Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: From the Valley of the Missing
Author: White, Grace Miller
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 "From the Valley of the Missing" ***

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



[Illustration: ANN SHELLINGTON ANTICIPATES EVIL.

    _Frontispiece_ (_Page_ 276.)]


FROM THE VALLEY OF THE MISSING
BY
GRACE MILLER WHITE

AUTHOR OF
TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY

ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY
PRODUCED AND COPYRIGHTED BY THE FOX FILM
CORPORATION

GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS: NEW YORK

       *       *       *       *       *

Copyright, 1911, by
W. J. WATT & COMPANY

Published, August, 1911

       *       *       *       *       *


"FROM THE VALLEY OF THE MISSING"



CHAPTER ONE


One afternoon in late October four lean mules, with stringy muscles
dragging over their bones, stretched long legs at the whirring of their
master's whip. The canalman was a short, ill-favored brute, with coarse
red hair and freckled skin. His nose, thickened by drink, threatened the
short upper lip with obliteration. Straight from ear to ear, deep under
his chin, was a zigzag scar made by a razor in his boyhood days, and
under emotion the injured throat became convulsed at times, causing his
words to be unintelligible. The red flannel shirt, patched with colors
of lighter shades, lay open to the shoulders, showing the dark, rough
skin.

"Git--git up!" he stuttered; and for some minutes the boat moved
silently, save for the swish of the water and the patter of the mules'
feet on the narrow path by the river.

From the small living-room at one end of the boat came the crooning of a
woman's voice, a girlish voice, which rose and fell without tune or
rhythm. Suddenly the mules came to a standstill with a "Whoa thar!"

"Pole me out a drink, Scraggy," bawled the man, "and put a big snack of
whisky in it--see?"

The boulder-shaped head shot forward in command as he spoke. And he
held the reins in his left hand, turning squarely toward the scow.
Pushing out a dark, rusty, steel hook over which swung a ragged
coat-sleeve, he displayed the stump of a short arm.

As the woman appeared at the bow of the boat with a long stick on the
end of which hung a bucket, Lem Crabbe wound the reins about the steel
hook and took the proffered pail in the fingers of his left hand.

"Ye drink too much whisky, Lem," called the woman. "Ye've had as many as
twenty swigs today. Ye'll get no more till we reaches the dock--see?"

To this Lem did not reply. His shrewd eyes traveled up and down the
girlish figure in evil meaning. His thick lips opened, and the swarthy
cheeks went awry in a grimace. Before the hideous spasm of his silent
merriment the woman who loved him paled, and turned away with a shudder.
She slouched down the short flight of steps, and the man, with a grin,
malicious and cunning, lifted the tin pail to his lips.

"It's time for her to go," he muttered as he wiped his mouth, "it's time
for her to go! Git back here, Scraggy, and take this 'ere drink cup!"

This time the woman appeared with a fat baby in her arms. Mechanically
she unloosened the pail from the bent nail on the end of the pole and
put it down, watching the man as he unwound the reins from the hook.
Again the long-eared animals stretched their muscles at his hoarse
command. He paid no more attention to the woman, who, seated on a pile
of planks, was eying the square end of the boat. She drew a plaid shawl
close up under the baby's chin and threaded her listless fingers through
his dark curls. Scraggy's thin hair was drawn back from her wan face,
and her narrow shoulders were bowed with burdens too heavy for her
years; but she hugged the little creature sleeping on her breast, and
still kept her eyes upon the scene. Beyond she could see the smoke
rising from the buildings in the city of Albany, where they were to draw
the boat up for the night. On each side of the river bank, behind clumps
of trees, stood the mansions of those men for whom, according to Scraggy
Peterson's belief, the world had been made. Finally her gaze dropped to
the scow, where little rivers of water made crooked paths across the
deck. Piles of planks reared high at her back, and edged the scow with
the squareness of a room. Scraggy knew that hauling lumber was but the
cover for a darker trade. Yet as she glanced at the stolid, indifferent
man trudging behind the mules a lovelight sprang into her eyes.

Later, by an hour, the mules came to a halt at Lem's order.

"Throw down that gangplank, Scraggy," stammered Crabbe, "and put the
brat below! I want to get these here mules in. The storm'll be here in
any minute."

Obediently the woman hastened to comply, and soon the tired mules
munched their suppers, their long faces filling the window-gaps of the
stable.

Lem Crabbe followed the woman down the scow-steps amid gusty howls of
the wind, and the night fell over the city and the black, winding river.
The man ate his supper in silence, furtively casting his eyes now and
then upon the slender figure of the woman. He chewed fast, uttering no
word, and the creaking of the heavy jaws and the smacking of the coarse
lips were the only sounds to be heard after the woman had taken her
place at the table. Scraggy dared not yet begin to eat; for something
new in her master's manner filled her with sudden fear. By sitting very
quietly, she hoped to keep his attention upon his plate, and after he
had eaten he would go to bed. She was aroused from this thought by the
feeble whimper of her child in the tiny room of the scow's bow.
Although the woman heard, she made no move to answer the weak summons.

She rose languidly as the child began to cry more loudly; but a command
from Lem stopped her.

"Set down!" he said.

"The brat's a wailin'," replied Scraggy hoarsely.

"Set down, and let him wail!" shouted Lem.

Scraggy sank unnerved into the chair, gazing at him with terrified eyes.
"Why, Lem, he's too little to cry overmuch."

"Keep a settin', I say! Let him yap!"

For the second time that day Scraggy's face shaded to the color of
ashes, and her gaze dropped before the fierce eyes directed upon her.

"Ye said more'n once, Scraggy," began Lem, "that I wasn't to drink no
more whisky. Whose money pays for what I drink? That's what I want ye to
tell me!"

"Yer money, Lem dear."

"And ye say as how I couldn't drink what I pay for?"

"Yep, I has said it," was the timid answer. "Ye drink too much--that's
what ye do! Ye ain't no mind left, ye ain't! And it makes ye ugly, so it
does!"

"Be it any of yer business?" demanded Lem insultingly, as he filled his
mouth with a piece of brown bread. After washing it down with a drink of
whisky, he finished, "Ye ain't no relation to me, be ye?"

The thin face hung over the tin plate.

"Ye ain't married to me, be ye?"

And, while a giant pain gnawed at her heart, she shook her head.

"Then what right has ye got to tell me what to do? Shut up or get
out--ye see?"

He closed his jaw with a vicious snap, resting his half-dazed head on
his mutilated arm. Louder came the baby's cries from the back room.
Thinking Lem had ended his tirade, Scraggy made a motion to rise.

"Set still!" growled Crabbe.

"Can't I get the brat, Lemmy?" she pleaded. "He's likely to fall offen
the bed."

"Let him fall. What do I care? I want to tell ye somethin'. I didn't
bring ye here to this boat to boss me, ye see? Ye keep yer mouth shet
'bout things what ye don't like. Ye're in my way, anyhow."

"Ye mean, Lemmy, as how I has to leave ye?"

Crabbe regarded the appealing face soddenly before answering. "Yep,
that's what I mean. I'm tired of a woman allers a snoopin' around, and a
hundred times more tired of the brat."

"But he's yer own," cried the woman, "and ye did say as how ye'd marry
me for his sake! Didn't ye say it, Lem? He ain't nothin' but a baby, an'
he don't cry much. Will ye let me an' him stay, Deary?"

"Ye can stay tonight; but tomorry ye go, and I don't give a hell where,
so long as ye leave this here scow, an' I'm a tellin' ye this--" He
halted with an exasperated gesture. "Go an' get that kid an' shet his
everlastin' clack!"

Scraggy bounded into the inner room, and, once out of sight of the
watchful eyes of Lem, snatched up the infant and pressed her lips
passionately to the rosy skin.

"Yer mammy'll allers love ye, little 'un, allers, allers, no matter what
yer pappy does!"

She whispered this under her breath; then, dragging the red shawl about
her shoulders, appeared in the living-room with the child hidden from
view.

"An' I'll tell ye somethin' else, too," burst in Lem, pulling out a
corncob pipe: "that it ain't none of yer business if I steal or if I
don't. I was born a thief, as I told ye many a time, and last night ye
made Lon Cronk and Eli mad as hell by chippin' in."

"They be bad men," broke in the woman, "and ye know--"

"I know ye're a damn blat-heels, and I know more'n that: that yer own
pappy ain't no angel, and ye needn't be a sayin' my friends ain't no
right here--ye see? They be--"

"They be thieves and liars, too," interrupted Scraggy, allowing the
sleeping babe to sink to her knees, "and the prison's allers a yawnin'
for 'em!"

"Wall, I ain't a runnin' this boat for fun," drawled Lem, "nor for to
draw lumber for any ole guy in Albany. Ye know that I draw it jest to
hide my trade, and if, after ye leave here, ye open yer head to tell
what ye've seen, ye'll get this--ye see?" He held up the hooked arm
menacingly. "Ye've seen me rip up many a man with it, ain't ye,
Scraggy?"

"Yep."

"And I ain't got nothin' ag'in' rippin' up a woman, nuther. So, when ye
go back to yer pa in Ithacy, keep yer mouth shet.... Will ye let up that
there cryin'?"

Suppressing her tears, Scraggy shoved back a little from the table. "I
love ye, Lem," she choked, "and, if ye let me stay, I'll do whatever ye
say. I won't talk nothin' 'bout drink nor stealin'. If I go ye'll get
another woman! I know ye can't live on this here scow without no woman."

"And that ain't none of yer business, nuther--ye hear?" Lem grunted,
settling deep into his chair, with an oath. "I'll get all the women in
Albany, if I want 'em! I don't never want none of yer lovin' any more!"

During this bitter insult a storm-cloud broke overhead, sending sheets
of water into the river. The wind howled above Crabbe's words, and he
brought out the last of his sentence in a higher key. Suddenly the
shrill whistle of a yacht brought the drunken man to his feet.

"It's some 'un alone in trouble," he muttered. But his tones were not so
low as to escape the woman.

"Ye won't do no robbin' tonight, Deary--not tonight, will ye, Lem?
'Cause it's the baby's birthday."

Crabbe flung his squat body about toward the girl. "Shet up about that
brat!" he growled. "I don't care 'bout no birthdays. I'll steal, if the
man has anything and he's alone. I'll kill him like this, if he don't
give up. Do ye want to see how I'd kill him?"

His eyes blazing with fire, he lifted the steel hook, brandished it in
the air, and brought it down close to the thin, drawn face.

Scraggy, uttering a cry, sprang to her feet. "Lemmy, Lemmy, I love ye,
and the brat loves ye, too! He'll grin at ye any ole day when ye cluck
at him. And I teached him to say 'Daddy,' to surprise ye on his
birthday. Will ye list to him--will ye?"

In her eagerness to take his attention from the shrieking yacht, now
close to the scow, Scraggy advanced toward the swaying man. She tried to
lift brave eyes to his face; but they were filled with tears as they met
his drunken, shifting look.

"Lem, Lemmy dear," she pleaded, "we love ye, both the brat an' me! He
can say 'Daddy'--"

"Git out of my way, git out! Some'n' be a callin'. Git out, I say!"

"Not yet, not yet--don't go yet, Deary.... Deary! Wait till the kid says
'Daddy.'" She held out the rosy babe, pushing him almost under Lem's
chin. "Look at him, Lemmy! Ain't--he--sweet? He's yer own pretty
boy-brat, and--"

Her loving plea was cut short; for the man, with a vicious growl, raised
his stumped arm, and the sharp part of the hook scraped the skin from
her hollow cheek. It paused an instant on the level of her chin, then
descended into the upturned chest of the child. With a scream, Scraggy
dragged the boy back, and a wail rose from the tiny lips. Crabbe turned,
cursing audibly, and stumbled up the steps to the stern of the boat. The
woman heard him fall in his drunken stupor, and listened again and again
for him to rise. Her face was white and rigid as she stopped the flow of
blood that drenched the infant's coarse frock. Then, realizing the
danger both she and the child were in, since in all likelihood Lem would
sleep but a few minutes, she slid open the window and looked out upon
the dark river in search of help. Splashes of rain pelted her face,
while a gust of wind caused the scow to creak dismally. Scraggy could
see no human being, only the lights of Albany blinking dimly through the
raging storm. Another shrieking whistle warned her that the yacht was
still near. Sailors' voices shouted orders, followed by the chug, chug,
chug of an engine reversed.

But, in spite of the efforts of the engineer, the wind swung the small
craft sidewise against the scow, and, stupefied, Scraggy found herself
gazing into the face of another woman who was peering from the launch's
window. It was a small, beautiful face shrouded with golden hair, the
large blue eyes widened with terror. For a brief instant the two women
eyed each other. Just then the drunken man above rose and called
Scraggy's name with an oath. She heard him stumbling about, trying to
find the stairs, muttering invectives against herself and her child.

Scraggy looked down upon the little boy's face, twisted with pain. She
placed her fingers under his chin, closed the tiny jaws, and wrapped the
shawl about the dark head. Without a moment's indecision, she thrust him
through the window-space and said:

"Be ye a good woman, lady, a good woman?"

The owner of the golden head drew back as if afraid.

"Ye wouldn't hurt a little 'un--a sick brat? He--he's been hooked. And
it's his birthday. Take him, 'cause he'll die if ye don't!"

Moved to a sense of pity, the light-haired woman extended two slender
white hands to receive the human bundle, struggling in pain under the
muffling shawl.

"He's a dyin'!" gasped Scraggy. "His pappy's a hatin' him! Give him warm
milk--"

Again the yacht's whistle shrieked hoarsely, drowning her last words. As
the stern of the little boat swung round, Scraggy read, stamped in black
letters upon it:

                      HAROLD BRIMBECOMB,
                   TARRYTOWN-ON-THE-HUDSON,
                          NEW YORK.

The yacht shot away up the river, and was lost to the dull eyes that
continued peering for a last glimpse of the phantom-like boat that had
snatched her dying treasure from her. Then, at last, the stricken woman
turned, alone, to meet Lem Crabbe.

"Where's that brat?" he demanded in a thick voice.

"I throwed him in the river," declared the mother. "He were dead. Yer
hook killed him, Lem. He's gone!"

"I'll kill his mammy, too!" muttered Crabbe. "Git ye here--here--down
here--on the floor!"

His throat worked painfully as he threw the threatening words at her;
they mingled harshly with the snarling of the wind and the sonorous
rumble of the river. So great was Scraggy's fright that she sped round
the wooden table to escape the frenzied man. Taking the steps in two
bounds, she sprang to the deck like a cat, thence to the bank, and sped
away into the rain, with Lem's cries and curses ringing in her ears.



CHAPTER TWO


Five years later the _Monarch_ was drawn up to the east bank of the Erie
Canal at Syracuse. It was past midnight, and with the exception of those
on Lem Crabbe's scow the occupants of all the long line of boats were
sleeping. Three men sat silently working in the living-room of the boat.
Lem Crabbe, Silent Lon Cronk, and his brother Eli, Cayuga Lake
squatters, were the workers. At one end of the room hung a broken iron
kettle. Into this Eli Cronk was dropping bits of gold which he cut from
baubles taken from a basket. Crabbe, his short legs drawn up under his
body, held a pair of pliers in his left hand, while caught firmly in the
hook was a child's tiny pin. From this he tore the small jewels, threw
them into a tin cup, and passed the setting on to Eli. The other man,
taciturn and fierce, was flattening out by means of strong pressers
several gold rings and bracelets. The three had worked for many hours
with scarcely a word spoken, with scarcely a recognition of one another.

Of a sudden Eli Cronk raised his head and said, "Lem, Scraggy was to
Mammy's t'other day."

"I didn't know ye'd been to Ithacy?" Lem made the statement a question.

"Yep, I went to see Mammy, and she says as how Scraggy's pappy were
dead, and as how the gal's teched in here." His words were low, and he
raised his forefinger to his head significantly.

"She ain't allers a stayin' in the squatter country nuther," he pursued.
"She takes that damn ugly cat of her'n and scoots away for a time. And
none of 'em up there don't know where she goes. Hones' Injun, don't she
never come about this here scow, Lem?"

"Hones' Injun," replied Lem laconically, without looking up from his
work.

Presently Eli continued:

"Mammy says as how the winter's comin', and some 'un ought to look out
for Scraggy. She goes 'bout the lake doin' nothin' but hollerin' like a
hoot-owl, and she don't have enough to eat. But she's been gone now
goin' on two weeks, disappearin' like she's been doin' for a few years
back. Scraggy allers says she has bats in her head."

"So she has bats," muttered Lem, "and she allers had 'em, and that's why
I made her beat it. I didn't want no woman 'bout me for good and all."

Lem Crabbe lifted his head and glanced toward the small window
overlooking the dark canal. He had always feared the crazy
squatter-woman whom he had wrecked by his brutality.

"I says that I don't want no woman round me for all time," he repeated.

The third man raised his right shoulder at that; but sank into a heap
again, working more assiduously. The slight trembling of his body was
the only evidence he gave that he had heard Crabbe's words. Snip, snip,
snip! went the bits of gold into the kettle, until Eli spoke again.

"Ye can't tell me that ye ain't goin' never to get married, Lem?"

Crabbe lifted his hooked arm viciously. "I ain't said nothin' like that.
I says as how Scraggy can keep away from my scow."

"Don't she never come here no more?" asked Eli in disbelief.

"Nope, not after them three beatin's I give her. She kept a comin', and
I had to wallop her. I'd do it again if she snoops 'bout here."

"Ye beat her up well, didn't ye, Lem? And she telled Mammy that yer brat
were drowned one night in the river. Were it, Lem?"

There was an expectant pause between his first and last questions, and
Lem waited almost as long before he grunted:

"Yep."

"Did ye throw it in when ye was drunk?"

"Nope, he jest fell in--that's all."

"I guess that last beatin' ye give Scraggy made her batty. Mam says that
she ain't no more sense than her cat."

"Let her keep to hum then, and she won't get beat. I don't do no runnin'
after her!"

Again there came a space of time during which Eli and Lem worked in
silence. From far away in the city there came the sound of the fire
whistle, followed by the ringing of bells. But not one of the men ceased
his clipping to satisfy any curiosity he might have had.

Suddenly Lem Crabbe spoke louder than he had before that evening.

"Women ain't no good, nohow! They don't love no men, and men don't love
them. What's the good of havin' 'em round to feed and to bother a feller
'bout drinkin' an' things? Less a man sees of 'em the better!"

The third man, Silent Lon Cronk, sunk lower at his work, even more
fiercely flattening the gemless rings under the pressers. After a few
moments he laid down his tools and began to stretch his long legs,
scraping into a cup the bits of gold from his lap.

"I've been goin' to ask ye fellers somethin' for a long time. Might as
well now as any other night, eh?"

"Yep," replied Eli eagerly.

"'Tain't nothin' that will take any money out yer pockets; 'twill put it
in, more likely. We've been stealin' together for how long, Lem? How
long we been pals?"

"Nigh onto ten years, I'm thinkin'. It were that year that Tilly
Jacobson got burned, weren't it?"

"Yep, for ten years," replied Lon, ignoring Lem's last query, "and we've
allers been hones' with each other. I've been hones' with both of ye,
and ye've been hones' with me. Eh?"

"Yep."

"Lem, do ye want all the swag in this here room, only a sharin' up with
Eli, without havin' to share and share alike with me?"

A small jewel bounded from the steel hook, and the pliers fell from
Lem's fingers. Eli dropped back upon his bare feet.

"What's in the wind?" demanded Lem.

"Only want ye to help me with a job some night that won't be nothin' to
nuther of ye. But it's all to me. Will ye?"

Lem wriggled nearer on the floor. "Ye mean stealin', Lon?" he demanded.

"Yep."

"And we ain't to share up with it?"

"Nope; but ye're to have all that's in this here room. If I tell ye,
will ye help?"

Crabbe looked at Eli, and a furtive look was shot back. Each was afraid
of the other; but for the big, gloomy man before them they had vast
respect.

"What be ye goin' to steal, Lon? Tell us before we say we'll help."

"Kids," muttered Lon moodily.

"Live kids?" asked Eli, in great surprise.

"Yep, live ones. What do I want with dead ones? Will ye help?"

"Can't see no good a swipin' kids. What do ye want with 'em?"

"I'll tell ye if ye sit up and listen to me."

Crabbe dropped his hooked arm and leaned against the wall. Eli lighted a
pipe. A mysterious change had passed over Silent Lon's face. The blue
eyes glowed out from under a massive brow, and a mouth cruel and
vindictive set firm-jawed over decayed teeth.

"I'll tell ye this much for all time, Lem Crabbe: that ye lied when ye
said that no woman could love no man--ye lied, I say!"

So fierce had he become that the man with the hook drew back into the
corner and sat staring sullenly. Eli puffed more vigorously on his pipe.

Lon went on:

"I had a woman oncet," said he, "and she were every bit mine. And she
were little--like this."

The big fellow measured off a space with his hand and, straightening
again, stood against the wall of the scow, his head reaching almost to
the ceiling.

"She were mine, I say, and any man what says she weren't--"

"Where be she?" interrupted Lem curiously.

"Dead," replied Lon, "as dead as if she'd never been alive, as dead as
if she'd never laid ag'in' my heart when I wanted her! God! how I wanted
her!"

"But were she a woman?" asked Lem meditatively.

"Yep, she were a woman, and I married her square, I did!"

Lon stirred his dank black hair ferociously, standing it on end with
horny fingers. "I loved her, Lem Crabbe," he continued hoarsely. "I
loved her, that I know! And ye can let that devilish grin ride on yer
lips when I say it and I don't give a hell; but--but if ye say that she
didn't love me, if ye so much as smile when I say that she died a
callin' me, that she went away lovin' me every minute, I--I'll rip
offen yer hooked arm and tear out yer in'ards with it!"

He was leaning against the wall no longer. As he spoke, he came closer
to the crouching canalman, his eyes straining from their sockets in
livid hate. But he halted, and presently began to speak in a voice more
subdued.

"But she's dead, and I'm goin' to get even. He killed her, he did,
'cause he wouldn't let me see her, and he's got to go the same way I
went! He's got to tear his hair and call God to curse some 'un he won't
know who! He's got to want his kids like as how I've been wantin'
mine--"

"Ye ain't had no kids, Lon," his brother broke in scoffingly.

"I would a had if he'd a kept his hands to hum and let me see her. But
she were so little an' young-like an' afeard, and I telled her that
night--I telled her when she whispered that she were a goin' to have a
baby, and said as how she couldn't stand bein' hurt--I says, 'Midge
darlin', do it hurt the grass to grow jest 'cause the winds bend it
double? Do it hurt the little birds to bust out of their shells in the
springtime?' And she knowed what I meant, that not even what she were a
thinkin' of could hurt her if I was there close by."

His deep voice sank almost to a whisper, a hard, heavy sob closing his
throat. He shook himself fiercely and continued:

"I took her up close--God! how close I tooked her up! And I telled her
that there wasn't no pain big 'nough to hurt her when I were there--that
even God's finger couldn't tech her afore it went through me. And she
fell to sleep like a bird, a trustin' me, 'cause I said as how there
wasn't goin' to be no hurt. And all the time I knowed I were a lyin'--I
knowed that she'd suffer--"

His voice trailed into silence, the muscles of his dark face twitching
under the gnawing heart-pain; but after a time he conquered his feelings
and went on:

"Then they comed and took me away for stealin' jest that there week and
sent me up to Auburn prison, and they wouldn't let me stay with her. And
I telled the state's lawyer, Floyd Vandecar, this; I says, 'Vandecar, ye
be a good man, I be a thief, and ye caught me square, ye did. My little
Midge be sick like women is sick sometimes, and she wants me, like every
woman wants her man jest then, an' if ye'll let me see her, to stay a
bit, I'll go up for twice my time.' But he jest laughed till--"

Lon stopped speaking, and neither listener moved. For a moment he
lowered his head to the small boat window and gazed out into the vapors
hanging low over the opposite bank.

Turning again, he backed up to the scow's side and proceeded in a lower
voice:

"When they telled me she were dead, they had to set me in the jacket,
buckled so tight ye could hear my bones crack. The warden ain't got no
blame comin' from me, 'cause I smashed his face afore he'd done tellin'
me. And I felled the keeper like that!" He raised a knotty fist and
thrust it forth. "But it were all 'cause I wanted to be with her so,
'cause I couldn't stand the knowin' that she'd gone a callin' and a
callin' me!"

He was quiet so long that Eli Cronk drew his sleeve across his face to
break the oppressive stillness. Here, in the dead of night, his somber
brother had been transformed into another creature,--a passionate
creature, responding to the call of a dead woman, a man whose hatred
would carry him to fearful lengths.

The hoarse voice broke forth again:

"Midge darlin', dead baby, and all that ye had belongin' to me, I do it
for you! I'll steal his'n, and they'll suffer and suffer--"

He tossed up his great head with a jerk, crushing the sentiment from his
voice.

"But that don't make no matter now," he muttered. "I'm goin' to take his
kids! He's got two, an' he's prouder'n a turkey cock of 'em. I'll take
'em and I'll make of 'em what I be--I'll make 'em so damn bad that he
won't want 'em no more after I get done with 'em! I'll see what his
woman does when she finds 'em gone! Will ye help, Lem--Eli?"

"Yep, by God, you bet!" burst from both men at once.

"I'll take 'em to the squatter country, up to Mammy's," Lon proceeded,
"and, Eli, if ye'll take one of 'em on the train up to McKinneys Point,
I'll take t'other one up the west side of the lake. I'll pay all the
way, Eli; it won't be nothin' out o' yer pocket. We'll tell Mammy the
kids be mine--see? And ye can have all there be in this here room. Be it
a bargain?"

"Yep," assured Eli, and Lena's consent followed only an instant later.
After that there were no sounds save the snip, snip, snip of the pliers
and the occasional low grating from a jeweled trinket as the steel hook
gouged into the metal.



CHAPTER THREE


As Eli Cronk said, Scraggy Peterson left her lonely squatter home two
weeks before with no companion but her vicious black cat. The woman had
intervals of sanity, and during those periods her thoughts turned to a
dark-haired boy, growing up in a luxurious home. In these rare days she
donned her rude clothing, and with the cat perched close to her thin
face walked across the state to Tarrytown. Several times during the five
years after leaving Lem's scow she walked to Tarrytown, returning only
when she had seen the little boy, to take up her squatter life in her
father's hut. So secretive was she that no one had been taken into her
confidence; neither had she interfered with her child in any way. Never
once, hitherto, had her senses left her on those long country marches
toward the east; but often when she turned backward she would utter
forlorn cries, characteristic of her malady.

       *       *       *       *       *

At eight o'clock, four hours before Lon Cronk opened his heart to his
companions, Scraggy, footsore and weary, entered Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
and seated herself on the damp earth to gather strength. By begging and
stealing she had managed to reach her destination; but now for the first
time on this journey the bats were in her head, sounding the walls of
her poor brain with the ceaseless clatter of their wings. Still the
mother heart called for its own, through the madness--called for one
sight of Lem's child and hers. At length after a long rest she turned
into a broad path which she knew well, and did not halt until she was
staring eager-eyed into the window of Harold Brimbecomb's house which
stood close to the cemetery.

[Illustration: FOR MIDGE'S SAKE.]

To the left of the Brimbecomb's was the mansion, belonging to the
orphans of Horace Shellington. The young Horace and his sister Ann were
the favorite companions of Everett Brimbecomb, now six years old. He was
a strong, proud, handsome lad. Many conjectures had been made concerning
him by the Tarrytown people, because one day five years before the
delicate, light-haired wife of Mr. Brimbecomb had appeared with a
dark-haired baby boy, announcing that from that day on he would take the
place of her own child who had died a few months before. No person had
told Everett that the millionaire was not his father, nor was he made to
understand that the mother and the home were not his by right of birth.
His bright mind and handsome appearance were the pride of his adopted
mother's life, and his rich father smiled only the more leniently when
the lad showed a rebellious spirit. In the child's dark, limpid eyes
slumbered primeval passions, needing but the dawn of manhood to break
forth, perhaps to destroy the soul beneath their reckless domination.

Everett was entertaining Ann and Horace Shellington at dinner, and after
the repast the youngsters betook themselves to the large square room
given to the young host's own use. Here were multitudinous playthings
and mechanical toys of all descriptions. For many minutes the children
had been too interested to note that the shadows were grown long and
that a somber gloom had settled down over the cemetery that lay just
beyond the windows.

Ann Shellington, a delicate little creature of eight, looked up
nervously. "Everett, draw down the curtain," she said. "It looks so
ghostly out there!"

Ann made a motion toward the window; but the boy did not obey her.

"Isn't that just like a girl, Horace?" he asked. "I'm not afraid of
ghosts. Dead people can't walk, can they, Horace?"

The other boy answered "No" thoughtfully, as he started a miniature
train across the length of the room.

"Then who is it that walks in the night out there?" insisted the girl.
"Lots of town people have seen it. It's a woman with shaggy hair, and
sometimes her eyes turn green."

"Pouf!" scoffed Everett. "My father says there aren't any such things as
ghosts. I wouldn't be a fraidy cat, Ann."

"I'm not a fraidy cat," pouted the girl. "I always go upstairs alone,
don't I, Horace?"

Another answer in the affirmative, and Horace proceeded to roll the
train back over the carpet.

"If you had any mother," said Everett, "she'd tell you there weren't any
ghosts. My mother tells me that."

"I haven't any mother," sighed the little girl, listlessly folding her
hands in her lap.

"Nor any father, either," supplemented Horace, with seemingly no thought
of the magnitude of his statement. "I don't believe in ghosts, anyhow!"

He glanced up as he spoke, and the train fell with a bang to the floor.
Everett Brimbecomb dropped the toy he held in his hand, and Ann bounded
from her chair. A white face with wide eyes, staring through scraggly
gray hair, appeared at the window. For only an instant it pressed
against the pane, then vanished as if it had never been.

"It was a woman," gasped Horace, "or was it a--"

"It wasn't a ghost," interrupted Everett stoutly. "I dare follow it out
there. Look at me!"

He straightened his shoulders, threw up his dark head, and opened the
door leading to the narrow walk at the side of the house. In another
moment the watching boy and girl at the window saw him dart into the
hedge and a minute later emerge through it, picking his way among the
ancient graves. Suddenly from behind a tall monument stole a figure, and
as it approached the solemn eyes of the apparition smiled in dull wonder
on Everett Brimbecomb.

Scraggy held out her hands. "Don't run away, little 'un," she whispered.
"There be bats flyin' about in my head; but my cat won't hurt ye."

She passed one arm about the snarling creature perched on her shoulder;
but the cat with a hiss only raised himself higher.

"Don't spit at the pretty boy, Kitty--pretty pussy, black pussy!"
wheedled the woman. "He won't hurt ye, childy. Come nearer, will ye?
This be a good cat."

"Are you a ghost?" demanded Everett, edging into the light.

"Nope, I ain't no ghost. I love ye, pretty boy. Ye won't tell no one
that I speak to ye, will ye? I ain't doin' no hurt."

"What do you carry that cat for, and what's your name?" demanded Everett
insolently; for the proud young eyes had noticed the disheveled figure.
"If any one of our men see you about here, they'll shoot you. I'd shoot
you and your cat, too, if I had my father's gun!"

Scraggy smiled wanly. "Screech Owl's my name," said she. "They call me
that 'cause I'm batty. But ye wouldn't hurt me, little 'un, 'cause I
love ye. How old be ye?"

"Six years old; but it isn't any of your business. Crazy people ought to
be locked up. You'd better go away from here. My father owns that house,
and--don't you follow me through the hedge. Get back, I say! If I call
Malcolm--"

Everett drew back through the box-hedge, and the boy and the girl at the
window saw the woman squeeze in after him. In another moment the young
heir to the Brimbecomb fortune bounded through the doorway. His face was
white; his eyes were filled with fear.

"Did you see that old woman?" he gasped. "She tried to kiss me, and I
punched her in the face, and her cat did this to my arm."

He pulled up his sleeve, and displayed a long scratch from wrist to
elbow.

"Are you sure it wasn't a ghost, Everett?" asked Ann, shivering.

"Of course, it wasn't," boasted Everett. "It was only a horrid woman
with a cat--that's all."

As he closed the door vehemently, there drifted to the children from the
marble monument and waving trees the faint wail of a night-owl.



CHAPTER FOUR


On a fashionable street in Syracuse, Floyd Vandecar, district attorney
of the city, lived in a new house, built to please the delicate fancies
of his pretty wife. His career had been comet-like. Graduated from
Cornell University and starting in law with his father, he had succeeded
to a large practice when but a very young man. Then came the call for
his force and strength to be used for the state, and, with a gratified
smile, he accepted the votes of his constituents to act as district
attorney. Then, as Lon Cronk had told, it came within the duty of the
young lawyer to convict the thief of grand larceny committed three years
before. After that Floyd married the lovely Fledra Martindale, and a
year later his twin children were born--a sturdy boy and a tiny girl.
The children were nearly a year old when Fledra Vandecar whispered
another secret to her husband, and Vandecar, lover-like, had gathered
his darling into his arms, as if to hold her against any harm that might
come to her. This happened on the morning following the night when
Silent Lon Cronk told the dark tale of suffering to his pals.

Just how Lon Cronk came to know the inner workings of the Vandecar
household he never confided; but, biding his time, waited for the hour
to come when the blow would be harder to bear. At last it fell, fell not
only upon the brilliant district attorney, but upon his lovely wife and
his hapless children.

       *       *       *       *       *

One blustering night in March, Lem Crabbe's scow was tied at the locks
near Syracuse. The day for the fulfilment of Lon Cronk's revenge had
arrived. That afternoon Lon had come from Ithaca with his brother Eli to
meet Lem.

"Be ye goin' to steal the kids tonight, Lon?" asked Lem.

"Yep, tonight."

"Why don't ye take just one? It'd make 'em sit up and note a bit to
crib, say, the boy."

"We'll take 'em both," replied Lon decisively.

"And if we get caught?" stammered Crabbe.

"We don't get caught," assured Lon darkly, "'cause tonight's the time
for 'em all to be busy 'bout the Vandecar house. I know, I do--no matter
how!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wee Mildred Vandecar was ushered into the world during one of the worst
March storms ever known in the western part of New York. As she lay
snuggled in laces in her father's home, a tall man walked down a lane,
four miles from Ithaca, with her sleeping sister in his arms. The dark
baby head was covered by a ragged shawl; two tender, naked feet
protruded from under a coarse skirt. Lon Cronk struggled on against the
wind to a hut in the rocks, opened the door, and stepped inside.

A woman, not unlike him, in spite of added years, rose as he entered.

"So ye comed, Lon," she said.

"Course! Did Eli get here with the other brat?"

"Yep, there 'tis. And he's been squalling for the whole night and day.
He wanted the other little 'un, I'm a thinkin'."

"Yep," answered Lon somberly, "and he wants his mammy, too. But, as I
telled ye before, she's dead."

"Be ye reely goin' to live to hum, Lon?" queried the old woman eagerly.

"Yep. And ye'll get all ye want to eat if ye'll take care of the kids.
Be ye glad to have me stay to hum?"

"Yep, I'm glad," replied the mother, with a pathetic droop to her
shriveled lips.

Just then the child on the cot turned over and sat up. The small,
tear-stained face was creased with dirt and molasses. Bits of bread
stuck between fingers that gouged into a pair of gray eyes flecked with
brown. Noting strangers, he opened his lips and emitted a forlorn wail.
The other baby, in the man's arms, lifted a bonny dark head with a jerk.

For several seconds the babies eyed each other. Two pairs of brown-shot
eyes, alike in color and size, brightened, and a wide smile spread the
four rosy lips.

"Flea! Flea!" murmured the baby on the bed; and "Flukey!" gurgled the
infant in Lon's arms.

"There!" cried the old woman. "That's what he's been a cryin' for. Set
him on the bed, Lon, for God's sake, so he'll keep his clack shet for a
minute!"

The baby called "Flea" leaned over and rubbed the face of the baby
called "Flukey," who touched the dimpled little hand with his. Then they
both lay down on a rough, low cot in the squatter's home and forgot
their baby troubles in sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

The kidnapping of the twins was discovered just after Fledra Vandecar
had presented her husband with another daughter, a tiny human flower
which the strong man took in his hands with tender thanksgiving. The
three days that followed the disappearance of his children were eternal
for Floyd Vandecar. The entire police force of the country had been
called upon to help bring to him his lost treasures. So necessary was it
for him to find them that he neither slept nor worked. He had had to
tell the mother falsehood after falsehood to keep her content. The
children had suddenly become infected with a contagious disease, and the
doctor had said that the new baby must not be exposed in any
circumstances. After three long weeks of torture it devolved upon him to
tell his wife that her children were gone.

"Sweetheart," he whispered, sitting beside her and taking her hands in
his, "do you love and trust me very much indeed?"

The wondering blue eyes smiled upon him, and small fingers threaded his
black hair.

"I not only love you, Dear, but trust you always. I don't want to seem
obstinate and impatient, Floyd, but if I could see my babies just from
the door I should be happy. And it won't hurt me. I haven't seen them in
three whole weeks."

During the long, agonizing silence the young mother gathered something
of his distress.

"Floyd, look at me!"

Slowly he lifted his white face and looked straight at her.

"Floyd, Floyd, you've tears in your eyes! I didn't mean to hurt you--"

She stopped speaking, and the pain in his heart reached hers.

"Floyd," she cried again, "is there anything the matter with--with--"

"Hush, Fledra darling, little wife, will you be brave for my sake and
for the sake of--her?"

His eyes were still full of tears as he touched the bundle on the bed.

"But my babies!" moaned Mrs. Vandecar. "If there isn't anything the
matter with my babies--"

"I want to speak to you about our children, Dear."

"They are dead?" Mrs. Vandecar asked dully. "My babies are dead?"

At first Vandecar could scarcely trust himself to speak; but, curbing
his emotion with an effort, he answered, "No, no; but gone for a little
while."

His arms were tightly about her, and time and again he pressed his lips
to hers.

"Gone where?" she demanded.

"Fledra, you must not look that way! Listen to me, and I will tell you
about it. I promise, Fledra. Don't, don't! You must not shake so!
Please! Then you do not trust me to bring them back to you?"

His last appeal brought the tense arms more limply about his neck. She
had believed him absolutely when he said they were not dead.

"Am I to have them tonight?"

"No, dear love."

"Where are they gone?"

"The cradles were empty after little Mildred--"

"They have been gone for--for three weeks!" she wailed. "Floyd, who took
them? Were they kidnapped? Have you had any letters asking for money?"

Vandecar shook his head.

"And no one has come to the house? Tell me, Floyd! I can't bear it!
Someone has taken my babies!"

She raised herself on her arm wildly, fever brightening the anguished
eyes. The husband with bowed head remained praying for them and
especially for her. Another cry from the wounded mother aroused him.

"Floyd, they have been taken for something besides money. Tell me,
Dearest! Don't you know?"

Faithfully he told her that he could think of no human being who would
deal him a blow like this; that he had thought his life over from
beginning to end, but no new truth came out of his mental search.

"Then they want money! Oh, you will pay anything they demand! Floyd,
will they torture my baby boy and girl? Will they?"

"Fledra, beloved heart," groaned Vandecar, "please don't struggle like
that! You'll be very ill. I promised you that you should have them back
some day soon, very soon. Fledra, sweet wife, you still have the baby
and me--and Katherine."

"I want my little children! I want my boy and girl!" gasped Mrs.
Vandecar. "I will have them, I will! No, I sha'n't lie down till I have
them! I'm going to find them if you won't! I will not listen to you,
Floyd, I won't ... I won't--"

Each time the words came forth they were followed by a moan which tore
the man's heart as it had never been torn before. For a single instant
he drew himself together, forced down the terrible emotion in his
breast, and leaned over his wife.

"Fledra, Fledra, I command you to obey me! Lie down! I am going to bring
you back your babies."

He had never spoken to her in such a tone of authority. She sank under
it with parted lips and swift-coming breath.

"But I want my babies, Floyd!" she whispered. "How can I think of them
out in the cold and the storm, perhaps being tortured--"

"Fledra, sweet love, precious little mother, am I not their father, and
don't you trust me? Wait--wait a moment!"

He moved the babe from her mother's side, called the nurse, and in a low
tone told her to keep the child until he should send for her. Then he
slipped his arms about the wailing mother, lay down beside her, and drew
her to his breast.

During the next few hours of darkness he watched her--watched her until
the night gave way to a shadowy dawn. And as she slept he still held
her, praying tensely that he might be given power to keep his promise to
her. When she started up he gathered her closer and hushed her to sleep
as a mother does a suffering child. How gladly he would have borne her
larger share, yet more gladly would he have convinced himself that by
morning the children would be again under his roof!

At last Mrs. Vandecar awoke, calmer and with ready faith to acknowledge
that she believed he would accomplish his task. At her own request, he
brought their tiny baby.

"Will you see Katherine, too, Fledra," ventured Vandecar. "The poor
child hasn't slept much, and she can't be persuaded to eat."

Misery, deep and pathetic, flashed in the blue eyes Mrs. Vandecar raised
to his. At length she faltered:

"Floyd, I've never loved Katherine as I should. I'm sorry.... Yes, yes,
I will see her--and you will bring me my babies!"

Vandecar stooped and kissed her; then, with a tightening of his throat,
went out.

Five minutes later a small girl followed Mr. Vandecar in and stood
beside the bed. Fledra Vandecar took the little girl-face in her hands
and kissed it.



CHAPTER FIVE


The years went on, with the gap still left wide in the Vandecar
household. As month after month passed and nothing was heard of her
children, Mrs. Vandecar gradually gave up hope. Her despair left a
shadow of pathetic pleading in her blue eyes. This constant silent
appeal whitened Floyd Vandecar's hair and caused him to apply himself to
business more assiduously than ever. Never once in all those bitter
years did he connect Lon Cronk with the disappearance of his babies.

Meantime two sturdy children were growing to girlhood and boyhood in the
Cronk hut on Cayuga Lake. So safely had the secret of the kidnapping
been kept from Granny Cronk and the other squatters in the settlement
that the twins were regarded by all as the son and daughter of the
squatter.

The year following Flea's and Flukey's fourteenth birthday the boy was
taken into his foster-father's trade of thieving. At first he was
allowed only to enter the houses and deftly unbar the door for an easier
egress for Eli Cronk and Lem Crabbe. Later he was commanded to snatch up
anything of value he could. Many were the times he wept in boyish
bitterness against the commands of Lon, revealing his sorrows to Flea,
who listened moodily.

"I wouldn't steal nothin' if I was you," she said again and again. But
Flukey one day silenced this reiteration by confiding to her that Pappy
Lon had threatened to turn her to his trade if he rebelled.

       *       *       *       *       *

One afternoon in late September, Flea left the hut and went out to the
lake. Flukey, Lon Cronk, and Lem Crabbe had gone to Ithaca to buy
groceries, and it was time for them to return. A chill wind swung the
girl's skirt about her knees, and for some minutes she squatted on the
beach, keeping her eyes upon the lighthouse in the distance.

For the last year Flea had been rapidly growing into a woman. Granny
Cronk had proudly noted that the fair face had grown lovelier, that the
ebony curls fell about her shoulders. The one dream the girl had had was
a dream of long hair, ankle dresses, and girl's shoes. Until that year
Lon had insisted that her hair be kept short, and had himself trimmed
the ebony curls every month. Now, in the damp air, they twisted and
turned in the wildest profusion. The coming of womanhood had thrown new
light into the clear-gray, brown-flecked eyes. At this moment she was
wondering what she and her brother would do if Granny Cronk died. She
shivered as she thought of life in the hut without the protecting old
woman.

Suddenly, from above the Lehigh Valley tracks, she heard the sound of
horses' hoofs. Her attention taken from her meditations, she lifted her
pensive gaze from the lake, wheeled about, and looked for the horseman.
Flea knew that it was not a summer cottager; for many days before the
last of them had taken his family to Ithaca. Perhaps some chance
wayfarer had followed the wrong road. Just below the tracks she caught a
glimpse of a black horse, and as it came nearer Flea noted the rider, a
young man whose kindly dark eyes and white teeth dazzled her. His
straight legs were incased in yellow boots, his fine form in a tightly
fitting riding-coat. Flea had never seen just such a man, not even in
the infrequent visits she made to Ithaca. Something in his smile, as he
drew up his steed and looked down upon her, affected her with a curious
thrill.

"Little girl, will you tell me if I am on the right road to Glenwood?"

Flea's tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. His voice, cultivated and
deep, made her forget for a moment the question he had asked her. Then
she remembered; but instinctively she did not reply in her usual high
squatter tones.

"Nope, ye got to go back, and turn to the right at the top of the hill.
Ye can't go round the shore from here; the water's too high."

This impulsive desire to choose her words and to modulate her voice came
from a sudden realization that there lived another class of people
outside the squatter settlement of whom she knew little.

"Thank you very much," replied the questioner. "Now I understand that if
I ride to the top of the hill and turn to the right, I'll reach
Glenwood?"

"Yep," answered Flea.

Her embarrassment caused her lips to close over the one word.
Wonderingly she watched the man ride away until the sight of his dark
horse was lost in the trees above the tracks.

"It were a prince," she stammered in a low tone, "a real live prince!"

Flea contemplated the darkening hills with moody eyes. She counted
slowly one by one the towers of the university buildings. This she did
merely from habit; for the expression remained unchanged on her
melancholy face. At length the gray eyes dropped to the water and fixed
their gaze upon a fishing boat turning toward the shore. A few moments
before it had been but a black speck near the lighthouse; but as it came
nearer Flea distinctly saw the two men and the boy in it. Upon the bow
of the boat was perched Snatchet, a yellow terrier, his short ears
perked up with happiness at the prospect of supper. When the craft
touched shore the girl rose and ran toward it. Almost in fear, she
searched the face of the youth at the rudder with eyes so like his own
that they seemed rather a reflection than another pair. She said no word
until she took her position beside the boy on the shore, slipping her
hand into his as she walked by his side toward the hut.

"Be ye back for the night, Flukey?" she asked.

"Nope."

"Where ye goin' after supper?"

"To Ithaca."

"Air ye leg a hurtin' ye much?"

"Yep."

"Granny Cronk says as how yer pains be rheumatiz. If ye stay in out of
the night air, ye'll get well."

"Pappy Lon won't let me," sighed Flukey.

He sank down on the cabin threshold, and as he spoke drew a blue trouser
leg slowly up.

"Damn knee!" he groaned. "It gets so twisted! And sometimes I can't
walk."

"Be ye goin' to steal again tonight?" asked the girl, bending toward
him.

"Yep, with Pappy Lon and Lem. I hate it all, I do!" he cried
impetuously.

"What makes ye go? Take a lickin', an' I bet ye'll stay to hum. I
would!"

With a spiteful shake of the black curls, she rubbed a bare toe over
Snatchet's yellow back.

"I wish I was a boy," she went on. "While I hate stealin', I'd do it to
have ye stay to hum, Flukey; then ye'd get well. And--"

She broke off abruptly and lowered her eyes to the shore, where Lem and
Lon were in earnest conversation. At the same moment Lon looked up and
shouted a command:

"Flea gal, Flea gal, come down here to me!"

Flea dropped the hand of her brother, moved directly to the water's
edge, and stood quietly until Lon chose to speak.

Lem Crabbe's eyes devoured the slight young figure, his smile contorting
the corners of his whiskered mouth. One hand rested on the bow of the
boat, while the long, rusty hook, sharp at the point and thick ironed at
the top, protruded from the other coat-sleeve.

At last Lon Cronk began to speak deliberately, and the girl gave him her
attention.

"Flea, ye be a woman now, ain't ye?" he said "Ye be fifteen this comin'
Saturday."

"Yep, Pappy Lon."

"And yer brother be fifteen on the same day, you bein' twins."

"Yep, Pappy Lon."

"Yer brother's been taken into my trade," proceeded the squatter, "and
it ain't the wust in the world--that of takin' what ye want from them
that have plenty. It's time for ye to be doin' somethin', too. Ye'll go
to Lem's Scow, Flea."

"To Lem's scow?" exclaimed Flea. "That ain't no place for a kid, and
nobody ain't a wantin' me, nuther! I know there ain't!"

"Ain't there nobody a wantin' her in yer scow, Lem Crabbe?" grinned Lon.

"Ye bet there be!" answered Lem, with an evil leer.

Flukey, who had approached the group, placed himself closer to his
sister. "Who--who be wantin' Flea, Lem Crabbe?" he demanded.

"It's me, it's me!" replied Lem, wheeling savagely about.

[Illustration: "LET ME--STAY A BIT--I'LL GO UP FOR TWICE MY TIME."]

For a short space of time nothing but the splash of the waves could be
heard as they rolled white on the shore. A change passed over Flea, and
she clutched fiercely at her brother's fingers. It was as if she had
said, "Help me, Flukey, if ye can!" But she did not speak the words;
only stared at the hook-armed man with strained eyes.

"Flea ain't no notion of goin' away right yet, Pappy Lon," burst out
Flukey, catching his breath after the shock. "She's perferrin' to stay
with us; and I'll work for her keep, if ye let her stay."

"Nope, I ain't no notion o' marryin'," repeated Flea, encouraged by her
brother's insistence.

"Who said as how Lem wanted ye to marry him?" sneered Lon, eying her
from head to foot. "Yer notions one way or nother ain't nothin' to me,
my gal. Ye'll go with the man I choose for ye, and that's all there be
to it!"

Dazed by his first words, she whispered, "I hate Lem Crabbe!"

As if by its own volition, the hook rose threateningly to within a short
distance of the fair, appealing face. But it dropped again, as Lon
repeated:

"That ain't nothin' to do with the thing, nuther, Flea. A man ain't a
seekin' for a lovin' woman. He wants her to take care of his shanty and
what he gets by hard work, he does, and he gives her victuals and drink
for the doin' of it. That's enough for you, or for any gal what's a
squatter."

So well did Flea realize the powerlessness of the rigid boy at her side
to help her, that she dropped his hand and alone went nearer to the
thief.

"Can't I stay with you and with Granny Cronk for another year? Can't I
stay? Can't I, Pappy Lon?"

"Nope, I wouldn't keep ye in the shanty if ye had money for yer keeps.
Ye go on a Saturday to Lem's boat to be his woman, ye see?"

The iron hook by this time was hanging loosely by Lem's side; but a
cruel expression had gathered on the sullen face. A frown drew the
crafty eyes together, bespeaking wrath at the girl's words.

That he would have her at the bidding of her father, Lem never doubted.
During the last three years he had been resolved to take her home in due
time to be his woman. To subdue the proud young spirit, to make her the
mother of children like himself,--the boys destined to be thieves, and
the girls squatter women,--was his one ambition. That he was old enough
to be her father made no difference to him.

He was watching her as she stood in the darkening twilight, gloating
over the thought that his vicious dreams were so near their fulfilment.

Flea was looking into the eyes of her father, and he looked back at her
with an impudent smile.

"Ye don't like the thought of this comin' Saturday, Flea--eh?" he asked
slowly. "But, as I said before, a gal hain't nothin' to do with the
notions of her daddy. And Granny Cronk'll give ye a pork cake to take to
Lem's, and he'll let ye eat it all to yerself. Eh, Lem?"

"Yep," grunted Lem. "She eats the pork cake if she will; but after
that--"

Suddenly Lon silenced Lem's words with a wag of his head toward the
girl. "Flea," he said, "I telled Lem as how ye'd kiss him tonight."

The words stunned the girl, they were so unexpected, so terrible. She
turned her eyes upon Lem and fearfully studied his face. He was gazing
back, his open lips showing his discolored, broken teeth. The coarse,
red hair sprinkled with gray gave a fierce aspect to his whole
appearance, and from the emotion through which he was passing the
muscles under his chin worked to and fro. With a grin he advanced toward
her. Flea fell back against Flukey. The boy steadied the trembling,
slender body.

"I ain't a goin' to kiss ye," she muttered. "I hate yer kisses! I hate
'em!"

"Ye'll kiss him, jest the same!" ordered Lon.

Closer and closer Lem came toward the girl; then suddenly he sprang at
her like a tiger, crushing the slim figure against his breast. For a
moment Flea was encircled by his left arm. Then she turned fiercely to
the ugly face so close to hers, and in another instant had bitten it
through the cheek. He dropped her with a yelling oath, and Flea sprang
back, turning flashing eyes upon Lon.

"That's how I kiss him afore I go to him," she screamed, "and worser and
worser after he takes me!"

Lon laughed wickedly. He had not expected such a display of spirit. "I
guess ye'll have to wait, Lem," he said; "fer--"

Flea did not hear the rest of the sentence; for she and Flukey were
hurrying toward the hut.

Lem stood wiping the blood from his face. "The cussed spit-cat!" he
hissed. "When I take her in hand--"

"When ye take her in hand, Lem," interrupted Lon darkly, "ye can do what
ye like. Break her spirit! Break her neck, if ye want to! I don't care."

       *       *       *       *       *

The children found Granny Cronk with bent shoulders and palsied hands
toiling over the supper. About the withered neck hung a red
handkerchief, and on top of the few gray whisps of hair rested a
spotless cap. She grunted as the children entered the room like a
whirlwind and climbed the long ladder to the loft, where for some time
the low voice of Flukey and the sobs of Flea could be heard in the
kitchen below.

It was not until her son had entered and hung his cap upon the peg that
the old woman ventured to speak.

"Be Flea in a tantrum, Lon?"

"Yep, ye bet she be!"

"Have ye been a beatin' her?"

"Nope, I never teched her," replied the squatter; "but I will beat her,
if she don't do what I tell her. No matter how she kicks ag'in' my
notions, she has to do 'em, Granny!"

"Yep, I know that; but I asked ye what she was a blubberin' about."

"'Cause I says as how on Saturday she's got to go and be Lem's
woman--that's what I says."

"Lem's woman! Do ye mean that she's got to go away?"

"Yep, with Lem Crabbe," replied Cronk; "he's to be her man on her next
birthday. I bet he brings the kid to his likin'!"

"Lem's a bad man, Lon," replied Mrs. Cronk, "and ye be one, too, if ye
be my own son, and Flea's your own flesh and blood, and I like her. It
would be a good thing if ye let her stay to hum while I be a livin'; and
I mean what I say, and I'm yer mammy, and that's the truth!"

"Mammy or no mammy," answered Cronk sullenly, "Flea goes to Lem, and ye
makes her a pork cake, which she can hog down at one gulp, for all I
care--the damn brat! I say it, and Lem says it. He'll dry her tears
after she's left hum, I'm a guessin'!"

Seeing the futility of arguing the question, Mrs. Cronk placed the fish
and beans on his plate and, with a shrill cry to Flea and Flukey, sat
down to eat.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he stumbled along the rocks to the scow, Lem Crabbe uttered dark
threats against the girl who had bitten him. Her temper and the
spontaneous deed that had marked his face did not lessen his longing to
call her his woman, nor did it take the fever of desire from his veins.
It had strengthened his passion to such a degree that he now determined
to permit nothing to interfere with his plans. For at least three years
he had lived on the promise of Lon Cronk that he should have the girl
for weal or woe. Six months before he had offered Lon anything within
his power to set the day of Flea's coming to him nearer; but the thief
had shaken his head with the thought that Flea as a girl would not
suffer through indignities as she would as a woman. He felt no remorse
for the other girl that he had ruined so many years back; but he kept
out of the way of the crazy woman who sometimes crossed his path.

Tonight Lem entered the living-room of his boat, muttering an oath that
ended in a groan, dropped the basket on the table, and struck a match.
He was touching it to the candle, when a sound in the corner startled
him. He turned as he finished his task and saw the brilliant eyes of
Scraggy's cat as the animal sat perched on the woman's shoulder. The
presence of Screech Owl surprised him so that he did not move for a
moment, and she spoke first:

"I hain't seed ye in such a long time, Lem, that I thought I'd come and
let ye see my new kitty. He ain't but two years old."

Lem took a long breath. At first he thought that this must be Scraggy's
wraith come to haunt him after some horrible lonely death. He had far
rather deal with a living Scraggy than a dead one, and at once recovered
his composure.

"I hain't sent for ye, have I?" he asked, hanging up his coat. "And if I
ain't sent for ye, then ye needn't be sneakin' round."

"I've a lot to say to ye," sighed Scraggy mournfully, "and I thought as
how the night was better than the day. It's dark now."

"Then ye'd better trot hum," put in Lem, "if ye don't want another
beatin'."

"I ain't goin' to get no beatin' tonight," assured the woman, throwing
one arm over the bristling cat, "'cause I comed to tell ye somethin'."

Lem turned on her sharply; for Scraggy seemed to speak sanely.

"The bats be gone from my brain, Lem, and I want to tell ye somethin'
'bout Flea--Flea Cronk--and to tell ye that I be hungry."

"What about Flea?" snapped Lem. "Ye're bein' hungry ain't nothin' to do
with me. If ye got somethin' to tell me that I want to hear, lip it out,
and then scoot; for I ain't no time to bother with ye. My time's
precious, Scraggy--see?"

"Yep; but I ain't goin' to tell ye nothin' till ye give me somethin' to
eat."

She cast ravenous eyes on the small bundles Lem was placing on the
table.

"I'll give ye a piece of bread an' 'lasses," was the grudging answer.
"And mind ye, I wouldn't do that but I want to hear what ye say 'bout
Flea."

Avidly the woman ate the thick slice of bread and treacle, offering a
bit now and then to the cat. When she had devoured it Lem spoke:

"Now wash it down with this here water and tell me yer tale--and if ye
lie to me I'll kill ye!"

"I ain't a goin' to lie to ye--I'll tell ye the truth, I will!"

They both drank, the man from the bottle, the woman from a tin cup.
Presently she asked:

"Be ye goin' to marry Flea Cronk?"

"Who's been carryin' tales to ye?" shouted Lem, bounding from his chair.
"Ye better be a mindin' yer own affairs, or ye'll be havin' nothin' but
bats in yer head till ye die. Scoot for hum! Ye hear?"

"Yep; but I ain't goin' jest yet. Ye want to hear 'bout Flea, don't ye?"

"Yep."

"Then set down an' I'll tell ye."

Lem, growling impatience, seated himself.

"Flea Cronk ain't for you, Lem!"

"Who said as how she ain't?" demanded Lem, starting up. The cat spat
viciously, startled by the sudden movement. "I wish ye'd left that damn
cat to hum! I hain't no notion to be bit by no cat."

"Kitty won't bite ye if ye let me alone--will ye, Kitty? I ain't never
afeard of nothin' when I got him with me--be I, Kitty, pretty pussy?"

"Stop a cooin', ye bughouse woman," snarled Crabbe, "and tell me what ye
got to!"

"I said Flea wasn't for you."

"Ye lie!"

He made a desperate move toward her; but the cat rose threateningly, its
hair standing on end in a mound upon the humped back. Lem fell away with
an oath, and Scraggy, smiling wanly, petted the vicious brute.

"I said ye was to keep away, Lem. Wait till I get done. Flea's got to be
some 'un else's, not yers."

"Who's?" Lem's voice rose; but he did not advance toward her.

"I dunno; but I seed him. He rides a black horse, and has a fine, big
body and wears yeller boots. This afternoon when the day was darkenin' I
saw him from the railroad bed, and I saw Flea's spirit a travelin' with
him. I know that ye cared for her this long time back; but ye can't have
her."

"Who be the feller?" demanded Lem, frowning.

"I said I didn't know, and I don't."

"Were Flea with him?"

"Nope; not in her body, but jest in her spirit."

"Rats! Scoot along with ye, and take yer cat and get out!"

Scraggy had not noticed the blood oozing from Lem's, cheek until she had
received her dismissal. She passed a long, red, bare arm about the
animal and asked:

"Who bit yer cheek, Lem?"

"Who says it were bit?"

"I say it. I see white teeth a goin' in it. And I see red lips ag'in' it
with deadly hate."

Lem glanced forbiddingly at the woman. "The bats be a comin' again," he
muttered, "and there ain't no tellin' what she'll do. If it wasn't for
that blasted cat, I'd chuck her in the lake!"

But he dared not carry out his threat; for Scraggy was muttering to
herself, the cat rebuffing her rough handling.

In another minute she rose and made toward the steps. Her eyes fell upon
Lem, and sanity flashed back into them.

"I gived the boy to the woman--with golden hair," she stammered, as if
some power were forcing the words from her. "Ye would have killed him.
Yer kid be a livin', Lem!"

Truth rang in her statement, and the man got to his feet abruptly. He
had almost forgotten the black-haired little boy. Only when Scraggy's
name was mentioned to him did he remember. But the woman's words awoke a
new feeling in his heart, and mentally he counted back the years to the
date of his son's birth. Scraggy was still looking at him in
bewilderment, scarcely realizing that her story had been told to the
enemy of her child. She battled with a desire to blurt out the whole
truth; but the man's next words silenced her.

"Who be the golden-haired woman, Scraggy?" he wheedled.

"What woman--what golden-haired woman?"

"The woman who has our brat."

Like lightning a sudden joy filled Scraggy's heart. Her benumbed love
for Lem Crabbe grew mighty in a moment and rushed over her. His words
were softly spoken with an old-time inflection. She sank down with a
cry. She was so near him that the cat rose and spat venomously. Lem's
curses brought Scraggy out of her dreams.

"Chuck that damn cat to the bank," ordered Lem, "if ye want to stay with
me! Do ye hear? Chuck him out!"

"Nope, I ain't a goin' to! I'm goin' hum."

"Not till ye tell me where the boy is. Didn't ye throw him in the
river?"

"Nope."

"What did ye do with him?"

"Gived him away."

"Ye lie! That winder was open, and the river was dark as hell. Ye
throwed him in, I tell ye!"

"Nope; I gived him to a woman--"

She stopped and edged toward the stairs, all her old fear of him
returning. Reaching the short flight, she bounded up, the cat clinging
to her sleeve. Lem did not follow; for the crazy woman had frightened
him. He stood with hushed breath, holding grimly to the wooden table. A
voice from the deck of the scow came down to him.

"I gived him to a rich woman on a yacht. He's rich with mints of money.
Yer kid's a gentleman, Lem Crabbe!"

He sprang after her to the deck; but nothing greeted him save the cry of
an owl from the ragged rocks and the glistening green of the cat's eyes
as Scraggy hurried away.



CHAPTER SIX


After eating his supper, Lon, sullen and moody, looked out upon the
lake, reviewing in his mind the terrible revenge he was soon to
complete. He took his pipe slowly from his pocket and filled it with
coarse tobacco. Soon gray rings lifted themselves to the ceiling and
faded into the rafters. As the smoke curled upward, his mind became busy
with the past, and so vivid was his imagination that outlined in the
smoke rings that floated about him was a girlish face--a face pale and
wan, but a loving, sweet one to him. He could see the fair curls which
clung close to the head; the eyes, serious but kind, seemed to strike
his memory in unforgotten glances. To another than himself the
smoke-formed face would have been plain, perhaps ugly, the weakness of
her race showing in every feature; but not to him. So intent was he with
these thoughts that the present dissolved completely into the past, and
beside him stood a small, fond woman. In his imagination she had risen
from that grave which he had never been able to find in the Potter's
Field. The personality of his dead wife called upon his senses and made
itself as necessary to him then as in the moment of his first rapture
when she had placed her womanly might upon his soul.

His revenge upon Floyd Vandecar would be finished when the gray-eyed
Flea, so like her own father, went away with the one-armed man, to eke
out her destiny amid the squalor of the thief's home.

For months he had been enthralled with the satisfaction of the last act
in the one terrible drama of his life; for it had played with his rude
fancy as a tigress does with her prey, inflaming his hatred and keeping
alive his desire for retaliation. Flukey was a good thief, although
obeying him at the end of the lash, and Flea would receive her portion
of hate's penalty on her fifteenth birthday.

Cronk did not heed the pitter-patter of his mother's feet as she cleared
the table, nor did he hear the droning of the twin's voices in the loft
above. He was thinking of how the dead woman with her child--his child,
the one small atom he would have loved better than himself--would be
well avenged when Flea went away with Lem.

Lon had kept track of the doings of the young district attorney. He knew
that he had gone to the gubernatorial chair but the year before. The
squatter smiled gloomily as he remembered the words of a newspaper
friendly to Vandecar, in which he had read that Syracuse was full of
painful memories for the new governor, and that Floyd Vandecar had taken
his family down the Hudson, to make another home at Tarrytown, where
Harold Brimbecomb, a youthful friend, resided. Another expression of
dark gratification flitted over Lon's heavy features as he reviewed
again the purport of the article. It had plainly said that in the new
home there would be fewer visions of a lost boy and girl to haunt the
afflicted parents. Lon realized in his savage heart that the change of
scene would not lessen the grief of the stricken family. It was his one
satisfaction to brood over the bereaved father and mother, delighting in
his part of the tragedy and enjoying every evidence of it. Never for a
moment did he think gently of the children, but only of the woman
sacrificed. On this night she stood so close that, with a groan, he put
out his hand. His flesh tingled; for he felt that he could almost touch
her, and his heart clamored for the warmth of the tender body he had
never forgotten.

"God!" he moaned between his teeth, "if I could tech her once, jest for
once, I'd let Flea stay to hum!"

"Did ye speak, Lon?" asked Granny Cronk.

"Nope; I were only a thinkin'."

"Have ye changed yer mind 'bout Flea?"

"Nope, Mammy, and ye keep yer mouth shet if ye want me to stay to hum!
See?"

Granny Cronk grunted a reply, and passed into the back room. Five
minutes later the rope cot creaked under her weight.

Wrapped in his somber musings, Lon did not hear Flea approach him until
she was at his elbow. With her coming, the sweet phantom, to which he
grimly held in his moments of solitude, fled back to its unknown grave.
Never had his loved one been so near, so real; never before had she
touched his writhing nature in all its primeval strength. The girl
before him was so like the man who had withstood his agony that he
clenched his fist and rose from his chair. Flea was looking at him in
mute appeal; but before she could speak he had lifted his fist and
brought it down upon the lovely, beseeching face. The blow stunned her;
but only a smothered moan fell from her lips.

"I hate ye!" growled Lon. "Get back to the loft afore I kill ye!"

Slowly Flea was regaining her senses, and the squatter's curses struck
her ears like a whiplash. Bitter, scalding tears blinded her as, holding
her thin skirt to her bleeding nose, she stumbled up the ladder. With
anger unappeased, Lon, staggering like one drunken, took his cap from
the peg and went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Lon called Flukey, Flea followed her brother into the night, while
he arranged the thief's tools in the boat. There was a dull roar and
rush of the wind, as it tossed the lake into gigantic whitecaps, which
added to the girl's suffering. Her young soul was smarting beneath the
scathing injustice. As she watched Lem and Lon pull away, with Flukey at
the rudder, Flea squatted on the beach, bent her head, and wept long and
wildly.

A gentle, sympathetic touch of a warm tongue made her put out her arms
and draw Snatchet into them. It comforted her to feel the faithful heart
beating against her own. That Lon disliked to have her and Flukey about
him, she knew; but she had not known until today that he hated her. He
had never before told her so. Flea caught her breath in a gasp, and
turned her eyes to a rift in a rock where the scow lay. Only a dark line
distinguished it in the shadows. At the thought that it was to be forced
upon her for a home, she cried again, and Snatchet, from his haven of
rest, lifted his pointed yellow nose and wailed dismally, striving with
all his dog's soul to assuage her unusual grief.

The distant sound of a hoot-owl startled Flea from her tears. It was a
familiar sound to her and came as a call from a friend.

Creeping into the low woodshed, Flea took up a bundle of fagots from the
corner, and, closing the door on Snatchet that he might not follow her,
mounted the hill with the wood under her arm. Once at the top of the
lane, she opened her lips and echoed the hoot. She passed through a
thicket of sumac into a clearing where a number of sheep were huddled
together in the cold night air. An answer came back almost instantly
from the ragged rocks, and, squatting in a hollow, Flea sat patiently
until the branches broke below her. A woman with tangled hair came
creeping cautiously forward.

"Who be there?" she whispered.

"It's Flea, Screech Owl. Be the bats a runnin' in yer head?"

"Yep, child," the woman answered mournfully. "The fagots be given out,
too, and I'm a huntin' of 'em. The night's cold."

"I was lookin' for ye this afternoon, Screechy," said Flea. "Set down."

The lean, half-starved woman dropped beside the girl. Flea put out her
hand and smoothed down the rough hair on Scraggy's black cat. The
animal, usually so vicious, purred in delight, rubbing his nose against
the girl's hand.

"Air the little Flea wantin' the owl to tell her somethin'?"

"Yep," replied Flea doubtfully.

"And ye brought yer old Screechy a little present?"

"Yep."

"What?"

"Some fagots to keep ye warm, Screechy."

"Where be they?"

"Here by my side."

"Ye be a good Flea," cackled Screechy. "Be ye in trouble?"

"Yep. So be Flukey. Can ye tell me anything 'bout Flukey?"

The woman frowned. "Flukey, Flukey, yer brother," she repeated. "I ain't
a likin' boys, 'cause they throw stones at me."

"Flukey never throwed no stones at ye, Screechy, an' he's unhappy now.
He'll bring ye a lot more fagots sometime to heat yer bones by."

"Aye, I'm a needin' heat. My bones be stiff, and my blood's nothin' but
water, and my eyes ain't seein' nothin'."

"Don't they see things in the dark," asked the girl, superstitiously,
"ghosts and things?"

"Aye, Flea; and the things I see now I'll tell ye if they be good or
bad--mind ye, good or bad!"

"Good or bad," repeated Flea.

At length, after a silence, the girl broke forth. "Air Flukey in yer
eyes, Screechy?"

"Yep, Flea, and so be you; but there ain't much for ye, savin' that ye
go a long journey lookin' for a good land."

Bending her head nearer, Flea coaxed, "What good land, Screechy dear?"

"Yer's and Flukey's, Flea."

"Where air it?"

"Down behind the college hill, many a stretch for yer short legs from
the squatter's settlement, and many a day when bread's short and water's
plenty, many a night when the cold'll bite yer legs, and many a tear--"

"Be we leavin' Pappy Lon?" demanded the girl.

"Yep."

"Forever and forever?"

"For Flukey, yep; but for yerself--"

Flea stared in speechless wonder and fright. "I don't want to stay
without Flukey!" she cried.

"I ain't a tellin' ye what ye want to do; only how the shadders run. But
that's a weary day off. The good land be yers and Flukey's for the
seekin' of it."

"Air Flukey goin' to be catched a thievin'?"

"Yep, some day."

"With Pappy Lon?"

"Nope, with yerself, Flea."

"I ain't no thief," replied Flea sulkily. "I ain't never took nothin',
not so much as a chicken! And Flukey wouldn't nuther if Pappy Lon didn't
make him."

From behind Screech Owl's shrouding gray hair two black eyes glittered.

"The good land, the good land!" whispered the madwoman. "It be all
comin' for yerself and Flukey."

[Illustration: "AM I ON THE RIGHT ROAD TO GLENWOOD?"]

"Be I goin' to--" Flea sat back on her bare toes, her face suddenly
darkening with rage. "I won't go with him! I won't, Screechy, if he was
in every old eye in yer head! I won't, so there!"

The darkness hid from Screech Owl the glint in Flea's eyes.

"Who be it Lon said you was goin' with, Flea?"

Scraggy must have forgotten her conversation with Lem but an hour or two
before; for she evinced no knowledge of any man interested in Flea.

"A one-armed man. Pappy says I'm to be his woman. Be I, Screechy?"

"Nope; but I see a hook a whirlin' in the air into the good land, a
whirlin' and a whirlin' after ye. I see it a stealin' on ye in the night
when ye think ye're safe. I see the sharp p'int of it a stickin' into
yer soft flesh--"

"Don't, don't!" pleaded Flea in a smothered voice. "Ye said as how I
were goin' with Flukey to a good land down behind the college hill."

"So ye be," assented the Owl; "but after ye get to the good land the
sharp p'int of the hook'll come and rip at ye. I see it a haulin' ye
back away from them what ye loves--"

Flea grasped the woman's arm between her fingers and pressed nearer
Scraggy with a startled cry. The cat, hissing, lashed a bushy tail from
side to side. His eyes flashed green, and a cry came from Flea's lips.
In another instant she was speeding away down the rocks.



CHAPTER SEVEN


At three o'clock the next morning a boat left the lighthouse at the head
of Cayuga Lake and was rowed toward the western shores. As before, two
men and a boy were in it. The lad was still at the rudder, while the men
swiftly cut the water stroke by stroke. For three miles down the lake no
one spoke; but when the boat scraped the shore in front of his hut Lon
broke the silence.

"It weren't a bad haul tonight, were it, Lem?" he said almost jovially.
"And tomorry ye come up to the shanty for the dividin'. Ye know I
wouldn't cheat a hair o' yer head, don't ye, Lem?"

"Yep, ye bet I know it! And I'm that happy 'cause I'm to take yer gal a
Saturday that I could give ye the hull haul tonight, Lon."

"Ye needn't do that, Lem. I give ye Flea 'cause I want ye to have her,
and I know that you'll make her stand round and mind ye, and if she
don't--"

"Then I'll make her!" put in Lem darkly. "She'll give back no more bites
for my kisses when I get her! I had a woman a long time ago, and when
she didn't mind me I beat her, and beat her and beat her hard! That's
the way to do with women folks!"

"Ye had Scraggy, didn't ye, Lem?" asked Lon, heaping his arm with his
clothing.

Flukey stood silently by, his pale face ghastly in the thin, yellow
moonlight.

"Yep; but Scraggy wasn't no good. I didn't like her. I do like Flea,
and I'd stick to her, too. I'd marry her if ye'd say the word."

"Nope, I ain't a askin' ye to marry her. Yer jest make her stand around,
and break her spirit if ye can. Flea ain't like Flukey; she's hard to
beat a thing out of."

"I know how to handle her!" answered Lem. The silent laughter in his
throat ended in a grunt. He slung a small basket over the hook and went
off up the rocks to his scow.

"Ye can go to bed, Flukey," said Lon. "Ye've done a good night's
work--and mind ye it ain't wicked to take what ye want from them havin'
plenty."

Lon hesitated before proceeding. "And, Flukey, if ye know what's good
for Flea, don't be settin' her up ag'in' my wishes, 'cause if she don't
do what I tell her it'll be the worse for her!... Scoot to bed!"

The boy stood for a moment, opened his lips to plead with the big,
sullen squatter for his sister; but, changing his mind, limped off to
the cabin.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the shanty was quiet a girl's figure shrouded in black curls
crawled across the hut floor to the loft ladder. Flea ascended quickly;
but halted at the top to catch her breath. She could hear from the other
side of the partition the sound of Lon's heavy snores, and from the
corner came the lighter breathing of her brother. Through the small loft
window the moonbeams shone, and by them Flea could see the boy's dark
head and strong young arm under the masses of thick hair.

She began to crawl toward the cot, wriggling like a huge worm across the
bare boards. Several times she paused, trying to suppress her frightened
heartbeats. Then, lifting her hand, she placed it over Flukey's mouth
and whispered:

"Fluke, Fluke, wake up! It's Flea!"

Flukey made no movement to dislodge his tightly pressed lips from the
trembling fingers. The gray eyes flashed open; but the lad lay perfectly
still.

"Fluke," breathed Flea, "I'm goin' to the cave. Slip on yer pants, and
don't wake Granny Cronk nor Pappy Lon!"

If it had not been that the boy pressed his fingers on the blanket, Flea
would have wondered if her brother had heard.

The lithe form had crept back to the ladder and had disappeared before
Flukey slipped quietly from his bed and drew on the blue-jeans overalls.
As he stole through the kitchen, he could hear the snorts of Granny
Cronk coming from the back room. The outside door stood partly open, and
without hesitation he passed through and closed it after him that the
wind might not slam it. Then he limped along under the shore trees, up a
little hill, and dropped out of sight into an open cavern, where Flea, a
candle in her hand, sat in semidarkness.

The cave had been the children's playground ever since they could
remember. Here they had come to weep over indignities heaped upon them
in childhood; here they had come in joy and in sorrow, and now, in
secret conclave in the early hours of the morning, they had come again.

"Ye're here!" said Flea in feverish haste. "I feared ye'd go to sleep
again."

"Nope; I allers come when ye want me, Flea."

"Did ye steal tonight?"

"Yep."

"What did ye get?"

The boy shuddered, and a strange, hunted expression came into his eyes.
"Spoons, knives, clothes, and things," said he; "and I'd ruther be tore
to pieces by wild bulls than ever steal again!"

His voice was toned with an unnatural ring. Wonderingly, Flea drew
closer to him, the candle dripping white, round drops hot on the brown
hand.

"But Pappy Lon says as how ye must steal, don't he?" she asked
presently.

"Yep, and as how you must go with Lem."

"I won't, I won't! Pappy Lon can kill me first!"

She said this in passionate anger; but, upon holding the candle close to
Flukey's face, she exclaimed:

"Fluke, don't look like that--it scares me!"

He was piercing the dark ends of the cave, his eyes colored like steel.
They were softened only by shots of brown, which ran like chain
lightning through them. The girl's gaze followed her brother's timidly;
for he looked ahead, as if he saw something that threatened her and him.
In spite of her soft touch, the boy looked on and on in his unyielding
fierceness at the fast approaching inevitable, which he had not been
able to stem. That day a change had been ordered in their lives, and it
had come upon him in the shape of a mental blow that hurt him far worse
than if Pappy Lon had flogged him throughout the night.

"If Pappy Lon sends me next Saturday to Lem," Flea ventured in an
undertone, "then ye can't help me much, can ye, Fluke?"

The muscles of the boy's face relaxed, and he drew his knee up to his
chest. "When my leg ain't lame I'm strong enough to lick Lem, if--if--"

"Nope; I ain't no notion for ye to lick him yet, Fluke. Do ye believe in
the sayin's of Screech Owl?"

"Ye mean--"

"Do ye believe what she says when the bats be a flyin' round in her
head, and when she sees the good land for you and myself, Flukey?"

"Did she say somethin' 'bout a good land for us, Flea?"

"Yep."

"Where's the good land?"

"Down behind the college hill, many a stretch from here--and, Flukey, I
ain't a goin' to Lena's, and ye ain't likin' to be a thief. Will ye come
and find the good land with me?"

"Girls can't run away like boys can. They ain't able to bear hurt."

Flea dropped her head with a blush of shame. She knew well that Flukey
could perform wonderful feats which she had been unable to do. Grandma'm
Cronk had told her that her dresses made the difference between her
ability and Flukey's. With this impediment removed, she could turn her
face toward the shining land predicted by Scraggy for Flukey and
herself; she could follow her brother over hills and into valleys, until
at last--

"I could wear a pair of yer pants and be a boy, too, and you could chop
off my hair," she exclaimed. "All I want ye to do is to grow to be a man
quick, and to lick Lem Crabbe if he comes after me. Will ye? Screechy
says he's goin' to follow me."

"I'll lick him anywhere," cried the boy, his tears rising; "and if ye
has to go to him, and he as much as lays a finger on ye, I'll kill him!"

His face was so rigidly drawn during his last threat that he hissed the
words out through his teeth.

"Then ye'd get yer neck stretched," argued Flea, "and I ain't a goin' to
him. We be goin' away to the good land down behind the college hill."

"When?" demanded Flukey.

"Tonight," replied Flea. "Ye go and get some duds for me,--a shirt and
the other pair of yer jeans. Crib Granny's shears to cut my hair off.
Then we'll start. See? And we ain't never comin' back. Pappy Lon hates
me, and he's licked ye all he's goin' to. Git along and crib the duds!"

She rose to her feet, nervously breaking away the little rivers of
grease that had hardened upon her hand and wrist.

"Ye've got to get into the hut in the dark," she said, "and then ye
stand at the mouth of the cave while I put on the things."

"How be we goin' to live when we go?" asked Flukey dully, making no move
to obey her.

"We'll live in the good land where there be lots of bread and 'lasses,"
she soothed; "the two dips in the dish at one time--jest think of that,
ole skate!"

He tried to smile at her forced jocularity; but the hunted expression
saddened his eyes again. To these children, brought up animal-like in
the midst of misery and hate, their world revolved round their stomachs,
too often empty. But this new trouble--the terror of Flea's going with
Lem--had made a man of Flukey, and bread and molasses sank into
oblivion. He was ready to shield her from the thief with his life.

"Get along!" ordered Flea.

Instead of obeying, the boy sat down on a rounded stone. "I'd a runned
away along ago, if it hadn't been, for you, Flea."

"I know that you love me," said the girl brokenly; "I know that, all
right!"

"I couldn't have stood Pappy Lon nor Lem nor none of the rest," groaned
Flukey, "and I was to tell ye tonight to let me go, and I would come
back for ye; but if ye be made to go with Lem--"

"That makes ye take me with you," gasped Flea eagerly. "Huh?"

"Yep, that makes me take ye with me, Flea; but if we go mebbe sometimes
we have to go without no bread."

There was warning in his tones; for he had heard stories of other lads
who had left the settlement and had returned home lank, pale, and
hungry.

"I've been out o' bread here," encouraged Flea. "Granny's put me to bed
many a time, and no supper. Get along, will ye?"

"Yep, I'm goin'; but I can't leave Snatchet. We can take my dorg, Flea.
Where's he gone?"

"We'll take him," promised Flea. "He's in the wood-house. Scoot and get
the duds and him!"

The boy toiled up the rocks to the top of the cave, and Flea heard his
departing steps for a moment, then seated herself in tremulous fear.

Flukey pushed open the cabin door, listened a moment, and stepped in. No
sound save of loud breathing came from the back room where the old woman
slept. At the top of the ladder he could hear Lon snoring loudly. Flukey
crawled upon his knees to a small box against the wall. He pulled out a
pair of brown overalls and a blue shirt, and with great caution crept
back. Almost before Flea realized that he had gone, he was in the cave
again with Snatchet in his arms, displaying his plunder.

"Put 'em on quick!" ordered Flukey. "Here, hold still!" As he spoke, he
gathered Flea's black curls into his fingers and cut them off boylike to
her head. "If Pappy Lon catches us," he went on, "he'll knock hell out
of us both."

The girl, having surrendered her spirit of command, crawled into the
trousers and donned the blue shirt. After extinguishing the candle,
which Flukey slipped into his pocket, they clambered out of the cave,
leaving the rocky floor strewn with locks of hair, and stole softly
along the shore toward the college hill.



CHAPTER EIGHT


Horace Shellington, newly fledged attorney and counsellor-at-law, sat in
his luxurious library, his feet cocked upon the desk in true bachelor
fashion. He was apparently deep in thought, his handsome head resting
against the back of the chair, when his meditations were broken by a
knock at the door.

"Come in. Is it you, Sis?" he said.

"Yes, Dear," was the answer as the girl entered. "Everett wants us to go
in his party to the Dryden fair. Would you like to?"

Horace glanced up quizzically and smiled as the blush mounted to her
fair hair. "The question, Ann dear, rests with you."

"I never tire being with Everett," Ann said slowly.

"That's because you're in love with him, Sis. When a girl is in love she
always wants to be with the lucky chap."

"And doesn't he want to be with her?" demanded Ann eagerly.

"Of course. And, Ann, I shouldn't ask for a better fellow than Everett
is, only that I don't want you to leave me right away. Without you,
Dear, I think I should die of the blue devils!"

"Do you want me to stay at home until you, too, get ready to marry?" Ann
asked laughingly. "I'm afraid I should never have a chance to help
Everett make a home if you did; for you simply won't like any of the
girls I know."

"I want to get well started in my profession before I think of
marrying. I am happy over the fact that I have been able to enter
Vandecar's law office. He's the strongest man in the state in his line,
and it means New York for me some day. Vandecar is even more powerful
than Brimbecomb."

"I'm glad for you, Horace, because it seems to me that you have an
opportunity that few men have. Nothing can ever keep you back! And you
are so very young, Dear!"

"No, nothing can keep me back now, Ann. Sit down, do."

"Not now, Dear; I'll run away from you, and tell Everett that you will
go to Dryden with us--and I do hope that the weather will be fine!"

Ann tripped out, her heart light with contentment. Her star of happiness
had reached its zenith when Everett Brimbecomb had asked her to be his
wife. Rich in her own right, of the bluest blood in the state, soon to
marry the man who had been her ideal since their childhood days, why
should she not be happy?

After leaving Horace, Ann went to the side window and tapped upon it.
Receiving no response, she lifted the sash and called softly to her
fiancé. Hearing her voice, Everett Brimbecomb appeared at the opposite
window. The girl's heart thrilled with happiness as he smiled upon her.

"Run over a minute, Everett," she called.

"All right, dear heart."

His voice was so vibrantly low and rich that the girl experienced a
feeling of thanksgiving as she stood waiting for him at the door. When
he came, the lovers went into the drawing-room, where a grate fire
burned dim.

"Horace says he'll go to Dryden, Everett," Ann announced, "and I'm so
glad! I thought he might say that he was too busy."

Everett smiled, slipped his arm about the girl's waist, and for a moment
she leaned against him like a frail, sweet flower.

Presently Ann noticed that a shadow had settled on her lover's face.
Womanlike, she questioned him.

"Is there anything the matter, Dear?" she asked, drawing him to the
divan.

"Nothing serious. I've been talking with Father."

"Yes?"

She waited for him to continue; but he sat silent, wrapped in thought
for a long minute. At last, however, he spoke gloomily:

"Ann, I wish I knew who my own people were."

"Aren't you satisfied with those you have, Everett?" There was sweet
reproof in the girl's tones.

"More than satisfied," he said; "but somehow I feel--no I won't say it,
Ann. It would seem caddish to you."

"Nothing you could say to me would seem that," she answered.

Everett rose and walked up and down the room. "Well, it seems to me
that, although the blood of the Brimbecomb's is blue, mine is bluer
still; that, while they have many famous ancestors, I have still more
illustrious ones. I feel sometimes a longing to run wild and do
unheard-of things, and to make men know my strength, to--well, to
virtually turn the world upside down."

A frightened look leaped into the girl's eyes. He was so vehement, so
passionate, so powerful, that at times she felt how inferior in
temperment she was to him. Her heart swelled with gratitude when she
realized that he belonged to her and to her alone. How good God had
been! And every day in the solitude of her chamber she had thanked the
Giver of every gift for this perfect man--since he was perfect to her.
In a few moments she rose and walked beside him, longing to enter into
the hidden ambitions of his heart, to read his innermost thoughts.
Everett appreciated her feeling. Again he passed his arm around her, and
for a time they paced to and fro, each thankful for the love that had
become the chief thing in life.

"I have an idea, Ann," began Everett presently, "that my mother will
know me by the scar on me here." He raised his fingers to his shoulder
and drew them slowly downward as he continued. "And I know that she is
some wild, beautiful thing different from any other woman living. And
I've pictured my father in my mind's eyes a million times, since I have
found out I am not really Everett Brimbecomb."

"But Mr. and Mrs. Brimbecomb have done everything for you--"

"So they have," broke in Everett; "but a chap wants to know his own
flesh and blood, and, since Mother told me that I was not her own son,
I've looked into the face of every woman I've seen and wondered if my
own mother was like her. I don't want to seem ungrateful; but if they
would only tell me more I could rest easier." A painful pucker settled
between his brows.

"Sit down here, Everett," Ann urged, "and tell me if you have ever tried
to find them."

"I asked my fath--Mr. Brimbecomb today." His faltering words and the
change of appellation shocked Ann; but she did not chide him, for he was
speaking again. "I told him that, now I was through college and had been
admitted to the bar, I insisted upon knowing who my own people were. But
he said that I must ask his wife; that she knew, and would tell me, if
she desired me to know. I promised him long ago that I would register in
his law office at the same time that Horace went to Vandecar's. Confound
it, Ann!--I beg your pardon, but I feel as if I had been created for
something more than to drone over petty cases in a law office."

"But, Everett, it has been understood ever since you went to Cornell
that you should enter Mr. Brimbecomb's office. You would not fail him
now that he is so dependent upon you?"

"Of course not; I intend to work with him. But I tell you this, Ann,
that I am determined to find my own people at whatever cost!"

"Did you ask Mrs. Brimbecomb about them?"

"Yes; but she cried so that I stopped--and so it goes! Well, Dear, I
don't want to worry you. It only makes a little more work for me, that's
all. But, when I do find them, I shall be the proudest man in all the
world."

Ann rose to her feet hastily. "Here comes Horace! Let's talk over the
fair--and now, Dear, I must kiss away those naughty lines between your
eyes this moment. I don't want my boy to feel sad."

She kissed him tenderly, and turned to meet her brother.

"I was tired of staying in there alone," said Horace. "Hello, Everett!
It was nice of you, old chap, to ask me along to Dryden. That's my one
failing in the fall--I always go. Let me see--you didn't go last year,
did you, Everett?"

"No; but I knew that Ann wanted to go this year, and I thought a party
would be pleasant. I asked Katherine Vandecar; but her aunt is such an
invalid that Katherine can scarcely ever leave her."

"Mrs. Vandecar is ill," said Ann. "I called there yesterday, and she is
the frailest looking woman I ever saw."

"She's never got over the loss of her children," rejoined Everett. "It's
hard on Vandecar, too, to have her ill. He looks ten years older than he
is."

"Yes; but their little Mildred is such a comfort to them both!"
interjected Ann. "They watch the child like hawks. I suppose it's only
natural after their awful experience. Isn't it strange that two children
could disappear from the face of the earth and not a word be heard from
them in all these years?"

"They're probably dead," replied Horace gently, and silence fell upon
them.



CHAPTER NINE


Flea and Flukey Cronk, followed by the yellow dog, made their way
farther and farther from Ithaca. They had left the university in the
distance, when a dim streak of light warned them that day was
approaching. It was here that Flea lagged behind her brother.

"Ye're tired, Flea," said Flukey.

"Yep."

"Will ye crawl into a haystack if we come to one?"

"Yep."

They spoke no more until, farther on, a farmhouse, with dark barns in
the rear, loomed up before them.

"Ye wait here, Flea," said Flukey, "till I see where we can sleep."

After an absence of a few minutes he returned and in silence conducted
the girl by a roundabout way to a newly piled stack of hay.

"I burried a place for us both," he whispered. "Ye crawl in first, Flea,
and I'll bring in Snatchet. Lift yer leg up high and ye'll find the
hole."

A minute later they were tucked away from the cold morning, their small
faces overshadowed by the new-mown hay, and here, through the morning
hours, they slept soundly. Then again they set forth, and it was late in
the afternoon when they drew up before the high fence encircling the
fair-grounds at Dryden. The fall fair was in full blast. Crowds were
passing in and out of the several gates. With longing heart, first Flea,
then Flukey, placed an eye to a knothole, to watch the proceedings
inside. Rows of sleek cattle waved their blue and red ribbons jauntily
in the breeze; fat pigs, with the owners' names pasted on the cards in
front, grunted in small pens. For a time the twins stood side by side,
wishing with all their might that they were possessed of the necessary
entrance-fee.

"If I could get a job," said Flukey, "we could get in."

"I could work, too," said Flea, her hands dug deep in her trousers
pockets.

Just then a man hailed them. "Want to get in, Kids?" he asked.

"Yep!" bawled Flea and Flukey in unison, their hunger forgotten in this
new delight.

"Then help me carry in those boards, and then you can stay in."

Flukey looked apprehensively at Flea.

"Ye ain't a boy--"

"Shet up!" snapped Flea. "My pants're as long as your'n, and I be a boy
till we get to the good land. Heave a board on my shoulder, Fluke."

They slid through the opening in the fence made to pass in the lumber,
and for ten minutes aided their new friend by carrying plank after plank
into the fair-grounds. When the work was done they stood awe-stricken,
looking at the gorgeous surroundings. Flags waved aloft on each
building; yards of bunting roped in exhibits of all kinds. Everywhere
persons were walking to and fro. But still the squatter children stood
motionless and stared with wide-open eyes at such an array of good
things as had never before gladdened their sight. Then, after the
strangeness had somewhat worn off, they wandered on, bewildered.
Snatchet was hugged tight in Flukey's arms; for other dogs laid back
their ears and growled at the yellow cur.

[Illustration: "THEN THEY COMED AN' TOOK ME AWAY FOR STEALIN'."]

Suddenly they came upon the athletic field. Here, reared high in the
air, was a slender greased pole, on the top of which fluttered a
five-dollar bill. Several youngsters, dressed in bathing suits, awaited
the hour when they should be allowed to try and win the money. One after
another they took their turn, and when an extra spurt up the pole was
made by some lucky boy the crowd evinced its delight by loud cheers.
Time and again the breeze fluttered the coveted money, and yet no boy
had won the prize.

"I'd like to try it," said Flukey.

"If we couldn't get it with bathing suits, you couldn't climb that pole
with them long pants," retorted one of the contestants who stood near.
"Look! that kid's goin' to get it, after all!" There was disappointment
in the tones; but the words had no sooner died away than the climber
slipped to the ground.

Flea pinched Flukey's arm. "Be yer knee so twisted that ye can't try,
Flukey?"

"Nope, my rheumatiz ain't hurtin' me now."

"Then shinny up it, Fluke--ye can climb it! Get along there!"

She took the dog from his arms, and the boy went forward when the call
came for another aspirant.

"I'm goin' to get that there bill!" said Flukey, shutting his teeth
firmly.

He advanced and spoke in an undertone to a man, who, with a grin,
shouted out the name, "Mr. F. Cronk."

The dignity of the prefix made Flukey spit upon his hands before he
started to climb the pole. Flea came closer and stood almost breathless.
Her parted lips showed small, even, white teeth, her eyes glistened, and
flashes of red blood crimsoned her face. One suspender slipping from her
shoulder, the vicious dog in her arms, the beautiful upturned face, was
as interesting a spectacle as the onlookers had ever seen. It was with
breathless interest that she watched her brother laboriously ascend the
pole.

Flukey was indeed making a masterful climb. But at last he halted; and
then, a moment later, he climbed desperately. The girl on the ground saw
him falter, and knew that he was becoming faint-hearted. To encourage
him, she lifted a voice broken by emotion and shouted:

"Go it, Fluke, go it!... Aw! damn it, he slid!... Go it, ole feller! Git
there, git there! Ye're almost there, Fluke--git it! It's a dinner--it's
a bone for Snatchet, and we'll eat!... Damn it! he slid again!... Aw!
hell!"

Flukey gained the space he had lost in his last slide. Halfway up, he
began again, the men cheering and the women waving handkerchiefs. But
the boy had heard only the words from the little figure under the pole.
The five dollars did mean a good dinner, and a bone for lean Snatchet.
Up, up, and still up, until his fingers grasped the pole very near the
top.

There he rested for breath. For a few seconds his head drooped on his
shoulders, and absolute quiet reigned below. His slender legs encircled
the pole, and finally, with a painful effort, he lifted out the pin
stuck in the bill, grasped the money in his fingers, and instantly slid
to the ground. Laughs and cheers roared into the air. Flea had backed
away from the pole, still holding the small dog; but, before she could
get to Flukey, other boys were surrounding him, asking how he had done
it.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden shouting came from hundreds of throats. One voice raised above
the clamor:

"Anyone catching the greased pig, Squeaky, can have him. He's a fine
roaster! After him, Boys!"

Over a knoll, his tiny nose swaying in the air, and four short legs
kicking the dust into clouds, skurried a small pig, coated from head to
tail with lard. Deftly he slipped for his life through many youthful
hands stretched out to grasp him, and time and again he wriggled from
under a small boy crouched to stop his progress. He passed the
danger-mark, and in the new stretch of ground, where the spectators were
standing, discerned a chance to escape.

Flea saw him coming and could detect the terror in the flying little
beast. Her heart leaped up in answer to the call from something in
distress--something she loved, loved because it lived and suffered
through terrible fear. She dropped Snatchet and caught the greased pig
in her arms. She hugged him up to her breast and, turning flashing eyes
upon the people staring at her, said:

"Poor little baby piggy! He's scared almost to death."

"You've caught the greased pig!" somebody shouted. "You can have
him--he's yours!"

"Ye mean mine to keep?" Flea demanded of the man who had cheered on the
boys.

"Yes, to keep," was the reply, "and this five-dollar gold-piece because
you caught him."

"I didn't try to catch him," she said simply. "He jest comed to me
'cause he were so afeard. His little heart's a beatin' like as if he's
goin' to die. I'll keep him, and I thank ye for the money.... Golly! but
ain't me and Flukey two rich kids? Where's Fluke?"

Just then somebody stepped up behind the girl and touched her on the
arm. Flea turned her head and found herself gazing into the kindly eyes
and earnest face of her prince.

Instantly she lost all thought of her brother and Snatchet. The voice
she had dreamed of was speaking.

"Little boy," it said, "I've purchased every year the greased pig of the
youngster who caught him. May I buy him of you? I'll give you another
gold-piece for him."

Words stuck in Flea's throat, and she only clung closer to the suckling.
At last she murmured, "What do ye want with him?"

The man threw back his head and laughed. "Why, to eat him, of course. We
always have roast pig for dinner the day after the fair."

Flea dug her toe into the dust and flung up a cloud of it, as her face
drew into a sulky frown. "Well," she drawled, "ye don't hog down this
'un! He's mine!"

"But the money, Boy! Don't you want the money?"

Her heart was beating so fast that she dared not lift her eyes again to
his. Then a lady spoke in a soft voice, and Flea glanced at her.

"This is Mr. Horace Shellington," she said, "and if he did not have the
pig he would be disappointed. You'll let him buy it, won't you?"

Flea looked into the questioning face of her prince, the face of her
dreams, looked again into his smiling eyes, and stood hesitant. Her
thoughts flew fast. She remembered the terrified pig, how she had pitied
him, and how much he wanted to live, to frisk in the sunshine. She
thought of the cruel knife that would reach the tiny heart tapping
against her own, and threw back her head in defiance.

"Ye may have e't all the greased pigs in this here country," she said to
Shellington; "but ye don't eat this 'un! Ye see, this 'un's mine, and
he's goin' to live, eat, and be happy, that's all!" Although she had
spoken emphatically, her eyes dropped again before the keen gaze bent
upon her. To relieve her embarrassment, she turned and shouted, "Flukey,
Flukey, come along! Where's Snatchet?"

So great had been Flea's excitement at the catching of the pig that she
had given no heed to the dog. Flukey had handed the little fellow to
her, and she had let him go.

Suddenly an appalling spectacle rose before her. On an elevated spot, a
few feet from the greased pole, Snatchet stood poised in view of
hundreds of curious eyes. His short stubby tail had straightened out
like a stick. His nose was lowered almost to the ground. Each yellow
hair on his scarred back had risen separate and apart from one another,
while his beady eyes glistened greedily. Directly in front of him,
staring back with feathers ruffled and drooping wings, was a little
brown hen, escaped from her coop. She was eying Snatchet impudently,
daring him to approach her by perking her wee head saucily first on one
side and then on the other. Snatchet, pressed on by hunger beating at
his lean sides, slid rigidly a pace nearer. A cry went up from a
childish voice.

"He'll kill my Queen Bess! Father--Oh! Father!"

Flukey's voice, calling to his dog, rose high above the clamor. Suddenly
the little hen turned tail and flew across over the soft earth, uttering
frightened cackles; but her flight was slow compared to Snatchet's. He
came scurrying behind her, snapping a tail feather loose with each
onward bound, utterly oblivious of the two strong voices calling his
name.

The little hen wove a precarious path through coops of chattering
chickens, and Snatchet, bent upon his prey, added to the din. He had no
way of knowing the twists and turns to be taken by his small brown
victim, and it was only by making sharp corners that Queen Bess kept
clear of the snapping teeth. Men were running to and fro for something
to beat off the yellow invader. The girl's voice had settled to a cry,
and, just as Flukey, panting and tired, reached the dog, Snatchet
snapped up the hen, shook her fiercely, and settled down to his meal. In
an instant Flukey had dragged the beating body from his teeth, kicked
him soundly with his bare foot, and held out the dead hen to a man whose
face was darkened by anger. The young mistress of the feathered queen
was clinging, sobbing, to his hand.

"Is that your dog?" Flea heard the man ask, pointing to Snatchet under
the squatter boy's arm.

"Yep."

"Do you understand that he killed my little girl's prize hen?"

"The dog ought to die, too!" cried a voice from the people.

Her brother's sorrowful attitude made Flea press Flukey's arm
soothingly.

"So he ought to die!" said another.

"He were hungry," explained Flukey, turning on Snatchet's accuser.
"Mister, if ye'll let my dorg live--"

Before he could finish the child had interrupted him. "That dog ought to
die for killing my Bess!"

Flea pushed past Flukey and stood before the little girl. "Kid, I don't
blame ye for cryin' for yer hen," she began; "but my brother ain't got
no dog but Snatchet, an' if ye'll let him live I'll give ye this bit of
gold I got for catchin' the pig."

A murmur followed her words, and the tears dried in the blue eyes
looking up at her.

"Here little 'un, chuck it in yer pocket," said Flea, straightening her
shoulders, "and it'll buy another hen."

So the jury which had sat for a moment upon the precious life of
Snatchet brought in a verdict of "not guilty," and the squatter children
turned to find something to eat for the quartet of empty stomachs. Out
of sight of Dryden, they sat down beside the road, and Flea looked the
pig over.

"Ye has to tie a piece of cord to his leg, Kid," cautioned Flukey;
"'cause he'll get away if ye don't. Ain't he fine?"

"The finest pig in this here world," responded Flea. "Ye ain't got no
rag what'll wipe off some of this grease, have ye, Fluke?"

"Nope; but ye can scrape it off with a stick or a rock. Here, ye hold
him tight while I dig at him."

For about twenty minutes they busied themselves with cleaning the
suckling, laughing at his wriggles and squeaks.

"What'll we call him?" asked Flea.

"Squeaky," said Flukey, "that's what the man called out."

"Aw, that ain't nice enough for me! I'll call him Prince, and ye call
him Squeaky--Prince Squeaky," she ended, knotting the cord Flukey had
given her about the short hind leg of the animal.

"And we be rich," she declared later, "'most five dollars, a pig, and
Snatchet, and yer leg's well. It don't hurt a bit, do it?"

"Nope, not now; but when I were at the top of that pole I got a damn
good twist. It's better now."

"Then let's mog along," said Flea, "'cause we can eat all we want, now
we got money."



CHAPTER TEN


For two weeks Flea and Flukey lived on the fat of the land. The country
afforded them haystacks, and the brooks, clear water. The children were
never happier than when Squeaky's nose was hidden in a tin can of
buttermilk, and the precious five dollars bought countless numbers of
currant buns, sugar cakes, and penny bones for Snatchet. Now Flukey
lifted his head proudly and walked with the air of a boy on the road to
fortune, and Flea kept at his side with the prince hugged close in her
arms. Through the long stretch of houseless roads Snatchet was allowed
to rove at will, and Flukey relieved his sister of her burden. By the
third day out toward the promised land the two little animals had become
firm friends, and the queer quartet walked on and on, as straight as the
crow flies, through the valleys and over the hills, wading the creeks
and ferrying the rivers, until they awoke one morning without money or
breakfast. The warm hay at night, much sunshine, and the absence of rain
had reduced the swollen joint in Flukey's knee to normal size; but that
day, as they trudged along, Flea noticed that he limped more than at any
time during their journey from Tompkins County. Even now, with hunger
staring wolf-eyed at them, there was no desire to return to Ithaca, no
thought of renewing their life in the squatter's settlement; for,
unknown to themselves, they were being swept on by a common destiny.

"Ye're gettin' lame again," said Flea after awhile, the mother-feeling
in her making her watch Flukey with concern. "Last night a-laying' in
the field didn't do ye any good. Let me lug Prince Squeaky."

Without remonstrance, the boy surrendered the wriggling burden, and they
started out once more.

"I wish we could find a nice, warm haystack," Flea commented; "it'd warm
up yer bones. Will we get to one, Fluke, after awhile?"

"Nope, 'cause we're comin' to a big city."

As he spoke, he motioned to where Tarrytown lay on the banks of the
Hudson River, several miles distant. Then they were silent a time; for
each young life was busy with the tragedy of living. Just what they
would do for a place to sleep Flea could not tell, since under the
compact made in the rock-cavern they would steal no more.

In the gathering twilight the two came upon the cemetery of Sleepy
Hollow, and here, tired, hungry, and despondent, they sat down to rest.

"It's gettin' night," said Flukey drearily. "I wonder where we'll
sleep?"

"Can't we squirm in this dead man's yard 'thout nobody seein' us?" asked
Flea, casting her eyes over the graves. "Ye can't walk no more tonight.
I ain't hungry, anyhow."

"Ye lie, Flea!" moaned Flukey. "Yer belly's as empty as Squeaky's or
Snatchet's. I've got to get ye somethin' to eat."

Nevertheless, without resistance, he allowed her to help him through the
large gate, and they struck off into the older part of the cemetery. All
through the night they lay dozing in the presence of the dead, Squeaky
tied by the leg to a tree, and Snatchet snuggled warmly between the two
children. The dawning of day brought Flukey new anguish; for both knees
were swollen, and he groaned as he turned over.

Flea was up instantly. "Be ye sick?"

"Only the twist in my legs. I wish it wasn't so cold. If the sun would
only get warm!"

"We'll get to the good land today, Fluke," soothed Flea, "and ye can eat
all ye want, and sleep with a pile of covers on--as big--as big as that
there vault yonder."

"But we ain't in the good land yet, Flea," groaned Flukey, "and we're
all hungry. I wish I could 'arn a nickel. If ye didn't love the pig so
much, Flea, we could sell him. He's a growin' thinner and thinner every
minute, and Snatchet be that starvin' he could eat another mut bigger'n
himself."

The girl made no answer to this, but tucked Squeaky's pink nose under
the blue-shirted arm and sat mute.

Flukey, encouraged, went on. "Nobody'd buy Snatchet--he's only a poor,
damn, shiverin' cuss."

"If we selled Prince Squeaky, some'un'd eat him," mourned Flea. "He
ain't goin' to be e't, I says!"

So forceful were her tones that Flukey offered no more suggestions; but
stared miserably at the sun as it rose up from the east, dispersing the
cold, gray morning fog. Presently Flea stood up and said decisively:

"We've got to eat. Ye stay here while I hunt for somethin'."

She darted away before Flukey could remonstrate. For a long time the boy
lay on the damp ground, his face drawn awry with pain, watching the
wagons going back and forth on the road below. The pangs of hunger and
the night of rheumatism had told upon his young strength. His mind went
back to the hut on Cayuga Lake, and he thought of how when their absence
had been discovered Granny Cronk had cried a little, and how Pappy Lon
had cursed and grown more silent than ever. The tender heart of the sick
boy yearned toward the old squatter woman, who had been the only mother
he and Flea had ever known. In his loneliness he stroked Squeaky on the
snout and muttered tender words to the lean dog lying under his lame
leg. After a short time he saw Flea, with a small bundle in her hand,
picking her way among the graves. Flukey lay perfectly quiet until his
sister offered him a bun.

"I could only buy four, 'cause I only had a nickel."

"Give Squeaky and Snatchet one, will ye, Flea?" ventured Flukey.

"Yep. I said, when I buyed 'em, there'd be one apiece."

"Somethin' has made ye pale, Flea," said Flukey after each of the four
had devoured breakfast. "Ye didn't--"

"I see Lem Crabbe's scow down by the river."

Flukey uttered an exclamation and sat up with a groan. "He's comin'
after ye, Kid," he breathed desperately.

"Nope, he ain't," assured Flea; "he's takin' lumber down to New York.
And he didn't see me. And we'll stay in this here graveyard till he's
gone. He's waitin' for the steam tug to come. I guess he poled from
Albany down when he couldn't use his mules."

"Were Pappy Lon with him?" asked Flukey, drawing up his knees.

"I dunno; I didn't wait to see. I had to 'arn this nickel."

"Ye didn't steal it, Flea?"

"Nope; I had it give to me for holdin' a horse. Ye believe me, Fluke?"

"Yep, I believe ye. And ye say as how we can't go on now to the good
land? We has to stay here?"

"For awhile," replied Flea. "When Lem Crabbe goes to New York, then we
go, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

While hundreds of birds made ready for a long night in the elm trees,
the twins turned silent. Flukey lay with his eyes closed in pain. The
girl broke the quietude now and then by muttering softly the names on
the gravestones over which her eyes roved:

                    "EVERETT BRIMBECOMB
                        ONE YEAR OLD
          BELOVED SON OF AGNES AND HAROLD BRIMBECOMB.
                      RESTING IN JESUS"

Flea read this over several times, and turned to Flukey.

"Who's Jesus, Fluke?" she asked.

The boy raised his head and opened his eyes languidly. "What? What'd ye
say, Flea?"

"Who's Jesus?" she asked again, pointing to the inscription on the
stone.

"I dunno. I guess he's some old feller layin' down in there with that
kid."

Thus the day had passed and the night fell. Flukey dropped into a deep
sleep, and Flea, huddling to the cold earth, settled closer to her
brother in the sheltering darkness. Suddenly the girl aroused as if from
a bad dream. She sat up, feeling for the pig and Snatchet, and placed
her hand on Flukey's quiet body and lay down. Once more came the sound.
It was the faint, distant hoot of an owl, stealing out through the tall
trees. Nearer and nearer it came, until Flea sat bolt upright. Instantly
into her mind shot the picture of a shriveled woman from the squatter
country. A cold perspiration broke over her.

She turned her head slowly and looked off into the dark end of the
cemetery, over which hung a mist. Through this veil the pale moon
watched the earth with steady gaze. From among the monuments and
time-scarred headstones, looming darkly in the forbidding silence, an
apparition arose, and to Flea's vivid imagination it seemed as if
voiceless gray ghosts were peopling God's Acre on all sides. She
recoiled in horror as the strange, wild cry drew nearer.

A hysterical sensation burning in her throat tightened it so she could
not speak to Flukey, nor could she drag her eyes from the thing moving
toward her. Snatchet growled; but Flea pressed his jaws together with a
snap, and the sound died in his throat. Squeaky moved slightly among the
dead leaves, then became quiet again. The phantom-like figure passed
almost near enough to touch the rigid girl. Its lips opened, and a
hoarse, owl-like cry aroused the sleepy birds above.

"It's Screechy!" murmured Flea, dropping back in fear. "She's come
seekin' Flukey and me! The bats be flyin' in her head!"

Screech Owl, ignorant of the children's proximity, went straight on,
gliding over the graves until she stopped before the stone mansion at
the edge of the graveyard. A light shone from the room, and the woman
stole directly under it. A tall, handsome young man, his gaze centered
thoughtfully upon the dark aspect, stood in the window. Flea saw
Screechy hold out her arms toward him with an appealing gesture. He
lifted his hand suddenly and drew down the shade, and his broad
shoulders were silhouetted against it in sharp, black lines. After that
the breathless girl saw the woman turn and stumble past her without a
sound.

"The bats left her head the minute that there winder got dark!" gasped
the watcher. Tremblingly she drew closer to Flukey, until sleep
overpowered her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day passed slowly, the cold rain lasting until almost
nightfall, and yet the children dared not venture into the town. Flea
fumed and fretted; for the earning of the nickel had whetted her
ambition to earn more. Now she dared not go near the river where work
could be found; but she knew that as soon as the tug appeared Lem
Crabbe would go to New York. Probably by this time the scow was far on
its way down the river. This was the decision at which the squatter
twins arrived after weary hours of waiting. So, when the twilight again
fell over the dead, they rose stiffly from their hiding place and limped
to the road.

"We'll go back to the graveyard tonight, if this ain't the good land,"
murmured Flea. "We'll be safe there from Lem, Fluke."

"Wish we was rich like we was that fair-day, Flea," replied the boy,
scarcely able to walk.

"I wish so, too. If we had that yeller gold-piece we coughed up for that
damn brown hen, we'd eat. But I'd ruther have Snatchet, Fluke."

"I'd ruther have him, too; but we need money--"

"And when we get it," interrupted Flea, "Snatchet'll have a hunk of
meat, and Prince Squeaky a bucket of buttermilk, and ye'll have liniment
for yer legs, Fluke."

"Ye'll eat yerself first, Flea," said Flukey. "I saw ye when ye give the
pig a bit of yer biscuit yesterday mornin'."

"We'll all eat in the good land," replied Flea hopefully.

By this time they had come to the gateway and turned into the street.
Harold Brimbecomb's beautiful home was brilliantly lighted. It appeared
the same to Flea as on the night before, when she had seen Scraggy make
her melancholy play before it.

Flea had refrained from speaking of her midnight fright to Flukey; for
he would but tell her that, like all girls, she was afraid, and a slur
from her brother was more than she could bear.

Flea and Flukey had never been taught to pray, "Lead us not into
temptation." Now, with aching hearts and empty stomachs, they turned in
silence to the richly lighted houses. Flukey dragged himself resolutely
past Brimbecomb's as if he would avoid the desire that suddenly pressed
upon him to ply the trade in which he had been darkly instructed. But he
halted abruptly before the next house, the curtains of which were pulled
up halfway. The long windows reached to the porch floor. Through the
clear glass the children saw a table dressed in all the gorgeousness of
silver and crystal. At the spectacle a clamor for food set up in both
aching stomachs, and the two passed as if by one accord to the porch. As
they peered into the window with longing eyes, Squeaky was held tightly
under Flea's arm; but Snatchet, resting wearily on Flukey's, suddenly
sat up. He, too, had scented something to eat, and thrust in and out a
lean red tongue over pointed, tusky teeth.

"It's time for me to steal, Flea," whispered Flukey, turning feverish
eyes toward his sister.

"If you do it, Flukey, I'll do it with ye."

With no more ado, Flukey's practiced fingers silently slid up the sash.
Two youthful bodies stepped through: the opening. In absolute quiet,
they stood raggedly forlorn, savagely hungry, before the tempting table.
There, was plenty to eat; so without a word the squatter girl placed
Squeaky before a glass dish of salad. His small pink nose buried its tip
from sight, and the food disappeared into the suckling's empty stomach.
Snatchet, squatting on his haunches, snapped up a stuffed bird. Flea
began to eat; but Flukey, now too ill, leaned against the red-papered
wall.

Just at this critical moment the door opened, and Flea, greatly
frightened, started back to the window. She blinked, brushed a dark curl
from her eyes, and saw her Prince advancing toward her. He saw her, too;
but did not connect her with the bare-footed girl on Cayuga Lake, but
only with the boy who had kept from him the greased pig at the Dryden
fair. He glanced at Squeaky calmly eating the salad and smiled.

"Bless my soul, Ann!" he said, turning to a lady who had followed him
in, "we have company to dinner, or my name isn't Horace Shellington! Why
didn't you young gentlemen wait, and we should all have been seated
together?"

There was a whirling in Flukey's head, such as he had never felt before;
but Flea's ashen face brought back his scattered senses. He tried to
lift his arm to throw it about her; but dropped it with a groan.
Realizing the agony that had swept over her dear one, Flea gathered in a
deep breath and took his fevered hand in hers.

"It weren't him," she cried, lifting her eyes to her questioner and
sullenly moving her head toward the shivering boy at her side. "I e't
yer victuals--he didn't. If one of us goes to jail, I do--see?"

"Let me think," ruminated Horace, eying her gravely. "Six months is
about the shortest sentence given to a fellow for breaking into a house.
And what about the pig? I see him in the act of theft. Shall he go with
you?"

"He were hungry, that's why Prince Squeaky stealed," exclaimed Flea,
dropping Flukey's fingers. There was something in the kindly eyes of the
man that forced her forward a step. She thrust out her hand in appealing
anxiety. "We was all hungry," she continued, a dry sob strangling her.
"Flukey nor me nor the pig nor Snatchet ain't e't in a long time. We did
steal; but if I knowed it were yer house--"

A quizzical expression flashing into Shellington's eyes stopped her
words.

"You wouldn't have come in?" he queried.

Flea nodded just as Snatchet jumped to the floor with another plump
bird between his teeth. Flukey staggered to his sister's side.

"Let me tell ye how it was, Mister," he begged, his eyes bloodshot and
restless. "We be lookin' for a good land where boys don't have to steal,
and when they get sick they get well again."

Here Flea burst forth impetuously.

"He has such hellish rheumatiz that he can't set in no dark prison. I
can set weeks among rats and bugs what be in all prisons! I ain't afraid
of nothing what lives!"

Flukey interrupted her by taking her arm and pushing her back a little.

"I'm a thief by trade," he said; "but my sister ain't. She ain't never
stole nothin' in all her life, she ain't. Take me, will ye, Mister?"

"Sister!" murmured the gentleman, turning to Flea.

If nothing else had been said, the question would have been answered in
the affirmative by the vivid blush that dyed Flea's dark skin. Her
embarrassment brought another exclamation from Flukey.

"She's a girl, all right! She's only tryin' to save me. She put on my
pants jest to get away from Pappy Lon. I'll go to jail; but don't send
her!"

He swayed blindly, closing his eyes with a moan.

"The child is sick, Horace," said Ann. "I think he is very sick."

"Where did you sleep last night?" Shellington asked this of Flea.

"Out there," answered the girl, pointing over her shoulder, "down by a
big monument."

"Horace Shellington," gasped Ann, "they slept in the cemetery!"

The sharp tone of the girl's voice brought Flukey back to the present.

"We run away 'cause Pappy Lon were a makin' me steal when I didn't want
to," he explained, clearing his throat, "and he was goin' to make Flea
be Lem's woman. And that's the truth, Mister, and Lem wasn't goin' to
marry her, nuther!"

He rambled on in a monotone as if too sick for inflection. Flea placed
one arm about his neck.

"I'm a girl! I'm Flea Cronk!" she confessed brokenly. "And Flukey's
doin' all this for me! And he's so sick! I stealed from yer table--he
didn't! Will ye let him lay in yer barn tonight, if I go up for the
stealin'?"

Never had Horace Shellington felt so keenly the sorrows of other human
beings as when this girl, in her crude boy clothes, lifted her agonized,
tearless eyes to his. His throat filled. Somehow, his whole soul went
out to her, his being stirred to its depths. He put out one hand to
touch Flea--when voices from the inner room stopped further speech. A
light step, accompanied by a heavier one, approaching the dining-hall,
brought his thoughts together.

"Ann," he appealed, stepping to his sister's side, "you're always
wanting to do something for me--do it now. Let me settle this!"

Speaking to Flukey, he said, "Pick up your dog, Boy!"

"And the pig from the table!" groaned Ann distractedly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Flukey mechanically stooped to obey, while Flea captured Squeaky and
tucked the suckling under her arm just as Shellington opened the door to
admit his guests. When Flea lifted her embarrassed gaze to the
strangers, she saw the same face that had peered at her over Horace's
shoulder at the Dryden fair, the face to which Screech Owl had made her
silent appeal. A graceful girl followed, whose eyes expressed
astonishment as Horace spoke.

"These are my young friends, you will remember, Everett, from the fair,
Flea and Flukey Cronk." Turning his misty eyes upon the children he
continued, "This is Mr. Brimbecomb, and Miss Katherine Vandecar,
Governor Vandecar's niece."

He went through this introduction to gain control of his feelings.

"They have changed their minds, Everett, and have brought me the pig,"
he exclaimed. "It was kind of you, child!"

He had almost said "boy"; but, remembering the admission Flea had made,
he gazed straight at her, watching with growing interest the changes
that passed over the young face.

"You see," he hurried on nervously, "they found out where I lived, and
thought I might still want the pig--"

Ann Shellington admonishingly touched her brother's arm. "Horace!" she
urged; but he stopped her with a gesture.

"I think it mighty nice of them to come all the way from Dryden with a
pig--on my soul, I do, Ann!"

Taking a silver case from his pocket, he extracted a cigarette from it,
while directing his attention to Flea.

"I want it now as much as I did then; but I don't believe that I shall
ever roast and eat him."

Flea searched the speaker's face fearfully, her eyes lustrous with
melting tenderness. He had promised her that Squeaky should live; but
was he going to send Flukey away? It was slow torture, this waiting for
his verdict, each second measured full to the brim, each minute more
agonizing than the last.

Horace Shellington was speaking again. "You see, Katherine," he said,
turning to the younger girl, "I know this puzzles you; but these two
youngsters won the pig at the fair, and I tried to buy it of them for a
roast. Just at that time this little--chap--" he motioned toward Flea,
"didn't want to part with it. He's changed his mind. You see the pig is
here."

Miss Shellington did not supplement her brother's statement; but the
tall stranger with the brilliant eyes gazed dubiously at the table and
then down into Flea's face.

"I'll bet my hat," he said in a tone deep and rich, "that you boys have
been thieving!"

Before the frightened girl could respond, the master of the house
stepped between them; but not before Flea had caught an expression that
took her back to Screech Owl's hut.

"For shame, Everett!" chided Horace. "I have just told you that they
were trying to do me a favor. The pig has come a long way, and I gave
him some--salad. There's plenty more in the larder."

It was hard for Horace Shellington to lie flagrantly, and his
explanation sounded forced. The music in his voice pierced the childish
lethargy of Flea's soul, awakening it to womanhood. Intuition told her
that he had lied for her sake.

"And you gave him the birds, too?" Everett asked sneeringly, glancing at
the scattered bones.

"No, I gave the dog the birds," replied Horace simply. "It seemed," he
proceeded slowly, "that just at that moment I felt for the hungry dog
and pig more than I did for my guests."

He had backed to his sister's side with an imploring glance, and allowed
his hand to rest lightly on hers. She understood his message, and met
his appeal.

"And now these young people have been so good to us," she said, "we
ought to repay them with a good supper. If you will come with me, Boys,
you shall have what you need.... Oh! Yes, you can bring both the dog and
the pig."

A tranquil smile, sweet and pathetic, erased the pain-wrinkles from
Flukey's face. Supper at last for his dear ones!

Ann held out her hand to him, and dazedly the sick lad took it in his
hot fingers. Then, remembering Everett's disapprobation of the boys, she
glanced into his face; but, meeting a studiously indifferent, slightly
bored look, she led Flukey away.



CHAPTER ELEVEN


Flukey was too ill, as he stumbled along, to dread the outcome of their
act of theft. He realized only that a beautiful lady was leading Flea to
a place where her hunger could be satisfied, and, as he felt the warmth
of Ann's fingers permeate his own famished body, a great courage urged
him forward. He would never again steal at Lon's command, and Flea would
have to dread Lem no more! Something infinitely sweet, like new-coming
life, entered his soul. It was the first exquisite joy that had come to
Flukey Cronk. He stopped and disengaged his hand, to press it to his
side as a pain made him gasp for breath. Then of a sudden he sank to the
polished floor, still clinging to Snatchet.

"Missus," he muttered, "I can't walk no more. Jest ye leave me here and
git the grub for Flea."

Flea turned sharply. "I don't eat when ye're sick, Fluke. The Prince
says as how ye can sleep in the barn, and mebbe--mebbe he'll let me work
for the victuals Snatchet and Squeaky stole."

Flea added this hopefully.

"Children," said Ann in a smothered voice, "listen to me! You're both
welcome to all you've had, and more. The little dog and pig were welcome
too."

Tears rose under her lids, and she turned her head away, that the twins
might not see them. Ann Shellington, like her brother, had never before
seen human misery depicted in small lives. At the mention of his dog,
Flukey opened his eyes and turned his gaze upward.

"Thank ye, Lady," said he, "thank ye for what ye said about Snatchet.
Ain't he a pink peach of a dorg, Ma'm?"

Ann inclined her head gently, glancing dubiously over the yellow pup.
She could not openly admit that Snatchet resembled anything beautiful
she had ever seen, when the boy, his lips twitching with agony, held his
pet up toward her.

"Ye can take him, Ma'm," groaned Flukey. "He only bites bad 'uns like
Lem Crabbe."

Snatchet, feeling the importance of the moment, lifted his head and shot
forth a slavering tongue. As it came in contact with her fingers, Miss
Shellington drew back a little. She had been used to slender-limbed,
soft-coated dogs; this small, shivering mongrel, touching her flesh with
a tongue roughly beaded, sent a tremor of disgust over her. Flea stepped
forward, took Snatchet from her brother, and tucked him away under the
arm opposite the one Squeaky occupied.

"Ye'll go to the barn, Fluke," she said, "and ye'll go damn quick! The
lady'll let ye, and Snatchet'll go with ye. Squeaky sleeps with me."

Ann coughed embarrassedly. "Children," she began, "we couldn't let the
dog and pig sleep in the house; neither could we allow you to sleep in
the barn. So, if you will let the coachman take your pets, I'll see that
you, Boy, go into a warm bed, and you," Ann turned to Flea, "must have
some supper and other clothes. Your brother is very ill, I believe, and
I think we ought to have a doctor."

Flea pricked up her ears, and a sad smile crossed her lips. "Ye mean,
Ma'm," said she, "that Flukey can sleep in a real bed and have doctor's
liniments for his bones?"

Ann nodded. "Yes. Now then hurry!... Look at that poor little boy!"

Flukey was on his knees, leaning against the wall, his feverish fingers
clutching his curls.

"Horace! Horace!" called Ann.

Shellington opened the dining-room door and went out hurriedly, leaving
Everett Brimbecomb and Katherine Vandecar still surveying the
disarranged table.

"It all seems strange to me, Katherine; I mean--this," said Everett,
waving his hand. "I scarcely believed Horace when he said he had allowed
it."

As he spoke, he approached the table and lifted the soiled cloth between
his fingers.

"You can see for yourself," he said, "the marks of the pig's feet on the
linen."

Katherine examined the spots. "But it really doesn't matter, does it?"
she said. "The poor little animals were hungry, and Horace has such a
big heart!" and she sighed.

Everett made an angry gesture. "But I object to Ann having anything to
do with such--" he hesitated and finished, "such youngsters. There's no
need of it."

"Oh, Everett--but those two children must be cared for! Horace will come
back in a few minutes, and then we'll know all about it."

"In the meantime I'm hungry," grumbled Everett, "and if we're going to
the theater--"

He had no time to finish his sentence before Horace, with a grave
countenance, opened the door.

"I'm sorry, Katherine," he apologized, and then stopped; for he noticed
Everett's face dark with anger. Shellington did not forget that his
friends had come to dinner; but he had just witnessed a scene that had
touched his heart, and he determined to make both of his guests
understand it also.

[Illustration: "I'M GOIN' TO TAKE HIS KIDS--AND I'LL MAKE OF 'EM WHAT I
BE."]

"The evening has turned out differently from what Ann and I expected,"
he explained. "The fact is that sister can't go to the theater, and I
feel that I ought to stay with her. So, we'll order another dinner, and
then, Everett, if you and Katherine don't--" His fingers had touched
the bell as he was speaking; but Everett stopped him.

"If the boy is too ill to be taken to a hospital," he said coldly, "Ann
might be persuaded to leave him with the servants."

"Yes, I suggested that," answered Horace; "but she refused. The boy has
somehow won her heart, and the doctor will be here at any moment."

A servant appeared, and in a half-hour the table was spread with another
dinner. Ann's coming to the dining-room did not raise the spirits of the
party; for her eyes were red from weeping, and she refused to eat.

"I've never known before, Everett," she said, "that children could
suffer as that little boy does."

"And you shouldn't know it now, Ann, if I had my way," objected
Brimbecomb. "There's a strong line drawn between their kind and ours,
and places have been provided for such people. I really want you to come
with us tonight."

In sharp astonishment, Ann turned on him.

"Oh, I really couldn't, Everett!" she said, beginning to sob. "I
shouldn't enjoy one moment of the time, while thinking of that poor
child. You take Katherine, and say to Governor and Mrs. Vandecar that we
couldn't come tonight. Tell them about it or not as you please. They are
both good and kind, and will understand."

Her tears had ceased during the latter part of her speech; for the frown
had deepened on Everett's brow, bringing determination to her own. Never
before had she been forced to exercise her wish above his, and
Brimbecomb was not prepared for it. Something new had been born in the
large, sad eyes turned to his, something he did not comprehend, and he
inwardly cursed the squatter children.

At eight o'clock Everett handed Katherine into the carriage and gloomily
took his place beside her. They were late at the theater by several
minutes, when he brushed aside the curtain and ushered Miss Vandecar
into the Governor's box. Mrs. Vandecar was seated in the far corner, her
attention directed upon the play. Vandecar rose quietly, and before
resuming his seat waited until his niece had taken her place. Then they
were silent until the curtain fell after the first act.

"Where are Horace and Ann?" asked Mrs. Vandecar of Everett. "Ann
telephoned me at dinner-time that she would be here."

Everett inclined his head toward Katherine, and the girl explained the
situation. When she had added pathos to the story by telling of Flukey's
illness, Mrs. Vandecar broke in.

"I'm glad Ann stayed, dear girl! It's like her to nurse that sick
child." She said no more; but turned away with misty eyes.

During the next act the Governor drew near her, and amid the shadows of
the darkened box, took up the slender fingers and held them until the
lights flashed upon the falling curtain. Both had gone back in memory to
those dreadful days when tragedy had cast its somber shadows over them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor had predicted a serious illness for Flukey. Ann and Horace
held an earnest conversation about it. Miss Shellington's maid had been
instructed to relieve Flea of her boy's attire and clothe her in some of
Ann's garments. Horace led his sister to the room where Flukey lay, and
suggested that Flea be called.

A servant appeared at the touch of the bell.

"Tell the boy's sister to come here," said Horace.

When Flea knocked at the door a few minutes later, he bade her enter.
Suppressing her pleasure and surprise at the girl's loveliness, Ann
walked forward to meet her; but the little stranger backed timidly
against the door and flashed a blushing glance at the man.

The mauve dressing-gown, reaching to the floor, displayed to advantage
the girl's lithe figure, accentuating its long, graceful lines. The
bodice, opened at the neck, exposed the slender white throat, around
which the summer's sun had tanned a ruddy ring. Her hair had been parted
in the center and twined in adorable curls about the young head.

The transformation drew an untactful ejaculation from Horace, and he
stared intently at the sensitive face. Flea's gray eyes, after the first
hasty glance at him, sought Flukey.

"Flukey ain't so awful sick, be he?" she questioned fearfully.

Ann passed an arm tenderly around her. "Yes, child, he is very ill. My
brother and I want to speak to you about him."

"But he ain't goin' dead?"

Her tone brought Horace nearer. In spite of Flea's somberness, the
bouyancy of her youth obliterated the memory of every other girl he
knew. He was confounded by the thought that a short time before she had
stood as a ragged boy before him. She had been transformed into
womanhood by Ann's clothing.

Flea bent over Flukey and hid her face. Even when Horace had discovered
the pig in the salad, her embarrassment had been of small moment to
this. After an instant, she lifted her eyes from her muttering brother
and allowed them to fall upon her Prince. There was an unmistakable
smile upon his lips; nevertheless, a great fear possessed her. If Flukey
were allowed to stay there because of his illness, she at least would be
taken away; for she had never heard of a theft being entirely
overlooked, and she believed that her imprisonment must be the penalty.

She stooped a little and lovingly touched Flukey's shoulder, looking
first at Ann, then at Horace. Straightening up, she burst out:

"Mister, if ye're goin' to have me pinched for stealin', do it quick
before my brother knows about it, and--I'd ruther go to prison in
Fluke's pants--please!"

Still the master of the house did not speak. Flea was filled with
suspicion, and thought she divined the cause of his quietness and smile.
He was ridiculing her dress, perhaps making sport of the way her curls
were arranged. She thrust one hand upward and tumbled the mass of hair
into disorder.

"Yer woman put these togs onto me," she said, "and I feel like an old
guy--dressed up this way!"

Anger forced tears into her eyes, and her two small brown hands clenched
under the hanging lace at her wrists. Her words and the spontaneous
action deepened the expression on the face of the silent man, and she
cried out again:

"Ye needn't be making fun of me, Mister! I can't help how I look."

But a feverish exclamation from the sick boy so increased her anxiety
for him that her own troubles were overwhelmed. She was rendered
unmindful that Ann had softly called her name; nor did she realize that
Shellington had spoken quietly to her.

She flung out her hands in eloquent appeal.

"Oh, I thank ye for covering my brother up so warm! He didn't need no
sheets nor piller-slips; but his bones did need the blankets--sure. I
say as how he'd thank ye, too, if he weren't offen his head."

Horace gently took the girl's hands in his, and Flea lowered her
sun-browned face.

"I know he would, child," he said in moved tones. "He's more than
welcome to all we can do--and you are to stay here, too, little girl."

Horace had done what Ann had been unable to do. The words had soothed
the squatter girl, and the savage young heart was softened. The long,
dreary country marches were over; the cold nights and bare fields were
things of the past. For Flukey, there were tender hands that would ease
his pain; for her, a home unmenaced by Lem. She had looked her last upon
horrors that had bound her to a life she hated.

Shellington spoke to her.

"Look at me, child!" said he. "I want to tell you what the doctor said."

She lifted an anxious gaze filled with the emotion of a woman's soul. It
was her dawning womanhood that Horace saw, and toward it his manhood was
unconsciously drawn.

Ann spoke quietly:

"The doctor says that your brother will be ill many weeks, and we have
decided to keep him here with us, if you consent to our arrangements."

"Ye mean," gasped Flea, snatching her hands from Horace, "ye mean that
Flukey can lay in that there bed till he gets all well and all the
misery has gone out of his bones?"

Ann's answer meant much to Flea. The girl had realized the import of the
speech; but, that she might better understand the words, she had sent
them questioningly back in her vernacular for further confirmation.

"If you are willing to stay with us," Horace was saying, "and will help
us take care of him--"

He could not have offered anything else that would so have touched her.
How she had longed to do something for Flukey those last hours in the
graveyard! But Flea wanted no mistake. Did the gentleman understand how
terribly poor they were?

"We ain't got no money, and we only own Squeaky and Snatchet."

Shellington smiled at the interruption.

"You will still own your dog and pig, child, if you ever wish to go
away. My sister and I are anxious to have your brother grow strong and
well. He has rheumatic fever, which is sometimes very stubborn, and if
we don't work hard--"

He paused, tempted to pass one arm about the girl as his sister had
done; but the womanliness of her forbade.

"Ye think Flukey mightn' get well?" Flea breathed.

Ann turned anxious eyes upon the boy, who was muttering incoherently.

"Poor little child! May Jesus help him!" she whispered.

Flea rose to her feet.

"Jesus! Jesus!" she repeated solemnly. "Granny Cronk used to talk about
him. He's the Man what's a sleepin' in the grave with the kid with the
same name as that bright-eyed duffer who don't like Fluke nor me."

Ann, mystified, glanced at Horace.

Flukey turned slowly, opened his eyes, and murmured;

"'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little--'"

He sighed painfully as the last words trailed from his lips. Flea ended
his quotation, saying:

"'A little child.' But, Flukey, Jesus is dead and buried."

"No, no, He isn't, child!" cried Ann sharply. "He'll never die. He will
always help little children."

"Ain't He a restin' in the dead man's yard out there?"
demanded Flea, lifting her robe as she moved toward Ann.

"No! indeed, no! He is everywhere, with the dead and the living, with
men and women, and also with little children."

"Where be He?" Flea asked.

"In Heaven," replied Ann, leaning over Flukey. "And He's able even to
raise the dead."

Flea grasped her arm.

"Then, if He's everywhere, as ye've jest said, can't ye--"

Flukey opened his eyes.

"If ye know that Man Jesus, well enough," he broke forth, trying to take
her hand in his, "if ye ever sees Him to speak to Him, will ye say that,
if He'll let my bones get well, and keep my little Flea from Lem, I'll
do all He says for me to? Tell Him--tell--tell Him, Ma'm, that my bones
be--almost a bustin'."

"Can He help Fluke any if ye ask Him?" Flea questioned.

Ann nodded; but Flea, not satisfied, asked the question directly of
Horace.

"I believe so," he hesitated; "yes, I do believe that He can and will
help your brother."

"Will ye ask Him?" Flea pleaded. "Will ye both ask Him?"

Ann answered yes quickly; and Flea was satisfied with the nod Horace
gave her before he wheeled about to the window.

When Flukey was resting under the physician's medicine, Horace and Ann
listened to the tale of the squatter children's lives, told by Flea. It
was then that Shellington promised her that Squeaky should find a future
home on their farm among other animals of the kind, and that he would
make it his task to see that the little pig had plenty to eat, plenty of
sunshine, and a home such as few little pigs had. Snatchet, too, Horace
promised, should be housed in a warm kennel with the greyhounds and
blooded pups.

When Flea leaned over Flukey to say goodnight to him, she breathed:

"This be the promised land, all right, Fluke! Ain't we lucky kids to be
here?"



CHAPTER TWELVE


With infinite tenderness, Ann led Flea into the pretty blue bedroom. The
girl drew back with an exclamation.

"It's too nice for a squatter! But I'm glad you put Fluke in that red
place, 'cause it looks so warm and feels warm. But me--"

Ann interrupted hastily.

"You remember my brother saying that you were going to stay here with us
until your brother was well?"

Flea assented.

"Then, as long as you are with us, you will be our guest just as though
you were my sister. Would you like to be my sister?"

Flea dropped her gaze before the earnest eyes.

"Yep!" she choked. "But I'm a squatter, Missus, and squatters don't
count for nothin'. But Fluke--"

"Poor child! She can't think of anyone but her brother," Miss
Shellington murmured to herself.

But Flea caught the words.

"He's so good--oh, so awful good--and he ain't never had no chance with
Pappy Lon. If he gets well, we'll work together, and we won't steal
nothin' ever no more."

"I feel positive you won't," assured Ann. "You remember, I told you
tonight how very good God is to all His children, and you are a child of
His, and you know that the Bible says that you must never take anything
that doesn't belong to you."

"Nope, I ain't never seen no Bible," faltered Flea.

"Then I'm going to give you one, and you can learn to read it. Wouldn't
you be happy if your brother should get well, and you knew that your
prayers had done it?"

"It wouldn't be me, Ma'm; 'twould be you and your brother."

Ann considered how she should best begin to open the young mind to
truth.

"Child, would you like me to tell you a story?" she asked presently.

"Yep," replied Flea eagerly. "Is it about fairies, or ghosts, or goblins
what live near lakes?"

"No; it's about Jesus, who died to save the world."

Then gently and simply Ann told the story of the Passion to the
wondering girl, and shortly after left her to sleep.

Miss Shellington went to her brother's study, and he met her with a
quizzical smile.

"You've woven a net about yourself, Sis, haven't you?" said he.

"And about you, too, Dear," Ann retorted. "But, Horace, I shouldn't have
thought of keeping them, if you hadn't consented."

She looked so troubled, her brow puckered up in thought, that he smiled
again.

"Of course, you wouldn't--I know that. But I'm not in the least sorry.
We've money enough to do a kindness once in awhile. And as long as you
don't work yourself to death over them I sha'n't complain."

They were silent for a little while. Then presently Ann spoke musingly:

"Horace, do those children remind you of someone?"

"I don't know that they do. I'm not a fellow who notices resemblances.
Why?"

"I can't tell. Only, when they stood there tonight by the table,
looking so forlorn, there was something familiar about them."

"Your dear, tender heart imagined it," Horace declared.

"Possibly. Still, the feeling has been with me ever since. Horace, I've
always wanted to do some real work, and don't you think this--"

"Hark!" Horace interrupted. "Wasn't that the bell?"

"Yes, it's Everett, I hope," said Ann, rising, "I thought perhaps he
would run in. Yes, I hear his voice! Shall I bring him in here for a few
moments?"

"Yes."

When Everett came in, Horace noted that he had lost the frown.
Brimbecomb good naturedly demanded if Ann intended to start a
kindergarten. He recounted how Mr. and Mrs. Vandecar had received their
excuses, and then said:

"Ann, Mrs. Vandecar thought you so charitably inclined. She seemed quite
exercised over the story. But you don't intend to keep them here after
tomorrow morning, do you?"

"Well, you see, Everett," Ann explained, "Horace and I have talked for a
long time about doing some real charity work; so now we're going to try
an experiment."

"These boys--"

Ann interrupted. "One of them is a girl."

Horace saw the change on Brimbecomb's face and said hurriedly:

"The girl had on her brother's clothes, that's all."

"Strange proceedings all the way through, though," snapped Everett.

He was showing himself in a new light, and Horace noted that the young
lawyer's face bore sarcasm and unpleasant cynicism. He wondered that
his gentle, obedient sister had gathered courage to stand against her
lover's wishes; for Everett had expressed a decided objection to Ann's
working for the squatter children. Suddenly he felt a twinge of dislike
for the man before him, and his respect for Ann deepened. How many
girls, he reasoned, would have the courage and desire thus to take in
two suffering children? He rose quickly and left the room.

Everett took up the argument again with Miss Shellington:

"Ann, you're going very much against my wishes if you keep those
children here."

"I'm sorry, Dear," she said simply; "but you know--"

"I know that you won't do anything of which I disapprove, Ann."

"You're mistaken, Everett," Ann contradicted slowly. "I could not allow
even you to mark out my duty. And something makes me so anxious to help
them! I don't want to go against your wishes; but--I must do as my
conscience dictates."

"Surely you don't mean, Ann, that if you were my wife you would force--"

"Please don't, Everett! No, of course not; but this is Horace's home and
mine, and, if we desire to share it with someone less fortunate than we
are, you shouldn't object."

Everett took up no more time in vain argument; but registered a vow that
he would make it warm for the beggars who had thrust themselves upon the
Shellingtons. He would search for an opportunity! Impatient and
unsettled, he left Ann. She, too, was unhappy; for it had been the first
time her duty had ever clashed with her love. The shock of the collision
hurt.

The next morning Flea crept into her brother's room and stood looking
down at him. He opened his eyes languidly, smiled, and groaned.

"Ain't yer bones any better this mornin'?" asked Flea in an awed
whisper.

"Yep; but my heart hurts me. The pains round it be worse than the misery
in my knees, 'cause I can't breathe."

Flea bent lower.

"Did the pretty lady tell ye anythin' last night?"

"Nope; did she tell you anythin'?"

"Yep, all about the Jesus. Get her to tell you, Fluke. It's better than
fairy stories. I can't remember all of it; but she says He jest loved
everybody so well that He let 'em nail Him on a cross, and died there.
But He got up again, and that's how He came to be up there."

Flea pointed upward.

"Did Miss--Miss Shellington tell ye that?"

"Yep, Fluke." She hesitated and whispered again, "Do ye believe it,
Fluke?"

"Course I do, if she says it! Don't ye think what she says is so?"

"I don't believe all that," replied Flea. "I tried last night, and
couldn't. You used to laugh at me when I said as how there was ghosts."

"Mebbe she don't believe in ghosts," sighed Flukey.

"It's almost the same. She believes in Jesus."

"He's all I believe in, too." Flukey closed his eyes wearily.

"Fluke," whispered Flea presently, "ye ought to see that room I slep'
in! It were finer'n this one."

"This be the promised land, all right, what Scraggy speaked about," said
Flukey. "There ain't no more places like it in this here world."

"I believe that, too," answered Flea, "and if we hadn't been hungry
we'd never have stealed, and we wouldn't have found Mr. and Miss
Shellington. Yet she says it's wicked to steal."

"So it be, Flea, and ye know it. All ye're tryin' to do now is not to
believe about that Jesus. I bet somethin'll come that'll make ye believe
it."

"Mebbe," mumbled Flea darkly; "but 's long 's 'tain't Pappy Lon or Lem,
I don't care."



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


During the next two weeks, while Flukey was fighting with death, and the
great Shellington mansion was as silent as a tomb, Scraggy Peterson was
tramping back to the squatter country. When she reached Ithaca, she was
almost too ill to start up the Lehigh Valley tracks toward her hut. The
black cat clung to her tattered jacket, his wizard-eyes shining green,
as Screech Owl passed under the gas-lamps. It was almost ten o'clock at
night when she unlatched her shanty door and kindled a fire. The larder
was bare, save for some crusts of hard bread. These the woman soaked in
hot water and shared with the cat. Then, in a state of great exhaustion,
she picked up Black Pussy, blew out the candle, and, for the first time
in many days, slept in her own hut.

On the shore below Lem Crabbe's scow was drawn up near the Cronk hut.
The squatter and scowman were conversing in the dim light of a lantern
that swung from Lem's hook.

"Did ye make any hauls while ye was gone, Lem?" asked Lon.

"Nope, only sold the lumber. I ain't trying nothin' alone."

"It was cussed mean I couldn't go along with ye," Lon said; "but I had
to stay to hum. Did ye know that Mammy were dead?"

"Nope!"

"Yep, and buried, too! She fretted over the brats, and kep' a sayin'
they was dead in the lake. But I know they jest runned off some'ers."

"I know it, too," Lem grunted savagely. "The gal didn't have no likin'
for me."

"I jest see Scraggy come hum," ventured Lon. "She's been gone for a long
while. She were a comin' down the tracks."

Lem muttered a savage oath, and faced the scow preparatory to entering.
Looking back over his shoulder, he asked:

"Be ye comin' in, Lon?"

"Nope; I'm goin' to bed. Say, Lem, while ye was away, ye didn't get ear
of no good place to make a haul soon, did ye?"

"Yep; I tied up to Tarrytown goin' down. There be heaps of rich folks
there. Middy Burnes what runs the tug says as how there be a feller
there richer than the devil.... Hell! I've forgot his name!"

Lem halted on the gangplank and thought for a moment.

"Nope, I ain't; I jest thought of it!... Shellington! That's him, and
he's a fine house, and many's the room filled with--"

Lon broke in upon Lem with a growl:

"Then we'll separate him from some of his jewjaws. I bet we has a little
of his pile afore another month goes by!"

"That's what I bet, too," muttered Lem. "Night, Lon."

"Night," repeated Lon, walking away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lem placed the lantern on the table and sat down to think. Ever since
the day Screech Owl had told him of the boy he had wounded so many years
before his mind had worked constantly with the thought that he must
find the home where his son was. Scraggy was the only human being to
tell him. She must tell him! He would make her, if he had to choke the
woman to death to get her secret! He remembered how she had mocked at
him when she had told him that strange bit of news. Realizing that
Scraggy's malady made her difficult to coerce, he decided to try
cajolery at once.

Lent rose and took a bit of bread from the cupboard shelf. He slipped it
into a bag, caught up the lantern with his hook, and left the scow. He
halted in front of Scraggy's dark hut and pounded on the door. The cat,
scrambling to the floor inside, was Lem's answer. He knocked again.

"Scraggy! Scraggy!" he called. "It be Lemmy! Open the door!"

Through her deep sleep came the voice Screech Owl had loved, and still
loved. She sat up in bed, trembling violently, pushing back with a
pathetic gesture the gray hair from her eyes. She had been dreaming of
Lem--dreaming that she had heard his voice. But black pussy couldn't
have dreamed also. He was perched in the small window, lashing his great
tail from side to side. She slid from the bed, stretched out a bony
hand, and clutched the cat.

"Did ye hear him, too, black pussy?"

"Scraggy!" called Lem again, "Open the door! I brought you something to
eat."

It was the thought of the time when he had loved her so, and not of the
food he had brought, that forced Scraggy to the door. She flung it open,
and the scowman entered.

"I thought ye might be hungry, Scraggy; so I brought ye this bread,"
said Lem, lifting the hook and sending a ray from the lantern upon the
woman. "Can I set down?"

Could he, this king among men to her, could he sit down in her hut? He
could have had her heart's blood had he asked it! Had she not crowned
him that day, when he had stood awkwardly by, as she tendered him a
dark-haired baby boy? Scraggy's happiness knew no bounds. She forgot her
fatigue and set forth a chair for Lem.

"Be ye glad to see me, Scraggy?" asked he presently, crossing his legs
and watching her as she lighted some candles.

"More'n glad," she replied simply. "But what did ya come for, Lemmy?"

Lem remained silent for some seconds; then said:

"Do ye want to come back to the scow, Scraggy?"

"Ye mean to live?"

Lem shoved out his hairy chin.

"Yep, to live," said he.

"Did ye come to ask me back, Lemmy?"

"Yep, or I wouldn't have been here. I've been thinkin' our fambly
oughter be together."

"Fambly!" echoed Screech Owl wonderingly.

"Yep, Scraggy. We'll get the boy again, and all of us'll live on the
scow."

His swarthy face went yellow in the candlelight, and the huge goiter
under his chin evidenced by its movements the emotion through which he
was passing. Scraggy had sunk to the floor. Now she crawled nearer him,
staring at his face with wonder-widened eyes.

"Do ye mean, Lemmy, that ye love yer pretty boy brat well enough to want
him on the scow, and that he can eat all he wants?"

"That's what I mean," grunted Lem.

"And that ye mean me to tell him what ye says, Lemmy, and that ye want
me to bring him back?"

"Yep."

Scraggy had drawn closer and closer to Lem, her sad face wrinkling into
deeper lines. With each uttered word Lem had seen that he had conquered
her. Suddenly he dropped his heavy left hand down on the gray head and
kept it there.

For the first time in many weary years Scraggy Peterson was kneeling
before her man. Now he wanted her! He had asked her to come again to
that precious haven of rest, and to bring the child! Scraggy forgot that
the babe she had passed through the barge window was grown to be a man,
forgot that he might not want to come back to the scow with her and his
father.

Lem drew her close between his heavy knees and touched her withered chin
with his fingers.

"Where be the brat, Scraggy?" he wheedled.

Screech Owl lifted her head and drew back frightened. Something warned
her that she must not tell him where his son lived.

"I'll get him for ye," she said doggedly.

"Where be he?" demanded the scowman.

"I ain't tellin' ye where he be now, Lem." Scraggy's tone was sulky.

"Why?"

"'Cause I'll go and get him. I'll bring him to the scow
lessen--lessen--"

"Lessen what?" cried Lem darkly.

"Lessen a month," replied Scraggy, "and ye'll kiss the brat, and he'll
call ye 'Daddy,' and he'll love ye like I do, Lemmy dear."

Lem was rigid, as the woman smoothed down his shaggy gray hair and
patted his hard face. Suddenly he started to his feet.

"Ye say, Scraggy, that ye'll bring the boy lessen a month?"

"Yep, lessen a month. And, Lemmy, he be a beautiful baby! Ye'll love
him, will ye, Lemmy?"

"Yep. And now ye take yer cat, Screechy, and get back to bed, and when
ye get the boy bring him to the scow." He hesitated a moment; then said,
"Ye don't know, do ye, where Flea and Flukey run to?"

Scraggy's face dropped.

"Be they gone?" she stammered, rising.

"Yep, for a long time; and Granny Cronk be dead."

"Then ye didn't get Flea, Lem?"

"Nope. And I don't want the brat, Scraggy; I only want the boy." He
spoke with meaning, and when he stood on the hut steps he turned back to
finish, "Ye'll bring him, will ye, Owl?"

"Yep, Lemmy love, lessen a month."

Scraggy greedily watched the shadowy form move away in the light of the
lantern. "Pussy, Pussy," she muttered, as she closed the door, "black
Pussy, come a beddy; yer ole mammy be that happy that her heart's a
bustin'."

When Screech Owl, although the happiest woman in the squatter
settlement, fell asleep with the cat in her arms, her pillow was wet
with tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through long days of anxious waiting for Flukey's recovery, Flea
struggled with the Bible lessons Ann set for her each day. Yet she could
not grasp the meaning of faith. She prayed nightly; but uttered her
words mechanically, for the Savior in the blue sky seemed beyond her
conception. In spite of Miss Shellington's tender pleading, in spite of
the fact that Flukey believed stanchly all that Ann had told them, Flea
suffered in her disbelief. Many times she sought consolation in Flukey's
faith.

"Ye see, Flea, can't ye," he said, one morning, "that when Sister Ann
says a thing it's so? Can't ye see it, Flea?"

"Nope, I can't. I don't know how God looks. I can't understand how Jesus
ruz after he'd been dead three days."

"He did that 'cause He were one-half God," explained Flukey, and then,
brightening, added, "Sister Ann telled me that if He hadn't been a
sufferin' and a sufferin', and hadn't loved everybody well enough, God
wouldn't have let Him ruz. 'Twa'n't by anything He did after He were
dead that brought Him standin' up again."

"Then who did it?" queried Flea.

"God did--jest as how He said 'way back there when there wasn't any
world, 'World, come out!' and the world came. He said, 'Jesus, stand
up!' and Jesus stood up. That's as easy as rollin' off a log, Flea."

She had heard Ann explain it, too; but it seemed easier when Flukey
interpreted it.

"If I could see and speak to Him once," she mourned, "I could make
Sister Ann glad by tellin' her that I knowed He'd answer me."

"Ask Him to let ye see Himself," advised Flukey, "He'll do it, I bet!
Will ye, Flea?"

"Nope! I'd be 'fraid if He came and stood near me. I'm 'fraid even now
when I think of Him; but 'cause I can't believe 'tain't no reason why
you can't, Fluke."

She turned her head toward the door and listened.

"Brother Horace ain't like Sister Ann," she whispered.

"Nobody ain't like her, Flea. She's the best ever!"

"Yep, so she is. But I wish as how--" She paused, and a burning blush
spread over her face. "I wish as how Brother Horace had Sister Ann's way
of talking to me. I could--"

"Brother Horace ain't nothin' to do with yer believin', Flea."

"Yep, he has, and when he says as how he believes like Miss Shellington,
then I'll believe, too. See?"

Then Flea fell into a stubborn silence.

One afternoon in December, Ann and Horace sat conversing in the library.

"I don't see how Mrs. Vandecar can refuse to help you get that child
into school, Ann."

"I don't believe she will; but Everett thinks she ought."

"Everett's getting some queer notions lately," Horace said reluctantly.

Ann's heart ached dully--the happiness she had had in her lover had
diminished of late. Constantly unpleasant words passed between them on
subjects of so little importance that Ann wondered, when she was alone,
why they should have been said at all. Several times Brimbecomb had
refused to further his acquaintance with the twins.

"I only wish he would like those poor children," said she. "I care so
little what our other friends think!"

Shellington pondered a moment. He reflected on Flea's beseeching face as
she pleaded for Flukey, and he decided that the censure of all his
acquaintances could not take his protection from her.

"No, I don't care for the opinion of any of them," he replied
deliberately. "I want only your happiness, Sis, and--theirs."

"Wouldn't it be nice if we could find respectable names for them?" Ann
said presently. "One can't harmonize them with 'Flea' and 'Flukey.'"

After a silence of a few moments, Horace spoke:

"What do you think about calling them Floyd and Fledra, Ann?"

"Oh, but would we dare do that, Horace?"

"Why not? It wouldn't harm the Vandecars, and the children might be
better for it. We could impress upon them what an honor it would be."

"But the Vandecars' own little lost children had those names."

"That's true, too; but I haven't the least idea that either one of them
will take offense, if you explain that we think it will help the
youngsters."

"Shall I speak with Mrs. Vandecar about it this afternoon?" asked Ann.

"Yes, just sound her, and see what she says."

"I might as well go to her right away, then, Horace. You talk with the
little girl about going to school while I'm gone. You can do so much
more with her than I can."

"All right," said Horace, "and I feel very sure that we won't have any
trouble with her."

After seeing his sister depart, he returned to the library and, before
settling himself in a chair, sent a summons to Flea.

When the girl appeared, Horace rose and cast smiling eyes of approval
over her.

"That's a mighty pretty dress you have on," said he. "Was it Sister's
idea to put that lacy, frilly stuff on it?"

Flea crimsoned at his praise, as she nodded affirmation.

"Sit here in this chair," invited Shellington. "I want to have a little
chat with you this afternoon."

Unconsciously Flea put herself into an attitude of graceful attention
and gazed at him worshipfully. At that moment Horace felt how very much
he desired that she grow into a good woman.

"How do you think your brother is today?" he questioned kindly.

"He's awful sick," replied Flea.

"I fear, too, that he will be very ill for a long time. He was filled
with the fever when he came here. Now, my sister and I have been talking
it over--"

Flea rose half-hesitantly.

"And ye wants me to take him some'ers else?" she questioned.

Horace motioned again for her to be seated.

"Sit down, child," said he; "you're quite wrong in your hasty guess. No,
of course, you're not to go away. But my sister and I desire that while
you are here you should study, and that you should come in contact with
other girls of your own age. We want you to go to school."

"Study--study what?"

"Why, learn to read and write, and--"

"Ye mean I have to leave Flukey, and--and you?"

She had risen and had come close to him, her eyes filled with burning
tears. Horace felt his throat tighten: for any emotion in this girl
affected him strangely.

"Oh, no! You won't go away from home--at least, not at night; only for a
few hours in the daytime. I'm awfully anxious that you should learn,
Flea."

She came even closer as she said:

"I'll do anything you want me to--'cause ye be the best ole duffer in
New York State!" Then she whirled and fled from the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ann Shellington rang the Vandecar doorbell, and a few minutes later was
ushered upstairs. Mrs. Vandecar was in a negligée gown, and Katherine
was brushing the invalid's hair.

"Pardon me, Ann dear," said Mrs. Vandecar, "for receiving you in this
way; but I'm ill today."

"I'm so sorry! It's I who ought to ask pardon for coming. But I knew
that no one could aid me except you in the particular thing I am
interested in."

"I shall be glad to help you, if I can, Ann.... There, Katherine, just
roll my hair up. Thank you, Girly."

Ann had seated herself, and now spoke of her errand:

"You've heard of our little charges who came so strangely to us not long
ago?"

Mrs. Vandecar nodded.

"Horace and I wish to do something for them. It seems as if they had
been sent to us by Providence. The lad is very ill, and the girl ought
to go to school. We were wondering if you could have her admitted for
special lessons to Madame Duval's. The school associations would do such
a lot for her." As Ann continued, she marked Mrs. Vandecar's hesitation.
"I know very well, Dear, that I am asking you a serious thing; but
Brother and I think that it would do her a world of good."

Mrs. Vandecar thoughtfully received the shawl Katherine brought her.
Then she looked straight at Ann and said:

"Everett doesn't approve of your work, does he, Ann?"

Miss Shellington colored, and fingered her engagement ring.

"No," she replied frankly; "but it's because he refuses to know them.
They're little dears! I've explained to him our views, and have promised
that they shall not interfere with any plans he and I may make. I've
never seen Horace vitally interested before, or at least so much so.
Now, do you think that you would be willing to do this for us? Mildred's
going to the school, and you being a patroness will make Madame Duval
listen to such a proposal from you."

Mrs. Vandecar turned upon her visitor searchingly.

"Are you doing right, Ann, in taking these children into your home life?
I appreciate your good-heartedness; but--"

"Horace and I have talked it all over," interjected Ann, "and we are
both assured that we are doing what is right. Won't you think it over,
and let us know what you decide? If you find you can't do it--why, we'll
arrange some other way."

The plan of naming the children came into her mind; but she hesitated
before broaching it. Mrs. Vandecar was a type of everything high-bred
and refined. Would it offend her aristocratic sense to have the children
named after her and her husband? Ann overcame her timidity and spoke:

"Fledra, there's another thing I wanted to speak of. The children came
to us without proper names, and Horace suggested that we call them Floyd
and Fledra. Would you mind?"

Mrs. Vandecar drew back a little, a shade passing over her face. A
painful memory ever present seized her. Long ago two babies had been
called after their father and mother--after her and her strong husband.
Could she admit that she did not care? Could she consent to Ann's
request? Ann noted her struggle, and said quickly:

"I'm sorry--forgive me, Dear!"

Mrs. Vandecar's face brightened, and she smiled.

"I thought at first that I didn't want you to; but I won't be foolish.
Of course, call them whatever you wish. Floyd won't mind, either."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horace met his sister expectantly.

"Did you ask her about the names, Ann?"

"Yes. At first she was not inclined to either of our plans; but she has
such a tender heart."

"So she has," responded Horace.

"She consented about the names; but said that she would send me word
about the school."

"And she didn't give a ready consent?"

"No; but I'm almost sure that she will do it. And now about Flea. Did
you talk with her?"

"Yes. She consented to go to school, and said--that I was the best old
duffer in New York State."

"Oh, Horace! She must be taught not to use such language. It's dreadful!
Poor little dear!"

"It'll take sometime to alter that," replied Horace, shaking his head.
"They've had a fearful time, and she's been used to talking that way
always; she's heard nothing else. You can't alter life's habits in a
day."

"But Madame Duval won't have her if she's impudent," said Ann.

"Oh, but she's scarcely that," expostulated Horace; "she doesn't
understand. I'll try to correct her sometime."

But he felt the blood come up to his hair as he promised; for it seemed
almost impossible to approach the girl with a matter so personal. For
the present, he dismissed the thought.

"What about the names, Ann?" he asked.

"As you wish, Dear; Fledra doesn't care."

From that moment, the boy, struggling with fever, and the gray-eyed
girl, so like him, were called Floyd and Fledra Cronk.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning in January, the day before Flea was to begin her school
work, she was passing through the hall that led to the front door. Her
face was grave with timidity; although for hours Ann had been trying to
fortify the young spirit against the ordeal that was to confront her the
following day. Only once had Flea faltered a request that she be allowed
to stay at home; but Horace had melted her objections without expelling
her fear. To Ann's instructions concerning conduct she had listened with
a heavy heart.

Everett Brimbecomb opened the front door as Flea approached it. She
stopped short before him, and he drew in a sharp, quick breath. Flea was
uncertain just what to do. She knew that he was going to marry Ann, and
was also aware that he hated her brother and herself. Ann, however, had
taught her to bow, and she now came forward with hesitant grace, and
inclined her head slightly. The beauty of Flea made Everett regret that
his objections to the twins had been so strenuous; but he would
immediately establish a friendship with her that would please both Ann
and Horace. He vowed that at the same time he would get some amusement
out of it.

"Well! You've blossomed into a girl at last," he said banteringly, "and
a mighty pretty one, too! I swear I shouldn't have known that you were
one of those boys!"

Flea threw her peculiar eyes over him; but did not speak.

"You're going to school tomorrow, I hear. How do you like that?"

Flea shook her head.

"I don't want to go," she admitted; "but my Prince says as how I have
to."

"Your what?"

"My Prince!"

"Your Prince! Who's your Prince?" demanded Brimbecomb.

"Him, back in there," replied Flea, casting her head backward in the
direction of the library.

"You mean Mr. Shellington?"

"Yep!"

Everett burst into a loud laugh. At the sound, Horace stepped to his
study-door and looked out. His face darkened as he discerned Flea
standing against the wall and Brimbecomb looking down at her. He came
forward and stationed himself at the girl's side, placing one hand upon
her shoulder.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Why, little Miss--I'm sure I don't know the child's name," cried
Everett breaking into merriment again, "she says you're a--Prince,
Horace."

Shellington lowered his eyes to Flea, who was gazing up at him
fearfully. She did not look at Everett; but made an uneasy gesture with
her hand toward Horace. She had never seemed so appealingly adorable,
and inwardly Everett cursed the stupidity that had allowed so many
weeks to pass by without his having become Flea's friend.

There was silence, during which the girl locked and unlocked her
fingers. Then she relieved it with the frank statement:

"This man here didn't seem to know nothin' about ye; so I told him ye
was a Prince."

Ann's voice from the drawing-room caused Everett to turn on his heel,
leaving Horace alone with Flea.

For a moment they were both quiet. Flea considered the toe of her
slipper. A tear dropped to the front of her dress as Horace took her
hand and led her into the library.

"Fledra," he said, using the new name with loving inflection, "what are
you crying for?"

"I thought you was mad at me," she shuddered. "That bright-eyed duffer
what I hate laughed when I said ye was a Prince. I hate his eyes, I do,
and I hate him!"

Shellington did not correct her mistakes in English as he had done so
often of late. With shaded remonstrance in his tone, he said:

"Fledra, he is going to marry my sister, and he's my friend."

"He ain't good enough for Sister Ann," muttered Flea stubbornly.

"She loves him, though, and that is enough to make us all treat him with
respect."

Turning the subject abruptly, he continued:

"I'm expecting you to work very hard in school, Fledra. You will, won't
you?"

"Yes," replied Flea, making sure to pronounce the word carefully.

Horace smiled so tenderly into her eyes that she grew frightened at the
thumping of her heart and fled precipitately.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Fledra Cronk's school days lengthened slowly into weeks. She was making
rapid strides in English, and Miss Shellington's patience went far
toward keeping her mind concentrated upon her work. At first some of the
girls at the school were inclined to smile at her endeavors; but her sad
face and questioning eyes drew many of them into firm friends.
Especially did she cling to Mildred Vandecar, and raised in the
golden-haired daughter of the governor an idol at whose shrine she
worshiped.

One Saturday morning in the latter part of March, Mildred Vandecar
persuaded her mother to allow her to go, accompanied by Katherine, to
the Shellington home. They found Ann reading aloud to the twins, Flukey
resting on the divan. Mildred was presented to him, and in the hour that
followed the sick boy became her devoted subject.

The three young people listened eagerly to the story, and after it was
finished Ann entered into conversation with Katherine.

Suddenly she heard Flukey exclaim, in answer to some question put by
Mildred:

"My sister and me ain't got no mother!"

Miss Shellington colored and partly rose; but she had no chance to
speak, for Mildred was saying:

"Oh, dear! how you must miss her! Is she dead? And haven't you any
father, either?"

"Yep," said Flukey; "but he ain't no good. He hates us, he does, and
worse than that, he's a thief!"

Mildred drew back with a shocked cry. Ann was up instantly; while
Fledra got to her feet with effort. She remembered how carefully Ann had
instructed her never to mention Lon Cronk or any of the episodes in
their early days at Ithaca; but Flukey had never been thus warned.

"Mildred, dear," Ann said anxiously, "Floyd and Fledra were unfortunate
in losing their mother, and more unfortunate in having a father who
doesn't care for them as your father does for you." She passed an arm
about Fledra and continued, "It would be better if we were not to talk
of family troubles any more, Floyd.... Fledra, won't you ask Mildred to
play something for you?"

The rest of Mildred's stay was so strained that Miss Shellington
breathed a sigh of relief when Katherine suggested going. For a few
seconds neither Ann nor Fledra spoke after the closing of the door. It
was the latter who finally broke the silence.

"Flukey hadn't ought to have said anything about Pappy Lon; but he
didn't know--he thought everybody knew about us.... Are ye going to send
us away now?"

The girl's anxiety and worried look caused Ann to reassure her quickly.

       *       *       *       *       *

In describing the events of the afternoon to her mother, Mildred wept
bitterly. When a grave look spread over Mrs. Vandecar's face, Katherine
interposed:

"Aunty, while those children undoubtedly had bad parents, they will
really amount to something, I'm sure."

It was not until she was alone with Katherine that Mrs. Vandecar opened
the subject.

"I'm almost afraid I was incautious to allow a friendship to spring up
between this strange child and Mildred. I wish I could see her."

"Ask her here, then. She's very pretty, very gentle, and needs young
friends sadly, although the Shellingtons are treating the two children
beautifully. If they don't grow up to be good, it won't be Ann's fault,
nor Horace's."

"I'll invite the child to come some afternoon, then." With this decision
the subject dropped.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening Ann went out on a charitable mission, leaving Fledra to
deliver a message to Everett and to care for Floyd. The boy was in bed,
his thin white hands resting wearily at his sides. For sometime he
allowed his sister to work at her lessons. Then he said impetuously:

"Flea, why be these folks always so kind to you and me? They ain't never
been mad yet, and I'm allers a yowlin' 'cause my bones and my heart hurt
me."

Flea looked up from her book meditatively.

"They're both good, that's why."

"It's 'cause they pray all the time, ain't it?" Floyd asked.

"I guess so."

"I'd a died those nights if Sister Ann hadn't prayed for me, wouldn't I,
Flea?"

"Yes," replied Flea in abstraction.

After a silence, Floyd spoke again:

"Flea, do you like that feller what Sister Ann's going to marry?"

The girl dropped a monosyllabic negative and fell to studying.

"Why?" insisted Floyd.

Before Flea could reply, a servant appeared at the door, saying that Mr.
Brimbecomb wanted Miss Shellington.

[Illustration: "IT WERE A PRINCE--A REAL LIVE PRINCE!"]

Fledra closed her book and went to the drawing-room, where she found
Everett standing near the grate. His brilliant smile made her drop her
eyes embarrassedly. She overlooked his extended hand, and made no move
to come forward. The girl had always felt afraid of him. Now his
presence in the room increased her vague fears. Why she had felt this
sudden premonition of evil, she did not know, nor did she try to analyze
her feelings. Young as she was, Fledra recognized in him an enemy, and
yet his attitude betrayed a personal interest. She had seen him many
times during the last few weeks; but had managed to escape him through
the connivance of Miss Shellington. Ann had tactfully explained to the
girl that Mr. Brimbecomb did not feel the same toward her and Flukey as
did her brother; but had added, "It's because he does not know you both,
Dear, as Horace and I do."

Once alone with him, she knew only that she wanted to give him Ann's
message and return quickly to Floyd. Before she could speak, Brimbecomb
passed behind her and closed the door.

"Sister Ann won't be home for an hour," said Flea, turning sharply.

Everett smiled again.

"Sit down, then," he said.

"I can't; I have to study."

Something in the girl's tones brought a low laugh from Everett. He came
closer to her.

"You're a deliciously pretty child," he bantered. "Won't you take hold
of my hands?"

Placing her arms behind her, Flea answered:

"No, I don't like ye!" She backed far from him, her eyes burning with
anger.

"You're a very frank little maid, as well as pretty," drawled Everett.
"Ever since I first saw you as a girl, I've wanted to know something
about you. Who's your father?"

"None of yer business!" snapped Flea.

"Frank again," laughed the lawyer ruefully. "Now, honestly, wouldn't you
like to be friends with me?"

"No! I said I didn't like ye, and I don't! I want to go now. You can
sit here alone until Sister Ann comes."

She looked so tantalizingly lovely, so lithely young, as she flung the
disagreeable words at him, that Brimbecomb impulsively made a step
toward her. He was unused to such treatment and manners. That this girl,
sprung from some unknown corner, dared to flaunt her dislike in his
face, made him only the more determined to conquer her.

"If I wait until Sister Ann comes," he said coolly, "I shall not wait
alone. I insist that you stay here with me!"

"I have to go back to my brother. So let me go by--please!"

Fledra made an effort to pass Brimbecomb; but he grasped her
deliberately in his arms. Drawing her forcibly to him, he exclaimed:

"I've caught my pretty bird! Now I'm going to kiss you!"

Flea's mind flashed back to the day when Lem Crabbe had tried to kiss
her, and the thought came to her mind that she could have borne that
even better than this. She squirmed about until her face was far below
his arm, and muttered:

"If you try to kiss me, I'll dig a hole in yer mug!"

Half-mocking at the threat, half-inviting its fulfilment, Everett
laughed. Then, with all his strength, he forced Flea's angry, crimsoned
face up to his and closed his lips over her red mouth, kissing her again
and again. The girl struggled until she was free. In an uncontrollable
temper she thrust her hand to Everett's face, and he felt her
fingernails scrape his cheek. He released her instantly, stepping back
in a gasp of rage and surprise.

Pantingly the girl rubbed her lips with her sleeve.

"If Sister Ann weren't a lovin' ye," she flashed at him, "I'd tell her
how cussed mean ye be! If ye ever try to kiss me again, I'll tear yer
eyes out, Mister!"

She was gone before he could stop her, and, like a young fury bounded
into the presence of Flukey.

"I know why I hate that feller of Sister Ann's," she muttered; "'cause
he's bad--he's a damn dog! That's what he is!"

With a startled ejaculation, Floyd half-rose; but Ann's step in the hall
sent him back on the pillow gasping.

Fledra sank down at the table, by effort repressing her breath. She
heard the door open, and when Miss Shellington entered her red face was
bent low over the grammar.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN


A few seconds before, when Miss Shellington had entered the house, she
had seen Everett's shadow on the drawing-room curtain; but for the
moment her habitual concern for Floyd overrode her eagerness to be with
her lover, and she hurried to the sickroom. As was her custom, she took
the boy's hand in hers and examined him closely. With her daily
observance of him, she had learned to detect the slightest change in his
appearance. Now his flushed cheeks and racing pulse told her he was
laboring under great excitement.

"Floyd," she exclaimed in dismay, "you've been talking too much! Your
face is awfully red!... Why, Fledra, I've cautioned you many times--"

At the girl's apparent unconcern, Miss Shellington left the reproach
unfinished. She perceived the scarlet cheeks and flashing eyes peering
at her over the open book.

"Is there anything the matter, Fledra?"

The girl let her gaze fall.

"You haven't been quarreling with Floyd?"

"Nope, Sister Ann; Flukey and me never have words."

"I should hope not," Ann replied sincerely; "but, Fledra dear, when I
speak to you, please look at me."

With a shake of the black curls, Fledra lifted her face.

"Tell me what is the matter with you," said Ann.

A glint of steel shown in the gray eyes. Flea's lips opened to speak,
and for one moment Ann's happiness was threatened with destruction. The
girl was on the point of telling her about Everett--then Brimbecomb's
voice rang out from the reception-room.

"Ann, dear! Aren't you ever coming?"

Fledra noticed Miss Shellington's face change as if by magic, and saw a
lovelight grow in her eyes.

In silence, she received Ann's sorrowful kiss.

"Little sister, I really wasn't scolding you. I was only thinking of how
careful we have to be of Floyd. I--I wish you would be kind to me!"

During the painful constraint that followed, Fledra allowed Ann to leave
the room; but before she had more than closed the door the girl rose and
bounded after her. Impulsively she grasped Miss Shellington's arm and
thrust herself in front.

"Sister Ann," she whispered, "I lied to ye! I was mad at Floyd, as mad
as--"

Ann placed her finger on the trembling lips.

"Don't say what you were going to, Dear--and remember it is as great a
sin to get into such a temper as it is to tell a story."

"Ye won't tell anyone that I fibbed, will ye--Flukey or yer brother,
either?"

Everett's voice called Ann again, and she replied that she was coming.

Softly kissing the girl, she said:

"If I loved you less, Fledra dear, I should not be so anxious about you.
But I'm so fond of you, child! Now, then, smile and kiss me!"

Fledra flung her arms about the other.

"I keep forgettin'. I'll try not to be bad any more." Flea turned back
into the room, as Ann hurried away at another call from Everett, and
muttered:

"If I loved ye less, Sister Ann, I wouldn't have lied to ye."

Floyd's eyes questioned her as she passed him.

"Fluke," said she, coming to a halt, "I told Sister Ann I was mad at
you, and I wasn't. You won't tell her, will ye?"

"No," replied Flukey wonderingly, "I won't tell her nothin'."

Flea said no more in explanation, and sat again at the study table. She
was still bent over her book when Shellington opened the door and
glanced in. The boy's eyes were closed as if in sleep, and Horace
beckoned to Flea. She rose languidly and walked to him.

"As your brother is sleeping, Fledra," he murmured, "come into the
library and talk to me awhile."

There were traces of tears on Fledra's face when Horace ushered her into
the study.

"Now, little girl, sit down and tell me about your lessons. I've been so
busy lately that I haven't had time to show you my interest.... You've
been crying, Fledra!"

"Yes, I got mad, and Sister Ann talked to me."

"Will you tell me why you became angry?" he queried.

Flea had not expected this, and had no time to think of a reason for her
anger. Deliberating a moment, she placed her head on her arm. It would
be dangerous to tell him about Brimbecomb. If the bright-eyed man in the
drawing-room had only let her go before kissing her--if he had only
remembered his love for Ann! She knew Horace was waiting for her to
speak; but her mind refused absolutely to concoct a reasonable excuse,
and she could not tell him a deliberate lie, as she had to Ann.

For what seemed many minutes Horace looked at her.

"Fledra," he said at length, "am I worthy of your confidence?"

His question brought her up with a jerk. Would she dare tell him? Would
he be silent if he knew that Sister Ann was being perfidiously used? She
was sure he would not.

"If I tell you something," she began, "you won't never tell anybody?"

"Never, if you don't want me to."

She leaned forward and looked straight at him.

"I just lied to Sister Ann," she said.

Horace's face paled and he grasped the arms of his chair. Presently he
asked sharply:

"Why did you lie to my sister, Fledra?"

"I just did, and you said you wouldn't tell."

"Was it because you lied to her that you cried?"

She tossed his question over in her mind. She intended to be truthful to
him, unless a falsehood were forced from her to shield Ann.

"I cried because Sister Ann was so good to me."

"Are you going to tell me what caused you to be untruthful?" he asked
persistently.

Fledra shook her head dismally.

Immeasurable compassion for the primitive, large-eyed child flooded his
soul, and his next words assumed a more tender tone.

"Of course, you don't mean that you are going to keep it from me?"

Her dark head suddenly dropped again, and a smothered storm of sobs drew
him closer to her. In the silence of arrested speech, he reached for her
fingers, which were twisting nervously in the webby lace on her dress.
With reluctance Flea permitted herself to be drawn from her chair.

"Fledra, stand here--stand close to me!" said he.

Obediently she came to his side, hiding her face in one bended arm. He
could feel the warmth of her bursting breaths, and he could have touched
the lithe body had he put out his hand. And then--and not until
then--did Horace know that he loved her. Yesterday she had seemed only a
child; but at this moment she was transformed into a woman, and his
sudden passion gave him a lover's right to pass his arm about her. In
bewilderment Flea checked her tears and drew back. He had never before
caressed her in any way.

Horace stood up, almost mastered by his new emotion.

"Fledra," he breathed, "Fledra, can't you trust me? Dear child, I love
you so!"

Stunned by his words, Fledra stared at him. His voice had vibrated with
something she had never heard before. His eyes were brilliant and
pleading.

"Fledra, can't you--can't you love me?"

As if by strong cords, her tongue was tied.

"Listen to me!" pursued Horace. "I know now I loved you that first night
I saw you--that night when you came into the room with Ann's--"

He stopped at the name of his sister--he had forgotten for the moment
Flea's confession of the falsehood to her. Then the seeming injustice
done Ann turned his mind to the probing he had begun at first for the
cause of Flea's grief. Intermingled with this was a whirl of thought as
to the things that the girl had accomplished. Her entire submission to
Ann and himself, her devotion to Floyd, her desire to master the
difficult problems of her new life, all persuaded him that for his
happiness he must know the cause of her agitation. Spontaneously he
pressed his open hands to her cheeks.

"Fledra, Fledra! Can I believe you?"

The girl lowered her head and nodded emphatically.

"Do you--do you love anyone else--I mean any man?"

His rapidly indrawn breath came forth with almost an ejaculation. Flea's
eyes sought his for part of a minute. Then slowly she shook her head, a
shadow of a smile broadening her lips. With effort she lifted her arms
and whispered:

"I don't love anyone else--that is, no man! Be ye sure that ye love
me?"

Like an impetuous boy he gathered her up, caressing her hair, her eyes,
her lips. With sudden passion he murmured:

"Fledra! Fledra dear!"

"I do love ye!" she whispered. "Oh, I do love ye every bit of the day,
and every bit of the night, jest like I did when you came to the
settlement and I saw ye on the shore!"

Hitherto she had not told him that she had seen him in Ithaca, and he
did not understand her allusion to a former meeting. To his astonished
look, she replied by a question.

"Don't ye remember one day you came to the settlement and asked the way
to Glenwood?"

Horace conjured up a vision of a child of whom he had asked his road,
and remembered, in a flashing glance at the girl in his arms, that he
had inwardly commented upon the sad young face. He had noted, too, the
unusual shade in her eyes, and now he wondered vaguely that he had not
loved her then.

"I remember--of course I remember! Oh, I want you to say again that you
love me, little dearest, that you love me very much!" His lips roved in
sweet freedom over her face as he continued, "You're so young, so very
young, to have a sweetheart; but if you could only begin to love me--in
a few years we could be married, couldn't we?"

Flea's body grew tense with tenderness. She had never heard such
beautiful words; they meant that her Prince loved her as Ann loved
Everett, as good men loved their wives and good wives loved their
husbands. Instead of answering, she lifted a pale face intensified by
womanly passion.

"Will ye kiss me?" she breathed. "Kiss me again on my hair, and on my
eyes, and on my lips, because--because I love ye so!"

His strong avowal had opened a deep spring in her heart which overflowed
in tears. The taut arms pressed him tightly. The words were sobbed out
from a tightened young throat. The very passion in her, that abandonment
which comes from the untutored, stirred all that was primeval in him,
all the desperate longing in a soul newly born. His mouth covered hers
again and again; it sought her closed white lids, her rounded throat,
and again lingered upon her lips. After a few moments he sat down and
drew her into his arms.

"Little love, my heart has never beaten for another woman--only for you,
always for you! Fledra, open your eyes quick!"

The brown-flecked eyes flashed into his. Horace bent his head low and
searched them silently for some seconds.

"I must be sure, Dear, that you love me. Are you very sure?"

"Yes, yes! That's why I felt so bad tonight, when I told ye about lying
to Sister Ann." There was entreaty in her glance, and her figure
trembled in his arms. Horace started slightly. He had again forgotten
her admission.

"But you will tell me all about it now, won't you, Fledra? Then we can
tell Ann and your brother about our love."

Flea stood up; but Horace still kept his arm about her. Her thoughts
flew to Everett. How unfaithful he had been! Could she confide in
Horace, now that she was absolutely his? No; for he would punish Everett
even the more to the detriment of Ann. The thought set her teeth hard.
Had she been Ann, and Horace been Everett, had the man she loved been
unfaithful to the point of stealing kisses from another--She took a long
breath.

But she was not Sister Ann, neither was Horace, Everett. In a twinkling
everything that Horace had been to her since the first day in Ithaca
flooded her heart with happiness. Her dreamy imagination, which had
enshrined him king of her life, worked with a new desire that nothing
should interfere with the love that he had showered upon her. He had
said, "Do you love me, Dearest?"

The anxious question had thrilled her vibrant being to silence, had
stilled her eager tongue with the magnitude of its passion. Horace was
pleading with his eyes, imploring her to answer him. Suddenly he burst
out:

"You will tell me, Dear, why you were untruthful to my sister?"

Fledra pondered for a moment.

"Something happened," she began, "and Sister Ann came in--I was mad--"

"Were you angry at what happened?"

"Yes."

Horace led her on.

"And did Floyd know what had happened?"

"No."

"And then?" he demanded almost sharply.

"And then Sister Ann asked me what was the matter, and I lied, and said
I was mad at Floyd."

Horace still held her. This sweet possession and desire of her filled
him with serious decision. He deliberated an instant on her confession.

"Now you've told me that much," said he, "I want to know what happened."

"I can't tell ye," she said slowly, "I can't, and ye said that ye
wouldn't tell anybody about it."

Horace's arms loosened. Surely she could have no good reason for keeping
anything from him! Suddenly he grasped her tightly to him and kissed her
again and again.

"Of course you'll tell me, of course you will! Tell me all about it. I
won't have this thing between us! I can't, I can't! I love you!"

It maddened her to hear him chide her thus, filled as she was with all
the primeval qualities of the native woman to feel the strength of her
man. How his pleading touched her, how gravely his dear face expressed
an anxiety that she herself was unable to banish! Even should he send
her from him, she could not be false to Ann. To this decision the
strong, untutored mind clung, and again she refused him.

"No, I'm not goin' to tell you. Mebbe some day I will; but not now."

She heard him take a deep breath which tore savagely at all the best
within her. It wrestled with her affection for Miss Shellington, for her
duty to Floyd's friend. Not daring to glance up, she still stood in
silence. Horace's voice shocked her with the sternness of it.

"You've got to tell me! I command you! Fledra, you must!" Then, tilting
her chin upward, he continued reproachfully, "If you're going to keep
vital things from me, you can't be my wife!"

The resistance against telling him grew faint in her heart in its battle
for desirable things.

"Ye mean," she asked, with quick intaking of breath, "that I can't be
your woman if I don't tell you?"

A flush crawled to his forehead as the rich young voice flung the
question at him. She was so maddeningly beautiful, so young and
clinging! But she must bend to his will in a thing like this! In his
desire to set her right, he answered somewhat harshly.

"You must tell me; of course, you must!"

Fledra threw him a glance, pleading for leniency. She had expected him
to importune, to scold, but in the end to trust. Suddenly, in the
girl's imagination, Ann's gentle face bending over Floyd rose in its
loving kindness.

"Then--then," she stammered, "if you won't have me, unless I tell
you--then I'll go now--please!"

She left him with pathetic dignity, and her last glance showed his eyes,
too, filled with a strange pain.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


The next week held unutterable pain for Flea, each twenty-four hours
deepening her unhappiness more and more. She made no effort to talk with
Shellington, nor did she mention her sorrow to Ann. It did not seem
necessary to her that she should again speak to Horace of going away.
When she had last suggested it, he had said that nothing she could do
would alter his decision about his home being hers until Floyd should be
well. Nevertheless, an innate pride surged constantly within her. Any
deprivation would be more welcome than the studied toleration that, she
thought, she encountered in Horace.

One morning she stood looking questioningly down at her brother.

"How near well are ye, Fluke?"

"Ain't never goin' to get well!" he replied, shivering. "'Tain't easy to
get pains out of a feller's bones when they once get in."

"If you do get well soon, I think we'd better go away."

"Why?" demanded Flukey.

"Because we wasn't asked to stay only till you got well."

"Don't ye believe it, Flea! Ye wasn't here last night. Brother Horace
and Sister Ann thought I was to sleep, and I wasn't."

"What did they say?" broke in the girl, with whitening face.

"Sister Ann told Mr. Shellington about yer work at school, and he
said--as how--"

Floyd waited a moment before continuing, and Flea crept closer to the
bed. She was crying softly as she knelt down and bent her face over her
brother. The boy passed his hands through the black curls.

"What's the matter, Flea?"

"I want to know what my Prince said to Sister Ann."

"Be ye crying about him?"

"Yes!"

"Ye love him, I bet!"

Flea buried her face deeper into the soft counterpane; but she managed
to make an affirmative gesture with her head.

Floyd was silent, and sometime passed before he heard the girl's
smothered voice:

"And I'm goin' to love him always--even after we go away!"

"We ain't goin' away," said Floyd.

"Who said so?"

"Mr. Shellington."

"When?"

"Last night."

Fledra lifted her head and grasped the boy's thin hands in hers.

"You're sure it was last night, Fluke?"

"Yep, I be sure. I was layin' here with my face to the wall. When Sister
Ann comes in nights, if I don't say anything, she thinks I be asleep,
and she kisses me, and I like her to do that. Last night, when she'd
done kissing me, Mr. Shellington came in, and then they talked about
us."

"And he didn't say we was to go away?"

"No."

Fledra rose in sudden determination, and in her excitement spoke with
swift reversion to the ancient manner.

"Flukey, ye be the best da----"

Flukey thrust up a reproving finger which stopped the oath.

"Flea!" he cautioned.

"I were only goin' to say, Flukey," said Flea humbly, "that ye be the
best kid in all the world. Don't tell anybody what I said about my
Prince."

She went out quickly.

       *       *       *       *       *

With her hand upon her heart, Flea halted before the library. She knew
that Horace was there; for she could hear the rustling of papers. At her
timid knock, he bade her enter. Her tongue clove so closely to the roof
of her mouth that for a minute she could not speak. She held out her
fingers, and Horace took them in his. His face whitened at her touch;
but he gazed steadily at her.

"You've--you've something to say to me, Fledra--sweetheart?"

The hope in his voice rang out clearly. Fledra nodded.

"What?"

He was determined she should explain away the black thing that had
arisen between them.

"I didn't come to tell ye about what happened," said she; "but to say
that, if ye don't smile and don't touch me sometimes, I'll die--I know I
will!" Her tones were disjointed with emotion, and she felt the hands
holding hers tighten.

"I can't smile when I'm unhappy, Fledra. I can't! I can't! This past
week has been almost unbearable."

"It's been that way with me, too," said Flea simply.

"Then why don't you make us both happy by being honest with me? If you
didn't care for me, I should have no right to force your confidence; but
you really do, don't you?"

"Yes; but I'm never goin' to marry ye, because mebbe I can't never tell
ye. I think ye might trust me. It's easy when ye love anyone. I say, ye
couldn't marry me without, could ye?" She seemed to suddenly grow old in
her sagacious argument. Horace shook his head sadly.

"We'd never be happy, if I should," said he, "because--because I
couldn't trust you."

"Oh, I want ye to trust me!" she wept. "I want ye to! Won't you once
more? Please do! Won't ye forget that anything ever happened--won't ye?"

For a moment her supplication almost unnerved him; but he thought of
their future, of the necessity of having unlimited faith and honor
between them, and again slowly shook his head.

Suddenly the twisting hands worked themselves loose from his, and in
another instant her feverish arms tightly encircled his neck. By the
weight of Flea's body, Horace Shellington knew that her feet were no
longer on the floor, each muscle in the rigid girl having so well done
its part that she hung straight-limbed against him. Close to his face
drew hers, and for a space of time, the length of which he could never
afterward accurately measure, he forgot everything but the maddening
expression in her face. Her eyelids were closed, and her breath came hot
upon his lips.

"I want ye to kiss me like ye did that night--kiss me--please--please--"
In her low voice was illimitable strength and passion.

Like burning rivers, his blood was driven through his veins. He flung
out his arms and crushed her to him. Just then his lips found hers.

"Dear God! How I--how I love you!" he breathed.

Fledra's arms relaxed and slipped from his shoulders.

"Then forget about what happened!" she panted.

All the bitter apprehensions of the last week swept over him at her
words. His love battled with him, and he wavered. How gladly would he
have dispelled every doubt and listened to her pleading!

"But I want you to tell me, Fledra."

Flea backed slowly from him.

"I can't.... I can't.... I can't tell anybody!"

The man ran his fingers across his forehead in bewilderment. In his
bitter disappointment he turned away.

"When you come to me," his voice broke into huskiness, "when you tell me
what happened that night before you saw my sister, I shall--I shall love
you--forever!"

Then came a single moment of critical silence; but it needed only the
thought of Ann for the girl to toss aside his plea and turn upon her
heel.

"I don't want Sister Ann to know that I love ye," she said sulkily. "Ye
won't tell her?"

"No, no, of course not--not yet!" He dropped into his chair, his head
falling forward in his hands. "I wouldn't have believed," he said from
between his fingers, "that my love for you--"

Flea stopped him with an interruption:

"Are ye trying to stop lovin' me?"

Horace shook his shoulders, lifting swift eyes to hers. He noted her
expression irrevocable in its decision of silence. She was
extraordinarily lovely, and he grew suddenly angry that he had not the
power to change her, to draw from her unresistingly the story she had
locked from his perusal.

"Don't be foolish, Fledra!" he said quite harshly. "A man can't love and
unlove at will. I feel as if I should never know another happy moment!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For several days Ann watched her brother in dismay. He had grown
taciturn and gloomy. The boyish energy had left him. She ventured to
speak to Everett about it.

"He doesn't seem like the same boy at all," she said sadly, after
explaining. "I can't imagine what has caused the change in him."

Everett remembered Shellington's face as it had bent over Fledra, and
smiled slightly.

"Have you ever thought lately that he might be in love?"

"In love!" gasped Ann. "No, I know that he isn't; for it was only at the
time of the Dryden Fair that he told me he cared for no one."

"He might have changed since then," Everett said quizzically.

"But he hasn't met anyone lately," argued Ann. "I know it isn't
Katherine; for--for he told me so."

"I know someone he met at the fair."

Ann, startled, glanced up.

"Who? Do tell me, Everett! Don't stand there and smile so provokingly.
If you could only understand how I have worried over him!"

Brimbecomb put on a grave face.

"Haven't you a very pretty girl in the house who is constantly under his
eye?"

Still Ann did not betray understanding.

"Don't you think," asked Everett slowly, "that he might have fallen in
love with--this little Fledra?"

An angry sparkle gleamed in Ann's eyes.

"Don't be stupid, Everett. Why, she's only a child. It would be awful!
Horace has some sense of the fitness of things."

Everett thought of the evening he himself had succumbed to a desire to
kiss Flea.

"No man has that," he smiled, "when he is attracted toward a pretty
woman."

"But she isn't even grown up."

How little one woman understands another! In his eyes Fledra had
matured; for his masculinity had sought and found the natural opposite
forces of her sex. These thoughts he modified and voiced.

"Not quite from your standpoint, Ann; but possibly from Horace's."

Pale and distressed, Ann got to her feet.

"Then--then, of course, she must go," she said with decision. "I can't
have him unhappy, and--Why, such a thing could--never be!"

She could scarcely wait for Everett to depart; but suppressed her
anxiety and delicately turned the subject out of deference to Horace.
She listened inattentively as Brimbecomb explained some new cases that
he was soon to bring to court, and kissed him when he bade her
goodnight. Then, with beating heart, she sought her brother.

Unsmilingly, Horace asked her to be seated. His face was so stern that
she dared not at once speak of the fears Brimbecomb had raised in her
mind; but at last she said:

"Horace, I've been thinking since our last talk about the children--"
His sharp turn in the desk-chair interrupted her words; but she paused
only a moment before going on resolutely. "Don't you think that I might
put Floyd in a good private hospital where he would be taken care of,
and Fledra--"

His face turned ashen. Her fears were strengthened, and, although her
conscience stung her, she continued, "Fledra's getting along so well
that I would be willing to put her in a boarding school."

"Are you tired of them, Ann?"

"Oh, no--no, far from that! I love them both; but I thought it might be
pleasanter for you, if we had our home to ourselves again."

Horace looked at his sister intently.

"Are you keeping something back from me, Ann?" he demanded.

"Scarcely keeping anything from you, Dear; but I want you to be happy
and not to--" Horace rose in agitation, and quick tears blurred Ann's
sight.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Dearest?" she concluded.

"No!"

Reluctantly she left him, troubled and perplexed.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


Lem Crabbe had cunningly planned to keep Scraggy under his eye and
follow her to the hiding place of their son. He realized that the lad
was a man now; but so much the better. He would obtain money from him,
or he would bring him back to the scow and make him a partner in his
trade. In spite of his wickedness, Lem had a strong longing for a sight
of his child. Many times he had meditated upon the days Scraggy had
lived in the barge, and, although he had no remorse for his cruelty to
her, he had regretted the death of his boy. To be with him, he would
have to tolerate the presence of Scraggy for awhile. He felt sure that
Flea had gone from him forever, and the loneliness of his home made him
shiver as he entered it a few nights after his conversation with
Scraggy.

He had been in the boat but a few moments when he heard Lon's whistle
and called the squatter in.

"I thought we'd make them plans for Tarrytown," Cronk said presently.
"We might as well get to work as to be lazin' about. Don't ye think so?"

"Well, I were a thinkin' of stayin' here for awhile," stuttered Lem.

"What for?"

"Nothin' perticular."

"Ye know where that rich duffer's house be what ye heard Middy Burnes
speak about?"

"Yep. It ain't far from the graveyard. I thought as how we could crawl
in there while we was waitin' for night."

A strange look passed across Lon's face.

"Ye mean to hide in the cemetray?" he asked.

"Yep. Be ye afeared?"

"I ain't got no likin' for dead folks," muttered Cronk.

He added nothing to this statement; but said after a moment's silence:

"Scraggy ought to go dead herself some of these days, 'cause she's
allers a runnin' about in the storms. I see her ag'in tonight a startin'
out for another ja'nt. She had her bundle and her cat and was makin' a
bee line for Ithaca."

Lem glanced up quickly.

"I've changed my mind, Lon," he grunted. "I'll go to Tarrytown any day
yer ready."

Accordingly, they took a week to prepare their burglar's kit, which they
had not used for sometime, and ten days after the slipping away of
Screech Owl, Lon Cronk and Lem Crabbe left the squatter settlement and
made their way to Tarrytown.

       *       *       *       *       *

The once happy household of the Shellingtons had turned into a gloomy
abode. Ann was nonplused at the strange behavior of her brother and the
unusual reserve of Flea. Floyd from his bedroom endeavored to bring the
home to its former cheerfulness; but, with all Ann's energies and the
boy's tireless tact, the change did not come. At length Miss Shellington
gave up trying to bring things to their usual routine. She spent her day
hours in helping Fledra with her school studies and giving Floyd simple
lessons at home. Everett came every evening, taking Ann from the
sickroom. This left Fledra free to study quietly beside her brother.

One Thursday, after dinner, Horace went by invitation to Brimbecomb's
home to play billiards. Of late the young men had not passed much of
their time together; for business and the presence of Fledra and Floyd
in his house had given Horace less time for recreation. After a silent
game they sat down to smoke. For many minutes they puffed without
speaking. Everett finally opened the conversation.

"It seems more like old times to be here together again."

"Yes, I've missed our bouts, Everett."

"You've been exasperatingly conservative with your time lately!"
complained Everett. "A fellow can't get sight of you unless your nose is
poked in a book or you're in court!"

Horace laughed.

"Really, I've been awfully busy since--"

"Since the coming of your wonderful charges!" finished Brimbecomb.

Horace scented a sneer. His ears grew hot with anger.

"Ann has done more than I," he explained; "although there is nothing I
would not do."

"I can't understand it at all, old man! Pardon me if I seem dense, but
it's almost an unheard-of thing for a fellow in your and Ann's positions
to fill your home with--beggars." His voice was low, with an inquiring
touch in it. Having gained no satisfaction from Miss Shellington, he was
seeking information from Horace.

"We don't think of either one of them as beggars," interjected Horace.
"Both Ann and I have grown very fond of them."

In former days the two young men had been on terms of intimacy. Everett
presumed now upon that friendship by speaking plainly:

"Are you going to keep them much longer?" he asked.

Horace allowed his lids to droop slowly, and looked meditatively at the
end of his cigarette without replying.

"I have a reason for asking," Everett added.

"And may I ask your reason?"

"Yes, I suppose so. The fact is, I'm rather interested in them myself. I
thought--"

Horace lifted his eyes, and the man opposite noted that they had grown
darker, that they sparkled angrily. Everett was desirous of satisfying
himself whether Horace did, or did not, care for the young girl he was
sheltering.

"They don't need your interest so far as a home is concerned," Horace
said at last.

Everett's face darkened as he mused:

"They're lowly born, and such people were made for our servants, and not
our equals. If the women are pretty, they might act as playthings."

Horace turned his eyes toward the speaker wrathfully. He wondered if he
had understood correctly what was implied by the other's words.

"What did you say, Brimbecomb?"

Everett drew his left leg over his right knee deliberately.

"I think the girl pretty enough to make a capital toy for an hour," said
he.

Disbelief flooded Shellington's face.

"You're joking! You're making a jest of a sacred thing, Brimbecomb!"

Everett recalled former principles of the boy Horace, and a smile
flickered on his lips.

"I can't concede that," said he. "I think with a great man of whom I
read once. Deal honestly with men in business, was his maxim, keep a
clean record with your fellow citizens; but, as far as strange women are
concerned, treat them as you wish. It's a man's privilege to--to lie to
them, in fact."

Without looking up, Horace broke in:

"Ann has an excellent outlook for happiness, hasn't she?"

"We weren't talking about Ann," snapped Everett. "I was especially
thinking of the girl in your home, who belongs leagues beneath where
you have placed her. I won't have her there! I think my position is such
that I can make certain demands on the family of the woman I'm going to
marry."

"To the devil with your position! I wouldn't give a damn for it, and
I'll take up your first question, Brimbecomb. You asked me how long I
intended to keep those children. This is my answer! As long as they will
stay, and longer if I can make them!" His voice rang vibrant with
passion. "Don't let your position interfere with what I am doing; for,
if you do, Ann, friendship, or anything won't deter me from--"

Brimbecomb rose to his feet and faced the other.

"Threats are not in order," said he.

His deliberate speech made Horace turn upon him.

"I, too, intend to marry!" was his answer. "I intend to marry--Fledra
Cronk!"

Brimbecomb ejaculated in anger.

"If you will be a fool," said he, "it's time your friends took a hand in
your affairs. I think Governor Vandecar will have something to say about
that!"

"No more than you have," warned Horace. "The only regret I have is that
Ann has chosen you for her husband. I'm wondering what she would say if
I repeated tonight's conversation to her--as to a man lying to a woman."

"She wouldn't believe you," replied Everett.

"And you would deny that you so believed?"

"Yes. I told you it was my right to lie to a woman."

"Then, by God! you're a greater dog than I thought you! Let me get out
of here before I smash your face!"

Everett's haughty countenance flamed red; but he stepped aside, and
Horace, shaking with rage, left the house.

"I think I've given him something to think about," muttered Everett.
"He won't be surprised by anything I do now, and I've protected myself
with Ann against him, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was only when alone with Everett that Ann felt completely at her
ease. Then she threw aside the shadow that many times dismayed her and
looked forward to her wedding day, which was to come in May. This
evening she was sitting with her betrothed under the glow of a red
chandelier.

"You know, Ann, I haven't given up the idea of finding my own family,"
said Brimbecomb presently. "The more I work at law, the more I believe I
shall find a way to unearth them. I told Mr. and Mrs. Brimbecomb that I
intended to spend part of my next year looking for them. Mrs. Brimbecomb
said she didn't know the name under which I was born. I'm convinced that
I shall find them."

"I hope you do, Dear."

"You don't blame me, do you, Ann, for wanting to know to whom I'm
indebted for life?"

"No," answered Ann slowly; "although it might not make you any happier.
That is what I most wish for you, Dearest--complete happiness."

Everett lifted her delicate fingers and kissed them.

"I shall have that when you are my wife," he said smoothly.

Later he asked, "Did you speak with Horace of the matter that worried
you, Ann?"

Miss Shellington sighed.

"Not in a personal way," she replied; "but I really think there is more
than either you or I know. Fledra never puts herself in Horace's way any
more; in fact, they have both changed very much."

"Possibly he has told her that he cares for her, and she has--"

Ann shifted from him uneasily. "If Horace loves her, and has told her
so, she could not help but love him in return. She is really growing
thin with hard work, poor baby!"

"Does she love Horace?" sounded Everett.

"I can't tell, although I have watched her very closely."

A strange grip caught Everett's heart. He could not think of the small,
dark girl without a pang of emotion. He had made no effort to see
Fledra; yet he was constantly wishing that chance would throw her in his
path. Later, he intended in some way to bring about another interview.
He dared not write her a letter, although he had gone so far as to begin
one to her, but in disgust at himself had torn it up. The fact that
Horace was unhappy pleased him, now that they had become antagonistic.

The mystery clinging to Fledra haloed her for Everett beyond the point
of interest.

"Ann," he said suddenly, "you haven't told me much about those
children--I mean of their past lives."

"We know so little," she replied reservedly.

"But more than you have told me. Have they parents living?"

"A father, I think," murmured Ann.

"And no mother?"

"No."

"Do you know where their father is?"

"He lives near Ithaca, so we're told." After a silence she continued,
"We want them to forget--to forget, ourselves, all about their former
lives. I asked Horace if he wanted to place them in schools; but he
didn't want them to go away. As long as they are as good as they have
been, they're welcome to stay. Poor little things, they're nothing more
than babies, not yet sixteen!"

"The girl looks older," commented Everett.

"That's because she's suffered more than most girls do. I'm afraid
it'll be a long time before Floyd is completely well."

The conversation then drifted to that happy spring day when they would
be married.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


From the window of the drawing-room in his home Everett threw a glance
into Sleepy Hollow and listened to the wind weeping its tale of death
through the barren trees. The tall monuments were as spectral giants,
while here and there a guarding granite figure reared its ghostly
proportions. But the weird scenery caused no stir of superstition in the
lawyer.

In hesitation, Everett stood for some seconds, the snow falling silently
about him; for he was still under the mood that had come upon him during
Ann's parrying of his curiosity concerning the squatter children. As he
paused, the Great Dane, in the kennel at the back of the house, sent out
a hoarse bark, followed by a deep growl. So well trained was the dog
that nothing save an unfamiliar step or the sight of a stranger brought
forth such demonstrations. Everett knew this, and walked into the
garden, spoke softly to the animal, and, noting nothing unusual, ran up
the back steps. The door opened under his touch, and he stepped in. The
maids were in the chambers at the top of the house, and quietude reigned
about him. The young master went into the drawing-room, stirred the
grate fire, and sat down with a book. For many moments his eyes did not
seek its pages. His meditations took shape after shape; until, dreaming,
he allowed the book to rest on his knees.

Everett was perfectly satisfied with his success as a lawyer. He had
proved to others of his profession in the surrounding county that he was
an orator of no little ability and preëminently able to hold his own in
the courtroom.

He could not have desired or chosen a better wife than Ann promised to
be; but something riotous in his blood made him dissatisfied with
affairs as they stood now. Manlike, he reflected that, if he had been
allowed to caress Fledra as he had desired, he would have been content
to have gone on his way. He wondered many times why his heart had turned
from Ann to another. Something in every thought of Fledra Cronk sent his
blood tingling and set his heart to leaping. His dreams melted into
pleasurable anticipations, and he tried to imagine the windings of his
future path. Chance had always been kind, and he wondered whether an
opportunity to win the affections of the small, defiant girl in the
Shellington home would be given him. A strain in his blood called for
her absolute subjection--and, subdue her he would; for he felt that an
invincible passion slept in her tempestuous spirit.

Suddenly, from the direction of the cemetery, an owl sent out a mournful
cry, and a furious baying from the dog behind the house sounded. He
rose, walked to the window, and surveyed the bleak view through the
curtains. He again noted the tall trees threshing in the wind, and the
looming monuments. Still under the spell of pleasant day-dreams, Everett
silently contemplated the gloomy aspect. He had forgotten the owl and
its harsh cry.

So deeply was he engrossed in his meditations that he did not hear the
stealthy turning of the door-handle, and it was not until a distinct
hiss reached his ears that he turned. A woman, dripping with water, her
gray hair hanging in wet strings about a withered face, stole toward
him. Everett was so taken aback by the sight of her and the hissing,
cross-eyed cat perched on her shoulder that he could not speak. A newly
born superstition rose in his heart that the woman was a wraith. Yet an
indistinct memory made her black eyes familiar. He did not move from the
window, and Screech Owl sank to the floor.

"Little 'un," she whispered, "I've comed for ye, little 'un!"

The sound of her hoarse voice stirred Everett's senses. He gave one step
forward, and the woman spoke again:

"I telled yer pappy that I'd bring ye!"

Brimbecomb shook his shoulders, his dread deepening. What was the
witch-like woman saying to him, and why was she calling him by the name
he now remembered she had used before? She crept nearer on her knees,
her thin hands held up as if in prayer, and, with each swaying movement
of her the cat shifted its position from one stooped shoulder to the
other.

Everett found his voice, and asked sharply:

"How did you get into the house?"

Scraggy put up her arm, drew the snarling cat under it, and looked
stupidly at the man. She was so close that he could see the steam rising
from her wet clothes, and the hisses of the animal were audible above
his own heavy breathing. Screech Owl smoothed the cat's bristling back.

"Pussy ain't to hiss at my own pretty boy!" she whispered. "He's my
little 'un--he's my little 'un!"

A premonition, born of her words, goaded Everett to action.

"Get up!" he ordered. "Get up and get out of here! Do you want me to
have you arrested?"

Scraggy smiled.

"Ye wouldn't have yer own mother pinched, little 'un. I'm yer mammy!
Don't ye know me?"

He moved threateningly toward her; but a snarl from the furious cat
stayed him.

"You lie! You crazy fool! Get up, or I'll kick you out of the house! Get
out, I say! Every word you've uttered is a lie!"

"I don't lie," cried Scraggy. "Ye be my boy. Ain't ye got a long dig on
ye from--from yer neck to yer arm--a red cut yer pappy made that night I
gived ye to the Brimbecomb woman? The place were a bleedin' and a
bleedin' all through your baby dress. Wait! I'll show ye where it is."
She scrambled up and advanced toward him.

Everett made as if to strike her.

"Get back, I say! I would hate you if you were my mother! You can't fool
me with your charlatan tricks!"

The woman sank down, whimpering.

Again Everett sprang forward; but again the cat drove him back.

"Go--go--now!" he muttered. "I can't bear the sight of you!"

There were tones in his voice that reminded Scraggy of Lem, and her
heart grew tender as she thought of the father waiting for his child.

"Ye won't hate yer pappy, if he does hate me. He wants ye, little 'un.
I've come to take ye back to yer hum. He won't hurt ye no more."

Everett stared at her wildly. Was the delicious mystery that had
surrounded him for so many years, which had occupied his mind hour upon
hour, to end in this? He would not have it so!

"Get up, then," he said, his lips whitening, "and tell me what you have
to say."

Scraggy lifted herself up. Her boy wanted to hear more about his father,
she thought.

"I gived ye to the pretty lady with the golden hair when yer pappy hurt
ye, and I knowed ye again; for the Brimbecomb's name was on the boat
that took ye. Yer pappy didn't know ye were a livin' till a little
while ago, and he wants ye now."

"Were you married to him, this man you call my father?" demanded
Everett.

Scraggy shook her head.

"But that don't make ye none the less his'n, an' ye be goin' with me, ye
be!"

Everett no longer hoped that the woman was either mistaken or lying. The
stamp of truth was on all she had said. He knew in his heart that he was
in the presence of his mother--this ragged human thing with wild, dark
eyes and straggling hair. And somewhere he had a father who was as evil
as she looked. For years Everett had struggled against the bad in his
nature; but at that moment he lost all the remembrance of the lessons of
his youth, of the goodness taught him by his foster father and mother.
It flashed into his mind how embarrassed Mrs. Brimbecomb had been when
he had constantly brought up the subject of his own family, and how
impatiently Mr. Brimbecomb had waved aside his petitions for
information. They should never know that he had found out the secret of
his birth, and he breathed thanks that they were not now in Tarrytown.
Neither Ann nor Horace should ever learn of the stain upon him; but the
girl with the black curls should make good to him the suffering of his
new-found knowledge! She came of a stock like himself, of blood in which
there was no good.

Everett forgot the dripping woman before him as a dark thought leaped
into his mind. He could now be at ease with his conscience! Of a sudden,
he felt himself sink from the radius of Horace Shellington's life--down
to the birth level of the boy and girl next door. It dawned upon him, as
his mind swept back over his boyhood days, that Horace had ever been
better than he, with a natural abhorrence against evil.

[Illustration: "LITTLE 'UN, I'VE COMED FOR YE LITTLE 'UN!"]

When Scraggy again spoke, he turned burning eyes upon her. How he hated
her, and how he hated the man who called himself his father, wherever he
might be! He shut his teeth with a grit, and, unmindful of the cat, bent
over Screech Owl. He forced her head so far back that she moaned and
loosened her hold upon Black Pussy, who sprang snarling into the corner.

"If you ever repeat that story to anyone, that I'm your son, I'll kill
you! Now go!"

Scraggy began to cry weakly, and Black Pussy howled as if in sympathy.

"Shut up, and keep that cat quiet! You'll draw down the servants. Now
listen to me! You say you're my mother--but, if you ever breathe it to
anyone, or come round here again, I shall certainly kill you!"

The thoughts began to scurry wildly in Scraggy's head. Everett's threat
to kill her had not penetrated the demented brain, and his rough
handling had been her only fright. She could think of nothing but that
Lem was waiting for them at the scow.

She dragged herself away from Everett, and with a torn skirt wiped her
ghastly face. She dropped the rag to grope dazedly for the cat, and
whispered:

"Ye can do anything ye want to with yer ole mammy, if ye'll come back
with me to Ithaca!"

"Ithaca, Ithaca!" Everett repeated dazedly. "Was that child you spoke of
born in Ithaca?"

"Yep, on Cayuga Lake."

"Get up, get up, or I'll--I'll--" His voice came faintly to Screech Owl,
and she moaned.

The man's mind went back to his Cornell days when he had been considered
one of the richest boys in the university. His sudden degradation, the
falling of his family air-castles, made him double his fists--and with
his blow Scraggy dropped into a motionless heap.

His bloodshot eyes took in her prostrate form, guarded by the fluffed
black cat, and his one thought was to kill her--to obliterate her
entirely from his life. He stepped nearer, and Black Pussy's ferocious
yowl was the only remonstrance as he stirred Scraggy roughly with his
foot.

The thought that her boy did not want to go with her coursed slowly
through the woman's brain. She knew that without him Lem would not
receive her. She longed for the warmth of the homely scow; she wanted
Lem and the boy--oh, how she wanted them both! She half-rose and lunged
forward. Brimbecomb's next blow fell upon her upturned face, stunning
her as she would have made a final appeal. The woman fell to the floor
unconscious, and Everett kicked Black Pussy into the hall. There was a
snarling scramble, and when he opened the front door the cross-eyed cat
bounded out into the night.

Everett returned hastily to the drawing-room after a covert search of
the hall for disturbers. In the doorway he hovered an instant, and then
advanced quickly to the figure on the floor. Lifting the limp woman, he
bore her out of the house and down the slushy steps. With strength that
had come through the madness of his new knowledge, he threw the body
over into the graveyard and bounded after it. Once more then he took
Scraggy up, and, stumbling frequently in the half-light, carried her to
the upper end of the cemetery. Here he deposited the body in a
snow-filled gully by a vault. Ten minutes later he was staring at his
mirrored reflection in his own room, convinced that, if he had not
already killed her, the woman would be dead from exposure before
morning. The cat had disappeared, and all traces of the night's
visitation had been removed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several hours before, Lem Crabbe and Lon Cronk had slunk into Tarrytown.
The snow still fell heavily when they made their preparations to enter
the home of Horace Shellington. About five in the afternoon they had
worked their way against this sharp north wind to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
and had entered it. Until night should fall and sleep overtake the city,
they planned to remain there quietly. Not far from the fence they took
up their station in an unused toolhouse, smoking the next hours away in
silence.

When ten o'clock neared, Lem stole out; but he came back almost
immediately, cursing the wild night in superstitious fear.

"The wind's full of shriekin' devils, Lon," he said, "and 'tain't time
for us to go out. Be ye afeard to try it, old man?"

"Nope," replied the other; "but I wish we had that cuss of a Flukey to
open up them doors, or else Eli was here. This climbin' in windows be
hard on a big man like me and you with yer hook, Lem."

Lem grunted.

"I'll soon have a boy what'll take a hand in things, with us, Lon," he
said, presently. "I ain't sayin' nothin' jest yet; but when ye see him
ye'll be glad to have him."

"Whose boy be he?" demanded Lon.

"Ain't goin' to tell."

Lon ceased questioning, dismissing the subject with a suggestion that he
himself should reconnoiter the ground. He left Lem, groped his way among
the gravestones for several yards, and brought up abruptly at the fence.
From here he eyed the Brimbecomb mansion for some minutes; then he cast
his glance to the steps of the Shellington home beyond. After a few
seconds a young man ran down the stairs, and Lon slunk back to Lem in
the toolhouse. An instant later both men were startled by the cry of an
owl. Lem rose uneasily, while Lon stared into the darkness.

"That weren't a real owl, were it, Lon?" Lem muttered.

"Nope," growled Lon; "it sounded more like Scraggy."

He looked at the one-armed man with suspicion.

"Can't prove it by me," said Lem darkly.

"Do ye know where she ever goes to?" demanded Cronk.

Lem shook his head in negation.

Crabbe dared not venture out again alone; for apprehension rose strong
within him. He knew that Scraggy had left the settlement to find their
boy. Had she come to Tarrytown for him? The two men crouched low, and
talked no more during some minutes. Finally, Lon, bidding Lem follow
him, lifted his big body, and they left the toolhouse. The squatter led
the way to the fence. They stood there for a time watching in silence.
Two shadows appeared upon a curtain of the house before them. A man was
lifting a woman in his arms, and the downward fall of her head gave
evidence of her unconsciousness. As the front door opened, the squatter
and the scowman retreated to their quarters. When Everett Brimbecomb
threw the body of Screech Owl into the cemetery, both were peering out.
They saw the man carry the figure off into the shadows, marking that he
returned alone. Neither knew that the other was Scraggy; but, with a
lust for mystery and evil, they slipped out with no word. Lon made off
to view the Shellington home once more, and Lem disappeared in the
direction from which Everett had come, easily following the tracks in
the snow. Coming within sight of the vault, Lem rounded it fearfully. On
the ground he saw the woman, and as he looked she rose to a sitting
position.

Screech Owl was just recovering her battered senses. She was still
dazed, and had not heard the scowman's footsteps, nor did she now hear
the mutterings in his throat. Faintly she called to Black Pussy; but,
receiving no response from the cat, she crawled deeper into the shadows
of the vault and tried to think. Her fitful whining brought Lem from his
hiding place.

"Be that you, Owl?" he whispered.

"Yep. Where be the black cat?"

"I dunno. Where ye been? And how'd ye get here?"

Scraggy leaned back against the marble vault in exhaustion.

"I dunno. Where be I now?"

Lem bent nearer her, shaking her arm roughly.

"Ye be in Tarrytown. Did ye come here for the brat?"

"What brat be ye talkin' 'bout, Lem?"

"Our'n, Screechy. Weren't ye here lookin' for him?"

Through the darkness Lem could not see the crazed expression that
flashed over Scraggy's face. She thrust her fingers in her hair and
shivered. The blow of Everett's fist had banished all memory of the boy
from her mind; but Lem lived there as vividly as in the olden days.

"We ain't got no boy, Lem," she said mournfully.

"Ye said we had, Screechy, and I know we have. Now, get up out of that
there snow, or ye'll freeze."

The scowman helped Screech Owl to her feet, and supported her back over
the graves to the toolhouse.

"Ye stay here till I come for ye, Scraggy, and don't ye dare go 'way no
place. Do ye hear?"

Screech Owl uttered an obedient assent, and Lem left her with a threat
that he would beat her if she moved from the spot. Then he crawled along
the Brimbecomb fence, and saw Lon leaning against a tree, some distance
down the road.



CHAPTER NINETEEN


After Everett's departure, Ann tripped into Floyd's room in a happier
state of mind than had been hers for several days. It had been her habit
to kneel beside the boy at night and send up a petition for his
recovery. Now she would thank God for his goodness to her,--Everett had
come to be more like himself, and Floyd's welcoming smile sent a thrill
of joy through her. As Ann entered, Fledra looked up from her book. Her
pale, beseeching face drew Miss Shellington to her.

"Fledra dear, you study too late and too hard. You don't look at all
well."

"I keep tellin' her that same thing, Sister Ann," said Floyd; "but she
keeps mutterin' over them words till I know 'em myself."

Miss Shellington turned Fledra's face up to hers, smoothing down the
dark curls.

"Go to bed, child; you're absolutely tired out. Kiss me goodnight,
Dear."

Fledra loitered in the hall until she heard Miss Shellington leave
Floyd; then she stole forward.

"Will you come to my room a little while, Sister Ann?"

Without a word, Ann took the girl's hand; together they entered the blue
room.

Fledra wheeled about upon Miss Shellington, when the door had been,
closed.

"Do you believe all those things you pray about, Sister Ann?" she
appealed brokenly.

Ann questioned Fledra with a look; the girl made clearer her demand by
adding:

"Do you believe that Jesus hears you when you ask Him something you want
very, very bad?"

She looked so miserable, so frail and lonely, that Ann put her arms
about her.

"Sit down here with me, Fledra. There! Put your little tired head right
here, and I'll tell you all I can."

"I want to be helped!" murmured Fledra.

"I've known that for sometime," Ann said softly; "and I'm so happy that
you've come to me!"

"It's nothin' you can do; but I was thinkin' that perhaps Jesus could do
it."

Ann pressed the girl closer.

"Is it something you can't tell me?"

Fledra nodded.

"And you can't tell my brother?"

The girl's nervous start filled Ann with dismay; for now she knew that
the trouble rested with Horace. She waited for an answer to her
question, and at length Fledra, crestfallen, blurted out:

"I can't tell anybody but--"

"Jesus?" whispered Ann.

"Yes; and I don't know how to tell Him."

Ann thought a moment.

"Fledra, if you wanted someone to do something for you, about which that
person knew nothing, wouldn't you have to tell it before it could be
granted?"

Fledra nodded.

"Then, that's what you are to do tonight. You are to kneel down here
when I am gone, and you are to feel positively sure that God will help,
if you ask Him in Jesus' name. Do you think you have faith enough to do
that?"

"I don't know what faith is," replied Fledra in a whisper.

"I'll tell you what it is, Dear. Now, then, don't you remember how my
brother and I prayed for Floyd?"

Fledra pressed Ann's arm.

"And don't you remember, Dear, that almost immediately he was helped?"

"You had a doctor," said Fledra slowly.

"Yes, for a doctor is God's agent for the good of mankind; but we had
faith, too. And in something like this--Is your trouble illness?"

"Only here," answered Flea, laying her hand upon her heart.

Ann could not force Flea's confidence; so she said:

"Then if it is impossible to confide in Horace, or in me, will you pray
tonight, fully believing that you will be answered? You must remember
how much Jesus loved you to come down to suffer and die for you."

"I don't believe I thought that story was true, Sister Ann." Fledra drew
back, and looked up into Ann's shocked face as she spoke, "I shouldn't
say I believed it if I didn't, should I?"

"No, Darling; but you must believe--you surely must! You must promise me
that you will pray first for faith, then for relief, and tomorrow you
will feel better."

"I promise," answered Fledra.

For many minutes after Ann had left her, the girl lay stretched out upon
the bed. Her heart pained her until it seemed that she must go directly
to Horace and confess her secret.

She got up slowly at last, and, kneeling, began a whispered petition. It
was broken by sobs and falling tears, by writhings that tore the tender
soul offering it.

Fledra prayed for Horace, and then stopped.

After a time she rose, having done all a girl could do for those she
loved, and, undressing, slowly crawled into bed. Through the darkness as
she lay looking upward she tried to imagine what kind of a being God
was, wondering if He were kindly visaged, or if, when His earthly
children sinned, He looked as Horace had looked when she confessed the
lie told to Ann. In her imagination, she framed the Savior of the world
like unto the man she loved when he smiled upon her, and then she
believed, and believed mightily. In likening Jesus to Horace--in
bringing the Savior nearer through the lineaments of her loved one--she
gathered out of her unbelief a great belief that He could, and would,
smooth away all the troubles that had arisen in her life.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night she turned and tossed for several hours, praying and weeping,
weeping and praying, until from sheer fatigue she lay perfectly quiet.
Suddenly she sat up and listened. The stupor of slumber dulled her
hearing, and she struggled to catch again the sound that had awakened
her. From somewhere across the hall she heard a faint click, click,
which sounded as though some mechanic's tool were being used.

Fledra slipped from the bed and opened the door stealthily. She crept
along the hall in her bare feet, terrified by the muffled sound, and
stopped before the velvet curtains that were drawn closely across the
dining-room doorway. Someone was tampering with the silver chest.

For a moment terror almost forced Fledra back to her room without
investigating; but the thought that somebody was stealing Ann's precious
family plate caused her to slip her fingers between the curtains and
peep in.

The lock of the steel safe was lighted by the rays of a dark-lantern,
and Fledra could see two shadowy figures on the floor before it. One
held the light, while the other turned a small hammer machine containing
a slender drill. The girl did not have the courage to scream a warning
to Horace and the servants, and before she could move of a sudden one of
the men whispered:

"The damn thing is harder'n hell, Lem. I guess I'll take a crack at this
here hinge."

The name awoke the senses of the trembling girl, and instantly she knew
the man who had spoken to be Lon Cronk. A chill gathered round her heart
and froze the very marrow in her bones. She dropped the curtain and fled
back to her room. Standing against the door, she pressed her hands over
her face to stifle the loud breathing. Lem and Lon were robbing the
house! She would be forced then to let thieves have the contents of the
safe; for, if Pappy Lon knew that she and Flukey were housed there, he
would take them away. But, if he made off with the plate, no one would
ever know who had done it, and her sick brother would still be safe in
Ann's care.

"I won't go to 'em. I won't! I won't! They can take the whole thing for
all of me!"

She turned sharply as though she had heard a voice that had made answer
to her. With her faculties benumbed by the terror of the men in the
dining-room, and yet remembering that her grief had been subdued, she
turned her face upward, and fancied she saw the Christ-man, so like
Horace, descending into the room. But the face, instead of smiling at
her, looked melancholy and sad.

It was the dawn of a lasting belief in the Son of God, her first real
vision of Him. She gazed steadily at the beautiful apparition, and then
said haltingly:

"I'm goin' back to stop 'em, and if Pappy Lon takes me back to the
squatter settlement then help me if ye can, dear Jesus!"

The struggle was over, and with rigid desperation Fledra again opened
the door and stepped into the hall. Gliding swiftly along to the
entrance of the dining-room, she flung aside the curtains and appeared
like a shade before Lem and Lon.

The squatter saw her first; but in the semidarkness did not recognize
her. He lifted his arm, and a flash of steel sent her trembling
backward.

"Don't open yer mug, Kid, or I'll shoot yer head off!"

Then he recognized her, and stepped back to Lem's side.

"It's Flea, it's Flea Cronk!" he gasped.

The girl advanced into the room.

"What do you want here, Pappy Lon? Did you come to steal?"

She saw Lem grimacing at her through the rays of the lantern. The
scowman looked so evil, so awful, as he grinningly raised his steel
hook, that her faith very nearly fled. Crabbe's heavy face was working
with violent emotion. His full neck moved with horrid convulsions, while
a discord of low noises came from his throat. The girl, clad in her
white nightgown, under which he could trace the slender body, filled him
again with passionate longing.

"By God! it's little Flea!" he exclaimed at last.

"Yep," threw back Lon. "We found somethin' we didn't expect--eh, Lem?"

"Did you come to steal?" Fledra demanded again, this time looking at the
canalman.

"Yep; but we didn't know that you was here, Flea."

"Then you won't take anything--now, will you?"

"We don't go till you come with us, Flea!" Lon moved nearer her as he
spoke. "Ye be my brat, and ye'll come home with yer pappy!"

Fledra choked for breath.

"I can't go with you tonight," she replied, bending over in
supplication. "Flukey's sick here, and I have to stay."

"Sick! Sick, ye say?" Cronk exclaimed.

"Yes, he's been in bed ever since we left home, and he can't walk, and I
won't go without him."

"I'll take ye both," said Lon ferociously. "I'll come after ye, and I'll
kill the man what keeps ye away from me! I'm a thinkin' a man can have
his own brats!"

Fledra did not set up an argument upon this point. She wanted to get the
men out of the house, so that she might think out a plan to save her
brother and herself.

"Ye'll have to let Flukey stay until he gets well, and then mebbe we'll
come back."

"There ain't no mebbe about it," growled Lon. "Ye'll come when I say it,
and Lem ain't through with ye yet, nuther! Be ye, Lem?"

Never, since the children had left his hut, had Lon felt such a desire
to torture them. The dead woman seemed to call out to him for revenge.
The wish for the Shellington baubles and the money he might find was
nothing compared to the delight he would feel in dragging the twins back
to Ithaca. Granny Cronk was there no longer, and everything would go his
way! He put out his hand and touched Crabbe.

"We ain't goin' to steal nothin' in this house, Lem," he said sullenly;
"but I'll come tomorry and take the kids. Then we be done with this
town. Ye'll get yer brother ready by tomorry mornin'. Ye hear, Flea?"

"Yes," answered Flea dully.

"If Flukey be too sick to walk, he can ride. I've got the money, and all
I want be you two brats, and, if ye don't come when I tell ye to, then
it'll be worse for them what's harborin' ye. And don't ye so much as
breathe to the man what owns this house that we was here
tonight--or--I'll kill Flukey when I get him back to the shanty!"

His glance took in the beautiful room, and, unable to suppress a smile,
he taunted:

"I'm a thinkin' ye'll see a difference 'tween the hut and this
place--eh, Flea?"

"And between this and the scow," chuckled Lem.

"Yep, 'tween this an' the scow," repeated Lon. "Come on, Lem. We'll go
now, an' tomorry we'll come for ye, Flea. No man ain't no right to keep
another man's kids."

Fledra's past experiences with her squatter father were still so vivid
in her mind that she made no further appeal to him; for she feared to
suffer again the humiliation of a blow before Lem. She stood near the
table, shivering, her teeth chattering, and her body swaying with fright
and cold. To whom did she dare turn? Not to Ann or to Horace; for Lon
had forbidden it. To tell Flukey would only make him very ill again. Lon
was advancing toward her as these thoughts raced through her mind. She
drew back when he thrust out one of his horny hands.

"I ain't a goin' to hit ye, Flea; but I'm goin' to make ye know that I
ain't goin' to have no foolin', and that ye belong to me, and so does
Flukey, and that, when I come for ye, ye're to have yer duds ready."

Lem neared the open window, and Lon turned to follow him.

       *       *       *       *       *

For fully three minutes after they had gone, the girl stood watching the
black hole through which they had disappeared, where now the snow came
fluttering in. Then she crept forward and lowered the window
noiselessly. With swift footsteps she ran back through the hall and into
the bedroom. After turning on the light, she drew on a dressing-gown and
slipped her feet into a pair of red slippers.

Somewhere from the story above came the sound of footfalls, and then
the creaking of stairs. The girl stood holding her hand over her beating
heart. A servant, or possibly Ann, had heard the noises and was coming
down. Suddenly into her mind came the prayer Floyd loved.

"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child."

She said the words over several times; but had ceased whispering when a
low knock came upon her door. She opened it, and saw Horace standing in
his dressing-gown and slippers. For a moment she looked at him with
almost unseeing eyes, and her lips moved tremulously, as if she would
speak and could not. Horace, noticing her agitation, spoke first.

"Fledra, I thought I heard you. I looked down and saw a light shining
from your window. Is anything the matter?"

Fledra could not find her voice to reply. She had not expected him, and,
locking her fingers tightly together, she stood wide-lidded and
trembling.

"Were you speaking to someone?" asked Horace.

"Yes, I was. I was speaking to Jesus just before you came. I was asking
Him to help me."

The man looked at the red gown hanging over her white nightrobe, the
tossed black curls, and the pale, sensitive face before he said:

"Fledra, whatever is the matter with you? Surely, there is something I
can do."

"Sister Ann said I would be happier, and we all would, if I asked Jesus;
and I was askin' Him jest now."

Horace eyed her dubiously.

"It is right to ask Him to help you, of course; but, child, it isn't
right for you to act toward me as you do."

Fledra was so desirous of his love and confidence that she made as if to
speak. She took two steps forward, then hesitated. Remembering Ann and
the care she had given Floyd, her hand fell convulsively on the door,
and she tried to close it. She dared not tell him of Lon's midnight
visit to the home, and wondered if he would give her up to her squatter
father, and let Flukey be taken back to the settlement.

"I told ye the truth when I said I was prayin'," she said; "but I was
thinkin', too, if it was right for a father to have his own children, if
he was to ask for 'em."

Horace, not understanding her enigmatical words, regarded her gravely.

"What a queer girl you are, anyway, Fledra!" he exclaimed. He spoke
almost irritably. He felt like grasping her up and shaking her as one
might an obstreperous child.

His moody silence made Fledra repeat her words.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Horace answered; "but, I suppose,
if a father's children were being kept from him, he could take them if
he wished. Fledra, look at me!"

She raised her gaze slowly, her somber eyes smiting the watching man as
might a blow. Her beseeching expression arrested the bitter speech that
rose to his lips. As the memory of her hard work gripped him, he bent
forward and took her slim, cold hand in his.

"Fledra, I want you to pay attention to what I am going to say. I feel
sure that you want to be a good girl. If I were not, I could not bear
it. Even if you don't trust me, I'm going to help you all I can,
anyway."

"And pray," gasped Fledra, "pray, Brother Horace, that I can be just
what you want me to be, and that I can stay with Floyd in your house!"

The girl closed the door quickly in his face, and Shellington moved
slowly away, racking his brain for some solution of the problem.

With their minds in a perturbed state, Lem and Lon passed silently back
into the cemetery. The shock of the girl's appearance had awed them
both. They were nearing the toolhouse before Scraggy came into Lem's
mind.

The whole situation was changed, now that Flea was coming to him. It was
the same to him whether she wanted to come or not; nor did it matter
that he had promised Screech Owl that she should be in the scow. He
still wanted his boy to help him with his work; but Scraggy was a person
wholly out of his life.

The two men halted in front of the shed.

"There be a woman in there," said Lem in a low voice.

"What woman?" asked Lon.

"Scraggy."

"Scraggy! How'd she come in here?"

"I took her in," said Lem. "She were the woman what that guy throwed
over the fence."

Lon pushed his companion aside and pressed through the small doorway. He
cast the light of the lantern about; but no Screech Owl was in sight.

"If Scraggy was over here, Lem," he said doubtfully, "then she's gone.
We'd better scoot and get a place to stay all night."



CHAPTER TWENTY


When Fledra entered the breakfast room it was evident to both Ann and
Horace that she had had no sleep. Dark rings had settled under her eyes.
The girl had decided that Lon would make good his threat against the
person who should try to keep his children from him, and, if she went to
school, Lem and her father might come when she was gone. As they rose
from the table, she said sullenly:

"I'm not goin' to school any more. I don't like that place. I want to
stay at home."

"Are you ill, Dear?" asked Ann, coming forward.

"No, I'm not sick; but I can't go to school."

Horace's brow darkened.

"That's hardly the way to speak to my sister, Fledra," he chided gently.

Ann glanced at him in appeal. Fledra was standing before them, and her
eyes dropped under his words.

"If I asked you to let me stay home," she said in a low tone, "you'd
both say I couldn't; so I just had to say that I won't go."

Fledra knew no other way to stand guard over the houseful of loved ones.
If Lon were to come while she was gone, he might take her brother. If
she told Horace that thieves had entered his home, and if she named
them, that would draw fatal consequences down on Floyd. She could only
hold her peace and let matters take their course. At any rate, she did
not intend to go to school. Now she cast a quick glance at Ann; but kept
her eyes studiously from Horace. Noting Miss Shellington's entreating
face, Fledra flung out her hands.

"I didn't want to be mean," she said quickly; "but I want you to let me
stay home today. Can I? Please, can I?"

"There! I knew that you'd apologize to my sister," Horace said, smiling.

At this, Fledra turned upon him. He had never felt a pair of eyes affect
him as did hers. How winsomely sweet she was! It came over him in a
flash that he had not dealt quite justly with her; so he smiled again
and held out his hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the morning Fledra crept ghostlike about the house. She strained
her eyes, now at one window and then at another, for the first glimpse
of Lon. The luncheon hour came and passed, and still the thieves gave no
sign of coming. Horace had returned from his office early in the
afternoon, and was smoking a cigar in the library, when suddenly a loud
peal of the doorbell roused him. Fledra, too, heard it distinctly. She
was sitting beside Floyd; but had not dared to breathe their danger to
him. Her cheeks paled at the sound, and she rested silent until
presently summoned to the drawing-room.

"What's the matter?" asked her brother.

"Nothin', Fluke, lay down, and if ye hear anyone talkin' keep still.
Somebody's coming."

"Somebody comes every day," answered Floyd. "That ain't nothin'. What ye
doin', Flea?"

She was standing at the door with her ear to the keyhole. She heard the
servant pass her, heard the door open, and Lon's voice asking for Mr.
Shellington. Then she slid back to Flukey, trembling from head to foot.

"Ye're sick, Dear," said the boy. "Get off this bed, Snatchet! Lay down
here by me, Flea and rest."

The girl dropped down beside him and closed her eyes with a groan. Floyd
placed his thin hand upon her, and Fledra remained silent, until she was
summoned to the drawing-room.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Who wanted me?" Horace asked the question of the mystified servant.

"I didn't catch the name, Sir. I didn't understand it. He's a
dreadful-looking man."

Horace rose, put down his cigar, and walked into the hall.

Lon Cronk was waiting with a shabby cap in his hand. He bowed awkwardly
to Shellington, and essayed to speak; but Horace interrupted:

"Do you wish to see me?"

"Yep," answered Lon, glancing sullenly over the young lawyer. "I've come
for my brats."

"Your what?"

"My kids, Flea and Flukey Cronk."

Horace felt something clutch at his heart. Fledra's radiant face rose
before his mental vision, and he swallowed hard, as he thought of her
relation to the brutal fellow before him.

"Walk in here, please," he said.

Then he bade the servant call his sister.

Miss Shellington obeyed the summons so quickly that her brother was
indicating a chair for the squatter as she walked in. At sight of the
uncouth stranger she glanced about her in dismay.

"Ann," said Horace, "this is the father--of--"

Ann's expression snapped off his statement. She knew what he would say
without his finishing. She remembered the stories of terrible beatings,
and the story of Fledra's fear of a wicked man who wanted her for his
woman. The boy's words came back to her plainly. "And he weren't goin'
to marry her nuther, Mister, and that's the truth." Nevertheless, she
stepped forward, throwing a look from her brother to the squatter.

"But he can't have them--of course, he can't have them!"

Lon had come with a determination to take the twins peaceably if he
could; he would fight if he had to. He had purposely applied to
Shellington in his home, fearing that he might meet Governor Vandecar in
Horace's office. As long as everyone thought the children his, he could
hold to the point that they had to go back with him. He would make no
compromise for money with the protectors of his children; for he had
rather have their bodies to torment than be the richest man in the
state. He had not yet avenged that woman dead and gone so many years
back. At thought of her, he rose to his feet and smiled at Ann with
twitching lips.

"Ye said, Ma'm, that I couldn't have my brats. I say that I will have
'em. I'm goin' to take 'em today. Do ye hear?"

"He can't have them, Horace. Oh! you can't say yes to him!"

Horace's mind turned back to Fledra, and he mentally blessed the
opportunity he had to protect her.

"I don't think, Mr. Cronk, that you will take your children," he said,
"even granted that they are yours. I'm not sure of that yet."

Lon's brown face yellowed. Had they discovered the secret that he had
kept all the dark, revengeful years?

Horace's next words banished that fear: "I shall have to have you
identified by one of them before I should even, consider your
statement."

Cronk smiled in relief; and Ann shuddered, as she thought of Flukey's
frail body in the man's thick, twisting fingers.

"That be easy enough to do. Jest call the gal--or the boy."

"The boy is too ill to get up," said Ann huskily; "and I beg of you to
go away and leave them with us. You don't care for them--you know you
don't."

"Who said as how I don't care for my own brats?"

"The little girl told me the night she came here that you hated her, and
also that you abused them."

"I'll fix her for that!" muttered Lon.

"I don't believe you'll touch her while she is with me," said Horace
hotly. "I shall send for the girl, and, if you are their father, then--"

"They can't go!" cried Ann.

"I haven't said that they could go, Ann. I was just going to say to Mr.
Cronk that if they wanted to go of course we couldn't keep them.
Otherwise, there is a remedy for him." Horace leaned over toward the
squatter and threw out his next words angrily, "There's the law, Mr.
Cronk! Ann, please call Fledra."

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl responded with the weight of the world on her. Had some
arrangements been made for her and Floyd between Horace and Lon? She
knew that Ann was there, and that Mr. Shellington had been talking with
the squatter long enough to decide what should be done. She walked
slowly to the door, her head spinning with anxiety and fear. For one
single moment she paused on the threshold, then stepped within.

Drop by drop, the color went from her cheeks, leaving them waxen white.
She threw the squatter an unbending opposing glance.

"Did you come for Fluke and me, Pappy Lon?" she stammered.

Her lips trembled perceptibly; but she went forward, and, taking Ann's
hand in hers, stood facing Cronk.

Lon looked her over from head to foot. First, his gaze took in the
pretty dark head; then it traveled slowly downward, until for an instant
his fierce eyes rested on her small feet.

"Yep," he replied, raising a swift look, "I comed for ye both--you and
Flukey, too. Go and git ready!"

Fledra dared not appeal to Horace. He stood so quietly in his place,
making no motion to speak, that she felt positive that he wished her to
go away. She was too dazed to count up the sum of her troubles. Her face
fell into a shadow and grew immeasurably sad. Lon was glowering at her,
and she read his decision like an open page. The dreadful opposition in
his shaggy brown eyes spurred Fledra forward; but Ann's arms stole about
her waist, and the slender figure was drawn close. A feeling of
thanksgiving rushed over the girl. How glad she was that she had kept
the secret of Everett's unfaithfulness!

"Sister Ann," she gasped, "can't ye keep us from him? Fluke nor me don't
want to go, and Pappy Lon don't like us, either. I couldn't go--I'd
ruther die, I would! He'd make me go to Lem's scow! Ye can see I can't
go, can't you?" She wheeled around and looked at Horace, her eyes filled
with a frightened appeal. Shellington's glance was compassionate and
tender.

"I not only see that you can't go," said he; "but I will see to it that
you don't go. Mr. Cronk, I shall have to ask you to leave my house."

"I don't go one step," growled Lon, "till I get them kids! Where's
Flukey?" He made a move toward the door; but Horace thrust his big form
in front of him.

"The boy shall not know that you are here," said he. "I shall keep it
from him because he's ill, and because a great worry like this might
seriously harm him. It might even kill him."

Lon's temper raced away with his judgment.

"What do I care if he dies or not? I'm goin' to have him, dead or
alive!"

Shellington noted the hatred and menace in the other's tones, and he
smiled in triumph.

"It's about as I thought, Mr. Cronk. You care no more for these children
than if they were animals. That statement you just made will go against
you at the proper time, all right. Please go now, and remember what I've
said, that you have the law. And remember another thing: if you do
fight, I shall bring everything I can find against you, if I have to ask
the aid of Governor Vandecar. I see no other course open to you.
Good-day, Sir."

Cronk glared about until his gaze rested upon the two girls. His eyes
pierced into the soul of Fledra. She shuddered and drew closer to Miss
Shellington. The squatter walked toward the door, and once more looked
back, an evil expression crossing his face and settling in deep lines
about his mouth.

"Ye remember what I told ye, Flea, the last time I seed ye! I meant what
I said then, and I say it over again!"

The emphasis upon the words struck terror to Fledra's sensibilities.
But, with new courage in her eyes, she advanced a step, and, raising a
set face, replied:

"Ye can't have us, Pappy Lon--you can't! I'll take care of Flukey, and
Mr. Shellington'll take care--of--me."



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


Horace set his teeth firmly as he closed the door, upon Cronk. Through
the door window he saw the squatter take his lumbering way down the
steps, and noticed that the man paused and looked back at the house. The
heavy face was black with baffled rage, and Lon raised his fist and
shook it threateningly. If Horace had been determined in the first
instant that the squatter should not get possession of the twins, he was
now many times more resolute to keep to his decision. For his life, he
could not imagine Lon Cronk the father of his young charges.

He returned to the drawing-room, and found Ann and Fledra still
together, the girl's face hidden in Miss Shellington's lap.

"Horace," cried Ann, "there can't be any way in which he can take them,
can there? He didn't tell you how he found out they were here, did he?"

"No, I forgot to ask him, and it doesn't matter about that. Our only
task now will be to keep them from him. Fledra, when you have finished
talking with Ann, will you come to me?"

Fledra raised her head. Something in Horace's eyes frightened her. She
had never seen him so pale, nor had his lips ever been so set and white.

Ann rose quickly. Of late Horace's actions had aroused her suspicions.
She was now fully convinced that Everett had been right. Moreover, she
had come to feel that she would willingly overlook Fledra's birth, if
her brother's intentions were serious.

"Go to him now, and trust--have faith that you will not have to go
away!"

Fledra kissed Ann's hands and tremblingly followed Shellington into his
study.

She sat down without waiting for an invitation; for her legs seemed too
weak to hold her. Her attitude was attentive, and her poise was
graceful. For some minutes Horace arranged the papers on his desk, while
Fledra peeped at him from under her lashes. He looked even sterner than
when he had ordered Lon to leave the house, and his silence terrified
her more than if he had scolded her. At last he turned quickly.

"Fledra, I've asked you to come here, because I can't stand our troubles
any longer. I believe in my soul that you love me; for you have told me
so, and--and have given me every reason to hope it. We are facing a new
danger, both for you and for Floyd, and I am sure you want to help me
all you can." He paused a moment, and went on, "Your suffering is over
as far as your own people are concerned. There is no law that can force
a child as old as you are to return to such a hateful place, and I shall
take it upon myself to see that neither you nor your brother is forced
to leave here."

Fledra uttered a cry and half-rose to her feet; but, as Horace continued
speaking, she sank down.

"I think it probable that we shall have to go to law, for Mr. Cronk
looks like a very determined man; but he'll find that I will fight his
claim every inch of the way." Shellington bent toward her and rested a
hand on the papers he had been sorting. "I'm very glad you didn't go to
school today, and you must not go again until it is over. This man may
try to kidnap you." He found it impossible to call Lon her father.

Fledra reached out and grasped his hands. At her touch, Horace flushed
to the roots of his hair. Loosening his own fingers, he took hers into
his. Finally he drew her slowly round the corner of the desk, close into
his arms.

"Fledra, for God's sake, tell me what has made you so unhappy! Will you,
child? Isn't it something that I ought to know? Poor little girly, don't
cry that way! It breaks my heart to hear you!"

There was inexplicable weariness on the fair young face.

"I want to stay here," moaned Flea; "but what I have that hurts me is
here." She drew his fingers close over her heart. "It isn't anything
anybody can help--just yet."

"I could help you, Fledra," Horace insisted. "Every man has the power
to help the woman he loves, and you are a woman, Fledra."

"I want to be your woman."

Young as she was, Fledra was an enigma to him. There was but one way to
make her his woman,--his wife,--that was to force her confidence, and,
once obtained, keep it. But his longing to caress her was stronger than
his desire to conquer her,--the warmth and softness of her lips he would
not exchange for the world's wealth!

"Sweetheart, Sweetheart!" he said, reddening. "I'm sorry that I spoke as
I did last night,--I was angry,--but I've had such awful moods lately!
Sometimes I've felt as if I could whip you to make you tell me!"

A thrill ran over Fledra from head to foot.

"Beat me--will you beat me?" she murmured, drawing his hand across her
moist lips. "I'd love to have you beat me! Pappy Lon always said that a
woman needed beatin' to make her stand around. Then, when I saw you, I
thought as how princes never beat their women; but now I know you have
to."

If the young face had been less earnest, the gray eyes less entreating,
Horace would have laughed despite his anger.

"Of course, I shan't whip you, child," he said; "only I want you to
prove your love for me by trusting me. You're a woman, Fledra. It would
be an outrage to punish you that way. Then, too, I love you too well to
hurt you."

She watched him for one tense moment. She was quivering under his firm
grasp like a leaf in the wind. Her eyes were entreating him to trust
her, to take her, regardless of her seeming stubbornness.

"Fledra," he whispered, "if the time ever comes that you can, will you
tell me all about it?"

"Yes."

"And you'll not lie again?"

"I've never lied to you!" came sullenly.

"Never, Fledra?"

"Never!"

"And you won't tell another untruth to Ann, either--- not even once?"

Fledra's mind flashed to Everett. She might have to lie to keep Ann's
happiness for her. She slowly drew her hand away, and turned fretfully
with a hatred against Brimbecomb for bringing all this misery upon them.

"I'm not going to promise you that I won't lie to Sister Ann; but I'll
tell you the truth, always--always--"

Because he did not understand a woman's heart, Horace opened the door,
white and angered.

"It is beyond my comprehension that you should treat a woman as you have
my sister. You take advantage of her generosity, and expect me to uphold
you in it!"

There was a catch of genuine sorrow in his voice. Slowly Fledra looked
back over her shoulder at him.

"You've promised me that you'd never tell anybody what I told you."

Horace supplemented his last rebuke with:

"Nor will I! But I insist that you come to me the next time you are
tempted to lie. Do you hear, Fledra?"

"Yes," she answered.

Suddenly she began to sob wildly, and in another instant fled down the
hall.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Not more than two weeks after Lon had demanded the twins from Horace,
Everett Brimbecomb sat in his office, brooding over the shadow that had
so suddenly darkened his life. The dream he had dreamed of a woman he
could call Mother, of some man--his father--of whom he had striven to be
worthy, had dissolved into a specter with a shriveled face and shaggy
hair, into a woman whom he had left in the cemetery to die. Although he
was secure in the thought that he would not be connected with the
tragedy, he shuddered every time he thought of her and of the coming
spring, when the body would be discovered. He did not repent the crime
he had committed; but the fear that the secret of his birth would be
brought to life tortured him night and day. He remembered that Scraggy
had said his father wanted him; that she had come to Tarrytown to take
him back. Did his father know who and where he was? If so, eventual
discovery was inevitable.

Everett's passion for Fledra only heightened his misery, and the girl's
face haunted him continually. In his imagination he compared her with
Ann, and the younger girl stood out in radiant contrast. He had daily
fostered his jealous hatred for Horace, and, because of her allegiance
to her brother, he had come to loathe Ann, although he was more than
ever determined to marry her. The home in which he had been reared
repelled him, and he could now live only for the fame that would rise
from his talent and work, and for the pleasures that come to those
without heart or conscience. Almost the entire morning had been
consumed by these thoughts, when two men were ushered in to him.

"I'm Lon Cronk," said the taller of the two, "and this be Lem Crabbe,
and we hear that ye're a good lawyer."

Everett rose frowningly.

"I am a lawyer," said he; "but I choose my clients. I don't take
cases--"

"We'll pay ye well," interrupted Lon, "if it's money ye want. Ye can
have as much as that Mr. Shellin'ton--"

Everett dropped back again into his chair. The mention of Horace's name
silenced him. He motioned for the men to be seated, without taking his
eyes from Lem. The scowman's clothes were in shreds, and, as he lifted
his right arm, Brimbecomb saw the chapped red flesh, strapped to the
rusted iron hook. Although Lem had not spoken, the young lawyer noted
the silent convulsions going on in the dark, full throat, the unceasing
movements of the goiter.

"State your case to me, then," said he tersely.

Lon Cronk settled back and began to speak.

"There's a man here in this town by the name of Shellington. He's a
lawyer, too, and he's got my kids, and I want 'em. That's my case,
Mister."

Brimbecomb's heart began to beat tumultuously. Chance was giving him a
lead he could not have won of his own efforts, and he smiled, turning on
Cronk more cordially.

"Have you demanded your children of Mr. Shellington?" he asked.

"Yep."

Everett bent over eagerly.

"What did he say to you?"

"He says as how I could go to the devil, and that I could git the law
after him if I wanted 'em. Can I get 'em, Mister?"

The lawyer straightened up, and for many moments was deep in thought
before answering Lon. The chance of which he could never have dreamed
had come to him. This visit laid open a way for him to tear Fledra from
Horace; in fact, he could now legally take her from him with no
possibility of public discredit to himself. He narrowly observed the men
before him, and knew that he should later be able to force them to do as
he wished. He forgot his foster father and mother--aye, forgot even
Ann--as all that was black in his nature inflamed his desire for the
ebony-haired girl.

During several minutes he rapidly planned how he could bring the affair
to a favorable climax with the least possible danger. But, whether by
fair means or by foul, he resolved that Fledra should become his.

Presently, as if to gain time, he asked:

"Do you want them both?"

"Yep."

"The boy is ill, I hear," he said.

"That don't make no difference," cried Lon. "I want him jest the same.
Can ye get 'em fer me, Mister?"

"I think so," replied Everett; "and, if I take the case, I shall have to
ask you to keep out of it entirely, until I'm ready for you. We shall
probably have to go into court."

"Yep, ye'll have to bring it into court, all right, I know ye will. How
much money do ye want now?"

"Fifty dollars," replied Everett; "and it will be more if I have a suit,
and still more if I win. Come here again next week Monday, and I'll lay
my plans before you."

Lon clapped his shabby cap upon his head, and, with a surly
leave-taking, moved to go. Lem lagged behind; but a glance at the
lawyer's forbidding face sent him shuffling after the squatter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Long after they were gone Everett sat planning a future course. He felt
sure that Horace would not allow the children to be taken from him
without a fight; he knew there were special statutes governing these
things, and took down a large book and began to read.

Much to his satisfaction, Brimbecomb found a letter from Mr. and Mrs.
Brimbecomb awaiting him at home that evening. In it his foster mother
informed him that they had decided to return to Tarrytown immediately
and make ready for a trip abroad, where they hoped that Mr. Brimbecomb
would recover his health. In a postscript from the noted lawyer, Everett
read:

    I am glad that you are doing well, dear boy, and when my doctor said
    that I must have a complete rest I knew that I could leave you in
    charge of the office and go away satisfied.

There followed a few personalities, and after finishing the reader threw
it down with a smile. He had hesitated a moment over the thought that
his father would have a decided objection to the Cronk case. But his
desire to work against Horace had overcome his irresolution. Now his way
was clear! The sooner Mr. and Mrs. Brimbecomb were away, the better
pleased he would be.

       *       *       *       *       *

Floyd was suddenly taken worse.

"I think, if you were to come and speak with him, he might feel better,"
said Ann to Horace. "He wants to see you. Fledra is with him."

Floyd was quiet now, his large eyes closed with quivering pain.

"Floyd!" murmured Horace, touching the lad gently.

The lids lifted, and he put up his hand.

"I'm glad ye come, Brother Horace," he said in a whisper. "I've been
wantin' to talk to ye. Will ye take Flea out, Sister Ann?"

Both girls left the room, as Horace drew a chair to the bed.

"I ain't goin' to get well," said Flukey slowly. "I know the doctor
thinks so, too, 'cause he said there was somethin' the matter with my
heart. And I have to go and leave Flea."

Shellington took the thin, white hand in his.

"You must not become downhearted, boy; that's not the way to get well.
And you're certainly better than when you came, in spite of this little
setback."

Floyd closed his eyes, and Horace saw silent tears rolling down the
boy's cheeks. The young man bent over him.

"Floyd, are you worrying about your sister?"

Flukey nodded an affirmative.

"Why?"

"Because she ain't the same as she was. And she ain't happy any more,
and I can't make her tell me. Have ye been ugly to her--have ye?"

Horace racked his mind for a truthful answer. Had he been unfair to
Fledra?

"Floyd," he said softly, "your sister and I have had some words; but we
shall soon understand each other--I know we shall!"

"What did ye say to Flea?"

"I can't tell you, Floyd, because I promised her I would not."

The boy writhed under the warm blankets.

"She's always makin' folks promise not to tell things," he moaned. "It's
because you're mad at her, that's what makes her cry so, and I can't do
anything for her. Can't you, Brother Horace?"

"She won't let me, Floyd."

"Did ye ask her?"

"Many times."

"Would she let ye if I asked her?"

"No, Floyd, you must not! I promised her that I would not speak with you
about her unhappiness." Horace ejaculated his reply so emphatically that
Floyd looked at him curiously.

"But I can't die and leave her that way, and I'm a goin' soon. Sometimes
my heart jest stands still, and won't start again till I lose all my
breath. A feller can't live that way, can he, Brother Horace?"

"It will pass off; of course, it will--it must!" Horace looked into the
worn, suffering young face, and a resolution took possession of him.

"Floyd," he said huskily, "Floyd, if I tell you something, will you keep
it from my sister and yours?"

"Yes," murmured Flukey.

"I love Fledra, and want to make her my wife. Does that help you any, to
know that I shall always watch her and care for her?"

Flukey searched the earnest face bent over him.

"Ye love her?"

"Very much, very much indeed. But she is young yet--only a little girl."

"Did ye tell her that ye loved her?"

"Yes."

"Did she say she loved you?"

"Yes."

Flukey groaned.

"Then it's something else than that, because I've known for a long time
that Flea loved ye. What's the matter? What's the matter with ye both?"

"Floyd, when I tell you that I do not know," answered Horace, "will you
believe me?"

"Did ye want her to tell ye somethin'--something that'll keep ye from
takin' her now?" Horace's silence drew an outpouring from Flukey. "And I
suppose she said she wouldn't--and ye won't take her unless she tells
ye. Then ye'll never get her; for, when Flea says she won't, she won't,
if she dies for it! Ain't ye lovin' her well enough to take her,
anyway?"

Horace answered warmly, "Yes, of course, I am!"

       *       *       *       *       *

By the dawn of day Floyd had become so much worse that a trained nurse
was placed at his side, and the physician's verdict, that the boy might
die at any moment, overshadowed the threats of the squatter father.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lon Cronk had come alone to Everett's office on the hour set. Brimbecomb
wondered vaguely where the other man was, and what was his concern in
the affair.

After greeting Lon coldly, the young lawyer said:

"I should like to know about your life, Mr. Cronk, how long your
children have been away from you, and all about it."

"They've been gone since September," replied Lon. "They runned away from
hum, and I ain't seed 'em till I found out that they was at
Shellington's."

"And how did you discover them?"

"Saw Flea goin' up the steps," lied Cronk. "I knowed her the minute I
see her, in spite of her pretty clothes."

"Then you applied to Mr. Shellington for them?"

"Yep."

"And he refused to deliver them up?"

"Yep--damn him! But I'll take 'em, anyway."

"Don't say that outside my office," warned Everett. "The law does not
want to be threatened."

Lon remained silent.

"We'll have to deal with Mr. Shellington very carefully," cautioned the
lawyer; "for he is proud and stubborn, and has a great liking for your
children. In fact, I think he is quite in love with the girl."

Lon started to his feet, his swart face paling.

"He won't git her!" he muttered. "I've got plans for that gal, and I
ain't goin' have no young buck kickin' 'em over, I kin tell ye that!"

Brimbecomb's words put a new light upon the matter. That Flea would be
protected by the young millionaire Lon knew; but that the young man
thought of marrying her had never come into his mind.

"I don't believe as how he'd marry a squatter girl," he said presently.
"He won't, if I get her once to Ithaca!"

The mention of Brimbecomb's college town and birthplace brought a new
train of thought to the lawyer.

"Have you lived in Ithaca many years?" he demanded.

"Yep."

"The first thing I shall do," said the attorney deliberately, "is to
make a formal demand upon Mr. Shellington in your name, and get his
answer. Please remain in town where I can see you, and if anything comes
up I shall write you."

Lon gave him the address of a man near the river, and Everett allowed
his client to go. Some force within him had almost impelled him to ask
the squatter concerning Screech Owl, and he breathed more freely when he
thought that he had not given way to the temptation to learn something
about his own people.

       *       *       *       *       *

At eight o'clock that evening Everett met Mr. and Mrs. Brimbecomb at the
station. He could not comprehend the feeling that his foster parents had
become strangers to him. He kissed his mother, shook hands with Mr.
Brimbecomb, and followed them into the carriage.

He went to bed content with the knowledge that their steamer would sail
two days later, and that for six months he would be alone.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


"I can't understand why Horace wants to keep those children
indefinitely," said Governor Vandecar to his wife one evening. "It seems
their own father has turned up and asked for them."

"Is Horace going to let him have them?"

"Not without a fight, I fear. He talked to me about it, and seemed
perfectly decided to keep them. I told him to take no steps until papers
were served upon him."

"Can they keep them, Floyd?"

Mrs. Vandecar had become suddenly interested in Fledra and Floyd.

"I'm sure I don't know," replied the governor. "Such things have to be
threshed out in court, although much will depend upon what the
youngsters wish to do. I fear, though, that Ann and Horace are making
useless trouble for themselves."

"What process will the father have to take to get them?"

"Have _habeas corpus_ papers issued. It will be a nuisance; but I did
not try to change his mind, because he was so earnest about it."

"So is Ann," replied Mrs. Vandecar, "and then, Dear, I always think
their kindness to those poor little children might make the little dears
useful in life sometime. Mildred says they are very pretty and sweet."

"Well, as I said before, it's strange that such a case should be here in
this peaceful little town, and I have promised Horace to advise him all
I can, although I am too busy to take any active part in it."

"Oh, do everything you ought to, Floyd, if you discover that they have
really been abused. It might be that they would be really harmed if they
were taken back to their home. Did Horace tell you where they lived?"

"Yes, near Ithaca somewhere. I think he said they had a shanty on Cayuga
Lake."

"One of the squatters?"

"Yes."

"I remember very well," remarked Mrs. Vandecar after a moment's thought,
"when I went to Ithaca with Ann Shellington, and Horace and Everett were
graduated from the university, that we went up the lake in Brimbecomb's
yacht. The boys called our attention to numbers of huts on the west
shore, near the head of Cayuga. I suppose it must be one of those places
the children left."

"I presume so," replied the governor.

"Ann telephoned over that the boy was ill with a rheumatic heart. She
seemed quite alarmed over it."

"He probably won't get well, if that's the case," murmured Vandecar.
"It's a pernicious thing when it attacks the heart. Wasn't it rather
strange that Ann and Horace should have used our names for them,
Fledra?"

"You remember Ann asked me if I cared. She said that when they came they
had some strange nicknames, and that they wanted to make them forget
about their former lives, and it really pleased the poor little things
to have our names. I don't mind; do you, Floyd?"

"No," was the answer. "I only wish--" He stopped quickly and turned to
his wife.

Her eyes were filled with tears. Floyd Vandecar's wish had been her own,
that she knew.

"I wish you had a son, too, Floyd dear!" she sobbed. "Oh, my babies, my
poor, pretty little babies!"

"Don't Fledra, don't!" pleaded her husband. "It was God's will, and we
must bow to it."

"It's so hard, though, Floyd, so awfully hard, and the days have been so
long! Floyd, do you ever wonder and wonder where they are?"

The man shook his shoulders sharply.

"Do I ever wonder, Fledra? My hair is whitened, my life shortened, and
many of my efforts of no avail, because of my sorrow and yours. If the
days have been long to you, they have been longer to me; if your heart
has been torn over their disappearance, mine has been doubly hurt,
because--because you have depended upon me to return them to you, and I
have not been able to."

He spoke drearily, shading his face with his hand.

"Floyd, dear Floyd, I'm not blaming you. I realize that if it had been
possible you would have given me back my babies, and you must not say
that your efforts have been of no avail. Why, dear husband, the papers
are full of your great, strong doings. I'm immensely proud of you." She
had leaned over him; but the despondent man did not take the hand from
his eyes.

"Of all the strange cases, Fledra, ours is the strangest. You remember
how I turned the state almost upside down to find those children. Yet,
with all the power I could bring to bear, I made no headway."

"I did not realize that you felt it so deeply," whispered the wife.
"I've been so selfish--forgive me! We'll try to be as happy as possible,
and we have Mildred--"

"If we had a dozen children," replied the governor sadly, "our first
babies would always have their places in our hearts."

"True," murmured the mother. "How true that is, Floyd! There is never a
day but I feel the touch of their fingers, remember their sweet baby
ways. And always, when I look at you, I think of them. They were so like
their father."

Lon Cronk and Lem Crabbe had arranged between them that the scowman
should return to Ithaca for some days, and so the big thief was alone
near the Hudson, in a shanty that had been given over to him by a canal
friend to use when he wished. When Lon decided to rob Horace
Shellington, he had known that there would have to be some place to take
the things thus obtained, and had secured the hut for the purpose. It
was at this address that Everett came to him, upon his return from New
York.

Lon admitted the lawyer, who found the hut reeking with the rank smoke
from a short pipe that Cronk held in his hand.

"Have ye got the kids?" the squatter questioned.

Everett catechized the heavy face with a smile.

"Did you think for a moment it was possible to obtain them so quickly?"

"I hain't had no way of knowin'," grunted Lon, "and I'm in a hurry."

He seemed changed, and looked as if he had not slept. Everett wondered
if his affection for the children had been so great that his loss of
them had altered him thus. The lawyer did not know how Lon was tortured
when he caressed the image of the dead woman, nor could he know the
man's agony when her spirit left him suddenly.

"You'll have to curb your haste," said Brimbecomb, with a curl of his
lip. "It takes time to set justice in motion."

"Have ye done anything?"

"Not yet. I was forced to go to New York."

"Hadn't ye better git a hustle on yerself?" snarled Lon.

"Yes, I intend to begin tomorrow; that is, to take the first steps in
the matter. But I wanted to talk with you first. Are you alone?"

"Yep; there ain't nobody here. Fire ahead, and say what ye're wantin'
to."

Everett bent over and looked keenly into Lon's face; then slowly he
threw a question at the fellow:

"Are you fond of those two children, or have you other motives for
taking them from Shellington?"

Cronk made no reply, but settled back in the rickety chair and eyed
Everett from head to foot.

"Be that any of yer business?" he said at length.

The lawyer took the repulse calmly. He had not come to fight with Lon.

"It's my business as far as this is concerned. If you care for them, and
intend to shield them after you have them--well, say from all harm--and
do your best for them, then I don't want your case. I'm willing to
return your money."

For a moment the elder man looked disconcerted; then he jumped to his
feet with an oath.

"Put her there, Mister!" said he, with an evil smile. He thrust forth a
great hand, and for an instant Everett placed his fingers within it.

"I thought I had not guessed wrongly," the lawyer quickly averred. "If
that is how you feel, I can do better work for you."

"I see that, Mister," muttered Lon.

"Are those children really yours?" Everett took out a cigar and lighted
it.

"Yep," answered Lon, dropping his gaze.

Everett decided that the man had lied to him, and he was glad.

"I think you said you had some plans for the girl," he broke forth
presently.

"Yep; but no plans be any good when she's with Shellington."

"But after she has left him? Would you be willing to change your plans
for her?"

Cronk did not reply, but centered his gaze full upon Everett.

"The question is, would you, for a good sum of money, be willing to give
her to me?"

"Why give her to ye, Mister--why?" His voice rose to a shout.

"I want her," Everett answered quietly.

"What for?"

"I love her."

"Ye want to marry her?" muttered Lon vindictively.

"No," drawled Everett; "I am going to marry Miss Shellington."

"Good God! ye don't mean it! And yet ye take this case what's most
interestin' to 'em? Yer gal won't like that, Mister."

"She loves me, and when I explain that it's all under the law she'll
forgive me. There's nothing quite like having a woman in love with you
to get her to do what you want her to."

"But her brother, he ain't lovin' ye that way. He won't forgive ye."

"He doesn't cut any ice," said Everett. "In fact, I hate him, and--"

"Be ye lovin' my Flea?" Lon's voice cracked out the question like a
gunshot.

"I think so."

"Be Flea lovin' you, or him?"

"She loves him."

"Then it will hurt her like the devil to take her away from him, eh?"

The eagerness expressed in the squatter's tones confirmed Everett's
suspicions. Cronk hated that boy and girl. Brimbecomb impassively
overlooked Floyd; but Flea he would have!

"Yes," he said, "I think it will hurt them both."

"How much money will ye give if I hand her over to ye?" asked Cronk
presently.

"How much do you want?"

"Wal, Mister, it's this way: Ye remember that feller I had with me
t'other day?" Everett nodded. "I mean, the feller with the hook?" Again
Everett inclined his head. "I said as how he could have Flea. Ye has to
buy him off, too, and that ain't so easy as 'tis to settle with
me--especially, as ye ain't goin' to marry Flea. I ain't goin' to give
her to no man what's honest--ye hear?"

"I supposed as much," commented Everett, reddening.

"Lem's been waitin' for Flea for over three years, and I said as how
ye'd have to buy him off, too."

"That's easy. Where is he?"

"Gone to Ithaca. He's went up to bring down his scow. It's gettin' 'long
to be spring, and it's easier to lug the kids back by water, and we know
that way, and it don't cost so much. I telled him when he went away that
he could have the gal as soon as we got back to the settlement. Lem
won't reason for a little bit of money."

"Money doesn't count in this," assured Everett. "Now, then, if I take
this case, put it through without cost to you, and give you both a good
sum, will you give me the girl?"

"If ye promise me ye won't marry her."

Everett laughed, his white teeth gleaming through his lips.

"Don't let that worry you, Mr. Cronk. I have no desire to place at the
head of my home a girl like yours. I told you that I was going to marry
Miss Shellington--and not even that damned brother of hers can prevent
it!"

For a long time after Everett had left the hut Lon sat meditating over
what he had heard. He wondered if Everett really loved Ann, and, if he
did, how he could wish for Flea. How another woman could erase from any
man's mind the picture of a loved woman, Lon with his loyal heart could
not understand. He sat for an hour with his head on the old wooden
table, and planned what he should do with Flukey, leaving it to the
brilliant-eyed lawyer to dicker with Lem for Flea.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


Horace Shellington took a long breath as he entered his office one
morning in the latter part of March. The blustering wind that had raged
all night had almost subsided, and he felt glad for Floyd's sake; for,
no matter how warm they kept the little lad, the sound of the wind
through the trees and the dismal wail of the branches at night made him
shiver and fret with nervous pain. Horace had scarcely seated himself
when Everett Brimbecomb entered the room.

"Hello, Horace!" said the latter jovially. "I was going to come in
yesterday, but was not quite ready to see you. Haven't been able to get
a word with you in several days."

Horace offered a chair, and Everett sank into it.

"You are always so busy when I run in to see Ann," Brimbecomb went on,
"that one would think you were not an inmate of that house."

"Yes," said Horace, "I've been studying up on an interesting case I
expect to handle very soon."

Everett laughed.

"So have I," he said, narrowing his lids and looking at Shellington.

"When one is connected with offices as we are, Everett," remarked Horace
uninterestedly, "there is little time for visiting."

"I find that, too," replied Everett.

During the last few weeks Horace had seen little of his sister's fiancé;
in fact, since their quarrel he had drawn away from the young man as a
companion; but above everything else he desired his gentle sister to be
happy, and the man before him was the only one to make her so. He
thought of this, and smiled a little more cordially as he said:

"Is there anything I can do for you, Everett?"

"Well, yes, there is," admitted Brimbecomb.

"I'll do anything I can," replied Horace heartily.

Brimbecomb hesitated before going on. Shellington looked so grave, so
dignified, so much more manly than he had ever seen him, that he
scarcely dared open his subject.

"It's something that may touch you at first, Horace," he explained;
"but--"

Horace, unsuspicious, bent forward encouragingly:

"Go ahead," he said.

Everett flushed and looked at the floor.

"A case has just come into our office, and, as my father is gone from
home, I have taken it on."

Horace listened expectantly. Everett could have struck the man in the
face, he hated him so deeply. He groaned mentally as he thought of
Scraggy and her wild-eyed cat and of his endeavor to close her lips as
to her relation to him. It was a great fear within him that soon his
father would appear as his mother had. The time might come when this
haughty man before him would have reason to look upon him with contempt.
To make Horace understand his present power was the one thought that now
dominated him.

With this in mind, he began to speak again:

"A man came to us with a complaint that you were keeping his children
from him."

If Horace had received the blow the other longed to give, he could not
have been more shocked.

"I believe his name is Cronk," went on Everett, taking a slip from his
pocket; "yes, Lon Cronk."

Horace took his paper-knife from the table and twirled it in his
fingers. His face had grown ashen white, his lips were set closely over
his teeth.

"I have met this Cronk," he said in a low tone.

"So I understand. He told me that he had been at your home, and had
demanded his children, and that you had refused to give them up."

"I did!" There was no lack of emphasis in the words.

"And you said that he could not have them unless he went to law for
them."

"I did!" said Horace again.

"And he came to me."

Horace rose to his feet, a deep frown gathering on his brow. Everett
rose also, and the two men faced each other for a long moment.

"And you took the case?" Horace got out at last.

"Yes, I took the case," Everett replied.

"And yet you knew that Ann loved them?"

"I was--was sure that if you both understood--"

The speaker's hesitation brought forth an ejaculation from Shellington.

"What are we to understand?"

"That justice must be done the father," responded Everett quickly.

Horace squared his jaw and snapped out:

"Do I understand that, in spite of the near relationship of our family,
you are willing to deal a blow to my sister and me that, if it falls,
will be almost unbearable? You intend to fight with this squatter for
his children?"

"I don't intend to fight, Horace, if you're willing to give them to me.
I had much rather have our present relations go on as they are, without
a breach in them. I think, if you and Ann talk it over, you will see
that by giving the boy and girl into my hands--"

Horace came a step nearer, with darkening brow:

"You can go straight to hell!" he said, so fiercely that Everett started
back. "And the sooner you go, the better I shall be pleased," his face
reddened as he finished, "and so will Ann!"

"You're speaking for someone who has not given you authority," Everett
sneered. "Your sister will give me at least one of those children--I
imagine, the girl. I think the father is more particular about having
her."

"I should think he would be, and you may take him this message from me:
that, if he sneaks about my house at any time of day or night, I'll have
him shot like a dog, for every man can protect his own; and if you--"

Everett, seeing his chance, broke in:

"He would be protecting his own, if he came to your home, for his own
are there; and we are going to have those children before another month
goes by!"

"Try it, and perhaps I may bring to your mind what you once said to me
about that girl," muttered Horace, with set teeth. "Your errand being
finished, Mr. Brimbecomb, you may go!"

Everett had received the worst of the encounter. He had expected that
Horace would consider Fledra's and Floyd's case in a gentler way, would
probably compromise for Ann's sake. He went out not a little disturbed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Horace waited for a few moments after Brimbecomb left him before he took
his hat and coat and went home. Ann was surprised to see him, and more
surprised when he drew her into the drawing-room, where he mysteriously
closed the door.

"Ann," he said solemnly, "I believe the turning point in your life has
come. And I want you to judge for yourself and take your own stand
without thinking of my happiness or comfort."

The young woman lifted startled eyes and searched his face.

"What is it, Horace--that squatter again? Has he made a move against
us?"

Horace bent over and took her hands in his.

"He has not only made a move against us, as far as the children are
concerned, but he has used an instrument you would never have dreamed
of." Seeing his sister did not reply, he went on, "Just what legal
procedure they will undertake I don't know; but that will come out in
time. Cronk went to Everett Brimbecomb with the case, and I was notified
this morning by Everett to give up the children."

"Everett!" breathed Ann, disbelieving. "My Everett?"

"Yes, your Everett, Ann. Don't, child, please don't! Ann, Ann, listen to
me!... Yes, sit down.... Now wait!"

He held her closely in his arms until the storm of sobs had passed, and
then placed a pillow under her head and went on gravely:

"Ann, I have come to this conclusion: you love Everett dearly, and I
cannot understand his actions; but I'm not going to intrude upon your
affection for him, nor his for you. I'm going to ask you not to take
sides with either of us. I'm a lawyer, and so is he. Do you understand,
Ann?"

Fearfully she clutched his fingers.

"But Fledra and Floyd--I can't let them go back, I can't! I can't!"

"They're not going back," said Horace firmly. "Mind you, Ann, even to
renew my friendship with Brimbecomb, I shouldn't give them up."

"Renew your friendship!" gasped Ann. "Oh, have you quarreled with him,
Horace?"

"Yes, and told him to leave my office."

Ann sobbed again.

"What a fearful tragedy is hanging over us!" she cried.

"It is worse than I imagined it could be," Horace declared; "much worse,
for I never thought that the squatter could get a reputable firm to
represent him. And as for Everett--well, he never entered my mind. I
told him that he could not take those children, and that he might--"

He remembered plainly what he had said, but did not communicate it to
his sister. She was so frail, so gently modest, that an angry man's
language would hurt her.

"I told him," ended Horace, "to do whatever he thought best, and that,
if Cronk came here again, I should shoot him down like a dog. I think we
ought to tell Fledra, and then, too, I desire to speak to her of
something else. Can you bring her to me, Ann, without frightening
Floyd?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It did not need Ann's quiet plucking at her sleeve to tell Fledra that
the blow had fallen. She had expected it day after day; until now, when
she faced Horace and looked into his tense face, she felt that her whole
hope had gone.

Ann tiptoed out before her brother opened his lips.

For a moment the harassed man knew not what to say to the silent,
trembling girl.

"Fledra," he began, "the first move has been made in your case by your
father."

"Must we go?" burst from the quivering lips.

"No, no: not if you have told me the truth about your past life--I mean
about your father being cruel to you."

The sensitive face gathered a deep flush:

"I've never lied to you, Brother Horace," she replied gently.

"If I could believe you, child, if I could place absolute confidence in
your word, I should have courage to go into the struggle without losing
hope."

"What's Pappy Lon done?"

"He has employed Everett Brimbecomb to take you back to Ithaca."

Fledra shrank back as if he had struck her. Swiftly into her mind came
the smiling, handsome face of the lawyer whom Ann loved. His brilliant
eyes seared her soul like fire. In all her life, even when facing Lem
Crabbe, she had never felt as she did now. She saw Floyd fading into the
graveyard beyond, while she was being torn from the only haven of rest
she had ever known. Lem Crabbe could not have taken her; but Everett
Brimbecomb could! She felt again his burning kisses, the clasp of his
strong arms, and her own disgust. He seemed a giant of strength, and
Horace's white face and set lips aggravated her fear. Fledra's desire
for comfort had never been so great as the desire she had at this moment
to open her tired heart to Horace and reveal to him Everett's perfidy.

"Did you tell Sister Ann about Mr. Brimbecomb?"

She stumbled over the name.

"Yes."

"What did she say?"

"My sister loves him--you know that. She is heartbroken that he should
have accepted this case. We must make it as easy as we can for her, dear
child."

The girl saw Horace's lips twitch as he spoke, and thought of the love
he had for his sister, and her desire to tell him what she knew died
immediately.

"Do you want me to go with Pappy Lon and not make any trouble for her?"
she whispered.

"No, no, not that! You can't go, Fledra, and they can't take you,
if--you have told me the truth about the man your father wanted to give
you to."

"Floyd and I told the truth," she said seriously, lifting her eyes to
his face; "but for Sister Ann I'd go away with Pappy Lon, and with Lem,
if you'd take care of Fluke till he--"

"Don't, Fledra, don't!" groaned Horace. "It would tear me to pieces to
give you up. But--but you couldn't relieve my mind, Dear, could you?"

Fledra knew what he meant, and shook her head.

"No, not now," she replied.

If it troubled Ann to have Everett take part in their going back to the
squatter country, how much worse she would feel if she knew what he
really had done! Horace's appeal to shield Ann from overmuch burden
strengthened Fledra's courage.

"Can you keep us?" she asked, after a moment's thought.

"I am going to try."

"If you love me well, Brother Horace," said Fledra, "won't you believe
that I'd do anything for Sister Ann and you?"

He nodded his head; but did not speak.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he reached Ithaca, Lem Crabbe found a flood besieging the forest
city. The creeks of Cascadilla and Six Mile Gorge had overflowed their
banks, and the lower section of the town was under water. He had come
back for the scow, and to find Scraggy. He was determined to force from
her the whereabouts of his son. He wended his way toward the hut of one
of his friends at the inlet, and hailed the boat that conveyed the
squatters to and fro in flood-time. As the boat lapped the muddy water
breaking into the weeds and brushes, Lem saw Eli Cronk perched in
another boat, with a spear in his hand.

"Eli!" shouted Lem.

Eli greeted him with a wave of the pole.

The boats neared each other, and Lem shouted that he wanted to get into
Cronk's craft.

"What ye doin'?" asked Crabbe, as the boat he had just left shot away
toward the bridge.

"Catching frogs," replied Eli. "I sell a lot of 'em to the hotels, and
this flood is jest the thing to make 'em thick." He lowered his spear
and brought up a struggling frog. Throwing it into a covered box, he
peered again into the water.

"Where's Lon?" he said, straightening again with another victim.

"To Tarrytown."

"What's he to Tarrytown fer?"

"He's a gittin' Flea and Flukey. That's where they runned to."

"He ain't found 'em, has he? Truth, now!"

"Yep, truth," answered Lem; "and he's got a fine-lookin' lawyer-pup to
git 'em for him."

As Eli again and again thrust his spear into the water, Lem told the
story of the finding of the twins. He refrained from speaking of his
experience with Screech Owl; but said finally, as if with little
interest:

"Ye ain't seen Scraggy, has ye?"

"Nope; and she ain't in her hut, nuther; or she wasn't awhile back,
'cause I stopped there, when I was a lookin' for Lon."

"When did ye git back to town?"

"I dunno jest what day it were," responded Cronk, spearing again.

"Can I git up the tracks, Eli?" inquired Lem presently.

"Ye'll have to wade in mud to yer knees fer a spell after ye leave the
boat."

"I can take the hill over the tracks for a way. Will ye row me up as far
as ye can?"

"Yep, I'll row ye up," replied Eli, proceeding with his work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late in the afternoon, Lem Crabbe, wet to his knees and covered with
mud, entered the scow. He had stopped at Screechy's hut, knocked, and,
having received no answer, clicked down the hill to the boat.

He made up his mind to stay there until Scraggy came back; then he would
go back to Tarrytown and bring the twins to Ithaca. Every morning Lem
mounted the hill, only to find that Screech Owl had not returned. But
one day, just at dusk, as he appeared before the hut, he saw the
flickering of a candle. He did not wait to knock, but entered, and found
Scraggy stretched out on the old bed. She looked up as if she had
expected him, noted his dark face, and lowered her head again.

"Black Pussy's gone, Lem. I've got a cold settin' on me here," she
whispered, wheezing as she laid her hand on her chest.

"I hope it'll kill ye!" grunted Lem. "What did you leave the toolhouse
fer, when I told ye to stay?"

"What toolhouse, Lemmy?" The dazed eyes looked up at him in surprise.

"Don't try none of yer guff on me. I want to know who ye went to see in
Tarrytown, and who the man was that throwed ye over the fence, and then
lugged ye off to that vault?"

Scraggy sat up painfully.

"I wasn't throwed over no fence."

"Ye was, 'cause I seed the man when he done it. I wish now that I'd a
gone and settled with him. Who was he, Screechy?"

"I dunno," she answered.

Lem bent over her, his eyes blazing with wrath.

"Ye want to git yer batty head a workin' damn quick," he shouted, "or
I'll slit yer throat with this!" The rusty hook was thrust near the
thin, drawn face.

"I can't think tonight," muttered Screech Owl, "'cause the bats be a
runnin' 'bout in my head. When I think, I'll tell ye, Lemmy."

"Where be that boy?" demanded Lem.

Scraggy shook her head. Every time she thought of Lem's questions, there
was an infernal tapping of unnumbered winged creatures at the walls of
her brain.

"There ain't no boy that I knows of," she said listlessly, sinking down
again. "And ye wouldn't slit my neck when I ain't done nothin', would
ye, Lemmy?"

"Ye has done somethin'," growled Lem. "Ye has kep' that brat from me
these years past, and now he's big 'nough I'm goin' to have him! Ye
hear?" Every word he uttered came forth with effort. The red mark under
his chin moved relentlessly, preventing him from speaking with
clearness.

Scraggy writhed beneath the tightening grasp of the man's wet fingers.

"I'll choke ye to death!" Lem gasped, between throaty convulsions.

"Lemmy, Lemmy dear--"

Another twist of Lem's fingers, and the woman sank back unconscious. Lem
shook her roughly.

"Scraggy, Scraggy!" he cried wildly. "Set up! I Want to talk to ye! Set
up!"

The silence in the gloomy hut, the whiteness of the seemingly dead
woman, filled Lem with superstitious dread. He grasped his lantern and
ran out, failing to close the door.

The frightened man made off up the hill, and, passing through the
Stebbins farm by the Gothic church and dark graveyard, he tramped the
Trumansburg road to Ithaca. The tracks were covered with water as they
had been when Eli had given him the lift toward the settlement. But the
flood had so receded that by drawing his trousers up over his boots Lem
managed to get through the mud to the bridge. From there he sought the
house of Middy Burnes, where he made an agreement with the tugman that
the scow should be towed from Ithaca to Tarrytown.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


To usher Everett into her home with the same fond heart as hitherto was
more than Ann could do. Dearly as she loved him, much as she desired to
be his wife, it was hard to pardon him for casting aside her interests
for those of the dark-browed squatter. But, womanlike, she felt that she
could break down her lover's determination, and resolved that she would
not hesitate to open argument with him.

Everett met her with a smile, and her lips trembled as they received his
warm kiss. After they were seated he said:

"Horace has told you, no doubt, Ann, of the children's case." She nodded
her head sorrowfully. "Your brother seems to feel," went on Everett,
"that I should not have taken charge of it."

"Neither should you have done so, Everett, unless you've other motives
than we know of."

She looked up; but lowered her eyes as Brimbecomb glanced at her
furtively. Had Fledra told her of his advances? No, or she would never
have received his kisses. His fears were quieted by this thought, and he
asked gently:

"What motives could I have other than that justice should be done the
father? I took the case, first, because it came to me; then, because I
think the man ought to have his children."

Miss Shellington's face darkened.

"Oh, Everett, you can't be so hard-hearted as to want those poor little
things misused! They have been persecuted by their own people, and you
certainly have more heart than to want that to happen again."

"It's not a case of feeling; it's a case of justice. I know how this man
has struggled all his life to rear this boy and girl. They've had no
mother, and then, as soon as they were old enough and had the chance,
they ran away."

"Because he was cruel to them!"

"I don't believe it. I've had something to do with men, and I'm assured
that he told me the truth. I believe, as he says, that they excused
their leaving home by brazen lies. Have you never caught them lying to
you, Ann?"

"No, no! They've always been truthful to me."

"And to Horace?"

"I haven't asked him. But, if they hadn't been, I am sure he would have
spoken of it. Everett, let me plead with you. They have been with us a
long time, and Horace and I have grown used to them. They need our care
more than I can tell you. The boy is still very ill. Won't you let my
love for you plead for them, and withdraw from the case? Do, Dear, and
let me call Horace. Will you, Everett? He's so sad over it! Oh! may I
call him?" She had risen from her chair; but a negative shake of the
man's head made her resume her place again, and she continued, "It will
be a dreadful thing for them, if they have to go back. Now, listen,
Everett! If you will withdraw and let Horace settle it with that man,
our arrangements," her face was dyed crimson,--"I mean your plans and
mine for our wedding, shall remain as they are. Otherwise--"

"Otherwise, what?" breathed Everett, bending toward her.

"I--I shall have to postpone them." Her voice had strengthened as she
spoke, and the last statement was clear and ringing.

"Oh, you couldn't, Ann! Because I take a perfectly legitimate case,
which comes into our office, you propose to postpone our marriage?"

"But, Everett, think of what you are doing! It is as if you had taken my
brother by the throat. You were the first one to suggest that he might
love the girl. What if he does?"

"We will not talk of Horace, please." Everett turned from her as he
spoke. "You and I are the parties interested. If you will aid me, and
you should, seeing that you love me, your brother need not be
considered."

Ann rose, shuddering.

"You do not mean, Everett, that you wish to gain my consent that Fledra
and Floyd should go back to Ithaca?"

Brimbecomb also rose.

"Fledra and Floyd!" he mimicked smilingly. "What a farce it all is! And
how foolish to give them such names! I should think the governor and his
wife would feel complimented that those kids were called for them! They
are but paupers, after all!"

"Everett," stammered Ann, "am I just beginning to know you? Oh, you
can't mean it! You're but jesting with me, aren't you, Dear?" Her love
for him impelled her forward, and her slender hands fell upon his
shoulders. He slipped them off, and gathered her fingers into his.

"Ann," he said earnestly, "I'm not jesting, and I ask you, by your love
for me, to aid me in this, the first thing of importance I have ever
asked you."

Miss Shellington drew reluctantly away.

"I can't, I can't! My very soul revolts at the idea." Then, gaining
strength of voice, the girl, marble-white, exclaimed, "If you're not
jesting, and are still determined to follow out your plans," she caught
her breath in a sob and whispered, "then, like my brother, I shall have
to ask you to leave, please."

A frown darkened Everett's face, followed by an expression of ridicule.

"Is this your love for me? You would let two strange squatter children
come between us? Am I to understand it so?"

"You may understand this: that, after knowing that their father is
wicked, that he would have sacrificed his daughter to a vile man,
without marriage to lessen her suffering, after knowing that he tried to
make a thief of his noble-hearted boy,--I say, after knowing all this,
if you can still insist upon helping him, then I would not dare--to
trust--my life with you!"

Everett's rage blotted out all remembrance of how he left the house; but
there was a vivid picture in his mind of a woman, pale and lovely,
opening the door and dismissing him coldly. He remembered also that she
had shut the door as if it were never to be opened again to him. His
only consolation was that before long he would be able to face Fledra
Cronk and prove his power to her. With this thought came the
satisfaction of knowing that he would be able to wring Horace
Shellington's heart.

After closing the door upon her lover, Ann stood breathless. The light
had suddenly gone from her sun--the whole living world seemed plunged
into darkness. Everett was gone, gone from her possibly forever. His
face had expressed a determination that proved he would not change his
mind. Why had he reasoned himself into thinking that justice could be
served in the squatter's cause? Everett must have a motive. Her judgment
told her to accuse the man she loved; her heart demanded that she excuse
him. For one instant her generous spirit balanced the squatter
children's welfare and her own future. She had promised to protect
Fledra and Floyd, promised them and Horace. Only a broken prayer escaped
her lips as she turned and walked quickly down the hall. She did not
wait to knock, but twisted the door-handle convulsively, and appeared
before her brother without a plea for pardon for her unannounced
entrance.

"He's gone forever!" she said brokenly. "Oh, oh, I can't--"

She swayed forward, and suddenly a merciful oblivion rested her
turbulent spirit, during which her agonized brother worked, hoping and
praying that she might soon know how he pitied and loved her.

At length, when she opened her eyes and gazed at him, Ann murmured under
her breath, with a world of pleading:

"Don't speak of him--don't! Dear heart, I can't--I can't bear it!"

It was not until long afterward that Horace Shellington heard of the
scene through which she had passed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everett Brimbecomb's card admitted him to the governor's home. Mrs.
Vandecar welcomed him with outstretched hands.

"Strange, Everett," said she, "but I was thinking only this afternoon
that I should ask you to dinner. I feel ashamed that I haven't before;
but I've been such an invalid for a long time! You must be lonely, now
that your father and mother are gone."

"I've been busy."

The other laughed understandingly.

"Ah! I had forgotten that a young engaged man has but few free evenings
on his hands."

To this Everett did not reply.

"How is dear Ann?" asked Mrs. Vandecar.

"I left her quite well; but not in the best of spirits. In fact, dear
little lady," and he bent over the white hand he held, "I've come to ask
a favor of you."

"Is it anything about Ann? I can't have matters disarranged between you
two. I've always said you were an ideal couple."

"Thank you," murmured Everett.

Her frank words somewhat shattered his courage; for he knew her to be
kind-hearted. He did not expect to have her make any impression upon the
Shellington brother and sister; but wished her assistance as far as her
husband was concerned.

He kept his gaze so long upon the floor that Mrs. Vandecar spoke:

"I'm glad you came to me, Everett."

"Yes, I'm glad, too, and I need your help just now. The fact is, Ann and
I have had words over a case I have taken charge of in the office."

"How very strange!" exclaimed the woman, mystified.

"It's no more strange to you than to me," went on Everett, after they
were seated. "First, Horace and I quarreled, and then, thinking Ann
would uphold me in my work, I went to her; getting about the same
reception I had received from him."

"I should never have believed it of either of them," faltered Mrs.
Vandecar. "But do tell me about it."

"Horace and Ann, as you know, have a boy and a girl in their charge."

The governor's wife sat up interestedly.

"I have heard of them," said she; "but have never seen them. I asked Ann
over the telephone one day this week, if I sent Katherine for the girl,
would she allow her to come and spend an afternoon with Mildred. But she
said that--"

"Fledra, they call her," interrupted Brimbecomb, with a keen glance at
his companion.

"Yes, so I've heard. Ann said that this Fledra was not going out at
all."

"Do you know why?"

"Why, I supposed that it was because their father had asked for them and
they feared some foul play."

"Foul play!" cried Brimbecomb. "Why, Mrs. Vandecar, don't you think that
a father ought to have his own children?" Everett's eyes pierced her
gaze until it dropped.

"Not if he is bad," murmured she, "and I heard he was brutal to them."

"It is not so; of that I am sure. That is the matter I have come about.
I have accepted the father's case."

"Oh, Everett, was this necessary for you to do, as long as you know
Ann's heart is set upon keeping them?"

Everett twisted nervously.

"She has no right to have her heart set upon them. Now, here is what I
want you to do. Ann is wearing away her health with these scrubs of
humanity, for which she won't even receive gratitude, and Horace looks
like a June shad. The boy has been sick constantly since he's been
there. If there were no hospitals in the town, it might be different. I
must make a move to separate the girl I love from the burden she can't
bear."

Everett averted his face. Until that moment this excuse had not come
into his mind. If Mrs. Vandecar had any affection at all for Ann, the
thought that the girl was making herself ill would tempt her to
interfere.

"Everett, does Ann know why you want to take them away from her?"

"Of course not; I couldn't tell her that, nor Horace, either. They would
have promptly told me to attend to my own affairs; but I could come to
you."

"I'm so glad--I'm so glad you did! And poor Ann, I wish she would allow
her friends to help her! She's such a darling in her charitable work,
though, isn't she?"

"I don't agree with you," dissented Everett.

"But you must admit, boy, that a girl who will make a hospital of her
home, who will wear out her strength for two little strangers, has the
heart of Christ in her."

"I admit her goodness," said Everett slowly, "or I should not want her
for my wife. But you can't blame me when I say that I desire her to be
herself again."

Mrs. Vandecar rose.

"Well, come in to dinner, and we can still talk. Mildred has gone to her
father in Albany with Katherine for a day or two, and I'm alone."

When they were seated, Everett pressed his plea again.

"I don't think Ann would have been so stubborn in the matter, if Horace
had not insisted upon it. And I know that you will be surprised to hear
that he is in love with the girl, a little pauper who uses bad English
and swears like a pirate."

Fledra Vandecar dropped her fork and started back from the table.

"Everett, has Horace lost his mind, or what is it? What can there be in
two children--for they are very young--to have such a hold upon a man
like Horace and a woman like Ann?"

"I have asked myself that a dozen times, and more," commented Everett.
"But now you understand why I want to do something to relieve these
misguided young people--to say nothing of my love for Ann?"

"I do understand," replied Mrs. Vandecar, "and I can't blame you. But,
really, I don't see what I can do, without incurring the enmity of both
of my friends."

"Your husband," breathed Everett.

"Is pledged to Horace in this very matter, and, of course, I couldn't
take a stand against him. Everett, why don't you drop the case and let
time take its course? I fear that you're going the wrong way."

Brimbecomb bit his lip. He might have known that Horace would apply to
the governor; but he had hoped to steal a march upon him and to keep the
state's official from aiding him. But Everett also knew what an
influence Mrs. Vandecar had over her husband, and now rejoined:

"I have gone too far with it; and, what's more, if I have to bear the
brunt of the thing alone, I'll free Ann from a presence that has
completely changed her! Have you seen her lately?"

Mrs. Vandecar shook her head.

"I haven't," she admitted slowly. "I haven't been well enough to go out,
and she hasn't been here. I have heard from her only now and then on the
'phone. Poor child! I must try to get over there tomorrow."

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day Ann met Mrs. Vandecar with open arms.

"Oh, Fledra," said she, "I've longed for you so many days! I do
appreciate your coming!"

"I knew you would, Ann. You are the first acquaintance I have called on
in weeks. But, honey girl, you don't look well."

Ann's eyes filled with tears. Fledra Vandecar was one of the many bright
rays of sunshine in her past life, when she had been happy and
contented, when Everett had been her lover, and Horace at ease. Now her
life was all chaos. Misery, fright, and a troubled heart were her
constant companions.

Mrs. Vandecar leaned over and gently brushed back a lock of hair from
the girl's brow.

"Ann, dear, can't you tell me what is the matter?"

"There's so very much, it would weary you."

"Indeed, no! Mayn't I stay with you just a little while?"

Ann checked back her emotion and rose.

"Pardon, Dear; I didn't dream that you could."

"Of course I can. Mildred is in Albany. How happy I should be if I could
help you!"

"Time only will do that, Fledra. It will take many weeks before Horace
and I are running in our old home gait. But I love to have you here,
especially as Horace has gone out for a long drive. He will be away all
the afternoon."

"That's too bad," interjected Mrs. Vandecar. "I hoped to see him. And,
Ann, I want also to see those children."

"The girl is riding with Horace today--she gets out so little, and
Brother insisted upon taking her. The boy is still very ill."

"Is he too ill for me to see him?"

Ann hesitated.

"Well, his heart is affected, and anything unusual throws him into a new
spell. We keep all trouble from him."

Mrs. Vandecar touched her friend gently.

"And you've had enough of his to bear, poor Ann!"

"We don't consider it a trouble to do anything for those we love. I
wonder if you would like to peep at him--making no noise, remember! He
is sleeping under a drug. Come, Dear, and I'll look at him first."

The governor's wife followed Ann to Floyd's door, and waited until a
beckoning finger called her in. She entered the darkened chamber, and
paused a moment to get her bearings. Miss Shellington was near the bed,
her eyes calling.

"He's sound asleep," she whispered.

With his head thrown back a little, Floyd's face was turned toward the
wall. His profile and thick black curls were sharply distinct upon the
white pillow-slip. His broad brow was covered with beads of
perspiration, and the lips were muttering incoherent words. Mrs.
Vandecar leaned far over the bed, and peered into his face. Something so
touched her in the thin, sunken cheeks, in the drawn mouth, whispering
in an unnatural sleep, that she drew back weeping. Suddenly words formed
on the sleeper's lips:

"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," fell from them, "look upon--look upon--"
Then the whisper trailed once more into incoherence.

Fledra Vandecar clutched at Ann's sleeve.

"He's praying, Ann! He's praying!" Miss Shellington bowed her head in
assent. "Poor baby, poor little dear!" Mrs. Vandecar's voice was louder
than before.

"Hush, hush!" breathed Ann. "Come away. He's so very ill!"

"Pity--pity my simplicity," murmured Floyd again, "and Lord prepare my
soul a--place!"

Mrs. Vandecar straightened and flashed the rigid girl at her side an
appealing glance. Ann touched her again, and the two women passed from
the room, weeping.

"How very beautiful he is!" stammered Mrs. Vandecar. "Oh, Ann, dear,
can't you do something for him? Can't I? Why haven't I tried before? You
won't be offended, will you, Ann, when I say that until this moment I
have never approved of your having him? But I've seldom seen such a
face, and he was--he was praying, poor baby! Poor, little tormented boy!
I wish that he had been awake, or that his sister were here--I want to
see her, too."

"Yes, you should see her. She is very sweet," replied Ann so gravely
that Mrs. Vandecar wept again.

Very soon she made ready for home, with no hint of the conversation she
had had with Everett, and no word of advice to Ann about giving up her
charges.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


A letter went that night from Fledra Vandecar to her husband in Albany.
It was written after the woman had paced her room for several hours in
inexplicable disquietude and unrest. Puzzled, the governor read:

     "_Dearest_.--

     "I went today to see Ann Shellington, with my mind fully made up to
     speak to her about the boy and girl who have been with her for
     these last few months. Everett was here to dinner last night with
     me, and confided in me his trouble with Horace, which has finally
     culminated in a breach with Ann. It seems the difficulty arose over
     the case of the squatter from Ithaca who has demanded his children.

     "Everett has taken the man's side, and until I called upon Ann I
     felt quite in sympathy with him. And still I cannot tell you,
     dearest Floyd, what changed my mind, unless it was the sight of
     that sick boy. He was sleeping when I went in, and was muttering
     over a babyish prayer, which quite touched me. I had no opportunity
     to talk with him, nor the girl either. She was riding with Horace,
     and Everett tells me that he (Horace) is quite infatuated with the
     child.

     "I'm going to ask you, Floyd darling, to help Horace all you can,
     and if Everett comes to see you, as he said he was going to, I want
     you to know that it is my wish that you should keep to your policy
     with Ann and her brother. I cannot tell why I am writing you this,
     only that my heart aches for that boy, and that for years I have
     never felt so impelled to help a human being as I have him.

     "I thought Everett might tell you that I was won to his way of
     thinking by his pleading how he wanted to remove Ann from contact
     with the boy and girl; so I hasten to write you. Kiss my precious
     Mildred for her mother, and, Floyd, dear, see to it that she
     doesn't stay up too late; for she is not strong. I cautioned
     Katherine about it; but I'm afraid she might yield to the child's
     entreaties.

     "With fondest love to you, my darling, and to my baby and
     Katherine, I am,

                                             "Your own loving wife,
                                                               "FLEDRA."

The governor read and reread the letter, especially the part in which
his wife implored him to aid Horace Shellington. He laid it down with a
sigh. He well knew that Fledra's heart was tender toward all little ones
since the disappearance of her own. All hope that he would ever see his
twin children had left him years before, and now, for some moments, with
his hand on the envelop, his mind wandered into hidden places, where he
saw a boy and a girl growing to manhood and womanhood, and he groaned
deeply.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, when Everett Brimbecomb was ushered into his office at the
capital, the governor was primed with the sympathy that he had gathered
from his wife's letter.

"This is something of a surprise, my dear boy," he said. "I did not know
you were coming to Albany so soon."

"I came with a purpose," replied Everett; "for, as you know, my father
is away, and I need your advice in something."

Vandecar waited for his visitor to proceed.

"Do you see any reason," Everett stammered, "why two young lawyers
should not be friends, even if they have to take opposite sides in a
lawsuit?"

"No," replied the governor slowly.

"Then I'll lay the whole thing before you, and let you tell me what you
think of it."

"Have a cigar while we talk," broke in Vandecar, offering Everett his
case.

In silence they began to smoke, and both remained quiet until the
governor said:

"Now, explain it to me, please."

Everett began the story of the children's running away, as the squatter
had told it to him, and of their coming to Horace. He did not forget to
add that he believed Shellington had lied to him the night he came into
the dining-room and discovered Fledra and Floyd with the two little
animals. When a shade passed over the governor's face, Everett quickly
noted that he had made a mistake in the drawing of conclusions.

"Don't be too hasty, Everett," cautioned Vandecar, shaking an ash
deliberately from his cigar. "Horace is the soul of truth. If he did not
tell it to you, he had good reasons."

Brimbecomb frowned. He could have bitten his tongue out for making that
misstep.

"That's so," he admitted. "But, ever since last September, Horace, and I
might say Ann, too, have drawn more and more away from me. For my part,
I see no good that can come of their relations with squatters."

"It was the most charitable act I have ever heard of," replied Vandecar.
"But you are straying from the case. Do I understand that you have taken
up the side of the father?"

"Yes."

"And that you intend to make a move to return his children to him?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

As Everett looked at the stern, unyielding man before him, his excuse to
Mrs. Vandecar seemed tame as it ran through his mind. The governor's
eyes were scanning him critically, almost dazzling him with their
steely gray. An expression in the steady gaze made him tremble; but he
took heart as he thought of the friendship between the governor and his
foster father.

"It's hardly fair to ask me why I took the case, which came to me in a
legitimate manner," said he. "I can see no reason why the man, although
poor, should not have his own children. Do you?"

It was a pointed question, and Vandecar waived it by saying:

"There are always circumstances surrounding these things, such as when
parents are cruel to their children, which might make it advisable,
almost imperative, to take the youngsters away and put them with
reputable people. I think Horace is of the impression that this is true
in the present case."

"Then is one man's opinion to be taken? Do you advise that?"

"No; but I do not yet understand why you should be interested against
your friends. I should think that, rather than disagree with them, you
would wish to have nothing to do with it."

Everett would have to use Ann again to convince the governor of his
right to act. It had been far easier to explain his interest in Cronk to
Mrs. Vandecar than to this quiet, powerful man opposite. The
brown-flecked gray eyes looked unusually sober and truth-demanding.

"I won't have them any longer with Ann than I can help," Everett broke
forth suddenly. "She is killing herself over them. Have you ever seen
them, Mr. Vandecar?"

"No."

"If you had, then you would agree with me. The fact is, your wife thinks
the way I do, but would not help me because you were pledged to Horace.
Your influence over him is great, and I should like to keep this out of
court, if possible. Mrs. Vandecar was rather exercised over Ann."

With a deliberation that baffled Everett, the governor put down his
cigar and drew a letter from his pocket. He opened it in silence and
glanced at it, while Everett stared uneasily at this unusual proceeding.
Presently the governor looked up casually.

"You say that my wife is exercised over Ann?"

"So she told me. She---"

"Well, just at this time," interjected Vandecar, "Mrs. Vandecar is very
much in sympathy with the boy. She has seen him, since talking with
you." Everett stood up abruptly. "She has changed her mind; so her
letter tells me, Brimbecomb," went on the elder man, "and, as I am
working with Horace, and this thing touches him so deeply, I shall have
to ask you not to come to me for advice or help. You understand," and
the governor rose also, "that, while I have a deep feeling of interest
in you and your work, I must say that I think it would be better taste
for you to withdraw while you can. It will be unpleasant all around,
and, as your father is away, it is rather dangerous to connect your
office with low people."

       *       *       *       *       *

Everett went forth from the interview discomfited, but none the less
firm in his evil purpose. Only a few days later, when Lem Crabbe's scow
was slowly making its way from Ithaca to Tarrytown, _habeas corpus_
papers were served upon Horace Shellington to produce the twins in court
and to give reasons why they should not be given to their father.

Horace held a consultation with Ann, and it was decided that they should
appeal to the court for time, procuring a doctor's certificate to prove
that Floyd was too ill even to know of the proceedings. This having been
done, it placed an unlooked-for stay upon Everett Brimbecomb; but he
secured a court order instructing the sheriff to guard the children at
the Shellington home until the boy was well enough to be taken out. So,
a deputy was stationed in the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime Lon watched eagerly for the coming of Lem. When at last
he espied the scow fastened in its accustomed place, he went down to
carry the news to the owner. After explaining the matter as far as it
had gone, he ventured:

"Lem, be ye carin' for Flea yet?"

"Why?" demanded Lem suspiciously.

"'Cause we can make some money outen her, if ye gives up yer claim on
her."

"Ye mean to sell her?"

Lem's words sounded hoarse as he wheezed them out.

"'Tain't sellin' her," explained Lon. "A whollopin' good-lookin' feller
wants her, and he says he'll buy yer off and give me money fer her. Will
ye do it, Lem?"

"Nope, I won't! I want her myself. I been waiting long 'nough fer her."

"But wouldn't ye ruther have a pocketful of money? I would, I bet ye!"

"Lon, be ye goin' to do me dirt?" asked Lem darkly.

Lon straightened his shoulders.

"Nope, I told him ye had to be buyed off, afore I could say nothin'. But
I thought ye liked money, Lem."

"So I do; but I like Flea better. I helped ye get 'em when they were
babies, Lon, and ye said--"

Cronk flung out his arms.

"I said as how ye wasn't to mention aloud, even to me, that the kids
wasn't mine. Ye has Flea, if ye say so, and I'll tell the lawyer--"

"Be it that good-lookin' feller what ye give the fifty dollars to what
wants Flea?" Cronk nodded. "I thought ye wouldn't let me marry her," Lem
cried, "and now ye be goin'--"

Lon interrupted the scowman fiercely:

"Nuther is he goin' to marry her--ye can bet on that! No kid of
Vandecar's gets a boost up from me--a boost down, more like!"

"I'll kill the feller if he touches her," growled Lem, "and ye can make
up yer mind to that, Lon!"

Lon Cronk shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

"Take her if ye want her, Lem. I won't put no straw in yer way. But I
never could see what ye wanted her fer. She's a big mouth to feed, let
me tell ye!"

For some moments the two men sat in the darkening scow and smoked in
silence. Suddenly Lem looked up.

"We couldn't get ahead of the nasty scamp, could we, Lon? I mean, could
we git the money, and then keep the gal?"

"I don't want her," growled Lon; "she couldn't stay with me no more."

"We oughter make him pay the money, though," Lem insisted.

"Then, if ye has Flea, Lem," said Lon, looking keenly at the scowman,
"and ye git yer share of money, ye has to share up yer half with me.
See?"

"Yep," muttered Lem. "Will ye bring the feller down here some day, and
we'll talk it over?"

Lon acquiesced by a nod of his head, saying only, "Come on out, and
let's get a drink."

"When's he goin' to git 'em--Flea and Flukey, I mean?"

"I dunno. The boy's too sick to come to court. He's liable to die any
minute."

Lem started forward at the unexpected word.

"If he croaks, be ye goin' to leave Flea there?"

"Not by a damn sight! We'll git her, and I don't care if the boy goes
dead afore mornin'. I only want him to suffer, and die if he wants to.
And, Lem," Lon smiled evilly, and, looking into the swart face of his
pal, said, "and I guess ye can make the gal come to yer likin'."

Lem's throat worked visibly, his face reddened by the silent laughter
that shook him.

"I only want the chance," he said. "Come on and let's git a drink."



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN


Everett Brimbecomb had become impatient. He missed his evenings with
Ann, and was tortured with the thought that Horace was with Fledra.
Every day made his hatred for his former friend more deadly, more
vindictive, and he not only desired to take the squatter girl away, but
he felt impelled to separate Ann from her brother. He received a badly
spelled note from Lon with a feeling of thanksgiving. Something had
happened to make the squatter wish to see him. So, after dinner, he took
the direction Lon had given, and reached the scow in a heavy rain. It
was much more to his liking that the evening should be stormy; for no
person of his own station in life would be apt to be abroad on such a
night.

As he entered the living-room of the scow, Everett bowed frigidly to Lem
Crabbe, and forgot to extend his hand to Lon.

"You sent for me," he said in a low tone, looking at the squatter.

"Yep. I knowed ye wanted to see Lem, and I thought as how ye'd ruther
come here than have him come along to yer office. Ain't that right?"

"I believe I told you so," responded Everett coldly, as he took his
place in a rickety chair.

"Ye said, didn't ye, Mister, that ye wanted the handlin' of Flea after
we took her away from that meddlin' millionaire?"

"Yes."

"And I telled ye that ye had to make a bargain with Lem, 'cause he had
first right to her. What ye willin' to give?"

"How much money do you want to withdraw your claim from the girl?"

"I ain't thought 'bout no price," replied Lem covertly.

"Then think and listen to me. I have an idea in my mind that we can take
the girl away from that house, if not tomorrow, at least in a few days."

Lem's eyes glistened, and Lon placed his clay pipe carefully upon the
table.

"Lip it out, then, Mister," said the latter; "and, if me and Lem's
agreein' with ye, then we'll help ye."

Everett moved uneasily in the creaking chair. He did not desire to
dicker with these ruffians; but it was necessary, if he wished to carry
out his plans concerning Fledra.

"The boy is likely to die any moment. The girl is the only one who can
help you, Mr. Cronk." Everett had meaning in his voice, and his words
made Lem swallow hard.

"I was a thinkin' that myself," ruminated Lon.

"The girl idolizes her brother and Mr. Shellington. If you could make
her understand that they would otherwise both be killed through your
instrumentality, she would leave the house of her own free will, I'm
sure."

Lon, grimacing with delight, bounded up and faced Lem.

"That be so! That comes of gittin' a lawyer what's got stuff in his
head, ye see, Lem. I told ye that when ye said as how we could get them
kids without spendin' no money."

"You will have to use great care, both of you," Everett urged, "and it
only means for you to take the girl, as you first planned, to Ithaca;
and I will come after her. You will both have your money, and our
business together will be at an end." Lem laughed, but with no sound.
"Just how to get this girl is more than I have figured out," Everett
continued; "but it might be well for me to try and get a letter to her.
I have been a steady visitor at Shellington's home for many years. We
are hardly upon good terms now; but I could manage it, if one of you men
would write it. Make the letter strong, and you will gain your ends. You
may bring it to my office tomorrow, Mr. Cronk." He rose, buttoned up his
raincoat, and went out, leaving two gaping men looking after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since the papers had been served upon him, Horace had had no peace of
mind. The solemn deputy loitering about the home menaced the whole
future. It sickened him when he forced his imagination to dwell upon
Fledra's future, if she were dragged back to Ithaca, and he had rather
place Floyd in his grave than give him into the hands of the squatter.
Suddenly, one morning, he took a great resolution, and no sooner had he
made up his mind to take the one step that would change his whole life
than he called Ann to tell her about it.

"I'm going to marry Fledra," he said, catching his breath.

Ann dropped her hands fearfully; but intense interest gathered on her
face.

"I can save her no other way," he went on, almost in excuse, noting her
glance. "And you must have seen, Ann, dear, that I love the child. Sit
down here and let me tell you about it."

He began at the beginning, telling her of his early growing love, of his
desire to make the squatter child his wife. Ann allowed him to narrate
his story impulsively, without interruption.

Then she said gently:

"Horace, dear, have you told her that you love her?"

"Yes; but I am going to tell her again this morning."

"Ask her now," suggested Ann eagerly, and she rose.

Horace found Fledra with Floyd, and she lifted her eyes confidingly to
his with a smile. For a long time he had been so tender, so loving, that
the specter bred and fostered by Everett Brimbecomb's kisses had nearly
vanished.

"Floyd is so much better this morning!" she said. Her words were well
chosen, and she pronounced her brother's new name carefully.

Floyd held out his hand and raised himself slowly up.

"Look, Brother Horace!" he cried eagerly. "Look--just this morning I've
been able to stand up! Sister Ann says in a few days I can walk."

Horace held the thin, white fingers in his for an instant.

"So you will, boy. It won't be long before you can get out."

The words startled Fledra. Not until the trouble of Lon's coming had she
wished that Floyd might linger in the sickroom. The man outside,
watching every movement in the house, frightened her. She knew that when
her brother was well enough he and she would be called away for the
court's decision as to their future.

"Floyd, will you spare your sister just a few moments? I want to talk
with her."

"Course I will, Brother Horace. Scoot along, Fledra!"

"This way, child," whispered Horace. "I've something--oh, such a dear
something!--to say to you."

They quietly passed the deputy, who only raised his eyes, smiled at
Fledra, and dropped his gaze again to his paper. When Horace's door was
closed, Horace took Fledra into his embrace and kissed her again and
again. She loved the warmth of his arms, and the delight of his kisses
caused her to rest unresisting until he chose to speak.

"Fledra, dear, will you marry me--immediately?"

His question brought her to rigidity.

"You mean--"

"I mean that all our troubles are going away."

Fledra drew slowly from him.

"How can our troubles go away?" she asked.

"By your consenting."

"I told you once, and more than once, that I couldn't tell you. Won't
you ever understand?"

But Horace did not loosen his hold upon her. He drew the dark head
against him tenderly.

"You misunderstood, Fledra. I am going to trust you in everything. I am
going to put all my faith in you, and to save you and your brother from
a fearful life. I must make you my wife!"

Fledra drew a long breath. All the stumbling petitions she had made to
Heaven were answered by those few words. At last, to be Horace's wife,
to save Flukey, and to protect Ann, who would now have back her lover!
It seemed to the young girl, in this flashing moment of thought, that
all the clouds of the last few months had floated over their heads and
away.

"It will take a few days before I can arrange our marriage," explained
Horace. "One reason for not arranging today is that I have to run down
to New York for two or three days; and then, too, I must be careful not
to let anyone know of our plans. I want you to talk with my sister. I
have told her that I love you."

"Was she sorry?" whispered Fledra.

"No--very, very glad!"

"And can I tell Floyd?"

"Yes, just as soon as you like. I have an idea your happiness will go
far to make him well."

       *       *       *       *       *

For an hour Horace refused to let her leave him, and when Fledra did go
back to the sick brother her face was radiant with happiness. Floyd was
not prepared for the rush of words or the passionate appeal with which
she met him.

Blinking his eyes, the boy waved his sister back.

"I can't make out what you're saying, Flea."

"I'm going to marry Brother Horace!" She stopped, and began again. "I'm
going to marry Horace--oh, so soon, Fluke! And aren't you glad? And then
they can't take us away!"

It was the first intimation Floyd had had of their danger. He rose up,
standing upon his legs tremblingly.

"Has anybody been trying to take us away, Flea?"

Then Fledra realized what she had said, and hesitated in fear.

"I forgot, you weren't to know, Fluke. Will you wait till I call Brother
Horace?... Fluke, don't be trembling like that! Sit down, Fluke!...
Fluke!"

Floyd's face had paled, even to the tips of his ears. He realized now
that danger had hung over the fair young sister and he had not known of
it.

"It's Pappy Lon, and ye never told me, Flea, and that's why ye been so
unhappy! He'll take ye away because yer his kid, and Brother Horace
can't do anything."

"Yes, he can, Fluke--yes, he can! He loves me, and I love him, and he's
going to marry me! Nobody can't take a wife away from her man!... Fluke,
don't wabble like that! Brother Horace! Brother Horace!"

Fledra's voice reached the dreaming man, bending over his desk, and he
bounded to answer her call. He found her supporting her brother, white
and shivering, with eyes strained by fright.

"I told him," gasped Fledra looking up; "but I didn't mean to."

"Told him what?"

"Pappy Lon," muttered Floyd, "comin' for Flea!"

Horace caught the words in dismay.

He placed the suffering boy on the divan and bent close. In low tones
he said that the squatter in some mysterious way had found where they
were, and that he had come for them. He began at the beginning,
explaining to the boy Lon's demand upon him. He refrained, however, from
mentioning Everett, because of the pain to his sister. He had just
finished the story, when Ann softly opened the door and came in.

"But I insist that you will place your faith in me, Floyd. I shall see
to it that neither you nor your sister leave me--unless you go of your
own free will," Horace concluded.

"If Pappy Lon takes one of us," muttered Floyd, as Miss Shellington
calmed him with sweet interest, "let him take me. I'm as good as dead,
anyhow. I want Flea to marry Brother Horace."

"And so she will," assured Ann. "Now then, Dear, try and sleep."

During the rest of the afternoon Ann held conferences with her brother,
fluttering back and forth from him to Floyd, and then to Fledra. She
noted that the strained expression had gone from the girl's face, and
uttered a little prayer of thanksgiving when she heard Horace's hearty
laugh ring out once more.



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT


Everett Brimbecomb took the letter Lon Cronk handed him, without rising
from his chair.

"It be for Flea," said Lon, grinning, "and I think she'll understand it.
It's as plain as that nose on yer face, Mister."

"May I read it?" asked the lawyer indifferently. Then, as Lon nodded, he
slipped the letter deftly from the finger-marked envelop and read the
contents with a smile. "It's strong enough," he said, replacing it. "I,
too, think she'll succumb to that. If you'll leave this letter with me,
I'll see that she gets it."

Everett put the envelop in a drawer and implied that the interview was
at an end. But the squatter twirled his cap in his fingers and lingered.

"Lem says as how he'll take the gal and me in his scow to Ithaca. Ye can
follow us when ye git ready."

The younger man stood up, nodding his approval.

"That'll be just the way to do it, and I shall look to you, Mr. Cronk,
to keep faith with me. Frankly speaking, I do not like your friend. I
think he's a rascal."

"Well, he be a mean cuss; but there be other cusses besides Lem,
Mister."

Brimbecomb flushed at the meaning glance in the squatter's shrewd eyes.

"All you both have to do," said he bruskly, "is to spend the money I'll
give you--and keep your mouths shut."

If Everett had noted the crafty expression on the squatter's face as the
latter walked down the street, he would not have been so satisfied over
his deal with Lon. After he was alone, he reread Cronk's letter. Later
he wrote steadily for sometime. His communication also was for Fledra,
and he intended by hook or crook to get it to her with the other.

       *       *       *       *       *

There never had been greater rejoicing in the Shellington home than on
the night when it was settled that Fledra was to marry Horace. It was
decided that after the wedding the girl should have tutors and
professors. A lovelight had appeared in the gray eyes when she promised
Ann that she would study diligently until Horace and Floyd and all her
dear ones would be proud of her advancement. How gently Ann encircled
the little figure before she said goodnight, and how tearfully she
congratulated Horace that he had won such a fond, faithful heart for his
own! Even after kissing Floyd, and tucking the coverlet about his
shoulders, the young woman was again drawn to Fledra.

"May I come in, Darling?" she whispered.

Fledra did not cease combing her curls before the mirror when she
welcomed Miss Shellington.

"I simply couldn't go to bed, child," said Ann, "until I came to see you
again. I feel so little like sleeping!"

Fledra turned a blushing, happy face upon her friend.

"And I'm not going to sleep tonight, either. I'm going to stay awake all
night and be glad."

This brought Ann's unhappiness back to her, and she smiled sadly as she
thought of her own tangled love-affair.

"I want you and my brother to be very happy."

Fledra dropped her comb and looked soberly at the other.

"I'm not good enough for him," she said, with a sigh; "but he loves me,
and I love him more than the whole world put together, Sister Ann."

The young face had grown radiant with idealized love and faith, and
through the shining gray eyes, in which bits of brown shaded to golden,
Ann could see the girl's soul, pure and lofty. She marked how it had
grown, had expanded, under great love, and marveled.

"I know that, Dearest. I wish I were as happy as you!"

The pathos in her tones, the sad lines about Ann's sweet mouth, made
Fledra grasp her hands in girlish impetuousness.

"He'll come back to you, Sister Ann, some day," she breathed. "He thinks
Pappy Lon ought to have us kids, and that's what makes him work against
you and Brother Horace. He can't stay away from you long."

Ann shook her head mournfully.

"I fear he doesn't love me, Fledra, or he couldn't have done as he has.
Sometimes it seems as if I must send for him; for he isn't bad at
heart." She rested her eyes on Fledra's face imploringly. "You think,
don't you, Dear, that when a woman loves a man as I love him her love in
the end will help him?"

Fledra thought of her own mad affection for Horace, of his love for her,
and of how her longing for him stirred the very depths of her soul,
uplifting and refreshing it. She nodded her head.

"He'll come back to her, all right," she murmured after Ann had gone and
she had thrown herself on the bed. "Floyd will get well, and Horace and
I--" She dropped asleep, and the morning had fully dawned before she
opened her eyes to another day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, as Fledra sat up in bed, brushed back the curls from her face, and
with the eagerness of a child thought over the happy yesterday, suddenly
her eyes fell upon an envelop, lying on the carpet just beneath her
window. It had not been there the night before. She slipped to the
floor, picked up the sealed letter with her name on it, and climbed into
bed again, while examining it closely. With a mystified expression upon
her face, she tore open the envelop. Unfolding one of the two letters,
inclosed, she read:

     "_Flea Cronk_.--

     "This is to tell ye that if ye don't come back with me and Lem,
     we'll kill that guy Shellington and Flukey. Flukey can stay there
     if he wants to, if you come. Make up yer mind, and don't ye tell
     any man that I writ this letter. Come to Lem's scow in the river,
     or ye know what I does to Flukey.

                                                          "LON CRONK."

Fledra folded up the letter and opened the other one dazedly. It was
written with a masterly pen-stroke, and the girl, without reading it,
looked at the signature. It was signed, "Everett Brimbecomb." Her eyes
flashed back to the beginning, and she read it through swiftly:

     "_Little Miss Cronk_.--

     "I am delivering this letter in a peculiar way, because I know that
     you had rather not have anyone see it. It is necessary that you
     should think calmly and seriously over the question I am going to
     ask you. I am very fond of you. Whether or not you will return my
     affection is a thing for you to decide in the future. Now, then,
     the question is, Do you want to protect your brother and your
     friends from the anger of your father? If so, you must go with him.
     I will answer for it that your brother stays where he is; but you
     must go away. Think well before you decide not to go; for I know
     the men who are determined to have you, and would save you if I
     could. I shall try to see you very soon. Destroy this letter
     immediately. Your friend,

                                                  "EVERETT BRIMBECOMB."

Fledra sat as if in a trance, her eyelids drooping over almost sightless
eyes. The last blow had fallen upon her, and she knew that she must go.
That she could ever be forced away thus without her brother, that Horace
could be given no chance to help her, had never crossed her mind.
Through her imagination drifted Lon's dark, cruel face, followed by a
vision of Lem Crabbe. Feature after feature of the scowman came vividly
to her,--the wind-reddened skin, the foul, tobacco-browned lips, the
twitching goiter,--all added to the nervous chill that had suddenly come
upon the girl. Lem and Lon represented all the world's evil to her, and
Everett Brimbecomb all the world's influence. The three had thrust their
triple strength between her and happiness. Her dear ones should not fall
before the wrath of Lem and Lon, or before the unsurmountable power of
Everett Brimbecomb! In her hands alone lay their salvation. Like one
stunned, she rose from the bed and carefully destroyed the two letters.
This was the one command she would obey promptly.

When Ann knocked softly at the door, and no answer came, she gently
pushed it open. Fledra lay with her face to the wall as if asleep. Miss
Shellington bent over her, and then crept quietly out to allow the girl
to rest another hour. No sooner had the door closed than Fledra sat up
with clenched fists, her face blanched with terror. She could not
confront the inevitable without help. But not once did it occur to her
that Horace Shellington would be able to protect not only her, but
himself also. The path of her future life stretched from Tarrytown to
Ithaca, straight into Lem's scow!

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the entire day the girl was enigmatical both to Horace and to
Ann. Weary hours, crowding one upon another, offered her no relief. The
thought of Lon's letter shattered hope and made her desolate. She did
not stop to reason that her relations with Horace demanded that she tell
him of Everett's perfidy. Had not her loved ones been threatened with
death, if she disclosed having received the letters? She spent most of
the day with Floyd, saying but little.

In the evening Fledra waited wide-eyed and sleepless until the household
was quiet, and while she waited she pondered dully upon a plan to
escape. Toward night two faint hopes had taken possession of her:
Everett Brimbecomb could help her; Pappy Lon might. Before leaving Floyd
and severing her connections with Horace, she would appeal to the
squatter and his lawyer. She opened the window and looked out. It was
but a short drop to the path at the side of the house.

At half-past ten Fledra slipped into her coat and set a soft, light cap
upon her black curls. In another minute she had reached the road and had
turned toward Brimbecomb's. To escape any eyes in the house she had just
left, she scurried to the graveyard. For an instant only did she halt,
and, somber-eyed, glance over the graves. She could easily mark the spot
where she had lain so long with Floyd, and tears welled into her eyes as
she thought of him. How many things had happened since then! In hasty
review came week after week of the time she had spent with Horace and
Ann. How she loved them both! Turning, she scanned the gloomy Brimbecomb
house. In the servants' quarters at the top several lights burned, while
on the drawing-room floor a gas-jet shot forth its beams into Sleepy
Hollow. If Mr. Brimbecomb were at home, then he must be in that room.
Fledra crouched under the window.

"Mr. Brimbecomb! Mr. Brimbecomb!" she called.

Silence, as dense as that in God's Acre near her, reigned in the house.
She called again, a little louder. Suddenly she heard a rapid step upon
the road and crept back again to the corner of the building.

Everett Brimbecomb was passing under the arc light, and Fledra could see
his handsome face plainly in its rays.

He stopped a moment and looked at Shellington's house, with a shrug of
his shoulders. Again he resumed his way; but halted as Fledra called his
name softly. From her hiding-place in the shadow of the porch she came
slowly forward.

"Can I talk with you a few moments, Mr. Brimbecomb?" she faltered. "I
know that you can help me, if you will."

Everett's heart began to beat furiously. Something in the appealing girl
attacked him as nothing else had. How slim she looked, how lithe and
graceful, and yet so childishly young! He compared her with Ann in rapid
thought, and remembered that he had never felt toward Horace's sister as
he did toward this obscure girl.

"Come in," he murmured; "we can't talk here. Come in."

"Let me tell you out here in the night," stammered Fledra.

Everett touched her arm, urging her forward.

"They may see us from the Shellingtons'," he said; and, in spite of her
unwillingness, he forced her up the steps. Like the wind of a hurricane,
a mixture of emotions stormed in his soul. He dared not do as he wished
and take the girl in his arms. He checked his desire to force his love
upon her, and motioned to a chair, into which Fledra sank. Like shining
ebony, her black hair framed a death-pale face. The darkness of a new
grief had deepened the shade in the mysterious eyes. For an instant she
paused on the edge of tears.

"I don't want to go back with Pappy Lon!" she whispered.

Everett caught his breath. She was even more lovely than he had
remembered. Inwardly he cursed the squatters. If he could eliminate them
from his plans--but they were necessary to him.

"I don't like none o' the bunch of ye!" Fledra burst out in his silence.
Brimbecomb's lips formed a slight smile. The girl pondered a moment, and
continued fiercely, "And I hate Ithaca and all the squatters!"

"You speak very much like your father," ventured the lawyer. "I can't
understand why you hate him. Your place is with him."

The girl bowed her head and wept softly. She realized that when she was
excited she could not remember her English.

"I've been a squatter," she said, forlornly shaking her head, "and I
s'pose Pappy Lon has a right to me; but I love--"

"You love whom?"

"Mr. Shellington. Oh, Mr. Brimbecomb, can't ye help me to keep away from
Pappy Lon? Can't ye make him see that I don't want to go back--that I
can't go back to Lem Crabbe ever?"

"There's no danger of your going to--what did you say his name was?"

"Lem Crabbe--the man with a hook on his arm. I hate him so!"

"I remember seeing him once. I don't think you need worry over going
with him. Your father is not a fool."

"He promised me to Lem!" wailed Flea.

"And he--promised--you to--me!"

So deliberately did Everett speak that Fledra was on her feet before the
sentence was finished. Horror, deep-seated, rested in the eyes raised to
his. Oh, surely she had not heard aright!

"What did ye say?" she demanded.

"Your father has promised you to me."

"Oh, that's why you done it, was it? That's why ye fit Sister Ann and
Brother Horace? 'Cause ye wanted me to go with ye! I hate ye like I
hate--the devil!"

Her words, grossly coarse, struck and stung the man to action. He strode
forward and grasped her arm roughly in his fingers.

"You little fury, what do I care how much you hate me? It's a man's
pleasure to conquer a woman like you. You can have your choice between
the other man and me."

Dumb with fright and amazement, his treachery driving every thought from
her mind for the moment, Fledra looked at him.

"I'd rather go with Lem," she got out at last, "'cause I couldn't stand
yer hellish pretty face nor yer white teeth. They look like them big
stones standing over the dead men out yonder."

With a backward motion of her head toward the window, Fledra drawled out
the last words insultingly. That she preferred Lem to him wounded
Everett's pride, but made him desire her the more. He loved her just
then so much that, if it had been in his power, he would have married
her instantly. Her fine-fibered spirit attracted all the evil in him as
a magnet draws a needle. Fledra brought him from his reverie.

"There ain't no use of my standin' here any longer," she said. "I might
as well go and ask Pappy Lon. He's better'n you."

To let her go this way seemed intolerable.

"Wait," he commanded, "wait! When you came in, I didn't mean to offend
you. Will you wait?"

"If ye'll help me keep away from Pappy Lon, and will promise nothin'
will happen to Brother Horace or to Fluke."

"I can't do that; it's impossible. But I can take you away, after you
get back to Ithaca."

"Can I come back to Brother Horace?"

"No, no; you can't go there again! Now, listen, Fledra Cronk. I'll marry
you as soon as you'll let me."

Fledra's eyelids quivered.

"I'll stay with Pappy Lon and Lem, because I love Sister Ann too well to
go with you."

"Oh, I thought that was the reason," said Everett. "All your hard words
to me were from your tender, grateful heart. That only makes me like you
the better."

Fledra turned to go.

"But I don't like you, and I never will. Let me go now, because I'm
goin' down to the scow to Pappy Lon."

Brimbecomb threw out an arm with an impetuous swing; but Fledra darted
under it.

"Don't--don't!" she cried brokenly. "Don't you never touch me,
never--never! I don't want you to! Let me go now, please."

Everett stepped aside and allowed her to reach the door.

"I shall help you, if I can, child," he put in, as she sprang out.
"Remember--"

But Fledra did not wait to hear. She was outside the door and flying
down the steps.

       *       *       *       *       *

The wind came sharply from the north as, dejectedly, the girl made her
way to the river. She had decided to appeal to Lon, to beg her future of
him. Before she reached the scow, she could hear the gurgle of the
river, and the sound of the water came familiarly to her ears. Lem's
boat lay like a silent, black animal near the bank, and she came to a
stop at sight of it. How many times had she seen the dark boat snuggled
in the gloom as she saw it now! How many times before had the candle
twinkled from the small window, and the sign of life caused her to
shiver in fear! But, thinking of what Lon's consent for her to remain
with her dear ones meant, she mounted the gangplank and descended the
short flight of stairs.

Lon was seated in a chair by the table, and Lem on a stool nearby.
Crabbe rose as the pale girl appeared before him; but Lon only displayed
two rows of dark teeth. It seemed to him that all his waiting was over;
that his wife's constant haunting of his strong spirit would cease, if
he could tear the girl from her high estate and watch the small head
bend under the indignities Lem would place upon her. The very fact that
she had come when he had sent for her showed the fear in which she held
him.

Fledra unloosened her wrap from her throat as if it choked her.

"How d'y' do, Flea?" grinned Cronk. His delight was like that of a small
boy who has captured a bright-winged butterfly in a net.

"I got yer letter, Pappy Lon," said Fledra, overlooking his impudent
manner.

"And ye goin' to stay, ain't ye?" gurgled Lem.

Fledra snapped out "Nope!" to the scowman's question, without looking at
him. Her next words were directed to the squatter:

"I've come to beg ye, Pappy Lon, to let me stay in Tarrytown. Mr.
Shellington wants to marry me."

She was so frail, so girlishly sweet and desirable, that Lem uttered an
oath. But Lon gestured a command of silence.

"Ye can't marry no man yit, Flea," said he. "Ye has to go back to the
hut." Determination rang in his words, and the face of the rigid girl
paled, and she caught at the table for support. "Ye see," went on Lon,
"a kid can't do a thing her pappy says she can't. I says yer to come
home to the shanty. And, if ye don't, then I'll do what I said I would.
I'll kill that dude Shellington and--"

Before he could finish, Fledra burst in upon him.

"Ye mustn't! Ye mustn't, Pappy Lon! I love him so! And he's so good! And
poor little Flukey is so sick, though he's gettin' better, and if I'm
happy, then he'll get well! Don't ye love us one little bit, Pappy Lon?"
She loosened her hold upon the table and neared the squatter.

Cronk brushed his face awkwardly. The presence of his Midge filled the
scow-room, and his dead baby, wee and well beloved, goaded him to
complete his vengeance. For a few seconds he breathed hard, with
difficulty choking down sobs that shook his whole body. In a haze, the
ghost-woman wavered toward him through the long, bitter years he had
lived without her. She thrust herself between him and Fledra. The image
that his heated brain had drawn up held out a tiny spirit babe, and so
real was the apparition that he put out a trembling hand. For a moment
he groped blindly for something tangible in the nothingness before him.
Then, with a groan, he let his arm fall nerveless to his side. The
vision disappeared, and Lem's presence and even Fledra's faded; for Lon
again felt the agonizing cracking of his bones under the prison
strait-jacket, and could hear himself shrieking.

He started up and wiped drops of water from his face. He glared at
Fledra, his decision remaining steadfast within him. Only exquisite
torture for Vandecar's flesh and blood would appease the wrath of Midge
and the pale-faced child.

"I love ye well enough to want ye to do my will," he brought out
huskily, "and when Flukey gits well he'll come with me, too."

Fledra braced herself for the ordeal. Lon had promised her in his
letter that sacrificing herself would mean safety for Floyd and her
lover. She would not allow him to break that promise, however much he
demanded of her.

Cronk spoke again:

"Ye'd better take off yer things and set down, Flea 'cause ye ain't
goin' back."

She made no move to obey him.

"Yes, I'm goin' back to Flukey," she said, "even if you make me come
here again. I haven't left any letter for him. But I'll come back to the
scow, and go with you and Lem, if you let Fluke stay with Mr.
Shellington. If you take him, you don't get me."

"How ye goin' to help yerself?" Lon questioned, with a belittling sneer.

"When I get hold of ye," put in Lem, "ye'll want to stay."

The squatter again motioned the scowman to silence. A fear, almost a
respect, for this girl, with her solemn gray eyes and unbending manner,
dressed like the people he hated, took root within him.

Fledra's next address to Lon ignored Lem's growling threat.

"I didn't come to fight with you, Pappy Lon. But you've got to let me go
back and write a letter. I won't tell anybody that I'm goin' from home.
Mr. Shellington's going to New York tomorrow, to stay four or five days.
That'll give me a chance to get away, and I'll come to you again
tomorrow night. But I'll go with you only when you say that Fluke can
stay where he is. Do you hear, Pappy Lon?"

Her face expressed such commanding hauteur, she looked so like Floyd
Vandecar when she threw up her head defiantly, that Cronk's big chest
heaved with satisfaction. To take his grudge out upon her would be
enough. He would cause her to suffer even more than had Midge. He waited
for a few moments, with his eyes fastened upon her face, before he
spoke. He remembered that she had never told him a lie nor broken a
promise.

"Ye swear that, if I let ye go now, ye'll come back tomorry night?"

"Yes, I swear it, if you'll swear that you'll let Fluke alone, and that
you won't ever hurt Mr. Shellington. Do you swear it?" Her voice was
toned with a desperate passion, and she bent toward the squatter in
command.

"I swear it," muttered Lon.

"And can I bring Snatchet with me? I want him because he's Flukey's, and
because he'll love me. Can I, Pappy Lon?"

"Yep, damn it! ye can. Bring all the dogs in Tarrytown; but be back
tomorry night."

"I'll come, all right; but I'm goin' now."

As the girl turned to go, Lem lumbered to his feet.

"I've got somethin' to say about this!" he stuttered.

"Sit down, Lem!" commanded Lon.

Crabbe stood still.

"That gal don't go back tonight! She's mine! Ye gived her to me, and I
want her now."

Lem wriggled his body between Fledra and the stairs; but the girl thrust
herself upon him with an angry snarl.

"Don't touch me with your dirty hands!" she gasped.

Lem caught his breath.

"Ye've let that rich pup of a Shellington kiss ye--ye don't move from
here!"

Fledra crushed back against the cabin wall and eluded his searching
fingers.

"I was goin' to marry Mr. Shellington; but I ain't now. I'm going back
to him for tonight, and tomorrow, and I'm goin' to let him kiss me, and
I'm goin' to kiss him."

She put forward her face until her breath swept Lem's skin.

"I'm goin' to kiss him as much--as much as he'll let me. And I'm goin'
to write Fluke; and, if ye touches me afore I does all that--I'll kill
ye!"

Lena drew back from her vehemence, leaving the way of the staircase
clear, and in another instant Fledra was gone.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE


The following day Shellington left for New York, immediately after
breakfast.

Fledra made no attempt to write her farewells until in the evening after
she had looked her last upon Floyd, and Ann had seen her to bed. An hour
passed before she got up softly and turned on the light. She fumbled
warily about her table for writing materials, and after she had found
them her tense face was bent long over the letters. When she had
finished, she stole along the hall to Horace's study, and left there the
tear-stained envelops for him and her brother.

Once back in her room, she donned her street-clothes rapidly, and, after
taking a silent farewell of the surroundings she loved, climbed through
the window and dropped to the ground. She crept stealthily to the back
of the house and approached the dog-kennels. Through the dim light she
could see the scrawny greyhounds pulling at their leashes as she fumbled
at the wire-mesh door. Whines from several of the dogs made Fledra step
inside, whence she glanced out misgivingly to see if she had been
observed.

"Snatchet!" she whispered.

From a distant corner she heard the rattle of a chain.

"Snatchet!" she called again.

This time she spoke more loudly and advanced a step.

"Where are ye?"

A familiar whine gave her Snatchet's whereabouts. She felt her way
along the right wall, and as she passed each animal she spoke tenderly
to it. Upon reaching the little mongrel, Fledra placed her face down
close to him. The glitter of his shining eyes, the warm contact of his
wet tongue, brought tears from her. She told him gently that they were
going away together, going back to the country where many of the evil
persons of the world congregated. The girl took the collar from the
dog's neck and, picking him up quickly, retraced her steps.

"We're going back to the hut, Snatchet," she told him again, "and
Fledra's going to take you because Floyd won't care when he's got Sister
Ann--and Brother Horace." At the mention of the man's name, the squatter
girl bent her head over the yellow dog and sobbed.

Then she ran until she was far from the house; but her steps lagged more
and more as she neared the river. Long before she reached it she stopped
and sat down. How intensely she wished that her sacrifice was to wander
alone with Snatchet the rest of her days! Anything would have been
preferable to Lem and his scow. But the bargain with her enemies had
been the surrendering of herself to the canalman, and shortly she rose
and proceeded on her way to the barge. Before entering it, she raised
her eyes to the sky. Everything was at peace with the Infinite, save her
own little tortured soul. She dashed aside her tears and ascended the
gangplank, halting at the top a moment to answer Middy Burnes' familiar
call to her. She saw that Middy had his little tug under steam and was
ready to tow the scow away. Shuddering, Fledra went down the stairs into
the living-room, where Lem and Lon awaited her.

Neither man spoke when she put Snatchet down on the floor and threw back
the lovely cloak she had received from Ann at Christmas. Lem's eyes
glittered as he looked at it. Before Fledra entered, the scowman had
been industriously tacking a sole on a big leather boot, held tightly
between his knees. Now he ceased working; the rusty hook loosened its
hold upon the heel of the boot, and the hammer was poised lightly in his
left hand. From his mouth protruded the sparkling points of some steel
tacks.

Lon was first to break the strained silence.

"We been waitin' a long time fer ye, Flea. Ye've kept the tug a steamin'
fer two hours."

"I couldn't come before," replied the girl. "I had to wait till Fluke
and Sister Ann went to bed."

Lon sneered as he repeated:

"Sister Ann!"

"She's the lady you saw when you were there, Pappy Lon. And she's the
best woman in all the world!"

The squatter smiled darkly.

"Ye'd best put Snatchet in the back room, and then come here again and
set down, Flea, 'cause it'll take a long time to get to Ithaca, and
ye'll be tired a standin'."

His sarcasm caused no change to cross the girl's face; but Lem grinned
broadly. He took the tacks from between his teeth and made as if to
speak. After a few vain stutters, however, he replaced the tacks and
hammered away at the old boot. Now and then the goiter moved up and
down, each movement indicating the passage of a thought through his
sluggish brain.

Fledra removed Snatchet and returned to the living-cabin, as Lon had
suggested.

"I want to talk to you before I sit down," she said in a low tone. "What
are you going to do with me?"

Just then the scow lurched, and the whistle of the tug ahead screamed a
farewell to Tarrytown. Fledra heard the grinding of the boat against the
landing as it was pulled slowly away, and she sprang to the window. She
took one last glimpse of the promised land, one lingering look at the
twinkling lights, which shone like glow-worms and seemed to signal
sympathy to the terrified girl. Finally she turned a tearless face to
Lon.

"I want to know what you're going to do with me when we get to Ithaca.
Can I stay awhile with Granny Cronk?"

She glanced fearfully from Lon to the scowman, whose lips were now free
of the nails. His wide smile disclosed his darkened teeth as he
stammered:

"Yer Granny Cronk's been chucked into a six-foot hole in the ground, and
ye won't see her no more."

Staring at the speaker, Fledra fell back against the wall.

"Granny Cronk ain't dead! She ain't! You're lying, Lem Crabbe!"

"Ask yer daddy, if ye don't believe me," grunted Lem.

Fledra cast imploring eyes to Lon.

"Yer granny went dead a long time ago," verified the squatter.

"Then I can stay with you, Pappy Lon, just for a little time. Oh, Pappy
Lon," tears rose slowly, and sobs caught her throat as she advanced
toward him, "I'll cook for you, and I'll work days and nights, if I can
live with you!" She was so near him that she allowed a trembling hand to
fall upon his arm. But he spurned it, shaking it off as he growled:

"Don't tech me! Set down and shut up!"

She passed over the repulse and sobbed on:

"But, Pappy Lon, I'd rather die, I'd rather throw myself in the water,
than stay with Lem in this boat! I want to tell you how I've
prayed--Sister Ann taught me to. I always asked that Flukey might stay
in Tarrytown, and that nothing would ever hurt Mr. Shellington. I never
dared pray for myself, because--because God had enough to do to help all
the other ones, and because I never asked anything for myself till you
found me. I want to stay right in the shanty with you, Pappy Lon. I
hate Lem--oh, how I hate him!"

Lem coughed and wheezed.

"I guess we'd better shet her claptrap once and fer all," he said. "Lon,
ye leave me to settle with Flea--I know how."

The squatter silenced Lem with a look and rose lumberingly. As he struck
a match and made toward the steps, Fledra followed close after him.

"Pappy Lon, if you'll stay with me here on the boat till we get to
Ithaca, then I'll do what you say when we get there. You sha'n't go and
leave me now with Lem, you sha'n't, you sha'n't!" Her voice rose to a
shriek, and her small body trembled like a leaf in a wind. So loud were
her cries, and so fiercely did she clutch at Lon's coat, that he turned
savagely upon her.

"I'll do what I please. Shet up, or Middy'll hear ye. Git yer hands off
en me!"

"Pappy Lon, if you leave me with Lem, then I'll jump in the river!"

She bit her lips to stifle the sobs; but still clung beseechingly to his
coat.

Lon stepped backward from the chair, and whirled about so quickly that
his coat was jerked from Fledra's grasp.

"Then I'll take Fluke, and what I won't do to him ain't worth speakin'
'bout." He glanced at her face and stopped. Never had he seen such an
expression. Her bleeding lips and flaring eyes sent him a step from her.

"If you leave me with Lem," she hissed her repetition, "then I'll jump
in the river!" Seeing that he hesitated, she went on, "You stay right
in here with Lem and me, Pappy Lon, and when we get to the hut I'll do
what you tell me."

Fledra heard Lem drop the old boot he had been mending and advance
toward her. She turned upon him, and the scowman halted.

"I said as how I'd settle with ye, Flea," he said, "and now I'm goin'
to."

But Lon glared so fiercely that Crabbe closed his mouth and retreated.

"It ain't time fer ye to settle yet, Lem, I'm a thinkin'," said Lon. "Ye
keep shet up, or I'll settle with ye afore ye has a chance to fix Flea."
Turning to the girl, he questioned her. "Did ye tell anyone ye was goin'
with me?" Fledra nodded her head. "Did ye tell Flukey?"

"Yes, and Mr. Shellington. But I told them both that I came of my own
free will. But you know I came because I wanted Mr. Shellington to live
and Flukey to stay where he is. But I ain't going to be alone in this
room with Lem tonight--I tell you that!"

Lon sat down and smoked moodily on his pipe. After a few minutes'
thought he said:

"Ye can sleep in that back room where ye put the dorg, Flea, and if
there's a key in the lock ye can turn it. You come up to the deck with
me, Lem."

With a dark scowl, the scowman followed the squatter upstairs. He had
reckoned that the hour to take Flea was near; but Lon's heavy hand held
him back. When they were standing side by side in the darkness of the
barge-deck, Cronk spoke.

"Lem," he said, "I told ye before that Flea ain't like Flukey. She'd
just as soon throw herself into that water as she'd look at ye. She
ain't afraid of nothin' but you, and ye've got to keep yer hands offen
her till I git her foul, do ye hear?"

"Ye ain't keepin' me away just fer the sake of that high-toned
Brimbecomb pup, be ye, Lon?"

"Nope. I'd rather you'd have her, Lem, 'cause ye'll beat her and make
her wish a hundred times a day that she'd drowned herself. I say, if ye
let me fix this thing, ye'll come out on the top of the heap. If ye
don't, she'll raise a fuss, and, if that damned governor gets wind of
it, he might catch on that the kid be his. He'd run us both down afore
ye could say jackrabbit. Ye let Flea alone till I say ye can have her."

"If yer dealin' fair--"

The squatter interrupted his companion with an angry growl.

"Have I ever cheated ye out of any money?"

"Nope," answered Lem.

"Then I won't cheat ye out of no girl; fer I love a five-cent piece
better'n Flea any time. Now, shet up, and we'll go down to sleep!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Fledra fled into the back room, and, closing the door quickly, slipped
the bolt. She glanced about the cabin, which through the candlelight
looked dirty and miserably mean. But it was a haven of escape from Lem,
and she welcomed it. A large can of tobacco was on a wooden box. Fledra
knew this belonged to the canalman and that he would come after it. She
picked it up, and, opening the door, shoved it far into the other room.
She could bear Lon's muttering voice on the deck above, and the swish of
the water as the tug pulled the scow along. Once more she carefully
locked the cabin door, and then, with a sob, dropped to her knees,
burying her face in the coarse blanket that covered the bunk. Long and
wildly she wept, her sobs frequently stopping the utterance of an
attempted prayer. Finally her exhaustion overcame her, and she fell into
a troubled sleep.



CHAPTER THIRTY


When Fledra opened her eyes the next morning she could not at first
realize where she was. When she did she rose from the bed fully dressed;
for she had taken off none of her clothing the night before. She drew a
long breath as she realized that she would not be pestered by Lem during
the trip to Ithaca. Peering through the small cabin window, she could
see that they were slowly passing the farms on the banks of the river as
the barge was towed slowly through the water. The peace of spring
overspread each field, covering the land as far as the girl could see.
Herds of cattle grazed calmly on the hills, and she could hear the faint
tinkling of their bells above the chug-chug of Middy's small steamer
ahead. At intervals fleets of barges, pulled along by struggling little
tugboats, passed between her and the bank. These would see
Tarrytown--the promised land of Screech Owl's prophecy, the paradise she
had been forced to leave! The light of self-sacrifice shone in her
uplifted eyes, and many times her sight was blurred by tears; but no
thought of escape from Lem and Lon came to her mind. To reenter her
promised land would place her beloved ones in jeopardy.

Her reverie left her at a call from Lon, and she unfastened the
cabin-door.

"Come out and get the breakfast fer us, Kid," ordered the squatter.

Fledra left the little room and mechanically prepared the coarse food.
When it was ready, she took her seat opposite Cronk, and Lem dragged a
chair to the table by the aid of the hook on his arm.

"Ye're feelin' more pert this mornin', Flea," said Lon, after drinking a
cup of black coffee.

"Yes," replied Flea faintly.

"And are ye goin' to mind yer pappy now?" pursued Lon.

"Yes, after we get to Ithaca," murmured Fledra.

"Tell me what ye said to Flukey in yer note."

"I told him he could stay with Brother Horace; but that I'd go with you,
and--"

Her slow precise speech made a decided impression upon Lem; for he
ceased eating and stared at her open-mouthed. But Cronk brought his fist
down on the table with a thump that rattled the tin dishes.

"Don't be puttin' on no guff with me, brat!" he shouted. "Ye talk as I
teeched ye to, and not as them other folks do."

Fledra fell into a resentful silence.

After a few seconds, Cronk said:

"Now, go on, Kid, and tell me what ye told him."

"If you won't let me speak as I like, Pappy Lon, then I'll keep still."

The girl faced him with brave unconcern, with such reckless defiance
that Lon drew down his already darkened brow.

"Yer gettin' sassy!" Lem grunted, with his mouth full of food.

Cronk held his peace. He peered at her covertly, as if he would discover
what had so changed her since the night before. Her dignity, the haughty
poise of her head as she looked straight at him, filled him with
something like dismay. Would Lem be able to subdue her with brute force?
The scowman also observed her stealthily, compared her to Scraggy, and
wondered. They both waited for Fledra to continue; but during the rest
of the meal she did not speak again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Shellington was deeply surprised when the deputy met her with an
open letter in his hand, and said:

"The court has called me away, Ma'm. I guess your troubles are all
over."

For a moment Ann did not comprehend the meaning of his words. Then she
laid a trembling hand on his arm and faltered:

"Possibly they'll send someone else; but I'd much rather you'd stay. We
are--we are used to you."

"Thanks, Ma'm; but no one else won't come--the case has been called
off."

Increasing excitement reddened Miss Shellington's cheeks.

"Oh, do you think they are going to leave them here with us?"

The deputy buttoned his coat and put on his hat.

"I'm sure I don't know; but I'd almost think so, or I wouldn't have got
this order." He tapped his breast-pocket and made as if to go; but he
faced the other once more instead, with slightly rising color. "You
still have your doctor's orders, Miss, that nobody can take the boy away
for sometime; so don't worry. And, Ma'm," the red in his face deepened,
"you ain't prayed all these weeks for nothing. I ain't much on praying
myself; but I've got a lot of faith in a pretty, good young lady when
she does it. Goodby, Ma'm."

As Ann bade the officer farewell, the relief from haunting fears and
racking possibilities almost overcame her. She went back to Floyd,
resolutely holding up under the strain. She told him that the stranger
had gone; but that, as she had received no communication, she did not
know the next steps that would be taken.

It was nearly nine o'clock when Ann tapped softly upon Fledra's door.
There had been no sign of life from the blue room that morning; for Miss
Shellington had given orders that Fledra be allowed to sleep if she so
wished. Now, however, she wanted the girl to come to the dining-room to
welcome Flukey to his first meal at the table and to learn that the
deputy had been withdrawn. When no voice answered her knock, Ann turned
the handle of the door and peeped in. Fledra's bed was open, and looked
as if its occupant had just got up. Miss Shellington passed through to
the bathroom, and called. She ran back hastily to the bed and put her
hand upon it. The sheets were cold, while the pillow showed only a faint
impression where Fledra's dark head had rested. Miss Shellington paused
and glanced about, fright taking the place of expectancy on her face.
She hurried to the open window and looked out. Then she rushed to the
kitchen and questioned the servants. None of them had seen Fledra, all
were earnestly certain that the girl had not been about the house during
the morning. Ann thought of Floyd, and for the nonce her fears were
forced aside. In spite of her anxiety, she had a smile on her lips as
she entered the breakfast-room and took her seat opposite the boy.

"We'll have to eat without Sister this morning," she said gently to the
convalescent. "She's a tired little girl."

"She'd be glad to see me here," said Floyd wistfully. "Sister Ann,
what's the matter with Fledra?"

Miss Shellington would have given much to have been able to answer this
question. Finally her alarm became so strong that she left her breakfast
unfinished, and, unknown to Floyd, instituted a systematic search for
the girl. Many were the excuses she made to the waiting young brother as
the day lengthened hour by hour. Again and again he demanded that
Fledra be brought to him. At length the parrying of his questions by
Miss Shellington aroused his suspicions, so that he grew nervous and
fretful. Five o'clock came, and yet no tidings of the girl. Ann's
anxiety had now become distraction; for her brother's absence threw upon
her shoulders the responsibility of the girl's disappearance, and the
care of Floyd should he suffer a relapse. Her perturbation became so
unbearable that she put her pride from her, and sought the aid of
Everett Brimbecomb.

She called him on the telephone, and, when his voice answered her
clearly over the wire, she felt again all her old desire to be with him;
her agitation and uncertainty increased her longing.

"Everett, I'm in dreadful trouble. Can't you come over a moment?"

"Of course, dear girl. I'll come right away."

Not many minutes later Ann herself ushered Everett into the
drawing-room, where she had spent such happy hours with him. But, when
they were alone, her distrust of him once more took possession of her,
and she looked sharply at him as she asked:

"Everett, do you know where Fledra has gone?"

"Who? Fledra Vandecar?" His taunt was untimely, and his daring smile
changed her distrust to repulsion.

"No; you know whom I mean--Fledra Cronk. She's, not here. Horace has
gone away for a few days, and I'm wild with anxiety. Will you help me
find her, Everett? She must be here with us until it is decided which
way the matter will go."

They had been standing apart; but the girl's words drew him closer, and
he took her hand in his. He had truly missed her, and was glad to be in
her confidence once more.

"Ann, you've never been frank with me in this matter; but I'm going to
return good for evil. I really don't know where the girl is; still,
anything I can do I will. But I do know that her father has seen her;
for he told me about it. It was--"

Ann cut him off with a sharp cry:

"But he's seen her only the once, Everett--only that one afternoon when
he first came."

This time Everett answered with heart-rending deliberateness:

"You're mistaken, Ann. Your paragon got out of the window when you were
all asleep," Ann's sudden pallor disturbed the lawyer only an instant,
and, not heeding her clutch on his arm or a pained ejaculation from her,
he proceeded, "and went to her father. He told me this. Ann, don't be
stupid. Don't totter that way. Sit down, here, child. No, don't push me
away.... Well, as you please!"

"Oh, you seem so heartless about it," gasped Ann, "when you know how
Horace loves her!"

Miss Shellington did not notice the smile that crossed his lips as he
looked down at her, or the triumph in his eyes when he said:

"But, Ann, I've told you only what you've asked of me. I think you're
rather unkind, Dear."

"I don't intend to be," she moaned, leaning back and closing her eyes.
"Oh! she was with us so long! What shall I say to Horace?"

"Didn't you say he was out of town?"

"Yes, for four or five days," Ann put the wrong meaning to Everett's
deep sigh, and she finished; "but I'm going to send for him."

"And, pray, what can he do? The girl is gone, and that ends it."

"But Horace might ascertain if she had been forced to go."

Brimbecomb laughed low.

"No one could force her to jump from the window of her bedroom."

"Everett, Fledra has always said that she hated her father, and that she
never wanted to go back to him, because he abused both her and her
brother."

"Yes, so you told me before, and I think I remember telling you that you
were making a mistake in trusting in her truthfulness. It seems her
brother told her that he did not wish to return with the squatter; so
she left him here with you. For my part," Everett pressed closer to her,
"I'm glad that she is gone. The coming of those children completely
changed both you and Horace. You'll get used to ingratitude before
you've done much charity work."

Ann's intuition increased her disbelief in the man opposite her.

"Everett, will you swear to me that you had nothing to do with her
going?"

Brimbecomb swore glibly enough, and supplemented his oath with:

"I've always felt, though, that you should not have them here; and I
can't say that I shouldn't have taken them away, if I could, Ann. Don't
you think we could overlook past unpleasantness, and let our
arrangements go on as we intended they should?"

Ann rose hastily to her feet. She was sorely tempted to fall into his
arms. How handsome he looked, how strongly his eyes pleaded with her!
But her vague fears and distrust held her back. She sank again to the
chair.

"No, no--not just yet, Everett," she said. "I've loved you dearly; but I
can't understand Fledra's disappearance. Oh, I--I don't know how to
meet Horace! He loved and trusted her so!" Again she looked at him with
indecision. "Come back to me, Dear," she whispered, "when it is all
over. I'm so unhappy today!"



CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE


Floyd raised his head when Ann bent over him. Agitation and sorrow had
so altered her that the change brought him to a half-sitting position.

"Flea's sick, I bet!" he burst out, without waiting to be addressed.
"Don't try to fool me, Sister Ann."

As his suspicion grew within him, his eyes traveled over her face again
and again; then he put his feet on the floor and stood up.

"Ye didn't tell me the truth this morning, did ye?"

Miss Shellington forced him gently back on the divan, and sat down
beside him.

"I'd hoped, Floyd, dear," she said tremblingly, "that we were all going
to be happy. You must be brave and help me, won't you? If you should
become ill again, I think I should die."

"Then, tell me about Flea. Has Pappy Lon--"

"Fledra went back to him last night of her own free will."

With eyes growing wide from fear, Floyd stared at her.

"I don't know what you mean! Did she tell ye she was a goin'?"

"No, Dear. This morning Fledra was not in her bedroom, and for awhile I
thought she had not heeded our cautions, but had gone out for a walk.
But Mr. Brimbecomb has just told me that Fledra went back with your
father, and that, she had not been forced to go."

"I don't believe it!" The boy's voice was sharp with agony. "Pappy Lon
made her go--ye can bet on that, Sister Ann! Flea wouldn't go back
there without a reason. I bet that big duffer of yours had a finger in
the pie."

Ann flushed painfully.

"Floyd, dear, don't, I beg of you!"

"I'm sorry I said that, Sister Ann. But Flea didn't go for nothin'.
Sister Ann, will you and Brother Horace find out why she went? I have to
go, too, if Flea's in the hut. Pappy Lon and Lem'll kill her!"

He attempted to rise; but Ann's restraining hand held him back.

"Floyd, Floyd, dear, we don't know where she's gone; but my brother will
come soon, and he'll find her. He won't let Fledra be kept from us, if
she wants to come back."

The boy's rigid body did not relax at her assurance, nor did her
argument lessen his determination.

"But what about Lem? You don't know Lem, Sister Ann. He's the worst man
I ever see. I've got to go and get my sister!"

"Floyd, you'd die if you should try to go out now. Why, Dear, you can
scarcely stand. Now, listen! I'll send a telegram to my brother, and
he'll be right back. Then, if you are determined to go, and can, he'll
take you. Why, child, you haven't been out in weeks!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days crawled slowly along, and yet Horace made no response to the
many frantic telegrams that Ann had sent. Never had the hours seemed so
leaden-winged as those passed waiting for him to come. Ann had received
one note from him, and three letters for Fledra lay unopened in the
girl's room. His note to Ann was from Boston, and she immediately sent a
despatch to him there.

On the fourth day after Fledra's disappearance, when Ann met her
brother, one glance told her that he was unaware of their trouble.

"Oh, Horace, I thought you'd never get here! Didn't you receive any of
my telegrams?"

"No! What's the matter? Has something happened to Floyd? Where's
Fledra?"

"Gone!" gasped Ann.

"Gone! Gone where?"

His voice was filled with imperious questioning, and Ann stifled her
sobs.

"I know only what Everett has told me. When we got up the morning after
you left, she was gone. I called Everett over, and he told me she went
with her father of her own free will. The squatter told him so."

"He's a liar! And if he's inveigled that girl--"

Ann's loyalty to Everett forced her to say:

"Hush, Horace! You've no right to say anything against him until you are
sure."

Shellington took several rapid strides around the room.

"If I'd only known it before!"

"I've tried to reach you," Ann broke in; "but my messages could not have
been delivered."

"Oh, I'm not blaming you, Ann," he said in a lower tone. "But those men
in some way have forced her to go. I'm sure of it! Fledra would never
have gone with them willingly. Did she leave no message, no word? Have
you searched my room? Have you looked every where?"

"No, I didn't look in your room--it didn't enter my mind. Why didn't I
think of that before? Come, we'll look now."

Under the large blotter on his desk Horace found the two tear-stained
letters Fledra had left. With a groan the frantic lover tore open the
one directed to him and read it.

"She's gone with them!" he said slowly in a hollow voice, and sank into
a chair.

Miss Shellington took the note from his outstretched hand, and read:

     "_Mr. Shellington_.--

     "I'm going away because I don't like your house any more. Let Floyd
     stay and let your sister take care of him like when I was here.
     Give him this letter and tell him I'll love him every day. I took
     Snatchet because I thought I'd be lonely. Goodby."

The last words were almost illegible. With twitching face, Ann handed
the letter back to Horace.

In the man before her she almost failed to recognize her brother, so
great was the change that had come over him. She threw her arms tenderly
about him, and for many minutes neither spoke. At length, with a start,
Horace loosened his sister's arms and stood up.

"Give Floyd his note--and leave me alone for a while, Dear."

His tone served to hasten Ann's ready obedience. She took the note for
Floyd and went out.

Four times Horace read and reread his letter. He was tortured with a
thousand fears. Where had she gone, and with whom? And why should she
have left him, when she had so constantly and sincerely evinced her love
for him? She could not have gone back to the squatters; for her hatred
of them had been intense. He remembered what she had told him of Lem
Crabbe--and sprang to his feet with an oath. Hot blood rushed to his
fingertips, and left them dripping with perspiration. He fought with a
desire to kill someone; but banished the thought that Fledra had not
held faith with him. He called to mind her affection and passionate
devotion, and knew that to doubt her would be unjust. But, if to leave
him had made her unhappy, why had she gone? He thought of Floyd's
letter, and a sudden wish to read it seized him.

When he entered the boy's room Floyd was lying flat on his back, staring
fixedly at Miss Shellington, who was deciphering the letter for him. She
ceased reading when her brother appeared.

"Horace," she said, rising, "Floyd says he doesn't believe that Fledra
went of her own free will. He thinks she was forced in some way."

Horace stooped and looked into the boy's white face, at the same time
taking Fledra's letter from Ann.

"Flea can't make me think, Brother Horace," said Flukey, "that she went
'cause she wanted to. Pappy Lon made her go, I bet! There's something we
don't know. I want you to take me up there to Ithaca, and when I get
there I can find her. Prayin' won't keep her from Lem. We've got to do
something."

Horace shot a glance of inquiry at his sister.

"We prayed every morning, Dear," she said simply, "that our little girl
might be protected from harm."

"She shall be protected, and I will protect her! Where's the deputy?"

"They called him away the morning Fledra left."

"May I read your letter, Floyd?"

"Sure!" replied the boy wearily.

Shellington's eyes sought the paper in his hand:

     "_Floyd love_.--

     "I'm going away, but I will love you every day I live. Floyd, could
     you ask Sister Ann to pray for everyone--me, too? Forgive me for
     taking Snatchet--I wanted him awfully. You be good to Sister Ann
     and always love Brother Horace and mind every word he says. I'm
     going away because I want to. Remember that, Floyd dear, goodby.

     "FLEDRA."

After finishing the letter, Horace said to Ann, "I must see Brimbecomb
at once." And he turned abruptly and went out. Ann followed him
hurriedly.

"Horace, dear, you won't quarrel with him, for my sake."

"Not unless he had a hand in taking her away. God! I'm so troubled I
can't think."

Ann watched him go to the telephone; then, with a premonition of even
greater coming evil, she crept back to Floyd.



CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO


When Horace ushered Brimbecomb into his home, so firm was his belief
that the young lawyer had been instrumental in removing Fledra that he
restrained himself with difficulty from wringing a confession from the
man by violence. For many moments he could not bring himself to broach
the subject of which his mind was so full. Everett, however, soon led to
the disappearance of the girl.

"I'm glad you telephoned me so soon after your arrival," said
Brimbecomb. "I was just starting for the station. If you hadn't, I
shouldn't have seen you. I had something to say to you."

"And I have something to say to you," said Horace, his eyes steadily
leveled at the man before him. "Where is Fledra Cronk?"

Everett's confidence gave him a power that was not to be daunted by this
direct question.

"My dear fellow," he replied calmly, "I don't exactly know where she is;
but I can say that I've had a note from her father, telling me that she
was with him in New York, and safe. I suppose it won't be necessary to
tell you that she was not compelled to go?"

Horace whitened with suppressed rage. He was now convinced that the
suavity of his colleague concealed a craftiness he had never suspected,
and he felt sure that Everett had taken advantage of his absence to
strike an underhanded blow. Banishing a desire to fell the other to the
floor and then choke the secret from him, he decided to ply all the
craft of his profession, and draw the knowledge from Brimbecomb by a
series of pertinent queries.

"May I see the communication you have received from Cronk?"

Everett seemed to have expected the question; for he made a brave
pretense of looking through his wallet for the fictitious letter. He
took up the space of several minutes, arranging and rearranging the
documents. Then, as he looked at Horace, a paper fluttered to the floor,
unobserved by him.

"On second thought," said he, "I think it wouldn't be quite right to
show you a private letter from one of my clients. I have told you enough
already. I'm sorry, but it's impossible for me to let you see it."

Everett mentally congratulated himself upon his diplomacy, while Horace
bit his lip until it was ridged white. In his disappointment he cast
down his eyes, and then it was that his attention was called to the
paper Brimbecomb had dropped on the floor. He changed his position, and
when he came to a standstill his foot was planted squarely on the paper.
For a moment Horace was under the impression that Everett had seen him
cover the letter; but the unruffled egotism on the face of the other
betrayed no suspicion.

"Who ordered the withdrawal of the deputy?" Horace demanded.

Everett knew that the lies he told would have to be consistent; so he
repeated what he had said to Ann.

"I don't know," Everett said. "I didn't."

Horace gazed at his companion for several seconds.

"Something tells me that you're lying," he said finally.

An evil change of expression was the only external sign of Brimbecomb's
longing to throttle Horace.

"A compliment, I must say, my dear Shellington," he said; "and the only
reason I have for not punching you is--Ann."

The other's eyes narrowed ominously.

"Ann is the one who is keeping me from thumping you, Brimbecomb. If you
know anything of Fledra Cronk, I want you to tell me."

"I've told you all I know," Everett answered.

"For Ann's sake, I hope you've told me the truth; but, if you haven't,
and have done anything to my little girl, then God protect you!"

The last words were uttered with such emotional decision that Everett's
first real fear rose within him. With difficulty he held back a torrent
of words by which he might exonerate himself. Instead, he said:

"Some day, Shellington, you'll apologize to me for your implied
accusation. You have taken--"

"Pardon me," Horace interrupted, "but I must ask you to leave. I'm going
to Governor Vandecar."

No sooner had his visitor closed the door than Horace stooped and picked
up the paper from under his foot. Going to the window, he opened the
sheet, smoothed it out, and read:

     "_Mr. Brimbecomb_.--

     "I told you I got the letter you wrote me, and you know I can't
     ever love you. I hate your kisses--they made me lie to Sister Ann,
     and I couldn't tell Brother Horace how it happened. I am going back
     to Lem and Pappy Lon to Ithaca because you and Pappy Lon said as
     how I must or they would kill Brother Horace. But I hate you, I
     hate you--and I will always hate you.

     FLEDRA CRONK."

Like a brand of fire, every word seared the reader's brain. As his hand
crushed the letter, Horace's head dropped down on his arm, and deep sobs
shook him. The girl had gone for his sake, and was now braving
unspeakable dangers to save him from an evil trumped up by his enemies.
Tense-muscled, he sprang to his feet and rushed into the hall.

"My God! What a fool I've been! Ann, Ann! Here, read this!" His words,
pronounced in a voice unlike his own, were almost incoherent. He threw
the paper at the trembling girl, as he continued, "Brimbecomb dropped it
on the floor. Now I think Governor Vandecar will help me! I'm going to
Ithaca!"

With the letter held tightly in her hands, the woman read over twice the
pitiful denunciation; then, tearless and strong, she went to her
brother.

"What--what are you going to do for her first, Dear?"

"I must go to Albany and see the governor."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the flurry of the departure little more was said, and before an hour
had passed Horace Shellington had taken the train for Albany. He had
instructed Ann to tell Floyd what had induced Fledra to leave them, and
Ann lost no time in communicating the contents of the little
tear-stained letter written to Everett.

Later in the day Ann received a telegram from her brother in which she
learned that he had missed the governor, who was on his way to
Tarrytown. Horace said, also, that he himself was starting for Ithaca by
way of Auburn. Ann sat down beside Floyd and read the message to him.

"Did he say," asked the boy, "that the governor was comin' here to
Tarrytown?"

"Yes."

For many moments Floyd lay deep in thought.

"I'm goin' to Governor Vandecar's myself. If he's the big man ye say he
is, then he can help us. Get me my clothes, Sister Ann."

"It won't do any good, Floyd," argued Ann. "Governor Vandecar has always
thought that your father ought to have his children. He doesn't realize
how you've suffered through him."

"I'm goin', anyway," insisted Floyd doggedly. "Get my clothes, Sister
Ann. I can walk."

"No, you mustn't walk, Deary, you can't; we'll drive. But I wish you
wouldn't go out at all, Floyd. Do listen to me!"

"But I must go. Please, get my clothes."

After brief, but vain, arguing, Ann yielded to Floyd's entreaties.



CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE


The governor, meditating in his library, was disturbed by a ring at the
front door. The servant opened it, and he heard Miss Shellington's voice
without.

In a moment Ann entered, white and flurried.

"I want you to pardon me, Floyd," she begged, "but that boy of ours
insisted upon coming to see you. He would have come alone, had I refused
to accompany him. Will you be kind to him for my sake? He is so
miserable over his sister!"

Vandecar clasped her extended hands and smiled upon her.

"I'll be kind to him for his own sake, little friend. Mrs. Vandecar told
me of her talk with Horace over the telephone, and I was awfully sorry
to have missed him. But the little boy, where is he?"

Miss Shellington threw open the door, and Vandecar's gaze fell upon a
tall boy, straight and slim, who pierced him with eyes that startled him
into a vague apprehension. He did not utter a word--he seemed to be
choked as effectually as if strong fingers were sunk into his throat.

Floyd loosened his hands from Ann's and stepped forward.

"I'm Flukey Cronk, Sir," he broke forth, "and Pappy Lon Cronk stole my
sister Flea, and he's goin' to give her to Lem Crabbe to be his woman,
and Lem won't marry her, either. Will ye help me to get her back?
Brother Horace said as how ye could. Pappy Lon's a thief, too, and so is
Lem. If ye'd see Lem Crabbe, ye'd help my sister."

Ann saw two pairs of mottled brown eyes staring at each other, and, as
she listened to Floyd's petition, the likeness of the boy to the man
struck her forcibly. The expression that swept over Governor Vandecar's
face frightened her, and she held her breath. But quicker than hers had
been the thoughts of the man. He staggered at the name of "Lon Cronk,"
and his mind coursed back to a heart-rending scene, to hear again the
deep voice of a big-shouldered thief pleading for a sick woman. Again he
saw the huge form of the squatter loom up before him, and heard once
more the frantic prayer for a week's freedom. He had not taken his eyes
from the boy's, and a weakening of his knees compelled him to grip the
back of the chair for support. With a voice thickened to huskiness, he
stammered:

"What--what did you say your father's name was, boy?"

"Lon Cronk, Sir--and he's the worst man ye ever see. I bet he's the
worst man in the state--only Lem Crabbe! He beat my sister, and were
makin' me a thief."

Governor Vandecar dropped into his desk-chair. For a space of time his
face was concealed from Ann and Floyd by his quivering hand. When he
looked up, the joy in his eyes formed a strange contrast to Ann's
tearful face. Floyd, thinking the change in the governor boded well for
Fledra, advanced a step.

"Sit down, boy," said the governor in a voice that was still hoarse.
"Now, then, answer me a few questions. Did your father ever live in
Syracuse?"

"Yep, me and Flea were born there."

"How old are you?"

"Comin' sixteen."

"And your sister? Tell me about her. Is she--how old is she?"

"We be twins," replied Floyd steadily.

The girl, watching the unfolding of a life's tragedy, was silent even to
hushing her breathing. The truth was slowly dawning upon her. How well
she knew the story of the kidnapped children! How often had her own
heart bled for the tender mother, spending endless days in vain
mourning! She saw Governor Vandecar stand, saw him sway a little, and
then turn toward the door.

"Governor, Governor!" she called tremulously, "I feel as if I were going
to faint. Oh, can't you see it all? Where is Mrs. Vandecar?"

"Stay, Ann, stay! Wait! Boy, have you ever had any reason to believe
that you were not the son of Lon Cronk?" Through fear of making a
mistake, he had asked this question. He knew that, should he plant false
hope in the timid mother he had shielded for years, she would be unable
to bear it.

"Nope," replied Floyd wonderingly; "only that he hated me and Flea. He
were awful to us sometimes."

"There can be no mistake," Ann thrust in. "He looks too much like you,
and the girl is exactly like him.... Oh, Floyd!"

Vandecar extended his arms, and, with a sob that shook his soul, drew
his boy to him.

"You're not Cronk's son," he said; "you're mine!... God! Ann, you'll
never know just how I feel toward you and Horace. You've made me your
life debtor; but, of course--of course, I didn't know, did I?" Then,
startled by a new thought, he realized Floyd. "But my girl!"

"Horace has gone for her," Ann cried.

"And I will follow him," groaned Vandecar. "Horace--and he could not
interest me in my own babies! If I'd helped him, my little girl wouldn't
have been taken away!"

In the man's breakdown, Ann's calm disappeared. Unable to restrain her
tears, she fluttered about, first to Floyd, then to his father, kissing
the boy again and again, assuring and reassuring the governor.

"Just remember," she whispered, bending over the sobbing man, "Horace
loves her better than anything in the world. Listen, Floyd! He's going
to marry her. Don't you think he'll do everything in his power to save
her?... Don't--don't sob that way!"

Of a sudden Vandecar leaped to his feet. Brushing a lock of white hair
from his damp brow, he turned to Floyd.

"Before I do anything else, I must take you to your mother."

"But ain't ye goin' for Flea?" demanded Floyd.

"Of course, I am going for my girl," cried Vandecar, "as fast as a train
can take me!" He turned suddenly and placed his firm hands on the boy's
shoulders. "Before I take you upstairs, boy, listen to me! You've a
little mother, a sick little mother who has mourned you and your sister
for years. I'm going to leave her with you while I'm gone for your
sister. Your mother is ill, and--and needs you!"

Still more interested in his absent sister than in his newly found
parent, Floyd put in:

"I'll do anything ye say, if ye'll go for Flea."

Ann touched the father's arm gently.

"Come upstairs now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Vandecar was alone when her husband entered. She was sitting near
the window, her eyes pensive and sad. The governor advanced a step,
thrusting back the desire to blurt out the truth. The woman glanced into
his eyes, and the change there brought her to her feet. Her face paled,
and she put out her slender, trembling hands.

"There's something the matter, Floyd.... What's--what's happened?... I
heard the bell ring."

In an instant he crushed her to him, and in an agitated voice whispered
gently:

"Darling, can you stand very good news--very, very good news, indeed?...
No, no; if you tremble like that, I sha'n't tell you. It's only when you
promise me--"

"I promise, I promise, Floyd! Is it anything about our--our children?"

"Yes--I have found them!"

How many times for lesser things had she fainted! How many hours had she
lain too weak to speak! He expected her now to evince her frail spirit.
He felt her shiver, felt her muscles tighten, until she seemed to grow
taller as he held her. Then she drooped a little, as if afraid. Dazedly
she brushed back her tumbled hair, her eyes flashing past him in the
direction of the door.

"Bring--bring them--to--me!" she breathed.

Just how to explain her daughter's danger pressed heavily upon him. He
dared not picture Lon Cronk or the man Floyd had described. To gain a
moment, he said:

"I will, Dear; but only one of them is here. The other one--"

"Which one is here?"

"The boy, Sweetheart, our own Floyd."

Although she was shaking like a leaf, Vandecar saw that she was not
fainting, and when she struggled to be free he released her. She
staggered a little, and said helplessly:

"Then, why--why don't you bring--him to me?"

"I will, if you'll sit down and let me tell you something." He knelt
beside her and spoke tenderly:

"Sweetheart, our children have been near us for months. They came to Ann
and Horace--"

Fledra Vandecar gave a glad little cry.

"It was he, then, the pretty boy that prayed! Oh, Floyd, something told
me! But you said he was here alone. Where is my girl?"

"That's what I want to tell you, Fledra. Look at me, dear heart."

The eyes, wandering first from his face, then to the door, fell upon
him. They seemed to demand the truth, and he dared not utter a lie to
her.

"By some crooked work, which Everett and the squatter--"

His words brought back Horace's story. A strange horror paled her cheeks
and widened her eyes.

"That man, the one who called himself her father, took her back to
Ithaca. Is that what you wanted to tell me?"

As she attempted to rise, Vandecar pushed her gently back into the chair
and said:

"I'm going for her, Beloved, and Horace has already gone--Wait--wait!"

Vandecar was at the door in an instant, and when he opened it Ann
appeared, leading Floyd by the hand. Mrs. Vandecar's eyes fastened
themselves upon the boy, and, when Ann pushed him toward her, she rose
and held out her arms.

Floyd was taller than she, and he stood considering her calmly, almost
critically. He had been told by Miss Shellington that he would see his
mother, and as he looked a hundred things tore through his mind in a
single instant. This little woman, with fluttering white hands extended
toward him, was his--his very own! He felt suddenly uplifted with a
masculine desire to protect her. She looked so tiny, so frail! He was
filled with strength and power, and so glad was his heart that it sang
loudly and thumped until he heard a buzzing behind his ears. Suddenly he
blurted out:

"I'd a known ye were mine if I'd a met ye any place!"

Governor Vandecar hurriedly left them and telephoned for a special train
to take him to Ithaca. He entered his library and summoned Katherine. He
talked long to her in low tones, and when he had finished he put his arm
about the weeping girl and said softly:

"And you'll come with us, Katherine, dear, and help me bring back my
girl? I shall ask Ann to go with us."

"Oh, uncle, dear, you know I will go! And, oh, how glad I am that you've
found them!"

"Thank you, child. Now, if you'll run away and make the necessary
preparations, we'll start immediately."



CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR


During the days of the passage through the Erie Canal, Fledra had
remained on the deck of the scow when it was light. The spring days were
beautiful, too beautiful to be in accord with her sadness. Yet only when
they entered into Cayuga Lake did acute apprehension rise within her.
They were now in familiar waters, and she knew the end would soon come.
At every thought of Lem, Fledra shuddered; for never did his eyes rest
upon her, nor did he approach her, but that she felt the terror of his
presence--the sight of him sent a wave of horror through her. Much as
she dreaded the wrath of Cronk, much more did she fear Crabbe's eyes,
when, half-covered with squinting lids, they pierced her like gimlets.
Snatchet was her only comfort, and she lavished infinite affection upon
him. Night crowded the day from over Cayuga, and still Fledra and
Snatchet remained in the corner, near the top of the stairs. The girl
watched pensively the lights upon the hills lose their steadiness, as
the scow drew farther away from them, until with a final twinkle they
disappeared into the darkness behind. The churning of the tug's
propeller dinned continually in Flea's ears; but was not loud enough to
make inaudible the sound of a footstep. Lon came to the top of the
stairs; but did not speak. He shuffled to the boat's bow, and with a
mighty voice bawled to Burnes:

"Slack up a little, Middy! I want to come aboard the tug."

The words floated back to Fledra, and she half-rose, but again sank to
the deck. Lon was leaving her alone with Lem! The tug stopped, and the
momentum of the barge sent it close to the little steamer. When the gap
between the boats was not too wide, Lon sprang to the stern of the tug,
and again Middy's small craft pulsated with life, and again the rope
stretched taut between the two vessels.

As the gloom of the night deepened, Fledra could no more discern the
outline of the steamer ahead, only its stern light disclosing its
position. For some moments she scarcely dared breathe. Suddenly a light
burst over the crest of the hills opposite, and the edge of the moon's
disk rose higher and higher, until the glowing ball threw its soft, pale
light over Cayuga and the surrounding country. Once more the tug took
form, and the deck of the scow was revealed to the girl in all its
murkiness. Shaking with anxiety, she allowed her eyes to rove about
until they riveted themselves upon two glittering spots peering at her
over the top step from the shadow of the stairway. A low growl from
Snatchet did not disturb the fascination the evil eyes held for her. It
seemed as if goblin hands reached out to touch her; as if supernatural
objects and evil human things menaced her from all sides. The crouching
figure of the scowman became more distinct as he sneaked over the top
step and edged toward her. A sudden morbid desire came over the girl to
throw herself into the water. She rose unsteadily to her feet, with
Snatchet still clutched in her arms. She threw one appealing glance at
the tug--then, before she could cry out or move, Lem was at her side.

"Don't ye so much as open yer gab," he muttered, "or I'll hit ye with
this!"

The steel hook was held up dangerously near her face, and the threat of
it rendered her dumb.

"Yer pappy be a playin' me dirt, and I won't let him. Ye're goin' to be
my woman, if I has to kill ye! See?"

No sign of help came to the girl from the tug, nor dared she force a cry
from her lips.

"Yer pappy says as how I can't marry ye," went on Lem, in the same
whisper, "and I don't give a damn about that--- only, ye don't leave
this scow to go to no hut! Ye stay here with me!"

Fledra had wedged herself more tightly into the corner, hugging the
snarling Snatchet closer. As she backed, the scowman came nearer, his
hot breath flooding her face.

"Put down that there dorg!" he hissed. Snatchet did not cease growling,
and the baring of his teeth sent Lem back a step or two. "If he bites
me, Flea, I'll knock his brains clean plumb out of him!"

With this threat, the scowman came to her again, stretching out his left
hand to touch her. Snatchet sent out a bark that was half-yelp and
half-growl, and before the man could withdraw his fingers the dog had
buried his teeth deep in them. With a wrathful cry, the scowman jumped
back, then lunged forward, wrenched the dog from Fledra's arms, and
pitched him over the edge of the barge into the lake. The girl heard the
dog give a frightened howl, and saw the splash of water in the moonlight
as he fell.

He was all she had--a yellow bit she had taken with her from the
promised land, a morsel of the life that both she and Floyd loved. With
a shove that sent Lem backward, she freed herself and peered over the
side. Snatchet had come to the surface, and in his vain effort to reach
the scow his small paws were making large watery rings, which contorted
the reflection of the moon strangely. He seemed so little, so powerless
in the vast expanse, that Fledra, forgetful of her skirts and the
handicap they would put upon her, leaped from the scow. Lem saw the
water close over her head, and for many seconds only little bubbles and
ripples disturbed that part of the lake where her body had sunk. An
instant he stood hesitant, then he rushed to the bow.

"Lon, Lon!" he roared. "Flea's jumped overboard!"

The churning of the tug suddenly stopped, and the canalman saw Lon's big
body pass through the moonlight into the water.

The scow was soon close to the tug, and together Lem and Middy Burnes
examined the lake's surface for a sight of the man and the girl. Many
minutes passed. Then a shout from the rear sent Lem running to the stern
of the scow which was now at a standstill. He looked down, and on Lon's
arm he saw Fledra, pressing Snatchet against her breast. With his other
hand the squatter was clinging to the rudder.

"Here she is!" Cronk called. "Grab her up, Lem!"

The scowman relieved Lon of his burden and carried the half-drowned girl
below, whither the squatter, dripping with water, quickly followed.
Snatchet was directly in his path, and he kicked the dog under the
table. At the yelp, Fledra lifted her head, and Lon bent over her.

"What'd ye jump in the lake for, Flea?" he asked.

Still somewhat dazed, Fledra failed to answer.

"Were ye meanin' to drown yer self?"

The girl shook her head, and glanced fearfully at Lem. "Were ye a
worryin' her, Lem Crabbe?" demanded the squatter hoarsely.

"I were a tryin' to kiss her," growled Lem. "A man can kiss his own
woman, can't he? And that dog bit me. Look at them fingers!" Through the
dim candlelight Lem's sullenness answered the dark look that Lon threw
on him.

"I don't give a damn for yer fingers," Lon snarled, "and she ain't yer
woman yet, and she wouldn't be nuther, if ye weren't the cussedest man
livin'. Now listen while I tell ye this: If ye don't let that gal be,
ye'll never get her, and I'll smack yer head off ye, if I has to say
that again! Do ye want me to say that ye can't never have her?"

"Nope," cowered Lem.

"Then mind yer own business and get out of this here cabin! I'll see to
Flea."

Fledra had faith that Lon Cronk would do as he promised. How often had
there come to her mind the times when she was but a little girl the
squatter had said when he would whip her, and she had waited in
shivering terror through the long day until the big thief returned
home--he never forgot his anger of the morning. Fledra winced as her
imagination brought back the deliberate blows that had fallen upon her
bare skin, and tears rushed to her lids at the memory of Floyd's cries,
when he, too, had suffered under the strength of the powerful squatter.
She was glad she could now at least rest free from Lem until the hut was
reached, and then, if only something should happen to soften Cronk's
heart, how hard she would work for him!

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning the barge approached the squatter settlement, and
Fledra was once more on deck. She wondered what Floyd had said when he
received her letter, and if he believed that she had gone of her own
free will. What had Ann said--and Horace? The thought of her lover
caused bitter tears to rain between her fingers. But she stifled her
sobs, and a tiny, happy flutter brightened her heart when she thought of
how she had saved them all. Below she heard a conversation between Lem
and Lon, and listened.

She first heard the voice of the squatter: "It's almost over, Lem, and
then we'll go back to stealin' when ye get Flea. She can be a lot of use
to us."

"But what ye goin' to say to that feller if he comes up tomorry?"

"He can go to hell!" growled Cronk.

"And ye won't give the gal to him?"

"Nope."

In her fancy Fledra could see Lon draw the pipe from his lips to mutter
the words to Lem.

"If ye take his money, Lon," gurgled Lem, "ye might have to fight with
him if he don't get Flea."

The listening girl crept to the staircase and strained her ears.

"I kin fight," replied Lon laconically.

When, next day, the tug came to a standstill in front of the rocks near
the squatter's hut, Fledra went forward and touched Lon's arm. Her eyes
rested a moment upon him, before she could gather voice to say:

"Will you let me stay with you, Pappy Lon, for a few days?"

"I'll let ye stay till I tell ye to go," growled Lon, "and I don't want
no sniveling, nuther."

"When are you going to tell me to go?"

"When I like. Middy's gittin' the skiff ready to take ye out. Scoot
there, and light a fire in the hut! Here be the key to the padlock."

Fledra's heart rose a little with hope. He had not said that she had to
go with Lem that day. After she had been rowed to the shore, she went
slowly to the shanty, with a prayer upon her lips. She had no thought
that Horace would try to save her, or that he would be able to keep her
from Lem and Lon. She prepared the breakfasts for Cronk and Crabbe and
for Middy with his two helpers. During the meal four pairs of eyes
looked at the slim, lithe form as it darted to and fro, doing the many
tasks in the littered hut. Lon Cronk was the only one not to lift his
head as she passed and repassed. He sat and thought moodily by the
fire. At last he did lift his head, and Fledra's solemn gray eyes, fixed
gravely upon him, made the squatter ill at ease.

"What ye lookin' at?" he growled. "Keep your eyes to hum, and quit a
staring at me!" Fledra shrank back. "And I hate ye in them glad rags!"
Lon thundered out. "Jerk 'em off, and put on some of them togs of Granny
Cronk's! Yer a squatter, and ye'd better dress and talk like one! Do ye
hear?"

"Yes, Pappy Lon," murmured Fledra, dropping her eyes.

"I ain't said yet when ye was to go to Lem's hut; but, when I do, don't
ye kick up no row, and ye'd best do as Lem tells ye, or he'll take the
sass out of yer hide!"

"I wish I could stay with you," ventured Fledra sorrowfully; but to this
Lon did not reply. After breakfast she was left alone in the hut, and
she could hear the loud talking of the tugmen and see Lem working on the
scow.

Soon Middy Burnes' tug steamed away toward Ithaca, and Fledra knew that
she was alone with no creature between her and Lem but Lon Cronk.

When Lon and Lem returned, the hut was tidy. Fledra had hoped that if
she made it so Lon might want her to stay. She could be of much use
about the shanty. Neither of the men spoke for awhile, and Fledra held
her peace, as she sat by the low hut-window and gazed thoughtfully out
upon the lake. In the distance she could see the east shore but dimly.
Several fishing boats ran up the lake toward town. A flock of spring
birds swept breezily over the water and sought the shade of the forest.
Suddenly Lem rose up, stretched his legs, yawned, and said:

"I'm goin' out, Lon, and I'll be back in a little while. Ye'd best be a
thinkin' of what I said," he cautioned, "and keep yer eyes skinned for
travelers."

"All right. Don't be gone long, Lem," responded Lon. Fledra was not too
abstracted to notice the uneasy tone in the squatter's voice.

"Nope; I'm only goin' up the hill."

Lem had decided to reconnoiter for Scraggy. He was filled with a fear
that she might be dead; for he had left her in the hut unconscious. He
climbed the hill, and, rounding her shanty, drew nearer, and peeped into
the window. A piece of bread lying on the table, and a few embers
burning on the grate bolstered up his hope that he had not committed
murder. He drew a sigh of relief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently, after the departure of Lem, Lon stirred his feet, dragged
himself up in the chair, and turned upon the girl. Her heart beat wildly
with hope. If he would allow her to stay in the hut with him, she would
ask nothing better. His consent would come as a direct answer to prayer.
How hard she would work if Floyd and Horace were safe! Cronk coughed
behind his hand.

"Flea, turn yer head 'bout here; I want to talk to ye," he said.

The girl got up and came to his side. She was a pathetic little figure,
drooping in great fear, and hoping against hope that he would spare her.
She had dressed as he had ordered, and at her feet dragged a worn skirt
of Granny Cronk's. With trembling fingers she hitched the calico blouse
up about her shoulders.

"Flea," said Lon again, "ye came home when I said ye was to, and ye
promised that ye'd do what I said, didn't ye?"

"Yes."

"And ye remember well that I promised ye to Lem afore ye went away. I
still be goin' to keep that promise to Lem."

The bright blood that had swept her face paced back, leaving her ashen
pale. She did not speak, but swayed a little, and supported herself on
the top of his chair. Feeling her nearness, he shifted back, and the
small hand fell limply.

"Before ye go to Lem," pursued Lon, "I want to tell ye somethin'." Still
Fledra did not speak. "Ye know that it'll save Flukey, if ye mind me,
and that it don't make no difference if ye don't like Lem."

"Wouldn't it have made any difference if my mother hadn't loved you,
Pappy Lon?"

The question shot out in appeal, and Lon's swarthy face shadowed darkly.

"I never loved yer mother," he drawled, sucking hard upon his pipe.

"Then you loved another woman," went on Flea bitterly, "because I heard
you tell Lem about her. Would you have liked a man to give her to--Lem?"

As quick as lightning in the smoke came the ghost-gray phantom,
approaching from a dark corner of the shanty. Lon's eyes were strained
hard, and Fledra saw them widen and follow something in the air. She
drew back afraid. The man was staring wildly, and only he knew why he
groaned, as the wraith in the pipe-smoke broke around him and drifted
away. Fledra brought him back by repeating:

"Would ye have liked to have had Lem take her, Pappy Lon?"

"I'd a killed him," muttered Lon, as if to himself. "But ye, Flea," here
he rose and brought down his fist with a bang, "ye go where I send ye!
The woman's dead. If she wasn't, ye wouldn't have to go to Lem."

To soften him, Fledra knelt down at his feet.

"Pappy Lon," she pleaded, "you haven't got her, anyhow, and you haven't
got anybody but me. If you let me stay--"

How he hated her! How he would have liked to bruise the sweet, upturned
face, marking the white cheeks with the impressions of his fists! But he
dared not. She would run away again--and to Lem he had given the
opportunity to drag her to fathomless depths.

Fledra misread his thoughts, and said quickly:

"I wouldn't care if you beat me every day, Pappy Lon--only let me stay.
I'll work for my board. And won't you tell me about the other woman--I
don't mean my mother."

Then a diabolical thought flashed into the man's mind. He, too, could
make her suffer, even before she went to Lem. A smile twisted his lips,
and he said slowly:

"Yer mother ain't dead, Flea."

"Not dead!"

"Nope, she ain't dead."

"Then where is she?"

"None of yer business!"

Fledra clenched her hands and paled in terror. A mother somewhere living
in the world, a woman who, if she knew, would not let her be sacrificed,
who would save her from Lem, and from her father, too!

"Lon, Lon!" she cried, springing forward in desperation. "Do you know
where she is? I want to know, too."

He flung her away, a grunt of satisfaction coming from his throat.

"And I ain't yer daddy, nuther."

"Then you're not Flukey's father, either?" she whispered.

"Nope; yer pappy and mammy both be livin' and waitin' fer ye. They've
been lookin' fer ye fer years--and yet they'll never git ye. Do ye
hear, Flea? I hate 'em both so that I could kill ye--I could tear yer
throat open with these!" The squatter put his strong, crooked fingers in
the girl's face.

A sudden resolution pumped the blood to the girl's cheeks.

"I'm not going to stay here!" was all she said.

Lon lifted his fist and stood up.

"Where ye goin'?"

"Back to Tarrytown."

She was standing close to him, her blazing eyes daring him to strike
her.

"What about Flukey?"

"You couldn't have him, either, if--if he isn't yours."

Lon walked to the door and opened it.

"Scoot if ye want to--I don't care. But ye'll remember that I'll kill
that sick kid, Fluke, and Lem'll put an end to the Tarrytown duffer what
loves ye. I hate him, too!"

Fledra dropped to the floor as if he had struck her.

For some moments her senses were gone, and she opened her eyes only when
Lon, vaguely alarmed, threw water in her face.



CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE


Cronk entered the scow sullenly and sat down. Lem was sitting at the
table, bending over a tin basin in which he was washing his bitten
fingers. The steel hook and its leather strappings lay on the table.

"I telled Flea," said the squatter after a silence.

"Did ye tell her she was comin' to my boat tonight?" asked Lem eagerly.

"Nope; but I telled her that she weren't my gal."

"Ye cussed fool!" cried Crabbe, jumping to his feet. "Ye won't keep her
now, I bet that!"

Cronk smiled covertly.

"Aw, don't ye believe it! She be as safe stuck in that hut as if I'd
nailed her leg to the floor. Ye don't know Flea, ye don't, Lem. She
didn't come back with us 'cause she were my brat, but 'cause we was
goin' to kill Flukey and Shellington. God! how she w'iggled when I
opened the door and telled her to scoot back to Tarrytown if she wanted
to! But I didn't forgit to tell her what we'd do to them two others down
there, if she'd go. She floundered down and up like a live sucker in a
hot skillet. What a plagued fool she is!"

Lon sat back in his chair and laughed loudly.

"Ye'll play with her till ye make her desprite," snarled Lem, "and when
she be gone ye can holler the lungs out of ye, and she won't come back.
If ye'd left her to me, I'd a drubbed her till she wouldn't think of
Tarrytown. I says as how she comes to this scow tonight. Ye can't dicker
with me like ye can with that kid, Lon!"

Cronk narrowed his eyelids to slits and contemplated the scowman.

"I want to have a little fun with her afore ye git her," he said. "I
love to see her damn face go white and red, and her teeth shut tight
like a rat-trap. She won't do none of them things when you git done with
her, Lem."

Crabbe rubbed the length of his short arm with a coarse towel.

"Yep, I can make her forgit that she's got blood what'll come in her
face," chuckled he. "'Tain't no fun ownin' women, if ye can't make 'em
holler once in awhile. But ye didn't say as how she were a comin' here
tonight."

"Nope, not tonight," answered Lon; "'cause when I showed her that it
didn't make no difference 'bout her stayin' whether she were mine or
not, she just tumbled down like a hit ox. My! but it were a fine sight!"

Lem lifted the steel hook in deep reflection and caught the clasps
together.

"I'm a wonderin', Lon," he said presently, "if I'm to ever git her."

"Yep, tomorry," assured Lon.

"Honest Injun?" demanded Lem.

"Honest Injun," replied Lon. "If ye takes her tonight, she'll only cut
up like the devil. That's the worst of them damn women, they be too
techy when they come of stock like her."

"I like 'em when they're techy--it ain't so easy to make 'em do what a
man wants 'em to as 'tis t'other kind--say like Scraggy. I love a gal
what'll spit in yer face. God! what a lickin' Flea'll git, if she tries
any of them fine notions of her'n on me! For every kiss Shellington
gived her, I'll draw blood outen her hide!" Lem paused in his work, and
then added in a stammering undertone, "But I love the huzzy!"

The other bent far forward to catch the scowman's words, delighting in
the mental picture of Fledra's lithe body writhing under the lash. The
proud spirit of the girl would break under the physical pain!

       *       *       *       *       *

Fledra was still lying on the bed when Lon returned to the hut.

"Git up and git supper!" Cronk growled in her ear.

Mechanically she rose, sliced a few cold potatoes into the skillet, and
arranged the table for one person.

"Put down two plates!" roared the squatter.

"I can't eat, Lon," Flea said in a whisper.

He noticed that she had dropped the paternal prefix.

"Put down another plate, I say!" he shouted. "Ye be goin' to Lem's
tomorry, and ye'll go tonight if ye put on any airs with me! See?"

Fledra placed a plate for herself, and sat down opposite Lon. Choking,
she crushed the food into her mouth and swallowed it with effort. For
even one night's respite she would suffer anything!

       *       *       *       *       *

After the dishes were cleared away Fledra knelt by the open window, and
peered out upon the water. She turned tear-dimmed eyes toward the
college hill, and allowed her mind to travel slowly over the road she
and Floyd had taken in September. Rapidly her thoughts came to the
Shellington home, and she imagined she saw her brother and Horace
listening to Ann as she read under the light of the red chandelier. How
happy they all looked, how peaceful they were--and by her gift! She
breathed a sigh as the shadows crept long over the darkening lake.

She glanced at the clock, and counted from its dial the hours until
morning. She wished that the sun would never rise; that some unexpected
thing would snatch her from the hut before the night-shades disappeared
into the dawn. Cronk moved, and the girl turned with a startled face.
How timid she had grown of late! She remembered distinctly that at one
time she had loved the chirp of the cricket, the mournful croak of the
marsh frogs; but tonight they maddened her, filled her with an ominous
fear such as she had never before felt. When Lon saved her from
drowning, and had scathed Lem for his actions, she had hoped--oh, how
she had hoped!--that he would let her fill Granny Cronk's place. She
glanced at the squatter again.

Lon was staring out upon the lake with eyes somber and restless, eyes
darkening under thoughts that threshed through his brains like a
whirlwind. He was face to face with a long-looked-for revenge. Through
the pain of Flea he could still see that wraith woman who had haunted
him all the past-shadowed years. He believed with all his soul that then
Midge would sink into his arms, silent in her spirit of thankfulness,
and would always stay with him until he, too, should be called to join
her; for Lon had never once doubted that in some future time he would be
with his woman. If anyone had asked him during the absence of Flea and
Flukey which one of them he would rather have had back in the hut, he
would undoubtedly have chosen the girl; for well he knew that she was
capable of suffering more than a boy. Still, he moved uneasily when he
thought of the soft bed and the kindly hands that were ministering to
the son of his enemy.

Suddenly the squatter dragged his pipe from his lips and said:

"Look about here, Flea!"

The girl turned her head.

"What, Pappy Lon?" she questioned.

"Keep yer mouth shet!" commanded Lon. "I'll do the talkin' fer this
shanty."

Then, seeing her cowering spirit racked by fear, he grinned broadly.
Fledra sank back.

"I've always said as how I were a goin' to make money out of ye, and
I've found a chance where, if Lem ain't a fool, he'll jine in, too. Will
I tell ye?" Lon's question brought the dark head closer to him. "Ye
needn't speak if ye don't want to," sneered he; "but I'll tell ye jest
the same! Do ye know who's goin' to own ye afore long?" Fledra's
widening eyes questioned him, while her lips trembled. "I can see that
ye wants to find out. Does ye know a young fellow by the name of
Brimbecomb?" Observing that she did not make an effort to speak, Lon
proceeded with a perceptible drawl. "Well, if the cat's got yer tongue,
I'll wag mine a bit in yer stead. Brimbecomb's offered to buy ye, and,
if Lem says that it'll be all right, then I says yep, too."

Fledra found her voice uttering unintelligible words. She was slowly
advancing on her knees toward the squatter, her face working into
strong, mature lines.

"Jest keep back there," ordered Lon, "and don't put on no guff with me!
Ye can do as ye please 'bout goin' away. I won't put out my hand to keep
ye; only, remember, if ye go, what comes to the folks in Tarrytown! Now,
then, did ye hear what I said about Brimbecomb?" Fledra nodded, her
eyelids quivering under his stare. "Yer pretty enough to take the fancy
of any man, Flea, and ye've took two, and it's up to 'em both to fight
over ye. The man what pays most gits ye, that's all."

The girl lifted one hand dazedly.

"I'd rather go with Lem," she muttered brokenly.

"It don't make no matter to me what you'd ruther have. Ye go where yer
sent, and that's all."

Only Fledra's sobs broke the silence of the next five minutes. She dared
not ask Lon Cronk any questions.

Presently, without warning, the man turned upon her.

"He's a comin' here tonight, mebbe."

"Ye mean--oh, Pappy Lon! Let me go to Lem! I'll go, and I won't say no
word!... I'll go now!" She rose, her knees trembling.

"Sit down!" Lon commanded.

Used to obeying even his look, Fledra dropped back to the floor.

"It ain't given to ye to go to Lem jest 'cause ye want to," he said. "As
I says, that young feller is comin' here tonight to talk with me and
Lem. I already told him, that he could take ye; but Lem hain't yet give
his word."

Fledra glanced out of the window at the scow. Lem was there, arranging
the boat for her reception in his crude, homely way. She was sure the
scowman would not give her up. The thought brought Ann more vividly into
her mind. If Everett came for her, and Lem held to his desire, Miss
Shellington's happiness would be assured. The handsome young lawyer
would return to Tarrytown, back to the woman who loved him.

Fledra rose with determination in her face. Suddenly Lem had loomed
before her as a friend. She moved uneasily about the shanty, Lon making
no move to stay her. For awhile she worked aimlessly, with furtive
glances at Cronk.

"Set down, Flea," ordered Lon presently. "Ye give me the twitches. If ye
can't set still, crawl to bed till," he glanced her over, as she paused
to catch his words,--"till one of yer young men'll come to git ye."

It was the chance Fledra had been longing for. She backed from him
through the opening of Granny Cronk's room and closed the door. For one
minute she stood panting. Then she walked to the window, threw back the
small sash, and slipped through. Once in the open air, she shot toward
the scow, and in another moment had scurried up the gangplank and into
the living-room.

When he saw her, Lem's lips fell away from his pipe, and he rose slowly
and awkwardly; but no shade of surrender softened the hard lines
settled about the mouth of the panting girl.

"Lem," she gasped, "has Pappy Lon said anything to ye about Mr.
Brimbecomb?"

"Yep."

"Are ye goin' to let me go with him?"

"Nope."

"Will ye swear, Lem, that when he comes to the hut ye'll say that he
can't have me?"

Lem's jaw dropped, and he uttered a throat sound, guttural and rough.

"Do ye mean, Flea, that ye'd rather come to the scow than go with the
young, good-lookin' cuss?"

"Yes, that's what I mean; and Pappy Lon says he's comin'."

Lem made a spring toward her.

"Don't touch me now!" she cried, shuddering. "Don't--yet! I'm comin'
back by and by."

Before he could place his hands upon her, Fledra had gone down the
plank. From the small boat-window Lem could discern the little figure
flitting among the hut bushes; in another moment she had crawled through
the open window into Lon's hut.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX


When Everett arrived in Ithaca he made arrangements with the conductor
of the local train running to Geneva to have it slow down at Sherwoods
Lane.

A sudden jerk of the engine as it halted at the path that led to Lon's
hut brought Brimbecomb to his feet, and he hurried from the car with
muttered thanks and a substantial consideration to the conductor. While
the train rumbled away in the distance, he stood in the shadow of a
large pine tree by the track and looked about to get his bearings.
Suddenly he heard not far from him the faint, weird cry of an owl.
Instantly he was on the alert; for there was something familiar in the
melancholy sound. It took him back to a night in Tarrytown, when he had
cast a woman into the cemetery, and he remembered that she had said she
lived in Ithaca. Superstition sent him deeper into the shadow for a
moment; but he recovered himself and, shaking his shoulders, went his
way toward the lake with a muttered oath.

So dense was the woodland bordering the path, and so dark was the shadow
of the bushes in the twilight, that he had almost to feel his way down
the dark lane. He had not proceeded more than fifty yards when he saw a
light gleaming through the underbrush from the opposite side of the
gulch that ran parallel with the narrow road. He came to a path that
branched in the direction of the light, and picked his way along it.
Soon he crossed a primitive bridge and, climbing a little incline,
paused before a dilapidated shanty. He knocked peremptorily on the door;
but only a droning voice humming a monotonous tune made answer. Again
he knocked, this time harder. The singing ceased, and after a shuffling
of feet the door opened.

Standing before him, her hair bedraggled as it had been the first time
he saw her, was the woman who had claimed to be his mother, the woman he
had thrown into Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Brimbecomb, in his astonishment,
almost fell back into the gulch. But he quickly gathered his scattered
wits and, forcing a face of effrontery, doffed his hat.

"Can you tell me," his agitation did not allow him to speak
calmly,--"can you tell me, please, where Lon Cronk lives?"

Although his question was low and broken, Scraggy caught each word.

"Down to the edge of the lake, Mister," she replied. "It's a goin' to be
a dark night to be out in, ain't it?"

In his relief, Brimbecomb drew a long breath. She had not recognized
him! The dim light of the candle showed him that the same dazed
expression still remained in her faded eyes. The smirk on her face, the
crouch of her emaciated figure, about which the rags swirled in the
wind, the dismal hut, and the loneliness of her surroundings, made such
a picture of woe that Everett shuddered and hastened to get the
information, that he might hurry away from the awful place.

"Is there a scow down there that belongs to--"

"That there scow belongs to Lem Crabbe," broke in Scraggy. "Yep, it
comed in this mornin'. Lem be a good man, a fine man, the bestest man ye
ever see."

Brimbecomb took some money from his pocket and, placing it in her
fingers, hurried away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fledra heard Everett when he came to Lon's shanty door and knocked. She
heard the squatter call him by name. She knew now that the only hope
for Ann's love for Brimbecomb was that Lem would keep his word and
insist upon Lon's holding faith with him.

Cronk ordered her roughly to come to him. When she appeared, the two men
looked at her keenly. As she evinced no surprise at his presence, the
lawyer knew that she had been told of his coming. He made an attempt to
take her hand; but, as once before, Fledra flung her arms behind her.

"I 'low as she don't like ye, young feller," said Lon, with a laugh.

"Does it matter to you, Cronk?" retorted Brimbecomb.

"Not a damned bit!"

"Then go and make your arrangements with your one-armed friend and leave
your daughter here with me."

"Ye be in too big a hurry, my fine buck! Lem ain't as willin' as I be;
but I'll jest go down to the scow and speak with him."

"I want to go with you, Pappy Lon," cried Fledra.

"Ye stay right here, gal," commanded Cronk. Full in her face he slammed
the door and left her alone with Brimbecomb.

Everett stood looking at her for fully a minute, and as steadily she
eyed him back.

"I have come for you," he said quietly. "I could not leave you with
these persons."

Fledra curled her lip scornfully.

"I lived with them a long time before I saw any of you folks," she said
bitterly.

The girl did not reason now. She knew that she must send him back, that
this was her only way to repay the woman who had saved her brother. So
she went up to Brimbecomb appealingly, her eager eyes gleaming into
his.

"I want you to go back to Tarrytown," she said, "and go to
Shellingtons', and see Sister Ann. She's dying to have you back. And you
belong to her, because you promised her, and she promised you. Will you
go back?"

"When I wish to, I will; but not yet," muttered Everett. He had been
taken aback at her words, and at that moment could think of no way to
compromise with her. She was so near that he threw out his hands and
caught her. Forcibly he drew her face close to his, his lips whitening
under the spell of her nearness.

"Never, never will I let you go away from me again!" he was saying
passionately, when Cronk opened the door and stepped in.

The squatter gave no evidence that he had seen Everett's action. He left
the door open, through which the breeze flung the dust and the dead
leaves.

"Lem'll see ye in the scow," he said. "I ain't got nothin' to say 'bout
this--only as how Flea goes to one or the other of ye."



CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN


Not more than half an hour after Everett had reached Sherwoods Lane,
Governor Vandecar's train came to a halt at the same place, and the
party, consisting of the governor, Ann Shellington, and Katherine
Vandecar, made ready to step out into the night.

"Please draw up to the switch," the governor instructed the conductor,
"and I'll hail you as soon as we return. Keep an ear out for my call."

"Yes, Sir," replied the conductor; "but you'd better take this
lantern--it's sure dark down by that lake, Sir. And you can signal me
with the light."

Ann and Katherine clasped hands, and, aided by the light which Vandecar
held high, slowly followed him. So stern did the tall man seem in the
deep gloom that neither girl spoke to him as they stumbled down the
hill. They halted with thumping hearts in sight of the dark lake. All
three noticed a small light twinkling through the Cronk window, and,
without knocking, Governor Vandecar flung wide the door of Lon's hut and
stepped in.

The squatter sat on the floor, whittling a stick; Fledra crouched by the
window. As the door opened, she raised her eyes wonderingly; but when
she saw a tall stranger she dropped them again--someone had lost his way
and needed Pappy Lon. Cronk looked up and, recognizing Vandecar,
suddenly slid like a serpent around the hut wall until he was in
touching distance of the girl.

"Ye'd better not come any closer, Mister," he said darkly. "I has this,
ye see--and Flea's meat's as soft as a chicken's!" He raised his knife
menacingly; but dropped it slowly at sight of Ann and Katherine.

"Sister Ann!" breathed Fledra.

Ann's fingers grasped Vandecar's arm spasmodically; but, without
glancing back at her, he shook them off. His brow had gathered deep
lines at Lon's words, and now his unswerving gray eyes bent low to the
squatter. Under the steady gaze Cronk looked down and began to whittle.

In after days Ann could always conjure up the picture before her. Fledra
looked so infinitely young and melancholy, as her eyes fixed themselves
in wide terror upon Cronk. Out of the ragged blouse rose the proud, dark
head, and the lovely face was almost overshadowed by two tightly
clenched fists. Instead of falling into her arms, as Ann had imagined
she would, the girl only sank lower to the floor, her face ghastly in a
new horror. Miss Shellington's patience gave way as she stared at
Vandecar--his delay was imperiling Fledra's life; for, if ever a wicked
face expressed hate and murder, the squatter's did now. She turned
appealing eyes to Katherine, and took a step forward; but the latter
held her and whispered:

"Wait, wait a moment, Ann! Wait until Uncle has spoken!"

The whisper broke the silence, and Fledra turned her eyes from Lon. She
wondered dazedly who the stranger was, and why he had come with Ann. She
thought of Horace, and a pain shot through her heart. She was aware that
his sister had come for her; but no thought entered her mind to give up
the yoke that would soon be too heavy to bear. Then Governor Vandecar
began to speak, and Fledra looked at him.

"I have come to take back my own, Lon Cronk," said he, "that of which
you robbed me many years ago."

"I ain't nothin' that belongs to ye, and ye'd better go back where ye
comed from, Mister--and don't--come no nearer!"

As the squatter spoke, his lips spread wide over his teeth, and he began
picking up and laying down the bits of white wood. He did it
deliberately, and no one present imagined how the sight of Vandecar tore
at his heartstrings. Cronk could tolerate no robbing him of his revenge,
no taking away his chance of soothing the haunting spirit of his dead
woman.

Again Ann touched the governor's arm.

"Don't, Dear!" he said, pushing her back a little. "Lon Cronk--I want to
tell you--a story."

Cronk made no response; only stooped over and gathered a few slender
whittlings, and stacked them up among the others. There was an intense,
biting silence, until the governor spoke again.

"Nineteen years ago, when I lived in Syracuse, there came to me an
opportunity to convict a man of theft. Then I was young and happy; I
knew nothing of deep misery, or of--deep love." The hesitation on his
last words brought a shake from the squatter's shoulders. "This man, as
I have said, was a thief, admitted his crime to me; but, at the time of
his conviction, he pleaded with me that he might go home for a little
while to see his wife, who was ill. But of course I had no authority to
do that."

A dark shade flashed over Cronk's face, followed by one of awful
suffering.

"Yep, ye had," he repeated parrot-like; "ye might have let him go."

"But I couldn't," proceeded the governor, "and the man was taken away to
prison without one glance at the woman who was praying to see him. For
she loved him more--than he did her."

"That's a lie!" burst from Cronk's dry puckered lips.

"I repeat, she loved him well," insisted Vandecar; "for every breath she
took was one of love for him."

In the hush that followed his broken sentence, Lon moved one big foot
outward, then drew it back.

"Afterward--I mean a few hours after the man was taken away--I began to
think of him and his agony--over the woman, and I went out to find her.
She was in a little hut down by the canal,--an ill-furnished, one-room
shanty,--but the woman was so sweet, so little, yet so ill, that I
thought only of her."

A dripping sweat broke from every pore in Lon's body, and drops of water
rolled down his dark face. He groped about for another stick of wood, as
if blind.

"She was too young, too small, Lon Cronk, for the cross she had to
bear."

Lon threw up his head.

"Jesus! what a blisterin' memory!" he said.

His throat almost smothered the words. Ann began to sob; but Katherine
stood like a stone image, staring at the squatter.

The governor's low voice went on again:

"She was sicker than any woman I'd ever seen before, and when I was
there her little baby was born. I held her hands until she died. I
remember every message she sent you, Cronk. She told me to tell you how
much she loved you, and how the thought of your goodness to her and your
love would go down with her to the grave. If I could have saved her for
you, I should have done so; but she had to go. Then I wrote and asked
you if I should care for her body."

An evil look overspread the squatter's face. The misty tears cleared,
and he began to scrape again at the wood. He flashed a murderous look
upward.

"Ye could have left her dead in the hut, as long as yer killed her!"
said he.

Not heeding the interruption, Vandecar went on:

"But you sent me no word, and, because I was sorry, and because--"

The knife slipped from Lon's stiffened fingers, and a long groan fell
from his lips.

"I didn't get no word from ye!" he burst out. "I didn't know nothin'
till they told me she were dead." The man's head dropped down on his
chest.

Relentlessly Vandecar spoke again:

"Because I could not give you to her when she wanted you, and because
she had suffered so, I took her body and placed it in our family plot. I
went to the prison to tell you this, so that you could go to her grave
whenever you wished; but you had escaped the night before I arrived
there, and I never associated you with my great loss."

The revenge Cronk had planned upon this man suddenly lost its savor
before the vividly drawn picture. He did not remember that Vandecar had
come for his girl; he had in mind only the wee, sweet squatter woman so
long dead.

"Didn't the warden tell ye that I hit him, Mister," he groaned, "and
that I smashed the keeper when they telled me about her, and--and that
the strait-jacket busted my collarbone when I was tryin' to get out to
her?"

Vandecar shuddered and shook his head; but before he could speak Cronk
wailed dazedly:

"Ye might have come and telled me yerself, ye might a knowed how I
wanted ye to!"

"I told you that I did come and you were gone," Vandecar answered
emphatically.

"Ye didn't think how I loved her, how I'd a dreamed of huggin' my own
little brat!"

Vandecar interrupted again:

"I took the baby with me, Lon Cronk." At the word "baby," Lon dragged
his heavy hand backward across his eyes. "The baby," continued the
governor, "was no bigger than this,--a wee bit of a girl, such as all
big men love to father."

The squatter stood rigidly up against the wall, until his head almost
reached the ceiling. His fierce eyes centered themselves upon Vandecar.

"If I'd a knowed, Mister," he mumbled, "that ye'd took my little Midge's
hand in yer'n, that ye soothed her when she was a howlin' fer me, I
wouldn't have cribbed yer kids--I'll be damned if I would 'ave! But I
hated ye--Christ! how I hated ye! I could only think how ye wouldn't
help me." He shuddered, wiped his wet lips, and went on, "After that I
went plumb to hell. There weren't no living with me in prison, lessen I
were strapped in the jacket till my meat were scorched. It seemed as how
it made my hurt less for her to have my own skin blistered. Then, when I
got out of prison, I never once took my eyes offen ye, and when yer
woman gived ye Flea and Flukey--"

A cry from Fledra brought all eyes upon her save Lon's.

"When yer woman gived ye the two kids," he went on, "I let 'em stay long
enough for ye to love 'em; then I stole 'em away. But, if I'd a knowed
that ye tooked mine--" He moved forward restlessly and almost whispered,
"Mister, will ye tell me how the little 'un looked? And were it warm and
snuggly? Did ye let it lay ag'in' ye--and sleep?" The miserable,
questioning voice rose in demand, but lowered again. "Did ye let it grab
hold of yer fingers--oh, that were what I wanted more'n anythin' else!
And that's why I stealed yours; so ye'd know what sufferin' was. If ye'd
only telled me, Mister--if ye'd only telled me!"

Vandecar groaned--groaned for them all, no more for himself and for his
gentle wife than for the great hulk of a man wrestling in agony. Tears
rose slowly to his lids; but he dashed them away.

"Cronk," he cried, "Cronk, for God's sake, don't--don't! I've borne an
awful burden all these years, and every time I've thought of her I've
thought of you and wondered where you were."

"I were with my little woman in spirit," the squatter interrupted, "when
I weren't tryin' to get even with you. Mister, will ye swear by God that
ye telled me the truth about the baby?"

"I swear by God!" repeated Vandecar solemnly.

"And I believe ye. I could a been good, if I'd a had the little kid
awhile. It were a bit of her, a little, livin' bit. I could a been, but
I wasn't, a good man. I loved to lash Flukey and Flea. I loved to make
the marks stand out on their legs and backs. And I tried to l'arn Flukey
to be a thief, and Flea were a goin' to Lem tomorry. It were the only
way I lived--the only way!" Cronk trailed on as if to himself. "The
woman camed and camed and haunted me, till my mind were almost gone, and
I allers seed the little kid's dead face ag'in' her, and allers she
seemed to tell me to haggle the life outen yer kids; and haggle I did,
till they runned away, and then I went after 'em, and Flea--"

Vandecar stopped the speaker with a wave of the hand.

"Then you brought her back here, and I discovered that she was mine, and
I came for her. Lon Cronk, you give me back my girl, and I'll," he
whitened to the very lips, and repeated,--"and I'll give you back
yours!"

With a sweep of the arm Vandecar pushed Katherine forward. The very air
grew dense with anxiety. Ann clutched Katherine by the arm as if to stay
her movement, as if to keep her from the dazed squatter. His confession
of the kidnapping and his uncouth appearance forced Miss Shellington to
try and protect her gentle friend from his contact. But Katherine
loosened Ann's fingers in stony silence. Only a choking sound from
Fledra broke the quietude. She was staring into Lon's face, and he was
flashing from her to Katherine glances that changed and rechanged like
dark clouds passing over the heaven's blue. He saw Katherine, so like
his dead wife, bow her fair head before him. He noted her trembling
fingers pressed into pink palms, her slender body grow tense again and
again, relaxing only with spontaneous sobs. That he could touch the
fragile young creature, that he might listen to the call of his heart
and take her as his own, had not yet been fully forced upon him. The
meaning of Governor Vandecar's words seemed to leave his mind at
intervals; then his expression showed that he realized the truth of
them. He swayed forward; but crouched back once more against the wall.
Fledra rose silently to her feet, her ready intelligence grasping the
great fact that she was free, that the magnificent stranger had come for
her, that he claimed her as his. She was free from Lem, from Lon, free
to go back to Flukey. Lem's menacing shadow had lifted slowly from her
life, cast away by her own blood. For an instant there rose rampant in
her breast the desire to turn and fly, before another chance should be
given Lon to exert his authority over her. Then something snapped in her
head, and, unconscious, she sank noiselessly to the floor. No one
noticed her. She was like a small prey over which two great forces
ruthlessly fought and tore at human flesh and human hearts.

Vandecar gently touched Katherine's arm; but her feet were powerless to
move.

"Katherine," the governor groaned, "don't you remember that you cried
over him and your mother, and that--"

"Yes, yes!" Katherine breathed. She was trying to still the beating of
her heart, trying to thrust aside a great, revolting fear; yet she knew
intuitively that the squatter was her father, and remembered how the
recounting of her mother's death had touched her. In one flashing
thought, she recalled how she had longed for a mother, and how she had
turned away when other girls were being caressed and loved. But never
had it entered her mind to imagine that her parents were like this. The
picture of the hut in which the wee woman had died rose within her--the
death agony had been so plainly described. The tall, shrinking, sobbing
man against the wall was her father! Even that afternoon, when Governor
Vandecar had told her of her birth and her mother's death, and of her
father in the lake hut, she had not imagined him like this man. Yet
something pleaded for him, some subtle, gentle spirit hovering near
seemed to drag her forward. She shuddered, slipped from Vandecar's arms,
and crouched down before the squatter. She turned a livid, twitching
face up to his, her eyes beseeching his with infinite compassion. All
that was beautiful in the gentle, soulful girl broke over Ann like a
surging sea. This girl, who had been brought up in a beautiful home,
always attended with loving kindness, was casting her lot with a man so
low and vile that another person would have turned away in disgust. Miss
Shellington's mind recalled her girlhood days, in which Katherine had
been an intimate part. She could not bear it. She took an impulsive
forward step; but Vandecar gripped her.

"Stay," came sternly from his lips, "stay! But--but God pity her!"

The next seconds were laden with biting agony such as neither the
governor nor Ann had ever experienced. Katherine pleaded silently with
the man above her for paternal recognition. Suddenly he drew away from
the kneeling girl and shrank into the corner, pressing the wall with his
great weight until the rotting boards of the shanty creaked behind him.
Only now and then was his mind equal to the task of owning her.
Gathering strength to speak, Katherine sobbed:

"Father, Father, I never knew of you until today--I didn't know, I
didn't know!"

In her agony she did not notice the fierce eyes melt with tenderness;
but Vandecar saw it with a tumultuous heart. He was waiting to claim the
little figure on the floor, that he might take her back to her mother.
In that way he would retrieve his own past errors and in a measure
redeem the misspent life of the thief. He saw Cronk smooth his brow with
a shaking hand, as if to wipe away from his befuddled brain the cobwebs
of indecision and time-gathered shadows. His lips, drawn awry with
intensity, opened only to drone:

"Pretty little Midge, I thought as how ye were dead! And ye've come back
to yer man, a lovin' him as much as ever! God--God!" He raised streaming
eyes upward, and then finished, "God! And there be a God, no matter how
I said there wasn't! He didn't let ye die when I were pinched!" With a
mighty strength he swept the girl from the floor and turned mad eyes
upon Vandecar.

"She ain't dead, Mister--I thought she were! Take back yer brat, and
keep yer boy--and God forgive me!"

So tender was his last petition, that it seemed but a breath whispered
into the infinite listening ear of the God above. Katherine, like
Fledra, had lapsed into unconsciousness.

"She's fainted!" cried Ann. "Oh, Katherine, poor, pretty little
Katherine!"

"Help her, Ann!" urged Vandecar. "Do something for her!"

He did not wait to see Ann comply; but turned to Fledra, who, still
wrapped in unconsciousness, lay crouched on the floor, her dark curls
massed in confusion. Granny Cronk's blouse had fallen away, leaving the
rounded shoulders bare and gleaming in the faint yellow light.

The father gathered the daughter into his arms with passionate
tenderness. At first he did not try to revive her; but sat down and held
her close, as if he would never let her go. Tears, the product of weary
ages of waiting, fell on her white, upturned face, and again he murmured
thanksgivings into her unheeding ear. For many moments only the words of
Ann could be heard, as she tried to reason with Cronk to release
Katherine for a moment.

"Lay her down, won't you? She's ill. Please, let me put water on her
face!"

"Nope," replied Lon; "she won't git away from me ag'in. She's Midge, my
little Midge, my little woman, and she's mine!"

"Yes, yes," answered Ann, "I know she's yours; but do you want her to
die?"

With his great hands still locked about Katherine, Cronk looked down on
her lovely face, crushed against his breast. She was a counterpart of
the woman who had lived in another hut with him, and his dazed mind had
lost the intervening years. Midge had come out of the prison shadows,
and the big squatter had turned back two decades to meet her.

"She's only asleep," he said simply; "she allers slep' on my breast,
Missus. She'd never let me put her off'n my arm a minute. And I didn't
want to, nuther. She were allers afeared of ghosts--allers, allers! And
I kep' her close like this. She ain't dead, Ma'm."

His voice was free from anger and passion. By dint of persuasion, at
length Ann forced him to release Katherine and to aid her while she
bathed the girl's white face with water.

Katherine was still limp and bewildered when, ten minutes later, Fledra
opened her eyes and looked up into her father's face. The past hour had
not returned to her memory, and she drew quickly away. Of late she had
become timid, always on the defensive; and when Ann spoke to her she
held out her arms.

"I'm afraid!" she whimpered. "I want to go to Sister Ann."

But Vandecar held her fast as Miss Shellington knelt on the hut floor at
his side.

"Fledra, listen to me! This is your own father, Dear. Don't draw away
from him. He came with me for you. We're going to take you back to your
mother and little Floyd."

It seemed an eternity to the waiting man before Fledra received him.
There were many things she had to reason away. It was necessary first to
dispense entirely with Lon Cronk, to feel absolutely free from Lem.
Until then, how could she feel secure? The eyes bent upon hers affected
her strangely. They were spotted like Flukey's, and had the same trick
of not moving when they received another's glance. Then Ann's
exclamation seemed to awaken her lethargic soul, and she seized upon the
word "mother."

"Mother, Mother!" she stumbled, "oh, I want her, Sister Ann! I want her!
Will you take me to her? She's sweet and--and mine!" She made the last
statement in a low voice directly to Vandecar.

"Yes, and I'm your father, Fledra," he whispered. He longed for her to
be glad in him--longed now as never before.

Fledra's eyes sought Cronk's. He had forgotten her; Katherine alone held
his attention. Timidly she raised her arms and drew down her father's
face to hers.

"I'm glad, I'm awful glad that you're mine--and you're Floyd's, too. Oh,
I'm so glad! And you say--my mother--"

"Yes, Dear," Vandecar murmured, deeply moved; "a beautiful mother, who
is waiting and longing for her girl. Dear God, how thankful I am to be
able to restore you to her!"

The governor held her close, while he told her of her babyhood and the
story of the kidnapping, refraining from mentioning Cronk's name. It
took sometime to impress upon her that all need of apprehension was
past, that her future cast with her own dear ones was safe, and that Lem
and Lon were but as shadows of other days.

Katherine, weeping with despair, was sitting close to Lon. She knew
without being told that the father she had just found had lost from his
memory all of the bitterness of the years gone by. He had gone back to
his Midge, and now centered upon his newly found child the identity of
this dead woman. It was better so, even Katherine admitted; for he was
meek and tender, wholly unlike the sullen, ugly man they had seen
earlier in the evening. The squatter's condition made it impossible to
allow Katherine to be with him, and they dared not leave him alone in
the hut. Later, when they were making plans for Cronk's future, Vandecar
said:

"We can't leave him here, Ann dear. Can't we take him with us,
Katherine?"

"It's the only thing I can see to do," replied Ann, with catching
breath.

"You'll come with him and me, Katherine, and we'll take him to the car,
while he is subdued. You, Ann, dress that child, and wait here for
Horace. I'll come back directly. I must place Cronk with the conductor,
for fear--"

"Don't be long," begged Ann. "I'm so afraid!"

"No, only long enough to signal the train and get them aboard. You must
be brave, dear girl, and we must all remember what he has suffered. His
heart is as big as the world, and I can't forget that, indirectly, I
brought this upon him." He turned his glance upon the squatter, and
Katherine's eyes followed his. The lines about Lon's mouth had softened
with tenderness, his eyes were filled with adoration. Katherine flashed
him back a sad smile.

"The little Midge!" murmured Lon. "I'll never steal ag'in--never! And
I'll jest fish and work fer my little woman--my pretty woman!"

Vandecar rose and went to the squatter.

"Lon," he said, placing a hand upon the rough jacket, "will you bring
your little--" He was about to say daughter, but changed the word to
"Midge," and continued, "Will you bring Midge to my car and come to
Tarrytown with us?"

Cronk stared vacantly.

"Nope," he drawled; "I'll stay here in the hut with Midge. It's dark,
and she's afraid of ghosts. I'll never steal ag'in, Mister, so I can't
get pinched."

Vandecar still insisted:

"But won't you let your little girl come back and get her clothes? And
you, too, can come to our home, for--for a visit." His face crimsoned as
he prevaricated.

But Lon still shook his head.

"A squatter woman's place be in her home with her man," he said.

Vandecar turned helplessly upon Katherine.

"You persuade him," he entreated in an undertone.

Katherine whispered her desire in her father's ear.

"We'll go only for a few days," she promised.

"And ye'll come back here?" he demanded.

The girl glanced toward Governor Vandecar, and caught the slight
inclination of his head.

"Yes," she promised; "yes, we'll come back, if you are quite well."

Cronk stooped down and pressed his lips to hers.

"I'd a gone with ye, Midge, 'cause I couldn't say no to nothin' ye asked
me." But he halted, as they tried to lead him through the door.

"I don't like the dark," he muttered, drawing back.

Fledra eyed him in consternation. Never before had she known him to
express fear of anything, much less of the elements which seemed but a
part of his own stormy nature. Never had she seen the great head bowed
or the shoulders stooped in timidity. Katherine had Cronk's hand in
hers, and she gently drew him forward.

"Come, come!" she breathed softly.

"I'm afraid," Lon whined again. "I want to stay here, Midge." He looked
back, and, encountering Vandecar's eyes, made appeal to him.

"Cronk," the governor said, "do you believe that I am your friend?"

The squatter flung about, facing the other.

"Yep," he answered slowly, "I know ye be my friend. If ye'll let me walk
with my hand in yer'n, I'll go." He said it simply, as a child to a
parent. He held out his crooked fingers, and Vandecar seized them.
Katherine took up her position on the other side of her father, and the
three stepped out into the night and began slowly to ascend the hill.



CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT


To Horace Shellington it seemed many hours before the small, jerky train
that ran between Auburn and Ithaca drew into the latter city. In his
eagerness to reach the squatter settlement without loss of time, he
hastened from the car into the station. He knew that it would be far
into the night before he reached Lon Cronk's, and, with his whole soul,
he hoped he would be in time to save Fledra from harm. At the little
window in the station he hurriedly demanded of the agent a mode of
conveyance to take him to the spot nearest the squatter's home.

"There's no way to get there tonight over this road," said the man; "but
you might see if Middy Burnes could take you down the lake. He's got a
tug, and for a little money he'll run you right there."

Horace quickly left the station, and, making his way to the street,
found the house to which he had been directed. At his knock Middy Burnes
poked a bald head out of the door and asked his business. In a few words
Shellington made known his wants. The tugman threw the door wider and
scratched his head as he cogitated:

"Mister, it'll take me a plumb hour to get the fire goin' good in that
tug. If ye can wait that long, till I get steam up, I'll be glad to take
ye." So, presently the two walked together toward the inlet where the
boat was tied.

"Who do you want to see down the lake this time of the year?" asked
Burnes, with a sidelong look at his tall companion.

"Lon Cronk."

"Ho! ho!" laughed Middy. "I jest brought him and Lem Crabbe up from
Tarrytown, with one of Lon's kids. She's a pretty little 'un. I pity
her, 'cause she didn't do nothin' but cry all the way up, and once she
jumped into the lake."

"Did what?"

The sharpness of Shellington's voice told Middy that this news was of
moment.

"Well, ye see, 'tain't none of my business, 'cause the gal belongs to
Lon; but, if she was mine, I wouldn't give her to no Lem Crabbe. Lem
said she jumped in the lake after a pup; but I 'low he was monkeyin'
with her. Her pappy hopped in the water after her like a frog and pulled
her out quicker'n scat."

With fear in his heart, Horace waited on deck for Burnes to get up
steam, and it seemed an interminable time before the tug at last drew
lazily from the inlet bridge, and, swinging round under Middy's
experienced hand, started slowly down the black stream.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ann closed the shanty door after seeing the governor and his two
companions disappear up the hill, and smiled at Fledra with shining
eyes. The wonderful events of the evening had taken place in such rapid
order that she had no time to express her happiness to the girl. She
opened her arms, and Fledra darted into them.

"It's all because you prayed, Sister Ann," she sobbed, "and because you
taught me how to pray. Does--does Horace know about my new father and
mother?"

"No, Dear; he left Tarrytown before we ourselves knew. We received a
telegram from Horace saying he had come on to Ithaca. We must wait here;
for he'll arrive sometime tonight. We couldn't go and allow him to find
this place empty."

"Of course not," the girl sighed impatiently. "Oh, I hope he comes
soon!"

Her soul burned for a sight of him. He had been the first to fly to her
rescue, even when he had thought her but a squatter girl. He had not
shrunk from the dangers of the settlement, and, in spite of the peril of
Lem and Lon, he had been willing to drag her away from harm for the love
of her. The thought was infinitely sweet.

At length Ann brought her to the present.

"Fledra dear, can you realize that little Mildred is your own sister,
and that Mildred's mother is yours? Oh, Darling, you ought to be the
happiest girl in the world!"

"I'm happy, all right," said Fledra gravely; "only, I feel sorry for
Katherine. Somehow, we changed Daddies, didn't we?"

"Yes, Dear, and I feel for her too," lamented Ann. "I can't see how
she's going to bear it."

"Maybe she's been a praying," said Fledra, "as I did when I thought I
was coming to Lem. It does help a lot."

"Dear child, dear heart," murmured Ann, "your faith is greater than
mine! Katherine Vandecar is a saint, and--and so are you, Fledra."

"No, I'm not." The girl dropped her eyes and flushed deeply.

"Oh, but Fledra, you are!" Then a new thought entered Ann's mind, and
she hesitated before she continued. "Fledra, will you tell me something
about Mr. Brimbecomb? I mean--you know--the trouble you spoke of in your
letter to him?"

Fledra flashed a startled glance.

"Did he dare show it to you?"

"No, no, Fledra; he dropped it, and Horace found it."

"Is that the way you knew where I'd gone?"

"Yes, and on account of it Floyd went to the governor's house."

"Oh, why did you let Floyd go out? He is so ill!" Her eyes were
reproachful.

Ann, with a smile, kissed the girl.

"Dear, unselfish child," said she, "don't you understand that, if he
hadn't gone, you wouldn't have your strong, big father, nor would little
Floyd be now with his mother?"

"Maybe our mother'll make Floyd well," cried Fledra. "Oh, she couldn't
help but love him, could she, Sister Ann?"

"And it will be impossible for her not to love you, Deary," exclaimed
Ann, wiping her eyes. "But now you must dress. Have you still the
clothes you wore away from home?"

"Yes, I have them; but they're all mussed. I fell in the lake, and got
them all wet, and they're wrinkled now. They're up in the loft.
Wait--I'll get them." She was scrambling up the ladder as she spoke, and
her last words were uttered in the darkness of the loft.

Ann could hear the girl moving about overhead, and heard the dragging of
a box across the floor. Then another sound broke upon her ears, and
before she could move toward the door it opened, and a shabby, one-armed
man shuffled in, followed by Everett Brimbecomb.

       *       *       *       *       *

After Everett had disappeared across the little bridge, Scraggy closed
the rickety door of her hut and went fidgeting about in the littered
room. Long she brooded, sniveling in her bewilderment. Something hazy,
something out of the past, knocked incessantly upon her demented brain.
This something touched her heart; for she whimpered as does a hurt child
when the hurt is deep and the child's mother is not near. She still
missed Black Pussy, and when she thought of the loss of her only friend
wilder paroxysms of frenzied grief filled the shanty.

After one of her raving fits of crying more vehement than those
preceding, Black Pussy again came to her mind, and suddenly she was
taken back to the wintry night she had lost him. Feebly she put the
events of that evening together, one by one, until like a burst of light
the memory of her boy came to her. Not once hitherto had she remembered
him since his blow had sent her into unconsciousness. Now she recalled
how roughly her son had handled her, and she did not forget his threat
to kill her if she ever mentioned to anyone that she was his mother. She
recognized, too, the identity of the stranger who had asked her the way
to the scow but a little while before.

A sane expression came into her eyes, and she settled herself back to
think. With her pondering came a clear thought--her boy was seeking his
father! Still somewhat dazed, she tottered to one corner of the hut and
fumbled for her shawl.

"He axed for Lon!" she whispered. "Nope, he axed for Lem, his own daddy.
Now, Lemmy'll take me with 'em--oh, how I love 'em both! And the boy'll
eat all he wants, and his little hand'll smooth my face when my head
aches!"

Muttering fond words, she opened the door and slid out into the night.
She paused on the rustic bridge, the sound of footsteps in the lane that
led to the tracks bringing her to a standstill. Several persons were
approaching her. They came steadily nearer, passed the footpath that led
to her hut, and she crept out. Two men and a woman were near enough for
Screech Owl to touch them, if she had put out her hand. She remained
perfectly quiet, and Lon Cronk's voice, muttering words she did not
understand, came to her through the underbrush. Then, in her joy,
Scraggy speedily forgot them, and, as she hurried down the hill sent out
cry after cry into the clear night.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long time Miss Shellington stood staring at Everett, and the man
as fixedly at her. The movements were still going on in the loft.

"How came you here?" cried Ann sharply, when she had at last gathered
her senses.

"I might ask you the same thing," replied Everett suavely. "This is
scarcely a place for a girl like you."

"I came after Fledra," she said slowly. "I didn't know--"

Everett came forward and crowded back her words with:

"And I came for the same person!"

Brimbecomb reasoned quickly that he dared not tell Ann the truth, and
that so long as she thought his actions were for Fledra's welfare she
would stand by him.

"I found out that these ruffians had taken her, and I came after her. I
thought a good school would be better than this." He swept his hand over
the hut, and did not notice the expression that flitted across Ann's
face.

Lem uttered an unintelligible grunt, and growled:

"He's a damned liar, Miss! He wanted to buy the gal from me and Lon."

Everett laughed sneeringly.

"Miss Shellington would not believe such a tale as that," said he; "she
knows me too well."

"I do believe him," said Ann. "I saw the letter you lost, which Fledra
wrote you. You dropped it in our drawing-room. Horace found it."

Everett saw his fall coming. He would not be worsted by this woman, who
had believed once that he was the soul of truth. To lose her and the
prestige of her family, and to lose also Fledra, was more than he would
endure. He bounded forward and grasped her arm fiercely.

"Where is that squatter girl? I'll stand nothing from you or that
brother of yours! Where is he, and where is she?"

Ann stood silently praying for strength. So plainly had Everett shown
his colors that she felt disgust grow in her heart, although her eyes
were directed straight upon him. She hoped that the girl in the loft
upstairs would not come down until Governor Vandecar returned. Again she
sent up a soul-moving petition for help.

"You can't have her!" she said, trying to speak calmly. "She is going to
marry my brother, Everett."

Just then Fledra, robed in her own clothes, scrambled to the top rung of
the ladder. She paused halfway down and glanced over the scene below
with unbelieving eyes.

"Go back up, Fledra," commanded Ann.

"I don't think she'll go back up," gritted Brimbecomb. "Come down!" He
advanced a step, with his hand upon his hip. "I've something to coax you
with," he declared in an undertone. "It is this!"

Fledra saw the revolver, noted the expression on the man's face, and
stepped slowly down the ladder. The silence of the moment that followed
was broken by several loud hoots of an owl. The first one seemed in
direct proximity to the hut; the last ones came faintly from the shore
of the lake.

When she saw the gun, Ann whitened to the ears, and the threat in
Everett's eyes caused Lem to gurgle in his throat, as if he would speak
but could not.

"I told you," said Everett, with his lips close to Fledra's ear, "that
I would use any means to get you.... Stand aside there--you two!"

He turned his flashing eyes upon the scowman and Ann, and, placing his
arm about Fledra, drew her forward. The girl was so dazed at the turn of
affairs that she allowed Everett to drag her, unresisting, half the
length of the room. Then her glance moved upward to Ann. Miss
Shellington's face was as pallid as death, and her horrified look at
Everett brought Fledra to her senses. The girl looked appealingly at
Lem. The scowman's squinted eyes and the contortions of his face caused
Fledra to cry out:

"Lem, Lem, save me! save me!"

Crabbe drew his heavy body more compactly together, and, with his eyes
glued upon the revolver, advanced along the wall toward Brimbecomb. His
frightful wheezes and choking gulps attracted the lawyer's attention to
him, and the gun was suddenly leveled at his breast.

"Stand back there, Crabbe!" ordered Everett. "You have nothing to do
with this."

But, as the lawyer spoke, Lem sprang forward with the fierceness of a
wild beast. Instantly followed the report of a revolver; but the bullet
went wide and sunk into the opposite wall, for, as Everett aimed at Lem,
Fledra twisted and struck his arm so heavily that his fingers loosened
and the weapon clattered across the room.

The impact of the scowman's body bore the lawyer down, while Fledra was
thrown away from the struggle by a sweep of Lem's left arm. Ann was
petrified with fear; but this did not keep her from picking up the girl
from the floor. In her terror she took in each motion of the fighters.
She saw Lem lift his left hand, and heard the sickening thud as his
great brown fist struck Everett full in the face. She saw the hook flash
in the candlelight, then bury its glittering prong in the other's neck.
Everett screamed once, then was silent; for with his unmaimed hand the
scowman had grasped his enemy's throat and was shaking the body as a dog
does a rat. In his frenzy, Lem threshed and tumbled Brimbecomb about on
the hut floor, the sight of his rival's blood sending him mad; and
always the sound of his gasps and chokes rose above the struggle. Of a
sudden the gurgles in the throat of the scowman ceased, his face became
purple black, and it seemed to Ann that his blood must burst through the
thick skin. With one last movement he again buried his hook in Everett,
then tried to throw the body from him; but, instead, he himself, fell in
a heap on the floor.

Suddenly the door opened, and Scraggy Peterson staggered into the hut.



CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE


She sent no glance at Ann, nor did she see Fledra shrinking in the
corner. No thought came to her weak brain save of the two men at grips
with death. She staggered forward with a cry.

"Lemmy, Lemmy, ye wouldn't kill yer own brat?... He's our little 'un!...
Lemmy!... God!... Ye've killed him!"

Scraggy put her hands on Everett, and saw Lem struggle to sit up, the
lust of killing still blazing in his eyes. He had heard the woman's
words, and as he slowly grasped the import of them he turned over and
raised his head while pulling desperately at his throat.

"Oh, Lemmy, love," she murmured, "ye've killed him this time! He's
dead!" She leaned farther over, and kissed the white face of her son.
"Yer hook's killed our little 'un, Lemmy--my little 'un, my little 'un!"

"Oh, no, no, he isn't dead!" cried Ann. "He can't be dead!" She let go
her hold on Fledra, and, with Scraggy, bent over Everett. "Oh, he
breathes! But he isn't your son?"

"Yep; he be Lemmy's boy and mine," answered Scraggy, lifting her eyes
once more to Ann. "Look! He were hurt here by the hook when he were a
baby." She drew aside Everett's tattered shirt-front and displayed a
long white mark.

Ann staggered back. Everett had said to her:

"My mother will know me by the mark on my breast."

So this was the end of Everett's dream!

"He didn't love his mammy very much," Scraggy went on, "nor his pappy,
nuther; but it were 'cause he didn't know nuther one of us very well,
and Lem didn't love him nuther. And now they've fit till he's dead!
Lemmy's sick, too. Look at his face! He can't swaller when he's sick
like that." She left Everett and crawled to Lem.

"Can ye drink, Lemmy?" she asked sorrowfully.

The grizzled head shook a negative.

"Be ye dyin?"

This time Crabbe's head came forward in assent.

"Then ye dies with yer little boy--poor little feller! He were the
bestest boy in the hull world!" Here she placed an arm under Everett's
neck; throwing the other about Lem, she drew the two men together before
she resumed. "And Lemmy was the bestest man and pappy that anybody ever
see!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Screech Owl's last words were nearly drowned by the shrill whistle of a
steamer. A minute later Ann and Fledra heard running footsteps coming
from the direction of the lake. There was no knock; but a quick jerk of
the latch-string flung wide the door--and Fledra was in Horace's arms.

"Thank God, my little girl is safe!" he murmured.

Then he glanced over her head, his horrified attention centered upon the
group on the floor.

Scraggy looked up at him, still holding Lem and Everett.

"I'm glad ye comed, Mister. Can't ye help 'em any?"

For many minutes they worked in silence over the father and son. Once
the brilliant eyes of Brimbecomb opened and flashed bewilderedly about
the room, until he caught sight of Ann. A smile, sweet and winning,
curved his lips. Then he lapsed into unconsciousness again.

"Oh, I want him to speak to me, Horace," moaned Ann, "only a little
word!"

"Wait, Dear," said Horace. "We're doing all we can.... I believe that
man over there is dead."

He made a motion as if to lean over the scowman; but Scraggy pushed him
back.

"No, my Lemmy ain't dead," she wailed, "course he ain't dead!" She
placed her lips close to the dying man's ear, and called, "Lemmy, Lemmy,
this be Scraggy!"

The hooked arm moved a trifle, and then was still. The fingers of the
left hand groped weakly about, and Scraggy, with a sob, lifted the arm
and put it about her. Had the others in the room been mindful of the
action, they would have seen the man's muscles tighten about the woman's
thin neck. Then presently his arm loosened and he was dead.

Everett's eyes were open, and he was trying to speak.

"Is--Ann--here?" he whispered faintly.

"Yes, Dear, I am here, right close beside you. Can't you feel my hands?"

His head turned feebly, and his fingers sought hers.

"I have been--wretchedly--wicked!"

His voice was so low that Horace did not catch the words; but Scraggy
heard, and crawled from Lem to Miss Shellington's side.

"Missus, will ye tell my little boy-brat that his mammy be here? Will ye
say as how I loved him--him and Lemmy, allers?"

Her haggard face was close to Ann's, and the latter took in every word
of the low-spoken petition. Miss Shellington bent over the dying man.

"Everett," she said brokenly, "your own mother is here, and she wants
you to speak to her."

Brimbecomb partly rose, and, in scanning those in the hut, his eyes fell
upon Screech Owl. The tense agony seemed for an instant to leave his
face, and it fell into more boyish lines.

"Little 'un--pretty little 'un," whispered Scraggy "yer mammy loves ye,
and Lemmy loved ye, too, if he did hit ye!"

Screech Owl hung over him many minutes in a breathless silence; but when
Vandecar came in Everett, too, was dead. Then, at last, Scraggy moved
toward the door, and, with the same wild cry that had haunted the
settlement for so many years, sprang out into the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

From her hiding place in the gulch, Scraggy saw Vandecar and the rest
mount the hill. When they had disappeared, she slunk down the lane and
made straight for Lon's hut. With dread in her eyes, she stood for
sometime before the dark shanty, and then swayed forward to the window.

When she reached it, superstition forced her back; but love proved
stronger than fear, and she looked into the room. So dark was it within
that she could see only the white mound on the floor--the mound made by
the dead father and son. They were hers--all that was left of the men
she had loved always! Scraggy tried the door; but found it locked. Then
she attempted to move the window; but it, too, had been fastened. With a
stone she hammered out the glass, making an opening through which she
dragged her body. As she stood there in silent gloom, the very air
seemed to hang heavy with death. In the dark Scraggy broke out into
sobs, and was seized with spasms of shivering; she had no strength to
move forward or backward.

But again love drove her on, and some seconds passed before she found
matches to light the candle. When the dim flame lighted up the room, she
turned slowly to the middle of the floor. Tremblingly she drew down the
covering and looked upon her dead. They were hers--these men were hers
even in death! Chokingly she stifled her sobs, and then the decision
came to her that she would keep a night vigil until break of day. Of the
two, Screech Owl knew not which she loved better.

"Ye both be dead," she moaned, looking first at Lem then at Everett;
"dead so ye'll never breathe no more! But Scraggy loves ye.... God! ye
nuther one of ye knows how she loves ye! There weren't no men in the
hull world as good as ye both was.... Lemmy didn't know ye was his,
little 'un, and ye didn't know Lemmy were yer daddy. I'll stay with ye
both till the day."

Saying this, she crouched low between Crabbe and Brimbecomb, and,
encircling each neck with an arm, thrust her face down close between
them.

Lon Cronk's old clock on the shelf ticked out the minutes into the
somberness of the hut. The waves of the lake, breaking ceaselessly upon
the shore, softened the harsh, uneven croaks of the marsh-frogs with
their harmony. Through the broken window drifted the night noises, and
the wind fluttered the candle-flame weakly. Suddenly Screech Owl thought
she heard a voice--a voice filled with tender sympathy and pathos.
Without disengaging her arms, she lifted herself and searched with dim
eyes even the corners of the hut. Misty forms shaded to ghost-gray
seemed to steal out and group themselves about her dead. She took her
arm from Everett and brushed back the straggling locks that blurred her
sight.

The voice spoke again, pronouncing her name in low, even tones. Once
more she wound her arm about Everett, and pressed herself down between
her beloveds. Her eyes, protruding and fearful, saw the candlelight grow
dimmer.

"Lemmy, Lemmy," she gasped between hard-coming breaths, "I'm comin'
after ye and our pretty boy! Wherever ye both be--I come--"

A film gathered over Scraggy's eyes, and her words were cut short by the
pain of the intermittent flutterings of her heart. She fell lower, and
with a last weak effort drew the heads closer together. Then Scraggy's
spirit, which had ever sought her lover and her son, took flight out
into the vast expanse of the universe, to find Everett and Lem.

       *       *       *       *       *

Governor Vandecar bent over his wife.

"Darling," he murmured, "I have brought you back your other baby. Won't
you turn and--look at--her?"

Fledra was standing at her father's side, and now for an instant she
looked down into the blue eyes through which she saw the yearning heart
of her mother. Then she knelt down with Floyd, and they rested their
heads in tearful silence under the hands of these dear ones, who
trembled with thankfulness.

The last fifteen years flashed as a panorama across the governor's mind.
That day he had discharged his debt to Lon Cronk by placing the squatter
where his diseased mind could be treated, and he had insisted that his
own name and home should be Katharine's, the same as of yore. It was not
until Mildred opened the door and entered hesitantly that he raised his
head. Silently he held out his arms and drew his baby girl into them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Horace's first duty when he returned to Tarrytown was to make Ann as
comfortable as he could. She had borne up well under the tragedy, and
smiled at him bravely as he left for Vandecar's. The governor met him in
the hall and drew him into his library.

"I must speak with you, boy, before--"

"Then I may talk with Fledra?"

The governor hesitated.

"She is so young yet, Horace! I beg of you to wait, won't you? There are
many things to be attended to before she can leave her mother and me.
We've only just found her."

"I must see her, though," replied Horace stubbornly.

"You shall, if you will promise me--"

"I won't promise anything," said Horace, slowly raising his eyes. "After
I have spoken to her, we'll decide."

Vandecar sighed and touched the bell.

"Say to Miss Fledra that I wish to speak with her," he said to the
servant.

After a moment they heard her coming through the hall. Vandecar placed
his hand upon Horace's arm; but the young man flung it off as the door
opened and Fledra came in. Her face was still pale and wan. Her eyes
darkened by circles, testified to the misery of the days since she had
left him. Horace spoke her name softly, held out his arms, and she fled
into them. He pressed her head closely to his breast, smoothing the
black curls, while blinding tears coursed down his face. The governor
turned from them to the window. He stood there, until Horace asked
huskily:

"Fledra, Fledra, do you still love me? Oh, say that you do! I'm
perishing to be forgiven for my lack of faith in you. Can you forgive
me, beloved?"

"I love you, Horace," she murmured, lifting bright, shy eyes. "And I
love my beautiful mother, too, and--oh, I--worship my splendid father."

She held out one hand to Governor Vandecar, over which the father closed
his fingers. Then she threw back her head and smiled at them both.

"I'm going to stay with my mother till she gets well. I'm goin' to help
Floyd till he walks as well as ever. Then I'm goin' to study and read
till my father's satisfied. Then, after that," she turned a radiant
glance on both men, and ended, "when he wants me, I'll go with my
Prince."


                            THE END


       *       *       *       *       *

JOHN FOX, JR'S.

STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

=May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.=


THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall tree
that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the pine
lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he
finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the
_foot-prints of a girl_. And the girl proved to be lovely, piquant, and
the trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young engineer a madder
chase than "the trail of the lonesome pine."


THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come." It
is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which often
springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad," the "little shepherd" did not know who he was nor whence he
came--he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood,
seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and
mothered this waif about whom there was such a mystery--a charming waif,
by the way, who could play the banjo better that anyone else in the
mountains.


A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of
moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the
heroine a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two
impetuous young Southerners fall under the spell of "The Blight's"
charms and she learns what a large part jealousy and pistols have in the
love making of the mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some of
Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.


_Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_

GROSSET & DUNLAP, 526 WEST 26TH ST., NEW YORK


       *       *       *       *       *

THE NOVELS OF WINSTON CHURCHILL


THE INSIDE OF THE CUP. Illustrated by Howard Giles.

The Reverend John Hodder is called to a fashionable church in a
middle-western city. He knows little of modern problems and in his
theology is as orthodox as the rich men who control his church could
desire. But the facts of modern life are thrust upon him; an awakening
follows and in the end he works out a solution.


A FAR COUNTRY. Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

This novel is concerned with big problems of the day. As The _Inside of
the Cup_ gets down to the essentials in its discussion of religion, so
_A Far Country_ deals in a story that is intense and dramatic, with
other vital issues confronting the twentieth century.


A MODERN CHRONICLE. Illustrated by J. H. Gardner Soper.

This, Mr. Churchill's first great presentation of the Eternal Feminine,
is throughout a profound study of a fascinating young American woman. It
is frankly a modern love story.


MR. CREWE'S CAREER. Illus. by A. I. Keller and Kinneys.

A New England state is under the political domination of a railway and
Mr. Crewe, a millionaire, seizes a moment when the cause of the people
is being espoused by an ardent young attorney, to further his own
interest in a political way. The daughter of the railway president plays
no small part in the situation.


THE CROSSING. Illustrated by S. Adamson and L. Baylis.

Describing the battle of Fort Moultrie, the blazing of the Kentucky
wilderness, the expedition of Clark and his handful of followers in
Illinois, the beginning of civilization along the Ohio and Mississippi,
and the treasonable schemes against Washington.


CONISTON. Illustrated by Florence Scovel Shinn.

A deft blending of love and politics. A New Englander is the hero, a
crude man who rose to political prominence by his own powers, and then
surrendered all for the love of a woman.


THE CELEBRITY. An episode.

An inimitable bit of comedy describing an interchange of personalities
between a celebrated author and a bicycle salesman. It is the purest,
keenest fun--and is American to the core.


THE CRISIS. Illustrated with scenes from the Photo-Play.

A book that presents the great crisis in our national life with splendid
power and with a sympathy, a sincerity, and a patriotism that are
inspiring.


RICHARD CARVEL. Illustrated by Malcolm Frazer.

An historical novel which gives a real and vivid picture of Colonial
times, and is good, clean, spirited reading in all its phases and
interesting throughout.


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK


       *       *       *       *       *

ZANE GREY'S NOVELS

=May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.=


THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS
Colored frontispiece by W. Herbert Dunton.

Most of the action of this story takes place near the turbulent Mexican
border of the present day. A New York society girl buys a ranch which
becomes the center of frontier warfare. Her loyal cowboys defend her
property from bandits, and her superintendent rescues her when she is
captured by them. A surprising climax brings the story to a delightful
close.


DESERT GOLD
Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

Another fascinating story of the Mexican border. Two men, lost in the
desert, discover gold when, overcome by weakness, they can go no
farther. The rest of the story describes the recent uprising along the
border, and ends with the finding of the gold which the two prospectors
had willed to the girl who is the story's heroine.


RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

A picturesque romance of Utah of some forty years ago when Mormon
authority ruled. In the persecution of Jane Withersteen, a rich ranch
owner, we are permitted to see the methods employed by the invisible
hand of the Mormon Church to break her will.


THE LAST OF THE PLAINSMEN
Illustrated with photograph reproductions.

This is the record of a trip which the author took with Buffalo Jones,
known as the preserver of the American bison, across the Arizona desert
and of a hunt in "that wonderful country of yellow crags, deep canons
and giant pines." It is a fascinating story.


THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT
Jacket in color. Frontispiece.

This big human drama is played in the Painted Desert. A lovely girl, who
has been reared among Mormons, learns to love a young New Englander. The
Mormon religion, however, demands that the girl shall become the second
wife of one of the Mormons--

Well, that's the problem of this sensational, big selling story.


BETTY ZANE
Illustrated by Louis F. Grant.

This story tells of the bravery and heroism of Betty, the beautiful
young sister of old Colonel Zane, one of the bravest pioneers. Life
along the frontier, attacks by Indians, Betty's heroic defense of the
beleaguered garrison at Wheeling, the burning of the Fort, and Betty's
final race for life, make up this never-to-be-forgotten story.


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK


       *       *       *       *       *

STORIES OF RARE CHARM BY GENE STRATTON-PORTER

=May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.=


LADDIE.
Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

This is a bright, cheery tale with the scenes laid in Indiana. The story
is told by Little Sister, the youngest member of a large family, but it
is concerned not so much with childish doings as with the love affairs
of older members of the family. Chief among them is that of Laddie, the
older brother whom Little Sister adores, and the Princess, an English
girl who has come to live in the neighborhood and about whose family
there hangs a mystery. There is a wedding midway in the book and a
double wedding at the close.


THE HARVESTER.
Illustrated by W. L. Jacobs.

"The Harvester," David Langston, is a man of the woods and fields, who
draws his living from the prodigal hand of Mother Nature herself. If the
book had nothing in it but the splendid figure of this man it would be
notable. But when the Girl comes to his "Medicine Woods," and the
Harvester's whole being realizes that this is the highest point of life
which has come to him--there begins a romance of the rarest idyllic
quality.


FRECKLES.
Decorations by E. Stetson Crawford.

Freckles is a nameless waif when the tale opens, but the way in which he
takes hold of life; the nature friendships he forms in the great
Limberlost Swamp; the manner in which everyone who meets him succumbs to
the charm of his engaging personality; and his love-story with "The
Angel" are full of real sentiment.


A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST.
Illustrated by Wladyslaw T. Brenda.

The story of a girl of the Michigan woods; a buoyant, lovable type of
the self-reliant American. Her philosophy is one of love and kindness
towards all things; her hope is never dimmed. And by the sheer beauty of
her soul, and the purity of her vision, she wins from barren and
unpromising surroundings those rewards of high courage.


AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW.
Illustrations in colors by Oliver Kemp.

The scene of this charming love story is laid in Central Indiana. The
story is one of devoted friendship, and tender self-sacrificing love.
The novel is brimful of the most beautiful word painting of nature, and
its pathos and tender sentiment will endear it to all.


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK

                 *       *       *       *       *


    Transcriber's note: Punctuation has been made regular and consistent
    with contemporary standards.

    Page 67, "forword" changed to "forward" (boy went forward).

    Page 320, "wip" changed to "wipe" (to wipe away).





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "From the Valley of the Missing" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home