but you
can tell the Carlside blood."

"I'll see what I think about the animal," Kit said with a laugh. "Do you
expect a good sale? The rich people, as a rule, go to church."

"They'll bid aw t' same. When you canna stir their generosity, you can
try their pride. If you look at it one way, the thing's humorsome. They
dinna want to help me, but they will."

"It's possible," Kit agreed. "I don't know if the plan's above suspicion,
but you need the money."

"It will be weel spent. Hooiver, I must be off and see the band dinna get
ower much to drink."

Drysdale went away and soon afterwards a strange procession headed by the
band and guarded by children, entered the field. A row of geese, waddling
solemnly in single file, came first, and then turkeys stalked among their
broods; a boy led a handsome goat and long-legged calf, and in the rear
straggled a flock of sheep. When all were driven into pens the sale began
and the crowd laughed and bantered the men who bid. In the meantime, Kit
examined the sheep. Some had faults and the ram had obviously suffered
from its accident. It was clear, though, that it sprang from a famous
stock, and Kit knew an animal transmits to its offspring inherited
qualities and not acquired defects. He recognized the stamp of breeding
and resolved to buy the sheep. The ram was worth much more than he
imagined the shepherds thought.

He went back to the stand and by and by the auctioneer praised the flock.
When he stopped, there was silence for a few moments until Osborn nodded.

"A cautious beginning often makes a good ending, but we've a long way to
go yet," the auctioneer remarked. "Who'll say five pounds more?"

Thorn made a sign, and the auctioneer raised his hammer. "We've got a
start, but you must keep it up. The opportunity's what folks call
unique; you'll save money by buying, and help a good cause. Don't
know which will appeal to you, but you can pay your money, and take
your choice."

He looked about while the crowd laughed, and after two or three
flockmasters advanced the price, caught Kit's eye. "Mr. Askew's a judge
of sheep. We'll call it ten pounds rise!"

Kit nodded, and Osborn glanced at Thorn, who shrugged. The latter had
helped to start the bidding, which was all he meant to do, and Osborn
would have tried to draw out after making another offer, had he not seen
Kit. He did not want the sheep, although he was willing to buy them at
something above their proper price. Now, however, Askew was his
antagonist, the fellow must be beaten.

"We must finish the sale before the driving-matches," he said. "Go up
twenty pounds."

"They'd not sell near it if you sent them to the market," a farmer
remarked.

"Do you sell pedigree stock to butchers? The ram's worth the money," the
auctioneer rejoined.

On the whole, Kit agreed, although he saw that others did not. Moreover
he was willing to run some risk by helping Drysdale, whom he liked, and
he signed to the auctioneer. The farmers stopped, but Osborn went on. He
had not liked Peter Askew and liked Kit worse. Father and son had opposed
him, and now the young upstart was proud of the money he had, no doubt,
got by doubtful means. He would not let the fellow balk him, and his face
got red as he answered the auctioneer's inquiring glance. Presently he
turned with a frown as Hayes touched his arm.

"It's an extravagant price," the agent remarked. "They'll want a check
and your account is getting very low."

"You'll have to cut down expenses, then," Osborn answered haughtily.
"This is not a matter about which I need your advice."

Hayes shrugged and Osborn nodded to the auctioneer when Kit made another
bid. He felt hot and savage and wanted a drink, but could not leave the
stand. Askew meant to humiliate him and he must hold out. He was the most
important man in the neighborhood, and must not be beaten by a small
farmer. For all that, the sum he would have to pay would be a drain.

After the next bid the auctioneer looked at Kit, who smiled and
shook his head.

"Mr. Osborn takes the lot," the auctioneer remarked. "He has paid a high
price to help a good object, but I think we all hope the next lambing
season will give him his money back."

Osborn's savage satisfaction was spoiled by a chilling doubt and he went
off to look for Hayes.

"Give the fellow a check for the sheep on the estate account," he said.

"How much?" Hayes asked, and looked thoughtful when Osborn told him.

"There are a number of bills to meet and we'll have no money coming in
until term-day."

"Can't you put off the bills?"

"I think not," Hayes answered, meaningly. "It mightn't be prudent. Our
credit is not too good."

Osborn was silent for a moment or two. "Very well," he said. "I'll try to
sell the sheep to somebody who'll give me what they're really worth. Come
over to-morrow and we'll talk about the new mortgage."

Then he went back, moodily, to join the judges for the driving-match.



CHAPTER IV

THE FLOOD


On the morning after the show, Osborn walked up and down the terrace,
waiting moodily for Hayes. It was a rash extravagance to buy the sheep
and he blamed Kit for this. The fellow had gone on bidding in order to
force him to pay a high price; besides, the money would help an object
Osborn did not approve. There were enough chapels in the neighborhood and
any legislation that interfered with the landlords' privileges got its
warmest support at such places.

The sum he had spent was not remarkably large and he had cut his loss by
selling the flock to a farmer at their market price, but this was about
half what he had given and he had some urgent debts. Although he had
hoped to hold out until term-day, when the payment of rents would ease
the strain on his finances, he must have money and did not know where it
could be got by prudent means.

In the meantime, he looked about gloomily. The weather had changed, a
moist west wind drove heavy clouds across the sky and the fell-tops
were hidden by mist. It threatened a wet hay-time and hay was scarce
in the dale, where they generally cut it late after feeding sheep on
the meadows. Osborn farmed some of his land and had hoped for a good
crop, which he needed. The grass in the big meadow by the beck was
long and getting ripe, but the red sorrel that grew among it had lost
its bright color. The filling heads rolled in waves before the wind,
but there was something dull and lifeless in the noise they made, and
Osborn knew what this meant. Rain was coming and when rain began in the
dale it did not stop.

His glance rested on the green embankment along the beck. His father had
made the dyke at a heavy cost but in places the stones and soil had
gradually washed away. If the dyke broke at one spot, the beck would
return to its old channel and much damage might be done, particularly if
the floods rolled across the turnip fields. Osborn had meant to
strengthen the dyke, but had put it off because of the expense.

A little later Hayes came up the steps. Osborn did not ask him to sit
down, although there was room on the stone bench, and the agent leaned
against the terrace wall. His face was inscrutable but he remarked his
employer's rudeness.

"I have seen Fisher and he is willing to take a mortgage on Ryecote," he
said. "The interest is higher than I thought, but the money would pay off
urgent bills and cover the cost of the farmstead repairs."

"How much does Fisher want?" Osborn asked and frowned when he was told.
"It's unjust; two per cent above the proper interest."

"I can't borrow for less. However, if we use the money judiciously, we
ought to get something back by higher rents. Lang and Grey, for example,
would pay a little more for the improvements they require."

Osborn pondered. He was in a suspicious mood and thought Hayes wanted to
negotiate the mortgage.

"When I have satisfied the other tenants there won't be much left for
Lang and Grey," he rejoined. "My experience is that the money you sink in
improvements is gone for good."

"They must be made, for all that; particularly just now when a
dissatisfied spirit is spreading among the farmers. Askew is showing them
what can be done by the proper use of capital."

"Askew!" Osborn exclaimed. "Father and son, the Askews have been the
origin of the worst trouble I've had."

Hayes was willing to indulge Osborn's rancor and derived a rather
malicious satisfaction from seeing him annoyed. Besides, he did not want
to dwell upon the mortgage.

"I wonder whether you know Askew has bought Drysdale's sheep?"

"I did not know. I sold the flock to Graham."

"Then Askew must have bought them soon afterwards, unless he sent Graham
to make the deal with you."

Osborn's face got red. "A shabby trick! Unthinkably shabby, after he
forced up the price." He paused, and tried to control his anger. "But why
did he buy that second-class lot?"

"There was a Carlside ram."

"Only fit for mutton; I studied the animal."

"Oh, well! Askew, no doubt, thinks he is a judge. I imagine he bought the
others in order to get the ram."

"He cheated me," said Osborn, with a savage frown. "The fellow's a
cunning rogue. I wish he hadn't come back--confound him!" He pulled
himself up and added: "However, about the mortgage. I suppose I must
agree to Fisher's terms. See him and arrange the thing as soon as
possible."

Hayes went away and Osborn lighted a cigar. He had a disturbing feeling
that he had been rash. The money would not last long and if he had not
borrowed it, he might have paid the interest on other loans. Buying the
sheep had really decided him to give the mortgage, since it had made him
feel keenly the embarrassment of having very little money at command.
There was another thing; Hayes wanted him to borrow the fresh sum,
although a prudent agent would try to keep the estate out of debt. He
could not see Hayes' object and felt suspicious, but while he pondered it
began to rain and he went into the house.

It rained all day and at dusk the mist had crept down the hills. The long
grass in the meadow bent before the deluge and slanted from the wind. The
becks began to roar in the gyhlls, and threads of foam glimmered in the
mist. A hoarse turmoil rose from the stream that fed the tarn, and an
angry flood, stained brown by peat, rose steadily up the dyke. There was
no promise of better weather when Osborn went to bed, and he had known
rain like that last for a week. In fact, he had known all the hay crop
and the most part of the young turnips washed down the valley.

The rain was heavier when, early next morning, Kit went out to move some
sheep from a spot where the rising water might cut them off. He came back
along the meadow dyke and stopped for a few minutes when he reached its
weakest place. Reeds and tufts of heather whirled down the brown flood.
Wide patches of turf and soil had fallen away, uncovering the foundation
of boulders and gravel, and while Kit looked down a heavy stone rolled
out of its place and plunged into the stream. Others were ready to go;
the water was rising ominously fast and would rise for some time after
the rain stopped. There was, however, nothing to indicate that it would
stop, and Kit, knowing his native climate, looked about with some
uneasiness.

A hollow across the meadow to a hedge, behind which were two large turnip
fields, and he knew this marked a former channel of the beck. It was long
since the water had flowed that way, but his father had told him that in
heavy floods it had some times spread across the fields and joined the
other stream at Allerby. If this happened again, the bottom of the dale
would be covered and the crops ruined. When he was going away, three or
four men with picks and spades came up.

"Are you going to mend the dyke?" he asked.

"We're gan to try," said one. "I reckon we'll not can hoad her up if beck
rises much."

"She'll rise three or four feet," said Kit. "Is nobody else coming?"

"Neabody we ken aboot. Mr. Osborn sent to Allerby first thing, but miller
wadn't let him have a man."

Kit thought hard. Bell had given up the mill and his successor had a
dispute with Hayes. To repair the dyke properly would be a long and
expensive business, since there were a number of weak spots, but a dozen
men, working hard, might perhaps strengthen the threatened part
sufficiently to bear the strain. Clearly, if they were to be of use, they
must be found and set to work at once. In a sense, the risk was Osborn's,
who would pay for his neglect, but the flood might damage his tenants'
fields, and even if the damage were confined to Osborn's, Kit hated to
see crops spoiled.

"You had better begin," he said. "I'll try to get help."

"Mayhappen folks will come for you, though they wadn't for t' maister,"
one replied. "We'll need aw you can get before lang."

Kit set off as fast as he could walk and, stopping for a minute at
Ashness, sent his men. Then he went on to Allerby and at first found
the farmers unwilling to move, but after some argument they went with
him to the mill.

"We'll hear what miller has to say," one remarked. "He kens maist aboot
the job, sin' he had t' mend t' lade when Hayes refused. For aw that,
mending dyke is landlord's business."

"I'll not stir a hand to save Osborn's crops," the miller declared when
he met them at the door. "His oad rogue o' an agent promised me he'd
build up brocken lade, but when time came I had to do't mysel'."

Two of the others grumbled about promises Hayes had not kept, and then
Kit said, "All this is not important. I don't ask you to mend the dyke
for Osborn's sake but yours. If the beck breaks through and runs down to
Allerby, it will spoil all the hay and fill the mill-lead with rubbish."

"Then we'll get compensation. Landlord's bound to keep dyke in order."

Kit smiled. "You'll get nothing, unless you go to law and I don't know if
you'll get much then. Hayes is clever and the dispute would be expensive.
You'll certainly find it cheaper to mend the dyke."

They pondered this, until the miller made a sign of agreement.

"I'll not can say you're wrang. I'm coming with my two men."

Kit told him to bring a horse and cart and the party set off for the
threatened bank. The beck had risen while Kit was away and stones and
soil slipped down into the flood. An angry turmoil indicated that the
current had rolled the rubbish into a dam.

"We've gotten our job," said the miller as he drove in his spade.

They got to work, but the current that undermined the bank brought down
the turf and soil with which they tried to fill the holes. It was plain
that a stronger material was needed and Kit sent some men to a
roadmaker's quarry at the bottom of the fell while he rearranged some
harness. When he had finished he fastened an extra horse outside the
shafts of the carts and two men drove the teams across the field. They
went off fast, jolting the carts by their clumsy trot, but Kit knew the
extra horse would be needed when they returned. Soon afterwards, Osborn
came up the other bank and stopped opposite with the rain running off his
mackintosh.

"Has anybody given you leave to meddle with the dyke?" he asked.

"No," said Kit. "We'll let it alone, if you like, but there won't be much
of your hay left when the flood breaks through, and I imagine you could
be made responsible for other damage."

Osborn hesitated and Kit, seeing his frown, began to wonder whether he
would send him away. Then he resumed: "Who engaged these men?"

"I don't know that they are engaged. Anyhow, if there's a difficulty
about their getting paid, I'm accountable."

"Bring them to Tarnside when you have finished," Osborn answered
and went off.

Kit resumed his work with savage energy. He thought Osborn did not
deserve to be helped, but this did not matter much. Others would suffer
unless he finished the job he had undertaken and it almost looked as if
the flood would beat him. The trench from which they dug the soil they
needed filled with water, the spades got slippery with rain and mud,
and the horses sank in the trampled slough. Kit, however, had made his
plans while he looked for help and had forgotten nothing that he might
want. Hammers, drills, and a can of powder had been brought, and now
and then a dull report rolled across the dale and heavy stones crashed
in the quarry.

When he had stone enough he and one or two others stood on the front of
the bank with the water washing round their legs while they built up the
ragged blocks. The pieces were hard to fit and sometimes the rude wall
broke when the men on top threw down the backing of soil. Kit tore his
hand on a sharp corner, but persisted while the blood ran down his
fingers and his wet clothes stuck to his skin. The others supported him
well and he only stopped for breath and to wipe from his eyes the water
that trickled off his soaked hat. The loaded cart, ploughing through the
mire, met the other going back; the men at the quarry kept him supplied,
and when he had made a foundation the bank began to rise. For all that,
the beck rose almost as fast, and at noon they had not gained much on the
flood. Kit was doubtful, but on the whole thought it prudent to let the
men stop. They had worked hard and could not keep it up without a rest.

When they collected with their dinner cans under a dripping hedge, one
remarked: "Mayhappen we'd better wait for Osborn to send cold meat and
ale. I'll mak' a start with bread and cheese."

The others grinned, but Kit got up as he heard a rattle of wheels. "Don't
begin just yet. Two of you go to the gate."

The men came back with a big jar and a basket, and the others gathered
round when Kit took off the clean, wet cloth.

"Yon lunch niver came fra Tarnside; it's ower good and liberal," said
one. "Ashness folk dinna believe in sending a half-empty jar."

When they had eaten and drunk, one or two tried to light their pipes but
gave it up and they got to work again. Kit's hand hurt; it was long since
he had undertaken much manual labor, and his muscles felt horribly stiff.
He knew, however, that the men needed a leader, not a superintendent, and
he would not urge them to efforts he shirked. And a leader was all they
needed. They had no liking for Osborn, but they were stubborn and now
they had begun they meant to finish. Shovels clinked, stones rattled from
the carts, and the pile of earth and rock rose faster than the flood.

In the meantime the mist got thicker and the rain swept the valley. The
long grass near the trench was trodden into pulp where the turf was cut,
the surface of the bank melted, and the men stumbled as they climbed it
with their loads. The wheelbarrows poured down water as well as sticky
soil, and Kit's clothes got stiff with mud. Despite this, he held out
until, in the evening, the strengthened dyke stood high above the stream.
Then he threw down his spade and stretched his aching arms.

"I think she'll hold the water back and we can do no more," said Kit.

The others gathered up their tools and climbing into the carts drove down
the dale. When they reached the Tarnside lodge Kit pulled up.

"You have done a good job for Osborn and there's no reason you shouldn't
get your pay," he said.

Two or three jumped down, without much enthusiasm, and the old gardener
came out and gave one an envelope.

"For Mr. Askew," he remarked.

"Is that all?" the other asked, and the gardener grinned.

"That's all. What did you expect?"

The man took the envelope to Kit and the rest waited with some curiosity.
They were very tired and big drops fell on them as the wind shook the
dripping trees. Kit opened the envelope and his face flushed as he took
out a note addressed to Hayes.

"Pay C. Askew and the men whose names follow one day's wages, on estate
account," it ran.

This was all and the sum noted at the bottom represented the lowest
payment for unskilled labor. Kit handed the note to his companions and
while some laughed ironically two or three swore.

"Next time beck's in flood Osborn can mend his dyke himsel'," said one.
"If five minutes' digging wad save Tarnside Hall, I'd sooner lose my hay
than stir a hand!"

Then they got into the carts, and drove off in the rain.



CHAPTER V

KIT TELLS A STORY


The rain stopped at night, the next day was fine, and in the afternoon
Kit went up the dale to look at the mended dyke. It had stood better
than he had thought, the beck was falling, and Osborn's fields were safe
until another flood came down. Kit did not know if he was pleased or
not. There was some satisfaction in feeling that he had done a good job,
but he did not think Osborn deserved the help his neighbors had given.
Following the dyke until he came to the road, he sat down on the bridge
and lighted his pipe.

The sun was hot and he was glad of the shade of a big alder whose leaves
rustled languidly overhead. The bent-grass on the hillside shone a warm
yellow, wet rocks glittered like silver in the strong light, and the
higher slopes, where belts of green moss checkered the heather, were
streaked by lines of snowy foam. All was very quiet, except for the noise
of running water and the joyous notes of a lark. Kit was not much of a
philosopher; action was easier to him than abstract thought, but he
vaguely felt that the serenity of the dale was marred by human passion.
Man was, no doubt, meant to struggle, but Nature was his proper
antagonist, and while the fight against floods and snow was bracing, one
gained nothing by shabby quarrels that sprang from pride and greed.

Kit was human, however, and owned that he had felt savage when he read
Osborn's note. The fellow had meant to humiliate him, and he got hot
again as he thought about it. Moreover, Osborn had, so to speak, for his
sake, insulted the men he had persuaded to help. They had not worked for
wages, when they fought the swollen beck, and some kindly acknowledgment,
such as a supper at the hall, would have gone far to gain for Osborn a
good will that money could not buy. Anyhow, since he offered pay, the sum
ought to have been a just reward for their toil.

Osborn had been led by personal rancor, and there was no use in Kit's
pretending he did not resent it. The fellow seemed to think he had a
right to command, and got savage when people would not obey. Kit felt he
had done nothing to deserve his hatred, but since Osborn did hate him, he
must brace himself for a struggle, and he meant to win. Then, as he
knocked out his pipe, he saw Grace.

For a few moments Kit hesitated. If Grace knew how Osborn had rewarded
him, the meeting might be awkward, but there was nothing to be gained by
putting it off. He meant to marry Grace, whether Osborn approved or not,
and to some extent frankness was needful. He waited until she reached the
bridge and got up when she stopped. There was some color in her face, but
she gave him a steady look.

"I have been to see the mended dyke," she said, and he knew that she
had pluck.

"It's a rough job. There was no time to finish it neatly."

"I'm surprised you were able to finish it at all."

"I mustn't claim all the credit," Kit rejoined, smiling. "There were a
number of others as well as the Tarnside men."

Grace made an impatient gesture. "Our men could have done nothing useful
if they had been left alone, and the others wouldn't have helped if you
had not persuaded them. Why did you?"

"To some extent, my object was selfish. If the flood had broken through,
it might have done much damage to all the crops, besides your father's."

"It could not have damaged yours."

"Oh, well," said Kit, "I hate to see things spoiled, and am afraid I'm
meddlesome."

Grace's color rose, but she fixed her eyes on him. "That is not kind; I
hardly think it's just. I have not accused you of meddling."

"No," said Kit; "I'm sorry! It was a stupid remark. But I expect you know
what your father thinks."

Grace was silent for a few moments. She did know and would rather not
have met Kit, but was too proud to turn back. Besides, she felt her
father was prejudiced, and although it was a family tradition that the
Osborns stood together, she rebelled and wanted to be just. The situation
was embarrassing, but there was no use in pretense.

"I think you were generous and imagine my mother agrees," she said. "She
wanted to send some lunch to the beck, but the rain was very heavy and
there was nobody to go." Then, remembering something Osborn had said, she
hesitated. "I understand your helpers were paid."

"Oh, yes," said Kit, not with malice, but because he saw he must be
frank. "I was not left out."

Grace turned her head. This was worse than she had thought. She was
angry, and would not let Kit think she approved. Her eyes sparkled as she
looked up. "Ah," she said, "you deserved something very different! I wish
you had not told me!"

"I didn't tell you because I was hurt," Kit replied with grave
quietness. "It looks as if we had got to face things. Your father thinks
me his enemy. I'm not; I have never tried to injure him, and if the dyke
was threatened by another flood, I believe I'd mend it. But, whatever
happens, I mean to do what I think proper, and it's possible we may
clash again."

"Yes," said Grace. "I am afraid this may happen."

"Well, I value your friendship and don't mean to give it up, but I can't
pretend, and think you wouldn't be deceived if I tried."

"You mean you would not do what you thought was shabby in order to
avoid a clash?"

"I mean something like that. Now you know how things are, you must
choose your line. I can't judge how far your duty to your parents binds
you; you can."

Grace felt her heart beat and was silent for a moment or two.

"I cannot criticize my father's deeds and agree with people who are
opposed to him," she said. "All the same, unless he expressly orders it,
I cannot give up my friends."

Kit tried to hide his satisfaction. "We'll let it go; I understand!"

He expected her to move away, and wondered whether it was tactful for him
to stop, but to his surprise she smiled and sat down on the bridge.

"Very well. Suppose we talk about something else? The shade is nice, and
I need not go home yet. You promised to tell me about your adventures and
your uncle. I think you called him a survival from the old romantic days
when the pirates haunted the Gulf of Mexico."

Kit pondered as he leaned against the alder trunk. He thought Grace meant
to banish the strain; anyhow, she was willing to stay and he wanted her
to do so. It was strangely pleasant to loiter on the bridge with her
while the shadows trembled on the road and the beck murmured in the
shade. But if he meant to keep her, he must talk, and although he did
not want to say much about his adventures he had a story to tell. The
story was moving, if he could tell it properly.

"I'm not clever at drawing a portrait, but I'd like to try," he said.
"For one thing, my subject's worth the effort; and then, you see, I was
fond of Adam. In some ways, he was not romantic; in fact, he was
remarkably practical. His bold strokes were made deliberately, after
calculating the cost; but now and then one got a hint of something
strangely romantic and in a sense extravagant. Yet human nature's
curious. When he played out a losing game, knowing he would lose, it was
not from sentimental impulse but a firm persuasion it was worth while."
He paused, and gave Grace an apologetic glance. "I'm afraid this is
rather foggy. Perhaps I'd better begin where I met him, at a Florida
hotel--if I'm not boring you."

Grace said she was not bored and Kit, gaining confidence, narrated how
they bumped the _Rio Negro_ across the surf-swept shoals, landed the
guns, and met Alvarez. His own part in their adventures was lightly
indicated, but the girl's imagination supplied what he left out. She felt
strangely interested as Kit's portrait of his uncle grew into shape,
although her thoughts dwelt largely on the artist. Then the
background--the steamy swamp, old presidio, and dazzling town--had a
romantic fascination, and when he told her about the journey to the
mission and the church where the candles that Adam sent burned before the
Virgin's shrine, her eyes shone.

"Ah," she said, "I am glad you told me! One thinks better of human nature
after hearing a tale like that. In a way, it's a rebuke. Are such men
numerous?"

"I have known two. Perhaps it's a coincidence that both were my
relations. They're commoner than people think."

"You're an optimist, but one likes optimists," Grace remarked with a
gentle smile. "However, what had the president done to deserve the
sacrifice your uncle made?"

"I never knew, but suspect it was something against the laws of his
country. If I told my story properly, you would understand that both were
buccaneers."

"But they had their code! I like the president and your uncle was very
fine. One feels moved when one thinks about the shabby little altar and
the candles love had lighted that never went out--all those years! Adam's
wife loved him. She went to nurse him, although her friends warned her
and she knew the risk."

Grace mused for a time and Kit thought her face disturbed. Then she
looked up quietly.

"One needs courage to know the risk and not to hesitate. But you will
keep those candles burning?"

"Yes," said Kit, "I promised. Besides, I like to think they're burning.
It means something."

"It means much," Grace agreed, and after a pause resumed: "You had no
doubt about taking up your uncle's engagement with the president,
although you saw what it might cost?"

"Of course not," Kit replied. "There was nothing else to be done."

Grace smiled and got up. "No," she said, "there was nothing else you
could do. Well, I must go home."

Kit went back with her for some distance. They talked but little on the
way, but when she left him she gave him her hand and a look that made his
heart beat.

Soon after Grace reached Tarnside, Osborn crossed the lawn to the
tea-table where she and Mrs. Osborn sat beneath a spreading copper-beech.
His face was thoughtful when Mrs. Osborn gave him a cup.

"I met the post as I was driving home," he said. "There's a letter
from Gerald."

"Has he any news?" Mrs. Osborn asked.

"Nothing important. He's well and says he's kept occupied, which is
fortunate. In fact, the harder they work him, the better; I'd sooner
Gerald did not have much time on his hands."

"Then, why did he write?" Grace asked, because Gerald's letters were by
no means regular.

"I hope he did not want money," Mrs. Osborn remarked.

"No," said Osborn. "That is, he did not want it for himself." He
hesitated, and then resumed: "He states that if I could raise a moderate
sum, he knows how we could make a very satisfactory profit in a short
time. It seems he has got a useful hint."

Grace laughed. "About a racehorse? Gerald is always hopeful, but his
confidence in his ability to spot the winner is dangerous. It has been so
often misplaced."

"This has nothing to do with racing," Osborn rejoined angrily. "Gerald
knows the consequences of indulging his folly again. There's a difference
between betting and buying shares."

"I don't know if the difference is very marked," said Grace, with a
curious feeling of annoyance, for there was a note in Osborn's voice that
jarred. He was, like Gerald, a gambler, greedy for money he had not
earned, and she thought about the story Kit had told. Its hero had risked
and lost his life, and Kit had paid in health and fortune, because they
put honor before gain. For all that, she knew she had said enough when
she saw Osborn's frown.

"Gerald is young, but he holds a responsible post and has opportunities
of meeting important stock-brokers and business men," Osborn went on,
turning to his wife. "He is, of course, optimistic and has been rash, but
after all he may have found out something useful. He declares the
venture is absolutely safe."

"But you have no money to invest," Mrs. Osborn insisted anxiously.

"As a matter of fact, I have some. You see, I borrowed a sum not long
since on Ryecote."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Osborn, with a resigned gesture, and then braced herself.
"But if you have got the money, it ought not to be used for speculation.
There is much that needs to be done on the estate."

"That is so; it was my reason for borrowing. All the same, it would be a
very long time before I got back what I meant to spend on drains and
steadings. Besides, the repairs and improvements need not be made just
yet, and I might be able to use the money and earn a good profit first."

"You might lose it all," Mrs. Osborn insisted. "Gerald is rash and
business men don't tell young bank-clerks important secrets. Then,
although it was a shock to hear you had mortgaged Ryecote, the money is
so badly needed that it must not be risked." She paused and resumed with
some color in her face, "It is hard to own, but perhaps Gerald is not
altogether to be trusted."

Osborn moved abruptly. His wife had touched the doubt that made him
hesitate; in fact, this was a matter upon which he wanted her advice. She
knew her son and had judged right when Osborn had been deceived.

"Well," he said, knitting his brows, "I haven't quite decided. I had
thought about asking for particulars, but after all Gerald's hint may not
be worth much and unless one is really well informed speculation is
dangerous."

He looked round and saw Thorn. The latter had come up without disturbing
the group and now joined them with a smile.

"I heard your last remark," he said. "My opinion is your views are
sound. It is very rash to speculate on shares you don't know much about."

Mrs. Osborn felt disturbed, because she wondered how much he had heard,
but he went on carelessly: "Gerald's too young for one to trust his
judgment. My advice is, leave the thing alone."

Grace gave him a grateful glance. She did not like Alan Thorn, but he was
cautious and she saw that Osborn was hesitating. It would not need much
persuasion to move him one way or the other, and she felt that to let
Gerald have the money would be a dangerous mistake.

"You really think I had better keep out of it?" Osborn asked.

"Certainly," said Thorn. "Only a few of the big jobbers can form an
accurate notion how prices ought to go. For people like us speculation is
a plunge in the dark."

Osborn was silent for a few moments, but Grace saw that he was pulled in
different ways by caution and greed. Then, to her relief, he made a sign
of agreement.

"Oh, well! I'll let the thing alone."

Thorn sat down and when Mrs. Osborn had given him some tea they talked
about other matters. Presently Grace got up and he walked with her
across the lawn.

"Were you satisfied with the advice I gave your father?" he asked.

"Yes," said Grace frankly. "I think he was tempted; I was glad you came."

"After all, a hint that he'd better be prudent did not cost me much. You
know I'd do more than that to help you."

"You did all that was necessary," Grace replied. "You have my thanks."

Thorn glanced at her keenly, but there was something chilling in her
calm.

"Well, I'm going to London in a day or two and it might be advisable to
look Gerald up. I will, if you like."

"Yes," said Grace. "If it doesn't give you much trouble."

She left him and Thorn stood still, frowning. Grace was always like
that, friendly but elusive. No matter how he tried, he could not break
down her reserve.



CHAPTER VI

THORN MAKES A PLAN


Thorn went up to town and one evening loitered about the hall of his
club. London rather bored him, but he went there now and then, because he
felt one ought to keep in touch with things. It was, in a sense, one's
duty to know what was going on, and the news he picked up helped him to
look well informed. Thorn had not much imagination, but he was cautious,
calculating, and generally saw where his advantage lay. His small estate
was managed well, in general his tenants liked him, and his investments
were sound. Nevertheless, he was dissatisfied; he had waited long for
Grace Osborn, and feared that in spite of her father's approval he got no
nearer her.

Alan Thorn was not romantic but his love for Grace was, to some extent, a
generous emotion. He knew Osborn's poverty, and it was plain that if he
married Grace he might have to help him out of his embarrassments. He was
fond of money and had grounds for imagining that the daughter of a rich
neighbor would not refuse him; but he wanted Grace and saw he could not
wait much longer. He was fastidious about his clothes, and their color
and loose cut prevented people remarking that he was getting fat; his
dark hair was carefully brushed. He knew, however, that he was getting
heavier fast and that he would soon be bald.

He had meant to go out, but had no particular object and the streets were
hot; besides, after the quiet country, he liked the bustle in the hall.
People were beginning to come in and one could see the crowd stream past
the glass doors. Sitting down in a corner he began to muse. Although he
had been in town some time, he had not seen Gerald. He had called at the
latter's lodgings and found him not at home, while when he went to the
bank he was told that Gerald had been sent to manage a small branch
office. Thorn thought it strange that Osborn had said nothing about this
and wondered whether he knew. Gerald was extravagant and much less frank
than he looked; he might have had an object for hiding his promotion.
Thorn understood that Osborn made him some allowance, but it was hard to
see how the young man was able to belong to his rather expensive club.

After a time, Gerald came in and glanced at two or three men who stood
about. At first, Thorn imagined he was looking for him, but saw he was
not. Gerald went into the telephone box close by and shut the door with a
jerky movement. It jarred and then swung back a few inches as if the
shock had jolted the spring. Thorn, whose curiosity was excited, listened
and heard the number Gerald asked for. Then he heard him say:

"Yes--Osborn! Is that Sanderson? Yes--I said _Ermentrudes_. Any chance
of a recovery? What--none at all? Can't hear--oh, sell at once!
Margin's gone."

Next moment Gerald obviously saw that the door was open, for he banged it
noisily and Thorn heard nothing more. He had, however, heard enough to
give him food for thought and waited until Gerald came out. The young man
stood still with his mouth firmly set and his eyes fixed on the wall as
if he saw nobody. His clothes were in the latest fashion, but the look of
fastidious languidness that generally marked him had gone. Turning
abruptly, he went up the stairs, and Thorn entered the telephone box and
opened the directory. When he came out he went up to a man he knew.

"Can you tell me anything about Short and Sanderson, stockbrokers?"
he asked.

"Not much," said the other. "They're outside brokers. I imagine they're
trustworthy, but it's better to do business through a member of the
Exchange. You'll find it a good rule."

"Thank you," said Thorn, who went upstairs to the smoking-room and found
Gerald sitting in front of a table, with a newspaper that dealt with
financial matters.

"Hallo!" said Thorn. "I have been expecting you for some days. I suppose
you got my message?"

Gerald looked up and his smile was strained. "I did, but have been much
engaged. Sit down and join me in a drink."

"What have you ordered?" Thorn asked, and shrugged when Gerald told him.

"That goes better after dinner. I'd sooner have something cool and
light."

"Oh, well," said Gerald. "I felt I needed bracing. The fact is, I've had
a knock--"

He stopped as a waiter came up and said nothing until the man had gone.
Then he drained his glass and turned to Thorn.

"I'm in a hole. Can you lend me two thousand pounds?"

Thorn hid his surprise. He thought urgent need had forced Gerald to make
his blunt request; it was not his way to plunge at things like that.

"You asked your father for a smaller sum."

"They told you about my letter? Well, things have changed since; changed
for the worse."

"They must have changed rather quickly," Thorn remarked, for his
suspicion was excited and he thought he saw a light. Gerald had been
embarrassed when he wrote to Osborn, and had not wanted the money to
invest but to help him to escape the consequences of some extravagance.

"That has nothing to do with it," Gerald rejoined. "Will you let me have
the money? You can, if you like."

"To begin with, you had better tell me why you want so large a sum."

Gerald hesitated and his eyelids twitched nervously, but he pulled
himself together and Thorn wondered how far he would stick to the truth.
He knew Gerald and did not trust him.

"Very well; I bought some shares. There was good ground for expecting
they'd go up--"

"They went down? When did you buy?"

"Your meaning's plain," said Gerald sullenly. "If you insist, it was
before I wrote home."

"I suspected something like that. However, you have the shares and they
may go up again."

"I haven't got the shares. I bought on a margin, and the margin's gone."

"Then, you're rasher than I thought," Thorn rejoined with a searching
look. "Well, you have lost your money and it's something of a surprise to
hear you had so much. Anyhow, it was yours, and although the loss is
serious, I don't understand how you're embarrassed."

"I borrowed," said Gerald, rather hoarsely. "You can wait; the other
fellow won't. Then, of course, if I renewed the margin, the shares might
recover and put me straight."

Thorn pondered. Gerald's statement was plausible, but he doubted if he
had told him all.

"Two thousand pounds is a large sum," he said. "I don't know yet if I can
lend it you."

Gerald gave him a steady look. His face was haggard and the sweat ran
down his forehead. It was obvious that he was desperate.

"If you hope to marry my sister, you had better help me out."

"I haven't much ground for thinking your sister will agree," Thorn
rejoined with some dryness. "Anyhow, it's doubtful if your influence
would go far with her, if that is what you mean."

"It is not what I mean," Gerald answered in a hoarse voice. "I have given
you a useful hint. You can spare two thousand pounds, and if you let me
have the money, you'll be glad you did."

"I must think about it. You can call me up on the telephone at noon
to-morrow."

Gerald hesitated, and then made an abrupt movement as a man came into the
room. The latter crossed the floor and Gerald got up.

"Very well," he said, and went off.

Soon after Gerald had gone, the man Thorn had met in the hall came in and
he asked: "Do you know anything about _Ermentrudes_, Norton? I suppose
they're mining shares?"

"I wouldn't advise you to invest," the other replied. "The company has
seldom paid a dividend, but not long since a rumor got about that a new
shaft had bottomed on rich ore." He paused and shrugged. "Nobody knows
how such tales are started, but they appeal to optimistic outsiders who
like to think they've got a secret tip. Anyhow, there was some reckless
buying by people who expected developments at the shareholders' meeting.
They were disappointed, and are knocking prices down by their anxiety to
sell out."

Thorn thanked him and began to think. He wondered where Gerald had
managed to get two thousand pounds, since he imagined that nobody would
lend him the sum. He did not know much about banking, but it was possible
that Gerald had used his employers' money, hoping to replace it before he
was found out. Then, since two thousand pounds, used for a margin, would
cover a large number of shares, it looked as if Gerald had lost part of
the sum by previous speculations. While he pondered, the man whose entry
had seemed to disturb Gerald came to his table and sat down opposite.

"You obviously know young Osborn," he remarked.

Thorn said nothing for a moment or two. Hallam was not a public
money-lender, but sometimes negotiated private loans for extravagant
young men about town. One meets such people now and then at smart London
clubs, and Thorn imagined the fellow could throw some light on Gerald's
difficulties.

"We come from the same neighborhood," he replied.

"His father is a large landowner, I believe?"

"He has some land," said Thorn, who began to see his way. He had not yet
decided to help Gerald, but if he did, his help must be made as valuable
as possible. "The rents are low and the estate is encumbered," he
resumed. "On the whole, I don't think you would consider it good
security."

"Thank you for the hint. Osborn looked as if he had got a jar."

"I think he had. He bought some shares that have gone down sharply, and
since he's a bank-clerk I expect the loss is a serious thing for him."

Hallam nodded carelessly. "No doubt! Do you know a man called Askew?"

"I know something about him. He owns a farm in the dale and has recently
spent some money on improvements, although it's doubtful if he'll get
much return. I can't tell you if he has any more or not, but imagine he's
not worth your bothering about. Besides, he's not the man I'd expect to
get into debt."

"Mr. Askew has not been trying to borrow," Hallam answered with a smile.
"Well, I promised to meet a friend and mustn't stop."

He went away and Thorn sat still, pondering. The other men went out by
and by and the room was quiet except for the rumble of traffic in the
street and the rattle of an electric fan. A waiter pulled down a blind
to shut out a bright sunbeam and Thorn found the shade and softened
noises from outside helpful to thought.

Gerald had used money belonging to the bank and borrowed from Hallam in
order to pay it back; although Thorn could not see what had persuaded the
latter to lend. It was strange, certainly, that Hallam had inquired about
Askew, but in the meantime he could let this go. Gerald was threatened by
a danger money could avert, and Thorn could help. If he did help, it
would give him a claim to Osborn's gratitude, although he could not tell
how far this would influence Grace. The Osborns cherished the
old-fashioned traditions of their class, and anything that touched one
touched all. Grace, however, was modern and rebellious, and Thorn knew
she did not like him much. He was not afraid to risk his money, but he
must not waste an opportunity he might not get again, and the opportunity
could be used in one of two ways.

He could free Gerald from his entanglements and, using no pressure, leave
her parents' gratitude to work on Grace. This was the proper line and
would enable him to play a generous part; had he been younger, he would
not have hesitated, but he saw a risk. He was beginning to look old and
unless Grace married him soon, must give her up. The other line, although
not attractive, promised greater security. Before he helped he must state
his terms and force Osborn to agree. Grace could not struggle, because
her refusal would involve the family in Gerald's disgrace. Thorn saw the
plan had drawbacks, but Grace was young and, if he indulged and petted
her, she would, no doubt, get to like him and forget his hardness. He had
heard of marriages made like this that turned out happily.

For a time he sat with his brows knitted and his mouth set. He would have
liked to be generous, but he loved the girl and could not force himself
to run the risk of losing her. Nevertheless, he honestly tried, and
afterwards remembered with strange distinctness the soft rattle of the
electric fan and the dull roll of traffic that throbbed in the quiet room
while he fought the losing fight. The sunbeam the waiter had shut out
crept on to another window and shone on the fluted pillars before he got
up. His face was very hard, for he had chosen his line and knew he must
take it without doubt or pity.

Going down to the hall, he called up Gerald's branch bank. A clerk who
was working late replied that Mr. Osborn had gone.

"I know," said Thorn, giving his name. "Make a note to tell him he need
not call on me to-morrow. I find I am unable to do what he requires."

"Very well," said the clerk. "I'll give him the message in the morning."

Thorn rang the bell and, leaving the box, asked for a railway guide.
There was nothing to be gained by stopping in London and he looked up the
best train for the north.



CHAPTER VII

GERALD'S RETURN


Thorn went home and waited, confident that Osborn would presently send
for him. The estate was heavily mortgaged, Osborn had no rich friends,
and when the blow fell would look to Thorn for the aid nobody else could
give. In the meantime, Osborn, enjoying a short relief from financial
strain, squandered in personal extravagance part of the sum he had
borrowed, and then set drainers, carpenters, and builders to work. He
liked spending and now tried to persuade himself that the money he was
laying out would give him some return. It ought to last until he had
finished the renovations his tenants demanded, and although difficulties
might arise afterwards, he would wait until they did. Indeed, his wife
and daughter found him better humored than he had been for long.

Then, one evening when the hay was harvested and the corn was ripening,
his satisfaction was rudely banished. Grace had gone to the lodge with a
message and stopped for a few minutes by the gate. The evening was calm
and one side of the placid tarn glittered in the light; the other was
dark, and soft blue shadows covered the fells behind. She heard the
languid splash of ripples on the stones and the murmur of a beck in a
distant ghyll. A strange restful tranquillity brooded over the dale.

Grace felt the calm soothing, for her thoughts were not a little
disturbed. She had met Thorn in the afternoon and noted a puzzling change
in his manner. So far, she had been able to check his cautious advances,
but she now remarked a new confidence that seemed to indicate he had some
power in reserve. She admitted that she might have imagined this, but it
troubled her.

Afterwards she had met Kit and the comfort the meeting gave her had
forced her to think. Their friendship had gone far; in fact, it had
reached a point friendship could not pass. Kit was not yet her lover, but
she thought he waited for a sign that she would acknowledge him when he
made his claim. She liked Kit; she had not met a man she liked so much.
This, however, did not imply that she was willing to marry him. Although
she now and then rebelled against conventions, she had inherited some of
Osborn's prejudices, and her mother sprang from old-fashioned land-owning
stock. Kit belonged to another class; the life he led was different. She
had been taught to enjoy cultivated idleness, broken by outdoor sports
and social amusements; but Kit was a worker, farming for money and
resolved to make his efforts pay. His wife must help and Grace did not
know if this daunted her or not.

Moreover, if she married Kit, she must quarrel with her parents. She knew
what Osborn thought about him. Had she been sure she loved Kit, the
choice would have been easier, but although she blushed as she mused,
this was too much to own. Yet he loved her, and after all--

She let the matter go and looked up, for there were steps in the shadowy
road. Then a figure came into the fading light, and she started and ran
to the gate.

"Gerald!" she exclaimed. "Why have you come home?"

"Somehow you don't feel flattered when people ask you why you came,"
Gerald rejoined with a forced smile. "It rather indicates surprise than
satisfaction."

"I am surprised," Grace admitted, trying to hide her vague alarm. "We
did not expect you. How did you getaway?"

"I took a week's leave. I haven't been very fit."

Grace gave him a sharp glance and thought he looked ill. His face was
pinched, his eyes were furtive, and his mouth was slack.

"What has been the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing very much," Gerald replied. "Mental strain, I expect. Managing a
bank is a big job and I'm not used to responsibility."

It looked as if his carelessness cost him an effort and Grace said
nothing. When they reached the house Gerald resumed: "You'll hear all
about it later. Is the chief at home?"

Grace nodded. They had seldom called Osborn father, but chief and head of
the clan, and she thought it significant that Gerald used the name he
often falteringly employed after boyish escapades. She began to feel that
there was something wrong.

"He's in the library," she said.

"That's satisfactory, as far as it goes," Gerald remarked, climbing the
steps. "The sooner I see him, the sooner I'll get through the thing." He
paused and gave Grace an anxious glance. "You'll stand by me? You
generally did."

"I suppose so," Grace agreed. "But I don't know your difficulties and
what you want."

"You will know soon," Gerald rejoined and shrugged his shoulders. "Well,
it's an awkward business; I've got to brace up."

He left her and went to the library, where Osborn sat at the big oak
table with some letters and a wine glass in front of him. The spacious
room was mostly in shadow, but a ray of fading light shone in through the
tall west window. Gerald avoided the illumination as he advanced, and
stopped in the gloom opposite Osborn, who straightened his body with a
jerk and upset the glass.

"Well?" he said harshly. "Why have you left the bank?"

"The wine is running across the table and on to your clothes.
Shall I ring?"

"No," said Osborn, pushing his chair back noisily. "Let it run! Stand
still or sit down. Tell me why you came."

"To begin with, I have left the bank for good."

"Ah," said Osborn grimly, "I suspected something like this! You mean they
turned you out? Well, you are consistent in your habits. You left school
in similar circumstances, you left Woolwich, and now--"

"I was not turned out, sir. They gave me a week's leave, but I
can't go back."

Osborn frowned. Things had been going well and he had thought himself
free from trouble for a time, but it looked as if he would get his worst
jar. He tried to preserve his calm and said with a touch of weariness:

"Tell me what has happened and keep as near the truth as is
possible for you."

Gerald told him, standing back in the shadow and not pausing to choose
his words. It was an ugly story that could not be toned down and he knew
if he stopped he could not go on again. Although Osborn said nothing, his
face got red and the veins on his forehead swelled, and Gerald found his
silence strangely daunting. When the latter stopped, Osborn got up and
stood, rather shakily, with his hand clenched.

"Get out of my sight, you despicable thief!" he cried. "My control is
going. If you stand and fidget there, I'll knock you down!"

"There wouldn't be much use in that, although I deserve it," Gerald
replied. "It's too late for excuses. The situation's dangerous. You have
got to help me out."

"I can't help," said Osborn in a strained, hoarse voice. "Why didn't you
leave the country instead of coming home?"

Gerald forced a nervous smile. "The reason ought to be obvious, sir; I
might be brought back. We must get over the need for me to go. You see,
the bill must be met. If it's dishonored, everybody who knows us will
have something to talk about."

"I thought you a fool," said Osborn bitterly. "You are a fool, but you
have a vein of devilish cunning. You steal and forge; and then expect to
shuffle off the consequences on to your relatives!"

He pulled himself up, for Gerald's coolness was steadying. "However, I
must understand. What will happen when the lender finds you cannot pay?"

"The usual course would be for him to go to the endorser," Gerald replied
and added with some awkwardness: "I mean the man whose name I used. His
signature's a guarantee and makes him liable. Still, as Hallam's a
tactful fellow, it's possible he'll first come to you."

"Do you mean he's suspicious?"

"I don't know. He took off an extortionate discount for a very
short loan."

"How much did he lend you?"

"The bill was for two thousand pounds."

Osborn made a helpless gesture. "I can't pay. The money I borrowed is
partly spent and the rest must go for wages and material. You can't put
wages off--"

He stopped and sat down limply. The shock was beginning to tell. He felt
dull and had no reserve of moral strength to sustain him now his fury had
gone. Gerald saw this and knew that guidance must come from him. He
waited, however, and Osborn went on:

"It's ridiculous that we should be ruined for two thousand pounds; but
there it is! If I try to borrow from my friends, I must tell why I need
the money. And I don't know who would lend."

"Thorn might," Gerald suggested meaningly. "I asked him and he wouldn't,
but I don't think his refusal was final."

"Ah!" said Osborn, with a start. "Why do you think it was not?"

"I imagine he has another plan; he means to wait until it's obvious we
must have his help. Then he can ask what he likes."

For a moment, Osborn's anger blazed up again. "I see where you are
leading, you contemptible cur! You expect your sister to pay for you!"

"It would be a good marriage," said Gerald, awkwardly. "I thought you
wanted it."

"Stop!" exclaimed Osborn, and rested his elbows on the table, with his
shoulders bent.

He had wanted Grace to marry Thorn, but his domineering temper did not
carry him as far as Gerald thought. He had hoped that by and by Grace
would consent; it was ridiculous to imagine she would long refuse to see
the advantages that were plain to him, but to force her to pay for her
brother's fault was another thing. Although Grace was rebellious, he had
some love for her. In fact, he revolted from the plan and felt he hated
Thorn for the pressure he could use. He was nearly resigned to letting
things go and facing the threatened disaster.

For a minute or two, he did not move and Gerald got horribly cramped as
he stood opposite. The room was getting dark and Osborn's figure was
indistinct, but his quietness hinted at a struggle, Gerald began to feel
anxious, because he had not expected his father to hesitate. At length
Osborn looked up.

"You haven't told me whose name you used."

"Askew's," said Gerald, with a tremor. He knew he could use no stronger
argument, but felt afraid.

"Askew's!" shouted Osborn, straightening his bent shoulders with a savage
jerk. "This is more than I can bear. Was there nobody you could rob but
the man who has plotted against me since he came home from school?" He
stopped and gasped as if his rage were choking him and it was some
moments before he went on: "You have given the fellow power to humble us
and drag our name in the mud. Can't you imagine how he'll exult? Our
honor in Askew's hands! It's unthinkable!"

"If the bill isn't met, the holder will apply to Askew," Gerald said as
coolly as he could.

Osborn's muscles relaxed and he sank back into his limp pose. His hand
shook as he wiped his wet forehead.

"You have said enough. Leave me alone. I must try to think."

Gerald went out and drew a deep breath when he reached the landing. He
felt shaky and ashamed, but knew he had won. The shutting of the door
gave Osborn some relief. The anger and disgust Gerald excited had
confused his brain, but now the lad had gone he saw no light. There was
but one way of escape, and this a way it was almost unthinkable that he
should take. The strange thing was he should hate it so much, for he had
never indulged his children or thought about their happiness. Yet he
shrank from forcing his daughter to marry Thorn, whom he approved while
she did not.

He might, perhaps, for the girl's sake, have sacrificed his pride; but
there was an obstacle before which his courage melted. If Thorn did not
help, Askew would know his disgrace and Osborn did not expect him to be
merciful. His rancor against Askew had by degrees become a blind,
illogical hate that made it impossible for him to see anything Kit did in
its proper light. Feeling as he did, he imagined Kit would rejoice in the
opportunity for humbling him.

All the same, knowing the fight was hopeless, he struggled against the
conviction that he must beg help from Thorn. In many ways, he liked Alan,
but he was hard and Osborn dreaded his firmness now. Yet he could help
and there was nobody else. It got dark, but Osborn did not move. A faint
breeze came up and moaned about the house, and presently a moonbeam stole
into the room. Osborn sat still, with his head bent and his arms spread
out across the table. Sometimes he burned with anger against Gerald and
sometimes he scarcely felt anything at all.

At length, he got up, and with an effort went upstairs. Half an hour
later, a heavy sleep that came as a reaction after the shock closed his
eyes and banished his troubles for a time.



CHAPTER VIII

GRACE'S CONFIDENCE


On the day after Gerald's return Osborn shut himself up in his library.
If he could raise two thousand pounds, it would save him from agreeing to
the demand Thorn would, no doubt, make, and although he really knew the
thing was impossible, he sought desperately for a way of escape. He was
careless about money, and, for the most part, left his business to his
agent, but he wanted to find out how he stood before he went to Hayes.
There was no obvious reason for his doing so, but he had begun to suspect
that Hayes was not as devoted to his interests as he had thought. His
wife and Grace distrusted the fellow, and although they knew nothing
about business, Osborn admitted that the advice they had sometimes given
him had been sound.

The involved calculations he made gave him fresh ground for disturbance.
It was plain that he could borrow no more money and the sum he had
received for the last mortgage had nearly gone. He might perhaps get
together three or four hundred pounds, at the risk of letting builders
and drainers go unpaid, but this was not enough. After a time, he put
away his books in a fit of hopeless anger and drove across to see Hayes
at the market town.

The interview was short and disappointing. Osborn could not tell Hayes
why he needed money and found him unusually firm. He proved that the
estate was heavily overburdened, fresh loans were impossible, and stern
economy must be used if it was to be saved from bankruptcy. To some
extent, Osborn had expected this, but had cherished a faint hope that
Hayes might lend him enough to satisfy Gerald's creditor. He could not
force himself to ask for a loan outright, and Hayes had been strangely
dull about his cautious hints. Osborn believed the fellow could have
helped him, but as he had shown no wish to do so there was nothing to be
said. He drove home in a downcast mood and sent for Gerald.

"I can't get the money," he said. "You know the man you dealt with. Is
there any hope of his renewing the bill?"

"I'm afraid there is none, sir," Gerald replied.

"When he made the loan he knew you were a bank-clerk and had no money."

"I expect he did know, but thought you had some."

Osborn sighed. His anger had gone and a dull, hopeless dejection had
taken its place. He felt as if he and Gerald were accomplices in a
plot against Grace, and did not resent the lad's insinuation that they
stood together. The Osborns did stand together, and he hoped Grace
would see her duty.

"Well," he said, "the payment is not due just yet. I'll wait a little
and then write to the fellow."

It was a relief to put the thing off, but he found no comfort as the days
went by, and although he shrank from taking Mrs. Osborn into his
confidence, his moody humor gave her a hint. Besides, he was not clever
at keeping a secret and now and then made illuminating remarks. Mrs.
Osborn, although reserved, was shrewd and she and Grace, without
consulting each other, speculated about the trouble that obviously
threatened the house. By degrees, their conjectures got near the truth
and at length Mrs. Osborn nerved herself to ask her husband a few blunt
questions. He had not meant to tell her all until he was forced, but was
taken off his guard and told her much. Afterwards she sent for Grace.

When Grace heard the story her face got very white and she looked at her
mother with fear in her eyes.

"I suspected something, but this is worse than I thought," she said in a
low strained voice. "But Alan is an old friend; it is not very much for
him to do and perhaps he will be generous."

Mrs. Osborn was sitting rather limply on the stone bench on the terrace,
but she roused herself.

"He is hard and I think will understand what his help is worth. He
knows there is nobody else. Besides, if we accept this favor, we
cannot refuse--"

"Oh," said Grace, "it's unbearable! I never liked Alan; I feel I hate him
now." She paused and gave Mrs. Osborn an appealing glance. "But you
cannot think I ought to agree, mother? There must be another way!"

Mrs. Osborn shook her head. "I cannot see another way, and many girls in
our class have married men they did not like, though I had hoped for a
better lot for you. With us, women do not count; the interests of the
family come first."

"That means the men's interests," Grace broke out. "Father has been
reckless all his life and now Gerald has dragged our name in the mud. He
is to be saved from the consequences and I must pay!"

"It is unjust," Mrs. Osborn agreed. "So far as that goes, there is no
more to be said. But when one thinks of the disgrace--Gerald hiding in
America, or perhaps in prison!"

Her voice broke. She was silent for a few moments and then resumed: "Your
father's is the conventional point of view that I was taught to accept
but which I begin to doubt. I must choose between my daughter and my son;
the son who carries on the house. If Gerald escapes, his punishment falls
on you. The choice is almost too hard for flesh and blood."

"I know," said Grace, with quick sympathy. "It is horrible!"

"Well," said Mrs. Osborn, "the line I ought to take is plain--Tarnside
will be Gerald's; our honor must be saved. But I do not know. If you
shrink from Alan--"

"If he insists, I shall hate him always. Yet, it looks as if there
was no use in rebelling. I feel as if I had been caught in a snare
that tightens when I try to break loose. I understand why a rabbit
screams and struggles until it chokes when it feels the wire. It's
like that with me."

Mrs. Osborn bent her head. "My dear! My dear!" Then she looked up
irresolutely with tears in her eyes. "I cannot see my duty as I thought.
The convention is that my son should come first, but you are nearer to me
than Gerald has been for long. I feel numb and dull; I cannot think.
Perhaps to-morrow I may see--"

Grace got up and kissed her. "Then, we will wait. If no help comes, I
suppose I must submit."

She went away with a languid step and Mrs. Osborn, sinking back in a
corner of the bench, looked across the lawn with vacant eyes. In a sense,
she had shirked her duty and failed her husband, but she had long given
way to him and was now beginning to rebel.

Grace afterwards looked back with horror on the disturbed evening and
sleepless night, and the morning brought her no relief. She could not
resign herself to the sacrifice she thought she would be forced to make,
and her mother told her that Osborn had sent a note to Thorn and a man
from London would arrive in the evening. It was plain that Alan must be
persuaded to help Gerald before the other came.

In the afternoon she walked up the dale, without an object, because it
was impossible to stop in the house. After a time she heard a dog bark
and, stopping by an open gate, saw Kit swinging a scythe where an old
thorn hedge threw its shadow on a field of corn. He was cutting a path
for the binder and for a minute or two she stood and watched.

Kit had taken off his jacket and his thin blue shirt harmonized with the
warm yellow of the corn and the color of his sunburnt skin. The thin
material showed the fine modeling of his figure as his body followed the
sweep of the gleaming scythe. The forward stoop and recovery were marked
by a rhythmic grace, and the crackle of the oat-stalks hinted at his
strength. His face was calm and Grace saw his mind dwelt upon his work.
He looked honest, clean, and virile, but she turned her head and
struggled with a poignant sense of loss. She knew now what it would cost
her to let him go.

Then his dog ran up and Kit, putting down his scythe, came to the gate.
He gave her a searching glance, but she was calm again and began to talk
about the harvest. He did not seem to listen, and when she stopped said
abruptly: "You are standing in the sun. Come into the shade; I'll make
you a seat."

She went with him, knowing this was imprudent but unable to resist, and
he threw an oat-stook against the bank and covered it with his coat.
Grace sat down and he studied her thoughtfully.

"I want you to tell me what's the matter," he said.

"How do you know I have anything to tell?"

"Perhaps it's sympathy, instinct, or something like that. Anyhow, I do
know, and you may feel better when you have told me. It's now and then a
relief to talk about one's troubles."

Grace was silent. Her heart beat fast and she longed for his sympathy,
and his nearness gave her a feeling of support; but she could not tell
him all her trouble. He waited with a patience that somehow indicated
understanding, and she looked about. The tall oats rippled before the
wind and soft shadows trailed across the hillside. When the white clouds
passed, the dale was filled with light that jarred her hopelessness.

"As you haven't begun yet, I'll make a guess," said Kit. "Things have
been going wrong at Tarnside since Gerald came home? Well, if you can
give me a few particulars, it's possible I can help."

His steady glance was comforting and Grace's reserve gave way. It was
humiliating, and in a sense disloyal, to talk about Gerald, but her pride
had gone and she was suddenly inspired by a strange confidence. Perhaps
Kit could help; one could trust him and he was not the man to be daunted
by obstacles.

"Yes," she said vaguely; "it's Gerald--"

"So I thought," Kit remarked. "Very well. You had better tell me all you
know, or, anyhow, all you can."

She gave him a quick glance to see what he meant, but his brown face was
inscrutable, and with an effort, talking fast in order to finish before
her courage failed, she narrated what she had heard. She could not, of
course, tell him all, and, indeed, Mrs. Osborn's story left much to be
explained.

"Ah," said Kit, "I begin to see a light, although the thing's not quite
plain yet. Anyhow, your father needs money and must ask his friends."
He paused and resumed in a voice he tried to make careless: "Has he
asked Thorn?"

Grace hesitated and turned her head as she felt the blood creep into her
face. "Yes; you see, there is nobody else."

"I'm not sure about that. However, it looks as if Thorn had not sent his
answer yet and there's not much time to lose. You expect the man from
London to-night?"

Grace said they did and studied Kit while he pondered. His preoccupied
look indicated that he was working out some plan and did not understand
how bold she had been. He did not seem at all surprised that she had come
to him. She had broken the family traditions by giving him her
confidence, but she felt happier.

"I'd like to see Gerald," he said. "It's important, and I'll be at
Ashness at four o'clock. If he will not come, you must let me know."

"I'll send him if I can," said Grace, who got up. Then she hesitated and
looked away across the field. "Perhaps I ought not to have told you, but
I felt I must, and I'm glad I did."

Kit smiled and after walking to the gate with her went on with his
mowing. Her story left out much he wanted to know, but he thought he saw
where it led and would get the rest from Gerald. This might be difficult,
but he meant to insist.

When Grace reached Tarnside she met Gerald on the lawn and took him to
the bench under the copper-beech.

"Mr. Askew wants you to go to Ashness at four o'clock," she said.

"Askew wants me!" Gerald exclaimed, with a start, and Grace thought he
looked afraid. "Why?"

"I don't know. He said it was important."

Gerald looked hard at her. "Well, I suppose it is important. But how does
he know about the thing?"

"I told him," Grace answered with forced quietness.

"You told him?" Gerald gasped, and then laughed harshly. "I knew you had
pluck, but didn't expect this! You don't seem to realize what an
extravagant thing you've done."

"I don't; it doesn't matter. Will you go?"

Gerald pondered for a few moments and then looked up. "You owe me
nothing, Grace. In fact, you and mother have often had to pay for my
folly; but I want you to be honest now. I imagine you understand what
Alan expects if he helps me out?"

"Yes," said Grace in a strange hard voice.

"It would be a good marriage; the kind of marriage you ought to make.
Alan's rich and can give you the things you like and ought to have. But
with all that, I imagine you'd sooner let it go?"

"I hate it," Grace said quietly. "I don't like Alan; I never shall
like him."

"He has some drawbacks," Gerald remarked, and was silent. He had not
often a generous impulse, but he was moved by his sister's distress and
thought he saw a plan. The plan was extravagant, and risky for him.

"I wonder whether you'd sooner marry Askew?" he resumed.

Grace moved abruptly and her face got red. She had not expected the
question and was highly strung. Gerald saw her embarrassment and went on:

"Of course, he's an outsider, from our point of view, but he's a good
sort. In fact, he's much better than Alan. Besides, there's some ground
for believing you are pretty good friends."

"Stop!" Grace exclaimed. "This has nothing to do with you. It's
unthinkable that you should meddle!"

Gerald smiled. "I'm not going to give Askew a hint, if that is what you
mean. I wanted to find out if you'd shrink from him as you shrink from
Alan, and I think I know."

"You don't know," Grace declared, and then stopped and blushed as she met
his steady look. After all, there was no use in pretending; Gerald would
not be deceived. Still, when he quietly got up she asked with alarm:
"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to Ashness," Gerald replied. "I've made things hard for you
and mother, but I won't bring you fresh embarrassment now. In fact, I
think you can trust me, and, indeed, it's obvious that you must." He
turned and looked back with a smile. "If Askew's the man I think, the
chief will shortly get a jar."

Grace wanted to call him back, but somehow could not, and sat still while
he crossed the lawn. So long as she could see him, he moved carelessly,
but when he went down the drive behind a clipped hedge his step got slow
and his face was hard. The thing he meant to do would need some pluck,
and might be dangerous if he had not judged Askew right.

In the meantime, Kit went back to Ashness and smoked a cigarette while he
pondered what Grace had told him. He had seen that she did not altogether
know her brother's offense, but since money was needed, Kit could guess;
Gerald had been betting or speculating and had used money that was not
his. Undoubtedly, Kit did not think he had robbed his employers, because,
if he had done so, he would not have stayed at Tarnside. He had, however,
robbed somebody, and as Kit remembered his skill with the pen he saw a
light. Gerald had used somebody else's name, on the back of a bill or
promissory note, and now the bill must be met.

Presently he heard steps in the passage and looking up as Gerald came in
indicated a chair. Gerald sat down and for a few moments Kit studied him
quietly. It was obvious that he felt some strain, but his look was
resolute and Kit owned that he had more pluck than he had thought. The
room was very quiet and the shadow of a big ash tree fell across the open
window. The musical tinkle of a binder working among the corn came
faintly down the dale.

"Well?" said Gerald, conscious of a sense of relief in Askew's presence.
"You sent for me."

"I did. Your sister told me something; all she knew, perhaps, but not
enough. Anyhow, you are in trouble about money and I promised to help."

"For my sake?" Gerald asked.

Kit frowned. "Not altogether, but we'll let that go. If I am to be
of use, you had better state the trouble plainly. I must know how
things are."

"I suppose if you find the money I need, it will give you a claim on us,"
Gerald remarked meaningly.

"Yes," said Kit, with a steady look. "But that won't make any difference.
I don't mean to urge my claim. I expect this clears the ground?"

"It does; it's some relief. As a matter of fact, nobody can help quite as
much as you."

"Ah," said Kit, "I think I see! You used _my_ name. What was the sum for
which you made me responsible?"

Gerald told him and waited anxiously when Kit knitted his brows. The sum
was not so large as the latter had thought and Osborn's inability to
raise it indicated that he was seriously embarrassed.

"I understand your father applied to Thorn," said Kit. "Does he know you
have come to me?"

"He does not; nobody knows but Grace. I'd better state that I did
come because I thought you'd take a generous line, and I'm doubtful
about Thorn."

Kit made a sign of understanding. "Thorn hasn't arrived yet?" he said.

"He sent a note he'd come across, but when I left he hadn't arrived. My
notion is he's waiting until the last moment, with the object of making
us realize we must have his help."

"It's possible," said Kit, who approved Gerald's handling of the matter.
The lad was a wastrel, but he had run some risk in order to save his
sister from being forced to pay for his fault. "We won't bother about
Thorn's object," he resumed. "Tell me about your difficulties. I don't
want a half confidence."

Gerald hesitated and then began his tale. He had used the bank's money
to speculate with and had lost. Plunging again, in the hope of getting
straight, he had got alarmed when the margin shrank, and had gone to
Hallam, the money-lender. The latter had insisted on a guarantee for the
bill and Gerald had used Kit's name. He replaced the bank's money and had
hoped the shares would go up before the bill fell due, but they had not.

"Well," said Kit quietly, "I expected something like this, and when the
fellow brings the bill to your father it must be met." He stopped and
picking up a newspaper studied the steamship advertisements. Then he
turned to Gerald.

"There's another thing. You can't get a post in England, and for your
mother's and sister's sakes, had better leave the country. A fast New
York boat sails from Liverpool to-morrow. You must get off by
to-night's train."

Gerald looked at him with surprise. "But I'm not going to New York. I've
no money and don't know what to do when I get there."

"I'll fix that," Kit said dryly. "You are going, anyhow. If you deliver
the letter I'll give you to some people in Mobile, they'll find you a
job. The rest will depend upon yourself."

For a few moments Gerald hesitated, and then got up. "Very well!
Perhaps it's the best chance I'll get, and I'll take it. But I must go
back and pack."

"I think not," said Kit. "There's not much time. I must see the bank
manager at his house first of all, and start soon. You'll come with me to
the town. Sit down and write to your mother; I'll see she gets the note."

Gerald did as he was told and not long afterwards Kit and he drove out of
the Ashness lonning and took the road to the town.



CHAPTER IX

KIT GOES TO THE RESCUE


As the sun got lower an apathetic gloom began to replace the anxiety that
had kept the Osborns highly strung. Mrs. Osborn went dejectedly about the
house, sometimes moving an ornament and putting away a book, for her
brain was dull and she felt incapable of the effort to rouse herself for
her daughter's sake. Thorn had not arrived and if he did not come soon he
would be too late. On the whole, this was some relief, although it meant
that there was no escape from the disaster that threatened her home.

Torn by conflicting emotions, she had since morning struggled against
the binding force of her traditions. In a sense, it was Grace's duty to
save the family honor, but the duty would cost the girl too much. Yet,
if Grace failed them, Gerald must suffer, and she doubted if her
husband could bear the shame that must fall on all. Now, however, she
was conscious of a numbing resignation that blunted feeling and dulled
her brain.

In the meantime, Grace stood at the lodge gate, watching the road to
Ashness while the shadows crept across the dale. Gerald had not come
back and she had not told her mother where he had gone. The delay was
worrying, particularly since Kit had sent no message. He had said he
could help and one could trust him, but he did not come and the
confidence she had felt was vanishing. If it was not well placed,
there was no escape for her, and she shrank with horror from meeting
Thorn's demand.

The shadows got longer, but nothing moved on the road that ran like a
white riband across the fields until it vanished among the trees at
Ashness. Presently, however, she heard the throb of a car coming up the
valley and a cloud of dust rolled up behind a hedge. It was Thorn's car;
she knew its hum and as she watched the dust get nearer her face went
white. Then, as the hum became loud and menacing, she clenched her hand
and ran in nervous panic up the drive. She was breathless when she
reached the house, but pulled herself together and went to a quiet room
where she would be alone.

Osborn, sitting in the library, heard the car, and got up with a sense of
relief and shrinking. He had been afraid that Thorn would fail him, and
now he almost wished that the fellow had not come. He was not in the mood
to be logical, and although it was obvious that Thorn alone could save
him from disaster, knowing what Grace must pay hurt him more than he had
thought. Yet she must pay; he could find no other plan. Now he was
acquiescent but not resigned, and his hopelessness gave him calm.

Thorn's face was hot when he came in, and he glanced at Osborn with an
effort for carelessness when the latter indicated a chair. Osborn looked
old and broken, but he had a touch of dignity that was new.

"I'm sorry if I'm late," Thorn remarked. "I had to go to Swinset and had
trouble with the car."

Osborn wondered dully whether this was the real ground for his delay, but
he said, "Oh, well, it does not matter now you have arrived. I gave you a
hint about my object in sending for you, but you don't know all yet."

"I imagine I know enough. Gerald's in trouble; he or you must meet the
bill Hallam will bring. You see, the fellow belongs to my club and I had
a talk with him when I was in town."

"So you knew what threatened us?" Osborn remarked, rather sharply. "If
so, it's curious you waited until I sent for you."

Thorn hesitated. He had meant to be tactful, but it looked as if he had
been rash. Osborn's suspicions were obviously excited.

"The matter is delicate, and I knew you would send for me if you thought
I could be of use."

"You can be of use. Unless I take up the fellow's bill, Gerald will
go to jail."

Thorn made a sign of sympathy. He was surprised by Osborn's bluntness,
which implied that the latter was desperate. "That must be prevented.
I'll give you a cheque."

He took out his cheque book, and then stopped, and Osborn asked: "Is this
a free loan, Alan? I mean, is it made without conditions?"

"A gift, if you like. Anyhow, I won't bother you about repayment. We
can't talk about _conditions_; but I have something to ask."

"Grace?" said Osborn, rather hoarsely.

"Yes," said Thorn, with a hint of embarrassment. "I want Grace. It's an
awkward situation. I don't want to urge that I deserve my reward, but
I've waited a long time and thought you approved."

"I did approve. I hoped she'd marry you, but I imagined she could be
persuaded and would do so willingly. However, it looks as if I was
mistaken."

Thorn leaned forward, fixing his eyes on Osborn.

"Grace is young, and perhaps I don't make a strong appeal to her
romantic feelings, but I belong to her rank and her views and tastes
are mine. That is much. Also, I can indulge and give her all she likes;
the refinements and comforts to which she is, in a sense, entitled.
After all, they count for something. I'm trying to be practical, but I
love her."

"If you really love her, I think you would do well not to urge her just
now," Osborn remarked quietly.

"Ah," said Thorn, "I can't wait. Waiting has gained me nothing and there
is a risk. If I were young, I'd use all the patience I could control, but
I'm getting old and farther away from Grace. In another year or two I
shall be bald and fat. Perhaps the argument's humorous, but it has a
cruel force for me."

"There are other girls, brought up as we have brought up Grace. They
might be flattered--"

Thorn spread out his hands. "You don't understand. I'm not looking for a
wife! I love her, and if she cannot be persuaded, will never marry
anybody else." He paused and resumed with some emotion: "I know the
shabbiness of using this opportunity; but it's the last I'll get. I don't
want to work on her gratitude, but I see no other plan. I would like to
be generous--but I can't let her go."

"Yet you seem to realize that she does not like you."

"She will get over that. Her likes and dislikes haven't yet hardened into
their final mold. She's impulsive and generous; I can win her by patience
and kindness."

"It is a rash experiment. If you are disappointed, Grace would
have to pay."

Thorn was silent for a few moments. He had talked with sincere passion,
but now began to think. Osborn's firmness was something of a surprise;
Thorn had not expected he would weigh his daughter's feelings against the
danger that threatened his house. His opposition must be broken down.

"I had hoped for your consent," he said and his face got hard. "To some
extent, I took it for granted."

Osborn's head sunk forward. He had struggled, but saw that he was beaten.
To beg would be useless and he could not fight. Pulling himself together
with an effort, he looked up.

"You mean you knew I could not refuse?"

"Yes," said Thorn, awkwardly, "I suppose I do mean something like that."

Osborn gave him a long, steady look. Thorn's face was set and his mouth
was firm. There was no hint of yielding and Osborn got up. "Very well; I
must tell my wife."

He rang a bell and a minute or two afterwards Mrs. Osborn came in. She
sat down and Osborn stood opposite.

"Alan has done us the honor of asking my consent to his marrying Grace,"
he said, with ironical formality. "If we approve, he is willing to help
Gerald." He turned to Thorn. "I think I have stated your terms?"

Thorn colored as he saw that Mrs. Osborn's eyes were fixed on him. "You
exaggerate. I am willing to do you a service that nobody else can render
and think I'm justified in counting on your gratitude."

"Very well," said Osborn. "I don't see much difference, except that you
want to save our pride." He paused and looked at his wife. "You know
Grace best. Will she consent?"

Something in his manner moved Mrs. Osborn. It was long since he had asked
what she thought, and she felt encouraged. Besides, now the crisis had
come, her irresolution had vanished. She had thrown off her reserve and
meant to defend her daughter.

"No," she said, with a determined note in her quiet voice. "Even if
she were willing, I should protest. The fault is Gerald's and he
must suffer."

Osborn felt some surprise, but his humiliation had made him gentle.
"Gerald cannot suffer alone. His disgrace will reflect upon us all and if
he has a son it will follow him. We have been reckless and extravagant,
but we have kept our good name and now, when it is all that is left us,
it must be protected."

"That was Gerald's duty," Mrs. Osborn rejoined and was silent for a few
moments. To some extent, her husband's point of view was hers and she
knew his finest quality was his exaggerated family pride. But she would
not force her daughter to marry Thorn.

"I will not consent," she resumed. "Grace has long suffered for her
brother's extravagance, but she shall not pay for his folly now. It is
unjust; the price is too high!" Then she gave Thorn an appealing glance.
"Alan, can you not be generous?"

"I'm not brave enough; it might cost me too much," Thorn answered in a
strained voice. "I cannot let Grace go. She would be happy with me
after a time."

Mrs. Osborn made a scornful gesture and there was silence. Osborn moved
irresolutely and it looked as if he were hesitating; then steps echoed
along the landing and he started as Kit came in. Thorn's face got very
dark, but Mrs. Osborn looked up with a strange sense of relief.

"I didn't stop to ask if you were at home," Kit remarked. "As you know,
time is getting short. I understand a man from London will bring you a
document about a loan."

"That is so," said Osborn, hoarsely. "What are you going to do about the
document?"

"Take it up," Kit answered, with a look of surprise. "My name's on the
back." He paused and glanced at Thorn. "Still, this is a matter I'd
sooner talk about with you alone."

Thorn got up, making an effort for self-control. "Since Mr. Askew has
arrived I needn't stay." He bowed to Mrs. Osborn. "It looks as if I had
not understood things. You won't need my help."

He went out with a curious heavy step, and when the door shut, Osborn sat
down and looked at Kit as if he had got a shock.

"Then, you haven't come to humble me?"

"Certainly not," said Kit. "I should have come before, but had to find my
bank manager, who had left his office."

"Where is Gerald? What have you done with him?" Mrs. Osborn asked, for
she began to see a light.

"Gerald's at the station hotel, waiting for the train to Liverpool. He
sails for New York to-morrow and takes a letter to some friends of mine
who will give him a good start. He sent a note."

Mrs. Osborn read the note and her eyes shone as she turned them on Kit.
"It is perhaps the best plan. I would have liked to see him; but I
thank you."

"What I have done cost me nothing, and I imagine Gerald will have as good
as chance of making progress as he had at the bank, while the excitement
he'll probably get will suit him better. But Hallam will be here soon if
the train is punctual, and before he comes I want to know--"

At this moment they heard a car come up the drive, a servant knocked at
the door, and Hallam was shown in. He sat down in front of the table
where Osborn told him, and glanced at Kit.

"This is Mr. Askew," Osborn said. "Mrs. Osborn will stay; she knows your
business."

Hallam bowed and tried not to look surprised. "Very well. I have brought
the document about which you wrote. I am sorry I find it impossible to
renew the loan."

"Let me see the bill," said Kit, who took it from him and afterwards
nodded. "Yes; that's all right! Cancel the thing and I'll give you a
cheque."

"You admit your liability, then?" Hallam asked.

"Of course! What did you expect? My name's here. It's not my habit to
disown my debts."

Hallam did not state what he had expected. He was tactful and was
satisfied to get his money. Pulling out a fountain pen, he cancelled the
bill and put Kit's cheque in his pocket.

"That is all, I think, and I can get a train if I start at once," he
said. "If you should require help to extend your farm or improve your
stock, I should be glad if you would apply to me."

"I'm afraid your interest is too high," Kit rejoined with a smile, and
Hallam bowed to the others and went out.

When he had gone, Osborn turned to Kit, who gave Mrs. Osborn the
cancelled bill.

"I don't understand," he said dully. "Why have you come to my rescue?"

"To some extent, it was for Miss Osborn's sake."

"Ah!" said Osborn. "I suppose you have a demand to make now I am in
your power?"

"You are not in my power. Mrs. Osborn has the bill, and if you cannot
repay me, I won't urge the debt. But there is, so to speak, a
stipulation. You must use no pressure to persuade Miss Osborn to marry
Mr. Thorn."

"I am not likely to do so," Osborn remarked, dryly. He paused and his
face got red as he struggled with his deep-rooted dislike for Kit.

"You have taken a very generous line, Mr. Askew," he resumed. "We have
not been friends, but I must confess it looks as if I had been unjust."

Kit smiled. "Luck made us antagonists. However, I hope the antagonism has
gone for good, because after all I have something to ask. I must go to
London on some business to-morrow, but with your leave I will again call
in a week."

"You will find us at home when you do come," Osborn answered with grave
politeness, and when Kit got up Mrs. Osborn gave him her hand.

He went out and Osborn, who felt limp now the strain had slackened,
leaned back heavily in his chair and looked at his wife.

"The fellow is a working farmer, but he struck just the right note. Well,
he has beaten me, and it's easier to be beaten by him than I thought. But
he states he's coming back--"

"Yes," said Mrs. Osborn. "I think he means to ask for Grace."

Osborn knitted his brows. "I imagined that was done with. It is one thing
to take his help and another to give him Grace. After all, there is not
much difference between his plan and Thorn's."

"I expect you will find the difference important," Mrs. Osborn replied
with a smile. "He has broken down your unjustified prejudice, and if he
is the man I think, he will leave Grace free to refuse--if she likes."

Then she went out, for the strain had been hard to bear, and Osborn sat
at the table with his hand tightly closed. He admitted that he had from
the beginning been wrong about Kit, but his prejudices were not
altogether banished yet.



CHAPTER X

GRACE'S CHOICE


A week after Hallam's visit, Kit, one afternoon, started for Tarnside. He
had been forced to go to London about some American business, but this
was a relief, since it gave him an excuse for delay. At his interview
with Osborn he had left the most important thing unsaid, because it might
have jarred Mrs. Osborn, whom he thought his friend, had he asked for
Grace at the moment he had put her father in his debt. In fact, he saw it
would be tactful if he waited for some time, but he did not mean to do
so. To some extent, he distrusted Osborn and resolved to make his request
before the latter's gratitude began to cool. Grace must have full liberty
to refuse, but he did not owe her father much.

He wondered how she would choose and his step got slower until he stopped
and, sitting on a broken wall, looked up the valley. The day was calm and
the sun shone on smooth pasture and yellow corn. The becks had shrunk in
the shady ghylls and a thin white line was all that marked the fall where
the main stream leaped down the Force Crag. On the steep slopes the
heather made purple patches among the bent-grass and Malton moor shone
red. Kit loved the quiet hills; he had known intrigue and adventure and
now saw his work waiting in his native dale. The soil called him; his job
was to extend the plow-land and improve his flocks.

This was important, because he could not tell how far Grace would
sympathize. Her father liked the leading place; an effort for display
and such luxury as could be cheaply got were the rule at Tarnside. It was
possible that Grace had unconsciously accepted a false standard of
values. Kit might, for her sake, have changed his mode of life, had he
thought it good for her, but he did not. She must have inherited
something of Osborn's tastes and to copy the Tarnside customs might
encourage their development. It was better to remove her from insidious
influences to fresh surroundings where she would, so to speak, breath a
bracing air. But this could not be done unless she were willing to go.

Kit knitted his brows as he mused, because there was not much to indicate
whether he would find Grace willing or not. She liked him well enough,
but he had not ventured to pose as her lover. He was too proud and
jealous for her; knowing what Osborn thought, he would not involve her in
a secret intrigue. Yet she had been kind and he had now and then got a
hint of an elusive tenderness. Moreover, in her distress, she had come to
him. She was proud and he thought would not have asked his help unless
she was willing to give something in return.

After a time he got up with a quick, resolute movement. He would soon
know if he had set his hopes too high, and would gain nothing by
indulging his doubts. Crossing a field where the binders were at work, he
went up the Tarnside drive with a firm step and saw Osborn and Mrs.
Osborn sitting under the copper-beech. It looked as if they were waiting
for him, and he braced himself as he advanced. Mrs. Osborn smiled as she
gave him her hand and Osborn indicated a box of cigarettes.

"Sit down. Mrs. Osborn will give you some tea presently," he said, with
an effort for hospitable politeness, because he could not yet resign
himself to the demand his wife expected Kit would make. "You have been
to town on business," he resumed, feeling that silence would be awkward.
"I hope you found things satisfactory."

"I did," said Kit, who was glad that Osborn had, no doubt unconsciously,
given him a lead. He had gone to visit the agents of his American
bankers, and had learned that Adam's estate had turned out to be worth
more than he had thought. "It was a relief, because it helps me to get
over some of the hesitation I felt," he resumed. "I want your permission
to ask Miss Osborn if she will marry me."

Osborn tried to hide his disturbed feelings and answered with forced
quietness: "My wife warned me that I might expect something like this,
but I must own that I find agreement hard. However, after the help you
have given us, it is plain that I must try to overcome my reluctance."

"That is all I ask in the meantime," said Kit. "I don't expect you to
influence Miss Osborn. In fact, she must understand that I have no claim
and feel herself free to refuse."

"You are generous," Mrs. Osborn remarked. "Of course, it is obvious that
her gratitude must count for much."

"I don't want her gratitude to count," Kit declared, and Osborn gave him
a puzzled glance.

"There is something else that must be said. Grace has been indulged and
knows nothing of self-denial. Frugality that you think proper and usual
would be hardship to her. Can you give your wife the comforts and
refinements she has had at home?"

Kit noted Mrs. Osborn's faint smile and wondered whether it hinted at
ironical amusement, but he put a document on the table.

"You are entitled to ask and I have brought a short draught of the
arrangements I am ready to make if I am fortunate enough to win your
daughter."

Osborn picked up the paper and gave it to his wife. Then he looked at
Kit with surprise.

"This alters things; you are almost a rich man! If you wanted, you could
buy a house like Tarnside."

"No," said Kit firmly; "it alters nothing and leaves me where I was. I'm
satisfied with Ashness."

"Ah," said Osborn. "You mean you would sooner be a working farmer than a
country gentleman? The preference is somewhat remarkable!"

"I know where I belong. The important thing is that if Miss Osborn
marries me, she will be a farmer's wife."

"Exactly," said Osborn. "From my point of view, it's an awkward drawback.
I doubt if my daughter is suited for the part." He looked at Mrs. Osborn
and resumed: "But this is a matter Grace must decide about and you
insisted that no pressure should be used. I imagine you were afraid of my
influence and do not know if I am afraid of yours or not. If you agree, I
will send for her."

Kit said he was willing and was silent when Osborn went away. Although he
imagined Mrs. Osborn was sympathetic, he could not force himself to talk.
Since he had insisted that persuasion must not be used, he could not
demand to meet Grace alone and she might find it hard to accept his plans
without some explanation, which would be awkward to give when her parents
were there. He could, if he wanted, change his mode of life, but if they
were to be happy, she must be removed from influences he thought
dangerous and he must use his energy in useful work. He saw this very
clearly; but whether Grace would see it was another thing.

He felt some strain while he waited and watched the trembling
shadows move upon the grass. The rays of light that pierced the dark
foliage flickered about Mrs. Osborn's dress and when he glanced at
her he thought her look encouraging, but she did not speak. By and
by Osborn returned and said Grace was coming, and Kit found the
suspense hard to bear.

At length she came and his heart beat as he watched her cross the lawn.
She wore a plain white dress and when she stopped in front of the others
her face was pale but calm.

"Mr. Askew has asked my permission to marry you and I cannot refuse if
you agree," Osborn said in a formal tone. "He stipulates that I must not
persuade you one way or the other, and declares that he does not want to
work upon your gratitude."

Some color came into Grace's face as she looked at Kit. "Then, you don't
value my gratitude?"

"I value it very much," Kit replied with forced quietness. "But I feel it
ought not to count."

He stopped awkwardly, for he noted a sparkle in Grace's eyes and felt
that he was badly handicapped. She was proud and probably did not
understand his disinterested attitude. It was a relief when Mrs. Osborn
interposed:

"Mr. Askew is trying to be just. We have agreed that you are not to be
influenced."

"Ah," said Grace, "I think I see--"

She waited and Osborn went on: "Since you are to make a free choice, I
must state things as plainly as I can. Mr. Askew is not poor; he is able
to give you all we think you ought to have. In fact, there is no very
obvious reason he should not leave Ashness, but he does not mean to do
so, and although I cannot follow his argument, imagines that it would be
better for you both if he carries on his farming. It looks as if he did
not approve our rule."

Kit frowned, and colored when Grace turned to him. On the whole,
Osborn had not stated things incorrectly, but the situation was
embarrassing; Grace would, no doubt, resent the stipulation he felt
forced to make and expect a more lover-like attitude from the man who
asked her to be his wife.

"Grace," he said appealingly, "I'm afraid you don't understand. But when
you must give up so much I durst not hide the drawbacks. Besides, it's
agreed that I must not urge you."

She studied him for a moment. "I do understand," she said, and then
turned to Osborn. "I suppose you are trying to guard me, but I am not
afraid. One gets tired of pretense and secret economy, and forced
idleness has not much charm. Well, if Mr. Askew, knowing what he knows
about us, is willing to run the risk--"

"Grace!" said Kit, moving forward, but she stopped him with a
proud gesture.

"There is a risk. I think we shall both need courage, but if you are
willing I need not hesitate. I will try to make a good farmer's wife."

She turned and went away, and the blood came into Kit's face as he looked
at Osborn.

"I have played fair, but it was hard. Now you have heard her answer, I'm
at liberty to plead my cause."

Osborn said nothing, but his wife gave Kit a friendly smile and he
went off with a resolute step in pursuit of Grace. He came up with
her in a shrubbery, but it looked as if she did not hear him, for her
head was bent.

"Grace," he said, putting his hand on her arm. "I'm embarrassed and, in a
way, ashamed."

She turned and confronted him with her wonted calm. "I don't see why you
are ashamed. You were just--I think I mean quite impartial. You wanted me
to weigh things and would have been resigned if I had found the drawbacks
too much."

"It wasn't as easy as you think," said Kit grimly. "In fact, I was
burning with anger and suspense. But, you see, I had promised your
father--"

"Yes," said Grace; "that was plain. You were firm when you thought I
might be forced to marry Thorn, and when father agreed not to use his
influence, I suppose you could not use yours. Well, I'm glad you were
angry; it was human, and your scrupulous fairness was not flattering."
She paused and, to Kit's relief, gave him a smile. "After all, it would
not have hurt to be urged to marry the man I did like."

"You mean me?" said Kit and boldly took her in his arms.

She drew back from him, blushing, after a few moments, but Kit was
content. There was something fascinatingly elusive about Grace and he
could wait. They went on quietly down the path until they came to a bench
in a shady nook. Kit leaned against a tree and Grace sat down.

"Kit," she said, "I didn't know you were rich. It really doesn't matter,
but I'm glad I fell in love with you when I didn't know."

"Then, you were in love with me?"

She smiled. "Of course! I must have been, when I came to you because I
was afraid of Thorn. Love gave me confidence; I knew you would help. In
a way, I did an extravagant thing, because you were not really like a
lover at all."

"The control I used often hurt," said Kit. "I was afraid I might alarm
and lose you; it was much to see you now and then." He paused, feeling
there was something to be said that must be said now. "However, about
Ashness--"

"Oh," said Grace, "I suppose it cost you an effort to be firm and I
hope it did. You needn't be afraid, though. When my father told me,
I understood, and it won't hurt to leave Tarnside; I'm anxious to
get away."

"My dear!" said Kit. "Ashness has some charm and we will try to make it a
proper home for you."

"It is a home; I sometimes went to see your father--I liked him so much,
Kit. One feels the old house has sheltered sincere men and women who
loved each other and something they left haunts the quiet spot. I don't
want you to alter it much."

"You shall alter it as you like. The only rule at Ashness will be what
pleases you."

"Now you're very nice! I'm going to be happy because I can be myself. So
far, I've been forced to be reserved. You don't really know me, Kit."

"Perhaps that's true," Kit remarked. "You're wonderful, because there's
always some fresh charm to learn. I thought I knew you before I went
away, but when I came back I saw how foolish I was. I wonder whether you
knew I loved you then?"

Grace blushed. "I think I knew, and felt cheated."

"Why did you feel cheated?"

"Oh," said Grace, "I liked you! I was young and felt I was entitled to
love a man who loved me, if I wanted, but couldn't use my right. Then,
not long since, when you were so grave and just, I felt I had been
cheated worse."

"I see," said Kit and came nearer the bench. "I was cheated, too. But
look at me, dear, and I'll try to tell you all I think."

He told her with fire and passion and when he stopped, bending down to
her, she put her arm round his neck.

"Now you're ridiculously romantic, but you're very charming, Kit," she
said.



CHAPTER XI

OSBORN'S SURRENDER


By degrees Osborn accepted his daughter's choice philosophically. Kit was
not the son-in-law he had wanted, but he was forced to admit that the
fellow jarred less than he had thought. For one thing, he never reminded
Osborn of the benefit he had conferred, and the latter noted that his
country-house neighbors opened their doors to him. They could not, of
course, altogether ignore the man Grace had promised to marry, but Osborn
soon had grounds for imagining that they liked Kit for himself. The
wedding had been fixed and Osborn, although not satisfied, was resigned.

In the meantime, it began to look as if the gloom that had long ruled at
Tarnside was banished. Mrs. Osborn's reserve was less marked, she smiled,
and her step was lighter. Grace, too, had changed, and developed. She had
often been impatient but now was marked by a happy calm. Osborn found her
gentler and sometimes strangely compliant, although he felt he must make
no rash demands. The girl indulged him, but she could be firm. Her new
serenity had a charm. Moreover, Gerald wrote cheerful letters and
declared that he was making better progress than would have been possible
for him at home.

Osborn had seldom thought much about the happiness of his family, but he
felt a dull satisfaction because things were going well with the others.
It was a set-off against his troubles, which were getting worse. The
improvements his tenants and Hayes had forced him to make cost more than
he calculated and he met stubborn resistance when he talked about putting
up the rents. The money he had got by the last mortgage had gone; he
could not borrow more, and his creditors demanded payment of his debts.
He put off the reckoning, however, until, one day when he drove to the
market town to consult his agent, he got a rude jar.

In the first place, Hayes kept him waiting in a cold room, and he stood
for a time by the window, looking out drearily at the old-fashioned
square. The day was bleak and wet, and the high moors that shut in the
little town loomed, blurred and forbidding, through drifting mist. The
square was empty, the fronts of the tall old houses were dark with rain,
and the drops from a clump of bare trees fell in a steady shower on the
grass behind the iron rails. The gloom reacted upon Osborn's disturbed
mood, and he frowned when Hayes came in.

"I sent you word that I would call," he said.

"You did," Hayes agreed. "I was occupied when my clerk told me you
were here."

Osborn looked at him with some surprise. Hayes was very cool and not
apologetic. "Well," he said, "you know what I want to talk about. I
suppose you have seen Forsyth and Langdon about the renewal of their
leases?"

"Yes. Both state they'll go sooner than pay you extra rent."

"Then they must go," Osborn rejoined, trying to hide his disappointment,
since he had spent some money on the steadings in the hope of raising the
rent. Now he came to think of it, Hayes had held this out as an
inducement when he urged the expenditure. "It looks as if your judgment
wasn't very good, but by comparison with other things the matter's not
important," he resumed. "You know the sum I'll need between now and the
end of the term?"

"I do know. In fact, I imagine you will need more than you suspect,"
Hayes rejoined. "You'll find it impossible to borrow the money on
satisfactory terms."

Osborn looked hard at him. The fellow's manner was rather abrupt than
sympathetic; but Hayes went on: "Before we advertise for new tenants,
there is something I want to suggest. Although the farms are mortgaged, I
might be able to find a buyer--at a price."

"No," said Osborn firmly. "The buyer would have to undertake the debt and
the sum he would be willing to pay would not last me long. When it was
spent I'd have practically nothing left."

"The situation's awkward; but there it is! Of course, if you were able to
carry on until your rents come in--"

"You know I can't carry on. I came to you, hoping you might suggest a
workable plan. Who is the buyer?"

"I am," said Hayes.

Osborn's face got red and he struggled for self-control. The fellow
was his servant, but it looked as if he had cunningly involved him in
entanglements an honest agent would have avoided. Osborn remembered
that he had sometimes vaguely suspected Hayes. Now he knew him, it
was too late.

"I may be forced to sell, but not to you," he said haughtily.

Hayes shrugged. "That must be as you like, but I'm able to give you a
better price than anybody else. I have an object for buying the farms
and, if necessary, would pay something near their proper value, without
taking off much for the debt. Anyhow, you had better look at this
statement of your liabilities."

Osborn studied the document with a hopeless feeling. Things were worse
than he had feared and it cost him an effort to pull himself together
when he looked up.

"Why do you want to buy?" he asked.

"Well, you see, the land between Forsyth's and the dale-head is heavily
mortgaged, and, taking the two farms with the others, would make a
compact block that could be economically worked. The new estate would run
down to Tarnside, and since you may find it needful to sell the house, I
might make you an offer."

"But the consolidation wouldn't help _you_," Osborn remarked with
a puzzled look. "It would, perhaps, be an advantage for the mortgage
holders."

"I hold the mortgages," Hayes said quietly.

Osborn started. "But," he stammered, "I got the money from somebody
else."

"That is so. I bought the other debts, and supplied the funds when you
raised new loans."

"You bought the debts with my money!" Osborn exclaimed. "You used your
post to rob me of my estate!"

"I suppose one must make allowances, but you are unjust. You got the
proper value for the land you pawned, and squandered the money. The
consequence was inevitable and it's futile to complain. For that
matter, it is not altogether unusual for a landlord and his steward to
change places."

"I trusted you and you cheated me," Osborn resumed with poignant
bitterness.

"You lived in false security and refused to think. You knew the reckoning
must come, but were satisfied if you could put it off. Now you must bear
the consequences, it is not my fault. However, this is not important.
Will you sell?"

"No," said Osborn hoarsely. "I will not sell to _you_."

Hayes smiled. "You must sell to somebody and will not get as good a
price."

Osborn got up and went out with a dragging step. The blow had left him
numb, but as he drove home in the rain he had a hazy notion that Hayes'
statements were to some extent justified. He had lived in false security;
seeing how things were going and yet refusing to believe. Somehow, it had
looked impossible for him to lose Tarnside. The estate was his by the
sacred right of inheritance; for a hundred years there had been an Osborn
at the Hall. Yet the estate had gone, and he was to blame. It had, so to
speak, melted in his careless hands. He felt old and broken when he told
his wife and daughter about the interview.

Mrs. Osborn did not look as much surprised as he had thought and Grace,
although sympathetic, was calm. They had known the blow was coming and
were ready for the shock. After a time, Osborn left them and Grace looked
at her mother.

"I must tell Kit."

"Yes," said Mrs. Osborn. "I think he ought to know, though this is not a
matter in which he can help."

"It looks like that," Grace agreed and then paused with a confident
smile. "But Kit's rather wonderful; you don't really know him yet. He
always finds a way when there is something hard to be done."

"Ah," said Mrs. Osborn, "there is comfort in our troubles since they have
given you a man you can trust."

Grace went to Ashness and found Kit studying some accounts in the room
she called his museum.

"Put the books away, come to the fire and talk to me," said Grace, and
stopped him when he moved a chair. "I think I'll take the low stool. It's
wretchedly cold and I really came to be comforted."

She sat down, leaning against his chair with her head turned so that she
could look up, and held her hands to the fire. Kit's heart beat, for
Grace had developed recently; her reserve had gone and a curious, frank
tenderness had come instead.

"This is very nice," she resumed. "There's something very homelike about
Ashness. Perhaps I'm romantic, but I sometimes feel as if your father was
still at the old house. It's kind and quiet--like him. Don't you think
people can leave an influence, Kit?"

"Yours will last. So far, I haven't had much quietness."

"I'm afraid I've come to bother you again. I hate to bother you, but
somehow trouble seems to follow me."

"Your troubles are mine," Kit said and stroked her head. "Tell me
about it."

Grace told him, and although he said nothing, waited calmly. His face was
thoughtful but the silence was not awkward; she felt that it was marked
by an intimate confidence.

"Kit," she resumed at length, "I don't know if you can help, or if you
ought. You must decide, dear. I just wanted to tell you, and I'm
comforted."

"I can help," Kit answered quietly. "People abroad have paid some debts I
didn't expect to get and I'm richer than I thought." He paused and mused
for a moment or two. "It's strange the thing should happen now. When I
came home I imagined Ashness would occupy all my time, but I soon began
to feel I hadn't scope enough. You see, I'd been with Adam and he was a
hustler. Well, it looks as if I had found a new field."

"You mean you might buy Tarnside?"

"Yes. I think the estate might be made to pay. High farming's a risky
business in our climate and we have been satisfied to spend little and
get a small return. I think there's a better plan than that; if one uses
modern methods and can invest the capital. However, I see an obstacle to
my buying Tarnside."

"Father?" Grace suggested. "Well, I'm afraid he would never be economical
and he likes to rule. But I didn't mean, Kit, that you should give him
money to squander."

"I know," said Kit gently, although his face was rather stern. "Adam's
legacy must not be wasted in extravagance. Then, you see, Tarnside ought
to have been Gerald's; but he's ruled out--"

Grace looked up. "Yes, Kit. Now you have given him a fresh start, he may
make a useful man, but Tarnside is not for him." She paused and blushed,
but her glance was steady as she went on: "It must be ours, if you buy
it, for us to hold in trust--"

She turned her head and Kit quietly touched her hair. They were silent
for a few moments and then he said, "If the estate is to be properly
managed, my part will need much tact and I'm impatient now and then. But,
we would live at Ashness and your mother would understand my
difficulties."

"She would help. Father's old, Kit, and might be indulged. You would try
not to hurt him, and could consult him about things that didn't matter. I
think he'd be satisfied if you let him imagine he had some control."

Kit smiled. "Very well; we will make the plunge. Tell your father to do
nothing until Hayes moves. The fellow's cunning and it might be better if
he didn't know what we mean to do."

He bent down and kissed her and she pressed her face against his hand.
"Kit, you're wonderful. Things get done when you come on the scene, but
perhaps you're nicest when they're done for me. After all, I am an Osborn
and would have hated to let Tarnside go; let's plan what we can do when
it belongs to us."

For a time they engaged in happy talk, but Kit reopened his account books
when Grace went home. It looked as if he were about to make a rash
plunge, because he would not have much money left when he had carried out
his plans. However, he could guard against the worst risks and on the
whole imagined the venture ought to pay.

Some weeks later, Osborn sent for him and on reaching Tarnside he was
shown into the library. Mrs. Osborn was with her husband and there was a
bundle of papers on the big table.

"I have got the particulars you wanted," Osborn said. "Hayes will arrive
in half an hour, but that should give us time enough."

Kit nodded. "Yes, I want a few minutes."

When he had studied the documents he looked up. Tarnside would soon be
his and he glanced about the library with a new curiosity. Although the
day was dark and rain beat upon the high windows, the light was strong
enough to show the fine modeling of the old and shabby furniture. It was
a noble room and with well used money could be given a touch of
stateliness; but there was something cold and austere about Tarnside,
while Ashness was homelike and warm. His short survey strengthened Kit's
half-conscious feeling that he belonged to the farm and not the Hall.

"Two things are obvious," he remarked. "The mortgages must be wiped off;
and when other debts have been paid, the rents of the land I'm willing to
redeem ought to keep you going, if they're economically used."

"I doubt it," Osborn rejoined. "So far, the rent of the whole estate have
failed to do so."

"They will do so now," Kit said rather dryly, "That is, if I'm to free
the land. But you must decide if you will help or not."

He looked at Mrs. Osborn, who made a sign of agreement "There will be
enough, Kit. Indeed, in some ways, we shall be better off than we were."

"You have pluck," said Kit, and turned to Osborn, knowing he must be
firm. "The house and grounds will be yours to use as you like and the
farmers will bring their complaints and requests first to you. You will
be the acknowledged landlord and I shall be glad of your advice; but the
expenditure will be controlled by me."

Osborn did not reply, but Mrs. Osborn said, "It is a generous offer."

Kit waited, conscious of some suspense, for he doubted if Osborn's pride
was quite humbled yet. He did not want to humble him, but, for the sake
of Grace and her mother, did not mean to let him wreck his plans. After a
few moments Osborn looked up.

"It is a hard choice, but you have taken the proper line and I'm
resigned," he said. "After all, I have had my day, and although luck has
been against me, cannot claim that I have used it well. Besides, I'm not
robbing Gerald by agreeing to your plan; Gerald robbed himself and me."
He paused and went on with some emotion: "Very well, I'm ready to
abdicate, and thank you for trying to save my feelings by giving me
nominal control."

There was nothing more of much importance to be said, and with the object
of banishing the strain, Kit began to talk about improving some of the
farms. Osborn did not help him much, but he kept it up until Hayes
arrived. The latter seemed surprised to see Kit and hesitated when Osborn
indicated a chair.

"Mrs. Osborn will stay, and I brought Mr. Askew to meet you."

"As you like," said Hayes, who looked annoyed, but sat down and took
out some documents. "You have had formal notice that repayment of these
loans is due, and it would be an advantage to make arrangements for
taking up the other mortgages that will soon run out. Some time since, I
made you an offer that you refused."

"That is so," Osborn agreed. "Your offer is still unacceptable. What are
you going to do?"

"I must advertise the mortgaged farms for public sale, and when arrears
of interest, various charges, and smaller loans are deducted, there will
probably be nothing left. The rest is not my business, but I have managed
the estate and do not see how you can carry on."

"It is not your business, and Mr. Askew has a plan."

Hayes smiled as he turned to Kit. "You may perhaps resent my advice, but
I think it's sound; you would be rash to meddle. A small sum would be
swallowed up and make no difference. You would be poorer and Mr. Osborn
would not gain."

"That's obvious, if the sum were small," Kit agreed. "But how much do you
expect to get if you sell the farms?"

He nodded when Hayes told him. "A fair estimate! I think we can take it
as the proper price. You mean to buy the farms in, but I want them too,
and if you force a sale, I'll bid higher."

"Can you bid against me?" Hayes asked with something of a sneer.

"I'll answer that afterwards. In the meantime, let me state that I want
the other farms when the mortgages run out. You can fight me, if you
like, but I don't think it will pay you, and if we run prices up Mr.
Osborn will gain. Very well, here's my offer to buy up all his debts."

He gave a document to Hayes, who studied it with surprise. "I presume
you're serious?" the latter said with an effort. "You are rasher than I
thought if you can make this offer good."

"I can certainly make it good. You had better apply to the bank manager
if you have doubts."

For a few moments Hayes studied Kit, who looked quietly resolute. Then he
said, "You are determined to oppose me if I don't consent?"

"Yes," said Kit. "I mean to buy all the land Mr. Osborn has pawned. If
you want it, you'll have to pay the price I fix, since it must be a
public sale. Don't you think it would be prudent to accept my offer?"

Hayes clenched his fist, but with an effort preserved his self-control.
"I am forced to agree."

"Very well. Take the documents to my lawyers and as soon as they are
satisfied I'll give you a check."

Hayes nodded silently, and bowing to Mrs. Osborn went out. When he had
gone, Osborn got up.

"We have not been good friends--Kit," he said with some emotion. "Old
prejudices are hard to conquer, but mine have broken down at last--you
have beaten me. Well, I suppose I would not admit that the code I clung
to had gone for good, but now I'm dropping out, I don't know that I could
find a better man to step into my place." He paused and gave Kit his
hand. "After all, Tarnside is not lost to us. Grace will follow me--she
belongs to the new school, but I think your children will rule the old
house well."

Then Mrs. Osborn advanced and kissed Kit, who went out with her and found
Grace waiting in the hall.

"Hayes has gone," Mrs. Osborn remarked. "Kit has forced him to agree, and
your father is reconciled. We have had much trouble, but I think we shall
all be happy yet."

Grace looked up and her eyes shone. "Ah," she said, "I knew long since
that Kit was wonderful! In one way, it wouldn't have mattered if he had
saved Tarnside or not; but now you and father know what a dear he is!"

THE END





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