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Title: Sandy
Author: Rice, Alice Caldwell Hegan, 1870-1942
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 "Sandy" ***

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



      Images of the original pages are available through Kentuckiana
      Digital Library. See http://kdl.kyvl.org



SANDY

by

ALICE HEGAN RICE

Author of _Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch_

New York, The Century Co.

1905



[Illustration: "Looking up, he saw a slender little girl in a long
tan coat and a whit tam-o'-shanter"]



TO MY AUNT

MISS MARY A. HEGAN
WHO USED TO TELL ME BETTER STORIES
THAN I SHALL EVER WRITE



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER

       I THE STOWAWAY
      II ON SHIPBOARD
     III THE CURSE OF WEALTH
      IV SIDE-TRACKED
       V SANDY RETIRES FROM BUSINESS
      VI HOLLIS FARM
     VII CONVALESCENCE
    VIII AUNT MELVY AS A SOOTHSAYER
      IX TRANSITION
       X WATERLOO
      XI "THE LIGHT THAT LIES"
     XII ANTICIPATION
    XIII THE COUNTY FAIR
     XIV A COUNCIL OF WAR
      XV HELL AND HEAVEN
     XVI THE NELSON HOME
    XVII UNDER THE WILLOWS
   XVIII THE VICTIM
     XIX THE TRIALS OF AN ASSISTANT POSTMASTER
      XX THE IRONY OF CHANCE
     XXI IN THE DARK
    XXII AT WILLOWVALE
   XXIII "THE SHADOW ON THE HEART"
    XXIV THE PRIMROSE WAY



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"Looking up, he saw a slender little girl in a long tan coat and a
white tam-o-shanter" Frontispiece

"He sent up yell after yell of victory for the land of his adoption"

"He smiled away his debt of gratitude"

"Then he forgot all about the steps and counting time"

"Burning deeds of prowess rioted in his brain"

"Sandy saw her waver"

"'It's been love, Sandy, ... ever since the first'"



CHAPTER I

THE STOWAWAY


An English mist was rolling lazily inland from the sea. It half
enveloped the two great ocean liners that lay tugging at their
moorings in the bay, and settled over the wharf with a grim
determination to check, as far as possible, the traffic of the
morning.

But the activity of the wharf, while impeded, was in no wise stopped.
The bustle, rattle, and shouting were, in fact, augmented by the
temporary interference. Everybody seemed in a hurry, and everybody
seemed out of temper, save a boy who lay at full length on the quay
and earnestly studied a weather-vane that was lazily trying to make
up its mind which way to point.

He was ragged and brawny and picturesque. His hands, bronzed by the
tan of sixteen summers, were clasped under his head, and his legs were
crossed, one soleless shoe on high vaunting its nakedness in the face
of an indifferent world. A sailor's blouse, two sizes too large, was
held together at the neck by a bit of red cambric, and his trousers
were anchored to their mooring by a heavy piece of yellow twine. The
indolence of his position, however, was not indicative of the state of
his mind; for under his weather-beaten old cap, perched sidewise on a
tousled head, was a commotion of dreams and schemes, ambitions and
plans, whose activities would have put to shame the busiest wharf in
the world.

"It's your show, Sandy Kilday!" he said, half aloud, with a bit of a
brogue that flavored his speech as the salt flavors the sea air. "You
don't want to be a bloomin' old weather-vane, a-changin' your mind
every time the wind blows. Is it go, or stay?"

The answer, instead of coming, got sidetracked by the train of thought
that descended upon him when he was actually face to face with his
decision. All sorts of memories came rushing pell-mell through his
brain. The cold and hungry ones were the most insistent, but he
brushed them aside.

The one he clung to longest was the earliest and most shadowy of the
lot. It was of a little white house on an Irish heath, and inside was
the biggest fireplace in the world, where crimson flames went roaring
up the big, dark chimney, and where witches and fairies held high
carnival. There was a big chair on each side the hearth, and between
them a tiny red rocker with flowers painted on the arms of it. That
was the clearest of all. There were persons in the large chairs, one a
silent Scotchman who, instinct told him, must have been his father,
and the other--oh, tricky memory that faltered when he wanted it to be
so clear!--was the maddest, merriest little mother that ever came
back to haunt a lad. By holding tight to the memory he could see that
her eyes were blue like his own, but her hair was black. He could hear
the ring of her laugh as she told him Irish stories, and the soft
drone of her voice as she sang him old Irish songs. It was she who
told him about the fairies and witches that lived up behind the
peat-flames. He remembered holding her hand and putting his cheek
against it when the goblins came too near. Then the picture would go
out, like a picture in a magic-lantern show, and sometimes Sandy could
make it come back, and sometimes he could not.

After that came a succession of memories, but none of them held the
silent father and the merry mother and the little white house on the
heath. They were of new faces and new places, of temporary homes with
relatives in Ireland and Scotland, of various schools and unceasing
work. Then came the day, two years ago, when, goaded by some
injustice, real or imagined, he had run away to England and struck out
alone and empty-handed to care for himself. It had been a rough
experience, and there were days that he was glad to forget; but
through it all the taste of freedom had been sweet in his mouth.

For three weeks he had been hanging about the docks, picking up jobs
here and there, accommodating any one who wanted to be accommodated,
making many friends and little money. He had had no thought of
embarking until the big English liner _Great Britain_ arrived in port
after breaking all records on her homeward passage. She was to start
on her second trip to-day, and an hour later her rival, the steamship
_America_, was to take her departure. The relative merits of the two
vessels had been the talk of the wharf for days.

Sandy had made it a rule in life to be on hand when anything was
happening. He had viewed cricket-matches from tree-tops, had answered
the call of fire at midnight, and tramped ten miles to see the finish
of a great regatta. But something was about to take place which seemed
entirely beyond his attainment. Two hours passed before he solved the
problem.

"Takin' the rest-cure, kid?" asked a passing sailor as he shied a
stick at Sandy's shins.

Sandy stretched himself and smiled up at the sailor. It was a smile
that waited for an answer and usually got it--a smile so brimming over
with good-fellowship and confidence that it made a lover of a friend
and a friend of an enemy.

"It's a trip that I'm thinkin' of takin'," he cried blithely as he
jumped to his feet. "Here's the shillin' I owe you, partner, and may
the best luck ye've had be the worst luck that's comin'."

He tossed a coin to the sailor, and thrusting his hands in his
pockets, executed a brief but brilliant _pas seul_, and then went
whistling away down the wharf. He swung along right cheerily, his rags
fluttering, his chin in the air, for the wind had settled in one
direction, and the weather-vane and Sandy had both made up their
minds.

The sailor looked after him fondly. "He's a bloomin' good little
chap," he said to a man near by. "Carries a civil tongue in his head
for everybody."

The man grunted. "He's too off and on," he said. "He'll never come to
naught."

Two days later, the _America_, cutting her way across the Atlantic,
carried one more passenger than she registered. In the big life-boat
swung above the hurricane-deck lay Sandy Kilday, snugly concealed by
the heavy canvas covering.

He had managed to come aboard under cover of the friendly fog, and had
boldly appropriated a life-boat and was doing light housekeeping. The
apartment, to be sure, was rather small and dark, for the only light
came through a tiny aperture where the canvas was tucked back. At this
end Sandy attended to his domestic duties.

Here were stored the fresh water and hardtack which the law requires
every life-boat to carry in case of an emergency. Added to these was
Sandy's private larder, consisting of several loaves of bread, a bag
of apples, and some canned meat. The other end of the boat was
utilized as a bedroom, a couple of life-preservers serving as the bed,
and his own bundle of personal belongings doing duty as a pillow.

There were some drawbacks, naturally, especially to an energetic,
restless youngster who had never been in one place so long before in
his life. It was exceedingly inconvenient to have to lie down or
crawl; but Sandy had been used to inconveniences all his life, and
this was simply a difference in kind, not in degree. Besides, he could
steal out at night and, by being very careful and still, manage to
avoid the night watch.

The first night out a man and a girl had come up from the cabin deck
and sat directly under his hiding-place. At first he was too much
afraid of discovery to listen to what they were saying, but later his
interest outweighed his fear. For they were evidently lovers, and
Sandy was at that inflammable age when to hear mention of love is
dangerous and to see a manifestation of it absolute contagion. When
the great question came, his heart waited for the answer. Perhaps it
was the added weight of his unspoken influence that turned the scale.
She said yes. During the silence that followed, Sandy, unable to
restrain his joy, threw his arms about a life-preserver and embraced
it fervently.

When they were gone he crawled out to stretch his weary body. On the
deck he found a book which they had left; it was a green book, and on
the cover was a golden castle on a golden hill. All the rest of his
life he loved a green book best, for it was through this one that he
found his way back again to that enchanted land that lay behind the
peat-flames in the shadowy memory. Early in the morning he read it,
with his head on the box of hardtack and his feet on the water-can.
Twice he reluctantly tore himself from its pages and put it back where
he had found it. No one came to claim it, and it lay there, with the
golden castle shining in the sun. Sandy decided to take one more peep.

It was all about gallant knights and noble lords, of damsels passing
fair, of tourneys and feasts and battles fierce and long. Story after
story he devoured, until he came to the best one of all. It told of a
beautiful damsel with a mantle richly furred, who was girt with a
cumbrous sword which did her great sorrow; for she might not be
delivered of it save by a knight who was of passing good name both of
his lands and deeds. And after that all the great knights had striven
in vain to draw the sword from its sheath, a poor knight, poorly
arrayed, felt in his heart that he might essay it, but was abashed. At
last, however, when the damsel was departing, he plucked up courage to
ask if he might try; and when she hesitated he said: "Fair damsel,
worthiness and good deeds are not only in arrayment, but manhood and
worship are hid within man's person." Then the poor knight took the
sword by the girdle and sheath and drew it out easily.

And it was not until then that Sandy knew that he had had no dinner,
and that the sun had climbed over to the other side of the steamer,
and that a continual cheering was coming up from the deck below.
Cautiously he pulled back the canvas flap and emerged like the head of
a turtle from his shell. The bright sunshine dazzled him for a moment,
then he saw a sight that sent the dreams flying. There, just ahead,
was the _Great Britain_ under full way, valiantly striving to hold her
record against the oncoming steamer.

Sandy sat up and breathlessly watched the champion of the sea, her
smoke-stacks black against the wide stretch of shining waters. The
Union Jack was flying in insolent security from her flagstaff. There
were many figures on deck, and her music was growing louder every
minute. Inch by inch the _America_ gained upon her, until they were
bow and bow. The crowd below grew wilder, cheers went up from both
steamers, the decks were white with the flutter of handkerchiefs.
Suddenly the band below struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner." Sandy
gave one triumphant glance at the Stars and Stripes floating overhead,
and in that moment became naturalized. He leaped to his feet in the
boat, and tearing the blouse from his back, waved the tattered banner
in the face of the vanquished _Great Britain_, as he sent up yell
after yell of victory for the land of his adoption.

[Illustration: "He sent up yell after yell of victory for the land of
his adoption"]

Then he was seized by the ankle and jerked roughly down upon the deck.
Over him stood the deck steward.

"You`re a rum egg for that old boat to hatch out," he said. "I guess
the cap'n will be wantin' to see you."

Sandy, thus peremptorily summoned from the height of patriotic
frenzy, collapsed in terror. Had the deck steward not been familiar
with stowaways, he doubtless would have been moved by the flood of
eloquent persuasion which Sandy brought to bear.

As it was, he led him ruthlessly down the narrow steps, past the long
line of curious passengers, then down again to the steerage deck,
where he deposited him on a coil of rope and bade him stay there until
he was sent for.

Here Sandy sat for the remainder of the afternoon, stared at from
above and below, an object of lively curiosity. He bit his nails until
the blood came, and struggled manfully to keep back the tears. He was
cold, hungry, and disgraced, and his mind was full of sinister
thoughts. Inch by inch he moved closer to the railing.

Suddenly something fell at his feet. It was an orange. Looking up, he
saw a slender little girl in a long tan coat and a white
tam-o'-shanter leaning over the railing. He only knew that her eyes
were brown and that she was sorry for him, but it changed his world.
He pulled off his cap, and sent her such an ardent smile of gratitude
that she melted from the railing like a snowflake under the kiss of
the sun.

Sandy ate the orange and took courage. Life had acquired a new
interest.



CHAPTER II

ON SHIPBOARD


The days that followed were not rose-strewn. Disgrace sat heavily upon
the delinquent, and he did penance by foregoing the joys of society.
Menial labor and the knowledge that he would not be allowed to land,
but would be sent back by the first steamer, were made all the more
unbearable by his first experience with illness. He had accepted his
fate and prepared to die when the ship's surgeon found him.

The ship's surgeon was cruel enough to laugh, but he persuaded Sandy
to come back to life. He was a small, white, round little man; and
when he came rolling down the deck in his white linen suit, his face
beaming from its white frame of close-cropped hair and beard, he was
not unlike one of his own round white little pills, except that their
sweetness stopped on the outside and his went clear through.

He discovered Sandy lying on his face in the passageway, his right
hand still dutifully wielding the scrub-brush, but his spirit broken
and his courage low.

"Hello!" he exclaimed briskly; "what's your name?"

"Sandy Kilday."

"Scotch, eh?"

"Me name is. The rest of me's Irish," groaned Sandy.

"Well, Sandy, my boy, that's no way to scrub. Come out and get some
air, and then go back and do it right."

He guided Sandy's dying footsteps to the deck and propped him against
the railing. That was when he laughed.

"Not much of a sailor, eh?" he quizzed. "You'll be all right soon; we
have been getting the tail-end of a big nor'wester."

"A happy storm it must have been, sir, to wag its tail so gay," said
Sandy, trying to smile.

The doctor clapped him on the back. "You're better. Want something to
eat?"

Sandy declined with violence. He explained his feelings with all the
authority of a first experience, adding in conclusion: "It was Jonah I
used to be after feelin' sorry for; it ain't now. It's the whale."

The doctor prevailed upon him to drink some hot tea and eat a
sandwich. It was a heroic effort, but Sandy would have done even more
to prolong the friendly conversation.

"How many more days have we got, sir?"

"Five; but there's the return trip for you."

Sandy's face flushed. "If they send me home, I'll be comin' back!" he
cried, clinging to the railing as the ship lurched forward. "I'm goin'
to be an American. I am goin'--" Further declarations as to his
future policy were cut short.

From that time on the doctor took an interest in him. He even took up
a collection of clothes for him among the officers. His professional
services were no longer necessary, for Sandy enjoyed a speedy recovery
from his maritime troubles.

"You are luckier than the rest," he said, one day, stopping on his
rounds. "I never had so many steerage patients before."

The work was so heavy, in fact, that he obtained permission to get a
boy to assist him. The happy duty devolved upon Sandy, who promptly
embraced not only the opportunity, but the doctor and the profession
as well. He entered into his new work with such energy and enthusiasm
that by the end of the week he knew every man below the cabin deck. So
expeditious did he become that he found many idle moments in which to
cultivate acquaintances.

His chosen companion at these times was a boy in the steerage,
selected not for congeniality, but for his unlimited knowledge of all
things terrestrial, from the easiest way of making a fortune to the
best way of spending it. He was a short, heavy-set fellow of some
eighteen years. His hair grew straight up from an overhanging
forehead, under which two small eyes seemed always to be furtively
watching each other over the bridge of his flat snub nose. His lips
met with difficulty across large, irregular teeth. Such was Ricks
Wilson, the most unprepossessing soul on board the good ship
_America_.

"You see, it's this way," explained Ricks as the boys sat behind the
smokestack and Sandy became initiated into the mysteries of a
wonderful game called "craps." "I didn't have no more 'n you've got. I
lived down South, clean off the track of ever'thing. I puts my foot in
my hand and went out and seen the world. I tramps up to New York,
works my way over to England, tramps and peddles, and gits enough
dough to pay my way back. Say, it's bum slow over there. Why, they
ain't even on to street-cars in London! I makes more in a week at home
than I do in a month in England. Say, where you goin' at when we
land?"

Sandy shook his head ruefully. "I got to go back," he said.

Ricks glanced around cautiously, then moved closer.

"You ain't that big a sucker, are you? Any feller that couldn't hop
the twig offen this old boat ain't much, that's all I got to say."

"Oh, it's not the gettin' away," said Sandy, more certain than ever,
now that he was sure of an ally.

"Homesick?" asked Ricks, with a sneer.

Sandy gave a short laugh. "Home? Why, I ain't got any home. I've just
lived around since I was a young one. It's a chance to get on that I'm
after."

"Well, what in thunder is takin' you back?"

"I don't know," said Sandy, "'cep'n' it ain't in me to give 'em the
slip now I know 'em. Then there's the doctor--"

"That old feather-bed? O Lord! He's so good he gives me a pain. Goes
round with his mouth hiked up in a smile, and I bet he's as mean as
the--"

Before Hicks could finish he found himself inextricably tangled in
Sandy's arms and legs, while that irate youth sat upon him and
pommeled him soundly.

"So it's the good doctor ye'd be after blasphemin' and abusin' and
makin' game of! By the powers, ye'll take it back! Speak one time
more, and I'll make you swaller the lyin' words, if I have to break
every bone in your skin!"

There was an ugly look in Ricks's face as he threw the smaller boy
off, but further trouble was prevented by the appearance of the second
mate.

Sandy hurried away to his duties, but not without an anxious glance at
the upper deck. He had never lost an opportunity, since that first
day, of looking up; but this was the first time that he was glad she
was not there. Only once had he caught sight of a white tam and a tan
coat, and that was when they were being conducted hastily below by a
sympathetic stewardess.

But Sandy needed no further food for his dreams than he already had.
On sunny afternoons, when he had the time, he would seek a secluded
corner of the deck, and stretching himself on the boards with the
green book in his hand, would float in a sea of sentiment. The fact
that he had decided to study medicine and become a ship's surgeon in
no wise interfered with his fixed purpose of riding forth into the
world on a cream-white charger in search of a damsel in distress.

So thrilled did he become with the vision that he fell to making
rhymes, and was surprised to find that the same pair of eyes always
rhymed with skies--and they were brown.

Sometimes, at night, a group would gather on the steerage deck and
sing. A black-haired Italian, with shirt open at the throat, would
strike a pose and fling out a wild serenade; or a fat, placid German
would remove his pipe long enough to troll forth a mighty
drinking-song. Whenever the air was a familiar one, the entire circle
joined in the chorus. At such times Sandy was always on hand, singing
with the loudest and telling his story with the best.

"Make de jolly little Irish one to sing by hisself!" called a woman
one night from the edge of the crowd. The invitation was taken up and
repeated on every side. Sandy, laughing and protesting, was pushed to
the front. Being thus suddenly forced into prominence, he suffered an
acute attack of stage fright.

"Chirp up there now and give us a tune!" cried some one behind him.

"Can't ye remember none?" asked another.

"Sure," said Sandy, laughing sheepishly; "but they all come wrong end
first."

Some one had thrust an old guitar in his hands, and he stood
nervously picking at the strings. He might have been standing there
still had not the moon come to his rescue. It climbed slowly out of
the sea and sent a shimmer of silver and gold over the water, across
the deck, and into his eyes. He forgot himself and the crowd. The
stream of mystical romance that flows through the veins of every true
Irishman was never lacking in Sandy. His heart responded to the
beautiful as surely as the echo answers the call.

He seized the guitar, and picking out the notes with clumsy, faltering
fingers, sang:

    "Ah! The moment was sad when my love and I parted,
      Savourneen deelish, signan O!"

His boyish voice rang out clear and true, softening on the refrain to
an indescribable tenderness that steeped the old song in the very
essence of mystery and love.

    "As I kiss'd off her tears, I was nigh broken-hearted!--
      Savourneen deelish, signan O!"

He could remember his mother singing him to sleep by it, and the
bright red of her lips as they framed the words:

    "Wan was her cheek which hung on my shoulder;
    Chill was her hand, no marble was colder;
    I felt that again I should never behold her;
      Savourneen deelish, signan O!"

As the song trembled to a close, a slight burst of applause came from
the cabin deck. Sandy looked up, frowned, and bit his lip. He did not
know why, but he was sorry he had sung.

The next morning the _America_ sailed into New York harbor, band
playing and flags flying. She was bringing home a record and a
jubilant crew. On the upper decks passengers were making merry over
what is probably the most joyful parting in the world. In the steerage
all was bustle and confusion and anticipation of the disembarking.

Eagerly, wistfully watching it all, stood Sandy, as alert and
distressed as a young hound restrained from the hunt. It is something
to accept punishment gracefully, but to accept punishment when it can
be avoided is nothing short of heroism. Sandy had to shut his eyes and
grip the railing to keep from planning an escape. Spread before him in
brave array across the water lay the promised land--and, like Moses,
he was not to reach it.

"That's the greatest city in America," said the ship's surgeon as he
came up to where he was standing. "What do you think of it?"

"I never seen one stand on end afore!" exclaimed Sandy, amazed.

"Would you like to go ashore long enough to look about?" asked the
doctor, with a smile running around the fat folds of his cheeks.

"And would I?" asked Sandy, his eyes flying open. "It's me word of
honor I'd give you that I'd come back."

"The word of a stowaway, eh?" asked the doctor, still smiling.

In a moment Sandy's face was crimson. "Whatever I be, sir, I ain't a
liar!"

The doctor pursed up his lips in comical dismay: "Not so hot, my man;
not so hot! So you still want to be a doctor?"

Sandy cooled down sufficiently to say that it was the one ambition of
his life.

"I know the physician in charge of the City Hospital here in New York.
He's a good fellow. He'd put you through--give you work and put you in
the way of going to the Medical School. You'd like that?"

"But," cried Sandy, bewildered but hopeful, "I have to go back!"

The doctor shook his head. "No, you don't. I've paid your passage."

Sandy waited a moment until the full import of the words was taken in,
then he grabbed the stout little doctor and almost lifted him off his
feet.

"Oh! But ain't you a brick!" he cried fervently, adding earnestly: "It
ain't a present you're makin' me, though! I'll pay it back, so help me
bob!"

At the pier the crowd of immigrants pushed and crowded impatiently as
they waited for the cabin passengers to go ashore. Among them was
Sandy, bareheaded and in motley garb, laughing and shoving with the
best of them, hanging over the railing, and keeping up a fire of
merriment at the expense of the crowd below. In his hand was a letter
of recommendation to the physician in charge at the City Hospital, and
in his inside pocket a ten-dollar bill was buttoned over a heart that
had not a care in the world. In the great stream of life Sandy was one
of the bubbles that are apt to come to the top.

"You better come down to Kentucky with me," urged Ricks Wilson,
resuming an old argument. "I'm goin' to peddle my way back home, then
git a payin' job at the racetrack."

"Wasn't I tellin' ye that it was a doctor I'm goin' to be?" asked
Sandy, impatiently. Already Ricks's friendship was proving irksome.

On the gang-plank above him the passengers were leaving the ship.
Some delay had arisen, and for a moment the procession halted.
Suddenly Sandy caught his breath. There, just above him, stood "the
damsel passing fair." Instead of the tam-o'-shanter she wore a big
drooping hat of brown, which just matched the curls that were loosely
tied at the back of her neck.

Sandy stood motionless and humbly adored her. He was a born lover,
lavishing his affection, without discrimination or calculation, upon
whatever touched his heart. It surely was no harm just to stand aside
and look. He liked the way she carried her head; he liked the way her
eyes went up a little at the outer corners, and the round, soft curve
of her chin. She was gazing steadfastly ahead of her down the
gang-plank, and he ventured a step nearer and continued his
observations. As he did so, he made a discovery. The soft white of her
cheek was gradually becoming pinker and pinker; the color which began
under her lace collar stole up and up until it reached her eyes,
which still gazed determinedly before her.

Sandy admired it as a traveler admires a sunrise, and with as little
idea of having caused it.

The line of passengers moved slowly forward, and his heart sank.
Suddenly his eyes fell upon the little hand-bag which she carried. On
one end, in small white letters, was: "Ruth Nelson, Kentucky, U.S.A."
He watched her until she was lost to view, then he turned eagerly back
into the crowd. Elbowing his way forward, he seized Ricks by the arm.

"Hi, there!" he cried; "I've changed me mind. I'm goin' with you to
Kentucky!"

So this impetuous knight errant enlisted under the will-o'-the-wisp
love, and started joyously forth upon his quest.



CHAPTER III

THE CURSE OF WEALTH


It is an oft-proved adage that for ten who can stand adversity there
is but one who can stand prosperity. Sandy, alas! was no exception to
any rule which went to prove the frailty of human nature. The sudden
acquisition of ten dollars cast him into a whirlpool of temptation
from which he made little effort to escape.

"I ain't goin' on to-day," announced Ricks. "I'm goin' to lay in my
goods for peddlin'. I reckon you kin come along of me."

Sandy accepted a long and strong cigar, tilted his hat, and
unconsciously caught Ricks's slouching gait as they went down the
street. After all, it was rather pleasant to associate with
sophistication.

"We'll git on the outside of a little dinner," said Ricks; "and I'll
mosey round in the stores awhile, then I'll take you to a show or two.
It's a mighty good thing for you that you got me along."

Sandy thought so too. He cheerfully stood treat for the rest of the
day, and felt that it was small return for Ricks's condescension.

"How much you got left?" asked Ricks, that night, as they stopped
under a street light to take stock.

Sandy held out a couple of dollars and a fifty-cent piece.

"Enough to put on the eyes of two and a half dead men," he said as he
curiously eyed the strange money.

"One, two,--two and a half," counted Ricks.

"Shillings?" asked Sandy, amazed.

Ricks nodded.

"And have I blowed all that to-day?"

"What of it?" asked Ricks. "I seen a bloke onct what lit his cigar
with a bill like the one you had!"

"But the doctor said it was two pounds," insisted Sandy,
incredulously. He did not realize the expense of a personally
conducted tour of the Bowery.

"Well, it's went," said Ricks, resignedly. "You can't count on settin'
up biz with what's left."

Sandy's brows clouded, and he shifted his position restlessly. "Now I
ax yerself, Ricks, what'u'd you do?" he said.

"Me? I don't give advice to nobody. But effen it was me I'd know
mighty quick what to do."

"What?" said Sandy, eagerly.

"Buy a dawg."

"A dog? I ain't goin' blind."

"Lor'! but you're a softhorn," said Ricks, contemptuously. "I s'pose
you'd count on leadin' him round by a pink ribbon."

"Oh, you mean a fighter?"

"Sure. My last dawg could do ever'thing in sight. She was so game she
went after herself in a lookin'-glass and got kilt. Oh, they's money
in dawgs, and I knows how to make 'em win ever' time."

Sandy, tired as he was from the day's excitement, insisted upon going
in search of one at once. He already had visions of becoming the proud
owner of a canine champion that would put him immediately into the
position of lighting his cigar with a two-pound note.

The first three weeks of their experience on the road went far to
realize their expectations. The bulldog, which had been bought in
partnership, proved a conquering hero. Through the long summer days
the boys tramped over the country, peddling their wares, and by night
they conducted sundry unlawful encounters wherever an opponent could
be found.

Sandy enjoyed the peddling. It was astonishing what friendly
sociability and confidential intimacy were established by the sale of
blue suspenders and pink soap. He left a line of smiling testimonials
in his wake.

But if the days were proving satisfactory, so much could not be said
of the nights. Even the phenomenal luck that followed his dog failed
to keep up his enthusiasm.

"You ain't a nachrul sport," complained Ricks. "That's your trouble.
When the last fight was on, you set on the fence and listened at a'
ole idiot scrapin' a fiddle down in the valley."

Sandy made a feeble defense, but he knew in his soul it was so.

Affairs reached a climax one night in an old barn on the outskirts of
a town. A fight was about to begin when Sandy discovered Ricks
judiciously administering a sedative to the enemy's dog.

Then understanding dawned upon him, and his rage was elemental. With a
valor that lacked the better part of discretion, he hurled himself
through the crowd and fell upon Ricks.

An hour later, bruised, bloody, and vanquished, he stumbled along
through the dreary night. Hot with rage and defeat, utterly ignorant
of his whereabouts, his one friend turned foe, he was indeed in sorry
plight.

He climbed over the fence and lay face downward in the long, cool
grass, stretching his bruised and aching body along the ground. A
gentle night wind rustled above him, and by and by a star peeped out,
then another and another. Before he knew it, he was listening to the
frogs and katydids, and wondering what they were talking about. He
ceased to think about Ricks and his woes, and gave himself up to the
delicious, drowsy peace that was all about him. For, child of nature
that he was, he had turned to the only mother he knew.



CHAPTER IV

SIDE-TRACKED


The next morning, at the nearest railroad station, an irate cattleman
was trying to hire some one to take charge of a car of live stock
which was on its way to a great exposition in a neighboring city. The
man he had counted on had not appeared, and the train was about due.

As he was turning away in desperation he felt a tug at his elbow.
Looking around, he saw a queer figure with a countenance that
resembled a first attempt at a charcoal sketch from life: one cheek
was larger than the other, the mouth was sadly out of drawing, the
eyes shone out from among the bruises like the sun from behind the
clouds. But if the features were disfigured, the smile was none the
less courageous.

Sandy had found a friendly sympathizer at a neighboring farm-house,
had been given a good breakfast, had made his toilet, and was ready
for the next round in the fight of life.

"I'll be doin' yer job, sir, whatever it is," he said pleasantly.

The man eyed him with misgiving, but his need was urgent.

"All you have to do is to stay in the car and look after the cattle.
My man will meet you when you reach the city. Do you think you can do
it?"

"Just keep company with the cows?" cried Sandy. "Sure and I can!"

So the bargain was struck, and that night found him in the great city
with a dollar in his pocket and a promise of work in the morning.

Tired and sore from the experiences of the night before, he sought a
cheap lodging-house near by. A hook-nosed woman, carrying a smoking
lamp, conducted him to a room under the eaves. It was small and
suffocating. He involuntarily lifted his hands and touched the
ceiling.

"It's like a boilin' potato I feel," he said; "and the pot's so little
and the lid so tight!"

He went to the window, and taking out the nail that held down the
sash, pushed it up. Below him lay the great, bustling city, cabs and
cars in constant motion, long lines of blazing lights marking the
thoroughfares, the thunder of trains in the big station, and above and
below and through it all a dull monotonous roar, like the faraway
unceasing cry of a hungry beast.

He sank on his knees by the window, and a restless, nervous look came
into his eyes.

"It presses in, too," he thought. "It's all crowdin' over me. I'm just
me by myself, all alone." A tear made a white course down his grimy
cheek, then another and another. He brushed them impatiently away with
the cap he still held in his hand.

Rising abruptly, he turned away from the window, and the hot air of
the room again smote him. The smoking lamp had blackened the chimney,
and as he bent to turn it down, he caught his reflection in a small
mirror over the table. What the bruises and swelling had left undone
the cheap mirror completed. He started back. Was that the boy he knew
as himself? Was that Sandy Kilday who had come to America to seek his
fortune? He stared in a sort of fascinated horror at that other boy in
the mirror. Before he had been afraid to be by himself, now he was
afraid of himself.

He seized his cap, and blowing out the lamp, plunged down four flights
of steep narrow steps and out into the street. A number of people were
crowding into a street-car marked "Exposition." Sandy, ever a straw in
the current, joined them. Once more down among his fellow-men, he
began to feel more comfortable. He cheerfully paid his entrance fee
with one of the two silver coins in his pocket.

The first building he entered was the art gallery, and the first
picture that caught his eye held him spellbound. He sat before it all
the evening with fascinated eyes, devouring every detail and oblivious
to the curious interest he was attracting; for the huge canvas
represented the Knights of the Round Table, and he had at last found
friends.

All the way back he thought about the picture; it was not until he
reached his room that the former loneliness returned.

But even then it was not for long. A pair of yellow eyes peered around
the window-sill, and a plaintive "meow" begged for admittance. It was
plainly Providence that guided that thin and ill-treated kitten to
Sandy's window. The welcome it received must have completely restored
its shaken faith in human nature. Tired as he was, Sandy went out and
bought some milk. He wanted to establish a firm friendship; for if he
was to stay in this lonely city, he must have something to love, if
only a prodigal kitten of doubtful pedigree.

During the long, hot days that followed Sandy worked faithfully at the
depot. The regular hours and confinement seemed doubly irksome after
the bohemian life on the road.

The Exposition was his salvation. No sacrifice seemed too great to
enable him to get beyond that magic gate. For the "Knights of the
Round Table" was but the beginning of miles and miles of wonderful
pictures. He even bought a catalogue, and, prompted by a natural
curiosity for anything that interested him, learned the names of the
artists he liked best, and the bits of biography attached to each. He
would recite these to the yellow kitten when he got back to his little
hot-box of a room.

One night the art gallery was closed, and he went into another big
building where a crowd of people were seated. At one end of it was a
great pipe-organ, and after a while some one began to play. With his
cap tightly grasped in both hands, he tiptoed down the center aisle
and stood breathlessly drinking in the wonderful tones that seemed to
be coming from his own heart.

"Get out of the way, boy," said an usher. "You are blocking the
aisle."

A queer-appearing lady who looked like a man touched his elbow.

"Here's a seat," she said in a deep voice.

"Thank you, sir," said Sandy, absently. He scarcely knew whether he
was sitting or standing. He only wanted to be let alone, so that he
could listen to those strange, beautiful sounds that made a shiver of
joy go down his back. Art had had her day; it was Music's turn.

When the last number had been played, he turned to the queer lady:

"Do they do it every night?"

She smiled at his enthusiasm: "Wednesdays and Saturdays."

"Say," said Sandy, confidentially, "if you come first do you save me
a seat, and I'll do the same by you."

From that time on he decided to be a musician, and he lived on two
scanty meals a day in order to attend the concerts.

But this exalted scheme of high thinking and plain living soon became
irksome. One day, when his loneliness weighed most heavily upon him,
he was sent with a message out to the switch-station. As he tramped
back along the track he spied a familiar figure ahead of him. There
was no mistaking that short, slouching body with the peddler's pack
strapped on its back. With a cry of joy, Sandy bounded after Ricks
Wilson. He actually hugged him in his joy to be once more with some
one he knew.

Ricks glanced uneasily at the scar above his eye.

Sandy clapped his hand over it and laughed. "It's all right, Ricks; a
miss is as good as a mile. I ain't mad any more. It's straight home
with me you are goin'; and if we can get the two feet of you into me
bit of a room, we'll have a dinner that's fit for a king."

On the way they laid in a supply of provisions, Sandy even going to
the expense of a bottle of beer for Ricks.

The yellow kitten arched her back and showed general signs of
hostility when the stranger was introduced. But her unfriendly
demonstrations were ignored. Ricks was the honored guest, and Sandy
extended to him the full hospitality of the establishment.

"Put your pack on the floor and yerself in the chair, and I'll get ye
filled up in the blink of an eyelash. Don't be mindin' the cat, Ricks.
She's just lettin' on she don't take to you. She give me the wink on
the sly."

Ricks, expanding under the influence of food and drink, became
eloquent. He recounted courageous adventures of the past, and outlined
marvelous schemes for the future, by which he was going to make a
short cut to fame and glory.

When it was time for him to go, Sandy heaved a sigh of regret. For
two hours he had been beguiled by Ricks's romances, and now he had to
go back to the humdrum duties at the depot, and receive a sound rating
for his belated appearance.

"Which way might you be goin', Ricks?" he asked wistfully.

"Same place I started fer," said Ricks. "Kentucky."

The will-o'-the-wisp, which had been hiding his light, suddenly swung
it full in the eyes of Sandy. Once more he saw the little maid of his
dreams, and once more he threw discretion to the winds and followed
the vision.

Hastily collecting his few possessions, he rolled them into a bundle,
and slipping the surprised kitten into his pocket, he gladly followed
Ricks once more out into the broad green meadows, along the white and
shining roads that lead over the hills to Kentucky.



CHAPTER V

SANDY RETIRES FROM BUSINESS


"This here is too blame slow fer me," said Ricks, one chilly night in
late September, as he and Sandy huddled against a haystack and settled
up their weekly accounts.

"Fifty-five cents! Now ain't that a' o'nery dab? Here's a quarter fer
you and thirty cents fer me; that's as even as you kin split it."

"It's the microscopes that'll be sellin'," said Sandy, hopefully, as
he pulled his coat collar about his ears and shivered. "The man as
sold 'em to me said they was a great bargain entirely. He thought
there was money in 'em."

"For him," said Ricks, contemptuously. "It's like the man what gulled
us on the penknives. I lay to git even with him, all right."

"But he give us the night's lodgin' and some breakfast," said Sandy.

Ricks took a long drink from a short bottle, then holding it before
him, he said impressively: "A feller could do me ninety-nine good
turns, and if he done me one bad one it would wipe 'em all out. I got
to git even with anybody what does me dirty, if it takes me all my
life."

"But don't you forget to remember?"

"Not me. I ain't that kind."

Sandy leaned wearily against the haystack and tried to shelter himself
from the wind. A continued diet of bread and water had made him
sensitive to the changes in the weather.

"This here grub is kinder hard on yer head-rails," said Ricks, trying
to bite through a piece of stale bread. A baker had let them have
three loaves for a dime because they were old and hard.

Sandy cast a longing look at Ricks's short bottle. It seemed to
remedy so many ills, heat or cold, thirst or hunger. But the strict
principles applied during his tender years made him hesitate.

"I wish we hadn't lost the kitten," he said, feeling the need of a
more cheerful companion.

"I'm a-goin' to git another dawg," announced Ricks. "I'm sick of this
here doin's."

"Ain't we goin' to be turfmen?" asked Sandy, who had listened by the
hour to thrilling accounts of life on the track, and had accepted
Ricks's ambition as his own.

"Not on twenty cents per week," growled Ricks.

Sandy's heart sank; he knew what a new dog meant. He burrowed in the
hay and tried to sleep, but there was a queer pain that seemed to
catch hold of his breath whenever he breathed down deep.

It rained the next day, and they tramped disconsolately through
village after village.

They had oil-cloth covers for their baskets, but their own backs were
soaked to the skin.

Toward evening they came to the top of a hill, from which they could
look directly down upon a large town lying comfortably in the crook of
a river's elbow. The rain had stopped, and the belated sun, struggling
through the clouds, made up for lost time by reflecting itself in
every curve of the winding stream, in every puddle along the road, and
in every pane of glass that faced the west.

"That's a nobby hoss," said Ricks, pointing down the hill. "What's the
matter with the feller?"

A slight, delicate-looking young man was lying in the road, between
the horse and the fence. As the boys came up he stirred and tried to
rise.

"He's off his nut," said Ricks, starting to pass on; but Sandy
stopped.

"Get a fall?" he asked.

The strange boy shook his head. "I guess I fainted. I must have
ridden too hard. I'll be all right in a minute." He leaned his head
against a tree and closed his eyes.

Sandy eyed him curiously, taking in all the details of his
riding-costume down to the short whip with the silver mounting.

"I say, Ricks," he called to his companion, who was inspecting the
horse, "can't we do somethin' for him?"

Ricks reluctantly produced the short bottle.

"I'm all right," insisted the boy, "if you'll just give me a lift to
the saddle." But his eager eyes followed the bottle, and before Ricks
had returned it to his pocket he held out his hand. "I believe I will
take a drink if you don't mind." He drained the contents and then
handed a coin to Ricks.

"Now, if you'll help me," continued the stranger. "There! Thank you
very much."

"Say, what town is this, anyway?" asked Ricks.

"Clayton," said the boy, trying to keep his horse from backing.

"Looks like somethin' was doin'," said Ricks.

"Circus, I believe."

"Then I don't blame your nag for wantin' to go back!" cried Sandy.
"Come on, Ricks; let's take in the show!"

Half-way down the hill he turned. "Haven't we seen that fellow before,
Ricks?"

"Not as I knows of. He looked kinder pale and shaky, but you bet yer
life he knowed how to hit the bottle."

"He was sick," urged Sandy.

"An' thirsty," added Ricks, with a smile of superior wisdom.

The circus seemed such a timely opportunity to do business that they
decided to rent a stand that night and sell their wares on the street
corner. Ricks went on into town to arrange matters, while Sandy
stopped in a grocery to buy their supper. His interest in the show had
been of short duration. He felt listless and tired, something seemed
to be buzzing continually in his head, and he shivered in his damp
clothes. In the grocery he sat on a barrel and leaned his head against
the wall.

"What you shivering about?" asked the fat woman behind the counter, as
she tied up his small package.

"I feel like me skeleton was doin' a jig inside of me," said Sandy
through chattering teeth.

"Looks to me like you got a chill," said the fat woman. "You wait
here, and I'll go git you some hot coffee."

She disappeared in the rear of the store, and soon returned with a
small coffee-pot and a cup and saucer. Sandy drank two cups and a
half, then he asked the price.

"Price?" repeated the woman, indignantly. "I reckon you don't know
which side of the Ohio River you're on!"

Sandy made up in gratitude what she declined in cash, and started on
his way. At the corner of Main street and the bridge he found Ricks,
who had rented a stand and was already arranging his wares. Sandy
knelt on the sidewalk and unpacked his basket.

"Only three bars of soap and seventy-five microscopes!" he exclaimed
ruefully. "Let's be layin' fine stress on the microscopes, Ricks."

"You do the jawin', Sandy. I ain't much on givin' 'em the talk," said
Ricks. "Chuck a jolly at 'em and keep 'em hangin' round."

As dark came on, trade began. The three bars of soap were sold, and a
purple necktie. Sandy saw that public taste must be guided in the
proper direction. He stepped up on a box and began eloquently to
enumerate the diverse uses of microscopes.

At each end of the stand a flaring torch lighted up the scene. The
light fell on the careless, laughing faces in front, on Ricks Wilson,
black-browed and suspicious, in the rear, and it fell full on Sandy,
who stood on high and harangued the crowd. It fell on his broad,
straight shoulders and on his shining tumbled hair; but it was not
the light of the torch that gave the brightness to his eyes and the
flush to his cheek. His head was throbbing, but he felt a curious
sense of elation. He felt that he could stand there and talk the rest
of his life. He made the crowd listen, he made it laugh, he made it
buy. He told stories and sang songs, he coaxed and persuaded, until
only a few microscopes were left and the old cigar-box was heavy with
silver.

"Step right up and take a look at a fly's leg! Every one ought to have
a microscope in his home. When you get hard up it will make a dime
look like a dollar, and a dollar like a five-dollar gold piece. Step
right up! I ain't kiddin' you. Five cents for two looks, and fifteen
for the microscope."

Suddenly he faltered. At the edge of the crowd he had recognized two
faces. They were sensitive slender faces, strangely alike in feature
and unlike in expression. The young horseman of the afternoon was
impatiently pushing his way through the crowd, while close behind him
was a dainty girl with brown eyes slightly lifted at the outer
corners, who held back in laughing wonder to watch the scene.

"Ricks," said Sandy, lowering his voice unsteadily, "is this
Kentucky?"

"Yep; we crossed the line to-day."

"I can't talk no more," said Sandy. "You'll have to be doin' it. I'm
sick."

It was not only the fever that was burning in his veins, and making
him bury his hot head in his hands and wish he had never been born. It
was shame and humiliation, and all because of the look on the face of
the girl at the edge of the crowd. He sat in the shadow of the big box
and fought his fight. The coffee and the excitement no longer kept him
up; he was faint, and his breath came short. Above him he heard
Ricks's rasping voice still talking to the few customers who were
left. He knew, without glancing up, just how Ricks looked when he said
the words; he knew how his teeth pushed his lips back, and how his
restless little eyes watched everything at once. A sudden fierce
repulsion swept over him for peddling, for Ricks, for himself.

"And to think," he whispered, with a sob in his throat, "that I can't
ever speak to a girl like that!"

Ricks, jubilant over the success of the evening, decided to follow the
circus, which was to be in the next town on the following day.

"It ain't fur," he said. "We kin push on to-night and be ready to open
early in the morning."

Sandy, miserable in body and spirit, mechanically obeyed instructions.
His head was getting queerer all the time, and he could not remember
whether it was day or night. About a mile from Clayton he sank down by
the road.

"Say, Ricks," he said abruptly; "I'm after quittin' peddlin'."

"What you goin' to do?"

"I'm goin' to school."

If Sandy had announced his intention of putting on baby clothes and
being wheeled in a perambulator, Ricks could not have been more
astonished.

"What?" he asked in genuine doubt.

"'Cause I want to be the right sort," burst out Sandy, passionately.
"This ain't the way you get to be the right sort."

Ricks surveyed him contemptuously. "Look-a here, are you comin' along
of me or not?"

"I can't," said Sandy, weakly.

Ricks shifted his pack, and with never a parting word or a backward
look he left his business partner of three months lying by the
roadside, and tramped away in the darkness.

Sandy started up to follow him; he tried to call, but he had no
strength. He lay with his face on the road and talked. He knew there
was nobody to listen, but still he kept on, softly talking about
microscopes and pink soap, crying out again and again that he
couldn't ever speak to a girl like that.

After a long while somebody came. At first he thought he must have
gone back to the land behind the peat-flames, for it was a great black
witch who bent over him, and he instinctively felt about in the grass
for the tender, soft hand which he used to press against his cheek. He
found instead the hand of the witch herself, and he drew back in
terror.

"Fer de Lawd sake, honey, what's de matter wif you?" asked a kindly
voice. Sandy opened his eyes. A tall old negro woman bent over him,
her head tied up in a turban, and a shawl about her shoulders.

"Did you git runned over?" she asked, peering down at him anxiously.

Sandy tried to explain, but it was all the old mixture of soap and
microscopes and never being able to speak to her. He knew he was
talking at random, but he could not say the things he thought.

"Where'd you come from, boy?"

"Curragh Chase, Limerick," murmured Sandy.

"'Fore de Lawd, he's done been cunjered!" cried the old woman, aghast.
"I'll git it outen of you, chile. You jus' come home wif yer Aunt
Melvy; she'll take keer of you. Put yer arm on my shoulder; dat's
right. Don't you mind where you gwine at. I got yer bundle. It ain't
fur. Hit's dat little house a-hangin' on de side of de hill. Dey calls
it 'Who'd 'a' Thought It,' 'ca'se you nebber would 'a' thought of
puttin' a house dere. Dat's right; lean on yer mammy. I'll git dem old
cunjers outen you."

Thus encouraged and supported, Sandy stumbled on through the dark, up
a hillside that seemed never to end, across a bridge, then into a tiny
log cabin, where he dropped exhausted.

Off and on during the night he knew that there was a fire in the room,
and that strange things were happening to him. But it was all so queer
and unnatural that he did not know where the dreams left off and the
real began. He was vaguely conscious of his left foot being tied to
the right bedpost, of a lock of his hair being cut off and burned on
the hearth, and of a low monotonous chant that seemed to rise and fall
with the flicker of the flames. And when he cried out with the pain in
his sleep, a kindly black face bent over him, and the chant changed
into a soothing murmur:

"Nebber you min', sonny; Aunt Melvy gwine git dem cunjers out. She
gwine stay by you. You hol' on to her han', an' go to sleep; she'll
git dem old cunjers out."



CHAPTER VI

HOLLIS FARM


Clayton was an easy-going, prosperous old town which, in the
enthusiasm of youth, had started to climb the long hill to the north,
but growing indolent with age, had decided instead to go around.

Main street, broad and shady under an unbroken arch of maple boughs,
was flanked on each side by "Back street," the generic term applied to
all the parallel streets. The short cross-streets were designated by
the most direct method: "the street by the Baptist church," "the
street by Dr. Fenton's," "the street going out to Judge Hollis's," or
"the street where Mr. Moseley used to live." In the heart of the town
was the square, with the gray, weather-beaten court-house, the new and
formidable jail, the post-office and church.

For twenty years Dr. Fenton's old high-seated buggy had jogged over
the same daily course. It started at nine o'clock and passed with
never-varying regularity up one street and down another. When any one
was ill a sentinel was placed at the gate to hail the doctor, who was
as sure to pass as the passenger-train. It was a familiar joke in
Clayton that the buggy had a regular track, and that the wheels always
ran in the same rut. Once, when Carter Nelson had taken too much
egg-nog and his aunt thought he had spinal meningitis, the usual route
had been reversed, and again when the blacksmith's triplets were born.
But these were especial occasions. It was a matter for investigation
when the doctor's buggy went over the bridge before noon.

"Anybody sick out this way?" asked the miller.

The doctor stopped the buggy to explain.

He was a short, fat man dressed in a suit of Confederate gray. The
hand that held the reins was minus two fingers, his willing
contribution to the Lost Cause, which was still to him the great
catastrophe of all history. His whole personality was a bristling
arsenal of prejudices. When he spoke it was in quick, short volleys,
in a voice that seemed to come from the depths of a megaphone.

"Strange boy sick at Judge Hollis's. How's trade?"

"Fair to middlin'," answered the miller. "Do you reckon that there boy
has got anything ketchin'?"

"Catching?" repeated the doctor savagely. "What if he has?" he
demanded. "Two epidemics of typhoid, two of yellow fever, and one of
smallpox--that's my record, sir!"

"Looks like my children will ketch a fly-bite," said the miller,
apologetically.

A little farther on the doctor was stopped again--this time by a
maiden in a pink-and-white gingham, with a mass of light curls
bobbing about her face.

"Dad!" she called as she scrambled over the fence. "Where you g-going,
dad?"

The doctor flapped the lines nervously and tried to escape, but she
pursued him madly. Catching up with the buggy, she pulled herself up
on the springs and thrust an impudent, laughing face through the
window at the back.

"Annette," scolded her father, "aren't you ashamed? Fourteen years
old, and a tomboy! Get down!"

"Where you g-going, dad?" she stammered, unabashed.

"To Judge Hollis's. Get down this minute!"

"What for?"

"Somebody's sick. Get down, I say!"

Instead of getting down, she got in, coming straight through the small
window, and arriving in a tangle of pink and white at his side.

The doctor heaved a prodigious sigh. As a colonel of the Confederacy
he had exacted strict discipline and unquestioning obedience, but he
now found himself ignominiously reduced to the ranks, and another
Fenton in command.

At Hollis Farm the judge met them at the gate. He was large and
loose-jointed, with the frame of a Titan and the smile of a child. He
wore a long, loose dressing-gown and a pair of slippers elaborately
embroidered in green roses. His big, irregular features were softened
by an expression of indulgent interest toward the world at large.

"Good morning, doctor. Howdy, Nettie. How are you all this morning?"

"Who's sick?" growled the doctor as he hitched his horse to the fence.

"It's a stray lad, doctor; my old cook, Melvy, played the good
Samaritan and picked him up off the road last night. She brought him
to me this morning. He's out of his head with a fever."

"Where'd he come from?" asked the doctor.

"Mrs. Hollis says he was peddling goods up at Main street and the
bridge last night."

"Which one is he?" demanded Annette, eagerly, as she emerged from the
buggy. "Is he g-good-looking, with blue eyes and light hair? Or is he
b-black and ugly and sort of cross-eyed?"

The judge peered over his glasses quizzically. "Thinking about the
boys, as usual! Now I want to know what business you have noticing the
color of a peddler's eyes?"

Annette blushed, but she stood her ground. "All the g-girls noticed
him. He wasn't an ordinary peddler. He was just as smart and f-funny
as could be."

"Well, he isn't smart and funny now," said the judge, with a grim
laugh.

The two men passed up the long avenue and into the house. At the door
they were met by Mrs. Hollis, whose small angular person breathed
protest. Her black hair was arranged in symmetrical bands which were
drawn tightly back from a straight part. When she talked, a
gold-capped tooth was disclosed on each side of her mouth, giving rise
to the judge's joke that one was capped to keep the other company,
since Mrs. Hollis's sense of order and regularity rebelled against one
eye-tooth of one color and the other of another.

"Good morning, doctor," she said shortly; "there's the door-mat. No,
don't put your hat there; I'll take it. Isn't this a pretty business
for Melvy to come bringing a sick tramp up here--on general
cleaning-day, too?"

"Aren't all days cleaning-days to you, Sue?" asked the judge,
playfully.

"When you are in the house," she answered sharply. Then she turned to
the doctor, who was starting up the stairs:

"If this boy is in for a long spell, I want him moved somewhere. I
can't have my carpets run over and my whole house smelling like a
hospital."

"Now, Susan," remonstrated the judge, gently, "we can't turn the lad
out. We've got room and to spare. If he's got the fever, he'll have
to stay."

"We'll see, we'll see," said the doctor.

But when he tiptoed down from the room above there was no question
about it.

"Very sick boy," he said, rubbing his hand over his bald head. "If he
gets better, I might take him over to Mrs. Meech's; he can't be moved
now."

"Mrs. Meech!" cried Mrs. Hollis, in fine scorn. "Do you think I would
let him go to that dirty house--and with this fever, too? Why, Mrs.
Meech's front curtains haven't been washed since Christmas! She and
the preacher and Martha all sit around with their noses in books, and
never even know that the water-spout is leaking and the porch needs
mopping! You can't tell me anything about the Meeches!"

Neither of the men tried to do so; they stood silent in the doorway,
looking very grave.

"For mercy sake! what is that in the front lot?" exclaimed Mrs.
Hollis.

The doctor had an uncomfortable premonition, which was promptly
verified. One of the judge's friskiest colts was circling madly about
the driveway, while astride of it, in triumph, sat Annette, her dress
ripped at the belt, her hair flying.

"If she don't need a woman's hand!" exclaimed Mrs. Hollis. "I could
manage her all right."

The doctor looked from Mrs. Hollis, with her firm, close-shut mouth,
to the flying figure on the lawn.

"Perhaps," he said, lifting his brows; but he put the odds on Annette.

That night, when Aunt Melvy brought the lamp into the sitting-room,
she waited nervously near Mrs. Hollis's chair.

"Miss Sue," she ventured presently, "is de cunjers comin' out?"

"The what?"

"De cunjers what dat pore chile's got. I done tried all de spells I
knowed, but look lak dey didn't do no good."

"He has the fever," said Mrs. Hollis; "and it means a long spell of
nursing and bother for me."

The judge stirred uncomfortably. "Now, Sue," he remonstrated, "you
needn't take a bit of bother. Melvy will see to him by day, and I will
look after him at night."

Mrs. Hollis bit her lip and heroically refrained from expressing her
mind.

"He's a mighty purty chile," said Aunt Melvy, tentatively.

"He's a common tramp," said Mrs. Hollis.

After supper, arranging a tray with a snowy napkin and a steaming bowl
of broth, Mrs. Hollis went up to the sick-room. Her first step had
been to have the patient bathed and combed and made presentable for
the occupancy of the guest-chamber. It had been with rebellion of
spirit that she placed him there, but the judge had taken one of those
infrequent stands which she knew it was useless to resist. She put the
tray on a table near the big four-poster bed, and leaned over to look
at the sleeper.

Sandy lay quiet among the pillows, his fair hair tumbled, his lips
parted. As the light fell on his flushed face he stirred.

"Here's your supper," said Mrs. Hollis, her voice softening in spite
of herself. He was younger than she had thought. She slipped her arm
under the pillow and raised his head.

"You must eat," she said kindly.

He looked at her vacantly, then a momentary consciousness flitted over
his face, a vague realization that he was being cared for. He put up a
hot hand and gently touched her cheek; then, rallying all his
strength, he smiled away his debt of gratitude. It was over in a
moment, and he sank back unconscious.

[Illustration: "He smiled away his debt of gratitude"]

Through the dreary hours of the night Mrs. Hollis sat by the bed,
nursing him with the aching tenderness that only a childless woman can
know. Below, in the depths of a big feather-bed, the judge slept in
peaceful unconcern, disturbing the silence by a series of long, loud,
and unmelodious snores.



CHAPTER VII

CONVALESCENCE


"Is that the Nelson phaëton going out the road?" asked Mrs. Hollis as
she peered out through the dining-room window one morning. "I
shouldn't be a bit surprised if it was Mrs. Nelson making her yearly
visits, and here my bricks haven't been reddened."

Sandy's heart turned a somersault. He was sitting up for the first
time, wrapped in blankets and wearing a cap to cover his close-cropped
head. All through his illness he had been tortured by the thought that
he had talked of Ruth, though now wild horses could not have dragged
forth a question concerning her.

"Melvy," continued Mrs. Hollis, as she briskly rubbed the sideboard
with some unsavory furniture-polish, "if Mrs. Nelson does come here,
you be sure to put on your white apron before you open the door; and
for pity sake don't forget the card-tray! You ought to know better
than to stick out your hand for a lady's calling-card. I told you
about that last week."

Aunt Melvy paused in her dusting and chuckled: "Lor', honey, dat's
right! You orter put on airs all de time, wid all de money de judge is
got. He says to me yisterday, says he, 'Can't you 'suade yer Miss Sue
not to be cleanin' up so much, an' not to go out in de front yard wid
dat ole sunbonnet on?'"

"Well, I'd like to know how things would get done if I didn't do
them," exclaimed Mrs. Hollis, hotly. "I suppose he would like me to
let things go like the Meeches! The only time I ever saw Mrs. Meech
work was when she swept the front pavement, and then she made Martha
walk around behind her and read out loud while she was doing it."

"It's Mr. Meech that's in the yard now," announced Sandy from the
side window. "He's raking the leaves with one hand and a-reading a
book with the other."

"I knew it!" cried Mrs. Hollis. "I never saw such doings. They say she
even leaves the dishes overnight. And yet she can sit on her porch and
smile at people going by, just like her house was cleaned up. I hate a
hypocrite."

Sandy had had ample time to watch the Meeches during his long
convalescence. He had been moved from the spare room to a snug little
room over the kitchen, which commanded a fine view of the neighbors.
When the green book got too heavy to hold, or his eyes grew too tired
to look at the many magazines with which the judge supplied him, he
would lie still and watch the little drama going on next door.

Mrs. Meech was a large, untidy woman who always gave the impression of
needing to be tucked up. The end of her gray braid hung out behind one
ear, her waist hung out of her belt, and even the buttons on her
shoes hung out of the buttonholes in shameless laziness.

Mr. Meech did not need tucking in; he needed letting out. He seemed to
have shrunk in the wash of life. In spite of the fact that he was
three sizes too small for his wife, to begin with, he emphasized it by
wearing trousers that cleared his shoe-tops and sleeves half-way to
his elbows. But this was only on week-days, for on Sunday Sandy would
see him emerge, expand, and flutter forth in an ample suit of shiny
broadcloth. For Mr. Meech was the pastor of the Hard-Shell Baptist
Church in Clayton, and if his domestic economy was a matter of open
gossip, there was no question concerning the fact of his learning. It
had been the boast of the congregation for years that Judge Hollis was
the only man in town who was smart enough to understand his sermons.
When Mr. Meech started out in the morning with a book under his arm
and one sticking out of each pocket, Sandy would pull up on his elbow
to watch proceedings. He loved to see fat Mrs. Meech pat the little
man lovingly on the head and kiss him good-by; he loved to see Martha
walk with him to the gate and throw kisses after him until he turned
the curve in the road.

Martha was a pale, thin girl with two long, straight plaits and a
long, straight dress. She went to school in the morning, and when she
came home at noon her mother always hurried to meet her and kissed her
on both cheeks. Sandy had got quite in the habit of watching for her
at the side window where she came to study. He leaned forward now to
see if she were there.

"I thought so!" cried Mrs. Hollis, looking over his shoulder. "There
comes the Nelson phaëton this minute! Melvy, get on your white apron.
I'll wind up the cuckoo-clock and unlock the parlor door."

"Who is it?" ventured Sandy, with internal tremors.

"Hit's Mrs. Nelson an' her niece, Miss Rufe," said Aunt Melvy,
nervously trying to reverse her apron after tying the bow in the
front. "Dey's big bugs, dey is. Dey is quality, an' no mistake. I
b'longed to Miss Rufe's grandpaw; he done lef' her all his money, she
an' Mr. Carter. Poor Mr. Carter! Dey say he ain't got no lungs to
speak of. Ain't no wonder he's sorter wild like. He takes after his
grandpaw, my ole mars'. Lor', honey, de mint-juleps jus' nachelly ooze
outen de pores ob his grandpaw's skin! But Miss Rufe she ain't like
none ob dem Nelsons; she favors her maw. She's quality inside an'
out."

A peal of the bell cut short further interesting revelations. Aunt
Melvy hurried through the hall, leaving doors open behind her. At the
front door she paused in dismay. Before her stood the Nelsons in
calling attire, presenting two immaculate cards for her acceptance.
Too late she remembered her instructions.

"'Fore de Lawd!" she cried in consternation, "ef I ain't done fergit
dat pan ag'in!"

Sandy, left alone in the dining-room, was listening with every nerve
a-quiver for the sound of Ruth's voice. The thought that she was here
under the same roof with him sent the blood bounding through his
veins. He pulled himself up, and trailing the blanket behind him, made
his way somewhat unsteadily across the room and up the back stairs.

Behind the door of his room hung the pride of his soul, a new suit of
clothes, whole, patchless, clean, which the judge had bought him two
days before. He had sat before it in speechless admiration; he had
hung it in every possible light to get the full benefit of its beauty;
he had even in the night placed it on a chair beside the bed, so that
he could put out his hand in the dark and make sure it was there. For
it was the first new suit of clothes that he remembered ever to have
possessed. He had not intended to wear it until Sunday, but the
psychological moment had arrived.

With trembling fingers and many pauses for rest, he made his toilet.
He looked in the mirror, and his heart nearly burst with pride. The
suit, to be sure, hung limp on his gaunt frame, and his shaven head
gave him the appearance of a shorn lamb, but to Sandy the reflection
was eminently satisfying. One thing only seemed to be lacking. He
meditated a moment, then, with some misgiving, picked up a small linen
doily from the dresser, and carefully folding it, placed it in his
breast-pocket, with one corner just visible.

Triumphant in mind, if weak in body, he slipped down the back steps,
skirted Aunt Melvy's domain, and turned the corner of the house just
as the Nelson phaëton rolled out of the yard. Before he had time to
give way to utter despair a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon,
for the phaëton stopped, and there was evidently something the matter.
Sandy did not wait for it to be remedied. He ran down the road with
all the speed he could muster.

Near the gate where the little branch crossed the turnpike was a
slight embankment, and two wheels of the phaëton had slipped over the
edge and were buried deep in the soft earth. Beside it, sitting
indignantly in the water, was an irate lady who had evidently
attempted to get out backward and had taken a sudden and unexpected
seat. Her countenance was a pure specimen of Gothic architecture; a
massive pompadour reared itself above two Gothic eyebrows which
flanked a nose of unquestioned Gothic tendencies. Her mouth, with its
drooping corners, completed the series of arches, and the whole
expression was one of aspiring melancholy and injured majesty.

Kneeling at her side, reassuring her and wiping the water from her
hands, was Ruth Nelson.

"God send you ain't hurt, ma'am!" cried Sandy, arriving breathless.

The girl looked up and shook her head in smiling protest, but the
Gothic lady promptly suffered a relapse.

"I am--I know I am! Just look at my dress covered with mud, and my
glove is split. Get my smelling-salts, Ruth!"

Ruth, upon whom the lady was leaning, turned to Sandy.

"Will you hand it to me? It is in the little bag there on the seat."

Sandy rushed to do her bidding. He was rather hazy as to the object of
his search; but when his fingers touched a round, soft ball he drew it
forth and hastily presented it to the lady's Roman nose.

She, with closed eyes, was taking deep whiffs when a laugh startled
her.

"Oh, Aunt Clara, it's your powder-puff!" cried Ruth, unable to
restrain her mirth.

Mrs. Nelson rose with as much dignity as her draggled condition would
permit. "You'd better get me home," she said solemnly. "I may be
internally injured." She turned to Sandy. "Boy, can't you get that
phaëton back on the road?"

Sandy, whose chagrin over his blunder had sent him to the background,
came promptly forward. Seizing the wheel, he made several ineffectual
efforts to lift it back to the road.

"It is not moving an inch!" announced the mournful voice from above.
"Can't you take hold of it nearer the back, and exert a little more
strength?"

Sandy bit his lip and shot a swift glance at Ruth. She was still
smiling. With savage determination he fell upon the wheel as if it had
been a mortal foe; he pushed and shoved and pulled, and finally, with
a rally of all his strength, he went on his knees in the mud and
lifted the phaëton back on the road.

Then came a collapse, and he leaned against the nearest tree and
struggled with the deadly faintness that was stealing over him.

"Why--why, you are the boy who was sick!" cried Ruth, in dismay.

Sandy, white and trembling, shook his head protestingly. "It's me
bellows that's rocky," he explained between gasps.

Mrs. Nelson rustled back into the phaëton, and taking a piece of money
from her purse, held it out to him.

"That will amply repay you," she said.

Sandy flushed to the roots of his close-cropped hair. A tip,
heretofore a gift of the gods, had suddenly become an insult. Angry,
impetuous words rushed to his lips, and he took a step forward. Then
he was aware of a sudden change in the girl, who had just stepped into
the phaëton. She shot a quick, indignant look at her aunt, then turned
around and smiled a good-by to him.

He lifted his cap and said, "I thank ye." But it was not to Mrs.
Nelson, who still held the money as they drove out of the avenue.

Sandy went wearily back to the house. He had made his first trial in
behalf of his lady fair, but his soul knew no elation. His beautiful
new armor had sustained irreparable injury, and his vanity had
received a mortal wound.



CHAPTER VIII

AUNT MELVY AS A SOOTHSAYER


It was a crisp afternoon in late October. The road leading west from
Clayton ran the gantlet of fiery maples and sumac until it reached the
barren hillside below "Who'd 'a' Thought It." The little cabin clung
to the side of the steep slope like a bit of fungus to the trunk of a
tree.

In the doorway sat three girls, one tall and dark, one plump and fair,
and the third straight and thin. They were anxiously awaiting the
revelation of the future as disclosed by Aunt Melvy's far-famed
tea-leaves. The prophetess kept them company while waiting for the
water to boil.

"He sutenly is a peart boy," she was saying. "De jedge done start him
in plumb at de foot up at de 'cademy, an' dey tell me he's ketchin' up
right along."

"Wasn't it g-grand in Judge Hollis to send him to school?" said
Annette. "Of course he's going to work for him b-between times. They
say even Mrs. Hollis is glad he is going to stay."

"'Co'se she is," said Aunt Melvy; "dere nebber was nobody come it over
Miss Sue lak he done."

"Father says he is very quick," ventured Martha Meech, a faint color
coming to her dull cheek at this unusual opportunity of descanting
upon such an absorbing subject. "Father told Judge Hollis he would
help him with his lessons, and that he thought it would be only a
little while before he was up with the other boys."

"Dad says he's a d-dandy," cried Annette. "And isn't it grand he's
going to be put on the ball team and the glee club!"

Ruth rose to break a branch laden with crimson maple-leaves. "Was he
ever here before?" she asked in puzzled tones. "I have seen him
somewhere, and I can't think where."

"Well, I'd never f-forget him," said Annette. "He's got the jolliest
face I ever saw. M-Martha says he can jump that high fence b-back of
the Hollises' without touching it. I d-drove dad's buggy clear up over
the curbstone yesterday, so he would come to the r-rescue, and he
swung on to old B-Baldy's neck like he had been a race-horse."

"But you don't know him," protested Ruth. "And, besides, he was--he
was a peddler."

"I don't care if he was," said Annette. "And if I don't know him, it's
no sign I am not g-going to."

Aunt Melvy chuckled as she rose to encourage the fire with a pair of
squeaking old bellows.

Martha looked about the room curiously. "Can you really tell what's
going to happen?" she asked timidly.

"Indeed she can," said Annette. "She told Jane Lewis that she was
g-going to have some g-good luck, and the v-very next week her aunt
died and left her a turquoise-ring!"

"Yas, chile," said Aunt Melvy, bending over the fire to light her
pipe; "I been habin' divisions for gwine on five year. Dat's what made
me think I wuz gwine git religion; but hit ain't come yit--not yit.
I'm a mourner an' a seeker." Her pipe dropped unheeded, and she gazed
with fixed eyes out of the window.

"Tell us about your visions," demanded Annette.

"Well," said Aunt Melvy, "de fust I knowed about it wuz de lizards in
my legs. I could feel 'em jus' as plain as day, dese here little green
lizards a-runnin' round inside my legs. I tole de doctor 'bout hit,
Miss Nettie; but he said 't warn't nothin' but de fidgits. I knowed
better 'n he did dat time. Dat night I had a division, an' de dream
say, 'Put on yer purple mournin'-dress an' set wid yer feet in a
barrel ob b'ilin' water till de smoke comes down de chimbly.' An' so
I done, a-settin' up dere on dat chist o' drawers all night, wid my
purple mournin'-dress on an' my feet in de b'ilin' water, an' de
lizards run away so fur dat dey ain't even stopped yit."

"Aunt Melvy, do you tell fortunes by palmistry?" asked Ruth.

"Yas'm; I reckon dat's what you call hit. I tells by de tea-leaves.
Lor', Miss Rufe, you sutenly put me in min' o' yer grandmaw! She
kerried her haid up in de air jus' lak you do, an' she wuz jus' as
putty as you is, too. We libed in de ole plantation what's done burned
down now, an' I lubed my missus--I sutenly did. When my ole man fust
come here from de country I nebber seen sech a fool. He didn't know no
more 'bout courtin' dan nothin'; but I wuz better qualified. I jus'
tole ole miss how 't wuz, an' she fixed up de weddin'. I nebber will
fergit de day we walk ober de plantation an' say we wuz married.
George he had on a brand-new pair pants dat cost two hundred an'
sixty-four dollars in Confederate money."

"Isn't the water b-boiling yet?" asked Annette, impatiently.

"So 't is, so 't is," said Aunt Melvy, lifting the kettle from the
crane. She dropped a few tea-leaves in three china cups, and then with
great solemnity and occasional guttural ejaculations poured the water
over them.

Before the last cup was filled, Annette, with a wry face, had drained
the contents of hers and held it out to Aunt Melvy.

"There are my leaves. If they don't tell about a lover with b-blue
eyes and an Irish accent, I'll never b-believe them."

Aunt Melvy bent over the cup, and her sides shook. "You gwine be a
farmer's wife," she said, chuckling at the girl's grimace. "You gwine
raise chickens an' chillun."

"Ugh!" said Annette as the other girls laughed; "are his eyes b-blue?"

Aunt Melvy pondered over the leaves. "Well, now, 'pears to me he's
sorter dark-complected an' fat, like Mr. Sid Gray," she said.

"Never!" declared Annette. "I loathe Sid."

"Tell my future!" cried Martha, pushing her cup forward eagerly.

"Dey ain't none!" cried Aunt Melvy, aghast, as she saw the few broken
leaves in the bottom of the cup. "You done drinked up yer fortune.
Dat's de sign ob early death. I gwine fix you a good-luck bag; dey say
ef you carry it all de time, hit's a cross-sign ag'in' death."

"But can't you tell me anything?" persisted Martha.

"Dey ain't nothin' to tell," repeated Aunt Melvy, "'cep'n' to warn you
to carry dat good-luck bag all de time."

"Now, mine," said Ruth, with an incredulous but curious smile.

For several moments Aunt Melvy bent over the cup in deep
consideration, and then she rose and took it to the window, with
fearsome, anxious looks at Ruth meanwhile. Once or twice she made a
sign with her fingers, and frowned anxiously.

"What is it, Aunt Melvy?" Ruth demanded. "Am I going to be an old
maid?"

"'T ain't no time to joke, chile," whispered Aunt Melvy, all the
superstition of her race embodied in her trembling figure. "What I
see, I see. Hit's de galluses what I see in de bottom ob yer cup!"

"Do you m-mean suspenders?" laughed Annette.

Aunt Melvy did, not hear her; she was looking over the cup into space,
swaying and moaning.

"To t'ink ob my ole missus' gran'chile bein' mixed up wif a gallus lak
dey hang de niggers on! But hit's dere, jus' as plain as day, de two
poles an' de cross-beam."

Ruth laughed as she looked into the cup.

"Is it for me?"

"Don't know, honey; de signs don't p'int to no one person: but hit's
in yer life, an' de shadow rests ag'in' you."

By this time Martha was at the door, urging the others to hurry. Her
face was pale and her eyes were troubled. Ruth saw her nervousness and
slipped her arm about her. "It's all in fun," she whispered.

"Of course," said Annette. "You m-mustn't mind her foolishness.
Besides, I g-got the worst of it. I'd rather die young or be hanged,
any day, than to m-marry Sid Gray."

Aunt Melvy followed them to the door, shaking her head. "I'se gwine
make you chillun some good-luck bags. De fust time de new moon holds
water I'se sholy gwine fix 'em. 'T ain't safe not to mind de signs; 't
ain't safe."

And with muttered warnings she watched them until they were lost to
view behind the hill.



CHAPTER IX

TRANSITION


The change from the road to the school-room was not without many a
struggle on Sandy's part. The new life, the new customs, and the
strange language, were baffling.

The day after the accident in the road, Mrs. Hollis had sent him to
inquire how old Mrs. Nelson was, and he had returned with the
astonishing report that she was sixty-one.

"But you didn't ask her age?" cried Mrs. Hollis, horrified.

Sandy looked perplexed. "I said what ye bid me," he declared.

Everything he did, in fact, seemed to be wrong; and everything he
said, to bring a smile. He confided many a woe to Aunt Melvy as he
sat on the kitchen steps in the evenings.

"Hit's de green rubbin' off," she assured him sympathetically. "De
same ones dat laugh at you now will be takin' off dey hats to you some
day."

"Oh, it ain't the guyin' I mind," said Sandy; "it's me wooden head.
Them little shavers that can't see a hole in a ladder can beat me
figurin'."

"You jus' keep on axin' questions," advised Aunt Melvy. "Dat's what I
always tole Rachael. Rachael's dat yaller gal up to Mrs. Nelson's. I
done raise her, an' she ain't a bit o'count. I use' ter say, 'You fool
nigger, how you ebber gwine learn nothin' effen you don't ax
questions?' An' she'd stick out her mouth an' say, 'Umph, umph; you
don't ketch me lettin' de white folks know how much sense I ain't
got.' Den she'd put on a white dress an' a white sunbonnet an' go
switchin' up de street, lookin' jus' lak a fly in a glass ob
buttermilk."

"It's the mixed-up things that bother me," said Sandy. "Mr. Moseley
was telling of us to-day how ye lost a day out of the week when ye
went round the world one way, and gained a day when ye went round the
other."

Aunt Melvy paused with the tea-towel in her hand. "Lost a day outen de
week? Where'd he say you lost it at?"

Sandy shook his head in perplexity.

"Dat's plumb foolishness," said Aunt Melvy, indignantly. "I'se
s'prised at Mr. Moseley, I sholy is. Dey sorter gits notions, dem
teachers does. When dey tells you stuff lak dat, honey, don't you pay
'em no mind."

But Sandy did "pay 'em mind." He followed Aunt Melvy's advice about
asking questions, and wrestled with each new proposition until he
mastered it. It did not take him long, moreover, to distinguish the
difference between himself and those about him. The words and phrases
that had passed current on the street seemed to ring false here. He
watched the judge covertly and took notes.

His progress at the academy was a singular succession of triumphs and
failures. His natural quickness, together with an enthusiastic
ambition to get on, enabled him soon to take his place among the boys
of his own age. But a superabundance of high spirits and an inordinate
love of fun caused many a dark entry on the debit side of his school
ledger. There were many times when he exasperated the judge to the
limit of endurance, for he was reckless and impulsive, charged to the
exploding-point with vitality, and ever and always the victim of his
last caprice; but when it came to the final issue, and the judge put a
question fairly before him, the boy was always on the side of right,
even though it proved him guilty.

At first Mrs. Hollis had been strongly opposed to his remaining on the
farm, but she soon became silent on the subject. It was a heretofore
unknown luxury to have the outside work promptly and efficiently
attended to. He possessed "the easy grace that makes a joke of toil";
and when he despatched his various chores and did even more than was
required of him, Mrs. Hollis capitulated.

It was something more, however, than his ability and service that won
her. The affection of the world, which seemed to eddy around her, as a
rule, found an exception in Sandy. His big, exuberant nature made no
distinction: he swept over her, sharp edges and all; he teased her,
coaxed her, petted her, laughed at her, turned her tirades with a bit
of blarney, and in the end won her in spite of herself.

"He's ketchin' on," reported Aunt Melvy, confidently. "I heared him
puttin' on airs in his talk. When dey stops talkin' nachel, den I
knows dey are learnin' somethin'."



CHAPTER X

WATERLOO


It was not until three years had passed and Sandy had reached his
junior year that his real achievement was put to the test.

After that harrowing experience in the Hollis driveway, he had seen
Ruth Nelson but twice. She had spent the winters at boarding-school,
and in the summers she traveled with her aunt. She was still the
divinity for whom he shaped his end, the compass that always brought
him back to the straight course. He looked upon her possible
recognition and friendship as a man looks upon his reward in heaven.
In the meantime he suffered himself to be consoled by less distant
joys.

The greatest spur he had to study was Martha Meech. She thought he
was a genius; and while he found it a bit irksome to live up to his
reputation, he made an honest effort to deserve it.

One spring afternoon the two were under the apple-trees, with their
books before them. The years that had lifted Sandy forward toward
vigor and strength and manhood had swept over Martha relentlessly,
beating out her frail strength, and leaving her weaker to combat each
incoming tide. Her straight, straw-colored hair lay smooth about her
delicate face, and in her eyes was the strained look of one who seeks
but is destined never to attain.

"Let's go over the Latin once more," she was saying patiently, "just
to make sure you understand."

"Devil a bit more!" cried Sandy, jumping up from where he lay in the
grass and tossing the book lightly from her hand; "it's the sin and
the shame to keep you poking in books, now the spring is here.
Martha, do you mind the sound of the wind in the tree-tops?"

She nodded, and he went on:

"Does it put strange words in your heart that you can't even think out
in your head? If I could be translating the wind and the river, I'd
never be minding the Latin again."

Martha looked at him half timidly.

"Sometimes, do you know, I almost think you are a poet, Sandy; you are
always thinking the things the poets write about."

"Do you, now, true?" he asked seriously, dropping down on the grass
beside her. Then he laughed. "You'll be having me writing rhymes, now,
in a minute."

"Why not?" she urged.

"I must stick to my course," he said. "I'd never be a real one. They
work for the work's sake, and I work for the praise. If I win the
scholarship, it'll be because you want me to, Martha; if I come to be
a lawyer, it's because it's the wish of the judge's heart; and if I
win out in the end, it will be for the love of some one--some one who
cares more for that than for anything else in the world."

She dropped her eyes, while he watched the flight of a song-bird as it
wheeled about overhead. Presently she opened an old portfolio and took
from it a little sketch.

"I have been trying to get up courage to show it to you all week," she
said, with a deprecatory laugh.

"It's the river," cried Sandy, "just at sundown, when the shadows are
slipping away from the bank! Martha, why didn't ye tell me? Are there
more?"

He ransacked the portfolio, drawing out sketch after sketch and
exclaiming over each. They were crude little efforts, faulty in
drawing and in color; but the spirit was there, and Sandy had a vague
instinct for the essence of things.

"I believe you're the real kind, Martha. They're crooked a bit, but
they've got the feel of the woods in 'em, all right. I can just hear
the water going over those stones."

Martha's eyes glowed at the praise. For a year she had reached
forward blindly toward some outlet for her cramped, limited existence,
and suddenly a way seemed open toward the light.

"I wanted to learn how before I showed you," she said. "I am never
going to show them to any one but you and mother and father."

"But you must go somewhere to study," cried Sandy. "It's a great
artist you'll be some day."

She shook her head. "It's not for me, Sandy. I'll always be like a
little beggar girl that peeps through the fence into a beautiful
garden. I know all the wonderful things are there, but I'll never get
to them."

"But ye will," cried Sandy, hot with sympathy. "I'll be making money
some day, and I'll send ye to the finest master in the country; and
you will be getting well and strong, and we'll go--"

Mr. Meech, shuffling up the walk toward them, interrupted. "Studying
for the examination, eh? That's right, my boy. The judge tells me
that you have a good chance to win the scholarship."

"Did he, now?" said Sandy, with shameless pleasure; "and you, Mr.
Meech, do ye think the same?"

"I certainly do," said Mr. Meech. "Anybody that can accomplish the
work you do at home, and hold your record at the academy, stands an
excellent chance."

Sandy thought so, too, but he tried to be modest. "If it'll be in me,
it will come out," he said with suppressed triumph as he swung his
books across his shoulder and started home.

Martha's eyes followed him wistfully, and she hoped for a backward
look before he turned in at the door. But he was absorbed in sailing a
broomstick across Aunt Melvy's pathway, causing her to drop her
basket and start after him in hot pursuit.

That evening the judge glanced across the table with great
satisfaction at Sandy, who was apparently buried in his Vergil. The
boy, after all, was a student; he was justifying the money and time
that had been spent upon him; he was proving a credit to his
benefactor's judgment and to his knowledge of human nature.

"Would ye mind telling me a word that rhymes with lance?" broke in
Sandy after an hour of absorbed concentration.

"Pants," suggested the judge. But he woke up in the night to wonder
again what part of Vergil Sandy had been studying.

"How about the scholarship?" he asked the next day of Mr. Moseley, the
principal of the academy.

Mr. Moseley pursed his lips and considered the matter ponderously. He
regarded it as ill befitting an instructor of youth to dispose of any
subject in words of less than three syllables.

"Your protégé, Judge Hollis, is an ambiguous proposition. He possesses
invention and originality, but he is sadly lacking in sustained
concentration."

"But if he studies," persisted the judge, "you think he may win it?"

Mr. Moseley wrinkled his brows and looked as if he were solving a
problem in Euclid. "Probably," he admitted; "but there is a most
insidious enemy with which he has to contend."

"An enemy?" repeated the judge, anxiously.

"My dear sir," said Mr. Moseley, sinking his voice to husky solemnity,
"the boy is stung by the tarantula of athletics!"

It was all too true. The Ambiguous Proposition had found, soon after
reaching Clayton, that base-ball was what he had been waiting for all
his life. It was what he had been born for, what he had crossed the
ocean for, and what he would gladly have died for.

There could have been no surer proof of his growing power of
concentration than that he kept a firm grasp on his academy work
during these trying days. It was a hand-to-hand fight with the great
mass of knowledge that had been accumulating at such a cruel rate
during the years he had spent out of school. He was making gallant
progress when a catastrophe occurred.

The great ball game of the season, which was to be played in Lexington
between the Clayton team and the Lexington nine, was set for June 2.
And June 2 was the day which cruel fate--masked as the board of
trustees--had set for the academy examinations. Sandy was the only
member of the team who attended the academy, and upon him alone rested
the full agony of renunciation. His disappointment was so utterly
crushing that it affected the whole family.

"Couldn't they postpone the game?" asked the judge.

"It was the second that was the only day the Lexingtons could play,"
said Sandy, in black despair. "And to think of me sitting in the
bloomin' old school-room while Sid Gray loses the game in me place!"

For a week before the great event he lived in retirement. The one
topic of conversation in town was the ball game, and he found the
strain too great to be borne. The team was to go to Lexington on the
noon train with a mighty company of loyal followers. Every boy and
girl who could meet the modest expenses was going, save the
unfortunate victims of the junior class at the academy. Annette Fenton
had even had a dress made in the Clayton colors.

As Sandy went into town on the important day, his heart was like a
rock in his breast. There was glorious sunshine everywhere, and a cool
little undercurrent of breezes stirred every leaf into a tiny banner
of victory. Up in the square, Johnson's colored band was having a
final rehearsal, while on the court-house steps the team, glorious in
new uniforms, were excitedly discussing the plan of campaign. Little
boys shouted, and old boys left their stores to come out and give a
bit of advice or encouragement to the waiting warriors. Maidens in
crisp lawn dresses and flying ribbons fluttered about in a tremor of
anticipation.

Sandy Kilday, with his cap pulled over his eyes, went up Back street.
If he could not make the devil get behind him, he at least could get
behind the devil. Without a moment's hesitation he would have given
ten years of sober middle-age life for that one glorious day of youth
on the Lexington diamond, with the victory to be fought for, and the
grand stand to be won.

He tried not to keep step with the music--he even tried to think of
quadratic equations--as he marched heroically on to the academy. His
was the face of a Christian martyr relinquishing life for a good but
hopeless cause.

Late that afternoon Judge Hollis left his office and walked around to
the academy. He had sympathized fully with Sandy, and wanted, if
possible, to find out the result of the examination before going home.
The report of the scholarship won would reconcile him to his
disappointment.

At the academy gate he met Mr. Moseley, who greeted him with a queer
smile. They both asked the same question:

"Where's Sandy?"

As if in answer, there came a mighty shout from the street leading
down to the depot. Turning, they saw a cheering, hilarious crowd;
bright-flowered hats flashed among college caps, while shrill girlish
voices rang out with the manly ones. Carried high in the air on the
shoulders of a dozen boys, radiant with praise and success, sat the
delinquent Sandy, and the tumult below resolved itself into one mighty
cheer:

    "Kilday, Kilday!
    Won the day.
    Hooray!"



CHAPTER XI

"THE LIGHT THAT LIES"


During the summer Sandy worked faithfully to make amends for his
failure to win the scholarship. He had meekly accepted the torrent of
abuse which Mrs. Hollis poured forth, and the open disapproval shown
by the Meeches; he had winced under Martha's unspoken reproaches, and
groaned over the judge's quiet disappointment.

"You see, my boy," the judge said one day when they were alone, "I had
set my heart on taking you into the office after next year. I had
counted on the scholarship to put you through your last year at the
academy."

"It was the fool I was," cried Sandy, in deep contrition, "but if
ye'll trust me the one time more, may I die in me traces if I ever
stir out of them!"

So sincere was his desire to make amends that he asked to read law
with the judge in the evenings after his work was done. Nothing could
have pleased the judge more; he sat with his back to the lamp and his
feet on the window-sill, expounding polemics to his heart's desire.

Sandy sat in the shadow and whittled. Sometimes he did not listen at
all, but when he did, it was with an intensity of attention, an utter
absorption in the subject, that carried him straight to the heart of
the matter. Meanwhile he was unconsciously receiving a life-imprint of
the old judge's native nobility.

From the first summer Sandy had held a good position at the
post-office. His first earnings had gone to a round little surgeon on
board the steamship _America_. But since then his funds had run rather
low. What he did not lend he contributed, and the result was a chronic
state of bankruptcy.

"You must be careful with your earnings," the judge warned. "It is
not easy to live within an income."

"Easier within it than without it, sir," Sandy answered from deep
experience.

After the Lexington episode Sandy had shunned Martha somewhat; when he
did go to see her, he found she was sick in bed.

"She never was strong," said Mrs. Meech, sitting limp and disconsolate
on the porch. "Mr. Meech and I never thought to keep her this long.
The doctor says it's the beginning of the end. She's so patient it's
enough to break your heart."

Sandy went without his dinner that day, and tramped to town and back,
in the glare of the noon sun, to get her a basket of fruit. Then he
wrote her a letter so full of affection and sympathy that it brought
the tears to his own eyes as he wrote. He took the basket with the
note and left them at her door, after which he promptly forgot all
about her. For his whole purpose in life these days, aside from
assisting the government in the distribution of mail and reading a
musty old volume of Blackstone, was learning to dance.

In ten days was the opening of the county fair, and Sandy had received
an invitation to be present at the fair hop, which was the social
excitement of the season. It was to be his introduction into society,
and he was determined to acquit himself with credit.

He assiduously practised the two-step in the back room of the
post-office when the other clerk was out for lunch; he tried elaborate
and ornate bows upon Aunt Melvy, who considered even the mildest "reel
chune" a direct communication from the devil. The moment the
post-office closed he hastened to Dr. Fenton's, where Annette was
taking him through a course of private lessons.

Dr. Fenton's house was situated immediately upon the street. Opening
the door, one passed into a small square hall where the Confederate
flag hung above a life-size portrait of General Lee. On every side
were old muskets and rusty swords, large pictures of decisive
battles, and maps of the siege of Vicksburg and the battle of Bull
Run. In the midst of this warlike atmosphere sat the unreconstructed
little doctor, wearing his gray uniform and his gray felt hat, which
he removed only when he ate and slept.

Here he ostensibly held office hours, but in reality he was doing
sentry duty. His real business in life was keeping up with Annette,
and his diversion was in the constant perusal of a slim sheet known as
"The Confederate Veteran."

It was Sandy's privilege to pass the lines unchallenged. In fact, the
doctor's strict surveillance diminished, and he was occasionally
guilty of napping at the post when Sandy was with Annette.

"Come in, come in," he said one day. "Just looking over the 'Veteran.'
Ever hear of Sam Davis? Greatest hero South ever knew! That's his
picture. Wasn't afraid of any damned Yankee that ever pulled a
trigger."

"Was he a rebel?" asked the unfortunate Sandy.

The doctor swelled with indignation. "He was a Confederate, sir! I
never knew a rebel."

"It was the Confederates that wore the gray?" asked Sandy, trying to
cover his blunder.

"They did," said the doctor. "I put it on at nineteen, and I'll be
buried in it. Yes, sir; and my hat. Wouldn't wear blue for a farm.
Hate the sight of it so, that I might shoot myself by mistake. Ever
look over these maps? This was the battle of--"

A door opened and a light head was thrust out.

"Now, d-dad, you hush this minute! You've told him that over and over.
Sandy's my company. Come in here, Sandy."

A few moments later there was a moving of chairs, and Annette's voice
was counting, "One, two, three; one, two, three," while Sandy went
through violent contortions in his efforts to waltz. He had his
tongue firmly between his teeth and his eyes fixed on vacancy as he
revolved in furniture--destroying circles about the small parlor.

"That isn't right," cried Annette. "You've lost the time. You d-dance
with the chair, Sandy, and I'll p-play the p-piano."

"No, you don't!" he cried. "I'll dance with you and put the chair at
the piano, but I'll dance with no chair."

Annette sank, laughing and exhausted, upon the sofa and looked up at
him hopelessly. Her hair had tumbled down, making her look more like a
child than ever.

"You are so b-big," she said; "and you've got so m-many feet!"

"The more of me to love ye."

"I wonder if you d-do?" She put her chin on her palms, looking at him
sidewise.

"Don't ye do that again!" he cried. "Haven't I passed ye the warning
never to look at me when you fix your mouth like that?"

She tried to call him a goose, though she knew that _g_'s were fatal.

A moment later she sat at one end of the sofa in pretended dudgeon,
while Sandy tried to make his peace from the other.

"May the lightning strike me dead if I ever do it again without the
asking! I'll be good now--honest to goodness, Nettie. I'll shut me
eyes when you take the hurdles, and be blind to temptation. Won't ye
be putting me on about the hop now, and what I must do?"

Annette counted her fraternity pins and tried to look severe. She used
them in lieu of scalps, and they encircled her neck, fastened her
belt, and on state occasions even adorned her shoe-buckles.

"Well," she at last said, "to b-begin with, you must be nice to
everyb-body. You mustn't sit out more than one d-dance with one
g-girl, and you must b-break in on every dance I'm not sitting out."

"Break in? Sit out?" repeated Sandy, realizing that the intricacies
of society are manifold.

"Of course," said his mentor. "Whenever you see the g-girl you like
dancing with any one else, you just p-put your hand on the man's
shoulder, and then she d-dances with you."

"And will they all stop for me?" cried Sandy, not understanding at all
why he should have the preference.

"Surely," said Annette. "And sitting out is when you like a girl so
m-much that you would rather take her away to some quiet little corner
and talk to her than to d-dance with her."

"That'll never be me," cried Sandy--"not while the band plays."

"Shall we try it again?" she asked; and with much scoffing and
scolding on her part, and eloquent apologies and violent exertion on
his, they struggled onward toward success.

In the midst of the lesson there was a low whistle at the side
window. Annette dropped Sandy's hands and put her finger to her lips.

"It's Carter," she whispered. "D-dad doesn't allow him to come here."

"Little's the wonder," grumbled Sandy.

Annette's eyes were sparkling at the prospect of forbidden fruit. She
tiptoed to the window and opened the shutter a few inches.

At the opening Carter's face appeared. It was a pale, delicate face,
over-sensitive, over-refined, with the stamp of weakness on every
feature. His restless, nervous eyes were slightly bloodshot, and there
was a constant twitching about his lips. But as he pushed back the
shutter and leaned carelessly against the sill, there was an easy
grace in his figure and a devil-may-care light in his eyes that would
have stirred the heart of a maiden less susceptible than the one who
smiled upon him from between the muslin curtains.

He laughed lightly as he caught at a flying lock of her hair.

"You little coward! Why didn't you meet me?"

She frowned significantly and made warning gestures toward the
interior of the room.

At the far window, standing with his back to them, was Mr. Sandy
Kilday. He was engaged in a fierce encounter with an unnamed monster
whose eyes were green. During his pauses for breath he composed a few
comprehensive and scathing remarks which he intended to bestow upon
Miss Fenton at his earliest convenience. Fickleness was a thing not to
be tolerated. She had confessed her preference for him over all
others; she must and should prove it. Just when his indignation had
reached the exploding-point, he heard his name called.

"Sandy," cried Annette, "what do you think? Ruth is coming home!
Carter is on his way to the d-depot to meet her now. She's been gone
nearly a year. I never was so crazy to see anyb-body in all my life."

Sandy wheeled about. "Which depot?" he cried excitedly; and without
apologies or farewell he dashed out of the house and down the street.

When the Pullman train came into the Clayton station, he was leaning
against a truck in a pose of studied indifference. Out of the tail of
his eye he watched the passengers alight.

There were the usual fat women and thin men, tired women with
children, and old women with baskets, but no sign of a small girl with
curls hanging down her back and dresses to her shoe-tops.

Suddenly he caught his breath. Standing in the car door, like a saint
in a niche, was a radiant figure in a blue traveling-suit, with a bit
of blue veil floating airily from her hat brim. She was not the little
girl he was looking for, but he transferred his devotion at a bound;
for long skirts and tucked-up curls rendered her tenfold more
worshipful than before.

He watched her descend from her pedestal, bestow an affectionate kiss
upon her brother, then look eagerly around for other familiar faces.
In one heart-suspending instant her eyes met his, she hesitated in
confusion, then blushed and bowed.

Sandy reeled home in utter intoxication of spirit. Even the town pump
wore a halo of glorified rosy mist.

At the gate he met Mrs. Hollis returning from a funeral. With a sudden
descent from his ethereal mood he pounced upon her and, in spite of
violent protestations, danced her madly down the walk and deposited
her breathless upon the milk-bench.

"He's getting worse all the time," she complained to Aunt Melvy, who
had watched the performance with great glee.

"Yas,'m," said Aunt Melvy, with a fond look at his retreating figure.
"He's jus' like a' Irish potato: when he ain't powerful cold, he's
powerful hot."



CHAPTER XII

ANTICIPATION


The day before the fair Sandy employed a substitute at the
post-office, in order to give the entire day to preparation for the
festivities to come.

Early in the morning he went to town, where, after much consultation
and many changes of mind, he purchased a suit of clothes. Then he
rented the town dress-suit, to the chagrin of three other boys who had
each counted upon it for the coming hop.

With the precious burden under his arm, Sandy hastened home. He spread
the two coats on the bed, placing a white shirt inside each, and a
necktie about each collar. Then he stood back and admired.

"It's meself I can see in them both this minute!" he exclaimed with
delight.

His shoes were polished until they were resplendent, but they lost
much of their glory during subsequent practising of steps before the
mirror. He even brushed and cleaned his old clothes, for he foresaw
the pain of laying aside the raiment of Solomon for dingy every-day
garments.

Toward noon he went down-stairs to continue his zealous efforts in the
kitchen. This met with Aunt Melvy's instant disapproval.

"For mercy sake, git out ob my way!" she cried, as she squeezed past
the ironing-board to get to the stove. "I'll press yer pants, ef
you'll jus' take yourself outen de kitchen. Be sure don't burn 'em?
Look a-heah, chile; I was pressin' pants 'fore yer paw was wearin'
'em!"

Aunt Melvy's temper was a thing not to be trifled with when a
"protracted meeting" was in session. For years she had been the black
sheep in the spiritual fold. Her earnest desire to get religion and
the untiring efforts of the exhorters had alike proved futile. Year
after year she sat on the mourners' bench, seeking the light and
failing each time to "come th'u'."

This discouraging condition of affairs sorely afflicted her, and
produced a kind of equinoctial agitation in the Hollis kitchen.

Sandy went on into the dining-room, but he found no welcome there.
Mrs. Hollis was submerged in pastry. The county fair was her one
dissipation, and her highest ambition was to take premiums. Every year
she sent forth battalions of cakes, pies, sweet pickles, beaten
biscuit, crocheted doilies, and crazy-quilts to capture the blue
ribbon.

"Don't put the window up!" she warned Sandy. "I know it's stifling,
but I can't have the dust coming in. Why don't you go on in the
house?"

Mrs. Hollis always spoke of the kitchen and dining-room as if they
were not a part of the house.

"Can't ye tell me something that's good for the sunburn?" asked
Sandy, anxiously. "It's a dressed-up shooting-cracker I'll be
resembling the morrow, in spite of me fine clothes."

"Buttermilk and lemon-juice," recommended Mrs. Hollis, as she placed
the last marshmallow on the roof of a four-story cake.

Sandy would have endured any discomfort that day in order to add one
charm to his personal appearance. He used so many lemons there were
none left for the judge's lemonade when he came home for dinner.

"Just home from the post-office?" he asked when he saw Sandy enter the
dining-room with his hat on.

"Jimmy Reed's doing my work to-day," Sandy said apologetically. "And
if you please, sir, I'll be keeping my hat on. I have just washed my
hair, and I want it to dry straight."

The judge looked at the suspicious turn of the thick locks around the
brim of the stiff hat and smiled.

"Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas," he quoted. "How many pages of
Blackstone to-day?"

Sandy made a wry face and winked at Mrs. Hollis, but she betrayed him.

"He has been primping since sun-up," she said. "Anybody would think he
was going to get married."

"Sweet good luck if I was!" cried Sandy, gaily.

The judge put down his fork and laid his hand on Sandy's arm. "You
mustn't neglect the learning, Sandy. You've made fine progress, and
I'm proud of you. You've worked your way this far; I'll help you to
the top if you'll keep a steady head."

"That I'll do," cried Sandy, grasping his hand. "It's old Moseley's
promise I have for steady work at the academy. If I can't climb the
ladder, with you at one end and success at the other, then I'm not
much of a chicken--I mean I'm not much."

"Well, you better begin by leaving the girls alone," said Mrs. Hollis
as she moved the sugar out of his reach. "Just let one drive by the
gate, and we don't have any peace until you know who it is."

"By the way," said the judge, as he helped himself to a corn-dodger
and two kinds of preserves, "I'm sorry to see the friendship that's
sprung up between Annette Fenton and young Nelson. I don't know what
the doctor's thinking about to let it go on. Nelson is hitting a
pretty lively pace for a youngster. He'll never live to reap his wild
oats, though. He came into the world with consumption, and I don't
think he will be long getting out of it. He's always getting into
difficulty. I have had to fine him twice in the past month for
gambling. Do you see anything of him, Sandy?"

"No," said Sandy, biting his lip. His pride had suffered more than
once at Carter's condescension.

"Martha Meech must be worse," said Mrs. Hollis. "The up-stairs blinds
have been closed all day."

Sandy pushed back the apple-dumpling which Aunt Melvy had made at his
special request.

"Perhaps I can be helping them," he said as he rose from the table.

When he came back he sat for a long time with his head on his hand.

"Is she much worse?" asked Mrs. Hollis.

"Yes," said Sandy; "and it's little that I can do, though she's
coughing her life away. It's a shame--and a shame!" he cried in hot
rebellion.

All his vanity of the morning was dispelled by the tragedy taking
place next door. He paced back and forth between the two houses,
begging to be allowed to help, and proposing all sorts of impossible
things.

When inaction became intolerable, he plunged into his law books, at
first not comprehending a line, but gradually becoming more and more
interested, until at last the whole universe seemed to revolve about a
case that was decided in a previous century.

When he rose it was almost dusk, and he came back to the present
world with a start. His first thought was of Ruth and the rapturous
prospect of seeing her on the morrow; a swift doubt followed as to
whether a white tie or a black one was proper; then a sudden fear that
he had forgotten how to dance. He jumped to his feet, took a couple of
steps--when he remembered Martha.

The house seemed suddenly quiet and lonesome. He went from the
sitting-room to the kitchen, but neither Mrs. Hollis nor Aunt Melvy
was to be found. Returning through the front hall, he opened the door
to the parlor.

The sight that met him was somewhat gruesome. Everything was carefully
wrapped in newspapers. Pictures enveloped in newspapers hung on the
walls, newspaper chairs stood primly around a newspaper table. In the
dim twilight it looked like the very ghost of a room.

Sandy threw open the window, and going over to the newspaper piano,
untied the wrappings. He softly touched the keys and began to sing in
an undertone. Old Irish love-songs, asleep in his heart since they
were first dropped there by the merry mother lips, stirred and awoke.
The accompaniment limped along lamely enough; but the singer, with hat
over his eyes and lemon-juice on his nose, sang on as only a poet and
lover can. His rich, full voice lingered on the soft Celtic syllables,
dwelt tenderly on the diminutive endearments, while his heart,
overcharged with sorrow and joy and romance and dreams, spilled over
in an ecstasy of song.

Next door, in an upper bedroom, a tired soul paused in its final
flight. Martha Meech, stretching forth her thin arms in the twilight,
listened as one might listen to the strains of an angel choir.

"It's Sandy," she said, and the color came to her cheeks, the light to
her eyes. For, like Sandy, she had youth and she had love, and life
itself could give no more.



CHAPTER XIII

THE COUNTY FAIR


The big amphitheater at the fair grounds was filled as completely and
evenly as a new paper of pins. Through the air floated that sweetest
of all music to the childish ear--the unceasing wail of expiring
balloons; and childish souls were held together in one sticky ecstasy
of molasses candy and pop-corn balls.

Behind the highest row of seats was a promenade, and in front of the
lowest was another. Around these circled a procession which, though
constantly varying, held certain recurring figures like the charging
steeds on a merry-go-round. There was Dr. Fenton, in his tight
Confederate suit; he had been circling in that same procession at
every fair for twenty years. There was the judge, lank of limb and
loose of joint, who stopped to shake hands with all the strangers and
invite them to take dinner in his booth, where Mrs. Hollis reveled in
a riot of pastry. A little behind him strutted Mr. Moseley, sending
search-lights of scrutiny over the crowd in order to discover the
academy boys who might be wasting their time upon unlettered
femininity.

At one side of the amphitheater, raised to a place of honor, was the
courting-box. Here the aristocratic youth of the country-side met to
measure hearts, laugh at the rustics, and enjoy the races.

In previous years Sandy had watched the courting-box from below, but
this year he was in the center of it. Jests and greetings from the
boys, and cordial glances from maidens both known and unknown, bade
him welcome. But, in spite of his reception, and in spite of his
irreproachable toilet, he was not having a good time. With hands in
pockets and a scowl on his face, he stared gloomily over the crowd.
Twice a kernel of pop-corn struck his ear, but he did not turn.

Above him, Annette Fenton was fathoms deep in a flirtation with Carter
Nelson; while below him, Ruth, in the daintiest of gowns and the
largest of hats, was wasting her sweetness on the desert countenance
of Sid Gray.

Sandy refused to seek consolation elsewhere; he sat like a Spartan
hero, and calmly watched his heart being consumed in the flames.

This hour, for which he had been living, this longed-for opportunity
of being near Ruth and possibly of speaking to her, was slipping away,
and she did not even know he was there.

He became fiercely critical of Sid Gray. He rejoiced in his stoutness
and took grim pleasure in the fact that his necktie had slipped up at
the back. He looked at his hand as it rested on the back of the seat;
it was plump and white. Sandy held out his own broad, muscular palm,
hardened and roughened by work. Then he put it in his pocket again and
sighed.

The afternoon wore gaily on. Louder grew the chorus of balloons and
stickier grew the pop-corn balls. The courting-box was humming with
laughter and jest. The Spartan hero began to rebel. Why should he
allow himself to be tortured thus when there might be a way of escape?
He recklessly resolved to put his fate to the test. Rising abruptly,
he went down to the promenade and passed slowly along the
courting-box, scanning the occupants as if in search of some one. It
was on his fourth round that she saw him, and the electric shock
almost lost him his opportunity. He looked twice to make sure she had
spoken; then, with a bit of his heart in his throat and the rest in
his eyes, he went up the steps and awkwardly held out his hand.

The world made several convulsive circuits in its orbit and the bass
drum performed a solo inside his head during the moment that
followed. When the tumult subsided he found a pair of bright brown
eyes smiling up at him and a small hand clasped in his.

This idyllic condition was interrupted by a disturbance on the
promenade, which caused them both to look in that direction. Some one
was pushing roughly through the crowd.

"Hi, there, Kilday! Sandy Kilday!"

A heavy-set fellow was making his way noisily toward them. His suit of
broad checks, his tan shoes, and his large diamond stud were
strangers, but his little close-set eyes, protruding teeth, and bushy
hair were hatefully familiar.

Sandy started forward, and those nearest laughed when the stranger
looked at him and said:

"My guns! Git on to his togs! Ain't he a duke!"

Sandy got Ricks out of the firing-line, around the corner of the
courting-box. His face was crimson with mortification, but it never
occurred to him to be angry.

"What brought you back?" he asked huskily.

"Hosses."

"Are you going to drive this afternoon?"

"Yep. One of young Nelson's colts in the last ring. Say," he added,
"he's game, all right. Me and him have done biz before. Know him?"

"Carter Nelson? Oh, yes; I know him," said Sandy, impatient to be rid
of his companion.

"Me and him are a winnin' couple," said Ricks. "We plays the races
straight along. He puts up the dough, and I puts up the tips. Say,
he's one of these here tony toughs; he won't let on he knows me when
he's puttin' on dog. What about you, Sandy? Makin' good these days?"

"I guess so," said Sandy, indifferently.

"You ain't goin' to school yet?"

"That I am," said Sandy; "and next year, too, if the money holds out."

"Golly gosh!" said Ricks, incredulously. "Well, I got to be hikin'
back. The next is my entry. I'll look you up after while. So-long!"

He shambled off, and Sandy watched his broad-checked back until it was
lost in the crowd.

That Ricks should have turned up at that critical moment seemed a
wilful prank on the part of fate. Sandy bit his lip and raged
inwardly. He had a wild impulse to rush back to Ruth, seize her hand,
and begin where he had left off. He might have done it, too, had not
the promenade happened to land Dr. Fenton before him at that moment.

The doctor was behaving in a most extraordinary and unmilitary way. He
had stepped out of the ranks, and was performing strange manoeuvers
about a knothole that looked into the courting-box. When he saw Sandy
he opened fire.

"Look at her! Look at her!" he whispered. "Whenever I pass she talks
to Jimmy Reed on this side; but the moment she thinks I'm not looking,
sir, she talks to Nelson on the other! Kilday," he went on, shaking
his finger impressively, "that little girl is as slick as--a blame
Yankee! But she'll not outwit me. I'm going right up there and take
her home."

Sandy laughingly held his arm. It was not the first time the doctor
had confided in him. "No, no, doctor," he said; "I'll be the watch-dog
for ye. Let me go and stay with Annette, and if Carter Nelson gets a
word in her ear, it'll be because I've forgotten how to talk."

"Will you?" asked the doctor, anxiously. "Nelson's a drunkard. I'd
rather see my little girl dead than married to him. But she's wilful,
Kilday; when she was just a baby she'd sit with her little pink toes
curled up for an hour to keep me from putting on her shoes when she
wanted to go barefoot! She's a fighter," he added, with a gruff
chuckle that ended in a sigh, "but she's all I've got."

Sandy gripped him by the hand, then turned the corner into the
courting-box. Instantly his eager eyes sought Ruth, but she did not
look up as he passed.

He unceremoniously took his seat beside Annette, to the indignation of
little Jimmy Reed. It was hard to accept Carter's patronizing
tolerance, but a certain curve to his eyebrows and the turn of his
head served as perpetual reminders of Ruth.

Annette greeted Sandy effusively. She had found Jimmy entirely too
limber a foil to use with any degree of skill, and she knew from past
experience that Sandy and Carter were much better matched. If Sid Gray
had been there also, she would have been quite happy. In Annette's
estimation it was all a mistake about love being a game for two.

"Who was your stylish friend?" she asked Sandy.

"Ricks Wilson," said Sandy, shortly.

Carter smiled condescendingly. "Your old business partner, I believe?"

"Before he was yours," said Sandy.

This was not at all to Annette's taste. They were not even thinking
about her.

"How m-many dances do you want for to-night?" she asked Sandy.

"The first four."

She wrote them on the corner of her fan. "Yes?"

"The last four."

"Yes?"

"And the four in between. What's that on your fan?"

"Nothing."

"But it is. Let me see."

"Will you look at it easy and not tell?" she whispered, taking
advantage of Carter's sudden interest in the judges' stand.

"Sure and I will. Just a peep. Come!"

She opened the fan half-way, and disclosed a tiny picture of himself
sewed on one of the slats.

"And it's meself that you care for, Annette!" he whispered. "I knew
it, you rascal, you rogue!"

"Let g-go my hand," she whispered, half laughing, half scolding.
"Look, Carter, what I have on my fan!" and, to Sandy's chagrin, she
opened the fan on the reverse side and disclosed a picture of Nelson.

But Carter had neither eyes nor ears for her now. His whole attention
was centered on the ring, where the most important event of the day
was about to take place.

It was a trial of two-year-olds for speed and durability. There were
four entries--two bays, a sorrel, and Carter's own little thoroughbred
"Nettie." He watched her as she pranced around the ring under Ricks's
skilful handling; she had nothing to fear from the bays, but the
sorrel was a close competitor.

"Oh, this is your race, isn't it?" cried Annette as the band struck up
"Dixie." "Where's my namesake? The pretty one just c-coming, with the
ugly driver? Why, he's Sandy's friend, isn't he?"

Sandy winced under her teasing, but he held his peace.

The first heat Nettie won; the second, the sorrel; the third brought
the grand stand to its feet. Even the revolving procession halted
breathless.

"Now they're off!" cried Annette, excitedly. "Mercy, how they g-go!
Nettie is a little ahead; look, Sandy! She's gaining! No; the sorrel's
ahead. Carter, your driver is g-going too close! He's g-going to smash
in--Oh, look!"

There was a crash of wheels and a great commotion. Several women
screamed, and a number of men rushed into the ring. When Sandy got
there, the greater crowd was not around the sorrel's driver, who lay
in a heap against the railing with a broken leg and a bruised head; it
was around Ricks Wilson in angry protest and indignation.

The most vehement of them all was Judge Hollis,--the big, easy-going
judge,--whose passion, once roused, was a thing to be reckoned with.

"It was a dastardly piece of cowardice," he cried. "You all saw what
he did! Call the sheriff, there! I intend to prosecute him to the full
extent of the law."

Ricks, with snapping eyes and snarling mouth, glanced anxiously
around at the angry faces. He was looking for Carter Nelson, but
Carter had discreetly departed. It was Sandy whom he spied, and
instantly called: "Kilday, you'll see me through this mess? You know
it wasn't none of my fault."

Sandy pushed his way to the judge's side. He had never hated the sight
of Ricks so much as at that moment.

"It's Ricks Wilson," he whispered to the judge--"the boy I used to
peddle with. Don't be sending him to jail, sir. I'll--I'll go his bail
if you'll be letting him go."

"Indeed you won't!" thundered the judge. "You to take money you've
saved for your education to help this scoundrel, this rascal, this
half murderer!"

The crowd shouted its approval as it opened for the sheriff. Ricks was
not the kind to make it easy for his captors, and a lively skirmish
ensued.

As he was led away he turned to the crowd back of him and shook his
fist in the judge's face.

"You done this," he cried. "I'll git even with you, if I go to hell
fer it!"

The judge laughed contemptuously, but Sandy watched Ricks depart with
troubled eyes. He knew that he meant what he said.



CHAPTER XIV

A COUNCIL OF WAR


While the frivolous-minded of Clayton were bent upon the festivities
of fair week, it must not be imagined that the grave and thoughtful
contingent, which acts as ballast in every community, was idle.

Mr. Moseley was a self-constituted leader in a crusade against
dancing. At his earnest suggestion, every minister in town agreed to
preach upon the subject at prayer-meeting the Wednesday evening of the
hop.

They held a preliminary meeting before services in the study of the
Hard-Shell Baptist Church. Mr. Moseley occupied the chair, a Jove of
righteousness dispensing thunderbolts of indignation to his
satellites. A fringe of scant hair retreated respectfully from the
unadorned dome which crowned his personal edifice. His manner was most
serious and his every utterance freighted with importance.

Beside him sat his rival in municipal authority, the Methodist
preacher. He had a short upper lip and a square lower jaw, and a way
of glaring out of his convex glasses that gave a comical imitation of
a bullfrog in debate. This was the first occasion in the history of
the town when he and Mr. Moseley had met in friendly concord. For the
last few days the united war upon a common enemy had knitted their
souls in a bond of brotherly affection.

When the half-dozen preachers had assembled, Mr. Moseley rose with
dignity. "My dear brethren," he began impressively, "the occasion is
one which permits of no trifling. The dancing evil is one which has
menaced our community for generations--a viper to be seized and
throttled with a firm hand. The waltz, the--the Highland fling,
the--the--"

"German?" suggested some one faintly.

"Yes, the german--are all invasions of the Evil One. The crowded
rooms, the unholy excitement, are degenerating and debasing. I am glad
to report one young soul who has turned from temptation and told me
only to-day of his intention of refraining from partaking in the
unrighteous amusement of this evening. That, brethren, was the nephew
of my pastor."

The little Presbyterian preacher, thus thrust into the light cast from
the halo of his regenerate nephew, stirred uneasily. He was
contemplating the expediency of his youthful kinsman in making the
lack of a dress-suit serve as a means of lightening his coming
examinations at the academy.

Mr. Moseley, now fully launched upon a flood of eloquence, was just
concluding a brilliant argument. "Look at the round dance!" he cried.
"Who can behold and not shudder?"

Mr. Meech, who had not beheld and therefore could not shudder,
ventured a timid inquiry:

"Mr. Moseley, just what is a round dance?"

Mr. Moseley pushed back his chair and wheeled the table nearer the
window. "Will you just step forward, Mr. Meech?"

With difficulty Mr. Meech extricated himself from the corner to which
the pressure of so many guests had relegated him. He slipped
apologetically to the front and took his stand beneath the shadow of
Mr. Moseley's presence. Prayer-meeting being but a semi-official
occasion, he wore his second-best coat, and it had followed the
shrinking habit established by its predecessors.

"Now," commanded Mr. Moseley, "place your hand upon my shoulder."

Mr. Meech did so with self-conscious gravity and serious apprehensions
as to the revelations to follow.

"Now," continued Mr. Moseley, "I place my arm about your waist--thus."

"Surely not," objected Mr. Meech, in embarrassment.

But Mr. Moseley was relentless. "I assure you it is true. And the
other hand--" He stopped in grave deliberation. The Methodist brother,
who had been growing more and more overcharged with suppressed
knowledge, could contain himself no longer.

"That's not right at all!" he burst forth irritably. "You don't hook
your arm around like that! You hold the left arm out and saw it up and
down--like this."

He snatched the bewildered Mr. Meech from Mr. Moseley's embrace, and
humming a waltz, stepped briskly about the limited space, to the
consternation of the onlookers, who hastened to tuck their feet under
their chairs.

Mr. Meech, looking as if he were being backed into eternity, stumbled
on the rug and clutched violently at the table-cover. In his downfall
he carried his instructor with him, and a deluge of tracts from the
table above followed.

In the midst of the confusion there was a sound from the church next
door. Mr. Meech sat up among the debris and listened. It was the
opening hymn for prayer-meeting.



CHAPTER XV

HELL AND HEAVEN


The events of the afternoon, stirring as they had been, were soon
dismissed from Sandy's mind. The approaching hop possessed right of
way over every other thought.

By the combined assistance of Mrs. Hollis and Aunt Melvy, he had been
ready at half-past seven. The dance did not begin until nine; but he
was to take Annette, and the doctor, whose habits were as fixed as the
numbers on a clock, had insisted that she should attend prayer-meeting
as usual before the dance.

In the little Hard-Shell Baptist Church the congregation had assembled
and services had begun before Mr. Meech arrived. He appeared
singularly flushed and breathless, and caused some confusion by
giving out the hymn which had just been sung. It was not until he
became stirred by the power of his theme that he gained composure.

In the front seat Dr. Fenton drowsed through the discourse. Next to
him, her party dress and slipper-bag concealed by a rain-coat, sat
Annette, hot and rebellious, and in anything but a prayerful frame of
mind. Beside her sat Sandy, rigid with elegance, his eyes riveted on
the preacher, but his thoughts on his feet. For, stationary though he
was, he was really giving himself the benefit of a final rehearsal,
and mentally performing steps of intricate and marvelous variety.

"Stop moving your feet!" whispered Annette. "You'll step on my dress."

"Is it the mazurka that's got the hiccoughs in the middle?" asked
Sandy, anxiously.

Mr. Meech paused and looked at them over his spectacles in plaintive
reproach.

Then he wandered on into sixthlies and seventhlies of increasing
length. Before the final amen had died upon the air, Annette and Sandy
had escaped to their reward.

The hop was given in the town hall, a large, dreary-looking room with
a raised platform at one end, where Johnson's band introduced
instruments and notes that had never met before.

To Sandy it was a hall of Olympus, where filmy-robed goddesses moved
to the music of the spheres.

"Isn't the floor g-grand?" cried Annette, with a little run and a
slide. "I could just d-die dancing."

"What may the chalk line be for?" asked Sandy.

"That's to keep the stags b-back."

"The stags?" His spirits fell before this new complication.

"Yes; the boys without partners, you know. They have to stay b-back of
the chalk line and b-break in from there. You'll catch on right away.
There's your d-dressing-room over there. Don't bother about my card;
it's been filled a week. Is there anyb-body you want to dance with
especially?"

Sandy's eyes answered for him. They were held by a vision in the
center of the room, and he was blinded to everything else.

Half surrounded by a little group stood Ruth Nelson, red-lipped,
bright-eyed, eager, her slender white-clad figure on tiptoe with
buoyant expectancy. The crimson rose caught in her hair kept impatient
time to the tap of her restless high-heeled slipper, and she swayed
and sang with the music in a way to set the sea-waves dancing.

It was small matter to Sandy that the lace on her dress had belonged
to her great-grandmother, or that the pearls about her round white
throat had been worn by an ancestor who was lady in waiting to a queen
of France. He only knew she meant everything beautiful in the world to
him,--music and springtime and dawn,--and that when she smiled it was
sunlight in his heart.

"I don't think you can g-get a dance there," said Annette, following
his gaze. "She is always engaged ahead. But I'll find out, if you
w-want me to."

"Would you, now?" cried Sandy, fervently pressing her hand. Then he
stopped short. "Annette," he said wistfully, "do you think she'll be
caring to dance with a boy like me?"

"Of course she will, if you k-keep off her toes and don't forget to
count the time. Hurry and g-get off your things; I want you to try it
before the crowd comes. There are only a few couples for you to bump
into now, and there will be a hundred after a while."

O the fine rapture of that first moment when Sandy found he could
dance! Annette knocked away his remaining doubts and fears and boldly
launched him into the merry whirl. The first rush was breathless,
carrying all before it; but after a moment's awful uncertainty he
settled into the step and glided away over the shining floor,
counting his knots to be sure, but sailing triumphantly forward
behind the flutter of Annette's pink ribbons.

He was introduced right and left, and he asked every girl he met to
dance. It made little difference who she happened to be, for in
imagination she was always the same. Annette had secured for him the
last dance with Ruth, and he intended to practise every moment until
that magic hour should arrive.

But youth reckons not with circumstance. Just when all sails were set
and he was nearing perfection, he met with a disaster which promptly
relegated him to the dry-dock. His partner did not dance!

When he looked at her, he found that she was tall and thin and
vivacious, and he felt that she must have been going to hops for a
very long time.

"I hate dancing, don't you?" she said. "Let's go over there, out of
the crowd, and have a nice long talk."

Sandy glanced at the place indicated. It seemed a long way from base.

"Wouldn't you like to stand here and watch them?" he floundered
helplessly.

"Oh, dear, no; it's too crowded. Besides," she added playfully, "I
have heard _so_ much about you and your awfully romantic life. I just
want to know all about it."

As a trout, one moment in mid-stream swimming and frolicking with the
best, finds himself suddenly snatched out upon the bank, gasping and
helpless, so Sandy found himself high and dry against the wall, with
the insistent voice of his captor droning in his ears.

She had evidently been wound and set, and Sandy had unwittingly
started the pendulum.

"Have you ever been to Chicago, Mr. Kilday? No? It is such a dear
place; I simply adore it. I'm on my way home from there now. All my
men friends begged me to stay; they sent me so many flowers I had to
keep them in the bath-tub. Wasn't it darling of them? I just love
men. How long have you been in Clayton, Mr. Kilday?"

He tried to answer coherently, but his thoughts were in eager pursuit
of a red rose that flashed in and out among the dancers.

"And you really came over from England by yourself when you were just
a small boy? Weren't you clever! But I know the captain and all of
them made a great pet of you. Then you made a walking tour through the
States; I heard all about it. It was just too romantic for any use. I
love adventure. My two best friends are at the theological seminary.
One's going to India,--he's a blond,--and one to Africa. Just between
us, I am going with one of them, but I can't for the life of me make
up my mind which. I don't know why I am telling you all these things,
Mr. Kilday, except that you are so sweet and sympathetic. You
understand, don't you?"

He assured her that he did with more vehemence than was necessary, for
he did not want her to suspect that he had not heard what she said.

"I knew you did. I knew it the moment I shook hands with you. I felt
that we were drawn to each other. I am like you; I am just full of
magnetism."

Sandy unconsciously moved slightly away: he had a sudden uncomfortable
realization that he was the only one within the sphere of influence.

After two intermissions he suggested that they go out to the
drug-store and get some soda-water. On the steps they met Annette.

"You old f-fraud," she whispered to Sandy in passing, "I thought you
didn't like to sit out d-dances."

He smiled feebly.

"Don't you mind her teasing," pouted his partner; "if we like to talk
better than to dance, it's our own affair."

Sandy wished devoutly that it was somebody else's. When they returned,
they went back to their old corner. The chairs, evidently considering
them permanent occupants, assumed an air of familiarity which he
resented.

"Do you know, you remind me of an old sweetheart of mine," resumed the
voice of his captor, coyly. "He was the first real lover I ever had.
His eyes were big and pensive, just like yours, and there was always
that same look in his face that just made me want to stay with him all
the time to keep him from being lonely. He was awfully fond of me, but
he had to go out West to make his fortune, and he married before he
got back."

Sandy sighed, ostensibly in sympathy, but in reality at his own sad
fate. At that moment Prometheus himself would not have envied him his
state of mind. The music set his nerves tingling and the dancers
beckoned him on, yet he was bound to his chair, with no relief in
view. At the tenth intermission he suggested soda-water again, after
which they returned to their seats.

"I hope people aren't talking about us," she said, with a pleased
laugh. "I oughtn't to have given you all these dances. It's perfectly
fatal for a girl to show such preference for one man. But we are so
congenial, and you do remind me--"

"If it's embarrassing to you--" began Sandy, grasping the straw with
both hands.

"Not one bit," she asserted. "If you would rather have a good
confidential time here with me than to meet a lot of silly little
girls, then I don't care what people say. But, as I was telling you, I
met him the year I came out, and he was interested in me right off--"

On and on and on she went, and Sandy ceased to struggle. He sank in
his chair in dogged dejection. He felt that she had been talking ever
since he was born, and was going to continue until he died, and that
all he could do was to wait in anguish for the end. He watched the
flushed, happy faces whirling by. How he envied the boys their wilted
collars! After eons and eons of time the band played "Home, Sweet
Home."

"It's the last dance," said she. "Aren't you sorry? We've had a
perfectly divine time--" She got no further, for her partner, faithful
through many numbers, had deserted his post at last.

Sandy pushed eagerly through the crowd and presented himself at Ruth's
side. She was sitting with several boys on the stage steps, her cheeks
flushed from the dance, and a loosened curl falling across her bare
shoulder. He tried to claim his dance, but the words, too long
confined, rushed to his lips so madly as to form a blockade.

She looked up and saw him--saw the longing and doubt in his eyes, and
came to his rescue.

"Isn't this our dance, Mr. Kilday?" she said, half smiling, half
timidly.

In the excitement of the moment he forgot his carefully practised bow,
and the omission brought such chagrin that he started out with the
wrong foot. There was a gentle, ripping sound, and a quarter of a yard
of lace trailed from the hem of his partner's skirt.

"Did I put me foot in it?" cried Sandy, in such burning consternation
that Ruth laughed.

"It doesn't matter a bit," she said lightly, as she stooped to pin it
up. "It shows I've had a good time. Come! Don't let's miss the music."

He took her hand, and they stepped out on the polished floor. The
blissful agony of those first few moments was intolerably sweet.

She was actually dancing with him (one, two, three; one, two, three).
Her soft hair was close to his cheek (one, two, three; one, two,
three). What if he should miss a step (one, two, three)--or fall?

He stole a glance at her; she smiled reassuringly. Then he forgot all
about the steps and counting time. He felt as he had that morning on
shipboard when the _America_ passed the _Great Britain_. All the joy
of boyhood resurged through his veins, and he danced in a wild
abandonment of bliss; for the band was playing "Home, Sweet Home,"
and to Sandy it meant that, come what might, within her shining eyes
his gipsy soul had found its final home.

[Illustration: "Then he forgot all about the steps and counting time"]

When the music stopped, and they stood, breathless and laughing, at
the dressing-room door, Ruth said:

"I thought Annette told me you were just learning to dance!"

"So I am," said Sandy; "but me heart never kept time for me before!"

When Annette joined them she looked up at Sandy and smiled.

"Poor f-fellow!" she said sympathetically. "What a perfectly horrid
time you've had!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE NELSON HOME

Willowvale, the Nelson homestead, lay in the last curve of the river,
just before it left the restrictions of town for the freedom of fields
and meadows.

It was a quaint old house, all over honeysuckles and bow-windows and
verandas, approached by an oleander-bordered walk, and sheltered by a
wide circle of poplar-and oak-trees that had nodded both approval and
disapproval over many generations of Nelsons.

In the dining-room, on the massive mahogany table, lunch was laid for
three. Carter sat at the foot, absorbed in a newspaper, while at the
head Mrs. Nelson languidly partook of her second biscuit. It was
vulgar, in her estimation, for a lady to indulge in more than two
biscuits at a meal.

When old Evan Nelson died six years before, he had left the bulk of
his fortune to his two grandchildren, and a handsome allowance to his
eldest son's widow, with the understanding that she was to take charge
of Ruth until that young lady should become of age.

Mrs. Nelson accepted the trust with becoming resignation. The prospect
of guiding a wealthy and obedient young person through the social
labyrinth to an eligible marriage wakened certain faculties that had
long lain dormant. It was not until the wealthy and obedient young
person began to develop tastes of her own that she found the burden
irksome.

Nine months of the year Ruth was at boarding-school, and the remaining
three she insisted upon spending in the old home at Clayton, where
Carter kept his dogs and horses and spent his summers. Hitherto Mrs.
Nelson had compromised with her. By adroit management she contrived
to keep her, for weeks at a time, at various summer resorts, where she
expected her to serve a sort of social apprenticeship which would fit
her for her future career.

At nineteen Ruth developed alarming symptoms of obstinacy. Mrs. Nelson
confessed tearfully to the rest of the family that it had existed in
embryo for years. Instead of making the most of her first summer out
of school, the foolish girl announced her intention of going to
Willowvale for an indefinite stay.

It was indignation at this state of affairs that caused Mrs. Nelson to
lose her appetite. Clayton was to her the limit of civilization; there
was too much sunshine, too much fresh air, too much out of doors. She
disliked nature in its crude state; she preferred it softened and
toned down to drawing-room pitch.

She glanced up in disapproval as Ruth's laugh sounded in the hall.

"Rachel, tell her that lunch is waiting," she said to the colored
girl at her side.

Carter looked up as Ruth came breezily into the room. She wore her
riding-habit, and her hair was tossed by her brisk morning canter.

"You don't look as if you had danced all night," he said. "Did the
mare behave herself?"

"She's a perfect beauty, Carter. I rode her round the old mill-dam,
'cross the ford, and back by the Hollises'. Now I'm perfectly
famished. Some hot rolls, Rachel, and another croquette, and--and
everything you have."

Mrs. Nelson picked several crumbs from the cloth and laid them
carefully on her plate. "When I was a young lady I always slept after
being out in the evening. I had a half-cup of coffee and one roll
brought to me in bed, and I never rose until noon."

"But I hate to stay in bed," said Ruth; "and, besides, I hate to miss
a half-day."

"Is there anything on for this afternoon?" asked Carter.

"Why, yes--" Ruth began, but her aunt finished for her:

"Now, Carter, it's too warm to be proposing anything more. You aren't
well, and Ruth ought to stay at home and put cold cream on her face.
It is getting so burned that her pink evening-dresses will be worse
than useless. Besides, there is absolutely nothing to do in this
stupid place. I feel as if I couldn't stand it all summer."

This being a familiar opening to a disagreeable subject, the two young
people lapsed into silence, and Mrs. Nelson was constrained to address
her communications to the tea-pot. She glanced about the big,
old-fashioned room and sighed.

"It's nothing short of criminal to keep all this old mahogany buried
here in the country, and the cut-glass and silver. And to think that
the house cannot be sold for two more years! Not until Ruth is of age!
What _do_ you suppose your dear grandfather _could_ have been
thinking of?"

This question, eliciting no reply from the tea-pot, remained suspended
in the air until it attracted Ruth's wandering attention.

"I beg your pardon, aunt. What grandfather was thinking of? About the
place? Why, I guess he hoped that Carter and I would keep it."

Carter looked over his paper. "Keep this old cemetery? Not I! The day
it is sold I start for Europe. If one lung is gone and the other
going, I intend to enjoy myself while it goes."

"Carter!" begged Ruth, appealingly.

He laughed. "You ought to be glad to get rid of me, Ruth. You've
bothered your head about me ever since you were born."

She slipped her hand into his as it lay on the table, and looked at
him wistfully.

"The idea of the old governor thinking we'd want to stay here!" he
said, with a curl of the lip.

"Perfectly ridiculous!" echoed Mrs. Nelson.

"I don't know," said Ruth; "it's more like home than any place else. I
don't think I could ever bear to sell it."

"Now, my dear Ruth," said Mrs. Nelson, in genuine alarm, "don't be
sentimental, I beg of you. When once you make your début, you'll feel
very different about things. Of course the place must be sold: it
can't be rented, and I'm sure you will never get me to spend another
summer in Clayton. You could not stay here alone."

Ruth sat with her chin in her hands and gazed absently out of the
window. She remembered when that yard was to her as the garden of
Eden. As a child she had been brought here, a delicate, faded little
hot-house plant, and for three wonderful years had been allowed to
grow and blossom at will in the freedom of outdoor life. The glamour
of those old days still clung to the place, and made her love
everything connected with it. The front gate, with its wide white
posts, still held the records of her growth, for each year her
grandfather had stood her against it and marked her progress. The huge
green tub holding the crape myrtle was once a park where she and
Annette had played dolls, and once it had served as a burying-ground
when Carter's sling brought down a sparrow. The ice house, with its
steep roof, recalled a thrilling tobogganing experience when she was
six. Grandfather had laughed over the torn gown, and bade her do it
again.

It was the trees, though, that she loved best of all; for they were
friendly old poplar-trees on which the bark formed itself into all
sorts of curious eyes. One was a wicked old stepfather eye with a
heavy lid; she remembered how she used to tiptoe past it and pretend
to be afraid. Beyond, by the arbor, were two smaller trees, where a
coquettish eye on one looked up to an adoring eye on the other. She
had often built a romance about them as she watched them peeping at
each other through the leaves.

Down behind the house the waving fields of blue-grass rippled away to
the little river, where weeping willows hung their heads above the
lazy water, and ferns reached up the banks to catch the flowers. And
the fields and the river and the house and the trees were hers,--hers
and Carter's,--and neither could sell without the consent of the
other. She took a deep breath of satisfaction. The prospect of living
alone in the old homestead failed to appal her.

"A letter came this morning," said Mrs. Nelson, tracing the crest on
the silver creamer. "It's from your Aunt Elizabeth. She wants us to
spend ten days with her at the shore. They have taken a handsome
cottage next to the Warrentons. You remember young Mr. Warrenton,
Ruth? He is a grandson of Commodore Warrenton."

"Warrenton? Oh, yes, I do remember him--the one that didn't have any
neck."

Mrs. Nelson closed her eyes for a moment, as if praying for patience;
then she went on: "Your Aunt Elizabeth thinks, as I do, that it is
absurd for you to bury yourself down here. She wants you to meet
people of your own class. Do you think you can be ready to start on
Wednesday?"

"Why, we have been here only a week!" cried Ruth. "I am having such a
good time, and--" she broke off impulsively. "But I know it's dull for
you, Aunt Clara. You go, and leave me here with Carter. I'll do
everything you say if you will only let me stay."

Carter laughed. "One would think that Ruth's sole aim in life was to
cultivate Clayton--the distinguished, exclusive, aristocratic society
of Clayton."

She put her hand on his arm and looked at him pleadingly: "Please
don't laugh at me, Carter! I love it here, and I want to stay. You
know Aunt Elizabeth; you know what her friends are like. They think I
am queer. I can't be happy where they are."

Mrs. Nelson resorted to her smelling-bottle. "Of course my opinions
are of no weight. I only wish to remind you that it would be most
impolitic to offend your Aunt Elizabeth. She could introduce you into
the most desirable set; and even if she is a little--" she searched a
moment for a word--"a little liberal in her views, one can overlook
that on account of her generosity. She is a very influential woman,
Ruth, and a very wealthy one."

Ruth made a quick, impatient gesture. "I don't like her, Aunt Clara;
and I don't want you to ask me to go there."

Mrs. Nelson folded her napkin with tragic deliberation. "Very well,"
she said; "it is not my place to urge it. I can only point out your
duty and leave the rest to you. One thing I must speak about, and that
is your associating so familiarly with these townspeople. They are
impertinent; they take advantages, and forget who we are. Why, the
blacksmith had the audacity to refer to the dear major as 'Bob.'"

"Old Uncle Dan?" asked Ruth, laughing. "I saw him yesterday, and he
shook hands with me and said: 'Golly, sissy, how you've growed!'"

"Ruth," cried Mrs. Nelson, "how can you! Haven't you _any_ family
pride?" The tears came to her eyes, for the invitation to visit the
Hunter-Nelsons was one for which she had angled skilfully, and its
summary dismissal was a sore trial to her.

In a moment Ruth was at her side, all contrition: "I'm sorry, Aunt
Clara; I know I'm a disappointment to you. I'll try--"

Mrs. Nelson withdrew her hand and directed her injured reply to
Carter. "I have done my duty by your sister. She has been given every
advantage a young lady could desire. If she insists upon throwing away
her opportunities, I can't help it. I suppose I am no longer to be
consulted--no longer to be considered." She sought the seclusion of
her pocket-handkerchief, and her pompadour swayed with emotion.

Ruth stood at the table, miserably pulling a rose to pieces. This
discussion was an old one, but it lost none of its sting by
repetition. Was she queer and obstinate and unreasonable?

"Ruth's all right," said Carter, seeing her discomfort. "She will have
more sense when she is older. She's just got her little head turned by
all the attention she has had since coming home. There isn't a boy in
the county who wouldn't make love to her at the drop of her eyelash.
She was the belle of the hop last night; had the boys about her three
deep most of the time."

"The hop!" Mrs. Nelson so far forgot herself as to uncover one eye.
"Don't speak of that wretched affair! The idea of her going! What do
you suppose your Aunt Elizabeth would say? A country dance in a public
hall!"

"I only dropped in for the last few dances," said Carter, pouring
himself another glass of wine. "It was beastly hot and stupid."

"I danced every minute the music played," cried Ruth; "and when they
played, 'Home, Sweet Home,' I could have begun and gone right through
it again."

"By the way," said her brother, "didn't I see you dancing with that
Kilday boy?"

"The last dance," said Ruth. "Why?"

"Oh, I was a little surprised, that's all."

Mrs. Nelson, scenting the suggestion in Carter's voice, was instantly
alert.

"Who, pray, is Kilday?"

"Oh, Kilday isn't anybody; that's the trouble. If he had been, he
would never have stayed with that old crank Judge Hollis. The judge
thinks he is appointed by Providence to control this bright particular
burg. He is even attempting to regulate me of late. The next time he
interferes he'll hear from me."

"But Kilday?" urged Mrs. Nelson, feebly persistent.

"Oh, Kilday is good enough in his place. He's a first-class athlete,
and has made a record up at the academy. But he was a peddler, you
know--an Irish peddler; came here three or four years ago with a pack
on his back."

"And Ruth danced with him!" Mrs. Nelson's words were punctuated with
horror.

Ruth looked up with blazing eyes. "Yes, I danced with him; why
shouldn't I? You made me dance with Mr. Warrenton, last summer, when I
told you he was drinking."

"But, my dear child, you forget who Mr. Warrenton is. And you actually
danced with a peddler!" Her voice grew faint. "My dear, this must
never occur again. You are young and easily imposed upon. I will
accompany you everywhere in the future. Of course you need never
recognize him hereafter. The impertinence of his addressing you!"

A step sounded on the gravel outside. Ruth ran to the window and spoke
to some one below. "I'll be there as soon as I change my habit," she
called.

"Who is it?" asked her aunt, hastily arranging her disturbed locks.

Ruth paused at the door. There was a slight tremor about her lips,
but her eyes flashed their first open declaration of independence.

"It's Mr. Kilday," she said; "we are going out on the river."

There was an oppressive silence of ten minutes after she left, during
which Carter smiled behind his paper and Mrs. Nelson gazed indignantly
at the tea-pot. Then she tapped the bell.

"Rachel," she said impressively, "go to Miss Ruth's room and get her
veil and gloves and sun-shade. Have Thomas take them to the boat-house
at once."



CHAPTER XVII

UNDER THE WILLOWS


Between willow-fringed banks of softest green, and under the bluest of
summer skies, the little river took its lazy Southern way. Tall blue
lobelias and golden flags played hide-and-seek in the reflections of
the gentle stream, and an occasional spray of goldenrod, advance-guard
of the autumn, stood apart, a silent warning to the summer idlers.

Somewhere overhead a vireo, dainty poet of bird-land, proclaimed his
love to the wide world; while below, another child of nature, no less
impassioned, no less aching to give vent to the joy that was bursting
his being, sat silent in a canoe that swung softly with the pulsing of
the stream.

For Sandy had followed the highroad that led straight into the Land
of Enchantment. No more wanderings by intricate byways up golden hills
to golden castles; the Love Road had led him at last to the real world
of the King Arthur days--the world that was lighted by a strange and
wondrous light of romance, wherein he dwelt, a knight, waiting and
longing to prove his valor in the eyes of his lady fair.

Burning deeds of prowess rioted in his brain. Oh for dungeons and
towers and forbidding battlements! Any danger was welcome from which
he might rescue her. Fire, flood, or bandits--he would brave them all.
Meanwhile he sat in the prow of the boat, his hands clasped about his
knees, utterly powerless to break the spell of awkward silence that
seemed to possess him.

[Illustration: "Burning deeds of prowess rioted in his brain"]

They had paddled in under the willows to avoid the heat of the sun,
and had tied their boat to an overhanging bough.

Ruth, with her sleeve turned back to the elbow, was trailing her hand
in the cool water and watching the little circles that followed her
fingers. Her hat was off, and her hair, where the sun fell on it
through the leaves, was almost the color of her eyes.

But what was the real color of her eyes? Sandy brought all his
intellect to bear upon the momentous question. Sometimes, he thought,
they were as dark as the velvet shadows in the heart of the stream;
sometimes they were lighted by tiny flames of gold that sparkled in
the brown depths as the sunshine sparkled in the shadows. They were
deep as his love and bright as his hope.

Suddenly he realized that she had asked him a question.

"It's never a word I've heard of what ye are saying!" he exclaimed
contritely. "My mind was on your eyes, and the brown of them. Do they
keep changing color like that all the time?"

Ruth, thus earnestly appealed to, blushed furiously.

"I was talking about the river," she said quickly. "It's jolly under
here, isn't it? So cool and green! I was awfully cross when I
came."

"You cross?"

She nodded her head. "And ungrateful, and perverse, and queer, and
totally unlike my father's family." She counted off her shortcomings
on her fingers, and raised her brows in comical imitation of her aunt.

"A left-hand blessing on the one that said so!" cried Sandy, with such
ardor that she fled to another subject.

"I saw Martha Meech yesterday. She was talking about you. She was very
weak, and could speak only in a whisper, but she seemed happy."

"It's like her soul was in Heaven already," said Sandy.

"I took her a little picture," went on Ruth; "she loves them so. It
was a copy of one of Turner's."

"Turner?" repeated Sandy. "Joseph Mallord William Turner, born in
London, 1775. Member of the Royal Academy. Died in 1851."

She looked so amazed at this burst of information that he laughed.

"It's out of the catalogue. I learned what it said about the ones I
liked best years ago."

"Where?"

"At the Olympian Exposition."

"I was there," said Ruth; "it was the summer we came home from Europe.
Perhaps that was where I saw you. I know I saw you somewhere before
you came here."

"Perhaps," said Sandy, skipping a bit of bark across the water.

A band of yellow butterflies on wide wings circled about them, and
one, mistaking Ruth's rosy wet fingers for a flower, settled there for
a long rest.

"Look!" she whispered; "see how long it stays!"

"It's not meself would be blaming it for forgetting to go away," said
Sandy.

They both laughed, then Ruth leaned over the boat's side and pretended
to be absorbed in her reflection in the water. Sandy had not learned
that unveiled glances are improper, and if his lips refrained from
echoing the vireo's song, his eyes were less discreet.

"You've got a dimple in your elbow!" he cried, with the air of one
discovering a continent.

"I haven't," declared she, but the dimple turned State's evidence.

The sun had gone under a cloud as the afternoon shadows began to
lengthen, and a light tenderer than sunlight and warmer than moonlight
fell across the river. The water slipped over the stones behind them
with a pleasant swish and swirl, and the mint that was crushed by the
prow of their boat gave forth an aromatic perfume.

Ever afterward the first faint odor of mint made Sandy close his eyes
in a quick desire to retain the memory it recalled, to bring back the
dawn of love, the first faint flush of consciousness in the girlish
cheeks and the soft red lips, and the quick, uncertain breath as her
heart tried not to catch beat with his own.

"Can't you sing something?" she asked presently. "Annette Fenton says
you know all sorts of quaint old songs."

"They're just the bits I remember of what me mother used to sing me in
the old country."

"Sing the one you like best," demanded Ruth.

Softly, with the murmur of the river ac-companying the song, he began:

    "Ah! The moment was sad when my love and I parted,
      Savourneen deelish, signan O!
    As I kiss'd off her tears, I was nigh broken-hearted!--
      Savourneen deelish, signan O!"

Ruth took her hand out of the water and looked at him with puzzled
eyes. "Where have I heard it? On a boat somewhere, and the moon was
shining. I remember the refrain perfectly."

Sandy remembered, too. In a moment he felt himself an impostor and a
cheat. He had stumbled into the Enchanted Land, but he had no right to
be there. He buried his head in his hands and felt the dream-world
tottering about him.

"Are you trying to remember the second verse?" asked Ruth.

"No," said he, his head still bowed; "I'm trying to help you remember
the first one. Was it the boat ye came over from Europe in?"

"That was it!" she cried. "It was on shipboard. I was standing by the
railing one night and heard some one singing it in the steerage. I was
just a little girl, but I've never forgotten that 'Savourneen
deelish,' nor the way he sang it."

"Was it a man'?" asked Sandy, huskily.

"No," she said, half frowning in her effort to remember; "it was a
boy--a stowaway, I think. They said he had tried to steal his way in a
life-boat."

"He had!" cried Sandy, raising his head and leaning toward her. "He
stole on board with only a few shillings and a bundle of clothes. He
sneaked his way up to a life-boat and hid there like a thief. When
they found him and punished him as he deserved, there was a little
lady looked down at him and was sorry, and he's traveled over all the
years from then to now to thank her for it."

Ruth drew back in amazement, and Sandy's courage failed for a moment.
Then his face hardened and he plunged recklessly on:

"I've blacked boots, and sold papers; I've fought dogs, and peddled,
and worked on the railroad. Many's the time I've been glad to eat the
scraps the workmen left on the track. And just because a kind, good
man--God prosper his soul!--saw fit to give me a home and an
education, I turned a fool and dared to think I was a gentleman!"

For a moment pride held Ruth's pity back. Every tradition of her
family threw up a barrier between herself and this son of the soil.

"Why did you come to Kentucky?" she asked.

"Why?" cried Sandy, too miserable to hold anything back. "Because I
saw the name of the place on your bag at the pier. I came here for the
chance of seeing you again, of knowing for sure there was something
good and beautiful in the world to offset all the bad I'd seen. Every
page I've learned has been for you, every wrong thought I've put out
of me mind has been to make more room for you. I don't even ask ye to
be my friend; I only ask to be yours, to see ye sometime, to talk to
you, and to keep ye first in my heart and to serve ye to the end."

The vireo had stopped singing and was swinging on a bough above them.

Ruth sat very still and looked straight before her. She had never seen
a soul laid bare before, and the sight thrilled and troubled her. All
the petty artifices which the world had taught her seemed useless
before this shining candor.

"And--and you've remembered me all this time?" she asked, with a
little tremble in her voice. "I did not know people cared like that."

"And you're not sorry?" persisted Sandy. "You'll let me be your
friend?"

She held out her hand with an earnestness as deep as his own. In an
instant he had caught it to his lips. All the bloom of the summer
rushed to her cheeks, and she drew quickly away.

"Oh! but I'll take it back--I never meant it," cried Sandy, wild with
remorse. "Me heart crossed the line ahead of me head, that was all.
You've given me your friendship, and may the sorrow seize me if I ever
ask for more!"

At this the vireo burst into such mocking, derisive laughter of song
that they both looked up and smiled.

"He doesn't think you mean it," said Ruth; "but you must mean it,
else I can't ever be your friend."

Sandy shook his fist at the bird.

"You spalpeen, you! If I had ye down here I'd throw ye out of the
tree! But you mustn't believe him. I'll stick to my word as the wind
to the tree-tops. No--I don't mean that. As the stream to the shore.
No-"

He stopped and laughed. All figures of speech conspired to make him
break his word.

Somewhere from out the forgotten world came six long, lingering
strokes of a bell. Sandy and Ruth untied the canoe and paddled out
into midstream, leaving the willow bower full of memories and the
vireo still hopping about among the branches.

"I'll paddle you up to the bridge," said Ruth; "then you will be near
the post-office."

Sandy's voice was breaking to say that she could paddle him up to the
moon if she would only stay there between him and the sun, with her
hair forming a halo about her face. But they were going down-stream,
and all too soon he was stepping out of the canoe to earth again.

"And will I have to be waiting till the morrow to see you?" he asked,
with his hand on the boat.

"To-morrow? Not until Sunday."

"But Sunday is a month off! You'll be coming for the mail?"

"We send for the mail," said Ruth, demurely.

"Then ye'll be sending in vain for yours. I'll hold it back till ye
come yourself, if I lose my position for it."

Ruth put three feet of water between them, then she looked up with
mischief in her eyes. "I don't want you to lose your position," she
said.

"Then you'll come?"

"Perhaps."

Sandy watched her paddle away straight into the heart of the sun. He
climbed the bank and waved her out of sight. He had to use a maple
branch, for his hat and handkerchief, not to mention less material
possessions, were floating down-stream in the boat with Ruth.

"Hello, Kilday!" called Dr. Fenton from the road above. "Going
up-town? I'll give you a lift."

Sandy turned and looked up at the doctor impatiently. The presence of
other people in the world seemed an intrusion.

"I've been out to the Meeches' all afternoon," said the doctor,
wearily, mopping his face with a red-bordered handkerchief.

"Is Martha worse?" asked Sandy, in quick alarm.

"No, she's better," said the doctor, gruffly; "she died at four
o'clock."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE VICTIM


Some poet has described love as a little glow and a little shiver; to
Sandy it was more like a ravaging fire in his heart, which lighted up
a world of such unutterable bliss that he cheerfully added fresh fuel
to the flames that were consuming him. The one absorbing necessity of
his existence was to see Ruth daily, and the amount of strategy,
forethought, and subtilty with which he accomplished it argued well
for his future ability at the bar.

In the long hours of the night Wisdom urged prudence; she presented
all the facts in the case, and convinced him of his folly. But with
the dawn he threw discretion to the winds, and rushed valiantly
forward, leading a forlorn hope under cover of a little Platonic flag
of truce.

With all the fervor and intensity of his nature he tried to fit
himself to Ruth's standards. Every unconscious suggestion that she let
fall, through word, or gesture, or expression, he took to heart and
profited by. With almost passionate earnestness he sought to be worthy
of her. Fighting, climbing, struggling upward, he closed his eyes to
the awful depth to which he would fall if his quest were vain.

Meanwhile his cheeks became hollow and he lost his appetite. The judge
attributed it to Martha Meech's death; for Sandy's genuine grief and
his continued kindness to the bereft neighbors confirmed an old
suspicion. Mrs. Hollis thought it was malaria, and dosed him
accordingly. It was Aunt Melvy who made note of his symptoms and
diagnosed his case correctly.

"He's sparkin' some gal, Miss Sue; dat's what ails him," she said one
evening as she knelt on the sitting-room hearth to kindle the first
fire of the season. "Dey ain't but two t'ings onder heaben dat'll keep
a man f'om eatin'. One's a woman, t' other is lack ob food."

Judge Hollis looked over his glasses and smiled.

"Who do you think the lady is, Melvy?"

Aunt Melvy wagged her head knowingly as she held a paper across the
fireplace to start the blaze.

"I ain't gwine tell no tales on Mist' Sandy. But yer can't fool dis
heah ole nigger. I mind de signs; I knows mo' 'bout de young folks in
dis heah town den dey t'ink I do. Fust t'ing you know, I'm gwine tell
on some ob 'em, too. I 'spect de doctor would put' near die ef he
knowed dat Miss Annette was a-havin' incandescent meetin's wif Carter
Nelson 'most ever' day."

"Is Sandy after Annette, too?"

"No, sonny, no!" said Aunt Melvy, to whom all men were "sonny" until
they died of old age. "Mist' Sandy he's aimin' at high game. He's
fix' his eyeball on de shore-'nough quality."

"Do you mean Ruth Nelson?" asked Mrs. Hollis, snapping her scissors
sharply. "He surely wouldn't be fool enough to think she would look at
him. Why, the Nelsons think they are the only aristocratic people that
ever lived in Clayton. If they had paid less attention to their
ancestors and more to their descendants, they might have had a better
showing."

"I nebber said it was Miss Rufe," said Aunt Melvy from the doorway;
"but den ag'in I don't say hit ain't."

"Well, I hope it's not," said the judge to his wife as he laid down
his paper; "though I must say she is as pretty and friendly a girl as
I ever saw. No matter how long she stays away, she is always glad to
see everybody when she comes back. Some of old Evan's geniality must
have come down to her."

"Geniality!" cried Mrs. Hollis. "It was mint-juleps and brandy and
soda. He was just as snobbish as the rest of them when he was sober.
If she has any good in her, it's from her mother's side of the house."

"I hope Sandy isn't interested there," went on the judge,
thoughtfully. "It would not do him any good, and would spoil his taste
for what he could get. How long has it been going on, Sue?"

"He's been acting foolish for a month, but it gets worse all the time.
He moons around the house, with his head in the clouds, and sits up
half the night hanging out of his window. He has raked out all those
silly old poetry-books of yours, and I find them strewn all over the
house. Here's one now; look at those pencil-marks all round the
margin!"

"Some of the marks were there before," said the judge, as he read the
title.

"Then there are more fools than one in the world. Here is where he has
turned down a leaf. Now just read that bosh and nonsense!"

The judge took the book from her hand and read with a reminiscent
smile:

    "When cold in the earth lies the friend thou hast loved,
      Be his faults and his follies forgot by thee then;
    Or if from their slumber the veil be removed,
      Weep o'er them in silence and close it again.
    And, oh! if 't is pain to remember how far
      From the pathway of light he was tempted to roam,
    Be it bliss to remember that thou wert the star
      That arose on his darkness and guided him home."

The judge paused, with his eyes on the fire; then he said: "I think
I'll wait up for the boy to-night, Sue. I want to tell him the good
news myself. You haven't spoken of it?"

"No, indeed. I haven't seen him since breakfast. Melvy says he spends
his spare time on the river. That's what's giving him the malaria,
too, you mark my words."

It was after eleven when Sandy's step sounded on the porch. At the
judge's call he opened the sitting-room door and stood dazed by the
sudden light. The judge noticed that he was pale and dejected, and he
suppressed a smile over the imaginary troubles of youth.

"What's the matter? Are you sick?" he asked.

"No, sir."

"Come in to the fire; it's a bit chilly these nights."

Sandy dropped listlessly into a chair, with his back to the light.

"There are several things I want to talk over," continued the judge.
"One is about Ricks Wilson. He has behaved very badly ever since that
affair in August. Everybody who goes near the jail comes away with
reports of his threats against me. He seems to think I am holding his
trial over until January, when the fact is I have been trying to get
him released on your account. It is of no use, though; he will have to
wait his turn."

"I'm sorry, sir," said Sandy, without looking up.

"Then there's Carter Nelson encouraging him in his feeling against
me. It seems that Nelson wants the fellow to drive for him at the fall
trots, and he has given me no end of trouble about getting him off.
What an insolent fellow Nelson is! He talked very ugly in my office
yesterday, and made various threats about making me regret any
interference. I wouldn't have stood it from any one else; but Carter
is hardly responsible. I have watched him from the time he was born.
He came into the world with a mortal illness, and I doubt if he ever
had a well day in his life. He's a degenerate, Sandy; he's bearing the
sins of a long line of dissolute ancestors. We have to be patient with
men like that; we have to look on them as we do on the insane."

He waited for some response, but, getting none, pulled his chair in
confidential proximity and laid his hand on Sandy's knee. "However,
that's neither here nor there," he said. "I have a surprise for you. I
couldn't let you go to bed without telling you about it. It's about
your future, Sandy. I've been talking it over with Mr. Moseley, and he
is confident--"

Suddenly Sandy rose and stood by the table.

"Don't be making any more plans for me," he said desperately; "I've
made up me mind to enlist."

"Enlist! In the army?"

"Yes; I've got to get away. I must go so far that I can't come back;
and, judge--I want to go to-morrow!"

"Is it money matters?"

A long silence followed--of the kind that ripens confidence. Presently
Sandy lifted his haggard eyes: "It's nothing I'm ashamed of, judge; ye
must take me word for that. It's like taking the heart out of me body
to go, but I've made up me mind. Nothing on earth can change me
purpose; I enlist on the morrow."

The judge looked at him long and earnestly over his glasses, then he
asked in calm, judicial tones: "Is her answer final?"

Sandy started from his chair. How finite intelligence could have
discovered the innermost secret of his soul seemed little short of
miraculous. But the relief of being able to pour out his feelings
mastered all other considerations.

"Oh, sir, there was never a question. Like the angel she is, she let
me be near her so long as I held my peace; but, fool that I am, I
break me promise again and again. I can't keep silent when I see her.
The truth would burst from me lips if I was dumb."

"And you think you would be better if you were out of her sight?"

"Is a starving man better when he is away from food?" asked Sandy,
fiercely. "Heaven knows it's not of meself I'm thinking. It's breaking
her tender heart to see me misery staring her in the face, and I'll
put it out of her sight."

"Is it Ruth?" asked the judge.

Sandy assented with bowed head.

The judge got up and stood before the fire.

"Didn't you know," he began as kindly as he could put it, "that you
were not in her--that is, that she was not of your--"

Sandy lifted blazing eyes, hot with the passion of youth.

"If she'd been in heaven and I'd been in hell, I'd have stretched out
my arms to her still!"

Something in his eyes, in his voice, in his intensity, brought the
judge to his side.

"How long has this thing been going on?" he asked seriously.

"Four years!"

"Before you came here?"

"Yes."

"You followed her here?"

"Yes."

Whereupon the judge gave vent to the one profane word in his
vocabulary.

Then Sandy, having confided so far, made a clean breast of it,
breaking down at the end when he tried to describe Ruth's goodness
and the sorrow his misery had caused her.

When it was over the judge had hold of his hand and was bestowing
large, indiscriminate pats upon his head and shoulders.

"It's hard luck, Sandy; hard luck. But you must brace up, boy.
Everybody wants something in the world he can't get. We all go under,
sooner or later, with some wish ungratified. Now I've always wanted--"
he pressed his fingers on his lips for a moment, then went on--"the
one thing I've wanted was a son. It seemed to me there was nothing
else in the world would make up to me for that lack. I had money more
than enough, and health and friends; but I wanted a boy. When you came
I said to Sue: 'Let's keep him a while just to see how it would feel.'
It's been worth while, Sandy; you have done me credit. It almost
seemed as if the Lord didn't mean me to be disappointed, after all.
And to-day, when Mr. Moseley said you ought to have a year or two at
the big university, I said: 'Why not? He's just like my own. I'll send
him this year and next, and then he can come home and be a comfort to
me all the rest of my days.' That's what I was sitting up to tell you,
Sandy; but now--"

"And ye sha'n't be disappointed!" cried Sandy. "I'll go anywhere you
say, do anything you wish. Only you wouldn't be asking me to stay
here?"

"Not now, Sandy; not for a while."

"Never!--so long as she's here. I'll never bring me sorrow between her
and the sun again-so help me, Heaven! And if the Lord gives me
strength, I'll never see her face again, so long as I live!"

"Go to bed, boy; go to bed. You are tired out. We will ship you off to
the university next week."

"Can't I be going to-morrow? Friday, then? I'd never dare trust meself
over the week."

"Friday, then. But mind, no more prancing to-night; we must both go to
bed."

Neither of them did so, however. Sandy went to his room and sat in
his window, watching a tiny light that flickered, far across the
valley, in the last bend of the river before it left the town. His
muscles were tense, his nerves a-tingle, as he strained his eyes in
the darkness to keep watch of the beacon. It was the last glimpse of
home to a sailor who expected never to return.

Down in the sitting-room the judge was lost in the pages of a worn old
copy of Tom Moore. He fingered the pages with a tenderness of other
days, and lingered over the forgotten lines with a half-quizzical,
half-sad smile on his lips. For he had been a lover once, and Sandy's
romance stirred dead leaves in his heart that sent up a faint perfume
of memory.

"Yes," he mused half aloud; "I marked that one too:

    "Be it bliss to remember that thou wert the star
       That arose on his darkness and guided him home."



CHAPTER XIX

THE TRIALS OF AN ASSISTANT POSTMASTER


By all laws of mercy the post-master in a small town should be old and
mentally near-sighted. Jimmy Reed was young and curious. He had even
yielded to temptation once in removing a stamp on a letter from
Annette Fenton to a strange suitor. Not that he wanted to delay the
letter. He only wanted to know if she put tender messages under the
stamp when she wrote to other people.

During the two years Sandy remained at the university, Jimmy handed
his letters out of the post-office window to the judge once a week,
following them half-way with his body to pick up the verbal crumbs of
interest the judge might let fall while perusing them. The supremacy
which Sandy had established in the base-ball days had lent him a
permanent halo in the eyes of the younger boys of Clayton. "Letter
from Sandy this morning," Jimmy would announce, adding somewhat
anxiously, "Ain't he on the team yet?"

The judge was obliging and easy-going, and he frequently gratified
Jimmy's curiosity.

"No; he's studying pretty hard these days. He says he is through with
athletics."

"Does he like it up there?"

"Oh, yes, yes; I guess he likes it well enough," the judge would
answer tentatively; "but I am afraid he's working too hard."

"Looks like a pity to spoil such a good pitcher," said Jimmy,
thoughtfully. "I never saw him lose but one game, and that nearly
killed him."

"Disappointment goes hard with him," said the judge, and he sighed.

Jimmy's chronic interest developed into acute curiosity the second
winter--about the time the Nelsons returned to Clayton after a long
absence.

On Thanksgiving morning he found two letters bearing his hero's
handwriting. One was to Judge Hollis and one to Miss Ruth Nelson. The
next week there were also two, both of which went to Miss Nelson.
After that it became a regular occurrence.

Jimmy recognized two letters a week from one person to one person as a
danger-signal. His curiosity promptly rose to fever-heat. He even went
so far as to weigh the letters, and roughly to calculate the number of
pages in each. Once or twice he felt something hard inside, and upon
submitting the envelop to his nose, he distinguished the faint
fragrance of pressed flowers. It was perhaps a blessing in disguise
that the duty of sorting the outgoing mail did not fall to his lot.
One added bit of information would have resulted in spontaneous
combustion.

By and by letters came daily, their weight increasing until they
culminated, about Christmas-time, in a special-delivery letter which
bristled under the importance of its extra stamp.

The same morning the telegraph operator stopped in to ask if the
Nelsons had been in for their mail. "I have a message for Miss Nelson,
but I thought they started for California this morning."

"It's to-morrow morning they go," said Jimmy. "I'll send the message
out. I've got a special letter for her, and they can both go out by
the same boy."

When the operator had gone, Jimmy promptly unfolded the yellow slip,
which was innocent of envelop.

     Do not read special-delivery letter. Will explain.

     S.K.

For some time he sat with the letter in one hand and the message in
the other. Why had Sandy written that huge letter if he did not want
her to read it? Why didn't he want her to read it? Questions buzzed
about him like bees.

Large ears are said to be indicative of an inquisitive nature. Jimmy's
stood out like the handles on a loving-cup. With all this explosive
material bottled up in him, he felt like a torpedo-boat deprived of
action.

After a while he got up and went into the drug-store next door. When
he came back he made sure he was alone in the office. Then he propped
up the lid of his desk with the top of his head, in a manner acquired
at school, and hiding behind this improvised screen, he carefully took
from his pocket a small bottle of gasolene. Pouring a little on his
handkerchief, he applied it to the envelop of the special-delivery
letter.

As if by magic, the words within showed through; and by frequent
applications of the liquid the engrossed Jimmy deciphered the
following:

     --like the moan of the sea in my heart, and it will not be still.
     Heart, body, and soul will call to you, Ruth, so long as the
     breath is in my body. I have not the courage to be your friend.
     I swear, with all the strength I have left, never to see you nor
     write you again. God bless you,  my--

A noise at the window brought Jimmy to the surface. It was Annette
Fenton, and she seemed nervous and excited.

"Mercy, Jimmy! What's the m-matter? You looked like you were caught
eating doughnuts in study hour. What a funny smell! Say, Jimmy; don't
you want to do something for me?"

Jimmy had spent his entire youth in urging her to accept everything
that was his, and he hailed this as a good omen.

"I have a l-letter here for dad," she went on, fidgeting about
uneasily and watching the door. "I don't want him to g-get it until
after the last train goes to-night. Will you see that he d-doesn't get
it before nine o'clock?"

Jimmy took the letter and looked blankly from it to Annette.

"Why, it's from you!"

"What if it is, you b-booby?" she cried sharply; then she changed her
tactics and looked up appealingly through the little square window.

"Oh, Jimmy, do help me out! That's a d-dear! I'm in no end of a
scrape. You'll do as I ask, now w-w-won't you?"

Jimmy surrendered on the spot.

"Now," said Annette, greatly relieved, "find out what time the d-down
train starts, and if it's on time."

"It ought to start at three," reported Jimmy after consulting the
telegraph operator. "It's an hour late on account of the snow.
Expecting somebody?"

She shook her head.

"Going to the city yourself?"

"Of course not. Whatever made you think that?" she cried with
unnecessary vehemence. Then, changing the subject abruptly, she added:
"G-guess who has come home?"

"Who?" cried Jimmy, with palpitating ears.

"Sandy Kilday. You never saw anybody look so g-grand. He's gotten to
be a regular swell, and he walks like this."

Annette held her umbrella horizontally, squared her shoulders, and
swung bravely across the room.

"Sandy Kilday?" gasped Jimmy, with a clutch at the letter in his
pocket. "Where's he at?"

"He's trying to get up from the d-depot. He has been an hour coming
two squares. Everybody has stopped him, from Mr. Moseley on down to
the b-blacksmith's twins."

"Is he coming this way?" asked Jimmy, wild-eyed and anxious.

Annette stepped to the window.

"Yes; they are crossing the street now." She opened the sash and,
snatching a handful of snow, rolled it into a ball, which she sailed
out of the window. It was promptly answered by one from below, which
whirled past her and shattered itself against the wall.

"Dare, dare, double dare!" she called as she flung handfuls of loose
snow from the window-ledge. A quick volley of balls followed, then
the door burst open. Sandy and Ruth Nelson stood laughing on the
threshold.

"Hello, partner!" sang out Sandy to Jimmy. "Still at the old work, I
see! Do you mind how you taught me to count the change when I first
sold stamps?"

Jimmy tried to smile, but his effort was a failure. The interesting
tangle of facts and circumstances faded from his mind, and he resorted
instinctively to nature's first law. With an agitated countenance, he
sought self-preservation by waving Sandy's letter behind him in a
frantic effort to banish, if possible, the odor of his guilt.

Sandy stayed at the door with Annette, but Ruth came to the window and
asked for her mail. When she smiled at the contrite Jimmy she
scattered the few remaining ideas that lingered in his brain. With
crimson face and averted eyes, he handed her the letter, forgetting
that telegrams existed.

He saw her send a quick, puzzled glance from the letter to Sandy; he
saw her turn away from the door and tear open the envelop; then, to
his everlasting credit, he saw no more.

When he ventured forth from behind his desk the office was empty. He
made a cautious survey of the premises; then, opening a back window,
he seized a small bottle by the neck and hurled it savagely against
the brick wall opposite.



CHAPTER XX

THE IRONY OF CHANCE


The snow, which had begun as an insignificant flurry in the morning,
developed into a storm by afternoon.

Four miles from town, in a dreary stretch of country, a
dejected-looking object tramped along the railroad-track. His hat was
pulled over his eyes and his hands were thrust in his pockets. Now and
again he stopped, listened, and looked at his watch.

It was Sandy Kilday, and he was waiting for the freight-train with the
fixed intention of committing suicide.

The complications arising from Jimmy Reed's indiscretion had resulted
disastrously. When Sandy found that Ruth had read his letter, his
common sense took flight. Instead of a supplicant, he became an
invader, and stormed the citadel with such hot-headed passion and
fervor that Ruth fled in affright to the innermost chamber of her
maidenhood, and there, barred and barricaded, withstood the siege.

His one desire in life now was to quit it. He felt as if he had read
his death-warrant, and it was useless ever again to open his eyes on
this gray, impossible world.

He did not know how far he had come. Everything about him was strange
and unfriendly: the woods had turned to gaunt and gloomy skeletons
that shivered and moaned in the wind; the sunny fields of ragweed were
covered with a pall; and the river--his dancing, singing river--was a
black and sullen stream that closed remorselessly over the dying
snowflakes. His woods, his fields, his river,--they knew him not; he
stared at them blankly and they stared back at him.

A rabbit, frightened at his approach, jumped out of the bushes and
went bounding down the track ahead of him. The sight of the round
little cottontail leaping from tie to tie brought a momentary
diversion; but he did not want to be diverted.

With an effort he came back to his stern purpose. He forced himself to
face the facts and the future. What did it matter if he was only
twenty-one, with his life before him? What satisfaction was it to have
won first honors at the university? There was but one thing in the
world that made life worth living, and that was denied him. Perhaps
after he was gone she would love him.

This thought brought remarkable consolation. He pictured to himself
her remorse when she heard the tragic news. He attended in spirit his
own funeral, and even saw her tears fall upon his still face.
Meanwhile he listened impatiently for the train.

Instead of the distant rumble of the cars, he heard on the road below
the sound of a horse's hoofs, quickly followed by voices. Slipping
behind the embankment, he waited for the vehicle to pass. The horse
was evidently walking, and the voices came to him distinctly.

"I'm not a coward--any s-such thing! We oughtn't to have c-come, in
the first place. I can't go with you. Please turn round,
C-Carter,--please!"

There was no mistaking that high, childlike voice, with its faltering
speech.

Sandy's gloomy frown narrowed to a scowl. What business had Annette
out there in the storm? Where was she going with Carter Nelson?

He quickened his steps to keep within sight of the slow-moving buggy.

"There's nothing out this road but the Junction," he thought, trying
to collect his wits. "Could they be taking the train there? He goes to
California in the morning, but where's he taking Nettie to-day? And
she didn't want to be going, either; didn't I hear her say it with her
own lips?"

He moved cautiously forward, now running a few paces to keep up, now
crouching behind the bushes. Every sense was keenly alert; his eyes
never left the buggy for a moment.

When the freight thundered up the grade, he stepped mechanically to
one side, keeping a vigilant eye on the couple ahead, and begrudging
the time he lost while the train went by. It was not until an hour
later that he remembered he had forgotten to commit suicide.

Stepping back on the ties, he hurried forward. He was convinced now
that they meant to take the down train which would pass the Clayton
train at the Junction in half an hour. Something must be done to save
Annette. The thought of her in the city, at the mercy of the
irresponsible Carter, sent him running down the track. He waited until
he was slightly in advance before he descended abruptly upon them.

Annette was sitting very straight, talking excitedly, and Carter was
evidently trying to reassure her.

As Sandy plunged down the embankment, they started apart, and Carter
reached for the whip. Before he could urge the horse forward, Sandy
had swung himself lightly to the step of the buggy, and was leaning
back against the dash-board. He looked past Carter to Annette. She was
making a heroic effort to look unconcerned and indifferent, but her
eyelids were red, and her handkerchief was twisted into a damp little
string about her fingers. Sandy wasted no time in diplomacy; he struck
straight out from the shoulder.

"If it's doing something you don't want to, you don't have to, Nettie.
I'm here."

Carter stopped his horse.

"Will you get down?" he demanded angrily.

"After you," said Sandy.

Carter measured his man, then stepped to the ground. Sandy promptly
followed.

"And now," said Carter, "you'll perhaps be good enough to explain what
you mean."

Sandy still kept his hand on the buggy and his eyes on Annette; when
he spoke it was to her.

"If it's your wish to go on, say the word."

The tearful young person in the buggy looked very limp and miserable,
but declined to make any remarks.

"Miss Fenton and I expect to be married this evening," said Carter,
striving for dignity, though his breath came short with excitement.
"We take the train in twenty minutes. Your interference is not only
impudent--it's useless. I know perfectly well who sent you: it was
Judge Hollis. He was the only man we met after we left town. Just
return to him, with my compliments, and tell him I say he is a meddler
and a fool!"

"Annette," said Sandy, softly, coming toward her, "the doctor'll be
wanting his coffee by now."

"Let me pass," cried Carter, "you common hound! Take your foot off
that step or I'll--" He made a quick motion toward his hip, and Sandy
caught his hand as it closed on a pearl-handled revolver.

"None of that, man! I'll be going when I have her word. Is it good-by,
Annette? Must I be taking the word to your father that you've left him
now and for always? Yes? Then a shake of the hand for old times'
sake."

Annette slipped a cold little hand into his free one, and feeling the
solid grasp of his broad palm, she clung to it as a drowning man
clings to a spar.

"I can't go!" she cried, in a burst of tears. "I can't leave dad this
way! Make him take me b-back, Sandy! I want to go home!"

Carter stood very still and white. His thin body was trembling from
head to foot, and the veins stood out on his forehead like whip-cord.
He clenched his hands in an effort to control himself. At Annette's
words he stepped aside with elaborate courtesy.

"You are at perfect liberty to go with Mr. Kilday. All I ask is that
he will meet me as soon as we get back to town."

"I can't go b-back on the train!" cried Annette, with a glance at her
bags and boxes. "Every one would suspect something if I did. Oh, why
d-did I come?"

"My buggy is at your disposal," said Carter; "perhaps your
disinterested friend, Mr. Kilday, could be persuaded to drive you
back."

"But, Carter," cried Annette, in quick dismay, "you must come, too.
I'll bring dad r-round; I always do. Then we can be married at home,
and I can have a veil and a r-ring and presents."

She smiled at him coaxingly, but he folded his arms and scowled.

"You go with me to the city, or you go back to Clayton with him. You
have just three minutes to make up your mind."

[Illustration: "Sandy saw her waver"]

Sandy saw her waver. The first minute she looked at him, the second at
Carter. He took no chances on the third. With a quick bound, he was
in the buggy and turning the horse homeward.

"But I've decided to go with Carter!" cried Annette, hysterically.
"Turn b-back, Sandy! I've changed my mind."

"Change it again," advised Sandy as he laid the whip gently across the
horse's back.

Carter Nelson flung furiously off to catch the train for town, while
the would-be bride shed bitter tears on the shoulder of the would-be
suicide.

The snow fell faster and faster, and the gray day deepened to dusk.
For a long time they drove along in silence, both busy with their own
thoughts.

Suddenly they were lurched violently forward as the horse shied at
something in the bushes. Sandy leaned forward in time to see a figure
on all fours plunging back into the shrubbery.

"Annette," he whispered excitedly, "did you see that man's face?"

"Yes," she said, clinging to his arm; "don't leave me, Sandy!"

"What did he look like? Tell me, quick!"

"He had little eyes like shoe-buttons, and his teeth stuck out. Do you
suppose he was hiding?"

"It was Ricks Wilson, or I am a blind man!" cried Sandy, standing up
in the buggy and straining his eyes in the darkness.

"Why, he's in jail!"

"May I never trust me two eyes to speak the truth again if that wasn't
Ricks!"

When they started they found that the harness was broken, and all
efforts to fix it were in vain.

"It's half-past five now," cried Annette. "If I don't get home
b-before dad, he'll have out the fire department."

"There's a farm-house a good way back," said Sandy; "but it's too far
for you to walk. Will you be waiting here in the buggy until I go for
help?"

"Well, I guess not!" said Annette, indignantly.

Sandy looked at the round baby face beside him and laughed. "It's not
one of meself that blames you," he said; "but how are we ever to get
home?"

Annette was not without resources.

"What's the matter with riding the horse b-back to the farm?"

"And you?" asked Sandy.

"I'll ride behind."

They became hilarious over the mounting, for the horse bitterly
resented a double burden.

When he found he could not dispose of it he made a dash for freedom,
and raced over the frozen road at such a pace that they were soon at
their destination.

"He won the handicap," laughed Sandy as he lifted his disheveled
companion to the ground.

"It was glorious!" cried Annette, gathering up her flying locks. "I
lost every hair-pin but one."

At the farm-house they met with a warm reception.

"Jes step right in the kitchen," said the farmer. "Mommer'll take
care of you while I go out to the stable for some rope and another
hoss."

The kitchen was a big, cheerful room, full of homely comfort. Bright
red window-curtains were drawn against the cold white world outside,
and the fire crackled merrily in the stove.

Sandy and Annette stood, holding out their hands to the friendly
warmth. She was watching with interest the preparations for supper,
but he had grown silent and preoccupied.

The various diversions of the afternoon had acted as a temporary
narcotic, through which he struggled again and again to wretched
consciousness. A surge of contempt swept over him that he could have
forgotten for a moment. He did not want to forget; he did not want to
think of anything else.

"They smell awfully g-good," whispered Annette.

"What?"

"The hoe-cakes. I didn't have any dinner."

"Neither did I."

Annette looked up quickly. "What were you d-doing out there on the
track, Sandy?"

The farmer's wife fortunately came to the rescue.

"Hitch up yer cheers, you two, and take a little snack afore you go
out in the cold ag'in."

Annette promptly accepted, but Sandy declared that he was not hungry.
He went to the window and, pulling back the curtain, stared out into
the night. Was all the rest of life going to be like this? Was that
restless, nervous, intolerable pain going to gnaw at his heart
forever?

Meanwhile the savory odor of the hoe-cakes floated over his shoulder
and bits of the conversation broke in upon him.

"Aw, take two or three and butter 'em while they are hot. Long
sweetening or short?"

"Both," said Annette. "I never tasted anything so g-good. Sandy,
what's the matter with you? I never saw you when you weren't hungry
b-before. Look! Won't you try this s-sizzly one?"

Sandy looked and was lost. He ate with a coming appetite.

The farmer's wife served them with delighted zeal; she made trip after
trip from the stove to the table, pausing frequently to admire her
guests.

"I've had six," said Annette; "do you suppose I'll have time for
another one?"

"Lemme give you _both_ a clean plate and some pie," suggested the
eager housewife.

Sandy looked at her and smiled.

"I'll take the clean plate," he said, "and--and more hoe-cakes."

When the farmer returned, and they rode back to the buggy, Annette
developed a sudden fever of impatience. She fidgeted about while the
men patched up the harness, and delayed their progress by her fire of
questions.

After they started, Sandy leaned back in the buggy, lost in the fog
of his unhappiness. Off in the distance he could see the twinkling
lights of Clayton. One was apart from the rest; that was Willowvale.

A sob aroused him. Annette, left to herself, had collapsed. He
patiently put forth a fatherly hand and patted her shoulder.

"There, there, Nettie! You'll be all right in the morning."

"I won't!" she declared petulantly. "You don't know anything ab-b-bout
being in love."

Sandy surveyed her with tolerant sadness. Little her childish heart
knew of the depths through which he was passing.

"Do you love him very much?" he asked.

She nodded violently. "Better than any b-boy I was ever engaged to."

"He's not worth it."

"He is!"

A strained silence, then he said:

"Nettie, could you be forgiving me if I told you the Lord's truth?"

"Don't you suppose dad's kept me p-posted about his faults? Why, he
would walk a mile to find out something b-bad about Carter Nelson."

"He wouldn't have to. Nelson's a bad lot, Nettie. It isn't all his
fault; it's the price he pays for his blue blood. Your father's the
wise man to try to keep you from being his wife."

"Everyb-body's down on him," she sobbed, "just because he has to
d-drink sometimes on account of his lungs. I didn't know you were so
mean."

"Will you pass the word not to see him again before he leaves in the
morning?"

"Indeed, I won't!"

Sandy stopped the horse. "Then I'll wait till you do."

She tried to take the lines, but he held her hands. Then she declared
she would walk. He helped her out of the buggy and watched her start
angrily forth. In a few minutes she came rushing back.

"Sandy, you know I can't g-go by myself; I am afraid. Take me home."

"And you promise?"

She looked appealingly at him, but found no mercy. "You are the very
m-meanest boy I ever knew. Get me home before d-dad finds out, and
I'll promise anything. But this is the last word I'll ever s-speak to
you as long as I live."

At half-past seven they drove into town. The streets were full of
people and great excitement prevailed.

"They've found out about me!" wailed Annette, breaking her long
silence. "Oh, Sandy, what m-must I do?"

Sandy looked anxiously about him. He knew that an elopement would not
cause the present commotion. "Jimmy!" He leaned out of the buggy and
called to a boy who was running past. "Jimmy Reed! What's the matter?"

Jimmy, breathless and hatless, his whole figure one huge
question-mark, exploded like a bunch of fire-crackers.

"That you, Sandy? Ricks Wilson's broke jail and shot Judge Hollis. It
was at half-past five. Dr. Fenton's been out there ever since. They
say the judge can't live till midnight. We're getting up a crowd to go
after Wilson."

At the first words Sandy had sprung to his feet. "The judge shot!
Ricks Wilson! I'll kill him for that. Get out, Annette. I must go to
the judge. I'll be out to the farm in no time and back in less. Don't
you be letting them start without me, Jimmy."

Whipping the already jaded horse to a run, he dashed through the
crowded streets, over the bridge, and out the turnpike.

Ruth stood at one of the windows at Willowvale, peering anxiously out
into the darkness. Her figure showed distinctly against the light of
the room behind her, but Sandy did not see her.

His soul was in a wild riot of grief and revenge. Two thoughts tore at
his brain: one was to see the judge before he died, and the other was
to capture Ricks Wilson.



CHAPTER XXI

IN THE DARK


An ominous stillness hung over Hollis farm as Sandy ran up the avenue.
The night was dark, but the fallen snow gave a half-mysterious light
to the quiet scene.

He stepped on the porch with a sinking heart. In the dimly lighted
hall Mr. Moseley and Mr. Meech kept silent watch, their faces grave
with apprehension. Without stopping to speak to them, Sandy hurried to
the door of the judge's room. Before he could turn the knob, Dr.
Fenton opened it softly and, putting his finger on his lips, came out,
cautiously closing the door behind him.

"You can't go in," he whispered; "the slightest excitement might
finish him. He's got one chance in a hundred, boy; we've got to nurse
it."

"Does he know?"

"Never has known a thing since the bullet hit him. He was coming into
the sitting-room when Wilson fired through the window."

"The black-hearted murderer!" cried Sandy. "I could swear I saw him
hiding in the bushes between here and the Junction."

The doctor threw a side glance at Mr. Meech, then said significantly:

"Have they started?"

"Not yet. If there's nothing I can do for the judge, I'm going with
them."

"That's right. I'd go, too, if I were not needed here. Wait a minute,
Sandy." His face looked old and worn. "Have you happened to see my
Nettie since noon?"

"That I have, doctor. She was driving with me, and the harness broke.
She's home now."

"Thank God!" cried the doctor. "I thought it was Nelson."

Sandy passed through the dining-room and was starting up the steps
when he heard his name spoken.

"Mist' Sandy! 'Fore de Lawd, where you been at? Oh, we been habin' de
terriblest times! My pore old mas'r done been shot down wifout bein'
notified or nuthin'. Pray de Lawd he won't die! I knowed somepin' was
gwine happen. I had a division jes 'fore daybreak; dey ain't no luck
worser den to dream 'bout a tooth fallin' out. Oh, Lordy! Lordy! I
hope he ain't gwine die!"

"Hush, Aunt Melvy! Where's Mrs. Hollis?"

"She's out in de kitchen, heatin' water an' waitin' on de doctor. She
won't let me do nuthin'. Seems lak workin' sorter lets off her
feelin's. Pore Miss Sue!" She threw her apron over her head and swayed
and sobbed.

As Sandy tried to pass, she stopped him again, and after looking
furtively around she fumbled in her pocket for something which she
thrust into his hand.

"Hit's de pistol!" she whispered. "I's skeered to give it to nobody
else, 'ca'se I's skeered dey'd try me for a witness. He done drap it
'longside de kitchen door. You won't let on I found it, honey? You
won't tell nobody?"

He reassured her, and hastened to his room. Lighting his lamp, he
hurriedly changed his coat for a heavier, and was starting in hot
haste for the door when his eyes fell upon the pistol, which he had
laid on the table.

It was a fine, pearl-handled revolver, thirty-eight caliber. He looked
at it closer, then stared blankly at the floor. He had seen it before
that afternoon.

"Why, Carter must have given Ricks the pistol," he thought. "But
Carter was out at the Junction. What time did it happen?"

He sat on the side of the bed and, pressing his hands to his temples,
tried to force the events to take their proper sequence.

"I don't know when I left town," he thought, with a shudder; "it must
have been nearly four when I met Carter and Annette. He took the train
back. Yes, he would have had time to help Ricks. But I saw Ricks out
the turnpike. It was half-past five, I remember now. The doctor said
the judge was shot at a quarter of six."

A startled look of comprehension flashed over his face. He sprang to
his feet and tramped up and down the small room.

"I know I saw Ricks," he thought, his brain seething with excitement.
"Annette saw him, too; she described him. He couldn't have even driven
back in that time."

He stopped again and stood staring intently before him. Then he took
the lamp and slipped down the back stairs and out the side door.

The snow was trampled about the window and for some space beyond it.
The tracks had been followed to the river, the eager searchers keeping
well away from the tell-tale footsteps in order not to obliterate
them. Sandy knelt in the snow and held his lamp close to the single
trail. The print was narrow and long and ended in a tapering toe.
Ricks's broad foot would have covered half the space again. He jumped
to his feet and started for the house, then turned back irresolute.

When he entered his little room again the slender footprints had been
effaced. He put the lamp on the bureau, and looked vacantly about him.
On the cushion was pinned a note. He recognized Ruth's writing, and
opened it mechanically.

There were only three lines:

     I must see you again before I leave. Be sure to come to-night.

The words scarcely carried a meaning to him. It was her brother that
had shot the judge--the brother whom she had defended and protected
all her life. It would kill her when she knew. And he, Sandy Kilday,
was the only one who suspected the truth. A momentary temptation
seized him to hold his peace; if Ricks were caught, it would be time
enough to tell what he knew; if he escaped, one more stain on his name
might not matter.

But Carter, the coward, where was he? It was his place to speak. Would
he let Ricks bear his guilt and suffer the blame? Such burning rage
against him rose in Sandy that he paced the room in fury.

Then he re-read Ruth's note and again he hesitated. What a heaven of
promise it opened to him! Ruth was probably waiting for him now.
Everything might be different when he saw her again.

All his life he had followed the current; the easy way was his way,
and he came back to it again and again. His thoughts shifted and
formed and shifted again like the bits of color in a kaleidoscope.

Presently his restless eyes fell on an old chromo hanging over the
mantel. It represented the death-bed of Washington. The dying figure
on the bed recalled that other figure down-stairs. In an instant all
the floating forms in his brain assumed one shape and held it.

The judge must be his first consideration. He had been shot down
without cause, and might pay his life for it. There was but one thing
to do: to find the real culprit, give him up, and take the
consequences.

Slipping the note in one pocket and the revolver in another, he
hurried down-stairs.

On the lowest step he found Mrs. Hollis sitting in the dark. Her hands
were locked around her knees, and hard, dry sobs shook her body.

In an instant he was down beside her, his arms about her. "He isn't
dead?" he whispered fearfully.

Mrs. Hollis shook her head. "He hasn't moved an inch or spoken since
we put him on the bed. Are you going with the men?"

"I'm going to town now," said Sandy, evasively.

She rose and caught him by the arm. Her eyes were fierce with
vindictiveness.

"Don't let them stop till they've caught him, Sandy. I hope they will
hang him to-night!"

A movement in the sick-room called her within, and Sandy hurried out
to the buggy, which was still standing at the gate.

He lighted the lantern and, throwing the robe across his knees,
started for town. The intense emotional strain under which he had
labored since noon, together with fatigue, was beginning to play
tricks with his nerves. Twice he pulled in his horse, thinking he
heard voices in the wood. The third time he stopped and got out. At
infrequent intervals a groan broke the stillness.

He climbed the snake-fence and beat about among the bushes. The groan
came again, and he followed the sound.

At the foot of a tall beech-tree a body was lying face downward. He
held his lantern above his head and bent over it. It was a man, and,
as he tried to turn him over, he saw a slight red stain on the snow
beneath his mouth. The figure, thus roused, stirred and tried to sit
up. As he did so, the light from Sandy's lantern fell full on the
dazed and swollen face of Carter Nelson. The two faced each other for
a space, then Sandy asked him sharply what he did there.

"I don't know," said Carter, weakly, sinking back against the tree.
"I'm sick. Get me some whisky."

"Wake up!" said Sandy, shaking him roughly. "This is Kilday--Sandy
Kilday."

Carter's eyes were still closed, but his lip curled contemptuously.
"_Mr._ Kilday," he said, and smiled scornfully. "The least said about
_Mr._ Kilday the better."

Sandy laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Nelson, listen! Do you remember going out to the Junction with
Annette Fenton?"

"That's nobody's business but mine. I'll shoot the--"

"Do you remember coming home on the train?"

Carter's stupid, heavy eyes were on Sandy now, and he was evidently
trying to understand what he was saying. "Home on the train? Yes; I
came home on train."

"And afterward?" demanded Sandy, kneeling before him and looking
intently in his eyes.

"Gus Heyser's saloon, and then--"

"And then?" repeated Sandy.

Carter shook his head and looked about him bewildered.

"Where am I now I What did you bring me here for?"

"Look me straight, Nelson," said Sandy. "Don't you move your eyes. You
left Gus Heyser's and came out the pike to the Hollis farm, didn't
you?"

"Hollis farm?" Carter repeated vaguely. "No; I didn't go there."

"You went up to the window and waited. Don't you remember the snow on
the ground and the light inside the window?"

Carter seemed struggling to remember, but his usually sensitive face
was vacant and perplexed.

Sandy moved nearer. "You waited there by the window," he went on with
subdued excitement, for the hope was high in his heart that Carter
was innocent. "You waited ever so long, until a pistol was fired--"

"Yes," broke in Carter, his lips apart; "a pistol-shot close to my
head! It woke me up. I ran before they could shoot me again. Where was
it--Gus Heyser's? What am I doing here?"

For answer Sandy pulled Carter's revolver from his pocket. "Did you
have that this afternoon?"

"Yes," said Carter, a troubled look coming into his eyes. "Where did
you get it, Kilday?"

"It was found outside Judge Hollis's window after he had been shot."

"Judge Hollis shot! Who did it?"

Sandy again looked at the pistol.

"My God, man!" cried Carter; "you don't mean that I--" He cowered back
against the tree and shook from head to foot. "Kilday!" he cried
presently, seizing Sandy by the wrist with his long, delicate hands,
"does any one else know?"

Sandy shook his head.

"Then I must get away; you must help me. I didn't know what I was
doing. I don't know now what I have done. Is he--"

"He's not dead yet."

Carter struggled to his feet, but a terrible attack of coughing seized
him, and he sank back exhausted. The handkerchief which he held to his
mouth was red with blood.

Sandy stretched him out on the snow, where he lay for a while with
closed eyes. He was very white, and his lips twitched convulsively.

A vehicle passed out the road, and Sandy started up. He must take some
decisive step at once. The men were probably waiting in the square for
him now. He must stop them at any cost.

Carter opened his eyes, and the terror returned to them.

"Don't give me up, Kilday!" he cried, trying to rise. "I'll pay you
anything you ask. It was the drink. I didn't know what I was doing.
For the Lord's sake, don't give me up! I haven't long to live at
best. I can't disgrace the family. I--I am the last of the line--last
Nelson--" His voice was high and uncontrolled, and his eyes were
glassy and fixed.

Sandy stood before him in an agony of indecision. He had fought it out
with himself there in his bedroom, and all personal considerations
were swept from his mind. All he wanted now was to do right. But what
was right? He groped blindly about in the darkness of his soul, and no
guiding light showed him the way.

With a groan, he knotted his fingers together and prayed the first
real prayer his heart had ever uttered. It was wordless and formless,
just an inarticulate cry for help in the hour of need.

The answer came when he looked again at Carter. Something in the
frenzied face brought a sudden recollection to his mind.

"We can't judge him by usual standards; he's bearing the sins of his
fathers. We have to look on men like that as we do on the insane."
They were the judge's own words.

Sandy jumped to his feet, and, helping and half supporting Carter,
persuaded him to go out to the buggy, promising that he would not give
him up.

At the Willowvale gate he led the horse into the avenue, then turned
and ran at full speed into town. As he came into the square he found
only a few groups shivering about the court-house steps, discussing
the events of the day.

"Where's the crowd?" he cried breathless. "Aren't they going to start
from here?"

An old negro pulled off his cap and grinned.

"Dey been gone purty near an hour, Mist' Sandy. I 'spec' dey's got dat
low-down rascal hanged by now."



CHAPTER XXII

AT WILLOWVALE


There was an early tea at Willowvale that evening, and Ruth sat at the
big round table alone. Mrs. Nelson always went to bed when the time
came for packing, and Carter was late, as usual.

Ruth was glad to be alone. She had passed through too much to be able
to banish all trace of the storm. But though her eyes were red from
recent tears, they were bright with anticipation. Sandy was coming
back. That fact seemed to make everything right.

She leaned her chin on her palm and tried to still the beating of her
heart. She knew he would come. Irresponsible, hot-headed, impulsive
as he was, he had never failed her. She glanced impatiently at the
clock.

"Miss Rufe, was you ever in love?" It was black Rachel who broke in
upon her thoughts. She was standing at the foot of the table, her
round, good-humored face comically serious.

"No-yes. Why, Rachel?" stammered Ruth.

"I was just axin'," said Rachel, "'cause if you been in love, you'd
know how to read a love-letter, wouldn't you, Miss Rufe?"

Ruth smiled and nodded.

"I got one from my beau," went on Rachel, in great embarrassment; "but
dat nigger knows I can't read."

"Where does he live?" asked Ruth.

"Up in Injianapolis. He drives de hearse."

Ruth suppressed a smile. "I'll read the love-letter for you," she
said.

Rachel sat down on the floor and began taking down her hair. It was
divided into many tight braids, each of which was wrapped with a bit
of shoe-string. From under the last one she took a small envelope and
handed it to Ruth.

"Dat's it," she said. "I was so skeered I'd lose it I didn't trust it
no place 'cept in my head."

Ruth unfolded the note and read:

     "DEAR RACHEL: I mean biznis if you mean biznis send me fore
     dollars to git a devorce.

     "_George_."

Rachel sat on the floor, with her hair standing out wildly and anxiety
deepening on her face.

"I ain't got but three dollars," she said.

"I was gwine to buy my weddin' dress wif dat."

"But, Rachel," protested Ruth, in laughing remonstrance, "he has one
wife."

"Yes,'m. Pete Lawson ain't got no wife; but he ain't got but one arm,
neither. Whicht one would you take, Miss Rufe?"

"Pete," declared Ruth. "He's a good boy, what there is of him."

"Well, I guess I better notify him to-night," sighed Rachel; but she
held the love-letter on her knee and regretfully smoothed its crumpled
edges.

Ruth pushed back her chair from the table and crossed the wide hall to
the library.

It was a large room, with heavy wainscoting, above which simpered or
frowned a long row of her ancestors.

She stepped before the one nearest her and looked at it long and
earnestly. The face carried no memory with it, though it was her
father. It was the portrait of a handsome man in uniform, in the full
bloom of a dissipated youth. Her mother had seldom spoken of him, and
when she did her eyes filled with tears.

A few feet farther away hung a portrait of her grandfather, brave in a
high stock and ruffled shirt, the whole light of a bibulous past
radiating from the crimson tip of his incriminating nose.

Next him hung Aunt Elizabeth, supercilious, arrogant, haughty. Ruth
recalled a tragic day of her past when she was sent to bed for
climbing upon the piano and pasting a stamp on the red-painted lips.

She glanced down the long line: velvets, satins, jewels, and uniforms,
and, above them all, the same narrow face, high-arched nose, brilliant
dark eyes, and small, weak mouth.

On the table was a photograph of Carter. Ruth sighed as she passed it.
It was a composite of all the grace, beauty, and weakness of the
surrounding portraits.

She went to the fire and, sitting down on an ottoman, took two
pictures from the folds of her dress. One was a miniature in a small
old-fashioned locket. It was a grave, sweet, motherly face, singularly
pure and childlike in its innocence. Ruth touched it with reverent
fingers.

"They say I am like her," she whispered to herself.

Then she turned to the other picture in her lap. It was a cheap
photograph with an ornate border. Posed stiffly in a photographer's
chair, against a background which represented a frightful storm at
sea, sat Sandy Kilday. His feet were sadly out of focus, and his head
was held at an impossible angle by the iron rest which stood like a
half-concealed skeleton behind him. He wore cheap store-clothes, and a
turn-down collar which rested upon a ready-made tie of enormous
proportions. It was a picture he had had taken in his first new
clothes soon after coming to Clayton. Ruth had found it in an old book
of Annette's.

How crude and ludicrous the awkward boy looked beside the elegant
figures on the walls about her! She leaned nearer the fire to get the
light on the face, then she smiled with a sudden rush of tenderness.

The photographer had done his worst for the figure, but even an
unskilled hand and a poor camera had not wholly obliterated the
fineness of the face. Spirit, honor, and strength were all there. The
eyes that met hers were as fine and fearless as her own, and the
honest smile that hovered on his lips seemed to be in frank amusement
at his own sorry self.

Ruth turned to see that the door was closed, then she put the picture
to her cheek, which was crimson in the firelight, and with hesitating
shyness gradually drew it to her lips and held it there.

A noise of wheels in the avenue brought her to her feet with a little
start of joy. He had come, and she was possessed of a sudden desire to
run away. But she waited, with glad little tremors thrilling her and
her heart beating high. She was sure she heard wheels. She went to the
window, and, shading her eyes, looked out. A buggy was standing at the
gate, but no one got out.

A sudden apprehension seized her, and she hurried into the hail and
opened the front door.

"Carter," she called softly out into the night--"Carter, is it you?"

There was no answer, and she came back into the hall and closed the
door. On each side of the door was a panel of leaded glass, and she
pressed her face to one of the little square panes, and peered
anxiously out. The light from the newel-post behind her emphasized the
darkness, so that she could distinguish only the dim outline of the
buggy.

Twice she touched the knob before she turned it again; then she
resolutely gathered her long white dress in her hand, and passed down
the broad stone steps. The wind blew sharply against her, and the
pavement was cold to her slippered feet.

"Carter," she called again and again--"Carter, is it you?"

At the gate her scant supply of courage failed. Some one was in the
buggy, half lying, half sitting, with his face turned from her. She
looked back to the light in the cabin, where the servants would hear
if she called. Then the thought of any one else seeing Carter as she
had seen him before drove the fear back, and she resolutely opened the
gate and went forward.

At her first touch Carter started up wildly and pushed her from him.
"You said you wouldn't give me up; you promised," he said.

"I know it, Carter. I'll help you, dear. Don't be so afraid! Nobody
shall see you. Put your arm on my shoulder--there! Step down a little
farther!"

With all her slight strength she supported and helped him, the keen
wind blowing her long, thin dress about them both, and the lace
falling back from her arms, leaving them bare to the elbow.

Half-way up the walk he broke away from her and cried out: "I'll have
to go away. It's dangerous for me to stay here an hour."

"Yes, Carter dear, I know. The doctor says it's the climate. We are
going early in the morning. Everything's packed. See how cold I am
getting out here! You'll come in with me now, won't you?"

Coaxing and helping him, she at last succeeded in getting him to bed.
The blood on his handkerchief told its own story.

She straightened the room, drew a screen between him and the fire,
and then went to the bed, where he had already fallen into a deep
sleep. Sinking on her knees beside him, she broke into heavy, silent
sobs. The one grief of her girlhood had been the waywardness of her
only brother. From childhood she had stood between him and blame,
shielding him, helping him, loving him. She had fought valiantly
against his weakness, but her meager strength had been pitted against
the accumulated intemperance of generations.

She chafed his thin wrists, which her fingers could span; she tenderly
smoothed his face as it lay gray against the pillows; then she caught
up his hand and held it to her breast with a quick, motherly gesture.

"Take him soon, God!" she prayed. "He is too weak to try any more."

At midnight she slipped away to her own room and took off the dainty
gown she had put on for Sandy's coming.

For long hours she lay in her great canopied bed with wide-open eyes.
The night was a noisy one, for there was a continual passing on the
road, and occasional shouts came faintly to her.

With heavy heart she lay listening for some sound from Carter's room.
She was glad he was home. It was worse to sit up in bed and listen for
the wheels to turn in at the gate, to start at every sound on the
road, and to wait and wait through the long night. She could scarcely
remember the time when she had not waited for Carter at night.

Once, long ago, she had confided her secret to one of her uncles, and
he had laughed and told her that boys would be boys. After that she
had kept things to herself.

There was but one other person in the world to whom she had spoken,
and that was Sandy Kilday. As she looked back it seemed to her there
was nothing she had withheld from Sandy Kilday. Nothing? Sandy's face,
as she had last seen it, despairing, reckless, hopeless, rose before
her. But she had asked him to come back, she was ready to surrender,
she could make him understand if she could only see him.

Why had he not come? The question multiplied itself into numerous
forms and hedged her in. Was he too angry to forgive her? Had her
seeming indifference at last killed his love? Why had he not sent her
a note or a message? He knew that she was to leave on the early train,
that there would be no chance to speak with her alone in the morning.

A faint streak of misty light shone through the window. She watched it
deepen to rose.

By and by Rachel came in to make the fire. She tiptoed to the bed and
peeped through the curtains.

"You 'wake, Miss Rufe? Dey's been terrible goings on in town last
night! Didn't you hear de posse goin' by?"

"What was it? What's the matter?" cried Ruth, sitting up in bed.

"Dat jail-bird Wilson done shot Jedge Hollis. 'Mos' ebery man in town
went out to ketch him. Dey been gone all night."

"Sandy went with them," thought Ruth, in sudden relief; then she
thought of the judge.

"Oh, Rachel, is he dangerously hurt? Will he die?"

"De las' accounts was mighty bad. Dey say de big doctors is a-comin'
up from de city to prode fer de bullet."

"What made him shoot him? How could he be so cruel, when the dear old
judge is so good and kind to everybody?"

"Jes pore white trash, dat Wilson," said Rachel, contemptuously, as
she coaxed the kindling into a blaze.

Ruth got up and dressed. Beneath the deep concern which she felt was
the flutter of returning hope. Sandy's first duty was to his
benefactor. She knew how he loved the old judge and with what prompt
action he would avenge his wrong. She could trust him to follow honor
every time.

"Some ob 'em 's comin' back now!" cried Rachel from the window. "I's
gwine down to de road an' ax 'em if dey ketched him."

"Rachel, wait! I'm coming, too. Give me my traveling-coat--there on
the trunk. What can I put on my head? My hat is in auntie's room."

Rachel, rummaging in the closet, brought forth an old white
tam-o'-shanter. "That will do!" cried Ruth. "Now, don't make any
noise, but come."

They tiptoed through the house and out into the early morning. It was
still half dark, and the big-eyed poplars watched them suspiciously as
they hurried down to the road. Every branch and twig was covered with
ice, and the snow crackled under their feet.

"I 'spec' it's gwine be summer-time where you gwine at, Miss Rufe,"
said Rachel.

"I don't care," cried Ruth. "I don't want to be anywhere in the world
except right here."

"Dey're comin'," announced Rachel. "I hear de hosses."

Ruth leaned across the top bar of the gate, her figure enveloped in
her long coat, and her white tam a bright spot in the half-light.

On came the riders, three abreast.

"Dat's him in de middle," whispered Rachel, excitedly; "next to de
sheriff. I's s'prised dey didn't swing him up--I shorely is. He's
hangin' down his head lak he's mighty 'shamed."

Ruth bent forward to get a glimpse of the prisoner's face, and as she
did so he lifted his head.

It was Sandy Kilday, his clothes disheveled, his brows lowered, and
his lips compressed info a straight, determined line.

Ruth's startled gaze swept over the riders, then came back to him. She
did not know what was the matter; she only knew that he was in
trouble, and that she was siding with him against the rest. In the one
moment their eyes met she sent him her full assurance of compassion
and sympathy. It was the same message a little girl had sent years
ago over a ship's railing to a wretched stowaway on the deck below.

The men rode on, and she stood holding to the gate and looking after
them.

"Here comes Mr. Sid Gray," said Rachel. The approaching rider drew
rein when he saw Ruth and dismounted.

"Tell me what's happened!" she cried.

He hitched his horse and opened the gate. He, too, showed signs of a
hard night.

"May I come in a moment to the fire?" he asked.

She led the way to the dining-room and ordered coffee.

"Now tell me," she demanded breathlessly.

"It's a mixed-up business," said Gray, holding his numb hands to the
blaze. "We left here early in the night and worked on a wrong trail
till midnight. Then a train-man out at the Junction gave us a clue,
and we got a couple of bloodhounds and traced Wilson as far as
Ellersberg."

"Go on!" said Ruth, shuddering.

"You see, a rumor got out that the judge had died. We didn't say
anything before the sheriff, but it was understood that Ricks wouldn't
be brought back to town alive. We located him in an old barn. We
surrounded it, and were just about to fire it when Kilday came tearing
up on horseback."

"Yes?" cried Ruth.

"Well," he went on, "he hadn't started with us, and he had been riding
like mad all night to overtake the crowd. His horse dropped under him
before he could dismount. Kilday jumped out in the crowd and began to
talk like a crazy man. He said we mustn't harm Ricks Wilson; that
Ricks hadn't shot the judge, for he was sure he had seen him out the
Junction road about half-past five. We all saw it was a put-up job; he
was Ricks Wilson's old pal, you know."

"But Sandy Kilday wouldn't lie!" cried Ruth.

"Well, that's what he did, and worse. When we tried to close in on
Wilson, Kilday fought like a tiger. You never saw anything like the
mix-up, and in the general skirmish Wilson escaped."

"And--and Sandy?" Ruth was leaning forward, with her hands clasped and
her lips apart.

"Well, he showed what he was, all right. He took sides with that
good-for-nothing scoundrel who had shot a man that was almost his
father. Why, I never saw such a case of ingratitude in my life!"

"Where are they taking him?" she almost whispered.

"To jail for resisting an officer."

"Miss Rufe, de man's come fer de trunks. Is dey ready?" asked Rachel
from the hall.

Ruth rose and put her hand on the back of the chair to steady herself.

"Yes; yes, they are ready," she said with an effort. "And, Rachel,
tell the man to go as quietly as possible. Mr. Carter must not be
disturbed until it is time to start."



CHAPTER XXIII

"THE SHADOW ON THE HEART"


Just off Main street, under the left wing of the court-house, lay the
little county jail. It frowned down from behind its fierce mask of
bars and spikes, and boldly tried to make the town forget the number
of prisoners that had escaped its walls.

In a small front cell, beside a narrow grated window, Ricks Wilson had
sat and successfully planned his way to freedom.

The prisoner who now occupied the cell spent no time on thoughts of
escape. He paced restlessly up and down the narrow chamber, or lay on
the cot, with his hands under his head, and stared at the grimy
ceiling. The one question which he continually put to the jailer was
concerning the latest news of Judge Hollis.

Sandy had been given an examining trial on the charge of resisting an
officer and assisting a prisoner to escape. Refusing to tell what he
knew, and no bail being offered, he was held to answer to the grand
jury. For two weeks he had seen the light of day only through the
deep, narrow opening of one small window.

At first he had had visitors--indignant, excited visitors who came in
hotly to remonstrate, to threaten, to abuse. Dr. Fenton had charged in
upon him with a whole battery of reproaches. In stentorian tones he
rehearsed the judge's kindness in befriending him, he pointed out his
generosity, and laid stress on Sandy's heinous ingratitude. Mr.
Moseley had arrived with arguments and reasons and platitudes, all
expressed in a polysyllabic monotone. Mr. Meech had come many times
with prayers and petitions and gentle rebuke.

To them all Sandy gave patient, silent audience, wincing under the
blame, but making no effort to defend himself. All he would say was
that Ricks Wilson had not done the shooting, and that he could say no
more.

A wave of indignation swept the town. Almost the only friend who was
not turned foe was Aunt Melvy. Her large philosophy of life held that
all human beings were "chillun," and "chillun was bound to act bad
sometimes." She left others to struggle with Sandy's moral welfare and
devoted herself to his physical comfort.

With a clear conscience she carried to her home flour, sugar, and lard
from the Hollises' store-room, and sat up nights in her little cabin
at "Who'd 'a' Thought It" to bake dumplings, rolls, and pies for her
"po' white chile."

Sandy felt some misgivings about the delicacies which she brought, and
one day asked her where she made them.

"I makes 'em out home," she declared stoutly. "I wouldn't cook nuffin'
fer you on Miss Sue's stove while she's talkin' 'bout you lak she is.
She 'lows she don't never want to set eyes on you ag'in as long as she
lives."

"Has the judge asked for me?" said Sandy.

"Yas, sir; but de doctor he up and lied. He tol' him you'd went back
to de umerversity. De doctor 'lowed ef he tole him de trufe it might
throw him into a political stroke."

Sandy leaned his head on his hand. "You're the only one that's stood
by me, Aunt Melvy; the rest of them think me a bad lot."

"Dat's right," assented Aunt Melvy, cheerfully. "You jes orter hear de
way dey slanders you! I don't 'spec' you got a friend in town 'ceptin'
me." Then, as if reminded of something, she produced a card covered
with black dots. "Honey, I's gittin' up a little collection fer de
church. You gib me a nickel and I punch a pin th'u' one ob dem dots to
sorter certify it."

"Have you got religion yet?" he asked as he handed her some small
change.

Her expression changed, and her eyes fell. "Not yit," she acknowledged
reluctantly; "but I's countin' on comin' th'u' before long. I's done
j'ined de Juba Choir and de White Doves."

"The White Doves?" repeated Sandy.

"Yas, sir; de White Doves ob Perfection. We wears purple calicoes and
sets up wid de sick."

"Have you seen Miss Annette?"

"Lor', honey! ain't I tol' you 'bout dat? De very night de jedge was
shot, dat chile wrote her paw de sassiest letter, sayin' she gwine run
off and git married wif dat sick boy, Carter Nelson. De doctor headed
'em off some ways, and de very nex' day what you think he done? He put
dat gal in a Cafolic nunnery convent! Dey say she cut up scan'lous at
fust, den she sorter quiet down, an' 'gin to count her necklace, an'
make signs on de waist ob her dress, an' say she lak it so much she
gwine be a Cafolic nunnery sister herself. Now de doctor's jes
tearin' his shirt to git her out, he's so skeered she'll do what she
says."

Sandy laughed in spite of himself, and Aunt Melvy wagged her head
knowingly.

"He needn't pester hisseif 'bout dat. Now Mr. Carter's 'bout to die,
an' you's shut up in jail, she's done turnin' her 'tention on Mr. Sid
Gray. Dey ain't no blinds in de world big enough to keep dat gal from
shinin' her eyes at de boys!"

"Is Carter about to die?" Sandy had become suddenly grave.

"Yas, sir; so dey say. He's got somepin' that sounds lak tuberoses.
Him and Mrs. Nelson and Miss Rufe never did git to Californy. Dey
stopped off in Mobile or Injiany, I can't ricollec' which. He took de
fever de day dey lef', an' he ain't knowed nothin' since."

After Aunt Melvy left, Sandy went to the window and leaned against the
bars. Below him flowed the life of the little town, the men going home
from work, the girls chattering and laughing through the dusk on
their way from the post-office. Every figure that passed, black or
white, was familiar to him. Jimmy Reed's little Skye terrier dashed
down the street, and a whistle sprang to his lips.

How he loved every living creature in the place! For five years he had
been one of them, sharing their interests, part and parcel of the life
of the community. Now he was an outcast, an alien, as much a stranger
to friendly faces as the lad who had knelt long ago at the window of a
great tenement and had been afraid to be alone.

"I'll have to go away," he thought wistfully. "They'll not be wanting
me here after this."

It grew darker and darker in the gloomy room. The mournful voice of a
negro singing in the next cell came to him faintly:

    "We'll hunt no moah fo' de possum and de coon,
      On de medder, de hill, an' de shoah.
    We'll sing no moah by de glimmer ob de moon,
      On de bench by de old cabin doah.

    "De days go by like de shadow on do heart,
      Wid sorrer, wha' all wuz so bright;
    De time am come when do darkies hab to part--
      Den, my ole Kaintucky home, good night."

Sandy's arm was against the grating and his head was bowed upon it.
Through all the hours of trial one image had sustained him. It was of
Ruth, as he had seen her last, leaning toward him out of the
half-light, her brown hair blowing from under her white cap and her
great eyes full of wondering compassion.

But to-night the darkness obscured even that image. The judge's life
still hung in the balance, and the man who had shot him lay in a
distant city, unconscious, waiting for death. Sandy felt that by his
sacrifice he had put the final barrier between himself and Ruth.

With a childish gesture of despair, he flung out his arms and burst
into a passion of tears. The intense emotional impulse of his race
swept him along like a feather in a gale. His grief, like his joy,
was elemental.

When the lull came at last, he pressed his hot head against the cold
iron grating, and his thoughts returned again and again to Ruth. He
thought of her tender ministries in the sick room, of her intense love
and loyalty for her brother. His whole soul rose up to bless her, and
the thought of what she had been spared brought him peace.

Through days of struggle and nights of pain he fought back all
thoughts of the future and of self.

These times were ever afterward a twilight-place in his soul, hallowed
and sanctified by the great revelation they brought him, blending the
blackness of despair with the white light of perfect love. Here his
thoughts would often turn even in the stress and strain of the daily
life, as a devotee stops on his busy round and steps within the dim
cathedral to gain strength and inspiration on his way.

The next time Aunt Melvy came he asked for some of his law-books, and
from that on there was no more idling or dreaming.

Among the volumes she brought was the old note-book in which the judge
had made him jot down suggestions during those long evening readings
in the past. It was full of homely advice, the result of forty years'
experience, and Sandy found comfort in following it to the letter.

For the first time in his life he learned the power of concentration.
Seven hours' study a day, without diversion or interruption, brought
splendid results. He knew the outline of the course at the university,
and he forged ahead with feverish energy.

Meanwhile the judge's condition was slowly improving.

One afternoon Sandy sat at his table, deep in his work. He heard the
key turn in its lock and the door open, but he did not look up.
Suddenly he was aware of the soft rustle of skirts, and, lifting his
eyes, he saw Ruth. For a moment he did not move, thinking she must be
but the substance of his dream. Then her black dress caught his
attention, and he started to his feet.

"Carter?" he cried--"is he--"

Ruth nodded; her face was white and drawn, and purple shadows lay
about her eyes.

"He's dead," she whispered, with a catch in her voice; then she went
on in breathless explanation: "but he told me first. He said, 'Hurry
back, Ruth, and make it right. They can come for me as soon as I can
travel. Tell Kilday I wasn't worth it.' Oh, Sandy! I don't know
whether it was right or wrong,--what you did,--but it was merciful: if
you could have seen him that last week, crying all the time like a
little child, afraid of the shadows on the wall, afraid to be alone,
afraid to live, afraid to die--"

Her voice broke, and she covered her face with her hands.

Sandy started forward, then he paused and gripped the chair-back
until his fingers were white.

"Ruth," he said impatiently, "you'd best be going quick. It'll break
the heart of me to see you standing there suffering, unless I can take
you in me arms and comfort you. I've sworn never to speak the word;
but, by the saints--"

"You may!" sobbed Ruth, and with a quick, timid little gesture she
laid her hands in his.

For a moment he held her away from him. "It's not pity," he cried,
searching her face, "nor gratitude!"

She lifted her eyes, as honest and clear as her soul.

"It's been love, Sandy," she whispered, "ever since the first."

[Illustration: "'It's been love, Sandy, ... ever since the first'"]

Two hours later, when the permit came, Sandy walked out of the jail
into the court-house square. A crowd had collected, for Ruth had told
her story and the news had spread; public favor was rapidly turning in
his direction.

He looked about vaguely, as a man who has gazed too long at the sun
and is blinded to everything else.

"I've got my buggy," cried Jimmy Reed, touching him on the arm. "Where
do you want to go?"

Sandy hesitated, and a dozen invitations were shouted in one breath.
He stood irresolute, with his foot on the step of the buggy; then he
pulled himself up.

"To Judge Hollis," he said.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE PRIMROSE WAY


Spring and winter, and spring again, and flying rumors fluttered
tantalizing wings over Clayton. Just when it was definitely announced
that Willowvale was to be sold, Ruth Nelson returned, after a year's
absence, and opened the old home.

Mrs. Nelson did not come with her. That excellent lady had concluded
to bestow her talents upon a worthier object. In her place came Miss
Merritt, a quiet little sister of Ruth's mother, who proved to be to
the curious public a pump without a handle.

About this time Sandy Kilday returned from his last term at the
university, and gossip was busy over the burden of honors under which
he staggered, and the brilliance of the position he had accepted in
the city. In prompt contradiction of this came the shining new sign,
"Hollis & Kilday," which appeared over the judge's dingy little
office.

Nobody but Ruth knew what that sign had cost Sandy. He had come home,
fresh from his triumphs, and burning with ambition to make his way in
the world,--to make a name for her to share, and a record for her to
be proud of. The opportunity that had been offered him was one in a
lifetime. It had taken all his courage and strength and loyalty to
refuse it, but Ruth had helped him.

"We must think of the judge first, Sandy," she said. "While he lives
we must stay here; there'll be time enough for the big world after a
while."

So Sandy gave up his dream for the present and tacked the new sign
over the office door with his own hand.

The old judge watched him from the pavement. "That's right," he said,
rubbing his hands together with childish satisfaction; "that's just
about the best-looking sign I ever saw!"

"If you ever turn me down in court I'll stand it on its head and make
my own name come first," threatened Sandy; and the judge repeated the
joke to every one he saw that day.

It was not long until the flying rumors settled down into positive
facts, and Clayton was thrilled to its willow-fringed circumference.
There was to be a wedding! Not a Nelson wedding of the olden times,
when a special car brought grand folk down from the city, and the
townspeople stayed apart and eyed their fine clothes and gay behavior
with ill-concealed disfavor. This was to be a Clayton wedding for high
and low, rich and poor.

There was probably not a shutter opened in the town, on the morning of
the great day, that some one did not smile with pleasure to find that
the sun was shining.

Mrs. Hollis woke Sandy with the dawn, and insisted upon helping him
pack his trunk before breakfast. For a week she had been absorbed in
his nuptial outfit, jealously guarding his new clothes, to keep him
from wearing them all before the wedding.

Aunt Melvy was half an hour late in arriving, for she had tarried at
"Who'd 'a' Thought It" to perform the last mystic rites over a
rabbit's foot which was to be her gift to the groom.

The whole town was early astir and wore a holiday air. By noon
business was virtually abandoned, for Clayton was getting ready to go
to the wedding.

Willowvale extended a welcome to the world. The wide front gates stood
open, the big-eyed poplars beamed above the oleanders and the myrtle,
while the thrushes and the redwings twittered and caroled their
greetings from on high. The big white house was open to the sunshine
and the spring; flowers filled every nook and corner; even the
rose-bush which grew outside the dining-room window sent a few
venturesome roses over the sill to lend their fragrance to those
within.

And such a flutter of expectancy and romance and joy as pervaded the
place! All the youth of Clayton was there, loitering about the grounds
in gay little groups, or lingering in couples under the shadow of the
big porches.

In the library Judge and Mrs. Hollis did the honors, and presented the
guests to little Miss Merritt, whose cordial, homely greetings
counteracted the haughty disapproval of the portraits overhead.

Mr. Moseley rambled through the rooms, indulging in a flowing
monologue which was as independent of an audience as a summer brook.

Mr. Meech sought a secluded spot under the stairway and nervously
practised the wedding service, while Mrs. Meech, tucked up for once in
her life, smiled bravely on the company, and thought of a little green
mound in the cemetery, which Sandy had helped her keep bright with
flowers.

They were all there, Dr. Fenton slapping everybody on the back and
roaring at his own jokes; Sid Gray carrying Annette's flowers with a
look of plump complacency; Jimmy Reed constituting himself a bureau of
information, giving and soliciting news concerning wedding presents,
destination of wedding journey, and future plans.

Up-stairs, at a hall window, the groom was living through rapturous
throes of anticipation. For the hundredth time he made sure the ring
was in the left pocket of his waistcoat.

From down-stairs came the hum of voices mingled with the music. The
warm breath of coming summer stole through the window.

Sandy looked joyously out across the fields of waving blue-grass to
the shining river. Down by the well was an old windmill, and at its
top a weather-vane. When he spied it he smiled. Once again he was a
ragged youngster, back on the Liverpool dock; the fog was closing in,
and the coarse voices of the sailors rang in his ears. In quick
flashes the scenes of his boyhood came before him,--the days on
shipboard, on the road with Ricks, at the Exposition, at Hollis Farm,
at the university,--and through them all that golden thread of romance
that had led him safe and true to the very heart of the enchanted land
where he was to dwell forever.

"'Fore de Lawd, Mist' Sandy, ef you ain't fergit yer necktie!"

It was Aunt Melvy who burst in upon his reverie with these ominous
words. She had been expected to assist with the wedding breakfast, but
the events above-stairs had proved too alluring.

Sandy's hand flew to his neck. "It's at the farm," he cried in great
excitement, "wrapped in tissue-paper in the top drawer. Send Jim, or
Joe, or Nick--any of the darkies you can find!"

"Send nuthin'," muttered Aunt Melvy, shuffling down the stairs. "I's
gwine myself, ef I has to take de bridal kerridge."

Messengers were sent in hot haste, one to the farm and one to town,
while Jimmy Reed was detailed to canvass the guests and see if a white
four-in-hand might be procured.

"The nearest thing is Mr. Meech's," he reported on his fourth trip
up-stairs; "it's a white linen string-tie, but he doesn't want to take
it off."

"Faith, and he'll have to!" said Sandy, in great agitation. "Don't he
know that nobody will be looking at him?"

Annette appeared at a bedroom door, a whirl of roses and pink.

"What's the m-matter? Ruth will have a f-fit if you wait much longer,
and my hair is coming out of curl."

"Take it off him," whispered Sandy, recklessly, to Jimmy Reed; and
violence was prevented only by the timely arrival of Aunt Melvy with
the original wedding tie.

The bridal march had sounded many times, and the impatient guests were
becoming seriously concerned, when a handkerchief fluttered from the
landing and Sandy and Ruth came down the wide white steps together.

Mr. Meech cleared his throat and, with one hand nervously fidgeting
under his coattail, the other thrust into the bosom of his coat,
began:

"We are assembled here to-day to witness the greatest and most
time-hallowed institution known to man."

Sandy heard no more. The music, the guests, the flowers, even his
necktie, faded from his mind.

A sacred hush filled his soul, through which throbbed the vows he was
making before God and man. The little hand upon his arm trembled, and
his own closed upon it in instant sympathy and protection.

"In each of the ages gone," Mr. Meech was saying with increasing
eloquence, "man has wooed and won the sweet girl of his choice, and
then, with the wreath of fairest orange-blossoms encircling her pure
brow, while yet the blush of innocent love crimsoned her cheek, led
her away in trembling joy to the hymeneal altar, that their names,
their interests, their hearts, might all be made one, just as two rays
of light, two drops of dew, sometimes meet, to kiss--to part no more
forever."

Suddenly a loud shout sounded from the upper hall, followed by sounds
like the repeated fall of a heavy body. Mr. Meech paused, and all eyes
were turned in consternation toward the door. Then through the
stillness rang out a hallelujah from above.

"Praise de Lawd, de light's done come! De darkness, lak de thunder,
done roll away. I's saved at last, and my name is done written in de
Promised Land! Amen! Praise de Lawd! Amen!"

To part of the company at least the situation was clear. Aunt Melvy,
after seeking religion for nearly sixty years, had chosen this
inopportune time to "come th'u'."

She was with some difficulty removed to the wash-house, where she
continued her thanksgiving in undisturbed exultation.

Amid suppressed merriment, the marriage service was concluded, Mr.
Meech heroically foregoing his meteoric finale.

Clayton still holds dear the memory of that wedding: of the beautiful
bride and the happy groom, of the great feast that was served indoors
and out, and of the good fellowship and good cheer that made it a gala
day for the country around.

When it was over, Sandy and Ruth drove away in the old town surrey,
followed by such a shower of rice and flowers and blessings as had
never been known before. They started, discreetly enough, for the
railroad-station, but when they reached the river road Sandy drew
rein. Overhead the trees met in a long green arch, and along the
wayside white petals strewed the road. Below lay the river, dancing,
murmuring, beckoning.

"Let's not be going to the city to-day!" cried Sandy, impulsively.
"Let's be following the apple-blossoms wherever they lead."

"It's all the same wherever we are," said Ruth, in joyful freedom.

They turned into the road, and before them, through the trees, lay the
long stretch of smiling valley.





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