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´╗┐Title: Purple Springs
Author: McClung, Nellie L., 1873-1951
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 "Purple Springs" ***

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



PURPLE SPRINGS

BY

NELLIE L. McCLUNG

1921



  CONTENTS

      I. THE DAY BEFORE
     II. THE DAY
    III. THE HOUSE OF CLAY
     IV. TANGLED THREADS
      V. WHERE MRS. CROCKS THREW THE SWITCH
     VI. RED ROSES
    VII. THE INNOCENT DISTURBER
   VIII. THE POWER OF INK
     IX. THE DOCTOR'S DECISION
      X. THE WOMAN WITH A SORE THOUGHT
     XI. ENGAGED
    XII. THE MACHINE
   XIII. THE STORM
    XIV. THE SEVENTH WAVE
     XV. THE COMING OF SPRING
    XVI. PRINCE OF THE HOUSE OF CLAY
   XVII. PETER'S REPORT
  XVIII. THE WOMAN OF PURPLE SPRINGS
    XIX. THE END OF A LONELY ROAD
     XX. ANNIE GRAY'S STORY
    XXI. THE OPENING OF THE WAY
   XXII. THE PLAY
  XXIII. COMPENSATION
   XXIV. HOME AGAIN
    XXV. THERE IS NOTHING TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE



CHAPTER I

THE DAY BEFORE


It was the last day of February, the extra day, dead still, and biting
cold, with thick, lead-colored skies shading down to inky blue at the
western horizon. In the ravine below John Watson's house trees cracked
ominously in the frost, and not even a rabbit was stirring. The hens
had not come out, though an open door had extended an invitation, and
the tamworths had burrowed deeper into the stack of oat straw. The
cattle had taken refuge in the big shed, and even old Nap, in spite of
his thick Coat, had whimpered at the door to be let in.

Looking out of the western window, Pearl Watson, with a faint wrinkle
between her eyebrows, admitted to herself that it was not a cheerful
day. And Pearl had her own reasons for wanting fine weather, for
tomorrow was the first of March, and the day to which she had been
looking forward for three years to make a momentous decision.

The thought of this day had gone with her in the three years that had
passed, like a radiant gleam, a glorious presence that brightened and
idealized every experience of life, a rainbow that glorified every
black cloud, and there had been some clouds in her life black enough
to bring out the rainbows' colors too; as when her mother's serious
illness had called her back from the city, where she was attending
school. But each day had brought her one day nearer the great day,
which now she could call "Tomorrow."

It had never occurred to Pearl to doubt the young doctor's sincerity,
when, three years before, he had said he would wait until she was
eighteen years old before he asked her something.

"And it will depend on your answer," he had said, "what sort of a day
it is. It may be a dark, cold, horrible day, with cruel, biting wind,
or it may be a glorious day, all sunshine and blue sky--that will all
depend on your answer." And she had told him, honestly and truthfully,
not being skilled in the art of coquetry, that "it generally was fine
on the first of March."

That the young doctor might have forgotten all about the incident
never crossed her mind in the years that followed. She did not know
that there was witchery in her brown eyes and her radiant young beauty
that would stir any young man's heart and loosen his tongue, causing
him to say what in his sober moments he would regard as foolishness.

Pearl did not know this; she only knew that a great radiance had come
to her that day, three years before, a radiance whose glory had not
dimmed. Every thought and action of her life had been influenced by
it, and she had developed like a fine young tree on which the spring
sunshine had perpetually fallen, a fine young tree that had been
sheltered from every cold blast, watered by the rains and bathed in
perpetual sunshine, for Pearl's young heart was fed from the hidden
springs of love and romance. For her the darkest night was lighted by
stars; for her the birds sang of love and hope and happiness; for her
the commonest flower was rich in beauty and perfume; and so the end of
the three years found her a well developed, tall, boyishly athletic
girl, with a color in her cheeks like an Okanagon peach, hair of
richest brown, with little gleams of gold, waving back naturally from
a high forehead; a firm chin, with a dimple; and great brown eyes,
full of lights, and with a dazzling brilliance that registered every
thought of her brain and emotion of her heart.

From the time when she was twelve years old the young doctor, who had
then just come to Millford, had been her hero--worshipped afar, and in
great secrecy.

Many a time when the family lived in the village, and Pearl was left
to mind the swarm of boys while her mother was out working, she had
raced to the window just to see him drive by, and, having seen him and
perhaps caught a smile or nod, if he noticed her, she would go back to
her strenuous task of keeping her young brothers clothed and happy and
out of the wealth of a quickened imagination she would tell them more
and more wonderful tales of the glorious world into which their young
feet had strayed.

When the doctor had time and inclination to talk to her, Pearl's
young heart swam in a crimson sea of delight, but if by any chance
he hurried by, his mind filled with other things, she suffered for
a brief season all the pangs of unrequited affection, and looked
anxiously in the glass many times to see if her face showed signs of
early decay.

But the mood soon passed and optimism again reigned. During the times
of depression many a sunflower had its yellow petals torn away, as she
sought to wring from it definite information regarding the state of
his affections. If the sunflower brought in an adverse decision,
without a moment's hesitation Pearl began upon another, and continued
until a real, honest, authentic flower declared in her favor. But that
she did not really trust the oracles was shown by the great frequency
with which she consulted them!

As she grew older, Pearl would have liked to talk to some one about
her dreams, but it was hard to begin. There was really nothing to
tell. She might as well try to explain the sparkle of the sunshine, or
the joyousness of the meadowlark's song in the spring, as to try to
analyze the luminous wonder that had come into her own heart that day
when the purple mist lay on the Tiger Hills, and the snowdrifts were
beginning to sink and sag and break into little streams. It could not
be done.

But still she wondered what experiences other people had had, and
wished that someone would talk to her about it. At the Normal the
girls had talked about "crushes" and "mashes" and people having a
"bad case," and she knew that the one qualification they demanded in
matters of the heart was that the young man should have the means
and inclination to "show a girl a good time." She could not talk to
them--there did not seem to be any point of contact. And when the
subject of love and marriage was discussed around the family circle,
her mother's dictum was always brief and concise:

"You'll get who's for ye--and you'll have your number. There's lots of
trouble for them that don't marry, and there's lots more for them that
do. But there's no use in advisin' or warnin'; it's like the pigs and
the hot swill--one will stick in his nose and run away squalin'; the
next one will do the same, and the next and the next. They never take
warnin's; it's the way of the world!"

But nothing dimmed the glory of Pearl's rainbow dream or stilled the
happy songs her heart sang day and night. She had often pictured the
day the Doctor would come and tell her that the three years were past.
He would drive out with his team, for the snow would be too deep for
his car, and she would first hear the sleigh-bells, even before old
Nap would begin to bark, and he would come in with his cheeks all red
and glowing, with snow on his beaver coat; and he would tell her it
was too fine to stay in, and wouldn't she come for a ride?

So sure was she that he would come that she had laid out on her bed,
in the little room under the rafters, her heavy coat, overshoes and
scarf, and had spent some time deciding whether her red tam or the
brown velvet hat was the most becoming, and finally favored the tam,
because she had once heard the Doctor say that red was the color for
winter, and besides, the brown hat had a sharp rim that might give a
person a nasty poke in the eye ... in case....

She made all her preparations on the day before, because, she told
herself, a doctor's time was so uncertain that he might, remembering
this, be afraid of being called away on The Day, and so come a day
sooner.

Pearl thought of all this as she stood at the window and looked out on
the bare farm yard, swept clean of beast or fowl by the bitter cold
which had driven them all indoors. A bright fire burned in the
Klondike heater, and from the kitchen came the cheerful song of a
canary. The house was in a state of great tidiness, with its home made
lounge in front of the fire, piled high with gaily flowered cushions,
and the brightly striped rag carpet which was the culmination of the
united efforts of the family the winter before, and before the fire a
tiger-striped cat with her paws stretched out to the heat.

Pearl was alone in the room, for all the children were at school, her
father and Teddy out, and her mother in the kitchen making the last of
the mincemeat into pies, which sent out a real baking odor of cinnamon
and cloves; a roast of pork that had been "doing too fast," was now
sitting on the top of the high oven, its angry, sparking, sizzling
trailing off into a throaty guttering. Some sound or smell of it
seemed to have penetrated Nap's dreams, for he wakened suddenly and
sat up, licking his lips and pounding the floor with his tail.

Suddenly the telephone rang, the three short and one long, which
indicated that it was the Watson family who were wanted. Pearl's heart
thrilled with expectation. Of course he would phone before he came to
make sure she was at home. The receiver was in her hands in a moment.

"Hello!" she called, almost choking with excitement.

"Will you tell your father," called back a man's voice at the end
of the wire, "that the cattle are coming home from the range. Last
night's snow was too much for them, and Jim Fidler has just phoned
through to warn us. They're comin' on mad for feed, tramplin' and
bawlin', and they'll hit your place first--mos' likely--tho' they may
turn south at Beckers--better phone Beckers and see."

"All right!" said Pearl, in a steady voice, "all right, and thank
you."

Pearl hastily put on a coat and went to the barn to give the unwelcome
news to her father and Teddy, who were busy fanning out the weed seeds
from the seed grain.

"They're comin' airly," said John Watson, slowly, as he shook down the
bag of seed wheat that he had just filled; "but I guess they are the
best judge of whether they can make a livin' outside any longer. Well,
what we have we'll share, anyway. There's no use in contradictin' a
bunch of hungry steers. Keep a watch on the phone, Pearlie dear, and
find out which way they turn at Beckers'. We'll open up an oat stack
for them, anyway--so if they come rampin' in in the middle of the
night there'll be something ready."

Pearl ran back across the wind-swept yard to the house, for the one
thought in her mind was that a message might come over the phone for
her! Ordinarily the home-coming of the hungry cattle would have been
an event of such importance that it would have driven out all others;
but there was only one consuming thought in her mind today.

When she came in the phone was ringing, and her mother, with her hands
in the pie-crust, said: "Pearlie, dear, run in to the phone--that's
twice it's rung since you were out, and sure I couldn't go--and me
this way."

Pearl took the receiver down and found a conversation in progress. She
had no thought of listening in--for at once she surmised it might be
a message regarding the cattle going to one of the other houses. The
first sentence, however, held her in its grip, and all thought of what
she was doing was driven from her mind.

"They are going to offer the doctor the nomination tomorrow--he'll
make the best run of any one in these parts."

It was a man's voice, far away and indistinct.

"That will please Miss Morrison--she always wanted to get into
politics;" it was a woman who replied--"but I'm not so sure she has
any chance, the doctor is a pretty cautious chap. I often think he has
a girl somewhere--he goes to Hampton pretty often."

"He's not worried over women, believe me," the man's voice cut in. "I
think he likes that young Watson girl as well as any one, and she has
them all skinned for looks--and brains too, I guess."

The woman's voice came perceptibly nearer, and seemed to almost hiss
in her ear--unconsciously she felt the antagonism. "That's absurd,"
she said, with sudden animation; "why, these people are nobody,
the mother used to wash for me a few years ago. They are the very
commonest sort--the father was only a section man. The doctor enjoys
her cute speeches, that's all, but there's absolutely nothing in
it--he as much as told me so."

Pearl hung up the receiver with a click, and, pressing her lips
together, walked over to the window with two crimson spots burning
like danger signals on her cheeks. When Pearl's soul was burdened she
always wanted to get outside, where the sky and the wind and the big
blue distance would help her to think. But the day was too cold for
that, so instinctively she walked to the window, where the short
afternoon sun was making a pale glow on the heavy clouds.

Old Nap came from his place behind the table and shoved his cold nose
into her hand, with a gentle wagging of his tail, reminding her that
all was not lost while she still had him.

Dropping down on her knees beside him, Pearl buried her face in his
glistening white collar, and for one perilous moment was threatened
with tears. But pride, which has so often come to our rescue just in
time, stepped into her quivering young heart, she stood up and shook
her head like an angry young heifer.

"'Common,' are they?" she said, with eyes that darted fire; "not half
common enough--decent people that do their work and mind their own
business,--helpin' a friend in need and hurtin' no wan--it would be a
better world if people like them were commoner! 'And the mother washed
for ye, did she, you dirty trollop? Well, it was a God's mercy that
some one washed for you, and it was good clane washin' she did, I'll
bet--and blamed little she got for it, too, while you lay in your bed
with your dandruffy hair in a greasy boudoir cap, and had her climb
the stairs with your breakfast. And you'd fault her for washin' for
you--and cleanin' your house--you'd fault her for it! I know the kind
of ye--you'd rather powder ye'r neck than wash it, any day!"

No one would recognize the young Normalite who two weeks before had
taken the highest marks in English, and had read her essay at the
closing exercises, and afterwards had it printed, at the editor's
request, in the _Evening Echo_, for Pearl's fierce anger had brought
her back again to the language of her childhood.

"And he as much as told you, did he?" she whispered, turning around
to glare in stormy wrath at the unoffending telephone--"he as much as
told you there was nothing in it?"

Pearl puckered her lips and shut one eye in a mighty mental effort to
imagine what he would say, but in trying to hear his words she could
only see his glowing face, the rumpled hair she loved so well, and
then her voice came back like a perfect phonograph record, that
strong, mellow, big voice which had always set her heart tingling and
drove away every fear. She couldn't make him say anything else but the
old sweet words that had lived with her for the last three years.

The storm faded from her eyes in a moment, and in the rush of joy that
broke over her, she threw herself down beside old Nap and kissed the
shiny top of his smooth black head. Then going over to the telephone,
she shook her fist at it:

"Did my mother wash for you, ma'am? She did--and you never had better
washin' done! Are we common people?--we are, and we're not ashamed.
We're doin' fine, thank you--all the children are at school but me,
and I've gone thro' the public school and Normal too. The crops are
good--we have thirty head of cattle and six horses, sound in wind and
limb. Some day we'll have a fine new house, and we'll live all over it
too. John Watson did work on the section, and they'd be fine and glad
to get him back. He owes no man a dollar, and bears no man a grudge.
I wouldn't change him for the Governor-General for me dad--and now
listen--I'm tellin' ye something, I'm goin' to marry the doctor--if he
wants me--and if you don't like it there's a place you can go to.
I'll not be namin' it in the presence of Nap here, for he's a good
Christian."

"And you, sir,"--she addressed the telephone again,--"I thank you for
your kind words regarding brains and looks. I hope it is a true word
you speak, for I may need both before I'm done."



The home-coming of the cows at eventime has been sung about, written
about, talked about, painted, and always it has had in it the
restfulness of evening,--the drowsy whirr of insects' wings, the
benediction of the sunset, the welcoming gladness of a happy family.
But these pictures have not been painted by those of us who have seen
the hungry cattle come in from the range when the snow covers the
grass, or the springs dry up, and under the influence of fear they
drive madly on.

All day long the range cattle, about three hundred in number had
searched the river bottom for the grass which the heavy snowfall of
the night before had covered; searched eagerly, nervously all the
while, bawling, ill-naturedly pushing and horning, blaming each other
in a perfectly human way. Disconsolately they wandered over the river
to the other bank feeling sure they would find grass there, only to
find the snow over everything, and not even a little rosebush showing
its head.

Then it was that the old cow, an acknowledged leader of the herd,
who bore the name of the "Broncho," on account of her wildness, her
glaring red eyes and her branching horns, with an angry toss of her
head to shake the water from her eyes, lifted her voice in one long,
angry, rolling bellow that seemed to startle the whole herd. It had
in it defiance, and determination. Like the leading spirit among the
leprous men who sat at the gate of Samaria, the "Broncho" gathered up
the feeling of the meeting in one long soul-stirring, racuous bawl,
which, interpreted, meant, "Why sit we here until we die?"

The primitive law of self-preservation was at work--even a cow will
not starve quietly. The grass had been scarce for days, and she had
lain down hungry each night for a week; and now, when the grass had
gone entirely, the old cow had taken her determination; she would go
home and demand her right to live. This thought surging through her
soul, gave decision to her movements. Whether the other cattle came or
not did not matter in the least--she knew what she was going to do.
The strong northwest wind which began to whip the fresh snow into
loose waves, turned the cattle to face the south east, in which
direction the settlement lay. Miserable cattle, like miserable people,
are easily led. It is only the well-fed and comfortable who are not
willing to change their condition, and so when the others saw the
"Broncho" forging up the hill, the whole herd, as if at a word of
command, lurched forward up the bank.

They surged onward, bawling, crowding, trampling, hooking without
mercy. Companions they had been for months before, eating together,
sleeping together, warming each other, playing together sometimes when
the sun was bright. That was all forgotten now, for the hunger-rage
was on them, and they were brutes, plain brutes, with every kind
instinct dead in their shivering breasts. They knew but one law, the
law of the strongest, as they drove onward, stumbling and crowding,
with the cold wind stinging them like a lash.

The night closed in, dark and cheerless, closed in early, under
the dull gray, unrelenting skies, and although lights blinked out
cheerfully from uncurtained windows, and willow plumes of smoke spread
themselves on the cold night air above all the farm-houses, the hearts
of the people were apprehensive.

It was the last day of February--green grass was still far away--and
the cattle, hungry, red-eyed and clamorous, were coming home!



CHAPTER II

THE DAY!


  "When time lets slip one little perfect day,
  O take it--for it may not come again."

When Pearl woke on the morning of March 1st, it was with a heart so
light and happy it brought back the many Christmas mornings that
lay scattered behind her like so many crimson roses, spilling their
perfume on the shining road which led back to childhood. The sunshine
that sifted through the white muslin curtains of the one small window,
was rich and warm, as if summer had already come, and Pearl suddenly
remembered that the sky had been overcast and heavy the day before,
and the air stinging cold.

She went to the window, and looking out saw that that the clouds had
all gone, leaving no trace in the unscarred sky. The sun was throwing
long blue shadows over the fields, brightening the trees on the river
bank, with a thin rinse of pale gold. Down in the ravine, the purple
blue of the morning twilight was still hanging on the trees. The house
was very quiet--there did not seem to be anyone stirring, either
inside or out.

Pearl dressed herself hastily, humming a tune in happy excitement. Her
whole being was charged with happiness--for the great day had come.

Coming down stairs on light feet, she threw a red sweater around her
shoulders and went out the front door. In her great moments, Pearl
craved the open sky and great blue distances, and on this day of all
days, she wanted to breathe deep of its golden air. Somewhere she had
read about air that tasted like old wine! And as she stood facing the
early sun that had come up in a cloudless sky of deepest blue, she
knew what was meant.

From the dull tomb of yesterday, with its cavern-like coldness
and gloom, had come the resurrection of a new day, bright, blue,
sparkling, cloudless, for March had slipped in quietly in the night,
with a gentle breeze of wonderful softness, a quiet breeze, but one
that knew its business, and long before daylight it had licked the
hard edges of the drifts into icy blisters, and had purred its way
into all sorts of forgotten corners where the snow lay thickest.

It went past Pearl's face now with velvety smoothness--patting her
cheeks with a careless hand, like a loving friend who hurries by with
no time for anything but this swift re-assurance. But Pearl knew that
the wind and the sun and the crisp white snow, on which the sunbeams
danced and sparkled, were her friends, and were throbbing with joy
this morning, because it was her great day.

She went in at last, remembering that the children must be washed and
fed for school, and found Danny's garter for him just in time to save
him from the gulf of despair which threatened him. She made up the two
tin pails of lunch with which her young brothers would beguile the
noontide hour. She put a button on Mary's spat, in response to her
request of "Aw, say Pearl, you do this--I can't eat and sew." The
sudden change in the weather forced a change in the boys' foot-gear,
and so there had to be a frenzied hunt for rubbers and boots to
replace the frost-repelling but pervious moccasin.

One by one, as the boys were ready, fed, clothed and rubbered, they
were started on their two-mile journey over the sunny, snowy road,
Danny being the first to so emerge, for with his short, fat legs, he
could not make the distance in as short a time as the others.

"Mr. Donald wants you to come over on Friday, Pearl--I almost forgot
to tell you--he wants you to talk to us about the city, and the
schools you were in--and all that. I told him you would!"

This was from Jimmy, the biggest of the Watson boys now attending
school.

"All right," said Pearl, "sure I will."

There was more to the story, though, and Jimmy went on,--

"And the Tuckers said they bet you thought yourself pretty smart since
you'd been to the city....

"And then what happened," asked Pearl, when he paused;

"He went home--it wouldn't stop bleedin'! but Mr. Donald says a
good nose-bleed wouldn't hurt him--though of course it was wrong to
fight--but it was no fight--you know what they're like--one good
thump--and they're done!"

"Good for you, Jimmy" said his sister approvingly, "never pick a
quarrel or hit harder than you need, that's all!--but if trouble
comes--be facing the right way!"

"You bet," said Jimmy, as he closed the door behind him and the
stillness which comes after the children have gone fell on the Watson
home.

"Sure and ain't the house quiet when they're gone," said Mrs. Watson,
looking out of the window across the gleaming landscape, dotted in six
places by her generous contribution to the Chicken Hill school.

"And it won't be long until they're gone--for good."

"Cheer up, honest woman," cried Pearl gaily, "you havn't even lost
either Teddy or me, and we're the eldest. It looks to me as if you
will have a noisy house for quite a while yet, and I wouldn't begin to
worry over anything so far away--in fact, ma, it's a good rule not to
worry till you have to, and don't do it then!"

Pearl was bringing back "the room" to the state of tidiness it enjoyed
during school hours, moving about with joyous haste, yet with strict
attention to every detail, which did not escape her mother's eye.

"It's grand to be as light of heart as you are, Pearlie child," she
said, "I'm often afraid for you--when I think of all the sad things in
life and you so sure that everything will happen right. It is to them
that the world is brightest that the darkest days can come, and the
lightest heart sometimes has heaviest mournin'."

A little wither of disappointment went over Pearl's bright face, but
she shook it off impatiently. She wished her mother would not talk
like this on this day--of all days.

"Don't spoil a good day, ma, with sad talk. Look out at the Spring sun
there, and the cattle, even the wild ones from the range, with their
sides steaming and then nosing around so happy now, for getting all
about the bad times they had even as late as last evening. There's
no use telling them there's cold days coming--they wouldn't believe
now--and anyway they'll know soon enough. Isn't it best to let every
one have their sunny day--without a cloud on it."

Before her mother could form an answer, the one long and two short
rings came on the phone. Pearl's heart turned over in its bounding
joy. It had come--she knew it had come.

She took down the receiver:

"Hello," she said, in a thin voice.

"Pearl," said the voice, deep, mellow, eager. She thought she had
remembered what his voice was like, but she hadn't. It was a hundred
times sweeter than it had been in her memory.

"Yes," she said, holding the receiver so tightly her knuckles went
white with the pressure.

"What day is it, Pearl," he said, with the laugh in his voice, the
bantering laugh that made his patients love him.

"O I know" she said--"I know."

"You haven't forgotten what we said?"

"Not a word of it."

His voice came nearer, though he spoke lower.

"The train is not in yet, it is stuck out in the hills, but likely to
get out any minute. Dr. Brander is on it, coming out from the city to
operate for me in a very serious case, I'm not sure when I can get
out--but you'll wait for me--won't you, Pearl?"

She put her red young lips close to the transmitter.

"For a thousand years!" she said.

"Well, it won't be that long," he said, with his happy laugh.

Pearl knew exactly how his brows were lifted, and his eyes wide
opened.

"But it's great to have as good a margin, Pearl--and listen--" his
voice fell again until it seemed to whisper in her ear--"did you
happen to notice what sort of a day it is?"

"Well," said Pearl, "I am not surprised. Didn't I tell you it would
be?"

"You told me!" he said.

Then it was that from Pearlie Watson's young heart there opened up a
shining path straight up into heaven, and every inch of that radiant
highway was bright with the gleam of angel's wings, and as she stood
there leaning against the wall, her eyes dazzled with the glory of it,
it seemed as if all the sweet songs that lovers have ever sung, and
all the tender words they have ever spoken came marching, gaily
marching down the shining high way, right into her heart.

Outside the sun gleamed and beat on the melting snow, which sent back
quivery vibrations that smote the eyeballs like fire. The cattle shook
the water from their sun-dazzled eyes, and turned their heads away
from it, but it climbed steadily higher until it stood right over
them, and blazing down upon the snowy world, defied old man Winter to
his face.

Pearl was never quite sure about it in after years. But that day
she did not doubt her eyes, that star dust danced in the waves of
sunshine; that the gray snow birds played crack the whip outside the
window; that the willow hedge, palpitating in the sunshine, beat time
with its silvery branches to the music that lilted through her heart;
that the blue in the sky was bluer than it had been, and the sunshine
more golden than it ever was in the highest noon in highest June.

She was quite sure it was so, for every spot of color within doors was
glorified too. The roses in the cushions on the lounge glowed like
a fire in the heart of a green wood; the cat's eyes gleamed like
olivines, but of course Pearl knew from the way he rubbed his head
against her shoulder as she sat on the lounge beside him, and from
the way he blinked at her--he knew, having no doubt in some occult
cat-way, listened in on the phone! There was no mistaking his
swaggering air of importance--he was in on it! and gave much credit to
himself for having brought it all about.

The old dog, being just a plain, honest-hearted, loving dog, only
knew that Pearl was very happy over something. He did not probe the
cause--if it pleased her--it was enough.

At four o'clock there came another message--which set Pearl's heart
dancing, and spotted her cheeks with a glowing color--the operation
was over--apparently successful--and they were driving back to town.
The other train might be late too, so it would be impossible for him
to come out--but would she still wait? Did the thousand year limit
still hold?

There was just a hint of fatigue in his voice, which awakened all the
maternal instincts in Pearl, and made her heart very tender to him.

"I will wait--forever," said Pearl.

"Just until tomorrow," came back the voice--"just till tomorrow--and
it will be fine tomorrow--won't it, Pearl! Say it will be fine."

"Finer still," she replied, with her cheeks like the early roses in
June.

The day went by on satin wings--with each minute so charged with
happiness that Pearl could well believe that heaven had slipped down
to earth, and that she was walking the streets of the new Jerusalem.
She sang as she worked in the house, her sweet, ribbony voice filling
the room with a gladness and rapture that made her mother, with her
mystical Celtic temperament almost apprehensive.

"She's a queer girl, is Pearlie," she said that night, when Pearl had
gone upstairs to arbitrate a quarrel which had broken out between
Bugsey and Danny as to whose turn it was to split the kindling wood.
"Day about" it had been until Bugsey had urged that it be changed to
"week about," and the delicate matter in dispute now was as to the day
on which the week expired. Danny, who had been doing the kindling, was
certain that the date of expiry had arrived, but Bugsey's calendar
set the day one day later, and the battle raged, with both sides ably
argued, but unfortunately not listened to by the opposing forces.

"She's a queer child, is Pearlie," said Mrs. Watson, as she beat up
the bread-batter downstairs, "she's that light-hearted and free from
care, and her eighteen years old. She's like somethin' that don't
belong on earth, with her two big eyes shinin' like lamps, and the way
she sings through the house, settin' the table or scourin' the milk
pails or mendin' a coat for the boys--it don't seem natural. She's too
happy, whatever its' about, and it makes me afraid for her. She's the
kind that sees nothin' wrong, and won't see trouble comin' till its
too late. I often feel afraid she's too good and happy for this world.
She's always been the same, liltin' and singin' and makin' everyone
happy around her."

Jimmy was washing his face in the enamel basin which stood on a box
below the mirror, and looking around with a dripping wet face, felt
with a wildy swinging motion of his arms for the towel. When he had
secured it, and all danger of soapsuds getting into his eyes was
removed, he joined the conversation.

"Gosh, Ma!" he said, "you don't know Pearl, she's not the saint you
take her for. I'll bet the Tucker kids don't think she's too good to
live. Not much! They know she can hold up her end of a row as well as
any one. When she found out they had killed the cat they got from
us, and tanned the skin to make a rim on a cap, you should have seen
Pearl. She just cut loose on the two of them, and chased them through
the sloughs and up the road clear home--larrupin' them with a binder
whip, as fast as she could swing it--the yowls out of them would have
done your heart good!"

Mrs. Watson stopped her work, with her floury hands raised in
consternation.

"God's mercy," she cried, "did Pearl do that--and both of them
bigger'n her. Ain't it a wonder they did not turn on her?"

"Turn"---Jimmy cried scornfully, "Turn--is it? They were too busy
runnin'. Gosh--they would'a flew if they knew how. Served them
right--they knew blame well they deserved it, for Pearl would never
have given them the cat if they hadn't worked it so smooth. They told
her they wanted a strain of Tiger in their cats, for all of theirs
were black--and Pearl, gave them our fine young Tom--and they promised
all sorts to be good to him--and when Pearl saw his skin on their
caps, and put it to them, they said they hadn't said it was a 'strain
of tiger for their cats' they wanted, but a 'strand of tiger for their
caps'--that's what made Pearl so mad." Mr. Donald said Pearl did
quite right, and he told the Tuckers they were the making of great
politicians--they were so smart at getting out of things. But Gosh,
you should have seen Pearl! She finished the job off right, too, you
bet, and made them put up slab at the school and did the printin' on
it in red ink. You can see it there,--they have had to print it over
once or twice. We all know the words off by heart:

  Young Tom,
  Tiger cat,
  Owned by P. Watson,
  Given away in good faith April 1st,
  Wickedly killed to make a cap, April 15th,
  Avenged by former owner, May 1st.
  T. Tucker.        S. Tucker.

People all look at it when they come to the church, and I guess the
Tuckers feel pretty small. Pearl says if they are really sorry, it is
all right, and young Tom has not died in vain. Every cat has to die
sometime, and if he had softened the Tucker's hearts--it is all right.
Pearl said she wasn't real sure about them, and I guess if they kill
another cat, she'll kill them sure--she said that's the way to do with
people like them. Make them repentant--or dead!"

"God save us all," cried Mrs. Watson, in real distress, "whatever will
happen to her when she goes out into the world. That's awful talk for
a girl especially. Whatever will become of her when she leaves home.
She'll be in hot water all the time."

"No fear of Pearlie!" said her father proudly--as he opened the end
door of the stove and picked up a coal for his pipe, placing it
without undue haste in the bowl, and carefully pressing it down with
his thumb. Leaning back in the chintz-covered rocking chair, he spread
his feet out to the heat which came from the oven door, and repeated,
"No fear of Pearlie--there ain't a girl in the country better able
to do for herself. Faith--and she's no fool--and never was--I ain't
worrying about Pearlie wherever she goes--or whatever she meets--I
ain't worrying."

"You don't worry about anything, John," said Mrs. Watson, in reproof,
as she covered the bread with many wrappings and fixed two chairs to
hold it behind the stove for the night; "you didn't even worry the
night the crop froze, sleepin' and snorin' the whole night through,
with me up every half hour watching the thermometer, and it slippin'
lower and lower, and the pan o' water on the woodpile gettin' its
little slivers of ice around the edge, and when the thermometer went
to thirty, I knew it was all up with the wheat, but do you think I
could wake you--you rolled over with a grunt, leavin' me alone to
think of the two hundred acres gone in the night, after all our hard
work ... and then to have you come down in the mornin', stretchin'
and yawnin', after a good night's sleep, and says you, as cheerful as
could be, 'Cold mornin', Ma!'"

John Watson took his pipe from his mouth, and laughed quietly.

"And what was wrong with that, Ma--sure now it was cold--you said
yourself it was," he said gently.

The boys joined in the laugh, but Mrs. Watson repeated her point.

"Cold it was, sure enough, but think o' me up frettin' and fumin', and
you come down as cheerful as if starvation wasn't starin' us in the
face."

"But we didn't starve, Ma," said Billy, coming to his father's
defense, "the crop was all right for feed, and we did well after all.
You had all your frettin' for nothing."

"It's that way mostly," said John Watson, "I never saw any good yet in
frettin'. Anyway, Ma does enough of it for all of us, so that lets
me out. There's the two kinds of Irish--them that don't fret over
anything--and them that frets over every thing--that's me and you,
Ma--and it works out fine--it runs about even. You've always been so
sure that things were goin' wrong, I've just had to be a little surer
that they wern't. And then of course I knew that night that you would
watch the frost--if there was any watchin' to it."

"John, it is well for you that you have some one to do your watchin',"
said Mrs. Watson. "You're an easy goin' man, John, but I'll say this
for you, that a better natured man never lived."

When all the family had gone to bed, and the last sound had died out
in the house, Pearl stood long at the window and looked out at the
moonlit valley. The warm day had melted the frost from the window, and
when she put out the lamp, the moonlight seemed almost as clear as
day. Silvery-mauve and blue it lay on the quiet, snowy fields, with a
deeper color on the trees, as if they had wound yards and yards of the
gauzy stuff around their bare shoulders, for the night was chilly. To
Pearl it was even more beautiful than the sunshine of the day, for in
its silvery stillness, she could think and dream without interruption.

The night was too beautiful to sleep, and the riot of joy in her heart
made her forget that anyone ever grew weary or tired. She was part of
the moonlight, with its glistening witchery, part of the overarching
sky, with its wealth of glittering stars, part of the velvety night
wind that caressed the trees in its gentle passing. Her young soul was
in tune with them all! For the greatest thing in life had come to
her in those few common-place words that had come to her over the
telephone. He had not forgotten--he was coming tomorrow!

The tired note in his voice had awakened an entirely new chord in the
song her heart sang. He needed her. He needed some one to look after
him, care for him, watch him, save him from the hundred little
worrying things that were sapping his energy. People did not
understand that he ever got tired--he was so strong, so buoyant, so
ready to do things for them. Well, there will be someone now, thought
Pearl, with a glow that surged through her veins and made her cheeks
flame, to take care of him.

"Is the doctor in, Mrs. Clay?"

"He is--but he's sleeping--maybe I can tell you what you want to
know--step in here--so he won't hear us--he was out all night--and he
must not be wakened...."

And when he had to go--she would harness the team and drive him, so he
could sleep all the way, and when the roads were fit for it, she would
drive the car--and soon she would be able to set bones and do common
things like that. He would show her--and then they would go to New
York--in two or three years maybe--he had told her once he wanted to
do this--for a post-graduate course--and they would have a little
suite, and she would study, too.

And always, always, always they would be together--and no matter how
many people there were praising him and wanting him--he would just be
her man--and at night, when he was tired--and all the noise of the day
was over and everyone was gone, she would have him all to herself.

Pearl's head sank on the window sill, while an ecstacy of joy swept
over her--happy tears filled her eyes--life was so sweet--so rich--so
full....



CHAPTER III

THE HOUSE OF CLAY


When the operation was over, the two doctors drove back to Millford,
the younger man so deeply engrossed in his own thoughts he hardly
heard the older doctor's incessant conversation. But that did not in
any wise discourage Dr. Brander, for to him, talking was much like
breathing, it went on easily, unconsciously, and without the necessity
of a listener.

On Dr. Clay there had fallen the pleasant, drowsy feeling of one
whose work is done for the day, and a hard day it had been, with its
uncertainty of the delayed train, and his patient's condition. But all
had gone well, and his patient's reaction had been satisfactory. More
than that, the older doctor had concurred in all that he had done, and
commended his treatment of the case from the beginning.

So, comfortably seated in the cutter, with a brown bear robe over
their knees, and the mate of it over the seat, the two doctors drove
home in the purple-blue twilight, seated side by side, but with minds
far removed from each other.

The doctor's horses knew every road that led home, and trotted on
without any guidance or word from him--they were a fine team of glossy
chestnuts of whom the young doctor was extremely proud. But tonight, a
strange lassitude of spirit was upon him and he only wanted to relax
his weary brain and dream away the snowy miles to the rhythmic beat of
the horses' hoofs.

He had never been more contented in his life. His work was going
well--that day the Liberals had offered him the nomination for the
coming provincial election! It was an honor which he appreciated,
though he had no desire to enter politics. He loved his work--the
people he served were devoted to him--he could read it in their faces
and their stammering words. He knew what they wanted to say,
even though it was conveyed in a few halting fragments of
sentences--"You're all right--Doc--sure--glad you got here--we knew
you'd make it--somehow--you and them high steppers of yours can get
through the snow--if any one can."

Slowly, for a great weariness was on him, he began to think of Pearl,
the red-cheeked shining-eyed Pearl, who had singled him out for her
favor ever since he came to the village six years ago; Pearl, with her
contagious optimism and quaint ways, who had the good gift of putting
every one in good humor. He smiled to himself when he thought of
how often he had made it convenient to pass the school just at four
o'clock, and give Pearl and the rest of them a ride home, and the
delight he had always had in her fresh young face, so full of lights
and shadows.

"Robbing the cradle, eh, Doc?" Sam Motherwell had once said, in his
clumsy way, when he met them on the road--"Nothin' like pickin' them
out young and trainin' them up the way you want them."

He had made no answer to this, but he still felt the wave of anger
that swept over him at the blundering words. "All the same, I wish
Pearl were older"--he had admitted to himself that day. "If she
keeps her wise little ways and her clever tongue, she'll be a great
woman--she has a way with her."

At the rink, he had always looked forward to a skate with her--it was
really a dull night for him if she were not there, and now he wondered
just what it was that attracted him so. There was a welcoming gladness
in her eyes that flattered him, a comradeship in her conversation that
drew him on to talk with more ease and freedom; there was a wholesome
friendliness in what she said, which always left him a sense of
physical and mental well-being.

"What a nurse she would make," he thought, "what a great nurse;" "I
wish she were older ... eighteen is too young for a girl to marry--I
wouldn't allow it at all--if I didn't know who she is getting--that
makes all the difference in the world ... of course her father and
mother may object, but I believe what Pearl says, goes--what Pearl
says will go--with all of us! The Parker house can be bought--and
fixed up ... we'll have a fireplace put in, and waterworks--I wish I
did not feel so tough and tired ... but she said she'd wait a thousand
years!"

Suddenly the voice of Dr. Brander rasped through his brain, and
brought him to attention:

"Clay, you're in love, or something--I don't believe you've heard a
word I said, you young scamp, in the last six miles--and you've missed
a fine exposition on cancers--causes and cure."

"I beg your pardon, Dr. Brander," he apologized, "I believe I was
almost asleep. I get into a drowsy habit on my long drives--especially
when I am coming home--when the days' work is over--it seems good to
stretch out--but I do apologize: What were you saying?"

"O, I'm done now," said his companion, not in the least disturbed; "I
want you to tell me about yourself and your work here. You know you
interest me, Clay. You are a sort of popular idol with all these
people, and I have been wondering how you do it. A man must give
freely of himself to be as popular as you are, Clay--do you ever find
yourself giving out under the strain, and in need of a rest?"

"Just a little tired, sometimes," the young man confessed, "but it's
nothing--at all."

The old man watched him narrowly, taking careful note that the pallor
of his face had suddenly changed to a heightened color. "When we get
supper, Clay, I want to have a serious talk with you. You may remember
that I approached this subject the last time you were in the city.
I want to give you the report on the examination I gave you at that
time." There was a quality in his voice which gave the young man a
momentary sense of dread, not unmixed with a certain impatience. He
was too tired to be bothered. He wanted nothing but a chance to think
his own thoughts, as the sorrel team struck off the miles with their
tireless feet.

When they had had supper at the Chinese restaurant, they went to the
doctor's office. The sun, though long since set, still threw spikes
of light upon the western sky and caught the under side of one ragged
cloud which seemed to have been forgotten in an otherwise clear sky.

In the office, a cheerful coal fire glowed through its mica windows,
and in front of the doctor's leather chair, were his slippers, and
over it was thrown a brightly colored house coat.

A gasoline lamp threw a strong white light on the comfortable room,
and the city papers lay, still unfolded, on the table beside a pile of
letters.

The old doctor exclaimed with delight:

"Who fixes you up so fine, Clay--surely there's a woman around this
place!"

"My landlady"--said the young doctor, "looks after me."

"I know, I know," said the older man, "I know the kind of fellow you
are--the kind women love to fuss around. I'll bet you get dozens of
bedroom slippers and ties and mufflers at Christmas. Women are like
cats--they love to rub their heads against any one that will stroke
them and say 'poor pussy'--they're all the same."

The old doctor seated himself in the big chair and warmed his hands
before the glowing coals.

"And now, Clay, I want to talk to you. There are certain facts that
must be told. I have been interested in your case ever since I met
you. You are a distinct type, with your impulsive temperament, clear
skin and tapering fingers. But what I have to say to you would have
been said easier if I did not know you so well--and if I had not been
here and seen you in your native setting--as it were.... Being
a medical man yourself, Clay, you know the difficulties of the
situation."

The young doctor sat down suddenly, and smiled wanly:

"There need be no difficulty, Dr. Brander", he said, "I am ready to
hear ..." he left the sentence unfinished.

The old doctor went on:

"There is no immediate cause for alarm," he said, speaking slowly,
"people live for years with it, as you know--a cracked plate sometimes
outlasts the good one--and as a matter of fact none of us are entirely
free from it."

The old doctor was swaying backwards as he spoke, and his voice rose
and fell with the motion, as the tone of a phonograph when the door is
opened or shut.

"You will have to be more careful, though, Clay, you will have to call
a halt on your activities--there must be no more of the all night
sessions of yours--and those fifty mile drives--it is just like
this--you are carrying a mortgage on your business--a heavy
mortgage--and yet one that the business can carry--with care, great
care. Many a good business man carries a heavy mortgage and pays well
too, but of course it cannot stand financial strain or stress like the
business which is clear of debt. With great care, you should be good
for many years--but you must not draw on your reserves--you must never
spend your capital--you must never be tired, or excited, or hurried,
or worried."

And this climate is a bit strenuous in winter--you must get out before
another one comes, and live some place that is easier. This country
keeps a man on his toes all the time, with its brilliant sunshine,
its strong winds, its bracing air. You need a softer air, a duller
atmosphere, a sleepier environment that will make you never do today
what you can put off till tomorrow, and never put off till tomorrow
what you might as well put off till the day after tomorrow."

"What a life!" broke from the young man's lips.

"A very fascinating life, my dear sir," said the old doctor, intoning
his words like a very young clergyman--"a fascinating life, and one
that I would enjoy. Here we hurry up in the morning and hurry to bed
at night so we can hurry to get up again in the morning--we chase
ourselves around like a cat in the ancient pursuit of its own tail,
and with about the same results. The Western mind is in a panic all
the time--losing time by the fear of losing time. The delights of
mediation are not ours--we are pursued, even as we pursue; we are the
chasers and the chased; the hunter and the hunted; we are spending and
the spent; we are borrowed and lent--and what is the good of it all? I
have always wanted to be an Oriental, dreaming in the shade of a palm
tree, letting the sun and the wind ripen my fruits and my brain, while
I sat--with never a care--king of the earth--and the air--O, take it
from me, young fellow, there are wonderful delights in contemplation,
delights of which we are as ignorant as the color blind are of the
changing hues of the Autumn woods, or the deaf man is of music. We are
deaf, blind and dumb about the things of the soul! We think activity
is the only form of growth."

The young doctor, whose handsome face had grown pale, watched him with
a sort of fascination. The words seemed to roll from his lips without
the slightest effort, and apparently without causing his heart one
emotion. If the young doctor had not known him so well, he would have
thought him entirely unconcerned:

"We are cursed, you and I, and all of us," he resumed, with too much
activity. We are obscessed with a passion for material achievement! We
are hand-worshippers--leg-worshippers--speed-worshippers. We mistake
activity for progress."

"But it is progress," burst from the young man, "activity does bring
achievement--development."

The door of the office opened suddenly, and two young fellows rushed
in.

"Are you coming to the lacrosse meeting, Doc,--we are going to
organize, and we want you for President again, of course."

Then, seeing the city doctor, whom they recognized,--

"Excuse the interruption, but we can't get on without Dr. Clay, he's
the whole works of the lacrosse team."

"I will not be able to go over tonight, boys," said the Doctor, "but
you'll get on all right. You are getting to work pretty early--this is
the first fine day."

When the lacrosse boys had gone, Dr. Clay finished his argument:

"These fellows prove what I was saying. When I came here six years
ago, there was not even a baseball team in the place--the young
fellows gathered on street corners in summer, loafing and
idling, revelling in crazy, foolish degrading stories--absolute
degenerations--now see them--on the tail of a blizzard, they dig out
their lacrosse sticks and start the game on the second fine day.
From the time the hockey is over now, until hockey time again--these
fellows talk and dream lacrosse, and a decenter, cleaner lot of lads
you won't find anywhere. Activity has saved them--activity _is_
growth, it is life--it is everything!"

The old man shook his head slowly:

"They are not saved, my dear boy--none of us are--who depend on
outward things for your happiness. Outward things change--vanish.
'As a man thinketh in his heart--so is he!'--that is the secret of
triumphant living. As a man thinketh. These fellows of yours--for I
know this lacrosse team has been one of the many ways you took of
sapping your energy--do not think. They play, run, scrap, cheer, but
there's no meditation--no turning inward of the thoughts, no mental
progress.

"It would not be natural for growing boys, alive to their fingertips,
to sit yapping like lazy collie dogs, just thinking," said the young
doctor heatedly. "They want avenues of self-expression, and in
lacrosse and hockey they find it."

"Artificial aids to happiness--every one of them--crutches for lame
souls--the Kingdom of Heaven is within you," the old doctor rambled
on, "but it is all a part of this great new country--this big west is
new and crude and distinct--only the primary colors are used in the
picture, there are no half tones, no shadows, and above all--or
perhaps I should say behind all--no background. A thing is good or
bad--black or white--blue or red. We are mostly posters here in this
great big, dazzling country."

In the silence that fell on them, the young man's mind went limping
back to the old doctor's first words--the dreadful, fateful,
significant words. He had said it--said the thing that if it were true
would exile him from the world he loved! On him the ban had fallen!

"I suppose," said he, standing behind his chair, whose back he held
with nervous fingers, "there is no chance that you might be mistaken.
It is hard for me to believe this. I am so strong--so well--so much
alive, except my cough--I am as well as ever I was, and the cough is a
simple thing--this seems impossible to me!"

The old doctor had gone to the window to watch the throng of boys
and girls who raced past on their way to the hill for an evening's
sleigh-ride.

"It always seems impossible," he said, with the air of a man who is
totally disassociated from human affairs, and is simply stating an
interesting fact, "that is part of the disease, and a very attractive
part too. The people who have it, never think they have--even to the
last they are hopeful--and sure they will be better tomorrow. No, I am
afraid I am not mistaken. You know yourself the theory Clay, of the
two sets of microbes, the builders and the destroyers. Just at the
present moment, the destroyers have the best of it--they have put one
over on the builders--but that does not say that the good microbes are
not working--and may yet win. You are young, buoyant, happy, hopeful,
temperate in your habits--all of which gives you a better chance--if
you will throw the weight of your influence on the side of the
builders--there is a good chance of winning--I should think with your
Irish blood you would enjoy the fight, Clay."

The young doctor turned around suddenly and threw back his head, with
an impatient gesture.

"I love a fight, Dr. Brander, but it has to be of something worth
while. I have fought for the life of a man, a woman, a child, and I
have fought joyfully--for life is sweet, and I desired it for these
people, believing it to be a good gift. But in the fight you outline
for me, I see nothing to fire man's heart. I won't fight for life if
it means just breathing and scraping along at a poor, dying rate,
cheating the undertaker of a nice little piece of legitimate
business--I can't grow enthusiastic over the prospect of
always thinking about myself--and my rest--and my sleep--or my
clothes--always looking for a draught or fleeing from the night air or
a thunderstorm--never able to do a man's job or a day's work. I can't
do it, Dr. Brander, and you couldn't do it. It's a poor, miserable,
dull existence, unhappy for me, and no service to any one."

Two red spots burned in his cheeks, and the old doctor, noticing them,
wished again that he had come to see him sooner.

"See here, Clay," he said, sitting down again, with his hands spread
out on his knees, "you exaggerate this thing. You do not think you
are working unless you are slaving and owling around all hours of the
night, setting bones and pulling teeth, or ushering into this wicked
world sundry squalling babies who never asked to come, and do not like
it now they are here. You have been as strong as an ox, and keen as
a race-horse, now you have to slow up--you have to get out of this
country before another winter, and when you come back in Spring you
can go on with your patients--always with care."

The young doctor surveyed him with curling lip.

"Resume my practice," he said, "how simple. Send word ahead, I
suppose, by circular letter--

"'Dear Friends, I will be with you May 1st, to attend to your medical
needs. Save your appendicitis and neuralgia and broken bones for
me. Medical season opens for business May 1st, every one welcome'.
Something like that ought to be sufficient to hold my practice. It has
always seemed to me very inconsiderate for people to get sick in
the winter, and certainly it is no time for infants to begin their
career.... Now, see here, Dr. Brander, I appreciate all you say. I
know why you are talking this way to me. It is out of the kindness
of your heart--for you have a soft old heart behind all that
professionalism. But it does not look reasonable to me that a man who
has really lived, can ever drag along like you say. Who wants to live,
anyway, beyond the time of usefulness? I don't. I want to pass out
like old Prince--you remember my good old roan pacer, do you?"

"That red-eyed old anarchist of yours that no one could harness but
you?"

"That's the one--as good a horse as ever breathed--misunderstood, that
was all--well, he passed on, as the scientists say, last Fall, passed
on in a blaze of glory too, but just how glorious his death was, I
don't believe I realized until tonight.

"How did it happen?"

"I had a thirty mile drive to see Mrs. Porter, at Pigeon Lake--and
just as I was about to start, another message came that it was very
urgent if her life was to be saved. Old Prince would not drive
double--and my team was tired out. So I started with him alone. The
snow came on when I was half way there, and that made the going
bad--to add to the difficulties, a strong wind drove the blinding
snow in our faces. But the old boy ploughed on like a wrecking
engine--going out in a storm to clear the track. He knew all about it,
I never had to urge him. The last mile was the worst--he fell once,
but staggered to his feet and went on, on three legs.... When we got
to the house, I knew it was all up with old Prince--he had made his
last journey."

"But he was still living when I came out to see him four hours later.
The men had put him in a box stall, and had done all they could, but
his eyes were rolling, and his heart missed every fourth beat."

"The two little girls came out and cried over him, and told him he had
saved their mother's life, and tried to get him to eat sugar lumps ...
and--right to the last there was the same proud look in his red eyes,
and he gave me a sort of wink which let me know it was all right--he
didn't blame me or any one--and so I kissed him once, on the white
star on his honest forehead, and I put my left arm around his head so
he couldn't see what was coming, and sent a bullet through his brain."

"We buried him on the hillside overlooking the lake, and the little
girls put a slab up over him, which says:

  "Prince of the house of Clay
  Who saved our mother's life,
  Lies here in peace, and lives
  In grateful memory in our hearts."

There was a silence, in which each man's mind went back to the one
overwhelming thought--that bound them so close together.

Then the young doctor said slowly: "If what you say is true, I envy
Prince--and would gladly change places with him."

The old man recovered himself in a moment: "You take things too
seriously, Clay," he said quickly: "be glad you are not married. A
wife and children clutter up a man's affairs at a time like this--you
are quite free from family ties, I believe?"

"Quite free," the young man replied, "all my relatives live in the
East, all able to look after themselves. I have no person depending on
me--financially, I mean."

"Marriage," began the old doctor, in his most professional tone, as
one who reads from a manuscript, "is one-fourth joy and three-fourths
disappointment. There is no love strong enough to stand the grind of
domestic life. Marriage would be highly successful were it not for the
fearful bore of living together. Two houses, and a complete set of
servants would make marriage practically free from disappointments.
I think Saint Paul was right when he advised men to remain single if
they had serious work to do. Women, the best of them, grow tiresome
and double-chinned in time."

The young doctor laughed his own big, hearty laugh, the laugh which
his devoted patients said did them more good than his medicine.

"I like that," he said, "a man with a forty-two waist measure, wearing
an eighteen inch collar, finding fault with a woman's double chin. You
are not such a raving beauty yourself."

The old man interrupted him:

"I do not need to be. I am a doctor, a prescriber of pills, a mender
of bones, a plumber of pipes ... my work does not call for beauty.
Beauty is an embarrassment to a doctor. You would be happier, young
fellow, without that wavy brown hair and those big eyes of yours, with
their long lashes. A man is built for work, like a truck. Gold and
leather upholstering do not belong there. Women are different; it is
their place in life to be beautiful, and when they fail in that, they
fail entirely. They have no license to be fat, flabby double-chinned,
flat-footed. It is not seemly, and of course you cannot tell how any
of them may turn out. They are all pretty at sixteen. That is what
makes marriage such a lottery."

"I don't agree with you at all," said his companion, "it is absurd to
expect a woman of fifty to have the slim grace of a girl of eighteen.
My mother was a big woman, and I always thought her very beautiful.
I think you have a pagan way of looking at marriage. Marriage is a
mutual agreement, for mutual benefit and comfort, for sympathy and
companionship. Family life develops the better side of human nature,
and casts out selfishness. Many a man has found himself when he gets a
wife, and in the caring for his children has thrown off the shackels
of selfishness. People only live when they can forget themselves, for
selfishness is death. Your a great doctor, Dr. Brander, but a poor
philosopher."

The older man smiled grimly.

"See here, Clay," he said, "did you ever think of how nature fools us
poor dupes? Nature, old Dame Nature, has one object, and that is to
people the earth--and to this end she shapes all her plans. She makes
women beautiful, graceful, attractive and gives them the instinct to
dress in a way that will attract men. Makes them smaller and weaker
than men, too, which also makes its appeal. Why, if I hadn't watched
my step, I'd been married a dozen times. These little frilled and
powdered vixens have nearly got me.... If nature used half as much
care in keeping people healthy and free from accidents, as she does
in getting them here--it would be a happier world. But that is not
nature's concern--She leaves that to the doctors!"

"Well, how does the time go? Isn't that the train whistle?"

"No hurry," said Dr. Clay, rising, "it stops at the water-tank, and
that whistle is for the hill."

They walked over to the station in silence, and stood watching the red
eye that came gliding through the moonlit valley. The train seemed to
be slipping in to the station without a sound, in the hope that no one
would notice how late it was.

"Come up and see me, Clay," said the old man kindly. "I want to give
you a thorough examination--and I will expect you in a week--we'll
talk things over, and see what is best. You have my bag, don't bother
coming on--all right then--here's a double seat--so I can stretch
out--though it's hardly worth while for an hour. Goodbye Clay,
remember all I told you!"

When the doctor went back to his office, he sat long in his chair in
front of the fire, and thought. The place was the same--the cheerful
fire--the rows of books--the Fathers of Confederation picture on
the wall--and his college group. Everything was the same as it had
been--only himself. Everything in the room was strong, durable, almost
everlasting, able to resist time and wear. He was the only perishable
thing, it seemed.

He wondered how people act when confronted by the ruin of their hopes.
Do they rave and curse and cry aloud? He could not think clearly--his
mind seemed to avoid the real issue and refuse to strike on the sore
place, and he thought of all sorts of other things.

The permanence--the dreadful permanence of everything in the room
seemed to oppress him. "Man is mortal," he said, "his possessions
outlive him every last one of these things is more durable than I am".
The gray wall of the office--so strong and lasting--what chance had
an army of microbes against it--the heavy front door, with its cherry
panels and brass fittings, had no fear of draughts or cold. It had
limitless resistance. The stocky stove, on its four squat legs, could
hold its own and snap its fingers at time. They were all so arrogantly
indestructible, so fearfully permanent--they had no sympathy, no
common meeting ground with him.

A knock sounded on the door, and when he opened it, the station agent
was there, with a long box in his hand.

"It's marked 'Rush,' so I thought I had better shoot it over to you,
Doc," he said.

"Thanks, old man," the Doctor said mechanically, and put the box down
on the table. On a white label, in bright red letters, stood out the
word 'Perishable.'

The word struck him like a blow between the eyes. "Perishable!" Then
here was something to which he might feel akin. He opened the box,
with detached interest. A sweet breath of roses proclaimed the
contents. He had forgotten about sending for them until now--Pearl's
roses for this day--nineteen American Beauties!

He carefully unpacked the wrapping, and held up the sheaf of
loveliness, and just for one moment had the thrill of joy that beauty
had always brought to him. Pearl's roses! The roses, with which he
had hoped to say what was in his heart--here they were, in all their
exquisite loveliness, and ready to carry the words of love and hope
and tenderness--but now ... he had nothing to say ... love and
marriage were not for him!

He sat down heavily, beside the table over which the roses lay
scattered, spilling their perfume in the room.

He fingered them lovingly, smoothing their velvety petals with a
tender hand, while his mind sought in vain to readjust itself to the
change the last two hours had brought.

He turned again to the fire, which glowed with blue and purple lights
behind the windows of isinglass, curling and flaming and twisting,
with fascinating brilliance. Long he sat, watching it, while the
sounds outside in the street grew less and less, and at last when he
went to the window, he found the street in darkness and in silence.
The moon had set, and his watch told him it was two o'clock.

The wind whimpered in the chimney like a lonesome puppy, rising and
falling, cying out and swelling with eerie rhythm; a soft spring wind,
he knew it was, that seemed to catch its breath like a thing in pain.

Looking again at the roses, he noticed that the leaves were drooping.
He hastily went into the dispensary and brought out two graduates
filled with water to put them in; but when he lifted them--he
saw, with poignant pain--they were gone past helping--they were
frost-bitten.

Then it was that he gathered them in his arms, with sudden passion,
and as he sat through the long night, he held them closely to him, for
kin of his they surely were--these frosted roses, on whose fragrant
young hearts the blight had so prematurely fallen!



CHAPTER IV

TANGLED THREADS


At daybreak, when the light from the eastern sky came in blue at the
window blind, and the gasoline lamp grew sickly and pale, the doctor
went to bed. He had thought it all out and outlined his course of
action.

He did not doubt the old doctor's word; his own knowledge gave
corroborative evidence that it was quite true, and he wondered he had
not thought of it. Still, there was something left for him to do. He
would play up and play the game, even if it were a losing fight. His
own house had fallen, but it would be his part now to see that the
minimum amount of pain would come to Pearl over it. She was young,
and had all the world before her--she would forget. He had a curious
shrinking from having her know that he had the disease, for like most
doctors, he loathed the thought of disease, and had often quoted
to his patients in urging them to obey the laws of physiological
righteousness, the words of Elbert Hubbard that "The time would come
when people would feel more disgrace at being found in a hospital than
in a jail, for jails were for those who broke men's laws, but those in
the hospital had broken the laws of God!"

He shuddered now when he thought of it, it all seemed so
unnecessary--so wantonly cruel--so so inexplicable.

Above all, Pearl must not know, for instinctively he felt that if she
knew he was a sick man, she would marry him straight away--she would
be so sweet about it all, and so hopeful and sure he would get well,
and such a wonderfully skilful and tender nurse, that he would surely
get well. For one blissful but weak moment, which while it thrilled
it frightened him still more--he allowed himself to think it would be
best to tell her. Just for one weak moment the thought came--to be
banished forever from his mind. No! No! No! disaster had come to him,
but Pearl would not be made to suffer, she would not be involved in
any way.

But just what attitude to take, perplexed him. Those big, soft brown
eyes of hers would see through any lie he tried to invent, and he
was but a poor liar anyway. What could he tell Pearl? He would
temporize--he would stall for time. She was too young--she had seen so
little of the world--it would be hard to wait--he believed he could
take that line with her--he would try it.

When he awakened, the sun was shining in the room, with a real spring
warmth that just for a minute filled him with gladness and a sense of
wellbeing. Then he remembered, and a groan burst from his lips.

The telephone rang:

Reaching out, he seized it and answered.

"It's me," said a voice, "It's Pearl! I am coming in--I know you're
tired after yesterday, and you need a long sleep--so don't disturb
yourself--I'll be in about two o'clock--just when the sun is
brightest--didn't I tell you it would be finer still today?"

"You surely did, Pearl," he answered, "however you knew."

"I'm not coming just to see you--ma wants a new strainer, and Bugsey
needs boots, and Mary has to have another hank of yarn to finish the
sweater she's knitting--these are all very urgent, and I'll get them
attended to first, and then...."

She paused:

"Then you'll come and see me, Pearl"--he finished, "and we'll have the
meeting which we adjourned three years ago--to meet yesterday."

"That's it," she said, "and goodbye until then."

He looked at his watch, it was just ten--there was yet time.

Reaching for the telephone, he called long distance, Brandon. "Give me
Orchard's greenhouses," he said.

After a pause he got the wire:

"Send me a dozen and a half--no, nineteen--American Beauty roses on
today's train, without fail. This is Dr. Clay of Millford talking."

He put back the telephone, and lay back with a whimsical smile,
twisting his mouth. "The frosted ones are mine," he said to himself,
"there will be no blight or spot or blemish on Pearl's roses."

It was quite like Pearl to walk into the doctors' office without
embarrassment. It was also like her to come at the exact hour she had
stated in her telephone message--and to the man who sat waiting for
her, with a heart of lead, she seemed to bring the whole sunshine of
Spring with her.

Ordinarily, Dr. Clay did not notice what women wore, they all looked
about the same to him--but he noticed that Pearl's gray coat and furs
just needed the touch of crimson which her tam o'shanter and gloves
supplied, and which seemed to carry out the color in her glowing
cheeks. She looked like a red apple in her wholesomeness.

He had tried to get the grittiness of the sleepless night out of his
eyes, and had shaved and dressed himself with the greatest care,
telling himself it did not matter--but the good habit was deeply
fastened on him and could not be set aside.

There was nothing about the well-dressed young man, with his carefully
brushed hair and splendid color, to suggest disease. Pearl's eyes
approved of each detail, from the way his hair waved and parted back;
the dull gold and purple tie, which seemed to bring out the bronze
tones in his hair and the steely gray of his eyes; the well-cut
business suit of rough brown tweed, with glints of green and bronze,
down to the dark brown, well-polished boots.

Pearl was always proud of him; it glowed in her eyes again today,
and again he felt it, warming his heart and giving him the sense of
well-being which Pearl's presence always brought. All at once he felt
rested and full of energy.

When the first greetings were over, and Pearl had seated herself, at
his invitation, in the big chair, he said, laughing:

"'Tis a fine day, Miss Watson."

"It is that!" said Pearl, with her richest brogue, which he had often
told her he hoped she would never lose.

"And you are eighteen years old now," he said, in the same tone.

"Eighteen, going on nineteen," she corrected gaily.

"All right, eighteen--going on--nineteen. Three years ago there was a
little bargain made between us--without witnesses, that we would defer
all that was in our minds for three years--we'd give the matter a
three years' hoist--and then take it up just where we left it!"

She nodded, without speaking.

"Now I have thought about it a lot," he went on, "indeed I do not
think a day has gone by without my thinking of it, and incidentally,
I have thought of myself and my belongings. I wish to draw your
attention to them--I am twenty-nine years old--I've got a ten years'
start of you, and I will always expect to be treated with respect on
account of my years--that's clearly understood, is it?"

He was struggling to get himself in hand.

"Clearly understood," she repeated, with her eyes on him in
unmistakable adoration.

"Six years ago," he seemed to begin all over gain--"I came out of
college, with all sorts of fine theories, just bubbling over with
enthusiasm, much the same as you are now, fresh from Normal, but
somehow they have mostly flattened out, and now I find myself settling
down to the prosy life of a country doctor, who feeds his own horses
and blackens his own boots, and discusses politics with the retired
farmers who gather in the hardware store. I catch myself at it quite
often. Old Bob Johnson and I are quite decided there will be a war
with Germany before many years. We don't stop at Canadian affairs--the
world is not too wide for us! Yes, Pearl, here I am, a country doctor,
with an office in need of paint--a very good medical library--in need
of reading--a very common-place, second-rate doctor--who will never
be a great success, who will just continue to grub along. With you,
Pearl, it is different. You have ambition, brains--and something about
you that will carry you far--I always knew it--and am so glad that at
the Normal they recognized your ability."

A puzzled look dimmed the brightness of her eyes just for a moment,
and the doctor stumbled on.

"I am all right, as far as I go--but there's not enough of me--I'm not
big enough for you, Pearl."

Pearl's eyes danced again, as she looked him up and down, and he
laughed in spite of himself.

"For goodness sake, girl," he cried, "don't look at me, you make me
forget what I was saying--I can't think, when you train those eyes of
yours on me."

Pearl obediently turned her head away, but he could still see the
dimple in her cheeks.

"I have had a long fight with myself, Pearl," and now that he was back
to the truth, his voice had its old mellowness that swept her heart
with tenderness--"a long fight--and it is not over yet. I'm selfish
enough to want you---that is about 99.9% of me is selfish, the other
infinitesimal part cries out for me to play the man--and do the square
thing--I am making a bad job of this, but maybe you understand."

He came over and turned her head around until she faced him.

"I have begun at the wrong end of this, dear, I talk as if you had
said--you cared--I have no right to think you do. I should remember
you are only a child--and haven't thought about--things like this!"

"O, haven't I, though," she cried eagerly. "I've been thinking--all
the time--I've never stopped thinking--I've had the loveliest time
thinking."

The doctor went on in a measured tone, as one who must say the words
he hates to utter. All the color had gone from his voice, all the
flexibility. It was as hard as steel now, and as colorless as a dusty
road.

"Pearl, I am going to say what I should say, not what I want to
say.... Supposing I did induce you to marry me now. Suppose I could
... in ten years from now, when you are a woman grown, you might
hate me for taking advantage of your youth, your inexperience, your
childish fancy for me--I am not prepared to take that risk--it would
be a criminal thing to run any chances of spoiling a life like yours."

Her eyes looked straight into his, and there was a little muttered cry
in them that smote his heart with pity. He had seen it in the faces of
little children, his patients, who, though hurt, would not cry.

"And I am selfish enough to hope that in a few years, when you are old
enough to choose, you will think of what I am doing now, and know the
sacrifice I am making, and come to me of your own free will--no, I did
not intend to say that--I do not mean what I said--the world is yours,
Pearl, to choose as you will--I have no claim on you! You start fair."

Pearl's cheeks had lost a little of their rosy glow, and her face
had taken on a cream whiteness. She stood up and looked at him, with
widely opened eyes. A girl of smaller soul might have misunderstood
him, and attributed to him some other motive. Though Pearl did not
agree with him, she believed every word he had said.

"Supposing," she said eagerly, "that I do not want to start
fair--and don't want to be free to choose--supposing I have made my
choice--supposing I understand you better than you do yourself, and
tell you now that you are not a second-hand doctor--that you are a sun
and a shield to this little town and country, just as you have been to
me--you bring health and courage by your presence--the people love and
trust you--suppose I remind you that you are not only a doctor,
but the one that settles their quarrels and puts terror into the
evil-doer. Who was it that put the fear into Bill Plunkett when he
blackened his wife's eyes, and who was it that brought in the two
children from the Settlement, that were abused by their step-father,
and took the old ruffian's guns away from him and marched him in too!
That's a job for a second-rate doctor, isn't it? I hear the people
talking about you, and I have to turn my back for fear they hear my
eyes shouting out, 'That's my man you're praising' and here he is,
telling me he is a second-rate doctor! Is that what you were when the
fever was so bad, and all the Clarke's had it at once, and you nursed
six of them through it? Mrs. Clarke says the only undressing you did
was to loosen your shoe-laces!"

"Don't you see--I know you better than you do yourself. You don't see
how big your work is. Is it a small thing to live six years in a place
and have every one depending on you, praising you--loving you--and
being able to advise them and lead the young fellows anyway you
like--making men of them, instead of street loafers--and their mothers
so thankful they can hardly speak of it."

"You evidently don't know what we think of you, any of us--and here
I am--I don't know when it began with me--the first day I saw you--I
think, when I was twelve--I've been worshipping you and treasuring up
every word you ever said to me. I don't know whether it is love or
not, it's something very sweet. It has made me ambitious to look my
best, do my best and be my best. I want to make you proud of me--I
will make you proud of me--see if I don't--I want to be with you, to
help you, look after you--grow up with you--I don't know whether it is
love or not--it--is something! There is nothing too hard for me to do,
if it is for you--everything--any thing would be sweet to me--if you
were with me. Is that love?"

She was standing before him, holding his hand in both of hers, and her
eyes had the light in them, the tender, glowing light that seemed to
flame blue at the edges, like the coal fire he had watched the night
before.

Impulsively he drew her to him, and for a moment buried his face in
her warm, white neck, kissing the curling strands of her brown hair.

"O Pearl," he cried, drawing away from her, "O Pearl--you're a hard
girl to give up--you make me forget all my good resolutions. I don't
want to do what I ought to do. I just want you."

There was a smothered cry in his voice that smote on Pearl's heart
with a sudden fear. Mothers know the different notes in their
children's cries--and in Pearl, the maternal instinct was strong.

She suddenly understood. He was suffering, there was a bar between
them--for some reason, he could not marry her!

She grew years older, it seemed, in a moment, and the thought that
came into her brain, clamoring to be heard, exultantly, insistently
knocking for admission, was this--her mother's pessimistic way of
looking at life was right--there were things too good to be true--she
had been too sure of her happiness. The thought, like cold steel, lay
against her heart and dulled its beating. But the pain in his eyes
must be comforted. She stood up, and gravely took the hand he held out
to her.

"Doctor," she said steadily, "you are right, quite right, about
this--a girl of eighteen does not know her own mind--it is too serious
a matter--life is too long--I--I think I love you--I mean I thought I
did--I know I like to be with you--and---all that--but I'm too young
to be sure--and I'll get over this all right. You're right in all you
say--and it's a good thing you are so wise about this--we might have
made a bad mistake--that would have brought us unhappiness. But it has
been sweet all the time, and I'm not sorry--we'll just say no more
about it now and don't let it worry you--I can stand anything--if
you're not worried."

He looked at her in amazement--and not being as quick as she, her
words deceived him, and there was not a quiver on her lips, as she
said:

"I'll go now, doctor, and we'll just forget what we were saying--they
were foolish words. I'm thinking of going North to teach--one of the
inspectors wrote me about a school there. I just got his letter today,
and he asked me to wire him--I'll be back at the holidays."

She put the red tam on her brown hair, tucking up the loose strands,
in front of the glass, as she spoke. Manlike, he did not see that her
hands trembled, and her face had gone white. He sat looking at her in
deep admiration.

"What a woman you are, Pearl," broke from his lips.

She could not trust herself to shake hands, or even look at him. Her
one hope was to get away before her mask of unconcern broke into a
thousand pieces by the pounding of her heart, which urged her to throw
her arms around him and beg him to tell her what was really wrong--oh,
why wouldn't he tell her!

"You'll think of this dear," he said, "in a few years when you are, I
hope, happily married to the man of your choice, and you will have a
kindly thought for me, and know I was not a bad sort--you'll remember
every word of this Pearl, and you will understand that what is
strange to you now--and you will perhaps think of me--and if not with
pleasure, it will at least be without pain."

He wanted to give her the roses, which had come just a few moments
before she came in, but somehow he could not frame a casual word of
greeting. He would send them to her.

She was going now.

"Pearl, dearest Pearl," he cried "I cannot let you go like this--and
yet--it's best for both of us."

"Sure it is," she said, smiling tightly, to keep her lips from
quivering. "I'm feeling fine over it all." The pain in his voice made
her play up to her part.

"I can't even kiss you, dear,'" he said. "I don't want you to have one
bitter memory of this. I want you to know I was square--and loved you
too well to take the kiss, which in after life might sting your face
when you thought that I took advantage of your youth. A young girl's
first kiss is too sacred a thing."

Suddenly Pearl's resolution broke down. It was the drawn look in his
face, and its strange pallor.

She reached up and kissed his cheek.

"A little dab of a kiss like that won't leave a sting on any one's
face," she said.

She was gone!



CHAPTER V

WHERE MRS. CROCKS THREW THE SWITCH


When Pearl came out of the doctor's office into the sunshine of the
village street, she had but one thought--one overwhelming desire,
expressed in the way she held her head, and the firm beat of her
low-heeled shoes on the sidewalk--she must get away where she would
not see him or the people she knew. She realized that whatever it was
that had come between them was painful to him, and that he really
cared for her. To see her, would be hard on him, embarrassing to them
both, and she would do her share by going away--and she remembered,
with a fresh pang--that when she had spoken of this, he had made no
objection, thus confirming her decision that for her to go would be
the best way.

The three glorious years, so full of hopes and dreams, were over!
Pearl's house of hopes had fallen! All was over! And it was not his
fault--he was not to blame. Instinctively, Pearl defended him in her
mind against a clamorous sense of injustice which told her that she
had not had a square deal! The pity of it all was what choked her and
threatened to storm her well guarded magazine of self-control! It was
all so sudden, so mysterious and queer, and yet, she instinctively
felt, so inexorable!

Pearl had always been scornful of the tears of lovelorn maidens, and
when in one of her literature lessons at the Normal, the sad journey
of the lily-maid on her barge of black samite, floating down the
river, so dead and beautiful, with the smile on her face and the lily
in her hand, reduced form A to a common denominator of tears, and
made the whole room look like a Chautauqua salute, Pearl had stoutly
declared that if Elaine had played basketball or hockey instead
of sitting humped up on a pile of cushions in her eastern tower,
broidering the sleeve of pearls so many hours a day, she wouldn't have
died so easily nor have found so much pleasure in arranging her own
funeral.

But on this bright March day, the village street seemed strangely dull
and dead to her, with an empty sound like a phone that has lost its
connection. Something had gone from her little world, leaving it
motionless, weary and old! A row of icicles hung from the roof of the
corner store, irregular and stained from the shingles above, like an
ugly set of ill-kept teeth, dripping disconsolately on the sidewalk
below, and making there a bumpy blotch of unsightly ice!

In front of the store stood the delivery sleigh, receiving its load
of parcels, which were thrown in with an air of unconcern by a blocky
young man with bare red hands. The horse stood without being tied, in
an apparently listless and melancholy dream. A red and white cow
came out of the lane and attempted to cross the slippery sidewalk,
sprawling helplessly for a moment, and then with a great effort
recovered herself and went back the way she came, limping painfully,
the blocky young man hastening her movements by throwing at her a
piece of box lid, with the remark that that would "learn her."

The sunshine so brilliant and keen, had a cold and merciless tang in
it, and a busy-body look about it, as if it delighted in shining into
forbidden corners and tearing away the covers that people put on their
sorrows, calling all the world to come and see! Pearl shuddered with
the sudden realization that the sun could shine and the wind could
blow bright and gay as ever, though hearts were writhing in agony!

She hoped she would not see any of the people she knew, for the pain
that lay like a band of ice around her heart might be showing in her
face--and Pearl knew that the one thing she could not stand was a word
of sympathy. That would be fatal. So she hurried on. She would send a
wire of acceptance to her inspector friend, and then go over to the
stable for her horse, and be on her way home.

But there is something whimsical about fate. It takes a hand in our
affairs without apology, and throws a switch at the last moment. If
Pearl had not met Mrs. Crocks at the corner, just before she took the
street to the station, this would have been a different story. But who
knows? We never get a chance to try the other way, and it is best and
wisest and easiest of comprehension to believe that whatever is, is
best!

Mrs. Crocks was easily the best informed person regarding local
happenings, in the small town of Millford. She really knew. Every
community has its unlicensed and unauthorized gossips, who think they
know what their neighbors are thinking and doing, but who more often
than not get their data wrong, and are always careless of detail. Mrs.
Crocks was not one of these.

When Bill Cavers got drunk, and spent in one grand, roaring spree all
the money which he and his wife and Libby Anne had saved for their
trip to Ontario, there were those who said that he went through six
hundred dollars that one night, making a rough guess at the amount.
Mrs. Crocks did not use any such amateur and unsatisfactory way of
arriving at conclusions. She did not need to--there was a way of
finding out! To the elevator she went, and looked at the books under
cover of looking up a wheat ticket which her husband had cashed and
found that Bill Cavers had marketed seventeen hundred and eight
dollars worth of wheat. From this he had paid his store bill, and the
blacksmith's bill, which when deducted, left him eight hundred and
fourteen dollars--she did not bother with the cents. The deductions
were easily verified--both the storekeeper and the blacksmith were
married men!

This was the method she followed in all her research--careful,
laborious and accurate at all costs, with a fine contempt for her less
scientific contemporaries. The really high spots in her life had been
when she was able to cover her competitors with confusion by showing
that their facts were all wrong, which process she referred to as
"showing up these idle gossips."

James Crocks, her husband, had chosen for himself a gentler avocation
than his wife's, and one which brought him greater peace of
mind--proprietor of the big red stable which spread itself over half a
block, he had unconsciously defined himself, as well as his place of
business, by having printed in huge white letters with black edging
across the shingled roof, the words:

"HORSE REPOSITORY" PROP.J. CROCKS.

Here the tired horses could forget the long trail and the heavy loads,
in the comfortable stalls, with their deep bedding of clean straw; and
here also, James Crocks himself was able to find the cheerful company,
who ate their meals in quietude of heart, asking no questions,
imputing no motives, knowing nothing of human intrigue, and above
all, never, never insisting that he tell them what he thought about
anything! Most of his waking hours were spent here, where he found the
gentle sounds of feeding horses, the honest smell of prairie hay and
the blessed absence of human chatter very soothing and restful.

As time went on, and James Crocks grew more and more averse to human
speech--having seen it cause so much trouble one way'n another, Mrs.
Crocks found it was an economy of effort to board one of the stable
boys, and that is how it came about that Mr. Bertie Peters found
himself called from the hay-mow above the stable, to his proprietors'
guest chamber, and all the comforts of a home, including nightly
portions of raisin pie--and best of all, an interested and
appreciative audience who liked to hear him talk. Mrs. Crocks as usual
had made a good choice, for as Bertie talked all the time, he was sure
to say something once in a while. A cynical teacher had once said of
Bertie, that he never had an "unuttered thought."

But even though the livery stable happenings as related by Bertie gave
Mrs. Crocks many avenues of information, all of her prescience could
not be explained through that or any other human agency. The young
doctor declared she had the gift or divination, was a mind reader, and
could see in the dark! Many a time when he had gone quietly to the
stable and taken out his team without as much as causing a dog to
bark, removing his sleigh bells to further cover his movements, and
stealing out of town like an absconding bank-teller, to make a call,
returning the same way, still under cover of night, and flattering
himself that he had fooled her this time, she would be waiting for
him, and timed her call to the exact minute. Just as he got in to his
room after putting his team away, his phone would ring and Mrs. Crocks
would ask him about the patient he had been to see. She did not always
call him, of course, but he felt she knew where he had been. There was
no explanation--it was a gift!

Pearl had been rather a favorite with Mrs. Crocks when the Watsons
family lived in Millford, but since they had gone to the farm and
prosperity had come to them as evidenced by their better clothes,
their enlarged house, their happier faces, and more particularly
Pearl's success in her school work in the city, all of which had
appeared in the local paper, for the editor was enthusiastic for his
own town--Mrs. Crock's friendly attitude had suffered a change. She
could put up with almost anything in her friends, but success!

But when she met Pearl on the street that day, her manner was
friendly.

"Hello stranger," she said, "I hear you have been doing big things
down there in the city, winnin' debates and makin' speeches. Good for
you, Pearl--I always said you were a smart girl, even when your people
were as poor as get-out. I could see it in you--but don't let it spoil
you, Pearl--and don't ever forget you are just a country girl. But I
am certainly glad you did so well--for your mother's sake--many a time
I was dead sorry for her having to work so hard! It's a comfort to her
now to see you doin' so well. Where have been now? I saw you comin'
out of the doctor's office just now--anybody sick? You're not looking
as pert as usual yourself--you haven't been powdering' your face, I
hope! No one sick, eh? Just a friendly call then, was it? See here,
Pearl--when I was young, girls did not do the chasin', we let the men
do that, and I'm here to tell you it's the best way. And look here,
there's enough girls after Doctor Clay without you--there was a man
from the city telling Bertie at the stable that he seen our doctor in
a box at the Opera with the Senator's daughter two weeks ago, and that
she is fair dippy about him, and now that he is thinking of goin'
into politics, it would be a great chance for him. The other side are
determined to make him run for them against old Steadman, and the old
lady is that mad she won't let his name be mentioned in the house. She
says the country owes it to Mr. Steadman to put him in by acclamation!
And the doctor hasn't accepted it yet. The committee went to see
him yesterday and he turned them down but they won't take no for an
answer, and they asked him to think it over--I suppose he told you all
about it--"

For the first time Mrs. Crocks stopped for breath. Her beady eyes were
glistening for excitement. Here was a scoop--if Pearl would only tell
her. She would be able to anticipate the doctor's answer.

"What is he goin' to do, Pearl, I know he would tell you; I have
always said that doctor thinks more of you than he does of any of the
other girls! What did he say about it, will he take it?"

Pearl was quite herself now--composed, on her guard, even smiling.

"I think the doctor would prefer to make his own announcement," she
said, "and he will make it to the committee."

Mrs. Crocks' eyes narrowed darkly, and she breathed heavily in her
excitement. Did Pearl Watson mean to tell her in as many words, to
mind her own business. But in Pearl's face there was no guile, and she
was going on her way.

"Don't be in a hurry, Pearl," said Mrs. Crocks, "can't you wait a
minute and talk to an old friend. I am sure I do not care a pin
whether the doctor runs or not. I never was one to think that women
should concern themselves with politics--that surely belongs to the
men. I have been a home body all my life, as you know, and of course I
should have known that the doctor would not discuss his business with
a little chit like you--but dear, me, he is one terrible flirt, he
cannot pass a pretty face. Of course now he will settle down no doubt,
every one thinks he will anyway, and marry Miss Keith of Hampton--the
Keith's have plenty of money, though I don't believe that counts as
much with the doctor as family, and of course they have the blue
blood too, and her father being the Senator will help. What! must you
go--you're not half as sociable as you used to be when you brought the
milk every morning to the back door--you sure could talk then,
and tell some of the weirdest things. I always knew you would be
something, but if you freeze up like a clam when you meet old
friends--it does not seem as if education has improved you. Can't you
stay and talk a minute?"

"I could stay," said Pearl, "and I can still talk, but I have not been
able to talk to you. You see I do not like to interrupt any one so
much older than myself!"

When Pearl walked away, Mrs. Crocks looked after her with a look of
uncertainty on her face. Pearl's words rang in her ears!

"She's smart, that kid--she's smart--I'll say that for her. There is
not a man in town who dare look me in the eye and take a rise like
that out of me, but she did it without a flicker. So I know I had her
mad or she wouldn't have said it, but wasn't she smooth about it?"

Then her professional pride asserted itself, reminding her that a
slight had been put upon her, and her mood changed.

"Of all the saucy little jades," she said to herself--"with the air of
a duchess, and the fine clothes of her! And to think that her mother
washed for me not so long ago, and that girl came for the clothes and
brought them back again! And now listen to her! You put your foot in
it, Pearl my young lady, when you rubbed Jane Crocks the wrong way,
for people cannot do that and get away with it! And remember I am
telling you."

When Pearl left Mrs. Crocks standing on the street she walked quickly
to the station, but arriving there with the yellow blank in her hand,
she found her intention of accepting a school in the North had grown
weak and pale. She did not want to go to North, or any place. She
suddenly wanted to stay. She would take a school some place near--and
see what was going to happen; and besides--she suddenly thought of
this--she must not decide on anything until she saw Mr. Donald, her
old teacher, and got his advice. It would not be courteous to do
anything until she saw him, and tomorrow was the day he wanted her to
go to the school to speak to the children. Why, of course, she could
not go---and so Pearl reasoned in that well-known human way of backing
herself up in the thing she wanted to do! So she tore off a couple of
blank forms and put them in her purse, and asked the agent if he knew
how the train from the East was, and he gave her the assurance that it
had left the city on time and was whoopin' it along through the hills
at Cardinal when last heard from--and stood a good chance of getting
in before night.

All the way home, Pearl tried to solve the tangle of thoughts that
presented themselves to her, but the unknown quantity, the "X" in this
human equation, had given her so little to work on, that it seemed
as though she must mark it "insufficient data" and let it go! But
unfortunately for Pearl's peace of mind it could not be dismissed in
that way.

One thing was evident--it was some sudden happening or suggestion that
had changed his attitude towards her, for there was no mistaking the
tenderness in his messages over the phone the day before--and why did
he remember the day at all, if it were only to tell her that she
was too young to really know her own mind. The change--whatever it
was--had taken place in the interval of his phoning, and her visit,
and Mrs. Crocks had said that a committee had gone to see him and
offer him the nomination! What difference would that make? The subtle
suggestion of the senator's daughter came back to her mind! Was it
possible--that the Watson family were--what she had once read of in an
English story--'socially impossible.' Pearl remembered the phrase. The
thought struck her with such an impact that she pulled her horse up
with a jerk, and stood on the road in deep abstraction.

She remembered the quarrel she had once had with a girl at school. It
all came back in a flash of rage that lit up this forgotten corner of
her memory! The cause of the quarrel did not appear in the record, but
that the girl had flung it at her that her people were nothing and
nobody--her mother a washerwoman and her father a section hand--now
stood out in letters of flame! Pearl had not been angry at the
time--and she remembered that her only reason for taking out the
miserable little shrimp and washing her face in the snow was that
she knew the girl had said this to be very mean, and with the pretty
certain hope that it would cut deep! She was a sorrel-topped, anaemic,
scrawny little thing, who ate slate-pencils and chewed paper, and she
had gone crying to the teacher with the story of Pearl's violence
against her.

Mr. Donald had found out the cause, and had spoken so nicely to Pearl
about it, that her heart was greatly lifted as a result, and the
incident became a pleasant recollection, with only the delightful
part remaining, until this moment. Mr. Donald had said that Pearl was
surely a lucky girl, when the worst thing that could be said to her
was that her two parents had been engaged in useful and honorable
work--and he had made this the topic for a lesson that afternoon in
showing how all work is necessary and all honorable. Out of the lesson
had grown a game which they often played on Friday afternoons, when a
familiar object was selected and all the pupils required to write
down the names of all the workers who had been needed to bring it to
perfection.

And the next day when lunch time came, Mr. Donald told them he had
been thinking about the incident, and how all that we enjoy in life
comes to us from our fellow-workers, and he was going to have a new
grace, giving the thanks to where it belonged. He said God was not the
kind of a Creator who wanted all the glory of the whole world--for he
knew that every man and woman or boy or girl that worked, was entitled
to praise, and he liked to see them thanked as they deserved.

A new grace was written on the board, and each day it was repeated by
all the pupils. Pearl remembered that to her it had seemed very grand
and stately and majestic, with the dignity and thrill of a pipe-organ:

"Give us to know, O God, that the blessings we are about to enjoy
have come to us through the labors of others. Strengthen the ties of
brotherhood and grant that each of us may do our share of the world's
work."

But the aesthetic emotions which it sent through her young soul the
first time she said it, did not in any way interfere with the sweet
satisfaction she had in leaning across the aisle and wrinkling up her
nose at her former adversary!

She began to wonder now if Mr. Donald had been right in his idealistic
way of looking at life and labor. She had always thought so until this
minute, and many a thrill of pride had she experienced in thinking of
her parents and their days of struggling. They had been and were, the
real Empire-builders who subdued the soil and made it serve
human needs, enduring hardships and hunger and cold and bitter
discouragements, always with heroism and patience. The farm on which
they now lived, had been abandoned, deserted, given up for a bad job,
and her people had redeemed it, and were making it one of the best
in the country! Every farm in the community was made more valuable
because of their efforts. It had seemed to Pearl a real source of
proper pride--that her people had begun with nothing, and were now
making a comfortable living, educating their children and making
improvements each year in their way of living and in the farm itself!
It seemed that she ought to be proud of them, and she was!

But since she had been away, she learned to her surprise that the
world does not give its crowns to those who serve it best--but to
those who can make the most people serve them, and she found that
many people think of work as a disagreeable thing, which if patiently
endured for a while may be evaded ever afterwards, and indeed her
mother had often said that she was determined to give her children an
education, so they would not need to work as hard as she and their
father had. Education then seemed to be a way of escape.

Senator Keith, of Hampton, with his forty sections all rented out, did
not work. Miss Keith, his daughter, did not work. They did not need to
work--they had escaped!

It was quite a new thought to Pearl, and she pondered it deeply. The
charge against her family--the slur which could be thrown on them was
not that of dishonor, dishonesty, immorality or intemperance--none of
these--but that they had worked at poorly paid, hard jobs, thereby
giving evidence that they were not capable of getting easier
ones. Hard work might not be in itself dishonorable--but it was a
confession.

Something in Pearl's heart cried out at the injustice of this. It was
not fair! All at once she wanted to talk about it to--some one, to
everybody. It was a mistaken way of looking at life, she thought; the
world, as God made it, was a great, beautiful place, with enough of
everything to go around. There is enough land--enough coal--enough
oil. Enough pleasure and beauty, enough music and fun and good times!
What had happened was that some had taken more than their share, and
that was why others had to go short, and the strange part of it all
was that the hoggish ones were the exalted ones, to whom many bowed,
and they--some of them--were scornful of the people who were still
working--though if every one stopped working, the world would soon be
starving.

"It is a good world--just the same," said Pearl, as she looked away to
her left, where the Hampton Hills shoved one big blue shoulder into
the sky-line. "People do not mean to be hard and cruel to each
other--they do not understand, that's all--they have not thought--they
do not see."

From the farm-houses set back in the snowy fields, came the cheerful
Spring sounds of scolding hens and gabbling ducks, with the occasional
bark of a dog. The sunshine had in it now no tang of cold or
bitterness, for in Pearl's heart there had come a new sense of
power--an exaltation of spirit that almost choked her with happiness.
Her eyes flashed--her hands tingled--her feet were light as air. Out
of the crushing of her hopes, the falling of her house of dreams, had
come this inexplicable intoxication, which swept her heart with its
baptism of joy.

She threw back her head and looked with rapture into the limitless
blue above her, with something of the vision which came to Elisha's
servant at Dothan when he saw the mountains were filled with the
horses and the chariots of the Lord!

"It is a good world," she whispered, "God made it, Christ lived in
it--and when He went away, He left His Spirit. It can't go wrong
and stay wrong. The only thing that is wrong with it is in people's
hearts, and hearts can be changed by the Grace of God."

A sudden feeling of haste came over her--a new sense of
responsibility--there were so many things to be done. She roused the
fat pony from his pleasant dream, to a quicker gait, and drove home
with the strange glamour on her soul.



CHAPTER VI

RED ROSES


When Pearl rode in to the farmyard, she saw her brother Tommy coming
in great haste across the fields, waving his arms to her with every
evidence of strong excitement. The other children were on their way
home, too, but it was evident that Thomas had far outrun them. Tommy
had a tale to tell.

"There is going to be real 'doin's' at the school on Friday," he
cried, as soon as he was within calling distance of her. "Mr. Donald
has asked all the big people, too, and the people from Purple Springs,
and the women are going to bring pies and things, and there will be
eats, and you are to make the speech, and then maybe there will be a
football match, and you can talk as long as you like, and we are all
to clap our hands when your name is mentioned and then again when you
get up to speak--and it's to be Friday."

Tommy told his story all in one breath, and without waiting to get
a reply, he made his way hurriedly to the barn where his father and
Teddy were working. There he again told it, with a few trifling
variations. "You are all to come, and there will be a letter tomorrow
telling you all about it, but it is a real big day that is going to be
at school, and all the big people, too, and it is to hear Pearl talk
about what she saw and heard in the city, and there will be cakes and
stuff to eat and the Tuckers said they would not come and Jimmy said
'Dare you to stay away' and they did not take his dare."

Teddy, in true brotherly fashion, professed some doubts of the success
of the undertaking.

"Pearl is all right to talk around home, but gee whiz, I don't believe
she can stand right up and talk like a preacher, she'll forget what
she was goin' to say, I couldn't say two words before all those
people."

John Watson went on with the fanning of the wheat. He had stopped the
mill only long enough to hear Tommy's message, and Teddy's brotherly
apprehensions, he made no comment. But a close observer would have
noticed that he worked a little faster, and perhaps held his shoulders
a little straighter--they had grown stooped in the long days when he
worked on the section. Although his shoulders had sagged in the long
hard struggle, there had always burned in his heart the hope that
better days would come--and now the better days were here. The farm
was doing well--every year they were able to see that they were making
progress. The children were all at school, and today--today Pearlie
was asked to speak to all the people in the neighborhood. Pearlie had
made a name for herself when she got the chance to get out with other
boys and girls. It was a proud day for John Watson, and his honest
heart did not dissemble the pride he felt in his girl.

Pearl herself had a momentary feeling of fear when she heard the plans
that were being made. The people she knew would be harder to speak
to than strangers. But the exaltation that had come to her heart was
still with her, and impelled her to speak. There were things which
should be said--great matters were before the country. Pearl had
attended many political meetings in the city, and also as many
sessions of the Legislature as she could, and so she knew the
Provincial political situation, and it was one of great interest.

The government had been in power for many years and had built up a
political machine which they believed to be invincible. They had the
country by the throat, and ruled autocratically, scorning the feeble
protests of the Opposition, who were few in number and weak in debate.
Many a time as Pearl sat in the Ladies' Gallery and listened to the
flood of invective with which the cabinet ministers smothered any
attempt at criticism which the Opposition might make, she had longed
for a chance to reply. They were so boastful, so overbearing, so
childishly important, it seemed to her that it would be easy to make
them look ridiculous, and she often found herself framing replies
for the Opposition. But of course there was a wide gulf between the
pompous gentlemen who lolled and smoked their black cigars in the
mahogany chairs on the redcarpeted floor of the House, and the
bright-eyed little girl who sat on the edge of her seat in the gallery
and looked down upon them.

She had been in the gallery the day that a great temperance delegation
had come and asked that the bar might be abolished, and she had
listened to every word that had been said. The case against the bar
had been so well argued, that it seemed to Pearl that the law-makers
must be moved to put it away forever. She did not know, of course,
that the liquor interests of the province were the strong supporters
of the Government, and the source of the major portion of their
campaign funds; that the bars were the rallying places for the
political activities of the party, and that to do away with the bars
would be a blow to the Government, and, as the Premier himself had
once said, "No Government is going to commit suicide," the chances for
the success of the delegation were very remote. Pearl did not know
this, and so she was not prepared for it when the Premier and one of
his Ministers stoutly defended the bar-room as a social gathering
place where men might meet and enjoy an innocent and profitable hour.

"It is one of our social institutions that you are asking us to
destroy," cried the Minister of Education, "and I tell you frankly
that we will not do it. The social instincts distinguish man from the
brute, and they must be cherished and encouraged. Your request is
not in the best interests of our people, and as their faithful
representatives who seek to safeguard their interests and their
highest welfare, we must refuse."

And the Government desks were pounded in wild enthusiasm! And Pearl
had come away with a rage in her heart, the wordless rage of the
helpless. After that she attended every meeting of the Suffrage
Society, and her deep interest and devotion to the cause won for her
many friends among the suffrage women.

The news of the proposed meeting in the school brought out many and
varied comments, when it was received in the homes of the district.
Mr. Donald sent to each home a letter in which he invited all the
members of each family to be present to "do honor to one who has
brought honor to our school and district."

Mrs. Eben Snider, sister of Mrs. Crocks, a wizened little pod of a
woman with a face like parchment, dismally prophesied that Pearl
Watson would be clean spoiled with so much notice being taken of her.
"Put a beggar on horseback," she cried, when she read the invitation,
"and you know where he will ride to! The Watsons are doing too
well--everything John Watson touches turns to money since he went on
that farm, and this last splurge for Pearl is just too much. I won't
be a party to it! It is too much like makin' flesh of one and fowl of
the other. Mr. Donald always did make too much of a pet of that girl,
and then all those pieces in the paper, they will spoil her, no girl
of her age can stand it--it is only puttin' notions in her head, and
from what I can hear, there's too much of that now among women. I
never had no time to be goin' round makin' speeches and winnin'
debates, and neither has any other decent woman. It would suit Pearl
better to stay at home and help her mother; they say she goes around
town with her head dressed up like a queen, and Jane says she's as
stiff as pork when a person speaks to her. I'll tell Mr. Donald what I
think of it."

At the Steadman home, the news of the meeting had a happier reception,
for Mr. Steadman, who was the local member of Parliament, was asked
to preside, and as the elections were likely to take place before the
year was out, he was glad of this chance to address a few remarks to
the electors. He had been seriously upset ever since he heard that the
young doctor was to be offered the nomination for the Liberals. That
would complicate matters for him, and make it imperative that he
should lose no opportunity of making himself agreeable to his
constituents.

Before the news of the meeting was an hour old, Mr. Steadman had begun
to arrange his speech, and determined that he would merely make a few
happy random extempore remarks, dashed off in that light, easy way
which careful preparation can alone insure; and Mrs. Steadman had
decided that she would wear her purple silk with the gold embroidery,
and make a Prince of Wales cake and a batch of lemon cookies--some of
them put together with a date paste, and the rest of them just loose,
with maybe a date or a raisin in the middle.

Mrs. Watson was in a state of nerves bordering on stage fright, from
the time that Tommy brought home the news, a condition which Pearl did
her best to relieve by assuming a nonchalance which she did not feel,
regarding the proposed speech.

"What ever will you talk about, Pearlie, dear," her mother cried in
vague alarm; "and to all them people. I don't think the teacher should
have asked ye, you could do all right with just the scholars, for any
bit of nonsense would ha' done for them, but you will have to mind
what you are sayin' before all the grown people!"

Pearl soaked the beans for tomorrow's cooking, with an air of
unconcern.

"Making a speech is nothing, Ma," she said, "when a person knows how.
I have listened to the cabinet ministers lots of times, and there's
nothing to it. It is just having a good beginning and a fine flourish
at the end, with a verse of poetry and the like of that--it does not
matter what you say in between. I have heard the Premier speak lots of
times, and they go crazy over him and think he is a wonderful speaker.
He tells how he was once a farmer's boy and wandered happily over the
pasture fields in his bare feet, and then how he climbed the ladder
of fame, rung by rung--that is fine stuff, every one likes that; and
whenever he got stuck he told about the flag of empire that waves
proudly in the breeze and has never known defeat, and the destiny of
this Canada of ours, and the strangers within our gates who have come
here to carve out their destiny in this limitless land, and when he
thought it best to make them sniffle a little he told about the sacred
name of mother, and how the tear-drop starts at mention of that dear
name, and that always went big, and when he began to run down a
little, he just spoke all the louder, and waved his arms around, and
the people did not notice there was nothing coming; we used to go over
and listen to the speeches and then make them when the teachers were
not in the room--it was lots of fun. I know lots of the Premier's
speeches right off. There is nothing to it, Ma, so don't you be
frightened."

"Pearl, you take things too light," said her mother severely, "a
person never knows when you are in earnest, and I am frightened about
you. You should not feel so careless about makin' speeches, it is
nothing to joke about. I wish you would be for writin' out what you
are goin' to say, and then we could hear you go over it, and some one
could hold the paper for you and give you the word if you forget--it
would be the safest way!"

"All right, Ma," said Pearl, "I'll be making it up now while I peel
the potatoes."

While they were talking there came a knock at the door, and when it
was opened, there stood Bertie from the livery stable, with a
long green-wrapped box in his hand, which he gave to Mrs. Watson,
volunteering without delay, all the information he had regarding it.
Bertie never failed to reveal all the truth as he knew it--so, keeping
nothing back, he gave the history of the box so far as he had been
able to gather it.

"It's for Pearl--and the doctor sent it out. I don't know why he
didn't give it to her when she was in, for she was in his office--it's
flowers, for it is marked on it--and they came from Hampton."

Bertie would have stayed to see the flowers opened, for he knew that
Mrs. Crocks would be much interested to know just what they were, and
what Pearl said, and what her mother said--and if there was a note
inside--and all the other good stuff he would be able to gather, but
Pearl took them, with an air of unconcern, and thanking Bertie, said
quite carelessly:

"Don't wait for an answer, Bertie, I can phone if there is any need,
and I know you are in a hurry--we must not keep you."

And before Bertie knew what had happened, he found himself walking
away from the door.

When the roses had been put in water, and each of the children had
been given a smell and a feel of the velvety petals, and Mrs. Watson
had partially recovered from the shock that the sight of flowers in
the winter, always gave her for they reminded her so of her father's
funeral, and the broken pillar which the Oddfellows sent; Pearl read
the card:

  "To Pearl--eighteen-going-on-nineteen,
  Hoping that the years will bring her nothing
    but joy."

It was written on one of the doctor's professional cards, and that was
all. But looking again into the envelope there was a folded note which
she did not read to the assembled and greatly interested group. When
she was alone in the little beamed room upstairs, she read it:

"Dear Pearl:--I forgot to give you the roses when you were in this
afternoon. Accept them now with my deep affection. You have been a
bright spot in my life, and you will always be that--like a red rose
in a dull room. Your success will always be very dear to me, and my
prophecy is that you will go far. I will always think of you with
deepest admiration and pride. Ever yours,

"HORACE CLAY."

Pearl read it twice; then impulsively pressed it to her cheek.

"It sounds like good-bye," she said, with her lips trembling, "it
sounds like the last of something. Why won't he tell me? It is not
like him."

A wither of loneliness went over her face as she clasped the note
between her hands.

"I don't believe it is that," she said fiercely. "I won't believe it!"
Mrs. Crocks' words were taunting her; "the doctor thinks more of blue
blood than he does of money, and if he goes into politics it will mean
a lot to him to be related to the senator."

An overwhelming rage was in Pearl's heart, in spite of her
determination not to believe the suggestion; a blind, choking rage--it
was all so unfair.

"My dad is more of a man than Senator Keith," she said to herself,
"for all his fine clothes and his big house. He was nothing but a
heeler for the party, and was made Senator because there was no dirty
job that he would not do to get votes for them. I know how he bought
liquor for the Galicians and brought them in by the car-load to vote,
like cattle, and that's blue blood, is it? Sure it is--you can see it
in his shot-silk face and his two bad old eyes swollen like oysters!
If the doctor wants him he can have him, and it's blamed little
frettin' I'll do!... My dad eats with his knife, does he? All right,
he bought the knife with honest money, and he earned what's on it too.
All the dirty money they have would not buy him, or make him do a mean
trick to any one. I am not ashamed of him--he suits me, and he can go
on eating with his knife and wearing his overalls and doing anything
he wants to do. He suits me!"

When Pearl went back to the kitchen, her father was taking off his
smock. Supper was ready, and he and Teddy had just come in. The dust
of the fanning-mill was on his face and his clothes. His unmittened
hands were red and rough, and bore traces of the work he had been
doing. In his hair were some of the seeds and straws blown out by the
mill. There was nothing very attractive about John Watson, unless it
was his kindly blue eye and the humorous twist of his mouth, but
in Pearl's heart there was a fierce tenderness for her father, a
protective love which glorified him in her eyes.

"Did you hear the news, pa," she cried, as she impulsively threw her
arms around his neck. "Did you know that I am going to speak in the
school, and they are all coming out to hear me. Are you glad, Pa, and
do you think I can do it?"

Her burning cheek was laid close to his, and he patted her shoulder
lovingly.

"Do I think you can do it, Pearlie, that I do--you can do whatever you
go at--I always knew that."

"Pearl, child," cried her mother, "don't be hugging your Pa like that,
and you with your good dress on; don't you see the dust and dirt on
him--you will ruin your clothes child."

Pearl kissed him again, and gave him one more hug, before she said,
"It is clean dirt, Ma, and it will brush off, and I just couldn't
wait; but sure and it's clean dirt anyway."

"It is gettin' colder," said John Watson, as he hung up his smock
behind the door, "our Spring is over for awhile, I think. I saw two
geese leggin' it back as fast as they could go, and each one scoldin'
the other one--we'll have a good spell or winter yet, I am afraid, in
spite of our two warm days and all the signs of Spring."

"Weather like you is too good to last," said Mrs. Watson complacently,
"I knew it wasn't the Spring, it was too good to last."

Pearl went to the window and looked out--already there was a threat of
snow in the whining wind, and as she watched, a stray flake struck the
window in front of her.

"It was too good to last," she said with a sigh which broke into a sob
in the middle, "It was too good to be true!"



CHAPTER VII

THE INNOCENT DISTURBER


If there was any lack of enthusiasm among the parents it had no
reflection in the children's minds, for the Chicken Hill School, after
the great announcement, simply pulsated with excitement. Country
children have capabilities for enjoyment that the city child knows
nothing about, and to the boys and girls at Chicken Hill the prospect
of a program, a speech from Pearl Watson, and a supper--was most
alluring. Preparations were carried on with vigor. Seats were scrubbed
by owners, and many an ancient landmark of ink was lost forever.
Frayed window blinds that had sagged and dropped, and refused to go up
or down, were taken down and rolled and put back neat and even, and
the scholars warned not to touch them; the stove got a rubbing
with old newspapers; mousy corners of desks were cleaned out--and
objectionable slate rags discarded. Blackboards were cleaned and
decorated with an elaborate maple leaf stencil in green and brown, and
a heroic battle cry of "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee" executed
in flowing letters, in the middle. Mary Watson was the artist, and
spared no chalk in her undertaking, for each capital ended in
an arrow, and had a blanket of dots which in some cases nearly
obliterated its identity. But the general effect was powerful.

The day before, every little girl had her hair in tight braids
securely knotted with woollen yarn. Boudoir caps were unknown in the
Chicken Hill School, so the bare truth of these preparations were to
be seen and known of all. Maudie Steadman had her four curls set in
long rags, fastened up with pins, Mrs. Steadman having devised a new,
original way of making Maudie's hair into large, loose "natural"
curls, which were very handsome, and not until this day did Mrs.
Steadman show to the public the method of "setting."

Mr. Donald had placed all details of the entertainment in the hands
of Mary Watson and Maudie Steadman, and no two members of a
House-Committee ever worked harder, or took more pleasure in making
arrangements.

"Let's not ask the Pipers--they're dirt poor," said Maudie, when they
sat down at noon to make out the list of providers.

"Indeed, we will," said Mary, whose knowledge of the human heart was
most profound. "If people are poor, that's all the more reason why
they would be easily hurt, and it's not nice for us to even know that
they are poor. We'll ask them, you bet--and Mrs. Piper will bring
something. Besides--if we didn't ask them to bake, they wouldn't
come--and that's the way rows start in a neighborhood. We'll manage it
all right--and if there are any sandwiches left over--we'll send them
to the smaller children, and the Pipers will come in on that. It ain't
so bad to be poor," concluded Mary, out of her large experience, "but
it hurts to have people know it!"

When Pearl, with her father and mother arrived at the school on the
afternoon of the meeting, it came to her with a shock, how small the
school was, and how dreary. Surely it had not been so mouse-gray and
shabby as this when she had been there. The paint was worn from the
floor, the ceiling was smoked and dirty, the desks were rickety and
uneven--the blackboards gray. The same old map of North America hung
tipsily between the blackboards. It had been crooked so long, that it
seemed to be the correct position, and so had escaped the eye of the
House-Committee, who had made many improvements for this occasion.

In the tiny porch, there were many mysterious baskets and boxes and
tin pails of varying sizes, and within doors a long table at the back
of the room had on it many cups and saucers, with a pile of tissue
paper napkins. A delightful smell of coffee hung on the air.

Pearl wore her best brown silk dress, with a lace collar and cuff set
contributed the Christmas before by her Aunt Kate from Ontario, and at
her waist, one of the doctor's roses. The others had been brought
over by Mary, and were in a glass jar on the tidy desk, where they
attracted much attention and speculation as to where they had
come from. They seemed to redeem the bare school-room from utter
dreariness, and Pearl found herself repeating the phrase in the
doctor's letter, "Like a rose in a dark room."

The children were hilariously glad to see Pearl, and her lightness of
heart came back to her, when a group of them gathered around her to
receive her admiration and praise for their beautifully curled hair,
good clothes and hair ribbons. Bits of family history were freely
given to her too, such as Betty Freeman's confidential report on her
mother's absence, that she dyed her silk waist, and it streaked, and
she dyed it again--and just as soon as she could get it dry, she would
come--streaks or no streaks--and would Pearl please not be in a hurry
to begin.

Then the meeting was called to order, and the smaller children were
set like a row of gaily colored birds around the edge of the platform,
so their elders could sit on their little desks in front, and the
schoolroom was filled to its last foot of space. There were about a
dozen chairs for the older people.

Pearl had gone to the back of the room to speak to the old gardener
from Steadman's farm, a shy old man, who just naturally sought the
most remote corner for his own. Her affectionate greeting brought a
glow into his face, that set Pearl's heart throbbing with joy:

"It's good to see you, Pearl," he said, "you look like a rose to me,
and you don't forget an old friend."

Pearl held the hard old gnarled hand in her own, and her heart was
full of joy. The exaltation of the day she rode home was coming
to her. Love was the power that could transform the world. People
everywhere, all sorts of people, craved love and would respond to it.
"If I can cheer up poor old Bill Murray, and make him look like this,
with a glisten in his eyes, I'm satisfied," she thought.

To Mr. Donald Pearl looked like a rose, too, a rose of his own
growing, and his voice trembled a little when he called the meeting to
order and in his stately way bade everyone welcome.

"I am going to hand over the meeting to Mr. Steadman in a moment," he
said, "but before I do I wish to say that the Chicken Hill School
is very proud today to welcome one of its former pupils, Miss Pearl
Watson."

At this the gaily colored company who bordered the platform, burst
into ecstatic hand clapping, in which the older members joined rather
shamefacedly. Demonstrations come hard to prairie people.

"The years she spent in this school were delightful years to me," went
on Mr. Donald. "She helped me with the younger children--she helped
me to keep up enthusiasm for the work--she helped me to make life
pleasant for all of us--she did more--she helped me to believe that
life is worth the struggle--she helped me to believe in myself. I was
not surprised that Pearl made a record in her work in the city; she
could not fail to do that. She is in love with life--to me, she is the
embodiment of youth, with all its charms and all its promise."

"I have wanted to hear her impressions of the city. Nothing, to her,
is common-place--she sees life through a golden mist that softens its
sharp outlines. I am glad that every one could come today and give a
welcome home to our first graduate from Chicken Hill School!"

This threatened to dislodge the seating arrangement on the platform,
for in their enthusiastic applause, the Blackburn twins on account
of the shortness of their legs and the vigor of their applause, lost
their balance and fell. But they bore it well, and were restored
without tears! The excitement was so great that no one of the young
row would have known it if they had broken a bone!

"And now I will ask our local member, Mr. Steadman, to take charge
of the meeting, and give the neighborhood's welcome to our first
graduate!"

Then Mr. Steadman arose! He was a stout man, with a square face, and
small, beady black eyes and an aggressive manner; a man who felt sure
of himself; who knew he was the centre of his own circle. There was a
well-fed, complacent look about him too which left no doubt that he
was satisfied with things as they were--and would be deeply resentful
of change. There was still in his countenance some trace of his
ancestor's belief in the Divine right of kings! It showed in his
narrow, thought-proof forehead, and a certain indescribable attitude
which he held toward others, and which separated him from his
neighbors. Instinctively, the people who met him, knew he lacked human
sympathy and understanding, but he had a hold on the people of his
constituency, for through his hands went all the Government favors and
patronage. Anyone who wanted a telephone, had to "see Mr. Steadman."
The young people who went to the city to find employment, were wise to
see Mr. Steadman before they went. So although he was not liked, he
had a prestige which was undeniable.

Mr. Steadman began his remarks by saying how glad he was to be offered
the chair on this glad occasion. He always liked to encourage the
young, and he believed it our duty to be very tolerant and encouraging
to youth.

The boundaries of the platform began to wriggle. They had heard Mr.
Steadman before--he often came in and made speeches--but he never
brought any oranges--or peanuts or even "Farmers' Mixed."

"Youth is a time of deep impressions," went on the chairman; "wax to
receive--granite to retain. Youth was the time of learning, and he
hoped every boy and girl in his presence would earnestly apply himself
and herself to their books, for only through much study could success
be attained. That is what put him where he was today."

More wriggles, and some discussion at his feet!

He was glad to know that one of Mr. Donald's pupils had been able to
do so well in the city. Three cheers for the country! He had always
believed it was the best place to be brought up--and was glad to say
that he too, had spent his youth on a farm. Most of the successful men
of the world came from the farms.

He believed absolutely in education for women, education of a suitable
kind, and believed there was a definite place for women in the
world--a place which only women could fill. That place was
the home--the quiet precincts of home--not the hurly-burly of
politics--that was man's sphere--and a hard sphere it was, as he knew
well. He didn't wish to see any woman in such a hard life, with its
bitter criticism and abuse. He was sorry to notice that there was a
new agitation among women in the city--it had come up in the session
just closed--that women wanted to vote.

Mr. Steadman threw out his hands with a gesture of unconcern:

"Well," I say, "let them vote--if they want to--let them run the whole
country; we'll stay at home. It's time we had a rest, anyway!"

A little dry cackle of laughter went over the room at this, in which
Mr. Donald did not join--so it got no support from the pupils of
Chicken Hill, who faithfully followed their teacher's lead.

Mr. Steadman went on blithely:

"I am old fashioned enough to want my wife to stay at home. I like
to find her there when I come home. I don't want her to sit in
Parliament; she hasn't time--for one thing."

Mrs. Steadman sat in front, with the purple plume in her hat nodding
its approval:

"And I say it in all kindness to all women--they havn't the ability.
They have ability of their own, but not that kind. Parliaments are
concerned with serious, big things. This year, the program before
our Provincial Parliament, is Good Roads. We want every part of this
Province to enjoy the blessing of of good roads, over which they can
bring their produce to market, binding neighborhoods together in the
ties of friendship. Good roads for everyone is our policy."

"Now what do women know about making roads? They are all right to go
visiting over the roads after they are built, but how much good would
they be in building them?"

This was greeted with another scattered rattle of laughter, followed
by a silence, which indicated intense listening. Even the restless
edging of the platform knew something was happening, and listened.

"Our Opposition is coming forward with a foolish program of fads and
fancies. They want the women to have the vote; they want to banish the
bar! They want direct legislation. These are all radical measures,
new, untried and dangerous. With women voting, I have no sympathy,
as I said. They are not fitted for it. It is not that I do not love
women--I do--I love them too well--most of them."

He paused a moment here--but no one laughed. The audience did not
believe him.

"There are some women in the city whom I would gladly send to jail.
They are upsetting women's minds, and hurting the homes. Don't let us
take any chances on destroying the home, which is the bulwark of the
nation. What sight is more beautiful then to see a mother, queen of
the home, gathering her children around her. She can influence
her husband's vote--her son's vote.--she has a wider and stronger
influence than if she had the vote to herself. Her very helplessness
is her strength. And besides, I know that the best women, the very
best women do not want to sit in Parliament. My wife does not want
to--neither did my mother--no true woman wants to, only a few
rattle-brained, mentally unbalanced freaks--who do not know what they
want."

Pearl smiled at this. She had heard this many times.

"Now, as to banishing the bar, you all know I am not a drinker. I can
take it--or leave it--but I am broad minded enough to let other people
have the same privilege that I ask for myself. Men like to gather in
a friendly way, chat over old times or discuss politics, and have a
glass, for the sake of good fellowship, and there's no harm done.
There are some, of course, who go too far--I am not denying that. But
why do they do it? They did not get the right home training--that
is why. In the sacred precincts of home, the child can be taught
anything--that's the mother's part, and it is a more honorable part
than trying to ape men--and wear the pants."

This brought a decided laugh--though if Mr. Steadman had been sensible
to thought currents, he would have felt twinges in his joints,
indicating that a storm was brewing. But he was having what the
preachers call a "good time," and went merrily on.

"Direct legislation is a dangerous thing, which would upset
representative government. It is nothing less than rabble rule,
letting the ignorant rabble say what we are to do. Our vote is too
wide now, as you know, when every Tom, Dick and Harry has a vote,
whether they own an inch of ground or not. Your hired man can kill
your vote, though you own a township of land. Do you want to give him
more power? I think not! Well if the opposition ever get in power, the
women and the hired men, and even the foreigners will run the country,
and it will not be fit to live in. We're doing all right now, our
public buildings, our institutions are the best in Canada. We have
put the flag on every schoolhouse in the country--we have good,
sane, steady government, let us stick to it. I believe that the next
election will see the good ship come safely into port with the same
old skipper on the bridge, and the flag of empire proudly furling its
folds in the breeze. We have no fears of the fads and fancies put
forward by short-haired women and long-haired men."

That being the end of his speech, the place where his superior always
sat down, amidst thunderous applause. Mr. Steadman sat down, too,
forgetting that he had been asked to be the Chairman, and introduce
Pearl.

The applause which followed his remarks, was not so vociferous as he
had expected, partly because there were no "Especially instructed
clappers." No one was very enthusiastic, except Mrs. Steadman, who
apparently agreed with all he said.

Rising to his feet again he said: "The good ladies have bountifully
provided for our needs today--what would we do without the ladies? but
before we come to that very interesting item on our program, we are
going to hear from Pearl Watson. Pearl Watson is one of the girls who
has taken full advantage of our splendid educational system, than
which there is none better in Canada--or in the world. As a member of
the Legislature, I am justly proud of our Department of Education, and
today we will be entertained by one of our own products, Pearl Watson,
on whom we might well hang the label 'Made in Canada.' I do not know
whether she intends to say a piece--or what, but bespeak for her a
respectful and courteous hearing."

Mr. Steadman sat down, adjusting his gold and blue tie, and removed
his glasses, which he put away in a large leather case that closed
with a snap. His attitude indicated that the real business of the day
was over, now that he had spoken.

Pearl came forward and stepped to the platform, displacing temporarily
one of the twins, to make a space where she might step. Having
restored him safely, she turned to the people. There was a smile in
her eyes that was contagious. The whole roomful of people smiled back
at her, and in that moment she established friendly relations with her
audience.

"It has been a real surprise to me," she began, in a conversational
tone, "to hear Mr. Steadman make a speech. I am sure his colleagues in
the House would have been surprised to have heard him today. He is a
very quiet man there--he never speaks. The first night I went to the
House with a crowd of Normalites, I pointed out our member, to let
those city girls see what we could raise in the country--but it seems
the speeches are all made by half a dozen, the others just say 'Aye'
when they're told. All on one side of the House say 'Aye'; the other
side say 'No.' I have heard Mr. Steadman say 'Aye,' lots of times--but
nothing more. The Premier, or one of the Cabinet Ministers tells them
when to say it--it all looks very easy to me. I would have thought
even a woman could do it. The girls used to tease me about how quiet
my representative was. He sat so still that it just seemed as if he
might be asleep, and one girl said she believed he was dead. But one
day, a window was left open behind him--and he sneezed, and then he
got right up and shut it--Do you remember that day, Mr. Steadman?"

He shook his head impatiently, and the expression of his face was not
pleasant. Still, no one would attribute anything but the friendliest
motive to Pearl's innocent words.

"My! I was glad that day," she said, "when you sneezed, it was a quick
stop to the rumor--I tell you--and I never heard any more about it.
I am sorry Mr. Steadman is not in favor of women voting, or going to
Parliament, and thinks it too hard for them. It does not look hard to
me. Most of the members just sit and smoke all the time, and read the
papers, and call the pages. I have seen women do far harder work than
this. But of course what Mr. Steadman says about building roads all
over the country, is a new one on me. I did not know that the members
were thinking of doing the work! But I guess they would be glad to get
out and do something after sitting there all cramped up with their
feet asleep for the whole winter."

"Still, I remember when Mr. Steadman was Councillor here, and there
was a bridge built over Pine Creek--he only let the contract--he did
not build it--it was his brother who built it!"

There was a queer thrill in the audience at this, for Bill Steadman
had got the contract, in spite of the fact that he was the poorest
builder in the country--and the bridge had collapsed inside of two
years. George Steadman winced at her words.

But Pearl, apparently innocent of all this, went on in her guileless
way:

"I think Mr. Steadman is mistaken about women not wanting to sit in
Parliament. He perhaps does not know what it feels like to stand over
a wash-tub--or an ironing board--or cook over a hot stove. Women who
have been doing these things long would be glad to sit anywhere!"

There was a laugh at this, in which Mr. Steadman made a heroic attempt
to join, shaking his head as he did so, to counteract any evil effect
which the laugh might cause.

"But I did not intend to speak of politics," said Pearl, "I intended
to tell you how glad I am to be back to Chicken Hill School, and how
good home looks to me. No one knows how to appreciate their home until
they have left it--and gone away where no one cares particularly
whether you are sick or well--happy or miserable. Do you boys find it
pretty hard to wash your necks--and you wish your mother hadn't such a
sharp eye on you--be glad you have some one who thinks enough of you
to want your neck to be clean. You hate to fill the wood-box, do you?
O, I know what a bottomless pit it is--and how the old stove just
loves to burn wood to spite you. But listen! By having to do what you
do not want to do, you are strengthening the muscles of your soul--and
getting ready for a big job.

"Having to do things is what makes us able to do more. Did you ever
wonder why you cannot walk on water. It is because water is so
agreeable--it won't resist you. It lets you have your own way.

"The teachers at the Normal talked to us every Friday afternoon, about
our social duties, and rural leadership and community spirit and lots
of things. They told us not to spend our time out of school tatting
and making eyelet embroidery, when there were neighborhoods to be
awakened and citizens to be made. That suits me fine, for I can't tat
anyway. One of the girls tried to show me, but gave it up after three
or four tries. She said some could learn, and some couldn't. It was
heredity--or something.

"Anyway, Dr. McLean said teachers were people who got special training
for their work, and it was up to them to work at it, in school and
out. He said that when we went out to teach, we could be a sort of
social cement, binding together all the different units into one
coherent community, for that's what was needed in Canada, with its
varied population. One third of the people in Canada do not speak
English, and that's a bad barrier--and can only be overcome by
kindness. We must make our foreign people want to learn our language,
and they won't want to, unless they like us.

"He said Canada was like a great sand-pile, each little grain of sand,
beautiful in its own way, but needing cement to bind it to other
grains and it was for us to say whether we would be content to be only
a sand pile, or would we make ourselves a beautiful temple.

"I wish I could give it all to you--it was great to hear him. He said
no matter how fine we were as individuals, or how well we did our
work, unless we had it in our hearts to work with others, and for
others--it was no good. If we lacked social consciousness, our work
would not amount to much. I thought of our old crumply horn cow. She
always gave a big pail of milk--but if she was in bad humor, she would
quite likely kick it over, just as the pail was full. I used to think
maybe a fly had stung her, but I guess what was really wrong was
that she lacked social consciousness. She did not see that we were
depending on her.

"That's why the liquor traffic is such a bad thing, and should be
outlawed. Individuals may be able to drink, and get away with it, but
some go under, some homes are made very unhappy over it. If we have
this social consciousness, we will see very clearly that the liquor
traffic must go! No matter how much some people will miss it. If it
isn't safe for everybody, it isn't safe for anybody. I used to wish
Dr. McLean could talk to the members of Parliament.

"He told us one of the reasons that the world had so many sore spots in
it was because women had kept too close at home, they were beginning
to see that in order to keep their houses clean, they would have to
clean up the streets, and it was this social consciousness working in
them, that made them ask for the vote. They want to do their share,
outside as well as in.

"There was a woman who came and talked to us one day at the Normal. She
is the editor of the Women's section of one of the papers, and she put
it up to us strong, that there was work for each of us. We had to make
a report of her address, and so I remember most of it.

"She said that Canada is like a great big, beautiful house that has
been given to us to finish. It is just far enough on so that you can
see how fine it is going to be--but the windows are not in--the
doors are not hung--the cornices are not put on. It needs polishing,
scraping, finishing. That is our work. Every tree we plant, every
flower we grow, every clean field we cultivate, every good cow or hog
we raise, we are helping to finish and furnish the house and make it
fit to live in. Every kind word we say or even think, every gracious
deed, if it is only thinking to bring out the neighbor's mail from
town, helps to add those little touches which distinguish a house from
a barn.

"We have many foreign people in this country, lonesome, homesick
people--sometimes we complain that they are not loyal to us--and that
is true. It is also true that they have no great reason to be loyal
to us. We are not even polite to them, to say nothing of being kind.
Loyalty cannot be rammed down any ones' throat with a flag-pole."

Mr. Steadman cleared his throat at this--and seemed about to
speak--but she went on without noticing:

"Loyalty is a gentle growth, which springs in the heart. The seeds
are in your hands and mine; the heart of our foreign people is the
soil--the time of planting is now--and the man or woman who by
their kindness, their hospitality, their fair dealing, honesty,
neighborliness, makes one of the least of these think well of Canada,
is a Master Builder in this Empire.

"If we do not set ourselves to finish the house, you know what will
happen to it. I remembered this part of her speech because it made me
think about our school-house the year before Mr. Donald came--when
we could not get a teacher. Do you remember? Windows were broken
mysteriously--the rain beat in and warped and drenched and spoiled the
floors. The chimney fell. Destruction always comes to the empty house,
she said--the unfinished house is a mark for the wantonly mischievous.
To keep what we have, we must improve it from year to year. And to
that end we must work together--fighting not with each other--but with
conditions, discouragements, ignorance, prejudice, narrowness--we must
be ready to serve, not thinking of what we can get from our country,
but what we can give to it."

In the silence that fell, the people sat motionless. They did not
notice that Pearl was done speaking--for their thoughts went on--she
had given them a new view of the service they might give.

Mrs. Piper, on whose heart, Pearl's words had fallen like a
benediction, saw that in making her rag-carpet, over which she had
worked so hard--she was helping to furnish one little corner of her
country, for it would make her front room a brighter place, and there
her children, and the boys and girls of the neighborhood would have
good times and pleasant memories. She had thought of it in a vague way
before, but Pearl had put it into words for her--and her heart was
filled with a new rapture. It was worth while to work and struggle and
try her best to make a pleasant home. There was a purpose in it all--a
plan--a pattern.

Even Mrs. Thompson had a glimmering of a thought regarding her
precious flowers, the slips of which she never gave away. With them
she could gladden the hearts of some of her neighbors, and Noah
Thompson, her husband, who made it his boast that he never borrowed or
lent, became suddenly sorry he had refused a neck yoke to his Russian
neighbor.

George Steadman, too, found his soul adrift on a wide sea, torn
away from the harbor that had seemed so safe and land-locked, so
unassailable; and on that wider sea there came the glimpses of a
sunrise, of a new day. It puzzled him, frightened him, angered him.
In the newness of it all, he detected danger. It blew across his
sheltered soul like a draught, an uncomfortable, cold-producing
draught--and when he found himself applauding with the others, he
knew that something dangerous, radical, subtle and evil had been let
loose--the girl would have to be watched. She was a fire-brand, an
incendiary--she would put notions in peoples' heads. It was well he
had heard her and could sound the warning. But he must be politic--he
would not show his hand. The children were singing, and every one had
risen. Never before had he heard the Chicken Hill people sing like
this:

  "O Canada, our home, our native land,
  True, patriot love, in all our sons command;
  With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
  Thou true land, strong and free,
  And stand on guard, O Canada
  We stand on guard for thee."

The children began the second verse, the people following lamely, for
they did not know the words; but the children, proud of their superior
knowledge, and with a glow in their impressionable little hearts, sang
exultantly--this song of home and country.



CHAPTER VIII

THE POWER OF INK


The Chicken Hill correspondent of the Millford "Mercury" described the
meeting in the school as follows:

"The Chicken Hill School was the scene of a happy gathering on Friday
afternoon last, when the neighbors and friends gathered to welcome
home Pearl Watson, who has just completed a successful First Class
Teacher's Normal course in Winnipeg. Pearl is a great favorite, and
certainly disappointed no one, for she gave an address on present day
questions which will not soon be forgotten. Pearl is an out and out
believer in temperance and woman suffrage, and before she was through,
she had every one with her--as one man put it, he'd like to see
the woman vote, if for nothing else than to get Pearl Watson into
parliament, for there would sure be hides on the barn door if she ever
got there, and a rustling of dry bones."

"After Pearl's address, the ladies of the district served
refreshments, and a good time was spent. Pearl's arm must have ached,
shaking hands, and if she could be spoiled with praise, she would be
spoiled for sure, but Pearl is not that kind. It is rumored that she
will be offered the Purple Springs school, and if she accepts, we
congratulate Purple Springs."

When George Steadman read the Chicken Hills news, his face became a
yellowish gray color--much like the hue of badly laundried clothes.
His skin prickled, as if with an electric current, for hot rage ate
into his soul. His name was not even mentioned. He wasn't there at
all--and he was the member for Millford. Of all the silly rot--well,
he'd see about it.

On Monday morning, with the offending sheet in his hand, Mr. Steadman
made his way to the "Mercury" office, a dingy, little flat-roofed
building, plastered with old circus posters outside, and filled with
every sort of junk inside. At an unpainted desk piled high with
papers, sat the editor. His hair stood up like a freshly laundried,
dustless mop; his shirt was dirty; his pipe hung listlessly in his
mouth--upside down, and a three days' crop of black beard peppered his
face. He looked like a man who in early youth had slept on newspapers
and drank ink, and who now would put his feet on the table if there
had been room, but there was scarcely room for them on the floor, for
it was under the table that he kept his exchanges. There were shelves
around the walls, but they were filled with rubber boots, guns,
baskets of letters, a few books, miscellaneous articles of clothing
and some empty tobacco jars.

So on account of the congested condition on and under the table, Mr.
Driggs was forced to sit in an uncomfortable position, with his legs
and those of the table artistically entwined.

Mr. Steadman began, without replying to the editor's friendly
greeting:

"Who writes this balderdash from our district," he asked harshly.

"Professional secret," replied Mr. Driggs, speaking through his shut
teeth, for he did not wish to dislodge his pipe; the last time he let
it out of his mouth he had had no end of a time finding it. "Never
give away names of contributors, not etiquette."

"I don't care a hang for your etiquette--I want to know. The member
for Millford was not in a trifling mood.

"Sorry," said Mr. Driggs, holding his pipe still closer.

"See here, Driggs," said Mr. Steadman haughtily, "do you know who
you're talking to--I have it in my power to throw you a good deal of
business one way'n another--I've thrown you a good deal of business.
There's an election coming on--there will be bills, cards, streamers,
what not; good money in printing for the Government--do you savvy?"

"I savvy," said Mr. Driggs cheerfully.

"Well then"--George Steadman was sure now he was going to get the
information--"who writes this this stuff from Chicken Hill?"

"I don't know," said the editor calmly, "honest, I don't. This was a
new one--strange writing--and all that. I called up Pearl Watson to
see if there had been a meeting, and she verified it, but didn't tell
me anything. She said you presided. Then I ran the item--I thought it
was very good--what's wrong with it? It seemed like real good country
correspondence to me--with that bucolic freshness which we expect to
find in country contributors, perhaps not the literary polish found in
Stoddarts' lectures, but rattling good stuff just the same."

"See here Driggs," the other man interrupted, "listen to me. There's
an election coming on--you've always been with us--I don't know what
you think--and it don't matter. This girl Watson is against us--and
she's as smart as they make them, and has plenty of nerve. Now I don't
want to see that girl's name in the paper again. A few more spreads
like this--and every district in the country will want her. She don't
know her place--she's got nerve enough to speak anywhere. She spits
out things, hardly knowing what she means--she's dangerous, I tell
you. If the other side got hold of her and primed her what to say, she
could do us a lot of harm--here, for mind you, she's got a way with
her. We don't want any trouble. There's a little talk of runnin' Doc.
Clay, but I believe he's got more sense than to try it. The last man
that ran against me lost his deposit. But, understand, Driggs, no
mention of this girl, cut out her name."

Then Mr. Driggs slowly took his pipe from his mouth, and laid it
carefully on the lowest pile of papers. It's position did not entirely
suit him, and he moved it to another resting place. But the effect was
not pleasing even then--so he placed it in his pocket, taking a red
handkerchief from his other pocket, and laying it carefully over the
elusive pipe, to anchor it--if that were possible.

"Mr. Steadman," he said, in his gentlest manner, "sit down."

Removing an armful of sale bills from the other chair, he shoved it
over to his visitor, who ignored the invitation.

"You must not attempt to muzzel the press, or take away our
blood-bought liberties. Blood-bought liberties is good! It's a serious
matter to come to a natural born, heaven inspired Editor, and tell
him to curb his news instinct. Pearl Watson is a particular friend of
mine. Pearl's sayings and doings are of interest to me as a citizen,
therefore, I reason they are of interest to all citizens. She is a
young lady of great charm, who does honor to our little town. I stand
absolutely for home boosting. Shop at home--shop early--sell your
hammer and buy a horn--my motto! Pearl Watson--one of the best ads we
have--I'm for her."

"All right," said Mr. Steadman harshly, "you defy me then, and when
you defy me, you defy the Government of the Province, the arm of the
Government reaches far--Driggs, and you know that before you are done,
I'll put you out of business before two weeks have gone by. You owe
every one--you owe the paper people--you owe on your printing press.
Your creditors are all friends of the Government. All I have to do is
to say the word and they'll close you out. The Government will put a
man in here who has sense enough to do as he is told."

Mr. Driggs' faced showed more concern than he had exhibited before.
There were certain bills he owed--forgotten to be sure in normal
times--but now they came up blinking to the light, rudely disinterred
by Mr. Steadman's hard words. They had grown, too, since their last
appearance, both in size and numbers--and for a moment a shade of
annoyance went over his face. Details of business always did annoy
him!

But an inner voice cautioned him to be discreet. There was always a
way around a difficulty. Mr. Driggs believed in the switch system
which prevails in our railroading. When two trains run towards each
other on a track one must go off on a switch, to avoid a collision. It
does not take long and when the other train has gone roaring past, the
switched train can back up and get on the track and go serenely on--he
resolved to be tactful.

"Mr. Steadman," he said, "I am surprised at all this. Pearl is only a
slip of a girl. What harm can she do you? You are absolutely solid in
this neighborhood. The government has this country by the throat--the
old machine works perfectly. What are you afraid of?"

"We're not afraid--what have we to be afraid of? We have only sixteen
opposition members in the House--and they're poor fish. We're solid
enough--only we don't want trouble. The women are getting all stirred
up and full of big notions. We can hold them down all right--for they
can't get the vote until we give it to them--that's the beauty of it.
The Old Man certainly talked plain when they came there askin' for the
vote. He just laid them out. But I can see this girl has been at their
meetings--and women are queer. My women, even, thought there was a lot
of truth in what the Watson girl said. So there was--but we're not
dealing with truth just now--politics is not a matter of truth. We
want to get this election over without trouble. We want no grief over
this, mind you--everything quiet--and sure. So you got your orders
right now. Take them or leave them. But you know where your bread is
buttered, I guess."

Mr. Steadman went out of the office, shutting the door with a strong
hand. The editor buried his face in his hands and gently massaged his
temples with his long-ink-stained fingers, and to all appearance, his
soul was grieved within him. It seemed as though his proud spirit was
chafing at the bonds which the iniquitous patronage system had laid on
him.

For brief period he sat thus, but when he raised his head, which he
did suddenly, there was a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face
which spread and widened until it burst into a laugh which threatened
to dislodge the contents of the table. He threw himself back in his
swing chair and piled both feet on the table, even if there was no
room for them--if ever there had come a time in his history when he
was in the mood to put his feet on the table, that time was now.

He addressed his remarks to his late guests:

"You fragrant old he-goat, you will give orders to me, will you--you
are sure some diplomat--you poor old moth-eaten gander, with your
cow-like duplicity."

Mr. Driggs could not find the figure of speech which just suited the
case, but he was still trying.

"You poor old wall-eyed ostrich, with your head in the sand, thinking
no one can see you, you forget that there is a portion of your anatomy
admirably placed--indeed in my mind's eye I can see the sign upon it.
It reads 'Kick me.' It is an invitation I will not decline. He thinks
he can wipe our good friend Pearlie off the map by having her name
dropped from the Millford 'Mercury,' forgetting that there are other
ways of reaching the public eye. There are other publications, perhaps
not in the class with the Millford 'Mercury,' but worthy little sheets
too.

"There is the 'Evening Echo,' struggling along with a circulation of
a quarter of a million--it will answer our purpose admirably. I will
write the lead today while the lamp of inspiration burns, and I will
hear Pearl speak, and then oh, beloved, I will roll up my sleeves
and spit on my hands and do a sketch of the New Woman--Pearlie, my
child--this way lies fame."



CHAPTER IX

THE DOCTOR'S DECISION


When Pearl left him so abruptly, Dr. Clay found himself battling
with many emotions. His first impulse was to call her back--tell her
everything. Pearl was not a child--she would know what was best. It
was not fair to deceive her, and that was just what he had done, with
the best intentions.

But something held him back. The very heart of him was sick and full
of bitterness at the sudden slap which fate had given him. His soul
was still stinging with the pain of it. Everything was distorted and
queer, and in the confusion of sensations the outstanding one was the
instinct to hide all knowledge of his condition. No one must know. He
would go to see the old doctor and swear him to secrecy. After all,
his life was his own--he was under obligation to no one to stretch it
out miserably and uselessly.

He would go on as long as he could, and live it out triumphantly.
He would go out like Old Prince. He thought of the hymn which gives
thanks to God, "Who kindly lengthens out our days," and the thought
of it was mingled with something like scorn. He did not want any
lengthening out of his time if there could not be real power, real
service in each day. He would live while he lived, and die when he
had to, and with that resolution he tried to get back his calmness of
spirit.

Looking at himself in the glass, he had to admit his face was haggard,
and thinner than it had been, and he knew he had lost weight. Still,
that could be recovered--he was not going to worry or think about
himself. He had always contended that disease was ninety per cent.
imagination and ten per cent. reality, and now he was going to see.
Every one is under the death sentence; the day is set for each man. "I
am no worse off," he thought, "than I was before--if I could only see
it that way--and I will--I am going to be the Captain of my soul--even
though it may be for a very short cruise--no disease or whimpering
weakness will usurp my place--'Gladly I lived--gladly I died. And I
laid me down with a will,'" he quoted, but his mouth twisted a little
on the words. Life was too sweet. He loved it too well to lay it down
gladly. O no, there could be no pretence of gladness.

He found himself thinking of Pearl, and the tender, loving, caressing
light in her eyes, her impulsive kiss--her honest words of heavenly
sweetness; what a girl she was! He had watched her grow from a little
bright-eyed thing, who always interested him with her wisdom, her
cheerfulness, her devotion to her family, until now, when she had
grown to be a serious-minded, beautiful girl, with a manner full of
repose, dignity, grace--a wonderfully attractive girl--who looked
honestly into his eyes and told him she loved him, and he had had to
turn away from his happiness and tell her it could not be. And he had
seen the dimming of those shining eyes and the tightening of her lips.
He had had to hurt Pearl, and that was the bitterest thought of all.

Again the temptation came to tell her! But the stern voice of
conscience cried out to him that if she knew she would consider
herself bound to him, and would not take her liberty, and the finest
years of her young life would be spent in anxiety and care.

"I might live to be an old man," he said bitterly. "If I were sure I
could drop out soon, it would not matter so much. Pearl would still
have her life ahead of her, and I would come to be but a memory, but
as it is--there's but one straight and honorable course--and I will
take it."

Then he thought of the roses, and wrote a card and a note, and called
Bertie at the Livery Stable to come to the office. When Bertie
arrived, much out of breath, the doctor charged him to be quick in his
errand of delivering them. Bertie was anxious to talk, and volunteered
the information that Pearl Watson was an awful pretty girl, but Mrs.
Crocks had just met her on the street and been talkin' to her a little
while, and she thought Pearl was gettin' pretty stuck up.

"Bertie, dear," the doctor said, not unkindly, "did any one ever tell
you that you talk too easy?"

"Sure they did," said Bertie honestly, "but Mrs. Crocks likes me to
talk."

"O well," the doctor smiled, "you and Mrs. Crocks are not really
dangerous--but Bertie, remember this, silence does not often get any
one into trouble, and if you are ever in doubt about whether to tell
things or not--don't tell them! It's the best way--now, will you try
to remember?"

"Yes, sir," said Bertie pleasantly.

All of which Bertie carefully hid in his heart, but his object in so
doing was not to attain the scriptural sequence--"that he sin not
with his mouth," It was that he might rehearse it accurately to Mrs.
Crocks!

The doctor had forgotten all about the committee who were going to
wait on him that evening to receive his decision regarding the coming
election. His mind had been too full of his own affairs. But promptly
at eight o'clock, his office bell rang, and the gentlemen came in.

It seemed years to the doctor since he had seen them. Life had so
changed for him in the interval. The committee had come back with
greater enthusiasm than ever. Corroborative evidence had been pouring
in; the doctor was the only man who could defeat the present member.

"Doctor, it is sure up to you," said the President, a stocky man,
whose face had a patchy beard resembling a buffalo-robe on which the
moths had played their funny tricks, "and I'll tell you why. The women
are beginning to raise hell all over the country. They have societies
now, and they're holding debates, and getting up plays--and all that.
They have the Government scared. My stars, I remember the time women
didn't bother no more about politics than a yellow dog does about
religion. But that good day is gone. They're up and comin' now, and
comin' with a whoop. Now, that's why we want you,--at least it's one
reason--the women like you--you have a way with them--you listen to
them--and feel sorry over their aches and pains--cure them--if you
can--but the big thing is--you feel sorry. Now, if you will run, the
women will try to make their men vote for you--I don't think any one
of the women will go against you. The men here are mostly for the
Government, and this year they have the bridge at Purple Springs for
a bait. It's goin' on for sure--work for every one--that votes right.
The Government has been in so long, you've just had to be on their
side to hold your job--they have their fingers on everything. You know
our candidate has lost his deposit for three elections--but there's a
chance this year--if you'll run."

Then the field organizer took up the argument. He was a young man sent
out from the city office to rally the faithful and if possible see
that the best candidates were selected. He was a shop-worn young man,
without illusions. He knew life from every angle, and it was a dull
affair in his eyes.

"Politics is a game of wits," he said; "the smartest one wins, and
gets in and divides the slush money. The other side howl--because they
didn't get any. We're sore now because we haven't had a look-in
for fourteen years--we're thirsty and dry--and we long for the
water-brooks--which is, government jobs. There's just one distinction
between the parties," he said, "one is in and one is out! That's all.
Both parties have the same platform too, there is only one principle
involved, that is the principle of re-election. But it really seems as
if our time is coming."

Young Mr. Summersad lighted a cigarette and blew billows of smoke at
the ceiling. His whole bearing was that of a man who had drunk the cup
of life to the very dregs and found even the dregs tasteless and pale.

"You are pessimistic," said the doctor, "you surely take a
materialistic view of the case. Is it really only a matter of getting
in to the public treasury? That hardly seems worth a man's effort; it
looks more like a burglar's job."

"I mean, Clay," said the organizer, with slightly more animation, "the
political game is not a game of sentiment or of high resolves. One man
cannot do much to change the sentiment of a whole province; we must
take things as we find them. People get as good government as they
deserve--always. This year the advantage comes to us. 'It is time for
a change' is always a good rallying cry, and will help us more than
anything."

"What is the opposition platform this year," said the doctor, "what
would I have to believe? Haven't you decided on a program, some sort
of course of action?"

"O sure," replied the other, "we have a great platform--woman
suffrage--banish the bar--direct legislation--we have a radical
platform--just the very thing to catch the people. I tell you
everything is in our favor, and with your popularity here, it should
be a cinch."

The doctor looked at him, without enthusiasm.

"But the platform needn't worry you," he hastened to explain, "it's
not necessarily important--it's a darn good thing to get in on--but
after that--"

"It can be laid away," said the doctor, "for another election. Well
now, as I understand it, the case against the present Government is
just that. They promised prohibition years ago, and got in on that
promise--but broke it joyously, and canned the one man who wanted to
stand for it--that's why they deserve defeat and have deserved it all
these years. But if the Opposition have the same ethics, what's the
use of changing. Better keep the robbers in we know, than fly to
others that we know not of."

While the organizer had been speaking, the remainder of the committee
were vaguely uncomfortable. He was not getting anywhere; he was
spoiling everything. They knew the doctor better than he did.

The doctor stood up, and there was something about the action which
announced the adjournment of the meeting.

"It does not appeal to me," he said, "not as outlined by you. It's
too sodden, too deeply selfish. I see no reason for any man who has a
fairly decent, self-respecting job, to give it up and devote his time
to politics, if you have given me a correct picture of it."

The organizer became deeply in earnest:--

"Look here, Clay," he said, "don't be hasty. I'm telling you the truth
about things, that's all. You can be as full of moral passion as
you like--the fuller the better. The Opposition can always be the
Simon-pure reformers. I'm not discouraging you--in fact, we want you
to be that."

The doctor interrupted him, impatiently:--

"But I must not expect anything to come of it. Moral reform--and all
that--is fine for election dope, but governments have no concern with
it, these promises would not be carried out."

"I am not saying what we mean," said Mr. Summersad, with abundant
caution; "I say we want to defeat the Government--that's our business.
We want to get in--further than that we have no concern. The new
Premier will set our policy. But if you ask me my opinion, I do not
mind telling you that I don't think any government of men are very
keen on letting the women vote--why should they be? But there's always
a way out. What will happen is this--if our fellows get in, they will
grant a plebiscite, men only voting of course, and it will go strong
against the women--but that will let us out."

The doctor's eyes snapped:--

"That's surely a coward's way out," he said, "and why should any woman
have to ask for what is her right. Women, although they are not so
strong as men, do more than half the work, and bear children besides,
and yet men have been mean enough to snatch the power away from them
and keep it. Well, you have certainly been frank, Mr. Summersad, I
must thank you for that. I will be equally frank. I do not see
that there is anything to choose between the two parties. If your
presentation of the case is correct, the country is in a bad way, and
the political life is a re-incarnation of that fine old game of 'pussy
wants a corner!' I never did see much in it, so I will decline
the nomination. I am sorry, Mr. Gilchrist," he said to the local
President. His words had a ring of finality.

When the committee were leaving they met Miss Keith, of Hampton, on
the street. Miss Keith was worth looking at, with her white fox furs,
high-heeled shoes and long black ear-rings. Miss Keith carried a muff
as big as a sheaf of wheat, and a sparkling bead-bag dangled from her
wrist. Miss Keith's complexion left nothing to be desired. When she
passed the committee there came to them the odor of wood violets. The
committee were sufficiently interested to break into a group on the
corner and so be able to turn around and watch her, without appearing
to stop for that purpose.

She went into the doctor's office.

"By gum," said the President, looking at the door through which she
had disappeared, "don't these women beat all? They go where they
like--they do as they like--they wear what they like--they don't care
what men think, any more. They're bold--that's what they are! and I
don't know as I believe in lettin' them vote--By Gosh!"

The organizer raised his hand in warning, and spoke sternly.

"Hold your tongue," he said, "they're a long way from votin'. Believe
what you like--no one cares what you believe--but sit tight on it! I
talked too much just now. Let's learn our lesson."

Bertie, whose other name was now lost in oblivion, and who was known
as "Bertie Crocks" for purposes of identification, standing at the
corner of the "Horse Repository," saw Miss Keith entering the doctor's
office, and wondered again how any one ever thought a small town dull.



CHAPTER X

THE WOMAN WITH A SORE THOUGHT


The turning of a key; the opening of a door, are commonplace sounds to
most of us; but to a prisoner, weary of his cell, they are sounds of
unspeakable rapture. The dripping of a tap, may have in it the element
of annoyance--if we have to get up and shut it off before we can get
to sleep, but a thirsty traveller on the burning sands of the desert,
would be wild with joy to hear it. All which is another way of saying
that everything in life is relative.

On the day that Pearl spoke in the school-house, there sat in one of
the seats listening to her, a sombre-faced woman, who rarely came to
any of the neighborhood gatherings. The women of the neighborhood,
having only the primary hypothesis of human conduct, said she was
"proud." She did not join heartily in their conversations when they
met her, and had an aloofness about her which could only be explained
that way. She had a certain daintiness about her, too, in her way of
dressing--even in the way she did her hair--and in her walk, which
made the women say with certain resentment, that Mrs. Paine would like
to be "dressy."

But if Mrs. Paine had any such ambitions, they were not likely to be
achieved, for although she and her husband had lived for years in this
favored district, and had had good crops, Sylvester Paine was known
all over the country as a hard man. The women would have liked Mrs.
Paine much better if she had talked more, and complained about
him--she was too close-mouthed they said. They freely told each other,
and told her, of their hopes, fears, trials and triumphs--but Mrs.
Paine's communications were yea and nay when the conversation was on
personal matters, and she had a way of closing her lips which somehow
prevented questions.

But on the day when Pearl spoke in the school Mrs. Paine's face
underwent a change which would have interested a student of human
nature. Something which had been long dead, came to life again that
day; fluttering, trembling, shrinking. In her eyes there came again
the dead hopes of the years, and it made her face almost pitiful in
its trembling eagerness. There was a dull red rage in her eyes too
that day, that was not good to see, and she was determined that it
should not be seen, and for that reason, she slipped away when Pearl
was through, leaving some excuse about having the chores to do. She
could not bear to speak to the women and have them read her face; she
knew it would tell too much. But she must talk to Pearl. There were
things that Pearl could tell her.

That night she called Pearl on the phone. The other receivers came
down quickly, and various homely household sounds mingled in her
ears--a sewing-machine's soft purring in one house--a child's cry in
another--the musical whine of a cream separator in a third. She knew
they were all listening, but she did not care. Even if she could not
control her face, she could control her voice.

When Pearl came to the phone, Mrs. Paine invited her to come over for
supper the next night, to which Pearl gave ready acceptance--and that
was all. The interested listeners were disappointed with the brevity
of the conversation, and spoke guardedly and in cipher to each other
after Pearl and Mrs. Paine had gone: "Somebody is away, see! That's
why! Gee! some life--never any one asked over only at such times--Gee!
How'd you like to be bossed around like that?"

"She did not begin right--too mealy-mouthed. Did you hear what he's
going to buy? No! I'll tell you when I see you--we've too big an
audience right now. Don't it beat all, the time some people have to
listen in--"

"O well, I don't care! Anything I say I'm ready to back up. I don't
pretend I forget or try to twist out of things."

One receiver went up here, and the sound of the sewing-machine went
with it.

Then the conversation drifted pleasantly to a new and quicker way of
making bread that had just come out in the "Western Home Monthly."

The next evening Pearl walked over the Plover Slough to see Mrs.
Paine. She noticed the quantity of machinery which stood in the yard,
some under cover of the big shingled shed, and some of it sitting out
in the snow, gray and weather-beaten. The yard was littered, untidy,
prodigal, wasteful--every sort of machine had evidently been bought
and used for a while, then discarded. But within doors there was a
bareness that struck Pearl's heart with pity. The entrance at the
front of the house was banked high with snow, and evidently had not
been used all winter, and indeed there seemed no good reason for its
ever being used, for the front part of the house, consisting of hall,
front room opening into a bed-room, were unfurnished and unheated.

Mrs. Paine was genuinely, eagerly glad to see Pearl, and there was a
tense look in her eyes, an underglow of excitement, a trembling of her
hands, as she set the table, that did not escape Pearl.

But nothing was said until the children had gone to bed, and then Mrs.
Paine departed from her life-long habit of silence, and revealed to
Pearl the burdens that were crushing her.

She was a thin woman, with a transparency about her that gave her the
appearance of being brittle. Her auburn hair curled over her white
forehead, and snakily twisted around her ivory white ears. Her eyes
were amber-brown, with queer yellow lights that rose and fell as
she talked, and in some strange way reminded Pearl of a piece of
bird's-eye maple. She was dressed in the style of twenty years before,
with her linen collar inside the high collar of her dress, which was
fastened with a bar pin, straight and plain like herself. In the
centre of the pin was a cairn-gorm, which reflected the slumbering
yellow light in her eyes. The color of her face was creamy white, like
fine stationery.

"I thought all my hopes were dead, Pearl," she said with dry lips,
"until you spoke, and then I saw myself years ago, when I came out of
school. Life was as rosy and promising, and the future as bright to me
then as it is to you now. But I got married young--we were brought up
to think if we did not get married--we were rather disgraced, and in
our little town in Ontario, men were scarce--they had all come West.
So when I got a chance, I took it."

Pearl could see what a beautiful young girl she must have been, when
the fires of youth burned in her eye--with her brilliant coloring
and her graceful ways. But now her face had something dead about
it, something missing--like a beautifully-tiled fireplace with its
polished brass fittings, on whose grate lie only the embers of a fire
long dead.

Pearl thought of this as she watched her. Mrs. Paine, in her
agitation, pleated her muslin apron into a fan.

The tea-kettle on the stove bubbled drowsily, and there was no sound
in the house but the purring of the big cat that lay on Pearl's knee.

"Life is a funny proposition, Pearl," continued Mrs. Paine, "I often
think it is a conspiracy against women. We are weaker, smaller than
men--we have all the weaknesses and diseases they have--and then some
of our own. Marriage is a form of bondage--long-term slavery--for
women."

Pearl regarded her hostess with astonished eyes. She had always known
that Mrs. Paine did not look happy; but such words as these came as a
shock to her romantic young heart.

"It isn't the hard work--or the pain--it isn't that--it's the
uselessness of it all. Nature is so cruel, and careless. See how many
seeds die--nature does not care--some will grow--the others do not
matter!"

"O you're wrong, Mrs. Paine," Pearl cried eagerly; "it is not true
that even a sparrow can fall to the ground and God not know it."

Mrs. Paine seemed about to speak, but checked her words. Pearl's
bright face, her hopefulness, her youth, her unshaken faith in God and
the world, restrained her. Let the child keep her faith!

"There is something I want to ask you, Pearl," she said, after a long
pause. "You know the laws of this Province are different from what
they are in Ontario."

Her voice fell, and the light in her eyes seemed to burn low, like
night-light, turned down.

"He says," she did not call her husband by name, but Pearl knew who
was meant, "he says that a man can sell all his property here without
his wife's signature, and do what he likes with the money. He wants to
sell the farm and buy the hotel at Millford. I won't consent, but he
tells me he can take the children away from me, and I would have to go
with him then. He says this is a man's country, and men can do as they
like. I wonder if you know what the law is?"

"I'm not sure," said Pearl. "I've heard the women talking about it,
but I will find out. I will write to them. If that is the law it will
be changed--any one could see that it is not fair. Lots of these old
laws get written down and no one bothers about them--and they just
stay there, forgotten--but any one would see that was not fair, 'Men
would not be as unjust as that'!"

"You don't know them", said Mrs. Paine; "I have no faith in men.
They've made the world, and they've made it to suit themselves. My
husband takes his family cares as lightly as a tomcat. The children
annoy him."

She spoke in jerky sentences, often moistening her dry lips, and there
was something in her eyes which made Pearl afraid--the very air of the
room seemed charged with discords. Pearl struggled to free her heart
from the depressing influence.

"All men are not selfish," she said, "and I guess God has done the
best He could to be fair to every one. It's some job to make millions
of people and satisfy them all."

"Well, the Creator should take some responsibility," Mrs. Paine
interrupted, "none of us asked to be born--I'm not God, but I take
responsibility for my children. I did not want them, but now they are
here I'll stand by them. That's why I've stayed as long as this. But
God does not stand by me."

Her voice was colorless and limp like a washed ribbon. It had in it no
anger, just a settled conviction.

"See here, Mrs. Paine," began Pearl, "you've been too long alone in
the house. You begin to imagine things. You work too hard, and never
go out, and that would make an archangel cross. You've just got to mix
up more with the rest of us. Things are not half so black as they look
to you."

"I could stand it all--until he said he could take away my home," the
words seemed to come painfully. "I worked for this," she said, "and
though it's small and mean--it's home. Every bit of furniture in this
house I bought with my butter money. The only trees we have I planted.
I sowed the flowers and dug the place to put them. While he is away
buying cattle and shipping them, and making plenty of money--all for
himself--I stay here and run the farm. I milk, and churn, and cook for
hired men, and manage the whole place, and I've made it pay too, but
he has everything in his own name. Now he says he can sell it and take
the money.... Even a cat will fight and scratch for its hay-loft."

"Oh well," said Pearl, "I hope you won't have to fight. Fighting is
bad work. It's a last resort when everything else fails. Mr. Paine can
be persuaded out of the hotel business if you go at it right. He does
not understand, that's all. That's what causes all the misery and
trouble in life--it is lack of understanding."

Mrs. Paine smiled grimly: "It's good to be young, Pearl," she said.

After a while she spoke again: "I did not ask you over entirely for
selfish reasons. I wanted to talk to you about yourself; I wanted to
warn you, Pearl."

"What about!" Pearl exclaimed.

"Don't get married," she said; "Oh don't, Pearl, I can't bear to think
of you being tied down with children and hard work. It's too big a
risk, Pearl, don't do it. We need you to help the rest of us. When I
listened to you the other day I came nearer praying than I have for
many years. I said, 'Oh, Lord, save Pearl,' and what I meant was that
He should save you from marriage. You'll have lots of offers."

"None so far," laughed Pearl, "not a sign of one."

"Well, you'll get plenty--but don't do it, Pearl. We need you to talk
for us."

"Well, couldn't I talk if I were married?" asked Pearl, "I have heard
married women talk."

"Not the same; they haven't the heart. People cannot talk if their
own hearts are sore. That's why we want to keep you light-hearted and
carefree. I wish you would promise me, Pearl, that you won't marry."

Pearl hesitated, hardly knowing how to meet this.

"That's asking a lot, Mrs. Paine. Every girl hopes to marry some
time," she said, at last, and if the light had been better Mrs. Paine
would have seen the color rising in Pearl's cheeks; "And you are wrong
in thinking that all men are mean and selfish. My father is not. We've
been poor and all that, but we're happy. My father has never shirked
his share of the work, and he has only one thought now, and that is to
do well for us. There are plenty of happy marriages. I--can't promise
not to but there's no danger yet--I have no notion of it."

"All right, Pearl," said Mrs. Paine, "keep away from it. Some way I
can't bear to think of you tied down with a bunch of kids, and all
your bright ways dulled with hard work and worry. Well, anyway, you'll
talk about it--about the vote I mean."

"All the time," Pearl laughingly responded. "Wherever two or three
gather Pearl Watson will rise and make a few remarks unless some one
forcibly restrains her. I will promise that--that's easy."

When Pearl walked home that night the moon was trying to shine through
a gray rag of a cloud that was wrapped around its face. The snow on
the road caught the muffled rays of light, and she could see her way
quite well after her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. There was
a close, protecting feeling about the gray darkness that suited her
mood. It was a comfortable, companionable night, with a soft air full
of pleasant sounds of dogs barking, and sleigh-bells, and with the
lights in the neighbors' houses for company. Pearl was not conscious
of fear. All her life she had gone about in the night as fearlessly as
by day.

Mrs. Paine's words troubled her. Was it possible life could be as dull
and drab a thing as it seemed to her. Perhaps, though, she had never
been in love! She had married because she did not want to be an old
maid. Only love can redeem life from its common-place monotony. Maybe
that was why things had gone wrong.

She thought about Mrs. Paine's words about being tied down with
children and hard work, and how she had pleaded with her to be warned!
Pearl tried to make the warning real and effective--tried to harden
her heart and fill it with ambitions, in which love and marriage had
no place. She tried to tell herself it was her duty to never marry;
she would be free to work for other women. She tried to think of a
future apart from marriage, apart from the hopes and dreams that had
been so dear and sweet. Could it be that she was being called of God
to be a leader in a new crusade against injustice? Was it her part to
speak for other women? Since the day she spoke in the school there
had been a glowing wonder in her heart which told her she could move
people to higher thinking and nobler action. She had seen it in their
eyes that day. She had seen the high resolve in their faces, seen it,
and been glad and fearful too. Was it possible that God was calling
her to declare a message to the people, and could it be that it was
for this reason her sweet dreams had been so suddenly broken?

Pearl stopped in the road in her agitation of spirit, as the
possibility of this surged over her. Every sound seemed to have died
away, not a dog barked or a tree creaked in the gray darkness which
shrouded the world. Even the lights in the houses seemed to hold a
steady gleam, without as much as winking an eye--waiting for her
answer.

The whole world seemed to be holding its breath expectantly, in a
waiting, quivering silence. It was as if her name had been called; the
curtain had rolled up, and a great audience waited.

A sudden, helpless feeling set her heart beating painfully into her
throat, a smothering sense of fear, quite new to her, who had never
known fear.

"I can't do it!" broke from her, in a cry; "Don't ask me, Lord, I
can't! I can't do it alone--but give me the desire of my heart, oh,
Lord, and I will never tremble or turn back or be afraid. I will
declare the truth before kings!"



CHAPTER XI

ENGAGED


The trustees of Purple Springs School had reached the climax of their
professional duties. They were about to appoint a teacher, and being
conscientious men, anxious to drive a good bargain for the people,
they were proceeding with deep caution to "look around."

Looking at the modest equipment of Purple Springs School, the observer
would wonder why such stress was laid on the teacher's qualifications.
The schoolhouse was a bleak little structure of wood, from whose walls
the winds and rain had taken the paint. It was set in an arid field,
that knew no tree or flower. Its three uncurtained windows threw a
merciless light on the gray floor and smoked walls.

Former teachers had tried to stir the community to beautify the
grounds and make the inside more homelike, but their efforts had been
fitful and without result. Trees died, seeds remained in the ground,
and gray monotony reigned at Purple Springs. Still, the three trustees
believed it was an enviable position they had in their hands to
bestow, and were determined that it should not be given lightly.

Just at the time that they were hard engaged in "lookin' 'round," the
secretary's wife came back from a visit to Chicken Hill, and told
about Pearl Watson, who had been to the city and come back "quite a
girl," able to talk, and just as nice and friendly as ever. Mrs. Cowan
was not well read in the political situation of the day, and so did
not know that Pearl had been guilty of heretical utterances against
the Government.

If this had been known to the trustees her candidature would not have
been considered, for all of the trustees were supporters and believers
in the Government--and with reason. Mr. Cowan had a telephone line
built expressly for him; Mr. Brownlees had been given a ditch--just
where he wanted it, digging it himself, and been paid for it by the
Government; the third trustee had been made game warden, at a monthly
salary and no duties; so naturally they would like not to hear their
friends criticized. Mrs. Cowan only read newspapers to see the
bargains, crotchet patterns, and murders, and after that, she believed
their only use was to be put on pantry shelves. So her account of
Pearl's address was entirely without political bias.

"She's a fine looking girl," said Mrs. Cowan, "and it's nice to hear
her talk, even if she isn't saying anything. She's brown-eyed, tall,
and speaks out plain so every one can hear, and what she says is not
too deep--and you'd never know she was educated, to hear her talk."

The three trustees resolved to look into the case. Being masters of
duplicity, they decided to call on Miss Watson at her home, and to go
in the early morning hours, believing that the misty light of 8 a.m.
will reveal many things which the glare of high noon might hide. They
would see first would she be up? They had once had a teacher who lay
in bed the whole day on Saturday. Would she have her hair combed? They
were not keen on artistic effects in the school buildings, but were a
unit on wanting a tastefully dressed teacher. It was decided that the
call would be early and unannounced.

They found Pearl in a pink and white checked gingham house dress, with
her brown hair done up in the style known as a French roll, sewing
at a machine in the front room, and at once Mr. Cowan, who was the
dominant spirit of the party signalled to the others--"So far so
good." Miss Watson, even though the hour was early, was up, dressed
neatly--and at work. All of this was in the glance which Mr. Cowan
shot over to his colleagues.

Investigating still further, for Mr. Cowan knew the value of detail in
estimating human character; the general arrangement of the room won
his approval. It was comfortable, settled, serene--it looked like
home--it invited the visitor to come in and be at rest. A fire burned
in the heater, a bird sang in the kitchen, a cat lay on the lounge and
did not move when he sat down beside it, showing that its right of way
had not been disputed. Mr. Cowan saw it all.

After the introductions were over, Mr. Cowan put forth some questions
about her qualifications, and at each answer, his colleagues were
given to understand by a faint twitter of his eyes that Miss Watson
was still doing well.

"You're young of course," said Mr. Cowan, with the air of a man who
faces facts--but his natural generosity of spirit prompted him to add
"but you'll get over that, and anyway a girl is older in her ways than
a boy."

"We measure time by heart-beats," said Pearl, as she handed him a
flowered cushion to put behind his head, "not by figures on a dial."

She tossed it off easily, as if poetry were the language of every day
life to her.

Mr. Cowan shut one eye for the briefest space of time, and across the
room his two friends knew Miss Watson's chances were growing brighter
every minute. "My wife happened to be down at Chicken Hill the day you
spoke, and she said you sure did speak well, for a girl, and she
was hopin' you'd speak at our school some night--and we could get a
phonograph to liven things up a bit--I guess we're broad-minded enough
to listen to a woman."

Mr. Cowan's confidence in his companions was amply justified. They
nodded their heads approvingly, like men who are willing to try
anything once.

"Well, you see," Mr. Cowan went on, "we have a nice district, Miss
Watson. We're farmer people, of course, with the exception of the few
who live at the station; we're farmers but we're decent people--and
we're pretty well-to-do farmers--we have only one woman in the
district--that we sort of wish wasn't there."

"Why," asked Pearl quickly.

"Well you see, she got in first, so to speak. She bought the farm
beside the river, and it was her that called the place 'Purple
Springs.' It's an outlandish name, but it seems to kind a' stick.
There's no springs at all, and they are certainly not purple. But she
made the words out of peeled poplar poles, with her axe, and put them
up at the front of her house, facin' the track, and the blamed words
stick. Mind you, she must have spent months twistin' and turnin' them
poles to suit her and get the letters right, and she made a rustic
fence to put them on. They're so foolish you can't forget them. She's
queer, that's all--and she won't tell who she is, nor where she came
from--and she seems to have money."

Pearl looked at him inquiringly. There must be more than that to the
story, she thought.

"The women will tell you more about her--that's sure. They gabble a
lot among themselves about her--I don't know--we think it best to
leave her alone. No woman has any right to live alone the way she
does--it don't look well."

"Well, anyway," Mr. Cowan spoke hurriedly, as one who has been
betrayed into trifling feminine matters, and is anxious to get back to
man's domain, "we'll take you--at seventy-five dollars a month, and
I guess you can get board at Mrs. Zinc's here at about fifteen. That
ain't bad wages for a girl your age. You can stay at Mrs. Zinc's
anyway till you look around--Mrs. Zinc don't want a boarder. Girls can
fit in any place--that's one reason in our neighborhood we like a girl
better--there's no trouble about boardin' them. They can always manage
somehow. Even if things ain't very good--it don't seem to phaze
them--same as a man. We had a man once, and we had to pay him
twenty-five dollars a month extra, and gosh--the airs of him--wanted
a bed to himself and a hot dinner sent to the school. By Gum! and got
it! We'll be lookin' for you at the middle of the month, and you can
stay at Mrs. Zinc's and look around."

When the delegation had departed, Pearl acquainted her mother with the
result of their visit. Mrs. Watson had retired to the kitchen, all of
a flutter, as soon as the visitors came.

"I'm going to Purple Springs, Ma," she said, "to take the school, and
they'll give me seventy-five dollars a month."

Mrs. Watson sat down, dramatically, and applied her print apron to her
eyes--an occasion had come, and Mrs. Watson, true to tradition, would
make the most of it. Her mother had cried when she left home--it was a
girl's birthright to be well cried over--Pearlie Watson would not go
forth unwept!

"Cheer up, Ma," said Pearl kindly, "I'm not going to jail, and I'm not
taking the veil or going across the sea. I can call you up for fifteen
cents, and I'll be bringing you home my washing every two weeks--so I
will not be lost entirely."

Mrs. Watson rocked herself disconsolately back and forth in her chair,
and the sound of her sobs filled the kitchen. Mrs. Watson was having a
good time, although appearances would not bear out the statement.

"It's the first break, Pearlie, that's what I'm thinkin'--and every
night when I lock the door, I'll be lockin' you out--not knowin' where
ye are. When a family once breaks you never can tell if they'll ever
all be together again--that's what frightens me. It was bad enough
when you went to the city--and I never slept a wink for two nights
after you'd gone. But this is worse, for now you're doin' for yourself
and away from us that way."

"Gosh, Ma," spoke up Mary, "you sure cry easy; and for queer things. I
think it's grand that Pearl can get out and earn money, and then when
I get my entrance, I'll go to the city and be a teacher too. You're
going to get back what you've spent on us, ma, and you ought to be in
great humor. I'm just as proud of Pearl as I can hold, and I'll be
tellin' the kids at school about my sister who is Principal of the
Purple Springs School."

"Principal, Assistant and Janitor," laughed Pearl, "that gives a
person some scope--to be sure."

Mrs. Watson hurriedly put up the ironing-board, and set to work. She
would get Pearl ready, though she did it with a heavy heart.

Pearl finished her sewing and then went upstairs to make her small
wardrobe ready for her departure, and although she stepped quickly and
in a determined fashion, there was a pain, a lonely ache in her heart
which would not cease, a crying out for the love which she had hoped
would be hers.

"I wonder if I will ever get to be like ma," she thought, as she lined
the bottom of her little trunk with brown paper, and stuffed tissue
paper into the sleeves of her "good dress," "I wonder! Well, I hope I
will be like her in some ways, but not in this mournful stuff--I won't
either. I'll sing when I feel it coming on me--I will not go mourning
all my days--not for any one!"

She began to sing:--

  "Forgotten you? Yes, if forgetting
  Is thinking all the day
  How the long days pass without you.
  Days seem years with you away!"

Pearl's voice had a reedy mellowness, and an appeal which sent the
words straight into Mary's practical heart. Mary, washing
dishes below, stopped, with a saucer in her hand, and listened
open-mouthed:--

  "If the warm wish to see you and hear you,
  And hold you in my arms again,
  If that be forgetting--you're right, dear,
  And I have forgotten you then!"

Her voice trailed away on the last line into a sob, and Mary,
listening below, dropped a tear into the dish-water. Then racing up
the stairs, she burst into Pearl's room and said admiringly:

"Pearl, you're a wonder. It's an actress you ought to be. You got me
blubbering, mind you. It's so sad about you and your beau that's had a
row, and both of you actin' so pale and proud, you made me see it
all. Sing it again! Well, for the love of Pete--if you ain't ready to
blubber too. That's good actin', Pearl--let me tell you--how can you
do it?"

Pearl brushed away the tears, and laughed: "I just hit on the wrong
song--that one always makes me cry, I can see them, too, going their
own ways and feeling so bad, and moping around instead of cutting out
the whole thing the way they should. People are foolish to mope!"
Pearl spoke sternly.

"I think you sing just lovely," said Mary, "now go on, and I'll get
back to the dishes. Sing 'Casey Jones'--that's the best one to wash
dishes to. It's sad, too, but it's funny."

Mrs. Watson held the iron to her cheek to test its heat, and
listened--too--as Pearl sang:--

  "Casey Jones--mounted to the cabin,
  Casey Jones--with the orders in his hand,
  Casey Jones--mounted to the cabin
  And took his farewell tri-ip--to the promised land!"

"It's well for them that can be so light-hearted," she said, "and
leave all belonging to them--as easy as Pearl. Children do not know,
and never will know what it means, until one of their own ups and
leaves them! It's the way of the world, one day they're babies, and
the next thing you know they're gone! It's the way of the world, but
it's hard on the mother."

Pearl came down the stairs, stepping in time with Casey Jones's
spectacular home-leaving:--

  "The caller called Casey, at--a half-past-four,
  He kissed his wife at the station door."

"How goes the ironing, honest woman," she said, as she lovingly patted
her mother's shoulder. "It's a proud old bird you ought to be getting
one of your young robins pushed out of the nest--instead of standing
here with a sadness on your face."

The mother tried to smile through her tears.

"Pearlie, my dear, you're a queer girl--you never seem to think of
what might happen. It may be six weeks before you can get home--with
the roads breaking up--and a lot can happen in that time. Sure--I
might not be here myself," she said, with a fresh burst of tears.

"Ma, you're funny," laughed Pearl, "I wish you could see how funny
you are. Every Christmas ever since I can remember, that's what you
said--you might never live to see another, and it used to nearly break
my heart when I was little, and until I made up my mind that you were
a poor guesser. You said it last Christmas just the same, and here
you are with your ears back and your neck bowed, heading up well for
another year. You're quite right in saying you may not be here, but if
you are not you'll be in a better place. Sure, things may happen, but
it's better to have things happen than to be scared all the time that
they may happen. The young lads may take the measles and then the
mumps, and the whooping-cough to finish up on--and the rosey-posey is
going around too. But even if they do--it's most likely they will get
over it--they always have. Up to the present, the past has taken care
of the future. Maybe it always will."

"O yes, I know there's always a chance things will go wrong--I know
it, Ma--" Pearl's eyes dimmed a little, and she held her lips tighter;
"there's always a chance. The cows may all choke to death seeing
which of them can swallow the biggest turnip--the cats may all have
fits--the chickens may break into the hen-house and steal a bag of
salt, eat it and die. But I don't believe they will. You just have to
trust them--and you'll have to trust me the same way. Just look, Ma--"

She took a five-dollar bill from her purse and spread it on the
ironing-board before her mother. "Fifteen o' them every month! See
the pictures that's on it, of the two grand old men. See the fine
chin-whiskers on His Nibs here! Ain't it a pity he can't write his
name, Ma, and him President of the Bank, and just has to make a bluff
at it like this. Sure, and isn't that enough to drive any girl out to
teach school, to see to it that bank presidents get a chance to learn
to write. Bank presidents always come from the country; I'll be having
a row of them at Purple Springs--I'm sure. They will be able to tell
in after years at Rotary Club luncheons how they ran barefooted in
November, and made wheat gum--and chewed strings together. They just
like to tell about their chilblains and their stone-bruises."

Her mother looked at her wonderingly: "You think of queer things,
Pearl--I don't know where you get it--I can't make you out--and
there's another thing troubling me, Pearl. You are goin' away--I don't
suppose you will be livin' much at home now. You'll be makin' your own
way."

She paused, and Pearl knew her mother was laboring under heavy
emotion. She knew she was struggling to say what was difficult for her
to get into words.

"When you've been away for a while and then come back to us, maybe
you'll find our ways strange to you, for you're quick in the pick-up,
Pearl, and we're only plain workin' people, and never had a chance at
learnin'. There may come a time when you're far above us, Pearl, and
our ways will seem strange to you. I get worried about it, Pearl, for
I know if that time ever comes, it will worry you too, for you're not
the kind that can hurt your own and not feel it."

Pearl looked at her mother almost with alarm in her face, and the
fears that had been assailing her that her family were beyond the
social pale came back for a moment. But with the fear came a
fierce tenderness for all of them. She saw in a flash of her quick
imagination the tragedy of it from her mother's side, and in her heart
there was just one big, burning, resolute desire, that pain from this
source might never smite her mother's loving heart. The hard hands,
the sunburnt face, the thin hair that she had not taken time to care
for; the hard-working shoulders, slightly stooped; the scrawny neck,
with its tell-tale lines of age; were eloquent in their appeal. Pearl
saw the contrast of her mother's life and what her own promised to
be, and her tender heart responded, and when she spoke, it was in
an altered tone. All the fun had gone from it now, and it was not a
child's voice, nor a girl's voice, but a woman's, with all a woman's
gentleness and understanding that spoke.

"Mother," she said, "I know what is in your heart, and I will tell you
how I feel about it. You're afraid your ways may seem strange to me.
Some of them are strange to me now. I often wonder how any one can be
as unselfish as you are and keep it up day in and day out, working for
other people. Most of us can make a good stab at it, and keep it up
for a day or so, but to hit the steady pace, never looking back and
never being cross or ugly about it--that's great!"

"And about the other ... If ever there comes a time when an honest
heart and a brave spirit in a woman seems strange to me, and I get
feeling myself above them--if I ever get thinking light of honesty and
kindness and patience and hard work, and get thinking myself above
them--then your ways will be strange to me, but not until then!"

Mrs. Watson's face cleared, and a look of pride shone in her eyes.
Her face seemed to lose some of its lines, and to reflect some of the
lavish beauty of her daughter.

"You've comforted me, Pearl," she said simply, "and it's not the first
time. Whatever comes or goes, Pearl, you'll know we are proud of you,
and will stand back of you. Your outspoken ways may get you into
trouble, but we'll always believe you were right. We haven't much to
give you--only this."

"Sure and what more would any one want, leavin' home," Pearl was back
to the speech of her childhood now. "That's better than a fur coat to
keep out the cold, and the thought of my own folks makes me strong to
face the world, knowin' I can always come home even if everything else
is closed. That's good enough!"

Pearl kissed her mother affectionately, and went back to her work
upstairs, and soon Mary and her mother heard her singing. Mary stopped
scrubbing the kitchen floor, and Mrs. Watson left the iron so long on
Teddy's shirt that it left a mark:

  "Say Au Revoir," sang Pearl, "but not goodbye,
  The past is dead--love cannot die,
  T'were better far--had we not met,
  I loved you then--I love you yet."

There was something in her voice that made her mother say, "Poor
child, I wonder what's ahead of her."



CHAPTER XII

THE MACHINE


Seated in one of the billowy tapestry chairs of the Maple Leaf Club,
with a mahogany ash-stand at his elbow and the morning paper in his
hand, the Cabinet Minister gave an exclamation which began far down in
the throat, tore upward past his immaculate collar, and came forth as
a full-sized round word of great emphasis and carrying power.

It brought to him at once Peter Neelands, one of the ambitious young
lawyers of the city, who was just coming into prominence in political
circles.

"What did you say, sir?" Peter asked politely.

The Cabinet Minister controlled his indignation admirably, and with
his pudgy knuckles rapped the offending newspaper, with the motion
used by a carpenter when trying to locate the joist in a plastered
wall, as he said:--

"Here is absolutely the most damnably mischievous thing I have seen
for years, and this abominable sheet is featuring it on the Women's
Page. They will all read it--and be infected. Women are such utterly
unreasonable creatures. This is criminal."

"What is it, sir?" Peter asked deferentially.

The older man handed him the paper, and sat back in his chair, with
his fat hands clasped over his rotund person, and an expression of
deep disgust in his heavy gray eyes.

"Anything!--anything!--" he cried, "to gain a political advantage.
They will even play up this poor little uneducated, and no doubt,
mentally unfit country girl, and put in her picture and quotations
from her hysterical speeches. They never think--or care--for the
effect this will have on her, filling her head with all sorts of
notions. This paper is absolutely without a soul, and seems determined
to corrupt the country. And on the Women's Page, too, where they will
all read it!"

"By Jove! that was good"--exclaimed the young man, as he read.

"What was good--are you reading what I gave you to read?" came from
the older man.

"Yes, about this girl at Millford, it says: 'In the discussion that
followed, the local member heatedly opposed the speaker's arguments
favoring the sending of women to Parliament, and said when women sat
in Parliament, he would retire--to which the speaker replied that this
was just another proof of the purifying effect women would have on
politics. This retort naturally brought down the house, and the local
member was not heard from again'--terribly cheeky, of course, but
rather neat, sir, don't you think?"

The Cabinet Minister took a thick cigar from his vest pocket, without
replying.

"Who is the member from Millford," he demanded.

"George Steadman, sir, a big, heavy-set chap--very faithful in his
attendance, sir, absolutely reliable--never talks, but votes right."

"I don't recall him," said the great man, after a pause, "but your
description shows he's the sort we must retain."

He lit his cigar, and when it was drawing nicely, removed it from his
mouth, and looked carefully at it, as if he expected to find authentic
information in it regarding private members. Failing this, he put it
back in his mouth, and between puffs went on:--

"Let me see--they are wanting a bridge near there, aren't they? on the
Souris?"

"Yes sir, at Purple Springs."

"All right--we ought to be able to hold the fort there with the
bridge--but the trouble is, this thing will spread, and when the
campaign warms up, this girl will be in demand."

He lapsed into silence again.

Peter, still holding the paper, volunteered:--

"She seems to be one of those infant prodigies who could sing 'The
Dying Nun,' and recite 'Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight,' before she
could talk plainly."

The Cabinet Minister gave no sign that he was listening--mental
agitation was written on his face.

"But we must head her off some way, I'll admit--I don't mind saying
it--though of course it must not be repeated--these damnable women are
making me nervous. I know how to fight men--I've been fighting them
all my life--with some success."

"With wonderful success, sir!" burst in Peter.

The older man threw out his hands in a way that registered modesty.
It had in it the whole scriptural injunction of "Let another praise
thee--and not thine own mouth."

"With some success," he repeated sternly, "but I cannot fight women.
You cannot tell what they will do; they are absolutely unreliable;
they are ungrateful, too. Many of these women who form the cursed
Women's Club, are women I have been on friendly terms with; so has
the Chief. We have granted them interviews; we have listened to their
suggestions; always with courtesy, always with patience. We have
asked them to come back. In certain matters we have acceded to their
requests--in some unimportant matters--" he added quickly. "But what
is the result? Is there any gratitude? Absolutely none. Give them
an inch--they will take a mile. Women are good servants, but bad
masters."

"Don't you think, sir," said Peter, much flattered by being talked to
in this friendly way by the great man, "don't you think it is these
militant suffragettes in England who are causing the trouble? Before
they began their depredations, women did not think of the vote. It is
the power of suggestion, don't you think, and all that sort of thing?"

They were interrupted just then by the arrival of Mr. Banks, one of
the Government organizers, who, ignoring Peter's presence, addressed
himself to the Cabinet Minister. His manner was full of importance.
Mr. Banks had a position in the Public Works Department, and
occasionally might be found there. Sometimes he went in for his mail,
and stayed perhaps half an hour.

He addressed the Cabinet Minister boldly:--

"Did you see this? Looks like trouble, don't it? What do you suggest?"

Mr. Banks did not remove either his hat or his cigar. Cabinet
Ministers had no terror for him--he had made cabinet ministers. If Mr.
Banks had lived in the time of Warwick that gentleman might not have
had the title of "King-Maker."

"What do you think yourself," asked the Cabinet Minister
deferentially, "you know the temper of the country perhaps better than
any of us; shall we notice this girl or just let her go?"

Mr. Banks laughed harshly.

"We can't stop her, as a matter of fact--she isn't the kind that can
be shut up. There's nothing to her--I've made inquiries. The people
have known her since she was born, and ran the country barefooted--so
we can't send her a 'Fly--all is discovered' postcard. It won't work.
People all honest--can't get any of them into trouble--and then let
them off--and win her gratitude. This is a difficult case, and the
other side will play it up, you bet. The girl has both looks and
brains, and a certain style. She went to the Normal with my girl. My
kid's crazy about her."

"Do her people need money?" asked Peter; he was learning the inner
side of politics.

His suggestion was ignored until the pause became painful--then the
organizer said severely:--

"Nobody needs money, but every one can use it. But money is of no
use in this case. This has to be arranged by tact. Tact is what few
members of the party have; their methods are raw."

"But there is no harm done yet," said Peter hopefully, "a few country
people in a bally little school-house, and the girl gets up and
harangues. She's been to the city, and knows a few catch phrases.
There's nothing to it. We wouldn't have known of it--only for the
enthusiastic friend who pours his drivel into this paper."

Mr. Banks looked at Peter in deep contempt.

"Whoever wrote this does not write drivel, Peter," he said, with a
note of fatigue in his voice. "He has made out a good case for this
girl. Every one who reads this wants to see her. I want to see her,
you want to see her--that's the deuce of it."

"Well, why don't you go," said Peter, "or send me? I'd like to go.
Perhaps it would be better to send a young man. I often think--"

Mr. Banks looked at him with so much surprise in his usually heavy
countenance that Peter paused in confusion.

"I often think," he braved the disgust he had evoked, and spoke
hurriedly to get it said before the other man had withered him with
his eyes; "I often think a young man can get along sometimes--girls
will tell him more, feeling more companionable as it were--" He
paused, feeling for a convincing climax.

But in spite of Mr. Banks' scorn of Peter Neelands' efforts at solving
their new difficulty, he soon began to think of it more favorably,
coming to this by a process known as elimination. No one else wanted
to go; he could not think of anything else. Peter would not do any
harm--he was as guileless as a blue-eyed Angora kitten, and above all,
he was willing and anxious to get into the game. This would give him
an opportunity. So Mr. Banks suddenly made up his mind that he would
authorize a cheque to be drawn on the "Funds." It could easily be
entered under "Inspection of Public Bridges," or any old thing--that
was a mere detail.

The Cabinet Minister, who was later acquainted with the plan, and had
by that time recovered his mental composure, almost spoiled everything
by declaring it was a most unwise move, and absolutely unnecessary.

"Leave her alone," he declared, as he sipped his whiskey and
soda--"people like that hang themselves if they get enough rope. What
is she anyway--but an unlearned, ignorant country girl, who has been
in the city and gathered a few silly notions, and when she goes home
she shows off before her rustic friends. My dear boy," he addressed
Peter now, from an immeasurable distance, "the secret of England's
greatness consists of letting every damn fool say what he likes,
they feel better, and it does no harm. We must expect criticism and
censure--we are well able to bear it, and with our men in every
district, there is little to fear. We'll offset any effect there may
be from this girl's ravings by sending the Chief out for one speech."

The Minister of Public Works lapsed into meditation and drummed
pleasantly with his plump, shining hand on the table beside him. The
sweet mellowness which had been Mr. Walker's aim for years, lay on his
soul. The world grew more misty and golden every moment, and in this
sunkissed, nebulous haze, his fancy roamed free, released from sordid
cares--by Mr. Walker's potent spell. It was a good world--a good world
of true friends, no enemies, no contradiction of sinners or other
disagreeable people, nothing but ease, praise, power, success,
glorious old world, without any hereafter, or any day of accounting.
Tears of enthusiasm made dewy his eyes--he loved everybody.

"The old Chief has a hold on the people that cannot be equalled. I
thought it was wonderful last night at the banquet, the tribute be
paid to his mother. It reveals such a tender side of him, even though
he has received the highest honor the people can give him, yet the
remembers so tenderly the old home and its associations. That's his
great secret of success--he's so human--with faults like other men,
but they only make him all the more beloved. He is so tolerant of all.
When that poor simpleton stuffed the ballot-box--out somewhere in the
Blue Mountains, a really clever piece of work too, wonderfully well
done--with the false bottom--I don't see how they ever discovered
it--but it is hard to deceive the enemy--there's no piece of crooked
work they are not familiar with. He was nearly crazy when they caught
him at it--thought he could be put in jail--he forgot, the poor boob
... who he was working for.... I'll never forget how fine the old
Chief allayed his fears--'All for a good cause, my boy,' he said, in
that jovial way of his, 'I have no fear--the Lord will look after His
own.' No wonder he can get people to work for him. It is that hearty
good nature of his, and he never preaches to any one, or scolds. He
was just as kindly to the poor fellow as if he had succeeded. It was
wonderful."

"Great old boy, all right," Peter agreed heartily.

That afternoon Mr. Banks arranged with one of the partners of the law
firm to which Peter was attached to release him for an indefinite
period, and his salary could be charged to the Government under
"Professional Services, Mr. P.J. Neelands," and being a fair-minded
man, and persuaded that a laborer was worthy of his hire, he suggested
a substantial increase in salary for Mr. Neelands, considering the
delicate nature of the task he was undertaking, and who was paying for
it.

The spring, notwithstanding its early March smiles, delayed its coming
that year, and the grim facts of the scarcity of feed faced the
thriftiest farmers. The hungry cattle grew hungrier than ever, and
with threatening bellows and eyes of flame pushed and crowded around
the diminishing stacks. The cattle market went so low that it did not
pay to ship them to the city, though humane instincts prompted many
a farmer to do this to save their stock from a lingering death, and
their own eyes from the agony of seeing them suffer.

On April the first came the big storm, which settled forever the feed
problem for so many hungry animals. It was a deliberate storm, a
carefully planned storm, beginning the day before with a warm, soft
air, languorous, spring-like, with a pale yellow sun, with a cap of
silver haze around its head, which seemed to smile upon the earth with
fairest promises of an early spring. The cattle wandered far from
home, lured by the gentle air and the mellow sunshine.

It was on this fair day that Mr. P.J. Neelands took his journey to
the country to do it a service, and it is but fair to say that Mr.
Neelands had undertaken his new work with something related to
enthusiasm. It savored of mystery, diplomacy, intrigue, and there was
a thrill in his heart as he sat in the green plush-covered seat,
and leaning back, with his daintily shod feet on the opposite seat,
surveyed himself in the long mirror which filled the door of the
stateroom at the end. It was a very smartly dressed young man he saw,
smiling back engagingly, and the picture pleased him. Expenses and
salary paid, with a very delightful piece of work before him, which,
if handled tactfully and successfully, would bring him what he
craved--political promotion in the Young Men's Club. The fact in the
glass smiled again. "Diplomacy is the thing," said Peter to himself.
"It carries a man farther than anything--and I'm glad my first case
has a woman in it."

He buffed his nails on the palm of his other hand, and, looking at
them critically, decided to go over them again.

"There's nothing like personal neatness to impress a girl; and this
one, from her picture, will see everything at a glance."

Crossing the river at Poplar Ridge, he looked out of the window at the
pleasant farmyard of one of the old settlers on the Assiniboine; a
fine brick house, with wide verandahs, an automobile before the door,
a barnyard full of cackling hens, with a company of fine fat steers
in an enclosure--a pleasing picture of farm life, which filled his
imagination.

"What a country of opportunity," thought Peter, "a chance for every
one, and for women especially. Everything in life is done for them.
This house was built for some woman, no doubt. I hope she appreciates
it, and is contented and happy in it. Women were made to charm
us--inspire us--cheer us, but certainly not to rival us!"

Peter, with his hands on the knees of his well-creased trousers,
hitched them slightly, just enough to reveal a glimpse of his lavender
socks.

"Perhaps this girl needs only an interest--a love interest--" Peter
blushed as he thought it--"to quiet her. If her affection were
captured, localized, centralized, she would not be clamoring to take a
man's place. She might be quite willing to enter politics, indirectly,
and be the power behind a man of power."

He looked again at the newspaper picture of Pearl Watson, and again at
his own reflection in the long glass.

"And a girl like this," Peter meditated, "would be a help, too. She is
evidently magnetic and convincing." His mind drifted pleasantly into
the purple hills and valleys of the future, and in a delightfully
vague way plans began to form for future campaigns, where a brilliant
young lawyer became at once the delight of his friends and the despair
of his enemies, by his scathing sarcasm, his quick repartee, and still
more by his piercing and inescapable logic. Never had the Conservative
banner been more proudly borne to victory. Older men wept tears of joy
as they listened and murmured, "The country is safe--thank God!"

Ably assisting him, though she deferred charmingly to him, in all
things, was his charming young wife, herself an able speaker and
debater who had once considered herself a suffragette, but who was now
entirely absorbed in her beautiful home and her brilliant husband.

Peter flicked the dust from his tan shoes with a polka-dotted
handkerchief, while rosy dreams, full of ambition and success filled
his impressionable mind.

Through the snowy hills the train made its way cautiously, making long
and apparently purposeless stops between stations, as if haunted by
the fear of arriving too early. At such times Peter had leisure to
carefully study the monotonous landscape, and he could not help but
notice that the disparity in the size of the barn and that of the
house in many cases was very great. A huge red barn, with white
trimmings, surmounted by windmills, often stood towering over a tiny
little weather-beaten, miserable house, which across a mile or two of
snow, looked about the size of a child's block.

But small houses can be made very cosy, thought Peter complacently,
for the glamor of adventure was on him, and no shade of sadness could
assail his high spirits.

Some of the women who came to the train were disappointing in
appearance. They were both shabby and sad, he thought, and he wondered
why but looking closely at them he thought, with the fallacy of youth,
that they must be very old.

Peter tried to outline his course of action. He would take a room
at the hotel, making that his headquarters, and go out into the
country--and stop at the Watson home, to ask directions or on some
trivial errand, and meet her that way. But the thought would come back
with tiresome regularity--suppose the first person who came to the
door, gave him the directions he wanted--and shut the door. Well, of
course he could ask for a drink,... but even that might fail. Perhaps
he should have brought an egg-beater--or a self-wringing mop to
demonstrate, or some of the other things his friends had suggested.
However, that did not need to be decided at once. Peter prided himself
on his ability to leave tomorrow alone! So he made his way to the
hotel on the corner, facing the station, untroubled by what the morrow
might bring forth, and registered his name in the large book which the
clerk swung around in front of him, and quietly asked for a room with
a bath.

The clerk bit through the toothpick he had in his mouth, so great was
his surprise, but he answered steadily:

"All rooms with bath are taken--only rooms with bed left."

"Room with bed, then," said Peter, and he was given the key of No. 17,
and pointed to the black and red carpeted stairway.



CHAPTER XIII

THE STORM


It was a morning of ominous calm, with an hour of bright sun,
gradually softening into a white shadow, as a fleecy cloud of fairy
whiteness rolled over the sun's face, giving a light on the earth like
the garish light in a tent at high noon, a light of blinding whiteness
that hurts the eyes, although the sun is hidden. It was as innocent
a looking morning as any one would wish to see, still, warm, bright,
with a heavy brooding air which deadens sound and makes sleighs draw
hard and horses come out in foam.

James Crocks, of the Horse Repository, sniffed the air apprehensively,
bit a semi-circle out of a plug of tobacco, and gave orders that no
horse was to leave the barn that day, for "he might be mistaken, and
he might not," but he thought "we were in for it."

Other people seemed to think the same, for no teams could be seen on
any of the roads leading to the village. It was the kind of morning
on which the old timers say, "Stay where you are, wherever it is--if
there's a roof over you!"

Wakening from a troubled dream of fighting gophers that turned to
wild-cats, Mr. Neelands, in No. 17, made a hurried toilet, on account
of the temperature of the room, for although the morning was warm,
No. 17 still retained some of last week's temperature, and to Mr.
Neelands, accustomed to the steam heat of Mrs. Marlowe's "Select
Boarding House--young men a specialty"--it felt very chilly, indeed.
But Mr. Neelands had his mind made up to be unmoved by trifles.

After a good breakfast in the dining room, Mr. Neelands walked out to
see the little town--and to see what information he could gather. The
well-dressed young man, with the pale gray spats, who carried a cane
on his arm and wore a belted coat, attracted many eyes as he swung out
gaily across the street toward the livery stable.

His plans were still indefinite. Bertie, who was in charge of the
stable, gazed spell-bound on the vision of fashion which stood at the
door, asking about a team. Bertie, for once, was speechless--he seemed
to be gazing on his own better self--the vision he would like to see
when he sought his mirror.

"I would like to get a team for a short run," said Mr. Neelands
politely.

"Where you goin'," asked Bertie.

Mr. Neelands hesitated, and became tactful.

"I am calling on teachers," he said, on a matter of business,
"introducing a new set of books for school libraries."

It was the first thing Mr. Neelands could think of, and he was quite
pleased with it when he said it. It had a professional, business-like
ring, which pleased him.

"A very excellent set of books, which the Department of Education
desire to see in every school," Mr. Neelands elaborated.

Then Bertie, always anxious to be helpful and to do a good deed, leapt
to the door, almost upsetting Mr. Neelands in his haste. Bertie had
an idea! Mr. Neelands did not connect his sudden departure with his
recent scheme of enriching the life of the country districts with the
set of books just mentioned, and therefore waited rather impatiently
for the stableboy's return.

Bertie burst in, with the same enthusiasm.

"See, Mister, here's the teacher you want; I got her for you--she was
just going to school."

Bertie's face bore the same glad rapture that veils the countenance of
a cat when she throws a mouse at your feet with a casual "How's that."

Mr. Neelands found himself facing a brown-eyed, well-dressed young
lady, with big question marks in both eyes, question marks which in a
very dignified way demanded to know what it was all about.

In his confusion, Mr. Neelands, new in the art of diplomacy,
blundered:

"Is this Miss Watson?" he stammered.

The reply was definite.

"It is not, and why did you call me."

Icicles began to hang from the roof. Mr. Neelands would have been
well pleased if they had fallen on him, or a horse had kicked him--or
anything.

He blushed a ripe tomato red. Bertie, deeply grieved, reviewed the
situation.

"He said he wanted to see the teachers, and I just went and got
you--that's all--you were the nearest teacher."

"Awfully sorry," began Mr. Neelands, "I did not know anything about
it. I'm am just a stranger, you see."

There was something in Miss Morrison's eye which simply froze the
library proposition. He could not frame the words.

"If you have any business with me you may make an appointment at the
school. People who have business with the teachers generally do come
to the school--not to the livery stable," she added, in exactly the
tone in which she would have said "All who have failed to get fifty
per cent. in arithmetic will remain after four," a tone which would be
described as stern, but just.

Mr. Neelands leaned against a box-stall as Miss Morrison passed out.
He wiped his face with the polka-dot handkerchief, and the word which
the Cabinet Minister had used came easily to his lips.

"Why didn't you speak to her when you got a chance?" asked Bertie,
anxious to divert the blame and meet railing with railing. He was
always getting in wrong just trying to help people. Darn it all! Mr.
Neelands could still think of no word but the one.

"I wish it had been Pearl," said Bertie, "Gee! she wouldn't ha' been
so sore; she'd just laughed and jollied about it."

"So you know Pearl, do you?" Mr. Neelands could feel a revival of
interest in life; also the stiffness began to leave his lips, and his
tongue felt less like tissue paper.

"I guess everyone knows Pearl," said Bertie, with a consciousness of
superiority on at least one point. Whereupon he again fulfilled the
promises of youth, the leadings of his birth star and the promptings
of his spirit guides, and told all he knew about the whole Watson
family, not forgetting the roses he had taken to her, and Mrs. Crock's
diagnosis of it all.

He had an interested listener to it all, and under the inspiration
which a sympathetic hearing gives he grew eloquent, and touched with
his fine fancy the romantic part of it.

"Mrs. Crocks says she believes Pearl is pretty sweet on the Doctor.
Pearl is one swell girl, and all that, but Mrs. Crocks says the Doctor
will likely marry the Senator's daughter. Gee! I wouldn't if I was
him. She hasn't got the style that Pearl has--she rides a lot and has
nerve--and all that, but she's bow-legged!" His tone was indescribably
scornful.

Mr. Neelands gasped.

"Yep," went on Bertie complacently, "we see a lot here at the stable
and get to know a lot--one way'n another--we can't help it. They come
and go, you know."

"The doctor won't run for Parliament--he turned it down. Mrs. Crocks
thinks the Senator maybe persuaded him not to--the Senator is for the
Government, of course, and it is the other side wanted the doctor;
anyway, that suits old Steadman; he'll likely go in again on account
of the bridge at Purple Springs. Every one wants to get work on it
with the Spring hangin' back the way it is." "How about a horse? I
want to take a drive into the country," said Mr. Neelands.

"No horse can go out of here today," answered Bertie. "Mr. Crocks says
there'll be storm, and he won't take no chances on his horses. He says
people can judge for themselves and run risks if they want to, he'll
decide for the horses--and they can't go."

"O, all right," said Mr. Neelands. "How far is it to the Watson farm?"

"Are you going out?" asked Bertie. "Better phone and see if she's at
home. Here's the phone--I'll get her."

Mr. Neelands laid a restraining hand on Bertie's arm. "Easy there,
my friend," he said, his tone resembling Miss Morrison's in its
commanding chilliness, "How far is it to the Watson farm?"

"Five miles in summer, four in winter," Bertie answered a little
sulkily.

"You would call this winter, I suppose," said the traveller, looking
out at the darkening street.

"I'd call it--oh, well, never mind what I'd call it--I'm always
talking too much--call it anything you like." Bertie grew dignified
and reserved. "Call it the first of July if you like! I don't care."

That is how it came that Mr. Neelands took the out-trail when all the
signs were against travelling, but to his unaccustomed eye there
was nothing to fear in the woolly grayness of the sky, nor in the
occasional snowflake that came riding on the wind. The roads were
hard-packed and swept clean by the wind, and the sensation of space
and freedom most enjoyable.

Mr. Neelands as he walked filed away tidily in his mind the
information received. There were valuable clues contained in the
stable-boy's chatter, Which he would tabulate, regarding the lady
of his quest. She was popular, approachable, gifted with a sense of
humor, and perhaps disappointed in love. No clue was too small to be
overlooked--and so, feeling himself one of the most deadly of sleuths,
Mr. Neelands walked joyously on, while behind him there gathered one
of the worst blizzards that the Souris Valley has known.

The storm began with great blobbery flakes of snow, which came
elbowing each other down the wind, crossing and re-crossing, circling,
drifting, whirling, fluttering, so dense and thick that the whole air
darkened ominously, and the sun seemed to withdraw from the world,
leaving the wind and the storm to their own evil ways.

The wind at once began its circling motions, whipping the snow
into the traveller's face, blinding and choking him, lashing him
mercilessly and with a sudden impish delight, as if all the evil
spirits of the air had declared war upon him.

He turned to look back, but the storm had closed behind him, having
come down from the northwest and overtaken him as he walked. His only
hope was to go with it, for to face it was impossible, and yet it
seemed to have no direction, for it blew up in his face; it fell on
him; it slapped him, jostled him, pushed him, roared in his ears,
smothering him, drowning his cries with malicious joy. No cat ever
worried or harrassed a mouse with greater glee than the storm fiends
that frolicked through the valley that day, took their revenge on the
city man, with his pointed boots, his silk-lined gloves, his belted
coat and gray fedora, as he struggled on, slipping, choking, falling
and rising. It seemed to him like a terrible nightmare, in its sudden,
gripping fury.

It pounded on his eyeballs until he was not sure but his eyes were
gone; it filled his mouth and ears, and cold water trickled down his
back. His gloves were wet through, and freezing, for the air grew
colder every minute, and the terror of the drowning man came to him.
He struggled on madly, like a steer that feels the muskeg closing
around him. He did not think; he fought, with the same instinct that
drives the cattle blindly, madly on towards shelter and food, when the
storm lashes them and the hunger rage drives them on.

Sylvester Paine, shaking the snow from his clothes like a water
spaniel, and stamping all over the kitchen, was followed by his wife,
who vainly tried to sweep it up as fast as it fell. She made no
remonstrance, but merely swept, having long since earned that her
liege lord was never turned aside from his purpose by any word of
hers.

When he was quite done, and the snow was melting in pools on the
floor, he delivered his opinion of the country and the weather: "This
is sure a hell of a country," he said, "that can throw a storm like
this at the end of March."

She made no reply--she had not made either the country or the weather,
and would not take responsibility for them. She went on wiping up the
water from the floor, with rebellion, slumbering, hidden rebellion
in every movement, and the look in her eyes when she turned to the
window, was a strange blending of rage and fear.

"Why don't you answer me," he said, turning around quickly, "Darn you,
why can't you speak when your spoken to?"

"You did not speak to me," she said. "There was nothing for me to
say."

He looked at her for a moment--her silence exasperated him. She seemed
to be keeping something back--something sinister and unknown.

"Well, I can tell you one thing," he went on, in a voice that seemed
to be made of iron filings, "you may not answer when I speak to
you--you'll do what you're told. I'm not going to slave my life out
on this farm when there's easier money to be made. Why should you set
yourself above me, and say you won't go into a hotel? I have the right
to decide, anyway. Better people than you have kept hotels, for all
your airs. Are you any better than I am?"

"I hope so," she said, without raising her eyes from the floor. She
rose quietly and washed out her floorcloth, and stood drying her hands
on the roller towel which hung on the kitchen door. There was an air
of composure about her that enraged him. He could not make it out. The
quality which made the women call her proud kindled his anger now.

The storm tore past the house, shaking it in its grip like a terrier
shaking a rat. It seemed to mock at their trivial disputes, and seek
to settle them by drowning the sound of them.

His voice rang above the storm:--

"I'll sell the farm," he shouted. "I'll sell every cow and horse on
it. I'll sell the bed from under you--I'll break you and your stuck-up
ways, and you'll not get a cent of money from me--not if your tongue
was hanging out."

The children shrank into corners and pitifully tried to efface
themselves. The dog, with drooping tail, sought shelter under the
table.

Sylvester Paine thought he saw a shrinking in her face, and followed
up his advantage with a fresh outpouring of abuse.

"There's no one to help you--or be sorry for you--you haven't a friend
in this neighborhood, with your stuck-up way. The women are sore on
you--none of them ever come to see you or even phone you. Don't you
think I see it! You've no one to turn to, so you might as well know
it--I've got you!"

His last words were almost screamed at her, as he strove to make his
voice sound above the storm, and in a sudden lull of the storm, they
rang through the house.

At the same moment there was a sound of something falling against
the door and the dog, with bristling hair, ran out from his place of
shelter.

Mrs. Paine turned quickly to the door and opened it, letting in a
gust of blinding snow, which eddied in the room and melted on the hot
stove.

A man, covered with snow, lay where he had fallen, exhausted on the
doorstep.

"What's this," cried Paine, in a loud voice, as he ran forward; "where
did this fellow come from?"

In his excitement he asked it over and over again, as if Mrs. Paine
should know. She ventured no opinion, but busied herself in getting
the snow from the clothes of her visitor and placing him in the
rocking chair beside the fire. He soon recovered the power of speech,
and thanked her gaspingly, but with deep sincerity.

"This is a deuce of a day for any one to be out," began the man of the
house. "Any fool could have told it was going to storm; what drove you
out? Where did you come from, anyway?"

Mrs. Paine looked appealingly at him:--

"Let him get his breath, can't you, see, he is all in," she said
quietly, "he'll tell you, when he can speak."

In a couple of hours, Peter Neelands, draped in a gray blanket, sat
beside the fire, while his clothes were being dried, and rejoiced
over the fact that he was alive. The near tragedy of the bright young
lawyer found dead in the snow still thrilled him. It had been a close
squeak, he told himself, and a drowsy sense of physical well-being
made him almost unconscious of his surroundings. It was enough for him
to be alive and warm.

Mrs. Paine moved about the house quietly, and did all she could with
her crude means to make her guest comfortable, and to assure him of
her hospitality. She pressed his clothes into shape again, and gave
him a well-cooked dinner, as well served as her scanty supplies would
allow, asking no questions, but with a quiet dignity making him feel
that she was glad to serve him. There was something in her manner
which made a strong appeal to the chivalrous heart of the young man.
He wanted to help her--do something for her--make things easier for
her.

The afternoon wore on, with no loosening of the grip of the storm,
and Peter began to realize that he was a prisoner. He could have been
quite happy with Mrs. Paine and the children, even though the floor
of the kitchen was draughty and cold, the walls smoked, the place
desolate and poor; but the presence of his host, with his insulting
manners, soon grew unbearable. Mr. Paine sat in front of the
stove, smoking and spitting, abusing the country, the weather, the
Government, the church. Nothing escaped him, and everything was wrong.

A certain form of conceit shone through his words too, which increased
his listener's contempt. He had made many sharp deals in his time, of
which he was inordinately proud. Now he gloated over them. Fifteen
thousand dollars of horse notes were safely discounted in the bank,
so he did not care, he said, whether spring came or not. He had his
money. The bank could collect the notes.

Peter looked at him to see if he were joking. Surely no man with so
much money would live so poorly and have his wife and children so
shabbily dressed. Something of this must have shown in his face.

"I've made money," cried Sylvester Paine, spitting at the leg of the
stove; "and I've kept it--or spent it, just as I saw fit, and I did
not waste is on a fancy house. What's a house, anyway, but a place to
eat and sleep. I ain't goin' to put notions into my woman's head, with
any big house--she knows better than to ask it now. If she don't like
the house--the door is open--let her get out--I say. She can't take
the kids--and she won't go far without them."

He laughed unpleasantly: "That's the way to have them, and by gosh!
there's one place I admired the old Premier--in the way he roasted
those freaks of women who came askin' for the vote. I don't think much
of the Government, but I'm with them on that--in keepin' the women
where they belong."

"But why," interrupted Peter, with a very uneasy mind, "why shouldn't
women have something to say?"

"Are you married?" demanded his host.

"No, not yet," said Peter blushing.

"Well, when you're married--will you let your wife decide where you
will live? How you earn your living--and all that? No sir, I'll bet
you won't--you'll be boss, won't you? I guess so. Well, every man has
that right, absolutely. Here am I--I'm goin' to sell out here and buy
a hotel--there's good money in it, easy livin'. She--" there was an
unutterable scorn in his voice, "says she won't go--says it ain't
right to sell liquor. I say she'll come with me or get out. She might
be able to earn her own livin', but she can't take the kids. Accordin'
to law, children belong to the father--ain't that right? There's a man
comin' to buy the farm--I guess he would have been out today, only for
the storm. We have the bargain made--all but the signin' up."

Mrs. Paine stood still in the middle of the floor, and listened in
terror. "A man coming to buy the farm!" Every trace of color left her
face! Maybe it was not true.

He saw the terror in her face, and followed up his advantage.

"People have to learn to do as they're told when I'm round. No one can
defy me--I'll tell you that. Every one knows me--I can be led, but I
cant be driven."

Peter Neelands had the most uncomfortable feeling he had ever known.
He was not sure whether it was his utter aversion to the man who sat
in front of the stove, boasting of his sharp dealing, or a physical
illness which affected him, but a horrible nausea came over him. His
head swam--his eardrums seemed like to burst--every bone began to
ache.

The three days that followed were like a nightmare, which even time
could never efface or rob of its horror. The fight with the storm
had proven such a shock to him that for three days a burning fever,
alternating with chills, held him in its clutches, and even when the
storm subsided kept him a prisoner sorely against his will.

In these three days, at close range, he saw something of a phase of
life he had never even guessed at. He did not know that human beings
could live in such crude conditions, without comforts, without
even necessities. It was like a bad dream--confused, humiliating,
horrible--and when on the third day he was able to get into his
clothes his one desire was to get away--and yet, to leave his kind
hostess who had so gently nursed him and cared for him, seemed like an
act of desertion.

However, when he was on his feet, though feeling much shaken, and
still a bit weak, his courage came back. Something surely could be
done to relieve conditions like this.

The snow was piled fantastically in huge mounds over the fields, and
the railway cuts would be drifted full, so no train would run for
days. But Peter felt that he could walk the distance back to town.

His host made no objection, and no offer to drive him.

In the tiny bedroom off the kitchen, which Mrs. Paine had given him,
as he shiveringly made his preparations for leaving, he heard a
strange voice in the other room, a girl's voice, cheery, pleasant.

"I just came in to see how you are, Mrs. Paine. No thank you, I won't
put the team in the stable--I ran them into the shed. I am on my way
home from driving the children to school. Some storm, wasn't it? The
snow is ribbed like a washboard, but it is hard enough to carry the
horses."

Peter came out, with his coat and his hat in his hand, and was
introduced. His first thought was one of extreme mortification--three
days' beard was on his face. His toilet activities had been limited
in number. He knew he felt wretched, seedy, groggy--and looked it.
Something in Pearl's manner re-assured him.

"Going to town?" said she kindly, "rather too far for you to walk when
you are feeling tough. Come home with me if you are not in a hurry,
and I will drive you in this afternoon."

Peter accepted gladly.

He hardly looked at her, holding to some faint hope that if he did
not look at her she would not be able to see him either, and at this
moment Peter's one desire was not to be seen, at least by this girl.

In a man's coonskin coat she stood at the door, with her face rosy
with the cold. She brought an element of hope and youth, a new
spirit of adventure into the drab room, with its sodden, commonplace
dreariness. Peter's spirits began to rise.

Outside the dogs began to bark, and a cutter went quickly past the
window.

Mrs. Paine, looking out, gave a cry of alarm.

"Wait, Pearl! Oh, don't go!" she cried, "stay with me. It's the man
who is going to buy the farm. He said he was coming, but I didn't
believe him;" her hands were locking and unlocking.

Without a word, Pearl slipped off her coat and waited. She seemed
to know the whole situation, and instinctively Peter began to feel
easier. There was something about this handsome girl, with the
firmly-set and dimpled chin, which gave him confidence.

In a few moments Sylvester Paine and his caller came in from the
barn. Pearl stood beside Mrs. Paine, protectingly. Her face had grown
serious; she knew the fight was on.

Sylvester Paine nodded to her curtly, and introduced his guest to
every one at once.

"This is Mr. Gilchrist," he said, "and now we'll get to business. Get
the deeds." he said, to his wife shortly.

Mrs. Paine went upstairs.

"Who did you say the young lady is," asked Mr. Gilchrist, who thought
he recognized Pearl, but not expecting to see her here, wished to be
sure. Mr. Gilchrist, as President of the Political Association, had
heard about Pearl, and hoped she might be an able ally in the coming
election.

"This is Pearl Watson," said Mr. Paine, rather grudgingly. "This is
the girl that's working up the women to thinking that they ought to
vote. Her father and mother are good neighbors of mine, and Pearl was
a nice kid, too, until she went to the city and got a lot of fool
notions."

"I'm a nice kid yet," said Pearl, smiling at him, and compelling him
to meet her eye, "and I am a good neighbor of yours too, Mr. Paine,
for I am going to do something for you today that no one has ever
done. I'm going to tell you something."

She walked over to the table and motioned to the two men to sit
down, though she remained standing. Sylvester Paine stared at her
uncomprehendingly. The girl's composure was disconcerting. Her voice
had a vibrant passion in it that made Peter's heart begin to beat. It
was like watching a play that approaches its climax.

"Mr. Gilchrist probably does not understand that there is a small
tragedy going on here today. Maybe he does not know the part he is
playing in it. It is often so in life, that people do not know the
part they played until it is too late to change. You've come here
today to buy the farm."

Mr. Gilchrist nodded.

"Ten years ago this farm was idle land. Mr. and Mrs. Paine homesteaded
it, and have made it one of the best in the country. It has been hard
work, but they have succeeded. For the last five years Mr. Paine has
not been much at home--he has bought cattle and horses and shipped
them to the city, and has done very well, and now has nearly fifteen
thousand dollars in the bank. There is no cleverer man in the country
than Mr. Paine in making a bargain, and he is considered one of the
best horsemen in the Province. He pays his debts, keeps his word, and
there is no better neighbor in this district."

Sylvester Paine watched her open-mouthed--amazed. How did she know
all this? It made strange music in his ears, for, in spite of all his
bluster, he hungered for praise; for applause. Pearl's words fell like
a shower on a thirsty field.

"Meanwhile," Pearl went on, "Mrs. Paine runs the farm, and makes it
pay, too. Although Mrs. Paine works the hardest of the two, Mr. Paine
handles all the money, and everything is in his name. He has not
noticed just how old and worn her clothes are. Being away so much, the
manner of living does not mean so much to him as to her, for she is
always here. Mrs. Paine is not the sort of woman who talks. She never
complains to the other women, and they call her proud. I think Mrs.
Paine has been to blame in not telling Mr. Paine just how badly she
needs new clothes. He always looks very well himself, and I am sure he
would like to see her well dressed, and the children too. But she will
not ask him for money, and just grubs along on what she can get with
the butter money. She is too proud to go out poorly dressed, and so
does not leave home for months at a time, and of course, that's bad
for her spirits, and Mr. Paine gets many a cross look from her when he
comes home. It makes him very angry when she will not speak--he does
not understand."

"Mr. Paine's intention now is to sell the farm and buy the hotel in
Millford. He will still go on buying cattle, and his wife will run the
hotel. She does not want to do this. She says she will not do it--it
is not a proper place in which to raise her children. She hates the
liquor business. This is her home, for which she has worked."

"It is not much of a home; it's cold in winter and hot in summer. You
would never think a man with fifteen thousand dollars in the bank
would let his wife and children live like this, without even the
common decencies of life. That's why Mrs. Paine has never had any of
her own people come to visit her, she is ashamed for them to see how
badly off she is. No, it is not much of a home, but she clings to it.
It is strange how women and animals cling to their homes. You remember
the old home on the road to Hampton your people had, Mr. Gilchrist,
the fine old house with the white veranda and the big red barn? It was
the best house on the road. It burned afterwards--about three years
ago."

Mr. Gilchrist nodded.

"Well, we bought, when we came to our farm here, one of your father's
horses, the old Polly mare--do you remember Polly?"

"I broke her in," he said, "when she was three."

"Well, Polly had been away a long time from her old home, but last
summer when we drove to Hampton Polly turned in to the old place and
went straight to the place where the stable had stood. There was
nothing there--even the ruins are overgrown with lamb's quarters--but
Polly went straight to the spot. It had been home to her."

A silence fell on the room.

"There is no law to protect Mrs. Paine," Pearl went on, after a long
pause. "The law is on your side, Mr. Gilchrist. If you want the place
there is no law to save Mrs. Paine. Mr. Paine is quite right in saying
he can take the children, so she will have to follow. Mrs. Paine is
not the sort of woman to desert her children. She would live even in
a hotel rather than desert her children. The law is on your side,
gentlemen--you have the legal right to go on with the transaction."

"What law is this?" said Mr. Gilchrist.

"The law of this Province," said Pearl.

"Do you mean to say," said Mr. Gilchrist hotly, "that Mrs. Paine
cannot claim any part of the price of this farm as her own--or does
not need to sign the agreement of sale. Has she no claim at all?"

"She has none," said Pearl, "she has no more claim on this farm than
the dog has!"

"By Gosh! I never knew that," he cried. "We'll see a lawyer in town
before we do anything. That's news to me."

"Are you sure of it, Pearl?" Mrs. Paine whispered. "Maybe there's
something I can do. This young man is a lawyer--maybe he could tell
us."

Sylvester Paine was trying to recover his point of view.

"Can you tell us," Pearl asked Peter, who sat in a corner, intensely
listening, "what the law says."

"The law," said Peter miserably--as one who hates the word he is about
to utter--"gives a married woman no rights. She has no claim on her
home, nor on her children. A man can sell or will away his property
from his wife. A man can will away his unborn child--and it's a hell
of a law," he added fiercely.

Pearl turned to Robert Gilchrist, saying, "Mr. Gilchrist, the law is
with you. The woman and the three children have no protection. Mr.
Paine is willing that they should be turned out. It is up to you."

Mrs. Paine, who had come down the stairs with the deed in her hand,
laid it on the table and waited. For some time no one spoke.

Sylvester Paine looked at the floor. He was a heavy-set man, with a
huge head, bare-faced and rather a high forehead. He did not seem to
be able to lift his eyes.

"I suppose," continued Pearl, "the people who made the laws did not
think it would ever come to a show-down like this. They thought that
when a man promised to love and cherish a woman--he would look after
her and make her happy, and see to it that she had clothes to wear and
a decent way of living--if he could. Of course, there are plenty of
men who would gladly give their wives everything in life, but they
can't, poor fellows--for they are poor; but Mr. Paine is one of the
best off men in the district. He could have a beautiful home if he
liked, and his wife could be the handsomest woman in the neighborhood.
She is the sort of woman who would show off good clothes too. I
suppose her love of pretty things has made her all the sorer, because
she has not had them. I just wanted to tell you, Mr. Gilchrist, before
you closed the deal. Mrs. Paine would never tell you, and naturally
enough Mr. Paine wouldn't. In fact he does not know just how things
stand. But I feel that you should know just what you are doing if you
take this farm. Of course, it is hardly fair to expect you to protect
this woman's home and her children, and save her from being turned
out, if her husband won't--you are under no obligation to protect her.
She made her choice years ago--with her eyes open--when she married
Sylvester Paine. It seems ... she guessed wrong ... and now ... she
must pay!"

Mrs. Paine sank into a chair with a sob that seemed to tear her heart
out. The auburn hair fell across her face, her lovely curly hair, from
which in her excitement she had pulled the pins. It lay on the table
in ringlets of gold, which seemed to writhe, as if they too were
suffering. Her breath came sobbing, like a dog's dream.

Sylvester Paine was the first to speak.

"Pearl, you're wrong in one place," he said, "just one--you had
everything else straight. But you were wrong in one place."

He went around the table and laid his hand on his wife's head.

"Millie," he said, gently.

She looked up at him tearfully.

"Millie!"

He stood awkwardly beside her, struggling to control himself. All the
swagger had gone from him, all the bluster. When he spoke his voice
was husky.

"Pearl has got it all straight, except in one place." he said. "She's
wrong in one place. She says you guessed wrong when you married me,
Millie."

His voice was thick, and the words came with difficulty.

"Pearl has done fine, and sized the case up well ... but she's wrong
there. It looks bad just now, Millie--but you didn't make such a
rotten guess, after all. I'm not just sayin' what I'll do, but--"

"The deal is off, Bob," he said to Mr. Gilchrist, "until Mrs. Paine
and I talk things over."

And then Pearl quietly slipped into her coat and, motioning to Peter,
who gladly followed her, went out.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SEVENTH WAVE


The big storm had demoralized the long-distance telephone service, so,
that it was by night lettergram that George Steadman was commissioned
by the official organizer of the Government to find P.J. Neelands, who
had not been heard of since the morning of the storm. Mr. Steadman was
somewhat at a loss to know how to proceed.

He was very sorry about Mr. Neelands and his reported disappearance.
Mr. Neelands was one of the friendliest and most approachable of
the young political set, and Mr. Steadman had often listened to his
speeches, and always with appreciation. He wondered why Mr. Neelands
had come to Millford now without telling him.

At the hotel, nothing was known of the young man, only that he had
taken a room, registered, slept one night, and gone, leaving all his
things. Mr. Steadman was conducted to Number 17, and shown the meagre
details of the young man's brief stay. His toilet articles, of
sterling silver with his monogram, lay on the turkish towel, which at
once concealed and protected the elm top of the bureau; his two bags,
open and partly unpacked, took up most of the floor space in the room.
His dressing-gown was hung on one of the two hooks on the back of the
door, suspended by one shoulder, which gave it a weary, drunken look.
There was something melancholy and tragic about it all.

"In the midst of life we are in death," said George Steadman to
himself piously, and shuddered. "It looks bad. Poor young fellow--cut
off in his prime--he did not even have a fur coat! and went out never
thinking."

He examined the telegram again--"On business for the Government," it
said, "of a private nature. See 'Evening Echo' March 21st, Page 23."
What could that mean?

George Steadman did not take the "Evening Echo." He hated the very
sight of it. The "Morning Sun" was good enough for him. He remembered
the thrill of pride he had felt when his Chief had said one day in
debate, that he wanted nothing better than the "Sun" and the Bible.
It was an able utterance, he thought, reminding one of the good old
Queen's reply to the Ethiopian Prince, and should have made its appeal
even to the Opposition; but the leader had said, in commenting on it,
that he was glad to know his honorable friend was broad-minded enough
to read both sides!

And now he was told to look up the Opposition paper, and the very page
was given. His first thought was that it was a personal attack upon
himself. But how could that be? He never opened his mouth in the
house--he never even expressed an opinion, and as the campaign had not
yet begun--he had not done anything.

He read the telegram again. In desperation he went back to the long
distance booth, but found the line still out of order, and a wire had
come giving the details of the damage done by the storm. It would be
several days before communication could be established. There was no
help coming from headquarters, and from the wording of the telegram
there seemed to be a reason for their not giving clear details. He
must get a copy of the paper.

Reluctantly he went to the printing office and made known his errand.
Mr. Driggs was delighted to give him the paper--he had it some place,
though he very seldom opened any of his exchanges. He evidently bore
Mr. Steadman no ill-will for his plain talk two weeks ago. With some
difficulty he found it, with its wrapper still intact. It was a loose
wrapper, which slipped off and on easily. Mr. Steadman remarked
carelessly that there was an editorial in it to which his attention
had been drawn, on hearing which Mr. Driggs turned his head and winked
at an imaginary accomplice.

Mr. Steadman went over to the livery stable to find a quiet,
clover-scented corner in which he might peruse his paper. An intuitive
feeling cautioned him to be alone when he read it.

In the office, Mr. Steadman found a chair, and opened his paper.
Bertie, ever on the alert for human interest stories, watched from a
point of vantage. He told Mrs. Crocks afterwards about it.

"The paper seemed to tangle up at first and stick to his fingers. He
wrastled it round and round and blew on it, and turned over pages and
folded it back--Gee, there was a lot of it. It filled the whole table,
and pieces dropped on the floor. He put his foot on them, like as if
he was afraid they'd get away. At last he found something, and he just
snorted--I got as close as I could, but I couldn't see what it was.
There was a picture of a girl--and he read on and on, and snorted out
three times, and the sweat stood out on his face. Twice he cleared up
his throat like your clock does when it gets ready to strike, and
then he tore out a page of the paper and put it in his pocket, and he
gathered up the rest of it and burned it, all but one sheet that was
under the table, and I got it here."

Bertie brought home the news at six o'clock. Mrs. Crocks had a copy of
the paper in her hands at six-fifteen.

Meanwhile, George Steadman, was feeling the need of counsel. His head
swam, and a cruel sense of injustice ate into his heart. He was a
quiet man--he did not deserve this. All his life he had sidestepped
trouble--and here it was staring him in the face. In desperation he
went to Driggs, the editor. He was a shrewd fellow--he would know what
was best to be done.

He found Mr. Driggs still in a sympathetic mood. He threw back his
long black hair and read the article, with many exclamations of
surprise. In places he smiled--once he laughed.

"How can any one answer this, Driggs?" asked Mr. Steadman in alarm.
"What can be done about it? I wish you would write something about it.
I can't think who would do this. There were no strangers that day at
the school--not that I noticed. None of our people would do it. What
do you think about it, Driggs? Would the girl write it herself?"

"No," replied the editor honestly, "I am quite sure Pearl did not do
this."

Suddenly Mr. Steadman thought of the telegram and the missing man. He
resolved to take Driggs into his confidence.

Driggs was as quick to see the import of it as King James was to smell
gunpowder on that fateful November day when the warning letter was
read in Parliament.

"The Government have sent him out to investigate this in your behalf,"
he said.

"But where is he?" asked Mr. Steadman.

Mr. Driggs' bushy brows drew down over his eyes.

"There's one person can help us," he said. He threw on his
jute-colored waterproof and his faded felt hat. Mr. Steadman followed
him as he went quickly to the Horse Repository.

Bertie was hastily consulted, and Bertie as usual ran true.

"Sure I saw him," said Bertie. "Ain't he back yet? Gee! I'll bet he's
froze! He'll be dead by now for sure. He had on awful nice clothes,
but thin toes on his boots, sharp as needles, and gray socks with dots
on them, and a waist on his coat like as if he wore corsets, and gray
gloves--and a cane, Swell! He was some fine looker, you bet, but he
wouldn't last long in that storm."

"Where did he go, Bertie," asked Mr. Steadman, trying to hold his
voice to a tone of unconcern.

"He asked about teachers, and about how far it was to Watsons."

Mr. Driggs and Mr. Steadman's eyes met.

"If he's any place," said Bertie cheerfully, "he'll be there."

To the Watson's Mr. Steadman and Mr. Driggs determined to go,
although, by this time the evening was well advanced.

The storm had piled the snow into huge drifts which completely filled
the railway cuts, but fortunately for those who travelled the sleigh
roads, the snow was packed so hard that horses could walk safely over
it. Bridges over ravines were completely covered, people made tunnels
to the doors of their stables, and in some cases had to dig the snow
away from their windows to let the light in. But the sun had come
out warm, and the weather prophets said it was the last storm of the
season.

When Mr. Steadman and Mr. Driggs approached the Watson home, they
found every window lighted and several sleighs in the yard. From the
house came sounds of laughter and many voices.

"There is no funeral here," said Mr. Driggs lightly.

George Steadman shuddered, "he may never have reached here," he said
in a voice of awe.

They knocked at the woodshed door, but no one heard them. Then they
went quietly in, and finding the kitchen door open, went in.

Mr. Watson, who stood at the door of the "room," shook hands with them
quietly, and said in a whisper:--

"They're acting tableaux now, just step up to the door and see them.
The children are having a party. Pearl will explain it in a minute.
Just step in and watch; you're just in time--they're just goin' to do
King Canute."

The two men looked in. About a dozen young people were in the room,
which was well lighted by a gasoline hanging-lamp. The furniture
was pushed into a corner to leave a good floor space. A curtain was
suspended from one of the beams, and behind it there seemed to be
great activity and whispered directions. Every one was so intently
waiting, they did not notice that the audience had been augmented by
the two men at the door.

In front of the curtain came Pearl to announce the next tableaux:--

"Ladies and gentlemen," she said solemnly, although her audience
began to laugh expectantly, "we will now present to you a historical
tableaux, a living picture of a foolish old king, who thought he could
command the waves to stand still. Seated in his arm-chair on the shore
you will see King Canute. Behind him are the rugged hills of the Saxon
coast. Before him the sea tosses angrily. The tide is rolling in. Each
wave is a little bigger than the last, the seventh wave being the
largest of all. This tableaux, ladies and gentlemen, in the production
of which we have spared no trouble and expense, teaches the vanity of
human greatness. Careful attention has been given to detail, as you
will observe."

She disappeared behind the curtain for a moment, and when it was
pulled back by invisible hands--(broom wire handled by Mary) she was
discovered sitting robed in purple (one of the girls had brought her
mother's Japanese dressing-gown) with a homemade but very effective
crown on her head. Her throne was an arm-chair, raised on blocks of
wood. As King Canute, Pearl's eyes were eagle-like and keen, her whole
bearing full of arrogance and pride. Dramatically she waved her right
arm towards the sea, and in bitter words chided it for its restless
tossing, and commanded it to hear the words of the ALL HIGH, Great and
Powerful King, and stay--just--where--it--was!

But even as she spoke, a small wave came rolling in, gently lapping
the shore. It was Danny Watson, with a small white apron tied around
his person, which at each revolution, made a white crest of breaking
foam.

The King re-doubled his imprecations, and commands, tearing his
hair and threatening to rend his garments, but wave after wave came
rhythmically to shore, growing in size and speed, until the seventh
wave, crested with foam--a pillow-case torn across and fastened with
safety-pins--came crashing to her feet, amid thunderous applause.

When the company, with the king at one end and the first and smallest
wave at the other, stood up to take their applause, and respond to
curtain calls, next to Pearl stood the seventh wave--crested with
foam, dishevelled of hair--a four days' growth of whiskers on his
face--but a happy-looking wave--nevertheless.

Mr. Steadman grabbed hold of his friend hysterically. He could not
speak.

"Well, thank God, he's not dead anyway," he gasped at last.

"But I fancy," murmured Mr. Driggs, "that he is dead--to the cause!"

"Make a speech, Pearl," cried one of the company. "Mr. Neelands would
like to hear you do that one of the Premier's, when he laid the
cornerstone, about 'the generations yet unborn.' Go on, Pearl, that's
a good one!"

"Don't forget 'the waves of emigration breaking at our feet'!" said
Mary, handing Pearl one of Teddy's coats.

Pearl slipped on the coat, carefully adjusting the collar. Then
fingering an imaginary watch-chain, she began. Her face grew
grave--her neck seemed to thicken. Her voice was a throaty contralto.

"We are gathered here today." she declaimed, "to take part in a
ceremonial, whose import we cannot even remotely guess! Whose full
significance will be revealed, not in your time or mine, but to the
generations yet unborn!"

Peter Neelands gave a shout of recognition! Mr. Driggs felt a strong
hand on his arm. George Steadman whispered hoarsely. "Come away,
Driggs. That girl frightens me. This is no place for us!"



CHAPTER XV

THE COMING OF SPRING


The Spring was late, cruelly late, so late indeed that if it had been
anything else but a season, it would have found itself in serious
trouble--with the door locked and a note pinned on the outside telling
it if it could not come in time it need not come at all. But the
Spring has to be taken in, whenever it comes--and be forgiven too, and
even if there were no note on the door, there were other intimations
of like effect, which no intelligent young Spring could fail to
understand. Dead cattle lay on the river bank, looking sightlessly up
to the sky. They had waited, and waited, and hung on to life just as
long as they could, but they had to give in at last.

Spring came at last, brimful of excitement and apologies. It was a
full-hearted, impulsive and repentant young Spring, and lavished all
its gifts with a prodigal hand; its breezes were as coaxing as June;
its head burned like the first of July; its sunshine was as rich and
mellow as the sunshine of August. Spring had acknowledged its debt
and the overdue interest, and hoped to prevent any unpleasantness by
paying all arrears and a lump sum in advance; and doing it all with
such a flourish of good fellowship that the memory of its past
delinquency would be entirely swept away!

The old Earth, frozen-hearted and bleached by wind and cold, and
saddened by many a blighted hope, lay still and unresponsive under the
coaxing breezes and the sunshine's many promises. The Earth knew what
it knew, and if it were likely to forget, the red and white cattle
on the hillside would remind it. The Earth knew that these same warm
breezes had coaxed it into life many times before, and it had burst
into bud and flowers and fruit, forgetting and forgiving the past with
its cold and darkness, and the earth remembered that the flowers had
withered and the fruit had fallen, and dark days had come when it had
no pleasure in them, and so although the sun was shining and the warm
winds blowing--the earth lay as unresponsive as the pulseless cattle
on its cold flat breast.

But the sun poured down its heat, and the warm breezes frolicked into
the out-of-the-way places, where old snowdrifts were hiding their
black faces, and gradually their hard hearts broke and ran away in
creeping streams, and the earth returned to the earth that gave it; a
mist too, arose from the earth, and softened its bare outlines, and
soon the first anemone pushed its furry nose through the mat of gray
grass, and scored another victory on the robin; the white poplar
blushed green at its roots; the willows at the edge of the river
reddened higher and higher, as the sap mounted; headings of mouse-ears
soon began to show on their branches--a green, glow came over the
prairie, and in the ponds, It millions of frogs, at the signal from an
unknown conductor, burst into song.

Then it was that the tired old Earth stopped thinking and began to
feel--a thrill--a throb--a pulsing of new life--the stirring of new
hopes which mocked its fears of cold or frost or sorrow or death.

The Souris Valley opened forgiving arms to the repentant young Spring,
and put forth leaves in gayest fashion. The white bones, fantastically
sticking through faded red hides, were charitably hidden by the grass,
so that the awakened conscience of the tender young Spring might not
be unduly reminded of its cruelty and neglect.

The woman who lived alone at Purple Springs always expected great
things of the Spring. She could not grow accustomed to the coldness of
her neighbors, or believe that they had really cut her off from any
communication, and all through the winter which had just gone she had
kept on telling herself that everything would be different in the
Spring. Looking day after day into the white valley, piled high with
snow, she had said to herself over and over again: "There shall be no
more snow--there shall be no more snow"--until the words began to mock
her and taunt her, and at last lost their meaning altogether like an
elastic band that has stretched too far. If she had been as close a
student of the Bible as her mother, back in Argylshire, she would have
known that her impatience with the snow, which all winter long had
threatened and menaced her, and peered at her with its thousand eyes,
was just the same feeling that prompted John on the Isle of Patmos,
wearied by the eternal breaking of the waves on his island prison, to
set down as the first condition in the heavenly city: "There shall be
no sea."

Three years before, Mrs. Gray had come to the Souris Valley, and
settled on the hill farm. It had been owned by a prospector, who once
in a while lived on it, but went away for long periods, when it was
believed he had gone north into that great unknown land of fabled
riches. He had not been heard from for several years, and the people
of the neighborhood had often wondered what would be done with the
quarter-section, which was one of the best in the district, in case he
never came back. The Cowan's, who lives nearest, had planted one of
the fields, and used the land for the last two seasons. The Zinc's had
run their cattle in the pasture, and two of the other neighbors were
preparing to use the remaining portions of the farm, when there
arrived Mrs. Gray and her seven-year-old son to take possession.

It was Mr. Cowan who demanded to know by what right she came, and when
she had convinced him by showing him the deed of the farm, she came
back at him by demanding that he pay her the rent for the acres he had
used, which he did with a bad grace.

She had not been long in the neighborhood when there came to
demonstrate a new sewing machine a drooping-eyed, be-whiskered man,
in a slim buggy, drawn by a team of sorrel ponies. He claimed to have
known Mrs. Gray in that delightfully vague spot known as "down East,"
and when he found how eagerly any information regarding her was
received, he grew eloquent.

Mrs. Cowan departed from her hard and fast rule, and the rule of her
mother before her, and asked him to stay for dinner, and being an
honest man, in small matters at least, the agent did his best to pay
for his victuals. He told her all he knew--and then some, prefacing
and footnoting his story with the saving clause "Now this may be only
talk--but, anyway, it is what they said about her." He was not a
malicious man--he bore the woman, who was a stranger to him, no
grudge; but that day as he sat at dinner in the Cowan's big, bare
kitchen, he sent out the words which made life hard for the woman at
Purple Springs.

So much for the chivalry of the world and the kindly protection it
extends to women.

Vague rumors were circulated about her, veiled, indefinite
insinuations. The Ladies' Aid decided they would not ask her to join,
at least not until they saw how things were going. She might be all
right, but they said a church society must be careful.

The women watched each other to see who would go to see her first. She
came to church with her boy, to the little church on the river flat,
and the minister shook hands with her and told her he was glad to
see her. But the next week his wife, spending the afternoon at Mrs.
Cowan's, "heard something," and the next Sunday, although he shook
hands with her and began to say he was glad to see her, catching Mrs.
Cowan's eye on him, he changed his sentence and said he was glad to
see so many out.

All summer long the women at Purple Springs held to the hope that
someone would come to see her. At first she could not believe they
were wilfully slighting her. It was just their way, she thought. They
were busy women; she often saw them out in their gardens, and at such
times it was hard for her to keep from waving to them.

The woman who lived the nearest to her, geographically, was Mrs.
Cowan, and one day--the first summer--she saw Mrs. Cowan beating rugs
on the line, and as the day was breezy, it seemed as if she waved her
apron. Mrs. Gray waved back, in an ecstacy of joy and expectation--but
there came no response from her neighbor--no answering signal, and as
the lonely woman watched, hoping, looking, praying--there rolled
over her with crushing sadness the conviction that all her hopes of
friendliness were in vain. The neighborhood would not receive her--she
was an outcast. They were condemning her without a hearing--they were
hurling against her the thunders of silence! The injustice of it ate
deeply into her soul.

Then it was that she began to make the name "Purple Springs" out of
the willow withes which grew below the house. She made the letters
large, and with a flourish, and dyed them the most brilliant purple
they would take, and set them on a wire foundation above her gate. The
work of doing it gave solace to her heart, and when the words were set
in place--it seemed to her that she had declared her independence,
and besides, they reminded her of something very sweet and
reassuring--something which helped her to hold her head up against the
current of ill thoughts her neighbors were directing toward her.

That was the year the school was built, and no other name for it but
"Purple Springs" was even mentioned, and when the track was extended
from Millford west, and a mahogany-red station built, with a tiny
freight shed of the same color, the name of Purple Springs in white
letters was put on each end of the station. So, although the neighbors
would not receive the woman, they took the name she brought.

Her son Jim, a handsome lad of seven, went to school the first day it
was opened. Her mother heart was fearful for the reception he might
get, and yet she tried to tell herself that children were more just
than their elders. They would surely be fair to Jim, and when she
had him ready, with his leather book-bag, his neat blue serge
knickerbocker suit, his white collar and well-polished boots, she
thought, with a swelling of pride, that there would not be a handsomer
child in the school, nor one that was better cared for.

Down the hill went Jim Gray, without a shadow on his young heart. So
long as he had his mother, and his mother smiled at him, life was all
sunshine.

He gave his name to the teacher, and answered all her questions
readily, and was duly enrolled as a pupil in Grade I, along with
Bennie Cowan, Edgar Zinc and Bessie Brownlees, and set at work to make
figures. He wondered what the teacher wanted with so many figures, but
decided he would humor her, and made page after page of them for her.
By noon the teacher decided, on further investigation, to put Master
James Gray in Grade II, and by four o'clock he was a member in good
standing of Grade III.

That night there was much talk of James Gray, his good clothes, and
his general proficiency, around the firesides of the Purple Springs
district.

The next day Bennie Cowan, who was left behind in Grade I, although a
year older than Jim Gray, made the startling announcement:

"Jim Gray has no father."

He sang the words, gently intoning, as if he took no responsibility of
them any more than if they were the words of a song, for Bennie was a
cautious child, and while he did not see that the absence of a father
was anything to worry over, still, from the general context of the
conversation he had heard, he believed it was something of a handicap.

The person concerned in his announcement, being busy with a game of
marbles, did not notice. So quite emboldened, Bennie sang again, "Jim
Gray has no father--and never had one."

The marble game came to an end.

"Do you mean me?" asked Jim, with a puzzled look.

The others stopped playing, too. It was a fearsome moment. Jim Gray
was the most unconcerned of the group.

"That's all you know about it," he said carelessly, as he shut one eye
and took steady aim at the "dib" in the ring, "I've had two."

"Nobody can have two fathers--on earth," said Bessie Brownlees
piously--"we have one father on earth and one in heaven."

"Mine ain't on earth," said Jimmy, "mine are both in heaven."

That was a poser.

"I'll bet they're not," said Bennie, feeling emboldened by Jim's
admission of a slight irregularity in his paternal arrangements.

"How do you know?" asked Jim, still puzzled. It did not occur to him
that there was anything unfriendly in the conversation--"You never saw
them!"

"Well," said Bennie, crowded now to play his highest card, "anyway,
your mother is a bad woman."

Jim looked at him in blank astonishment. His mother a bad woman, his
dear mother! The whole world turned suddenly red to Jim Gray--he did
not need any one to tell him that the time had come to fight.

The cries of Bennie Cowan brought the teacher flying. Bennie, with
bleeding lip and blackened eyes, was rescued, and a tribunal sat
forthwith on the case.

James Gray refused to tell what Bennie Cowan had said. His tongue
could not form the words of blasphemy. The other children, all of whom
had heard his history unfavorably discussed at home, did not help him,
and the case went against the boy who had no friends. Exaggerated
tales were told of his violence. By the end of the week he had struck
Bennie Cowan with a knife. A few days later it was told that he had
kicked the teacher. Nervous mothers were afraid to have their children
exposed to the danger of playing with such a vicious child.

One day a note was given to him to take home. It was from the
trustees, asking Mrs. Gray if she would kindly keep her son James at
home, for his ungovernable temper made it unsafe for other children to
play with him.

That was three years ago. Annie Gray and her son were as much a
mystery as ever. She looked well, dressed well, rode astride, wore
bloomers, and used a rifle, and seemed able to live without either the
consent or good-will of the neighborhood.

In harvest time she still further outraged public opinion by keeping
a hired man, who, being a virtuous man, who had respect for public
opinion, even if she hadn't, claimed fifteen dollars a month extra for
a sort of moral insurance against loss of reputation. She paid the
money so cheerfully that the virtuous man was sorry he had not made it
twenty!

It was to this district, with its under-current of human passions,
mystery and misunderstanding, that Pearl Watson came. The miracle of
Spring was going on--bare trees budding, dead flowers springing; the
river which had been a prisoner all winter, running brimming full,
its ice all gone, and only little white cakes of foam riding on its
current. Over all was the pervading Spring smell of fresh earth, and
the distant smoulder of prairie fires.



CHAPTER XVI

PRINCE OF THE HOUSE OF CLAY


When the train came in from the west, Dr. Clay stepped off and walked
quickly to his office. He called at the drug store before going to his
private office, and inquired of the clerk:

"Any one wanting me, Tommy?"

"Sure--two or three--but nothing serious. Bill Snedden wanted you to
come out and see his horse."

"See his horse!" exclaimed the doctor in surprise.

"Yes, Democracy hasn't been feeling well. Just sort of mopin' around
the stall. Not sick--just out of sorts, you know, down-hearted like."

"Well, why doesn't he get Dr. Moody? Horses are not my line."

"O but he says this is different. Democracy is more like a human being
than a horse, and Dr. Moody don't know much about a horse's higher
nature. He says he's scared to have Dr. Moody come out anyway--every
time he comes, a horse dies, and he's gettin' superstitious about it.
T'aint that he has anything against Dr. Moody. He spoke well of him
and said he was nice to have around in time of trouble, he's so
sympathetic and all that, but he don't want to take any chances with
Democracy. He would have liked awful well to see you, doctor. I told
him you'd be home tonight, and he'll give you a ring. No, there was
nothing serious. There was a young fellow here from the city came out
to see Pearl Watson, they said, about some set of books or something.
He got lost in the storm, and frozen pretty badly. He's out at Watsons
yet, I think. But they didn't phone, or anything--at least, I didn't
get it. I just heard about it."

"All right, Tommy," said the doctor, and went on.

In his own apartment he found everything in order. Telephone messages
were laid beside his mail. His slippers and house-coat were laid out.
The coal fire gleamed its welcome.

The doctor's heart was lighter than it had been. His interview with
the old doctor had been very encouraging.

"You are looking better, Clay," the old man had said. "Have you gained
in weight? I thought so. You are going a little easier, and sleeping
out--that's right. And you see you can save yourself in lots of
ways--don't you? Good! I'm pleased with you. I hear they are after you
to run against the Government. You won't touch it, of course. No good
for a man in your condition. Anyway, a doctor has his own work--and if
you keep your head down, and get away every winter, you'll live to be
an old man yet."

The doctor sat down to read his mail. There were the usual letters
from old patients, prospective patients, people who had wonderful
remedies and had been cruelly snubbed by the medical profession. He
glanced through them casually, but with an absentmindedness which did
not escape his housekeeper when she came in.

Mrs. Burns was determined to tell him something, so determined, that
as soon as she entered, he felt it coming. He knew that was why she
came. The bluff of asking him if he got his telephone messages was too
simple.

Mrs. Burns was a sad looking woman, with a tired voice. It was not
that Mrs. Burns was tired or sad, but in that part of the East from
which she had come, all the better people spoke in weary voices of
ladylike weakness.

"Well, Mrs. Burns," the doctor said, "what has happened today?" He
knew he was going to get it anyway--so he might as well ask for it.

"George Steadman was in an awful state about the young fellow who came
out from the city to see Pearl Watson. He got lost in the storm, and
stayed three days at Paines, and then Pearl came over and took him
home with her. Some say the Government sent him about the piece in the
paper, and some say he's her beau. I don't know. Mrs. Crocks saw Pearl
when she brought him in, and she could get nothing out of her. He's at
the hotel still, though nobody seems to know what his business is."

"O well," laughed the doctor, "we'll just have to watch him. Don't
leave washings on the line, and lock our doors--he can't scare us."

Mrs. Burns afterwards told Mrs. Crocks that "Doctor Clay can be
very light at times, and it seems hardly the thing, considering his
profession."

Mrs. Burns could never quite forgive herself for leaving so early that
night, and almost lost her religion, because no still small voice
prompted her to stay. Just as she left the office, the young man, the
mysterious stranger, came to the door, and Mrs. Burns knew there was
no use going back through the drug store and listening at the door.
The doctor had heavy curtains at each door in his office, and had a
way of leaving the key in the door, that cut off the last hope. So she
went home in great heaviness of spirit.

P.J. Neelands presented his card, and was given a leather chair
beside the fire. He asked the doctor if he might smoke, and was given
permission.

"I am going to talk to you in confidence, Doctor Clay," he said,
nervously. "I guess you're used to that."

The doctor nodded encouragingly: "That's what doctors are for. Go
right on, Mr. Neelands."

"The fact of the matter is--I'm in love," said Peter, taking the head
plunge first.

"O that's nothing," said the doctor. "I mean--that's nothing to worry
about."

"But she does not care a hang for me. In fact, she laughs at me."

Peter's face was clouded in perplexity.

"But I'll begin at the beginning: I belong to the Young Men's
Political Club in the city, and I was sent out here--at least, I
mean I asked to come on a delicate mission. I'm speaking to you
confidentially, of course."

"Of course," said the doctor, "have no fears."

"Well, perhaps you saw this." He produced the article that had caused
the fluttering in the Governmental nest.

The doctor suddenly came to attention.

"Do you know who wrote it? No! Well anyway, I came out to see about
it--to investigate--look over the ground. But, doctor, I got the
surprise of my life. This girl is a wonder."

"Well," the doctor's sympathetic manner had gone. He was sitting
up very straight in his chair now, and his eyes were snapping with
suppressed excitement. "What did you think you could do about it? Did
you think you could stop her--hush her up--or scare her--or bribe
her--or what?"

"I did not know," said Peter honestly. "But I want to tell you what
happened. I was three days at Paine's--caught by the storm--do you
know them? Well, it's a good place to go to see what women are up
against. I was mad enough to throw old Paine out of his own house, and
I found out he was going to sell the farm over her head, and By Jove!
I see why the women want to vote, don't you?"

"I've always seen why," replied the doctor. "I thought every one with
any intelligence could see the justice of it." The doctor's manner was
losing its friendliness, but Peter, intent on his own problems, did
not resent it.

"Well, just when this man Gilchrist came to sign the papers, the
morning I left, she came in--Pearl Watson, I mean--and Doctor, I
never heard anything like it. Talk about pleading a case! She did not
plead--she just reviewed the case--she put it up to Gilchrist--it was
marvellous! If she had asked me to shoot the two of them, I would
have done it. She had me--she has me yet--she's the most charming,
sweet-souled and wonderful girl I ever saw."

The doctor endeavored to speak calmly:

"Well, what about it?" he said. "I agree with you--she is all of
that."

"I am going back to resign from the party. I am going to throw my
weight on the other side," Peter spoke with all the seriousness
of youth. "The girl has shown me what a beastly, selfish lot the
politicians are, and I am going back to denounce them, if they won't
change. But I want to ask you something, Doctor--you won't think I am
cheeky, will you? She gave me absolutely no hope--but girl's sometimes
change their minds. I would wait for years for her. I simply can't
live without her. I thought from the way she spoke there was some
one else--if there is--I will just crawl away and die--I can't live
without her!"

"O shut up," said the doctor impatiently. "Better men than you have to
live without--the women they love--that's foolish talk."

"Well, tell me, doctor," cried Peter desperately, "I just have to
know. Is there any reason why I can't hope to win her? Do you know of
any reason--you know Pearl well. Is there any reason that you know of?
Has any one any right--to stop me from trying?"

The doctor considered. Here was just the situation he had told Pearl
he hoped would arise. This young fellow was clean, honest, and there
was no doubt of his deep sincerity. He had told Pearl she must forget
him. He had tried to mean it, and here it was--here was the very
situation he said he hoped for. He would play up--he could make
himself do what was right, no matter how he felt.

He heard himself say mechanically:

"There is no reason, Mr. Neelands; Pearl is free to decide. No one has
the smallest claim on her."

Peter sprang up and caught his hand, wondering why it should be so
cold. He also wondered at the flush which burned on the doctor's
cheeks.

"Thanks, old man," he cried impulsively, "I cannot tell you how I
thank you. You have rolled a house off me--and now, tell me you wish
me well--I want your good word."

The doctor took his outstretched hand, with an effort.

"I wish you well," he said slowly, in a voice that was like a shadow
of his own.

When Peter had gone, the doctor rose and paced the floor.

"I'm a liar and a hypocrite," he said bitterly. "I don't wish him
well. I said what was not so when I said I hoped to see her married
to some one else--I don't--I want her myself. I can't give her up! I
won't give her up!"

The next morning, before the doctor started to make his calls, Robert
Gilchrist, President of the Political Club, came to see him, again.

"I am not satisfied with that interview we had with you, doctor," he
said, "the day the organizer was here. That fellow made a mess of
everything, and I don't blame you for turning it down. But I tell you,
there's more in it than this fellow thinks. There is a real moral
issue to be decided, and I am here to admit I've had a new look at
things in the last few days. I am going into the city to see our
leader, and I want to see how he feels. But, doctor, some of our laws
are simply disgraceful; they've got to be changed."

He went on to tell the doctor of the day he went to buy Sylvester
Paine's farm.

"I never felt any meaner than when Pearl told me what it meant, and
what I was doing. Doctor, if you had seen the look in Mrs. Paine's
face when Pearl was putting it up to me; Lord, it was tragic. It was
as if her hope of Heaven was in dispute, and didn't Pearl put it to
me? Say, doctor, that girl can swing an election. No one can resist
her arguments--she's so fair about everything--no one can get away
from her arguments. The reason these laws have been left the way they
are, is that no one knows about them. Did you know that a man can sell
everything, and do what he likes with the money, no matter what his
wife says--and did you know a man can take his children away from the
mother--Did you know about these?"

"I did," said the doctor, "in a vague way. Fortunately they do not
often come up--men are better than the laws--and they would need to
be."

"Well, doctor, I'll tell you what I want to say. I believe it is your
duty to run. The women need a few members there to stick up for them.
Pearl thinks our party is all right too--she says they'll grant the
vote--if they get in--and she was at the big meeting where the women
asked them to make it a plank in their platform. She says some of
the old hide-bound politicians gagged a little, but they swallowed
it--they had to." "I wish you could hear Pearl talk, doctor. She
seemed disappointed when I told her you weren't going to run."

"You haven't thought of any one else, Bob?" the doctor asked, after a
pause. "You wouldn't consider it yourself?"

"Any one else but you will surely lose his deposit. The bridge at
Purple Springs will hold them over there, and they have taken off a
slice on the east of the riding and put it in Victoria--where it is
sure to go against the Government anyway. No, this will go to Steadman
by acclamation, unless you let us nominate you."

"Well, I'll reconsider," said the doctor, "and phone you inside of
twenty-four hours."

When Mr. Gilchrist had gone, the doctor sat with his hands behind his
head. His eyes were very bright, and a flush mantled his cheek. His
heart thumped so hard, he could hear it.

"Keep away from excitement, Clay," he could hear the old doctor
saying, "excitement eats up your energy and does not give the builders
a chance. With care, and patience, you may win--but if you will not
save yourself, and nurse yourself, and go slow--you are a dead man!"

He pressed his hands tightly to his head.

"Pearl had been disappointed," Bob had said. It would be a disgrace to
let this riding go by default. There was the liquor question which had
hung fire for fourteen years, while the Government had simply played
with it, and laughed at the temperance people. If women had the vote,
what a power Pearl would be!

Still, one vote in Parliament was nothing--one man could do but
little--and besides, the old doctor had found him improved--he might
be able to beat out the disease yet--by being careful. A campaign
would mean late hours, long drives, meeting people--making
speeches--which he hated--the worst kind of excitement--to move a vote
of thanks tired him more than a week's work.

Still, Pearl would be pleased--he hadn't done much for Pearl. He had
won her love--and then had to turn it away--and had seen those eyes of
her's cloud in disappointment. It had been a raw deal.

Looking through the window, he saw Bertie, with his team, waiting
outside the door. He was letting Bertie take full care of his horses
now, and saving himself in that way.

The sorrel horse on the side next him tossed his head, and chewed the
bit, with a defiant air that set waves of memory in motion. He had
bought this fine four-year-old, because he had reminded him of old
Prince--the same color--the same markings, and the same hard mouth and
defiant red eye.

Usually, he did not keep Bertie waiting--but this morning it did not
matter--there were other things to be decided. The sorrel horse seemed
to be looking at him through the office window.

"There was another sorrel horse to take your place, Prince," said the
doctor, looking at the big sorrel, but thinking of his predecessor;
"although that did not influence you in any way--you left that to me
to find out--you considered that my business. I believe I will be safe
in leaving it to some one higher up to get another doctor to take my
place--doctors--and sorrel horses--there are plenty of them. You had
the right philosophy, Prince. No one else could have saved the woman's
life--so you did that--and let me rustle for another horse. I'll do
the same--after all--it is not individuals who count--it is the race.
We do our bit--and pass on. Straight ahead of me seems to be a piece
of work I can do--and if I have to pay for the privilege of doing
it--I'll pay--without regrets."

He reached for the telephone, and called Mr. Gilchrist.

"Hello Bob," he said steadily, "I've reached a decision. No, it didn't
take me long. Yes, I will. I'll accept the nomination. All right
Bob--I hope so. Thank you for your good opinion--All right."



CHAPTER XVII

PETER'S REPORT


When Peter J. Neelands returned to the city, he sought an interview
with his Chief. It was a bold stroke, Mr. Neelands knew, but the
circumstances warranted it. He must lay the matter before his superior
officer; as a loyal member of the party, he must bring in a warning.
He must make the Government understand.

The old leader was one of the most approachable of men, genial,
kindly, friendly. The interview was arranged without difficulty, and
Peter, with his heart beating uncomfortably, was shown by the old
retainer who kept guard in the outside office through the blue velvet
hangings into the Chief's private office.

At a long oaken table, on which were scattered a few trade journals
and newspapers, he found the great man. An unlighted cigar was in his
mouth, and he sat leaning back in a revolving chair.

"Well, Peter, my son--how are you?" he said gaily, extending his hand.
"And so you feel you must see the old man on business of importance,
vital importance to our country's welfare. That's good; glad to see
you, take a chair beside me and tell uncle who hit you."

The Chief was a man of perhaps sixty years of age, of florid
countenance, red mustache, turning gray, splendidly developed
forehead, dark gray eyes with wire-like wrinkles radiating from them,
which seemed to have been caused more by laughter than worry; a big,
friendly voice of great carrying power, and a certain bluff, good
fellowship about him which marked him as a man who was born to rule
his fellowmen, but to do it very pleasantly.

Peter was complimented to be received so cordially. He was sure he
could make this genial, courteous, kindly old gentleman see certain
questions from a new view-point. He must see it.

"Perhaps you have heard of a girl at Millford who is making somewhat
of a stir along the lines of the Woman Suffrage question," Peter
began.

The great man nodded, and having begun to nod, absent-mindedly
continued, much to Peter's discomfiture. Peter hastily reviewed the
case, though he could see his listener was bored exceedingly.

"Now, what I want you to do, sir," he said earnestly, "is this. Let
this girl come and address the members of the Government and the
Legislature--I mean our members--privately, of course. Let her show
you the woman's side of the question. I know, sir, you turned them
down when the delegation came, but a man can always change his mind.
The thing is inevitable; the vote is coming. If this Government does
not give it--the Government will go down to defeat."

The Chief stopped nodding, and the amiability of his face began to
cloud over. He sat up very suddenly and spread his plump hands on the
table.

"The Opposition have endorsed Woman Suffrage, sir," said Peter
earnestly. "They are making it a plank in their platform."

"Sure they have," cried the Premier, with a laugh, "sure they have.
They are big enough fools to endorse anything! What do we care what
they endorse?"

"But I want to get this over to you, Mr. Graham, that we are losing
our opportunity to do a big thing, something that will live in
history, if we fail to give women the vote. Women are human, they have
a right to a voice in their own government, and if you would just let
this girl come out and talk to you--and the members."

"Look here, Peter," said the great man tolerantly, "I like
enthusiasm--the world is built on it. But I'm an old man now, and have
been a long time dealing with the public and with politics. Politics
is a dirty mess--it's no place for women, and I certainly do not
need to be instructed by any eighteen-year-old girl, pleasant as the
process might be. I believe all you say about her--and her charm. You
had better go and marry her--if you want to."

Peter's face colored. "I would be very happy to do so, but she turned
me down, sir."

"Don't be discouraged, lad; a woman's 'no' generally means 'yes',"
said his Chief. "Now, even if she could talk like the Angel Gabriel, I
won't let her at the members of this Government--I'll tell you why.
I have these fellows trotting easy. They're good boys--they do as
they're told. Now what's the use of getting them excited and confused.
Peter, you know how it is with the Indians--in their wild state,
eating rabbits and digging roots--they're happy, aren't they? Sure
they are. If you bring them into town, show them street-cars and shop
windows and take them to theatres, you excite them and upset them,
that's all. O no, Peter, I'll take no chances on spoiling my
simple-hearted country members by turning loose this orb-eyed young
charmer who has thrown you clean off your trolley."

"But, sir, consider the case yourself; won't you admit, sir, that the
laws are fearfully unjust to women?" Peter began to explain, but the
Premier interrupted:

"Peter, the world is very old; certain things are established by
usage, and the very fact that this is so argues that it should be so.
Women are weaker than men--I did not make them so--God made them so.
He intended them to be subject to men. Don't get excited over it. It
sounds well to talk about equality--but there's no such thing. It did
not exist in God's mind, so why should we try to bring it about? No,
no, Peter, women are subject to men, and always will be. It would
not do to make them independent in the eyes of the law, independent
economically. If they were they would not marry. Look at the women
in the States--where in some places they vote--look at the type that
develops. What does it bring?--race-suicide, divorce--free love. I'm
an old-fashioned man, Peter, I believe in the home."

"So do I," said Peter, "with all my heart."

The great man began to show signs of impatience.

"Before I go," said Peter earnestly, "let me make one more appeal to
you. This is a live issue. It cannot be dismissed by a wave of the
hand. Will you listen to a debate on it--will you let it be discussed
in your hearing?"

The old man considered a moment--then he said:

"This will wear off you, Peter. I, too, have been young. I understand.
Forget it, boy, and get back to normal. No, I will not hear it
discussed. I know all about it--all I want to know. I don't know why
I am wasting so much time on you and your particular type of
foolishness, Peter. I have people like you seeing me every day.
Usually they are dealt with by Mr. Price, in the outer office. He has
orders to put the can on them and open the door. O no, Peter, there
will be no radical measures while I sit at the helm--I am too old to
change my mind."

Peter began to put on his gloves. The older man held out his hand.

"Well, good-bye, Peter," he said kindly, "come again--come any
time--always glad to see you."

"I will not be back," said Peter quietly, "this is good-bye. If I
cannot show you that you are wrong, I will go out and help the women
to show the people that you are wrong. Pearl says if the Premier is
too old to change his mind we will do the next best thing."

"And what is that?"

"Change the Premier," Peter replied, steadily.

The old man laughed, with uproarious mirth.

"Peter, you're funny, all right; you're rich; I always did enjoy the
prattle of children, but I can't fool away any more time on you--so
run along and sell your papers."

Peter went through the blue velvet hangings, past the worthy henchman,
who sat dozing in his chair, and made his way to the front door. The
mural decorations in the corridor caught his eye--the covered wagon,
drawn by oxen plodding patiently into the sunset--the incoming
settlers of the pioneer days.

"I wonder if the women did not do their full share of that," he
thought. "They worked, suffered, hoped, endured--and made the country
what it is. I wonder how any man has the nerve to deny them a voice in
their own affairs."

While Peter was taking his departure, and before he had reached the
front gate, one of the many bells which flanked the Premier's table
was wildly rung.

"Send Banks to me," he said crisply, to the lackey who appeared.

The genial mood had gone; his brows were clamped low over his eyes. He
had chewed the end off his cigar.

"Every time the women raise ructions it sets me thinking of her. I
wonder what became of her," he murmured. "The ground seems to have
swallowed her. She might have known I did not mean it; but women don't
reason--they just feel."

The news of P.J. Neelands' resignation from the Young Men's Political
Club made a ripple of excitement in Government circles, and brought
forth diverse comments.

"There's a girl in it, I hear," said one of the loungers at the Maple
Leaf Club; "some pretty little suffragette has won over our Peter."

"He does not deny it," said another, "he'll tell you the whole
story--and believe me, Peter is an enthusiastic supporter of the
women's cause now. I see in this morning's paper he made a speech for
them last night called 'The Chivalry of the Law.' Peter has the blood
of the martyrs in him for sure--for he was in a straight line for the
nomination here in 'Centre.'"

"Peter Neelands makes me tired," said a third gloomily. "Why does he
need to get all fussed up over the laws relating to women--they have
too much liberty now--they can swear away a man's character--that's
one thing I'd like to see changed. It's dangerous, I tell you."

The first man finished the discussion:

"I always liked Peter, and am sorry he's quit us. He'll have a
following, too, just because he does believe in himself."

Though the loungers at the Maple Leaf Club took the news of Peter
Neeland's secession with composure, mingled with amusement, the chief
organizer, Mr. Banks, viewed it with alarm, and voiced his fears to
the head of his department, who sat in his accustomed chair, with a
bottle of the best beside him. The Honorable member listened, but
refused to be alarmed. It was past the third hour of the afternoon,
and the rainbow haze was over everything.

"I tell you," said Mr. Banks, "something is going to break if we
can't get this thing stopped. The women are gaining every day. Their
meetings are getting bigger, and now look at Peter Neelands. This
Watson girl has got to be canned--got rid of--if we have to send her
to do immigration work in London, England."

The honorable member did his best to hold his head steady.

"Do what you like, Banks," he said thickly, "only save the country.
My country if she's right; my country if she's wrong; but always my
country! 'Lives there a man with soul so dead,' eh, Banks? That's the
dope--what? Damn the women--but save the home--we gotta' save the
home."

Oliver Banks looked at him in deep contempt, and shook his head.
"These birds make things hard for us," he murmured. "He looks like a
Minister of the Crown now, doesn't he? Lord! wouldn't he make a sight
for the women! I'd like to hear their description of him just as he
sits now."

The minister sat with his pudgy hands spread out on the arms of his
chair. His head rolled uncertainly, like a wilting sunflower on a
broken stalk. His under lip was too full to fit his face. If he had
been a teething infant one would have been justified in saying he was
drooling.

The organizer called a waiter and instructed him to phone to the
gentleman's house and speak to his chauffeur.

"Tell him to take the old man home," he said briefly, "he seems to
be--overtaken."

"Very good, sir," said the waiter, without a flicker of an eyelash.

Then the organizer went to a telephone booth and called George
Steadman, of Millford, requesting him to come at once to the city on
important business.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE WOMAN OF PURPLE SPRINGS


None of us has lived long without discovering that everything he
has he pays for; that every gain has a corresponding loss; that a
development even of one of our own faculties, is at the expense of
the others. The wild wheat is small and dwarfed in size in its native
state, but very hardy. Under persistent cultivation it grows bigger
and more productive, but, unfortunately, susceptible to the frost. The
wild rabbit when domesticated grows bigger and more beautiful, but
loses his speed and cleverness. So it is all through life--it all
comes in the bill--we cannot escape the day of reckoning.

If Pearl Watson had not had a taste for political speeches and
debates; if she had read the crochet patterns in the paper instead of
the editorials, and had spent her leisure moments making butterfly
medallions for her camisoles, or in some other ladylike pursuit,
instead of leaning over the well-worn railing around the gallery of
the Legislative Assembly, in between classes at the Normal, she would
have missed much; but she would have gained something too.

For one thing, she would have had an easier time getting a
boarding-house in the Purple Springs District, and would not be
standing looking disconsolately out at the Spring sunshine, one day at
the end of April, wondering, with a very sore heart, why nobody wanted
to give her board and shelter. It was a new and painful sensation for
Pearl, and it cut deeply.

Mrs. Zinc could not keep her beyond May the first, for relatives were
coming from the East. Mrs. Cowan could not take her, for she had too
much to do as it was--and could not get help that wasn't more trouble
than it was worth. They would waste more than their wages, and what
they did not waste they would steal. Mrs. Cowan's tongue was unloosed
by the memory of her wrongs, and it was half an hour before Pearl
could get away. Mrs. Cowan had surely suffered many things at the
hands of help of all nationalities. She had got them from employment
bureaus, government and private; from the Salvation Army and from
private friends in the old country. Her help had come from everywhere
except from the Lord! No indeed, she couldn't take any one to board.

A careful canvass of the neighborhood had resulted in disappointment;
not one home was available. Embarrassment had sat on the faces of many
of the women when they talked with her about it, and Pearl was quick
to see that there was something back of it all, and the antagonism of
the unknown lay heavily on her heart.

The yellow Spring sun, like liquid honey, fell in benediction on the
leafless trees, big with buds, and on the tawny mat of grass through
which the blue noses of anemones were sticking. Cattle eagerly cropped
the dead grass and found it good, and men were at work in the fields.
They all had homes and beds, Pearl thought, with a fresh burst of
homelessness.

She had prepared her blackboards for the next day, and made her desk
tidy, and was just about to leave for the day and walk the mile to
Mrs. Howser's to see if she could make it her abiding place, when
Bessie Cowan came running with a letter.

"Please, teacher," said Bessie, out of breath from running, "Ma
thought this might be an important letter, and you should have it
right away. It came in our mail."

Pearl took it, wonderingly. It bore the official seal of the
Department of Education. Only once had she received such a letter, and
that was when she received permission to attend the Normal. When she
opened it, she read:

"Dear Madam:--You have been recommended to us by the Principal of the
Normal School for special work required by this Department, and we
will be pleased to have you come to our office inside of the next week
for instructions. We will pay you a salary of one hundred dollars a
month, and travelling expenses, and we believe you will find the work
congenial. Kindly reply as soon as possible."

Pearl's heart was throbbing with excitement. Here was a way of escape
from surroundings which, for some unknown reason, were uncomfortable
and unfriendly.

Bessie Cowan watched her closely, but said not a word. Bessie was a
fair-skinned little girl, with eyes far apart, and a development of
forehead which made her profile resemble a rabbit's.

"Thank you, Bessie" said Pearl, "I am glad to have this." She sat
at her desk and began to write. Bessie ran home eagerly to tell her
mother how the letter had been received.

Pearl decided to write an acceptance, and to 'phone home to her mother
before sending it.

When the letter was written she sat in a pleasant dream, thinking of
the new world that had opened before her. "Travelling expenses," had a
sweet sound in her young ears--she would go from place to place,
meet new people, and all the time be learning something--learning
something--and forgetting.

Pearl winced a little when she recalled Mrs. Crock's words when she
came through Millford on her way to Purple Springs:

"The doctor should be the candidate, but I guess Miss Keith won't let
him. They say he's holdin' off to run for the Dominion House next
Fall. You maybe could coax him to run, Pearl. Have you seen him
lately? Miss Keith was down twice last week, and he went up for
Sunday. It looks as if they were keepin' close company--oh well, he's
old enough to know his own mind, and it will be nice to have the
Senator's daughter livin' here. It would give a little style to the
place, and that's what we're short of. But it's nothing to me--I don't
care who he marries!"

Pearl had hurried away without answering. Mrs. Crocks' words seemed
to darken the sun, and put the bite of sharp ice in the gentle spring
breeze. Instead of forgetting him, every day of silence seemed to lie
heavier on her heart; but one thing Pearl had promised herself--she
would not mope--she would never cry over it!

She read the letter over and tried to picture what it would mean. A
glow of gratitude warmed her heart when she thought of the Normal
School Principal and his kindness in recommending her. She would
fulfil his hopes of her, too. She would do her work well. She would
lose herself in her work, and forget all that had made her lonely and
miserable. It was a way of escape--the Lord was going to let her down
over the wall in a basket.

There was a very small noise behind her, a faint movement as if a
mouse had crossed the threshold.

She turned quickly, and gave a cry of surprise and delight.

At the door, shyly looking in at her, was a little boy of perhaps ten
years of age, with starry eyes of such brilliance and beauty she could
see no other feature. He looked like a little furry squirrel, who
would be frightened by the slightest sound.

For a moment they looked at each other; then from the boy, in a
trembling voice, clear and high pitched, came the words:

"Please, teacher!"

The tremble in his voice went straight to Pearl's heart.

"Yes, dear," she said, "come right in--I want you--I'm lonesome--and I
like little boys like you."

His eyes seemed to grow more luminous and wistful.

"I can't come in," he said. "I can't come into the school at all--not
the least little bit--I have an ungovernable temper."

"I'm not afraid," said Pearl gravely, "I am very brave that way, and
don't mind at all. Who says you have?"

"The trustees," he said and his voice began to quiver. "They sent
mother a letter about me."

"O, I know you now, James," said Pearl, "come in--I want to talk to
you. I was going to see you just as soon as I got settled."

Cautiously he entered; the out-door wildness was in his graceful
movements. He stooped a few feet away from her and said again:

"Please, teacher."

Pearl smiled back, reassuringly, and his eyes responded.

"Did you get a place yet?" he asked eagerly.

"No, I didn't," she answered. She was going to tell him that she would
not need a place, for she was going away, but something stopped her.
Somehow she could not dim the radiance of those eager eyes.

"Teacher!" he cried coming nearer, "would you come and live with us?
My mother is just sweet, and she would like to have you. She is away
today, to Millford, and won't be home till eight o'clock. I stayed at
home because I wanted to see you. My mother watched you going to the
houses--we can see all of them from our house--and every time you
came away from them--she was glad. We have a spy-glass, and we could
see--that's how we knew how nice you were, teacher"--he was almost
near enough to touch her now. "You can have my bed if you will come."

Pearl wanted to draw him to her and kiss the fear forever from his
face, but she was still afraid he might vanish if she touched him.

"My mother thinks you are nice," he said softly. "We saw you patting
Cowan's dog and walking home with the children. One day we saw you
walking home with Edgar Zinc. He held your hand--and my mother got to
thinking that it might have been me that you had by the hand, and
she cried that day, and couldn't tell why. It wasn't because she was
lonely--because she never is lonely. How could she be when she has me?
She tells me every day she is not lonely. But we'd like fine to have
you live with us, teacher, because you're nice."

Pearl's arm was around him now, and he let her draw him over to her.

"Tell me all about yourself," she said, with a curious tugging at her
heart.

"We're orphans," he said simply, "mother and I--that means our people
are dead. We had no people, only just our daddy. We didn't need any
people only him, and he's dead. And then we had Mr. Bowen--and he's
dead. Don't it beat all how people die? Are you an orphan?"

Pearl shook her head.

James continued: "We're waiting here until I get bigger and mother
gets enough money--and then we're going back. It's lovely to be going
back. This isn't the real Purple Springs--we just called it that for
fun, and because we love the name. It makes us happier when we say it.
It reminds us. Mother will tell you if you live with us."

"At night we light the fire and watch it crackling, and I sit on
mother's knee. Ain't I a big boy to sit on a lady's knee?--and she
tells me. At Purple Springs there's pansies as big as plates--mother
will draw them for you--and the rocks are always warm, and the streams
are boiling hot, and nobody is ever sick there or tired. Daddy
wouldn't have died if we'd stayed there. But there's things in life no
one understands. We'll never leave when we go back."

The boy rambled on, his eyes shining with a great excitement. Pearl
thought she was listening to the fanciful tales with which a lonely
woman beguiled the weary hours for her little son It was a weirdly
extravagant fairy story, and yet it fascinated Pearl in spite of it's
unlikeness to truth. It had all the phantasy of a midsummer night's
dream.

The boy seemed to answer her thoughts.

"Ain't it great to have something lovely to dream over, teacher? I bet
you've got sweet dreams, too. Mother says that what kills people's
souls is when they have no purple springs in their lives. She says
she's sorry for lots of people They live and walk around, but their
souls are dead, because their springs have dried up."

Pearl drew him closer to her. He was so young--and yet so old--so
happy, and yet so lonely. She wanted to give him back a careless,
happy, irresponsible childhood, full of frolicking fun and mischief,
without care or serious thought. She longed to see him grubby-fisted
bare-footed, tousle-haired, shouting and wrestling with her young
tykes of brothers. It was not natural or happy to see a child so
elfin, so remote, so conscious of the world's sorrows.

"Will you come with me now, teacher?" he asked eagerly.

Pearl could not resist the appeal. The sun hung low in an amber haze
as they left the school and took the unfrequented road to the brown
house on the hill--the house of mystery.

The air was full of the drowsy sounds of evening; cattle returning
after their day's freedom in the fields, cow-bells tinkling
contentedly. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked; and on the gentle
breeze came the song of a hermit thrush, with an undertone of cooing
pigeons. The acrid smell of burning leaves was in the air.

The river valley ran into the sunset with its bold scrub-covered
banks, on the high shoulder of which the railway cut made a deep welt,
purple now with evening. Every day the westbound train, with its gray
smoke spume laid back on its neck like a mane, slid swiftly around the
base of the hill until the turn in the river made it appear to go into
a tunnel, for the opposite bank obscured it from view. It re-appeared
again, a mile farther west, and its smoke could be followed by the eye
for many miles as it made its way to the city. This year it was the
Government's promise that the river would be bridged at Purple Springs
and the road made more direct.

"Mother says no one could be lonely when they can see the trains,"
said James Gray. "Mother just loves the trains--they whistle to us
every day. They would stop and talk to us only they're in such a
hurry."

When her young escort led Pearl Watson into the living-room she gave
an exclamation of delight. A low ceiling, with weathered beams; a
floor covered with bright-colored, hand-made rugs, bookcases
filled with books, a few pictures on the wall, and many pieces of
artistically constructed furniture.

"Mother makes these in the winter, she and I. We work all evening,
and then we make toast at the fireplace and play the phonograph and
pretend we have visitors. Ever since we knew you were coming you've
been our visitor, and now tonight I'll hide you, and mother will think
I'm just pretending, and then you'll come out, and mother will think
she's dreaming again."

Pearl helped her young friend to milk the two fine cows that came up
to the bars expectantly, after which the evening meal was prepared,
and Pearl was amazed at the deft manner in which the boy set about his
work. He told her more about calories and food values and balanced
meals than the Domestic Science Department at the Normal School had
taught her.

"How do you know all this?" she asked him in surprise.

"Mother reads it in books and tells me. Mother learns everything
first, and tells me--she is determined," said the boy gravely, "that
I will have just as good a chance as other children. She says if
she ever did anything that wasn't right, and which made it hard for
me--she'll make it up. Mother says God is often up against it with
people, too. He has to let things happen to them--bad things--but He
can always make it up to them--and He will! Do you think that too,
teacher?"

"I am sure of it," said Pearl, with a catch in her throat and a sudden
chill of doubt. Were there some things which even God could not make
up to us?

The fireplace was laid with red willow wood, and when everything was
ready, and the hour had come when Mrs. Gray was expected home, Pearl
and James waited in the big chair before the fire, which darted
tongues of purple flame and gave a grateful heat, for the evening was
chilly. They did not light the lamp at all, for the light from the
fire threw a warm glow over the room.

A great peace seemed to have come to Pearl's heart. The neighbors of
Purple Springs, with their inhospitable hearts, seemed far away and
unreal. That thought in some occult way came to her with comforting
power from the spirit which dwelt in this home.

For three years no friendly foot had come to this threshold, no one
had directed a friendly thought to the woman who lived here, nor to
the child; yet woman and child had lived on happily in spite of this,
and now to Pearl, on whom the taboo of the neighborhood had also
fallen, there came the peace of mind which could set quietly at
defiance the opinion of the little world which surrounded her.

So intent were Pearl and James on the story that Pearl was telling
they did not hear the buggy, which drove up to the house. Mrs. Gray
got out and took out her parcels at the front door. The leaping flames
from the fire-place in the pretty room, made a picture she loved well.
It was so significant of home--and it is those who have not always had
a home who love it best. She stopped to watch the light as it danced
on the shelves of books and the brightly colored hangings and rugs.

Seeing Pearl in the big chair, with her arm around the boy, Annie
Gray's heart gave a leap of rapture. Her boy had a companion--a human
comrade other than herself. It had come at last! The dream had come
true! She watched Pearl, fascinated, fearful. Was it a dream, or was
there really a human being, and such a lovely one, a guest at her
fireside?

With a quick movement she flung open the door James ran to his mother
with a welcoming shout. Then Pearl stood up, and the two women shook
hands without a word. They looked long into each other's eyes; then
with a quick impulse, and a sudden illumination, Pearl put her arms
around the older woman and kissed her.

Annie Gray held her away from her, so she could look at her again.
Then with a laugh that was half a sob, she said:

"Prayers--are--sometimes--answered," and without any warning,
surprising herself even more than she did the others--she began to
cry. Three years is a long time.



CHAPTER XIX

THE END OF A LONELY ROAD


When Pearl opened her eyes the next morning it was with a delicious
sense of well-being, which increased as she looked about her. It may
have been the satiny smoothness of the sheets, the silk eiderdown
quilt, with its plumy yellow chrysanthemums, the pale yellow scrim
curtains, across whose lower borders young brown ducks followed each
other in stately procession; the home-made table with its gray linen
runner, across which a few larger ducks paraded, and which held a
large lamp, with a well-flounced shade; the soft buff walls, with
their border of yellow autumn woods, sun-sweet and cool, with
leaf-strewn paths that would be springy to walk on. It may have been
these, for Pearl's heart could easily be set tingling by a flash of
color that pleased her. But there is no doubt the room had a presence,
a strong, buoyant, cheerful presence. It had been furnished to defy
loneliness. Who could be lonely looking down at a thick plushy rug of
woolly white sheep, shading into yellow, lying on the very greenest of
grass, beside a whimsical little twisting stream that you were just
sure had speckled trout in it, darting over its gravelly bottom, if
your eyes were only quick enough to catch the flash of them; and who
wouldn't be glad to wash in a basin that was just lined with yellow
roses, with a few of them falling out over the sides; and who wouldn't
accept the gift of a towel from a hospitable oak hand, which held out
a whole bouquet of them--one on each finger; towels with all sorts of
edgings and insertions and baskets of flowers and monograms on them
just begging you to take your choice. And if anything else were needed
to keep the heart from dull gray loneliness, or ugly black fear, on
the wall over the bed was a big gilt-framed picture of an amber-eyed,
white-collared, blessed collie dog, with the faintest showing of his
red tongue, big and strong and faithful, just to remind you that
though changes befall and friends betray and hopes grow cold,
faithfulness and affection have not entirely vanished from the earth.

Pearl's sense of freedom, of power, of comfort, seemed to increase as
she lay watching the spot of sunshine which fell on the rug with its
flock of sheep and seemed to bring them alive. The whole room seemed
to fit around her, the ceiling bent over her like a kind face,
the walls, pictures, and furniture were like a group of friends
encouraging her, inspiring her, soothing her.

Pearl searched her mind for a word to describe it. "It feels
like--Saturday--" she said at last, "--freedom, rest, plans,
ambitions--it has them all, and it has something deeper still in
it--it is like a section of a tree, in which history can be read,
storms and winds and sunshine," for Pearl knew instinctively that it
was a tower-room that Annie Gray had made for an armor for her soul,
so it would not be pierced by the injustice and unkindness of the
world.

"They do not understand," Pearl said again, "that's all--they do not
mean to be so horrid to her--it's queer how badly people can treat
each other and their conscience let them get away with it. Even if
Mrs. Gray had been all they said, she had not done any wrong to
them--why should they feel called upon to punish her? Well, I can tell
them a few things now."

A fire burned in the fireplace, and the breakfast-table was set in
front of it. Mrs. Gray, in an attractive mauve house-gown, came in
from the kitchen. She was a tall woman, with steel gray eyes, with
pebblings of green--the eyes of courage and high resolve. Her features
were classical in their regularity, and reminded Pearl of the faces in
her history reproduced from the Greek coins, lacking only the laurel
wreath. Her hair was beginning to turn gray, and showed a streak at
each side, over her temples. A big black braid was rolled around her
perfectly round head; a large green jade brooch, with a braided silver
edge, fastened her dress. Her hands were brown and hard, but long,
shapely and capable looking.

The boy was sleeping late, so Pearl and her hostess ate their
breakfast alone.

"Will you let me stay with you, Mrs. Gray," Pearl asked, when
breakfast was over. "I will make my own bed, keep my things tidy, try
not to spill my tea. I will wipe my feet, close the screen door, and
get up for breakfast."

Mrs. Gray looked across the table, with her dear eyes fastened on her
guest. Suddenly they began to grow dim with tears.

"Pearl," she said, laughing, "I don't know what there is about you
that makes me want to cry. I've gone through some rough places in life
without a tear, but you seem to have a way all your own to start me
off."

"But I don't hurt you, do I?" Pearl asked, in distress. "Surely I
don't--I wouldn't do that for the world."

"Not a bit of it," laughed her hostess, as she wiped her eyes, and
then, blinking hard to clear away the last traces of grief, she said:

"Pearl, before you come to board with me you should know something
about me; you have no doubt heard some strange things."

Pearl did not deny it.

"And you should know the whole story, and then judge for yourself
whether you consider I am a fit person to live with."

"But I do already," said Pearl. "I consider you a very proper and
delightful person to live with. I don't want to know a thing about
you unless you care to tell me. You don't know anything about me
either--we both have to take a chance--and I am willing if you are."

"But there will be an insurrection in the neighborhood. They won't let
you, Pearl. They can't forgive me for coming here without reference or
character, and with a child, too."

"Well, he's a pretty fine child," said Pearl, "and, I should say, a
sort of certificate for his mother."

"Well, no matter how fine a child he is--no matter what care a mother
has taken in his training--nothing can atone, in the eyes of society
for the failure of conforming to some of their laws. Society's laws,
not God's laws. Society is no friend to women, Pearl."

"But it is just because people do not think," said Pearl, "They have
made certain laws--and women have not made any protest, so the men
think they are all right."

"And do you know why, Pearl?" she asked. "Women who are caught in the
tangle of these laws, as I was, cannot say a word--their lips
are dumb. The others won't say a word for fear of spoiling their
matrimonial market. The worst thing that can be said of a woman is
that she's queer and strong-minded--and defies custom. If you want to
be happy, Pearl, be self-centered, virtuous, obey the law, and care
nothing for others."

"You don't mean that," said Pearl. "You've been hard hit some way I
do not want to know until you want to tell me. But I am going to stay
with you if you will keep me. I am determined to stay."

Annie Gray's steely eyes clouded over again, like a sun-kissed lake
when a cloud passes over it. They grew deeper, grayer, and of misty
tenderness.

"You are doing something for me, Pearl, that I thought could never be
done; you are restoring my faith. Remember, I have not been as unhappy
as you may think. I had my happiness--that's more than some women can
say. I have had the rapture, the blessedness of love--I've had
it all--the rapture of holding and the agony of loss--I'm only
thirty-one, but I've lived a thousand years. But, Pearl, you've done
something for me already; you have set my feet again on something
solid, and I am a different woman from yesterday. Some day I'll tell
you a strange story until then, you'll trust me?"

"Until then--and far beyond it--forever," said Pearl. "I'll trust
you--I have an idea you and I are going to stick together for a long
time."

Pearl went back to the school and found her letter of acceptance in
the desk. She tore it up and wrote another, thanking the department
for their kindness in offering her such a splendid position, but
explaining that she had decided to stay at the school at Purple
Springs. She made her decision without any difficulty. There was a
deep conviction that the threads of destiny were weaving together her
life and Annie Gray's, and she knew, from some hidden source in
her soul, that she must stand by. What she could do, was vague and
unformed in her mind, but she knew it would be revealed to her.

Pearl, child of the prairie, never could think as clearly when her
vision was bounded by walls. She had to have blue distance--the great,
long look that swept away the little petty, trifling, hampering
things, which so slavishly dominate our lives, if we will let them. So
she took her way to a little lake behind the school, where with the
school axe she had already made a seat for herself under two big
poplar trees, and cut the lower branches of some of the smaller ones,
giving them a neat and tidy appearance, like well-gartered children
dressed for a picnic.

There were a few white birches mixed with the poplars, so delicately
formed and dainty in their slender branches and lacy leaves, they
looked like nice little girls with flowing hair, coming down to bathe
in the blue lake, timidly trying out the water with their white feet.
The trees formed a semi-circle around the east side of the lake,
leaving one side open to view, and she could see the prairie falling
away to the river, which made a wide detour at this point.

Pearl settled herself in her rustic seat, putting the newspaper, which
she had left for the purpose, behind her back as she leaned against
the tree, to keep the powdery bark from marking her blue coat, and
leaning back contentedly, she drank in the spring sounds.

The sun, which stood almost at noon, seemed to draw the leaves out
like a magnet; she could almost believe she saw them unfolding; above
her head there was a perfect riot of bird's song, and a blue-bird,
like a burst of music, went flashing across the water. A gray squirrel
chattered as he ran up a tree behind her, and a rabbit, padding over
the dead leaves on his way to the lake, made a sound like a bear.

Up through the tree tops there had climbed a few blue rags of smoke,
for behind her a sleepy prairie fire was eating backward toward a
ploughed fire-guard, and the delightful acrid smell brought back the
memory of past prairie fires, pleasant enough to think of, as life's
battles are, if they end victoriously. Not a breath stirred in the
trees, and the prairie fire that smouldered so indolently was surely
the gentlest of its race.

Suddenly there came a gust of wind through the trees, which set them
creaking and crackling with vague apprehension, for the wind is
always the mischief maker--the tattler--the brawler who starts the
trouble--and the peaceful, slumbering absent-minded prairie fire,
nibbling away at a few dead roots and grass, had been too much for it.
Here was a perfectly good chance to make trouble which no wind could
resist.

A big black cloud went over the sun, and all in a minute the placid
waters of the lake were rasped into a pattern like the soles of new
rubbers--the trees were bending--crows cawing excitedly, and the fire,
spurred by the wind, went racing through the lake bottom and on its
way up the bank toward the open country. The cattle, which had
been feeding at the east side of the lake, sniffing danger, turned
galloping home to furnish an alibi in case of trouble.

But the excitement was short-lived owing to a circumstance which the
wind had overlooked. The wind had made a mistake in its direction, and
so the fire had one wild, glorious race up the bank only to find its
nose run right into a freshly ploughed fire-guard, steaming damp and
richly brown. The fire sputtered, choked and died down, black and
disappointed, leaving only a few smoking clumps of willows.

Then the wind, seeing no further chance of trouble, went crackling
away over the tree tops, and the sun came back, brilliant and warm
as ever, and there was nothing to show that there had been any
excitement, save only the waves on the lake. The wind was gone,
laughing and unrepentant, over the tree-tops; the sun had come back as
genially as if it had never been away--but the lake could not forget,
and it fretted and complained, in a perfectly human way, pounding the
bank in a futile attempt to get back at some one. The bank had not
been to blame, but it had to take the lake's repinings, while the real
culprit went free and unreproached.

Pearl could tell what the lake was saying, as it lashed itself foaming
and pounding just below her feet. It called to the world to listen.

"Look how I'm used," it sobbed, "and abused--and confused."

Pearl put her hands in the silk-lined pockets of her coat, and thought
about what she had just seen.

"Life is like this," she said at last, "human nature is full of
mischief. It loves to start trouble and fan a fire into a destructive
mood; and there's only one way to stop it--plough a fire-guard. I wish
there had been some one here to plough a fire-guard when the fires of
gossip began to run here three years ago."

"I'll go now and dress up, and break the news to the neighborhood that
I am going to the house at Purple Springs to board. There will be
a row--there will be a large row--unless I can make the people
understand, and in a row there is nothing so sustaining as good
clothes--next to the consciousness of being right, of course," she
added after a pause. An hour later, Pearl Watson, in her best dress
of brown silk, with her high brown boots well polished, and her small
brown hat, made by herself, with a band of crushed burnt orange
poppies around the crown, safely anchored and softened by a messaline
drape; with her hair drawn over the tops of her ears, and a smart
fawn summer coat, with buttons which showed a spot of red like a
pigeon-blood ruby. Pearl looked at herself critically in the glass:

"These things should not count," she said, as she fastened a thin veil
over her face and made it very neat at the back with a hairpin, "but
they do."



CHAPTER XX

ANNIE GRAY'S STORY


The Purple Springs district was going through a period of intense
excitement. Housework languished, dough ran over, dish-water cooled.
The news which paralyzed household operations came shortly after one
o'clock, when Mrs. Cowan phoned to Mrs. Brownless that the teacher had
just been in, and said she was going to board with the woman who lived
alone. The teacher had said it, according to Mrs. Cowan, in the "most
off-hand manner, just as if she said she had found her jackknife or
her other rubber--just as easy as that, she said she had found a
boarding house. Mrs. Howser could not take her, but Mrs. Gray could,
and she was moving over right away."

Mrs. Cowan, according to her own testimony, nearly dropped. She did
not really drop, but any one could easily have knocked her down;
she could have been knocked down with a pin feather. She could not
speak--she just stared. She went all "through other," and felt queer.

"Do you know that woman has a child?" she managed to say at last, and
the teacher said, "Sure--one of the nicest I've ever seen--a perfect
beauty."

Mrs. Cowan admitted to Mrs. Brownlees, who sympathized with her, that
she did not know what to say then.

At last she said, "But she has no right to have a child," and the
teacher said:

"Why not if she wants to. She's good to him, dresses him well and
trains him well. My mother had nine--and got away with it--and likes
them all. Having a child is nothing against her." Now, wasn't that an
awful way for her to talk?

Mrs. Brownlees said it certainly was fierce! and the other listeners
on the phone, for the audience had been augmented as the conversation
proceeded, politely said nothing, but hung up their receivers with
haste, and acquainted the members of their household with the
disquieting news.

Mrs. Switzer threw her apron over her head and ran out to the pump,
where Bill was watering his three-horse team. Bill received the news
in that exasperating silence which is so hard to bear. When urged for
an opinion, he said crustily: "Well, what's the girl goin' to do? None
of you women would take her--she can't starve--and she can't sleep in
the school woodpile. Mrs. Gray won't bite--she's a fine lookin' woman,
drives a binder like a man, pays her debts, minds her own business. I
don't see why it wouldn't be a good boardin' place."

In telling about it afterwards to Mrs. Howser, Mrs. Switzer said, "You
know what men are like; in some ways they are hardly human--they take
things so easy."

Pearl was surprised at the storm that burst, but soon realized the
futility of further speech. They would not listen--they were so intent
on proving the woman's guilt, they would hear no defence. From what
they said, Pearl gathered that they knew nothing about Mrs. Gray
except what the sewing-machine agent had told them, and even he had
not claimed that he had any definite knowledge. The worst count
against her was that she would not tell anything about herself.
That she would not tell anything about herself, could only have one
explanation! There must be nothing good to tell!

On Sunday, at the little stone church in the valley of the river Pearl
took her place among the worshippers. The attendance was unusually
large. A new bond of interest was binding the neighborhood together,
and they spoke of it as they congregated in the church-yard before the
service. Pearl sat inside and watched them as they talked together
excitedly. Snatches of their conversation came to her. "Well-behaved
people should stay with well-behaved people, I say"--this was from
Mrs. Switzer.

The men did not join in the conversation, but stood around, ill at
ease in their stiff collars, and made an attempt to talk about summer
fallowing and other harmless topics. Their attitude to the whole
affair was one of aloofness. Let the women settle it among themselves.

From the window where she sat Pearl could see far down the valley. The
river pursued its way, happily, unperturbed by the wrongs or sorrows
of the people who lived beside it. Sometimes it had reached out and
drowned a couple of them as it had done last year--but no one held it
against the river at all.

The rejuvenation of nature was to be seen everywhere, in springing
grass and leafing tree. Everything could begin life over again. Why
were the people so hard on Annie Gray, even if all they believed about
her were true? Pearl wondered about the religion of people like the
group who were so busily talking just outside the window. Did it not
teach them to be charitable? The Good Shepherd, in the picture above
the altar, had gone out to find the wandering sheep, even leaving
all the others, to bring back the lost one, sorry that it had been
wayward, not angry--but only sorry--Pearl hoped that they would look
at it when they came in. She hoped too, that they would look at the
few scattered tombstones in the churchyard, over which the birds were
darting and skimming, and be reminded of the shortness of life, and
their own need of mercy--and she hoped that some of the dead, who lay
there so peacefully now, might have been sinners who redeemed the past
and died respected, and that they might plead now with these just
persons who needed no repentance.

But when the service was over, and a brief sermon on Amos and his good
deeds, the congregation separated, and Pearl went back to the brown
house with a heavy heart, and the cry of her soul was that God would
show her a way of making the people understand. "Plough a fire-guard,
O Lord," she prayed, as she walked, "and let these deadly fires of
gossip run their noses square into it and be smothered. Use me if you
can--I am here--ready to help--but the big thing is to get it done."

Around the open grate-fire that night, after James had gone to bed,
Pearl and Mrs. Gray sat long before the pleasant wood fire For the
first time Annie Gray felt she had found some one to whom she could
talk and tell what was in her heart, and the story of the last eleven
years was revealed, from the time that pretty Annie Simmons, fresh
from Scotland, arrived at the Hudson's Bay post at Fort Resolution,
coming by dog-train the last two hundred miles to her cousin, the
factor's wife--the thin-lipped daughter of the Covenanters--who kept
the pretty young cousin closely at work in the kitchen with her pots
and pans when the traders came in, for Mrs. McPherson had no intention
of losing Annie and her capable help after bringing her all the way
from the Isle of Skye.

After a year of hard work, and some lonesome times, too, in the long,
dark winter, there came to the Post a young trapper and prospector,
Jim Gray.

"When I saw him," said the woman, with the silver bands of gray
encircling her shapely head, "I knew him for my own man. He was tall
and dark, with a boyish laugh that I loved, and a way of suddenly
becoming very serious in the middle of his fun--a sort of clouding
over of his face as if the sun had gone under for a minute."

She spoke haltingly, but Pearl knew what was in her heart, and her
quick imagination painted in the details of each picture. She could
see the homesick Scotch girl, in the far Northern post, hungry for
admiration and love, and trying to make herself as comely as she
could. She could sense all the dreams and longings, the hopes and
thrills.

"Tell me more about him," Pearl urged.

"He had the out-of-doors look," said Mrs. Gray, "big, gentle,
fearless. I knew as soon as I looked in his eyes that I would go with
him if he asked me--anywhere. I would dare anything, suffer anything
for him. Nothing mattered; you will know it some time, Pearl, I hope.
It brings sorrow, maybe, but it is the greatest thing in life. Even
now, looking back down these black years, I would do the same--I would
go with my man.

"My cousin and her husband, the factor, forbade him the house when they
saw what was happening. They had nothing against him. Every trapper
said Jim Gray was straight as a gun-barrel. It was just that they
would not let me go--they wanted my work, but I had already worked out
my passage money, and considered myself free. They locked me in my
room at night, and treated me like a prisoner. They said abominable
things.

"One night a tapping came at the little square window It was a heavy,
dark night in July, with thunder rolling in great shaking billows. It
was Jim, and he asked me if I would come with him. He had spoken to
the missionary at the post, who would marry us. Would I come? I did
not know whether he had a house, or even a blanket. I only knew I
loved him.

"Under cover of the storm Jim took out the window-frame, lifted me
out, and we were off through the rain and the storm. But when we got
to the missionary's he would not marry us--the factor had forbidden
him. Jim would have taken me back but I was afraid. The factor had
said he would shoot him if he ever came for me. He was a high-tempered
man and ruled the post and every one in it with his terrible rages.
What would you have done, Pearl?"

"Was there no one else?" said Pearl, "no magistrate--no other
missionary or priest?"

"There was a missionary at the next post, sixty miles away. We could
reach him in two days. What would you have done, Pearl?"

Pearl was living with her every detail, every sensation, every thrill.

"What would I have done?" she said, trembling with the excitement of a
great decision. "I would have gone!"

Annie Gray's hand tightened on hers.

"I went," she said, "and I was never sorry. Jim was a man of the big
woods; he loved me. The rain, which fell in torrents, did not seem to
wet us--we were so happy."

"At the missionary's house at Hay River we were married, and the wife
of the missionary gave me her clothes until mine dried. We stayed
there three days and then we went on. Jim had a cabin in a wonderful
hot springs valley, and it was there we were going. It would take us
a month, but the weather was at its best, hazy blue days, continuous
daylight, only a little dimming of the sun's light when it disappeared
behind the mountains. We had pack-dogs from the post--Jim had left
them there--and lots of provisions. I dream of those campfires and the
frying bacon, and the blue smoke lifting itself up to the tree-tops."

She sat a long time silent, in a happy maze of memory.

"I had as much happiness as most women, but mine came all at once--and
left me all at once. We reached the valley in September. I was wild
with the beauty of it! Set in the mountains, which arched around it,
was this wonderful square of fertile land, about six miles one way and
seven the other. The foliage is like the tropics, for the hot springs
keep off frost. The creeks which run through it come out of the rocks
boiling hot--but cool enough to bathe in as they run on through the
meadows. Their waters have a peculiar purplish tinge, which passes
away after it stands a while, and a delicate aroma like a fragrant
toilet water. I called it the Valley of purple springs'."

"Our house was of logs, and built on a rock floor, which was always
warm. There were skins on the floor worth fortunes, for the animals
came to the valley in winter by the hundreds, black foxes and silver,
martins and bear. They came in, stayed a few days and passed out
again. The ferns in the valley stood seven feet high, and the stalks
were delicious when boiled and salted.

"Jim had planted a garden before he left, and we had everything,
cabbages, cauliflower, beets, mushrooms. Jim got the skins he
wanted--he didn't kill many--and we tanned them in the Indian way.

"At first the Indians had been afraid to come. They called it 'The
Devil's Valley,' and though the young bucks might come in and spend a
night, just as a bit of bravado, they were frightened of it; but after
I came they took courage and came in.

"We found out that the water in the streams had healing power, and
made one's skin feel soft as velvet, especially one stream which had
the deepest color. One old squaw, whose eyes had been sore for years,
was healed in three weeks and went back to her people with her
wonderful tales of the valley. After that we had Indians with us all
the time. They brought their sick children and their old people, and
the results were marvelous. I never knew the stream to fail. Even the
tubercular people soon began to grow rosy and well. The food seemed to
have healing power, too, and some who came hollow-cheeked, feverish,
choking with their cruel paroxysms of coughing, soon began to grow fat
and healthy. At first the sick people just slept and slept on the warm
rocks, and then came the desire to bathe in the stream, and after that
they went searching for the herbs they needed.

"We lived there three years. At the end of the first year little Jim
was born--my precious Jim, with his wonderful eyes, reflecting the
beauty of the valley. The Indian women tanned the softest buckskin for
his little things, and he had the most elaborately beaded garments.
No little prince was ever more richly dressed. He grew lovlier every
day."

Pearl could refrain no longer: "Why did you ever leave?" she asked
breathlessly.

"Conscience," said Annie Gray, after a pause. "We couldn't keep it all
to ourselves and be happy over it. We couldn't forget all the sick
people to whom our purple springs would bring healing. Mind you, we
tried to deaden our consciences; tried to make ourselves believe it
was not our duty to give it to the world. We fought off these spells
of conscience--we tried to forget that there was a world outside. But
we couldn't--we owed a duty, which we had to pay.

"One day, with our winter catch of furs packed on the dogs, we came
out. The Indians could not understand why we were leaving, and stood
sorrowfully watching us as far as we could see them--there was a
heaviness on our spirits that day, as if we knew what was coming.

"On the Judah Hill, at Peace River, came the accident. The train went
over the bank. When I came to I was in the Irene Hospital there, with
little Jim beside me quite unhurt. But I knew--I knew. I saw in the
nurses' face--my Jim had been killed."

All the color had gone from her voice, and she spoke as mechanically
as a deaf person.

"He was instantly killed--they did not let me see him.

"I went on. I knew what I should do. I would carry out as far as
possible what Jim and I had started out to do. We had filed on the
land, and I had the papers--I have them still. In Peace River we had
sold the furs, and I had quite a lot of money, for furs were high that
year.

"Jim had told me a lot about his father, a domineering but kindly old
fellow, the local member of Parliament in a little Eastern town--a man
who had had his own way all his life. Jim had not got along well with
him, and had left home at eighteen.

"I remembered Jim had said that he wouldn't tell his father about the
valley until he had talked it over with a lawyer and got everything
settled, for the old man would run the whole thing. So when I went to
his home I said little about our valley, except to tell them of the
beauty of it.

"I was very unhappy. He raged about Jim and his wild ways. I could
not bear it. He knew nothing of the real Jim that I knew, the tender,
loving, sweet-souled Jim. I could see how he had raised the devil in
the boy with his high-handed ways.

"He was passionately fond of the little Jim, and foolishly indulgent.
He would give the child a dollar for a kiss, but if he did not come
running to him the very moment he called he would be angry. Yet I
could see that he adored the little fellow, and was very proud of his
clever ways.

"One day he told me he was going to send Jim to a boy's school in
England as soon as he was nine. I told him it could not be. Jim had
said to me that we would bring up our boy in the wild, new country,
where men are honorable and life is simple. I would follow Jim's
wishes--our boy would not go to England. I defied him. I saw his
temper then. He told me I had nothing to say about it, he was his
grandson's guardian. Jim had made a will before he left home, making
his father executor of his estate. He told me the father was the only
parent the child had in the eyes of the law, and I had no claim on my
boy.

"I had no one to turn to. Jim's mother was one of those sweet,
yielding women, who said 'Yes, dear,' to everything he said. She
followed him around, picking up the things he scattered and the chairs
he kicked over in his fits of temper. Sometimes when he swore she
dabbed her eyes with a daintily trimmed handkerchief. That was her
only protest. She advised me to say nothing, but just do whatever
'father' told me, and I said I would see him in hell first, and at
that she ran out with her fingers in her ears.

"Then a strange thing happened. McPherson, my cousin's husband, the
factor from Fort Resolution, met Jim's father at a lodge meeting, and
told him Jim and I had gone away without being married--the missionary
had refused to marry us--and we had gone away. I think he knew better,
for in the north country every one knows everyone else, and it was
well known that Jim and I were married at Hay River. He came home
raging and called me names. I'll never forget how they went crashing
through my brain. He was a proud man, and this 'disgrace' of Jim's,
as he said, was the finishing touch. But when he began to abuse Jim
I raged too. I said things to him which perhaps had better been left
unsaid. I was sorry afterwards, for Jim was fond of his father for all
his blustering ways. I did not tell him that Jim and I were legally
married, for the fear was on me that he could take little Jim from
me, and it did not matter to me what they thought of me. I had one
thought--and that was to keep my boy and bring him up myself--bring
him up to be a man like his father.

"That night I left. I was proud, too, and I left money to pay for
the time I had been with them. I had a few hundred dollars left, not
enough to take me back to Purple Springs. My first plan was to get a
housekeeper's position, but I soon found I could not do that--the
work was hard, and Jim was not wanted. I worked as waitress in a
restaurant, and as saleslady in a country store, but Jim was not
getting the care he should have.

"One day I saw an advertisement in a paper. A prospector, crippled
with rheumatism, wanted a housekeeper. It said 'a woman with sense and
understanding,' and I liked the tone of it. It was blunt and honest.

"When I went to see him I found a grizzled old fellow of about sixty,
who had been most of his life in the north, and when I found he had
known Jim, and had trapped with him on the Liard River, and knew what
a splendid fellow he was, I just begged him to let us stay. He was as
glad to get me, as I was to find a home.

"I cared for him until he died. He was a good man, a man of the big
woods, whose life was simple, honest and kindly.

"In the little town where we lived the people gossiped when I came to
him. They wanted to know where I had come from, and all about me. I
told them nothing. I was afraid. I had changed my name, but still I
was afraid Jim's father might find me. Mr. Bowen thought it would be
better if we were married, just to stop their tongues, but I couldn't
marry him. Jim has always been just as real to me as when he was with
me. Mr. Bowen was kind and gentlemanly always, and many a happy hour
we spent talking of the big country with its untold riches. If I could
have taken him to Purple Springs he could have been cured, but we knew
he could not stand the journey, for his heart was weak.

"I went to night school while I was with him, and learned all I could
for Jim's sake. But he died at last, and left me very lonely, for I
had grown fond of him.

"By his will he left me all he had, and the deed of this farm was part
of his estate. So, after his death, Jim and I came here. Mr. Bowen had
advised me to stay on this farm--he had taken it because there were
indications of oil, and he believed there would be a big strike here
some day. He also left me four thousand dollars, and I have added to
it every year. Sometimes I've been tempted to sell out and get back
north, but Jim is too young yet, I think, I should go somewhere and
let him go to school. I thought when I came he could go here. I have
only one thought, one care, one ambition--I've lived my life--I've had
my one good, glorious day, and now I want to see that Jim gets his.

"It's a queer story, isn't it, Pearl? I ran away and got married,
and then I ran away from marriage to keep my boy. I could prove in a
moment that my marriage was legal, of course, the certificate is here,
and the marriage was registered by the missionary, who has come back
now and lives in the city. But I dare not tell who I am--Jim does not
know who his grandfather is."

"He surely couldn't take your boy," cried Pearl. "There is no justice
in that."

"Only the unmarried mother has the absolute right to her child," said
Annie Gray, as one who quotes from a legal document. "I talked to a
lawyer whom Mr. Bowen sent for. He showed it to me in the law."

"Peter Neelands was right," said Pearl after a while, "it is exactly
the sort of a law he said the other one was."

The two women sat by the fire, which by this time was reduced to one
tiny red coal. There was not a sound in the house except the regular
breathing of little Jim from the adjoining room. A night wind stirred
the big tree in front of the house, and its branches touched the
shingles softly, like a kind hand.

"I'll tell you the rest of it, Pearl, and why I am so frightened.
Perhaps I grow fearful, living here alone, and my mind conjures up
dreadful things. Jim's grandfather has moved to this Province from the
East. I read about him in the papers. He is a powerful man--who
gets his own way. He might be able to get doctors to pronounce me
insane--we read such things. He has such influence."

"Who is he?" asked Pearl wonderingly.

"He is the Premier of this Province," said Annie Gray. "Now do you
wonder at my fear?"

Pearl sat a long time silent. "A way will be found," she said.



CHAPTER XXI

THE OPENING OF THE WAY


"I wonder where they are," Pearl said to herself, as she looked
anxiously out of the window of the school on Monday morning. The roads
leading from the Purple Springs school lay like twisted brown ribbons
on the tender green fields, but not a child, not a straw hat, red
sweater, sun-bonnet; not a glint of a dinner-pail broke the monotony
of the bright spring morning.

The farm-houses seemed to be enjoying their usual activity. The
spielers among the hens were announcing that the day's business was
off to a good start, with prospects never brighter, dogs barked,
calves bawled, cow-bells jangled--there was even a murmur of talking.

"They are not dead," said Pearl, as she listened, bareheaded, at the
gate, "not dead, except to me--but they are not going to let the
children come!

"They have turned me down!"

At nine o'clock, a flash of hope lighted up the gloom that had settled
on her heart. The Snider twins, two tiny black dots, side by side like
quotation marks, appeared distinctly against the vivid green of their
father's wheat field and continued to advance upon the school-house,
until they were but half a mile away. Then, noticing that no one else
was abroad, they turned about and retraced their steps in haste,
believing it must be Sunday, or a holiday--or something.

They were quite right on the last guess. It was something. But not
even the teacher knew just what. The school room was clammily,
reproachfully silent, every tick of the elm clock which told off
the time without prejudice, seemed to pile up evidence of a hostile
nature.

Pearl's brows were knitted in deep thought, as she looked in vain down
the sparkling roads. What was back of it all? What had she done, or
failed to do? Why did no one want to give her board and shelter? This
latest development--the boycott of the school--was of course a protest
against her association with the woman of Purple Springs.

Pearl squared her shoulders and threw back her head. She remembered
the advice she had given her young brothers, "Don't pick a fight.
Don't hit harder than you need to--but when trouble comes, be facing
the right way." She would try to keep her face in the right direction.
Here was prejudice, narrowness, suspicion, downright injustice and
cruelty--of this she was sure--there were other elements, other
complications of which she had no knowledge. Peter Neelands had
told her the Government was watching her, but she had not taken it
seriously.

She began to wonder if the invitation to work in the Educational
Department might not be a plan to get her safely out of the way until
after the election. It seemed too absurd.

Life was not so simple and easy as she had thought, or was it true
that the element of trouble was in her own mind. Did she attract
trouble by some quality of heart or brain. But what else could she
have done? Hadn't she told the truth and done what seemed right all
the way? But to be turned down in her school--left alone--boycotted.

Pearl's depression, poignant and deep though it was, did not last
long. There would be a way out--there was always a way out! She would
be shown the way!

"They that are with us," said Pearl solemnly, struggling with a wave
of self pity, "are greater than they that are against us. I wish I
could get them all lined up and talk to them. There is no use in
talking to them one by one--they won't listen--they're too busy trying
to think of something to say back. But if I had them all together,
I could make them see things--they would have to see it. They are
positively cruel to Mrs. Gray, and the dear little Jim--and without
cause--and they should be told. Nobody would be so mean--if they
knew--even the old grandfather would feel sorry."

When ten o'clock came, and not one pupil had arrived, Pearl decided
she would go over to the post-office for her mail. There would be a
letter from home, and never before had she so much needed the loving
assurance that she had a home where a welcome awaited her, even if the
world had gone wrong. The Watson family would stand by her, no matter
what the verdict of Purple Springs.

In addition to the home letter, with its reassuring news that four
hens were set and the red cow had come in, and the boys had earned
three dollars and fifteen cents on their gopher tails, and the
twenty-fourth being a holiday. Jimmy would come over for her--in
addition to this, there was a large square envelope from the city. The
letter was from the Woman's Club, telling her that they were preparing
a political play and wanted her to come at once to the city to take an
important part. They had heard of her ability from Mr. Neelands. Would
she please let them know at once?

A smile scattered the gloom on Pearl's face. Here was a way out. Would
she go? To play an important part in a play? Would she go?

Pearl went down the road on light feet, to where Mr. Cowan, the
Secretary, was ploughing stubble. Mr. Cowan was expecting a call, and
dreading it, for in spite of careful rehearsing, he had been unable
to make out a good case. He was an awkward conspirator, without
enthusiasm, and his plain country conscience reminded him that it was
a mean way to treat a teacher whom he--himself--had selected. But why
hadn't she accepted the offer to go to the city, and get away from a
neighborhood where she could not be comfortable. Naturally, he could
not urge it--that would give away the whole game. But he could hardly
keep from asking her.

He resolved to say as little as possible, when he saw her coming.
There was no trace of either gloom or resentment in her face when she
greeted him. Mr. Cowan was equally friendly.

"I want to ask you something, Mr. Cowan," said Pearl. "What is wrong
with me? Why don't the people like me? What have I done?"

Mr. Cowan had stopped his team, and lifting the lines from behind his
back, he wound them deliberately around the handles of the plow before
speaking. His manner indicated that it was a long story.

"Well, you know what women are like. No one can reason with women,
and they won't stand for you boarding with Mrs. Gray. They're sore on
her--and don't think she's just what she should be--and--"

Pearl interrupted him:

"But, Mr. Cowan, even before I went there, there was something wrong.
Why wouldn't they give me a boarding place? You thought that I could
get a boarding place when you hired me. Come on, Mr. Cowan, you may
just as well tell me--it's the easiest way in the end--just to speak
out--it saves time. If you ask me not to tell--I won't."

George Cowan did not expect to be cornered up so closely, and in
desperation he said what was uppermost in his mind:

"Why don't you take the offer to go to the city, that's a great
chance."

He had forgotten to be discreet.

"I am going to," said Pearl quickly, "that's what I came over to tell
you--I want to go. I wanted to ask you if it would be all right."

"Now you're talking," cried her trustee gladly--a great burden had
been lifted from his heart. "Sure you can go--it would be a, shame for
you to miss a chance like this."

In his excitement he hardly knew what he was saying. This was just
what he had been hoping would happen. Wouldn't George Steadman be
pleased! He had given out a delicate piece of work to be done, and it
had been successfully managed.

"You were just fooling us by pretending you were going to board at
Mrs. Gray's--weren't you? You knew all the time you were going to the
city; You were just playing a joke on us--I know. Well the joke's on
us all right, as the cowboys said when they hanged the wrong man."

George Cowan rubbed his hands; the whole world had grown brighter. The
political machine was the thing--real team-play--that's what it was.
It's hard to beat the machine--and the best of it all was, there was
no harm done, and nobody hurt. She would be as safe as a church when
she was in the employ of the Government--and in a good job too--away
ahead of teaching. No government employee could mention politics.
Some people thought women were hard to manage! but it just required a
little brains--that was all. Diplomacy was the thing.

"You are sure you don't mind my going," said Pearl, "without notice?"

"Not a bit--and we'll be glad to have you back, say for the Fall term.
I'll fix the salary too and make out your cheque for the full month.
It wouldn't be right for us to stand in your way--of course you may
not want to come back--but if you do just drop me a line. I suppose
you will want to go home before you go into the city. I can take you
over this afternoon in the car."

"Thank you, Mr. Cowan," Pearl said, "you are very kind. I'll be ready
at one o'clock. But tell me--how did you know I had an invitation to
the city? That was pretty clever of you."

Mr. Cowan was untwisting the lines from the plow handles preparatory
to making another round. He suddenly remembered to be discreet, and
winked one eye with indescribable slyness.

"A little bird whispered to me," he laughed.

At noon, when he told Mrs. Cowan about it, he said it was queer how
that answer of his seemed to hit the teacher. She went away laughing,
and he could hear her for fully a quarter of a mile kind of chuckling
to herself.



CHAPTER XXII

THE PLAY


"Sorry, sir," said the man in the box-office of the Grand, "but the
house has been sold out for two days now. The standing room has gone
too."

"Can you tell me what this is all about, that every one is so crazy to
see it?" the man at the wicket asked, with studied carelessness. He
was a thick-set man, with dark glasses, and wore a battered hat, and a
much bedraggled waterproof.

"The women here have got up a Parliament, and are showing tonight,"
said the ticket-seller. "They pretend that only women vote, and women
only sit in Parliament. The men will come, asking for the vote, and
they'll get turned down good and plenty, just like the old man turned
them down."

"Did the Premier turn them down?" asked the stranger. "I didn't hear
about it."

"Did he? I guess, yes--he ripped into them in his own sweet way. Did
you ever hear the old man rage? Boy! Well, the women have a girl
here who is going to do his speech. She's the woman Premier, you
understand, and she can talk just like him. She does everything except
chew the dead cigar. The fellows in behind say it's the richest thing
they ever heard. The old boy will have her shot at sunrise, for sure.

"He won't hear her," said the man in the waterproof, with sudden
energy. "He won't know anything about it."

"Sure he will. The old man is an old blunderbuss, but he's too good
a sport to stay away. They're decorating a box for him, and have his
name on it. He can't stay away."

"He can if he wants to," snapped the other man. "What does he care
about this tommyrot--he'll take no notice of it."

"Well," said the man behind the wicket, "I believe he'll come. But
say, he sure started something when he got these women after him.
They're the sharpest-tongued things you ever listened to, and they
have their speeches all ready. The big show opens tonight, and every
seat is sold. You may get a ticket though at the last minute, from
some one who cannot come. There are always some who fail to show up at
the last. I can save you a ticket if this happens. What name?"

"Jones," said the gentleman in the waterproof. No doubt the irritation
in his voice was caused by having to confess to such a common name.
"Robertson Jones. Be sure you have it right," and he passed along the
rail to make room for two women who also asked for tickets.

The directors of the Woman's Parliament knew the advertising value of
a mystery, being students of humanity, and its odd little ways. They
knew that people are attracted by the unknown; so in their advance
notices they gave the names of all the women taking part in the play,
but one. The part of the Premier--the star part--would be taken by a
woman whose identity they were "not at liberty to reveal." Well-known
press women were taking the other parts, and their pictures appeared
on the posters, but no clue was given out as to the identity of the
woman Premier.

Long before sundown, the people gathered at the theatre door, for
the top gallery would open for rush seats at seven. Even the ticket
holders had been warned that no seat would be held after eight
o'clock.

Through the crowd came the burly and aggressive form of Robertson
Jones, still wearing his dark glasses, and with a disfiguring strip of
court plaster across his cheek. At the wicket he made inquiry for his
ticket, and was told to stand back and wait. Tickets were held until
eight o'clock.

In the lobby, flattening himself against the marble wall, he waited,
with his hat well down over his face. Crowds of people, mostly women,
surged past him, laughing, chattering, feeling in their ridiculous
bags for their tickets, or the price of a box of chocolates at the
counter, where two red-gold blondes presided.

Inside, as the doors swung open, he saw a young fellow in evening
dress, giving out handbills, and an exclamation almost escaped him. He
had forgotten all about Peter Neelands!

Robertson Jones, caught in the eddies of women, buffeted by them, his
toes stepped upon, elbowed, crowded, grew more and more scornful of
their intelligence, and would probably have worked his way out--if he
could, but the impact of the crowd worked him forward.

"A silly, cackling hen-party," he muttered to himself. "I'll get out
of this--it's no place for a man--Lord deliver me from a mob like
this, with their crazy tittering. There ought to be a way to stop
these things. It's demoralizing--it's unseemly."

It was impossible to turn back, however, and he found himself swept
inside. He thought of the side door as a way of escape, but to his
surprise, he saw the whole Cabinet arriving there and filing into the
boxes over which the colors of the Province were draped; every last
one of them, in evening dress.

That was the first blow of the evening! Every one of them had said
they would not go--quite scornfully--and spoke of it as "The Old
Maid's Convention"--Yet they came!

He wedged his way back to the box office, only to find that there was
no ticket for him. Every one had been lifted. But he determined to
stay.

Getting in again, he approached a man in a shabby suit, sitting in the
last row.

"I'll give you five dollars for your seat," he whispered.

"Holy smoke!" broke from the astonished seat-holder, and then,
recovering from his surprise, he said, "Make it ten."

"Shut up then, and get out--here's your money," said Mr. Jones
harshly, and in the hurriedly vacated seat, he sat down heavily.

Behind the scenes, the leader of the Woman's Party gave Pearl her
parting words:

"Don't spare him, Pearl," she said, with her hand around the girl's
shoulder, "it is the only way. We have coaxed, argued, reasoned, we
have shown him actual cases where the laws have worked great injustice
to women. He is blind in his own conceit, and cannot be moved. This
is the only way--we can break his power by ridicule--you can do it,
Pearl. You can break down a wall of prejudice tonight that would take
long years to wear away. Think of cases you know, Pearl, and strike
hard. Better to hurt one, and save many! This is a play--but a deadly
serious one! I must go now and make the curtain speech."

"This is not the sort of Parliament we think should exist," she said,
before the curtain, "this is the sort of Parliament we have at the
present time--one sex making all the laws. We have a Parliament of
women tonight, instead of men, just to show you how it looks from the
other side. People seem to see a joke better sometimes when it is
turned around."

Robertson Jones shrugged his shoulders in disgust. What did they hope
to gain, these freaks of women, with their little plays and set little
speeches. Who listened or noticed? No one, positively no one.

Then the lights went out in the house, and the asbestos curtain came
slowly down and slowly crept into the ceiling again, to reassure the
timorous, and the beautiful French garden, with its white statuary,
and fountain, against the green trees, followed its plain asbestos
sister, and the Woman's Parliament was revealed in session.

The Speaker, in purple velvet, with a sweeping plume in her
three-cornered hat, sat on the throne; pages in uniform answered the
many calls of the members, who, on the Government side were showing
every sign of being bored, for the Opposition had the floor, and the
honorable member from Mountain was again introducing her bill to give
the father equal guardianship rights with the mother. She pleaded
eloquently that two parents were not any too many for children to
have. She readily granted that if there were to be but one patent, it
would of course be the mother, but why skimp the child on parents?
Let him have both. It was nature's way. She cited instances of grave
injustice done to fathers from having no claim on their offspring.

The Government members gave her little attention. They read their
papers, one of the Cabinet Ministers tatted, some of the younger
members powdered their noses, many ate chocolates. Those who listened,
did so to sneer at the honorable member from Mountain, insinuating she
took this stand so she might stand well with the men. This brought a
hearty laugh, and a great pounding of the desks.

When the vote was taken, the House divided along party lines.
Yawningly the Government members cried "No!"

Robertson Jones sniffed contemptuously; evidently this was a sort
of Friday afternoon dialogue, popular at Snookum's Corners, but not
likely to cause much of a flutter in the city.

There was a bill read to give dower rights to men, and the leader of
the Opposition made a heated defence of the working man who devotes
his life to his wife and family, and yet has no voice in the
disposition of his property. His wife can sell it over his head, or
will it away, as had sometimes been done.

The Attorney General, in a deeply sarcastic vein, asked the honorable
lady if she thought the wife and mother would not deal fairly--even
generously with her husband. Would she have the iron hand of the law
intrude itself into the sacred precincts of the home, where little
cherub faces gather round the hearth, under the glow of the
glass-fringed hanging lamp. Would she dare to insinuate that love had
to be buttressed by the law? Did not a man at the altar, in the
sight of God and witnesses, endow his wife with all his goods? Well
then--were those sacred words to be blasphemed by an unholy law which
compelled her to give back what he had so lovingly given? When a man
marries, cried the honorable Attorney General, he gives his wife his
name--and his heart--and he gives them unconditionally. Are not these
infinitely more than his property? The greater includes the less--the
tail goes with the hide! The honorable leader of the Opposition was
guilty of a gross offense against good taste, in opening this question
again. Last session, the session before, and now this session, she has
harped on this disagreeable theme. It has become positively indecent.

The honorable leader of the Opposition begged leave to withdraw her
motion, which was reluctantly granted, and the business of the House
went on.

A page brought in the word that a delegation of men were waiting to be
heard.

Even the Opposition laughed. A delegation of men, seemed to be an old
and never-failing joke.

Some one moved that the delegation be heard, and the House was
resolved into a committee of the whole, with the First Minister in the
chair.

The first minister rose to take the chair, and was greeted with a
round of applause. Opera glasses came suddenly to many eyes, but the
face they saw was not familiar. It was a young face, under iron gray
hair, large dark eyes, and a genial and pleasant countenance.

For the first time in the evening, Mr. Robertson Jones experienced a
thrill of pleasure. At least the woman Premier was reasonably good
looking. He looked harder at her. He decided she was certainly
handsome, and evidently the youngest of the company.

The delegation of men was introduced and received--the House settled
down to be courteous, and listen. Listening to delegations was part of
the day's work, and had to be patiently borne.

The delegation presented its case through the leader, who urged that
men be given the right to vote and sit in Parliament. The members of
the Government smiled tolerantly. The First Minister shook her head
slowly and absent-mindedly forgot to stop. But the leader of the
delegation went on.

The man who sat in the third seat from the back found the phrasing
strangely familiar. He seemed to know what was coming. Sure enough, it
was almost word for word the arguments the women had used when they
came before the House. The audience was in a pleasant mood, and
laughed at every point. It really did not seem to take much to amuse
them.

When the delegation leader had finished, and the applause was over,
there was a moment of intense silence. Every one leaned forward,
edging over in their seats to get the best possible look.

The Woman Premier had risen. So intent was the audience in their study
of her face, they forgot to applaud. What they saw was a tall, slight
girl whose naturally brilliant coloring needed no make-up; brilliant
dark eyes, set in a face whose coloring was vivid as a rose, a
straight mouth with a whimsical smile. She gave the audience one
friendly smile, and then turned to address the delegation.

She put her hands in front of her, locking her fingers with the thumbs
straight up, gently moving them up and down, before she spoke.

The gesture was familiar. It was the Premier's own, and a howl
of recognition came from the audience, beginning in the Cabinet
Minister's box.

She tenderly teetered on her heels, waiting for them to quiet down,
but that was the occasion for another outburst.

"Gentlemen of the Delegation," she said, when she could be heard, "I
am glad to see you!"

The voice, a throaty contralto, had in it a cordial paternalism that
was as familiar as the Premier's face.

"Glad to see you--come any time, and ask for anything you like. You
are just as welcome this time as you were the last time! We like
delegations--and I congratulate this delegation on their splendid,
gentlemanly manners. If the men in England had come before their
Parliament with the frank courtesy you have shown, they might still
have been enjoying the privilege of meeting their representatives in
this friendly way."

"But, gentlemen, you are your own answer to the question; you are the
product of an age which has not seen fit to bestow the gift you ask,
and who can say that you are not splendid specimens of mankind? No!
No! any system which can produce the virile, splendid type of men we
have before us today, is good enough for me, and," she added, drawing
up her shoulders in perfect imitation of the Premier when he was about
to be facetious, "if it is good enough for me--it is good enough for
anybody."

The people gasped with the audacity of it! The impersonation was
so good--it was weird--it was uncanny. Yet there was no word of
disrespect. The Premier's nearest friends could not resent it.

Word for word, she proceeded with his speech, while the theatre rocked
with laughter. She was in the Premier's most playful, God-bless-you
mood, and simply radiated favors and goodwill. The delegation was
flattered, complimented, patted on the head, as she dilated on their
manly beauty and charm.

In the third seat from the back, Mr. Robertson Jones had removed his
dark glasses, and was breathing like a man with double pneumonia. A
dull, red rage burned in his heart, not so much at anything the girl
was saying, as the perfectly idiotic way the people laughed.

"I shouldn't laugh," a woman ahead of him said, as she wiped her
eyes, "for my husband has a Government job and he may lose it if the
Government members see me but if I don't laugh, I'll choke. Better
lose a job than choke."

"But my dear young friends," the Premier was saying, "I am convinced
you do not know what you are asking me to do;" her tone was didactic
now; she was a patient Sunday School teacher, laboring with a class of
erring boys, charitable to their many failings and frailties, hopeful
of their ultimate destiny, "you do not know what you ask. You have not
thought of it, of course, with the natural thoughtlessness of your
sex. You ask for something which may disrupt the whole course of
civilization. Man's place is to provide for his family, a hard enough
task in these strenuous days. We hear of women leaving home, and we
hear it with deepest sorrow. Do you know why women leave home? There
is a reason. Home is not made sufficiently attractive. Would letting
politics enter the home help matters. Ah no! Politics would unsettle
our men. Unsettled men mean unsettled bills--unsettled bills mean
broken homes--broken vows--and then divorce."

Her voice was heavy with sorrow, and full of apology for having
mentioned anything so unpleasant.

Many of the audience had heard the Premier's speech, and almost all
had read it, so not a point was lost.

An exalted mood was on her now--a mood that they all knew well. It
had carried elections. It was the Premier's highest card. His friends
called it his magnetic appeal.

"Man has a higher destiny than politics," she cried, with the ring in
her voice that they had heard so often, "what is home without a bank
account? The man who pays the grocer rules the world. Shall I call men
away from the useful plow and harrow, to talk loud on street corners
about things which do not concern them. Ah, no, I love the farm and
the hallowed associations--the dear old farm, with the drowsy tinkle
of cow-bells at even tide. There I see my father's kindly smile so
full of blessing, hardworking, rough-handed man he was, maybe, but
able to look the whole world in the face.... You ask me to change all
this."

Her voice shook with emotion, and drawing a huge white linen
handkerchiefs from the folds of her gown, she cracked it by the corner
like a whip, and blew her nose like a trumpet.

The last and most dignified member of the Cabinet, caved in at this,
and the house shook with screams of laughter. They were in the mood
now to laugh at anything she said.

"I wonder will she give us one of his rages," whispered the Provincial
Secretary to the Treasurer.

"I'm glad he's not here," said the Minister of Municipalities, "I'm
afraid he would burst a blood vessel; I'm not sure but I will myself."

"I am the chosen representative of the people, elected to the highest
office this fair land has to offer. I must guard well its interests.
No upsetting influence must mar our peaceful firesides. Do you never
read, gentlemen?" she asked the delegation, with biting sarcasm, "do
you not know of the disgraceful happenings in countries cursed by
manhood suffrage? Do you not know the fearful odium into which the
polls have fallen--is it possible you do not know the origin of that
offensive word 'Poll-cat'; do you not know that men are creatures of
habit--give them an inch--and they will steal the whole sub-division,
and although it is quite true, as you say, the polls are only open
once in four years--when men once get the habit--who knows where it
will end--it is hard enough to keep them at home now! No, history is
full of unhappy examples of men in public life; Nero, Herod, King
John--you ask me to set these names before your young people. Politics
has a blighting, demoralizing influence on men. It dominates them,
hypnotizes them, pursues them even after their earthly career is over.
Time and again it has been proven that men came back and voted--even
after they were dead."

The audience gasped at that--for in the Premier's own riding, there
were names on the voters' lists, taken, it was alleged, from the
tombstones.

"Do you ask me to disturb the sacred calm of our cemetries?" she
asked, in an awe-striken tone--her big eyes filled with the horror of
it. "We are doing wery well just as we are, very well indeed. Women
are the best students of economy. Every woman is a student of
political economy. We look very closely at every dollar of public
money, to see if we couldn't make a better use of it ourselves, before
we spend it. We run our elections as cheaply as they are run anywhere.
We always endeavor to get the greatest number of votes for the least
possible amount of money. That is political economy."

There was an interruption then from the Opposition benches, a feeble
protest from one of the private members.

The Premier's face darkened; her eyebrows came down suddenly; the
veins in her neck swelled, and a perfect fury of words broke from her
lips. She advanced threateningly on the unhappy member.

"You think you can instruct a person older than yourself, do
you--you-with the brains of a butterfly, the acumen of a bat; the
backbone of a jelly-fish. You can tell me something, can you? I
was managing governments when you were sitting in your high chair,
drumming on a tin plate with a spoon." Her voice boomed like a gun.
"You dare to tell me how a government should be conducted."

The man in the third seat from the back held to the arm of the seat,
with hands that were clammy with sweat. He wanted to get up and
scream. The words, the voice, the gestures were as familiar as his own
face in the glass.

Walking up and down, with her hands at right angles to her body, she
stormed and blustered, turning eyes of rage on the audience, who
rolled in their seats with delight.

"Who is she, Oh Lord. Who is she?" the Cabinet ministers asked each
other for the hundredth time.

"But I must not lose my temper," she said, calming herself and letting
her voice drop, "and I never do--never--except when I feel like
it--and am pretty sure I can get away with it. I have studied
self-control, as you all know--I have had to, in order that I may be a
leader. If it were not for this fatal modesty, which on more than
one occasion has almost blighted my political career, I would say
I believe I have been a leader, a factor in building up this fair
province; I would say that I believe I have written my name large
across the face of this Province."

The government supporters applauded loudly.

"But gentlemen," turning again to the delegation, "I am still of the
opinion even after listening to your cleverly worded speeches, that
I will go on just as I have been doing, without the help you so
generously offer. My wish for this fair, flower-decked land is that I
may long be spared to guide its destiny in world affairs. I know there
is no one but me--I tremble when I think of what might happen these
leaderless lambs--but I will go forward confidently, hoping that the
good ship may come safely into port, with the same old skipper on the
bridge. We are not worrying about the coming election, as you may
think. We rest in confidence of the result, and will proudly unfurl,
as we have these many years, the same old banner of the grand old
party that had gone down many times to disgrace, but thank God, never
to defeat."

The curtain fell, as the last word was spoken, but rose again to show
the "House" standing, in their evening gowns. A bouquet of American
beauty roses was handed up over the foot-lights to the Premier, who
buried her face in them, with a sudden flood of loneliness. But the
crowd was applauding, and gain and again she was called forward.

The people came flocking in through the wings, pleading to be
introduced to the "Premier," but she was gone.

In the crowd that ebbed slowly from the exits, no one noticed the
stout gentleman with the dark glasses, who put his hat on before he
reached the street, and seemed to be in great haste.

The comments of the people around him, jabbed him like poisoned
arrows, and seared his heart like flame.

"I wonder was the Premier there," one man asked, wiping the traces
of merriment from his glasses, "I've laughed till I'm sore--but I'm
afraid he wouldn't see the same fun in it as I do":

"Well, if he's sport enough to laugh at this, I'll say he's some man,"
said another.

"That girl sure has her nerve--there isn't a man in this city would
dare do it."

"She'll get his goat--if he ever hears her--I'd advise the old man to
stay away."

"That's holding a mirror up to public life all right."

"But who is she?"

"The government will be well advised to pension that girl and get her
out of the country--a few more sessions of the Women's Parliament, and
the government can quit."

He hurried out into the brilliantly lighted street, stung by the
laughter and idle words. His heart was bursting with rage, blind,
bitter choking. He had been laughed at, ridiculed, insulted--and the
men, whom he had made--had sat by applauding.

John Graham had, all his life, dominated his family circle, his
friends, his party, and for the last five years had ruled the
Province. Success, applause, wealth, had come easily to him, and he
had taken them as naturally as he accepted the breath of his nostrils.
They were his. But on this bright night in May, as he went angrily
down the back street, unconsciously striking the pavement with his
cane, with angry blows, the echo of the people's laughter in his ears
was bitter as the pains of death.



CHAPTER XXIII

COMPENSATION


The next day the Premier kept to his room, and refused to look at the
papers. The cabinet ministers telephoned in vain; he was out, the
maid said. He hated them, every one--for their insane laughter their
idiotic applause--this disloyal attendance at such a place! He could
not speak to them or see them.

When his wife spoke to him, he snapped back at her like an angry
rattlesnake, and asked her why she had never tried to develop a mind
of her own. Her patience, submissiveness, the abject way she deferred
to him and tried to please him--the very qualities he had demanded of
her, now infuriated him beyond words. He began to despise her for her
spiritless submission.

Fortunately for her, the days that followed took him away from home,
and the household breathed easier each time he departed.

"This settles it," said Rosie, the housemaid, when he went out angrily
slamming the front door. "I will never marry a member of Parliament,
no, not though he goes on his bended knee to ask me. I may not have
wealth or fame--but I'll have peace."

"Don't be too sure," said the cook, who was Scotch, and a
Presbyterian. "You can't be sure of any of them--they are all queer.
You never know what a man will do till he's dead."

The Woman's Parliament held sessions for three nights in the city
before it began its tour of the country with every night an audience
that packed the theatre to the roof. Each night the woman "Premier"
took her curtain calls and received the bouquets which came showering
in, but not a word could the public find out about her. The papers
said her identity would remain a mystery until all the engagements
were filled.

On the last night, when Pearl went to her room--she was staying with
the President of the Woman's Club--a box of flowers was on her table.
When she opened it, she found an armful of American Beauty roses, and
a letter. Pearl's face went suddenly aflame like the roses, and a
jagged flash of lightning tore her heart. He had not forgotten her!

Hastily locking her door, for no one must interrupt her, Pearl read
her letter. She had faced three thousand people two hours before, but
her hand trembled now as she read:

"I have been in your audience, Pearl, drinking in every word you say,
rejoicing over you, loving you--but glad every minute that I played
the game fair. You have won the election--of that I am sure--for you
have set the whole Province laughing at the old-style politician. It
is easy going for the rest of us now. Our old friend George Steadman
has had the ground torn from under his feet. They all think you left
Purple Springs to take some gentle and safe job in the Department of
Education, and are breathing curses on this mysterious stranger who
has upset the foundations of the Government. Driggs suspected as soon
as he heard about the play, and he and I came into the city to see for
ourselves--we held hands to keep from disgracing ourselves last night
when you got up to speak.

"The leader of the Opposition, who seems to be a solid sort of chap,
would like to meet you when it is all over--he is well pleased with
the women's activities, and especially your part, and wants to meet
you personally.

"I do not need to tell you, dear, what I think. I believe you know.
I am in a mellow and pleasant state of being able to say 'I told you
so.'

"I am not sending you roses because I think you are short of bouquets,
but just because there are certain things a red rose can say, that I
can not. H.C."

"And why can't you say it?" Pearl whispered, "and why don't you say
it, and me hungry for it. Who is stopping you from saying it--I'm sure
it's not me."

She threw aside her pride, and going to the phone, called the hotel
where she knew he stayed.

"Is Dr. Clay of Millford there?" she asked, trembling with eagerness.

"Just a minute," said the clerk.

Pearl's heart was pounding in her throat, her ears sang, her mouth was
dry with excitement. She wanted to hear his voice--she wanted to see
him.

It seemed a long, long time--then the clerk's voice, mechanical and
dull as the click of an adding machine:

"No, Dr. Clay checked out tonight."

Pearl hung up the receiver listlessly. The ripple of laughter and
waves of voices came from the drawing-room below. A company of people
had come over from the theatre, some one was calling to her outside
her door, asking her if she would come down.

Suddenly it had all become distasteful to her,
hollow--useless--vain--what was there in it?--a heavy sense of
disappointment was on her. After all, was life going to disappoint
her, cheat her--giving her so much, and yet withholding the greatest
joy of all?

She caught the roses in her arms, and kissed them fiercely. "I love
you--red roses," she said, "but you are not enough. You do not say
much either, but I wish you would tell me why he is so stingy with
me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In a week, the election was over, and the Government defeated. The
newspapers, in red headlines, gave the women the credit, and declared
it to be the most sensational campaign the country had ever seen. "The
barbed arrows of ridicule had pierced the strong man's armor," one
editorial said, "and accomplished something that the heaviest blows of
the Opposition had been powerless to achieve." Dr. Clay had defeated
George Steadman by a large majority, and the Millford "Mercury" was
free to express itself editorially, and did so with great vigor.

The Premier had fought valiantly to the last, but his power was
gone--the spell broken--he could no longer rouse an audience with his
old-time eloquence. His impassioned passages had lost their punch, for
the bitterness, the rage which filled his heart, showed in his words
and weakened them; and the audiences who before had been kindled with
his phrases, showed a disposition now to laugh in the wrong place.

The week of the campaign had been to him a week of agony, for he knew
he was failing as a leader, and only his stern pride kept him going.
He would let no one say he was a "welsher." The machine worked night
and day, and money was freely spent, and until the last, he hoped,
his party would be returned, and then he could resign and retire
honorably. He did not believe the machine could be defeated. They had
too many ways of controlling the vote.

When the news of the Government's defeat began to come in from the
country places--the city seats having all gone to the Opposition--the
old man went quietly home, with a set face of ashy pallor. He walked
slowly, with sagging shoulders, and the cane which he used, did not
beat the pavement in rage, but gropingly felt its way, uncertainly, as
if the hand which guided it was hesitant and weak.

In his house on Water Street, a big, square brick house, with
plain verandahs, the ex-Premier sat alone that night. A few of his
followers--the close-in favorites--had called to see him, but had been
denied. His wife, flutteringly made excuses. He sat in his big black
leather chair, looking into the fireplace, where no fire was kindled,
and when one of the maids had come in to build the fire, he had gently
told her he liked it better as it was, dull, bleak and dead, it suited
the occasion--and she had gone out hurriedly, and in the kitchen burst
into tears.

"It ain't natural for him to be mild like that," she sobbed to the
cook. "I'd rather have him damn me up and down. The old man's heart is
broken, that's what it is. He's sittin' there so calm and quiet--it
would make any one cry that has known him in his good days. I don't
believe we'll ever hear him rip and tear again--the blessed old dear."

"Well indeed, I'll be glad if we don't," said the cook grimly. "He's
raised enough hell in his time for one man, if he never does another
turn at it. I've put up with him for over fifteen years. I saw him
drive out Master Jim, and Jim's poor wife, with the dearest little pet
of a grandson any man ever had. He was sorry enough after, but that
didn't bring them back. I hope he will sit still for a while and think
it all over, and give the poor missis a rest. She's been bawled at,
and sworn at enough too, and her that gentle and pleasant."

"She's cryin' in her room now," said the housemaid, dabbin' her
eyes with her handkerchief and wishin' he'd come up and rage over
anything."

"O, is she?" said the cook. "I'll bet she's not. The house is so quiet
it makes her nervous--that's all! But she'll get used to it. O no,
Rosie dear, he's got his, and it's about time. I ain't worryin' over
him, for all I like the old man--but I believe the day of judgment
begins here. He's reaping what he sowed--and all I wonder at is that
the harvest has been so late."

"That's all right for you--you're a Presbyterian," said Rosie
tearfully, "but I belong to the Army. You know God's side of it
bettern' I do, but we're all for the sinner, and I can't bear to see
him so quiet and mild. It's just like havin' a corpse in the house
to see him there in front of the dead fire; I wouldn't wonder if the
morning light will find him cold and stiff in death." Rosie's tears
gushed forth anew at this sad picture.

"No chance," said the cook, "I haven't cooked breakfast for him for
fifteen years without knowin' him better than that. He'll come back."

But the Presbyterian cook, so sure of her theology and her knowledge
of human nature, had no breakfast to cook for him the next day, for
the ex-Premier kept his bed, and declined to see any one except
his wife, whom he did not let out of his sight. His gentleness was
terrible--he was even pleasant. When Rosie brought the mail to the
door, he actually thanked her, which brought on another paroxysm of
tears, and made even the cook shake her head doubtfully.

He spoke little, and made no complaint. He was only tired, he
said--just a little weary. No, he would not see a doctor--it was not a
doctor he needed.

Beside him sat his wife, the quiet, self-effacing little woman who had
had no thought or ambition apart from him. Under half closed eyes, he
watched her, wonderingly. What were the thoughts of her heart--this
gentle-faced woman who had so tenderly cared for him, and put up with
him all these years. Many a time he had made her cry--he had driven
away her son--and her grandson--and yet she had offered no word of
remonstrance. How old and sad she looked when her face was in repose.
It was a face of deep lines and great sadness--a wistful, troubled,
hungry face, but dominated by a self-control of iron power. She sat
beside the bed, without moving; waiting, watchful.

"You've been good to me, Jessie," he said at last, as he stroked her
hand.

She started nervously.

"Better than I have been to you--but I am going to be better--it is
not too late yet."

With eyes of alarm, growing wider every moment--she watched him as he
spoke.

"I guess I needed a set-back," he said, "and I got it--and I've
learned a lot in a short time. One thing was that you are more to me
than I thought. My friends--in politics--were everything to me--but
they valued me only for what I could do for them. I could harangue the
crowd--gather in the votes--keep things going. I remembered every one,
slapped every one on the back, called them by their first name--and it
went. But they laughed at me behind my back. Their only interest in me
was that I could carry elections. With you, it has been different. I
don't know why you stuck to me. Why did you, Jessie?"

Without replying, she hastily left the room--and phoned for the
doctor.

The papers that night reported the ex-Premier's condition as "causing
grave apprehension to his friends."

When Pearl read it in the evening papers, she made a quick resolve. A
letter must be sent to Purple Springs.

When Annie Gray and Jim went to the post-office for the mail, two days
after the election, they were not disappointed, for Pearl had written.

"It is all over," wrote Pearl, "and the Government has gone down to
defeat. The new Government will make good its promises too. But I am
sure from what I have heard and seen of your father-in-law, you have
nothing to fear from him. He would not take little Jim away from you
even if he could. You can tell the people of Purple Springs all about
yourself now, and wouldn't I like to see Mrs. Cowan's face when she
hears who your father-in-law is?"

"Tonight's paper says he is not well, and I am wondering if you hadn't
better come in to the city, you and Jim. You will know best about
this. I feel sorry for Mr. Graham. He is a domineering old man, full
of prejudice and narrow ways. There could be no progress so long as he
was at the head of affairs--so he had to be removed. He held the
door shut just as long as he could, and when the crash came, quite
naturally he was trampled on, and that is never a pleasant experience.
But the whole thing has a pathetic side. I wish it could have been
settled without this.

"The night of the election, women paraded the streets, singing and
cheering, mad with joy, it made my eyes blur to see them. I am sorry
it had to come to a show-down, for it seems to set men and women
against each other--at least, I know some men feel that way. Of course
we had lots of men helping us--we could not have got far without them.
Peter Neelands has been one of the best. He was elected in one of the
city seats, and we are all so glad.

"Here are some stamps and two balloons for Jim. I do hope you will
come--. Lovingly, Pearl."

       *       *       *       *       *

The winds of June, which whipped the dust of Water Street into
miniature whirlwinds under the noses of the horses, were heavy with
the unmistakable perfume of wild roses. The delivery man, sniffing
the air, decided he would go that night to the Beach, just to see the
fields of roses; the streetcar-conductor went suddenly homesick for a
sight of the poplar trees, with the roses on the headlands, and the
plushy touch of green grass under his feet, and the wizened little
Scotch milliner across the road took what she called a "scunner" at
the silk and muslin flowers, with their odious starchy, stuffy smell,
and wondered where the farmer was, who two years ago had asked her
to marry him. The wind--heavy with the perfume that stirred so many
hearts with longing, eddied carelessly into the garden of the big
brick house with the plain verandas, doubling round to the garden
at the back, where, in an old-fashioned rocking chair with chintz
cushions, sat the ex-Premier.

The wind, still charged with wild roses, stirred the lilac trees and
mountain ash, and circled noiselessly around the chair where he sat,
and played queer tricks with his memory, for all of us are young in
June, when the pageant of summer is passing by.

"I like to see you knitting, Jessie," he said gently "it is a peaceful
art, untouched by worldly cares. I wish I could hear hens cackling,
and the drowsy sounds of a farmyard, all set in nature's honest key.
I'm tired of people and machinery and telephones and committees, and
all these other inventions of the devil."

Rosie, scrubbing the veranda, hearing the last part of the sentence,
piously thanked God for the master's returning health of body and
mind, and flattened her head against the veranda post, to catch more.

"The things I have given my life to," he said sadly, "have fallen away
from me--I built on a foundation of sand, and when the rains descended
and the floods came, my house fell and left me by the ruins, groping
in the ashes."

"It isn't so bad as that, James," his wife said timidly. "You are a
respected man still, you know you are--you have plenty of friends, if
you would only let them come. It's no disgrace for a public man to be
defeated."

"It's not that, Jessie," he said. "It doesn't matter to me now what
the world thinks, it can't think any worse of me than I think of it.
No, the bitterest part of all this to me is that I have none of my
own. I want some one of my own. I was too harsh--too hasty."

"If Jim had lived," she began, wistfully--

The front veranda bell pealed loudly, and Rosie hastily wiped her
hands on her petticoat, and went to answer it, sorry to miss any part
of the conversation.

"I won't see any one," said the ex-Premier, again. "She knows--I
won't. Go and tell her I won't."

When Rosie opened the door, a card was put in her hand, and the
visitor, a young lady, asked her if she would be good enough to give
it to the ex-Premier.

"He won't see you," said Rosie quickly. "He won't see any one. I am
turning them away by the dozens."

The visitor took the card from Rosie's hand, and hastily wrote a few
words on it. Rosie told the cook about it afterwards.

"She had eyes like a fairy princess, lips like cherries, and the
nicest clothes, but you could tell she wasn't thinkin' about them. I
just wanted her to stay and talk to me. 'Will you give this to him,'
she said to me, 'I'll wait here, and if he doesn't want to see me--it
is all right--I will go away--but I think he will want to see me,'
says she, with a smile at me that made me want him to see her too, and
she sat down on one of the veranda chairs.

"When I gave him the card, he read it out loud--ain't he the nicest
ever? Lots of people wouldn't have read it out. 'Miss Pearl Watson,'
says he, and what's this, 'teacher at Purple Springs,' and he nearly
jumped out of his chair.

"'My God!' he says, and he reached for his cane, like as if he was
going somewhere. 'Bring her here,' he said, and his voice was more
natural than it has been since--it made me all prickle," said Rosie.

When Pearl was taken around to the back garden, Rosie retired to a
point of vantage on the sleeping-porch above, and got most of the
conversation, by abandoning all scrubbing operations, and sitting very
still.

The ex-Premier's wife arose as if to leave, but he motioned her to
stay.

"This concerns you too, Jessie," he said.

For a moment a silence fell on them, as the wind gently stirred the
lilacs in front of them and a humming bird on silken wings went
flashing past, like a flower that had come alive.

"You are a teacher, your card says, at Purple Springs. Is that in the
far North?" The ex-Premier endeavored to speak calmly.

"No," said Pearl, "it is only a hundred miles from here."

His face clouded with disappointment.

"But it was named for the valley in the far North, by a woman who came
from there."

"Where is the woman now," he asked, with a fine attempt to make his
question casual.

"I came to tell you about her," said Pearl, with evasion. "That is, of
course, if you would like to hear. It is an interesting story."

He motioned to her to begin, trembling with excitement.

Pearl told the story that had been told to her the night she and Annie
Gray had sat by the dying fire, told it, with many a touch of pathos
and realism, which made it live before him. His eyes never left her
face, though he could not discover how much she knew, and yet the very
fact of her coming to him seemed to prove that she knew everything.

The old man's face twitched painfully when she spoke of the young
widow's quarrel with her husband's father.

"He was not accustomed to having his wishes thwarted," said Pearl
simply. "He was a man whose word was law in his own household and
among his friends. But she had the freedom of the wilderness in her
blood, and they quarrelled violently. He was determined to send the
boy to England for his education."

"He only said that--he wouldn't have done it--he loved the boy too
well," he burst in, impatiently.

"Well, of course, the young mother did not know that--not being a
mind-reader, she had no way of telling--and besides, he threatened to
take the child from her altogether. He was his son's heir, and he was
therefore the guardian of the child. The law was with him, I believe,
in that. That is one of the laws that have roused the women to take a
hand in public matters.

"So, to save her boy, to keep him for her very own--she allowed her
father-in-law to think she had not been legally married. She gave up
her good name, to keep her boy. She went away--with only her two hands
to make a living for them both."

"Where is she?" cried the old man, with something of his old
imperiousness.

Pearl did not at once reply. He should hear all of the story. She did
not minimize the hard struggle that Annie Gray had had in her attempts
at self support, even when she saw the old man wince. He got it all.

"When she came to the farm on the Souris, she could not tell her
story--the fear was on her night and day that she might be discovered,
and the child taken from her."

"No judge in the country would do that," he cried stormily. "She had
nothing to fear even if--if--"

"Unfortunately," said Pearl quietly, "she did not know that. She
believed her father-in-law. She thought it was true, because he had
said so, and she knew that the illegitimate child belongs to the
mother, and to her alone, so she chose to let it stand at that.

"The people at Purple Springs adopted the name she had put upon her
gate--but ostracized her. The fact that she did not tell them anything
of her part, was proof to them she was not a good woman, and a man
from Ontario, who knew something about the case, fed the curiosity of
her neighbors with gossip which confirmed their suspicions."

"For three years she has lived alone, not a neighbor has come to her
door--and she has kept herself and little Jim; has worked the
farm, educated her boy, for the trustees would not let him come to
school--kept sweet and sane in spite of it all.

"When I went to see her, she cried with joy to see a human being of
kindly intention in her house. But the neighbors cut me dead, and kept
the children home from school because I went to live with her."

A groan broke from him. "Poor girl!" he said brokenly, "Poor girl, she
didn't deserve that."

Pearl's heart was softening, so she hurried on.

"The little fellow got into a fight at school, because a boy said
things about his mother. He is the sweetest tempered child I ever
knew, but he knew when to fight, and thrashed a boy a head taller than
himself; and the trustees turned him out."

"What kind of people are they?" he stormed. "It was a brave thing for
the boy to defend his mother--a brave thing I tell you. The other boy
should have been expelled--you are the teacher--why did you let them?"

Pearl let him rage, then very quietly she said, "It happened three
years before I knew them--but you should not blame the boy, Mr.
Graham, or even the trustees. They were under no obligation to protect
the woman or her boy. The boy's own grandfather had said much worse
things about her than the boy at the school. He not only insulted
her, but his own son as well--when the rage was on him. So why should
strangers spare her?"

"Go on," he said hoarsely, "let me hear it all."

She was standing in front of him now, and her eyes were driving the
truth deep into his soul. Something about her eyes, or her voice with
its rich mellowness, caused him to start and exclaim.

"Who are you, girl--tell me, who you are--I have heard your voice
somewhere! My God! was it you? was it you?"

"Yes," said Pearl, "it was me; and when the women of the city here,
who had come to you and tried to break down your stubborn prejudices,
tried to reason with you, but found it all in vain; when they told me
that first night to think of some sad case that I had known of women
who had suffered from the injustice of the law and men's prejudice,
and strike without mercy, I thought of your daughter-in-law and all
that she had suffered. I saw again the hungry look in her sweet face,
when I went to see her. I saw the gray hairs and the lines of sorrow;
I saw again the heroic efforts she makes to give her boy everything
that the world is bent on denying him--I thought of these things--and
the rest was easy. There was no other way, sir; you would not listen;
you would not move an inch--you had to be broken!"

Speechless, almost breathless, he looked at her--all the fight had
gone out of him.

"I am going now, sir," she said. "I have delivered her message. She
only wanted to clear your son's memory. She will tell the people now
who she is, and prove her marriage, for little Jim's sake.

"Don't go, girl," he cried, "sit down--tell me more. Tell me what the
boy is like--how big is he?" "The boy is like you," said Pearl, "a
tall lad for ten; clever far beyond his years."

"Does he know about me--does he hate me--has she told him?" His voice
was pitiful in its eagerness.

"Not a word--the boy has a heart of love, and as sunny a disposition
as any child could have. She has made his life a dream of happiness,
in spite of all."

The old man's face began to quiver, and a sob tore its way upward from
his heart. His face was hidden in his hands.

"Would she ever forgive me?" he said, at last, lifting his head.
"Would she believe me if I said I was sorry--would she have pity on a
broken old man, who sees the evil he has done--would the boy let
me love him--and try to make it up to him and his mother? You know
her--why don't you answer me girl? Is there no hope that she might
forgive me?"

Pearl stepped back without a word, as Annie Gray came quickly across
the lawn. She had been standing in the shade of a maple tree, waiting
for Pearl's signal.

A cry broke from Mrs. Graham, Jim's mother, a welcoming cry of joy.

The old man rose to his feet, uncertainly holding out both his hands.

"My girl," he cried "I don't deserve it--but can you forgive me?"

And Annie Gray, who had suffered so bravely, so tearlessly, found her
heart swept clean of resentment or bitter memory as she looked at him,
for it was Jim's father, old, sad and broken, who called to her, and
to Jim's father's arms she went with a glad cry.

"Dad!" she said, "Oh Dad! Little Jim and I are very tired of being
orphans!"

And on the back veranda behind them, where she had been crouching with
her ear to the paling, Rosie came out of hiding and burst out like a
whole hallelujah chorus, and with the empty scrub pail in one hand,
and the brush in the other, beat the cymbals as she sang:

  "O that will be glory for me,
  Glory for you and glory for me,
  When by His grace I shall look on His face,
  That will be glory for me!"



CHAPTER XXIV

HOME AGAIN


Quit your whistlin' Jimmy, and hold your whist--all of you--don't you
know your poor sister is dead for sleep. Hasn't she been up hill and
down dale this last six weeks. I never saw the like of it, and it's a
God's mercy she ever lived through it--and then last night when she
drove over from her school nothing would do your pa but she must talk
half the night, when she should have been in bed. So now clear out you
lads, and let's keep the house quiet, for Pearl is a light sleeper and
always was."

"And a light stepper too, ma, for here I am--up and dressed, and
hungry as a bear." It was Pearl herself who opened the stairs' door.

A shout of joy arose from the assembly in the kitchen, dearer to Pearl
than any burst of hand-clapping she had ever heard in a theatre, and
there was a rush for the first kiss, which Danny landed neatly, though
we must admit it was done by racing over his brother Patsey, who sat
on the floor tying his boot, and Patsey's ruffled feelings did not
subside until Pearl opened her valise, which stood inside the "room"
door, and brought out jack-knives for the youngest four boys. Patsey
declared, still smarting over the indignity of being run over, and
stood upon, that Danny should not get a knife at all, but Mrs. Watson
interposed for her latest born by saying:

"O Patsey, dear, don't be hard on him. He was just that overjoyed at
seein' Pearl, he never noticed what he was standin' on; anything would
ha' done him just as well as you."

"I'll overjoy him, you bet," grumbled Patsey--tenderly feeling the
back of his neck, "when I get him outside. I'll show him what it feels
like to have some one stand on your neck, with heavy boots."

Danny made no defence, but gazed rapturously on his sister, and
expectantly at the valise, whose bulging sides gave forth promise of
greater treasures yet to come.

"I have some things here for broken hearts and rainy days," said
Pearl, "that Ma and Mary will be placed in charge of. I believe a
skinned neck should qualify, so if Patsey Watson will dry his tears
and iron out his face and step back against the wall, close his
eyes--and smile--he will get a pleasant surprise."

Patsey complied with all the conditions. Indeed, he not only smiled,
he grinned, showing a gaping expanse in the front of his mouth from
which the middle tooth had gone, like a missing gate in a neat white
fence.

When Pearl placed a box in his hands, which contained the makings and
full directions for setting up a red and black box-kite, a picture of
which in full flight adorned the cover, a war-whoop of joy rent the
air.

"Ain't you the luckiest kid!" cried Tommy enviously, as he crowded to
get another look. "If there's anything goin', you get it."

"Now clear out, all you boys, and let Pearl get her breakfast," said
Mary. "I haven't had a chance to speak to her yet, and I want to know
how the girls are wearing their hair and how long a girl of sixteen
should wear her skirts, and lots of things."

The boys departed to make whistles with the new knives, Pearl offering
a prize for the shrillest and fartherest reaching; to be tried at
twelve o'clock noon, and silence settled once more on the kitchen.

"It's sort of too bad you came home on Saturday, Pearl," said her
mother anxiously, as she toasted a slice of bread over the
glowing wood coals. "The boys will pester you to death today and
tomorrow--though of course I know you have no other time."

"I like to be pestered, ma," said Pearl, as she began on a generous
helping of bacon and eggs. "Home is the best place, ma, and I never
knew just how good it was to have home and folks of my own, as the day
I went to school and found no children there. Isn't it queer, ma,
how hard people can be on each other. It makes me afraid God must be
disappointed lots of times, and feel like pulling down another flood
and getting away to a fresh start again.

"But I am not going to talk about anything--until I get back to
feeling the way I did when I went away. I want to see the hens and
the cows and the new pigs. I want to get out in the honest, freckly
sunshine. Do the potatoes need hoeing, ma? All right, pa and I will
go at them. I like people, and all that, but I have to mix in lots of
blue sky and plants, and a few good, honest horses, cows, dogs and
cats--who have no underlying motives and are never suspicious or
jealous, and have no regrets over anything they've done."

"But don't you like the city, Pearl?" Mary asked. "Don't you wish we
all lived there? I do, you bet."

"I am glad my people live right here, Mary, out in the open, where
there's room to breathe and time to think. O, I like the city, with
its street cars weaving the streets together like shuttles; I love
their flashing blue and red and green lights, as they slide past the
streets, clanging their bells, and with faces looking out of the
windows, and every one of the people knowing where they are going. I
like the crowds that surge along the streets at night, and the good
times they are having. I like it--for a visit. It's a great place to
go to--if you have your own folks with you--I think I'd like it--on a
wedding trip--or the like of that.

"But I want to see everything 'round home," said Pearl quickly. "Is
the garden all up, and what did you sow, and where are the hens set,
and did the cabbage plants catch?"

"You bet they did," said Mary proudly. "I transplanted them, and I put
them in close. Pa said I would need to take out every second one, but
I said we'd try them this way for once. You know the way cabbages
sprawl and straggle all over the place--all gone to leaves. Well, mine
won't, you bet, they'll heart up, because there's nothing else for
them to do. Pa admits now its the best way. They've got no room to
grow spraddly and they're just a fine sight already. Cabbages are just
like any one else; it doesn't do to give them too much of their own
way, and let them think they own the earth."

When breakfast was over, Pearl, Mary and Mrs. Watson went out into
the hazy blue sunshine. The ravine below the house was musical with
thrushes and meadow-larks. The blossoms had gone, and already the wild
cherries and plums were forming their fruit. Cattle fed peacefully on
the river banks, and some were cropping the volunteer growth of oats
that had come on the summer fallow. The grain was just high enough to
run ripples of light, as the gentlest of breezes lazily passed.

Pearl remembered the hopes and visions that had come to her the first
day she and her father had come to the farm, and through all its
dilapidation and neglect, she had seen that it could be made into a
home of comfort and prosperity, and now the dream had come true. The
Watson family were thriving; their farm had not failed them; comforts,
and even a few luxuries were theirs, and Pearl's heart grew very soft
and tender with a sense of gratitude.

It was not too good to be true, she thought, as she looked at the
comfortable home, the new barn and the populous farmyard spread out
under the quivering sunshine.

"It was not too good to be true," thought Pearl. "I can't complain,
even if some of my dreams have failed me--and maybe--who knows?"

"It's got to come right," she thought it so hard, she looked up to see
if Mary or her mother noticed. But they were busy with a hidden-away
nest, just found in the willow windbreak.

The news of the neighborhood was given to her by Mary.

"The Paines are putting up a new house, Pearl, and Mrs. Paine has some
real nice clothes, and they seem to be getting on far better."

"That's good," said Pearl, and then added, with such deep conviction,
as if she were trying to convince some one, she said:

"There's nothing too good to be true."

At noon, when all the family had been fed, and the horses were resting
in the well-bedded stalls--John Watson gave himself and his horses a
two hours' rest in the heat of the day--when every one was present,
Pearl told them something of her adventures on the six weeks of her
absence. Especially did she tell the young brothers of the lonesome
little boy who had no playmates, but who loved his mother so much he
would not let her know that he was lonely.

Patsey had a solution of the difficulty:

"Take me back, when you go, Pearl, and I'll play with him, and let him
fly my kite n' everything."

"O, he isn't lonely now," Pearl said, "thank you all the same--but I'm
going to bring him over in the holidays, for he needs to play with
boys of his own age."

"Danny better not run over him, and stand on his neck, though--he
ain't used to it--the way we are," Patsy said, but was promptly
advised to forget it, and let Pearl go on with the story, by Danny
himself, to whom the subject was growing painful.

"His grandfather and grandmother came out when we did," Pearl said,
"and they're staying at Purple Springs, and Jim and his grandfather
are together all the time. Mrs. Gray--her real name is Mrs. Graham
now--doesn't want her boy brought up in the city, and his grandfather
is tired of the city too, so they're all living in the brown house,
and every day's a picnic day."

"But oh! say we did have one of the grandest picnics a week after we
got home from the city. On Mrs. Graham's farm there's a little stream
which runs down to the river, and we got it cleaned out, and a big,
long table made, and seats and all. Jim and his grandfather did the
work--he was brought up on a farm, and can do anything. And the two
women cooked for days, and I went round and asked every one to come to
the picnic--and I told them who Mrs. Gray was, and all about it."

"Told each one in a secret, I suppose, and told them not to tell,"
said her father, smiling.

"I hope you rubbed it in, good and plenty," said Mary, "about them
bein' so mean and full of bad thoughts."

"I did my best," said Pearl, "especially with some of them who had had
so much to say, and they were keen to come, I tell you, to meet the
Premier. That's what he'll always be called, too, and he sure looked
that day when he sat at the head of the table, with the sunshine
dappling the long table, with its salads and jellies and plates of
sliced ham, and all the people sitting around kind of humble and
sheepish. He wore his Prince Albert coat and his silk hat. He didn't
want to--he thought it wasn't the thing for a picnic, but I held him
up to it, for I didn't want the people to see him in his corduroy
hunting suit. I know how impressed they would be with the fine
clothes, and I was determined they should have every thrill.

"So he put on all his good clothes, even to his gray spats. I had to
argue a long time to get them on him. He said they looked foppish, but
I just got the button-hook and put them on him while he was arguing,
and asked him who thought of this picnic anyway! and he just laughed
and said he guessed he had to pass under the rod.

"And after all the people had been introduced, and the men were
standing back, pretty hot and uncomfortable in their white shirts, he
got up and asked every one to have a seat at the table, for he wanted
to say a few words before we began to eat.

"You could have heard a leaf fall, it was so still, and then he told
them all about his son, and how he didn't understand him, and never
made a chum of him, and how he was so taken up with politics he forgot
to be a father to his own boy. And he told about his son's marriage,
and the whole story, right up to the time I went to see him in the
city."

"'It's not easy telling this,' he said, 'but I put my daughter-in-law
in wrong in this neighborhood, and I am going to make it right if I
can. She is a noble, brave woman,' he said, 'and I am proud of her. I
lost the election,' he continued, 'but I am glad of it, for in losing
it, I found a daughter and a grandson,' and then he put his hand on my
shoulder and said, 'and here's the deepest conspirator in the country,
who managed the whole thing. This is the girl who made fun of me, and
lambasted me, but who brought my daughter-in-law and me together,
and when she runs for the Legislature, I promise I will get out and
campaign for her.'

"Every one laughed then, and the people crowded up around him, and
Annie, and you never saw so many people laughing and crying at the one
time in your life.

"We had a big boiler of coffee on the little tin stove in the trees,
and I grabbed off the white pitchers, and the biggest girls from the
school helped serve, and we got the people all started in to eat, for
it doesn't do to let people's feelings go too far.

"When they had quieted down a little, and were nearly through eating,
the minister, who was at the other end of the table, got up and said
he had an idea he wanted to pass on.

"'I'm ashamed,' he said--and I know he was--'of the way this community
has treated Mrs. Gray and Jimmy,'--he didn't seem able to call her
anything else either. 'On behalf of the district of Purple Springs, I
apologize. We'll show our apology in something better than words, too,
I hope,' he said, kind of swallowing his Adam's apple. 'We denied her
child the right to play with our children, through our stupid and
cruel thoughtlessness, now let us apologize by doing something for all
the children of this neighborhood. This is a beautiful spot, a natural
park; let us make it the Jim Gray Playgrounds, with swings, and
sand-pile and acting bars and swimming pool, with a baseball ground up
on the hill; where all our children, young people and old people too,
can gather and be young and human and sociable together.'

"The people broke out into cheers and cries of 'We'll do it!' It
seemed to relieve them.

"'And let us hold our church service here on Sundays, too, when the
weather is fine. Our religion has been too stuffy, too mouldy, too
damp, too narrow. It needs the sunshine and the clear air of heaven to
sweeten it and revive it. I feel it today, that God is in the sunshine
more than in the narrow limits we have tried to set upon Him.'

"'We sometimes deplore the tendency of our young people to go to the
city,' he continued, 'but I don't know as I blame them. We've been
living dull, drab lives for sure. Let us liven things up a bit, and
give our people something to look forward to during the week, and
something pleasant to remember. It's the utter dreariness of life that
kills people--not hard work.'

"And then," said Pearl, "I could see the people wanted to sing or cry,
or dance, or something, to work off their emotions; so I signalled to
Bessie Cowan, who is one of our best singers, to start a hymn that the
children sing every morning. They knew it well, and the people had
learned it from them. I never heard anything like it. It flashed up
through the highest branches of the trees, into the blue air. I am
sure God heard it, and was pleased:

  "God is in His temple
  Let the earth keep silent."

"Little Jim knew it too, and his voice was sweeter than all the rest.
It seemed easy for every one to talk or sing or laugh--or do whatever
they wanted to do. It was wonderful to see people come out of their
hard brown husks and be natural and neighborly."

"Sure, and it was more like a revival meetin' than a picnic, Pearlie,"
said her father, laughing.

"It was that, pa," she answered, "and like a term in a reform school
for some of them. There had been a big quarrel among them about a
road-scraper, and the next day every one was offering to wait, instead
of grabbing at it the way they had been; and the women who had fallen
out over a sleeve pattern and fought rings round, and called each
other everything they could name, made it up right there.

"Before they parted, they agreed to have the services there on
Sunday--that's tomorrow, and the ex-Premier is going to speak after
the service on 'How to Build a Community.' All the women are baking,
and everybody will bring their visitors, instead of staying home from
church the way they've been doing, and the children can play in the
sand-pile, and sail their boats on the little creek, and it looks as
if Purple Springs has experienced a change of heart."

"Don't you think there's a danger of leadin' them to thinkin' too
light of the Lord's day, Pearlie, picknicking that way," asked her
mother anxiously, "and maybe makin' them lose their religion?"

"O, I'm not worried about that neighborhood losing its religion, ma,"
said Pearl. "Any neighborhood that could treat a stranger the way
they did! But I do believe the sunshine and blue sky, the flowers and
birds, and the getting together, along with the words of the sermon
and the hymns they'll sing, will make them a lot more human. I never
can think it would hurt God's feelings a bit to see children playing,
and neighbors happy together on His day.

"They want us all to come; if you don't think it's too far to drive
with the whole family, and I've been training the children all week to
sing--it looks like a good time."

"We'll go!" cried Danny and Patsey, with one voice, and with brotherly
unity prevailing--for once.



CHAPTER XXV

"THERE IS NOTHING TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE"


"O don't touch it--it hurts," Danny wailed, when Pearl examined his
grimy little foot, from which a trickle of blood was showing through
the murk of prairie soil.

"Just let me wash it, dear," said Pearl soothingly. "We cannot tell
how badly you are hurt until we get the dirt off. It may not be so bad
at all."

This was the afternoon of the same day.

Danny's tears came in torrents. "It is bad," he sobbed. "It's the
worst sliver there's ever been in this family--or maybe in these
parts."

"Well now, maybe it is. I wouldn't wonder if we'll have to send for
the doctor," said Pearl, "and that will be one on Patsey--he never
had a doctor in his life--and maybe never will. Just let me see how
serious it is--and I'll promise you if I can't pull it out with my
fingers--the doctor will be phoned for at once, and told to hurry."

With this promise to sustain him, Danny bravely submitted to a
thoroughly good washing of the afflicted member, and even the
cleansing of the other, for Pearl explained to him that feet came in
pairs, and had to be treated alike in matters of washing.

But the sliver refused to move, though Pearl appeared to try to pull
it out.

"Send for the doctor, Pearl," Danny gasped. "I'm getting weaker
every minute, and everything is goin' from me--and now its gettin'
dark--can't some of yez light a lamp?"

Danny had heard his mother tell so many times the story of his
grandfather's last moments--it came easily to him now, and he revelled
in the sensation he was making.

"Rouse yourself, Danny dear," his mother cried tearfully, "speak to
us, darlin' and don't let yourself go to sleep--I'm feart it's gone to
his heart."

"It couldn't, ma," said Pearl, "it's only a sliver--it's not a
telephone pole--a dash of cold water in the face will bring him back."

Danny suddenly returned to the earth, that his young soul seemed about
to spurn, and the look he gave his sister was at once an appeal and a
reproach.

"Haven't you anything in your rainy-day box that's good for slivers?"
he asked.

"Sure there is," said Pearl, "I think in a case of this kind, an
accident that calls for medical treatment entitles its owner to a very
substantial donation from the emergency chest. Mary, will you please
make a selection, while I go and phone, and remember, your youngest
brother is grievously wounded; do your best for him."

Pearl went to the phone, with a curiously lightened heart. At least
she would hear him speak--she would see him. Not once had she seen him
since the day she had been in his office. Not once--and that was three
months ago. Three months, which seemed like three years!

"Give me twenty-one, please Central," she said steadily.

She knew the way he took off the receiver.

"Dr. Clay, this is Pearl speaking," she hurried on, without giving him
time for reply. "Danny has a sliver in his foot, and we want you to
come out. Can you come?"

"Right away," he answered. "I'll be there in twenty minutes. Is it
very bad, Pearl?"

"No, not very--I nearly got it out myself."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't,"--his voice was eager.

"But he wanted you--"

"Good for Danny--he was always a wise child."

When the patient was made comfortable in a rocking-chair, with a
package of Japanese water "Flowers" and a cup of water in which to
expand them, as a means of keeping his mind from despair, Pearl made
a hurried survey of herself in the mirror, and pulled her brown hair
into curls over her ears.

"Ears are not good this year, Mary," she laughed. "They must not be
seen."

A roar of pain from Danny brought her flying back to him.

"Stay with me Pearl," he shouted, "I'm a sick man, and tell the kids
to keep quiet--it jars me--I can't stand it--it makes me all go cold!"

Pearl sat down beside him, making a rather unsuccessful effort to be
becomingly solemn. Mary hushed the shouts of the others, who
were quite ready to be thrilled by their brother's precarious
condition--and when the doctor came in, the Watson brothers assembled
to hear the verdict.

"He will recover," said the doctor. "Not only recover, but regain the
full use of the injured member. But it's a bad, bad sliver just the
same, and some boys would cry if they had it."

Danny set his lips tightly together, as one who was determined to
endure to the end.

Very tenderly the doctor took him on his knee, and examined the little
foot. "I'll have a basin of water, Pearl, please," he said.

"It has been washed," Danny cried, with indignation. "Pearl washed
both of them."

"Sure enough," the doctor said, "but you just watch and see what I am
going to do."

The doctor opened his black bag to get out a lance, the sight of which
was too much for Danny's reserve of courage, and in spite of his brave
efforts, the tears burst forth.

The doctor laid the lance back in the bag, and said, "Now Danny, I am
going to tell you a real true story, and we won't touch your foot at
all, unless you ask me to.

"There's a bad, bold sliver about this long, that ran into Danny
Watson's foot. No one asked the sliver to go in--no one wanted it--but
it went. Danny's foot does not like it--and every nerve is crying
'Pull it out--pull it out,' and the blood has gathered round to see
what's wrong, just like a crowd of people on the street, growing
bigger every minute, so Danny's foot is beginning to swell and get red
and hot.

"Now, if we leave the sliver alone, the foot will get it out its own
way, but it will take a long time. The foot will get redder, hotter,
sorer. It will be very stiff, and Danny will not be able to walk on
it. And even after the sliver works out, it will take quite a while
to heal, and there may be an ugly mark here for a long time. Still,
that's one way to get rid of slivers.

"There's another way. It is to let me cut the skin with this sharp
knife--sharp like a razor-blade--and then take these little tweezers,
catch the end of the sliver, and give one quick jerk. Then we'll
put your foot in the warm water and let all the blood that has been
gathering to see what was wrong, run away, and then we'll put on
something nice and soft, and some absorbent cotton, and make a fine
bandage, and about tomorrow it will be as good as the other one.

"Which way will we do it, Danny?"

Danny had followed every word of the story, his eyes meeting the
doctor's calmly.

"Which way, Danny?" the doctor repeated.

Danny buried his head in the doctor's shoulder, and said one word:

"Jerk!"

In a few minutes it was all over, and Danny, looking a little pale,
with his foot resting on a pillow, was taken for a ride in the new
wheelbarrow, well padded with fresh hay by his thoroughly concerned
and solicitous young brothers. Danny, knowing the transitory nature of
his popularity, was not too overcome by his recent operation to accept
promptly the presents his brothers offered, and did so with a sweetly
wan and patient smile which kindled a noble rivalry in the matter of
gifts. Patsey, now very repentant, brought his catapult, Bugsey his
alleys, his loveliest "pure," and the recumbent lamb set in a ball of
clear glass; Tommy surrendered his pair of knobbies. Their mother,
watching the procession leaving the gate, was moved almost to tears by
these expressions of brotherly love.

"They fight and squabble and jander at each other, but when trouble
comes, they cling together. That's what the psalmist means when he
says 'A brother is born for adversity.' It's the day of trouble that
proves what your own mean to you."

Mary and her mother were at the kitchen door, having come out to get
the patient properly started for his ride.

"I never knew it meant that, ma," said Mary, "but that's a nice
meaning anyway."

She looked into the living-room, where Pearl and the doctor sat
without speaking, and just as her mother was about to go to join them,
she said:

"I believe there's cream for a churnin', ma, it will be too sour
before Monday. If you come out and stay with me, I'll do it, but I
hate to work alone."

As she flung the cream from end to end of the barrel-churn, while her
mother sat beside her mending the boys' shirts for the Sabbath, Mary
said to herself:

"A sister is born for adversity, too--you bet." Meanwhile, the doctor
and Pearl, left alone, had broken the silence which fell upon them at
first.

"Come out for a ride, Pearl," he said at last. "Saturday is the
teacher's happy day, and I haven't seen you for months--not to speak
to you--and I want to hear all about what you've been doing. You
haven't told me yet that you are glad I was elected."

"But I wrote you a note, didn't I?"

"Oh yes indeed, you did," he agreed, "but you know even the best notes
in the world lack color--or something."

"Even roses," said Pearl, "lack something too, though it isn't color."

"You will come, won't you, Pearl?" he urged.

Pearl sat on the flowered lounge, looking at him intently.

"Just wait a minute, doctor," she said, "your explanation of slivers
and their treatment interests me very much. I think I had better
consult you now as my physician. I have never had a physician, but it
would no doubt be you if I should need one."

"Thank you, Miss Watson," he said, quite gravely, "I appreciate the
compliment," and waited for her to speak.

"I have a sliver, too," she said at last. "No, not in my foot. It is
in my heart, and I am afraid I have been trying the foolish way of
letting it work out. You are quite right in saying it is slow, and
painful--and attracts attention to itself. It does. Now that day, the
second day of March, you and I had some serious conversation. I didn't
understand why you said what you did. I don't yet. I am sure you
said what you thought you should say. You may have been telling the
truth--or if not, something you considered better than the truth,
easier, more comfortable, less painful."

"Sometimes a very bitter thought comes to me--a sore thought--it is
the sliver. I am not trying to be tactful now, just truthful. Tact and
truth do not always combine naturally. This is one of the times. I am
going to ask you something--but, don't speak until I am all done."

Here Pearl straightened her fine young shoulders, and her eyes grew
very dark and luminous.

"Was it really because you think I am too young to know my own mind,
that you spoke as you did, or is there another reason?"

She was looking into his eyes with such intensity, with such
directness, that he knew he was going to tell her everything. It
seemed as if she must read whatever was in his heart.

"My people are common, working people," she went on--and her head was
held very high now, and her voice, all silver as it was, had an inner
foundation of steel, like the famous silverware. "My people have
always worked for a living. They are honest, kindly, honorable people,
but they are what the vulgar would call--and do call--people who have
no 'class.' My father eats with his knife; my mother does not know
anything about having her subject and predicate agree in certain fine
points in which subjects and predicates are supposed to agree. She
knows how to work in harmony with her family and her neighbors, but
her adjectives, verbs and nouns do sometimes tangle. I don't mind.
These are small matters to me. I love my own people--admire and honor
them."

Pearl's cheeks were flaming now.

"If you care greatly for these things--I know many do--and feel they
are too serious, I want you to do something for me as my physician.
You can do it with one word. It will hurt, but not for long. It will
heal quickly. I will wash out the place with pride, and put on a
bandage of the love I bear my own people. It will just be the first
shock--there will be no after effects. Tell me the one word. Was it
because--my father eats with his knife? Danny buried his face in your
shoulder so he could not see. I will use a pillow--it is--more seemly.
All right! Ready! Jerk!"

The pillow was thrown across the room, and Pearl found herself looking
into his eyes, as he held her close.

"No, Pearl," he cried, "it is not that. I love you--more than all the
world. I would marry you--if every relative you ever had had been
hanged on the highest hill. There are no two people I know, to whom I
would rather be related, than your father and mother. But there is a
gap between us. I did not tell you the truth that day, because I felt
it was more honorable to hide it. But I will tell you everything now."

When he was done, Pearl's eyes were soft and tender, and her arms
tightened around him.

"Is that all?" she said happily. "Is that all?"

"You don't understand, dear, how serious it is," he said, "I couldn't
ask you to marry a sick man."

"But you love me?" she said, "You want me--you have been miserable
trying to give me up."

"It has been a bitter fight," he said, "a miserable, lonesome fight."

Pearl stood up suddenly, and he thought he had never seen her so
beautiful, so queenly or so compelling. He knew he was going to do
whatever she said. The weight of responsibility seemed to be lifted.

"Come out," she said quickly, "we are too happy to stay inside. I must
breathe the sunshine and look up at the sky. My heart is too full for
a house."

They drove to the river bank, a mile away, and sat on a fallen log at
the head of a ravine, which fell sharply to the river below. Through
the opening in the trees, they would see the slow running Souris, on
which the sunshine glinted, making its easy way to join its elder
brother, the Assiniboine, on the long, long march to the sea. Across
the river plumy willows, pale green and tremulous, grew paler still as
a wind passed over them.

The afternoon sun was sinking in a sea of wine-red mist, throwing
streamers of light into the upper sky, like a giant's fan.

"I know now," said Pearl, "why I was led to Purple Springs, and why I
felt when I met Annie Gray that my life would be knit with hers;"
and then as they sat, hand-in-hand, with the glory of the sunset
transfiguring the every-day world, she told him of the wonder valley
of hot springs in the far North, whose streams have magical powers of
healing. The valley of Purple Springs--away beyond the sunset.

"We'll go over tomorrow," said Pearl, "and Annie will tell you all
about it, with its arch of mountains, its tropical flowers, the size
of the vegetables and grains which grow there, and the delight of the
Indians when they find their sick people growing well again. Annie has
been longing to go, and I told her yesterday I would go with her, and
we can still get there before the cold weather."

The doctor made one last effort to hold to his original intention:

"Pearl, I cannot let you bind yourself to me until I am well again.
I am holding my own, Dr. Brander says. He thought the election would
pull me down, but it didn't. My case is a hopeful one. It's too much
like taking advantage of your romantic way of looking at this. To
marry a sick man is a serious affair, and I cannot ask a girl like
you, so full of promise, so splendid in every way, to do it."

"You won't need to," she laughed, slipping her arm through his. "It's
all settled--I'll just marry you without being asked. The covenant
between you and me was made before the foundations of the world.
You're my man. I knew you the moment I saw you. So when I say, 'I,
Pearl, take you, Horace,' it's not a new contract--it's just a
ratification of the old. It's just the way we have of letting the
world know. You see dear, you just can't help it--it's settled."

"But are you sure, Pearl; you are so young in years; I mean--are you
sure you will not be sorry? I love you Pearl--I want you, but I desire
still more to see you get the most out of life."

"I'm sure," she said steadily. "If I can't have you, life has fooled
me--cheated me--and I do not believe God ever intended that. Peter
Neelands said I was in love with life, with romance; that because you
were the nearest hero I had selected you and hung a halo around you,
and that maybe I was mistaken."

"What does he know about it?" asked the doctor sharply.

"I told him," said Pearl. "He was the only person I could talk to, and
when there came not a word from you--and Mrs. Crocks told me you went
quite often to the city to see Miss Keith, I began to wonder if I
could be mistaken--so I tried to forget you."

"You did!"

"Yes. I worked two weeks on it, when I was in the city."

"How did you go about it?" he asked, after a pause.

"Peter said most girls were so romantic and ready to fall in love,
they often loved a man who cared nothing for them, but who married
them rather than break their hearts, and that's what causes so many
unhappy homes. Of course, it works the other way too, and he said
the way to tell if it were a real true, undying love, was to try the
'expulsive power of a new love.' That's a fine phrase, isn't it?"

"Well, Peter was willing to be experimented on. He said if he had come
to Millford about the same time you did, I might have selected him
instead of you, and made a hero of him."

"He has his nerve," exclaimed the doctor.

"O, I don't know," she said. "I mean I didn't know. I was willing to
see. So Peter stuck around all the time, and he drove me everywhere,
and always saw me home. I like him--all right--but you see I couldn't
make my heart beat when he came into the room, and there was no
rainbow in the sky, or music in the air, when he came to see me, and
every day I got more lonesome for you, until it just seemed as if I
couldn't go on. The three years when I thought you loved me, I saved
up a lot of happiness--sort of money in the bank--and I used it every
day and told myself you would tell me everything some day--and it
would all come right. I got that mixed in with my prayers every night.
But when you didn't come--and didn't come--my balance in the bank grew
less and less--and I got panicky, and afraid I had been mistaken. So
just to be sure, I did try to like Peter--not because I wanted to,
but just to see if it could be done--in the interest of scientific
research, Peter said it was."

"But I couldn't get accustomed to having him with me--he tired me
sometimes--he talked too much, and I never could let him pay for my
lunch, when we had lunch together. I could not let him spend a cent on
me--not even the price of a movie."

"I'm glad you didn't, Pearl," the doctor said quickly. "You were quite
right about that, but you won't feel that way about me, will you dear?
These new women can get to be so independent--they are uncomfortable
to live with."

Pearl rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, like a well-pleased
kitten.

"No chance!" she said. "I'll let you pay every time--I'll just love
spending your money--I won't ever know it from mine."

"O won't you?" laughed the doctor. "Well now, I am glad to be warned,
and I am glad there are some laws to protect poor simple-minded men
like me. I'll speak to Driggs about it as soon as I go back, and you
may expect to see on the front page of the 'Mercury' something like
this: 'I, Horace Clay, physician of the village of Millford, hereby
warn the public I will not be responsible for my wife's debts.'"

At that, they laughed so much that the woodpecker in the tree above
them stopped drumming, to listen, and when he found out how matters
stood, he turned the whole story into telegraphic code and sent it up
and down the valley; and a brown squirrel looked at them through
a tangle of cranberry leaves, and when he got the drift of
their conversation, he raced to the top of the highest tree and
chee--chee--chee-d the news to all the other squirrels in the woods;
and old silver-spot, the crow, scenting a piece of gossip, came
circling over the trees and made a landing on a stump quite near them,
and with his head on one side, listened for a few minutes, and then,
with an insufferable smirk, rose cautiously and, circling high over
the trees, made a rapid flight up the river, without uttering a sound.

The doctor watched him as he disappeared around the bend. "Do you know
where he's off to, Pearl?" he said. "He's going to tell Mrs. Crocks.
She understands Crow, of course--it's left over from her last
re-incarnation. This will save an announcement!"

All afternoon, a black cloud, thick and thunderous, had huddled over
the hills to the north, but before the sun went down, there came
across its shoulder, a shining ribbon of rainbow.





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