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Title: The Heart's Kingdom
Author: Daviess, Maria Thompson, 1872-1924
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 Heart's Kingdom" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE HEART'S KINGDOM

by

MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS

Author of The Melting of Molly, etc.

Illustrated by W. B. King



[Illustration: "_It's a mighty big turkle," he faltered, and snuggled
closer._]



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers
Copyright, 1917
by
The Reilly & Britton Co.
Made in U.S.A.
Published September 12, 1917
Second Printing October 1, 1917



CONTENTS


       I The World and the Flesh           9

      II The Harpeth Jaguar               27

     III The Gauntlet                     41

      IV To Turkey Gulch                  61

       V Having It Out                    92

      VI Deep Digging                    109

     VII The Tristan Love Song           132

    VIII Breasting the Gale              146

      IX Into Brambles                   161

       X Water and Oil                   181

      XI A Bit of Raw Life               195

     XII The Tenacious Turtle            211

    XIII The Short-Circuit               227

     XIV Abide With Me                   241

      XV A Clandestine Adventure         258

     XVI The Jewel in the Matrix         283

    XVII The Pageant                     297

   XVIII Light--Into Darkness            312

     XIX The Spark and the Blaze         327

      XX The Covert of Wings             344



The Heart's Kingdom



CHAPTER I

THE WORLD AND THE FLESH


"A beautiful woman is intended to create a heaven on earth and she has
no business wasting herself making imaginary excursions into any future
paradise. The present is her time for action; and again, Charlotte, I
ask you to name the day upon which you intend to marry me," said Nickols
Powers, as he stood lounging in the broad window of Aunt Clara's music
room and gazing down into the subdued traffic of upper Madison Avenue.

"I wish you had never taken me across that ferry and into that room
crowded with redolent humanity to hear an absurd little man string
together vivid, gross words about religion, words that made me tingle
all over," I answered as I threw my coat on a chair, lifted my hat from
my head and sat down on the seat before the dark old piano. "I think
religion is the most awful thing in the world and I am as afraid of it
as I am of--of death. I'm going home to my father."

"Oh, don't be afraid of it. Religion is the most potent form of
intoxication known to the human race. That's why I took you over to hear
the little baseball player. I wanted you to get a sip. But don't let it
go to your head." And Nickols mocked me with soft tenderness in his
smile.

"Well, it frightened me, and I don't like it. I'm going home to my
father and forget it," I reiterated with a kind of numbness upon me, the
like of which I had never before experienced.

"I'll protect you from any religious danger just as effectively as Judge
Powers. I'm younger--slightly--than he, but I know just as many of the
wiles of the world and the flesh as he does and maybe a few more,"
Nickols assured me, with a flash in his dark eyes that was both wicked
and humorous, as well as very delightful.

"And the devil, too! But you don't understand. I must go home to my
father," I answered still again.

"You don't understand yourself," returned Nickols. "There are strange
hieroglyphics imprinted on every woman's heart and a man can read only
an unconnected word here and there when he can get his flashlight thrown
into the depths--if he dares adventure into her life at all. I feel that
I take my own life in my hands when I allow you to talk to me as I am
allowing you to-night."

"How do you know that those hieroglyphics might not mean the salvation
of the world if she could spell them out herself, or some great and good
person took a steady lamp and went down into her heart and--"

"It takes a very wicked man to read a woman; good men are blinded by
them and stumble," Nickols assured me as he came over, stood beside me
and ran his long, slender, artist's fingers up and down the keys of the
piano, which evoked a strange, diabolical sort of harmony from them. "I
understand about it all, so please come tell me you'll marry me." This
time his arms almost encircled me, but I slipped between them as he
laughed at me with his adorable pagan charm.

"No, Nickols, that would be an easy--and--and delightful way out, but I
am really frightened down in some queer part of my anatomy that lies
between my breast bone and my spinal column. Something is stirring in my
heart and I'm afraid of it. I've got to get out in a wilderness and
fight with it."

"Take it out on me," offered Nickols, with a laugh that was both wistful
and provoking.

"No, I've got a home panic and I must go."

"Then when do I get my answer from what is left of you after the
battle?"

"I'll let you know when to come and get it--under the roof of the
Poplars," I answered him from the doorway.

And the very next morning I went down into the Harpeth Valley, driven I
knew not by what, nor to what. I only knew that I felt full of a living,
smothered flame and I was sure that it was best to let it burst forth in
my ancestral abiding place.

I was born of a man who has the most evolved brain in the Harpeth
Valley, who has been a drunkard for twenty years, and of a very
beautiful and haughty woman whose own mother, to the day of her death,
shouted at Methodist love feasts. Is it any wonder that when I was tried
by fire I burned "as the cracklings of thorns under a pot?"

"How _could_ you set that ridiculous little Methodist meeting house on
the very doorstep of my garden, father?" I demanded, as I stood tall and
furious before him in the breakfast room on the morning after my return
home from my winter in the East with Aunt Clara. "Cousin Nickols has
spent many months out of three years on the plans of restoration for
that garden, and he is coming down soon to sketch and photograph it to
use in some of his commissions. What shall I--what will _you_--say to
him when he finds that the vista he kept open for the line of Paradise
Ridge has been cut off by that pile of stones to house the singing of
psalms?" And as I raged I had a feeling of being relentlessly
pursued--by something I didn't understand.

"Madam," returned father, with a dignity he always used with me when he
encountered one of my rages, "you will find that the chapel does not in
any way interfere with Nickols' carefully planned view. Gregory Goodloe
spent many days of thought in seeking to place it so that it would not
intrude itself upon your garden, and he built his parsonage completely
out of view, though it gives him only one large southern window to his
study and only northern ones to his bedroom."

"Does the creature also sleep and eat and have his being right there
behind my hollyhocks?" I demanded, and my rage began to merge into
actual grief, which in turn threatened to come to the surface in hot
tears.

"Now, Charlotte, my daughter," father was beginning to say with soothing
in his voice instead of the belligerence that from my youth up had
always just preceded my floods of tears. Dabney, the shriveled black
butler, who had always devotedly sympathized with my exhibitions of
temperament, to which he had, from my infancy, given the name of
"tantrums," set the platter of fried chicken before father's place at
the damask and silver-spread old table by the window, through which the
morning sun was shining genially. Then, with a smile as broad and genial
as that of the sun, he drew out my chair from behind the ancestral
silver coffee urn, which was puffing out clouds of fragrant steam.

"Breakfast am sarved, honey chile," he crooned soothingly, "an' yo'
Mammy done put the liver wing right ag'in yo' fork."

Dabney had many times stemmed my floods with choice food and was trying
his favorite method of pacification.

I faltered and wavered at the temptation. I was hungry.

"Just wait until you see Goodloe and talk it over with him," father
said, as he seized the advantage of my wavering and seated himself
opposite me as Dabney pushed in my chair and whisked the cover off the
silver sugar bowl and presented one of his old willow-ware cups for
father's two lumps and a dash of cream. "I asked him to--"

"See him? You don't expect me to discuss Nickols' and my garden with an
ignorant bucolic Methodist minister, who probably doesn't know a
honeysuckle from a jimson weed, do you?" I asked with actual rage rising
again above the tears as I literally dashed the cream into his cup and
deluged the boiling coffee down upon it so that a scalding splatter
peppered my hand. "I never want to see or hear or speak to or about
him. I'll build a trellis as high as his church, run evergreen
honeysuckle on it and go my way in an opposite direction from his.
I'll--" Just here I observed consternation spread over Dabney's black
face, then communicate itself to father's distressed countenance as he
glanced out the window. Quickly he pushed his morning julep behind the
jar of roses in the center of the table, while Dabney flung a napkin
over the silver pitcher with frost on its sides and mint nodding over
its brim.

And then, as I was about to pour my own coffee and launch forth on
another tirade on the subject of my neighbor, I heard a rich tenor voice
singing just outside the window in the garden beside the steps that led
down from the long windows in the dining room to the old flagstone walk.
Nickols and I had searched through volumes of dusty antique prints to
see just how we wanted that walk to lead out to the sunken garden beyond
the tall old poplars. I also saw the handle of a rake or hoe in action
across the window landscape and heard unmistakable sounds of vigorous
gardening.

I rose to my feet with battle in my eyes and then stopped perfectly
still and listened--unwillingly but compelled.

    "Drink to me only with thine eyes
    And I will pledge with mine,"

were the words that floated in at the window on the fragrant morning
sunbeams, in a voice of the most penetrating tenderness I had ever felt
break against my heartstrings.

"I--I--he sometimes demolishes a--a few weeds," father faltered, while
Dabney ducked his cotton-wool old head and slipped out of the door.

"You allow him to work in my--garden--and--" I faltered, just recovering
from the impact of the words of my favorite song of songs hurled at me
by the unseen enemy, when I was interrupted by his appearance in the
open door and we stood facing each other.

I am a woman who has very decided tastes about the biological man. I
know just how I want the creatures to look, and I haven't much interest
in one that isn't at least of the type of my preferred kind. Because I
am very tall and broad and deep-bosomed and vivid and high colored, and
have strong white teeth that crunch up about as much food in the
twenty-four hours as most field hands consume, and altogether I am very
much like one of the most vigorous of Sorolla's paintings, that is the
probable pathological reason I have always preferred an evolved Whistler
masculine nocturne that retreats to the limits of my comprehension and
then beckons me to follow. All other men I have grouped beyond the
border of my feminine nature and sought to waste no thought upon them.
It was a shock to come, suddenly, in my own breakfast room, face to face
with a type of man I had never before met. The enemy was astonishingly
large and lithe and distinctly resembled one of the big gold-colored
lions that live in the wilds of the Harpeth Mountains out beyond
Paradise Ridge. His head, with its tawny thatch that ought to have waved
majestically but which was sleek and decorous to the point of
worldliness, was poised on his neck and shoulders with a singularly
strong line that showed through a silk soft collar, held together by an
exquisitely worldly amethyst silk scarf which, it was a shock to see,
matched glints from eyes back under his heavy gold brows with what
appeared to be extreme sophistication. After the shock of the tie the
loose gray London worsted coat and trousers made only a passing
impression; and from my involuntary summary of the whole surprising man,
which had taken less than an instant, my dazed brain came back and was
held and concentrated by the beauty of the smile that flooded out over
me in welcome after my father's hurried introduction.

"The Reverend Mr. Gregory Goodloe--my daughter Charlotte," father
announced, as he rose and waved in my direction a hand that was cordial
to the point of bravado.

"I'm so glad you came in time to see your crocuses and anemones, Miss
Powers," the Jaguar said as he took my hand in his. "Dabney has let me
help him hand-weed them and they are a glory, aren't they?" While he
spoke he still held my hand and I was still too dazed to regain
possession of it. Father saved the situation.

"Sit down, sit down, Parson, and let Charlotte give you a cup of coffee
while it is on the simmer," he urged with hasty hospitality as if intent
upon effectively bottling me up, at least for the immediate present.
"She was just pouring my cup. Will you say grace before I take my first
sip?" was the high explosive he further proceeded to hurl in my face.

And as he spoke I sank dumbly into my chair and helplessly bowed my head
to a ceremony so obsolete in the world from which I had come that I felt
as if I was slipping back into the days of the pioneer, when the customs
of life were still primitive and dictated by emotion rather than mental
science.

And there, with father's concealed mint julep right against his
interlaced fingers, the mountain lion bowed his crested head and
involved me in prayer for the first time since chapel-service in my
college days.

"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof ... for which we give
thanks, thy children, with Lord Jesus, Amen!"

"Amen," mumbled father as if from the depths of embarrassment, and
against my will, as it were, a queer sort of a croon of an echo came
from my own throat.

Also that was the first time I had ever heard words of prayer under the
roof of the Poplars. It embarrassed me and I hated it and the cause of
it. The spell which had possessed me since the entrance of the Reverend
Goodloe, vanished, and the rage that had been in me at the discovery of
the intrusion of his chapel and himself upon my life when I had come
home to be free to be wicked, boiled up within me and then sugared down
to a rich--and dangerous--syrup. While I poured his coffee I again took
stock of him, this time coldly and with deadly intent. The reasons for
his entry into my hitherto satisfactory family life, even at breakfast
time, I did not know, any more than I knew the reason for the chapel on
the other side of the hollyhocks, but I felt that I feared both and
intended to get rid of them. If the enemy had been what one could
reasonably expect a young Methodist preacher to be, I would have routed
him and his meekness within the hour and had the chapel moved to a lot
on a side street in town within the week. However, when a hunter comes
suddenly upon a Harpeth jaguar he is glad to use his best repeater and
he is careful how he shoots, though if he is very skillful he may tease
the lion aloft with a few nipping shots. I felt suddenly very strong for
the fight that I knew was on, though the lion didn't possess that
knowledge as yet. Deliberately I fired a preliminary bullet that seemed
to graze father, though it left the Parson unharmed.

"Will you have your mint julep before I pour your coffee, Mr. Goodloe?"
I asked, with seemingly careless friendliness. "Dabney, put fresh ice in
father's glass and fill mine and Mr. Goodloe's."

"I was feeling a little under the weather this morning," said father
hastily, as he set his glass from behind the rose jar upon Dabney's
waiter and motioned it all away from him, thus denying the morning
friend of his lifetime. I had never drunk a julep before breakfast in my
life, only tasted around the frosty edges of father's, but I held my
ground, and held out my glass to Dabney, who falteringly, almost in
terror, took the frosted silver pitcher from the sideboard and poured me
an unusually large draft of the family beverage.

"Will you have yours now, Mr. Goodloe?" I asked again with still more of
the sugared solicitation.

"No, I believe I prefer the coffee, but don't pour it until you have
drunk your julep; you know frost is a thing that soon passes," was the
cheerful answer, though a suspicion of an amethyst glint made me know
that the Jaguar had at least heard the zip of the bullet.

I loathed that mixture of ice and sugar and mint and whiskey but I had
to drink it, and it heated me up inside both physically and mentally,
and took away all the queer dogging fear. And because of it I don't
remember what else happened at that breakfast except that I wanted to
clutch and cling to the warm, strong hand that I again found mine in at
the time of parting. But I didn't; at least, I don't think I did. After
it was taken away from me I went very slowly up to my room and again
went to bed, Mammy caressingly officiating and rejoicing that I was
going to "nap the steam cars outen my bones."

I fell asleep with the continued strains of "Drink to me only" in my
ears, and wondering if I ought to put it down as insult added to injury,
and I awoke several hours later to find Letitia Cockrell, one of the
dear friends whom many generations had bestowed upon me, sitting on the
foot of my bed consuming the last of the box of marrons with which
Nickols had provisioned my journey down from New York. I was glad I had
tucked the note that came in the box under my pillow the night before. I
trust Letitia and she is entirely sophisticated, but she has never had a
lover who lives in Greenwich Village, New York, America.

"Is this the open season for two-day hangovers, in New York?" she
demanded as she sniffed me suspiciously at the same time she dimpled and
smiled at me.

"No, this is not a metropolitan hangover. It was acquired at breakfast,
Letitia," I answered her as I sat up and stretched out my bare arms to
give her a good shake and a hug. "'You may break, you may shatter the
glass if you will, but the scent of the julep will hang 'round you
still,'" I misquoted as I drew my knees up into my embrace and took the
last remaining marron.

"Why, Mammy said Mr. Goodloe had breakfast with you. Did you sneak it
from the judge's pitcher?" demanded Letitia, as she likewise drew her
knees up into her arms and settled herself against one of the posts of
my bed for the many hours' résumé of our individual existences in which
we always indulged upon being reunited after separation.

"I did not," I answered. "I drank it before his eyes, and then I don't
remember what happened and I don't care."

"What?"

"Just that. I never have been drunk because I never could drink enough.
I've always felt that there isn't enough liquid in the world to faze me,
and I don't like it anyway, but Dabney was so impressed by His Worship
that he poured it double for me before I had had breakfast. I hope I
staggered or swore but I don't think I did. The Reverend Goodloe can
tell you better than I. Ask him."

"Gregory Goodloe? Oh, Charlotte!"

"That's the point I was coming to, Letitia: Just who is this Reverend
Goodloe that I shouldn't drink a quart of mint julep before him if I
want to? I had well over a pint of champagne with a Mr. Justice two
nights before I left New York and I stopped then out of courtesy to one
of the generals whom we expect to defend us from the Kaiser. Who is your
Gregory Goodloe? Tell we all about him, unexpurgated and unafraid."

"Didn't you know about him--and the chapel before you came?" Letitia
queried cautiously, as if fearing the explosion she felt was sure to
result.

"I did not," I answered. "I met him and his chapel and the mint julep
all in the same five minutes, and is it any wonder I went down? Go on.
Tell me the worst or the best. I'm ready." And as I spoke I settled my
pillows comfortably, getting a little thrill from the crumpled letter
underneath the bottom one.



CHAPTER II

THE HARPETH JAGUAR


"It is beautifully romantic, but I don't know what we are going to do
about it," answered Letitia with genuine trouble, puckering her brow
under one of her smooth waves of seal-brown hair. Letitia is one of the
wonderful variety of women who patch out life, piece by piece, in a
beautiful symmetrical pattern and who do not have imagination enough to
admire anything about a riotous crazy quilt. She is in love with Clifton
Gray, has been since she wound her brown braids about her head, and is
piecing strips of him into her life-fabric by the very sanest
love--courtship--marriage design.

"We just can't go on as we have been doing lately," she continued. "We
all decided that you would know what to do about him, and would do it
when you came home. We suspected Judge Powers hadn't written you all the
facts when you didn't come and the building went on up. You will be
able to do something about him, won't you?"

"I think it is likely," I answered, with the brittle sugar in my voice
that Letitia only half knows the flavor of. "But don't try to sketch
things, Letitia. Begin at the beginning and go straight to the end; I'll
pick up the pieces."

"Well, of course you remember the Bishop Goodloe romance, don't you?"
asked Letitia, hopeful that she could get a small start ahead on her
chronicle.

"I don't remember anything about any bishop, ever. I forget things about
that kind of people. What did, or didn't he do?"

"Charlotte!" remonstrated Letitia. "He was the last of the Goodloes who
built that old Goodloe home on exactly the place where the first Goodloe
set the stakes of the first stockade put up in the Harpeth Valley, right
here in Goodloets. It burned down the night he married that Miss Gregory
in New York, before we were born. Don't you remember we used to play in
the ruins, just over here beyond the garden where the chapel stands now?
Your father bought the property. Part of your garden is old Madam
Goodloe's garden and that's why it was so wonderful for Judge Powers to
give the lot and let Mr. Goodloe build the chapel there. We all felt
that, though some of us were scared when we thought about what you might
do when you came home. Still, after we saw that wonderful little stone
chapel that Mr. Goodloe had one of the greatest architects in New York
design, after he had sent him packages of sketches of your garden and
the Poplars, so it would only make it all the more beautiful, we felt
better. You don't really mind about it, do you, dear?" Letitia's voice
was beseechingly enthusiastic, though keyed down with a note of anxiety.

"Go on!" I commanded, packing down the rage in the dark corners of my
inmost heart.

"Nobody ever knew why Bishop Goodloe never came back after he married
while on a mission from the Southern Methodist Conference to the
Northern Methodist Conference. He severed his relations with his own
Conference, and he never preached again though he was one of the most
wonderful and eloquent preachers the South has ever known. He was the
youngest bishop the church had ever ordained. Nobody ever knew what
happened, and all we know now is that this perfectly beautiful man, who
is the bishop's son, came down to the General Conference in Nashville,
was examined and ordained, and the presiding bishop sent him out here to
Goodloets last November. We don't know anything about him except that he
has been fighting in the trenches in France for a year and has had a
bullet cut out of his left lung. Everybody adores him, and we all sit
spellbound listening to him preach, I think mostly on account of his
voice, because none of us ever seems to remember what he is preaching
about. He's been having services in the ballroom at the Country Club but
he is going to dedicate the chapel soon and we are all relieved. It has
been fun to go out to church at the Club twice every Sunday and to
prayer meeting on Wednesday night all winter, and we've danced in the
long parlor at home and in the double parlors at Jessie Litton's so as
not to disarrange the pews, I mean the chairs, in the ballroom, but now
that the spring has come we--we need the Club. I'm glad you will be here
for the dedication, and you will help us kind of--kind of--"

"Taper off from your religious spree?" I asked with a laugh that Letitia
echoed shamefacedly.

"That's an awful way to put it--but--"

"True?"

"We've all tried hard, but--but it is such a--a bore. It doesn't seem
fair to enjoy Gregory Goodloe so much at dinners and parties and not
show our respect and--and admiration by being good church members.
Jessie joined his study workers and she took a class of the awful little
children from down in the Settlement beyond the Phosphate Mills, who all
smelled terribly. She worked hard with them twice a week for a month,
and then Mother Spurlock, who is the front pillar of his congregation,
found that she had taught all the dirty little things to sew with their
left hands. She came in one morning and found them all stitching away
industriously backwards, just because Jessie is left-handed herself.
Mother Elsie laughed until she lost her breath and Mr. Goodloe had to
help unloosen her belt for her. The meeting broke up with ice cream on
Jessie for everybody. We all belong to home mission societies and sewing
circles and--"

"You want me to get you out of your purgatory and let you backslide
to--"

"Don't say it!" exclaimed Letitia with a laugh. "But we just want not to
hurt his feelings and--"

"We won't," I said grimly. "Now let's talk about the ball out at the
Club we are going to give Nickols when he comes down the first of May."

"That's just what I mean. I knew you'd understand and I am so relieved
that you are not angry about the chapel and things. We can leave it all
to you and we'll have the times of our lives. Billy Harvey says his
ankles are getting stiff, it's been so long since he has fox-trotted. Do
call Mammy or Sallie and let's look at your clothes." With which Letitia
descended from her spiritual heights into the realm of the material and
plunged with both Mammy and Sallie into a riot of clothes.

For an hour or two I lay back in my pillows and watched the two black
women and the white one indulge in primitive decorative orgies, and from
their delight my eyes would glance out and fix themselves wistfully on
the dim line of Paradise Ridge which was cut by the square steeple of
weathered stone just where Old Harpeth humps itself up above the rest of
the Ridge; and something sore and angry and trapped hurt under my
breast.

"The earth is the Lord's--" chanted itself in my mind to the tune of
"Drink to me only," and my hand curled around the letter under my pillow
as if for comfort and--defense.

"It is just as you told me that night at the piano, Nickols dear:
'Religion is the most potent form of intoxication known to the human
race,' and apparently all my friends have been getting the drink habit
badly. I'll rescue the poor dears and have an interesting time doing
it," I said to myself after Letitia had departed with my most choice
millinery creation fastened down upon her sleek braids because she found
she could not live without it.

And then a strange thing happened, as I lay prone between the
lavender-scented sheets spread on the four-poster bed of my foremothers,
ready to drift off into another "bone resting" nap. The flood of tears
that had risen from my heart when I had sat that night a week ago and
listened to that remarkable little baseball evangelist, the tide of
which had been rolled back when Nickols had bent his beautiful dark head
against mine in Aunt Clara's music room and whispered above the roar of
New York, "religion is the most potent form of intoxication" to me,
again welled from my heart and this time flooded my lashes and my cheek
and my pillow. What was strangest of all, they seemed to wash away all
the tears of anger and fear that I had been pressing back into my depths
from breakfast time, and left me weak and again ready for sleep. And
like a comforted little child, I slept.

It was sunset when I awoke, and I felt as strong as two women and ready
for action, the call for which was upon me by the time Sallie had put me
into her favorite creation, selected from the ones she had hung in
closets and wardrobe.

"Mister Billy Harvey and Mister Hampton Dibrell is down on the front
porch ready to gallivant you, honey-bunch, and I seen Miss Letitia and
her Mister Cliff Gray coming in one direction and Miss Jessie in
another, so I reckon Sallie had better hurry with that New York twilight
she's fixing on you," Mammy announced as she stood in my doorway and
beamed upon me. "An' I expects the parson will be stepping over
likewise fer a few words, seeing you was so sweet and showed sich pretty
manners to him this morning," she added with reverent delight.

"Sweet? Showed such pretty manners?" I gasped, as Sallie fastened the
last hook and eye and stood beside Mammy to admire me.

"'Twas no more than you oughter done to the preacher, and I was proud of
my raising of you when you helt on to him and begged him to stay to
dinner. I was sho' disappointed that he had to leave us. I'm a Colored
Methodist, I am, and if I do say it, I knows how to shake a young pullet
in the skillet fer a preacher's taste, black or white. Now go on down
and stop that buzzing fer you on the front porch. Sallie, come and carry
out the tea and cakes to the guests," with which command to both of us
Mammy rolled her two hundred and fifty pounds down the hall with great
majesty, while Sallie meekly followed in her wake.

"Sweet! Showed such pretty manners!" I quoted to myself as I slowly
descended the steps and went out on the wide porch to find my friends
assembled under the budding rose vine that wreathed the tall white
pillars of the Poplars.

The parson was not there.

"Rescued!" exclaimed Billy as he grasped one of my hands and hung on
with a very good imitation of a drowning man seizing a lifeline. They
all laughed and Hampton Dibrell held my other hand as ardently, though
not in quite such light vein. I had to rescue it to accept Clifton
Gray's nosegay of huge violets from his greenhouse, and I embraced
Jessie with the nosegay pressed to her pink cheeks.

"Oh, Charlotte, I could fox-trot with you a week and not hesitate,"
exclaimed Billy, still clinging to me.

"Let's begin to-night," I assented warmly. Billy is contagious and to
dance with him is a high art.

"Let's motor out to the Club in Hamp's car and mine, have a chicken
supper and dance until sun-up," suggested Billy.

"We can stop by and get Mark Morgan and Nell, and I believe Harriet
Henderson will come along, if everybody asks her--all the men, I mean,"
Letitia added with enthusiasm to match Billy's. Harriet Henderson is the
latest emerged widow in Goodloets and consequently is most interesting
to the masculine world at present.

"Let's start now, so as to give the chicken plenty of time to get into
the frying pan and over the fire," said Hampton, who is always the
practical member to bring up the details of any situation.

"I'm just from the tennis courts and I'll have to stop to dress, I'm
afraid," said Letitia meekly, as if she felt sure of a storm of
remonstrance.

"People don't dress to dance these days, Letitia," said Billy, with the
greatest innocence of mien and expression, a manner he always uses in
speaking to Letitia's rather literal directness and in which he delights
greatly. "They undress. You are unclothed enough as to ankles and if you
roll the sleeves of your tennis shirt to your shoulders, take off your
collar and tuck in the flaps, it will be enough to satisfy our cravings
for fashionable and suitable attire. We really want fried chicken rather
than chicken--"

"That will do, Billy," Letitia answered him with gentle firmness.

"That was just what I remarked, Letitia dear. That will do, for we want
chicken dressed with cream gravy and don't care about any swathed in
chiffon. And furthermore--"

"Do hush, Billy; look who's coming," Jessie interrupted him, and there
before my eyes I saw my entire group of friends begin to preen
themselves into new beings. Letitia smoothed down her skirts a fraction
of an inch, rolled down her sleeves another fraction and pushed back
into her braids a brown lock that was rioting across her brow. Jessie
shook out her muslin ruffles, reefed a fold of net higher across her
neck, and pinned it in place with a jeweled pin, while Hampton's and
Billy's and Cliff's expressions and poses of countenance and bodies
suddenly fell into lines of decorum.

"Great Smokes! We all forgot it was prayer meeting to-night, and it'll
be no trotting the fox for ours," Billy groaned, while he rose to his
feet with a smile of angelic sweetness. "Hello, Parson! We were just
beginning to think about you," was his greeting to the Sacred Jaguar who
had come through the garden and around the house. I felt sure that he
had heard Billy's plaint of disappointment about the dance, for there
was a quick glint of the amethysts as he halted and stood on the walk
below us and smiled up at us.

"I welcomed Miss Powers for breakfast, and now I find I want to come
over and do it again for tea," he said, and as I was perfectly cool,
sober and in my right mind at the moment he spoke, I had to concede that
his voice was the most wonderful I had ever heard, and something in me
made me resent it as well as the curious veneer that had spread over my
friends at his entry upon the scene. There they stood and sat, six
perfectly rational, fairly moral, representative free and equal
citizens, cowed by the representative of something that they neither
understood nor cared about, and it made me furious. They all wanted to
go to the Club to dance, to do the natural, usual, perfectly harmless
thing, and they were being constrained. If they had wanted to go to the
prayer meeting as they wanted to dance, they would have been natural and
joyful and eager about it.

"I resent, even _I_ resent people's being bored with the God they think
exists, and I think it is disrespectful to go into His presence like
that," I said to myself, and then I suddenly determined to begin my
rescue work for the religiously involved, and now I felt was the
appointed time. Also I felt the excitement that comes from turning and
facing the foe which has pursued.

"I'm glad you came over, Mr. Goodloe," I said with nice, cool
friendliness in my voice. "Billy was just planning a glorious fox-trot
for this evening and then suddenly remembered with dismay that you were
to have your--entertainment at the Club to-night. Couldn't we--we make
some sort of compromise? Or at least couldn't you cut your--prayers
short so he can get in an hour or two of his favorite pleasure
after--after duty well done?" As I spoke I had come to the edge of the
steps and thus stood alone above him, looking down on him with a kind of
cool aloofness as if he belonged to another world, while I heard all of
his recent converts grouped back of me give little gasps of dismay.



CHAPTER III

THE GAUNTLET


Was that young Methodist minister crushed by my plainly intended
gauntlet flung down to him? He was not.

"I'm glad I came over in time to put Billy out of his misery," he
answered, smiling up at me with a quick comprehension that was enraging.
"I'm going to have informal services in the chapel to-night to try out
the acoustics before the contractor turns over the building. I am not
satisfied about the sounding board he has put in, and the only way is to
try it with at least part of the seats occupied. We'll sing a bit and
plan the dedication; not have a formal service. So then, Billy, you can
have your fox-trotting and a good time to all of you, bless you, my
children." As he spoke he smiled at the entire group with the most
delightful interest and pleasure. He was dressed in a straight black
coat with a plain silk vest cut around a white collar that buttoned in
the back, and his dull gold mane was brushed down sleek and close to his
beautiful head. Not a flash of expression in his strong face showed that
he felt any resentment or dismay at thus having some of his most
prominent church members backslide from his prayer meeting into a
fox-trot, and yet I knew--knew that he fully appreciated the situation
and laid the blame of it where the blame was due.

"Of course we will come to the services first--that is, if you--if you
don't object," Letitia said with her usual directness and lack of any
kind of finesse, thus bringing the situation to a decided head.

"Why not come over for the songs and then not stay for the conference?"
was the genial answer that positively astonished me, and as he spoke he
came up the steps and stood beside me. "Dabney and I found the first
Star of Bethlehem when we were weeding this afternoon. I brought it to
you carefully, and can I have a cup of that tea he has been trying to
make you serve for the last five minutes?" With these words the Reverend
Mr. Goodloe turned me around and sent me to the tea tray that Dabney
and Sallie had put on a table under the rose vine; but not before he had
taken up my hand, put the star flower in it and curled my fingers over
it. "I'll pass the muffins, Billy, and you take the cakes for Miss
Powers, and be more careful than you were last Sunday with my collection
plate for the poor." Billy feigned confusion, accepted the plate and was
just about to begin a defense, when a diversion occurred to stop him.

"There comes Mark and Mrs. Mark," he exclaimed, "but they have got an
offspring apiece in their embrace and several trailers. Somebody ought
to remonstrate with Nell Morgan or have the firmness to apply the
superfluous blind kitten treatment every spring. Three children are
patriotic, but five are populistic and ought to be frowned upon," and
Billy grumbled all the while the Morgans were flocking up the front
walk. When they came to the steps the Jaguar descended and held out his
clerically befrocked arms so that the gurgler from Mark's shoulder and
the giggler from Nell's arms both fell into his embrace at one time.
"You young marplots, you!" he said as the gurgler printed a wet kiss on
his left ear and regarded him with rapture while the small cooer,
proclaimed as feminine by neck and sleeve ribbons, cuddled against his
shoulder with soft confidence. "They're going to take you both down to
the river and drown you," he confided with a soft note in his voice that
was an answer to the coo.

"I wish you would," said Mark, as, with a laugh, he shook my hand
extended from the group around me, composed of Nell and the other three
kiddies, all crowded together in one passionate greeting. "Nurse and
Julia and the house and garden man have all gone to a wedding, so we
have fed 'em and are now starting out for a razoo, and we don't care
whether it lasts until midnight or not. Young Charlotte, you hug one
side of your Aunt Charlotte and let Jimmy get his innings on the other
side. Here, break away, all of you!" and while everybody laughed, Mark
disentangled the greetings, and seated the separated juvenile members in
a row on the steps beside the parson and the two babes. Nell he left in
the hollow of my arm.

"Oh, it is so good to have you at home, Charlotte," she said, with
another hug. "We miss you terribly. We depend on you for everything.
Things don't go right without you. I had a terrible time with--that is,
you haven't seen baby yet. Give her to me, Mr. Goodloe," and as she
spoke Nell leaned over to get the cooer out of the Jaguar's arms for my
inspection.

"You'll get neither Babe nor Suckling," was his answer as he cuddled the
two closer and hunched his shoulders in Nell's direction. "Don't you
know enough to let well enough alone? If they have got to go out to the
Club and fox-trot until midnight they ought to have repose now."

"We promised to be good at church, but we didn't promise anything about
the Country Club, and if we go there we are going to be as bad as
anybody out there is," announced small Charlotte with determined
composure. "Dabney says that fox-trotting is a devil's dance and we want
to see you all do it with him."

"Help!" exclaimed Billy, while Mr. Goodloe put his arm around Charlotte
and drew her to him with a kind of fierce tenderness.

"Isn't she awful?" exclaimed Nell. "We meant to ask you if we could take
them with us out to the Club to prayer meeting. Some of the Settlement
women bring their babies and I know mine will be as good. Charlotte and
Sue and Jimmy promised, and the sound of your voice bewitches the babies
as it does all of us."

As Nell finished speaking and bent to pat the head of the Suckling on
his shoulder, the Reverend Mr. Goodloe looked straight into my eyes and
laughed, perfect comprehension of me and my revolt in his direct
amethyst glances which shot into my depths.

"They are all going over to listen to Mr. Goodloe sing hymns at his
chapel, Nell, and then all of you are coming by here for me to go out to
the Club to dance a few hours," was my answer to the shot as I calmly
refused the invitation into the fold that had been given me with the
rest of the backsliding flock.

"We can't go--the babies would never in the world--" Nell was beginning
to exclaim.

"Drat 'em!" exclaimed Billy, looking down aggrievedly at the small crew
of marplots. "A pair of perfectly good chaperons are hard to get, and to
think of that bunch of little miseries getting in the way of a good old
fox--"

"They'll all go to sleep during the services and I'll keep them on my
bed in the parsonage until the fun is over, and agree to deliver them on
claim," Mr. Goodloe interrupted Billy to say with quiet decision.

"Now that is what I call some church relation, nursery and parsonage
combined," said Billy with the deepest gratitude. "The rest of you hurry
over those muffins, even if you haven't had any of Mammy's for six
months, and, since the chicken fry is off, go home to get suppers and
ready for psalm-singing and foxing. Parson, you are some sport, and I'll
hold both of those puppies while you drink your tea from the hands of
fair Charlotte."

"Thank you, I don't believe I want any tea after all, and I think I'll
take these 'puppies' on home with me through the garden, for they are
both dying to the world." As he spoke the parson rose to his feet and
stood with the two drowsing babies in his arms, looking down at me as I
stood with his cup of tea in my hand. And as he looked I felt my whole
rebellious heart and mind laid bare and I knew that he knew that I was
ready to fight him to the last ditch in the battle for possession of the
souls of my friends. I would fight for their independence of thought
and sincerity of life, and he would fight to lead them off into a far
country in quest of what I considered a tradition, a shibboleth, "a
potent agent for intoxication" of the reason by which man must progress.
I also knew that I faced a foe versed in the warfare between religion
and modern scientific decisions about it and that he would be one worthy
of my metal. His refusal of my cup of tea, for which he had announced
that he came, was his gauntlet and I accepted it as I turned with the
queer sugared rage in my heart and set the cup on the table.

And as I had planned, and the Jaguar directed, the evening came to pass.
While I slipped into some dancing fluff, the strains of the most
wonderful hymn that the Christian religion possesses floated across my
garden and into my window and again beat against my heart. The parson
was singing with the rest of them, but his voice seemed to lift theirs
and bear them aloft on the strong, wide wings that went soaring away
into the night, even up to the bright stars that gleamed beyond the tips
of the old graybeard poplars. A queer tight breath gripped my heart for
a second as his plea, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide," beat
against it, then I laughed it away.

"It _is_ 'a potent agent for intoxication' when brewed by the Reverend
Mr. Goodloe, and here's where I run, both physically and mentally," I
said to myself as I ran down the steps and out to the two cars that
stood honking impatiently by the gate.

I don't think I ever enjoyed a dance more, and I am sure that my
pleasure was partly due to the wild spirits of the religiously released
who were having the first joy fling for six months.

"I'll not get enough until I wilt upon the floor and have to be carried
out," said Billy, as he held me closer and slid two steps to the right
and then back to get me out of the way of Hampton and Harriet Henderson,
who were dancing with regardless joy.

"Will you feel that way about church next Sunday?" I asked him, but my
demand made no apparent dent, for he danced on without answering.

At an hour after that of midnight the revelers came home and left me at
my gate, by request, to walk alone in the brilliant spring moonlight
through my garden to the wide door back of the white pillars. After they
had seen me safely started, they glided away and I stood on the steps
and watched Nell and Mark reclaim their family from a tall dark figure
that carried out two loads to the parental arms. Then the hush that
comes upon the world in the midnight hours fell over the Poplars and I
stood leaning against one of the tall pillars and reveled in it.

Goodloets is one of the tradition-grayed old towns that are rooted deep
in the Harpeth Valley since the days of the Colonies, and in it can be
found perhaps the purest Americanism on the American continent. The
Poplars, under whose broad roof I made the seventh generation nested and
fledged, spreads out its wings and gables upon a low hill which is the
first swell of the Harpeth hills, and the rest of the old town stretches
out on the hillside before it down to the valley, in which runs the
Harpeth River, curving around the town and flowing out of the valley to
the Mississippi. Behind the Poplars roll the fields and meadows of the
Home Farm, which has given food and sustenance to the Poplars' brood
since the days of the redskins, when it was cleared by the first Powers
and his servants, with muskets ready to fire into the surrounding
forests. To the left of the Poplars and beyond the chapel lies the
Settlement, in which those lacking in worldly goods have lived for
generations in a kind of semi-poverty, which is about the only poverty
known in the Harpeth Valley. Lately, the Settlement has taken unto
itself a measure of prosperity, because of the great tannery and harness
works in its midst on the banks of the river, which is bringing in gold
from Russia and France. Everybody has made money in the last few years,
and the fashionable wing of Goodloets to the left of the Poplars shows
improvements and restorations that are both costly and sometimes
amazing. However, fortunately the inhabitants of the old village are
conservative, and very little of the delicious moss of tradition has
been scratched off; it has only been clipped into prosperous decorum,
and antiquity still flings its glamour over the town.

"I feel as much rooted as one of the old poplars," I said to myself as
some whim made me go down the steps and out into the garden, along the
walks with their budding borders of narcissus and peonies, down through
Nickols' sunken garden to the two oldest of all the poplars that now
seemed to be standing sentinel to prevent any raid from me on the little
stone meeting house over the lilac hedge. "You dear old graybeard," I
said to the one on my left, as I looked up and saw a faint feathering of
silver on its branches. And as I spoke I took the old trunk into my
embrace and laid my cheek against the rough bark.

And then something happened. Afterwards I was glad that I was leaning
against the strength of the old graybeard poplar and hidden behind it.

Suddenly from out the shadows beyond the lilac hedge, through whose bare
branches any movement in the yard of the chapel showed plainly, a woman
came stumbling along towards the gate and beside her walked the parson
with his arm supporting hers. She was sobbing the hard, dry sobs that
any woman knows are those of despair, and which call any other woman who
hears them. My first impulse was to run to the hedge and speak to her;
then I stopped, for I was arrested by what the parson was saying to her.

"What does it matter, Martha? You have your Master's forgiveness and His
permission to go and sin no more, even though those sins be as
scarlet." And as he spoke his voice was that of quiet authority as if he
felt fully his apostolic right to unloose sins upon this earth.

"He'll come back now that _she_ has, and he'll come to me again. I can't
fight him. I'll slip back into hell. Just give me the money to go out
into the city and I'll not bother anybody any more. I'll take the child
and I'll die for all anybody in Goodloets ever knows. Lend me the money;
I'll send it back!" The girl's voice was hard and defiant and she turned
and faced the minister as if at bay. "Give me that money, if all that
praying and singing and preaching that you've done is true. I want to go
in the morning before he follows her here and puts me in hell again. God
won't clean me twice."

"You shall go," came the calm answer in the apostle's beautiful voice,
"but I will have to have a few days to provide a place of safety for you
in the city, where the child can be cared for while you get suitable
work."

"I won't wait. He'll follow her and he'll look down on me and the child
and damn me again. I won't wait. I'm weak and I dasn't. Give me that
money to-night!" And the demand was passionate and savage.

"Then I'll meet you at the morning train with it and rush you to a place
of safety if there is no other way. You must go back home now, and it
will be best not to tell anyone where you are going until you no longer
fear your weakness, for they might betray your hiding place. Strength
will be given you, Martha, if you only ask."

"I'll pray, Parson, I'll pray, now that you are going to give me my
chance to get strong enough to be good. I'll work and I'll pray, but
hide me until I do get strong." And the hard, dry sobs melted as the
girl put her head down upon the gate a moment and then went out through
it.

"God bless you, child, and keep you ever in thought of Him," were the
words that she carried away with her as she hurried down the street
toward the Settlement.

Then for a second some awful fear came across my heart that I did not
understand. I now know that it was a premonition of what was to wring my
own heart and I cowered against the old tree in agony. Gregory Goodloe
was not more than six feet away from me on the other side of the
budding, fragrant hedge, and in the moonlight I could see the beautiful
strength of his golden head and strong placid face, on which lines of
pain were drawn, and I had to restrain myself from crying out to him in
my own pain. I wanted to go quickly and cling to his strength. Then I
stopped and listened.

He had raised his face to the stars and was praying.

"O Father," he asked, as if speaking to someone with whom he walked in
the cool of the midnight, "help the weak on whom the strong prey."

Then he went into the dark door of the little chapel and left me out in
the cold midnight alone. The fear was gone, and comforted I went back
through my budding garden and arrived at the front door just as old Mr.
Pate, the telegraph operator at the little station down the street,
turned in at the gate.

"Miss Charlotte," he puffed, as he fairly flung the telegram at me,
"this come fer you at ten o'clock and I risked it and run up here with
it after I heard them ottermobiles go by. I'm courting Mrs. Jennie Hicks
myself and I understands about courtings." And before I could speak he
had run on back down the street.

As I stood and looked at the yellow envelope fear again gripped my
heart, and without opening it I walked into the house, locking the great
door behind me with trembling fingers, and went toward a light I saw
shining from the trellised back porch and which I did not understand. I
have never in my life been the least bit afraid of anything, except
something within my own body, from the hideous pain of my green-apple
days to the pain I had felt as I talked beside the piano with Nickols in
New York, a thousand miles away; but something made me pause just for a
second in the pantry doorway before I stepped into the light upon the
porch. I shall never forget the scene that was enacted before my
wondering eyes in the dim light of a candle burning upon a table near
the refrigerator.

Father stood with a bowl of ice in his hand and his fingers were just
closing around a squat, black bottle that I knew contained the rarest
and choicest whiskey ever run from a distillery. His iron-gray hair was
rampant, his dressing gown fell away from his throat and showed the
knotting of the great cords that ran down into his shoulders, and his
dark eyes glittered under their heavy, black brows, while his mouth was
twisted and white. Then, as I looked, something happened. A stealthy
padding of feet came around the house from the garden and up the back
steps, under the budding rose vine that was climbing through the trellis
as if to clutch at the light, and a huge figure loomed up from out the
shadow.

It was the powerful Harpeth Jaguar out hunting, and his weapon was a
hoe, while under his arm he carried a roll that looked like a
contribution to a rag man of bedding and old clothes.

"I tell you, Mr. Powers, there is frost in the air and I have collected
everything in the parsonage that would cover those late anemones. I saw
your light and I thought you might add to the collection. Now what would
we do if they should be wilted by the frost just as they are ready to
burst bud? Our honor is involved with Graveson, who brought the seeds
all the way from Guernsey through the trenches of France and trusted
them to me for propagation. Why, they represent a man's life work, and
that life may be put out by a bullet any moment! We'll have to rescue
them." As he spoke, the great jeweled eyes shone with excitement under
the dull gold brows and he seemed not to see at all the incriminating
ice and bottle.

"Could you get into Mrs. Dabney's linen closet? We've got to have
something." He shivered in a little wind that blew under the rose vine
with a frosty gust. I was just observing that he was attired in his
pajama jacket and gray flannel trousers, and that his bare heels and
ankles declared themselves above and at the back of his slippers, when
my eyes were drawn to my father's face and rested there. My heart stood
still while I watched it change. All the pain and appetite, straining as
a beast strains at a leash, faded from his face. The deathly pallor
vanished and the color of human blood returned. The glitter in his deep
old eyes changed in a second from that of ferocity to that of anxious
excitement.

"I do not know where the household linen is kept and I hesitate to
disturb Dabney, as he retired with an aching tooth; but I observed a box
of my daughter's apparel beside a trunk in the back hall which Dabney
had not carried up on account of its weight and which he was requiring
his wife to unpack piece by piece. I'll raid it for enough to save our
treasures and accept whatever is my just chastisement in the morning,"
he said in a voice of guilty stealth.

And there I stood in the shadow of the pantry and saw my father take two
armfuls of my costly linen and lace out into the garden. Nothing was
spared me, for from the window I could see him and the marauding Jaguar
weight their perfumed whiteness down with sticks and stones and clods of
earth. I suffered, but silently.

"Good night, sir. God's blessing," I heard the rich voice calling as the
half-bare feet padded away as swiftly as they had come through the
garden, leaving father standing under the rose vine watching him go. And
I watched father--and for some reason my breath seemed suspended in my
lungs.

For a very long minute he stood looking at the ice bowl and the bottle;
then with a queer wry smile he walked over and put them both in the
refrigerator, though the bottle's place was in the sideboard, and closed
the door carefully. Then he paused again and said under his breath,
"_You_, Judge Nickols Morris Powers!" He smiled at himself with
humorous pity and tiptoed past me into the front hall and up the
stairway to his rooms above.

I seemed to feel strange padding footsteps down in my depths and I also
tiptoed up to my room after I had heard his door shut.

After I had switched on my light (for under the roof of the Poplars
electricity had come to aid the candles of hallowed tradition, and was
called by Mammy, in deep suspicion, "ha'nt light") I discovered clutched
in my cold fingers the yellow envelope the romantic Mr. Pate had brought
to me in the midnight. It read:

     "Am coming down on Friday. Am afraid to trust the world and the
     flesh and think the third member of the carnal firm ought to be
     on the job.      N."

"Now I am frightened really," I confided to myself as I slipped between
the scented sheets and drew a corner of the rose-colored blanket over my
head. "I don't know what to do."



CHAPTER IV

TO TURKEY GULCH


The next morning I was very late in descending to my breakfast, but
arrived in time to witness Mammy's arraignment of my father, which was
conducted in perfect respect, but with great severity.

"I know, Jedge, that menfolks don't know lace that costs a million
dollars a yard from a blind woman's tatting, and that's what makes me
say what I does, that it sure am dangersome fer 'em to go on a rampage
in womenfolks' trunks. I ain't never goin' to git the stains from them
clods of earth outen my lambs' clothes, even if the minister did help
you put 'em on 'em."

"But, Melissa, those anemones were more valuable than any lace ever
manufactured, and I am sure that Charlotte will absolve me when she
hears of the exigencies of the case," father pleaded over the top of
his morning paper. Mammy was pretending to dust his study, as a blind to
the lecture she was administering.

"Yes, sir, I knows all that; but that lace was a heap more valuable than
that toothache in that wuthless Dabney's jaw, which he could er wropped
up, and hunted out all the old sheets for you instid of that petticoat
with them real lace ruffles," was Mammy's firm rejoinder, while she
passed a feather duster over the table and rolled her eyes at Dabney.

"Let's let them both off this time, Mammy. Dabney can take the trunks
where they belong and lock them up," I said, as I went toward the dining
room, while she followed to minister upon my tardiness.

"Them was all your finest lingerings," she said as she plied me with
breakfast. "And they was all lost on menfolks. They hasn't even one lady
rode by while I had 'em on the line in the sunshine," she grumbled as
she finally retired to the kitchen.

After finishing my coffee I sauntered to the front of the house, led by
a chorus of hearty laughter in a fluty tenor voice, accompanied by a
bass growl, in which I was sure that father was recounting the scrape in
which his and the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's anemone adventure had got them.
I assured myself that I was annoyed by this repeated early morning
invasion of ministerial calls and intended to retire to my room until it
was over, but without knowing why, I found myself in the library and
greeting the enemy.

"Please forgive us. The case was one of dire necessity," the Reverend
Mr. Goodloe pleaded, as he rose and took my hand in his, and held it in
such a way that I was forced to look in his face and smile, whether I
wished it or not.

"From ambush I saw you take them, and I was powerless to prevent," I
answered with a smile at father.

"I came over to ask you if you wouldn't like to go away out into the
Harpeth Hills on a mission with me this wonderful morning. I don't know
exactly whether I am called to officiate at a birth or a death or that
intermediate festivity, a wedding. This is the summons from an old
friend of mine:" As he spoke he held out to me a greasy paper on which
were a few words scrawled with a pencil.

     "Parson we need you in the morning bad. Please come with Bill
     as brings this. Bring a bible and liniment and oblige your true
     friend Jed Bangs and wife."

"Isn't your friend Bill able to elucidate?" I asked, as I passed the
paper on to father.

"Bill seems to be dumb without being deaf and has no histrionic talent
to act out the necessity, so I'm going with him. The Bangs family live
up on old Harpeth at Turkey Gulch, and Jed has shot partridges with me
all winter. Please, you and the Judge, come with me. I can get the car
over Paradise Ridge if I turn it into a wildcat. The morning is
delicious, and I feel that I'll need you both." Never in the world have
I heard a man's voice with such compelling notes in it that range from a
soft coax to a quiet command.

I had not the slightest idea of going with him and I was about to refuse
with as much sugary hauteur as I dared use to him, when I looked into
father's face and accepted. I had never been on a picnic with my father
in my life and I could not understand the pleading in his eyes for my
acceptance of this invitation to an adventure in his company, but then,
several times since I had come home, I had seen a father I had never
known before, and he fascinated me.

"The mountain laurel is in bloom and the rhododendron, and you are a
very gracious lady," the Reverend Mr. Goodloe assured me with a deep bow
over my hand, which he kissed in a very delightful foreign fashion which
made Mammy, who had come to the door to hear my decision, roll her eyes
in astonishment which, however, held no hint of criticism, for with her
the spiritual king could do no wrong.

"I got a snack fixed up jest's soon as that Dabney tol' me about the
junket," she announced. "And I'll put a little wine jelly and flannels
in if it am a baby and a bunch of white jessimings in case it am a
death."

"Suppose it is a wedding?" I asked her.

"I don't take no notice of weddings. It was a wedding that got me into
all the trouble of that Dabney and his wuthless son, Jefferson, what
ain't like me in no way." With which fling at Dabney--who was hovering
at the door--she rolled herself back to her kitchen.

"What have you been doing to her now, you rascal?" father demanded of
Dabney, who was handing him his hat and holding out his light overcoat
to put him into it.

"I jist stepped into the kitchen while her light rolls fer supper was
raisin' and got a ruckus fer it," was his mild answer. Dabney lived his
connubial life mildly in the midst of the storms of his better half.

"Well, don't do it again. And put that spade in Mr. Goodloe's car, for
I'm going to bring in some honeysuckle roots and a laurel sprout or two
to try out in the garden," father commanded, as I took my coat and hat
from the chair where I had thrown them the afternoon before, and went
out to the very unministerial-looking car which stood before the
parsonage.

Of course, I had accepted the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's invitation for the
journey out into the hills in order to sit beside this very new kind of
father I was dimly discovering myself to possess, but I do not to this
day know how it happened that I was crushed against the arm steering the
gray racer as we sped through Goodloets toward Old Harpeth, while the
judge sat beaming, though silent, beside the more silent Bill--who did
not beam, but looked out at the road ahead with the shadow in his face
of the fatalism that so many of the mountain folk possess.

We were just turning out from the edge of the town, past the last house
with its stately white pillars, when a bunch of pink-and-white
precipitated itself directly in front of the car--which made the first
of the wildcat springs that its master had prophesied for it and then
stood with its engine palpitating with what seemed like mechanical fear,
while I buried my head on the strong arm next to me, which I could feel
tremble for an instant as the Reverend Mr. Goodloe breathed a fervent,
"Thank God." Father rose from his seat with a good round oath and silent
Bill snorted like a wild animal.

"Why didn't you stop when you saw me coming?" an imperious young voice
demanded in tones of distinct anger, and Charlotte, my name daughter of
the house of Morgan, calmly climbed up on the running board, over the
door next to father, and settled herself in between him and the silent
Bill. "Now you can go on," she calmly announced, in a very much
mollified tone of voice as she shook out her ruffles into a less
compressed state and wiped her face with her dirty hand, much to the
detriment of the roses in her cheeks.

"Where are you going, Charlotte, may I inquire?" asked the Reverend Mr.
Goodloe in a cheerful and calm voice, though I saw that his fingers
still trembled on the steering wheel as he held back the enraged gray
engine. I was still speechless and I saw that father was in the same
condition.

"You said I might go 'next time' when my Auntie Harriet didn't want me
to go with you last Tuesday on account of my stomach from the raw potato
Jimmy dared me to eat. This is that time," she calmly answered, as she
gave an interested look at the silent Bill and again settled the short,
pink skirts.

"Yes, I did say that," admitted Mr. Goodloe, as he turned in his seat as
far as he could and began to argue the question. "But we shall be gone
almost all day and I am afraid your mother wouldn't want you to be gone
that long."

"Is it true for you to say that when you know that she will be mighty
glad for you to keep me safe with you all day?" Charlotte demanded of
him, looking directly into his smiling, friendly face.

"No, that wasn't quite honest, I'll admit," he answered her gravely with
the guilt of conviction showing in his face just as plainly as it would
have shown if one of his deacons had caught him evading a question of
grave moment. "And as it is the fulfillment of a promise which you
claim, I am going to ask Miss Powers and the judge if they will permit
me to add you to the party, and then go and get permission from your
mother to take you with us."

"My mother told me to go and bother Auntie Charlotte an hour or two and
that was when I met you. I ran into the car just minding my mother,"
Charlotte answered him with calm pride at her near achievement of death
through literal obedience.

"Just drive by and we'll call to Nell. I am afraid the case must have
been desperate, for I am seldom the victim," I said in an undertone to
our host, who acquiesced with a laugh. "Harriet Henderson must be dead,
for Nell usually sends the worse one to her," I added under my breath.

"My Auntie Harriet is having a man cut the ache out of one of her
teeth," Charlotte remarked, apropos of nothing, as the huge car swung
around into the street in which the Morgans reside. "And, besides, I
don't like her any more, because, when she said Sue had to have part of
the doll house she bought for us to play in down at her home, and I said
then Sue would have to take the outside because I wanted the inside, she
locked it up for all this week."

"The modern business acumen of the feministic persuasion," father
remarked, as we all laughed at this candid revelation of an egocentric
attitude of mind in small Charlotte.

After a few whirls of the gray wheels we paused a moment at the Morgan
gate.

"Heavens, yes, and thank you," called Nell in response to our demand for
her small daughter's company. "If I had another one clean, I'd give it
to you."

"Better go on quick, for Jimmy can wash in a piece of a minute if he
wants to," warned Charlotte, and in a second the parson had sent the
gray car flying out toward Old Harpeth, though I saw him glance back
with a trace of distress in his eyes at the fading vision of a small boy
running, howling, to the front gate of the Morgan residence.

"Now mother'll whip him for crying if she does as she says she would,
but she won't," observed the tender big sister, as she rose to her feet
and waved a maddening farewell to the distressed urchin being left
behind.

"Is she totally depraved?" I asked of the young Charlotte's spiritual
adviser at my side.

"No; perfectly honest," he answered me with a glint in his eyes that was
a laughing challenge.

"There is something awful about honesty," I answered, without appearing
to notice the glint.

"There wouldn't be if it were a universal custom," was the answer I got
as we whirled by a farmer's wood lot and began to climb the first
foothill of Old Harpeth.

All my life I have been going out to Old Harpeth on excursions, but
never had I spent a day like the one I had begun with the Jaguar in his
native fastnesses. The whole old mountain was beginning to bud and I
could almost see it draping on a regal Persian garment of rose and green
threaded with purple and blue woven against the old brown and gray of
the earth color. The wine-colored trillium with its huge spotted leaves,
the slender white dog-tooth violets, the rose-pink arbutus, the blue
star myrtle and the crimson oak buds, were matted into a vast robe that
was gorgeously oriental, while a perfume that was surely more delicious
than any ever wafted from the gardens of Arabia floated past us in gusts
through which the gray car sped without the slightest shortness of
breath. I seemed a million miles away from the great fetid city in which
I had been living--and fast going farther. As we wound up and up into
the great forest which is the crown of Old Harpeth, we could look down
through occasional vistas and see the Harpeth River curling and bending
through pastures in which the chocolate plowed fields were laid off in
huge checks with the green meadows, while the farmhouses and barns
dotted the valley like the crude figures on a hand-woven chintz.

There are very few men who know enough not to talk to a woman when she
has no desire for their conversation, but the Reverend Jaguar seemed to
be one of the variety who comprehend the value of silences, and neither
of us spoke for at least ten miles, though, of course, it was his duty
to make hay while the sun of my nature shone upon him and delicately to
inquire into my spiritual condition. He didn't. He just let the wind
blow into my empty spaces and kept his eyes and thoughts on the road
ahead of him. Charlotte's chatter with father was blown back from me and
I was happy in a kind of aloneness I had never felt before.

"We are in Hastings County now and in a few minutes we shall be in Hicks
Center, the county seat," were the first words that broke in on my
self-communion as we began to speed past rough board and log cabins,
each surrounded by a picket fence which in no way seemed to fend the
doorsteps from razor-back pigs, chickens and a few young mules and
calves. "It must be court day, for I don't see a single inhabitant
sitting chewing under his own vine and fig tree."

"Yes; it's the first Monday," answered father, as the gray machine
pulled gallantly through a few hundred feet of thick, black mud and
turned from the wilderness into the public square of the metropolis of
Hicks Center.

"Yes, court is in session and there the whole population is in the
courthouse," said father, as we glided slowly down the village street.
"They must be trying a murder or a horse-stealing case," and I saw his
eyes gleam for a second under their heavy brows as the eyes of an old
war horse must gleam when he scents powder.

"Ugh," assented silent Bill, making the first remark of the journey, and
as he spoke the syllable he rose and pointed to the courthouse, which
stood in the midst of a mud-covered public square, completely surrounded
by hitching-posts to which were hitched all the vehicles of locomotion
of the last century down to the present in Hicks Center--which had not
as yet arrived as far as the day of the motor car.

"Is Jed in there, Bill?" demanded the Reverend Mr. Goodloe; and as Bill
assented with muscular vigor, if not vocal, he drew the gray car up
beside, an old-fashioned carryall, whose wheels were at least five feet
high and which had hitched to its pole an old horse and a young mule.

"That team makes a nice balance of--temperament," Mr. Goodloe remarked,
as he lifted out Charlotte and then turned to swing me, in his strong
arms, free of a mud puddle and onto the old brick pavement which was
green with the moss of generations.

Then, piloted by the silent Bill, we made our way through a quiet throng
of men and women and children, from the awkward age of shoe-top trousers
and skirts to that which, in many cases, was partaking from the maternal
fount, as the women stood in groups and whispered as they looked at us
shyly. Somehow their decorous calico skirts, which just cleared the
ground, made me feel naked in my own of white corduroy, which was all of
eight inches from the mud in which theirs had draggled.

And as silent as they, even Charlotte's chatter subdued, we entered the
court room and were led through a crowd up to the front seat. At least
the rest of us were seated, but the judge, jury and prisoner and
prosecuting attorney rose in a body and shook hands with the Reverend
Mr. Goodloe as if he were their common and best beloved son.

"He's been in the Harpeth Valley less than a year, and look at that.
We've been here all our lives and they don't know who we are,"
whispered father, with the same pride shining in his eyes that shone
upon the parson from the eyes of the gaunt prisoner, who rose and shook
hands with Mr. Goodloe with the sheriff beside him, while the rough old
judge from the bench waited his turn.

"We accommodated Jed by waiting until you come before we begun his
trial, Parson," the judge said, as he turned back to his bench, which
was a splint-bottom chair behind a rude table, dignity being lent to the
chair by its being the only one in the room. The rest of the population
of the court room of Hicks Center were seated upon benches made of split
and hewn logs.

"Thank you, Mr. Hilldrop," said the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, as he sat down
beside the prisoner and began a whispered conversation with him.

"The court have come to order. Shoot ahead, Jim, and tell us what Jed
have done and how he done it," commanded the judge, as he tilted back
his chair, took out his knife and began to whittle a stick of bright red
cedar. Twelve good men and true, attired in butternut trousers stuffed
into muddy boots, settled themselves in the jury box, which was a log
bench set at right angles to the other benches, a little apart from the
table and chair of the judge, and nine of them took out their knives and
bits of cedar and began to follow the lead of the judge in making fine
pink curls fall upon the floor.

"May it please your honor, the prisoner is charged with the stealing of
a young mule," said a lanky young mountain lawyer, who had put on a coat
over his flannel shirt and brushed a little patch of tow hair just above
his brows in deference to his position of prosecuting attorney.

"State yo' case," commanded the judge, as he tried the point of his
splinter against his thumb to test its whittled sharpness.

"Hiram Turner, over at Sycamore, lent Jed a team of mules to haul his
daughter, who married Jed, home in a wagon with her beds and truck, and
when he come down Paradise Ridge to git the team, Jed claimed one had
got away from him and run off in the big woods. They was a horse and
mule trader come along the same day Jed lost the mule and when Hi and
his boy, Bud, knocked Jed down in a fight they found fifty dollars on
him in a wad what he won't say where he got it."

With which concise statement the prosecuting attorney sat down and
fanned his perspiring brow with his ragged felt hat.

"Got anything to say, Jed?" inquired the judge in a friendly and
leisurely fashion, after the accused had been duly sworn in by the
sheriff. "How come a man like you to let a mule git away from him?"

With the judge's friendly question there entered another actor on the
scene, in the person of a mountain girl who had been cowering on a bench
just behind Jed, her face hidden by a black calico split bonnet.

"Please lemme tell, Jed," she pleaded in a soft whisper that only father
and I heard, as we sat just behind her.

"Naw," was the one word he gave her, but it was spoken with a soft
little purr in his husky voice. Then he answered the judge with a kind
of quiet dignity, which I saw that the twelve booted jurymen listened to
with respect.

"Jedge," he said, with a stern look into the judge's face, "I reckon
you'll have to send me down to the pen. I let that mule git away from me
and I didn't steal or sell him; that is all I got to say." And he sat
down. I felt father start at my side and then sink back onto his bench.

"Where did you git the money, Jed?" the judge demanded.

"That I ain't a-telling," answered Jed determinedly. "Jest send me down
to the pen, fer you-all know all you'll ever know."

"Well, Jed," the judge was beginning to say in an argumentative tone of
voice, when father arose and stepped in front of the bench.

"May it please your honor to appoint a counsel for the defense?" he
asked in a ringing voice that brought all the outsiders crowding into
the door. I had never heard or seen my father in a court room and I had
never suspected him of the resonant silver voice with which he made his
demand.

"We ain't got a lawyer in Hicks Center but Jim Handy here, and he can't
prosecute and defend too. I always kinder looks out fer the prisoners
myself," answered the judge.

"Then may I offer myself to the prisoner to conduct his defense?" father
demanded, and he looked over at Jed, who in turn looked at Mr. Goodloe
before he nodded.

"Then shoot ahead, stranger. Jim have told all they is about it, but
you can have Hi and Bud Turner sworn in and git any more they have got
to say. Them men speaks truth when they speaks." At which statement
every good man and true nodded his head with firm conviction. A gaunt
old mountaineer who sat over by the window cleared his throat in an
embarrassment that marked him as the Hiram Turner alluded to.

"I don't think I shall need the testimony of Mr. Turner or his son,"
father answered quietly, as he stood tall and straight before the jury.
"I want to put Mr. Bangs' wife on the witness stand and question her
before the jury. Sheriff, call Mrs. Bangs."

"Naw, stranger, naw," said Jed, and he rose as if to combat, but Mr.
Goodloe laid a restraining hand on his arm, and trembling, he took his
seat.

"Don't tell nothing, honey," he whispered, as the girl rose from her
bench, laid aside her cavernous black bonnet and advanced, took the oath
administered by the sheriff and stood facing father.

"Now, Mrs. Bangs," said father, with silvery tenderness in his voice
which I felt sure had gained him the reputation of never having lost a
case in which a woman was involved, "I want you to tell us all that
happened on the day that Jed let the mule escape him. Look at me and
tell me all about it."

"Well, stranger," began the mountain girl, with a look of confidence
coming into her face that was like a little pink wide-open arbutus, "I
reckon you won't believe me--like Jed didn't at first, though he do
now."

"Don't tell, honey," the prisoner commanded and implored in the one
plea. "I'd rather take the pen. They won't believe you."

"It war this way," she continued, without seeming to hear the command of
her young husband, upon whose arm the parson again laid a restraining
hand. "Jed he had unhitched the team and tied them with their rope
halters to the fence 'fore our cabin, when it was almost dark 'fore we
got thar. Then while I was unpacking the wagon he got on one horse and
rid down the side of the gulch to see whar water was at. I was jest
takin' the things in when a man come along leading five mules and riding
on one. He was a city stranger in fine clothes and he asked me fer a
meal because he had lost his way from a man who had a tent and grub. My
mammy allus cooked fer strangers, so--"

"She shore do that," ejaculated Mr. Turner, proud of his noted
hospitality.

"So I made up a fire hasty in the yard and put on a coffee pot," the
girl continued. "I had some corn pone and bacon my mammy had give me fer
a snack and I het that up. Whilst I got the meal the stranger he went on
unloading our wagon and then he come to a bundle of bed quilts what my
mammy have been saving fer me from her mammy and her grandmammy. He took
a notion to them and ast me how old they was and I told him about as old
as any twenty-inch cedar on Old Harpeth. He asked me to trade 'em, but I
couldn't abear to until he had riz to fifty dollars, what was the price
of a young mule, all on account of his sister wanting quilts like them
up in a big city. I was kinder crying quiet at letting 'em go, but I
thought about what that mule would be to Jed who wuz so good to me, so I
give 'em to him and he tied 'em on his saddle and went away. It war most
a hour when Jed come and when I told him and showed him the money, he
didn't believe me about them old quilts and he tooken the rope from
around the neck of the mule he'd been riding and--"

She paused here in her story and put her scarlet flower face in her
hands, while Jed groaned and dropped his own face down upon his arm. The
old judge's face took on a grim sternness, the jury stopped whittling
and the face of every woman in the court room gazed upon the girl with
stern unbelieving accusation.

"Go on, now, honey, but they won't believe you," commanded Jed with a
sob.

"Your husband took the rope from around the neck of the mule and left
him untied?" asked father gently.

"What fer, Melissa?" asked the old judge, without gentleness or any show
of confidence in what the shrinking woman was saying.

"To beat me with. He war crazed mad and called me a name, but I don't
hold it ag'in him," answered the young wife, with a glance at the
cowering prisoner.

"He done right," calmly announced one of the twelve good men and true,
in the muddy boots and flannel shirt, and every mountain woman in the
court room nodded her head in approval of the pronouncement.

"Order in the court room. You all shet up and listen," commanded the
judge, as father looked around the room and then at him with a stern
demand for control of the situation.

"Then what happened, Mrs. Bangs?" father continued to question.

"I hollered and fought and skeered the mule off into the big woods where
he can't be found to keep my husband out of the pen," she answered with
a sob. "It took me a week to make him believe about them quilts and then
pappy come along and fought him about the mule and found the money, as
he claimed he sold the mule fer what was the quilt money."

"That will do. Thank you, Mrs. Bangs," said father, with the same
deference and tenderness he had used when he began to question her.
"Does the prosecution wish to question the witness?"

"They ain't no use of questioning her when she says a man give her fifty
dollars fer five old quilts," was the answer made by the young
prosecuting attorney, who did not rise to his feet to make this remark.

"Please ask Mrs. Bangs if the quilts were woven ones of three colors,
and then call me to the stand," I said to father quickly.

He put the question to the weeping young wife and got an affirmative
answer, after which he dismissed her and had the sheriff swear me in.

"Can you throw any light upon the matter of the purchase or sale of
these quilts, Miss Powers?" father questioned me formally.

"If they were old hand-woven, herb-dyed, knitted quilts, they are worth
fifty dollars apiece in New York to-day. I paid that for one not five
months ago," I said, staring haughtily into the calmly doubting faces of
the mountaineers in the jury box and on the benches.

"Do you want to question the witness?" my father asked of the indolent
young prosecutor.

"Don't know who she is and don't believe she is telling the truth," was
the laconic refusal of the prosecutor to let me influence his case.

"Well, now, Jim, Parson Goodloe here brought the gal along with him and
I reckon he can character witness for her," interposed the judge.
"Sheriff, swear in the parson." His command was duly executed.

"Mr. Goodloe, do you consider Miss Powers a woman who can be depended
upon to speak the truth?" father asked him formally.

"I do," the Reverend Mr. Goodloe answered quietly, and just for a second
a gleam from his eyes under their dull gold brows shot across the
distance to me, and if it hadn't all been so serious I should have
laughed with glee at his thus having to declare himself about my
character in public. But the next moment the situation became much more
serious and my heart positively stopped still as I seemed to see prison
doors close upon the young husband.

"Do you want to question the witness?" father asked of the lolling young
prosecutor.

"How long have you known the lady, Parson?" he asked, with a drawl and
one eye half closed.

There was an intense silence in the court room for almost a minute. Then
the Reverend Mr. Gregory Goodloe answered calmly:

"Three days."

"That might be long enough fer a parson, but it ain't fer a jury," the
young attorney answered, and there was a quizzical kindness in the old
judge's face as he smiled at Mr. Goodloe and shook his head.

Mr. Goodloe started to speak, but father waved him back to his seat,
turned to the judge and jury and began the most wonderful speech on the
subject of circumstantial evidence and ethical law that I have ever
heard. His beautiful deep voice was as clear as a bell and twenty years
seemed to have fallen from his shoulders. I was looking at and listening
to the man he had been before I was born. And when I could tear my eyes
from his radiant face I watched these stolid mountaineers with whom he
was working his will with a power they had never experienced before and
did not understand. The men in the jury box and the men on the hewn
benches dropped their eyes before his flaming ones as he shamed their
censorious manhood and some of the sun-bonneted women bent their heads
and sobbed when he arraigned them for the lack of motherhood and
sisterhood for the poor young wife who had come over the Ridge to live
among them.

"Would you men and women rather believe a girl light of love and
faithless, and send your neighbor to prison for two years of his young
life when he could mean much to you and his state and his nation, than
to give them a little human sympathy and justice. Do you prefer to pin
your faith to the value of a worthless, vagrant mule than--"

But just here, when Judge Nickols Morris Powers was winding himself up
for one of the greatest appeals to a jury he had ever made, a mule
stepped into the case and took away the honor of its winning. He poked
his inquisitive nose into a back window of the court room which looked
out upon the edge of the big woods, and gave the whole assemblage a
hew-haw of derision.

"Lordy mighty, that are Pete come back hisself with all the curkles in
the big woods sticking to him!" exclaimed Hiram Turner, as he rose and
went to examine his property. "He wasn't sold to no mule man, fer they
crops the hair on their hoofs to see if they's healthy 'fore they buys.
This here frees Jed."

"And now that you gentlemen have the testimony of a mule, will you not
believe the word of Mrs. Bangs and Miss Powers about the valuable
quilts?" my father said, after he had commanded silence by raising his
hand.

"We shore do believe every word of it, stranger, and you won this here
case and not that mule," a stern old sister in a gingham apron and black
bonnet said, with a commanding glance at the jury.

"Yes, stranger," answered the hoary old foreman, whom to this day I
believe to be the meek husband of the commanding old woman in the black
bonnet. "I have done got the mind of the jury and they all voted fer you
and not the mule."

"I hereby gives that mule to Jed Bangs and my daughter, Melissa, and
I'll knock off a half on the price of his teammate to Jed if he gives me
his fergiveness and hern," old Hiram rose and turned with his hand on
the forelock of the mule hero to say to the assembled court room. "Go
around and halter him quick, Jed, 'fore he breaks away again, the durned
fool," he added in another voice.

"Yes, prisoner, you are declared free, and hurry to ketch him, fer he's
straining ag'inst Hiram," was the judge's sentence, delivered from the
bench as everybody rose and began to stream out to watch the tussle
between Jed and the wild mule. Father and the parson were among the
first to gain the door.

In the next few minutes I found that some of the shy mountain women were
beginning to hover about me, and in another ten minutes I had laid the
foundations of an export rug and quilt business that I have a feeling
will thrive greatly.

"Were you arrested because your mother told you not to sell the quilts?"
was Charlotte's sympathetic question to the young Mrs. Bangs; and I saw
the mite take a clean handkerchief from her small pink pocket and apply
it to the tears that were coursing down Melissa's cheeks over the
dimples which her smiling mouth was putting in their way. "Just be a
good girl and God will forgive you," she comforted further, nestling a
dirty pink cheek, which rubbed off, against Melissa's wet one.

"And I asked if she were totally depraved, less than an hour ago," I
apologized to my name daughter in my heart.

All the way home I sat beside father, and once I laid a timid hand in
his, through whose fingers the pride I had in him must have flowed into
his. He flushed for a second and then was pale again.

"You can't put new wine in old bottles, daughter," he said sadly, as he
glanced down into the valley. The car was running smoothly, slowly and
noiselessly around a sharp curve, and the Reverend Mr. Goodloe both
heard and answered the sad axiom.

"The finest wine mellows in casks and is then bottled free of dregs,
Judge. I think the wine of life is of that vintage," he said, with one
of his radiant smiles that I could see fairly warm father from his
paleness.

"I wonder just what he meant by 'the wine of life,'" I asked myself as I
went to say good night to Old Harpeth after I put out my light before
going to bed.



CHAPTER V

HAVING IT OUT


"Well, of course, we knew Nickols would follow you, Charlotte, but we
did hope to have you all to ourselves for more than just a week," moaned
Nell Morgan, as we all sat on the front porch of the Poplars in the warm
spring sunlight several mornings after I had told them of Nickols'
arrival on Friday, which announcement had come in the midnight telegram.
I winced at the words "follow you," and then smiled at the absurdity of
the little shudder.

"Yes, Nickols will be absorbing, but we can all sit hard on him and
perhaps put him in his place," responded Letitia Cockrell, as she drew a
fine thread through a ruffle she was making to adorn some part of the
person of one of Nell's progeny. "I do not believe in ever allowing a
man to take more than his share of a woman's time."

"Do you use grocery scales or a pint cup to measure out Cliff Gray's
daily portion of yourself, Letitia?" asked Harriet Henderson, with a
very sophisticated laugh in which Nell joined with a little giggle.
Harriet was appliqueing velvet violets on a gray chiffon scarf and was
doing it with the zest of the newly liberated. Roger Henderson had had a
lot of money that, in default of a will, the law gave mostly to Harriet,
but in life he had not had the joy of seeing her spend it that he might
have had if he could have gazed back from placid death. "Do you make the
same allowance of affection to him in the light of the moon that you do
in the dark?" she further demanded of the serene Letitia.

"Well, he doesn't have to see his share divided up into bits and handed
out to the other men," was the serene answer to Harriet's gibe and which
was pretty good for Letitia.

"My dear child," declaimed Harriet, as she poised a purple violet on the
end of her needle, "don't ever, ever make the mistake of letting one of
the creatures know just what is coming to him. Isn't that right, Nell?"

"Yes, and it is pretty hard to keep them in a state of uncertainty
about you when there are four certain children between you, but I go
over to visit my mother at Hillsboro as often as she'll have the caravan
and plead with Billy Harvey or Hampton Dibrell to keep me out until I'm
late for dinner every time they pick me up for a little charitable spin.
That and other deceptions have kept Mark Morgan uncertainly happy so
far, but if I am pushed to the wall I'll--I'll go to the Reverend Mr.
Goodloe's study for ministerial counsel like you did last Friday
afternoon, Harriet," was Nell's contribution to the discussion, which
she delivered over the head of the Suckling on her breast.

"Now how did you get hold of that choice bit of scandal, Nellie?" asked
Harriet, with serene interest as she bit off a tag of purple silk thread
from the stem of one of her violets.

"Billy Harvey says that scandal is a yellow pup that dogs a parson's
heels, to which everybody throws some kind of bone," remarked Jessie.
Jessie always vigorously represses Billy in his own presence and then
quotes him eternally when he is absent.

"Mother Spurlock had come over from the Settlement to see him about the
state of the treasury of the Mothers' Aid Class, and she stopped in to
get a bundle of clothes I had for her," Nell answered Harriet's
question. "She said she didn't mind the hour lost if the parson could
give a 'wee bit of comfort' to your 'wrestling' soul. I didn't like to
tell her that I thought it might be Mr. Goodloe who was wrestling--for
life and liberty--for you and I have been friends since we could toddle,
Harriet, but it was temptation to share my anxiety with her." And
serenely Nellie patted the back of the drowsing Suckling.

"Wrong this time, Nell," answered Harriet, as she placed still another
violet. "I was doing the wrestling, but I went to the mat. I gave up
twenty-five dollars and took the directorship of that Mothers' Aid.
Never having been a mother, I pointed out to him that I was not exactly
qualified, but he laid stress upon my energy and business acumen and I
gave up. I mentioned you for the honor, but those marvelous eyes of his
glowed with some sort of inner warmth and he said that you had all you
could do and would need help from me just as the women at the Settlement
do. I'm going to present your Susan with a frock out of that linen and
real Valenciennes I bought in the city last week for a blouse for my own
self, and I'm going to give the making to that little Burns woman, who
sews so beautifully and cheaply to support her seven offspring, while
Mr. Burns supports 'The Last Chance' saloon down at the end of the road.
In that way I'll be aiding two of Mr. Goodloe's flock at the same time,
and when I told him my decision he laughed and said be sure and have it
made two inches shorter than you made Sue's frocks, because her bare
knees ought not to be hid from the world. That was about all that
transpired in the whole hour of spiritual conference you are spreading
the scandal about, and you ought to be ashamed."

Suddenly something in me made me determine to have it out with those
four women and see what results I could get. I felt thirsty for
knowledge of the wellsprings of other people's lives.

"Harriet," I demanded, "just why did you join Mr. Goodloe's church?"

"Let's see," answered Harriet, as she poised a violet and gave herself
up to introspection.

"Mr. Goodloe?" I asked squarely, and my honesty drew its spark from
hers.

"Mostly," she answered briefly. "And I believe in the church as an
institution," she added, with honest justice to herself.

"I think it is absolutely horrid of you to ask a question like that,
Charlotte," said Nell, as she turned the fretting Suckling over on her
knee and began another series of pats. "We all of us went to church and
Sunday school when we were children."

"Up to the time I left, not a single one of you ever had gone to church
with any kind of regularity and not a one of you had ever supported its
institutions. I've been here less than a week and each one of you has in
some way shown me how bored you are with the relation. That's all the
case I have against your or any church--just that the members are bored.
Also, do any of you get any help in your daily lives, aside from the
emotional pleasure it is to you to hear your minister sing twice a week,
which would be as great or greater if he sang love and waltz songs from
light opera for you?"

And as I asked my question I looked quickly from one to the other of the
four women seated with me under the roof of the Poplars and tried to
search out what was in their hearts. I knew them and their lives with
the cruel completeness it is given to friends to know each other in
small towns like Goodloets and I could probe with a certain touch. And
as they all sat silent with me, each one driven to self-question by my
demand, I threw the flash of a searchlight into each of them. These are
some of the things that stood out in the illumination:

Harriet Henderson has always been in love with Mark Morgan, since her
shoe-top-dress days, and she married Roger Henderson because Mark was as
poor as she before the Phosphate Company gave him his managership. Nell
and the babies are the nails driven in her heart every day and she loves
them all passionately. She is only twenty-eight and life will be long
for her. She needs help to live it. Whence will the help come?

Nell married Mark when she was eighteen and has produced a result every
year and a half since. She loves him mildly and he loves her after a
fashion, but her endurance is wearing thin. His mother had seven
children and he thinks that an ideal number, though she was one
generation nearer the pioneer woman and also had a nurse trained in
slavery who was a wizard with children. Mark wants to have a lot of joy
of life and so far he drags poor exhausted Nell with him. It is a
question how long she can stand the social pace and the over-production.
What is going to help her when she breaks down? How will she hold him
faithful while she rears and trains all the kiddies? Where will she get
spirit to love him and work out their salvation? Also Harriet is always
there. Something will have to help Nell. What?

Billy loves Nell and doesn't know it. He loved her before she was
married. The children make him rage superficially and burn inwardly. He
gambles and drinks, but is honest and adorable. What is going to make a
real man of him?

Jessie Litton's mother died in a private sanitarium for the mentally
unbalanced and she knows all about it. She loves Hampton Dibrell and
never looks in his direction or is a moment alone with him. He is in the
unattached state of ease where any woman can get him if she cares to
try, and Jessie has to keep her hands behind her.

Letitia is serenely happy with not a dark corner that I know of. She
loves Cliff Gray and always will. Cliff is faithful and as good as gold,
but he will hang around Jessie, who encourages him, because she is
lonely and considers him safely tied up with Letitia. Mr. Cockrell is
the best lawyer in town and Mrs. Cockrell the most devoted wife and
mother. I can only feel that Letitia Cockrell needs a jolt and I don't
see where it is coming from.

And I? I am lonely. And I feel that the constant anxiety about father is
more than I can bear, worse now when I realize what he has been and
could be--and that I love him. He is the hardest drinker in Goodloets
and yet never is drunk. He is soaked from the beginning of one day to
another. He began to drink like that the day my mother died and I have
always known that _I_ was helpless to help him. The weakness was in him,
only supported by her strength so long as she was there. He was the most
brilliant mind in the state, and was one of the supreme judges when
mother died. Now Mr. Cockrell manages his business for him and I have
lately come to know that I must sit by and watch him disintegrate. I
cannot endure it now, as I have been doing. What is going to help me in
this--shame for him? I have gone away to my mother's people to forget
and left him to Dabney, and I've come home--to begin the suffering all
over. I'll never leave him again. What's going to help me?

And there is something deeper--a race something that fairly eats the
heart out of my pride. On almost every page of the history of the
Harpeth Valley the name of Powers occurs. One Powers man has been
governor of the state, and there have been two United States congressmen
and a senator of our house. Father is the last of the line. Because race
instinct is the strongest in women, I am the one who suffers as I see my
family die out. What is going to help me? A few gospel hymns in a tenor
voice the like of which I should have to pay at least three dollars to
hear in the Metropolitan? The scene on the porch rose in my mind, but I
felt that I both doubted and feared such succor.

And I am in still deeper depths. Nickols is the son of father's first
cousin, and has father's full name, Nickols Morris Powers, and he is the
last of his branch of the house. Father loves him and is proud of him
and nothing ever enters his mind except that I will marry Nickols and
start the family all over again. And this is the tragedy. I love Nickols
and am entirely unsatisfied with him. He is the Whistler nocturne that
my Sorolla nature demands, and he eternally makes me hold out my hand to
grasp--nothing. He stands just beyond. I am unable to decide whether he
does or does not love me. In New York he lives his life among the
artists and fashionable people with whom his highly successful
profession throws him, and I don't see why he cares to come back here
where he was born and reared, in pursuit of a woman like me. I am as
elemental as a shock of wheat back on one of father's meadows and
Nickols is completely evolved. He laughs at race pride and resents mine.
For six months I had been in New York living with Aunt Clara in Uncle
Jonathan Van Eyek's old house down on Gramercy just to go into Nickols'
life with him. I went about in the white lights of both Murray Hill and
Greenwich Village for about one hundred and eighty-five evenings, and
then I fled back to my garden and the poplars--and my anxiety. I thought
I had come home to be free and I found the same old chains. And then
had come Nickols' telegram of pursuit in the midnight after I had stood
by in the shadow and watched a strong man pray and a weak man battle
with himself. I was frightened, frightened at the future, and what was
going to help me?

"I don't actually understand a word of Gregory Goodloe's sermons, really
understand them, I mean, but it helps me to see that somebody truly
believes that there is something somewhere that will straighten out
tangles--in life as well as thread."

Harriet broke in on my still hunt into my own and other people's inner
shrines as she snapped a bit of tangled purple silk thread, knotted it
and began all over again on the violet.

"I don't care what he preaches about--he's soothing and I need a little
repose in my life after--Oh, what is the matter now?" And as she
finished speaking Nell Morgan arose and went with the Suckling asquirm
in her arms to meet the large noise that was arriving down the front
walk.

The delegation was headed by young Charlotte, whose blue eyes flamed
across a very tip-tilted nose that bespoke mischief. Jimmy stolidly
brought up the rear with small Sue clinging loyally to his dirty little
paddie, which she only let go to run and bury her cornsilk topknot in
Harriet's outspread arms, where she was engulfed into safety until only
the most delicious dimpled pink knees protruded above dusty white socks
and equally dusty white canvas sandals. Though within a few months of
four, Sue had discovered Harriet, and never failed to take advantage of
her.

"What is the matter?" again demanded Nell, as the vocal chords of
Charlotte ceased reverberating and her countenance resumed a more normal
color and expression.

"A rock flew and the minister's window got broked." Charlotte gave forth
this announcement with a diplomacy that might have been admirable
exerted in a juster cause.

"Who had the rock?" demanded the mother sternly.

"Jimmy," was the decided answer, given with a threatening glance at the
son of the house of Morgan, who quailed in his socks and sandals and
began an attempt to screw one of his toes under one of the flagstones of
the walk. I knew in an instant that that rock had never left the hand of
small James, but the clash of Nell's wits with young Charlotte is so
constant that at times the maternal ones are dulled. The accused must
have psychically scented my sympathy, for he lifted large, scared,
pleading eyes to mine for a brief second and then dropped them again. I
went to the rescue.

"Sue, who broke the window?" I asked, as I extricated the four-year-old
witness from Harriet's chiffon and violets. I doubted if young Susan had
attained the years of prevarication as yet. I was right.

"Tarlie," was the positive answer. "Boom--book--crk!" was the graphic
description of the crash she added as she squirmed back among the
violets and the needles and the thread.

"Charlotte!" exclaimed Nell, in real despair.

"Jimmy did have the rock in his pocket, and he just lent it to me to
throw at a bird right above the window. It was a nice round one, and he
brought it from home to see if he could kill anything. It most killed
the minister, and the rock is a little bluggy. Isn't it, Jimmy? He's
got it in his pocket for keeps."

"Yes," answered young James, with the brevity with which he usually made
responses to the loquacity of his sister.

"Do you mean that you hit Mr. Goodloe, as well as broke the window?"
demanded Nell in still more horror, as she came down two of the front
steps.

"He didn't mind," answered Charlotte. "He liked it, because he made us
both learn a verse of a hymn to sing for punish, and Sue can sing it,
too. Come on, Sue!" and before any of us could recover from our horror
at the violence the young parson had suffered at the hands of the
marauders, Charlotte had lined the other two up on either hand and begun
her exhibition of the benefit arising from the throwing of the rock. It
was a very good example of the good that may result from evil, which is
one of the puzzling reverses of one of the Christian tenets.

    "'Work, for the night is coming,
    Work through the morning hours,
    Work while the dew is sparkling,
    Work 'mid springing flowers,'"

trilled Charlotte in a high, buzzy young voice, while Jimmy piped in a
few notes lower. Baby Sue's little, clear jumble of words in perfect
tune was so bewitchingly sweet that Harriet again engulfed her, while
the outraged mother, not so easily beguiled, sailed down the steps and
around through the garden toward the chapel, driving the two older
offenders before her to the scene of the crime.

"Who is going to help Nell train up liars and murderers into good
citizens?" I asked myself in my depths, as I joined with the others in
the admiring laugh at young Charlotte's dramatic powers.

"Mr. Goodloe is the most wonderful thing I ever saw with kiddies," said
Jessie Litton, as she rose to her feet to begin leave-taking. "Yes, I
must go, for father expects me to luncheon," she added, at my
remonstrance.

"I'm going to kidnap Sue while I can, and I may never bring her back. I
must fly!" said Harriet, and she departed hastily to the small roadster
she had parked beside the gate. "Come on, Letitia, and let me take you
home," she called over her shoulder, and Letitia followed to secure the
short spin around the corner to the old Cockrell home, which was set
back from the street behind a tall hedge of waxy-leaved Cherokee roses.
Thus almost in the twinkling of an eye I was left alone, which state,
however, did not last more than a few seconds, for around the corner of
the house from the chapel, from which direction the whole world seemed
to be going or coming, arrived Mrs. Elsie Spurlock, beaming the welcome
to me that had always found a ready response.



CHAPTER VI

DEEP DIGGING


And in another twinkling of eyes, both of mine and hers, I had taken her
bundle from her, seated her in the largest rocking chair, and she had
untied her bonnet strings, which denoted that she had come for a genuine
visit.

"Well, dearie, dearie me, the sight of you is good for tired eyes,
Charlotte," she bumbled in her rich, deep old voice. As she spoke she
tucked a white wisp of a curl back into place beneath the second water
wave that protruded from under the little white widow's ruche in her
bonnet and continued to beam at me. "I met Nellie Morgan and her
Annarugans hurrying to pray a pardon from Mr. Goodloe for that rock
which might have killed him, if thrown an inch to the right, instead of
only nicking that yellow head of his, the Lord be praised!"

"What was that same Lord doing when he let the rock fly from
Charlotte's hand to within an inch of the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's life,
Mother Spurlock?" I asked her, with the old warfare over the same old
subject rising at the very first minute of our meeting. I have wondered
sometimes in the last few years if the wrestling with me over her faith
was not ordained for the purpose of strengthening Mother Spurlock's
powers of patient argument. She is the only person in the world to whom
I speak from the depths, and the relief of her sweetened and seasoned
wisdom is the straw at which I often clutch to save myself.

"I surmise that He guided the hand of that child so that the verse of
the hymn, and the chastisement of the rod I hope Nellie will inflict,
might work together for her good. All of us must at times let a little
blood for another's good--heart's blood, very often, not just that from
our scalps or shins." And as she answered me without a moment's
hesitation she enveloped me in loving question. "Are you always going to
occupy the anxious seat in front of the Lord, child? Still, sit as long
as you like and go on questioning Him. You'll find the answer."

"The whole town seems to have gone into your fold and left me on the
'anxious seat' alone," I answered, as I drew my chair nearer to her and
took her lined, strong old hand in mine.

"That Billy Harvey passes the collection plate up the aisle on Sunday
and plays poker all Saturday night till Sunday morning down at the Last
Chance, in a room in front of the one in which poor Pat Burns, who
carries a hod for his money, loses his all. Mary Burns sews all day and
half the night to feed him and the children, but she puts her pittance
into Billy's plate every Sunday, and I know that she gets the strength
to go on from day to day from the words that come from the same pulpit
he sets the plate behind. That is, we call the table out at your Country
Club a pulpit, until we get our own in the chapel from which to praise
the Lord. So you see that there are some sheep who have a taint of goat
hair in their wool still left--I won't say with you--out in the world.
And speaking of that world, have you come back to say good-bye to us?"

"I don't know yet, Mother Spurlock," I answered her candidly. "I ran
away from that world, but it is coming after me on Friday."

"You'll be sent into the vineyard where you are most needed, and there
you'll serve," she said, with a far-away look coming into her eyes as
she let her glances roam out to the dim hills of Paradise Ridge. A flood
of love and reverence rose in my heart for her as I sat quiet and let
her spirit roam. Mother Spurlock had been the gayest young matron in
Goodloets, living in the great old Spurlock home with handsome,
rollicking young George Spurlock for a husband, and three babies around
her knees, and in one short year she had been left with only one large
and three tiny graves out in the placid home of the dead, beyond the
river bend. The babies had been taken by that relentless child foe,
diphtheria, and young George, reckless with grief, had let a half-broken
horse break his neck. The young woman, aged by her grief, had sold the
great house to the next of kin and moved down into an old brick cottage
that sat "beside the road" in a gnarled old apple orchard, and had
become the "friend to man." Through the orchard and past the door of the
Little House ran the path that led from the Settlement to the Town, and
through her heart and hands flowed most of the love and charity that
bound the rich and poor, brother to brother. Mother Spurlock was never
without a bundle in which she carried labor of the poor sold for the
gold of the rich, or gifts from the rich back to the needy. I thought of
all the long years of service in the vineyard into which her tragedy had
thrown her, and I bent and picked up the bundle at our feet and held it
with reverent hands.

"Just a few baby things that Nellie Morgan gave me to fix up a poor
little Mother Only in the village," she came back from her reverie to
say cheerfully, as she saw me with the bundle in my hand. Mother
Spurlock always refers to the children without the sanction of the law
for their birth as the Mother Onlies, and somehow, when she speaks it,
the name carries a world of tenderness into the heart of the hearer.

"Whose now?" I asked her gently, because in a way Mother Spurlock and I
bore one another's burdens of spirit.

"Hattie Garrett's, and it's a week old now. It is one of the saddest
things that ever happened in the village, and we none of us understand.
You remember, she taught the district school down in the Settlement."

"As none of us understood about Martha Ensley. Is that all a mystery
still?" I asked, and I stroked the bundle of tiny garments.

"Yes, and now she's gone nobody knows where, day before yesterday.
Jacob, her father, was rough and violent with her, but only from grief,
and she forgave all that. I'm troubled sorely, for she is gentle, and
not one to fight the world alone. She must have gone to the city, the
good Lord help her!"

"He will--He is," I answered quickly, then stopped because I knew I must
not tell what I had overheard--should I say in the confessional?

"Praise God! to hear you speak such words. Sometimes a body's faith gets
out of her heart past her mind and proclaims itself before the higher
criticism gets a chance to throttle it," the invincible old warrior
exclaimed with a delighted twinkle in her young blue eyes at having
caught me with religious goods on me. "He will, He will take _care_ of
us all, not that He doesn't expect us to put in about sixteen hours of
the day helping Him to do it for ourselves and others. That reminds me
that I seem to be growing to this chair. Luella May Spain has got a nice
place to work in the telegraph station with Mr. Pate, and if she's to
look neat she needs a few white shirt waists. I _could_ get them in this
bundle. If I get too many things from you and Harriet this morning to
carry myself, Hampton will take me down the hill in his car when he goes
to lunch, not that I wouldn't be frightened to death to ride with him
except on the Lord's mission."

"Do you think that fact would keep Hampton from being run down by
Harriet when she cuts corners bias, as she insists on doing?" I asked,
as I started in the door to procure the toilet necessaries to Luella
May's telegraphic career, whether it devastated my supply of tennis
clothes or not. Nothing that any woman or any member of her family in
Goodloets wears or eats is secure from Mother Spurlock, and we have all
submitted to the fact with the greatest docility.

"I know it does; and three shirt waists will be enough if you add a neat
black belt," was the answer that followed me through the hall. "Bless
my life, Nickols Powers, I was glad to see you at prayer meeting last
week, even if you and William Cockrell were just caught up out at your
Club in your chess game," I heard her exclaim, to draw a laughing answer
in father's most genial rumble. Then I heard him call loudly for Dabney,
and when Sallie descended with my bundle, that contained a complete
telegraphic outfit for Luella May which showed a decided leaning to
tennis style, she met Dabney on the front threshold with a rough parcel
from which I saw a shirt sleeve and a blue serge trouser leg protrude.

"Thank you, Nickols. Since his accident, Bill Hanks has thinned out to
just about your size. Now he can go back to his job neatly and
respectably clad," Mother Spurlock was saying.

"The citizens of Goodloets had better take the habit of wearing a double
suit of clothing for fear of having Elsie Spurlock strip them in public
to beyond the law," father grumbled in great pleasure, after he had
packed her and her bundles in Hampton's car. Father always calls Mother
Spurlock "Elsie," and once or twice I have seen a faint blush creep to
her cheeks and a glint flash from her eyes, but he blandly goes on
doing it. I wonder--

"Father," I said, as we went slowly up the front walk together, "Nickols
will be here on Friday; will you have Dabney get his rooms in the north
wing ready for him? He likes that light, and he can use the long green
room for a studio when he sketches."

"That's good," answered father heartily. He likes Nickols and Nickols
manages him beautifully, by giving him all he wants to drink whenever he
suggests it, even introducing him to new Manhattan beverages. There is
perpetual war between Dabney, who knows father's nervous limit, and
Nickols, who doesn't care just as long as things and human beings that
surround him are kept pleasant. It is all right for the rest of the
world to have delirium tremens, just so they do it out of his sight and
hearing.

"I wonder just what Nickols will think of Goodloe," father added, with a
slightly strained laugh. "You thought he would be enraged at Goodloe and
me for building the chapel and weeding the garden. Perhaps he will be
unhappy."

"I don't believe your weeding would make anybody unhappy, father," I
answered with a laugh, choosing to ignore the issue of the building of
the chapel until Nickols was upon the scene and we could decide just
what to do.

"Been over the whole garden twice and eaten several meals in the sweat
of my brow--that is, I took a cold shower before coming to the table, my
daughter," father said, and he looked ashamed of himself for being proud
of his own spurt of normality. I caught my breath, but I was wise enough
not to show my astonishment. "Goodloe is the most insinuating person I
ever met, and I advise you to be careful. He makes men do just as he
wants them to, and I should say that women would eat out of his hand."

"I suppose I ought to eat a bite or two from his fingers to pay for all
the work he has got out of you and Dabney. I never saw the garden so
beautiful or so early. Look, father, the peonies are budding, two weeks
ahead of their usual time!"

"They'd be damned ungrateful not to grow industriously, after the way
Dab and I have sprained our old backs spading and feeding them according
to spiritual direction that stood over us with a rake," answered
father, with proud if profane enthusiasm. There was a faint pink glow in
his haggard, thin cheeks, and he took from his pocket a huge knife I had
never seen him use before and began carefully to cut away a few dead
twigs from a budding rose vine.

"Your mother always put a rose from this vine at my plate for breakfast,
and you got yours from that pink bush over there by the sun dial," he
said, with a softness in his voice that I had not heard since my tenth
summer, in which my mother had died. I tingled all over, but held on to
myself.

"You go tell that old black lazybones to come here with his spade this
minute. I told him about digging in this mulch yesterday before the
dahlias sprouted, and he hasn't done it. I'm not going to do it for him,
like I put the fertilizer around the lilacs, just to save him from
Goodloe. Tell him to come right here to me, and not to let grass grow in
his shoe tracks," and father picked up a hoe from the walk beside the
neglected dahlias and began doing the work he had just declared against.
I fled around to the kitchen, and something lent wings to my feet.

"Oh, Dab, what does it mean that father is really taking an interest in
the garden?" I demanded of the faithful old black friend, whom I found
enveloped in a kitchen apron helping his wife bring the dinner to a
serving head.

"Praise God, his salvation am commenced, if it don't kill me before he
gits it," answered Dab, as he put his hand to his back and groaned.

"They has been jest one-half a demijohn of devil heart whisky ordered up
outen that cellar in over a month, and I b'lieve this here no account
nigger drunk a pint of that," Mammy added to his answer. "Last month it
was two demijohns they had up, and before that it was three or four.
That parson done it with readin' and talkin' and hoein'. Glory! I wants
to hold my breath and shout at the same time, and I would if I could
trust this pullet in the skillet to either you or Dabney whilst I did
it. The Lord wouldn't listen to no shoutin' from a cook whose chicken
was frying black while she did her praisin'," and as she spoke Mammy
began a low humming, swaying from table to stove with a rhythm in the
swing of her fat body that had a certain dignified beauty to it. It was
crude emotion, and I knew it, but I felt it work in my own body as I
let the significance of what she had told me about the lessening amount
of whiskey father had been consuming add itself to the scene upon the
back porch and sink fully into my consciousness. I don't know what might
have happened to my shouting Methodist grandmother's worldly though
emotional descendant if father's voice, sharp and clear, with a note of
command I had forgotten it possessed, had not interrupted me.

"Charlotte! Dab!" it called; and we both answered with all speed.

"That Parson Goodloe have got the power to draw the teeth of seven
devils, and you both consider the words of his mouth or he'll git the
teeth outen yourn," Mammy called after us in ambiguous warning.

And upon our arrival on the scene of action being executed upon the
dahlias, we found the commander of the devils awaiting us, though in his
hands was no forked instrument of dentistry, but in one he held a large
slice of rye bread thickly spread with butter, and the other was
disarmed by a ripe red apple. As we drew near he finished a direction to
father and took a huge bite out of the slab of bread that left a gap as
wide as one would expect a Harpeth jaguar to make.

"Harrowing deep makes great growth in all plant life," he was saying
past the slice of bread with agricultural prosiness to father, who had
completely sweated down the very high and stiff collar which he always
wore swathed in a wide tie of black after a Henry Clay cut, in a savage
attack with the hoe upon the mulch that was smothering the dahlias in
richness.

"Does the same deep digging result hold true in biological and psychic
life?" puffed father, and then he leaned on his hoe and looked up at the
young man towering over him. In his eyes was the appeal of disappointed
age calling to the ideals of flaming strength and youth in the
deep-jeweled eyes that answered with a look of passionate tenderness as
the parson poised the bread for another bite.

"'Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,' Mr. Powers, is the direct data we
have on that subject," he said. Then he, for the first time, observed
the approach of Dabney and myself, of which his widening smile and the
quick lowering of the slab of rye pone gave notice to father, who
exploded accordingly.

"You black son-of-a-gun! Why didn't you rake off these dahlias as I told
you to yesterday? Now you get his hide, Parson!" was the greeting that
Dabney received, while I was ignored by all concerned.

"That hinge in your back rusty again, Dabney?" questioned the parson,
with leonine mildness.

"I been upsot by my young mistis coming home," answered Dabney, with a
quick glance at me as if to indicate me as a substantial excuse for any
crimes. I stood convicted, for I do use Dabney continually in all my
hospitalities.

"We understand, Dabney," was the answer he got from the feeding Jaguar,
who gave me that glint of a laugh that I had learned to expect and
to--dread. I knew what he meant to imply, and I also knew that he knew
that I understood that he considered me a disturbing element. Then he
again raised the half-demolished hunk of bread to his mouth, stopped and
regarded the apple in meditative indecision. From head to heels he was
clothed in the most exquisite white flannel and buckskin tennis
clothes, but for all their civilized worldliness he resembled nothing so
much as a feeding king of the forest in the poise of his wonderful head
and equally wonderful body. I glanced quickly at his face with its
gentle, deep, comprehending lines, in positive fear of him, and I found
reassurance in the smile that curled his strong red mouth and glinted at
me from his brilliant eyes under dull gold. Then, after the smile, he
decided for the apple rather than further conversation, and was just
going to set his white teeth in its rosy cheek when I stopped him with
an almost involuntary exclamation.

"Don't!" I pleaded. "Dinner is just ready, and you'll spoil it if you
eat all that bread and butter and apple." Just exactly a week before, at
almost that exact hour, the Reverend Gregory Goodloe had refused the cup
of tea I had stood holding for him in my hand for five minutes on the
front porch of the Poplars, and I had taken a resolve that never would
he again receive a food invitation from me. I didn't count Mammy's
"snack" eaten on the Harpeth adventure. I didn't understand myself and
my sudden rush of dismay at the idea of a spoiled dinner for him, but I
couldn't stop myself as I added:

"Mammy has apple dumplings and hard sauce; please don't--I mean please
_do_ come in to dinner with us."

"Thank you, but as you see I've about dined," he answered me, as with a
laugh he held out his fragments. "Jefferson was feeling badly and I sent
him to bed instead of the parsonage kitchen." Mammy had told me that the
Reverend Mr. Goodloe had taken hers and Dabney's cherished and perfectly
worthless only son as his sole domestic dependence, and Mammy had added
the fact that Jeff had "shot nary crap since the parson rescued him from
the jaw of the jail."

"Huh," ejaculated Dabney over the hoe he had taken from father and was
using at his direction while father lined the border beside the bed with
his sharp spade. I knew the contempt in his voice was for the illness of
Jefferson, and the Reverend Mr. Goodloe and I both laughed as he took
the last bite of the brown slab and then held out the unbitten side of
the apple to me.

"You eat your fruit with me, not in dumplings with hard sauce," he said,
and there was a wooing note in his voice as if he pleaded for that
friendliness from me to heal a hurt.

"No, _I_ won't eat out of your hand," I answered, with a cool emphasis
on the "I." And I looked him straight in the eyes, for I wanted him to
know that I had thoroughly understood his refusal of my invitation
couched so gently, but which I considered in reality haughty and
resentful, especially as I had been his guest in his car. "We'll wait
until you get your shower, father, and not much longer," I said to
father, as I turned and went along the flagstones to the steps that led
to the balcony upon which opened the long windows of the dining room. I
was furious and I was hurt.

At times I become acutely conscious that I am very imperious, but it is
not entirely my fault. My friends have depended upon my clear head, in
which father's brain seems to work with a kind of feminine vigor, and I
have always felt that the superior force with which I have loved and
cherished them made it all right. I've always stood by them and used
myself mercilessly for their exigencies, and I suppose I have ruled them
as mercilessly. I rarely encounter another will, and to clash into one
as strong as mine drew the sparks of my nature. The blaze was soon over,
but I--smouldered.

During dinner I was deeply interested in father's plans for my garden,
which brilliantly carried the plans Nickols and I had made to what I saw
in another year would be a marvelously artistic completeness. But under
the joy of hearing him talk as I had never really heard him since I was
old enough to appreciate his scintillating delicious choice of words and
phrases, I was hot and sore at the thought of my duty to render
gratitude where gratitude was due for having him like that.

"It will be perfectly wonderful, father, and Nickols had not worked it
out to anything like that completeness. He will be wild about it, but
won't it take a lot of money? And where did you get your inspiration?" I
asked the question, though I hated the answer I knew it must receive.

"The plans are entirely my own," answered father, with a pleased flush
making even brighter his dulled eyes and cheeks, faintly glowing from
the shower at which Dabney had officiated a few minutes before. I had
not failed to notice that we had sat down and were halfway through
dinner and father's hand had not motioned Dabney towards the decanter
and ice and siphon on the sideboard. "I must confess that the
inspiration came from a kind of rage when Goodloe said to me how much it
was to be regretted that all the great gardens in the North are being
made out of a sort of patchwork of English, French, Italian and even
Japanese influences. You couldn't expect anything more of the
inhabitants of the part of the country in the veins of whose people flow
just about that mixture of blood, but in the Harpeth Valley we have been
Americans for two and a half centuries, and I'll show 'em an American
garden if it does unhinge both mine and Dabney's backs and make Cockrell
swear I'm crazy when he audits my accounts once every month. No, Madam,
your own grandmother and great-grandmother, in conjunction with
Goodloe's maternal ancestors, conceived and laid out the beginning of
the great American garden, and we will combine to produce it."

"What about Nickols' plans?" I asked, trying hard to raise indignation
in my heart and voice at the thought of Nickols Morris Powers' work,
for which the people of wealth in the North were beginning fairly to
clamor, being criticized and laid aside at the inspiration of the
Methodist parson across the lilac hedge. And I succeeded better than I
expected, for I saw father lose color and tremble with his own rage,
which he always quells with drink.

"That sunken garden is Italian, and I'm going to tear it out and
put--Oh, my daughter; forgive me, but I forgot, in this queer nature
frenzy that has come over me of late and which I do not at all
understand, that the garden is yours, was your mother's and
grandmother's. So far the plans have just been begun, and nothing that
you and Nickols have done--Dabney, pour me three fingers of the 1875
Bourbon." And in a second I saw father grow white and shaking with
mortification at what he felt to be an unmannerly trespass upon
another's rights. My father has been a drunkard for nearly twenty years,
but he is still a great gentleman. Slowly he drank the whiskey, every
drop of which seemed to go to my heart like cold lead.

"But, father!" I exclaimed, determined to win him back. Dabney was
putting the silver stopper in the decanter over by the sideboard, and I
thought I saw a sob shake his bent old shoulders as his black hands
trembled. "I'd like to know if I'm not as purely American as you are,
and have I not the same right to want, demand and work for an American
nationalism, even in a garden, as you have? I'll have you know, sir,
that the future of the nation is in the hands of the women. We can
produce pure Americans or let the whole country go hybrid." And as I
spoke I let my temper rise to a point which I hoped would shock father
and take his mind from the decanter and the ice. "I demand that you
allow me to carry out your plans for my garden, and that you help me do
it to the limit of the hinges in your back and Dabney's. And, Dabney,
don't let me hear another word about that hinge until those dahlias are
in bloom. Also get me a half dozen bottles of dynamite to blow out that
Italian garden. I never did like it."

"Yes'm," answered Dabney, meekly but comprehendingly, for he hastily
flung a napkin over the ice and gently set the decanter back in its
rack. "But dynamite, it comes in sticks and not in bottles. And it
would shake the roots of them old poplars clean most down to hell."

"How'll we get that sunken garden out, then, father?" I asked, and I saw
the life and color come back to his face in a flood of humor.

"We might try filling it in," he answered, and then we both laughed at
ourselves, with Dabney joining in.



CHAPTER VII

THE TRISTAN LOVE SONG


After dinner father and I sat out on the porch in the soft, warm breeze
that waved a misty spring moonlight around us, and talked garden until
after ten o'clock. He was brilliant and delightful, but three times he
made trips to ice bowl and decanter on the sideboard.

"It will be a great relief and happiness to me if Nickols does sanction
and set the seal of artistic approval upon our plans," he said, with
feverish but happy eyes. "You see, Nickols will represent the
cosmopolitan in judgment upon the normally developed insular. I remember
once that Mr. Justice Harlan said that in an opinion on freight rates I
had sent up to him I had represented both the cosmopolitan and the
insular interest with astonishing equity, and I told him that I
considered that it took at least six generations of insular mind culture
to see any kind of national equity. The same thing holds good with a
garden. It takes the sixth generation on a piece of land to produce a
garden, and then it has to be laid out around a library full of the
ideals of poet and scholar. In about three years I can, with your
permission, present the American nation with a garden that will
represent the best ideals of Americans; and I must go to bed if I expect
to get up and hunt the early worm. I can never decide which is the
harder work, the capture of that creature of tradition or the arousing
of Dabney to perform that task. You, Dabney."

"Yes, sir," came a sleepy groan from just within the door, and in a
second the old black face was lit up with father's candle until the
white wool above shone like a halo as it appeared from out the gloom.
And I sat and watched the two old gentlemen, one black and one white,
toil slowly up the steps and down the wide hall of the Poplars.

"Father _must_ come back; the nation needs him," I said fiercely under
my breath as I noticed that in Dabney's hand swung the ice bucket where
I had been accustomed to see it swing for years, but which I had not
seen him carry before since I came home. "And that's how _you_ help him
fight to come back," I arraigned myself with bitter scorn. "You have no
faith nor spiritual sources yourself, and you throw him back into
degradation when something is helping him crawl out. What's helping him?
No matter what it is, you are a coward to obstruct it."

And for a long hour I sat thus raging at myself and questioning
hopelessly, while the young moon rose higher and higher over the tops of
the silvery poplars and young spring slipped about in the lights and
shadows, invisible except for perfumed wreathings of gossamer mist.
Above, I heard father pacing up and down his rooms, slowly, almost
feebly. Sometimes he would hesitate; then I would hear him stop beside
the window, where I knew the ice bowl and the decanter were placed upon
a table which had stood beside the head of his bed so burdened since my
early childhood. I had always dreaded his moroseness and instinctively
felt the cause of it. I had never really loved him until just the last
few days, and now I felt my love rise in a tide that threatened to
overwhelm me.

"Oh, I found him, and now I've thrown him away," I sobbed to myself.
Then, as I sat listening, I heard the faltering steps come out into the
hall above, descend the steps one by one, go through the dark dining
room groping pitifully, and down the side steps out into the beloved
garden. Silently I watched the tall figure with the white hair silvered
radiantly by the moonlight go slowly down the path, past the old
graybeard poplars, and even up to the lilac hedge that ran as a bulwark
in front of the dark chapel door, which I could see was ajar as it
always is.

"He's going for help," I muttered to myself, and I felt the padding of
fear pursuing me, while also something of the Methodist grandmother
within me began a queer calling and a tightening at my throat.

Then something happened that interested me so that I lost all personal
anxiety. Father stopped beside the hedge and picked up something from
the grass. I saw it was a long, heavy hoe. Walking over to a long bed of
early roses he and Dabney had been fertilizing in the late afternoon, he
bent feebly and began to dig the food into their roots. As he swung the
long handle, each blow upon the soft earth became more decided. I crept
down behind the old snowball bush to be nearer him; I didn't dare go to
him in his fight, because I had in my selfish heedlessness brought it
all on, but in a little while he was not alone, for a bent old figure
with grizzled white wool sticking out from under a red flannel nightcap
came quietly along the path with a hoe in his hand, fell in directly
behind his master, and began a rhythmic blow-answering-blow contest with
the fragrant earth and the demon within the man. For at least an hour
the two old friends worked up and down the long bed, until I could see
father begin to totter with weakness.

"Now, come on, Mas' Nick, honey, and go to bed. I'll pour a bucket of
cistern water over you and rub you down so as you'll sleep like a bug in
a rug," the staunch old comrade crooned, with a mother note in his
voice, as he took father's heavy hoe and shouldered it with his.

"I think evening exercise is good for me, Dabney," answered father with
all the dignity and command come back into his voice. "Put both those
hoes in the tool house this time, and I'll not tell Mr. Goodloe you
left one down by the lilac hedge."

"Yes, sir, thanky, sir, fer not telling him," answered Dabney, as he
followed his master to the tool house under the back steps, deposited
the garden implements where he was directed, and then again followed his
idol in through the long dining room window and was lost in the shadow.

I went back to the front steps, again sank down, put my arms on my
knees, and let my head fall upon my clasped hands. As I sat there alone,
with the dark house yawning behind me in its emptiness, someone sat down
beside me and laid a warm, strong hand on my interlaced and strained
fingers for just about half a second.

"Please forgive me about the apple dumplings and the hard sauce," a
merry, very lovely voice pleaded.

"I went out to Old Harpeth with you when you asked me; but I loathe
going to church--I haven't been in one since I was strong enough to
rebel--and I'm not going to yours," was the apology I graciously offered
in return for that about the apple dumplings. "But I'd pay fifty
dollars for a tenth row seat to hear you sing Tristan in the
Metropolitan any day if I had to go hungry for a week to pay for it," I
added, as I laughed as softly as he had pleaded. All the sorrow and
strain of the last hours had vanished at the touch of his hand, and I
felt like an impish, teasing child.

"I'll sing some of it for you now, if you'll give fifty cents to Mother
Spurlock for the Children's Day Picnic. And it'll be a bargain you are
getting," was the unexpected offer I encountered.

"And a freezer of vanilla ice cream to boot," I assented, generously.

And then something happened to me the like of which I know never
happened to anybody in all the world, and that could happen only the
once to me. Gregory Goodloe drew a little closer to me and bent his
great gold head until his face was just off my left shoulder, and in his
powerful, rich, fascinating voice, which he muted down in a way that
made it sound as if he were singing through a golden cloud, he sang
Tristan's immortal love agony in a way that shut out all the rest of the
universe and left me alone with him in a space swayed by his pleading
until my mortal body shook in actual pain.

"Don't! I can't stand it!" I gasped, as I seized his wrist in my strong
hands and wrung it. "Stop!"

The last tender note breathed itself into the air that seemed to hold it
in a long caress until it died away, and sobs shook me as I held on
desperately to his wrist. I felt that I _must_ be comforted. And I was!
Again the gentle fingers were laid over mine for a still smaller
fraction of a second, and then again the beautiful, clear voice began to
sing to me, just to me, out of the whole world.

"'Abide with me, fast falls the even tide,'" he chanted, and then waited
while my sobs died away and I let go my drowning grasp on his wrist.

"That's just what I mean. That's just why I wouldn't have any more
respect for myself if I should go to your church than if I joined in one
of Mammy's foot-washings down at the river and fell in a fit of shouting
in which it took two burly coons to 'hold my spirit down,' as she
describes those gymnastics to me. I hate you and I hate my friends for
indulging in religion, because it is just as 'potent an agent of
intoxication' as exists to-day, and it blinds us to the need of work
along scientific lines for the immediate improvement of the race. What
right have we to intoxicate reason with religion? If religion is
anything it must be reason." I fairly hurled my words of half-baked
skepticism at him, with the vision of father and Dabney digging in the
garden, still in my eyes.

"I felt just as you do about it a year ago to-day," he answered me
quietly. "As you state the case of religion as emotion versus reason, it
doesn't exist. Religion is reason plus emotion, and when you combine the
two the eyes of your soul are open, whereas they had been closed. Nobody
can tell you about it, but you begin really to live when you see and
comprehend. Yes, it is going to take all the scientific reason the world
possesses to start its salvation, but it will not get far without
'emotion,' as you call what I _know_ is love of God, and, through that
love, compassion for man."

"The assumption that every man is blind who does not believe as you do,
stops all argument," I said scornfully.

"I didn't come to talk religion with you; I came over to get that apple
dumpling off my conscience, as I couldn't digest it because it wasn't
there. I preach twice, on Sunday and on Wednesday night, and I'm in my
study behind the altar every afternoon that I'm not playing tennis. I'll
be there any time by appointment." The worldly and protective raillery
in that young Methodist minister's voice almost interrupted my religious
researches, but I was in depths that were strange to me, and I was
floundering for a line out.

"I'll never be there," I flared at him, then went on with my
floundering. "If a man is blind, how can he gain the sight that you
arrogate to yourself?"

"A great man once prayed, 'Lord, help thou my unbelief,'" was the gentle
answer in which was that queer note of apostolic surety with which I
heard him address the woman in the garden that night.

"I can't pray--there's nothing there," I said in a very small voice that
I could scarcely recognize as my own. "Oh, I mean that we are all
floundering, and where can we get the lifeline? Where did you get the
line that you think will pull you out of the vortex?"

Then for a long moment he and I sat again involved in the emptiness of
the universe that Tristan's love song had opened for us, and I knew that
with ruthless feet I had entered his Holy of Holies and was being
allowed to stand across the threshold.

"Forgive me," I gasped.

"I never felt that I could tell it before," he said, slowly, and the
bounds of the emptiness retreated still further away as he turned so
that he sat facing me and again bent his dull gold head closer to mine.
In a second I knew why in my mind I had been calling him a Harpeth
jaguar. It was just my pictorial expression for the word freedom, the
freedom that comes from power. I knew that mentally and bodily I was
looking upon the first free man I had ever encountered, and I was
abashed.

"Don't tell me," I said, with a gentleness in my voice I had never heard
before, and that came from something that I felt to be strangely like
meekness, though I had never before met that emotion in myself.

"You know the romance of my father's life," the soft voice went on,
speaking as if I had not interrupted him, "but nobody knows the tragedy.
Love for my mother came upon him like an arrow shot out of ambush, and
he married into a worldly, pleasure-loving, agnostic circle of people
who all adored and flattered him until he--he became confused and
doubting. He had transgressed the law: 'yoke not yourselves with
unbelievers,' and he suffered. She never understood. It killed him, and
when he had been dead nearly twenty years I found the diary he kept the
months before he died. It was last year, just after her death. It was a
cry to me, who at that time was a mere babe, and it--it lighted the
flame he had almost let go out. As I read, the apostolic call came to me
and I answered. I was starting to the front in France, and I went on. My
year there was a series of experiences that gave me my surety. One day
it came more clearly than ever. I had gone out into one of the trenches
of the first line, because I am so strong that I can carry any man back
to the stretchers across my back or in my arms. I have carried two at a
time. There were nineteen men in the trench, and I made the twentieth.
Suddenly a machine gun found the range and mowed them all down like
cornstalks or wheat heads. Only I was left standing, bleeding under my
left ribs. I raised my voice and praised God for my surety of
immortality, and then fell. While I was practically dying in the
hospital with a clip in my lung I got suddenly and unaccountably well
and strong, and felt I must come back to try and help others to see what
we must see to assure every man of his immortality. When the race
awakens to that fact there will be no more use for machine guns. I may
not help much, but I can only try. Perhaps I do only work through the
emotions as yet, but I believe that my ministry will have its fruits. I
can wait." And the humility and patience in his voice beat against my
heart and bruised it so that I cried out.

"Oh, why did you come here?" I positively moaned, as he and I both rose
and I put out my hand as if to force him out of that aloneness in which
we stood together.

"America must lead the world in spiritual as well as material
regeneration, and this is the only real and dispassionate America, with
no foreign pull on its vitals. You must wake up; the cry has been heard
to 'Come over and help.' Why do you fight the--"

"I can't help fighting. I must do what I conscientiously believe--" I
was saying with my hand still outstretched against him, when suddenly
the still place around us was invaded with a crash and its invisible
walls thrown down.

"Charlotte!" came in Nickols' languid, fascinating voice that always
draws me to the edge of his world. "And Greg Goodloe, by all that is
good and holy--in tennis flannels!"



CHAPTER VIII

BREASTING THE GALE


In the radiant moonlight I saw the lithe muscles of the Jaguar grow taut
and stiff, and I felt rather than saw his long, strong hands clench
themselves. I was about to stretch out my arms and ward off something
that seemed like danger to Nickols, standing down at the bottom of the
steps, smiling up at us in the moonlight with his mocking, fascinating
smile, when suddenly the anger seemed to flow away from the body of the
parson and he smiled down into the upturned eyes with great gentleness
as we started down the steps together.

"I didn't interrupt the salvation of Charlotte's soul, did I?" Nickols
asked, as he took my outstretched hand in his left hand and raised it to
his lips as he held out his right to the Reverend Mr. Goodloe. So real
had been that fraction of an instant when I had stood between the two
men that I almost felt the sensation of alarm a second time as I saw
Nickols' slender, magical, artist's fingers laid in the slim, powerful
hand of the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, but the gentle voice reassured me as
the Harpeth Jaguar answered the intruder, or what he must have felt to
be the intruder, for I had something of that feeling myself at the
advent of my lover at the moment he had chosen for his arrival.

"The trouble began about apple dumplings and hard sauce," I said, as
quickly as my wits would act.

"How are you, Nickols Powers, since we separated 'somewhere in France,'
you with your sketch books and I with my hospital stretchers? I got a
dandy lung clip; did you bring away any lead?" And the parson's voice
was gentle and cordial and full of a laughing reminiscence.

"Didn't smell powder after I left you," answered Nickols, as we all
ascended the steps and stood in a group before the door. "I got my books
full of sketches of bits of treasures that the war might destroy, and
beat it back to civilization. Did the Madonna of the Red Cross you had
in tow come across as sentimentally as was threatened?" Nickols' voice
was as cordial as the Reverend Goodloe's, but something in me made me
resent the question and the manner it was asked.

"She was killed in a field hospital just a few weeks after we left
her--'somewhere in France.' She got God's welcome!" was the answer that
came to the laughing question in a quiet, reverent voice. And as he
spoke the parson started down the steps, then turned for his farewell.

"That--or sweet oblivion," said Nickols, as he came to the edge of the
steps and looked down at the Harpeth Jaguar coolly. I again got the
sense of danger from the tall, lithe figure that stood in the moonlight,
radiant before us in the shadow. "We'll contest that point warmly while
we contest the meeting house Charlotte writes me that you planted in our
garden--of Eden."

"I can contest--if I must," was the serene answer that came back at us
from over the white silk-clad shoulder. "Good night, both of you, and I
hope to see you both again soon. Smell the lilacs bursting bud in your
garden--of Eden!" With which farewell he left us to our greetings.

"That's some man to be lost in the ranks of the shibboleths," said
Nickols with generous ease, as we watched the last glint of the moon on
the yellow head disappearing around the corner. "Degrees from three old
colleges, millions, women lovers in millions, all thrown away to sing
psalms for a few rustics in little old Goodloets. Can you beat it? But,
blast him, he can't take away my loving welcome with his fatal beauty,"
and as he spoke, with a tender laugh Nickols held out his arms to me. I
went into them and he held me close.

"I couldn't stay away--with Goodloe and the meeting house in the ring
against me," he whispered, and he tried to raise my head for the kiss I
had been holding from him all the long winter of our engagement,
claiming to want it only under the roof of the Poplars. I burrowed my
face in his shoulder and held to him with such fervor that it was
impossible for him to raise my head.

"Not yet," was my muffled pleading.

"Again, damn that huge blond giant for being in the way of my getting my
own on the first-sight wave," said Nickols with a good-humored laugh, as
he pushed me from him. "Take your time. I like ripe fruit--and kisses.
Did you say Goodloe had come over to steal apple dumplings and you had
caught him in the act? I never was so hungry before and one of Mrs.
Dabney's apple dumplings with that hard sugar stuff smothered with
cream--well, of course I could wait until breakfast, but I'd be mighty
weak. Your night train carries no dining car."

"I feel sure that there is at least a half panful in the pantry; let's
go see," I answered with delight at the practical turn the scene had
taken, and I led him into the dark house, turned on one or two lights
and went with him back into the culinary department of the Poplars.

And as I had predicted so we found the larder supplied. With a huge
plate of the pastry encrusted apples, smothered with all the cream from
one of Mammy's pans of milk, and a tall bottle from the sideboard,
Nickols led the way out of the long windows onto the south balcony over
which the moon, now high in the heavens, poured the radiance of a
new-toned daylight. I followed him with some glasses and sugar and a
bowl of cracked ice that I had found in its usual place in the corner of
the refrigerator.

"Pretty good substitute for the affectionate sweet I thought of all the
way down from New York," said Nickols with an adorable laugh, as he
lifted the first spoonful, dripping with cream, to his mouth. Then with
the food almost bestowed he paused and looked out beyond the garden
toward the chapel, which loomed up gray and shimmering in the silver
light.

"Great heavens!" he ejaculated, and for a long minute the spoon was
poised while his eyes fairly devoured the scene spread out before him
against the background of Paradise Ridge.

"If you don't like it we can get rid of it," I said, as I poured his
drink over the ice tinkling against the side of the glass.

"Not like it!" exclaimed Nickols, as he rose with the spoonful of
dumplings dashed back into the plate. "That is the most wonderful and
beautiful landscape effect I have ever beheld. That is just what our
garden needed. I suppose I would have seen it and put some sort of a
pavilion there, but that squat and perfect old church would have been
beyond me."

"Oh, I'm glad!" I exclaimed, as he sank back on the step beside me, took
the glass from my hand, drank deeply and this time began a determined
attack upon the plate in his hand. And then as he ate I told him all
about father and his plans for the garden and his own improvement and to
what I hoped the work was leading him. But somehow I couldn't bring
myself to describe the scene which had that night been enacted in the
garden--I couldn't. "Oh, I am so glad you are not furious and will maybe
be willing to encourage him, even if it does mean to encourage the
Methodist Church and the minister thereof. You are wonderful, Nickols,"
I finished with a squeeze of his arm that very nearly jostled the cream
out of the spoon upon his gray tweed trousers.

"I'd be a wonderful ass not to take advantage of Judge Nickols Powers'
brain and money, plus Gregory Goodloe's brain and training and money
combined, to get a result that will be worth a hundred thousand dollars
to me and all the fame I can conveniently wear. Encourage 'em? Just
watch me! Only what the judge thinks will take two years can be done in
one season if we get experts down to do it, which we will. Trees two
hundred years old _can_ be moved for a few thousand dollars, as well as
plants in bloom that would require years to transplant. I know the man
to do it: Wilkerson of White Plains. I'll telegraph him in the
morning."

"He won't interfere with--with father, will he?" I asked anxiously.

"Not a bit--he'll just make what the judge and Gregory plan for year
after next, grow and bloom there in a couple of months. Wilkerson is not
a creator, he's just nature keyed up to the _n_th power. And also I'll
give him for a bait the Jeffries estate I was hesitating about making a
bid for. All the big fellows are after it. Old man Jeffries has made two
barrels of money in the last ten years in oil and he is going to build
an estate up on the Hudson that will make the world gasp. I hadn't put
in a bid, but this idea of the judge's and Greg's, with the whole
village grouped about it, has given me the keynote to win the thing from
the whole bunch of American architects. He wants the village built as
well as the estate. That American garden idea will bowl him over. He's
progressively and rabidly American. The bids don't close until December,
so I'll have time to get real photographs and sketches. Me for the
reformed judge and the parson!"

"This is the most wonderful thing I ever heard and I want father pushed
to the limit with the planning. I don't care where the parson comes in,
just so I don't have to join the church to get the garden," I said, as I
tinkled the ice in Nickols' empty glass, while he consumed the last bit
of cream from the empty plate.

"Oh, I'll join the church if it is needed to push the garden," said
Nickols with a laugh, as he lit a cigarette and puffed a smoke ring out
toward the gray little chapel. "Most people who join churches do it for
some kind of pull, social or business, or a respectability stamp or to
be white-washed. I'll put on a frock coat and pass the plate if it will
help the parson evolve another phase of gardenism."

"Billy gets home from his poker game at the Last Chance, down in the
Settlement, on Sunday morning, just in time to bathe and get into his
frock coat to perform that office," I said with a laugh that had a hint
of recklessness tinged with contempt.

"I'll see Billy through both ceremonials," said Nickols. "Has Billy come
into the fold?"

"He has! So have all the rest," I answered. "I am the only black sheep
and they are all backsliding down on me. I am getting, and will get,
the blame of it all as a corrupter of public morals."

"Why don't you join and then do as you please with the official stamp of
Christianity upon you?" Nickols asked, as he puffed comfortably away in
the moonlight.

One of the things that cause me the deepest hurt is to try to get
Nickols to look down into my depths and read one, just any one, of the
hieroglyphics there. I know each time I open my nature to him he is
going to turn aside, and yet I will try. As his arm stole around me I
made another one of the attempts that I always know beforehand are
doomed to failure.

"There is something in me, a quality of mind that seems to be judicial,
which insists that as a cold scheme for existence in this universe
nothing compares with that of life followed by eternal redemption
through personal effort interpreted by a mediator. The bare Christian
tenets have a nobility that it kills me to see belittled by the bored,
half-hearted observances of most of its protestants, who in turn are not
to be blamed for being half-hearted and bored by the dogmas and
restrictions and littleness with which the great bare scheme has been
enmeshed and clothed. The Methodist Church positively forbids Billy to
play poker or drink, but it just as positively forbids him to see
Pavlowa dance or Beerbohm Tree play Falstaff or Forbes Robertson
incarnate Hamlet. And look at its wretched machinery--they allow a young
man to give his life and expect inspiration from him at six hundred
dollars a year with a wife and two dozen children, which he has been
encouraged to bring down upon himself, dependent on that same six
hundred dollars. The great men who are expected to direct our spiritual
destinies don't get as much money as many ordinary grocers and certainly
not enough to support their obligations with dignity. What is true of
the Methodist Church is true of all the rest, in perhaps a greater
degree. So with their smallness and their pettiness and their befogging
stupidity I feel that they may be denying thinkers like you and me the
use of their scheme and we'll have to find another for ourselves if we
want immortality."

"Do we want that immortality?" asked Nickols easily. "This world is a
pretty good old place if you don't regard the 'shalt nots,' but isn't it
long enough to live the allotted time? What do we want to do it all
over again for, that is, provided we do all the pleasant things while we
have the chance? I don't want to see any play twice, even a masterpiece.
I wouldn't want to live again unless I had been a Christian in this life
and felt that I wanted to come back and do a lot of the things I had
just heard about and previously hadn't tried."

"Certainly I wouldn't want another life that is as unsatisfied as this,"
I murmured, more to myself than to Nickols.

"Do the things that satisfy," he urged again, and I could see a deviltry
dancing at me out of the corner of his eyes that I resented deeply
without exactly knowing why.

"Harriet Henderson can't get Mark Morgan's love or--his children, and
Nell Morgan is unattainable for Billy. Though they have all the world's
goods and go a pace that pleases them, they are unsatisfied. If they
don't get the new deal that immortality promises they lose the whole
thing," I answered straight out from the shoulder. "And what about those
who die in infancy and--and you and me?"

"If you'll just kiss me and hush preaching to me I'll be entirely
satisfied and ready to die as soon as I have lifted that fifty thousand
out of old Jeffries with the judge's and the Reverend Gregory's garden
and done a few more commissions. Try kissing me and see if you don't
feel more cheerful," Nickols answered with a laugh, as he drew me close
to him. I sadly shut up the doors of my depths, warded off the
kiss--why, I didn't know--and persuaded him to go up to his rooms which
I had seen Sallie and Dabney put in order that afternoon.

It was midnight when I parted with Nickols at the head of the old
winding stairs in the fragrant darkness, lit only by the silver light of
the night from a long window at the front of the hall. He held me close
for a half second as he whispered:

"Let me make you happy. I understand."

"I don't understand, and until I do I'd make you miserable, dear," I
whispered back as I drew myself out of his reluctant arms and went into
my own door.

Then for a long midnight hour I stood at my deep window and looked out
over the garden, past the squat steeple silvering beyond the lilac
hedge, to Paradise Ridge in the dim distance, and tried to read my own
hieroglyphics. I needed help. Nickols had come after me to Goodloets in
a spirit of gentle determination and I knew the fight would be to the
finish. And why should I fight? Any woman ought to be proud to marry
Nickols Morris Powers, especially a woman who had loved him since her
heart had been developed to the knowledge of love. Very unostentatiously
and with perfect good taste Nickols had let me see that Marie VanClive
with her Knickerbocker ancestry and her Manhattan land-grants fortune
was very decidedly interested in him in her cultured and perfected young
way, and young Mrs. Houston had herself shown me the same thing on one
of the week-end flights we had had on her yacht. And beyond all that my
own heart told me that Nickols was desirable. His gentleness and his
tenderness and his daring and his humor were irresistible to a woman.
And his lazy acquiescence in life was peaceful and inviting to my own
strenuosity. I felt as if I had always been an eagle breasting the gale
with no place to alight, and now Nickols was calling to me from an
eyrie on a mountain side to come and rest and be mated and comforted.

"I'm tired of loneliness and I think I'll drift and be happy," I
murmured, as I fell asleep with my back to the silver steeple against
the dim hills.



CHAPTER IX

INTO BRAMBLES


The next morning I awoke with the same resolve in my heart, to be happy
if wicked, and proceeded to execute it with a great vigor. And in the
execution of that resolve dear old Goodloets almost had some of the moss
of its century's repose scraped off of its back.

First and foremost, we all danced, day and night. We had really begun
the giddy whirl the summer before when we had built the little clubhouse
over in the oak grove by the river's edge, just between the Town and the
Settlement, so that we would no longer feel the limit and limitations to
our gliding of anybody's double parlors, and conservative Goodloets had
been duly shocked thereat.

"Ladies did not dance outside of their own and their friends' private
homes in my day," Mrs. Cockrell had sighed, as she finished the petal
of the rose she was embroidering upon some of Letitia's lingerie.

"I'd rather they danced in their den of iniquity than to execute these
modern gyrations in my home," had responded Harriet's mother, Mrs.
Sproul, as she finished the hundredth round on the shawl she was
knitting. Harriet's report of the conversation had been received with
great hilarity that evening at dinner at the Club.

But Goodloets had had a year in which to recover from the shock of the
institution of the Country Club when I started in to enjoy myself.
Having church services there on Sundays and Wednesdays during the winter
had done much to remove the prejudice in the minds of the conservative.
I suspected the Reverend Mr. Goodloe of a great deal of worldly wisdom
when I saw how he had been able to persuade the directors, Hampton
Dibrell and Mark and Cliff, to let him do such a weird thing. Mrs.
Sproul and Mrs. Cockrell and their friends had first been tolled out to
prayer meeting and then had come to witness a tennis match. Billy, in
great glee, recounted to me the first time they had stayed to dinner
with him and father and Mr. Cockrell. They had been enjoying the prayer
meetings to the utmost and had come out with Mother Spurlock by mistake
on a Tuesday night, which was the regular dinner dance night. It was
some time before they discovered their mistake, for they were immensely
enjoying their visit with Mother Spurlock, and when the dancing began
Billy had seized Mother Elsie in his arms and danced her the whole
length of the room. The music had been too much for her feet in their
sensible shoes, and very suddenly they had unfolded their wings after
thirty long years of rest and had fairly flown up and down and backwards
and forwards with Billy's in a sedate version of one of the phases of
the tango. Mrs. George Spurlock had been the best dancer in Goodloets
when time was young.

"Do you think that it was the devil that tempted you, Mother Elsie?" I
asked her about it one day when she had a leisure moment for teasing.

"Effie Burns' youngest baby was born exactly while I was dancing, and we
will have six months' trouble with her because her band was not put on
properly," was her answer, as she took up her parcel of five pairs of
only slightly worn stockings that five girls in the Settlement needed
worse than I needed darns, and departed in a great hurry. "Oh, but you
should have seen Hattie Sproul's eyes while I danced," she called back
over her shoulder as she went through the gate.

And so in the second summer of the Club's existence there had been no
bridle upon its gayeties--I had almost used the word license, and I
suppose it would have been a just one under the circumstances. Billy
called it "The Bucket of the Lost Lid," and every individual member did
exactly as he or she chose. The sideboard out on the back porch made as
good a bar as any in the state with old Uncle Wilks to officiate, and in
the wing in one of the private dining rooms a huge wheel stood with its
face to the wall during the day, but came complacently out of its corner
when night descended. On the porch could always be found either Mrs.
James Knight or Mrs. Buford Cunningham. They neither of them had
children, hated home and were serenely happy sitting on the front porch
knitting silk scarfs and gossiping with all comers, while James and
Buford hung around the sideboard at the back. They were institutions and
all of the unmarried boys and girls, men and women, widowed and
widowered, came and went at will, with the liberty that the chaperonage
of their certain presence allowed.

"Suppose one of 'em should fall dead and the other have to attend her
funeral," Nickols remarked one Saturday night at a dinner table not more
than twelve feet away from the two couples. "The scandal that would soon
disrupt this town for lack of their free chaperonage would be like an
earthquake. None of you would have a shred of respectability with which
to drape yourselves to appear in public."

"They don't wear much respectability anyway in the eyes of the
Settlement," said Billy, as he mixed the champagne cup with old Wilks
standing admiringly by. "The floor manager ordered Luella May Spain off
the floor at the dance they had in the lodge room over the Last Chance
last Saturday night for appearing in one of Harriet's last year dancing
frocks Mother Spurlock had collected for her, though they do say that
Luella May had sewed in two inches of tucker and put in sleeves. How's
that for an opinion passed upon the high and mighty from the meek and
lowly?"

"I'd been in mourning a year. That was my coming out gown and I felt--"
Harriet was saying when Billy laughed and interrupted her.

"And you came out, Harriet dear," he assured her, as he poured her
champagne cup and his and signaled Wilks to serve the rest of us.

On the surface all of the joy that most of Goodloets was having was real
and brilliant and spontaneous, all the dancing and drinking and high
playing, but under the surface there were dark currents that ran in many
directions. Young Ted Montgomery and Billy played poker one Saturday
night until daylight out at the Club, and Bessie Thornton and Grace
Payne had "staid by" and were having bacon and eggs with them when the
sun rose. Judge Payne, Grace's father, has been a widower ten years and
Grace, with the four younger "pains," as Billy calls them, has run wild
away from him and her grandmother, old Madam Payne, who lives in a world
of crochet needles and silk thread with Mrs. Cockrell and Mrs. Sproul.
One night I went with Billy in his car to take Grace home and he had to
wait until I tiptoed to her room with my arm around her and put her to
bed, while Harriet was doing the same thing with Bessie Thornton. Those
girls are not much over twenty and they are only a little more
"liberated," as they call it, than the rest of their friends. Ted
Montgomery loves Grace, when he is himself and not at the card table,
but what chance have they to form a union of any solidity and
permanence? Billy's nephew, Clive Harvey, has always loved Bessie
Thornton, but he is teller in the Goodloets bank and almost never sees
her. He is one of the stewards in the Harpeth Jaguar's church, and the
suffering on his slim young face hurts me like a blow every time I meet
him. What's going to satisfy him, no matter what pace he should choose
to go or how many things he is driven by unhappiness to indulge himself
in?

And it was true that everything done up in the town had its effect down
in the Settlement. The lodge hall over the Last Chance was the only hall
available for the young people in the Settlement to dance, and the bar
of the East Chance, at which old Jacob Ensley officiated, was no better
stocked than the lockers at the Country Club. And all of us knew that
very frequently Billy and Nickols and the rest of our friends went down
to dance and drink with the girls from the mills and the shops. Billy
had told me once that Milly Burt, who stays at the cigar stand in the
Goodloe Hotel in Goodloets, dances so much like me and is so perfumed
with my especial sachet from France, Mother Spurlock having collected
the chiffon blouse from me for her to wear at the entertainment of the
Epworth League, that he came very near addressing her by my name in
giving her the invitation to the dance.

"Settlement or Town, they all add up to the sum of girl," he laughed, as
he told me about that Saturday night frolic in the Last Chance.

It was the day after Billy's account of the ball at the Last Chance, in
which Luella May and Milly and the rest had frolicked in what ought to
have been a perfectly harmless way, that Mother Spurlock came to spend
the afternoon with me and in which we wrestled until I was almost on the
mat--not quite.

"Goodloets has always been the gayest town in the state, but it has now
reached the place of the most wicked," she said, after a few preliminary
shots had been exchanged. "Every dignity of tradition seems to have been
dropped and everybody is dance or play or drink or speed mad. You are
the most influential personality in the whole town and I want you to
call a halt."

"But aren't they all happy? Isn't everybody getting the most out of
life? The men are all working to their capacity and making more money
than they ever have before. Why shouldn't they play hard?" I answered
her, as I seated myself in the broad window seat of my room opposite the
wide maternal ancestral rocker she had chosen.

"Are they happy?" she asked, with her keen eyes on my face.

"They seem to be," I parried.

"Well, as far as personal happiness is concerned I think it is not worth
talking about. It is the good of the whole for which I am working, for
which I am contending to-day. What you women do, who are not obliged to
add to the work of the world that you may live in it, is not of any
great importance; it is for the toilers in the vineyard that I plead.
The girls and young men in this town cannot dance and drink and play all
night and do the constructive work of the community in the daytime. If
Luella May Spain falls asleep or nods at her typewriter and fails to get
out the telegram to you or Nickols which Mr. Tate has shouted to her
off the keys, do you excuse her because she has been fatiguing herself
until midnight trying to learn some new dance that Billy Harvey has
brought down to the Last Chance from your Country Club? You would not!
She would be fired on your complaint."

"But are we responsible for how the girls and men in the Settlement
spend their evenings?" I demanded with a fine show of indignation, but
with a thrill of fear in my heart. There has always been something in
Luella May Spain's shy and admiring glances that drew me and I have
always lingered to chat with her a few minutes if business called me
into the station. The last time I had spoken to her, not a week before,
she had seemed pale and listless and had answered me with indifference.

"You and your class are the ones in power and what you do and what you
think is a moral influence that reaches and permeates every soul in this
town. You are not about your Father's business; and those less powerful
of brain and character follow you in by-paths from the straight road.
They are his Little Ones and you lead their feet into brambles. Oh,
Charlotte!" And Mother Spurlock stretched out her hands to me in
entreaty.

"I'm not a leader," I denied her. "I don't see a foot ahead of me. I'm
not worth anything. I'm just living and trying to have a good time doing
it. You have got a leader, there over the hedge; why don't they follow
him and not me?"

"Before you came Gregory Goodloe had services three times a week at your
Country Club, at which the Settlement met the Town. You were not willing
that even those few hours should be given over to the learning of the
Father's will from one whose mind and soul are ready to teach, and you
swept away his pews and his influence. And your dance tunes, to which
even I yielded, ring in the ears of his flock to drown out the echoes of
God's hymns. And now those who had begun to lean on him and to follow
him are turning to persecute him. When Jacob Ensley is drunk he openly
charges him with inveigling Martha away and hiding her. He was in a
dangerous state one night a week ago and Billy Harvey had to lock him up
in his own wine cellar to keep him and a few of his hangers-on from
'going after the parson,' who was down there praying with old Jennie
Neil as she died. He doesn't know his danger from Jacob and I think
Billy ought to tell him. All Goodloets has admired and aped you since
your birth, and now that you discountenance him they are again following
you. There were only ten people at prayer meeting last night in the
chapel, and the Wednesday before you turned him out of the Club which
had offered him its hospitality, there were one hundred and thirty,
Settlement and Town about evenly represented. You are responsible for
that prayer meeting last night. You may be responsible for the result of
one of Jacob's drunken fits. Sometime you'll have to answer for what you
do."

"No, Mother Spurlock, I'm not responsible for the failure of Gregory
Goodloe to get to the heart of your people and hold them happy to his
services and observances, and I'm certainly not responsible for his
personal safety. What he offers is not enough to satisfy. His members
prefer their Country Club and their Last Chance and their knitting and
embroidery. What we all need from the Country Club to the Last Chance is
something that makes us want to be constructive, race constructive, so
that life will be desirable on through immortality, if there is such a
thing. I can't get a glimpse of it. Can you?" and I questioned her
beseechingly.

"I can. I do! I have faith in my Father's plan to lead me through 'deep
waters' into 'pleasant pastures,'" she answered me, as her eyes looked
past me out at Paradise Ridge beyond the chapel.

"Then give it to me," I demanded.

"I can't. You must seek it yourself, and when you get it you will be
able to pour it out into the hearts of others as living water. I serve
by using my two talents of mercy and love, but God will some day give
you ten and you will have to return an hundred fold. He has given the
ten to Gregory Goodloe, and now is the night of his despair, but his
morning will dawn. You can't dance down and drink down and gamble down
and lust down a man like that. He can bide his time until his sheep come
to the fold to be fed and warmed in his bosom."

"What practical thing can I do to make you believe that I do not mean to
pull down any structure that another human is building up with the hope
it is for the good of the whole, Mother Spurlock?" I demanded of her,
goaded to the last point of endurance.

"The dedication services of the chapel will be next Sunday. Come, bring
Nickols and your father, and let the Town and Settlement see your
respect for Mr. Goodloe and for his church," she demanded, as she rose
to go, with patient defeat but a lingering hope in her voice and manner.

"Endorse something that means nothing to me?" I asked with pained
patience. "You say the people follow me; shall I lead them to drink from
a spring that I consider dry, that is dry and has no water for my
thirst? No, Mother Spurlock, if the people among whom I have been born
trust me I will only lead them by going into paths I know and in which I
walk for my own good or pleasure."

"To the Last Chance?"

"At least they get joy there that makes toil easier or offsets the
grind," I answered her.

"Is that your final--" she was asking me with her deep, wise old eyes
searching me, when she was interrupted by the banging open of my door
and the inburst of young Charlotte, young James as ever at her heels,
with Sue clinging to his hand. To-day, however, Charlotte had added one
to her cohorts, for she led by the hand a very dirty specimen of the
masculine gender, somewhat larger than herself and with a flaming red
head.

"This is Mikey Burns, Aunt Charlotte, and he's a nice little boy that's
dirty and hungry because his mother has got seven like him. Won't you
wash him and feed him so we can play with him? The preacher cleaned up
four for us to play with yesterday and they are still clean enough. If
you clean Mikey I can have a baseball nine, with Sue to get the balls
that we don't hit. She gets balls nicely and Mikey throws lots
straighter than I can. Jimmy can hit 'em, too, with a wide stick."

"I tan git 'em," declaimed small Sue with great pride.

"I can pitch 'em," also declared Mikey, with evident desire to back up
his patroness. "But not as good as her," and his admiration amounted to
adoration, as he raised his young eyes to Charlotte.

"You see, Oh, you see, even to the second generation they follow,"
laughed Mother Spurlock, as she escaped through the door and left me
with my practical demonstration of class leadership.

"Wash him, Auntie Charlotte, wash him," Charlotte continued to insist.
"I made Jimmy steal some of his things for him while nurse was
downstairs. Here they are," and young James, the thief and
aforementioned murderer, gave up his stolen goods. "And Mr. Nickols says
that all the Settlement children will go to school with us in the nice
schoolhouse he and Judge Powers and Minister are going to build in front
of Mother Spurlock's orchard. That is a law and then we'll have good
times, all of us. There is not many children in the Town and they are
all too dressed up, but it is a million down in the Settlement and we
are going to have two baseball nines and two armies to battle with. I
asked Mr. Nickols to have a place to wash the Settlements and he said he
had thought of that and is going to have five shower baths. If you'll
just wash Mikey for me I'll help you. I can attend to Jimmy's ears for
nurse real good, can't I, Jimmy?"

"Yes," responded Jimmy with brotherly pride.

"No," remonstrated Mikey with abject fear, for the sake of his ears or
propriety I was not sure.

I got past the question by motioning him into my bathroom and sending
Charlotte and Sue to bring Dabney. Dabney is Charlotte's slave and was
soon under way to execute her commands upon Mikey while I beguiled her
from the superintendence thereof down into the garden with me, where
from my window I could see Nickols and father in deep conclave over some
drawings. Father had discarded his Henry Clay costume and looked young
and alive in some of Nickols' flannels and linen. They looked up with
interest as I came down the flagstone walk with Charlotte trotting on my
one side and wee Sue clinging on the other.

"I'm glad you have come, daughter," said father, as he held up one of
the large blue prints before me. "Now you can help Nickols and me locate
the exact spot for the public school building. See, here is the public
square of Goodloets, with the courthouse in the middle."

"That courthouse is as good as any minor _hotels de ville_ in any of the
small towns in France," said Nickols, as he came and stood beside me,
looking over my shoulder at the map. "The Farmers' Bank and one or two
of the very old brick stores are good, too," he added.

"Now, this is Main Street that leads past us down into the Settlement.
Here is the Poplars, here the chapel, and this is Elsie Spurlock's
house. Nickols and the parson are inclined to place the schoolhouse
right opposite, but I am afraid it is too near the Settlement and too
far from the Town. Do you suppose the Town children will be able to walk
so far?"

"Do you really--really plan to have the Town and the Settlement go to
school together?" I gasped.

"Well, Goodloe thinks that the ideal public school system is only to be
executed in a democratic--" father was saying, when Nickols interrupted
him.

"What does it matter where the two and a half kids from the decadent old
families that are dying out go to school? Their sterile parents can
motor 'em down to education!" he exclaimed. "Right here is the logical
place for the school with the meadow behind it to give a bit of
distance, the oak grove back of that, the Country Club beyond, with the
river beginning to curve it in. It solidifies and unifies the landscape
of the whole town and puts all the community centers where they belong.
The Town and Settlement straggled a bit before, but the chapel and the
school will unite them! Braid says the schoolhouse can be built of
weathered stone and concrete and finished by September fifth, in time to
start school. Wilkerson can begin immediately putting out his hedges and
the Reverend Gregory is down there now finishing laying out the
playground with his ball park."

"That's it--that's the baseball nine Dabney is washing Mikey for!"
exclaimed Charlotte, catching up with the conversation. "And when we all
go to school with the Settlements and they are clean some, and Mildred
Payne and Grace Sproul and some of the others get dirty a little, nobody
will know the difference and we can play ball and scouts and everything
Minister teaches us. That school makes enough children to do things. We
haven't got enough for anything, but the Settlements have, and it is
mighty good of them to come up and let us play with them."

"Keep up with the times, Charlotte; don't be a back number. Miss
Olymphia Lassiter's school may have held you and Nell, but it will never
hold young Charlotte," Nickols jeered, as father began to roll up the
map and speak to a young man that the great Wilkerson of White Plains
had sent down to juggle with the flora and fauna of the Harpeth Valley.



CHAPTER X

WATER AND OIL


I turned from Nickols' raillery and surveyed the great American garden.
The weeks had flown from May to late July and father's plans were
beginning to be materialized. Where the sunken garden had been filled in
a wide stone well house, the like of which can be found at many of the
farmhouses in the Harpeth Valley, had been built and a chain wheel and
bucket drew up the water from the deep cistern, which was supplied with
underground pipes from the south wing of the Poplars.

"There is no water as soft as open-top cistern water, aerated by a chain
and bucket," father had informed me, and he and Dabney consumed buckets
of it, while Mammy refused anything else for cooking purposes and
insisted on a nightly bath of it for my face. A white clematis in full
bloom clambered over the eaves of the low stone house and a blush rose
nodded at its door, beside which was placed a rough bench made of square
stones and two large slabs, equally moss-covered and worn.

"It is growing to be perfectly wonderful, Nickols," I said, as if I had
seen it for the first time, while my eyes followed the sweep of the
flagstone walk from the well house beneath the old graybeard poplars out
past stretches of velvety lawn, with groups of shrubs and trees casting
deep shadows even to the kitchen garden, whose long rows of vegetables,
bordered with old-fashioned blooming herbs and savories, led the
observer out into the meadows to the Home Farm and beyond to the dim
line of Paradise Ridge. "It is different and distinctive and--and
American," I added.

"After this garden and the school are finished and a few of the
unfortunate restorations taken away from some of the old houses, like
the porch at Mrs. Sproul's and that bathroom addition of Morgan's, I am
going to bring Jeffries down in his private car and it will be difficult
to keep him from offering to buy Goodloets and have it all shipped up
the Hudson. Really, Charlotte, we have seen a vision of the future
materialize here and we ought to stand with hats off."

"Whose vision?" I asked, as I stood and let the truth of his statement
sink in.

"The parson's spiritual vision perhaps filtering through your father's
mentality, which has welded past, present and future. At least, that is
the way I see it with the material eye, which is all I have to view it
with--if we can call the recognition of beauty and completeness
material."

"Now Mikey is nice and clean and we can go to Minister to play, thank
you, Aunt Charlotte," at this point young Charlotte broke in to say,
thus flinging us a line to haul us out of depths that were slightly over
our heads. "Isn't he lovely?" And she gazed upon her new-found comrade
with open admiration and self-congratulation.

And small Mikey was indeed a bonny kiddie attired in the very stylish
trousers and blouse of small James and shining with Dabney's valeting.
His nicely plastered red mop to some extent mitigated the effect of the
bare and scratched feet and his rollicking blue eyes over a nose as
tip-tilted as Charlotte's own bespoke his delight.

"Anyway, me mother made the togs fer Jim," he asserted with great
independence, as he rammed his hands into the diminutive pockets in the
trousers.

"Yes, she did, and Auntie Harriet paid her for a present to Jimmy. She
sews for us and not for Mikey and her other children, because her
husband drinks up his money and our husband don't. Come on, let's go
help Minister!" was the shot that Charlotte fired, as she departed down
the garden path with her cohorts.

"What about that for democracy?" demanded Nickols, as he and father and
I all laughed together.

That night at a dinner party Nell was giving I sat next to the Harpeth
Jaguar and talked to him for the first time in many weeks. I had been
avoiding him and I didn't mind admitting it to myself. There was
something disturbing and puzzling in his serene eyes and free, strong,
beautiful body that gave me a queer haunting pain back of my breast.
Into my scheme of doing those things in life that give pleasure and not
doing those things that give pain he somehow would not fit. He had
become as much a part of the social fabric of Goodloets as was I, and
he came to our dinner parties, motored with us in his long, gray car and
was as happy with us seemingly as he was with that same gray car full of
small fry from the Settlement or going about the business of the chapel.
The car had always reminded me of his evening clothes, which were
straight and simple in line with the black silk vest cut up around the
collar buttoned in the back, but which were so fine in texture and
perfect in cut and fit that they seemed to be some kind of super clothes
that ought to be called by a name of their own, just as the people in
the Settlement had decided to call the car the "Chariot" as soon as they
had stopped resenting a parson's having it, from finding out how easy
were its cushions and how swift its ministrations in time of need.

"Parson's Chariot, quick!" had moaned poor old Mrs. Kelly, when she had
slipped on Mrs. Burns' wet doorstep and dislocated her hip. Little Katie
Moore had been driven home as swiftly as if on wings after old Dr.
Harding had been overtaken, ten miles out on Providence Road, and had
used the back seat for an operating table while he put her small
splintered ankle in place between splints improvised by a long knife
from the car's kit.

And from a distance I had wondered at the Reverend Gregory Goodloe,
wondered at his freedom from all resentment because of his ministerial
and spiritual failures and at his loving serenity and enjoyment of us
all. He partook of the joy in almost all of our adventures in pleasure,
and when we did things that in the nature of the case would seem to
merit his disapproval, he never administered it; he simply was not with
us, but was serenely about his business at the other end of the town
from the Country Club or the Last Chance, at whichever resort the
entertainment that did not interest him was in progress. He seemed
especially to enjoy coming to our dinner parties and he was such a
delight with his keen-bladed wit, his flow of joyous laughter and high
spirits and the music that bubbled up without accompaniment or denial
whenever we asked for it, that not a woman in town would invite the rest
to dine until she was sure of securing him first.

[Illustration: "_I been upsot by my young mistis comin' home._"]

"He's so economical," said Nell Morgan, as I helped her arrange her
guests for Mark's birthday dinner. While she talked I paused to consider
where to put Harriet Henderson and then dropped her card beside Mark's
with a little ache in my heart as I tucked Cliff Gray in by Jessie
Litton and left the place next Nell vacant for Billy. "People never
empty their champagne glasses when Mr. Goodloe gets to talking, and you
can put the extra bottles back in the cellar for next time. Do you
suppose he does it on purpose?"

"Nobody could be as completely happy as he was at Jessie's Friday night
_on purpose_," I answered, as I laid the last card and went with Nell to
greet her first guests.

After the soup I turned toward the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, whose card I
had placed next my own, and found him looking at me with a particular
softness in his eyes under the dull gold.

"Charlotte's and Mikey's nine won twenty-eight to eighteen against Tommy
Braidy and Maudie Burns. Thank you for getting the pitcher into his
togs," he said, as he squared his shoulders slightly against the rest of
the world, the rest of the diners in particular, and bent toward me in
just that deferential angle that a man uses when he wants to signal to
the others that for a limited time he desires sole possession of the
woman dining next to him.

"Your mixing of water and oil in the educational scheme is interesting
me greatly," I answered him with a laugh. "Do you really think it will
succeed?"

"Any kind of kingdom can be built in the heart of a child, an oligarchy,
a democracy or a republic," he answered quickly. "Your name-daughter is
a born socialist."

"She and James are murderers and liars and thieves and are wholly
engaging. Sue is fast learning from them the habits of their underworld
and is asleep upstairs now with Harriet's silver and jade chain, which
she brought home with her without the knowledge of the owner this
afternoon. What are you going to do about them? I take it you intend to
build a kingdom in and of their hearts."

"Weed 'em, like Dabney and I did your dahlia bank ten times at least
this spring. You didn't help with the dahlias, but maybe you will with
the young Tenderloiners." His eyes entreated mine with a soft radiance
that almost made me dizzy.

"I wouldn't know weeds from flowers, 'Minister,'" I answered with
prompt denial of his plea, but with a soft use of the children's name
for him.

"I don't always know. Let's study botany--together," he again hazarded
daringly, and from the tenderness that suddenly curved his strong mouth
I knew my soft answer had hit its mark. "Are you coming to the
dedication of the chapel a week from Sunday?" He asked me the question
directly and with all his softness gone and a commanding note in his
voice and direct look. His jeweled eyes were so deep back under their
dull gold brows that between the bars of black lashes they looked like
stars shining down through a radiant night. They threw their rays
directly down into my heart and I could see that their owner was reading
the hieroglyphics of my uncertainties and that I could not hide them
from him.

"I am not," I answered him with the frankness that his gaze compelled.

"I'll not dedicate it until you help me do it and--" he was saying
quietly and positively, when Billy broke in over the excluding shoulder.
Billy really adores Gregory Goodloe, but he enjoys going to the limit of
his ministerial endurance. Over that limit he has never stepped and he
never will; none of them ever will, for there is that in the Harpeth
Jaguar which commands the very essence of respect for himself as well as
his cloth.

"Say, Parson, what's that about the dedication of the chapel?" he asked,
as he twirled his champagne glass to break a few bubbles. "Charlotte and
Nickols are going to give Harriet and me that tennis dressing down
Sunday week if you don't need us to dedicate with."

"No, I won't need you," answered the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, in an easy
agreeable voice, but that had in it the note that he always uses to make
Billy halt. "I'm not going to dedicate it yet."

"Why?" came in a perfect chorus.

"I've been working night and day on that altar cloth because I depended
on you to know the date of the dedication of your own church. I have
danced only once this week," said Letitia Cockrell, with her usual bland
directness.

"The communion service from Gorham's has been packed away unopened in my
office a week," Hampton added in an aggrieved voice. "They hurried it
for us and it has to be sent back, piece at a time, to be marked."

"The baptismal font is perfectly beautiful and I want the Suckling
sprinkled from it first. If you don't hurry she will get old enough to
misbehave herself. I know I promised, but I have decided that I can
never have the others baptized now, they are too bad," said Nell, as she
paused and listened for some sort of explosion from above as she did
every minute or two.

"I'll rope Charlotte and drag her to the altar for you, and Mark can sit
on her feet while the parson sprinkles," offered Billy, and they all
laughed at the picture that he conjured, which seemed to be in keeping
with many scenes we had witnessed in the life of small Charlotte.

"That won't be necessary. She will stand before me with folded hands
when her time comes," answered Mr. Goodloe, after he had laughed as
heartily as anybody else at Billy's threat. "The greatest difficulty
will be in persuading her to allow me to conduct my own services."

"But what did you put off the dedication date for?" demanded Letitia,
with the hurry over the altar cloth still rankling.

"I put off the dedication of the chapel until all of the people for whom
I cared deeply, whose cooperation with me is positively necessary,
should be ready to come and help me in the services. When that time
comes I will have the dedication. It may be a year and it may be
a--day," the parson answered with cool directness.

"If you mean Charlotte, the offer I made for young Charlotte holds
good," said Billy with positive glee. "If you want her I'll rope her and
drag her in and the rest of you can bid for who holds her down while
being branded."

"And my answer to your generous offer, Billy Harvey, is--" Mr. Goodloe
paused and looked at me, and Jessie giggled with nervousness--"the same
that I made to your offer about the constraining of young Charlotte."

"Still it would be great sport to see both the Charlottes--" Billy was
saying, when a servant brought a note on his tray and handed it to Mr.
Goodloe, who glanced at it and then hurriedly opened and read it.

"I am sorry, Mrs. Morgan, but will you let me answer this summons?" he
asked, and there was the regret in his rich voice of a great boy at
being snatched from a feast. "I am so hungry," he added with a laugh.

"Come back later. I'll save some of everything for you," said Nell
pleadingly.

"I will if I can," he answered. There was an excited smoulder in the
stars under the dull gold that made me restless and my eyes sought and
claimed his for a second in which a quick flash of the jeweled
tenderness of comprehension was flashed into my depths.

"Good-bye, everybody," he said, and in a second was out of the dining
room and we could hear him running down the steps.

"Oh, dear, if he just wasn't a preacher," sighed Harriet. "I suppose
somebody in the Settlement is dead or borned or drunk, and he has to go
and see about it. I wish--"

"Great Jehovah!" exclaimed Billy, as he suddenly jumped to his feet.
"Ensley is fighting drunk and has the gang around the Last Chance.
Parson's life isn't worth a tinker's damn if he runs foul of them with
all that talk about Martha Ensley and Jacob's threat. She came back last
night and Goodloe threatened to have Jacob arrested for beating her.
Come on, Nickols, and let's follow him. We'll be enough. The rest of you
go on eating, drinking and merrying because old Mark was born. We'll
come right back just as soon as we see that all is serene on the Potomac
of the Last Chance." And with a last hasty gulp at his wine glass Billy
followed Nickols out of the room. Nickols was both white and livid and
the expression of his face frightened me, for I knew that Billy would
minimize any kind of danger in the presence of a woman while Nickols
would not take that trouble.

It was with a queer breathlessness that we all sat before our wine
glasses in the midst of the perfume from the rich food and dying flowers
and waited--for what we didn't know.

Then it came!

A shot rang out clear and clean in the darkness and was quickly followed
by three barking echoes from a repeater.

And there seated in my chair in the brilliantly lighted room, blocks
away from the scene, I felt a bullet thud against dull gold.



CHAPTER XI

A BIT OF RAW LIFE


I don't know by what means of personal transportation my body was
carried down the street to the public square and to the pavement in
front of the courthouse, but I found myself standing there over a woman
who had raised Gregory Goodloe's head on her arm and was drawing deep,
hard sobs as she held a handkerchief to stanch a flow of blood that
showed crimson in the flash from Nickols' electric cigar lighter.

"'When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of
evil against you falsely for my sake--'" I quoted to myself softly as I
stood and looked down on the prostrate figure of the big lithe Harpeth
Jaguar while Billy struggled with a man a little way off in the darkness
and Nickols shut off the light and went to his aid. I didn't know
exactly where the words that rose so suddenly from my heart to my lips
had come from, and I only vaguely understood them, but I seemed to be
saying them without my own volition.

"Yes, my God, yes, that's what they've done to him," sobbed Martha as
she looked up, peering at me through the darkness. "Pa is drunk, Miss
Charlotte; and the rest egged him on. This is the only friend I've got
and they've killed him."

"Not by a good deal, Martha," came in a hearty grand opera voice just as
I dropped on my knee, and in time to stop me from taking that bleeding
gold head on my own breast and--"Jacob's bullet just clipped me but its
impact was as good as his fist would have been, which I wish he had
used." And as he spoke the wounded parson sprang lithely to his feet and
left us two women kneeling before him. In an instant a thought of Mary
and the Magdalen flashed through my brain as he bent to raise me to my
feet, while Martha crouched away from us in the dark.

"Charlotte?" he questioned softly, as if not willing to believe the
witness of his hands and eyes, muffled by the starry darkness.

"Young Charlotte stones you and Jacob shoots you, and I--" I both
sobbed and laughed as I clung to his hand just as I heard Billy and
Nickols throw the cursing, panting man to the ground not ten feet away.

"Now then, Parson, we've got Jacob down and out. Nickols has got his
foot on his neck and I've got his pistol. What do you want done with
him?" Billy interrupted me pantingly to demand.

"Let him up," answered Mr. Goodloe, as he gently extricated himself from
my clinging hand and went over to the scene of the conflict. "Had
enough, Jacob?" he asked just as gently as he had unhanded himself from
me.

"I'll have had enough when I put you where you can't entice my girl
again," answered Jacob as he rose slowly to his feet. As he spoke Billy
went and stood beside the parson and Nickols stepped behind them into
the shadow in which Martha crouched.

"You know that is not true, Jacob. I helped Martha to go away to a place
of safety to earn her living and keep her honesty. Isn't that so,
Martha?" the rich voice softly asked the woman crouching in the dark.

"I told him that but he wouldn't believe me and the others don't," she
answered with a sob that was almost a shudder of fear.

"What did she come back fer then?" demanded Jacob. "Answer me that. And
didn't she go straight to your preaching and praying joint like all the
other women, fine and sluts, do?" The liquor was still burning in
Jacob's head but at those words he got a response from the impact of
Billy's fist that again laid him low.

"Oh, I dasn't say nothing. I dasn't," moaned Martha, as she clutched at
my skirts just as Nell and Hampton began to arrive on the scene of
action, followed by Harriet and Mark and the others. They were all
panting and wild with anxiety. They had taken the wrong turning at the
end of the square and had gone around the block, thus giving the little
tragedy time to enact itself before a mercifully small audience.

"Go away quickly, Martha, in the shadow," I bent and whispered to the
trembling woman, and I didn't know where the sympathy in my voice came
from as I stood between her and the rest while she slipped behind an old
horse block before the court house gate and off in the darkness towards
the Settlement before they had noticed her presence.

"Anybody hurt? What's the matter?" gasped Mark as he seized hold of the
Reverend Mr. Goodloe's arm.

"Nothing serious," answered the parson in a voice that calmed the others
like oil on choppy water. "Jacob Ensley is out on a drunk and Billy had
to knock him down to quiet him. All of you go back to dinner quickly,
for I don't see why Sergeant Rogers should get Jacob this time. Billy
will help me get him home and I'll remonstrate with him when he is
sober. I'd rather do it at the Last Chance than at the jail. Jacob is a
leading citizen and I don't want a jail smirch on him. I intend to use
him later. Now all of you go. Go!" His voice was as gently positive as
if he had been speaking to a lot of children and nobody seemed even to
think of rebelling but we all began to fade away into the starlight as
rapidly as we had assembled and more quietly.

"Thank you, and bless you," he said to me, as I went past him in the
darkness, and for just a second I suspected that his hand was laid on my
black braids but I was not sure. I knew the gratitude was for my
getting Martha off the scene of action so quietly and swiftly.

"A bit of raw life for you, Charlotte," Nickols remarked as he went with
me through the fragrant night back to Mark's and Nell's feast. "The
eternal girl, two-men melee."

"In this case it was girl--three men, the third skunking it," I answered
in words as coarse and as forcible as the scene I had just witnessed.
"I'd like to get my bare hands around the throat of the man who is
hiding behind Martha and that little child."

"That remark from you, my dear Charlotte, just goes to show that when
women get even the smell of bloodshed they become fiercer than the
male," said Nickols with a cool laugh that further infuriated me.

"Yes, I do feel like a female jaguar," I answered hotly and then
collapsed inside at the use of that name for myself in conjunction with
my secret title for the Reverend Mr. Goodloe.

"It would be better if you felt yourself in the character of a ferret if
you intend to go out on a still hunt for all unacknowledged paternity,
even in dear, simple, little old Goodloets," Nickols further jeered as
we came up the steps of the Morgan house from where the others were just
going into the dining room to resume their eating and drinking and being
merry.

"I'll find that one man," I answered as I swept into the dining room,
seated myself in my place and drained my glass of flat wine.

"Heaven help him!" laughed Nickols wickedly, and he raised Mr. Goodloe's
full glass as he slipped into his place beside me.

For a week after the shooting fray my soul sulked darkly in its tent and
meditated while I went on my usual gay rounds of self-enjoyment. The
garden was being brought to a most glorious mid-August triumph and the
inhabitants for miles around were coming to see it. All of father's old
friends, from whom he had shrunk in the last years, hung around him in
the old way. He sat with them under the old graybeard poplars around
which had been planted a plantation of slim young larches by the wizard
of White Plains. From discussions about gardening and Americanisms all
the old Solons of the local bar, and even of the towns around, gradually
led their fallen leader back into his place and were battling with him
over politics and jurisprudence as they had in past days. The day I went
into his library to ask father about employing another likely black
garden boy that Dabney had discovered, and found him, Judge Monfort from
over at Hillcrest in the third district, Mr. Cockrell and Mr. Sproul
around his table deep in huge volumes from the shelves, buried in a
cloud of tobacco smoke and argument in which Latin words flew back and
forth, I went up to my room and stood helpless before my window looking
out towards Paradise Ridge.

"I want to thank somebody and there is nobody to thank," I whispered,
with a great emptiness within me. That was the bitterest cry of need my
heart had ever given forth, and I went swiftly down to Nickols in the
garden and told him what I had seen and heard.

"It really is a remarkable come-back, sweetheart," he said, with the
most exquisite sympathy in his voice and face. "Mark Morgan told me just
an hour ago that they want to have him appointed back to his old place
on the bench and Mr. Cockrell answered the President's inquiry for a man
from this section for the Commerce Commission with the judge's name.
It'll be great to see the old boy on one of the seats of the mighty
again, thanks to the sweat of his brow and mind in this village
manifestation of American nationalism which has grown out of our little
old garden plan."

"What can a man or woman do to render gratitude if there seems to be
nobody to take it, Nickols?" I asked him, not expecting, as usual, that
he would understand me. For once he did.

"The philosophies all teach 'hand it on' in that case," he answered me.

"I'll hand it on to Martha Ensley and help her and her child to their
place under the sun," I said slowly, thus by having a reason and an
obligation back of it, ratifying the vow I had already taken.

"That is an impossibility," answered Nickols with easy coolness. "The
one 'come-back' that is impossible is the woman in that kind of a
situation."

"I'll never admit such an injustice as that," I said, and I had a queer
premonition that I would be held to that declaration.

The very next morning after my declaration of purpose to "hand on" my
father's "come-back" I went down into the Settlement to hunt for Martha
Ensley, not that I was really suffering about her, but because I felt a
kind of obligation to begin at once a thing that it appealed to my sense
of justice to accomplish.

Sometimes in mid-August there comes down a night over the hot, lush,
maturing Harpeth Valley which is like a benediction that sprinkles cool
dew on a thirsting heart. And now the morning was cool and brilliant,
with the sun evaporating the heavy dew in soft clouds of perfume from
the grain fields, the meadows and the upturned soil out where the
farmers were breaking ground after the first harvests. I felt strong and
calm and full of an electric energy, which I found I needed before I had
more than started my quest.

I put on my tennis clothes, snowy from collar to shoe tips, like the
trappings of the White Knight, and started to walk down into the
Settlement to find Martha. I intended to stop at Mother Spurlock's
"Little House Beside the Road," and some vague idea was in my mind of
having her dispatch a messenger to summons Martha to the interview I was
about to bestow upon her. That is not the way it all happened and I was
hot and dusty and sweat-drenched before I had been on my quest more than
a few hours.

Mother Elsie was not at home. The door to the Little House was wide
open, as it always is when cold or rain does not close it, and huge old
Tabby with one eye purred on the doorstep in the sun. A bird was nesting
in the wisteria vine above the door and her soft whirring bespoke an
interesting domestic event as near at hand. It did not in the least
disturb Tab, and I wondered at the harmony between traditional enemies
that I met on Mother Spurlock's very doorstep. I went in and drew myself
a drink of fresh cool water from the cistern at the back door, looked in
a tin box over the kitchen table and took three crisp tea cakes
therefrom. I picked up a half knitted sock from beside the huge split
rocker in the shade of the gnarled old apple tree, which was a rooftree
in every sense of the word, for it crowded close against the door and
hovered in the whole tiny house. Just before I left I put all the loose
change I had in my white linen skirt pocket in an old lacquered tea
canister which had a slit in it cut with a can opener, and that stood
on the shelf of the old rock chimney in the low living room. I had
never heard that canister mentioned by Mother Spurlock and I don't know
how I knew that out of it came the emergency funds for many a crisis in
the Settlement. Then last I picked a blush rose from the monthly bloomer
trailing up and over the window and laid it on the empty, worn old Bible
on the wide arm of the rocker beside a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.
Then I hesitated. I had been so sure of finding Mother Spurlock at home
and having her hunt up Martha for me that I found it difficult to adjust
myself to my first complexity of plans. And while I hesitated a resolve
came into my mind with the completeness of a spoken direction.

"She lives at the Last Chance and I'll go right down there and find
her," I said to myself, as I started along the peony-bordered path to
the front gate of the Little House, over which a huge late snowball was
drooping, loaded down with snowy balls that would hold their own until
almost the time for frost. At my own decision I had a delicious little
feeling of fear, which was at least justifiable when I thought of that
huge drunken figure wrestling with Billy in the darkness and whom I
knew to be the proprietor of the resort into which I had determined to
penetrate. Also, from my early youth I had heard Jacob Ensley and the
Last Chance spoken of in tones of dread disapproval. Before I should
become really frightened I hurried down the hill, past the squalid and
tumble-down mill cottages which I had never really seen before, where it
seemed to me millions of children swarmed in and around and about, and
at last arrived at the infamous social center of the Settlement.

And my astonishment was profound to find that the Last Chance sign hung
over a very prosperous grocery with boxes and barrels of provender out
on the pavement under an awning and with huge, newly-painted screen
doors guarding the wide entrance, at which I hesitated.

"Come right in, lady, come right in," called a cheerful, booming man's
voice, and the door was swung open by a large man in a white apron, with
blue eyes that crinkled at the corners, a wide smile and white hair.
"What can we do for you to-day? We've a nice lot of late dewberries just
in from over on Paradise Ridge."

"I'm--I'm looking for the--the Last Chance Saloon," I faltered, because
I was too astonished to utter anything but the truth to the delightful
and tenderly solicitous man standing before me in his huge, clean white
apron over his blue shirt that matched his eyes.

"Well, lady," the nice Irish voice faltered a trifle, about as mine had,
though plainly with controlled astonishment tinged with amusement,
"could I get you anything to--to cool you off and bring it out here in
the grocery? It is cooler than it is back at the bar. I said to myself
jest last week, so I did, I said to myself, 'Jacob, you ought to get a
sody-water fountain for the ladies what has the same right to thirst as
a man.' And I will, too, if my bad luck just leaves me. How about a nice
cool bottle of beer sitting comfortable here before the counter?"

"Are you--_you_--Jacob--I mean--Mr. Jacob Ensley?" I further gasped.
This daylight materialization of the grewsome beast of the night was too
much for me.

"Jacob Ensley at your service, Miss," he answered with easy dignity.
"Now, will it be the bottle of beer I shall bring you? Or there's a new
drink I might mix fer you that a young gentleman friend of mine from
New York has taught me, and with a good Irish name of Thomas
Collins--the drink, not the young gentleman." Nickols had been living on
Tom Collins for the last month and I instantly knew that I recognized
the young friend from New York. Also my wits were at a branching of the
road and I didn't know just what to do or say as Jacob waited with easy
courtesy for my decision. And again I was too much perturbed for
invention and had to speak out the truth.

"I'm Charlotte Powers, Mr. Ensley, and I came down to see your daughter,
Martha," I said, looking directly into his clear friendly eyes which I
saw instantly darken with a storm as the smile left his nice mouth and
it hardened into a straight line.

"I'm sorry, Miss Powers, but my Martha ain't at home right now to you,
and I don't know when she will be. Is that all I can do for you? These
berries now, from over at Paradise Ridge?" And with the ease of a man of
the great upper world Jacob Ensley of the lower walks of life put me out
of the door of his private life into the ranks of the meddler and shut
it in my face. I acknowledged to myself that my rebuff was justifiable
and I was about to make an exit from the scene as gracefully as possible
with a box of the really delicious berries under my arm when a cry of
terror in a child's voice came from somewhere at the back of the grocery
and together the grocer and I ran to see what the matter could be. And
at the heels of the proprietor I then penetrated the blind of the
grocery and entered the Last Chance.



CHAPTER XII

THE TENACIOUS TURTLE


"It's Martha's Stray," the big man gasped in a kind of impatient alarm.
"I just left him here a minute ago to go front." Together he and I
started around the long room with its bar on the one side backed up by a
mirror whose gilt frame was swathed in mosquito netting and on either
side of which were shelves bearing pyramids of bottles. On the bar at
one end were piled oranges and at the other lemons and limes whose
sophistication seemed out of place somehow in the Settlement in the
Harpeth Valley. All the trappings that I judge would go with the
dispensing of liquor were present, but our eyes could discover no small
child and we stood together and waited anxiously.

"He's got me toe, me toe, and won't let go. He's chewing it off!" at
last came a lusty yell from just outside a back door that led out into a
side yard from behind the bar, and with one accord the proprietor of
the Last Chance and I ran to the scene of the devouring. And as we ran I
heard a door slam in the rooms back of the bar and we met Martha face to
face on the scene of action. I shall never forget the picture that
confronted me there in that little back yard upon which the bar of the
Last Chance opened, and I somehow never want to.

On a little grass plot a small boy danced and yelled and firmly to one
of the capering feet was hung a large mud turtle which was flapped this
way and that by the strenuous young leg, but which held on with
apparently every intention of letting only the traditional thunder
loosen its grasp on the pink prize.

"Stand still, you Stray, and let me get at the varmint," commanded Jacob
impatiently.

"Let mother get the beast, sonny," Martha pleaded as she knelt on the
grass and caught the dancing boy by his arm and brought his dervish
gyrations to a halt.

I stood unconscious of intrusion and absorbed with interest and watched
the operations begun on the tenacious turtle and the writhing toe.
Neither of the three principals in the action noticed me at all as
Martha held the boy and Jacob bent and took hold of the turtle in his
hard brown spotted shell. And as the operations for his liberation were
begun the small boy became both still and quiet and I was able to get a
good view of him as he leaned against his mother's shoulder and held out
the foot to Jacob.

As I looked at him something queer stirred in me with a sharp pain and
then was quiet. He was the most delicious bit of five-year-old humanity
I had ever beheld and I doubt if any childless woman could have seen
such a child cuddle to another woman's breast and shoulder and not have
had something of the same thrill of pain. His whiteness and pinkness and
sturdy chubbiness were like many another infant's charms but his jet
black top-knot that ascended on one side and cascaded over his ear on
the other in a hauntingly familiar way, his violet eyes under their long
lashes and his clear-cut, firm, commanding mouth, that curled into the
bud of a rose as he sobbed and then unfolded into lines of beauty and
strength as he hushed at his mother's comforting, were not like any
other young human that I had ever beheld.

"It hurts. It hurts!" he sobbed.

"Hush, _you_ mustn't cry!" commanded Martha, and there was a little
bitter emphasis on the "you" that cut me, I didn't exactly know why.

And immediately the curled mouth was set in a firm line and the long
lashes winked back tears.

"The beast will not leave go at all," was Jacob's verdict as after a
careful twisting and turning of the ugly turtle he rose to his feet.
"And they do say to kill it lets a venom into the place it is holt of. I
dunno what to do." And in his uncertainty Jacob's eyes sought my face
while at the same instant Martha lifted her wistful eyes to mine. It was
the instinctive turning of the masses to the domination of my class in
the time of need of leadership.

"You git it, lady," suddenly demanded the kiddie, and in his voice and
glance there was none of the deferring to a superior force that I felt
in the others but a decided command of that force. And as he spoke he
stretched out an imperious hand that caught and clung to mine. "Git down
and git it," he again commanded.

"Have you any ammonia, Martha?" I asked, my wits responding gallantly to
the sudden demand upon their biological knowledge.

"I've some in the chist behind the bar. Times I uses it strong on heavy
drunks," responded Jacob and he went quickly into the bar and returned
with the bottle. "It's customers in the grocery and customers at the bar
that I'm keeping waiting fooling along with the brat and the varmint,"
he grumbled.

"I can manage the turtle and you can go and attend to the customers," I
answered, thus assuming calmly the command of the craft of the Last
Chance. Jacob immediately took me at my word and disappeared into the
bar.

"Let's take him and lay him on the bed so we can muffle the turtle in a
towel while we use the ammonia," I said to Martha.

"Yes," answered Martha, "that will be best. Let mother carry you,
sonny!" and Martha bent as if to lift him in her arms.

"I kin hop," the young sufferer announced. "I'm too big to carry, I am,"
he added with proud consideration in his glance at Martha's frailness.

"I'll carry you and mother can carry the turtle," I answered, and to
prevent further delay I lifted him in my strong arms while Martha took
the turtle in her hands, protected by the gingham apron that she wore.
The black head wilted against my breast and the serious young violet
eyes were raised to mine in frightened confidence.

"It's a mighty big turkle," he faltered and snuggled closer.

"We'll get him," I reassured, as I laid him on a bed in a room that
opened, as did the bar, out on the tiny yard.

And as I had promised we performed upon that stubborn turtle. With a
convulsion, as the ammonia fumes entered his nostrils, if he had such
things, he let go of the toe, shuddered and withdrew into his shell, to
die, I supposed, though I afterwards learned that he crawled off in the
night, much to the kiddie's grief.

"That's a bad smell, poor old turkle," was all the thanks I got as the
sufferer climbed down from the bed and proceeded to seize his late enemy
in intrepid and sympathetic hands. His mother rescued both him and the
turtle by placing the latter in a bucket on a table at the window and
giving the rescued another bucket to get me a drink of water from the
well in the yard.

"Northeast, bottom corner," he promised me with hospitality shining from
his entire face as he experimentally hopped out into the yard, then
forgot me and the water entirely in making the acquaintance of a very
dirty little dog that was barking at him through the fence.

"Oh, he's lovely, Martha," I said, speaking from pure impulse in a way
that could not fail to carry conviction and melt the heart of any woman
who possessed a treasure like that.

"I know he is, Miss Charlotte," Martha answered with gentle bitterness,
"and that makes it all the worse for him."

"It doesn't; it can't be worse for anybody to be born as beautiful and
strong as that boy is," I answered her and felt somehow I had fallen
head foremost into my mission. "I came down here to see you, Martha, and
now that I have seen him--I--it's--it's a shame, all of it," I ended by
faltering with a total lack of the eloquence that I felt.

"Yes, it's just that--a shame," Martha admitted to me with a great
hopelessness in her black eyes. "And nothing can make it better."

"Something can be done!" I answered hotly. "You are young, Martha, and
he's a baby. You can get out of it all and you can get him out and begin
all over. I--I'll help you." And as I spoke I took her hand in mine.
Mine was brown and hard from tennis and Martha's from toil, but they met
and clung.

"I--I tried that, Miss Charlotte. I had to come back," answered Martha,
and a bitter passion suddenly lit her pale face. "I'm too young to be
let go--yet."

"What do you mean, Martha?" I asked, and suddenly I felt that some kind
of chasm had yawned at my feet that I had never suspected to exist
before.

"Don't ask me, Miss Charlotte," Martha answered as the passion died out
of her face and voice and the sorrow fell over her like a shadow.

"Do you remember that afternoon at Mother Spurlock's when we were ten,
and you climbed the tree and got the apples, while I picked them up for
her to make apple turn-overs for us?" I asked her suddenly as I held on
to her hand when she tried to draw it from me. "I cried for a week to
go and see you, Martha, and it was all wrong that I wasn't allowed. My
mother would have let me come if she had been alive, but Mammy was an
ignorant negro and didn't understand."

"I cried for you, too," answered Martha, as the saddest smile I had ever
seen came across the darkness of her face. "And when you was a young
lady I crept up to the south window of the Poplars and saw you in your
dress for the big coming-out party. You were like an angel from Heaven
and I loved you. I wanted to be like you. All us girls did. They have
always envied you and watched you, but I loved you. I did! I did,
but--what chanct has a girl like me got against a man who's like--like
you are? But I did love you; I did!"

"It doesn't seem right to--to either of us to have kept us apart," I
faltered, as Martha suddenly slipped to the floor at my feet and put her
head in her hands.

"Don't be kind to me--I can't stand that. You mustn't, you mustn't! You
wouldn't if you knew," she sobbed.

"I _am_ going to be--that is, I _am_ going to help you, Martha, and you
have got to show me how," I answered her as a kind of determination
that was stronger than any like emotion I had ever had came over me.
"Tell me what to do, Martha, for you and--and for the kiddie," I
commanded her with my usual imperiousness.

"Miss Charlotte," said Martha, as she suddenly rose to her knees, looked
up into my face and bared her shoulder with one motion of her hand,
"that black bruise is from the licks father gave me when I wouldn't tell
him why it was I came back after I went away and why it was I went. He
beat me three times to make me tell whose that boy is--when he wasn't a
month old. He knew that Mr. Goodloe helped me to go away three months
ago and--and begin again, and he don't really believe that the parson
enticed me back. The gang just put that in his head when he was
drinking. He does think that Mr. Goodloe knows about it all and I'm
afraid--afraid that some time when he's drunk he'll try to make him tell
and--and--there'll be murder, maybe double murder. I can't tell you
anything. I'm a fly caught in a web and I'm being drawn down to hell. I
thought there was a way out; the parson prayed with me and I saw it. I
saw myself right and honest again, but--but at a word I--I came back.
Even the good of the child couldn't hold me when the--the calling came.
Please go and leave me, and forget about me and--and don't come down
here again."

"No, Martha, I must help you," I answered, decidedly. I had never been
able to bear any kind of frustration and this made me doubly determined.

"It's too late, Miss Charlotte, but, Oh, it ain't too late for some of
the others. Luella May and Sadie Todd and the rest. Miss Charlotte, make
the Town men let 'em alone, and stop the Saturday night games and dances
down here. You can do it. Pa would kill me for saying it, for it is then
he makes his money, but it isn't fair, it isn't fair. You Town women do
the same things, but you are protected and looked after. When Grace
Payne gets drunk at your Country Club you take her home yourself and see
no harm comes to her, and the men she's with protect her from
themselves, but it's not the same with Luella May Spain and--and me."

"How did you know about Grace, Martha?" I faltered with terror in my
heart. I felt a kind of class nakedness that made me burn with positive
physical shame.

"They all watch and talk about what you do, Miss Charlotte, you
especially, because you are more beautiful and more--more strong than
the rest. They all said you'd smash our going to the church meetings
with the Town folks at the Country Club when you got home. But I always
stand up that you are right and you are. The Town on the hill and the
Settlement in the valley are better--better apart. That's why I'm
begging you to go and leave me to fight it out or go under. Please go!"

"Oh, but, Martha, I didn't--I don't--" I was beginning to falter a
denial to what had suddenly struck me as a truth when we were
interrupted by the advent of Martha's child, the Stray, as I afterwards
found was the only name he possessed, one cruelly indicative of his
relation to the social structure of the world into which he had
involuntarily been born.

"Bottom of the well, northeast corner," he said, as he set a bucket of
water at my feet with a jolt that dashed a small wave over my white
buckskins, and he held out a dipper full to me with a little twirling
motion that sent another wave on my skirt and which had an unmistakably
professional knack to it. I have seen old Wilks set down beer steins and
cocktail glasses with exactly that twirl ever since he has officiated at
the lockers and sideboard at the Club, and I now know that his motions
had the latest Last Chance style to them. Thus, by gossamer links and
steel cable, the Town and the Settlement seemed to be held together.

"Excuse me for spilling the water on you," added the young scion of the
bartender with grave courtesy, as he held a very dirty little paddie
under the drip of the dipper and elevated the drink for me in such a way
that I had to steady the small hand that held the handle with mine as I
drank.

"Oh, son, how careless!" Martha was just exclaiming when a call in
Jacob's sharp voice interrupted her.

"Martha, grocery!" it commanded her and I was not sure whether he was
ignorant of the fact that I was still her caller or was interrupting her
on purpose. I think Martha shared the same uncertainty; she blushed and
looked both ashamed and frightened.

"I'll go now, Martha, out this door that leads onto the street," I
hastened to say to relieve her of the dilemma. "But I'm coming back to
you," I added with determination, as I made ready to slip out the side
door of the Last Chance in regular underworld style.

"Please don't, Miss Charlotte," she called, as she was passing through
the other door into the world from which I was escaping. The sad
significance of our two exits struck me so forcibly that I was two
blocks away before I really became conscious of things around me, and
then I was brought back to the squalid street of the Settlement and its
surroundings by feeling a damp little hand slipped into mine as I strode
along.

"Please take me with you, Miss Lady," the Stray pleaded, as he ran along
beside me, trying to keep up with my long steps. "I've got me a dog now
to keep off turkles from me and you." And the slinking brindle bunch of
ears and tail and very little else, at our heels, regarded me with the
same brave entreaty. He and the Stray, indeed, presented a picture of
chivalrous attention as they stood regarding me.

"But what will your mother say?" I asked of my small human attendant
with conscientious contention against my desire to take them both with
me on out of the dirt and heat and flies and other swarming young humans
up into the coolness and shade and--loneliness--of my own life.

"She groceries all day and has to forget me," he answered calmly. "You
can bring me back to bed when she is through." And to this plea was
added a pathetic wag of the brindle tail.

"Well, I'll take you up as far as Mother Spurlock's and give you both a
tea cake," I capitulated as I started again up the street of the
Settlement towards the haven of the Town.

And as my escort and I progressed through the Settlement I could see the
most violent signs of interest being manifested in all of us. Dirty,
sweaty women, with their sleeves rolled up, came to the doors to look at
us, and as I greeted them one and all with a nod they smiled back with
pleased astonishment. I had never been down in the Settlement before,
but most of them spoke to me by name and one toothless old woman hastily
broke off a bloom from a struggling geranium, came to her rickety gate
and offered it to me with an admiring smile.

"Bless my soul, Miss Charlotte, be you a-kidnappin' Martha's Stray?" she
asked, as I accepted it with enthusiasm.

"He and the dog are kidnapping me as far as Mother Spurlock's, and then
they'll let me go and come back," I answered, with a laugh, as we
started on. Not once had the strong little fingers let go of my hand as
we stood and talked and they only held the closer as we started climbing
the long, hot dusty hill to the Little House by the Side of the Road.
But in the long climb not once did the sturdy little legs lag or the
small arm drag on my strength. The clasp was one of equality and
affectionate attraction, not of dependence.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SHORT-CIRCUIT


And at last we arrived at the old snowball guarding the open gate of the
Little House and we went under its low boughs and up the walk. But we
did not march to an undisputed and stealthy raid on the tea cake box
above the kitchen table. The Little House was no longer the deserted
scene I had left it, but was teeming with human and juvenile activities
which streamed out to meet us at the door.

"You can't come in here, Auntie Charlotte," was the command that greeted
me at the very doorstep as young Charlotte faced me with short skirts
outspread determinedly, while behind her Mikey of the red head, Jimmy,
Sue, Maudie, the sister of Mikey, and other known and unknown juveniles,
presented a solid support of defiance. "We are doing some Lord's work
and we don't need you, but we'll let the nice little boy and the lovely
dog come in. We do need them. Come in, little boy!" and as she spoke
Charlotte held out a welcoming hand to the Stray, who faltered and
looked up into my face to see if he might accept the invitation which
evidently swayed him by its commanding tone.

"Couldn't I come in for just a second?" I asked with all due meekness.

"Not for even a second," answered Charlotte sternly. "You'd interrupt
Minister. You go away and leave the boy."

"Then how'll I get him back to his mother?" I pleaded, but as I spoke I
allowed the little fingers to slip from mine and I pushed the waif
towards Charlotte with the greatest confidence, which evidently
communicated itself to both him and the dog, for they left me
simultaneously and went towards the enemy's camp.

"Shoo, it's only little Stray Ensley. I'll take him home when I go," the
redoubtable Mikey assured me with a wide smile at the kiddie, which was
answered with a rapture of hero worship.

"What's his name?" demanded Charlotte as if seeking a passport.

"Just Stray," answered Mikey in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "He
ain't got no father, dead or alive."

"Then Stray is just short for stranger, because everybody else has
fathers, dead, alive or drunk," said Charlotte, in the same
matter-of-fact tone that Mikey had used, and he in no way seemed to feel
her remark personally derogatory to his paternal parent.

"Well, let's take him to Minister to be learned his verses of the song
and dance. Come on, for we are keeping him and the Lord waiting," said
Charlotte as she marshaled them all into the Little House and calmly
shut the door in my face and left me standing alone in the middle of the
walk. Even the yellow pup had squeezed into the door before it was shut
and only I was left in the outer darkness away from the grand opera
voice that I could hear booming with a juvenile chorus out at the back
of the cottage where I knew the rehearsal was being held under the twin
of the old apple tree from which the front roof tree over my head was
eternally separated by the Little House. With actual sadness and a queer
feeling of shut-outness I did the only thing left to me and sauntered
slowly on up the hill under the tall old elm trees that the Town had
planted a century ago to keep the heat from the heads of the like of me
while the toilers down in the Settlement had no such proof of ancestral
care.

"They are producing in the sweat of their brows while I--saunter," I
said to myself, as I stretched out my bare arm from which the white silk
sleeve had been rolled away after the prevailing mode of the sport for
which it was designed, and flexed and regarded the bunch of muscles that
knotted themselves on my smooth, tanned forearm.

"It _could_ swing a wash tub as well as the best racquet this side of
the Meadowbrook Club," I added aloud with a queer kind of primitive
shame mixed with my physical pride in myself.

"Or juggle a heavy baby and a kitchen stove into a square meal?" added a
laughing voice as the Jaguar padded up beside my shoulder on his tennis
shoes before I had heard him at all, so deep was my absorption in my own
judgment and absolution of myself.

"Still I was put out just a few minutes ago by a woman half my size," I
laughed in return as the long strides shortened into harmony with mine.

"I heard about it and ran after you to ask you to come back or, if you
refused, to let me go with you wherever you are going. I left Mother
Spurlock in charge of the newly installed Epworth Leaguers. Charlotte
disapproved of my coming and said so," and we both laughed in delight
over my strenuous name-daughter.

"Are you asking me _quo vadis?_" I demanded, with a look at him out of a
corner of my eye that got in return a glint of the jewels under dull
gold that always infuriated as well as interested me.

"'Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge--'"
the parson suddenly chanted under his breath, using the old Gregorian
measure for the few words of the oldest song of impersonal love extant.
"Thank you for bringing Martha's boy up to the Little House. Jacob has
refused both Mother Spurlock and me to let him come."

"I didn't bring him. He and the pup brought me and then he was stolen
from me into the fold, as it were," I answered as I paused at the front
gate of the Poplars, which had a white clematis drifting over its tall
stone pillars and clutching at the straight iron bars as if trying to
keep me out of even my own fold. "Will you come in with me?" I asked
with a laugh, as I flung the old gate wide in spite of the tendril
fingers.

The parson laughed, whistled a strain of his "whither thou goest" chant
to me and followed me across the lawn to the foot of the poplars. On the
bench surrounding their trunks I found my basket with the fine seam I
was sewing for the Suckling in it and I dropped upon the thick mat of
grass on the very edge of the shadow from the silver branches above and
began to hunt for my thimble, leaving the Jaguar standing over me.

"Stop looking down on me and come tell me what particular religious
incantations were going on from which Charlotte so violently barred me,"
I laughed up at him, as I threw a flat grass cushion a little way from
my skirts, upon which he immediately sank and seemed to curl up at my
feet.

"I had the whole bunch rehearsing the children's part in the dedication
services of our chapel. Do you know that small Sue can really sing? The
rest stagger well but Susan sings. It is delicious. It is going to be
hard on you women folks to hear her chant her responses to me on that
great day." And as he spoke he looked beyond me over to his beautiful
shimmering gray chapel and there was not a glint in his eyes that showed
me he was trying to sound out my intentions about attendance on that
ceremony.

"Please, Mr. Goodloe, don't be serious in saying as you did last night
that you are not going to dedicate your chapel until I--I help you," in
all gentleness I said.

"I can't do it until you come," he answered me with just as great
gentleness and he turned his head away from me, but not before I saw a
glow in his eyes that made me suddenly strong and calm and curiously
humble.

"I--I could go as your guest," I faltered, offering a compromise which I
felt sure would not be accepted.

"I can't, I just can't dedicate the chapel until you echo my ceremony in
your heart," he answered me with his eyes still turned away from me and
looking with the greatest sadness out on Paradise Ridge.

"Why?" I asked with a simple directness that the situation demanded and
with no trace of the coquetry the question might have held.

"Shall I tell you all of the reason with no reservations?" the parson
asked, as he swung around on his mat and faced me, with his eyes looking
straight into mine.

"All," I answered.

"In every community there is one soul which holds the real leadership of
the souls of those surrounding them. God seems to appoint captains of
the regiments of His people to lead them along the way, Christ the
captain of all the hosts. Spiritually you are more evolved than any
other person in this town and with you doubting I cannot get the others
to see. You are so gorgeous and so brilliant that you blind them all.
They have always followed your lead--up or down. There are a few like
Mother Spurlock who have gained their Christ knowledge through
suffering, but they are not of the calibre to help others to gain
theirs. With your hand in mine I can make this whole community see and
know; separated from you, you going one way and I another, I can do
nothing. You simply short-circuit my force and I am helpless without
you." He spoke very simply and directly down into my heart.

"That is not true; no one person is responsible for any spiritual
decision that another makes," I answered hotly with an awful sense of
having had a burden placed on my shoulders that they could not carry.

"The old 'brother's keeper' question will never be settled in any but
the right way," he answered me straight from the shoulder. "You are
responsible for the attitude of this whole town towards the cause I
represent and they'll have to wait for your eyes to be opened and for
you to make them see."

"You minimize yourself," I answered quickly, for in some curious way it
hurt me to see that great strong man sit at my feet baffled by a force
that he declared to be in me but which I did not acknowledge or
understand.

"They were listening to me--from a distance, as it were--and I might
have made them hear if you had not come home and thrown them back into
the old pleasant groove of non-action and non-belief. In a week you had
swept away all I had builded in six months." He spoke with simple
conviction and not a trace of the bitterness that might have been in the
arraignment.

"Everybody in this town adores you," were the words that gushed out of
my heart for his comforting before I could stop them. "That is one
reason I have acted as I have. I do not, I cannot believe that the
religion which is great enough to bring the redemption of the whole race
into a desirable immortality can be composed of nine-tenths emotion,
with which all of them were following your beautiful voice and beautiful
eyes and beautiful church and beautiful words. If I am to be saved it
will be by something sterner than that; it will be something that makes
me sweat drops of blood from my mind, take up a hard cross of duty and
work, work to make the fibre of my soul strong enough to enjoy the
robust kind of immortality that alone seems worth while to me. Your Son
of Man walked from town to town in the hot sun and taught the people,
healed the multitude and yet had not where to lay his head to rest. His
church has lost His vigor. Your whole scheme hasn't enough action in it.
Your organization is too easy and too full of surface observances. It is
conducted with slipshod business methods and there is no force in it to
help me. If I join any church ever it will have to be a new one that can
compare with modern business in its efficiency. Your scheme of
redemption to immortality through an efficient mediation is perfectly
sound, but you don't back it up."

"The Church of Christ has stood, endured and done business for almost
two thousand years," he answered quietly. "It is in some ways all you
say of it, but it has at least proved its vitality. Why seek to found a
new organization with a new head and a new scheme of immortality if you
recognize this scheme as good? The place to reorganize a business is
from the inside, not the outside. These people _must_ get their vision
_now_. Will you come and help me?" As he spoke he looked again down into
the depths from which I had been trying to translate some of the
hieroglyphics to him and he held out his long powerful hand to me in an
entreaty that shook my very foundations.

"You make me want to do as you ask me, but I do not see what it is we
should strive for, what it is from which we should be saved. There are
tears in my eyes but do you want my emotions without my reason?" And I
asked my question with a quiver almost of timidity.

"No, both!" he answered me, as he dropped his hand and arm from their
attitude of entreaty, shook his head sadly and again turned from me and
looked out on the dim distance of Old Harpeth. Suddenly I had the
feeling of having a great door shut in my face, and a terror of being
left all alone in the world came over me. Without knowing what I did I
stretched out my hand and caught at his arm and moved closer to him,
suddenly cold in the sunshine.

"I'm frightened," I whispered, as I bowed my head on my hand, clutching
his arm.

"Poor little wandering, hunting lamb," he crooned to me as he laid a
tender hand on my bowed head. "Keep watch over her, Lord Jesus," he
prayed under his breath and then as suddenly as I had felt the fear I
found again my courage.

"That cry was woman to man, not child to priest. It is only honest to
tell you so," I said, as I suddenly raised my head and threw another
gauntlet that I knew would bring on another battle. "I hate myself for
it."

"I wanted to win you for God and have you come to me then as a gift
from Him, but it may have to be the other way round," was the answer he
struck out at me with, and as he spoke he clasped my hand in his with a
force that seemed to create the great silent, untenanted space around us
as it had that night he had sung the Tristan music to me in the
moonlight. "I'm going to save you and--and _have_ you."

"No, no!" I cried, as I tried to draw my hand away, found it held beyond
my effort and then suddenly released.

"I knew the first minute I looked into your eyes, but I'll wait," he
said softly into the silence around us.

"No, no, don't even think such a thing," I exclaimed, and I wanted to
rise to my feet and break the spell of that space around us, but I could
only cower closer to him on the grass beneath the rustling silver
leaves. "I'm going to marry Nickols in a few months and then I'm going
out of this world of yours and you can lead them all to--to safety."

"No, it's in God's hands. He'll keep you and give you to me when the
time comes. It all may mean suffering to us both, probably does, but I
accept the cup--in His good time," and as he spoke he looked again into
my eyes with a lonely sadness that I could not endure.

"I want to get away from you," I gasped and I felt that I must get out
of the aloneness with him.

"We are in God's hands," he said again, as his warm hands found and held
mine. "We must wait on Him with--" Then suddenly the world closed in on
us again and we were on our feet--apart.



CHAPTER XIV

ABIDE WITH ME


"Auntie Charlotte, you stole Minister away from us in a no-fair way,"
stormed Charlotte as she came around the young larches and wild swamp
root that had formed the world apart for the dangerous Jaguar and me.
"Mother Spurlock can't sing to any good and Sue is so little we gets the
key away from her. Let him come right back!" As she made this peremptory
demand for the release of my prisoner, my name-daughter stood her ground
with her cohorts, who had been scrambling around and over and through
the shrubbery, massed behind her. There were Mikey of the red head,
small James, the musical wee Susan, Maudie Burns and Jennie Todd,
besides several more of the Burns family, a few Sprouls and Paynes and a
very ragged young Jones, and they all looked at me with hostile and
accusing eyes as Charlotte hurled a final invective at me. "You are
wicked and the devil will burn you up," she threatened.

"He won't neither, at all. Hush up!" came a defense and a command in a
very imperious young voice, and the Stray followed the voice from around
the large trunk of the oldest graybeard. He had arrived late on the
scene of action because his impedimenta had been the wriggling puppy of
brindle hue, which he immediately released as he came over and stood
between the Reverend Mr. Goodloe and me, with my hand in his own small
paddie and defiance and defense to the limit in his high-held young head
with its black crest and snapping violet eyes. At last I felt Charlotte
had met her match and I trembled for the result.

"She never stoled nothing," he further declared, looking Charlotte full
in the eye.

"I meant she tooken him away, Stranger," parleyed Charlotte with extreme
mildness for her and giving to the Stray the name that she had decided
upon by translating the cognomen of his state into that of another
almost equally forlorn. "My father told my Auntie Harriet that Aunt
Charlotte would git Minister yet and I'll call the devil to stop her if
she tries to get him away."

"I'll bust that devil's head with a rock and a bad smell," answered the
Stray as he held tighter to my hand and hurled back his threat that held
a remembrance of the conquering of the tenacious turtle.

"Auntie Harriet answered father that Auntie Charlotte and the devil
could do most anything that--" small James was contributing to the
general assault when with a wave of a calming hand Mr. Goodloe took the
field.

"That will do, youngsters," he commanded with extreme mildness it seemed
to me, considering the appalling situation. "I thought you had had about
enough practice for to-day and Charlotte could have taught the little
boy--er--"

"Stranger," prompted Charlotte.

"You could have taught him up to the point you knew so I could have a
nice rest here under the lovely trees. Are you being kind to me in not
helping me a little bit? You know what you promised me." And the beloved
"Minister's" voice was just as grave and just as serious as if he had
been reproving one of his deacons.

"Is talking to Auntie Charlotte and holding her hand the Lord's work?"
demanded Charlotte, looking him straight in the face.

"Yes," answered Mr. Goodloe, gravely, looking her as straight in the eye
as she had looked him.

"Then come on, Stranger, and learn the march without any tune but Sue,"
she said as she stretched out her hand to the Stray, who ignored it and
clung to me with his serious eyes raised to mine.

"I'll go with you now over in the chapel and play for you on the organ
and then we can all teach him," said the parson, and he picked wee
Susan, the music box, up in his arms and buried his lips in the curls on
the back of her fragrant little neck.

"Are you all done with Auntie Charlotte?" asked young Charlotte, with
the extreme of consideration for him, not for my feelings.

"Yes, for the present," he answered, and he held out his free hand to
the Stray, who was still clinging to me.

"Go with him, sonny, and Mikey will take you home," I said to my small
champion, using the tender name that I had heard Martha give him. As I
spoke I laid his hand in that of Mr. Goodloe and I didn't raise my eyes
to his but turned from them and left him standing in the midst of his
flock of lambs under the silver leaves and out in the bright light,
while I went into the cool dark hall and on up to my own room which was
also cool and dark.

"I am lost and blind and I don't know what to do," I murmured as I flung
myself down on my window seat and looked through the narrow opening of
the shutters out to the everlasting hills across the valley. "I know I
am ineffective and perfectly worthless as I am but I will not, I will
not be swayed by--"

"Charlotte," called father's voice with its commanding note which had
apparently come into it now to stay.

"Yes," I answered, and went down immediately, glad of the interruption
to my self-communion and arraignment.

I found father and Nickols and Mark Morgan and Billy Harvey and Mr.
Cockrell down in father's study and I could see from their faces that
something unusual had happened.

"City Council voted the appropriation to meet Cockrell's and my donation
for the schoolhouse, contracts have been signed and dirt is to be
broken to-morrow by Henry Todd and thirty workmen Nickols has ordered
down from the city," father announced, with jubilation in his voice. "We
thought Goodloe was here in the garden with you."

"He was, but he has taken the children with him over to his chapel," I
answered, and for some reason I blushed, for I saw Mark Morgan's eyes
laughing at me and I also saw a glint I didn't like in Nickols' eyes.

"School to be opened on September twelfth and then let the kids fight it
out," said Billy. "I bet on Charlotte to beat out the whole Settlement
the first day if allowed full swing."

"If Goodloe didn't stand behind this mixing of--of social oil
and--water, I'd be scared to death," said Mark.

"Mike Burns and Henry Todd and Spain had better be afraid of a loss of
progeny," jeered Billy. "I bet Charlotte and James and the scions of the
Sprouls and Paynes can lead the Settlement scions into by-paths of
iniquity of which they never dreamed."

"I wish you had ten, blast you, for being so sensible as to have none,"
Mark answered him, and I felt rather than saw the bolt of pain that shot
through Billy's heart. It's because Nell and her children are not his
that Billy is bad, and what is going to help him?

"Well, let's go over to the parsonage and tell Goodloe all about it,"
father suggested, and the other men followed him out into the garden
path that led through the Eden of my foremothers straight into that
little Methodist chapel. Only Nickols remained with me upon the wide
high vine-shadowed porch.

"I'll marry you the first of October, Nickols, and then we can go to
France as you want to," I said to him without any preamble, and as I
spoke I drew close to him as if for protection from something I didn't
understand.

"Fleeing from the wrath to come?" questioned Nickols with a tender jeer
as he took me in his arms and his lips sought the kiss I had been
keeping from him. Again I refused it and he laughed as he pushed me from
him and there was still more of the jeer in the laugh though the passion
in his eyes was devouring and glad.

"Suppose we go north, right after Mr. Jeffries has finished his visit.
Let's have the ideal village wedding. We'll have out the school children
if any are left from the mix-up, and Goodloe can make us man and wife
out here under the trees in our own garden. Then we'll go away from the
whole show, the Christian religion included, and live happy ever after."
And as he spoke Nickols again drew me to him and sought the kiss I still
could not give him.

"Nickols, Mother Spurlock and poor little Mrs. Burns and--and Mr.
Goodloe have something very real that we haven't," I faltered and,
utterly weary, I laid my head down against his strong shoulder.

"That's what they say, but they can't prove it. They can't pass it on,
so it mustn't really be anything. They are not tightwads, so they
wouldn't hold back on us with their salvation, would they? Well, then,
they haven't anything. It's all just a substitute for love, dear. Mother
Spurlock fell back on it when she lost her husband. The little Burns
woman wouldn't have it any more than Nell has if Mike Burns was like
Mark Morgan. And Goodloe would lose it in a week if--if he could get you
in his arms." As Nickols spoke, his arms about me trembled and strained
me to him.

"No!" I exclaimed as if I had heard blasphemy uttered.

"It _is_, dear, it is just suppressed sex. The scientists agree on that
and all the religions are just that, from the most primitive to the most
evolved. Some are more frank about it than others. The Igorrotes when
they have their religious dancing at the mating season are more open
than the Methodists about their being one and the same thing, but it all
sums up alike. You can't get away from those facts."

"Then I want to be dead," I said as I drew myself from his arm and stood
on the edge of the porch.

"Or you want to love," muttered Nickols under his breath as he watched
me sullenly for a second. "Then it's October, is it?" he asked with one
of his infectious, delicious laughs that have always broken across my
serious moods and made them froth.

"Yes," I answered steadily.

"Then we'll tell Nell and Harriet and Jessie and Mrs. Sproul all about
it, as I see them coming, on gossip bent I feel sure," he said as he
went halfway down the walk to meet the girls before I could restrain
him.

I shall always have with me the picture that Nickols made as he stood
tall and handsome and smiling against the background of the wonderful
garden he had helped to create, with the women smiling and clinging to
him as he looked up at me with a great laughing light in his face. In
some ways he was the handsomest man I had ever seen and his distinctions
sat upon him as easily as the college honors of a boy. A wave of race
pride and love swept up in my heart as I looked at him and I felt that
in him must be the refuge that I sought. His sophistries always sank
deep into me.

"Charlotte, my dear," said Mrs. Sproul, as I led her to a seat beneath
the vines in a shady corner, "I wish I was sure that your mother knew of
this safe happiness of yours. She adored Nickols and nothing could have
given her a greater joy. And, my dear, for you to have held him against
the world, as it were, is a triumph, I assure you. Always remember that
men of his kind are--are desirable. I'll have a long talk with you
before you go away with him." And I didn't know why, but the smile with
which Mrs. Sproul whispered and patted my hand made me burn all over
with protest.

"I wouldn't have you for a husband unless we were both convicted
together to a chain gang for at least five years after the ceremony,
Nickols Powers," said Harriet, with a laugh for which Nickols raised her
hand to his lips as he responded.

"You like husbands in safety deposit vaults, don't you, Harriet?" At
which sally they all laughed as they seated themselves around Mrs.
Sproul and me.

"Why will women want husbands to be as stationary as--as hitching posts,
Mrs. Sproul?" demanded Nickols as he leaned against one of the tall
pillars and lighted a cigarette for himself after having lighted one for
her and Jessie. Jessie Litton had always smoked, in secret until the
last year or two, and Mrs. Sproul had frankly taken up the habit as a
comfort for old age, she insisted. I suspect that she had had it for a
long time in advance of the fashion. It was a really delicious sight to
see the old world grace with which she accomplished it.

"Women have the nestling habit and that is why they want to believe men
to be sturdy oaks in whose branches they can safely anchor a family as
well as twine around in their affectionate gourd fashion," answered Mrs.
Sproul, as she daintily puffed a smoke ring at Nickols.

"A lot of times the gourd vine grows so strong that she doesn't realize
she is supporting her family by her own strength long after the oak has
faded away in her coils and sprouted up from an acorn in some other
locality," said Jessie, as she, too, puffed a ring of smoke in Nickols'
direction.

"Is this agriculture, biology or religion we are discussing?" demanded
Harriet with a laugh as we all rose and went to the edge of the porch to
meet Billy and Mark and father, who had with them the beloved
"Minister."

"Congratulations and condolences, Mr. Powers," said Mrs. Sproul as she
laid her hand in father's.

"On what score, my dear madam," he demanded.

"You know I asked for Charlotte on my fifteenth and her tenth birthday,
Judge," Nickols said, with his ready grace in any situation, and he came
and stood beside father and took his hand in his with the gentle
affection a girl might have shown the older man. "You said 'yes' then
and it has taken all these years to make her echo the word," and as he
finished speaking he held out his arm and drew me close to father and
himself.

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Mark, but I saw him exchange a glance of amusement
with Harriet, and Nell gave him a warning little squeeze of the arm.

"Bless you both," said father, as he gave us both a hug.

All this I saw and noted before I raised my eyes to meet the jeweled
eyes under dull gold that I knew were gazing straight at me as Gregory
Goodloe stood in the background against the dark vine while the
rejoicings over the announcement of my betrothal were enacted. Somehow I
felt I could not make myself face their gaze, which yet I knew I must. I
met a flash that burned down into the very darkest spots in my nature
and illuminated them all. There was not a trace of male anger or demand
in the gaze but a cold valuation of me and the entire situation that
burned me as ice burns raw flesh, then over all of us there suddenly
poured from the same source a tenderness that was as radiant as the
summer sun.

"Yes, God bless us all!" he exclaimed, as he held out his hands to all
of us, one of which Nickols took, with a swift challenging glance that
in the radiance softened to confidence, and the other father took and
fairly clung to in his happiness. I was glad, glad that I didn't have to
endure the touch of his hand on mine after that glance, but not for one
instant did my heart accuse his radiance of being dramatics. I rather
felt that it came from a warmth within him by which everybody else in
the world might be comforted but for which I would forever be cold.

"I _want_ to be worth her, old man," Nickols said to him with a
curiously pleading note in his voice, and he, too, seemed to me to be
clinging to some of the strength that was not for me.

"Then God help you," was the answer given with the very essence of
gentleness, but with a level glance into Nickols' eyes that was
profoundly sad.

"And now let's hear the wedding plans," demanded Harriet. "This marrying
and giving in marriage is the best way I know of to make time pass, and
let's make Charlotte give us full measure. I'm matron of honor, of
course, and I suggest only twelve bridesmaids. I intend to be preceded
to the altar by Sue in an embroidered silk muslin I will provide, with a
bonnet of tulle in which nestles a pink rose to match the ones in her
basket. There will also be a display of pink knees that will be
ravishing and--"

"Just let me remind you, Harriet, that this is Charlotte's wedding and
not that of my daughter, Susan, and her often-mentioned knees," said
Mark with a laugh that they all echoed.

"I am going to marry Susan's pink knees when they are ripe," remarked
Billy and his suppression lasted long enough for me to attain command
enough of myself to manage the plans of my own wedding.

Later when they had all gone by way of the chapel to help Mr. Goodloe
decide on some designs for a memorial window to his father he was having
made by a great artist he and Nickols had selected, I went in to make my
announcement to Mammy and Dabney.

"Well, ram in the cork to the demijohn, honey, and it'll be all right,"
was Dabney's semi-cordial consent, but Mammy went on industriously
beating her biscuits for supper the one hundred and twenty licks
prescribed by her reputation as a cook and her conscientious guarding of
that same reputation.

"What do you say, Mammy?" I insisted on her giving her opinion.

"Of course, if you want to eat plain biscuits instead of the showbread
from before the mercy seat--one hundred and two, one hundred and
three--" was the answer given between the licks upon the white dough,
and I fled before I should get a clearer manifestation of the
disappointment I felt raging in her faithful old heart.

That night a young crescent moon was hung over the very crown of Old
Harpeth as I threw the shutters of my window wide to the night breezes
after I had put out my light and was ready for bed. I stood in its soft
light and looked across to the dark mass of the chapel opposite and saw
that a dim light was still burning from the window by the organ loft.
And as I stood and looked, the empty place that I had felt in the very
center of my heart grew colder and more bleak until suddenly across the
garden on perfumed waves of sound came the Tristan love song and filled
my emptiness with a pain that was both hot and cold. I stood and let the
flood dash over me as long as I could and then with a sob I sank on the
floor and rested my head on the window seat and began to weep as only
women such as I know how to weep. Then into my sorrow very quietly there
again stole another strain after the Tristan song had sobbed away into
the night and suddenly my own weeping was stilled and again something
within me was healed by the great tender voice singing out in the
darkness beyond the hedge:

    "Abide with me; fast falls the eventide--
           ... ... ... ...
    Help of the helpless, O abide with me!"

"I don't know what to do, I don't know," I cried, and sobbed myself to
sleep on my pillow after I had watched the light across the garden go
out and after all in the little parsonage beyond the hedge was dark and
quiet.



CHAPTER XV

A CLANDESTINE ADVENTURE


It seems a strange, almost savage thing that the few months before a
woman's marriage are always filled so full of the doing of thousands and
tens of thousands of small things that she has no time to think of the
hugeness of the responsibilities she is assuming. Perhaps if she were
given time to realize them she would never assume them. Once or twice in
the long two, nearly three months that I had given myself to get ready
to marry Nickols, I paused and found myself thinking of the weighty
things of life, but I soon was able to shake off the thought of the
future. The time I felt it press most heavily was one morning that
Jessie Litton and I sat quietly sewing on some sort of fluff she and
Harriet had planned for my adornment, and very suddenly Jessie laid down
her ruffle and looked at me as she said:

"Charlotte, I would be frightened, positively frightened, at the
prospect of marrying Nickols Powers."

"I am; but why would you be?" I asked her directly.

"I read that long résumé of his work in the Review last night and for
the first time I really realized what an important person he is to the
development of American art. He really is a huge national machine and
you'll be one of the important cogs on which the whole thing runs.
You'll be ground and ground by his life and you'll have to make good or
be responsible for some sort of a crash."

"No," I answered, slowly drawing my thread through the sheer cloth. "No,
Nickols will live his own way regardless of the cogs on which it grinds.
I shall have an enormous task in keeping up with the social side of his
life, but Nickols is not the kind of a man who takes a woman into his
work."

As I made my answer I was stabbed by the memory of the words that
Gregory Goodloe had said to me on that day in the garden: "Separated
from you, you going one way and I another, I can do nothing. You
short-circuit my force--I am helpless without you." And _he_ had been
inviting me into the work for which he had been ordained into the holy
Church of Christ. I felt myself groping blindly into the futility of my
own life, and I was sick at heart.

"And if that is so, I would be still more frightened," Jessie said,
gazing at me with dismayed and honest affection.

"Don't let's talk about it," I answered her and took up my sewing. At
that moment and from that moment I cast myself into the whole whirl of
activities in Goodloets and gave myself no more time or strength for
self-communion. I was fleeing, and from what I dared not know.

And it was a busy month that stretched from August through September.
Nickols said it would be his last fling at the old town and he proposed
to leave his mark on its mossy sides. And he did.

In the first place money was pouring into little old Goodloets from
three huge sources. The little one-horse tannery down by the river
beyond the Settlement doubled, tripled and then quadrupled its capacity
and next to it the little old saddle and harness factory in which Mr.
Cockrell and old Mr. Sproul had been making saddles and harness since
the days of the Confederacy, did the same and sent out consignment after
consignment of saddles and bridles which were paid for in huge checks of
Russian origin which almost paralyzed the Goodloets Bank and Trust
Company and which worked pale Clive Harvey into the night until he
managed to get young Henry Thornton in to assist him. His salary was
raised three times until it was large enough to harbor Bessie and any
number of small editions of them both, only she preferred to drink and
dance and joy-ride with Hugh Payne, who could not have supported such a
flowering by his own effort to have saved his own life and soul.

And then to burden poor Clive still further, Hampton Dibrell and Mr.
Thornton hastily built huge pens over by the railroad and in these
assembled hundreds and thousands of mules to be shipped through to
France, which brought in return a steady stream of French francs to be
translated into American dollars. Still further, Billy and Mark and
Cliff, with Nickols' assistance, and the telegraph system, speculated in
War Brides down on Wall Street until their individual bank accounts
began to mount to giddy sums. Father and Mr. Sproul and more of the
other men did likewise and Buford Cunningham got some spectacular
returns from copper in Canada that Billy said would make Mrs. Buford
Cunningham try to buy the Country Club outright for a summer home. And
while there was prosperity in the Town the Settlement also had its
share. Wages rose higher and higher and many of the women went to work
at the machines in the saddle factory, leaving the care of the children
to the old dames, which resulted in an added pandemonium in the
Settlement streets.

"I don't know what is the matter. Goodloets is money mad," wailed Mother
Spurlock, as she sank with weariness into the rocker on my porch one hot
August afternoon. "The girls and the women are all at work and two
babies have died this week from pure lack of mother's care, I might say
mother's milk. Ed Jones' wife weaned her six-months'-old baby so she
could go in the factory, and left it on condensed milk with old Mrs.
Jones, who fed it incessantly and not at all cleanly. Now it is not
expected to live. And they dance at the Last Chance until one o'clock
almost every night. Is the world mad?"

"No, just prosperous, Mother Elsie," I answered her as I gave her a
large fan and Dabney brought her a tall glass of very cold tea. "Little
old Goodloets is having the same boom that the rest of America is
getting from feeding and furnishing the rest of the warring world."

"Nickols Powers told me just last night that over two hundred thousand
dollars would be spent on the improvements to this town in the next two
months, counting the new schoolhouse, the restoration of the courthouse,
the paving of the public square and the enlargement of the electric
light plant. That doesn't count the money everybody is putting on their
own private homes. That camp of workmen down by the river that Nickols
has had sent down from the city has a hundred men in it now, and that is
one thing that demoralizes the Settlement. Jacob Ensley has had that
dance hall enlarged twice and he has employed George Spain to stand
behind the bar. It is breaking Mrs. Spain's heart, but she is helpless,
for George is being paid three dollars a day for being just where he
wants to be. I don't know what to do. I firmly believe the town is mad,
with only Gregory Goodloe to stand between it and God's wrath."

"What is he doing to stem the joy tide?" I asked with a laugh, for it
did seem in a way funny to see one of the leading citizens of old
Goodloets so distressed over its improvement and modernization through
its enormous prosperity.

"He was down in the workmen's camp last night having a song service and
seventy-five of them stayed there singing until midnight. Jacob had to
put out his lights at eleven o'clock because there were not enough to
pay to keep open. The chapel was full Sunday night and Jacob closed the
Last Chance at six o'clock for the first time in its existence. The men
passed it on to him to do it and he came and sat in a back pew himself.
They all call Mr. Goodloe 'Parson,' and he walks in and around and about
this town night and day shedding a kind of peace and good will even into
the darkest corners. He lends a hand here and there with the work, eats
out of the men's dinner pails when that Jefferson is too lazy to cook
for him, or takes a bite off some stove down in the Settlement out of
some old woman's pork and cabbage pot with just as much grace and
heartiness as he eats at Nell Morgan's or Harriet Henderson's most
elaborate dinners. And outside of his pulpit he never preaches; he just
lives. This is what I heard Jacob say to him just yesterday:

"'Sure, and I wint up to set in one of your pews to see if your action
in your own job was as good as it is in the many you lend a hand to week
about.'

"'Well?' asked Mr. Goodloe, as he picked up, one of those rosy apples
from the box Jacob keeps out on the sidewalk to blind the Last Chance.

"'I knows when to run and not be caught,' Jacob answered, as he put
another apple in the parson's pocket and went back into the grocery
door."

"Do you ever see Martha?" I asked with a kind of impatience. I had been
three times down to the Last Chance and each time Jacob's excuses for
Martha had been positive though courteous, and I had come away baffled,
with the green groceries I had purchased as a blind to my visit. I had
written to her and had had no response. At that I had stopped, with a
self-sufficient feeling of a duty well done, but through it all I also
felt that she was on the other side of a prison wall crying to me.

"Never," answered Mother Spurlock, with real pain in her voice. "She
stays in that back room and cooks for Jacob, and the child stays with
her and has only the small yard back of the bar in which to play. Jacob
only let him come up to sing with Mr. Goodloe and the children a few
times and now he is kept as near in prison as his mother. Jacob's
attitude grows more morose about her and the child every day. I don't
understand it. I never will. Martha was the loveliest girl that ever
bloomed in the Settlement, and now she has been plucked and thrown into
the dust. And the child is too young to share her prison fate. He must
be got out and away."

"He will," I answered, with a calm confidence. I didn't tell Mother
Spurlock, and I didn't know exactly why I didn't, but I was deeply
involved in a clandestine affair with the Stray which was fast becoming
one of the adventures of my life. It had begun in a positively weird
manner and was continuing along the same lines. One morning several
weeks after my first acquaintance and turtle adventure with him I had
waked up at dawn and gone to look out of the window just as the morning
star was fading over Old Harpeth. In the dim light I had spied a small
figure down in the garden, hopping along by a row of early young rose
bushes, with a can in one hand and a long stick in the other. Hastily
getting into a few clothes I crept down through the silent house and out
in the garden to find the Stray busily engaged in knocking large slugs
off into a can.

"I feed 'em to mother's bird in the cage, 'cause he can't get out to get
'em," he explained. "They all sleep hard 'cause they work so late and I
crawl out the window and go back while they don't wake up. I like your
yard better than I do mine." The statement was made simply, without envy
of apology.

And from that morning a queer kind of dawn life went on between the
small boy and me. Morning after morning he threw a pebble to waken me
and I hurried down to our tryst, which extended through the hour that
lies between the crack of day and the first glint of the awakening sun.
At first I had carried sweetmeats to our tryst, which were accepted
with moderate pleasure, but one morning I had taken a huge volume of
Rackham's Mother Goose which Nickols had brought me, and from then on
our hour had been one of spiritual communion. I found the young mind
insatiate and I had to ransack the library for stories and poems and
pictures suitable to his years, though he rapidly developed a very
advanced taste. The morning I read him the Shakespearian lines woven
around the little Princes in the Tower, having suitably connected up the
story for him with words of my own, we forgot the time and he overstayed
his limit, for Dabney was opening the house when he fled. For five
mornings he did not come and I could find no way to get news of him. I
asked Mikey and got a maddening response.

"They shut up Stray in the back yard because he's a shame to old Jake,"
was his answer to my question. "Jake would shoot anybody that climbed
that fence."

"I bet I could get over and the bad man not see if I could get out in
the dark," Charlotte declared as she stood listening to my questioning.
"And I am going after Stranger that way, too, if ever they leave the
front door to my house unlocked. It is wicked to shut up a little boy,
and the devil would help me get him out." Charlotte's purpose was high
if she did slightly mix her theology.

That night a wonderful thing happened in my moonlit room. I was dead
asleep when I felt a soft hand stroking my face, and then my hair, and I
awoke to find the Stray standing by my bed.

"They tied me in bed when they found out I had runned away in the
mornings to see you, but I gnawed the rope that he put, because I wanted
to tell you that I can go to the big school when it opens because
Minister told him that he would be put in jail if I didn't. It is a law.
I heard him last night, and mother cried a long time, for what, I don't
know. Was she glad or sorry? Do you know?"

"No, darling, I don't know, and I wish I did," I answered him as I put
my arms around him while he snuggled his black-crested head down beside
mine on the pillow.

"My mother is sick, she cries so much," he said with a manly struggle
that drowned the sob in his throat. "I don't know what to do. Do you
know?"

"I'll find out," I said with a sudden fierceness as I strained him
against my shoulder for an instant and then sat up in bed as if I must
do something at once.

"I must run right back and tie myself before he wakes up and whips me,"
the Stray said, and it sickened me to see him wrap the gnawed rope
around his little arm.

"No!" I exclaimed, and held out my arms to him.

"I must, but I don't mind whippings if I can read books in school and
you make mother not cry," and before I could stop him he ran out of the
dim room and I could hear his cautious bare feet patter down the long
stairway and hall.

That moonlight tryst was the last of the adventure, but I did not worry,
for I knew that the school would be opened formally in ten days, and I
had laid my plans for Stray in an interested friendship with the very
competent young woman who had already come down from the state normal
college to teach the amalgamated young ideas of Goodloets to shoot.
Also, I had vague plans that hurt me, of getting Jessie or Harriet to
continue the trysts for me after the wedding, whose details they were
all pushing to completion by a mid-September day.

And added to the strenuosity of the laying of my plans for at least a
year's absence, I had to help father make his arrangements for a six
months' stay in Washington, for he had accepted the President's
appointment on the Commerce Commission, and night and day he was at his
library desk. The silver-topped decanter still stood on the sideboard in
the dining room, and the silver ice bowl was formally filled before
every meal by Dabney. The mint glass was kept fresh and fragrant but
apparently father had forgotten entirely about all three. He ate twice
as much as I had ever seen him consume and the worn lines in his face
were slowly filling out into a delicious joviality. Mr. Hicks, the
little tailor who had always clothed him, had little by little made over
the outer man with new garments as the old ones grew restrictive, and
Mother Spurlock had carried his entire discarded wardrobe, garment at a
time, down to the Settlement for the clothing of some of her most needy
friends.

But the most reborn person I had ever seen was Dabney. The little black
man had lived so long under the shadow of father's moroseness that when
the pressure was lifted from his bent black shoulders he rebounded to an
amazing extent. His reaction took the form of gala attire in which
Nickols encouraged him to the extent of silk hosiery of the most
delicate shades from his own wardrobe, with ties to match, not to
mention his own last year's Panama hat, pressed over into the extreme of
the prevailing style for youthful masculine head adornment. Also Nickols
bestowed upon him a very up-to-date Palm Beach suit, purchased at the
Hicks shop, and on his first appearance in the kitchen for his wife's
inspection I was present.

"Go take them clothes off, nigger, and put 'em along of my black silk
shroud in the bottom drawer of the chist," she commanded, as she put her
hands on her sixty-inch waist and stood before him with arms akimbo.
"Folks is got no business to dress in life so fine that they shames they
burying clothes."

"Shoo fly, I'm jest going to Washington, not to Heaven, in this here
rig. When I git into Heaven it'll be 'cause I'm hiding behind that
black silk skirt of your shroud, honey, if I'm as naked as borned," was
the admiring, wily and also wholly sincere answer to Mammy's fling at
the gorgeous raiment.

And while the Poplars teemed with wedding plans Nickols kept the whole
village steamed up to be in readiness for the visit of Mr. Jeffries,
which was dated for just a week before the wedding, and the village
festival at the opening of the new school was to be the most important
ceremonial of the whole visit. Father was to give him a dinner at which
all of the Solons of the Harpeth Valley were to be present, and a ball
at the Country Club was being planned by Billy with all enthusiasm. But
the center of the buzz was down at Mother Spurlock's Little House, where
Mr. Goodloe daily, and it seemed almost hourly, drilled the children for
the ceremonial of the opening of their house of learning across the way
from the Little House by the Road. Only echoes of the orgies reached the
outside, and gossip ran high in the Settlement as well as the Town at
the fragments that the delighted scions brought home, of curious folk
dances mixed with fragments of weird tunes.

"Sure, a minister of the gospel to teach me Mikey to stand on one leg
and spin around on the other with his hands over his head is a quare
thing, but the Riverend Goodloe is no ordinary man," said Mrs. Burns to
Mother Spurlock, who answered:

"You can trust him, Mrs. Burns, even with Mikey's legs."

And during all the long weeks of activity not once did I have a word
alone with the Harpeth Jaguar. We met constantly at dinner at the tables
of our friends and he came and went at the Poplars with the same freedom
that Nickols enjoyed. He was long hours in the library with father, and
somehow I felt that he was strengthening the structure that he had
builded on the ruined foundation and something passionate rose in my
heart and filled it with pain every time I heard his ringing laugh come
from the library table, accompanied by father's booming chuckle. Also,
he worked early and late in the garden with Nickols and the young man
from White Plains, and I saw that Nickols' artistic ideas flowed at top
speed when Gregory Goodloe was standing by.

It was the same thing over at the new schoolhouse. Mr. Todd and the men
worked miracles with their stone and mortar and wood and iron when he
was standing by or lending a hand. The school was built partly of stone
like the chapel and partly of old purple-pink brick like Mother
Spurlock's Little House, and it was beamed with heavy timbers. It was
roofed with heavy colonial clapboards which made it look as if it had
already stood a century before the floors were laid or the very modern
desks installed. It was built to house increasing generations, though
only about fifty children would open its portals of education.

"It speaks of education de luxe, doesn't it?" Billy asked as Nell and
Harriet and I stood with him and Nickols and the parson watching Mr.
Todd directing the men in screwing down the desks just a few days before
the opening.

"There is scarcely a village in England to compare with old Goodloets
now, and nothing at all like it," said Nickols, as he looked first up
the hill to the Town and down the hill to the Settlement. "I know that
it is the first spot in America to express what the full grown nation is
going to be. When we add beauty to the materially perfected mode of
existence we are enjoying, life will be too short in the living. That
schoolhouse ought to produce some results in art cultures in the infant
mind of Goodloets."

"Yes, America is learning that the foundation of its national existence,
trait upon trait, must be laid in the lives of the children," said Mr.
Goodloe, slowly, and he smiled as across from the Little House came wee
Susan's exquisite treble in a waltz song which was backed up by Mother
Spurlock's bumble and Charlotte's none too accurate accompaniment. And
we all smiled with him.

Always it seemed to me I was with him and a part of a number of people
who felt the radiance of his loveliness, and not once had I for a second
come into personal touch with him. I had, like the rest, got my smiles
and friendliness from the dark eyes under dull gold, but the door to the
land in which I had been with Tristan when he sang his death song had
vanished and there were no traces of its portals. The only sign that was
between him and me was his continued evasion of setting a date for the
dedication of the chapel. He always answered inquiries by saying that
the opening of the school must come first and when the dedication was
mentioned he never looked in my direction. My soul seemed to be standing
still and listening for something that never came.

And then Mr. Jeffries arrived on the scene of action.

That night of Billy's ball for the magnate, who was having the time of
his gray-headed life under Billy's and Nickols' enthusiastic direction,
the strange alien thing that had been developed in my depths, part
unrest and part rebellion, since I had first looked into the eyes of the
young Methodist parson, who had intruded himself and his chapel into my
existence, got its death blow. In my presence Nickols made his formal
request of the Reverend Mr. Goodloe to officiate at our marriage.

"Of course, Greg, old fellow, you are going to marry us next Tuesday,
aren't you?" asked Nickols, as we stood on the steps of the Poplars
after dinner, chatting with him as he was leaving to go over to the
chapel while we went out to the dance. "I suppose there is some sort of
formal way to make the request, but I don't know it."

"If there is I don't know it, either," was the kindly answer, which
both Nickols and I took for assent.

"Thank you, sir," said Nickols, as he turned away towards father and Mr.
Cockrell and Mr. Jeffries, who had come out on the porch with their
cigars, and left him and me standing alone in the starlight.

"God guard you!" he said to me without taking the hand I held out to him
in the darkness with a kind of desperation that seemed that of a
drowning woman. "Good-bye!" and he was gone out into the night, leaving
me, I knew, forever outside of his life.

"Wait, Oh wait!" I pleaded, but he was gone and I didn't even know if he
heard the cry out into the velvet darkness.

That night was the most brilliant night that Goodloets had ever known.
The Town was full of guests who had motored over from all the towns
around in the Harpeth Valley. The Governor had come down from the
capital in his huge touring car to congratulate father on his
appointment and to meet Mr. Jeffries. His adjutant-general and several
of his aids were with him in their showy State Guard uniforms and all of
the girls were rosy with excitement at the presence of so many rows of
brass buttons. Mr. Jeffries opened the ball, and to the delight and
amusement of us all, he succeeded in leading out with him Mrs. Sproul,
who turned the opening dance into a stately old Virginia reel, which so
delighted the tango dancers with its novelty that the dance was repeated
several times during the evening by enthusiastic requests.

And while the Town reveled in celebration of the new Goodloets, down in
the Settlement like rejoicings were being held at the dance hall of the
Last Chance. In fact, the whole small city was in the throes of a great
rejoicing. Why shouldn't all Goodloets revel when it was enjoying a
prosperity beyond anybody's dreams of two years before? Everybody had
been generous to the old town with the money that had come so easily
from other suffering people's necessities, and security and good
fellowship and prosperity reigned supreme. In each heart there was the
feeling that now the old town and their personal lives were founded on
solid rocks of peace and plenty and it was the time to eat, drink and be
merry.

At supper the Governor's first toast, after that to the town itself,
was to father and his distinctions. Then Mr. Jeffries toasted Nickols
and me. He called Nickols the "American Wizard of Habitations," and,
amid cheering and clapping hands, announced his intention to have
Nickols build the American town on the Hudson. He called me the "Heart
of the Achievement," and father's pride as he looked down the long table
at Nickols and me was very wonderful and beautiful; and as great a pride
rose in my heart as I saw him lift his glass of water to pledge me,
leaving the bubbles breaking in his champagne.

It was very near dawn when we all motored home and it was upon the verge
of the crack of day by the time Dabney and Nickols had got the Governor
and Mr. Jeffries and the other guests settled under the wide roof of the
Poplars, which had never hovered a more distinguished or brilliant house
party.

For a few quiet minutes after they had all gone to their rooms Nickols
and I stood alone on the front porch in the cool darkness with its hint
of the dawn, while old Dabney shut up the back part of the house.

"The school festival will be over to-morrow, sweetheart, and the next
day they will all be gone. The photographers are all through with the
photographing and to-morrow night all the extra workmen go back to the
city. There'll be three whole quiet days for you to get ready to give me
that kiss, which I won't take when you are as tired as you are now,"
said Nickols, as he put a limp arm around me and leaned against the tall
door post.

"To-morrow the old makes way for the new. Goodloets is dead! Long live
Goodloets!" I answered, as I in turn leaned against Nickols' jaded arm
for only a second before we preceded Dabney up the stairs to our rooms.

In my room I went immediately to the window and opened wide the heavy
shutters. I found myself looking down on Goodloets, which lay below the
darkness of the Poplars like a long glowworm, brilliant with the lights
from the homes of the revelers who were going to bed with a sense of
perfect security. Still farther down the hill the lights from the
Settlement glowed with scarcely less brilliancy and I felt sure that the
Last Chance was still harboring a last fling of joy.

Suddenly over my spirit came a deep wave of depression that amounted to
a great fear and then as I stood trembling in the darkness, a broad ray
of morning light shot up over Paradise Ridge and spread rapidly into a
crimson glow that was reflected against a black cloud hanging low over
the head of Old Harpeth. A flash of lightning darted from the cloud and
spread its gold fire through the crimson of the coming day, and then the
sullen-pointed cloud sank rapidly below Paradise Ridge, over which it
had risen, as if reconnoitering. Positively shuddering, I knelt against
the window seat and watched the day come with a hitherto unknown terror.
Then as I watched the dawn begin to drive away the sullen clouds a rich
voice began to sing out beyond the old poplars as a window of the gray
chapel was thrown open:

    "Arise, my soul, arise,
    Shake off thy guilty fears;
          ... ... ... ...
    Before the throne my Surety stands
    My name is written on His hands."

The calmness that came into my frightened heart was like the peace of a
deep sleep, and with its strength I faced the day that was to be that of
my humiliation and which was to be the crest of the wave of the high
tide of Goodloets.



CHAPTER XVI

THE JEWEL IN THE MATRIX


When I awoke from a few hours of deep and exhausted sleep I found my
room fast filling with the strenuosities of the day. In fact, I opened
them upon Harriet Henderson, up, dressed and briskly doing. She had a
large pasteboard box with her and the minute I brushed repose from my
eyes she opened it and held up for my inspection a very short tulle
garment besprinkled with tiny silk rosebuds, along with a bonnet and
other wee but distinctly feminine paraphernalia to match. A basket
adorned with a huge bow of tulle came from another box and I was forced
to voice my admiration with the greatest vigor.

"How I'll ever keep from eating Sue up before she gets to the altar, I
can't see," said Harriet, as she held the wee frock for a second against
her breast. It hurts me to the quick of my own breast to see Harriet's
eyes when she broods over Sue. I don't see how she is going to live
life always as hungry as she is now.

"I suppose I might just as well wear my tennis things, because the
guests will be already as completely enraptured as is humanly possible
before my entry upon the scene of action of my own wedding," I said, as
I sat up and took the small bonnet in my own hand. "It is too bad that
Jessie and Letitia should worry themselves over my own wedding frock, if
Susan is--" I was just saying when Nell arrived beside my bed with the
Suckling in the very act of obtaining her early luncheon from the
maternal fount. The nurse has always had to follow Nell about with her
successive hungry offspring.

"Girls, I really don't know what to do, but young Charlotte has given
every single presentable garment that Jimmy possessed to different
unclothed children in the Settlement, who were needed in the pageant,
and Mark and Billy are laughing at her, while Jimmy is howling. I just
ran in to see Harriet a minute and ask her if she--"

"Yes, Jimmie's wedding garments came home from Mrs. Burns' yesterday and
I'll lend them to you just to spite those men, who are simply ruining
Charlotte by the day," said Harriet, as Nell handed her the replete
Suckling wrong end foremost and picked up the small tulle bonnet with a
gurgle of maternal rapture that was in some ways as young as the happy
gurgle that the Suckling gave as she settled into Harriet's dependable
arms for her morning nap. Harriet cradled her against her own round,
firm breast and for a second brooded then joined in Nell's rapture over
the garments for the bedizening of wee Susan.

"If Harriet didn't dress and discipline my children I feel sure they
would be found naked in a reform school," Nell said, with a happy and
careless gratitude. There are some women to whom life is incidental and
maternity the most casual adventure of all. The happy-go-lucky variety
are apt to produce just such children as Charlotte or young James or
Susan, and it is well if into their young lives there comes the hungry
woman with a brooding mission.

"Young Charlotte will probably be the first woman governor of the state
and--" Harriet was saying with a laugh when Letitia and Jessie arrived
precipitately. Letitia had a parcel which contained a lingerie garment
of mine, whose lace and embroidery and ribbon combined would have
enraptured most women, and Jessie carried in her hand a package of
belated wedding cards. They were followed closely by Mammy, who was in
turn followed by the meek Sally. Mammy's address was delivered to me
first.

"Git up quick, honey; the men folks has begun on the second round of
waffles and they'll be calling for you. The day is on its shanks and
a-going," she admonished, while Sallie turned on my bath.

"They are having breakfast out in the garden and the day is perfect. Do
you want blue or pink ribbons in this Valenciennes set, Charlotte?" said
Letitia, as she seated herself on the foot of my bed and drew out a
ribbon bag whose contents were of many colors.

"A fashionable wedding is a white lie; you invite all the people you
especially want to stay away," sighed Jessie, as she seated herself at
my desk and lighted a cigarette, at which Mammy rolled her black eyes
and departed with her nose in the air.

And while they all chatted over the sealing of my fate I arose and had
my toilet made in my dressing room, in full hearing of the discussions
about the best groupings of bridesmaids and the horror at the count of
the cases of wine Billy had ordered from the city for the dinner to the
groomsmen the night before the wedding.

"I adore Mark seven-tenths full, but I don't like to endure the end of
the jag next morning," laughed Nell, as she began to put ribbons into
the bodkins for Letitia. I saw Harriet give her a long look from under
her half-lowered eyelashes as she hugged the Suckling closer to her
breast. Billy had told Harriet and me casually a few nights before that
"old Mark's drinking to a double-decker liver and a sidestep in his
heart."

"Oh, gentlemen always drink in moderation. I never worry over Cliff,"
said Letitia complacently, as she tied a decorative shoulder knot.

"You expect to give him a daily dose of three drops on a lump of sugar,
Letitia?" asked Harriet, as she exchanged glances with Jessie. One
evening last week Jessie and Harriet had motored Cliff in from the Club
just in time to save him from going over the riffles and Letitia had
been dancing with him without noticing his staggers.

"There, that is the very last stitch to be taken on your trousseau,
Charlotte," said Letitia, as she laid down the filmy garment she had
been adorning with blue bowknots. "Press it, Sallie, and lay it with the
rest of the set in the second tray of the medium-sized trunk. You can
lock it and give me the key."

"I just can't stand it, Charlotte," said Jessie to me in a low voice, as
I came from the hands of the skillful Sallie and stood beside the window
next to the desk. "You are all I have got and only you--you understand.
I can't give you up. I'm frightened."

"Hush--so am I," I answered her, as my hand gripped her shoulder under
her heavy linen frock until I felt it must bruise it. Then I turned to
the others, collected them and descended to finish breakfast with the
Poplars' guests.

Never a more radiantly beautiful morning had spread its loveliness over
the Harpeth Valley than the one I found out in the garden that
twenty-seventh day of September, the gala day in the history of
Goodloets. Huge white clouds drifted back and forth in a deep blue sky
and they were rosy at times with the sunlight, but from some of the
largest little tongues of lightning darted, while others were lit by
what seemed to be an internal glow of fire. Cool winds, perfumed with
the harvests and the ripening orchards and the vineyards out in the
valley, rustled in the treetops and flaunted in the vines. The ardent
sun seemed to be drawing from the bosom of the earth a hot mist which
lay over the town like a filmy bridal veil, only stirred gently by the
vagrant veering gusts of wind. Nature seemed to be holding herself in
leash and only breathing upon the earth gently, as if to stir some
latent lushness into autumnal activity.

"A perfect Harpeth day for Mr. Jeffries," said the Governor, as he came
from his seat at the table to greet the girls and me. The rest of the
masculine breakfasters followed and I could see from the devastation of
the table that they had all breakfasted well and to repletion. I also
detected the worthless Jefferson, whom Mr. Goodloe had evidently loaned
to his parents for the occasion, lift father's full glass of julep and
drain it with one gulp, grab the half glass that Nickols had left, gulp
it and begin on the finger or so in Billy's tumbler before Dabney could
forcibly but quietly restrain him. In fact, I felt there would have
been a riot among my servitors if Mr. Goodloe had not stepped aside and
spoken a low word to Jefferson, which sent him busily at the table with
his tray.

And from that moment Nickols' triumphant procession of inspection of
Goodloets began. Mr. Jeffries stood in the middle of the reincarnated
old garden, looked for a long time at the Poplars, which was like a
green encrusted gem with its old purple red brick under the vines,
glanced again and again at the chapel with its weathered stone that
stood beyond the silver-leafed graybeards, then let his eye wander down
the broad elm-bordered main street past the courthouse and past the
Settlement to the river bending around it all.

"Money couldn't build anything like it, Powers," he said to Nickols at
his side. "Time and gentle living have formed it as a jewel is made in a
matrix. I was born in a mining camp, but I want you to start something
like it all for my great grandchildren to live in. How many generations
will it take?"

"Give me five years, Mr. Jeffries," laughed Nickols in answer. "Greg
Goodloe's great great grandfather and mine fought off the Indians from
a stockade which stood where his chapel does now, but a year of modern
life about represents a generation of pioneer endeavor."

"Not too fast, youngster, not too fast," said Mr. Jeffries, and I saw
him exchange a grave glance with father. "What we Americans must have is
stabilizers now that we have annihilated time. Without the discovery of
something of that sort we will hurl along to destruction. What say you,
Mr. Goodloe?"

"We have the same 'covert of wings' that David used when things spun too
fast for him," answered Mr. Goodloe with the jeweled radiance that
always came from his face when he spoke of his faith even casually.
"Only 'where there is no vision the people perish,' and a people who
invent flying machines and hold international law to account have
vision. We don't know how much we've got, but it'll save us."

"After the material glass through which we see darkly is completely
smashed for us," said father, with a curious sternness coming into his
face that made me wonder. "But we must take Mr. Jeffries for a nearer
inspection of our metropolis, be with Mrs. Sproul in time for luncheon
and then help Mr. Goodloe open the institute of learning for young
Goodloets."

In the motor cars parked before the tall gate of the Poplars all of the
guests embarked for their review of the beauties of Goodloets. Nickols
remained behind them while the half sober but skillful Jefferson
wrestled with a slight tire trouble of his slim blue racer. For a few
minutes we were alone in the center of the wonderful garden, which had
never seemed so lovely as upon the day in which it had fulfilled its own
and Nickols' destiny.

"To-day has brought just what I have longed for, have worked for and
waited for, the commission for the spending of millions of dollars to
make a little corner of the earth beautiful. Not a bad religion, that,"
said Nickols, as he told me that Jeffries had spoken a few words of
decided business to him as he had packed him into Mr. Cockrell's car
with father and Mr. Goodloe. "We'll take a honeymoon wander on the other
side, as far from the machine guns as possible, and then I'll come home
to begin my masterpiece." And as Nickols spoke his wonderful eyes
glowed as he looked out at Paradise Ridge as if he were gazing into a
radiant future--perhaps he saw a city not made with hands and did
not--recognize it. "I see it all," he said, and put his arm around me
while we started down the front walk as Jefferson pressed the horn to
signal the readiness of the tire.

"I'm too busy to go with you, but I'll meet you at Mrs. Sproul's," a
sudden impulse made me say, for I had intended until that instant to
accompany him.

"A man can't eat his bride and have a trousseau, too," he laughed, as he
drove off rapidly, leaving me standing by the old gate watching him.
Then I turned and slowly walked out into the garden and down to the old
graybeards. And seated on one of the grass mats I found the reason I had
unconsciously been drawn back. Martha was waiting for me there.

"Why, Martha," I exclaimed, startled without understanding just why. "I
might have gone and not known you were waiting. Why didn't you come and
tell me you were here?"

"I couldn't--I found I couldn't," she answered me, looking up into my
face with her strange, sad eyes. "I--I suppose I just came to peep in
on you like I did to the coming-out party." She laughed softly, with a
note of self-scorn in her voice.

"Is anything the matter with--with Sonny?" I asked quickly, again
unconsciously using the name for the Stray that her tenderness had given
him. Her white face and desperate manner frightened me.

"No, he's dressed in one of Jimmy Morgan's old suits and he is going to
be taken from me this afternoon forever," she answered with the note of
bitterness deepening.

"But you want him to go to school, don't you, Martha?" I asked
patiently, as I sat down on a mat beside her. I spoke to her as one
speaks to the limited intelligence of a child and I was slightly
impatient at her distress.

"He asked me yesterday why everybody called him Stray and if it did mean
Stranger like Charlotte said, and if he would always be called that or
have an everyday name like Jimmy. Soon he'll know and then I'll lose him
as I'm losing everything else."

"Why won't you let me help you to--to begin over again?" I asked her,
this time with less patience. "Why have you--you locked yourself away
from me?"

"I can't--I won't ever tell you. I must go back, now I've seen you
in--in your happiness. But I don't hate you--I never have." And as she
spoke Martha rose and began to walk rapidly away from me.

"Oh, please don't go, Martha," I said. "In just three days I'll be going
away for a long time, you know, and I want to help you in some way
before I go. You ought to let me, and it worries me that you don't, now
of all times," and as I put my selfish plea for ease to my conscience,
something that was hot and rebellious made me want to stop the woman who
was hurrying away from me.

"I won't, I won't make you unhappy--but I must go. I must! I'll--I'll be
happy--and good now--if _you'll_ only be happy. Good-bye!" And as she
called back at me over her shoulder, Martha ran from me down through the
hedge and into the door of the chapel, which always, night and day, rain
and storm, stood slightly ajar. A queer pain smote me to see that she
had run from me into the only place in all the broad, smiling Harpeth
Valley where I could not--or would not, follow her. And the sanctuary
that she sought was for every man, woman or child who wanted it--only I
could not and would not seek it.

"'The covert of wings,'" I whispered to myself, as I went down the
street to Mrs. Sproul's as rapidly as possible to be rid of my own
company. As I repeated the words that the parson had used to Mr.
Jeffries I noticed one great white cloud with a dark center flash fire
into another, to a great crashing and rumbling. "I wonder if it is
really going to storm," I speculated gloomily, as I turned into the
Sproul gate, but the brilliant sunshine seemed to fling me a dazzling
denial from every petal of the white clematis that wreathed itself
across the front porch, under which Mrs. Sproul, arrayed in all the
midday magnificence of good form, sat and waited for her guests. Mrs.
Cockrell sat beside her and they were delighted to see me and demanded
happiness from me which it was hard for me to give from the depths that
had been stirred by my strange interview with Martha, to which I felt I
ought to have a key, but could not find it anywhere.



CHAPTER XVII

THE PAGEANT


"We were just saying, Charlotte dear, that this absurd school affair has
completely overshadowed your wedding day," said Mrs. Cockrell, as she
rocked back and forth in tune with her Irish point rose she was
constructing. "It seems to me a wedding ought to come before a school
festivity."

"Social law requires that marriage take precedence of schooling," said
Mrs. Sproul, as her mischievous old eyes snapped at Mrs. Cockrell's
placid conventionality. "The correct order is for women to take husbands
and then school children should be the inevitable outcome. They are not,
however, in this day and generation, which is about to be the last, I'm
thinking."

"There will be thirty-nine kiddies from the Settlement and eleven from
the Town to feast on reason and flow soul together in the new school," I
laughed, as I sat down between them. "Also I'm thinking that a lot more
will be forthcoming from the Settlement by next week. Young Charlotte
and Mother Spurlock clothed as far as they could, but they will keep at
it, I feel sure. I feel guilty at the idea of taking three trunks of
clothes away from the watchful eye of Mother Elsie, only I'm leaving the
accumulation of years for her distribution."

"The passport to Elsie Spurlock's heart is a condition composed of rags,
hunger and unhappiness. She has no sympathy or time for a sanitary and
contented friend," said Mrs. Sproul with a decided tartness that was
only a reflex of the deep affection she bore the mistress of the Little
House, which had existed since childhood and would endure.

"I hear some of the cars coming," announced Mrs. Cockrell, as she began
to crochet furiously at the last petal of a rose. "Is my cap straight? I
do so want to finish this row and can't go in to look."

"You'll put out St. Peter's eye with a crochet needle while he's
unlocking the pearly gates for you, Lettie Cockrell," said Mrs. Sproul,
as she rose and stood with ceremony at the head of the steps to meet
the Governor and Mr. Jeffries and father as they came up her front walk.

Mrs. Sproul always has the most delightful old world sort of midday
dinners and it was two o'clock before we all arose from her long table,
at one end of which had been demolished a spiced ham and from the other
end had disappeared two fat summer turkeys. A saddle of lamb had been
passed in between and we had wound up with sweet potato custards, apple
float and ice cream.

"I understand now," said Mr. Jeffries, as his keen old eyes twinkled
down the table at Nickols. "This food should produce geniuses. The South
feeds for it."

"Yes, we eat, drink, are merry and do it all over again to-morrow," said
Mark, as he walked beside Mrs. Sproul from the devastated dining room.
"And we must all hurry if we are to see your young ideas begin to shoot.
This day isn't really hot, but just thinks it is. Look at those clouds
boiling up back of Old Harpeth as if wanting to storm, but afraid to
begin it. There's not a breath of air stirring. Wish it _would_ shower,
for I believe the colors of Goodloe's pageant would run and I'd like to
see the true hue of this melee of his come out in the wash. It would do
Charlotte good to fade a bit. She has been hectic since daylight and the
rest of my juvenile family with her. Jimmy is S and Z in the alphabet
and Sue has got a huge A sewed on her back. Goodloe intends that
education shall be nailed to 'em."

And at his admonition to hurry and the alluring description of the
entertainment to come, we all betook ourselves on foot toward the
schoolhouse down the street a few blocks, halfway between the Town and
the Settlement.

And as we went all the rest of the Town hurried out of wide, high,
vine-covered doors, down broad, flower-lined walks, and joined us from
under bowers of blooming roses, honeysuckle and clematis. We actually
approached the schoolhouse in the form of quite a large procession, and
as we wound our way down the hill we met a like procession winding
itself up the hill from the Settlement, a procession arrayed in its best
bib, tucker and boiled shirt, just as we were adorned in silk, lace,
fine muslin and linen.

"It looks like two armies approaching each other--Greek is going to meet
Greek," said Billy.

"Rather Greek meets Vandal, and there stands Goodloe to do the
interpreting," Nickols jeered in answer.

And as we all flocked into the wide gate of the school yard I was again
struck with the great beauty of the tall, broad, lithe, free man who
stood in the middle of the walk just inside, welcoming Town and
Settlement alike. And while he greeted us, his enthusiastic flock of
older children seated the groups of guests on the long rough benches
which were placed facing the door of the schoolhouse, leaving a wide
space at the foot of the steps, which was roped off with golden chains
of black-eyed daisies and which was evidently to be used as a stage for
the pageant.

"Just look how Goodloe is failing to mix his oil and water," Nickols
whispered to me, as we observed all of the Settlement groups gravely
gravitate to the left side of the walk while all the Town in chattering
parties took seats on the right. "That's right, Burns, take off my last
summer coat," he added, still in a whisper to me as the Burns parent
struggled out of the unendurable gift garment and thus gave a signal
that whipped off every coat on the left side of the walk in the
twinkling of an eye, to the evident distress of the tightly girted and
uncomfortable but more formal feminine members of the Settlement
contingent. Conjugal strife was about to make its appearance when Mother
Spurlock, who was seated beside poor little Hettie Garrett, holding the
Mother Only in her arms with never a glance for Mrs. Sproul, who had
beckoned her to a seat next to her own beruffled silk skirts, passed the
word around that such comfort was to be accorded the masculine guests.
Even with such sanction, however, Luella May Spain looked pained at her
father's gay new red suspenders, and I could see that Mr. Todd's striped
shirt was hurting the feelings of Sadie Todd dreadfully, and she and
Luella May returned Billy's gallant salute with the greatest
embarrassment. And in all the buzz I found myself looking anxiously for
Martha Ensley's pale face and dark eyes, but failed to find them.

"This is one place she ought not to have to peep into; here she has the
rights of her citizenship and her motherhood," I said to myself.

But if the Town and the Settlement sat in the seats of the audience,
divided by the walk as were the walls of waters by the dry path along
which Moses led his chosen people out of the darkness of Egypt, such a
division was not noticeable among the performers of the pageant who were
supposed to be in hiding with their costumes behind a tall screen of
shrubs at one side of the schoolhouse, but who bubbled out on all sides.
Charlotte appeared once holding small Maudie Burns in a comforting
embrace and guided her to her mother for some sort of attention to the
very short skirts of blue gingham which were draped with about ten yards
of green crepe paper, while both Harriet and I gasped as we saw Mikey
jauntily hand the Suckling, tightly wrapped in brown swaddlings, into
the rapturous and tender embrace of Katie Moore, who had blue wings
sewed to her small gingham shoulders.

"Great Guns! They've got Sucks in it, too!" gasped Billy. "That child is
too young to educate and Goodloe ought to be restrained from
cradle-snatching like--"

But just here Billy was interrupted and the audience all quieted down as
Mr. Goodloe, in his white flannels and with his gold head ablaze in the
sun, which suddenly shone out fiercely from behind a white cloud which
was sheeting internally with electricity, mounted two of the front
steps of the schoolhouse and held up his hand for silence.

"Mr. Todd," he said with beautiful deference, "will you lead us in
prayer?" There was a perceptible rustle of feeling on the Settlement
side of the walk, for Mr. Todd was one of the parson's deacons, but he
had also been the master workman in the building of the schoolhouse, and
his neighbors were quick to respond to the tribute offered him before
the distinguished men present. He rose, gaunt and grizzled in his shirt
sleeves, but what he said was brief and as square-cut and to the point
as any nail he had ever driven. I saw the Governor and father exchange
glances and I noticed when the Governor responded to his call he was
much less ornate of speech than usual and much more universal. They all
spoke, from Nickols along the line to father, and after repeated urgings
Mother Spurlock rose to the occasion, and by way of making the Town and
Settlement at home in its new joint quarters announced that the tea
canister with its slit would hereafter be nailed just inside the
schoolhouse door.

The laugh and delighted applause that was given her seemed to have been
the last straw to the actors behind the shrubbery, restrained by their
young preceptress, for the pageant broke upon us.

First Mikey, with huge white cambric stork wings, hopped upon the stage
of sward and deposited the brown-wrapped Suckling in a hollow log in the
center, and departed flapping. After that the ceremonial developed
itself into the education that was to flow down upon her defenseless
head at the waving of the wand of Minerva, who was Charlotte with a
tinsel star of wisdom resting rampantly upon her brow. And it came down
upon the Suckling with a vengeance. A whole troop of young letters of
the alphabet, led by small Susan with the large red A upon her fat back,
danced around the Suckling's helplessness and finally backed up to the
audience to spell the word "Reading." Next in hopped a flock of numerals
led by the indefatigable Mikey, which backed up and presented themselves
from one to ten to thus imply the hated science of "Arithmetic."

The Suckling slept on amid delighted gurgles from her mother and
Harriet. She slept through a presentation of the script letters of
"Writing" and was still unconscious when "Geography" in crepe paper,
with flags of all nations, grouped around her. She only awoke when, all
by himself, sturdily, with his head in the air and fairly radiant with
beauty and courage, the Stray marched upon the scene, rolled into a
white roll of paper and girt about with a broad red ribbon sealed upon
his back to represent "Diploma." Silently and intent upon his duty he
walked straight to the Suckling in her log crib, bent over her, crooned
to her reassuringly a second, lifted her in his white arms and backed
off behind a tall laurel bush with her nodding in delight over his
shoulder. The boy was so beautiful and the little scene so tender that
the entire audience caught its breath at its--audacity. A gauntlet had
been thrown into the faces of both the Town and Settlement and they both
understood.

They sat perfectly still with astonishment while the performers were
being massed in the schoolhouse by the young teacher for their final
march out to the steps for the hymn singing with the beloved "Minister,"
which was to conclude the ceremonials.

And while the audience sat awaiting the further presentations to be
made them by their offspring, Mr. Goodloe came out the door and halfway
down the steps. Then suddenly he stopped and looked out over the valley
with such an expression on his face that with one accord his audience
rose and looked with him. And as it looked a groan came that was a
chorus melted into one voice of terror, while all of them stood helpless
with amazement. While we had all been sitting in the curious sweltering
heat, watching with pride a future for our children being foretold for
them by themselves, death had reared itself behind Old Harpeth, coiled
itself into a huge black spiral of thunder and lightning and was driving
down the valley upon Goodloets with a velocity that defied the eyes to
follow. For a long second every man and woman stood rooted to his
foothold on the earth and watched the tornado strike the edge of the
Settlement, smash down the saddlery as if it were a house of cards, and
churn the little tannery into the river. Then as it grasped the roof of
the Last Chance and began twisting it with a roar that grew in volume
every instant, Gregory Goodloe suddenly raised his hand and spoke in a
perfectly calm voice that rang out above the groan of the tortured
shanties of the Settlement which were crashing down against each other.

"Oh, God, we trust in the covert of thy wings," he prayed for a second
and then commanded: "Fall to the earth, all of you, and let it pass over
you!"

"The children!" came a cry that was a wail of parenthood, as we all sank
to the ground just as the terrible black monster tore the roof from the
Little House and hurled it toward us across the street. I saw a huge
rafter hurtle through the air and strike down Mark Morgan as he started
toward the steps of the schoolhouse, and by not a half inch did it miss
drunken, useless Mike Burns as it fell beside him. Then I covered my
eyes as the cloud and the wind passed over me and I only heard it strike
and rend and crash and tear the schoolhouse, beam from beam and stone
from stone. An eerie wail of the voices of little children was mixed
with the roar of the monster which crashed on up through the Town,
laying low the homes of our pride and prosperity, leaving us with our
faces to the ground while upon us began to pour a deluge of cold rain.

"Mark! Mark!" I heard Harriet moan beside me and I saw her crawl under
the wind toward where Mark had fallen.

"My babies, Oh, my babies!" came a wail in Nell's voice, and I saw her
try to rise, be knocked over by the wind and then begin to crawl toward
the wrecked mass that a second before had been the schoolhouse and from
which now could be heard the screams and cries of the children. Then as
suddenly as it had laid us low the cruel wind left us and with one
accord we all sprang to our feet and surged toward the children's calls
and cries that came out to us in the semi-darkness that still enveloped
us, though both the wind and the rain were abating.

But before a huge slab that had been the top step of the schoolhouse we
were all halted by a voice so stern and commanding that even the
agonized mothers and fathers paused.

"Stop! Not a man or a woman must come a step nearer," said the parson,
with the authority in his voice that must always be obeyed when used by
one human being to another. "The roof of the house has split and sunk in
the middle and only one side beam is supporting it. If it is touched by
so much as a hand it may lose its balance and fall on the children.
Only one man must come forward and put his shoulder under the beam at
the other end while I hold this. The children must come out one by one,
so as not to shake anything on them. The beam may fall. Do you all
understand me? One man!"

"Me, Parson, me!" demanded Mr. Todd.

"A broader, younger man, Todd," answered the parson, and he was casting
his eye over the huddled people before him when a wail came clear and
distinct from within the ruin.

"Stranger is caught and bleeding! Hurry, hurry!" were the words that
Charlotte sent forth with all the strength of her young lungs.

"It's my child, Oh, it's mine!" came an answering, cry, and from behind
some hiding place Martha Ensley flung herself across the front of the
huddled group of the Settlement people and against the defense of
Gregory Goodloe's strong arm which held her from the tottering doorway
he was supporting. "Let me get him out!"

"No, Martha," the parson said calmly and tenderly, as he held her back.

"Then _you_ come and get him," Martha said, as she suddenly straightened
herself and looked out among us of the Town. "He's yours--come and save
him!" But even in her agony she was cautious in her appeal, which came
without the demand of a name. We all held our breath for an instant,
Settlement and Town. Who would answer her?



CHAPTER XVIII

LIGHT--INTO DARKNESS


"Yes, Martha," came the answer after an instant's pause, and Nickols
Powers stepped from my side to that of Martha Ensley and took her wrung
hands in his. For another long moment we all stood tense at the
acknowledgment that the tragedy had forced to the surface. I stood
beside father like a woman of ice, yet on fire with a contemptuous
humiliation. The eyes of all my world were for an instant turned on me,
then they were all called back to the tragedy that was tottering over
us.

"Hurry, hurry!" came another wail from within the ruins in Charlotte's
voice. "He's bleeding!"

Again Martha started to fling herself past Nickols and the parson with a
scream of terror which was faintly echoed from within.

"Somebody come to Martha," commanded Mr. Goodloe, as he held her off
with one hand while he eased the beam on his shoulder so that Nickols
could slip in past him to the other end.

Suddenly a great, beautiful warmth melted the horror of pride and
humiliation that had frozen my heart as Nickols had stepped from my side
to that of Martha in acknowledgment of her claim upon him for the saving
of the child. All fear for her or us or the babies passed from me. My
soul had gone out into a darkness, called on some great Power that must
be there directing such a thing as was happening to us, and calm and
clear the answer of courage flowed into me.

Then without another moment's hesitation I stepped forward and held out
my arms to Gregory Goodloe for Martha. He put her into their strong
embrace and I pressed her head down upon my shoulder in a great
tenderness I had never felt before, while Nickols, with a long, hunted
look at us both, crawled into the crumbling ruin and crouched under the
beam as Gregory Goodloe directed him.

The wind had died down, the clouds were rolling away the darkness and
the rain had almost stopped as we all stood and waited for Gregory
Goodloe to bring from that ruin, in the way his superior judgment
thought best, either life or death. From within there came sobs and
smothered little moans that were so mingled that they could not be
identified by even the mother hearts held at bay by the faith that made
them obey the parson's command.

And then as I stood there with the mother of the child of my lover
cowering against my breast, with the man who in a few days was to have
been my husband, crouched under almost certain grinding death, and
looked into what at any moment might be the grave of all the babies of
the women I held dear, a light was flooding into my darkness and all of
the obscure, untranslatable writings on my nature became clear and I
received my consciousness of my Master, the Lord Jesus, with a cry that
I sent up for His mediation for the lives of the little ones. It was my
first prayer.

"O Christ in Heaven, help save them!" I pleaded. "Quick, Gregory,
quick!" I added another supplication in the next breath.

"Sue is bleeding, too!" again came a wail in Charlotte's voice. "Mikey's
got the baby, but he's caught."

Nell had been kneeling beside Mark's prostrate form, but at Charlotte's
call she laid his head on Harriet's breast and flung herself against my
arm outstretched to receive and restrain her.

"Now, Nickols, steady! I'll lift them past the beam," said the parson,
as he braced himself in the door space which had been crushed into a
narrow opening.

"Charlotte, take the baby from Mikey and hand her to me first," he
commanded. "Where are you caught, Mikey?"

"Me leg," wailed Mikey and his wail was echoed by poor little Mrs.
Burns.

"Here," said the parson, as he handed the brown swaddled bundle to Nell,
who caught it in her arms and sank shuddering to my feet.

"Now, Charlotte, I want you to get all the other children who are not
caught into line and make them walk carefully, just as you did here to
me," said the parson in a perfectly calm voice, the one he had used to
command his small congregation in the weeks of the drill.

"They are all crying and got their heads covered up," answered Charlotte
in despair. "They won't get up and march." Loud wails of fear and
anguish accompanied this statement, as if to corroborate it.

"Sing with me, Susan, sing the march," came the command without an
instant's delay from the lips of the beloved Minister.

    "Onward, Christian soldiers
    Marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus
    Going on before--"

came wee Sue's high, sweet voice which rose from the cavern and joined
with the parson's in the old song that has led strong men through many a
death watch.

For a long moment we all waited and then out of the hole in the mass of
stones and timbers and bricks, led by wee bleeding Susan, crawled a slow
stream of bloody, bruised, sobbing infant humanity to be absorbed with
cries of rapture into waiting arms.

"Hurry, Goodloe, get the boy and Charlotte; my God, hurry, the beam is
sinking!" came in Nickols' smothered voice.

Martha started, but I held her tight against my breast.

"I've got Mikey's pants loose with my teeth," came in Charlotte's voice,
as a creaking of the timbers made a shudder run through the waiting
crowd as every man and woman who held a restored treasure close, waited
to see what would happen to the three left in the settling ruins.

"Come out, Mikey, come out," called the Burns paternal parent.

"I won't! I'm going to help Charlotte git out Stray," was the undutiful
response of courage to the craven.

"Where is he caught, Charlotte?" asked the parson, as he edged a little
farther under the beam, which tottered and brought him to a cautious
standstill.

"His middle. Mikey's pushing and I'm pulling, but he's all bluggy. He's
dead all but his toes that wiggle."

"Hurry, Goodloe, hurry!" groaned Nickols, with what seemed a final
inspiration of breath.

"Pull him loose and come quick, Charlotte, you and Mikey. Never mind the
blood," was the firm command and in a few seconds Charlotte and Mikey
squeezed through the fast closing opening, bloody and torn, but with
the limp Stray dragged between them. A great cheer went up as Martha
turned and caught the unconscious boy in her arms, then it froze in the
throats that had been uttering it. Slowly, but more rapidly than could
be stayed by human hands, the whole heavy roof crushed down upon the
rest of the ruin; and under it and the beam went Nickols Powers with
only one deep groan. Mr. Goodloe tried to hold up the whole side of the
roof on his own shoulders and only staggered out from the very brink of
being involved in the crash. Martha sank to the ground and hid her head
in my knees and sobbed while I heard a great cry break from my father's
lips. Nickols was the last of his race and our pride was blasted when he
fell.

"Now forward, every man of you, but lift and dig carefully," commanded
the parson, as he stood on the very edge of the ruin. "Todd, you stand
at the corner and show them how to roll back the timbers to the right.
Carefully, men, but quick, quick, and with the help of God!"

It seemed hours that the men wrestled with the timbers and tore away
brick and stone and steel, but it was only a few minutes before they
pried up a section of the heavy roof and lifted Nickols from the debris
beneath.

"He's breathing," said Mr. Todd, as he laid him in the parson's great,
strong, outstretched arms open to receive him and which bore him out
through the crowd swiftly and laid him across the seats of Nickols' car.
Doctor Harding had just put Mark, a limp, heavy body, into his own car,
with Harriet to support the bleeding head, and Nell crouched beside him
with the Suckling in her arms, and sent them on up into the devastated
Town. Now he came and helped us settle Nickols on his cushions.

"Shall I send my car and Colonel Leftwick for surgeons and nurses from
the Capital?" asked the Governor. "How is it with Morgan?"

"He is dead," answered the old doctor with the calm serenity that he had
acquired after so many years of giving up his friends. "This case is
another matter. There may be a chance and I'll need help. We don't yet
know how many more are injured in the whole town. We'll need help."

"Then I'll drive for it myself," answered the Governor, as he swung into
his powerful car and started it out into the valley. "I'll make it back
in six hours. No other man can drive this car as fast as I can."

And true to his promise, he was back within the time with nurses and
surgeons and supplies of all kinds. By that time the whole Harpeth
Valley had heard of our tragedy and all who could find a way were
hurrying to our rescue or comforting.

The dawn of the beautiful new day found Nickols still alive, stretched
on his bed in his own wing of the Poplars, which alone of all the homes
in the Town had not been touched by the storm monster. The old house
stood unharmed in all its beauty in its garden which had hardly a leaf
or a branch broken, and hovered under its roof the last of the name of
its builders. He lay quiet and unconscious while his life jetted itself
away from a great hole in his lung made by a splinter from the beam he
had held up until old Goodloet's children had been given back to its
future. The great surgeon who had come down with the Governor, watched,
shook his head and went at his task again and again with a dogged
courage. For an hour he would leave him to go and help Dr. Harding with
some of the other injured, but back he would come to his fight for
Nickols' life.

And all over the stricken town there were similar tragedies being
enacted. Over at the Morgans Mark lay cold and still in the long parlor,
which was almost the only part of the handsome old house left intact by
the tornado, and Harriet sat beside him while Nell nursed maimed wee
Susan and torn Jimmy, and restrained Charlotte from injuring her sorely
twisted ankle.

Down at the Last Chance, Jacob Ensley was stretched upon a bed in the
bar with a sheet drawn straight and decorously over his bruised white
head. He had been killed by a blow from a roof timber, while from right
beside him young George Spain had been rescued unharmed. When he had
crawled from the ruins he had held in his hand a bottle of whiskey which
he had just uncorked for his own and Jacob's refreshment when the
tornado tore at the East Chance, and scarcely a drop had been spilt. And
the tornado had displayed the vagaries of its kind.

Old Granny Todd had been lifted in her rocking chair and carried halfway
over the Town and left beside the Spain cottage with her feeble life
intact, while Mrs. Spain, upon whose shoulders the burden of mothering
all seven of the Spains rested heavily, had had one of those valuable
shoulders broken and was left crushed and bleeding beside the rocking
chair in which the helpless old dame arrived for her enforced visit. The
household goods of one family had been torn from them and thrown into
the melee of another, and the Jamison clock was found ticking busily
away over on the roof of the Todd's chicken house. A girl mother in a
little cottage on the edge of the river bank was found floating against
the shore in her wooden bedstead, drowned, while near her the little two
days' old life had been perfectly preserved upon the pillow in the
rocking chair where it had been sleeping when the great storm beast had
made its raid.

And all Goodloets mourned, crying for her children, and would not be
comforted. The second day after the storm the dead were buried. Mr.
Goodloe, with old Mr. Stokes, the Presbyterian minister, on one hand,
and the Baptist student preacher on the other, stood in the center of
the beautiful city of the dead, over which the storm had passed
unheeding, and had services for the rich and the poor alike. With the
same ceremonial were buried Mark Morgan and Jacob Ensley, and the girl
mother, Ted Montgomery, who had been struck down by the falling sign of
the Bank and Trust Company on Main Street, and a score of others.

Then after all the tears had been shed and the sobs had ceased, all the
flowers strewn and the reluctant feet had left the silent city, I went
over behind the tall cedars into a corner and knelt beside Martha
Ensley, who had flung herself down across the new-made grave that held
all that was left of Jacob Ensley, the man who had bulwarked sin in his
Settlement and menaced all of Goodloets for many a year. The wide-eyed
boy crouched beside her and I took his hand in mine.

"Martha," I said, as I bent beside her in the twilight. "I want you to
come home with me, you and Sonny. Your place is there now and you must
bring him." All day I had thought and I had prayed to be aided in doing
what I knew was best.

"Oh, no, Miss Charlotte, no," she said, and shrank from my arms.

"Yes, Martha," I said, and drew her closer.

"It happened the summer we were all first grown and you were in Europe.
I couldn't fight him off. I knew he belonged to you and I loved you,
but I couldn't fight him off," she sobbed and the Stray's little arms
went around her neck.

"I'll fight fer you--I'll fight," he said, with brave, wonderment in his
eyes and voice.

"I went away this summer and I wanted to stay. Mr. Goodloe tried to help
me, but Nickols found where I was and made me come back. It was wrong to
you and I knew it. I stayed shut up in my room, but he would come. And I
sent him to his death. He was yours and I killed him for you! Please go
away and leave me!" And again Martha cowered away from me.

"Nobody need know you are in the house, Martha, but you must come with
me," I said, and I spoke with such quiet authority that she rose and
followed me out of the shadows into the starlit night which had come
down over stricken Goodloets. I found Billy waiting for me in his car
and he spoke gently to Martha and settled her and the boy on the back
seat with never a question in his kind eyes.

"God, you women!" he said to me under his breath, but I avoided his eye
and he drove us silently to the Poplars. The long halls were quiet and
empty in the anxious hush of the whole house which was keeping its
life--or death watch. I led Martha to the room that opened into mine, in
which all of the girl guests of the Poplars always slept, and made her
take off her hat and make the boy comfortable. Then I went for Dabney
and asked him to take food to them.

"Yes'm, I will. God love my little miss," was his answer, and I knew
that I could trust his kindness to Martha and the boy.

Then I went into the library to father. I found Mr. Goodloe with him and
father's calm under his anxious suffering gave me a thrill at the
thought of the regained strength it implied. The parson's face was
grave, but full of a white light from the fire burning back under the
dull gold brows. His warm hands took my cold ones in them and pressed
them palm to palm in the attitude of prayer and very tenderly, from his
soul to mine, he said:

"'The Lord is good, for his mercy endureth forever.'"

"Forever?" I asked him, looking up with the child's faith that had been
born in my heart shining in the confidence in my eyes.

"Forever," he answered me with quiet authority.

"Yes," said father solemnly, as if himself reassured after doubts. Then,
after a second's pause: "Daughter, Nickols is conscious and is asking
for you. Will you go to him?"

I took my hands out of those which had given to mine the strength of
prayer and went.



CHAPTER XIX

THE SPARK AND THE BLAZE


I found Nickols lying in his own dim and high bedroom, perfectly
motionless under the white sheet, as he had been for two days, the only
difference that now his great dark eyes burned into mine and on his
mouth there rested a faint trace of the old mocking smile. I sat down
close beside his pillow on a low chair which the nurse placed for me as
she gave me a warning look and left us alone.

"This is your wedding day, Charlotte, and the license is over on the
desk to destroy," he said, with the mocking light in his eyes flaring up
into greater strength. "I suppose you are duly grateful for the merciful
escape accorded you."

"Please don't, dear," I said, and I reached out and took his burning
hand in mine.

"You never really cared, Charlotte. You cold women make havoc in a man's
life. I've no excuses to make, but I wish I could hear you say that you
forgive me. I'd go out more contentedly." And the light that sprang up
into his face showed me just what a hold I had on his loyalty and the
thing a man calls his honor. And it came to me on the wings of a quick,
silent prayer, prayed in a heart unlearned in the forms of petitions,
that I must make a fight to give him the peace of his heritage of
immortality before he entered it.

"I do forgive you, Nick dear, as I hope to be forgiven by the Master for
the wrongs I have done others--the wrong of accepting your life--in
coldness," I answered, looking him steadily in the eye as I made my
simple declaration of my new-found faith to him.

"You?" he faltered. "Do I behold you entered into the creed?"

"Listen to me, Nick, for the time is short," I said, as I held his hand
close in mine. "We were blind--blind. When you and the children were in
that death house I found that I must ask help. I cried out in my
blindness and was answered, as Christ gave his promise that the eyes of
those who ask should be opened. And you must ask so that you will have
a vision to help--help you go to the blessed immortality that awaits
you. Ask, Oh, Nick, ask with me. Please, Lord Jesus, help us!" And as I
uttered my few faltering words of petition I fell on my knees beside the
bed.

"It's too late now," he answered, but a helplessness came into his
bitterness. "I've done all the damage I could and I'm not going to
whimper. You'll help poor Martha?" he questioned softly, and I could
have cried out in thankfulness for the ray of tenderness that came
across his white face.

"God has given you time to right the worst wrong, Nick," I said, as a
sudden thought came to me that gave to me a healing which I knew I must
pour out upon his wounds. "Marry Martha and give the boy your name and
your money to grow good and great with. Jacob is dead. They are alone in
the world. Give them to me that way, Nick, give them to me to care for
for you until we are all together where everything is made right."

For a long moment he lay perfectly still and looked into my eyes and I
saw a wonder grow in his that spread all over his whole face.

"Some kind of a God must have created a woman like that in you. Almost
I believe. Call Goodloe quick, and your father." And then he closed his
eyes and I could see a deathly weakness stealing over him. I called the
nurse and sent her for father and Gregory Goodloe, and to old Dabney who
had come to wait by the door I whispered to bring Martha and the boy and
keep them in the room beyond. Then I went back and knelt by the pillow
and took the hand which was beginning to grow cold in mine.

"Could it be possible?" the white lips muttered.

"Say it, Nickols; say, 'Lord, help thou my unbelief,'" I begged him.

"Amen," he whispered with a quick smile just as father and Gregory
Goodloe came into the room.

"Goodloe, what was the exact story about that skulker of a thief on the
cross?" Nickols asked with a sudden strength in his voice as he opened
his eyes and looked straight at the parson.

"'The thief said unto Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into
thy kingdom." And Jesus said unto him, "Verily I say unto thee, to-day
shalt thou be with me in Paradise,"' are the exact words, Nickols," the
parson answered him.

"Charlotte, ask the judge if he is willing that I should wipe the slate
clean as you propose in case there really is a door and an old Peter to
present a purified passport to," the dying man said to me with a touch
of his old whimsicality. "I give up, Greg; the soul that Charlotte
possesses can't be put out into nothingness; and if she's got one I have
too," he said, after a moment's fight for breath. "Hurry, all of you, to
get my passport made out and bring the girl here to me. Quick, get her.
There is very little time."

"She's here, Nick," I answered, and after a few words to father and the
parson, to which they both gave assent, I called Martha and the boy into
the room.

Straight as a bird to its nest Martha flew to the bedside and the dying
arms found strength to lift themselves and take her and the child into
their embrace.

"Will you forgive me and let me make it as right with the world for you
and him as I can, Martha?" he asked. "I love you, but I'd have drawn us
all down into hell."

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Martha, looking up at me with positive fear of
me and of father and of our world in her wild face.

"Yes, Martha," I said, as I knelt beside her and took the Stray in my
arms, toward which he in his terror at the scene strained. "Father is a
justice and he'll make the license over there in the desk right. You
must, Martha, you must! It gives you and the boy to me to care for."

"Yes, Martha," echoed Nickols' voice, out of which the strength was
quickly going. "Help me wipe off as much of the slate as you can," and
the wandering hand suddenly encountered the boy's wee paddie resting on
the edge of the bed and clasped it close.

And with the three of us crouched there beside him, father and Mr.
Goodloe bound them legally and in the name of God, just as the last
flicker of strength flared up in Nickols' body. Immediately I rose with
the child in my arms and Martha took Nickols' head on her faithful
breast while the life ebbed away.

"Amen, Charlotte, amen," were his last whispered words and I understood
that he was ratifying again my prayer for light to lead the way of his
faltering steps.

And then came a stillness in which we all stood with bowed heads while
Martha sobbed.

The death of Nickols Morris Powers was an event of national interest and
telegrams and letters and representatives of the press poured into
Goodloets from all parts of the country. Mr. Jeffries and the Governor
stayed with us until it was all over, and when Mr. Jeffries left he
pressed into father's hand a large check of five figures.

"To help them build again, those who need it, in memory of him," he
said.

The Governor and his staff spent time and effort in helping to
reorganize Goodloets, but through it all it was the powerful Harpeth
Jaguar on whom we all leaned. He came and went day and night, tireless,
quiet, commanding, and with that great light shining from back of his
eyes upon us all. And in his ministrations down in the Settlement he
took Martha with him day after day. He forced her to use up all of the
strength that she possessed each day so that she would drop with
exhaustion at night. To me he left most of the comforting of Nell--and
Harriet. Like all women of buoyant and shallow nature, Nell soon began
to rebound from her tragedy and it was hard to keep Billy within
decorous bounds in his comforting of her. It would have been impossible
to have done it at all with the former Billy, but the quiet, steady
light that shone in his honest eyes whenever he helped with Nell and the
children spoke well for a reformed and perfectly satisfactory future for
them all.

"Billy," I said to him one afternoon when he had taken all four of the
kiddies out in his car to get wild grapes, when Harriet had counted on
having wee Susan to herself for the afternoon, while Nell was
interestedly busy over somber but much needed winter clothes for
herself. "You have just got to make up your mind that Harriet is going
to absolutely possess Sue for the future. I don't know about any
legalities but I am going to see that Harriet gets Susan."

"What you say goes, Charlotte, as it always has," he answered me, with
honest adoring in his young eyes that had lost their reckless hunger.
"And if you aren't careful you'll lead us all into Kingdom Come in blind
bridles. Be careful not to over-fill Goodloe's fold. I don't want to
crowd you. I'll take my turn when it comes." He was laughing as he
spoke but there was a depth to the laughter that I understood.

"Thank you, Billy, for your consideration," I answered him, as I took
small Sue's hand and turned in at the Sproul gate.

Harriet sat on the steps in the fading sunlight and the small music box
flung herself into the outstretched arms with a force that was alarming.
It was easy to see that Susan was most temperamental and would be a
handful of anxieties in the years to come, anxieties that Harriet
needed.

"Of course, she doesn't belong to me and I'm a fool," Harriet muttered
as Susan darted away to see what treasure for her lurked in the pocket
of Mrs. Sproul's beflowered silk skirt.

"I started plans to get her for you, just five minutes ago, dear," I
said, as I sat down beside her. "I laid down the law to Billy on the
subject."

"Charlotte," answered Harriet, as she looked with brooding into my eyes,
"do you really believe that--that we will find them again and--and--_do_
you really believe?" And the question was so hungry and haunted and so
like what had driven me for years that my heart ached in my breast for
her, but I knew that I could only stand fast and pray that she be
comforted. I couldn't make her see.

"Yes, dear, I _know_--but I can't make you know. Just go on--on
_hungering_ like you are and you'll be fed," I answered.

"You've always understood, Charlotte, and if you say that the pain will
some day be eased I'll--I'll believe it. Yes, I'll make a start by
believing in you and there's no telling where it will land me."

The confidence with which she raised her comforted eyes to mine made a
stab of pain hit me full in the breast. Words that Gregory Goodloe had
spoken to me out under the old graybeards were the weapon used. "With
your hand in mine I can make this whole community see and know;
separated from you--" In all humility I now understood what he meant.

And in all the weeks in which he and I had worked together Gregory
Goodloe had given me not one single personal word or look. The priest
had comforted and strengthened me but the man had forever shut me out of
his heart. My suffering was intense, and yet, and yet I knew that in my
heart there was strength to endure the want of him with all
cheerfulness even to the end. At last I had found the key to my own
hieroglyphics and I could be honest with myself. I knew that I loved
Gregory Goodloe as it is seldom given to a woman to love a man, but I
also knew that the awakening of spirit I had found was not in any way
connected with my woman's love for him, but had come to me from the
years of suffering I had had while I sought it. I refused to acknowledge
that a sex spark had in any way set off the blaze; the fire had been
laid in my soul and it would burn on without any of his tending. But
even in that honest surety Nickols' mocking words "religion is
suppressed sex" haunted me. I knew it could not be true, so I put it all
out of my mind as I left Harriet and walked down the street towards the
Poplars.

I was due in the library to help father in the packing of some of his
papers, for I had insisted that he go on to Washington to fulfill his
appointment. Martha and the boy would be with me and if he only left me
Dabney I could be safe and busy for the winter. Strange to say, Mammy's
disappointment at Dabney's loss of a sojourn in a strange clime was
greater than his own.

"I don't believe in glorifying men by needing of them to any great
measure," she declared. "With me in the house and the preacher across
the fence it don't make no difference how good looking you are, Miss
Charlotte, you won't be too much for our protection. Dabney can jest go
on with the jedge."

"Of course, little miss, you don't need me, but I sorter got rheumatics
in my homesick and I begged off from Mas' Nickols," Dabney replied with
the wily soothing that had made his conjugal life both pleasant and
possible.

I was thinking of the argument and smiled with tenderness as I saw the
old grizzled white head bent over a hoe down in the dahlias, which he
was bedding. The young man from White Plains had stayed to put the
garden to bed as far as possible, and had left with perfect confidence
in Dabney and the likely yellow boy he had found.

And now in late October the garden was in a conflagration of blossoming
glory. The borders of the walks blazed with the red and blue and gold
and purple of chrysanthemums and asters and zinnias and dahlias, while
long tendrils of russet autumn vines trailed in and over and around the
flowers and shrubs and hedges. The tang of ripening and falling seed was
mixed in all the perfume, and gorgeous leaves were beginning to rustle
on the green grass. It was Nickols' first harvest of beauty, and somehow
I felt that there was no need to regret that his eyes were not mortally
there to gather the fruits.

I went from the front porch up to my room to take off my hat and see if
Martha had come from a day with Mother Spurlock down in the Settlement.
I found instead of Martha or the boy or Mother Elsie, Jessie Litton
seated at my desk and looking out the window across to Paradise Ridge.

"I came up to wait, Charlotte, because--because I'm in deep water and
need a hand out. You have always helped and somehow I feel that you have
so much more to give me now than you ever had. Clifton Gray told me last
night that he loved me and is going to break his engagement with Letitia
Cockrell. He had heard Letitia and Nell talk over Nell's mourning
trousseau for the winter and he was disgusted--that, and--and I think it
has been coming some time. He is with Mr. Goodloe a lot lately in
getting things about the town started to going again and he is--is
thinking. I don't know how to help him think; it's a thing I've never
done. I am at sea myself but I know that he must not throw Letitia over.
Will you talk to him?"

"I couldn't help him if--if Mr. Goodloe can't," I faltered, simply sick
with distress.

"Cliff said not a week ago that your eyes made him feel like a light he
saw ahead on a wooded island after he had drifted without a paddle two
days in a canoe one time in Canada. You'll have to talk to him. Give him
a little life kernel; I've only got shells for myself. I'm going down to
Florida suddenly next week and when I come back I--I, well, I'll either
go into the movies or study with Mother Spurlock to get a deaconess'
cap." As she spoke I saw that the fight was on in Jessie's soul, and it
would be to a finish.

"God bless and keep you, dear," I held her back long enough to say as
she picked up her sweater and left me. Hampton Dibrell has been
constantly with Bessie Thornton since Ted Montgomery's death, and I knew
that Jessie's time of trial had come, for her love for him had grown
through her denial because of the taint of her mad mother. And somehow I
felt sure of the outcome, that she would find strength to let him go. I
didn't know why I felt so sure; but I did, and I went down to the
library with a great peace in my heart that I knew later would be in
hers.

And I made my entry into father's den in the midst of a scene of great
moment. I paused and listened with profound respect. Tradition was on
trial and the result I felt would be momentous. Father sat in his huge
chair before a small crackling fire in the wide chimney, and Martha's
boy stood before him with a large, profusely illustrated volume of Hans
Christian Andersen clasped passionately to his little breast. He had the
floor.

"And Charlotte said they is no fairies anywhere and I say they is," he
declaimed, while father listened attentively. Suddenly I saw what I had
never seen before, that father's white hair rose in a crest on one side
and descended in a cascade on the other at exactly the same angle as the
black locks of the young arguer before him, and as they calmly regarded
each other I thought I had never seen such a likeness in personality as
well as form of feature. Love flooded all over me and I wanted to hug
them both but was restrained to silence by the gravity of the
situation.

"And why did you argue that there are fairies?" father interrogated
calmly and judicially.

"Charlotte said they ain't here 'cause she and me had never saw one, and
I said, 'How could a book and pictures be about nothing at all?' I
showed her this book that Lady gaved me and she said, 'Maybe, but ask
Minister.' I said, no, I'd ask you 'cause you are older and mighter saw
one onct. Did you?"

"Well, sir, you argued from a positive, about ten pounds of positive, I
should judge from the size of that volume, while Charlotte certainly
argued from a negative viewpoint," said father, and his eyes twinkled as
he gave me an almost imperceptible wink. By his answer he also avoided
answering the question of faith put to him.

"Did you see one?" came back the question in a tone that demanded an
answer.

"Here comes Minister now and you can ask him," father said in all
cravenness as Mr. Goodloe came in the door behind me and came and stood
at my side. He had a huge yellow plume of goldenrod which he handed me
without looking at me directly. I buried my nose in its crispness and
watched to see him meet the issue.

The boy put the question carefully just as he had put it to father, but
there was a quaver in his voice as he ended with his plea.

"Is they no fairies, 'cause you can't see 'em?"

"Do you feel them in your heart?" was the counter question that came
gravely from the lips of the Reverend Mr. Goodloe.

"Yes, here," answered the pleader as he laid his hand carefully on the
pit of his stomach, which is nearer the seat of heartache than many a
perturbed older person has come.

"Then for you there are fairies, right there in your heart, even if
Charlotte has lost them out of hers," was the answer, with a theology
that staggered me and set father smiling back into his youth.

"I'll go tell her and maybe give her some of mine," exclaimed the boy as
he ran from the room.



CHAPTER XX

THE COVERT OF WINGS


"Oh, the faith of youth, the faith that reaches out to give itself,"
sighed father as he turned to his papers.

"Can faith give itself?" I asked, as I raised my eyes to the stars under
dull gold through which Gregory Goodloe was pouring a great smile down
into my depths.

"Sometimes--just sometimes I think that perhaps it can--it does," he
answered me slowly and took my hands in his and held them with their
palms together prayerwise, a thing he had done several times in the
weeks past. Then he turned and walked over to father's desk and stood
looking down at him.

"I want to dedicate the chapel on Sunday, Mr. Powers, as that is your
last Sunday before you go to Washington," he said, and as he spoke he
smiled first down into father's eyes raised to his and then into
mine--impersonally. I couldn't trust myself to speak but turned and went
up to my room to weep with a hurt that soon sent me to my knees, blind
for the comfort that came--that I knew always would come now, no matter
what the hurt.

"He knows it has come to me, and he's thankful--but he doesn't care," I
sobbed and then laughed at my own contradictions.

Martha found me kneeling beside my window seat when she came in with
Mother Spurlock and she shielded me until I could wipe away the tears
and be as glad to see them both as I really was.

They were full of the plans for the dedication, which it gave me another
stab to find they had been discussing with Mr. Goodloe for several days.
In the hard weeks that had passed I had been their confidant, adviser
and many times their helper in the reconstructing around the tragedies
in the Settlement, but in this matter I had not been consulted. In fact,
Mother Spurlock showed an embarrassed hesitation as she talked of it
that still further hurt me and made me unenthusiastic and cold to their
plans.

And why should I have been hurt that the surety in my heart had not
declared itself to them without words? So wonderful did it seem to me
that I thought it must be in my every word and deed and look and I was
confounded that as yet I was considered to be an outsider and not
entitled to plan for the ceremonial of the dedication of the material
fold for the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's flock. And then suddenly my hurt was
swept away by my sense of humor and I laughed to myself when I saw that
to Mother Spurlock, who had hungered and thirsted for my conversion, I
would have to prove it, tell it and repeat it.

"Instead of the festal ceremonies in the dedication Mr. Goodloe is going
to have the simplest dedication ritual and then immediately hold the
memorial services for our--our dead," said Mother Spurlock, as she took
Martha's hand in hers and stroked it. "We want everybody to be there and
I could use a few more of those trunks full of colored new clothes,
Charlotte. The people down in the Settlement can use and wear after a
dye pot when you can't, bless your sweet heart," and as she made her
ruling request, which was still strong in death, she stroked the fold of
dull black silk over my knee which was cut from the same material as
the straight black widow's gown which Martha wore.

"Make Martha buy you some things for some of them," I said lightly and
watched Martha as I spoke. She had never by word or deed showed that she
felt anything but adoringly dependent on me and my bounty, and had put
the check book I had given her from Mr. Cockrell away in my desk without
looking at it. I could see that my words both hurt and shocked her.

"No, Oh, no," she faltered and turned away toward the window.

"But, Martha," I was beginning to say, when an interruption burst into
the room. Young Charlotte stood before us and at her side the boy stood
his ground with the huge book still in what must have been very tired
arms. Their faces were belligerent and small James had upon his
countenance the alarm he always shows during Charlotte's most serious
and dangerous outbursts. Mikey was along, with his mischievous eyes
dancing with delight at the fray.

"Auntie Charlotte, I think somebody ought to whip Stranger for saying
that Minister said he had fairies in his stomach. It is a lie."

"I'll lick him fer you, Miss Charlotte," offered Mikey, with a pass at
the boy that I knew was only an affectionate threat.

"I'll knock a stuffing out of you if you touch him," answered Charlotte,
taking Mikey's offer with her usual literal directness. "When he's
whipped, nobody but Auntie Charlotte can do it. Are you going to do it
now, Auntie Charlotte? We don't want the devil to get him for badness."
And as she spoke she took the boy's hand and held it tightly as if
willing to defend him from the flesh, the devil and the world, only
excepting myself.

"But he did say that I had them here when I put my hand on it, didn't
he, Lady?" demanded the accused, with more courage than I would have
felt at meeting the accusation for him. I simply couldn't face the
explanation and I became craven.

"Mr. Goodloe is down in the library. Go ask him what he did say," I
suggested hopefully.

"We looked everywhere for him and that is the place we skipped. I felt
sure you wouldn't know anything at all about it, Auntie Charlotte, but
Stranger said you know just as much as Minister, which is another thing
I am going to ask him about. Come on, Stranger." And with her usual
lightning rapidity, Charlotte began to marshal her forces out of the
room.

"Please don't!" were the words I sent faltering after her determination
to question Mr. Goodloe about his and my relative erudition, but I felt
that they made no impression.

"Sonny thinks about you just as Charlotte does about Mr. Goodloe, and
he'll say so to everybody," said Martha, with a sad smile after the door
had closed with vigor enough to startle the household.

"He's a fine child," said Mother Spurlock, with a great tenderness in
her smile at Martha. "Did you ask Mrs. Todd if that big hulk of a Jones
boy could get into the coat that Dabney got me from the judge's closet?"
she said, continuing the subject in hand, which lasted her for another
hour. When she went she took Martha with her to carry half the bundles
down to the Little House, the roof of which was the first thing to be
patched in stricken Goodloets.

That night I felt the hands of the Stray on my face in the darkness and
his soft cheek cuddle to mine.

"_You_ say they _is_ fairies, Lady," he coaxed.

"There are fairies and there always will be for you," I answered, as I
drew him close and kissed the fragrant mouth so near mine. "Go back to
mother now," I added, as I felt the sleepy huddle of his little shoulder
against mine. He went and I promised myself that no matter how lonely I
was to be I would always send him back to his mother and not ever forget
that her claim was first. Tears were in my eyes as I turned my face into
the pillow, but suddenly the refrain of the song I had once heard in the
night, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide," sung itself in my heart
until I again fell to sleep.

The dedication day for Goodloe Chapel arrived upon Goodloets just one
month from the day upon which the beast of storm had ravaged it, and as
that fateful morning dawned with an extraordinary grandeur, so that
Sunday in mid-October came up from behind Paradise Ridge with unusual
beauty, only with the difference of calmness instead of splendor and
peace instead of tumult. The sun was warm and benignant, with not a
cloud in the deep blue sky to obscure its blessing. A gentle breeze blew
in from the fields and meadows laden with rich harvest odors and every
shrub and flower and vine which had been hiding back a few late buds let
them burst forth in honor of the day, and in many instances they bloomed
from a new growth thrown over the scars in the sides of the old town. In
one short month most of the ruins had been reduced to orderly piles of
material to be used in rebuilding, and a great many of the deepest
gashes had been healed completely and covered with merciful vine and
blossom. And it had also been like that with most of the scars in the
lives of the bereaved; they ached, but they had been covered with a
courage to go on building again until the new structure could be
complete.

I think something of this feeling was in the minds of most of the people
as they began to assemble around Goodloe Chapel long before the time for
its opening. And as had happened once before, the procession from the
Town met the procession from the Settlement, only this time they were
not divided so completely from the right to the left. A tall mill woman,
whose husband had gone down in the crash at the saddlery, came and took
Nell's hand in hers and laid a strong arm around her shoulders, while
Harriet went over and took from the arms of the young father the little
motherless mite who had been rescued from the pillow floating on the
river. Billy shook hands with a young tanner in tight but wholly new
clothes, to whom Luella May Spain introduced him as her imminent
husband.

In times of stress women are apt to seize and cling to the arm of
masculine protection, and Luella May had chosen to forget the
fascination of Billy's hesitation and two-steps and secure for herself a
life of thorough normality. She would probably never forget those dances
with Billy, and they would lend a kind of reminiscent glow of pleasure
over her boiling cabbage pots, but it would be no worse than that.

Mr. Todd was shaven and habitated in the neat black coat he had thrown
off as he went at the ruin of the schoolhouse a month before, and with a
tender smile on his lean old face he came over and stood beside Martha,
as if to be watchful of her in the new order of her life.

And it was for quite a half hour that most of the inhabitants of
Goodloets stood around in the yard of the chapel and waited for the
formal opening of the doors. We all knew that the chapel would not hold
the half of us, for the small Presbyterian congregation had been
dismissed by Mr. Farraday to come over and join us in the dedication,
and after a short service the boy Baptist divine had brought his flock
to do honor to the opening of the new fold. In fact, by count almost
every citizen in Goodloets stood before the chapel doors and waited for
them to be thrown open. And in the crowd who waited there was this
difference from the last time we had been together: All the children
were with us and not separated from us by walls that crash. I think that
the second meeting of Town and Settlement would have been impossible if
each parent had not had the confidence inspired by the small hands in
theirs.

And for still more minutes we were patient while the delicious autumn
sun beamed upon us with Indian summer warmth and Old Harpeth looked down
on us from out on Paradise Ridge with its crown wreathed with purple and
gold and russet, all veiled in a tender haze.

Then as the old clock on the courthouse up on the square boomed the hour
of eleven, Dabney with ceremony opened wide the tall doors and stepped
back into the shadow, Jefferson bowing and smiling behind him. With one
accord the people started toward the door, and then everybody again
stood still and seemed to be waiting for something.

I knew for what they waited and I took Martha's hand in mine, with the
boy's in hers on the other side, and slowly we walked through the path
made for us between our friends and neighbors and in at the chapel door.
As I passed Harriet I motioned to her and she put her arm around Nell
and followed us, while Billy came behind them with father and the
children. And behind them walked all of those who had been bereaved by
the storm, and those who had been lamed and were suffering came with
them.

My entry into the chapel had been accomplished and I felt like a
storm-torn bird who finds its sanctuary among the green leaves of a
great tree, while with Martha and the boy I went up to the very chancel
rail itself.

Then I lifted my eyes and looked up into Gregory Goodloe's face, from
which the white light of a great joy tinged with a great sorrow, looked
down upon us. And as had been the case for all the long weeks stretched
out behind me there was in his eyes no glance to me of a personal
understanding; all the passion was that of a shepherd for his flock, and
in its greatness I humbly acquiesced as I fell upon my knees in the
front pew with Martha beside me, while he lifted his hands for the
opening prayer of his service.

And in his short prayer he made the dedication of the pile of stone and
mortar which had stood before the face of the wind as sturdily as old
Harpeth itself. His words held the simplicity of those of a great poet
and each was a separate jewel that could be imbedded in the hearts of
his people to last for the span of their lives. He made a grateful
acknowledgment of the safety of the chapel and of the spared lives of
those before him, and in a few ringing sentences he prayed that we all
be delivered from the blindness of the prosperity which was upon us when
the disaster had made us halt in our rush and give time for brother to
face and call upon brother in affliction. So ringing and vivid was the
self-accusation of heedlessness in the few sentences when he dealt with
the condition of all of us when sorrow had come upon us, that we all
held our breath with almost a groan of conviction, and his promise of
our humbled and contrite hearts was ratified with a breath of relief.

Then we rose from our knees and sat once more facing him while he stood
before us and began to read the memorial services for our dead. And
through the whole beautiful ritual he led us to the very words of
triumph:

     "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written;
     Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?
     O grave, where is thy victory?"

The warmth in his beautiful voice and the light upon his face poured
over us all with a healing that we knew would endure.

After the dedication prayer and the memorial service the old
Presbyterian minister, whom we had all known and loved since infancy,
talked tenderly and with great sympathy to us for a few minutes and the
stammering young Baptist divine gave us an insight into a heart of
youthful devoutness.

And then came my hour.

"And now that we have given to the Lord formally this sanctuary we have
builded for him, I want to open its spiritual doors to any of you who
feel in your hearts the desire to unite with us in our worship of Him,"
were the words of invitation that I suddenly felt beat themselves, in
the rich voice of the man in the pulpit, upon my heart. "I am going to
baptize the children, but are there any of you of 'riper years' who
desire to unite with us to 'constantly believe God's holy word, and
obediently keep his commandments'?" And as he spoke he came down from
the pulpit, stood at the chancel rail and stretched out his hands to all
of us. Without a second's delay I rose and went and knelt before him and
bowed my head in my hands. On my right knelt the young tanner and on my
left I felt rather than saw Clifton Gray.

"The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years" is long and
full of holy austerity. Word for word, response for question, I followed
the rich voice leading me, but not until it asked concerning our faith
in the "life everlasting" did I raise my eyes to those glowing above me
as I made answer:

"All this I steadfastly believe."

There was an instant's hush in the church as I made my response and in
all humility I seemed to feel that it reverberated in some of the
others' depths until it waked a faint echo. They had seen me face my
humiliation and had watched how I took it and it had had its effect. It
was as if I publicly led them to the well-spring of my courage and
offered it to them. Luella May stole forward and crowded in between the
young tanner and me, and I saw great tears steal out of father's closed
eyes and roll down his cheeks, as he came and knelt just behind me, with
two mill hands and several women.

And then, after our blessing, while we rose and stood on the right and
the left of the chancel the parson asked that the children be brought
forward for baptism.

Without waiting for anybody to come with her, Charlotte rose, took a
hand of Sue on one side and one of Jimmy on the other, and came and
stood looking up into the beloved Minister's eyes with such a vision in
her young face that I caught my breath. Then Nell came and with her came
Harriet with the Suckling asleep in her arms. The bereaved young father
held his baby in his arms alone and Mrs. Burns went and stood beside
him with Mikey and Maudie and the other five toddlers in front of her.
Other children were brought forward by parents from the Town and the
Settlement and were ranged to the right and to the left, but still I saw
that Martha cowered in her pew holding the hand of the Stray in hers as
he knelt beside her. Then I knew what I must do and I went quietly and
lifted her and led her to the chancel to a place just beside where
Harriet stood with the Suckling in her arms. I held one of the Stray's
little hands in mine, and young Charlotte dropped Jimmy's hand and
reached out and took the other in hers. So we stood and waited while the
beloved voice read through the beautiful ceremony with which children
are taken into the arms of their faith before they are yet ready to
understand what it is some day to mean to them.

"It is your duty to teach him ... to obediently keep God's holy will and
commandments all of his life," were the closing words of the address
with which the parson looked us full in the eye and laid the vow upon
our souls. Then he reached out his hands, drew the Stray to him first,
encircled him with his strong arm, laid his hands on the bowed black
head, and looking me straight in the eye asked the question of his
ritual:

"Name this child."

For an instant I glanced at Martha and then at father standing beside
me, and as he nodded I slightly bent my head and into a deathly
stillness all over the chapel I let the name fall clear and distinct:

"Nickols Morris Powers."

A beautiful ray of light flooded from one of the tall windows over both
of us as he ratified the name with a few drops of water upon the boy's
brow, and then turned to Harriet and repeated his question while he took
the Suckling into his arms with the greatest tenderness. Then through
the group he went, naming his lambs as he held them against his heart or
within the circle of his strong arm. It was all so tender and so
beautiful that every eye in the chapel was wet with tears and sobs
echoed softly through his last prayer.

However, at one time in the ceremonial there was danger of a laugh from
the aggregate, overwrought nerves when Charlotte promptly named herself
without waiting for Nell's response which came late but in time to save
embarrassment.

Then it was all over and the whole congregation trooped but into the
sunshine. Father walked home with young Nickols on one side and
Charlotte on the other, Martha carrying the Suckling and walking beside
Harriet, who led Sue past the destruction of her white dress which every
mud puddle threatened. Cliff Gray came with me slowly up the street
after all the others had gone ahead and most of them had turned into the
gates of their respective homes.

"Is everything all right now, Cliff?" I questioned him, as we walked
slowly under the old elms of our ancestors' planting. "It is all right
now?" I asked again, while Cliff looked off into the distance.

"I have faith that I can make it that way now, Charlotte dear," he
answered, as I paused to turn in at my gate. We clasped hands for a
second and then he went on down the street toward the Cockrell gate; and
Letitia's material point of view on existence I knew would have a fair
chance at his hands.

I felt that I had never loved my friends as I did that wonderful
Sunday, and I hoped it would not bore them if I at times let some of it
overflow into their well ordered lives.

The rest of that long, hazy, dreamy, wonder day, in the morning of which
our hearts had been poured so full, we all of us spent with father, as
he was to leave us the next morning. Against the remonstrance of his
maternal parent, the worthless Jefferson had been chosen to go along in
the place of his father Dabney. The young negro's brisk packings filled
the house with a joy note that was delightful and Mammy admonished him
on subjects moral every time he came near the kitchen.

Late in the afternoon I left father down in the garden with young
Nickols, to whom he was confiding the care of some very choice hollyhock
seeds that would need gathering in the next few weeks.

"Your father got them from England," the judge said gravely, as he
showed the small paddies how to roll out the thin seed without crushing
them.

"Have I got any father but the Lady?" asked the youngster with all
seriousness, as he beamed up in my direction. Suddenly Martha turned
and went indoors and up to her room. I followed her and sat down beside
the bed on which she had flung herself.

"You'll have to make him understand it all; I can't," she said, after I
had tenderly hushed her weeping. "I give him to you. I--I won't be with
him long." As she spoke I noticed how the light shone through her pale
fingers as she held them up to clasp mine.

"We'll go away to Florida for a rest, Martha," I said, with the
reassurance I found I had constantly to use to her. There was a great
and beautiful tenderness in the soul of Martha, but she was completely
lacking in any of the worldly initiative that makes lives move on. She
seemed to be standing still.

"Yes, I'll go away," she answered softly, as she unclasped her hand from
mine, nestled her face in the pillow and shut her eyes.

I left her to sleep and a year from that hour I knew that I had not
understood the measure of her exhaustion. She faded like a flower and
drifted on into eternity like a gossamer thread in the breeze.

And it was with some of the depression that a kind of maternal brooding
over her gave me that I went out into the garden that night after all
the rest had gone to bed. A pale silver moon-crescent poised on the brow
of Old Harpeth and a tingling little breeze was coming down from the
north as if sent as a warning of the winter soon to be upon us. I went
down to the old graybeard poplars and their leaves seemed to hiss
together in the moonlight instead of rustling softly as they had been
all summer. A great many of them were drifted in dry waves on the grass
and their gold was turned to silver in the moonlight. Many of the tall
shrubs were naked ghosts of their former selves and gnashed their bones
drearily. I leaned against the tallest old poplar and looked out across
the valley with a kind of stillness in my heart that seemed to be
listening and then listening.

"Oh, I'm thankful, thankful that strength has been given me to endure it
all--life," I said to myself, almost under my breath. "And no matter
what comes I can never lose it. I can go out into life now alone
and--unafraid."

"'And whither thou goest I too will go, and thy--'" came the Gregorian
chant from close beside me, and I turned to find the Harpeth Jaguar
stalking me in the night.

Then for a long time we stood and looked at each other, he tearing away
the veil from his man's heart and I laying aside that in my woman's
breast.

"Oh, I've needed you so," I finally said, with a catch in my breath as I
put my hands in his which he put palm to palm, then raised to his lips.

"You were in God's hands and I had to wait His time," he answered me.
"And I would have waited until the stars burn dim. As near as loss came
I never doubted. I had asked Him for you."

"I didn't know I was going to join your church this morning," I
faltered. "I never intended to join your church. I was going to be
either a Baptist or a Presbyterian. I was afraid to mix--my faith
with--with you."

"Hasn't it been tried sufficiently to stand any test? I think so. Ah,
dear, come to me--it's been long for me, too." His arms entreated me,
but I held myself away with my praying hands pressed to his breast.

"Are you sure that I'm not mixing you and--your faith?" I asked, looking
him honestly in the face and giving voice to the thought that Nickols
had put into my mind and which had tortured me all the weary months
past.

"Did any thought of me make you bring Martha Ensley to Nickols' death
bed and take into your heart and home what the world calls dishonor?"

"No," I answered with honesty to myself.

"Have you once since you knew--_knew_--felt that you must turn to me for
comfort and help in one of your dire hours?"

"Not once," I answered again with honesty.

"Have you not learned to turn to Him?"

"I have!" I answered.

"That's God's love. Then you can give me the love that belongs to me in
your heart's kingdom, can't you?"

"I'm afraid--I'm going to love you too much--I feel it coming. What'll
you do with it? Stop me!" I said with both a sob and a laugh, as I began
to let myself be drawn into the strong, hungry arms.

"You great, big, splendid woman of God! You've got love enough in you to
feed a multitude and you'll do it. Give me a part of my share now. It's
mine. God sent you to me; I'm going to take you."

And he did. His lips pressed mine until I gave back a betrothal kiss
that was as complete as a great red flower. His arms held me so that
they were a circle of pain, but all the while I kept my hands prayerwise
between the clamor of our breasts.

"Say it--'the covert of thy wings'--all that David said," I whispered.

And he answered:

"'I will abide in thy tabernacle forever: I will trust in the covert of
thy wings.'"



JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD'S STORIES OF ADVENTURE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.


_KAZAN_

The tale of a "quarter-strain wolf and three-quarters husky" torn
between the call of the human and his wild mate.

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The story of the son of the blind Grey Wolf and the gallant part he
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_THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM_

The story of the King of Beaver Island, a Mormon colony, and his battle
with Captain Plum.

_THE DANGER TRAIL_

A tale of snow, of love, of Indian vengeance, and a mystery of the
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_THE HUNTED WOMAN_

A tale of the "end of the line," and of a great fight in the "valley of
gold" for a woman.

_THE FLOWER OF THE NORTH_

The story of Fort o' God, where the wild flavor of the wilderness is
blended with the courtly atmosphere of France.

_THE GRIZZLY KING_

The story of Thor, the big grizzly who lived in a valley where man had
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_ISOBEL_

A love story of the Far North.

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A thrilling tale of adventure in the Canadian wilderness.

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The story of adventure in the Hudson Bay wilds.

_THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE_

Filled with exciting incidents in the land of strong men and women.

_BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY_

A thrilling story of the Far North. The great Photoplay was made from
this book.


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



THE NOVELS OF GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL LUTZ

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.


_THE BEST MAN_

Through a strange series of adventures a young man finds himself
propelled up the aisle of a church and married to a strange girl.

_A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS_

On her way West the heroine steps off by mistake at a lonely watertank
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_PHOEBE DEANE_

A tense and charming love story, told with a grace and a fervor with
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_DAWN OF THE MORNING_

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companion volume to "Marcia Schuyler" and "Phoebe Deane."


_Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK





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