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Title: Oldfield - A Kentucky Tale of the Last Century
Author: Banks, Nancy Huston
Language: English
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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.

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                              OLDFIELD

                 A KENTUCKY TALE OF THE LAST CENTURY

                        BY NANCY HUSTON BANKS


    New York
    THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
    LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
    1902

    _All rights reserved_

    COPYRIGHT, 1902,
    BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

    Set up and electrotyped May, 1902.

    Norwood Press
    J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith
    Norwood Mass. U.S.A.

    To My Father



CONTENTS


I. THE LITTLE SISTERS

II. THE OLDFIELD PEOPLE

III. PHASES OF VILLAGE LIFE

IV. THE CHILD OF MISS JUDY'S HEART

V. AN UNCONSCIOUS PHILOSOPHER

VI. LYNN GORDON

VII. THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA

VIII. AT OLD LADY GORDON'S

IX. A ROMANTIC REGION

X. RELIGION IN OLDFIELD

XI. BODY OR SOUL

XII. MISS JUDY'S LITTLE WAYS

XIII. THE DANCING LESSON

XIV. MAKING PEACE

XV. SIDNEY DOES HER DUTY

XVI. THE SHOCK AND THE FRIGHT

XVII. LOVE'S AWAKENING

XVIII. AN EMBARRASSING ACCIDENT

XIX. INVOKING THE LAW

XX. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FAITH AND LOVE

XXI. WHAT OLDFIELD THOUGHT AND SAID

XXII. THE UPAS TREE

XXIII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END

XXIV. OLD LADY GORDON'S ANGER

XXV. THE REVELATION OF THE TRUTH

XXVI. THE TRAGEDY

XXVII. THE LAST ARTFULNESS OF MISS JUDY



OLDFIELD



I

THE LITTLE SISTERS


The old white curtain was slightly too short. Its quaint border of
little cotton snowballs swung clear of the window ledge, letting in the
sunbeams. The flood of light streaming far across the faded carpet
reached the high bed, and awakened Miss Judy earlier than usual on that
bright March morning, in the Pennyroyal Region of Kentucky, a half
century ago.

Miss Judy was always awake early, and usually arose while her sister lay
still fast asleep on the other side of the big bed. She had learned,
however, to creep so softly from beneath the covers, and to climb so
quietly down the bed's steep incline, that Miss Sophia was hardly ever
in the least disturbed. Moreover, Miss Judy always kept a split-bottomed
chair standing near her pillow at night. This served not only as a stand
for the candlestick and matches,--so that the candle need not be blown
out before Miss Sophia was comfortably cuddled down and Miss Judy was in
bed,--but it also furnished a dignified and comparatively easy means of
ascending the bed's heights. On descending, Miss Judy had but to step
decorously from the mound of feathers to the chair and to drop
delicately from the chair to the floor.

To have seen Miss Judy doing this must have been a sight well worth
seeing. She was so very pretty, so small, so slight, so exquisite
altogether. Old as she was, she had still the movements of a bird. Her
sweet old face was as fair as any girl's, and as ready with its delicate
blushes. Her soft hair, white as falling snowflakes and as curly as a
child's, was burnished by a silver gloss lovelier than the sheen of
youth. And her beautiful eyes were still the blue of the flax flowers.

Lifting her shining, curly head on that sunny morning, Miss Judy cast a
glance of dismay at the ruthless sunbeams lying on the carpet, and she
could not help a slight start. Then she held her breath for a moment,
turning her blue eyes on the back of Miss Sophia's nightcap, in a look
of anxious love. It always gave Miss Sophia a headache to be aroused
suddenly. Miss Judy was afraid that the involuntary movement might have
startled her. They were very tender of each other, these two poor little
sisters. And they were very, very polite to one another; more polite to
one another than they were to others, if that were possible. Miss
Sophia, who could not always remember the smaller matters of fine
breeding where other people were concerned, never forgot the smallest
courtesy toward her sister. Miss Judy, who was ever the pink--the
sweetest, old-fashioned clovepink--of politeness to everybody, always
treated Miss Sophia with such distinguished consideration as was a
lesson in manners to see. And no one ever smiled: it was too lovely to
be laughed at--too sincere to be absurd. Lying down side by side every
night of their long and blameless lives, they formally wished each other
pleasant dreams, and bade one another a ceremonious good night. Rising
every morning--separately, with delicate regard for the simple mysteries
of one another's toilet--they greeted each other at breakfast as two
high-bred strangers might meet in some grand drawing-room.

Leaning upon her elbow, Miss Judy now listened for a space to her
sister's breathing. She could always tell when all was well with Miss
Sophia's slumbers, by a mild little puffing sound, which did no harm,
but which nothing would ever have induced Miss Judy to mention to Miss
Sophia or to any one. The puffs continuing peacefully, Miss Judy smiled
lovingly and, laying the cover back with no more noise than a mouse
makes, she flitted birdlike from the mound of feathers to the chair and
thence to the home-made rug. She was always careful to stand on the rug
while dressing, in order to save the carpet. Miss Sophia also always
meant to stand on it, but she sometimes forgot that as she did many
other things. The carpet was long past saving, as it was long past
further fading; but neither Miss Judy nor Miss Sophia had begun to
suspect the fact. To them it was still the elegant all-wool three-ply
which their mother had spun and woven and sewed with her own hands.
Accordingly, Miss Judy now hastened to spread a strip of rag carpet in
the sun's path, before commencing to dress. The big, bare room was cold,
the handful of chips, which had made a cheerful blaze at bedtime, having
died out during the night. But Miss Judy did not know that she was
shivering. She was not in the habit of thinking of her own comfort, and
it did not occur to her to kindle a fire with the chips which were in
the basket beside the hearth, until such time as Miss Sophia should need
the warmth. She merely dressed as fast as she could, lingering only over
the last look in the mirror lying along the top of the tall chest of
drawers. Such a queer old mirror! Long and narrow in its frame of
tarnished gilt, with a faded landscape painted on each dim end, which
was divided from the rest of the glass by a solemn little column. The
chest stood so high and Miss Judy was so small that it was not easy for
her to get a good look at her straight little back. But there was no
other way of making sure that the point of her white muslin kerchief was
precisely on a line with the bow of her black silk apron strings. And
any irregularity in this matter would have shocked Miss Judy as being
positively immodest. She managed, however, by standing on the very tips
of her toes, to see that all was as it should be. Settling her cap, she
bent down, and noiselessly taking the basket of chips, kindled a fire in
one corner of the wide, empty fireplace, thinking with a loving glance
at the bed that the room would be comfortably warm when Miss Sophia got
up. Finally, she went into the passage to open the front door.

All the Oldfield front doors were set open in the morning and left open
all day, whenever the weather was reasonably mild; except during the
summer, when very few of them were closed at any time, either night or
day. Miss Judy alone, of the whole village, always closed hers at
bedtime all the year round. And she did not do it because she was
afraid, though everybody knew how timid she was. It never occurred to
her, during the whole of her gentle, innocent life, that there could be
in the world a living creature who would wish to do her any harm. There
was really nothing for the most timid to fear in that quiet, peaceful,
pastoral country. To be sure, Alvarado, The Terrible, sometimes dashed
into the village--unexpected, dazzling, fascinating, bewildering--and
out again like a lightning flash. Then most of the men did indeed
disappear as suddenly as though the earth had opened and swallowed them
up. But Alvarado never noticed the women, and he never came at night.
That is, no one ever claimed to have _seen_ him galloping by after
nightfall. Late watchers with the sick, who were the only late watchers
in Oldfield, sometimes told fearsome tales of thunderous hoofs at
midnight and of sparks that flew blue through the darkness. But Miss
Judy had never seen or heard anything of the kind. She had never seen
Alvarado at all, except in the distance and surrounded as he always was
by a cloud of dust and mystery. She was ever slow to believe evil of any
one and she rather leaned to Alvarado's side. It was unchristian, she
thought, to ascribe all sorts of wickedness to a man about whom no one
actually knew anything beyond the fact that he was a stranger and a
foreigner and had been most unfortunate. Moreover, he had been and was
still very unhappy, and the unfortunate and the unhappy had always a
friend in Miss Judy. Then the romance of his marriage appealed strongly
to her imagination. It was, of course, very wrong, and even very wicked,
for him to have tricked and frightened poor Alice Fielding into marrying
him, but he could hardly have known that she loved another man. Nobody
seemed to have known it until too late,--not even John Stanley whom she
loved,--and Alvarado also had loved her. There was never any doubt of
that. He had not been quite in his right mind since her death, many
years before. In Miss Judy's tender judgment he was much more to be
pitied than to be feared. No, Alvarado had nothing to do with Miss
Judy's closing her door at bedtime. She had closed it long before he had
ever been heard of in that country. She closed it simply and solely
because she considered it the _proper_ thing to do, on account of there
being no men-folks about the house. The other lone women of Oldfield
closed theirs too--when they remembered to do it--without a murmur, no
matter how hot the nights were, simply and solely because Miss Judy
closed hers; for no right-minded member of the whole community ever
needed a better reason for doing, or not doing anything, than to know
that Miss Judy deemed it proper or improper.

This quality of leadership is always interesting, wherever found, and it
is nearly always hard to explain. In Miss Judy's case it was even harder
to make out than it commonly is. The singularity of her supremacy had
nothing to do with her poverty. Neither poverty nor riches would appear
ever to have anything to do with the quality of leadership in any part
of the earth, and none of Miss Judy's neighbors could be considered
either very poor or more than well-to-do. The most utterly
incomprehensible feature of Miss Judy's long and absolute reign was,
perhaps, her total lack of every personal characteristic of the
autocrat. It is certainly not the usual qualification for autocracy to
be as gentle and shy as Miss Judy was--or as distrustful of self and as
trustful of others--or as self-forgetful and as thoughtful of every one
else. The little lady was far too timid and soft of spirit knowingly to
lay down laws for any one: she was only strong and firm enough to cling
timidly to her own gentle convictions through a hard life of privation,
as a dove clings to its nest through the fiercest storms.

She never dreamt that she _was_ an autocrat. When she noticed the
universal and marked deference with which she was always treated, she
thought it was because her father had been greatly respected, and her
mother much beloved. It was quite natural that they should have been,
Miss Judy thought in justification of her own shining by a reflected
light. They had been justly prominent among the earliest settlers of the
Pennyroyal Region, coming with their two infant daughters when
Virginia--like a rich and generous queen--first began giving away the
county of Kentucky, to the sons who had served her in the Revolution.
Those were glorious days! To tell about them now sounds like a fairy
tale. And yet they were sad days as well. For, great though the honor
was and dazzling as was the reward, the officers so honored and rewarded
must have known that the claiming of these lands meant lifelong exile
for their families and for themselves. It would appear so, at all
events, since few came who could stay nearer to civilization. The more
fortunate ones stayed on in the old Virginia homes, content with holding
cloudy titles to vast estates lying in this unknown wilderness of
Kentucky; and with rearing there splendid castles in the air. So very
cloudy, indeed, were many of these titles sent to Virginia by
irresponsible agents, that litigation over them has only recently ceased
in the local courts. Other officers were too poor to employ agents
either good or bad, and these were consequently compelled to go in
person, or to lose the grant of land. Among those reduced to this sore
strait was Major John Bramwell, Miss Judy's father, who had won
distinction as a captain of horse in the War for Independence. The
home-coming found him utterly stranded. His small patrimony was long
since spent, and his wife's ample fortune had shrunk to a mere pittance.
He knew no means of earning a livelihood, knowing even less of the
business of peace than most soldiers know. Hopelessly in debt, he knew
not where to turn for relief; he knew not how to find bare bread for his
family. The new home and the fresh start in the far-off county of
Kentucky offered the only refuge. The young wife consented to go, as she
would have consented to anything he wished or thought best; for she was
the gentlest of women, and her faith in her husband was absolute. Thus
it was that they gathered up the few fragments of the old happy life,
and, taking their two little ones, rode sadly away into exile.

Sad indeed and heavy-hearted must have been all those first
gentle-people who thus rode away from their old homes in Virginia over
the Alleghanies into the wilderness of Kentucky, bearing tender little
children in their arms. Miss Judy was much too young to remember that
terrible journey, and Miss Sophia was only a baby, but they both knew
all about it as soon as they were old enough to understand. They always
wept when they heard how tired the delicate little mother was before the
awful mountains were crossed--no matter how often they heard the story.
They always smiled when they heard how glad all the weary pilgrims were
to find a broad-horn waiting to bear the little band down the
Ohio--though they heard the story over and over again. And they always
followed the broad-horn with ever new interest, on and on down that
long, long river through the primeval forest growing to the water's
edge. Forest, forest, forest everywhere for hundreds of miles, till they
came--with the travellers--almost to the vast mouth of the mighty river
near which the Pennyroyal Region lies.

Miss Judy was not sure that it was called so when she entered it, an
infant in her father's arms. She always thought it more likely that the
whole of Kentucky may still have been known as The Dark and Bloody
Ground, so great were still the sufferings of the brave men and braver
women who were still giving their lives to redeem it from darkness and
blood. But there never was the slightest doubt in Miss Judy's mind that
these gentle-people coming now were braver than any who had come
before--the bravest because they were the gentlest. It always made her
own gentle heart beat, as if to strains of martial music, to be told in
the little mother's soft voice of the leaving of the broad-horn's frail
protection, and of the undaunted plunge into the depths of the
wilderness. Yet there were dangers there to be met which courage itself
must flee from. These fearless Virginians who did not shrink from facing
savages, nor from encountering wild beasts, shrank and fled appalled
before the more frightful dangers then lurking all along the banks of
the lower Ohio. There, hidden under the beauty of the almost tropical
vegetation, was the hideous rack of the fever and ague, waiting ready to
torture the strength out of the men, the heart out of the women, and the
very lives out of the children. There, beneath the noble trees and above
the wide open spaces, rolling like gentle prairies--sunlit, flower
filled, so richly covered with wild strawberries that the horses' hoofs
were dyed rosy-red--there the deadly mystery of "the milk-sickness" was
already spreading its invisible shroud over the whole beautiful land.

Fleeing from these perils more to be feared than the cruelest savages,
and more to be dreaded than the fiercest wild beasts, the travellers
went further into the heart of the wilderness, seeking the safety of
higher ground; on and on, following the buffalo tracks which still
traversed the country from end to end like broad, hard-beaten highways.
One of these led them along a range of hills and into a fertile little
valley, and it was here that the Virginians finally found a
resting-place. It was here in this vale of rest, folded between these
quiet hills, that the village of Oldfield grew out of that settlement,
and here that it stands to-day scarcely altered from its beginning. Over
the hills--there on the east where tender green of the crowning trees
melts into the tenderer blue of the arching clouds--there still lies the
untouched strip of broad brown earth, which the people of to-day call
the Wilderness Road, just as those wandering Virginians called it when
they first found it.

The forest crowded close to the valley, but the sun shone bright where
the giant trees stood farther apart. Then the skies of Kentucky were as
blue as the skies of Italy, just as they are now, so that the sunshine
and the peace of the spot, and the pure air of the wooded hills, gave
the wayfarers heart to believe themselves safe from the terrors of the
Ohio. The homes which they built were all humble enough, the merest
cabins of rough logs, since they had nothing else wherewith to build.
Major Bramwell's house was no better than the rest. Like most of the
settlers' cabins it had two low, large rooms with a closed passage
between and a loft above. But it is the mistress who makes the real
home,--wherever reared; the mere building of it has little to do with
its making. And the softest little woman, who is neither very brilliant
nor very wise, can work miracles for her husband and her children, no
matter where her wings may rest upon the earth. This one, softer and
less wise than many, not only made a real home of perfect refinement out
of that log hut in the wilderness, but she reared her daughters--amongst
white men rougher than the wild beasts, and near red men infinitely
fiercer--as gently as any royal princesses were ever trained in any old
palace for the gracing of courts.

It was easy enough to train Miss Judy, whose nature responded to
exquisiteness as an æolian harp responds to the breeze. Miss Sophia was
different, but the little mother did not live long enough to find it
out. Perhaps no true mother ever lives long enough to find anything
lacking in her child. Miss Sophia was standing on the threshold of
womanhood, and Miss Judy had barely crossed it, when the little mother
died, worn out by hardship and broken-hearted by exile, but cheerful and
uncomplaining to the last, as such mothers always are.

Is it not amazing that a small, soft woman can leave such a large, hard
void in the world? Is it not bewildering to learn, as most of us do,
sooner or later, that those whom we have always believed we were taking
care of, were really stronger than ourselves, and that we have always
leaned on them. The very foundations of life seem falling away, when the
truth first comes home to the heart. No one knew what Major Bramwell
felt or thought when the gentle wife who had yielded in everything first
left him to stand alone. He was naturally a silent, reserved man, and
misfortune had embittered him. Within the year following her death he
returned to Virginia for a visit, apparently unable to endure the exile
without her. His daughters were lonely too, but they were glad to have
him go. That is, Miss Judy was glad, and Miss Sophia was always pleased
with anything that pleased Miss Judy. They were still content, believing
him to be happier, when the visit went on into the second year, and even
into the third. But as the fourth and the fifth passed, they grew
anxious, and the neighbors wondered, and gradually began to shake their
heads. News travelled slowly over the Alleghanies even yet, but it was
whispered at last that the major would never come back,--that he could
not,--because he had been arrested for old debts left unpaid when he
came to Kentucky, and that he was thus held "within prison bounds."

The Oldfield people could never tell whether the sisters were aware of
the truth. The neighbors noticed that as the years went by Miss Judy
said less and less about his coming back, though she spoke of him as
often and as proudly as ever, and that Miss Sophia, who never had much
to say about anything, now rarely mentioned her father at all. They
heard from him, however, at long intervals. The neighbors were sure of
so much concerning the major, by reason of Miss Judy's being sometimes
compelled to borrow the two bits to pay the postage on the letter.
Nothing else ever forced her to borrow, though she had not a penny to
call her own for weeks together, and Miss Sophia--poor soul--never had
one. Everybody in Oldfield knew when anybody got a letter. The stage
carrying the mail came twice a week. The postmaster, who was also a
tailor, always locked the door of his little shop as soon as he had
taken the mail-bag inside. He could not read writing very readily, and
he did not wish to be hurried. The villagers fumed outside as they
looked through the one smoky, broken window, and saw him deliberately
spelling out his own letters, sitting down with his feet on the stove.
In the winter when the days were short, and it began to grow dark early,
they used to stuff something into the stovepipe which came out of a
broken pane, so that the smoke soon compelled him to open the door. In
the summer the heat prevented the postmaster's keeping the door closed
for any great length of time; but no matter what the season most of the
Oldfield people were waiting when the mail came; consequently, everybody
knew what everybody else received. And then Miss Judy used to give out
kind messages to the neighbors from her father's letters; messages which
did not sound at all like the major. But Miss Judy was wholly
unconscious that her own sweetness colored whatever it may have been
that her father had really written. She was as unconscious of this as of
any reason that she herself might have had for growing sour, as her
lovely youth faded, neglected like the wild flowers blooming unseen in
the shadowy woods.

The quiet lives of the little sisters thus went on uneventfully from
youth to maturity. They were as utterly alone, so far as association
with their own class was concerned, as if they had lived on a desert
island. Only the occasional letter from their father marked the passing
of the years. They were sheltered by the old log house, and they
subsisted somehow on what grew from its bit of ground. It was the same
now that it had always been; it was still the same, except that the
little sisters had passed unawares into middle age, when they heard that
their father was dead.

No one ever knew whether the daughters were told the whole sad truth:
that this gallant old soldier of the Revolution, who had done much for
the winning of Independence, had died in prison bounds for debts which
he was never able to pay. Miss Judy's beautiful eyes were dim with
weeping for a long time. Miss Sophia was sad for many months through
sympathy with her sister's grief. Miss Judy took the purple bow off Miss
Sophia's cap and a blue one off her own and dyed them black. Their
Sunday coats, as they called two thread-bare bombazines, were black
already, and their everyday coats had also been black before turning
brown. So that those two poor little bits of lutestring ribbon were the
only outward signs of new bereavement.



II

THE OLDFIELD PEOPLE


Living was leisurely down in the Pennyroyal Region of those old days.
About the middle of the last century, some twenty years after the
major's death, the weeks and months and years went by so quietly that
his daughters grew old without knowing it.

No one indeed ever thought of Miss Judy as old. Charm so purely
spiritual as hers has never any age. And then it would seem as if an
element of perpetual youth often lingers to the last around a lovable
unmarried woman as it rarely does around the married. The rose keeps its
beauty and sweetness longest when left to fade ungathered.

Possibly Miss Judy may have been a shade slighter than she had been
twenty years before, although she was never much stouter than a willow
twig. Her hair can hardly have been whiter than it had been ever since
anybody could remember, and it was just as curly, too, notwithstanding
that she tried harder every day to brush it till it was prim and smooth,
as she thought white hair should be.

Miss Sophia had never seemed very young, and she now appeared little if
at all older. Her dark hair never whitened, and if the gray streaks over
her placid temples had broadened slightly, it was no more trouble than
it used to be to reach up the chimney and get a bit of soot on the tip
of her finger--while Miss Judy was out of the room or looking the other
way. It was an innocent artifice, but it remained always the darkest
secret between the sisters. And this was probably not quite so dark a
secret as Miss Sophia supposed it to be, since she, being so very plump,
could not stand on tiptoe to look in the mirror, as Miss Judy did.
Consequently, it was perhaps inevitable that the touching up intended
for the gray streaks over Miss Sophia's placid temples, sometimes fell
unawares on her honest little cheeks, or her guileless little ears.

Almost unaltered as the sisters were, their environment was, if
possible, even less changed by the quiet passing of the uneventful
years. For all outward changes, this March morning on which Miss Judy
looked out over the sleeping village might have been the first morning
after the first settlers had made their homes in this vale of peace. The
folding hills were yet covered by the primeval forest. The log houses
built by the Virginians still straggled beside a single thoroughfare.
The highway, too, was the same buffalo track which they had followed
through the wilderness--just as crooked in its direction, just as
irregular in its width, just as muddy in winter and dusty in summer, and
it was called the "big road" now, just as it had been in the beginning.
And the sleepers in the still darkened houses were, with scarcely an
exception, the descendants of the sounder sleepers in the graveyard on
the furthest, highest hilltop. For the people of that far-off Pennyroyal
Region came and went in those old days only with the coming and the
going of the generations.

The night's shadows still lingered among the great, black tree-trunks
draping the leafless boughs, but the sun's radiant lances were already
lifting the white mists from the lowlands. Soft sounds coming up from
the silent fields echoed the gentle awakening of flocks and herds,
deepening, as the light brightened, into the eternal matin appeal of the
dumb creature to human brotherhood. The birds alone were all wide awake
and vividly astir. Flocks of plovers wheeled white-winged across the
low-hung sky. A lonely sparrow-hawk swung high on seemingly motionless
pinions. There were redbirds, too, and bluebirds and blackbirds--pewees,
thrushes, vireos, kingfishers--all flocking in with the red and gold of
the sunrise, making the dun meadows bright and melodious with their
plumage and song. Miss Judy saw and heard them in pleased surprise. She
could not recall having seen any of them that season, save two or three
melancholy robins, drooping in the cold rain of the previous day. But
here they all were, and singing as if _they_ had no doubt that spring
had come, however doubtful mere mortals might be.

It was light enough now to see the tavern which stood on the edge of the
village. The sign of the tavern, a big rusty bell hung in a rough,
rickety wooden frame, stood clear against the gray horizon, dangling its
rotting rope, which few travellers ever came to pull.

The court-house and the jail faced the tavern from the other side of the
big road. The court-house, with its stately little pillars and its queer
little cupola, looked like some small and shabby old gentleman in a very
high, very tight stock. There were two terms of circuit court, lasting
about a month, one in the spring and one in the fall. The quarterly and
the county courts convened at stated periods. The magistrate's court,
which was also in the court-house, was held usually and almost
exclusively as the peace of the colored population might require.
Fortunately, the magistrate was regarded with a good deal of wholesome
awe, and it was fortunate that he lived in the village, inasmuch as his
pacific services were likely to be needed at irregular and unexpected
times. The county judge, however, found it entirely convenient to live
in the country, on a farm near Oldfield, though he rode into the village
and spent an hour or so in his office nearly every day. Judge John
Stanley of the higher court lived a long way off, quite on the other
side of the district, coming and going twice a year with the convening
and adjournment of the spring and fall terms. He had lived in Oldfield
when a young man, and up to the time that a terrible thing had happened.
He was not to blame, yet it had blighted his whole life; it had driven
him in horror away from the place which he had loved. It was a great
loss to him to be separated from Miss Judy, the only mother he had
known. But he used to return to Oldfield now and then until another
misfortune made the place forever unendurable to him. After this only
the drag of his duty and his fondness for Miss Judy ever brought him
back, and he went away again as soon as he could. He always called upon
her when he came, and always went to bid her good-by before going away;
but he visited no one else and knew nothing of the village outside the
strict line of his official duties.

Adjoining the court-house was the county jail, a tumble-down pile of
mossy brick. Only the bars across the window indicated the character of
the building. A prisoner was occasionally enterprising enough to pull
out the bars, but they were always put in again sooner or later. There
were two rooms, one above and one below, with a movable ladder between.
When, at long and rare intervals a stranger was brought to the jail as a
prisoner, he was put in the upper room and--as an extreme measure of
precaution--the ladder was taken away during the night. Both the rooms
were apt to be chilly in cold weather on account of the broken
window-panes, yet the jail was on the whole more comfortable than many
of the cabins in which the negroes lived, and any one--no matter what
the color of his skin--can endure a good deal of cold without great
discomfort, when abundantly and richly fed. The jailer, Colonel
Fielding, and his family never thought of taking so much trouble or of
being so mean and selfish as to make any difference in the food sent to
the jail and that which was served on their own table. Now and then in
the winter the turkey and the pudding would, it is true, get rather cold
in transit, the jail and the jailer's residence being some distance
apart; but the prisoners did not mind that. They used to stand at the
windows good-humoredly hailing the passers-by to kill time; and waiting
with such patience as they could muster for the coming of the good
dinner, especially when they knew that there was more "quality" company
than usual in the jailer's house. The colonel, a beautiful old
man--tall, stately, clear-eyed, clean and upright in heart and mind and
body--was a gentleman of the old school who had never earned a penny in
all the days of his blameless life. Such a picture as he was to look at,
with his long silver hair curling on his shoulders and his tall erect
form draped in the long cloak which he wore like a Roman toga!

"By the o'wars!" he used to declare, "the older I am the faster and
thicker my hair grows. As for my cloak--it's the only suitable thing,
sir, for a gentleman's wear."

His house had always been the social centre of Oldfield. When his
friends elected him to the office of jailer, deeming that the best and
easiest way of providing for him, since it was the nearest to a sinecure
afforded by county politics, his family became still more active leaders
of society. In those good old days of the Pennyroyal Region, a gentleman
of birth and breeding might engage in any honest avocation, without the
slightest injury to his social position. The only difference that the
colonel's election to the office of jailer made to his family and his
neighbors was, that the salary enabled him to indulge his hospitable and
generous inclinations more fully. The salary was small, to be sure, but
it was more than he had ever had before. About this time, too, the
colonel's five beautiful daughters--all famous beauties--were in the
perfection of bloom, and none of them had yet married, thus beginning
the breaking up of the happy home. Such dinners, such suppers, such
dances as there were in that plain old house! The colonel's handsome,
indolent, sweet-tempered wife used to say that they were always ready
for company, because they had the best they could get every day. Usually
there was not the slightest conflict between the colonel's large social
obligations and his small official duties. On the contrary, the more
fine dinners and suppers he gave the higher the prisoners lived, and the
happier everybody was. In fact, the colored vagrant who managed to get
into the jail when winter was near--when there were no vegetables in
anybody's garden, no fruit in anybody's orchard, no green corn in
anybody's field--was regarded by his fellows as very fortunate indeed.

It chanced, however, that a wandering stranger was one day locked in
among the prisoners who were otherwise all home-folks. On that very
evening the Fielding girls were giving a grand ball and supper, to which
the whole fashion of the county was invited. The prisoners, with the
exception of the stranger, were as deeply interested in what they saw
and heard of the great stir of preparation as the guests could possibly
have been. The stranger probably knew nothing of his companions' glowing
and confident expectation of a generous share of the feast. If they told
him anything of the feasting which the next day was sure to bring, he
either did not believe it, naturally enough--having had most likely some
experience with jails and jailers--or he preferred liberty to luxury. At
all events on that eventful evening the colonel, whose mind was full of
the ball, incidentally forgot to lock the door of the jail. The strange
prisoner had, therefore, nothing to do but to open the door as soon as
the jailer's back was turned; and this he did at once, disappearing in
the darkness, never to be seen or heard of again. The other prisoners
had tried to prevent his going, and they now did their utmost to give
the alarm. They hallooed long and loud at the top of their strong lungs.
But the wind was blowing hard in the wrong direction, the jail was too
far from the house, and they could not make themselves heard above the
music and dancing and laughter and drinking of toasts. Finally one of
them, who was a sort of leader because he wintered regularly in the
jail, offered to go to the colonel's house in order to let him know what
had occurred. And he did go--willingly too--although the night was very
cold and very dark, and the mud so deep that the very bottom seemed to
have dropped out of the big road. The colonel himself with his youngest
daughter was leading the Virginia reel, and just going down the middle
to the tune of _Old Dan Tucker_; so that the bearer of the evil tidings
had to wait a few moments looking in on the ball before he found a
chance to tell his story. It was a cruel blow to come at such a time,
and the colonel felt it sorely. The prisoner reported to his companions,
after his return alone to the jail, that he thought "Marse Joe was about
to swear" then and there. It was in vain that the colonel's guests
hastened to reassure him; to tell him that it would be a great saving to
the county--so all the gentlemen said--if every one of the lazy black
rascals could be induced to run away. But the colonel felt the wound to
his pride. It was a matter touching his honor. And finally, finding him
inflexible in his determination to do his duty under the circumstances,
the men present offered--almost to a man--to go with him when he went to
search for the fugitive; and they kept their word on the following day
about noon when the sun was warmest, just to please the colonel,
although they knew beforehand how futile the pursuit would be with vast
canebrakes near by and the Cypress Swamp just beyond the hills.

That memorable night of the ball was long, long past when this March
morning dawned. The colonel was very old now and very feeble, with
dimmed memories and utterly alone. He had lost his wife years before.
His five beautiful daughters were married and gone. Alice, the most
beautiful of all, the youngest, the brightest, the highest spirited, was
dead after the wrecking of her young life. The old man had aged and
failed rapidly since Alice's death. He, who used to be so cheerful, sat
brooding at first, turning his aching memories this way and that way,
trying to see whether he might not have done something to prevent the
soft-hearted child from being frightened into marrying a man whom she
feared almost as much as she disliked. He was always thinking about it
in those early days after her death in the bloom of youth and beauty,
but he rarely spoke of it even then, and after a time he was allowed to
forget. Mercifully memory faded as weakness increased. The gentle,
unhappy old man became ere long again a gentle, happy child, and
yet--even to the last--when aroused to glimmering consciousness the
gallant manner of the courtly gentleman of the old school came back.
Miss Judy thought she had never seen so polished a bearing as the
colonel's had been and would be--in a way--as long as he lived. She
wondered uneasily that morning, as she looked toward his house, whether
the servants took good care of him; and she made up her mind to be more
watchful of him herself. She was much afraid that the rain might make
his rheumatism worse.

Next to the colonel's, coming down the big road, was the Gordon place,
the largest and best kept in the village. The house was a low rambling
structure of logs, whitewashed inside and out. The rooms had been added
at random as suited the comfort and convenience of the family. It was
not the habit of the Oldfield people to consider appearances. It was not
the habit of the widow Gordon to consider anything but her own wishes.
It may have been on account of this imperiousness, this open and
scornful disregard of everything and everybody except herself and her
own comfort, that she was always called "old lady Gordon" behind her
back. She lived alone with a large retinue of servants in the
comfortable old house, spending her days in a state of mental and
physical semi-coma from over-eating and over-sleeping, using both like
lethean drugs. Miss Judy alone sometimes thought that old lady Gordon so
used them and pitied her. Old lady Gordon, who had a strong keen sense
of humor, almost masculine in its robustness, would have laughed at the
idea of Miss Judy's pity. She was the richest member of that community
in which all living was simple, and in which the extremes of riches and
poverty were not known as they are known to the greater world. Most of
the Oldfield people dwelt contentedly in the middle estate which the
wisest of men prayed for. None was poorer than Miss Judy, who had only a
pittance of a pension, the old house, and the scrap of earth; none, that
is, except Sidney Wendall, who, although she owned the log cabin which
sheltered her family and the bit of garden lying by its side, had not a
penny of income for the support of her three children, her husband's
brother, and herself. Yet Miss Judy managed to provide for Miss
Sophia--and herself also as an afterthought; and Sidney provided for her
family without difficulty, though in both cases a steady, strenuous
effort was required.

Among the few who were really well-to-do, were Tom Watson and Anne his
wife. Their house, facing Miss Judy's across the big road, was rather
more modern than the rest of the Oldfield houses, and it was better
furnished. And yet as Miss Judy looked at its closed blinds she sighed,
thinking how little money had to do with happiness, when it could give
no relief from pain of mind or body. More than a year had dragged by
since the master of that darkened household had been brought home after
the accident which had crushed the great, strong, passionate,
undisciplined, good-hearted giant into a helpless, hopeless
paralytic--as the lightning fells the mighty oak in fullest leaf. The
mistress of the stricken home had always been what the Oldfield people
called a "still-tongued" woman, and she was now become more silent than
ever. The house had never been a cheerful one, save as the noisy master
blustered in and out. Now it was sad indeed: now that both husband and
wife knew that he could never be any better, never otherwise than he
was, although he might live for years.

Miss Judy wondered as she gazed, whether Doctor Alexander, living a
little further along the big road, had yet told Anne the whole truth.
After a moment she was sure that he had not. He was the kindest of
bluff-spoken men. And what would be the use--since neither Anne nor the
doctor nor the power of the whole world of sympathy or science could do
anything more? She was glad to see the doctor's curtains still drawn. He
needed all the rest he could get; he was always overworked in his
practice for twenty miles around. And Mrs. Alexander, the doctor's wife,
was one of the rare kind, who are always ready to sleep when other
people are sleepy and to breakfast when other people are hungry: a much
rarer kind, as even Miss Judy knew, unworldly as she was, than the kind
who always expect others to be sleepy when _they_ wish to sleep and to
be ready to eat when _they_ are hungry.

In the unpainted, tumble-down house next to the doctor's, somebody was
awake and stirring. Miss Judy guessed it to be Kitty Mills, and she knew
it was more than likely that the poor woman had not been in bed at all.
It was nothing uncommon for old man Mills, Kitty's father-in-law, to
keep her busy in waiting upon him the whole night through. It was
utterly impossible for Kitty, or anybody else, to please him, but Kitty
never seemed to mind in the least; she merely laughed and tried
again--over and over with untiring kindness and unflagging patience.
Miss Judy never knew quite what to make of Kitty Mills, though she had
lived just across the big road from her through all these years. Miss
Judy could understand submission without resistance easily enough; she
had submitted to a good many hard things herself, without a murmur. But
she could not comprehend the acceptance of unkindness and injustice and
ingratitude and endless toil and hardship with actual hilarity, as Kitty
Mills accepted all of these things, day in and day out, year after year.
And there she was now singing, blithe as a lark! Well, such a
disposition as Kitty's was a good gift, Miss Judy thought almost
enviously, as though her own disposition were very bad indeed. Then she
began to reproach herself for uncharitable thoughts of old man Mills's
daughters. They may have had their reasons for bringing their father to
Kitty's house to be nursed by her, instead of nursing him themselves.
Perhaps they had brought him because they believed Kitty would take
better care of him than they could, knowing how faithfully she had
nursed their mother who had been unable to leave her bed for years, and,
indeed, up to her death, only a few months before. We cannot look into
one another's hearts, so Miss Judy reminded herself. No doubt we should
judge more justly if we could. And Sam, Kitty's husband, was really a
good, kind man, and maybe he _would_ work sometimes were it not for the
misery in his back, which always grew worse whenever work was even
mentioned in his presence. Still Miss Judy could not see, try as she
might, how Kitty Mills could laugh till she cried, when old man Mills
snatched up the dinner which she had cooked on a hot day and flung it
out the window--dishes and all.

Looking farther along the big road, Miss Judy saw that the Pettuses also
were awake and stirring about. The bachelor brother and the maiden
sister were both early risers. Mr. Pettus kept the general store, and he
liked to have it open and ready for trade when the farmers taking grain
and tobacco to market drove the big-wheeled wagons with their swaying
ox-teams through the village on the way to the river. Miss Pettus arose
with the first chicken that took its head from under its wing, her main
interest in life being concentrated in the poultry-yard. She always held
that any one having to do with hens must be up before the sun; and she
used to tell Miss Judy a great deal about the Individuality of Hens, the
subject with which she was best acquainted and upon which she discoursed
most entertainingly and instructively. Miss Judy always listened with
much interest and entire seriousness. Gentle Miss Judy had not a very
keen sense of humor; it is doubtful if any really sweet woman ever had.

"The folks who think all hens are alike except the difference that the
feathers make outside, don't know what they are talking about!" Miss
Pettus once said, in her excited way. "Hens are as different inside as
folks are. Some hens are silly and some have got plenty of sense, only
they're stubborn. There's that yellow-legged pullet of mine. _She's_ so
silly that she is just as liable to lay in the horse-trough as in her
nice, clean nest. Every blessed morning, rain or shine, unless I'm up
and on the spot before she can get into the trough, old Baldy eats an
egg with his hay, and I'm expecting every day that he'll eat her. And
there's that old dorminica, the one that Kitty Mills cheated me with
when we swapped hens that time. Well, the old dorminica ain't a _bit_
silly. She's just out and out contrary. The great, lazy, fat thing! Set
she _won't_--do what I will! And Kitty Mills _knew_ she wouldn't--knew
it just as well when we swapped as I know it this minute. There's no use
trying to persuade me that she didn't. It's awful aggravating, because
the dorminica's the heaviest hen I've got. Well, night before last I
made up my mind that I'd _make_ her set, whether she wanted to or not.
When it began to get dark and she sauntered off to go to roost, I caught
her and put her down on a nest full of fine, fresh eggs--set her down
real firm and determined, like _that_--as much as to say 'we'll _see_
whether you don't stay there,' and then I turned a box over her so that
she couldn't get out if she tried. But I couldn't help feeling kind of
uneasy, with fresh eggs gone up so high, clear to ten cents a dozen. The
next morning at break o' day, cold and rainy as it was, I put on my
overshoes and threw my shawl over my head, and went to take a peep under
the box. And there--you'll hardly believe it, Miss Judy, but I give you
my word as a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church--there was that
old dorminica _a-standing up_!"

Miss Judy had said at the time what a shame it was to waste nice eggs
so, and she had spoken with sincere feeling. She had been cherishing a
secret hope that she might get a few eggs from Miss Pettus to complete a
setting for Speckle. Miss Judy had saved ten eggs with great care,
keeping them wrapped in a flannel petticoat; but Speckle, the docile and
industrious, could easily cover fifteen and was quite willing to do it.
Now, Miss Judy's hope was lost through the dorminica's contrariness. She
thought about this again with a pang of disappointment, as she heard the
cackling and confusion going on in the Pettus poultry-yard, which told
the whole neighborhood that Miss Pettus was wide awake and actively
pursuing her chosen walk in life.

Sidney Wendall, the widow, was another early riser, as one needs be when
earning a living for a whole family by one's wits. Sidney's house, the
poorest and smallest of all the village, was the last at that end of the
big road, and stood higher than the others, far up on the hillside. As
Miss Judy looked toward it that morning, she was not thinking of Sidney
but of Doris, her daughter, whom Miss Judy loved as her own child. At
the very thought of Doris a new light came into her blue eyes and a
lovelier flush overspread her fair cheeks. She stood still for a moment,
gazing wistfully, waiting and longing for the far-off glimpse of Doris,
which nearly always sweetened the beginning of the day. On that wet
March morning there was no flutter of a little white apron, no sign of a
wafted kiss. Miss Judy sighed gently as her gaze came back to her own
yard. There were two japonica bushes, one standing on either side of the
front gate, and as Miss Judy now glanced at them she was startled to see
what seemed to be a roseate mist floating among the bare, brown
branches, still dripping and shining with the night's rain.



III

PHASES OF VILLAGE LIFE


A rosy mist often floated between Miss Judy and the bare, brown things
of life. She knew it, realizing fully how many mistakes she made in
seldom seeing things as they actually were. She had never been able to
trust her own eyes, and now they were not even as strong as they used to
be, although they were as blue as ever. The japonica bushes were only a
few paces distant, the front yard being but the merest strip of earth;
yet the ground was very wet, and Miss Judy was wearing prunella gaiters.
They were the only shoes she had; they were also the only kind she had
ever known a lady to wear. Shoes made of leather, however fine, would
have seemed to Miss Judy--had she known anything about them--as much too
heavy, too stiff, and altogether too clumsy for the delicate, soundless
step of a gentlewoman.

Moving out on the sunken stone of the door-step, she was still unable to
tell with certainty whether the japonicas were actually budding. She
stood peering helplessly, almost frowning in her effort to see. It was
really important that she should know as soon as possible. The coming of
spring was important to everybody in the Pennyroyal Region, where every
man was a farmer--the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, and even the
minister; and where every woman had a garden, large and rich like old
lady Gordon's, or small and poor as Miss Judy's was. And the buds of the
japonica were the gay little heralds of the spring, coming clad all in
scarlet satin, while the rest of nature wore dull and sombre robes.
Flashing out from their dark hiding-places at the first touch of the
sun, the sight of them stirred the ladies of Oldfield as nothing else
ever did. The men, too, always noticed this first sign of spring's
approach. But it was the burning of the tobacco-beds on the wooded
hillsides, the floating of long, thin banners of pale blue smoke across
a wintry sky, which moved the men. It was only in the breasts of the
gentle gardeners of Oldfield that the bursting forth of the japonica
buds, these vivid points of flame, always fired a perennial ambition.
For the housewife who could send a neighbor the earliest cool, green
lettuce, or the first warm, red radishes might well be a proud woman,
and was a personage to be looked up to and to be envied during all the
rest of the year. And was it not rather a pretty ambition and even a
laudable one? Have not most of us noted pettier ambitions and far less
laudable ones in a much larger world?

Aside from this public and universal interest and anxiety concerning
gardening time, Miss Judy had good private reasons for wishing to get an
early start. Early vegetables were more profitable than late ones in
Oldfield as elsewhere. Of course Miss Judy never thought of selling any
of the things that grew in her little garden. She would have been
shocked at the suggestion. No one in Oldfield ever sold anything, except
Mr. Pettus, who kept the general store, and who sold everything that the
Oldfield people needed. It is true that Miss Judy had a regular
engagement with Mr. Pettus to exchange green stuff for sugar or knitting
materials, or a yard of white muslin to make Miss Sophia a tucker, or a
bit of net to freshen her cap, and occasionally even some trifle for
herself. _That_, however, was an entirely different matter from vulgarly
selling things. Mr. Pettus understood the difference quite as clearly as
Miss Judy did, and he always took the greatest pains to show his
appreciation of her thoughtful condescension in letting him have the
vegetables. He was always most generous too in these delicate and
complicated transactions. It upset Miss Judy somewhat, at first, to find
him willing to give more sugar for onions than for genteeler vegetables,
especially in the spring. But it was never hard for Miss Judy to give up
when no real principle was involved; and necessity makes most of us do
certain things which we disapprove of. So that, sighing gently, Miss
Judy squeezed her heartsease and mignonette into a smaller space, and
planted more onion-sets.

She was thinking about those onion-sets as she looked at the japonica
bushes, trying to see whether they were actually budding. She could not,
as a lady, admit even to herself how largely her sister's living
depended upon the ignoble bulbs even more than upon the refined produce
of the little garden. Her own living also depended upon this bit of
earth; but that was not nearly so important, from her point of view.
Miss Sophia came first in everything, even in the annual consideration
of the problem of the onion-sets. Miss Judy, thinking that the house in
which gentlewomen lived should never smell of anything but dried rose
leaves, asked Miss Sophia if she did not think the same. Miss Sophia,
who had thought nothing about it, and who objected to the odor of onions
only because it made her very hungry, answered "Just so, sister Judy,"
very promptly and very decisively, as she always answered everything
that Miss Judy said. Consequently the tidy calico bag containing the
onion-sets was banished to the kitchen for the winter, to become a
source of secret uneasiness to Miss Judy the whole season through.
Merica, the cook, was not so dependable a personage as Miss Judy could
have wished her to be. There was indeed something disturbingly uncertain
in her very name. Miss Judy always thought it must be _A_-merica, but
Merica always stoutly insisted that her whole real true name was
Mericus-Ves-Pat-rick-One-of-the-Earliest-Settlers-of-Kentucky, and Miss
Judy gave up all further discussion of the subject simply because she
was overwhelmed, not because she was convinced.

Remembering that the onion-sets had been quite safe when she last looked
at them, Miss Judy felt a renewed anxiety to know certainly whether the
japonicas were budding. And the only way to know was to get her fathers
far-off spectacles. These were privately used by both the little sisters
upon great emergencies, such as this was. But they had never been put on
by either in public; and Miss Judy was much startled at the thought of
putting them on at the front door. Moreover, they were always kept
carefully hidden in the left-hand corner, at the very back of the top
drawer of the chest of drawers in the little sisters' room, and Miss
Sophia was still asleep. Miss Judy could tell by the way the sun touched
the sunken stone of the door-step that it wanted two or three minutes of
the time when she always rolled the cannon-ball which held the door
open, as a polite hint to Miss Sophia to get up. Under the unusual
circumstances, however, Miss Judy felt justified in rolling it at once.
It was a big ball weighing twenty-five pounds, and it was a good deal
battered by distinguished service. It had come indeed from the
battle-field at New Orleans, and there was a tradition that it was the
identical cannon-ball which had killed the British general. Miss Judy,
however, could never be brought to entertain any such dreadful belief.
She was quite content and very, very proud to know beyond a shadow of a
doubt that many of those gallant Kentuckians who rushed in at the last
desperate moment--travel-worn, starving, ragged, and armed only with
hunters' rifles--to do such valiant service in turning the tide of that
momentous battle, were true sons of the Pennyroyal Region. Miss Judy was
aware of the strange and unaccountable misstatement concerning the
conduct of the Kentuckians, made by General Jackson in his report of the
battle. But she was also aware that the general--who was not as a rule
very quick to take things back--had corrected that misstatement so
promptly and so thoroughly, that it had not been necessary for General
Adair to ride from Kentucky to New Orleans to fight a duel with him
about the slander, although that gallant Kentuckian was all ready and
eager to go.

And was there not also that remarkable song, celebrating the part taken
by "The Hunters of Kentucky" in the battle of New Orleans? Everybody was
singing it when Miss Judy was a girl; and although she could not sing
she had often hummed the ringing chorus:--

    "Oh, dear Kentucky,
    The Hunters of Kentucky;
    Dear old Kentucky,
    The Hunters of Kentucky."

And she had even repeated the five stirring verses without making a
single mistake:--

    "You've read I reckon, in the prints,
      How Pakenham attempted
    To make Old Hickory wince
      But soon his scheme repented;
    For we with rifles ready cocked,
      Thought such occasion lucky;
    And soon around our general flocked
      The Hunters of Kentucky.

    "The British felt so very sure
      The battle they would win it,
    Americans could not endure
      The battle not a minute;
    And Pakenham he made his brag
      If he in fight was lucky,
    He'd have the girls and cotton bags
      In spite of old Kentucky.

    "But Jackson he was wide awake
      And not scared at trifles,
    For well he knew what aim to take
      With our Kentucky rifles;
    He led us to the cypress swamp,
      The ground was low and mucky,
    There stood John Bull in martial pomp
      And here was old Kentucky.

    "A bank was raised to hide our breast--
      Not that we thought of dying--
    But we liked firing from a rest
      Unless the game was flying;
    Behind it stood our little force,
      None wished that it were greater,
    For every man was half a horse
      And half an alligator.

    "They did not our patience tire,
      Before they showed their faces,
    We did not choose to waste our fire,
      So snugly kept our places;
    But when no more we saw them blink
      We thought it time to stop 'em--
    It would have done you good, I think,
      To see Kentucky drop 'em."

Then gentle Miss Judy, repeating these lines, used to grow almost
bloodthirsty in trying to repeat the things which she had heard her
father say about this,--the part played by the hunters of Kentucky at
the battle of New Orleans,--as having been the first recognition of
marksmanship in warfare. Miss Judy had no clear understanding of what
her father had meant, but she usually repeated what he had said about
the sharpshooting of the hunters whenever she spoke of the battle. She
thrilled with patriotism every time she touched the cannon-ball. It was
so big that both her little hands were required to roll it into the
hollow which it had worn in the floor of the passage.

Miss Sophia obeyed the solemn rumble of the cannon-ball as she always
obeyed everything that she understood--docile little soul. She was
almost as slow of mind as of body. A round, heavy, dark, uninteresting
old woman, utterly unlike her sister, except in gentleness and goodness.
On Miss Sophia's side of the bed were three stout steps, forming a sort
of dwarf stairway, and down this she now came slowly, backwards and in
perfect safety. But Miss Sophia's getting to the floor was yet a long
way from being ready for breakfast. It was hard to see how so small a
body, so simply clothed, could get into such an intricate tangle of
strings and hooks and buttons on every morning of her life. Miss Judy's
sweet patience never wavered. She never knew that she was called upon to
exercise any toward Miss Sophia. The possibility of hurrying Miss Sophia
did not enter her mind even on that urgent occasion, when her need of
the far-off spectacles made it uncommonly hard to wait. Finally, there
being no indication of Miss Sophia's progress, other than the subdued
sounds of the struggle through which she was passing, Miss Judy timidly
approached the door of the bedroom. It was open, but she delicately
turned her head away as she tapped upon it to attract Miss Sophia's
attention, before asking permission to come in. Miss Sophia invited her
to enter, giving the permission as formally as Miss Judy had asked it.
Miss Judy apologized as she accepted the invitation, saying that she
hoped Miss Sophia would pardon her for keeping her back turned, which
she was very, very careful to continue to do. She did not say what it
was that she wanted to get out of the top drawer. The far-off spectacles
were rarely mentioned between the sisters, and Miss Sophia never
questioned anything that her sister wished to do.

Still scrupulously averting her gaze, Miss Judy found what she wanted,
and sidled softly from the room, thanking Miss Sophia and holding the
spectacles down at her side, hidden in the folds of her skirt. Stepping
out on the door-stone, she looked cautiously up and down the big road.
It was still deserted, not a human being was in sight. Only a solitary
cow went soberly past, with her bell clanging not unmusically on the
stillness. Nevertheless, Miss Judy gave another glance of precaution,
surveying the highway from end to end from the tavern on the north to
Sidney Wendall's on the south. As the little lady's eyes rested for a
moment upon the house on the hillside, a girl came out as though the
wistful gaze had drawn her forth. Miss Judy's blue eyes could barely
make out the slender young figure standing in the dazzling sunlight; but
she knew that it was Doris, and she did not need the sight of her sweet
old eyes to see the wafting of the kiss which the girl threw. Miss
Judy's own little hands flew up to throw two kisses in return. She
straightway forgot all about the spectacles. She no longer cared how
large the huge frames might look on her small face, nor how old they
might make her appear.

It was always so. At the sight of Doris, Miss Judy always ceased to be
an old maid and became a young mother. For there is a motherhood of the
spirit as well as the motherhood of the flesh, and the one may be truer
than the other.



IV

THE CHILD OF MISS JUDY'S HEART


It is among the sad things of many good lives, that those who love each
other most often understand each other least.

No mother was ever truer than Sidney Wendall, so far as her light led.
None ever tried harder to do her whole duty by her children, and none,
perhaps, could have come nearer doing it by Billy and Kate, given no
better opportunities than Sidney had.

It was Doris, the eldest child, and the one whom she loved best and was
proudest of--the darling of her heart, the very apple of her eye--that
Sidney never knew what to do with. From the very cradle she had found
Doris utterly unmanageable. Not that the child was unruly or
self-willed; she was ever the gentlest and most obedient of the three
children. It was only that the mother and the child could not understand
one another. That was all; but it was enough to send Sidney, whom few
difficulties daunted, to Miss Judy, almost in tears and quite in
despair, while Doris was hardly beyond babyhood.

"You can always tell a body in trouble what to do," she appealed to Miss
Judy. "Maybe you can even tell me what to do with that child. I know how
rough I am, but I don't know how to help it. I'm bound to bounce around
and make a noise. I don't know any other way of getting along. And then
there are Billy and Kate. They won't do a thing they're told unless
they're stormed at. Yet if I shout at them, there's Doris turning white,
and shaking, and looking as if she'd surely die. I tell you, Miss Judy,
I feel as if I'd been given a fine china cup to tote and might break it
any minute."

Miss Judy, the comforter of all the afflicted and the adviser of all the
troubled, said what she could to help Sidney. Doris _was_ different from
other children. There was no doubt about that and about its being
difficult to know how to deal with such a sensitive nature. Miss Judy
said that she did not believe, however, that any other mother would have
done any better than Sidney had--which comforted Sidney inexpressibly.
The little body could not think of anything to advise. She did not know
much about children, and she had not much confidence in her own judgment
in matters concerning them. So that, at last, after a long talk and for
lack of a clearer plan, Miss Judy proposed that Sidney should bring
Doris the next morning when setting out on her professional round, and
should leave the little one with Miss Sophia and herself. Miss Sophia
might think of the very thing to do; without living in the house with
Miss Sophia it was impossible to know how sound and practical her
judgment was--so Miss Judy told Sidney. The kind proposal lightened
Sidney's heart and she accepted it at once. She had her own opinion as
to the value of Miss Sophia's ideas, but she responded as she knew would
please Miss Judy; and she was sure at all events that Miss Judy, who was
just such another sensitive plant, would know what to do with Doris.

Miss Judy on her side was not nearly so confident. When Sidney had gone
and she began to realize what she had undertaken, she was a good deal
frightened. She not only knew almost nothing about children, as she had
confessed to this troubled poor mother; but she had always been rather
afraid of them. It had always seemed to her an appalling responsibility
to assume the forming of one of these impressionable little souls; she
had often wondered tremblingly at the lightness with which many mothers
assumed it. And here _she_ was--rushing voluntarily into the very
responsibility which she had always regarded with awe--almost with
terror. More and more disturbed and perplexed as she thought of her
foolish rashness, she nevertheless mechanically set about getting ready
for taking charge of Doris during the next day, and perhaps for many
other days, until she had at least tried to see what she could do for
the child. As a first step in the preparation she climbed the steep
stairs to the loft, which she had not entered for years, and brought
down an old doll of Miss Sophia's, and dusted it and straightened its
antiquated clothes; putting it in readiness for the ordeal of Doris on
the following morning.

"She can sit on the home-made rug, you know, sister Sophia," said Miss
Judy, nervously.

"Just so, sister Judy," promptly and firmly responded Miss Sophia, who
never noticed where anybody sat.

"And don't you think it would be a good idea to have Merica make a pig
and a kitten out of gingerbread? They might perhaps amuse the child, and
keep her from crying. A half pint of flour would be quite enough, and we
_have_ to have the fire anyway because it's ironing day. Then Merica
picked up a big basket of chips behind the cabinet-maker's shop this
morning."

"Just so, sister Judy," answered Miss Sophia, who left all provision for
fire and for everything else wholly to her sister. "And she might make
_us_ some gingerbread too, while she's about it."

"To be sure!" exclaimed Miss Judy, looking at Miss Sophia in loving
admiration. "So she can. How quick you are to see the right way, sister
Sophia. I never seem to think of things as you do."

But even as she spoke, a thought flashed uneasily across her mind,
causing her sweet old face to beam less brightly. What if the child
would _not_ sit on the home-made rug? She had never been used to
carpets--poor little thing. What if she crumbled the gingerbread all
over everything, as Miss Judy had seen children do, time and again! The
thought of such desecration of the carpet that her mother had made, for
which she had carded the wool and spun the warp and woven the woof, all
with her own dear little hands, made Miss Judy feel almost faint. The
risk of such danger threw her into more and more of a panic. She hardly
slept that night, troubled by dread of what she had so thoughtfully
undertaken. She was pale and trembling with fright when Sidney brought
Doris and left her early on the following day.

But the child sat quite still on the rug where her mother had placed
her; and she did not cry when Sidney went away, as Miss Judy feared she
would, although her lips quivered. She soon turned to look at the doll,
which Miss Judy hastened to give her to divert her attention,--looking
at it as tender little mothers look at afflicted babies. Then she gave
her attention to the gingerbread kitten, and, later, to the gingerbread
pig; and Miss Judy was pleased, though she could hardly have told why,
to notice that Doris ate the pig first and hesitated some time before
eating the kitten.

Miss Judy gave an involuntary sigh of relief when both the pig and the
kitten had disappeared without leaving a crumb. She instinctively turned
toward Miss Sophia with a pardonable little air of triumph, and was
disappointed to find her asleep in her chair. Thus Miss Judy and Doris
were left alone together, and presently the quiet child lifted her grave
brown eyes to the little lady's anxious blue ones and they exchanged a
first long, bashful look. Doris was not old enough to remember what she
thought of Miss Judy at that time; but Miss Judy always remembered how
Doris looked--such a wonderfully beautiful, gentle little creature--as
she sat there so gravely, looking up with her mites of hands folded on
her lap. After a time, as Miss Sophia slumbered peacefully on, the shy
child and the shyer old lady began to make timid advances to one
another. Doris undressed the forlorn old doll with cautious delight, and
Miss Judy dressed it again with exquisite care while Doris leaned on her
knee, hardly knowing what she did, so intense was her breathless
interest in what Miss Judy was doing. The shyest are always the most
trusting, if they trust at all. When Sidney, returning from her rounds,
came by at nightfall to take Doris home, the child was no longer in the
least afraid of Miss Judy; and Miss Judy was not nearly so much
frightened as she had been at first.

Yet it was, after all, surprising, considering how timid they both were,
that they should so soon have become tenderly and deeply attached to
each other. But every day that Sidney brought Doris and left her, she
was happier to come and more willing to stay; and erelong the day on
which she had not come would have been an empty one and dull indeed for
Miss Judy. One bright morning they had been very, very happy together.
Miss Sophia nodded as usual in her low rocking-chair, and Miss Judy was
darning her sister's stockings while Doris played at her feet.

"Miss Dudy," the child said suddenly, raising her large, serious eyes to
Miss Judy's sweet face with a puzzled look; "was it you or my mammy that
borned me?"

Miss Judy started,--blushing, smiling, looking like a beautiful
girl,--and bending down she gathered the little one in her arms and held
her for a long time very, very close. From that moment her love for
Doris assumed a different character.

It was a love which grew with the child's growth; which watched and
fostered every new beauty of character as the girl blossomed into early
womanhood, beautiful and sweet as a tall white flower. Gradually Doris
became as the sun and the moon to Miss Judy, the first object when she
arose in the morning, her last thought when she lay down at night. Yet
this devotion to Doris, and absorption in the girl's interests and
future, did not lessen in the least her devotion to Miss Sophia, her
ceaseless watchfulness over her welfare, her tender care for her
happiness. Her love for Doris never touched her love for her sister at
any point. The two loves were so distinct, so unlike, so widely apart
that there could be no conflict. It is true that Miss Judy's love for
Miss Sophia was also strongly and tenderly maternal. But Miss Judy's
gentle heart was so full of this mother-love--single and simple--that
some of it might have been given to the whole human race. Her love for
Doris was something much more exclusive, something infinitely more
subtle than this, which is shared in a measure by every womanly woman.
It was the romantic, poetic love which is given by loving age to lovable
youth when it recalls life's dawn-light to the twilight of a life which
has never known the full sunrise.

With ineffable tenderness Miss Judy yearned to lead Doris toward the
best, the finest, the highest, toward all that she herself had reached,
and toward much which she had missed. The quaint, the antiquated, the
absurd, the enchanting things that the little lady taught the little
child, the young maiden! There was nothing so coarse as Shakespeare and
nothing so commonplace as the musical glasses. Shakespeare seemed to
Miss Judy, who knew him only by hearsay, as being a little too decided,
a little too distinctively masculine. It was her theory of manners that
girls should learn only purely feminine things. The musical glasses she
would have deemed rather undesirable as being less modish than the
guitar, and consequently not so well adapted to the high polishing of a
young lady of quality, of such fine breeding as she had determined that
Doris's should be. The guitar which led Miss Judy to this conclusion had
belonged to her mother. Its faded blue ribbon, tied in an old-fashioned
bow, still bore the imprint of her vanished fingers. The ribbon smelt of
dried rose leaves, as the old music-books did too, when Miss Judy got
them out of the cabinet in the darkened parlor, and gave them to Doris,
smiling a little sadly, as she always smiled when thinking of her
mother. Miss Judy preferred Tom Moore's songs, because they were very
sentimental, and also because they were the only ones that she knew. She
had never been able to sing, but she had very high ideals of what she
called "expression," and she could play the guitar after a pretty, airy,
tinkling old fashion. So that Doris, having a low, sweet voice of much
natural music and some real talent for the art, learned easily enough
through even Miss Judy's methods of teaching; and came erelong to sing
of "Those endearing young charms" and "The heart that has truly loved"
in a bewitchingly heart-broken way; while the faded blue ribbon fell
round her lovely young shoulders.

It was really a pity that no one except Miss Sophia saw or heard those
lessons--which must have been so well worth seeing and hearing. Miss
Judy and Doris were both so entirely in earnest in all that they were
doing. Both were so thoroughly convinced that the things being taught
and learned were precisely the things which a young gentlewoman should
know. Yet nobody but poor Miss Sophia, who was asleep most of the time,
ever had so much as a glimpse of all that was constantly going on in
this forming of a young lady of quality. It was another part of Miss
Judy's theory of manners that everything concerning a gentlewoman, young
or old, must be strictly private. When, therefore, it came to such
delicate matters as walking and courtesying--as a young lady of quality
should walk and courtesy--not even Miss Sophia was permitted to be
present. Miss Judy took Doris into the darkened parlor and raised the
shades only a cautious inch or two, so that, while they could see to
move about, no living eye might behold the charming scene which was
taking place. And there in this dim light, the dainty old lady and the
graceful young girl would take delicate steps and make wonderful
courtesies--grave as grave could be--all up and down, and up and down
that sad old room.

Let nobody think, however, that Miss Judy thought only of
accomplishments, while she was thus throwing her whole heart and mind
and soul into the rearing and the training of this child of her spirit.
The substantial branches of education were not neglected. Miss Judy
tried untiringly to help Doris in gaining a store of really useful
knowledge. She did not know so well how to go about this as she did
about the music and the courtesy. She knew little if any more of the
hard prosaic side of the world than Doris herself knew--which was
nothing at all. But she had a few good old books. Her father had been a
true lover of the best in literature, and her mother had been as fond of
sentiment in fiction as in real life. These books, thick, stubby old
volumes bound in leather, gathered by them, were Miss Judy's greatest
pride and delight. She therefore led Doris to them in due time,
impressing her with proper reverence, and thus the girl became in a
measure acquainted with a very few of the few really great in letters,
and learned to know them as they may be known to an old lady and a young
girl who have never had a glimpse of the world.

Miss Judy had but one book which was less than a half century in age.
That one book, however, was very, very new indeed and so remarkable that
Miss Judy held it to be worthy of a place with the old great ones. She
had already read it several times, and yet, strange to say, she had not
given it to Doris to read. Of course she had told her about it as soon
as it came from the thoughtful friend in Virginia who had sent it. But,
for certain reasons which were not quite clear to herself, she was
doubtful about its being the kind of a book best calculated to be really
improving to Doris. She had read it aloud to Miss Sophia (who tried her
best to keep awake), and she was confidently relying upon her judgment,
which she considered so much sounder and more practical than her own, in
making the decision. It was quite a serious matter, and Miss Judy was
still earnestly though silently considering it after breakfast on that
morning in March.

"The more I think of it the surer I feel that the main trouble with
Becky was that she had no proper bringing up, poor thing;" remarked Miss
Judy suddenly and rather absently, as if speaking more to herself than
to her sister.

They sat side by side in their little rocking-chairs as they loved to
sit, and they were busily engaged in sorting garden seeds. That is, Miss
Judy was sorting the seeds while Miss Sophia held the neat little calico
bags which Miss Judy had made in the fall, while Miss Sophia held the
calico. Still, Miss Sophia's coöperation, slight as it seemed, really
required a good deal of effort and very close attention. It was all she
could do to keep the bags on her round little knees; nature, who is
niggardly in many things, having denied the poor lady a lap.

"Who?" asked Miss Sophia, staring, and struggling with the seed-bags.
"_What_ Betty?"

"Why, Becky Sharp, of course," said Miss Judy.

She was much surprised, and a little hurt that Miss Sophia should so
soon have forgotten Becky, when they had talked about her until they had
gone to bed on the night before, to say nothing of many other times. But
she was only a bit hurt, she was never offended by anything that Miss
Sophia did or said, and she went on as if she had not been even
disappointed. "We must make up our minds as to the advisability of
giving Doris the book to read before long. I was just wondering whether
_you_ thought as I think, sister Sophia, that if Becky's mother had
lived she would have been taught better than to do those foolish things,
which were so shockingly misunderstood. I firmly believe that if Becky
had been properly brought up, poor thing, she might have made a good
woman. I have been waiting for a good opportunity to ask _your_ opinion.
What would _we_ have been, without our dear mother?" she urged, as
though pleading with Miss Sophia not to be too hard on Becky. "And she
was always so poor, too. Mercifully _we've_ never had actual poverty to
contend with, as--poor Becky had. Most of the trouble came from
that--Becky herself said it did, you remember, sister Sophia."

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, warmly, and without a
shade of reserve, although she had but the haziest notion of who Becky
was, or had been, or might be; and speaking with such firm decision that
Miss Judy felt as if the matter were really about decided at last.



V

AN UNCONSCIOUS PHILOSOPHER


There is much more in the way that a thing is said than we are apt to
realize. Miss Sophia always repeated her vague and unvaried formula,
whenever Miss Judy seemed to expect a response, and she always did it
with such an effect of firm conviction as renewed Miss Judy's confidence
in the soundness of her judgment and value of her advice. In this
satisfactory manner the little sisters were again discussing the new
book several weeks later, when the spring was well advanced. They had
thus debated the serious question of Doris's being or not being
permitted to read the new novel, for an hour or more; and they might
have gone on discussing it indefinitely, as they did most things, had
not Sidney Wendall come in quite unexpectedly.

As the Oldfield front doors set open all day, there was not much
ceremony in the announcement of visitors. The caller usually tapped on
the door and entered the house forthwith, going on to seek the family
wherever the members of it were most likely to be found. Sidney now gave
the tap required by politeness, and then, hearing the murmur of voices,
went straight through the passage and into the room in which the sisters
were sitting. They both glanced up with a look of pleased surprise as
Sidney's tall form darkened the doorway. Miss Judy could not rise to
receive Sidney on account of having an apronful of late garden-seeds.
Her sister was holding the calico bags, as usual; and then Miss Sophia's
getting out of a chair and on her feet was always a matter of time and
difficulty. But their faces beamed a warm welcome, and Miss Judy called
Merica away from the ironing-table in the kitchen to fetch the parlor
rocking-chair for Sidney to sit in, which was in itself a distinguished
attention, such as could not but be flattering to any guest. And when
Sidney was seated, Merica was requested to draw a bucket of water fresh
from the well, so that Sidney might have a nice cool drink.

Sidney, whom no one ever thought of calling Mrs. Wendall, was a large,
lean, angular woman. She had come in knitting. She always knitted as she
walked, carrying the big ball of yarn under her strong left arm. Her
calico sunbonnet was always worn far back on her head. She took it off
that day as soon as she sat down, and hung it on the knob of the chair.
Then she removed the horn comb from her hair, let it drop, shook it out,
twisted it up again with a swish--into a very tight knot--and thrust the
comb back in place with singular emphasis. Everybody in Oldfield knew
what those gestures meant. Nobody seemed to notice what wonderful hair
she had. It was long, thick, silky, rippling, and of the color of the
richest gold. It was most beautiful hair--rich and dazzling enough to
crown a young queen--and most strangely out of place on Sidney's homely,
middle-aged head; with its plain sallow face, its pale shrewd eyes, its
grotesquely long nose, its expression of whimsical humor, and its wide
jester's mouth.

The Oldfield people were so well used to seeing Sidney take her hair
down, and twist it up again, even in the middle of the big road, that
they had long since ceased to observe the hair itself. It was the
meaning of the gestures that instantly caught and held the eager
interest of the entire community. For, whenever Sidney took off her
bonnet, and let down her hair and shook it vigorously and swished it up
again into a tighter knot, and put the comb back with a certain degree
of emphasis, everybody knew that there was something interesting in the
wind. Poor Miss Sophia, who was not quick to understand many things,
knew what _those_ signs meant, and when she saw them that day she
straightened up suddenly, wide awake, and breathing hard as she always
was when trying her best to keep the track of what was going on, and
forgetting all about the seed-bags, which abruptly slid over the
precipice, wholly unheeded. Even Miss Judy, who so disliked gossip,
could not help feeling somewhat agreeably excited and turning quite
pink, as she remembered that she had never known Sidney's news to do any
harm, to wound any one, to injure any one, or to make mischief of any
description. She had often wondered how Sidney _could_ talk all day
long, day after day, year in and year out, going constantly from house
to house without doing harm sometimes through sheer inadvertence. She
now looked at Sidney in smiling expectancy, turning a rosier pink from
growing anticipation.

The mere fact of an unexpected visit from Sidney was enough to throw any
Oldfield household into a state of delightful excitement. Sidney's
visits were like visits of Royalty; they always had to be arranged for
in advance, and they always had to be paid for afterwards. It was
clearly understood by everybody that Sidney went nowhere without a
formal invitation given some time in advance, and an explicit and
sufficient inducement. Yet there was nothing in this to her discredit;
she was far from being the mere sordid mercenary that Royalty seems now
and then to be. Sidney was an open, upright worker in life's vineyard,
and did nothing discreditable in holding herself worthy of her hire. It
was necessary for her to earn a living for five needy souls; for her
three children, her husband's brother, and herself. There were not many
avenues open to women-workers in any part of the world in the day of
Sidney's direst need. There were fewer where she lived than almost
anywhere else throughout the civilized earth. She did what she might do;
she learned to earn bread for her family by the only honorable means in
her power. She studied to amuse the people of the village who had no
other source of entertainment. She raised her adopted profession until
it became an art. It is probable that she had the comedian's talent to
begin with. She certainly possessed the comic actor's mouth. And then
she doubtless soon learned, as most of us learn sooner or later, that it
is more profitable to make the world laugh than to make it weep. At all
events the part that she played was nearly always a merry one. Only
once, indeed, during the whole of her long professional career, was she
ever known to come close to tragedy; but those who were present at the
time never forgot what she said, how she said it, nor how she looked
while saying it.

It happened one night at old lady Gordon's, over the supper table. The
party had been a gay one, and Sidney had been the life of it, as she
always was of every gathering in Oldfield. She had told her best
stories, she had given out her latest news, she had said many witty and
amusing things, until the whole table was in what the ladies of Oldfield
would have described as a "regular gale." It was not until they were
rising from the supper, still laughing at Sidney's jokes, that she said,
in an off-hand way--as if upon second thought--that she would like to
have some of the dainties, with which the table was laden, to take home
to her children. Before old lady Gordon had time to say, "Certainly,
I'll fix up the basket," as everybody always said whenever Sidney made
that expected remark, Miss Pettus blazed out:--

"How _can_ you!" she cried, turning in her fiery way upon Sidney. "How
can you sit here, eating, laughing, and spinning yarns, when you know
your children are hungry at home--and never think of them till now?" Her
little black eyes were flashing, and she looked Sidney straight in the
face, meaning every word that she said.

The very breath was taken out of the company. The ladies were stricken
speechless with amazement and dismay. Even old lady Gordon had not a
thing ready to say. Sidney, too, stood still and silent for a moment,
resting her hand on the back of her chair. She turned white, standing
very erect, looking taller than ever, and very calm--a figure of great
dignity.

"I think of my children first, last, and all the time," she said quietly
and slowly after an instant's strained silence. Her cool, pale eyes met
Miss Pettus's hot black eyes steadily.

"But I don't think it best to talk about them too much;" she went on
calmly. "Do any of you ladies think my children would get their supper
any sooner if I came here whining about how hungry they were? Would you
ever invite me to come again if I did that--even once? Would you, Mrs.
Gordon? Would you invite me to _your_ parties, Miss Pettus? Wouldn't
you, and you, and all of you"--turning from one to another--"begin right
away to regard me as a tiresome beggar and my children as paupers? I am
afraid you would. It would only be human nature. I'm not blaming
anybody. But--I don't intend to risk it. I think things are better as
they stand now. I amuse you and you help me. I give you what you like in
exchange for what my children need. It's a fair trade; you're all bound
by it to regard me and my children with respect."

Miss Pettus was crying as if her heart would break long before Sidney
was done speaking. She fairly flew at her and, throwing her arms around
Sidney's neck, begged her forgiveness with a humility such as no one
ever knew that hasty, hot-tempered, well-meaning little woman to show
over any other of her many mistakes. Never afterward would she allow
Sidney to be criticised in her presence. She quarrelled fiercely with
the doctor's wife for saying that she really could not see how Sidney
got her news, and for quoting the doctor's opinion that it must come
over the grapevine telegraph. Miss Pettus would have had her brother
send Sidney's children a portion of everything that his store contained.
But Sidney would not accept from any one a pennyworth more than she
earned. If Miss Pettus wished to send the Wendall family a pound of
candles after Sidney had supped with her, spicing the meal with news and
anecdote, all very well and good. Or if, after Sidney's making a special
effort to enliven one of Miss Pettus's dinner parties in the middle of
the day, that lady suggested giving Uncle Watty a pair of her brother's
trousers, Sidney was glad and even thankful. To get her brother-in-law's
clothes was, indeed, the hardest problem she had to solve. And then,
when Uncle Watty had done with the trousers, they could be cut down for
her son, Billy. Under such proper circumstances, Sidney accepted all
sorts of things from everybody--anything, indeed, that she chanced to
want--with as complete independence and as entire freedom from any
feeling of obligation, as any artist accepts his fee for entertaining
the public.

The obligation commonly imposed by hospitality had consequently no
weight whatever with Sidney, and in this, also, she was not unlike some
other celebrities. She did not hesitate to express her opinion of old
lady Gordon, whose supper she had eaten on the previous evening, when
Miss Judy, knowing about it and wishing to start the conversational ball
rolling, now asked how things passed off. Sidney had swapped her
spiciest stories for old lady Gordon's richest food. Old lady Gordon was
perfectly free to think and to say what she pleased about those stories
(provided she never mentioned them before Miss Judy); and Sidney, on her
side, held herself equally free to think and to say what she thought of
her hostess and of the supper too, had that been open to
criticism--which old lady Gordon's suppers never were.

"That old woman is a regular _Hessian_," was Sidney's reply to Miss
Judy's innocent inquiry.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Miss Judy, quite startled and rather shocked.
"Really, Sidney, I don't think you should call anybody such a name as
that."

"Well, I'd like to know what else a body is to call an old woman who
hasn't got a mite of natural feeling."

"But we have no right to say that either of anybody. We can't tell,"
pleaded gentle Miss Judy.

She was wondering, nevertheless, as she spoke, what could have occurred
at old lady Gordon's on the night before. It was plain that the news
which Sidney was holding back for an effective bringing forth must have
had something to do with the visit. However, it was always useless to
try to make Sidney tell what she had to tell, until she was quite ready.
Even Miss Sophia was well aware of this peculiarity of Sidney's, and,
breathing harder than ever in the intensity of her curiosity and
suspense, she leaned forward, doing her utmost to understand what was
being said in leading up to the news. Miss Judy, of course, understood
Sidney's methods perfectly, through long and intimate acquaintance with
them; and then, aside from the fact that Sidney could not be hurried,
Miss Judy always tried anyway to turn the talk away from unpleasant
themes.

"Did you remember to ask Mrs. Gordon about Mr. Beauchamp?" Miss Judy now
inquired, adroitly bending Sidney's thoughts toward a delightful subject
in which they were both deeply interested. "Did she know whether he used
to be a dancing-master in his own country, as we have understood? I do
hope you haven't changed your mind," she added earnestly. "It is really
most important for Doris to learn to dance."

"No, I haven't changed it a bit. I've got the same Hard-shell, Whiskey
Baptist mind that I've had for the last forty years. But it isn't as _I_
think about dancing, or anything else that Doris is concerned in. It's
as you think--"

"No--no, you mustn't say that," protested Miss Judy.

"I do say it, I mean it, and I intend to abide by it," declared Sidney,
laying her knitting on her lap and loosing rings of yarn from her big
ball and holding them out at arm's length. "You've always known better
what was good for Doris than I ever have. When it comes to a difference
of opinion I'm bound to give up."

Miss Judy blushed and looked distressed. "It is really such an important
matter," she urged timidly. "A young lady cannot possibly learn how to
walk and how to carry herself with real grace, without being taught
dancing. If I only had some one to play the tune, I might teach Doris
the rudiments myself; or sister Sophia might, if she hadn't that
shortness of breath, and if I could play any instrumental piece on the
guitar except the Spanish fandango. That tune, however, is not very well
suited to the minuet, which is the only dance that we ever learned.
Mother taught us the minuet, because she thought it necessary for all
well brought up girls to learn it just for deportment, though she knew
we should probably never have an opportunity to dance it in society."

Thus reminded of the many things that they had missed, Miss Judy turned
and smiled a little sadly at Miss Sophia, as though it were the sweetest
and most natural thing in the world to speak of Miss Sophia's dancing
the minuet,--poor, little, round, slow Miss Sophia! And Miss Sophia also
thought it sweet and natural, her dull gaze meeting her sister's bright
one with confiding love as she murmured the usual vague assent.

"And did you think to ask Mrs. Gordon whether Mr. Beauchamp--" Miss Judy
hesitated at the Frenchman's name, which she pronounced as the English
pronounce it, and delicately touched her forehead.

"She said he was perfectly sane except upon that one subject, and the
kindest, honestest soul alive," said Sidney, whisking the ball from
under her arm and reeling off more yarn.

Miss Judy's sweet old face and soft blue eyes wore the dreamy look which
always came over them when her imagination was stirred. "How romantic it
is and how touching, that he should have believed, through all these
years of hard work and a menial life, that he is Napoleon's son, the
real King of Rome."

"Well, it don't do any harm," Sidney, the practical, said. "He don't
dance with his head. It seems to me, too, I've heard that lots of crazy
folks were great dancers. Anyway, you may tell him, as soon as you like,
that I'll knit his summer socks to pay him for showing Doris how to
dance, and you may say that I'll throw in the cotton to boot. I always
like to pay the full price for whatever I get. If he still thinks that
isn't enough, you might tell him I'm willing to knit his winter ones
too, but he's got to furnish the yarn--there's reason in all things."

"You are sure that Mr. Beauchamp used to be a dancing-master?" asked
Miss Judy.

"Old lady Gordon told me she had heard something of the kind, but she
said she had never paid any attention. She never does pay any attention
to anything unless she means to eat it," Sidney said.

"Poor old lady Gordon," sighed Miss Judy. "She hasn't much except her
meals _to_ attend to or think about. She must be very, very lonely, all
alone in the world."

"I've never seen any sign of her being sorry for herself," responded
Sidney, knitting faster, as she always did when warming to her subject.
"I never heard of her making any such sign when her son and only child
went away and died without coming back. I never heard or saw her show
any anxiety about _his_ son and only child, that she's never laid her
eyes on, though he's now a grown man. I never heard a hint from her
about him last night--till she had eaten the last ounce of the
pound-cake; and drunk the last drop of the blackberry cordial. Then she
remembered to tell me that this only grandson of hers is coming at
last."

Here was the news! Miss Sophia settled back in her chair with a deep
breath of satisfaction. Miss Judy exclaimed in interested surprise. Very
few strangers came to Oldfield, consequently the advent of a young
gentleman from a distant city was an event indeed. No wonder that Sidney
had made as much of it as she could. Miss Judy, and even Miss Sophia,
felt the high compliment paid them in being the first to whom Sidney had
taken the thrilling intelligence. It was, in fact, the highest
expression of Sidney's gratitude to Miss Judy, and fully recognized as
such by both the little sisters, who appreciated it accordingly.

When Sidney was gone on her way to distribute the great news at the
various points which promised the largest results, Miss Judy went into
the darkened parlor, the other of the two large rooms which the house
contained. It was rarely opened, and never used except when, at long and
rare intervals, a formal caller, of whom there were not many in that
country, was invited to enter it and to feel the way to a chilly,
slippery seat. There were two good reasons for the room's disuse. One
was that social preëminence in the Pennyroyal Region demanded a dark and
disused parlor, although it did not militate against a bed in the living
room. Formal visitors expected to grope their way through impenetrable
gloom to invisible seats. Accidents sometimes happened, it is true, as
when, upon one occasion, old lady Gordon, in calling upon Miss Judy
shortly before Major Bramwell left for Virginia, sat down in a large
chair, without being aware that it was already occupied by the major,
who was a very small man. The second good reason for the room's not
being used was that in cool weather Miss Judy could not get fuel for
another fire. It was all that Merica could do, all the year round, to
find enough wood for one fire; the stray sticks dropped from passing
wagons, an occasional branch fallen from the old locust trees which
lined the big road, and the regular basket of chips picked up behind the
cabinet-maker's shop, barely sufficing to keep up a small blaze in the
corner of the fireplace in the living room, which was also the sisters'
bedroom.

Miss Judy groped her way cautiously through the darkness of the chilly
parlor, and raised the shades far enough to let in a slender shaft of
sunlight. She looked around the room with a soft sigh. It was so full of
sad and tender memories, and so empty of everything else. The portraits
of her father and mother, painted very young, hung side by side over the
tall mantelpiece. The intelligent force of her father's face and the
soft beauty of her mother's came back to Miss Judy anew whenever she
looked at their likenesses. On the opposite walls hung the portraits of
her paternal grandfather and grandmother, painted when they were very
old. The old gentleman, a judge under the crown in Virginia, had been
painted in his wig and gown. His fine face was hard and stern, and Miss
Judy often wondered whether he ever had forgiven his son for fighting
against the king and the mother country. The old lady's face was as
sweet and gentle as Miss Judy's own, and there was a charming
resemblance between the pictured and the living features. But the
grandmother's face wore an expression of unhappiness, and the
granddaughter's was never unhappy, although it was sometimes sad for the
unhappiness of others and the pain of the world.

The portraits had been taken out of their frames, so that they might be
brought over the Alleghanies with less difficulty. They had never been
reframed, and there was something inexpressibly melancholy in their
hanging thus, quite unshielded, against the rough, whitewashed logs.
Melancholy, vague and far-off, pervaded indeed the whole atmosphere of
the shadowed room. It floated out from a broken vase of parian marble
which was filled with dried rose leaves, brown and crumbling, yet still
sending forth that sweetest, purest, loneliest, and saddest of scents.
It clung about the angular, empty arms of the few old chairs, dim with
brocade of faded splendor. It lay on the long old sofa--with its high
back and its sunken springs--like the wan ghost of some bright dream
that had never come true. But the tenderest and subtlest sadness came
from the fading sampler which Miss Judy's mother had worked in those
endless days of exile in the wilderness. Ah, the silent suffering, the
patient endurance, the uncomplaining disappointment, wrought into those
numberless stitches! And yet, with all, perhaps bits of brightness
too,--a touch of rose-color here, and a hint of gold there--such as a
sweet woman weaves into the grayest fabric of life.

Miss Judy, sighing again, although she could not have told why she
always sighed on entering the darkened parlor, now knelt down beside the
sofa, and drew a small box from beneath it. But she did not open the box
at once; instead, she seated herself on the floor and sat still for a
space holding the box in her hand, as if she shrank from seeing its
contents. At length, slowly untying the discolored cord that bound the
box, she lifted the cover, and took out a pair of satin slippers. They
had once been white, but they were now as yellow as old ivory, and the
narrow ribbon intended to cross over the instep and to tie around the
ankle had deepened almost into the tint of the withered primrose. The
slippers were heel-less, and altogether of an antiquated fashion, but
Miss Judy did not know that they were. She was doubtful only about the
size, for they seemed very small even to her; and she thought, with
tender pride, how much taller Doris was than she had ever been, even
before she had begun to stoop a little in the shoulders. Turning the
slippers this way and that, she regarded them anxiously, with her curly
head on one side, until she at last made up her mind that Doris could
wear them. They might be rather a snug fit, but they would stay on,
while Doris was dancing, all the better for fitting snugly. Yet Miss
Judy still sat motionless, holding the slippers, and looking down at
them, long after reaching this conclusion. The most unselfish of women,
she was, nevertheless, a truly womanly woman. She could not surrender
the last symbol of a wasted youth without many lingering pangs.



VI

LYNN GORDON


The slippers had belonged to a white dress which Miss Judy used to call
her book-muslin party coat, and this treasure was already in Doris's
possession. It had been very fine in its first soft whiteness, and now,
mellowed by time, as the slippers were, into the hue of old ivory, and
darned all over, it was like some rare and exquisite old lace. Doris
thought it the prettiest thing that she had ever seen; certainly it was
the prettiest that she had ever owned. When, therefore, the slippers
came to join it as a complete surprise, she took the party coat out of
its careful wrappings, and, after a close search, was delighted to find
one or two gauzy spaces still undarned. It was a delight merely to touch
the old muslin. She held it against her cheek--which was softer and
fairer still, though Doris thought nothing of that--giving it a loving
little pat before laying it down. There were household duties to be done
ere Doris would be free to get her invisible needle and her gossamer
thread, and to begin the airy weaving of the cobwebs.

There was only one room and a loft to be put in order, but Doris always
did it while her mother was busy in the kitchen, getting ready for the
day's professional round. Sidney was exceedingly particular about the
cleaning of her house, insisting that the "rising sun" of the red and
yellow calico quilt should always be precisely in the middle of the
feather bed, and that the gorgeous border of sun-rays should be even all
around the edges. The long, narrow pillow-cases, ruffled across the
ends, must also hang just so far down the bed's sides--and no farther.
The home-made rug, too, had its exact place, and there must never be a
speck of dust anywhere.

The house was said to be the cleanest in Oldfield, where all the houses
were clean. Some people believed that Sidney scrubbed the log walls
inside and outside every spring, before whitewashing them within and
without. Be that as it may, the poor home had, at all events, the fresh
neatness which invests even poverty with refinement.

Doris slighted nothing that morning, although she was naturally
impatient to go back to the book-muslin. Yet it seemed to take longer to
get the house in perfect order than ever before. The trundle-bed in
which Kate and Billy slept was particularly contrary, and it really
looked, for a time, as if Doris would never be able to get it entirely
out of sight under the big bed. It was settled at last, however, and she
had taken up the party coat and had seated herself beside the window,
when her mother entered the room.

Sidney cast a sharp glance at the white cotton window curtain to see if
it were drawn exactly to the middle of the middle pane, or rather to the
hair line, which the middle of the middle pane would have reached, had
Doris not put the sash up. Sidney, rigid in her rudimentary ideas of
propriety, considered it improper for a young girl to sit unshielded
before a window in full view from the highway. It made no difference to
Sidney that nobody ever passed the window, except as the neighbors went
to and fro, or an occasional farmer came to the village on business.
Sidney was firm, and Doris, the gentle and yielding, did as she was told
to do. The coarse white curtain was accordingly now in its proper place.
Sidney noted the fact, as she cast a sweeping glance around the room,
seeking the speck of dust which she seldom found and which never escaped
her keen eyes. Doris put the book-muslin aside and arose as her mother
came in, and she now stood awaiting directions for the management of the
household during the day. Sidney's professional absences lasted from
nine in the morning until six in the evening every day, winter and
summer, the whole year round, Sunday alone excepted. During these
prolonged absences the care of the family rested upon Doris's young
shoulders, and had done so ever since she could remember. It may have
been this which gave her the little air of dignity which set so
charmingly on her radiant youth. She now listened to her mother's
directions, gravely, attentively, respectfully, as she always did.

"Everything is spick and span in the kitchen," Sidney said, setting the
broom on end behind the door and rolling down the sleeves over her
strong arms. "Make the children stay in the back yard till the school
bell rings. Don't let them go in the kitchen. They clutter up things
like two little pigs. And don't let them get at the cake that Anne
Watson sent. We'll keep that for Sunday dinner. It's mighty light and
nice. It lays awful heavy on my conscience, though. I really ought to go
to see poor Tom this very day. I ought to go there every day and try to
cheer him up. But I've got so many places engaged that I actually don't
know where to go first. Remember--don't let the children touch the cake.
Give 'em a slice apiece of that pie of Miss Pettus's. And there will be
plenty of Kitty Mills's cold ham for them and for Uncle Watty too."

"Yes'm," answered Doris, assenting to everything which her mother told
her to do or not to do. Trained by Miss Judy, she would no more have
thought of speaking to an older person or to any one whom she respected,
without saying "sir" or "madam," than a well-bred French girl would
think of doing such a thing. Miss Judy and Doris had never heard of its
being "servile" to do this. They both considered it an essential part of
good manners and gentle breeding. Many old-fashioned folks in the
Pennyroyal Region still think so.

Untying her gingham apron, and hanging it beside the broom, Sidney put
on her sunbonnet, and, firmly settling her ball of yarn under her left
arm, began to knit as she left the door-step on which Doris stood
looking after her.

Sidney paused for a moment at the gate after dropping the loop of string
over the post, and looked up at the little window in the loft.

"It would, I reckon, be better to let your Uncle Watty sleep as long as
he likes. He's kinder out of the way up there, and better off asleep
than awake, poor soul, when he hasn't got any red cedar to whittle. I
noticed yesterday that he had whittled up his last stick. He never knows
what to do with himself when he's out of cedar. I'll try to get him
some. Maybe old lady Gordon's black gardener Enoch Cotton will fetch
some from the woods, if I promise to knit him a pair of socks."

An expression flitted over Doris's face, telling her thoughts. Sidney,
seeing it, felt in duty bound to rebuke it.

"Now, Doris--mind what I say--as young folks do old folks, so other
young folks will do them when their turn comes. I never knew it to fail.
We all get what we give, no more, no less. It always works even in the
end, though it may not seem so as we go along. See that your Uncle
Watty's breakfast is real nice and hot. Make him some milk toast out of
Mrs. Alexander's salt-rising--if it's too hard for his gums. Old lady
Gordon said she would have Eunice fetch me a bucket of milk every day.
You won't forget?"

Doris again said "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am" in the proper place,
listening throughout with the greatest attention and respect, and trying
very hard not to think about the book-muslin party coat.

Sidney twitched the string which held the gate to the post, to make sure
that it was firmly tied. "That crumpled-horn of Colonel Fielding's could
pick a lock with her horns. Now remember about Uncle Watty. He's had a
hard time, poor old man, ever since his leg was broken. If Dr. Alexander
had been here, it would have been different. I should just like to give
that fool of a travelling doctor a piece of my mind. Him a-pretending to
know what he was about, and a-setting your poor Uncle Watty's broken leg
east and _west_, instead of north and _south_!"

Doris's cheek dimpled, but she answered dutifully as before. She had her
own opinion as to how much the latitude or longitude of Uncle Watty's
left leg had to do with his general disability. She could remember him
before the leg was broken, and she had never known him to do anything
except whittle a stick of red cedar. Youth, at its gentlest, is apt to
be hard in its judgment of age's shortcomings. Doris knew how good her
mother was as she watched her walking down the big road, with her long,
free, swinging stride, with her sunbonnet on the back of her head, and
her knitting-needles flashing in the sun. But she wondered if there were
no other way. She hated to see her set out on these rounds, she had
hated it ever since she could remember, and had gone on hating it as
vehemently as it was in her gentle nature to hate anything. The mother
never had been able to make Doris see from her own point of view, and
Doris had never been able to make her mother understand the intensity of
her own sensitiveness, or the soreness of her silent pride. Many a day,
as Doris sat sewing beside the window in seeming contentment, she was
restlessly seeking some means of escape; almost continually she was
trying to find a way to lift the burden from her mother--striving to see
something wholly different that she herself might do. Going back to her
book-muslin on that morning, she was wondering whether Mrs. Watson or
Mrs. Alexander might not need some needle-work done. Perhaps she could
earn a little money in that way, and they could live on very little. But
hers was not a brooding disposition, and she was soon singing over the
old party coat. Then the school bell reminded her that the children's
faces and hands must be washed before they went to school; and by the
time they were sent off down the big road, Uncle Watty was ready for his
breakfast. Doris carried out her mother's directions to the letter. She
poured his coffee, and sat respectfully waiting until he had finished
eating, and then she washed the dishes, and put them away.

Returning to her seat by the window, she glanced now and then at Uncle
Watty, who had seated himself under the blossoming plum tree to enjoy a
leisurely, luxurious pipe of tobacco, having recently swapped a butter
paddle, which he had whittled out of red cedar, for a fine old "hand" of
the precious weed. It was, however, most unusual for Uncle Watty's
whittling to assume any useful shape, or, indeed, any shape at all.
Every morning, except Sunday, he hobbled off down the big road, to take
his seat before the store door on an empty goods-box, with his
pocket-knife and his stick of red cedar, ready for whittling. Year after
year, the box and Uncle Watty were always in the same spot, moving only
to follow the sun in winter and the shade in summer; and the heap of red
cedar shavings always grew steadily, ever undisturbed save as the winds
scattered them, and the rains beat them into the earth. When Uncle Watty
finally came hobbling around the corner of the house that day, and went
away in the direction of the store, Doris looked after him,
wondering--rather carelessly, and a little harshly, after the manner of
the young and untried--what could be the meaning of an existence which
left a trail of red cedar shavings as the sole mark of its path through
life. But that perplexing thought also passed as the other had done. She
began thinking of the dancing lessons, growing more and more absorbed in
the darning of the party coat. She wished she knew whether Miss Judy had
ever worn it to a real dancing party. She had never heard of one's being
given in Oldfield, excepting of course the famous ball at the
Fielding's, near the jail, on the night that the prisoner escaped; long,
long before she was born. Most of the Oldfield people thought it a sin
to dance. Miss Judy must have looked very pretty in the book-muslin.
Doris laid it on her lap, and, turning to the window, gave the curtain
an impatient toss, pushing it to one side. There was no use in keeping
it half drawn when never a soul ever went by. And the sun was shining,
almost with the warmth of midsummer, on this glorious May-day. When the
spring was still farther advanced, when the leaves were larger on the
two tall silver poplars standing beside the gate, lifting a shimmering
white screen from the soft green earth to the softer blue sky; when the
climbing roses, already blooming all over the snowy walls, were more
thickly festooned; when the Italian honeysuckle hung its rich bronze
garlands and its fragrant bloom from the very eaves of the mossy
roof--then Doris might push the curtain farther back, but not before, no
matter how brilliantly the sun shone or how entirely deserted the big
road was. As Doris sat sewing and thinking, it seemed to her that her
mother was unnecessarily strict. She had even thought it wrong to allow
her to learn to dance. Miss Judy had found much difficulty in persuading
her. However, she had consented at last, and presently Doris, all alone
in the old house, began singing blithely, oblivious of everything except
the anticipation of the dancing lessons and the pleasure of darning the
party coat. The song was one of Allan Ramsay's, a languishing love-song
which Miss Judy's mother had sung. But as Doris's thoughts danced to
inaudible music, and her needle flew daintily in and out of the soft old
muslin, the words and the tune soon tripped to a gayer measure than they
had, perhaps, ever known before.

The birds, too, were lilting gayly on that perfect May morning. A couple
of flycatchers were breakfasting in mid-air. It is impossible to
conceive of a daintier way to satisfy hunger; as a Kentucky poet has
said: "It is, apparently, all color and rhythm--with green boughs and
violet sky for canopy, the pure air for a table--and in its midst the
sweet bouquet of the woods." And the flycatcher was but one of many
beautiful melodious creatures thronging between heaven and earth. Brown
thrashers by twos and fours flitted back and forth across the big road,
leaving one green wheat-field for another of still richer verdure. A
happy pair of orioles, flashing orange and black, were darting--bright
as flame and light as smoke--through the tallest silver poplar, building
an air-castle almost as wonderful, and nearly as fragile, as those that
young human lovers build. With the fetching of each fine fibre, the
husband fairly turned upside down, and hung by his feet, while singing
his pride and delight. The wife, more modestly happy, quietly rested her
soft breast on the unstable nest--with all a woman's trust--as though
the home were founded upon a rock, as all homes should be, and hung not
by a frail thread at the hazardous tip of an unsteady bough
as--alas!--so many homes do. It was steady enough just now, when love
was new and the spring was mild, and only the southern breeze stirred
the white-lined leaves with a silken rustle. The soft cooing of the
unseen doves sounded far off. The bees merely murmured among the
honeysuckle blooms. The humming-bird, which was raying rubies and
emeralds from the hearts of the roses, came and went as softly as the
south wind.

Doris smiled at the sylvan housekeeping of the orioles, which she
watched for awhile, letting her sewing rest on her lap. But tiring soon
of the little drama of the silver poplar, as we always tire of the
happiness of others, the girl's eyes wandered wistfully through the
fragrant loneliness to the wooded hills which gently folded the drowsy
village. The trees, delicately green, almost silver gray, in their
tender foliage, were still fringed by the snow of the dogwood, and the
misty beauty of the red buds; and the cool, leafy vistas, sloping gently
down toward the village, met the sea of blossoming orchards, breaking in
wide, deep waves of pink and white foam at the foot of the hills. But
Doris had seen those same trees, and hillsides, and orchards every
May-time of her eighteen years, and sameness, however grateful to older
eyes, has never a great charm for youth.

Doris's eyes came back to the book-muslin with a keener interest. As she
sat there, sewing and singing, in the soft light that filtered through
the old curtain, the girl was beautiful, almost tragically beautiful,
for her uncertain place in the world. Her slender throat, like the stem
of a white flower, arose from the faded brown of her dress as an Easter
lily unfolds from its dull sheath. Her radiant hair, yellow as new-blown
marigolds, clustered thick and soft about her fair forehead, as the rich
pollen falls on the lily's satin. Her delicate brows were dark and
straight; and her curling lashes, darker still, threw bewitching shadows
around her large, brown eyes. Her face was pale with a warm pallor
infinitely fairer than any mere fairness. Her lips, which were a little
full, but exquisite in shape and sweetness, were tinted as delicately as
blush roses. Her small, white hands, with their rosy palms and tapering
fingers, bore no traces of hard work. But Doris was not thinking of her
hands as, without turning her head, she put out one of them for another
length of thread. The spool was a very small one, and it stood rather
unsteadily on the uneven ledge of the window, and it rolled when Doris
touched it. Instinctively she tried to catch it, and to keep it from
falling to the ground outside the window. She had been reared to
neatness and order, and to economy which valued even a reel of cotton
too much to see it needlessly soiled. Of course Doris tried to catch the
falling spool,--and that was the way everything began! It was all as
simple and natural and purely accidental as anything could have been.
And yet at the same time it was one of those inscrutable happenings
which make the steadiest of us seem but feathers in the wind of destiny.

Only a moment before that foolish little spool began to roll, the big
road seemed entirely deserted. Not a human being was in sight--Doris was
sure that there was not, because she had looked and looked in vain, and
had longed and longed that there might be. Nevertheless, as the little
reel started to fall, and Doris darted after it as suddenly and swiftly
as a swallow, there was a young man on horseback directly in front of
the window, appearing as strangely and as unexpectedly as if he had
sprung out of the earth. And, moreover, he was looking straight at
Doris, with hardly more than a couple of rods between them, when she
burst into full view in the broad light of day, appearing like some
beautiful bacchante. The white curtain fell behind her radiant head as
the breeze caught and loosed the golden strands of her hair, and the sun
flashed a greater radiance upon its dazzling crown. She saw him, too,
with a startled uplifting of her great shadowy dark eyes as she bent
forward--while her exquisite face was still smiling at her own innocent
thoughts, and her rose-red lips were still a little apart with the
singing of the old love-song.

The white curtain then swung again into place. It was full of thin spots
which Doris could see through; but she was so startled, and her heart
was beating so fast at first, that she shrunk back without trying to
look. How right her mother had been, after all. That was her first
feeling. When she recovered self-possession enough to peep out, she saw
that the young man's horse was curveting back and forth across the big
road in a most alarming manner. This continued for a surprising length
of time before Doris observed that, whenever the horse seemed about to
stop, the rider touched him with the spur. Such a flash of indignation
went over Doris then as quite swept away the last trace of
embarrassment. How could he do such a cruel and such a meaningless
thing! She wondered still more why he dismounted, and, throwing the
bridle reins over his arm, began walking up and down in front of the
window, gazing closely at the ground as though looking for something
that he had lost. Doris noticed that he glanced at the window every time
he passed it, and she knew that she ought to go out and help him find
what he had lost. That was a matter of course in Oldfield manners. It is
the way of most country people to take a keen and helpful interest in
everything that a neighbor does; and city people deserve less credit
than they claim for their indifference to their neighbor's affairs,
which is too often mere selfishness disguised. Notwithstanding this
local social law Doris did not stir, held motionless by an influence
which she could not understand. She had known at once who the young man
was. Too few strangers came to Oldfield for her to fail to place him
immediately as the grandson of old lady Gordon, the young gentleman from
Boston, whose coming everybody was talking about. She noted through the
worn places in the old curtain how tall he was and how dark and how
handsome. She could not decide what kind of clothes his riding clothes
were. At last he mounted his horse and galloped up the hill, and then
Doris returned serenely to the darning of the book-muslin party coat.



VII

THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA


Within the hour Lynn Gordon rode back down the hill, and passed the
window very slowly, watching the curtain as a star-gazer awaits the
passing of a cloud.

The baffling width of white cotton hung still unstirred; Doris was no
longer sitting behind it, but the young man had no means of knowing that
she had gone. As the hand on the reins unconsciously drew the horse
almost to a standstill, the doctor and his wife left their seats on the
porch of their house over the way, and came out to the gate to speak to
him. They had met him at his grandmother's on the previous evening, and
they had been old friends of his father. Lynn sprang from the saddle
and, leading his horse, crossed the big road to shake hands with them.

"Have you lost something?" asked Mrs. Alexander.

"Oh, no--yes--I have lost a jewel--a pearl," the young man replied
rashly.

The doctor's lady exclaimed in surprise. Jewels were rarely lost or
found in that country. The gems oftenest lost were the sparkling seeds
which flashed out of the jewel-weed; the finest pearls ever found were
those which the mistletoe bore.

"Dear me, what a pity," lamented Mrs. Alexander. "And how was your pearl
set?"

"It wasn't mine. I didn't notice how it was set. Oh, yes, I did. It was
set amid roses and honeysuckle and humming-birds against a field of
spotless snow," Lynn said, still more lightly.

The doctor's wife was not a dull woman. She understood his tone, though
she did not understand what he meant. She had been eagerly scanning the
big road, as far as she could see; thinking that a jewel dropped near by
on the highway--unrolling like a broad band of brown velvet from the far
green hills on the north to the farther green hills on the south--must
sparkle and flash, showing a long way off in such brilliant sunshine.
Now, however, she knew that Lynn was not in earnest, and she turned with
a smile on her own face to meet the laughing frankness of his fine dark
eyes. But a glance was just passing between the young man and the older
man, and she caught that also, with the vague, helpless uneasiness,
tinged with resentment, which every woman feels at seeing a sign of the
freemasonry of men.

But a doctor's wife learns to overlook a good many things which she
would like to have explained, if she be a sensible woman, as Mrs.
Alexander was. This one merely said:--

"You are a joker, I see, as your father was. Nobody ever could tell when
he was serious. Come in and sit with us. It's nice and cool these early
mornings on the porch. Tie your horse to the fence. I thought when I saw
you getting down from the saddle, that you meant to hitch him to
Sidney's, and I was just going to call and ask you to tie him to ours
instead. The doctor's horses pull boards off our fences every day, but
it doesn't matter, because he keeps somebody to nail them on again;
while Sidney has nobody but herself to depend upon."

"And even the resourceful Sidney--being a woman--can't drive a nail,"
remarked the doctor, deliberately.

He knew how well worn the truism was, but he used it designedly, as a
toreador uses his scarf. He liked to see his wife flare up. Her kind
eyes grew so bright and her wholesome cheeks so red, and it was always
so delightfully easy to get her in a good humor again. It is a tendency
which is very common in large men with amiable little wives like Mrs.
Alexander, and one which is very uncommon in smaller men with wives of a
different disposition.

Lynn Gordon, as an unmarried man, naturally knew nothing of these
matters and blundered on, disappointing the doctor's confident
expectations by asking the lady a question, which turned her attention
in another direction. He inquired who Sidney was, seeing an opportunity
for learning something about the girl behind the silver poplars.

There was no subject upon which Mrs. Alexander was more willing to talk,
nor one upon which she could talk more eloquently, and she accordingly
began at once to give Lynn the history of Sidney Wendall, whom she held
to be a most interesting as well as a most admirable and remarkable
character. It was no easy or simple thing, so the doctor's wife said,
for a woman of the Pennyroyal Region to earn a family's living. In that
country no white woman could work outside her own home (were there
anything for her to do) on account of coming into competition with black
laborers. And Sidney had received no training to lift her above the
laboring class, having had even less than the average country education.
And yet, as the doctor's wife pointed out, she had managed to maintain
her family and herself in reasonable comfort and universal respect. It
was all very well for the men to laugh at Sidney and make fun of her
news and her gossip. It was all very well for them to say--as the doctor
said, according to his wife, who flashed her eyes at him--that Sidney
made her news out of the whole cloth when she did not get it over the
grapevine telegraph. Everybody knew how hard men always were on any
woman who was not pretty. As though poor Sidney could help the length of
her own nose! Let the mean men make fun as much as they pleased! The
indignant lady would like, so she said, to see one of them who had done
his duty in the world more nobly than Sidney had done hers. She would
also like, so she declared, to see one of them who kept as strict guard
over what he said about his neighbors, and who was as free from
evil-speaking and mischief-making, as Sidney was--for all her talking
that they were always so ready to ridicule.

The doctor leaned back in his chair, beaming at his wife. He was very
proud of her when she talked and looked as she was doing now, and he was
truly sorry when she was compelled to pause for sheer lack of breath.

"I am afraid I don't know the lady of whom you are speaking," Lynn said,
as soon as he had a chance to speak. "I haven't been here, you know,
since I could remember. Do you mean some one who lives over there in the
house behind those silver poplars?" And then, he added artfully, "It
seems to be deserted."

"There is where Sidney Wendall lives, but she is never at home in the
daytime. Her business takes her out. But Doris, the eldest daughter, is
at home. She has always taken care of the house and the other children,
and even of Uncle Watty. She used to do it when she wasn't so high," the
doctor's wife said, holding her hand about three feet from the porch
floor. "Such a lovely, golden-haired, dark-eyed, delicate little
changeling, in that homely, rude, rough-and-tumble brood."

"Is this beautiful Doris a child still?" inquired the young man,
deceitfully leading on nearer to what he wished to learn.

"Oh, no. I was speaking of years ago. Doris is about grown now, and
prettier than ever. You'll be sure to see her. There are very few young
ladies in Oldfield. She seldom goes out, though. She stays close at home
and takes care of things just as she always has done. It must be a
lonely, dreary life for a girl,--and such a beauty too,--but she never
seems to mind it. I heard her singing this morning about the time that
you rode up."

"I met Sidney coming out of the Watsons' gate when I went in to see Tom
in passing," the doctor said suddenly, and with a different manner. "I
wish, Jane, that you would ask Sidney, the first time you see her, to go
there as often as she can. Send her something, and tell her that I think
her going would cheer up Tom."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Alexander, scathingly. "Then Sidney's 'gab,' as
you ungrateful men call it, has its uses after all!"

"I am not jesting now, my dear. I am seriously disturbed about Tom
Watson. So far as I am able to judge, there is nothing more that surgery
or medicine can do for him. The time has come, now when we have done our
utmost for his body, that we must find some relief for his mind. He must
not be allowed to sit there propped up by the window, staring out at the
big road, and never trying to speak even the few indistinct words that
he might utter, and always brooding, brooding--over his own awful
condition, I'm afraid."

"Well, I've done what I could," said the doctor's wife, quickly, as
though her husband's words bore some unspoken reproach. "I know my
double duty to a neighbor and a patient of yours, John. But I can't go
to see Tom Watson again. You never saw such a sad sight, Mr. Gordon. I
actually dream about it after I have seen him. That is where the Watsons
live," she said, pointing to the house. "I go every morning to the cross
fence between our house and theirs, taking some little thing for Tom
just to show that I have been thinking about him, and I call Anne to the
other side of the fence and ask her how he is. But doing even that hurts
her and hurts me, for she knows that I know that he never can be any
better."

"And I think he knows it too. That is the most terrible thing of all,"
the doctor said, musingly, as if turning over ways and means in his
mind.

Mrs. Alexander looked at Lynn with a sudden dimness shadowing the
brightness of her kind eyes. "You don't know the Oldfield people, Mr.
Gordon, though you are really one of us. Unless you had known Tom Watson
as we knew him, you can hardly understand how terrible and how strange
his present condition seems to us. He used to be a great, strong, noisy,
reckless, hot-tempered dare-devil, but as tender-hearted as a child and
liked by everybody, black and white, big and little, in the whole
country."

A sudden recollection caused her to smile at her husband, forgetting
that she had just been scolding him and that he richly deserved it:--

"You remember, John, that time when Tom kept those bear cubs tied up in
his back lot. One day the biggest of them got loose and caught Sidney as
she was going home with a pitcher of milk which Anne had given her.
Sidney was almost scared out of her wits, and screamed as loud as she
could, till the bear squeezed her so tight that she couldn't make
another sound. But she never let go the pitcher--never even loosed her
grip--and kept on holding it out of the cub's reach, long after she
couldn't scream any more. Tom went running. Can't you see him now, John?
and hear him shouting at every jump: 'Let go, Sid. Good Gad--woman! are
you going to let the bear hug the life out of you before you'll give him
that spoonful of milk?'"

"And to think of poor Tom as he is now;" she went on presently, the
smile fading. "I will speak to Sidney as you suggest, John. I will send
her a basket of sweet potatoes and urge her to go as often as she can.
Anne would never think of asking any one to come, but I know she would
be pleased to have Sidney drop in. She's always like a fresh breeze on a
hot day even to well folks. She told me, however, the other morning that
Tom Watson never seemed to notice anything that she had to say. She said
that, no matter how hard she tried to entertain him, he kept on staring
out at the empty big road, just sitting there, not trying to speak, and
looking like a dead man only for his restless, burning eyes."

"And yet he may live for years just as he is now," the doctor said. "But
we must not give up trying to help him because he can never be any
better. I must devise some sort of relief. It will not do to let him sit
there, like that, all day, day after day--maybe for years. I tried this
morning to find out what he was thinking about. I also tried to learn
from Anne what his tastes were, what sort of things he had liked or was
interested in before he met with the accident. His sight is much
impaired, and he seems never to have been anything of a reader. I doubt
whether he ever had any indoor interests, except playing cards. All that
I can remember is that he used to gamble like the very devil."

"Shame on you, John, to be raking up that against the poor fellow, as he
is now," protested the doctor's wife, indignantly.

"Nonsense! Who's raking anything up?" the doctor responded. "I was
merely trying to think of some way of diverting his mind. I thought
perhaps a game of cards--"

The doctor's wife uttered a smothered little shriek: "John _Alexander_!
What are you thinking of to speak of card-playing in Anne Watson's
house?"

The doctor grew calmly judicial, as all good husbands grow when their
wives become unduly excited. "I am well aware of Anne's prejudice. I
know precisely how strong--"

"Strong!" repeated his wife, interrupting him. "It's the strongest
thing--the only really strong thing--_in_ Anne--that, and her religion.
Her horror of card-playing is a part of her religion. It's bred in her
bone. She got it from her father, the elder. Some people thought he was
actually out of his head about cards. And Anne believes as firmly as he
believed it, that cards are Satan's chief weapon, and that even to touch
them is to imperil the soul. She believes it as firmly as she believes
in baptism for the remission of sins; as firmly as she believes that
there is a heaven and a hell."

All this breathless outpouring the doctor waved aside: "As I have
already said, my dear, I know perfectly well what Anne's feeling used to
be. Now, however, in Tom's hopeless condition she will, of course, look
at the matter with more reason."

"Now _isn't_ that like a man?" appealed Mrs. Alexander, to no one in
particular, since she could hardly appeal to her visitor against his own
sex. "Wouldn't anybody but a man know that Anne would only stand the
firmer for that very reason? Any woman would see in a moment that the
very fact of Anne's knowing that her husband's mortal life was
hopelessly wrecked, could not fail to increase her resistance against a
thing which she believes must lose him the life everlasting."

The doctor took his feet down from the porch railing, and tapped his
pipe against the post with an unnecessary amount of noise. Lynn Gordon
looked hard at the silver poplars on the other side of the big road.
Different men have different ways of giving outward expression to the
embarrassment which every man feels at a woman's innocent frankness
regarding spiritual things. Neither of these men spoke for a space. The
doctor was casting about for the surest and swiftest way of fetching his
wife back to some ground on which he felt rather more at home, and
decidedly more secure of his own footing.

"Anne knew that Tom was a born gambler; she knew it before she married
him. Nobody but a woman--a fanatical visionary like Anne--would have
been foolish enough to expect to change a leopard's spots."

"It doesn't strike me as particularly foolish for Anne--or for any other
woman--to expect her husband to keep his promise not to get any _new_
spots," the lady retorted, with all the promptness and spirit that her
husband anticipated.

The doctor glanced at the young man as triumphantly as he dared, and the
young man returned the doctor's glance as non-committally as he could.
They had both often observed before this, as most observant people
observe at some period of their lives, that while a man will defend
another man whenever he can, regardless of his own feelings toward the
individual, he has never a word to say in defence of men; and that,
while a woman will seldom defend another woman without strong personal
reasons, she is always ready, _cap-a-pie_, to defend women, through
thick and thin.

Nevertheless, the doctor was again a trifle disappointed to find his
wife content with firing a single shot, and he presently said, trying to
urge her on:--

"I have not disputed the fact that Anne Watson is a good woman. Tom no
doubt made the promises that such men always make when they want to win
some pretty girl, and he doubtless hoped to be strong enough to keep
them. But I cannot allow a patient of mine to die or to fall into
melancholy because he has failed to keep promises that many good men
break; or because his wife lacks common sense; no matter how good she
may be or what sort of religion she may be living up to. If Tom wants to
play cards,--as I think that he does, as I am nearly sure that he
does,--I shall certainly find him a partner if I can. I would play with
him myself if I knew how."

"Let me do it, doctor," said Lynn. "I know something about several
games. It would give me real pleasure to do anything in my power for
your patient."

Mrs. Alexander said nothing more in opposition; she merely looked her
thoughts. When, therefore, it was arranged, as the young man was
leaving, that he should come on the following morning to go with the
doctor to see Tom Watson about the game of cards, the lady merely gave
her smooth auburn head a side-wise toss, as if to say they would all see
how it turned out.



VIII

AT OLD LADY GORDON'S


Lynn rode slowly by the Watson house, thinking of its tragedy, which had
thus touched him so soon after his coming to this quiet village, the
seeming abode of peace. It was his first partial realization that the
folded green hills cannot shut away the pain of the world. He was too
young and too strong, and had not suffered enough in mind or body, to
know that quiet and peace only make the heart ache more keenly with the
sorrow of living.

And this was no more even now than a partial perception. He was but
twenty-two, yet in the springtime of life; and the earth also was still
in the season of its perpetual youth. The green of new leafage now
tinted the thinning white of the blossoming orchards; the green and the
white and the last rosy sweetness of apple blossoms were yet melting
slowly into the rich verdure of the hillsides. But the snowy spray of
all the exquisite flowering drifted fast before the incoming summer
tide. Already the wild flowers were almost done blooming in the woods,
and the scented meadows were growing red with clover blossoms.

The largest, richest fields lying on both sides of the big road,
knee-deep in clover and dotted with cattle, belonged to the Gordon
estate. Ultimately they would all be his own, but he was not thinking of
this as he looked at them that day. He had never thought of making
Oldfield his home, having long cherished other plans. Yet, as he looked
at the old house, it was a pleasant sight on that May morning, with its
low white walls bowered in dense shrubbery and its mossy roof overhung
by giant elms. There were many maples, also, and a cypress tree stood
beside the gate, swinging its sombre plumes so close to the ground that
the young man did not see a cart standing before the gate until he was
almost upon it. Coming nearer, he saw that it belonged to a butcher who
had driven in from the country, and that it was well filled with his
wares. The butcher stood astride a plank which had been laid across the
front wheels, and he was busily engaged in turning over the pieces of
meat, evidently seeking something to please the mistress of the house.
Old lady Gordon sat at the open window in her accustomed place, looking
grimly on; and the small Frenchman who managed her farm waited beside
the cart, standing in silence, glancing anxiously from its contents to
the mistress and back again. The butcher scowled, as he tossed the
steaks, the joints, and roasts about, thinking angrily how much more
trouble it always was to please old lady Gordon than all the rest of the
easy-going people living along his semi-weekly route. Finally, however,
he found a piece which seemed promising, and he handed it to the small
Frenchman, who took the huge joint,--holding it as if it were a
sword,--and jauntily carried it across the lawn to the window and held
it up for the mistress to decide upon. She gave only one contemptuous
glance at it; one was enough to cause its rejection with great scorn.

"No, I won't have that!" she called out in her loud, deep, imperious
voice, speaking to the butcher over her manager's head. "How many times
must I tell you that I don't like the bony parts?"

Monsieur Beauchamp suddenly dropped the joint as if it had burnt him,
and started as if he had been stung. His face flushed scarlet, and he
drew himself up to his fullest height.

"Ah, madame," he said poignantly yet proudly, "I am stab to ze soul to
hear you say zat you do not like ze Bonapartes!"

"For gracious' sake!" old lady Gordon exclaimed, taken quite off her
guard; and dropping her turkey-wing fan in her start of amazement.

In another moment she remembered, and forthwith did what she could to
soothe the little Frenchman's deeply wounded feelings. She turned away
her head as her grandson drew near, and put up the turkey-wing fan to
hide the smile which she could not control, when her gaze chanced to
meet his as he looked on, a silent and interested spectator of the
scene.

"Why, Mister Beauchamp," she said, quite gravely, as soon as she could
speak at all, "I am amazed at your thinking that I meant any disrespect
to your relations. How in the world could you think such a thing? I give
you my word of honor, that I have always believed the Bonapartes to be
the only human beings ever created expressly to rule over the French."

Monsieur had begun to soften almost as soon as the mistress had begun to
explain, and by the time the explanation was finished, he was fairly
beaming with delight. One hand was already holding his hat, but the
other was free, and this he now laid upon his heart, bringing his small
heels together in a most impressive bow. And then, smiling and quite
happy again, he picked up the rejected joint of mutton and carried it
back to the cart very cheerfully indeed. The turning over of its
contents was accordingly resumed for some time longer, until old lady
Gordon consented at last to allow the butcher to leave a large roast.
She shouted after him, nevertheless, as he rattled away; telling him at
the top of her strong voice that he need not think that she would take
another piece as tough and lean as this piece was; that he need have no
such expectation the next time he came round.

She told Lynn the story of the Frenchman when the young man had entered
the room in which she always sat and, with her permission, had thrown
himself down on the couch under the window. But she could not answer his
question about Monsieur Beauchamp immediately, because Eunice, the fat
black cook, chanced to come in just at that moment for a consultation
over the dinner, and the meals in old lady Gordon's house were always
the subjects of very grave consideration, requiring a considerable
length of time.

While the mistress and the cook were thus conferring, the young man
gazed carelessly, and yet curiously, around this large low room in which
his grandmother lived, and had spent the greater part of her life; and
in which his father had been born. The low ceiling had been covered with
canvas years before, but the original white of the canvas had long since
turned to a smoky brown. The walls, which had never been plastered, were
also covered with canvas, and afterward had been hung with old-fashioned
wall-paper in hunting scenes. These had faded into a general effect of
hazy dimness, but Lynn's keen young eyes made out the hunters, the
hounds, and the game, as he lay idle with his long arms under his
handsome dark head, wondering what sort of man his grandfather had been.
He had heard it said that rooms are like the people who live in them,
and, recalling the saying, he wondered again whether this room was now
as it used to be in his grandfather's time. There stood his
grandfather's secretary in one corner, still filled with papers, just as
he must have left it. The bed in the opposite corner must also have
stood in the same place for many a year. It had been a very stately
edifice, a magnificent structure, in its day. It even yet upheld a heavy
tester of faded crimson damask, gathered to the centre under a great
golden star of tarnished splendor. It had evidently once been of
imposing height, and it was still of unusual width, but it had lost
something of its height with age, as human beings do. It had been much
too high for old lady Gordon to climb into and out of, as easily as she
liked, when she began to grow stouter and more indolent, and it was not
her way to submit to any inconvenience which she could avoid. So that
the thick mahogany legs of the grand old bed had been sawed off by
degrees--as old lady Gordon's ease required--till it now squatted under
its big, dusty red tester like some absurd turbaned old Turk. Lynn
smiled as he looked at it, letting his gaze wander on to the tall chest
of drawers, to the high-backed split-bottomed chairs, to a great oaken
chest at the foot of the bed--to all the homely, comfortable,
unbeautiful things.

Looking at his grandmother, who was still absorbed in the consultation
with the cook, the young man suddenly felt how like her face his own
was; feeling it with the curiously mingled uneasiness and satisfaction
which come to most of us when we recognize ancestral traits in our own
spirits, our own minds, or our own bodies. She was a large, tall old
woman, still handsome and even shapely, despite her many years and her
great weight. Her chin was square and her forehead broad, yet her
grandson was somehow pleased to think that his own chin was more
delicately rounded, and that his forehead was higher than hers while not
less broad, and that his mouth was clearer cut. Still, the strong
likeness was there, in every one of the features of their two faces and
most of all in their eyes--long, large, deep, thick-lashed,
heavy-browed, and as black as human eyes ever are; and now as old lady
Gordon turned her head, the young man saw with a kind of shock that his
grandmother's eyes were almost as young, too, as his own. For young eyes
in an old face are not a pleasant sight to see. It seems better for the
ageless, unwearied spirit, thus looking out, to have grown old with the
wearied body, so that both together may be ready for the Rest.

Old lady Gordon noticed her grandson's gaze, as soon as Eunice had gone
from the room, and recognized the admiration which partly occupied his
thoughts. She accordingly smiled at him, settling comfortably back in
her broad, low rocking-chair. She wore a loose flowing wrapper of fine
white muslin, as she always did in warm weather. In the winter she
always wore the same garment made of fine white wool, covering it with a
long black cloak on the rare occasions upon which she left the house
during cold weather. It was a most unusual dress and one of peculiar
distinction, but old lady Gordon took neither of these facts into the
slightest account. She wore the fine white muslin in the summer because
it was cooler than anything else; and she wore the white wool in the
winter for the reason that, while warm and soft, it would wash with less
trouble than colored stuffs, when she dropped things on it at the table,
as she did at almost every meal. It is, perhaps, often just as well that
we cannot know the causes which bring about many pleasing and even
poetic results. Old lady Gordon's servants, especially Dilsey the
washerwoman, held opinions somewhat different from hers concerning the
greater convenience of constantly wearing white in winter as well as in
summer. But old lady Gordon never took that into account either; neither
that nor anything whatsoever that ever touched her own comfort at all
adversely.

"Come and hand me my bag, I want a cough-drop," she said to Lynn that
day, yawning. "It's too far round on the back of the chair for me to
reach it."

Lynn sprang to serve her and handed her the bag. It was the first time
that he had seen it; that is to say, it was the first time that he had
really observed the bag; he must, of course, have seen it, since no one
ever saw old lady Gordon without it. During the day it always hung on
the back of the chair in which she sat when not at the table; when she
sat at the table it always hung on the knob of the dining-room chair.
Through the night it always swung from the post of her bed close to her
hand. When she drove out in her ancient coach the bag went with her. And
a wonderful bag it was! There were many more things in it than mere
cough-drops. There were various other sorts of drops--drops for the
gouty pain which sometimes assailed old lady Gordon's toe, and drops of
good old brandy for cramp after over-eating. And there were candles and
matches, all ready for lighting if she should chance to grow wakeful
through the night, and always plenty of novels; and numerous simple
toilet articles, such as a hairbrush and comb, together with biscuits
and hair-oil and tea-cakes and handkerchiefs and an occasional piece of
pie. It would indeed be hard to think of anything that old lady Gordon
could have needed or desired, during the day or the night; or even have
fancied that she wanted, without finding it ready to her hand in that
wonderful bag. There was a hand-bell in it, too, though the bell usually
lay at the very bottom of the bag, under everything else, because there
was hardly ever any occasion for ringing it. The bag was a very gradual
evolution, like most complete inventions. Old lady Gordon herself had
given a good deal of thought for a good many years to the bringing of it
to its ultimate state of perfection; and Eunice the cook and Patsey the
housemaid had both concentrated their attention upon it more and more as
the mistress's wants and demands increased; until it had now become so
comprehensive that Eunice rarely had to be summoned out of her cabin, at
midnight, to give old lady Gordon a lunch; and Patsey was able, as a
rule, to sleep the whole night through on her pallet in the passage
outside the mistress's door; no matter whether that lady might suddenly
crave refreshment, or whether several kinds of drops might be needed in
consequence of a too hearty supper.

When old lady Gordon had taken the cough-drops out of the bag, and Lynn
had replaced it on the back of her chair, within easier reach, she
answered his question, which he had almost forgotten in his wondering
observation of the bag.

"You were asking about little Beauchamp," she said. "Your grandfather
found him somewhere and brought him home with him a long time ago. He
has been here ever since. I don't remember how long ago that was. I
don't know anything about him before he came. I hardly noticed him, in
fact, until after your grandfather's death, when I found him useful in
helping me manage the farm."

The grandson looked at the grandmother in silence, paying little heed to
what she was saying of the Frenchman. He was wondering why she said
"your grandfather" instead of saying "my husband." He had already noted
that she invariably said "your father" instead of saying "my son." He
knew little of women's ways, having lost his mother before he could
remember, so that his life had been mostly among men, and he knew
nothing whatever of his grandmother. Yet he felt, nevertheless, that a
wife and mother who had loved her husband and her son would not speak of
them to her grandson as "your grandfather" and "your father," as his
grandmother did. He had also a curious, half-amused, half-indignant
feeling that her doing so was intended to make him feel somehow
responsible for something which she disliked, and did not wish to assume
responsibility for herself.

"I never thought of asking your grandfather where he found him," old
lady Gordon went on indifferently. "Most likely it was in New Orleans.
The few foreigners in this country mostly came from there. Your
grandfather used to go there pretty often with flatboat-loads of horses.
But it doesn't matter where Beauchamp came from in the first place. He's
mighty useful to me now, wherever it was. I really don't see how I could
get along without him. He is a faithful, honest, industrious little
soul. Of course that bat in his belfry flies out now and then--as you
saw and heard. I try to remember it, but I forget sometimes. And how
could a body guard against such an unheard-of thing as that was?" She
laughed lazily, fanning herself with the turkey-wing, and rocking slowly
and heavily. "He isn't a bit luny about anything else, and he is just as
useful to me as if he didn't believe he was the son of Napoleon
Bonaparte. I don't care if he thinks he's Julius Cæsar himself. What's
the odds--since it never interferes with his work? And his wife's a
treasure too, in a different way. There's nothing French or flighty
about her. She belongs around here--somewhere in the Pennyroyal Region.
I don't know or remember where he picked her up. She is a great,
slow-witted, homely, slab-sided drudge, almost twice his size. And such
a worker! She never turns her head when he calls her the 'Empress
Maria.' She just goes straight along, hoeing the garden and making
butter. But--all the same--she thinks the sun rises and sets in him."

The young man laughed. "Fine! And he no doubt thinks she hung the moon."

His grandmother looked at him more attentively than she had done
hitherto. She had never been thrown with men of quick mind, and was not
accustomed to such ready response. She liked quickness of perception as
she liked all bright and pleasant things; and she disliked slowness of
understanding as she disliked everything tiresome--like the sybarite
that she was.

"Certainly he does. That's always the way," she in turn responded,
smilingly. "The worse mated the married seem to be--to outsiders, the
better they appear to suit one another. Talk about 'careful, judicious
selection!'" Old lady Gordon made an inarticulate but eloquent sound of
scornful incredulity. "If you were to rush out there in the big road
this minute--with your eyes shut--and seize the first passer-by, you
would have just as much chance of knowing what you were doing--what you
were getting--as you ever will have!"

Lynn wondered again what sort of a man his grandfather could have been.
And his young mother, whom he had never known? Had this cynical old
woman disapproved of her, had she been unkind to her? There is always
something repellent to wholesome youth in the cynicism of the old.
Feeling this, Lynn said rather coldly that he had thought little of such
matters, he had been too much absorbed in other things, in laying life
plans which must be quite apart from all thoughts of love and marriage
for a good many years. The mere mention of these cherished plans brought
a flush to his dark cheeks, and caused him to sit more proudly erect.
They were seldom far absent from his mind, and the main thought lying
nearest the heart is never long unspoken by frank young lips. It was
less than a year since he had been graduated from the Harvard Law
School, but his deep-laid plans lay far back of his graduation. He could
hardly remember when he had not seen the path of his ambition straight
and distinct before him. It was a steep one, to be sure, and hard and
long, as the road to the heights must ever be. But he had faced all this
wholly undaunted, knowing the power within himself, and the additional
strength which fortune had given him. Yet he was a modest young fellow,
and simple-hearted as well as single-minded. There was in him little
vanity in his personal gifts, little pride in his inherited possessions.
He simply recognized these as lucky accidents, for which he could claim
no credit; holding them merely as the means whereby he might hope, more
confidently than most young men, to reach the utmost limit of his
ambition. The right to practise law was already his, and the rest of the
way upward must open as he pressed earnestly and untiringly onward,--the
bar, the bench, the supreme bench, those must be within the winning of
any man having fair ability, unbounded capacity for hard work, and
abundant means to wait for its fruition; and he knew himself to be
possessed of all these. This seemed to him the highest ambition possible
to an American, as perhaps it was, in those days when the ermine was
still held unspotted, high above the mire of politics.

And yet, notwithstanding these lofty aims and matured plans, Lynn Gordon
was very young, hardly more than a boy, after all, in many things, so
that he soon began to talk with boyish openness of the herculean task
which he thus had set himself in sober earnest. His grandmother listened
with such intense interest, such thorough understanding, and such
complete sympathy as surprised herself far more than it surprised her
grandson. She was taken wholly unawares,--not dreaming of finding him
anything like this,--having looked forward to his coming with but
lukewarm enthusiasm.

The old who have been disappointed in almost everything that they have
ever set their hearts upon, cease, after a while, to expect anything,
and learn to shield themselves against further disappointment by real or
assumed indifference. Old lady Gordon in her fierce pride had never
owned, even to herself, how deep and bitter and lasting had been her
disappointment in her own son. It counted for nothing with her that he
had been what many would have considered a good man, though not an
intellectual man in the estimation of any one. To his mother his
goodness had seemed but the negative virtue of an undecided character
and a mediocre mind. For the best love of a nature like hers cannot be
born of mere toleration, even in a mother's heart. This mother--being
what she was--might perhaps have come nearer to forgiving the things
which were lacking, had this only child been a daughter. A woman like
old lady Gordon never expects much of another woman, even though she be
her own daughter. But she always expects everything of every man,
especially when he belongs to her own family, and thus it was that old
lady Gordon never could wholly forgive her only son. Least of all could
she ever quite forgive him for being his father over again; an almost
unpardonable offence which other poorly gifted children have committed
in the eyes of other embittered mothers, who have illogically expected,
as poor old lady Gordon had expected, to gather figs from thistles.

When she had first faced the truth in the prime of life, her fierce
pride had raised the iron shield of pretended indifference, and she had
upheld it so long that it had gradually grown into the rusty armor of
age's insensibility. And yet, through all its steely coldness, the young
man's warm words now struck fire. A deep glow came into the impassive,
handsome old face, and a warm light into the hard, fine old eyes, as she
looked at this spirited, strong, determined, capable young fellow, with
his brilliant face aglow, and his intelligent eyes alight. She suddenly
felt him to be much more her own spirit and flesh and blood than his
father had ever been. It seemed for an instant as if her own strenuous
youth, with its impassioned visions of conquest--so long forgotten--came
rushing back through the eloquent lips of her grandson.



IX

A ROMANTIC REGION


But, alas, the habits of age are always fixed, and its enthusiasms are
mostly fleeting. At breakfast, on the next morning, old lady Gordon was
as stolidly absorbed in the food which she was eating as she usually was
in her meals. Her cynicism, her indifference, too, had all come back.

Both came promptly into play, when Lynn chanced to remember his promise
to play cards with the sick man, and mentioned it, which he had
forgotten to do on the day before, in the intenser interest of the talk
about his own future. The old lady smiled sardonically and chewed on
deliberately, while the young man gave an account of what had taken
place at the doctor's house.

"Anne won't allow it," she finally said. "If anything could have changed
her or have taken the nonsense out of her, it would have been seeing Tom
go to destruction, mainly because she went to meeting. A woman like Anne
takes to religion just as immoderately as a man like Tom takes to
gambling."

Lynn did not speak at once. He was feeling the uneasiness which comes
over right-minded youth at any sign of irreligion in the old.

"I thought every man liked his wife to go to church, however seldom he
might go himself," he finally advanced hesitatingly.

"And so he does, when he doesn't happen to want her to stay at home,"
said old lady Gordon, with a cynical laugh. "But I've never known a
husband pious enough to like his wife's religion to interfere with his
own comfort or wishes. And Tom really needed Anne a good deal more than
her church did. There are men who are as sure to go wrong if their wives
leave them alone, as ships are to drift without their rudders--and Tom
Watson was one of these. He had little or no intellectual
resources,--none at all, probably, within himself,--and he was
consequently entirely dependent upon companionship. That sort of male
animal always is, and if he can't get good company he takes bad, simply
because he has to have company of some kind. Every sensible woman
understands that sort of man, especially if she is married to him; and
she knows, too, just what she's got to do, unless she's willing to take
the certain consequences of not doing it. Any other woman than Anne
would have thought she was lucky when Tom didn't take to anything worse
than cards."

Lynn was glad when the breakfast was over. He did not like his
grandmother in this mood nearly so well as he had liked her in the
kindly responsive one of the night before; and yet, although he knew her
but slightly, he felt sure that this mood was more natural, or, at all
events, more habitual, to her, than the other. It was most likely this
instinctive feeling which had unconsciously kept him--during the talk
with her on the previous day--from speaking of the beautiful girl whom
he had seen. He now felt more distinctly, though still without knowing
why, that he did not wish to hear his grandmother speak of her or of her
environment, as he now knew that the old lady would speak. He already
understood enough, remembering the kind things which the doctor's lady
had told him, to anticipate the different presentation of the widow
Wendall and her family that his grandmother would certainly make.

He left her as soon as he could, offering his engagement with Dr.
Alexander as a ready excuse. Passing out into the quiet, empty big road,
he walked along under the old locust trees which lined one side of the
way. The locusts were flowering, and the long clusters of pure white
flowers, swinging among the dull gray-green of the feathery foliage,
filled the fresh air of the May morning with wholesome sweetness. The
shrubs in the yards, bordering the length of the big road with the vivid
verdure of new leaves, were also in bloom. The young man smelled the
honeysuckle blossoming thick over the sick man's window, but he did not
look that way. He looked, naturally enough, in the opposite direction,
where the silver poplars stood, since the interests and the sympathies
of youth must always lie on the other side of life's big road, away from
all affliction and pain.

He was not sorry to find that the doctor had gone into the country in
answer to an urgent call, and that the visit to the invalid consequently
must be postponed. He was sorry, however, to see the white curtain of
the house behind the poplars hanging precisely as it had hung on the
previous day; and, although he walked to the top of the hill beyond the
house and, turning, strolled slowly back again in front of the window,
he had no second glimpse of Doris. Thus idly strolling, he went along
the big road, stopping now and then to lean over a fence to look at the
hyacinths and tulips, which were at their sweetest and brightest in most
of the front yards; or to linger beside the rosy clover fields to drink
in the fragrance and to watch the vernal happiness of the birds. He
paused occasionally to lift his hat smilingly to the friendly faces
which smiled at him from the vine-wreathed windows and the wide-open
doors; but, loiter as he might, he saw nothing more of the girl of whom
he was thinking and hoping to meet, and although he delayed his return
as long as he could, he was still back at his grandmother's house all
too soon.

No one could walk through Oldfield a second time on the same morning
without a visible or audible explanation to a public who had plenty of
leisure to note the few passers-by, and to speculate upon their possible
destination, and to discuss the most probable reasons for their going up
or coming down the big road. Lynn had an instinctive perception of this,
little as he knew of the life of the village. Accordingly he now paused
uncertainly at his grandmother's gate and stood still, not knowing what
to do with the perfect day, with the ideal Ides of May.

Looking idly toward the northern hilltops, he saw the figure of a
horseman suddenly break the sky line and rush galloping downward into
the village. Onward thundered the big black horse and his strange rider,
sweeping by like a whirlwind, and speeding on and on, till they vanished
over the southern hilltops. A light cloud of dust floated for a moment
between the farthest green and the farthest blue, and then that too
disappeared, and the coming and going of the wild apparition might well
have been some trick of a fantastic imagination. And yet Lynn had
received a curiously distinct impression of the man's appearance in this
space of time, brief almost as a lightning flash. He had seen the
foreign dress, the great boots so long that they were slit to the knee;
the blood-red handkerchief tied loosely around the neck, and, most
distinctly of all, the sinister expression of the dark, deeply lined
face and the wildness of the black eyes under the wide, flapping, soft
brim of the large sombrero hat. Altogether it was so strange, so unreal
an interruption of the peace of this pastoral spot, that the young man
could only stand silent gazing after it in bewildered surprise.

"That's Alvarado! You've seen one of the sights of the country," his
grandmother called out to him from her place by the window.

"Who is Alvarado?" he asked, when he had entered the room.

"That is a question which a good many people have been asking for a good
many years, and nobody has ever had a satisfactory answer," old lady
Gordon replied.

Smiling her sardonic smile, she deliberately turned down the leaf of the
novel which she had been reading as usual, and laid it on her lap. She
was always amused by these histrionic appearances of Alvarado which so
terrified most of the Oldfield people. It had indeed long been known all
over the Pennyroyal Region that, while other folks always drove hastily
into the nearest fence corner whenever they saw Alvarado coming, old
lady Gordon invariably kept straight along in the middle of the big
road--never turning one hair's breadth to the right or the left--and
that Alvarado was always the one who had to turn out. She said nothing
of this, however, and thought nothing of it; but she told her grandson
all that she knew or that any one knew of Alvarado.

He was a Spaniard who had suddenly appeared in the vicinity of Oldfield,
some twenty-five years before. No one had any knowledge of him previous
to that time, and no one had ever known where he came from. Yet, for
some reason never clearly understood, his coming had, nevertheless, been
associated from the first with the scattering of the Gulf pirates which
had followed the deposing of their last king. It is true that Lafitte
was long since gone to render his awful account of the terrible deeds
done in the body--with perhaps his desperate service at the battle of
New Orleans as the largest item on the other side of the blotted ledger.
But the death of Lafitte in 1826 did not immediately free the Gulf from
its fearful scourge. The passing of piracy was gradual, very gradual
indeed, and even long drawn out, as the traders of the Pennyroyal Region
knew only too well, through their close and continual connection with
New Orleans by route of the flatboat. There was, therefore, to the minds
of the Oldfield people, nothing improbable in the continued existence of
numbers of Lafitte's followers, who were younger than himself and
consequently not yet really old men. Still, while there was no
impossibility or even any improbability in Alvarado's being a comrade of
Lafitte, there appeared no actual proof that he ever had been. According
to old lady Gordon's account, the principal grounds of suspicion were
these: his appearance, which was otherwise unaccounted for, just at the
time that the pirates were being driven from the Gulf and out of the
Gulf states; his frequent, long, and mysterious absences at sea after
his coming to live in the vicinity of Oldfield; the fabulous sums of
gold and silver fetched home by him from these voyages, when he was
known not to have any visible means of making money; the many curious
weapons of marine warfare scattered through his strange house, which was
half a fort, half a farmhouse, and wholly barbaric in its rough richness
of furnishing; the generally credited rumor that he habitually wore a
coat of mail; the well-known fact--open for every passer-by to see--that
he kept a horse standing continually at his gate, day and night, for
years, saddled and bridled, with pistols in the holsters, apparently
ready for instant flight.

Many of these things old lady Gordon had seen with her own eyes. Most of
them she knew to be true, but she had never gone to his house, although
he had at one time received a measure of social recognition,
when--according to old lady Gordon--there had been something like real
society in Oldfield. He was rather a handsome man after a sinister,
foreign fashion, although he had been past youth when he first came to
Oldfield, and he had a dashing way with him which fascinated the
unobservant. It was in this manner that he was thrown with Alice
Fielding, the colonel's prettiest and youngest daughter, so old lady
Gordon said.

"You mean the old gentleman whom I saw yesterday? That stately,
beautiful old man with the silver hair curling on his shoulders, and
wearing the long black cloak?" Lynn said.

"That's the man, but I wish you might have seen him in those days. He
was just about as fiery as Alvarado, though in a slightly more civilized
way, and he never wanted Alice to have anything to do with him. He never
wanted the Spaniard around his house at all. No man like Colonel
Fielding--English in every drop of blood--ever wants anything to do with
any foreigner. But there's no use in trying to manage a girl like Alice
Fielding,--a little, soft, say-nothing, characterless thing,--there's
nothing in her strong enough to get a good firm hold on. She's blown
like a feather this way and that way by the strongest influence--good or
bad--that she falls under. You'll find the kind, and plenty of them, all
over the world. The Fielding negroes used to say Alvarado threw a spell
over Alice. I presume he did, but it was the spell which that sort of
man always throws over that sort of girl. She was a flighty, vain little
creature, and flattered of course by his being so madly in love. That
was plain enough for anybody to see. Nobody ever doubted that he loved
her. But she had never thought of marrying him until she was terrified
into doing it. She was probably in love with John Stanley so far as she
was capable of loving any man. It was said they were upon the verge of
becoming engaged to be married. I don't know about that, but there was
no doubt of John's loving her. It took him years to get over her
marriage to Alvarado."

"I don't understand. Why did she marry him?" asked Lynn.

"Through sheer fright mixed with a kind of silly romance, as nearly as
anybody ever could make out. It happened in this way. There was some
kind of a party at Colonel Fielding's. There always was something going
on while his girls were young and gay; and there is plenty of room in
the jailer's residence for any kind of entertainment--and many's the
ball and dinner they gave! That night Alvarado was one of the guests, as
he often was. Nobody knows what led up to the outbreak, but he suddenly
fell on the floor in convulsions, stiff and stark and black in the face,
and actually foaming at the mouth--a sight, they said, to make the
strongest shudder. The doctor was hurriedly called out of the supper
room and at once shut the door of the room in which Alvarado was
lying--at the point of death as everybody thought. As the guests huddled
together whispering, it flew all over the house that he had taken poison
and that he refused to take an antidote unless Alice would consent to
marry him. Your father was there and saw her go into the room, and he
said afterwards that she looked as much like a dead woman then, as she
did a year later when she lay in her coffin. No one, except those who
were in the room, ever knew what happened, but the colonel presently
came to the door and sent for the preacher. It was a dancing party, or
he would have been there already, as almost everybody else was. But it
didn't take long to fetch him, and he married Alvarado to Alice Fielding
then and there."

"And John Stanley?" inquired Lynn.

"He knew nothing of the marriage till he came to see Alice on the next
Sunday as he always did. He didn't live in Oldfield at that time. He had
gone away soon after another unlucky affair which most men wouldn't have
worried about, but which seems to have had a lifelong effect upon him.
He was always a sensitive, high-strung fellow and deeply religious--full
of lofty ideals and all that sort of thing--even then, when he was
hardly more than a lad. He had come here only a week or so before to
take an assistant's place in the clerk's office. He was a cousin of Jack
Mitchell, the county clerk--that's the way he happened to come. Well,
Jack Mitchell was a politician and as high a talker and as low a doer as
was to be found betwixt the Cumberland and Green River, which is saying
a good deal. I reckon he couldn't be more than matched in these days. I
haven't noticed much change in politicians during the last quarter of a
century. Jack had been elected by a large majority, and was reëlected,
and had his hand fairly on a higher rung of the political ladder, when
he made a false step and slipped. The trouble came from a foolish
quarrel caused by drink. Jack Mitchell always was quarrelsome when in
liquor, and on that day he happened to accuse another Kentuckian of
cowardice. That, of course, was crossing the dead-line. It was just the
same then that it is now and always will be, till our blood and training
are different. And the fact that the man who had been branded as a
coward was a worthless loafer, made no more difference then then it
would make now. The wretch who had been 'insulted' rose up, as soon as
he was sober enough, and borrowed a shot-gun and went to wipe out his
dishonor, just as if he had been a real gentleman. Jack, with his usual
luck, was not in the office when his enemy, who was still drinking
heavily, suddenly appeared in the doorway, levelling the gun. He was not
so drunk, though, that he didn't know that he was aiming at a boy whom
he had never seen before, in place of the man whom he had come to kill.
He knew it well enough, for he muttered something about killing the
young one if he couldn't get the old one. But John Stanley was too quick
for him. Jack's pistol lay handy, as it always did, as pistols always
do, hereabouts. The boy hardly knew what was happening before he had
shot dead a man whose name he didn't know--a man whom he had never seen
or heard of before."

"What a strange story," Lynn said. "I think I have never heard a
stranger one."

"Oh, I don't know about it's being strange. Of course somebody had to be
killed," old lady Gordon responded indifferently.

"Somebody had to be killed--and why?" repeated Lynn, wonderingly; for,
although to the manner born he was not to the manner bred.

"Oh, well, when things get into that shape somebody's bound to be
killed! When a Kentuckian is accused of cowardice he has to kill
somebody to prove his courage. There's nothing else to be
done--apparently. And it might as well have been Betts as anybody else."

She yawned, and swayed her turkey-wing fan.

"It would all have blown over and have passed, as all such things pass
in this country, if John Stanley hadn't been morbid about it, if he had
been at all like other people. Of course he was acquitted at the
examining trial. There were plenty of witnesses to the fact that he
fired in self-defence. The family of the man who was killed never made a
motion toward taking the matter up, and they would have been ready
enough to do it if they could have found any pretext for blaming John.
They were, in fact, rather looked down on for taking it so easy. But
John has never forgiven himself; he has always thought he might have
done something else than what he did. He has rarely mentioned it to any
one, but I understand that he once told Miss Judy that, if it were to do
over again, he would run the risk of being killed himself rather than
take the life of any human being. As I have said, he was always very
religious, even then, and this was, I suppose, the reason why he brooded
so over the affair. To this day he's more like a praying monk shut up in
a cell than he's like the famous judge of a large circuit."

"Of course he never married," said Lynn.

"Oh, yes, he did--but not for a long time; not for years and years after
that Spanish tiger had made an end of that foolish little kitten. Alice
lived only a few months. They said that Alvarado wasn't unkind; that he
even tried to be kind in his way. But Alice seemed to hate him--as much
as she was capable of hating anybody--when she found out how he had
tricked her; that he hadn't taken poison at all when he pretended he
had, and that the awful-looking foam on his lips had come from chewing
soap."

"Don't--don't!" cried the young man. "Leave the romance. Tell me about
Judge Stanley--though he too has done what he could to spoil the story
by marrying. What sort of woman is his wife? Poor little Alice!"

"I've never seen his wife. She has been here only once or twice, for a
few days at a time. They say she is a high-flier and very ambitious.
John didn't begin to go up very high in the world till after he had
married her. She no doubt makes him a much better wife than Alice ever
could have made. A silly, big-eyed, clinging, crying little woman who
doesn't weigh a hundred pounds can drag down the strongest man like a
mill-stone around his neck. That apparently harmless little creature
managed to ruin the lives of two big strong men--each worth half a dozen
of her for all useful purposes. John Stanley certainly has never seen a
day's happiness, and there can be no sort of doubt that Alvarado has
been partially demented ever since her death. His craziness seems to
take the form of senseless litigation. He appears unable to keep away
from the court-house when he knows that John Stanley is here, and he is
always bringing lawsuits on ridiculous pretexts, so that the judge is
compelled to rule them out of court. Alvarado is forever trying to find
a chance to pick a quarrel with the judge, but he might just as well
give it up. He will never be able, no matter how hard he tries, or how
insulting he may be, to drag John Stanley into a duel or even into a
quarrel."

"Why?" asked the young man in surprise, not understanding. "Is the
Spaniard such a terrible person? Is the judge afraid?"

"Afraid--John Stanley afraid!" repeated old lady Gordon, scornfully. "He
never knew what fear was. For calm, cool, unflinching courage in the
face of the greatest danger, I have never known his equal. If I could
remember and tell you some of the brave things that that man has done.
Why, when he was only a lad he seized a lamp which had exploded and
coolly held it in his bare hands--with the blazing oil burning the flesh
to the bone--till he could carry it to a place of safety, rather than
endanger the lives of other people by throwing it down. No longer than a
year or two ago he nearly lost his own life by saving an old negro woman
from a runaway horse. John Stanley is no more afraid of Alvarado than he
is of me. It's all on account of his queer notions of religion, of
humanity, and of the sacredness of human life. It all grew out of that
unlucky accident of his youth, a matter that another man would not have
given a second thought to. His fear, his horror of shedding blood has
gradually grown more and more intense, until it seems to have become a
positive mania. Nothing now can ever drive him from it. Alvarado may as
well give up trying to provoke him into a quarrel. But he on his side is
quite as determined as John Stanley. He will never give it up; he's no
doubt been at the court-house hatching some plot this very day. I often
wonder what the end will be, should both of the men go on living. To
think of all the wrong and wretchedness that one foolish baby face can
cause!"

Lynn did not cry out again, half in earnest and half in jest, begging
his grandmother to spare romance; but he got up, silently, and took a
turn or two about the room. He was genuinely shocked to find himself
feeling the repulsion which her lack of womanliness forced upon him. The
merciless cynicism revealed by everything that she said might have
amused him had he heard it from another person; but he was
uncontrollably repulsed by it coming from his father's mother. He was
glad when she began to speak of other subjects, and less moving ones,
although these also were interwoven with the history of the Pennyroyal
Region.

She was not a native of Oldfield. Her birth-place lay farther up in that
country on the "Pigeon Roost Fork of the Muddy, which is a branch of
Green River," on the very spot thus described by Washington Irving's
Kentucky classic. But Irving had only heard of "Blue Bead Miller," the
famous hunter and Indian fighter, whom he has immortalized in that
charming tale under his real name; and old lady Gordon had known him in
her childhood and early youth. Many a time she had seen him in her
father's house, where he would often come, bringing his rifle, "Betsy,"
for her mother to "unwitch." And this, her mother--who was young and
city-bred, and full of wondering interest in all these strange ways of
the wilderness--would always do with girlish delight, gravely running
her slim white fingers up and down the grimy barrel, as one who works a
beneficent charm, while the grim old woodsman looked on with
unquestioning faith.

Near this old home on the Pigeon Roost Fork was the Roost itself, that
marvellous mecca of the wild pigeons, where countless billions of gray
wings darkened the great woods on the sunniest midday; and where
unnumbered trillions of the weightless, feathered little bodies crushed
the great limbs of the mightiest giants of the forest. And this wondrous
sight, too, old lady Gordon had seen many times, long before Audubon saw
it to describe it for the wonderment of the whole world.

She had not much to tell of the bridegroom with whom she came as a young
bride to live in Oldfield; she spoke mainly of journeying on horseback
over the Wilderness Road, and of passing the place called "Harpe's
Head," which had then been very recently named for a most hideous
tragedy. It was a story full of grewsome romance, this tale of the
unheralded coming of two monsters among a simple, honest, scattered, yet
neighborly, woods-people. The two were brothers, or claimed to be, but
there was no outward likeness between them. One was small, and not in
any way calculated to attract attention; while the other was far above
the ordinary stature of men, and so ferocious of aspect that the very
sight of him chilled the beholder with fear. Neither of the men ever
wore any head covering, and both had wild, manelike, red hair, and
complexions of "a livid redness"--whatever that may have been--such as
left a lasting impression of horror upon all who encountered them. They
were soon known throughout the length of Wilderness Road as Big Harpe
and Little Harpe. They lived close to the road, and almost immediately
after their coming travellers began to disappear, never to be heard of
again, or to be found long afterward to have been murdered. A very pall
of terror spread gradually over the whole Pennyroyal Region; arson,
robbery, and atrocities unspeakable followed murder after murder, and
yet the few, far-apart people of the terror-stricken country could only
tremble in helpless fear, till the murder of a woman led to the tracing
of the long, wide, deep track of blood and crime to the door of the
Harpes.

"When they murdered a woman, the whole country rose up as one man. And
it was just the same then that it is now when the same thing happens,"
old lady Gordon said grimly. "The best men in the Pennyroyal Region--as
good and as God-fearing men as could be found in the world--hunted the
Harpes like wild beasts. They beat the whole wilderness for the
monsters, until they found them at last. Little Harpe managed to escape;
it was not known how, and he was never seen or heard of again. But it
was Big Harpe who had been the leader; he was the one that the men
wanted most, and they now had him fast like a wild animal in a trap. Yet
not one of his captors touched him; not one of them spoke to him; they
all merely sat still with their eyes on him, and waited for the woman's
husband to come."

"History repeats itself--especially in Kentucky," Lynn said.

Old lady Gordon smiled her most sardonic smile. "The skull of Big
Harpe's head stayed on the end of a pole by the side of the Wilderness
Road through a good many years. The place where it was put up is still
called 'Harpe's Head'--I presume it always will be."

All this was before old lady Gordon came as a young bride to live in
Oldfield; but another band of robbers and assassins still terrorized
that part of the Pennyroyal Region. The cavern in which the band made
its den was on the other side of the Ohio River, but it was Kentucky
that suffered most from its ravages. Many a richly laden flatboat was
never heard of after it was known to have stopped at the entrance to
Cave-in-Rock, as the place was called in the beginning of the last
century, and as it is called at the present time. Many a gold-laden
boatman, who had unknowingly passed down the river without stopping at
the Cave-in-Rock, was beguiled into entering it on his way
homeward--only to vanish forever off the face of the earth. The cavern
would seem to have offered powerful temptations to the unwary traveller.
The cave itself was then as it is now a most curious and interesting
survival of prehistoric times. It is a single chamber in the solid rock,
opening at the river's brink, two hundred feet long and eighty feet
wide, its sides rising by regular stages after the manner of the seats
in an amphitheatre. Its walls are covered with strange carvings cut deep
in the stone; there are representations of several animals unknown to
science, and there are also inscribed characters which have led those
learned in such matters to believe the cavern to have been the council
house of some ancient race. But nothing was known of these things while
Cave-in-Rock remained the hiding-place of robbers and assassins. The
terrified country round about Oldfield knew the place only by vague
hearsay as a drinking, gambling resort, wherein boatmen and all unwary
travellers going up or down the Ohio were lured to destruction. No one
who entered the awful mystery of the cavern ever came out to tell what
he had seen or what had befallen him. It seemed--so old lady Gordon
said--as if the hand of the law would never be able to lay hold upon
actual proof of the crimes committed at Cave-in-Rock, but when the band
was ultimately run to earth, an upper and secret chamber was found to be
filled with the bones of human beings.

The grandmother and the grandson sat silent for a space after she grew
weary of story-telling. They were thinking in widely different ways of
the wild, true tales of these terrific passion storms which had swept
Kentucky throughout her existence. Was another fair portion of the good
green earth ever so deep-dyed in the blood of both the innocent and the
guilty?

"And yet through all we have always been a most religious people," the
young man said musingly.

"Very!" responded the old lady, who was growing hungry. "None more so.
We've about all the different religions that anybody else ever had, and
we've started one or two of our own."



X

RELIGION IN OLDFIELD


It is in the quiet village, remote, as this was, from the rushing change
of city life, that the fervor of religion always appears warmest and
seems to linger longest.

In Oldfield everybody went to church twice a day on Sunday, in winter
and in summer, and through the rain as well as through the sunshine.
That is to say, everybody except old lady Gordon and Miss Judy Bramwell,
neither of whom ever went at all.

There was nothing strange or inconsistent in old lady Gordon's staying
away. She was generally held by everybody to be as an out-and-out
heathen, whereas in reality she was merely a good deal of a pagan. And
she was not in the habit of accounting to anybody for what she did or
did not do, being equally indifferent to private and public opinion.

But Miss Judy's never going was a much harder thing to understand. For
the little lady was not only the model for the whole community in
week-day matters, but she was also known to be a most devout
Episcopalian, so that, taken altogether, the fact that she never went to
church remained always an impenetrable mystery, notwithstanding that the
Oldfield church-goers discussed it untiringly on almost every Sunday of
their lives. Nor did Miss Judy, who was the soul of guileless frankness
in everything else, ever offer any sort of an explanation for this
unaccountable remissness. She could not make any untrue excuses, and she
would not give the real reason; her gentle heart being much too tender
of her neighbors' feelings to admit of her mentioning the truth, so long
as she was able to hide what she was bound in conscience to feel.

"They are doing the best they can, you know, sister Sophia," she would
say, almost in a whisper, as the neighbors passed on Sundays; and she
would steal on tiptoe to close the door, so that Merica might not
overhear. "They are not to blame, poor things; it is their misfortune
and not their fault, that they don't know the difference between a
meeting-house and the Church, and between a lecture and the Service."

"Just so, sister Judy," Miss Sophia would respond, more befogged if
possible over consecration and apostolic succession than she was over
most things. When, however, after a time, she came gradually to
comprehend that this stand, taken privately by Miss Judy, would spare
herself the exertion of walking to the meeting-houses, both of which
were at the other end of town, she became so decided in her support of
Miss Judy's position as to remove the last shade of doubt from that mild
little lady's mind. Nothing of all this was ever suspected by any third
person, but in the absence of any actual knowledge, it ultimately came
to be taken for granted that Miss Judy stayed at home on Sundays and
read the prayer-book to her sister because Miss Sophia was not equal to
the long walk to church and back, especially in bad weather. Miss Judy
of course said not a word either to confirm or to contradict this
impression, which strengthened as the years went by. But she always gave
the neighbors so sweet a smile when they passed on the way to meeting
that everything seemed to everybody just as it should be.

One of the churches belonged to the Methodists and the other to the
denomination known as The Disciples of Christ. The town was not large
enough to supply two congregations or to support two preachers; and it
was consequently necessary to hold services in each of the churches on
alternate Sundays in order to insure a sizable congregation and a
moderate support for the circuit rider and the Christian elder, when
they came from their farms in another part of the county to preach on
their appointed days; thus giving freedom to all and favor to none.

A single contribution box served for the two churches. This, which was
in reality a contribution bag, was a sort of inverted liberty cap made
of ecclesiastical black cloth, and lined with churchly purple satin.
When not in use it usually stood on the end of its long staff in what
was called the Amen corner of the Methodist church. The office of taking
it down from its accustomed resting-place, and of carrying it over to
the Christian church when needed there, had belonged from time
immemorial to Uncle Watty. It is not certain to which of the two
denominations Uncle Watty himself belonged. It was, indeed, never a very
clearly established fact that he was a member of any denomination, but
this uncertainty had nothing whatever to do with the lifelong holding of
his office. It seemed to everybody to be the right and proper thing for
Uncle Watty to take up the collection, mainly for the reason that he
always had done it, which is accepted as a good and sufficient reason
for many rather singular things in that region. Miss Judy, who knew
about it, as she knew about everything, although she never saw him do
it,--since she never went to meeting,--always considered it a
particularly kind and delicate arrangement, devised by some thoughtful,
feeling person expressly to save Uncle Watty the embarrassment of having
nothing to put in the bag himself. But Uncle Watty apparently took
another view of it; and, like a good many people who do little
themselves and exact much from others, he was extremely rigorous and
almost relentless in his handing of the contribution bag. Its tough,
hickory handle was equal to the full length of the benches, and no man,
woman, or child might hope to evade its deliberate presentation under
the very nose, and its being steadily held there, too, until Uncle Watty
thought everybody's duty was fully done.

When there was a fifth Sunday in the month, both of the regular
preachers came to the village, inviting any other preacher who chanced
to be in the vicinity to join in the debate which then took the place of
the sermon, and which was held in the court-house, on neutral ground, as
it were. Sometimes the Cumberland Presbyterians and the Hard-shell
Baptists took part, and now and then a Foot-Washing Baptist came along,
so that these fifth Sundays were usually memorable occasions in
Oldfield. Occasionally, to be sure, there was some slight friction, as
was, perhaps, unavoidable under the circumstances; but, on the whole,
this rotation in creeds and dogmas gave remarkable general satisfaction.
The exceptions were very few and purely personal in character, the
gravest and most important growing out of an unfortunate dispute between
Miss Pettus and the Christian elder over the ownership of a runaway pig.
The controversy ended in the reverend gentleman's getting the pig. When,
therefore, on the following Sunday--through some singular mischance--he
chose as a text: "Children, have ye any meat?" Miss Pettus not
unnaturally felt that he was wantonly adding insult to injury, and,
rising from her seat in the front of the church, the indignant
lady--holding herself haughtily erect and her head very high--walked
straight down the whole length of the middle aisle and out through the
women's door. It was a year or more before she could be induced to go
back again to hear the elder preach, notwithstanding that he did
everything in his power (like the good man that he was) to convince her
of his innocence of any thought of offence. But she tried to forgive
him--which is all that the best of us can do--and she ultimately
succeeded, in so far that she returned to the meeting-house on his day.
She could not help, however, saying at the time, when coming out, how
much she disliked levity in the pulpit, be it Christian or Methodist;
yet she admitted afterward, when cooler, that he might have meant no
irreverence, though there was no gainsaying his levity, when he
announced at the close of the sermon that he would preach again on the
second Sunday, "the Lord willing;" but that he would preach again on the
fourth Sunday "whether or no." There are always plenty of overcritical
people besides Miss Pettus to be found everywhere. Some of those living
in Oldfield complained that the circuit rider pounded so much dust out
of the pulpit cushion that they took cold from continual sneezing every
time he preached. Others were inclined to criticise the too vigorous
elocution of the elder when he warmed to the warning of his flock
against the shifting sands of dangerous doctrines, bidding them build
their house of faith upon a rock, so that it might fall _n-o-t_ when the
winds _b-l-e-w_.

Sidney, who called herself a Whiskey Baptist, and who consequently
regarded herself and was regarded by others as something of a free
lance--in theology as in most other things,--used to express her
opinions of the shortcomings of both the Methodists and the Christians
with entire frankness, but always more in jest than in earnest. Indeed,
all these trivial faultfindings were no more than the passing expression
of sectarian jealousy, and harmless as heat lightning, so that, on the
whole, religion flourished in Oldfield.

It was a pleasant, peaceful sight to see the people coming out of their
green-bowered houses on that radiant May morning. The old locust trees
were at the sweetest and whitest of their flowering; the light, fine
foliage seemed to float on the south breeze, and the long clusters of
snowy flowers swung gently to and fro over the heads of the
church-goers, like silvered censers filling the air with richest
incense. And there at the base of every fragile spray--emblem of life's
mortality--lay the bud of the next year's leaf--symbol of life's
immortality. But the simple people, walking beneath, went on their way
heeding only the beauty, and the sweetness, and the warmth of the
sunshine. They greeted one another after the friendly custom of the
country, which gave a greeting even to strangers,--and these
church-goers were all old friends. Only the young man leaving old lady
Gordon's gate might be accounted a stranger. Yet his ancestors also
slept on the highest, greenest hillside, under the long grass over which
the soft wind was running with swift, invisible feet. There were no
strangers even there, where all the tombstones bore familiar names; the
new ones freshly inscribed, gleaming white and erect against the green;
the older ones showing gray as they leant; the oldest, lying brown and
prone, and crumbling slowly back to earth.

The cracked bell of the wooden church rang with the homesick sound, full
of a homely pathos that richer-toned bells never give tongue to. In
response to its pathetic call the people went on toward the
meeting-house in little groups, chatting with one another. Anne Watson
was among the first now as always, when the preaching was to be in her
own church. Her faith enjoined the weekly "breaking of bread," and it
had ever been a sore trouble to her that the opportunity was not given
oftener than twice a month in her own church. In her grave uneasiness of
conscience she had sought to do her duty in the other church whenever
she could. But this had been before her husband was stricken; since that
time she had not felt compelled to leave him, except for the service in
her own church. But the feeling that she must go there now became more
imperative in its demands, if possible, than it ever had been.
Therefore, when the bell began to ring that day, Anne put on her bonnet
and came to take an hour's anxious leave of her husband.

She was a tall, delicately built woman, too thin and too unbending to be
graceful, and yet too quiet and too dignified to be awkward. Her
straight features were neither noticeably pretty nor decidedly plain,
and her face was pale without being fair. Her hair, of an ashen shade,
clung to her hollow temples; there was not one loose lock, or the
suggestion of a ripple under her quakerish bonnet. The straight skirt of
her lead-colored dress hung flat, as the skirts of such women always
hang, falling to her feet in unbroken lines. It was her eyes alone which
made Anne Watson's appearance utterly unlike that of any other woman of
her not uncommon type. And even her eyes were neutral in color and
slightly prominent, as the eyes of such women nearly always are, but so
singularly and luminously clear that a white light seemed to be shining
behind them.

She fixed these wonderful eyes on her husband as she stood before him
ready for church, and yet loath to leave him, and still lingering to see
if she might not do something more for his comfort during her absence.
She drew the stand nearer to his shaking uncertain hands, after turning
the pillows at his helpless back and straightening the cushion under his
powerless feet. When she could find nothing more to do, she bent down
silently and kissed his scarred forehead. There was nothing for her to
say, nothing for him to hear. At the door she looked back, and again
from the gate, before passing out to hasten toward the church as though
her haste in going might the sooner fetch her back.

All along the big road the people were coming. The doctor and his wife
were not far behind Anne, and following them came Miss Pettus and her
brother, accompanied by Sam Mills. The old man, his father, was worse
that morning, or thought he was, which amounted to the same thing, so
that Kitty had been compelled to stay at home as usual; but she leant
over the front gate, looking after her husband, with her bare red arms
rolled in her apron and her honest face beaming with happy smiles as she
hailed the passers-by, until the old man's harsh, querulous voice was
heard calling her into the house. From the opposite direction, also, the
pious people of Oldfield were approaching the meeting-house, the men to
enter one door and the women another. Even the children were strictly
divided, the boys sitting with their fathers and the girls with their
mothers. Once when a man, who was a stranger and unacquainted with
Oldfield customs, wandered in and unknowingly took a seat on the women's
side, a scandalized shock passed over the entire congregation. It was a
serious matter, to be gravely discussed for many a day thereafter.

On the church steps stood Lynn Gordon, intent upon watching and waiting
for the coming of the girl whom he had come hoping to see. So intent was
he that he was not aware of the glances cast upon himself by those
passing into the building. Yet he was well worth looking at, for he was
a handsome young fellow, and dressed, moreover, as no one had ever
before been dressed in Oldfield. His pantaloons, made of dove-colored
canton cloth, were tight beyond anything ever seen in that part of the
country, and held to his high-heeled varnished boots by a strap under
his arched instep. His long-waisted, short-skirted coat of dark blue was
lined and trimmed with rich goffered silk. His waistcoat was of a buff
color and _en piqué_, for, strange--incredible, indeed--as it may seem,
Paris at that time set the fashions for fine gentlemen as well as for
fine ladies, and the London papers gravely recorded weekly what the
Frenchmen were wearing. Lynn Gordon's hat, too, was of the latest French
mode, just brought over for the Boston dandies on the eve of his leaving
Harvard. Its brim was very wide and slightly curled, and its crown was
high and widened perceptibly toward the top. His tie, a large, loose bow
of black brocade, gave the final touch of elegance.

There was nothing modish in poor little, country-bred, Doris's dress
when this fine gentleman saw her coming behind all the rest, after he
had almost given her up. The skirt of Miss Judy's book-muslin was much
too narrow for the requirements even of Oldfield fashions, but Doris did
not know it, and the young man was not thinking of it as he saw her
first, far up the big road, descending its gradual slope beneath the
flowering locust trees. The gentle breeze caught the ivory softness of
her skirt, pressing it into enchanting curves around her slender limbs;
a long, thin white scarf streamed back from her shoulders, and the white
ribbons of her straw hat floated out behind her golden head. The thought
which arose in Lynn's mind as he thus saw Doris approaching was not of
any fleeting fashion, but of a living Winged Victory lovelier than any
antique sculpture.

He lingered at his post on the steps till she ascended them and went by
him into the church, and he noted the little flurry of delicate color
which followed her shy side glance. But she did not pause, entering the
meeting-house at once, by way, of course, of the women's door, and going
straight up the aisle to a seat reserved for her between her mother and
Uncle Watty. The young man had never seen either Sidney or her
brother-in-law, but he knew who they were as soon as he caught sight of
them. And the sight was something of a shock. And yet what did it
matter, after all? he asked himself. The girl's beauty and refinement of
appearance were only the more remarkable because she came of such
humble, homely people. He could not take his eyes from the heavy braids
of shining gold gleaming below the white straw hat; and although he was
unable to see the beautiful face from the place in which he sat, he was
nevertheless vividly conscious of its soft dark eyes and its exquisite
rose-red mouth; and he fancied that he could distinguish her voice in
the old-fashioned hymn, given out two lines at a time by the preacher.

He kept the back of the charming head in view all down the aisle, when
the sermon was over and the congregation arose to leave the church. But
Colonel Fielding was at the outer end of the bench on which the young
man had been seated, and it required some minutes for the old
gentleman's friends to help him regain his feet. Poor, feeble old man!
And then everybody was talking to everybody else while passing down the
aisle. It was the custom in Oldfield for neighbors thus to greet one
another after the sermon, and Lynn consequently found himself hemmed in
and could move only with the crowd; so that notwithstanding his
strenuous though quiet efforts to reach the door of the men's side,
before Doris could reach the entrance on the women's side, she had
already passed out and was well on her way homeward when he reached the
big road.

He was keenly disappointed, and stood for a moment undecided what to do
or which way to go, until the doctor and his wife spoke to him. They
were almost the last of the home-going procession at that end of the
village; and the young man joined them in the lingering hope that the
girlish figure in white, fluttering ahead, might be overtaken, since he
now saw that it was not, after all, so very far in advance. Mrs.
Alexander undoubtedly would present him, so he thought; she could hardly
do anything else; and, so hoping, he walked on up the big road,
listening as best he could to what she was saying. But the slender young
shape in white went rapidly on and did not linger, and never once looked
back. Sidney turned at the gate and nodded to her neighbors; but Doris
passed through it without pausing, and disappeared under the low arch of
silver leaves.

Again Lynn went back to his grandmother's house, thinking of Doris, but
again he refrained from speaking of her, although he hardly knew why,
unless it was because he shrank from the harshness of his grandmother's
cynical comments. Old lady Gordon asked about many of the people whom he
had seen at church, but it did not occur to her to mention the daughter
of Sidney Wendall. Nevertheless, the girl clung to Lynn's thoughts
through all the warm idle afternoon hours of the perfect spring day.
Talking half-heartedly, absently, of other things, he still thought of
her, even until the evening, coming little by little to think of her as
the most beautiful girl whom he had ever seen. He knew, upon reflection,
that meeting her was merely a question of a short time in a place so
small as Oldfield; and he was not quite sure that, after all, he really
wished to make her acquaintance. It would be best, perhaps, considering
the career which he had laid out for himself, that he should know as few
young women as possible. Moreover, it seemed most unlikely, from all
that he had heard of Doris Wendall and of her family and training and
environment, that she could possess any charm other than a beautiful
face. Yet at the same time he ardently admitted that merely to look upon
such rare beauty was a delight to such a worshipper of beauty as he knew
himself to be.

He smiled at his own weakness and folly, when he found himself going
toward the tall poplars at the close of the long day. The supple tops of
the great trees bent white against the darkening sky. But although the
leaves no longer dazzled as when they turned their silver lining to the
noonday sunlight, they were still too restless and too thick to be seen
through, and, smiling again at his foolish craving for another glimpse
of beauty, the young man went on, hoping for better luck as he came
back. Going beyond the eastern hills which rimmed the village, he paused
and looked down and far out over the wide lowlands; at the emerald seas
of wheat flowing with waves of purple shadows; at the springing vivid
lines of young corn, stretching to the dim distant horizon; at the rich,
dark green of the vast tobacco fields already beginning to be dotted by
the small, thick-leaved plants; at the red herds, and at the white
flocks dimly visible through the fleecy mists trailing above the
meadows. He stood still, leaning on a fence and listening to the gentle
lowing of far-off cattle, and the homely barking of distant dogs, which
were the most distinct sounds. Then, as he listened, lingering, the
music of the woods and fields grew fainter--fainter, till it became
hushed with the falling of the twilight. Only the whip-poor-will's
lonesome cry--the vesper bell of the birds--rang out at long intervals
from the dark willows fringing a far-away stream.

The dusk falls very slowly and very softly over the Pennyroyal Region,
settling like the exquisite gray down from some wonderful brown wings.
It was falling, but still lingering between daylight and darkness, when
Lynn Gordon turned at last toward the village. He could not see the
people sitting in Sunday quiet and peace on their vine-wreathed porches;
but he heard them talking in low tones of the humble little things that
make the sweetness of home. A feeling of longing came over him such as
he had never known before; a yearning for the home which had never been
his, for the loved ones whom he could not remember. The fireside smell
of smoking tobacco mingled with the scent of the homely flowers blooming
in the yards and gardens. Great white moths fluttered back and forth
across the deserted highway, seeking the sweetest of those shy blossoms
which yield their beauty and fragrance only to the gloaming.

As the young man approached the poplars, sombre now as cypress trees in
the deepened twilight, a sudden breeze stirred the leaves and swayed the
branches. But the fleeting glimpse of white at which he started forward
so eagerly, proved to be nothing more than a bunch of pale roses
drooping beside the window. There was not a glimmer of light behind the
curtain, and as he strolled on along the big road the lights in all the
houses went out one by one, as the simple people, drowsy from the day's
unaccustomed idleness, sought their early rest. Tom Watson's lamp alone
shone afar, throwing its beams a long way down the big road, and the
sight of it suddenly touched the young man's softened heart with keenest
pity, reminding him, almost reproachfully, of the promise which he had
quite forgotten.

At his grandmother's house all was dark and still; the dogs leaping to
meet him knew him well enough not to bark, and he sat down on the porch
to smoke a cigar. He could always think more clearly when smoking, and
he wished now to think as clearly as possible. For the past two days his
thoughts had been wandering, as he rarely allowed them to wander, far
away from his life plans. Firmly he now bent them back; intently he
surveyed every up-hill step in the direction of his high ambition;
calmly he faced the full length and difficulty of the struggle between
him and his goal, without thought of faltering or fear of failure. He
said to himself, as the young who have never measured their strength
against their weakness often say to themselves:--

"I will not do any of those things which I firmly set on that side; I
will do all these things which I calmly range on this side: the shaping
of a man's life lies in his own hand; it has but to be powerful enough
to grasp and firm enough to hold."

It is easy to be calm and common to be sure on starting in life's race.
And, indeed, this young fellow was better trained and equipped for the
running of it than most young men are. Feeling this intelligently, but
without undue conceit, he now threw back his broad shoulders and lifted
his proud head. The arrogance of youth takes no heed of the slight
chances that defeat great plans, no heed even of the divinity that
shapes mortal hewing. He looked absently at the red rim of the climbing
moon, and scarcely noting that, as its disk grew larger and its beams
grew brighter, a mocking-bird, at home with his beloved in one of the
giant elms, began a murmuring melody, as though he were wooing his mate
in dreams. Yet, as the paling, brightening moon arose higher and higher,
till it hung a great shield of burnished silver on night's starry wall,
the mocking-bird's song grew clearer and sweeter, till, soaring to the
moonlit heavens, it arose to a very pean of love triumphant.



XI

BODY OR SOUL


Lynn set out on his errand of mercy very early the next morning. The
eternal freshness of dawn seemed still to be lingering amid the cool
shadows of the wooded hillsides. The woods and fields alike were still
bubbling with matin song. Heavy drops of dew still hung on the blue-eyed
grass, sparkling in the sunlight like happy tears.

The doctor, however, was ready and waiting. The day's work began with
the sunrise in Oldfield, and no one in all the region round had more to
do between the rising and the setting of the sun, or indeed between its
setting and rising again, than John Alexander always had. Ah, those
village doctors of the old time! It is known in a way to all who think,
how large a part they must have had in the making of these far-off
corners of our great country, and yet the greater part can never be
known. A doctor's memory is the greatest catholic confessional of
humanity--and forever sacred. It is only the trivial, the whimsical
outer edges of the deep experiences of these old-time country doctors
that history may ever touch. Being human, they growled aloud sometimes
over these trifles, as the doctor was growling when Lynn Gordon found
him on that May morning.

A patient, a sufferer from chills and fever, which were still the
scourge of the Ohio lowlands, had come to him on the day before for
quinine. The doctor had given it to him in solution, the only form in
which it was then known to country practitioners. Quinine was a costly
medicine in those days, under the heavy tax which was removed long
afterwards through the most earnest and even impassioned efforts of a
Kentucky statesman, who, in a memorable speech, eloquently implored
Congress to keep, if it would, its tax on silks and laces and precious
stones but--for humanity's sake--to allow his constituency to have all
the free quinine that they wanted.

"I gave this chap a big bottle of quinine," the doctor said. "He paid a
stiff price for it, too, and I saw him put it in his saddle-bags with
great care. Nevertheless, he managed somehow to crack the bottle, and,
when only a part of the way home he found that it was leaking. He
couldn't think of losing the quinine,--it had cost too much,--and he
saved it by drinking that whole bottleful at a gulp. Well, he certainly
had the benefit of it, none of it was wasted; but I feel a little tired
from being up most of the night and having had pretty brisk work to keep
him alive. What fools these mortals be;" the doctor yawned, as he struck
his pipe musingly on the porch railing, thus ranging his thoughts while
clearing his pipe of ashes. "And here's this other hard job, that's
quite as unnecessary, on hand for to-day, and no more to be shirked or
put off than the other was. Well, come along," he said, reluctantly
laying down his pipe, the sole luxury that he allowed himself. "We may
as well be going; ''twere well it were done quickly,'" he quoted again,
for this rugged country doctor knew his Shakespeare as a man may know a
book when he reads only one.

They went down the porch steps, talking of indifferent matters, pausing
a moment at the gate, long enough for Lynn to speak a few words in
return for the greeting which the doctor's wife gave him from the
window. The Watson house was near by,--only a few paces down the big
road,--and they were almost immediately standing before its open door.
There the doctor halted with the look of one who musters his forces
after having set his thoughts in order. He drew himself up and threw
back his shoulders as if settling to a firm purpose with a new
determination, and he finally buttoned his coat. That poor old shabby
coat! Ah! that dear old coat! So eloquent in its faded shabbiness of the
many fierce storms and the many merciless suns which had beaten upon his
tireless ministrations to suffering humanity! And the buttoning of the
doctor's old coat was always as the girding of a warrior's armor for
battle.

The young man standing beside him on the steps gave him a careless side
glance. He did not understand the meaning of what he saw, and he merely
smiled at its apparent absurdity. A moment later he followed the doctor
into the house, all unafraid, as youth often enters upon the most
appalling of the mysteries of living.

It was Anne who met them and gave them an impassive good-morning, and
silently led them into the room in which her husband was sitting. The
sick man, propped up in his usual seat by the window, looked round when
they came in, and murmured some indistinct greeting. But his miserable,
restless eyes went back almost at once to their ceaseless quest of the
deserted big road, stretching dully toward the dim, distant horizon.

"How are you to-day, Tom?" asked the doctor, perfunctorily, and then he
continued without waiting for a reply to his inquiry, "We are not going
to let you mope like this, old boy. I've been trying to think of
something to help you--to fill the time. It's after a man gets out of
bed that the worst tug comes--while he is still tied to the house and
yet not actually ill. We mustn't let him mope, must we, Anne?" he said.

He turned to the silent, motionless woman who sat by without so much as
the natural feminine rustle of garments.

Anne looked at him through the white light of her clear eyes, but she
did not speak. She had been well called a "still-tongued woman."

The doctor, glancing away, went on uneasily, yet determinedly:--

"But I am not sure what Tom would like. I don't think he cares for
backgammon or checkers or dominoes or any of those milk-and-water games.
You don't know anything about chess, do you, Tom?" he asked.

The stricken man made no reply; he could utter but few words and those
only with indistinctness and difficulty. He did not even turn his head;
the turning of it ever so slowly was hard and caused him great pain.

"I scarcely think chess would be the thing anyway--it's too heavy and
requires too much thinking to be good for an invalid. You must have
something light and amusing. That's the sort of game we must give you to
keep you from moping."

The doctor spoke to the husband, but his eyes were on the wife and
regarding her anxiously, though his lips were smiling.

There was no responsive smile on Anne's pale face. It was quite still
and grave as it always was, but a thin cloud of alarm seemed suddenly
rising in her clear gaze, as white smoke floats over the crystalline sky
of a winter's day. But yet she said not a word.

The doctor also fell unexpectedly silent, with his eyes fixed sternly on
the back of the sick man's chair and a frown gathering between his
shaggy, grizzled brows, as it always gathered when he was sorely
perplexed. He was only an old-fashioned country doctor--merely a good
man first and scientist afterwards. So that he now sat speechless,
casting about in his troubled thoughts for the gentlest words wherewith
he must wound the quiet, pale-faced woman, whose very lack of
comprehension appealed to his great heart as all helplessness did. He
saw, as only doctors can see, how frail was the body holding this
strenuous spirit. As he thus sat silent, gathering courage, the utter
stillness of the room grew tense. The young man, sitting on the other
side of the chamber, silent and ill at ease, moved uneasily, keeping his
eyes on the floor. The soft, monotonous murmur of the bees in the
honeysuckle over the window sounded unnaturally loud and shrill.

At last the doctor spoke distinctly and firmly, but without looking at
Anne:--

"There is only one thing to do. We must find a partner for Tom--Mr.
Gordon here has kindly offered--and we must give him a real good, lively
game of cards."

It was out now, and he was glad and sorry at the same time.

Anne gave a startled cry, inarticulate, like the terror of a dumb
creature. She recoiled as if a black pit had opened at her feet.

"Tom's need is very great. He is very, very weak," the doctor urged, in
the space of the recoil.

Anne instantly flew to her husband as the mother bird flies to the
fallen fledgling, and laid her little trembling hands on his broken
shoulders, as the mother bird spreads her weak wings between
helplessness and danger.

"I will take care of him," she said, speaking out of that tender,
protecting maternal instinct which is the divine part of every good
woman's love for her husband.

"I can see no other way," the doctor urged gently, not knowing what else
to say.

"There must be some other way! Surely our Father never forces us to
commit sin. Surely in His mercy He gives us a choice;" Anne panted, like
a frightened wild creature at bay.

Yet she faced the two men steadily over her husband's powerless head,
her clear eyes clouded darkly now, and her set face as white and as
inscrutable as the cold mask of death.

"I can only say again what I have said before," the doctor repeated
weakly, glancing at Anne and quickly looking away.

"The way will mercifully be opened unto me. A light will be shown as a
lamp to my feet."

Anne's murmured words were barely to be heard, yet they bore,
nevertheless, to the three men who listened, the full strength of her
faith, firm as the Rock of Ages.

The doctor arose hurriedly and went out into the passage, and stood for
a while in the doorway, looking at the quiet big road, at the peace of
the green earth, and at the sunlight flooding the blue heavens. When he
turned back his sunken eyes were wet and he could not meet Anne's gaze
nor the sick man's, which was also turned upon him with all its dumb,
restless, desperate misery--with all its terrible voiceless clamor for
relief.

"I don't know what to do," he said, trying to speak lightly, but sighing
in spite of himself and spreading out his hands. "I suppose we'll have
to give it up, Tom, old fellow. Well, maybe Anne knows best after all.
These wives of ours usually do know better what is good for us than we
know ourselves. A good wife is always more to be depended upon than
medicine when a man's pulling through a tedious convalescence. You don't
need any more medicine. I am coming, though, every day, if I can--just
as a neighbor, to see how you are getting along."

He turned away from the sick man. He could not look at him without being
compelled to renew the struggle with Anne; that infinitely cruel, that
ineffably piteous struggle which wrung his own heart, and which would be
useless in the end. He took one of Anne's cold little hands in his warm
large clasp, thinking how small and weak it was to hold so firmly to its
mistaken ideals, how much more firm than his own, which was not strong
enough to hold to an unmistakable duty. And then he and Lynn Gordon went
away, as best they could go, both feeling as the conscientious and the
impressionable must always feel after having, however unwillingly,
stirred the depths of the deep, still pool of another's life.

Out of the house, and out of hearing, the doctor became, however, once
more himself in a measure. He smote his powerful thigh with his strong
hand, and upbraided himself aloud for most disgraceful moral cowardice.
He convicted himself, almost in a shout, of having deserted Tom
Watson--poor devil--and of having virtually run away, like the veriest
coward, simply because he knew that, in a moment more, he would have
been crying like any child. And all on account of the silly fanaticism
of a woman with a mind no wider than a cambric needle--sheer
foolishness, morbid sentimentality--and much more of the same tenor,
while Lynn Gordon laughed at him a little nervously.

"But, foolish or wise, she believes what she does believe. By the
eternal, I'd like to hear any man doubt it! Why, young sir, that little
slim, unbending splinter of a woman is the stuff that they threw to the
beasts in old Rome!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no consciousness of heroism in Anne's own sadly humble
thoughts. When the doctor and the young man were gone, she bent down
silently and kissed her husband with tender timidity, as if begging his
forgiveness for what she could not help. Kneeling by his side, as she
often knelt in her unwearying service, she strove to look into his
averted face, and to meet and to hold his miserable eyes with her own
clear gaze, from which the clouds were fast drifting away. The white
light behind her strange eyes had sunk low under the shock, and had died
out in the stress of terror; but it was gradually beginning to rise and
shine again through the crystal windows of her soul. Her husband did not
look at her; he seemed not to hear what she said; he was staring after
the two men who were walking away down the big road, his look straining
to follow them as a chained animal strains its fetters toward
companionship. Anne saw nothing of this; she was not a bright woman, and
entirely without imagination. She saw only that he did not notice her,
that she was far from his thoughts. And she was used to being
over-looked by her husband, and accustomed to being forgotten by him.
She arose and went quietly across the room, and brought a footstool, and
sat down upon it by his side, laying her head on the arm of his chair,
with her hands folded on her lap.

She was not weeping,--she had never been a crying woman,--and in truth
she was not more unhappy at this moment than she had been for years. She
was, indeed, even less unhappy, now that the shock was well over and the
danger safely passed. A feeling of peace was in truth already hovering
in her breast, though very timidly, as a frightened dove comes slowly
back to its nest. This spirit of peace had begun to brood in Anne's
lonely heart soon after her husband's hurt, although Anne herself was
scarcely aware of the fact. Through the endless months of his greatest
suffering she had been not only upheld, but comforted, by the growing
belief--changing little by little to exaltation--that the torture was
but a fiery furnace intended for the purification of her husband's soul
and her own--for she, too, suffered with every pang which wrenched his
shattered body. It was a terrible faith, and yet it was the faith of the
martyrs; and Anne held not back from sealing it, as they sealed it, with
life itself,--ay! even unto the dear life of her husband, which was
infinitely dearer to her than her own. For she loved him as none save a
nature such as hers can love; with an intense, narrow, almost fierce and
wholly terrible concentration. It was a love which had almost entirely
excluded every one else; not only every other man, but her father and
mother and sisters and brothers, all had been shut out from her inmost
heart, from her earliest youth till this latest moment when she sat
unnoticed by her husband's side. He had never loved her with the best
love that he was capable of giving. Love is perhaps never quite equal,
certainly it never seems equal, in any marriage. The one always loves
more, or less, than the other. And then, in circumscribed lives, such as
Anne's and Tom's were, both men and women choose the one whom they
prefer from among the few whom they chance to know; they cannot choose
from a large number which might possibly have induced a different
selection. But the width of the world would not have altered Anne's
choice. And a love like hers changes no more with time than it is
influenced by environment; it is too little of the flesh, and too much
of the spirit to age, or to wither, or to grow cold. Even her husband's
neglect had made no difference through all the unhappy years of her
married life; even his disregard of religion did not lessen or alter her
love, although it put her and her husband farther apart than they might
otherwise have been, and came nearer than all else to breaking her
heart. She could bear the loss of happiness in her daily life; she could
bear to be deprived of her husband's society day after day and night
after night, by interests and associations in which she had no
part,--living was but waiting, anyway, to Anne. But she could not bear
the thought of the Long Time without the beloved. To Anne, as much as to
any mediæval saint in any rock-ribbed cell, the longest, happiest
earthly life measured nothing against a glorious eternity. Her husband
was handsome, spirited, high-hearted, masterful, compelling, and kind,
too, in his careless way; another woman might have been happy and proud
to be his wife; but Anne's heart had ached from first to last for the
one thing of which she never spoke, and for which she was always
praying.

Then came the accident, striking down the strong man at the height of
his powers, as the lightning blasts the mighty oak in full leaf. Stunned
at first, Anne, rallying, felt the blow as a manifestation of offended
Power. A mind like hers works in strangely tortuous ways. But after a
while she began to see in this awful affliction a means of grace thus
given when all else had failed; and it was then that the wan ghost of
happiness began to visit Anne's desolate breast. The world had been
violently wrenched away from her husband's grasp, which otherwise would,
most likely, never have loosed; it might perhaps now come to
pass--through mercy cloaked in cruelty--that his thoughts would turn
heavenward. So poor Anne thought, and thus it was that when, to all
outward seeming, the husband's hopeless convalescence was the last
settling down of darkest despair, in reality a shining rainbow of hope
first began to span the wife's long-clouded content.

Was it then possible for Anne to listen for a moment to this incredible,
monstrous, destroying thing which the doctor had urged? Could she by
listening endanger this late-coming chance for the salvation of her
husband's soul in consenting to the sinful relief of his bodily need?
The thought of yielding never crossed her mind, nor the shade of a
shadow of doubt that she was right. It was to her simply a question of
her conscience standing firm against her love. Anne--fortunate in this,
however unfortunate in all other respects--always saw the way before
her, open, and straight, and very, very narrow. To her clear sight a
sharp, distinct line ever divided right from wrong; on this side
everything was snow-white, on that side everything was jet-black. There
were no myriad middle shades of gray to bewilder Anne's crystal gaze.
Living were less hard for some of us--some, too, as conscientious as
Anne--if all could see, or even think they see, as clearly through the
whitish, grayish, blackish mists, so that they also might be able
unerringly to tell where the pure white ends and the real black begins.



XII

MISS JUDY'S LITTLE WAYS


When the doctor's deep voice roared out what he thought of any man who
failed in his duty for fear of offending anybody's prejudices, Miss
Judy, who was busy among the shrubbery in her yard, overheard him, and
was quite frightened by the severity of his tone, though she did not
catch the words. She knew him to be the mildest of absent-minded men,
and she accordingly fluttered around the house, wondering what could be
the matter.

She had been engaged in tying up a rose bush which grew at the side of
the door, and which was too heavy laden with its sweet burden of blush
roses. She was holding a big bunch in her hand as she hurried toward the
gate, blushing when she saw the gentlemen, till her delicate face was as
pink as the freshest among her roses. The doctor brightened and smiled,
as everybody brightened and smiled at the sight of Miss Judy. He opened
the gate before she reached it, knowing that she would never tempt ill
luck by shaking hands over it. When they had shaken hands, he presented
Lynn Gordon, whom she had not met, and who stood a little apart,
thinking what a pretty old lady she was.

"Miss Judy," said the doctor, before she had time to ask what had
happened, "what do you think of playing poker?"

"Mercy--me!" exclaimed Miss Judy, opening her blue eyes very wide in
blank amazement. And then, catching her breath, she became mildly
scandalized.

"Well--really, doctor!" she began, blushing more vividly, making her
little mouth smaller than usual, "primping" it, as she would have said,
and bridling with the daintiest little air of prudery, which she never
would have dreamt of putting on for the doctor alone, but which seemed
to her to be the proper manner before a strange young gentleman--and one
from Boston too. "I have never been required to think anything of any
gambling game! Such matters were left entirely to gentlemen; they were
not mentioned before ladies in my day."

"Bless your little heart!" exclaimed the doctor. "If I've said a word
that you don't like, I'm ready to go right down on my knees in the
dust--here and now--in the middle of the big road."

Miss Judy smiled, shaking her little head till the thin curls behind her
pretty ears were more like silver mist than ever. In gentle confusion
she began dividing the bunch of blush roses into halves, giving one to
the doctor and the other to Lynn. She had known his father, she said
shyly to the young man, and his mother also, although not so well, since
the latter had not been brought up in Oldfield as his father was.

"But, Miss Judy, I want to talk to you seriously about card-playing,"
the doctor persisted. "You see you have got us all into the selfish
habit of bringing every one of our burdens to lay them on your little
shoulders. Unselfishness like yours does harm; it breeds selfishness in
others."

Miss Judy protested that she had not the least idea of what he was
talking about; but she saw that he was in earnest, and she straightway
forgot all her quaint airs, and listened with deepest interest and
tenderest sympathy to his story of his perplexity over the hopeless case
of Tom Watson, and over the unbending attitude of Anne.

"The passion for gaming is just as strong in that poor fellow as it ever
was. I had suspected it before, but I wasn't sure until to-day," the
doctor went on, looking across the way at the sick man's window. "I
disapprove of gambling as much as any one, but I can't for the life of
me see any harm that could possibly come now to that poor unfortunate,
from any sort of a game--if anybody can possibly stand it to play with
him."

Miss Judy looked puzzled and a little alarmed. "Were you--do you wish
_me_ to play with him?" she faltered, rather shocked, yet wondering if
she could learn, and quite ready to try.

The doctor was too deeply absorbed--too seriously troubled--to smile as
he usually did at Miss Judy's sweet absurdities, appreciating them
almost as much as he valued her heart of gold. In truth he hardly heard
what she said.

"Maybe you can make Anne see how different things are now," he went on
musingly, and somewhat hesitatingly, as though the possibility had
suddenly occurred to him. "Women understand one another," he added,
uttering a fallacy accepted by many a sensible man and rejected by every
sensible woman.

The fair old face on the other side of the gate grew grave in its
perplexity. Quick to decide for herself in any matter of principle, Miss
Judy was slow to decide for any one else. She did not consider herself
wise, and it was hard, she thought, for the wisest to put herself in
another's place, and no one--so she believed--could judge justly without
so doing. She knew Anne's prejudice, that had been well known always to
all the Oldfield people; but she had never ventured to form an opinion
as to whether Anne had ever been justified in taking such a stand, which
appeared strange to Miss Judy even in the beginning, and stranger now in
Tom's extremity. She had merely wondered, as everybody had; but it was
always harder for Miss Judy than for almost any one else to understand
how there ever could be any actual conflict between love and faith,
which were always and inseparably one and the same to her.

"I am not sure," she faltered, with a flutter of timidity, and blushing
again. "Anne is such a good woman--so much better and wiser than I
am--and so very reserved. I should hardly dare approach her, even if I
were sure of being in the right. And I am far from being sure. Suppose
we consult sister Sophia?" she said suddenly and with her pretty face
lighting at the happy thought. "You know, doctor, that her judgment is
much sounder, much more practical, than mine. She sometimes has very
valuable ideas--when I don't at all know what to do."

Miss Judy turned to the young man with a soft little air and a touch of
gentle pride that charmed him: "I am speaking, sir, of my sister, Miss
Sophia Bramwell."

Thus delicately proclaiming Miss Sophia to be a personage whom it was an
honor as well as an advantage to know, Miss Judy went indoors to ask,
with the usual elaborate, punctilious ceremony, if she would be so kind
as to take the trouble to come out to the front gate, where the doctor
was waiting to consult her in an important matter; and where it would
give herself the greatest pleasure to present old lady Gordon's
grandson--who was waiting with the doctor,--provided, of course, that
the introduction would be entirely agreeable to Miss Sophia. There were
excellent reasons why Miss Judy thus begged Miss Sophia to come out
instead of inviting the gentlemen to come in, but neither of the sisters
then or ever spoke of these, nor of any other merely sordid things. It
took Miss Judy some time, however, to make the request of Miss Sophia as
politely as she fondly considered her due; and although it did not take
Miss Sophia long to say "Just so, sister Judy," with all the accustomed
promptness and decision, several minutes necessarily elapsed before she
was really ready to appear. There was the getting up from, and the
getting out of, her low arm-chair, always a difficult, tedious process;
and there was the further time required for reaching up the chimney to
get a bit of soot; and for fetching the heavy footstool clear across the
big room to stand upon, in order to see in the mirror. Yet all this must
be done ere she could go out. The sun was shining too brilliantly for
even Miss Sophia to venture into the broad daylight without taking more
than the usual precaution. Even she could not think of going out after
having applied the soot haphazard, as she sometimes did in emergencies.
But, fortunately, time was no consideration in Oldfield; and Miss Sophia
was at last safely descended from the footstool and fully prepared to
face the daylight and also the strange young gentleman from Boston.

Lynn could not help staring a little, thus taken unawares; unconsciously
he had expected Miss Sophia to be like her sister. But the deference
with which Miss Judy laid the case before her struck him as an exquisite
thing, too fine and sweet and altogether lovely to be smiled at, either
openly or secretly. He did not know then--as he soon came to
understand--that Miss Sophia's ready and firm response was an unvaried
formula which vaguely served most of her simple conversational
requirements. But he did know, as soon as he saw the little old sisters
together, how tenderly they loved one another. Miss Judy looked at him
with undisguised pride in Miss Sophia, shining in her flax-flower eyes,
turning again as pink as the sweetest of the blush roses, with delight
in the firm promptness with which Miss Sophia responded. There was only
the slightest involuntary movement of her proud little head toward her
sister when the gentlemen were upon the point of leaving; but it
nevertheless reminded the doctor to take Miss Sophia's hand before
taking her own, when he bent down to touch their hands with his
rough-bearded lips in old-time gallantry, half in jest and half in
earnest, but wholly becoming to him no less than to the two serious
little ladies.

The gentlemen were no sooner gone, leaving the sisters--or Miss Judy at
least--to think over what had been said, than she began forthwith to
devise ways and means of showing her sympathy with her neighbors, Anne
and Tom, in their terrible affliction. Her first impulse was always to
give--and she had so little to give, dear little Miss Judy! It now
happily occurred to her, however, that Tom might like a taste of early
green peas. Anne's were barely beginning to bloom, as Miss Judy could
see by looking across the big road, and as she told Miss Sophia. No
wonder Anne had neglected to plant them till late, poor thing! Who would
have remembered the garden in the midst of such awful trouble as hers?
And then it was still quite early in the season,--Miss Judy had gathered
the first peas from her own vines only that morning, while the tender
pale green pods were still wet with dew, as properly gathered vegetables
should be. And, although she had gone carefully over the vines,
cautiously lifting each waxen green tendril, fragrant with white
blossoms, she had found but a handful of pods which were really well
filled.

"But they are very sweet and delicate, and they will not seem so few if
Merica puts them on a slice of toast and runs over with them while they
are piping hot, before they have time to shrivel," Miss Judy said,
smiling happily at her sister as she bustled about, getting a pan ready
for the shelling of the peas.

Miss Sophia's face fell. She had been looking forward to those peas ever
since breakfast. And she remembered that Miss Judy had sent Tom the
earliest asparagus. But she assented as readily and as cheerfully as she
could, and, drawing her low rocking-chair closer to Miss Judy's,
resignedly settled herself to help with the shelling of the peas. The
tinkling they made as they fell in the shining pan soon lulled her, for
she never could sit still long and keep awake, so that she presently
fell to nodding and straightening up and nodding again. Straightening up
very resolutely, she began rocking slowly, trying in that way to keep
from going to sleep.

"The creak of that old chair makes me sleepy too," said Miss Judy,
smilingly, yet looking a little sad. "It sounds to-day just as it did
when mother used it to rock us to sleep--just the same peaceful,
contented, homely little creak. There!" she said as the last plump pea
tinkled on the tin. "And I declare, sister Sophia, just look at all
these fine fat hulls! Why, we can have some nice rich soup made out of
them, as well as not!"

"Just so, sister Judy," Miss Sophia responded eagerly, at once wide
awake and sitting up suddenly, quite straight. "And with plenty of
thickening too."

"To be sure! What a head you have, sister Sophia," Miss Judy cried,
admiringly. "And then we'll have something to send old Mr. Mills as well
as Tom. Just to please Kitty," she added, seeing the shade which came
over Miss Sophia's face, and misunderstanding its source. "It is ten to
one but he will be in one of his tempers and throw the soup out of the
window, as he did that dinner of Kitty's--dishes and all. But we can
instruct Merica to hold on to the bowl till Kitty herself takes it from
her. It always pleases Kitty so, for anybody to show the old man any
little attention. And, after all, he is not so much to be blamed, poor
old sufferer. Being bedfast with lumbago must be mighty trying to the
temper. And then Sam, too, is threatened with a bad pain in his back
every time he tries to do any work. It actually appears to come on if he
even thinks about working, or if a body so much as mentions work before
him. Maybe that's what makes Sam a bit irritable with the old man
sometimes. But Kitty never is. All his crossness, all his
unreasonableness, all his fault-finding--which is natural enough, poor
old soul--just rolls off her good nature like water off a duck's back.
She only laughs and pets him, and goes on trying harder then ever to
please him. Did you ever see anybody like Kitty, sister Sophia?"

Miss Judy had arisen, gathering up her apron, which was filled with the
pea-shells; but she now paused, holding the pan, to await Miss Sophia's
reply with the greatest, keenest interest,--as she often did,--as though
Miss Sophia, who had never been separated from her longer than two hours
at a time in the whole course of their uneventful lives, might have
known some peculiar and interesting persons, whom she herself had not
been so fortunate as to meet. This was one of the things which made them
such delightful company for one another. When, therefore, Miss Sophia
now said, "Just so, sister Judy," with great promptness and decision,
Miss Judy was newly impressed with the extent and soundness of her
sister's knowledge of human nature.

Tripping briskly out of the room carrying the peas and the pea-shells
(to which Miss Sophia had secretly transferred her expectation), she
entered the kitchen, full of thoughts of the delicate cooking of the
peas, and was surprised to find Merica missing. Yet the day was Monday,
and the smoke from the invisible and mysterious wash-kettle floated up
from a newly kindled fire behind the gooseberry bushes. Miss Judy did
not know what to make of Merica's absence at such a time; and she
stepped down from the rear door of the passage to the grass of the back
yard and called. There was no answer, and Miss Judy stood hesitating a
moment in puzzled astonishment, but as she turned there was a sudden
rush--sounds of scuffling, a smothered shriek--and the girl fell over
the fence, striking the ground with limbs outstretched, like some clumsy
bird thrown while trying to fly. The fence, which divided Miss Judy's
garden from old lady Gordon's orchard, was a very high one, but Miss
Judy was more shocked than alarmed at seeing Merica come over it in so
indecorous a manner.

"What does such conduct mean, Merica?" she said severely.

The girl had never heard her gentle mistress speak so sharply--but she
herself was past mistress of deceit. She therefore gathered herself up
as slowly as possible, in order to gain time, deliberately smoothing
down her skirt and carefully brushing off the dirt. The mask of a dark
skin has served in many an emergency. Merica could not entirely control
the guilty shiftiness of her eyes, but she did it in a measure, and she
was quite ready with a deceitful explanation almost as soon as she had
recovered her breath. She knew from long experience how easy it was to
deceive Miss Judy, the most innocent and artless of mistresses. She also
knew--as all servants know the sources of their daily bread--the weak
spot in Miss Judy's armor of innocence and artlessness. Accordingly,
looking her mistress straight in the face, Merica now said brazenly that
she had been over to old lady Gordon's to get the strange young
gentleman's clothes; and Miss Judy, blushing rosy red, dropped the
subject in the greatest haste and confusion, precisely as Merica
expected her to do. The little lady was indeed so utterly routed that
she gave the order for the steaming of the peas very timidly; and when
Merica, seeing her advantage, followed it up in a most heartless manner
by insisting upon boiling them instead, Miss Judy gave way without a
struggle, and went silently back to the house as meek as any lamb.

She did not mention the matter to her sister; the delicate subject was,
in fact, rarely mentioned between them, and it was, of course, never
spoken of to any one else. To be sure, everybody in Oldfield had seen
Merica coming and going with carefully covered baskets, which,
nevertheless, proclaimed the laundry with every withe--as some baskets
do, somehow or other, quite regardless of shape; but the fetching and
the toting, as Merica phrased these transactions, were usually in the
early morning when the neighbors were busy in the rear of their own
houses; or in the dusk of evening when the gloaming cast its shadow of
softening mystery over the most prosaic aspects of life. And everybody
also saw the smoke arising every Monday morning from beneath the
wash-kettle, hid in its bower of gooseberry bushes; but no one in all
the village would have been unkind enough to ask or even to wonder,
whether all the white bubbles arising with the steam could be portions
of the two little ladies' own meagre wardrobe. It is true that on one
occasion, when Sidney was very, very hard pressed for a new story,--as
the most resourceful of professional diners-out must be now and
again,--she had been overly tempted into the spinning of a weird and
amusing yarn, about seeing a long, ghostly pair of white cotton legs, of
unmistakably masculine ownership, flapping over the gooseberry bushes in
a high wind as she went home after dark on a certain wild and stormy
night. But she could hardly sleep on the following night, her uneasy
conscience pricked her so sorely, and, setting out betimes the next
morning, she made a round over the complete circuit of the previous day,
unreservedly taking back the whole story. And never again did she yield
to the never ceasing temptation to make capital of Miss Judy's little
ways, about which, indeed, many a good story might have been excellently
told.

That small gentlewoman herself, naturally, never dreamt of doing
anything so indelicate as to look behind the gooseberry bushes while the
clothes were in the tubs or the kettle or drying on the line. Sometimes,
when she was compelled to send Merica away on an errand while the
wash-kettle was boiling, she would take the girl's post temporarily and
would punch the white bubbles gingerly with the clothes-stick to keep
them from being burned against the side of the kettle; but she always
blushed very much and was heartily glad when Merica returned to her
duty. The simple truth was that Miss Judy thought it right to allow
Merica, on her own proposal, to earn in this manner the wages which she
and her sister were unable to pay, since they could give her but a
nominal sum out of their little pension, which was all that they had.
And yet, although this was the case, she saw no reason for talking about
a disagreeable thing which she was thus forced to put up with. She never
spoke of anything unrefined if she could help it. And those who knew her
shrinking from all the more sordid sides of household affairs, and from
all the commonplace and unbeautiful aspects of life, seldom if ever
approached her with anything of the kind.

Far, indeed, then, would it have been from the rudest of the Oldfield
people to have hinted to Miss Judy of certain matters which were plain
enough to every one else. Miss Pettus alone thought Miss Judy ought to
be told of Merica's scandalous "goings-on."

"I saw her and Eunice yesterday, in old lady Gordon's orchard,
a-fighting over Enoch Cotton like two black cats--right under that poor
little innocent's nose--and she never knowing a blessed thing about it!"
Miss Pettus fumed.

But Sidney put her foot down. Miss Judy should not be told: and there
was to be "no if or and" about it, either. "What's the use of worrying
Miss Judy? She could no more understand than a baby in long clothes. And
what's the odds, anyway?" demanded this village philosopher. "If they
ain't a-fighting about Enoch Cotton they'll be a-fighting about somebody
else."

Mrs. Alexander sided with Sidney. It would be a shame to tell Miss Judy;
as Sidney said, it would be like going to a little child with such a
tale; and the doctor's wife strengthened the impression made by her own
opinion by saying that the doctor said Miss Judy must not be told. He
simply would not allow it--that was all.

Kitty Mills, too, opposed the telling of Miss Judy earnestly enough, but
she could not help laughing at the recollection of a scene which she had
witnessed a few days before; and which she now went on to describe to
the ladies who were holding this conclave.

"I happened to be raising the window of Father Mills's room,--he likes
it down at night no matter how hot it is, and wants it raised and
lowered all through the day,--and I saw Merica run out of Miss Judy's
kitchen, and jump the back fence. She couldn't have more than 'lighted
on the ground on the other side, when the air was filled all of a sudden
with aprons and head-handkerchiefs--and smothered squalls. And bless
your soul, there sat Miss Judy by the front window, knowing not a breath
about what was going on over in the orchard--calm and sweet as any May
morning and pretty as a pink--the dear little thing,--darning away on
Miss Sophia's stocking, till you couldn't tell which was stocking and
which was darn; and talking along in her chirrupy funny little way about
that Becky (whoever she is), for all the world as if she were some real,
live woman living that minute, right on the other side of the big road;
and there was poor Miss Sophia a-listening, pleased as pleased could be,
and mightily interested too, though it was plain to be seen that she had
no more notion of what Miss Judy was talking about than the man in the
moon;" and Kitty Mills took up her apron to wipe away the tears that had
come from laughing over the picture thus conjured up.

Old lady Gordon did not enter into the conclave. She thought nothing
about Miss Judy in connection with the rivalry between Eunice and Merica
for the heart and hand of her black coachman, Mr. Enoch Cotton. Indeed,
she thought nothing at all about the matter. In passing it seemed to her
quite in the usual order of colored events. It had not up to that time
touched her own comfort at any point. Eunice, knowing her mistress, was
careful, even in the height of her jealous rages, even when she met
Merica in the orchard by challenge to combat, to guard the excellence
and the regularity of old lady Gordon's meals, thereby insuring against
any interference from her.

"Just give Miss Frances her way and she'll give you your way, and that's
more than you can say for most folks; lots of folks want their way and
your way too, but Miss Frances don't."

Eunice had said this to Enoch, who was comparatively a newcomer,
speaking in the picturesque dialect of her race, which is so agreeable
to hear and so disagreeable to read. Having determined, as a mature
widow knowing her own mind, to take Enoch Cotton unto herself for better
or worse, it seemed to Eunice best to instruct him with regard to the
keeping of his place as the gardener and the driver of the antiquated
coach in which old lady Gordon, who never walked, fared forth at long
and irregular intervals. This helpful instruction had been given before
Merica's entrance into the field came cruelly to chill the confidence
existing between Eunice and Enoch Cotton. It was during this completely
confidential time that Eunice had also told him that it was entirely a
mistake to suppose the mistress to be as hard to get along with as some
people thought she was. The main thing, the only thing in fact, was to
keep from crossing her comfort.

"_I_'ve got nothing to do but to cook what she wants cooked in the way
she wants it cooked, with her batter cakes brown on both sides; and to
be careful to have the meals on the table at the stroke of the clock.
You've got nothing to do but to raise plenty of the vegetables she
likes, and to have the coach 'round at the front gate to the minute by
the watch. We won't have any trouble with Miss Frances so long as we do
what she wants and don't cross her comfort. If you ever do cross
it--even one time--then look out!"

Eunice had eloquently concluded these valuable hints, silently nodding
her head, with her blue-palmed black hands on her broad hips. And Enoch
Cotton--alas! learned his lesson so well that, although old lady Gordon
became gradually aware of his inconstancy, she saw no reason to
interfere in Eunice's behalf.

Miss Judy, the only person whose comfort was really imperilled, sat
chatting that day with Miss Sophia, all unconscious, till the peas were
cooked. She then went out to put them in her mother's prettiest china
bowl--the little blue one with the wreath of pink roses round it--and
daintily spread a fringed napkin over the top. Maybe Tom might notice
how pretty it looked, Miss Judy said to Miss Sophia, though he noticed
sadly little of what went on around him. Anyway, it would be a
compliment to Anne to send the peas in the best bowl. Miss Judy
hesitated before putting the soup in the next best bowl. It would be a
serious matter indeed if the old man should seize it and fling it out of
the window before Kitty could stop him, as he often did with her cooking
and her dishes. Still, it did not seem quite polite to Kitty to send it
in a tin cup, so that, after Miss Judy had consulted Miss Sophia, who
assented very quickly and firmly,--fearing that the rest of the soup
might get cold,--Merica was given the second best bowl also, but charged
not to let go her hold on it until Kitty herself took it out of her
hand.

"Give it to old Mr. Mills with sister Sophia's compliments," Miss Judy
said, with unconscious irony.

Miss Sophia ate her portion of the soup with much satisfaction, while
Miss Judy watched her with beaming eyes, turning at length to follow
Merica's progress with a radiant gaze. It always made her happy to do
anything for any one; and she never felt that she had very little to do
with. As Merica came out of the Watsons' gate and started up the big
road with the bowl of soup, Miss Judy, in her satisfaction, could not
help calling the girl back to ask whether Tom Watson appeared to notice
the wreath of roses. It was a bit disappointing to have Merica say that
she hardly thought he had. Then Miss Judy, sighing a little, gave the
servant further directions, telling her to go on from the Mills' house
up to Miss Pettus's to ask for the loan of the chicken-snake which Mr.
Pettus had killed that morning. Miss Judy was afraid that Miss Pettus
would forget to hang it before sundown (white side up) on the fence to
fetch rain, which was really beginning to be needed very much by the
gardens. If Miss Pettus neglected it till the sun went down, there would
of course be no use in hanging it on the fence at all, so that, to make
sure, it was better for Merica to borrow it and fetch it home when she
came. Merica sullenly demurred that the snake would not stay on the
stick, and that it would crawl off as fast as it was put on; adding
rather insolently that she could not be all day putting a garter-snake
on a stick and having it crawl off every step of the way down the big
road--with a fire under the wash-kettle. But Miss Judy gently assured
her that the garter-snake--or any other kind of a serpent--would stay on
a stick if it were put on tail first. It stuck like wax then, Miss Judy
said, and could not crawl off, no matter how hard it might try.

"And when you've got the garter-snake tail-first over the stick, you
might stop and remind Miss Doris not to be late in coming by for me to
go with her to-morrow morning to take her dancing lesson. No, wait a
moment; you had best ask her if she will be so very kind as to come to
see me this evening, so that we may practise some songs--particularly
'Come, rest in this bosom, my own stricken deer'--and then we can talk
over the dancing lesson," said Miss Judy.

There were not many days during the whole year, and there had hardly
been a whole day for many a year, on which Miss Judy and Doris could not
find some good and urgent reason for seeing one another.



XIII

THE DANCING LESSON


Miss Judy's ideas of chaperonage were very strict. It would have seemed
to her most improper to allow Doris to take the dancing lesson alone.
Not that she thought any harm of the dancing-master; Miss Judy thought
no harm of any one. Her ideals were always quite apart from all
considerations of reality. It made no difference to her that only the
neighbors were usually to be met on the way, and that on the morning of
the first lesson the big road lay wholly deserted when she passed out of
her little gate with Doris by her side--she herself so small, so timid,
so frail, and Doris so tall, so valiant, so strong. Yet the sense of
guardianship, full of deep pride and grave delight, filled her gentle
heart even as it must have filled the Lion's when he went guarding Una.

It was a pity that Lynn Gordon missed the pretty sight. He had passed
Miss Judy's gate before she came forth with her charge, and now, all
unconscious of his loss, strolled idly on in the opposite direction.
Doris was in his mind as he went by the silver poplars, but he caught no
glimpse of her through the thick foliage, and could barely see the snowy
walls of the house. Slowly he walked on as far as the brow of the hill
at the southern end of the village, as he had done once before, and
stood for a moment again looking out over the land. Then, turning, he
retraced his aimless steps.

The day was like a flawless diamond, melting into the rarest pearl where
the haze of the horizon purpled the far-off hills. The sapphire dome of
the heavens arched without a cloud. Below stretched the meadows, lying
deep and sweet in new-cut grass and alive and vivid and musical with the
movement, the color, and the song of the birds. He did not know the
names of half of them; but there were vireos, and orioles, and thrushes,
and bobolinks, and song-sparrows, and jay-birds, and robins--all wearing
their gayest plumage and singing their blithest songs. Even the flickers
wore their reddest collars and sang their sweetest notes, as if vying
with the redwings which flashed their little black bodies hither and
thither as flame bears smoke. The scarlet tanagers also blossomed like
gorgeous flowers all over the wide green fields. And the
bluebirds--blue--blue--blue--gloriously singing, seemed to be bringing
the hue and the harmony of the radiant heavens down to the glowing
earth.

The melodious chorus was pierced now and then by a note of infinitely
sad sweetness, as a bird lamented the wreck of its hopes which had
followed the cutting of the grass. But the mourner was far afield, so
that its sweet lament was but a soft and distant echo of the world-pain
which forever follows the passing of the Reaper. The young man heeded it
as little as we all heed it, till our own pass under the scythe. He
stopped to lean on the fence, drinking in the beauty and fragrance, thus
unwittingly disturbing the peace and happiness of a robin family which
was dwelling in a near-by blackberry bush. The head of this flowering
house now flew out, protesting with every indignant feather against this
unmannerly intrusion of a mere mortal upon a lady-bird's bower. Trailing
his wings and ruffling his crest, he sidled away along the top of the
fence as if there were nothing interesting among those blossoms for
anybody to spy out--in a word, doing everything a true gentleman should
do under such circumstances, no matter how red his waistcoat may be.
Another robin sang what he thought of the situation, expressing himself
so plainly from the other side of the big road, that even the young man
understood; while still another robin, too far away to know what
shocking things were going on, poured out a rapturous song as though all
living were but revelling in sunshine.

Lynn Gordon turned away, thinking with a smile what a wonderful thing
love must be, since it could so move the gentlest to fierceness, as he
had just seen; and could bring the fiercest to gentleness, as he had
often heard. Smiling at his own idle thoughts, he wandered on. The
loosened petals of the blackberry bloom drifted before him like
snowflakes wafted by the south wind. The rich deep clover field on the
other side of the way was rosy and fragrant with blossoms. The wild
grape, too, was in flower, its elusive aromatic scent flying down from
the wooded hillsides, as though it were the winged, woodland spirit of
fragrance.

Approaching the woods at the foot of the hills, Lynn saw a log cabin,
which he had not seen before, although he knew that the land upon which
it stood was a part of the Gordon estate; part of the lands which would
one day be his own. As his careless glance rested on the cabin, strains
of music coming from it caught and fixed his attention. Some one was
playing an old-fashioned dance tune on a violin, and Lynn unthinkingly
followed the stately measure till he found himself standing unobserved
before the humble dwelling from which it came, free to gaze his fill at
a scene revealed by the open passage between the two low rooms.

The passage walls were spotless with white-wash, and the shadows of the
trees standing close behind showed deeply green beyond. Against these
soft green shadows and on one side of the passage stood the white-haired
Frenchman. His fiddle was under his chin, held tenderly as though it
were a precious thing that he dearly loved. His head was a little on one
side and his eyes were partially closed,--like the birds,--as if he too
were under the spell of his own music. His right arm, jauntily raised,
wielded the bow: his left toe was advanced, then his right, now this
one, now that one--advancing, bowing, retiring--all as solemn as solemn
could be.

And more serious if possible than Monsieur Beauchamp was Doris herself,
facing him from the opposite side of the passage; grave, indeed, as any
wood nymph performing some sacred rite in a sylvan temple. When the
young man saw her first, she stood poised and fluttering, as a butterfly
poises and flutters uncertain whether to alight or to fly. The thin
skirt of the book-muslin party coat, delicately held out at the sides by
the very tips of her fingers, and lightly caught by the soft wind,
spread like the wings of a white bird. The slippers, heel-less and
yellow as buttercups, were thus brought bewitchingly into view--with the
narrow ribbon daintily crossed over the instep and tied around the
ankle--as they darted in and out beneath the fluttering skirt. Her
golden hair, loosed by the dance and the breeze, fell around her
shoulders in a radiant mantle, growing more beautiful with every airy
movement. The exquisite curve of her cheek, nearly always colorless, now
faintly reflected the rose-red of her perfect lips as the snowdrift
reflects the glow of the sunset. Her large dark eyes were lost under her
long dark lashes, and never wandered for an instant from the little
Frenchman's guiding toes. And Doris understood those toes perfectly,
although she knew not a word of the dancing-master's native language,
and not much of her own when spoken by him, as he now mingled the two,
quite carried away by this sudden and late return to his true vocation.
She followed their every motion as thistledown follows the wind:
stepping delicately, advancing coquettishly, courtesying quaintly--as
Miss Judy had taught her,--and retiring, alluring, only to begin over
and over again. It was all as artless, as graceful, and as natural as
the floating of the thistledown; and such a wonderful dance as never was
seen on land or sea, unless--as the young man thought, with the sight
going to his head like royal burgundy--the fairies might have danced
something of the kind on Erin's enchanted moss within the moonlit ring.

On fiddled the old Frenchman and on winged the young girl, both of them
far too deeply absorbed in the serious business in hand to notice the
onlooker, till Miss Judy came, actually running and almost out of
breath. She had seen the young man's approach to the cabin, but she was
too far away to reach it before him, although she had come as quickly as
she possibly could. Hastening, she sharply reproached herself for having
been persuaded to go so far from the cabin to look at Mrs. Beauchamp's
strawberry bed. It was, of course, utterly impossible to have foreseen
this young gentleman's appearance. Nevertheless, she should not have
left Doris, poor child, alone for a moment--none knew that better than
herself. And now to see what had come of her unpardonable
thoughtlessness! What would this stranger think of Doris, or of any well
brought up girl, whom he thus found neglected? At this thought Miss
Judy, for all her mildness, ruffled with indignation as a hen ruffles at
any rough touch upon her soft little chicks. She would try, she said to
herself, to retrieve her mistake. She would do her best to show this
grandson of old lady Gordon--who made fun of everybody--that her Doris
was no ignorant rustic, roaming the woods all forgotten by her proper
guardians. As she ran, much agitated and even alarmed, the little lady
mechanically looked over her shoulder and put her little hands behind
her back to make sure that the point of her neckerchief was precisely
where it should be. She never felt quite equal to a difficult
undertaking until she was certain of the point's exact location, and
now, having learned by long practice to tell with some degree of
certainty by touch,--on account of its being so hard to look in the long
mirror,--she now thought that it was in its proper place, and she
accordingly entered the green-shadowed end of the passage with a very
high air. Her manner was indeed as high and even haughty a manner as
could possibly be assumed by a very small, very gentle old lady, who was
blushing, and trying to get her breath after a rush across a ploughed
field. The greeting which she gave Lynn Gordon was therefore noticeably
cold; also the introduction to Doris was plainly wrung from her by
politeness, and given with marked reluctance. So that the young man, not
understanding in the least, naturally wondered greatly at the change in
the little lady, who had been so winningly gracious on the previous day.

Monsieur Beauchamp's eager hospitality did something to make Lynn feel
less like an unpardonable intruder. And madame, also, was kind in her
matter-of-fact way. She took no notice whatever of her husband's
introducing her as the Empress Maria. Acting as though she had been deaf
she placed chairs for her guests, and then went out to fetch them some
new crab cider in thick glass tumblers on a large deep plate. An
inflexible custom of Oldfield required that a guest should be offered
some kind of refreshment, no matter what the time of day. Fortunately,
there was no rigid rule as to the kind of refreshment; one kind would do
as well as another, provided only that something was offered promptly.
Each Oldfield housekeeper had her own preference, her own specialty.
Miss Pettus might with perfect propriety offer a piece of fried chicken
at three o'clock in the afternoon to a guest who had dined at one; old
lady Gordon might order a full meal at any hour for any one who dropped
in between meals, to her own and everybody else's entire satisfaction;
Miss Judy might serve a handful of gooseberries, either green or ripe,
on her mother's prettiest plate, and the guest always remarked how
pretty it was, whether she dared eat it or not. Mrs. Beauchamp
accordingly felt herself to be uncommonly lucky in having this newly
made, still sweet, crab cider to offer her visitors. She had seen the
time when she had been obliged to hand a glass of toddy, and that, too,
without a sprig of mint or a bit of ice.

It was quite as much a part of Oldfield manners to accept the
refreshment as to offer it. Miss Judy took her glass of cider and sipped
it daintily, saying how nice it was, yet managing while doing this to
make it quite plain that the intruder was meant to feel that _he_ had no
share in the sweet graciousness extended to her hostess. The eyes of the
two young people met involuntarily, and although Doris, coloring,
dropped her eyes in confusion, Lynn saw the sudden dimpling of her
cheek. It was the second time they had looked at each other; Doris had
given him one startled, fleeting glance, with a frightened exclamation
and a hurried dropping of skirts, when she had first seen him standing
in front of the passage, looking at her as she danced. He now found no
opportunity to speak to her. Miss Judy arose to take Doris away as soon
as courtesy would allow her to do so without seeming to slight Mrs.
Beauchamp's cider. She was ever more careful of the feelings of her
inferiors than of her equals, if that were possible. She was quite
determined, nevertheless, to withdraw at once. The lesson might be
resumed another day, she said to Monsieur Beauchamp, gently but firmly,
adding that Miss Wendall's mother and uncle were doubtless expecting
her. And this Miss Judy said loftily, almost haughtily, in a tone
calculated to inform the young gentleman that Miss Wendall's mother and
uncle were personages to be reckoned with. As Miss Judy left her seat,
Doris also arose and started to get her hat, which was hanging against
the wall. Lynn Gordon eagerly sprang up and took it down and handed it
to her. He had no thought, however, of accepting his dismissal, when
Miss Judy, after taking leave of the dancing-master and his wife with a
grand little air which puzzled the worthy pair exceedingly, merely
inclined her head stiffly in his direction. Instead, he coolly went
before her and Doris to the gate, and, after holding it open till they
had passed out, calmly followed them, carefully taking his place by Miss
Judy's side, and away from Doris.

For a few paces Miss Judy was silent with surprise, rigid with
displeasure. She went, carrying her little head very high indeed, and
taking dainty, mincing steps. She held up the front of her black
bombazine by a delicately small pinch of the cloth between her
forefinger and thumb, and her little finger was very elegantly crooked.
Her sweet face was set as a flint. She was stern in the determination to
set Doris right in the estimation of old lady Gordon's grandson--this
handsome, mannerly, young gentleman, who might nevertheless have his
grandmother's disposition as well as her features, for all Miss Judy
knew. Yet her stiffness began to thaw under Lynn's genial frankness as a
light frost melts under a warm sun. He was tactful considering his age,
his inexperience, and especially his sex--if tact be ever a matter of
age and experience, as it is almost always one of sex. He had, too, a
gay, boyish way about him which was very winning, and which gradually
disarmed gentle Miss Judy almost completely within the length of a
couple of rods. Within three rods she began to talk quite naturally, the
only lingering sign of her mildly fixed purpose being the unusually
didactic turn of her remarks.

"You know, I presume, Mr. Gordon," she said primly and with significant
distinctness, as one who weighs her words, "that this is the oldest
portion of Kentucky. There is, as I am well aware, a widespread but
erroneous impression that the Blue Grass Region is older than this; but
no well-read person could possibly fall into such an unaccountable
error. The real Kentucky pioneer was Thomas Walker, who came from
Virginia through Cumberland Gap into the south-eastern part of the state
in 1750, and made explorations coming this way;--not Daniel Boone, who
first entered the northern and middle part of it as late as 1769. The
Blue Grass people are not to blame, perhaps, for honestly believing
their section to be the oldest in Kentucky, since most of them have been
brought up to believe it; but it is really surprising that, with a good
many reading citizens who know something of history, they should cling
to this extraordinary misbelief in opposition to all written and
unwritten history of the state. The first house, too, was built here in
the Pennyroyal Region, near Green River. Why, my dear sir, I can give
you personal assurance that the ruins of this first house in Kentucky
are still to be seen. I have never seen them myself," added Miss Judy,
scrupulously; "but many friends of mine have seen them."

When the young man had shown himself to be as much surprised and
impressed as she thought he should be, Miss Judy went on with growing
confidence. She called his further attention to the fact that this Green
River country was also the sole region of Virginia's military grants to
her officers of the Revolution. Miss Judy cautiously disclaimed any
knowledge of what the mother state might have done for the soldiers of
the line--with a soft touch of condescension. But she spoke with
authority in saying that Virginia had never granted a foot of
land--north of Green River--to any officer of the War of Independence.

"I am not speaking of lands that may have been bought by officers from
the Indians, or of lands that may have been taken up by officers as by
other settlers. Lands so acquired are doubtless scattered all over the
state. I am speaking only of grants of lands in Kentucky, given by
Virginia to her officers of the Revolution for military services.
These--one and all--were given here, in this Pennyroyal Region, and
nowhere else; it was here, therefore, that those distinguished soldiers
came to live and to die, after doing their duty to their country. And it
was their coming that made this Pennyroyal Region so utterly unlike the
rest of Kentucky."

"Indeed! Yes, I see," responded Lynn Gordon, with his eyes on Doris's
dimpling cheek.

And then Miss Judy's soft heart suddenly smote her with the feeling that
she had perhaps been too severe. She had unconsciously been stepping
more and more mincingly, holding the pinch of black bombazine higher and
higher, and crooking her little finger more and more jauntily.

"I have been told that there are some perfectly sincere persons living
in the Blue Grass Region who honestly believe that their estates were
granted to an officer ancestor for service in the Revolution. And these
deluded persons are not so much to be blamed as to be pitied for being
brought up to believe something that is not true. It is their
misfortune, not their fault, poor things!"

Sure now that she was growing harsh indeed and almost cruel, Miss Judy
gracefully turned the talk in a less serious direction, toward one which
was, nevertheless, still calculated to impress this stranger with the
character of the country.

"Of course you know the heraldic herb of the Pennyroyal Region," she
said smilingly, as she pointed to an humble, unpretentious bunch of
rather rusty green, growing thick all along the wayside. "We who live in
it are fond of it and proud of it too, as fond and proud of it as
England ever was of the rose, or France of the lily, or Scotland of the
thistle, or even Ireland of the shamrock."

"How interesting," said the young man, still looking at Doris--not at
the pennyroyal.

Doris glanced also at him, feeling great pride in Miss Judy's easy
acquaintance with heraldic matters, and wishing to see if he were as
much impressed as she thought he ought to be.

"Yes, I think it _is_ interesting," continued Miss Judy, making her
small mouth smaller by pursing it up in the dainty way that she would
have ascribed as primping. "In fact, the pennyroyal has long been of far
greater importance to the world at large than might be supposed by those
who have not looked into the subject. You know, I presume, that many of
the old English poets have mentioned it in their most famous works, and
always with the greatest respect."

"Indeed," exclaimed the young man again, with his gaze fixed upon the
sweet curve of Doris's velvet cheek.

"Chaucer and Dryden and Drayton and Spenser--every one of these fathers
of English poesy has something to say of the pennyroyal," Miss Judy went
on airily, still quite firmly resolved to let old lady Gordon's grandson
see--no matter how polite he might be--that Doris's friends were
well-read and cultured persons, however much to the contrary his first
impression may have been. "Their mentions of it are mostly very
mysterious, though; they speak of it as 'a charming, enchanting,
bewitching herb.' All of them, indeed, describe it in that manner, if I
remember correctly--though one does forget so easily," the little lady
added, as if she read Chaucer and Dryden and Drayton and Spenser every
day of her life. "I am quite sure, however, that Drayton refers to it
'in sorceries excelling.' And I also seem distinctly to recall the
witches of _The Faerie Queene_ as cleansing themselves of evil magic by
a bath of pennyroyal once a year--I don't, though, recollect what they
bathed in during the rest of the time. Spenser calls it out of its true
name, however, as I remember his reference to it. He says that the
witches bathed in 'origane and thyme'; but everybody knows well enough
that origane was the pennyroyal's name in Spenser's day. Chaucer and
Drayton knew it in their time as 'lunarie,' but they all meant neither
more nor less than our own pennyroyal and nothing else."

As the three walked slowly up the big road under the flowering locusts,
Miss Judy, relenting more and more, gradually became quite her sweet,
friendly self. She finally admitted, with the gentle frankness natural
to her, that she had never quite been able to understand these
mysterious poetic references to such a simple homely thing as the
pennyroyal, which she had known ever since she could remember. She now
freely acknowledged that its character must have altered with the
passing of the ages, or must have been changed by the coming from the
old world to the new. And yet, on the other hand,--as she pointed out to
the young man in a tone of confidence,--there were the famous old
simplists, belonging to the very time and the very country of these
fathers of poetry, who had known and prized an herb which was much like
the pennyroyal of to-day, and which they had called "honesty."

"This certainly must have been identical with our own heraldic
pennyroyal," Miss Judy declared. "For that surely is the honestest
little thing growing out of the earth. So upright, so downright. So
absolutely uncompromising! Sturdy, erect, wholesome, useful, clean,
bristly, and square of stem, it holds its rough leaves steady and level
at the full height of its reach; standing thus, it never bends; falling,
it always goes the whole way down; pulled up, its roots come all at
once. So that there is no half-heartedness of any sort in this most
characteristic product of southwestern Kentucky."

There was a shade of uneasiness in the proud glance which Doris now
stole at Lynn, with a sudden uplifting of her lovely dark eyes. He could
but admire Miss Judy's learning, she thought, and yet she could not help
seeing, with a tender sense of humor, how exquisitely quaint the little
lady's manner was.

Lynn grew bold, reading the look and the unconscious, embarrassed, half
smile. "But, Miss Bramwell, pray tell me, does not the pennyroyal belong
to the whole state? I have always taken it to be a member of the mint
family."

Miss Judy, stepping still more mincingly, and holding the pinch of black
bombazine higher than ever, tossed her little head as she acknowledged
the possibility of a distant relationship. She intimated that she
considered this too far off to count, even in Kentucky, where kinship
appeared to stretch farther than anywhere else in the world. And she
forthwith repudiated for the sturdy pennyroyal all the traits and the
habits of the whole disreputable mint tribe--root and branch.

"Never under any circumstances will the honest pennyroyal be found
lolling supinely in the low, shady, wet haunts of the mint. The true
pennyroyal--you should know, my dear sir--stands high and dry, straight
out in the open. And it stands on its native heath, too," Miss Judy
said, smiling herself now, and quite forgetting all discomfiture and all
displeasure. "The pennyroyal never had to be fetched from somewhere
else--as the blue grass was--to give _its_ name to _its_ region!"

They had reached Miss Judy's gate by this time, and when Lynn
mechanically opened it, the little lady passed through it before she
realized that propriety required her to go all the way home with Doris,
since the young gentleman evidently did not intend stopping short of
Sidney's threshold. But the shyness which was natural to her, and which
had dropped away from her only at Doris's need, suddenly came over her
again. She stood still, uneasy, blushing, and gazing after the young
couple who were strolling on under the flowering locusts. A look of
apprehension quickly clouded the blue of her sweet old eyes with real
distress. It was clearly wrong for her to have left them. She had made
another mistake; her neglect had again placed Doris in a false light. It
would be hard, indeed, to set this worst remissness right. She would
gladly have called to Doris even then, had she not feared to embarrass
her further. The tears welled up, but she brushed them away, so that not
one step of the young people's progress up the hill might be lost to her
wistful sight. Suddenly she cried out in such dismay that Miss Sophia,
dozing as usual, was startled wide awake, and came to see what was the
matter, as soon as she could rise from her chair and reach the door.

"Look at that poor, dear child!" cried Miss Judy, quite overcome. "Just
see what she is doing, sister Sophia! And that, too, is all my fault.
How was Doris--dear, dear little one--to know that she must never dream
of taking off her gloves in the presence of a gentleman, when I have
never thought to point out to her the indelicacy of doing such a thing?"

And Doris would not know what to do when they reached the house. If
Sidney were only at home, it would not be so bad--so Miss Judy said. But
Sidney was sure to be out "on-the-pad," as she herself described her
professional rounds, never suspecting that she might be using a
corruption from the French of _en balade_. Miss Judy knew Sidney's
habits too well to hope for any help from the chance of her being at
home. She--dear little lady--was quite in tears now and almost ready to
wring her hands.

Meanwhile, the young man and the young maid went happily along under the
white-tasselled locusts, between the sweet-scented green fields and the
blooming gardens, toward the silver poplars. They, themselves, were not
thinking of the conventionalities, nor troubling their handsome heads
about the proprieties. Doris was chatting shyly, expressing Miss Judy's
thoughts in Miss Judy's phrases with most winning quaintness, and at the
same time with an unconscious revelation now and then of her innocent
self. A gleam of sweet humor shone fitfully from her soft, dark eyes as
firelight flickers through the dusk, and in this, at least, gentle Miss
Judy had no part. Doris told, with the dimple coming and going and many
swift, shy, upward glances, of Monsieur Beauchamp's bordering the
lettuce beds with _fleur-de-lis_ because--as he said--they were the
imperial lilies of France; and of the scorn of the Empress Maria, who
pulled them up as soon as his back was turned,--so that his feelings
should not be wounded,--although she was quite determined thus to make
room for the early turnips. And then, gaining confidence from Lynn
Gordon's rapt attention, Doris went on to approach literature. She had
an instinctive feeling that Miss Judy would have advised books as a
theme for polite conversation with a stranger. She had read, so she
said, Goldsmith's poems and some of Moore's; Miss Judy thought Burns's
poetry better suited to a gentleman's than to a lady's taste, so Doris
said. She acknowledged knowing very little about novels, except _The
Children of the Abbey_ and some of Miss Jane Austen's tales. Miss Judy
thought, so Doris went on to say, that prose was less refined than
poetry and more apt to be worldly; so that she considered it best to
wait till one's ideals were well formed and firmly fixed, before reading
very many novels. Miss Judy thought a great deal of ideals; she
considered them, next to principles, the most important things in the
world, Doris said earnestly, looking gravely up in Lynn Gordon's face.
There was one novel, however, that Doris was most eager to read. It was
a very, very new one, and it was called _Vanity Fair_. Perhaps Mr.
Gordon might have heard of it--then quickly--possibly he had even read
it. She colored faintly when he said that he had read it and that he
scarcely thought her quite old enough yet to enjoy it, although it was a
great book.

"So Miss Judy thinks," sighed Doris. "Perhaps she will allow me to read
it when I am older. Anyway, she lets me read all the poetry in her
mother's dear old _Beauty Books_, and it's beautiful. The poems haven't
any names signed to them, but that doesn't matter. They go with the
pictures of the lovely, lovely ladies--all with such small waists and
such long curls, the whole picture in a wreath of little pink roses and
tiny blue forget-me-nots--those dear old _Beauty Books_ that smell so
sweet of dried rose leaves!"



XIV

MAKING PEACE


Sidney was not only out "on-the-pad" that day, but she came home later
than usual. The children and Uncle Watty were hungry and waiting
impatiently for the basket; and there were many urgent household duties
to be done before bedtime. Doris made one or two shy attempts to speak
of her dancing lesson and the incident which had occurred in connection
with it. But speaking to Sidney in the rush of her domestic affairs was
like trying the voice against the roar of a storm. So that Doris was
compelled to put off the telling till the next morning.

On the next morning, however, there was even less chance for a quiet
word than there had been on the night before. Sidney was up betimes, to
be sure, and bustling round, but it was merely in order to be ready for
an important engagement, a most important one, which brooked no delay.
It was barely nine o'clock when she set off up the big road, with her
ball of yarn held tightly under her left arm, and her knitting-needles
flying and flashing in the sunlight. Her sunbonnet was pushed as far
back on her yellow head as it could be, to stay on at all, and such was
her stress of mind that she took it off and hung it on the fence, and
let her hair down and twisted it up again, thrusting the comb back in
place with great emphasis, no less than three times, within the few
minutes during which Doris stood at the gate looking after her.

It was a hard task which lay before Sidney that day. She was the
peacemaker, as well as the funmaker, for the entire community. One fact
was as well known, too, as the other, but there was nothing like an
equal demand for the two offices; for the Oldfield people dwelt
together, as a rule, in such harmony as Sidney found, not only
monotonous, but even a little dull now and then. It is but natural to
wish to exercise a talent, and to be unwilling to hide it, when we know
ourselves to be possessed of it in no common degree. When, therefore,
some foolish joke of Kitty Mills's set the long-smouldering sense of
wrong fiercely blazing in Miss Pettus's breast, Sidney could but feel
that her longed-for opportunity had come at last. She was not in the
least daunted by the knowledge that the quarrel was an old one, newly
broken out afresh like a rekindled fire, and consequently much harder to
mend, or even to control, than if it were new. Nor had her ardor been
lessened in the slightest by finding that everything which she had said
on the previous evening had served but as oil to the flame of Miss
Pettus's burning wrath. Sidney's self-confidence and courage, being of
the first order, only rose with all these obstacles. They merely put her
all the more on her mettle, and she had rested well and confidently
through the night, satisfied to have secured Miss Pettus's promise not
to say or to do anything until the following morning. Ten hours' sleep
must cool even Miss Pettus's temper in a measure, Sidney thought, like
the real philosopher that she was, and she herself would be better
prepared with arguments after time for reflection. Miss Pettus had
flared up like gunpowder, then as always, when least expected, so that
Sidney had hardly known at the moment what to say.

And for all her reliance upon her own strength and tact, she had none
too fully realized the necessity for prompt action. It was lucky,
indeed, that she was early; for, early as she set out, she met Miss
Pettus coming down the big road "hotfoot," as Sidney said afterward,
already on the way to see Kitty Mills. It was not of the slightest use,
Miss Pettus cried,--beginning as soon as she came within speaking
distance of the peacemaker,--not of the least use in the world for
Sidney to begin again arguing about Kitty Mills's never meaning to cheat
anybody. She, Miss Pettus, was sick and tired of having things smoothed
over, and of being told and told that she was mistaken. She was not
mistaken. The facts stood for themselves: Kitty Mills had said when she
swapped the dorminica for the yellow-legged pullet and a bit to boot,
that the dorminica laid big eggs. Let Kitty Mills deny that if she
dared! Then let Sidney, or the whole of Oldfield, come and look at the
little eggs that that dorminica did lay. It was bad enough to be so
cheated in a hen trade, without having it thrown up to you almost every
day of your life, in some silly joke. What did Kitty Mills mean, except
insult, by sending her word that she couldn't expect a fat hen to lay
the same up hill and down dale. And then, as if that were not enough,
what did Kitty Mills do, but send back that same yellow-legged pullet,
and even the very same bit, offering to swap again. All this Miss Pettus
demanded breathlessly in unabated excitement.

"I give you, and anybody else, my solemn word, as a member of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, that that was the tenth time that the
identical yellow-legged pullet and the identical bit have been toted up
this hill and toted down again. Kitty Mills offers to swap back every
time she thinks of it, just to be aggravating. No, you needn't talk to
me, Sidney. Kitty Mills means to show me that she believes it's the
pullet and the bit that I care about, not the principle of the thing."

Plainly it was now become a case for diplomacy, not for further
argument. Sidney, therefore, said simply, like a wise woman, that she
would go at once and try to make Kitty Mills see how foolish she had
been.

"I told Miss Pettus," Sidney said later to Kitty Mills, when giving her
an account of this encounter with Miss Pettus, "that there was no more
satisfaction in quarrelling with you than in fighting a feather bed. But
I couldn't do much with her. Nobody can budge 'er, once her dander is
up. I left her there, planted right in the middle of the big road, with
her skirt dragging behind, and held high before, showing her pigeon-toes
turned in worse than ever, and her bonnet hung wild over her left ear,
as it always is when she's in one of her tantrums. And now I've come
after you, and I want you to stop laughing,--right off the reel,
too,--and listen to what I've got to say. I'll vow I don't know what to
make of you myself, Kitty Mills! What's this I hear about all the
Millses a-swarming down from Green River, and about you're inviting them
to dinner? It certainly does seem as if the more they pile on you the
better you like it."

Mrs. Mills, trying to stop laughing, and wiping her eyes, protested
(laughing harder than ever) that Sidney was talking nonsense. She
declared that nobody was piling anything on her. She said that she was
always delighted to have Sam's sisters come, because Sam liked to have
them, and Father Mills liked it, too.

"Well, they oughtn't to like it; they ought to be ashamed to like it.
It's nothing less than scandalous to allow it, when you've got to cook
the dinner after nursing all night, and the weather's getting real
warm," said Sidney, sharply, jerking out a knitting-needle, and slapping
the ball of yarn back under her arm.

"But you know, Sidney, neither Sam nor Father Mills have much enjoyment.
Sam's had a mighty hard time this winter, with the misery in his back,
coming on whenever he tried to do anything; and all his bad luck too."

"What bad luck?" demanded Sidney, hard-heartedly.

"Why, didn't you know about his corn? Every ear of his share of the
crop, that his tenant raised on that field of mine, rotted right in the
pen, when nobody else lost any. I declare I can't yet see how it was."

"Did Sam cover his pen as everybody else did?" asked Sidney,
relentlessly.

Kitty Mills stared, growing grave for an instant or two, being much
puzzled. She wondered what in the world the question could possibly have
to do with her husband's loss of his corn.

"No. He didn't cover the corn," she replied, much at a loss still. "He
thought the winter was going to be drier than it turned out to be. And
he doesn't often make mistakes in prophesying about the weather. He's a
mighty close, good observer of all the signs. I've known him to sit
still a whole day, without getting out of his chair, watching to see
whether the ground-hog saw its shadow."

"Yes, I lay that's all so. I reckon he would sit still long enough to
find out almost anything," responded Sidney, dryly. "There's not much
use in talking to you, Kitty Mills; you're just as unmanageable in your
way as Miss Pettus is in hers. But I know how to get round her if you'll
help me do it. You know as well as I do how good-hearted she is, in
spite of that peppery temper of hers."

Kitty Mills nodded silently, laughing again so that she could not speak.

"Well, I want you to let me ask her to come down here and take care of
the old man, while you are getting dinner for that gang of Millses--when
they swarm down from Green River. I would offer to do it myself, but I
think I can help you more by talking to the Millses while you are busy
about the cooking."

"Of course you can," assented Kitty Mills, eagerly. "And you mustn't let
me forget to fix up a basket full of the nicest things for Uncle Watty
and the children."

"Never mind about that now. Only I'll tell you that I'm not going to
pack off the cooked victuals. You've got all the work you can do. But
you may give me something raw. We won't bother now about the basket. The
main thing is to settle this everlasting old dorminica! I never was so
tired of anything in all my born days, as I am of that contrary old hen,
and there's only one way to settle her. If you'll let me ask Miss Pettus
to come, she will do it in a moment--just to make you ashamed of
yourself," Sidney said, trying not to smile, knowing that to do so would
be to start Kitty Mills laughing again.

The quarrel having been thus adjusted, Sidney went to tell Miss Judy
about it, knowing how pleased she would be to hear it, even though the
news seemed to describe a mere truce rather than to be a declaration of
peace. The little lady was just crossing the big road, returning from a
visit to Tom Watson and from a futile effort to cheer Anne. She stopped
at her own gate, feeling depressed by what she had just seen and looking
rather sad, and waited for Sidney to come up, welcoming her as one
welcomes a strong, fresh breeze on a heavy day. They sat down in the
passage, where Miss Sophia was already seated, and the two little
sisters listened to all that Sidney had to tell of the quarrel, without
the vaguest notion that they were hearing a truly humorous account of an
utterly absurd affair. Instead, they began listening with the gravest
concern, which turned gradually to the happiest relief.

Miss Judy's thoughts, however, were too full of Doris and the
dancing-lesson and the events of the previous day to talk long about
anything else. She accordingly told Sidney the whole story in minutest
detail, as soon as she could get in a word, wondering somewhat that
Sidney had not already heard it from Doris, until the circumstances were
explained. With the mention of the young man the same thought stirred,
silently and secretly, in both the women's breasts, naturally enough,
since they were both true women. It had, indeed, stirred in Miss Judy's
innocent heart while she lay dreaming with her blue eyes open in the
darkness of the preceding night. But neither Miss Judy nor Sidney spoke
of what they were feeling rather than thinking. Women rarely voice these
subtle stirrings of the purely feminine instinct, if indeed they have
any words for what they thus feel. All that Sidney said was to remark,
in a matter-of-fact tone, that she must be going, as the sun was getting
high, and she had several pressing engagements to keep before she would
be free to fulfil her promise to help Kitty Mills entertain that gang of
Millses, swarming down from Green River.

"If I can get away in time--for I'm engaged to take supper with Mrs.
Alexander, as the doctor has gone 'way out on one of his long trips to
the country--I'll drop in at old lady Gordon's and see what the old
Hessian is about."

Miss Judy shook her little curly head at Sidney's calling any one such a
hard name. She could not let such a serious matter pass without
remonstrance. Yet at the same time she smiled and looked rather
mysterious. She had secretly hit upon a nice little plan while talking
about Doris and the young gentleman, and she could hardly wait till
Sidney was out of hearing before disclosing it to Miss Sophia.

"Of course I couldn't mention it to Sidney until I knew your opinion,
sister Sophia. I am sure, though, that I am only expressing your
ideas--less well than you would express them yourself--when I say that
it is our plain duty to do something at once, to show our high regard
for Doris, something to place her in a proper social light at a single
stroke. It is all important that a girl should be properly launched;"
Miss Judy went on as though she had given long and deep consideration to
the subject, and as if she and Miss Sophia were the all-powerful social
dictators of a large and complicated circle of the highest fashion.
"Just think what a difference it might have made for us, had our dear
mother lived and Becky's too, poor child."

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, with the greatest
promptness and decision.

"I thought I could not be mistaken as to your views and wishes," said
Miss Judy, truly gratified. "And you don't think, do you, that it is at
all necessary for us to do anything very elaborate or--expensive?" she
continued, as if it were solely a consideration of the finest taste. "To
my notion a tea would be most genteel, most highly refined; but you are,
of course, the one to decide. Your judgment is always more practical
than mine. I should not dare rely upon my own in so important a matter.
But as I look at it, a tea would serve as well or better than anything
else we could do to show everybody--including old lady Gordon and her
grandson, who may not, being a stranger, and seeing Sidney and Uncle
Watty, understand how Doris has been brought up--the high estimation in
which we hold the dear child."

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, with positively
inflexible firmness and almost abrupt promptness, when she now began to
understand that eating was in question.

"It is really a very simple matter to arrange a tea," Miss Judy went on
eagerly, her sweet face growing rosy. "There's mother's sea-shell china,
so thin, so pink, and so refined. And there's her best tea-cloth that
she planted the flax for, and bleached and spun and wove and
hemstitched--all with her own dear hands. I am sure that the darn in the
middle of it won't show at all, if we set the cut-glass bowl over it.
And we can fill the bowl so full of maiden's blush roses that the nick
out of the side will never be seen. Mother's sea-shell china and the
blushes are about the same color. Why, I can actually see the table
now--as if it were a picture--all a delicate, lovely pink!" cried little
Miss Judy, blushing with eagerness, and all a delicate, lovely pink
herself. "And the food must be as dainty as the table. Something very
light and appetizing. Isn't that your idea, sister Sophia?"

Miss Sophia assented as usual, but not quite so promptly, nor quite so
cordially, and anybody but Miss Judy must have seen how her face fell.
She had known so many things that were light and appetizing, and so few
that were really satisfying--poor Miss Sophia!

"Delicate slices of the thinnest, pinkest cold tongue will be the only
meat necessary. Anything more would be less genteel, and I am almost
certain that Mr. Pettus would exchange the half of a beef's tongue for
the other head of early york. Don't you remember, sister Sophia, how
much he liked the other two--the ones he took in exchange for the
sugar?" Miss Judy chirruped on, with growing enthusiasm. "And Merica
could make some of her light rolls, and shape a little pat of butter
like a water-lily, and put it in the smallest tin bucket with the tight
top and let it down in the well by a string, till it got to be real cool
and firm. For dessert we've the tiny jar of pear preserves which we've
been saving so long. Nothing could be more delicate than they are, clear
as amber, with the little rose-geranium leaf at the bottom of the jar,
giving both flavor and perfume, till you can't tell whether it looks
prettiest, tastes nicest, or smells sweetest."

Miss Judy's flax-flower eyes, bright with delightful excitement, were
fixed on Miss Sophia's face, without seeing, as grosser eyes would have
seen, that Miss Sophia's mouth actually watered. There was a momentary
silence; and then an uneasy thought suddenly clouded Miss Judy's
beaming, blushing countenance.

"I had forgotten about that new-fashioned dish. Of course we must have
some of those delicately fried potatoes, some like we had at old lady
Gordon's supper; they are cut very, very thin and browned till they are
crisp and beautiful--dry and rustling, as the golden leaves of the fall.
Yes, I am afraid the tea will not be really complete, will not be quite
up to the latest fashion, unless we have a little dish of those. And we
haven't any potatoes, except the handful of peach-blows that we have
saved for planting." She sighed in perplexity, looking at her sister.

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, more promptly and more
firmly, if possible, than she had yet spoken.

Miss Judy sat for a moment in dejected silence, turning the matter over
in her mind. Miss Sophia rocked heavily, the sleepy creak of her low
chair mingling pleasantly with the contented murmur of the bees in the
honeysuckle.

"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Judy, her face illuminated by a bright inspiration.
"How dull of me not to think of it before. _Now_ I see how we can eat
the peach-blows and plant them too! We have only to pare them very thin,
being very, very careful to leave all the eyes in the peel. Then we can
plant the peel and fry the inside."

"But they won't grow," protested poor Miss Sophia, almost groaning and
quite desperate, foreseeing the long winter fast which must follow this
short summer feast.

"Oh, but they'll have to, if we plant them in the dark of the moon,"
said Miss Judy, with unabated enthusiasm.

Miss Sophia, now on the verge of tears, turned her broad face away, so
that Miss Judy should not see how overcome she was, and that eager
little lady sprang up, without suspecting, and ran to climb on a chair
in order to look in the tea-caddy. This always stood on the mantelpiece
in their room. It was drier there, Miss Judy said; it was also safer
from Merica's depredations, but Miss Judy said nothing about that. There
was a momentary dismayed silence as a single quick glance noted the
stage of its contents. She set the caddy in its place, and descended
slowly from the chair, thinking deeply.

"Sister Sophia, do you happen to know whether Mr. Pettus has been
getting any boxes of tea lately?" she asked casually, almost
indifferently, as though it were an entirely irrelevant matter of but
small consequence.

Miss Sophia, who kept better advised as to the edible side of the
general store than she did regarding most things, nodded with reviving
spirit.

"Then I really must go down there at once. It's a shame for me to have
neglected a plain duty so long. You and I both know, sister Sophia, how
much it means to Mr. Pettus to be able to tell his customers what we
think of his teas. He has certainly told us often enough that our
opinion has a considerable commercial value. For this reason--and on
account of his being so obliging about exchanging things--it isn't right
for us to be unwilling to taste any other variety than the one we like.
Mr. Pettus unfortunately is aware that we care personally for no kind
except the English breakfast. That no doubt makes him backward in asking
us to sample the other varieties. And that is not right, nor at all
neighborly, you see, sister Sophia," so Miss Judy argued, believing
every word she said, with all her honest, kind little heart.

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, as readily and
unreservedly as Miss Judy could have wished.

Forthwith Miss Judy began to get ready for going to the store. She got
out the lace shawl, which had been her mother's, and which was darned
and redarned till little of the original web was left. She took it out
of its silver paper and folded it again with dainty care, so that the
middle point would just touch the heels of her heel-less prunella
gaiters. Any crookedness in the location of that middle point would have
shocked Miss Judy like some moral obliquity. The strings of her
dove-colored bonnet of drawn silk must also be tied "just so" in a prim
little bow precisely under her pretty chin. Miss Sophia was always
anxiously consulted as to the size and the angle and the precision of
that little bow, as if she had been some sharp critic, who was most
difficult to please. And then, when Miss Judy had drawn on her picnic
gloves of black lace, she unrolled the elaborate wrapping from her
sunshade, which was hardly bigger than a doll's parasol, and turned it
up flat against its short handle. Finally, having pinned a fresh
handkerchief in a snowy triangle to the left side of her small waist so
that her left hand might be free to hold up her skirt, she took the
dainty pinch of black bombazine between her forefinger and thumb, and,
with the sunshade in the other little hand, sailed off down the big
road, smiling back at Miss Sophia.

She was always a brisk walker, and she had nearly reached the front of
the store before Mr. Pettus knew that she was coming. But Uncle Watty,
fortunately, saw her approach from his post of lookout over the whole
village, as he sat on the goods-box in the shade, whittling happily, the
pile of red cedar shavings rising high and dry through the windless,
rainless summer days. Without stirring from his comfortable place, Uncle
Watty was thus enabled, by merely putting his head in the door, to give
Mr. Pettus instant warning of Miss Judy's nearness. Even then there
hardly would have been time for Mr. Pettus to make the usual preparation
for the little lady's visit, had she not stopped to shake hands with
Uncle Watty and to inquire about the misery in his broken leg. She
lingered still a moment longer to ask, with all the deference due a
weather prophet of Uncle Watty's reputation, when he thought there would
be rain, this being indeed a matter of importance, with the
consideration of the planting of the peach-blow peel lying heavy in the
back of her mind.

Mr. Pettus, meanwhile, made good use of the limited opportunity. Hastily
taking up a large clean sheet of brown paper, he quickly divided it into
six squares with the speed and skill of long practice. These squares he
then hastily laid at regular spaces along the counter. Reaching round
for his scoop, he ladled out a generous quantity of tea, all of a kind.
He had but one chest of tea, yet when the contents of the scoop was
distributed in six separate heaps, it looked quite as different as he
meant it to look, and as Miss Judy believed it to be.

She came in, radiant with smiles, fanning herself almost coquettishly
with her sunshade, and congratulating Mr. Pettus on the growth of his
business, as her beaming gaze fell upon the array of teas. To think that
he should find demand for half a dozen varieties! And, by the way, that
was the very thing which she had come expressly to see him about. Then
followed the usual long and polite conversation. Mr. Pettus again
apologized for asking Miss Judy to sample so many kinds of tea, knowing
that she really liked but one kind. Miss Judy, never to be outdone in
politeness, protested on her side that it was not the slightest trouble
to herself or Miss Sophia, whose judgment was more reliable than her
own, to test the six varieties, and, indeed, as many more as might be
necessary. She really would feel hurt, so she said, if Mr. Pettus ever
again thought of hesitating to send them every variety in his stock. She
admitted that she should never have been so thoughtless as to let him
find out that her sister and herself had a preference for one kind above
another. But she begged him to believe that it was mere thoughtlessness,
not any wish to be disobliging. The upshot of it all was, that the six
heaps of tea were made into a parcel too large for Miss Judy to carry,
and Uncle Watty, who had been an interested listener from his seat on
the goods-box, kindly offered to bring it with him and leave it at Miss
Judy's door on his way home that evening.

Miss Judy thought Uncle Watty's offer most kind, so very kind, indeed,
that she straightway began to be troubled about inviting him to the
tea-party. She, herself, did not mind his leg at all; it only made her
more sorry for him, and she knew that the same was true of Miss Sophia.
It was not his fault, poor soul, that his leg had been set east and
west, instead of north and south, as Sidney said. Maybe young Mr. Gordon
would not mind either; he certainly seemed to be kind-hearted. But there
was his grandmother, who was such a game-maker. Old lady Gordon did not
mean any harm, perhaps; Miss Judy never believed that any one meant any
harm. Still, Doris might be mortified if she thought Uncle Watty was
being criticised--which would be the cruelest thing that Miss Judy could
imagine, and the furthest from the secret object of the entertainment.
She was frightened, and ready for the moment to give up the tea-party.
Then, brightening, she began to hope that something would occur to spare
Uncle Watty's feelings--and yet keep him away from the tea-party. Thus
she thought as she went home, and thus she continued thinking aloud
after she fancied that she was consulting Miss Sophia.

"For of course we can't give the tea without inviting old lady Gordon.
Her social position makes it essential that she shall be invited if
Doris is to be properly launched," Miss Judy said just as though she
were some artful, calculating schemer, dealing with some keen and
suspicious stranger who was likely to raise objections. "And I am sure
that I merely express your views, when I say that we could not be so
discourteous as to invite old lady Gordon without also inviting her
grandson, when he is a guest at her house."

And Miss Sophia answered all this artfulness firmly, even sternly, as if
she were an able abetter, standing ready to carry out the dark, deeply
laid plot.



XV

SIDNEY DOES HER DUTY


These pleasant plans were entirely unsuspected by Sidney. She felt,
however, the need of something of the kind, and--with characteristic
energy--entered forthwith into the making and the carrying out of some
of her own, of a different kind, though leading in the same direction.

The call upon old lady Gordon, a first step, turned out a good deal of a
disappointment. Lynn Gordon was, to be sure, in attendance upon his
grandmother when Sidney appeared, and she thus secured a glimpse of him,
but nothing more satisfactory, nothing nearly approaching acquaintance.
As ill luck would have it, old lady Gordon, who rarely left home,
chanced to be just starting to "make a broad," as the Oldfield people
described visiting beyond the village. The ancient family carriage, with
its fat pair of old grays, already waited at the front gate in the shade
of the cypress tree. On the back of the coach was a trunk-rack, put
there, doubtless, at the building of the vehicle in the days when the
country gentry travelled far in their own coaches, and had need of their
wardrobes on the road. Under the reign of the present mistress, who had
not for years gone farther than a single day's journey from home, the
trunk-rack had been turned to other than its original uses, and on that
particular morning it bore a large hamper of food. This was so full and
heavy that it had been all that Enoch and Eunice could do to carry it
between them; and, now when it was securely strapped in its place and
Enoch was seated upon the box of the coach, Eunice stood leaning over
the fence, with her arms rolled in her apron, giving Enoch final
directions for the serving of the luncheon, so that there might be no
trouble with the mistress.

Old lady Gordon was coming down the front walk of mossy, greening
bricks, leading from the door to the gate; and she looked a handsome,
stately figure in her flowing white dress, notwithstanding her age and
her weight. But Sidney's gaze and Sidney's interest were not for old
lady Gordon; they were for the tall young man on whose arm she leaned,
as if she liked to lean on it, not as if she needed its support. It was
the first time that Sidney had seen him nearer than across the
meeting-house. When she now observed how like his grandmother he was,
she suddenly stopped quite still and, laying her knitting on the
gate-post, took off her bonnet and let her hair down and twisted it up
again, very, very tight indeed.

"Good morning, Sidney. You know my grandson," old lady Gordon said
carelessly, going straight on to the carriage.

She liked Sidney as she liked everybody who never bored her, but it did
not occur to her to allow Sidney's--or anybody's--coming to interfere
with her "making a broad" or doing anything that she wished to do.
Accordingly she now ascended the folding steps of the coach, which were
already unfolded for her convenience, and with her grandson's assistance
deliberately settled herself in perfect comfort by unhasting degrees.
Her bag, which a little negro boy presently came running to bring, was
then hung inside the carriage close to her hand.

"Now!" said old lady Gordon. "Jump in, Sidney, and I'll take you home.
It will not be at all out of my way, and you can tell me the news as we
go along."

Sidney, surprised, stood hesitating. She had been looking on, taking
notes for future conversational uses. It was not every day that she
could gather such good materials; and she had not lost a detail of this
starting of old lady Gordon to "make a broad." And, while busily laying
these matters away in the rich storehouse of her memory, Sidney had, at
the same time, been calculating with certainty upon the fine opportunity
for making the young man's acquaintance which old lady Gordon's going
would give her. It is the first instinct of a wise mother to learn all
that she can,--advantageous or otherwise--of any man who may look toward
her young daughter. It is the last instinct of the wise mother to learn
anything to the disadvantage of any man at whom her daughter may look.
Sidney, wise enough in her blunt, straightforward way, was far from
being a designing woman; she was merely trying, in her blundering
manner, to do what she believed to be her duty by Doris. Naturally,
then, she hesitated, unwilling to lose this good chance of making Lynn
Gordon's acquaintance, the best that she was ever likely to have.

Old lady Gordon glanced at her impatiently, as she would have done at
any hindrance. She had not the faintest inkling of what was passing
through Sidney's mind. She had never thought it as well worth while to
try to understand Sidney, as Sidney had always found it useful and easy
to understand her. Old lady Gordon simply wished to take Sidney along in
order that she might hear the news, as she would have taken the morning
paper,--had Oldfield had one,--to toss it aside after turning it inside
out. She saw plainly enough that for some reason Sidney was unwilling to
come with her, but she did not care about people's unwillingness if they
did what she wished. Old lady Gordon never made any mystery of her
selfishness. She was too scornful of the opinion of others to care what
anybody else felt or thought, or said or did, so long as she got what
she wanted. All this was well known to Sidney; it was also perfectly
plain to her that, if she did not take the seat in the carriage, old
lady Gordon would make Lynn take it and go at least part of the way.
Like the philosopher that she was, Sidney accordingly took the seat. One
of the wide folding steps was then shut up, and on the remaining step
the little negro perched himself,--just as Lady Castlewood's page used
to perch on hers. No reason for his going was apparent then, or ever.
But a little negro boy always had ridden on the step of old lady
Gordon's coach, and the fact that a thing always had been done, has
always been a good and sufficient reason for many singular things in
this Pennyroyal Region--as already remarked ere this. And thus,
everything now being settled to old lady Gordon's entire satisfaction,
the ancient coach rumbled heavily away through the dust.

However, the heavy wheels had hardly made a dozen revolutions before
they were at the Watson homestead, which was the place nearest to old
lady Gordon's. There Sidney called to Enoch Cotton to put her down; and
get down she would and did, in spite of old lady Gordon's impatient
protest that there had been no time for the telling of news; regardless
even of her hasty, half-contemptuous offer to send Uncle Watty and the
children a bag of flour. Sidney had her own ideas of dignity and
self-respect; moreover, she held to them more firmly than prouder
people, having finer ones, often hold to theirs. Yet she was always
good-natured, no matter how firm, and she now merely laughed, as old
lady Gordon drove away as angry as she ever thought it worth while to be
over anything save some interference with the regularity and the
perfection of her meals.

Sidney took off her sunbonnet and hung it on the fence, and let her hair
loose and twisted it up again, while having her laugh out before going
in the house. There was not a grain of malice in her frank shrewdness.
Adversity's sweet milk had been her daily drink, ever since she could
remember. Old lady Gordon herself would have been amused at the
good-humored account of her own starting to "make a broad," could she
have heard Sidney telling Tom and Anne Watson about it. For that
handsome old pagan had a wholesome sense of humor. But Tom Watson
apparently did not hear; his miserable, restless eyes never turned
toward Sidney, never for a moment ceased their fruitless quest of the
empty big road. Only a pale shadow of a smile flitted over Anne's white,
tense face. And Sidney, seeing that her efforts were wholly wasted, soon
arose to go on her way, and Anne went with her to the gate--as far as
she ever went from her hopeless post, except for the breaking of bread
on the Sundays when there was preaching at her own church; and for an
hour now and then, on prayer-meeting nights, when she felt that her own
supplications alone were not strong enough. She held Sidney's large,
firm, rough, capable hand longer than usual, as if she instinctively
sought strength and courage in clinging to it. Her clear eyes, too, were
full of a silent, unconscious appeal, and Sidney said, in answer to the
look, that she would come again the next day and every day, if her
coming could help in the least. Anne simply bowed her head; she did not
attempt to speak, and in truth there was nothing to be said. She made no
mention of any inducement to Sidney to come; she did not think of it,
nor indeed did Sidney. Yet, when Anne did think of it, later in the day,
she was glad to send a large basket, and Sidney was more than glad to
have it sent.

That night Sidney dreamt of Tom,--as a good many people did after seeing
him,--and the thought of him so weighed upon her on awakening at dawn,
that she hurried through with her housework in order that she might go
to Anne. But she had only the earliest morning hours for domestic
duties, the rest of her time being always fully occupied with her
professional rounds; and she found much to do every morning before
starting out. On this particular morning there were unusual affairs of
rather a pressing nature. Uncle Watty had discovered a bumblebee's nest
under the mossy roof close to his bed. It was never the way of Uncle
Watty to submit to any discomfort which he could avoid by complaining,
and he was not unnaturally anxious to have this removed without
unnecessary delay. Sidney, ready and resourceful, quieted his fears. She
knew--so she declared--just how to get the bumblebee's nest down without
the least trouble or hurting any one. As soon, therefore, as the kitchen
was in order, she bustled into the room where Doris sat sewing behind
the white curtain. Sidney put the broom on end in its accustomed place,
and began rolling down her sleeves, getting ready to move upon the
citadel of the bumblebees. When a thing--large or small--must be done,
Sidney was not one to let the grass grow under her feet. She had reached
the door of the passage, meaning to climb to the loft and to awaken
Uncle Watty as a mere matter of precaution before beginning operations,
when Doris's voice caused her to pause.

"I haven't had a chance, mother, to tell you that Mr. Gordon was here
yesterday in the cool of the evening, before you came home. He didn't
come in. He only went into the garden," Doris said, simply.

Sidney stopped and stood still, silently gazing at her daughter.

"He came to see the pretty-by-nights. He said he had never seen them
open with the falling of the dew," the girl went on, like a child.

"Anybody's welcome to look at the pretty-by-nights," responded Sidney,
with cautious non-committal indifference.

"I told him I knew you wouldn't care," said Doris, more confidently.
"And then he asked if he might come early this morning to look at the
morning-glories. He thought they must be lovely--such big ones, red,
white, and blue--all over that side of the house."

"They're well enough in their place," said Sidney, off-hand. And then,
carelessly, after an instant's pause, "What did you say?"

"He said he was coming--before I could say anything." Doris thus placed
the responsibility where it belonged, made timid again by her mother's
manner, which she did not understand. "He may be here now, at any
moment."

"Well, it won't hurt the morning-glories a mite to be looked at," said
Sidney.

She stood still a moment longer, turning this unexpected announcement in
her mind. Then, without another word, she went back to the kitchen and
took up the plate containing Uncle Watty's breakfast, which she had left
on the stove to keep warm. He could eat it cold for once, she resolved,
as she passed through the room. Doris, humming over her sewing, and
looking now and then down the big road, did not see what her mother was
doing. Strong, active, Sidney swiftly gained the loft, making as little
noise as possible. Uncle Watty's bedchamber was a corner of the loft cut
off from the rest by a rough partition, and she approached the door of
it with noiseless caution. Uncle Watty never thought of locking or even
of shutting it, but Sidney, after setting the breakfast on the floor,
inside the door, now closed it softly and turned the key. There was an
old chest sitting near by, and this she managed to drag across the door
without much noise. Then she listened for a space, with her ear against
the door, to make sure that Uncle Watty was still fast asleep, and to
consider the security of the barricade. Satisfied now that all was
secure, that he could not get out, however hard he might try, she went
downstairs, feeling that she had done her utmost for Uncle Watty as well
as for Doris. She was faithful in her service to her husband's brother;
she had accepted him as a sacred legacy when her burden was already
heavy enough. She had never allowed the fact that he would not do
anything for his own support to affect her regard for him, nor to lessen
her efforts to provide for him; she had never minded his whittling, nor
his mis-set leg, except to be sorry for him. And yet, notwithstanding
all this, she, with her shrewd common sense, saw no good that it could
do him, or Doris, or anybody, for him to come bumping and stumbling down
the ladder just at the time when the young gentleman from Boston was
likely to be calling upon Doris. Recalling the likeness to his
game-making grandmother, which had struck her as so marked on the
previous day--which had indeed impressed her as being of "the very same
cut of the jib," as Sidney phrased it to herself--she made up her mind,
then and there, that he should see no reason to laugh at Doris or
Doris's kin, if she could help his seeing Uncle Watty.

Coming now into the room where Doris still sat quietly sewing, in the
dull brown dress, Sidney was tempted to tell her to put on the blue
gingham which Mrs. Alexander had given her; but on second thought did
not. Secretly she doubted whether any other color would reveal the soft,
pure whiteness of Doris's skin so perfectly as the faded brown. She
accordingly left the girl to her own devices, and contented herself with
seeing, with even more than the usual care, that the rising sun of red
and yellow calico was precisely in the middle of the bed, that the
trundle-bed was quite out of sight under the big bed; that the snowy
scarf over the chest of drawers fell perfectly straight at the fringed
ends; and that the best side of the rag rug, the sole covering of the
rough, well-scoured floor, was turned up. Finally, she hurried into the
garden and gathered a great, tall bunch of blue larkspur, and put it in
her best white pitcher, and set it on the chest of drawers. She gazed at
it with her head critically on one side, after setting it down; and,
indeed, the vivid coloring of the homely flowers against the whitewashed
logs was a pleasing sight, which might have gratified a more exacting
taste than hers.

An uneasy remembrance of Kate and Billy suddenly flashing into her quiet
mind, disturbed it, and sent her seeking them in haste. It was unlucky
that the day chanced to be Saturday, otherwise they might at once have
been despatched to school, and so kept out of the way without Doris's
knowing anything about it. Sidney was not clear as to why she did not
wish Doris to know that she meant to keep them out of the way. Her
daughter's sensibilities, refined by nature, and super-refined by Miss
Judy's training, were a long way beyond Sidney's primitive
comprehension. She had, however, a general idea that all very young
girls were what she called skittish, and most of them, consequently,
greatly lacking in sound common sense. So that it seemed to her, on the
whole, best to do her own duty as she saw it, saying nothing one way or
another, and leaving Doris alone. Sidney had no doubt concerning her own
duty. In the circle in which she had been reared, the young man who
failed to find a clear and open field the first time he came to see a
girl was sure not to come again. He understood as a matter of course,
and as he was intended to understand--when he found any of the family
near by--that he was not expected or desired to come again. It was
consequently a perfectly plain and simple case from Sidney's plain and
simple point of view. She did not know what Doris thought of the young
man; she did not care what the young man thought of Doris. She had no
distinct ultimate object. No mother was ever farther from any arbitrary
purpose, or even the remotest wish, to take the shaping of her
daughter's future in her own hands. Sidney, honest, strenuous soul,
meant simply and solely to give Doris a chance, without hindrance, to
shape it for herself.

Thus, as single-minded as it is ever permitted any woman to be, Sidney
took the broom from its resting-place behind the door, and fared forth
to mount guard over Billy and Kate. The children were peacefully at play
in the back yard under the cherry tree. They had been forbidden to touch
the cherries, which were to be exchanged for shoes at the store, and
they only glanced wistfully up at the reddening branches now and then,
as they went on with their harmless game of mumble-peg. Sidney turned an
empty tub upside down and seated herself upon it, between the children
and the house, with the broom across her knees. It was a sight which
they had never seen before, this amazing spectacle of their mother thus
sitting silent and idle on a week-day. But children do not marvel over
the unusual as grown people do, and after a glance or two of surprise,
these two played on peacefully until they heard the click of the gate
latch. Then they made a dash for the front yard to see who was coming,
as they were accustomed to do, and as Sidney was fully prepared for
their doing now. Keenly alert, she was instantly on her feet, and,
rushing between them and the gate, she waved them back with the broom,
flourishing it and using it as a baton of command. The children halted,
staring open-mouthed, too much astounded at first to make a sound. And
then, frightened by their mother's strange behavior, they huddled
together against the cherry tree and broke into loud, terrified wails.
Sidney, disconcerted and quickly changing her tactics, did what she
could to silence them by gentle means. She tried to soothe them in
whispers, and failing, finally offered to bribe them to be quiet. If
they were perfectly quiet till the company went away, she would give
them, so she whispered, one of Miss Pettus's cherry pies.

"The one with the--cross-barred--top," sobbed Billy, intentionally
raising his piercing voice several keys as he made this stipulation.

Sidney nodded. The boy's shrewdness in thus taking advantage of an
unusual opportunity pleased her. Billy would never let chances pass him
by as they had passed his poor father. Kate's behavior was always a
reflection of Billy's, and there now came a lull. But Sidney did not
relax her vigilance in the least, and still sat immovable on the tub
with the broom resting on her shoulder like a sentinel's bayonet. The
children, more than ever wondering, though silently, did not return to
their game, but clung to the shelter of the cherry tree, excitedly
peering round it in growing wonder at their mother's unaccountable
conduct. The little group now made a singular spectacle, one so very
singular indeed, that no neighbor could think of passing without
inquiry. Fortunately, however, no one went along the big road for
several minutes. Meantime Sidney, sitting bolt upright and rigid on the
tub, with her back to the house, and with her eye on the children, and
the broom over her shoulder, ready for action, followed with her keen
ears everything going on in the room. She heard the deep tones of the
young man's dominant voice, and the soft murmur of Doris's shy replies.
She knew by the sounds when the two young people went out of the house
to look at the morning-glories, although the vines were on the other
side of the house and quite out of her sight. Thence she traced them
with intent listening, though she could not hear what they said, to the
trellis over the garden gate, now richly hung with the mauve beauty and
sweetness of the virgin's-bower. And then into the garden among the
sunflowers and hollyhocks and columbine and larkspur and heartsease and
the riot of June roses, common enough, yet gay and sweet as the rarest.
Sidney could tell just where they paused as they wandered about the
little garden; now they were looking at the sweet-williams, now at the
spice-pinks, and now they were bending over the bunch of bleeding-heart,
with its delicate waxen sprays of pink and white hearts--strung in rows
like a coquette's cruel trophies. To Sidney, thus keenly, alertly
keeping track, everything seemed going well; Billy and Kate too now
moved quietly as though to return to their game of mumble-peg, so that,
almost reassured, she was about to lower the broom, when she was
disturbed by hearing her name called.

She sprang up, motioning with the broom, signalling the children to be
still, and turned to see the doctor's wife leaning over the fence, and
beckoning to her.

"What on earth is the matter?" asked that lady. "I've been watching you
from my porch--"

She broke off, falling silent, at an energetic, imperative gesture from
Sidney, and she moved along down the line of the fence, farther away
from the garden, in response to Sidney's mysterious signals.

"Hush. Speak low," said Sidney, bending over the fence and speaking
herself in a hoarse whisper, "Doris has got a _beau_!"

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Alexander under her breath, but not
as yet much enlightened as to the cause of the extraordinary
manoeuvres which she had witnessed. "And who is it?"

"Old lady Gordon's grandson," said Sidney, trying vainly to keep the
triumphant note out of her voice.

The doctor's wife involuntary pursed up her mouth; had she been a man,
she certainly would have whistled. "Indeed!" was all she found to say.

"And why _not_?" Sidney flashed out, replying to the look rather than to
the word. "_Why_ not--I ask you, Jane _Alexander_? I have never gone
around bragging about Doris's pretty looks and ladylike ways, which
goodness knows she owes to the Lord and to Miss Judy, not to me; but if
there's another girl in this whole Pennyroyal Region that can hold a
candle to her--"

"Mercy sakes alive," gasped the doctor's wife. "What's the use of your
going on like that to me, Sidney? You know as well as I do what the
doctor and I have always thought of Doris."

But Sidney, aroused as only a slight--whether real or supposed--to a
favorite child can arouse the most calmly philosophical mother, might
have said a good deal more in support of Doris's smartness and sweet
disposition--these and other things were in truth on the very tip of her
tongue, when, fortunately for the doctor's wife, a sudden noise drew
their attention toward the roof of the house. Uncle Watty had at last
succeeded, after much difficulty and several unheard shouts, in getting
his head out of the garret window close to the chimney, and, now
catching sight of Sidney, he indignantly demanded to know why he could
not open his door, and peremptorily ordered her to come at once and let
him out. She went flying over nearer to the window and in a low-toned
diplomatic parley persuaded him to wait a few minutes, finally even
inducing him to take in his head until she could come. It was only a
momentary interruption, but it gave Mrs. Alexander time to think, and,
when Sidney returned to the fence, still holding herself with cold,
resentful dignity, the doctor's wife was ready with a softening
proposition inviting Kate and Billy to go home with her to help gather
cherries on the shares.

"Very well," said Sidney, shortly. She was not by any means entirely
placated, but she never rejected a good bargain merely on account of
some private feeling. "There's no need, though, for them to go out
through the front gate. They can just as well get through this hole in
the fence. It's big enough if they squeeze tight," she added, still on
guard.

She gave the children an assistant shove which carried them through the
narrow space of the broken board, hushing them to continued silence by
making a hissing sound through her teeth.

"There!" she exclaimed, under her breath, when the two trembling,
bewildered culprits stood beside the doctor's wife in the big road,
casting curious glances from their mother to the house. "Now, Jane, see
that they whistle every minute of the time they are in the cherry tree;
or I won't have a cherry and you won't have many, and these children
will be drawn into double bow-knots. Mind now--don't let 'em stop
whistling for a single minute."

Mrs. Alexander nodded understandingly as she took the children by the
hand to lead them away; nevertheless, Sidney thought it best to make
sure by giving the broom a last threatening flourish. Then she returned
to her post on the tub, facing the house, however, during the rest of
the hour through which she faithfully fulfilled sentinel duty.



XVI

THE SHOCK AND THE FRIGHT


The children thus flown like birds out of a cage, Sidney managed to get
Uncle Watty down the stairs and off to his seat before the store door,
all unobserved by the young couple, who were so absorbed in the
bleeding-heart, so enchanted under the virgin's-bower, so enthralled by
the heartsease. When at last Lynn Gordon himself was gone, Doris found
her mother quietly at work in the kitchen, and saw no trace of the
heroic measures which she had resorted to. Doris asked timidly why she
had not come in while the visitor was there, feeling instinctively that
this was what Miss Judy would have done. But Sidney answered quite
promptly and conclusively that she was too busy to waste her time
thinking of strange young men, so that Doris was more than ever abashed,
and turned silently back to her sewing and to her thoughts.

Sidney now directed her own attention to the bumblebees. She went to the
front gate and called Tom Watson's black boy, her strong, clear,
fearless voice ringing out suddenly on the morning stillness. She had
already hired him to come by promising to mend his Sunday jacket; if he
would help her get rid of the bumblebees' nest. He accordingly appeared
at once in answer to her call, which reached him in his master's stable,
and he carried his fishing-rod in his hand, this also being a part of
the bargain. He handed Sidney the rod, and taking from her a piece of
rope, which she held in readiness, he went up the rough logs at the
corner of the house, and ran over the roof as swiftly and as surely as
any simian ancestors could have scampered through the green heights of
the tropical forests. He let the rope down within Sidney's reach. She,
meantime, had fetched a jug of boiling water from the kitchen, and when
she had tied this uncorked vessel to the end of the rope, he drew it up
again till the jug came close under the eaves and immediately below the
dangerous bunch of gray gauze; whereupon he made the rope fast to one of
the curling boards of the mossy roof, all according to Sidney's
direction. This done, he sped over the roof again on his hands and knees
and hastened down the wall for safety, knowing what was to come. Sidney
barely gave him time to drop from the corner logs to the ground, and
then, grasping the fishing-pole firmly in her strong hands, she gave the
edge of the roof a sharp, quick blow. The bumblebees flew out in an
angry cloud, but Sidney, the dauntless, stood at her post. She struck
the roof another sharp, quick blow--and another, tap-tap-tap, like some
gigantic and most industrious flicker. And forthwith the bumblebees
began to go zip-zip-zip--straight into the steaming mouth of the crater.
It was a short shrift, and, after it, a simple matter to punch down the
nest itself with the fishing pole when the last bumblebee was drowned.
That ended Sidney's interest in the programme, but the negro boy was
still curious, so that he took the jug into the middle of the big road
to pour out its contents, and he was much gratified, with the cruelty of
his age and sex, to find something like a quart of boiled bumblebees.

Sidney, free now from pressing domestic affairs, bustled into the room
where Doris sat undisturbed, singing softly over her sewing.

"I must go by Tom Watson's the first thing," Sidney said, putting on her
bonnet, settling her ball of yarn under her left arm, and beginning to
knit. "Anne seems to be at the end of her row, poor soul. I don't
believe that Tom notices anybody's coming or going. I'm sure he doesn't
mine. He just sits there with his awful eyes wandering up and down the
big road. But if it comforts Anne the least bit to have me go, I'm
perfectly willing to keep on trying. Anyway, I'll look in there a moment
before starting out on my regular round."

"I hope you can get home early," said Doris, shyly. "Mr. Gordon spoke of
coming again to-day, in the cool of the evening, to look at the
moonflowers."

Sidney stopped suddenly in the middle of the floor, just as she had done
earlier in the morning, and looked at Doris without making an immediate
reply. She took off her bonnet and shook her hair down, twisting it up
again with extreme tightness.

"Well! I reckon he, or anybody else, can look at the moonflowers just
the same whether I'm here or not," she said, dryly, settling the huge
horn comb with emphasis. Putting on her bonnet, she began to make her
knitting-needles fly, as she moved toward the door.

"Please, ma'am," pleaded Doris, bashfully. She was smiling, yet quite in
earnest, in her request.

"I'll be here in plenty of time," replied Sidney, diplomatically.

She went straight across to the doctor's house, and, calling its
mistress to the gate, asked in a low voice if she would be so neighborly
as to keep Billy and Kate until bedtime, or until she herself came by
for them. Mrs. Alexander was surprised; she had never before known
Sidney to ask, or even to accept, any help in the care of her children.
She had always been scrupulously careful to avoid troubling any one with
them. For this reason the doctor's wife agreed readily enough to keep
Kate and Billy all night, if so doing would oblige Sidney in the
slightest. She would have said the same at any time, but she was
especially glad to get such an early opportunity to make up the
misunderstanding of an hour or two before. So far as she knew, Sidney
never had actually fallen out with any one; but Mrs. Alexander had
nevertheless no wish to risk such a calamity, knowing full well how dull
life in Oldfield would be without a daily chat with Sidney. And then,
above all, she really liked and admired and respected her. So that,
altogether, she was quite warm and even cordial in her willingness to
keep Kate and Billy. She told Sidney that the doctor was away on one of
his long trips, and that it would be company to have the children; the
obligation would be wholly on her side.

Sidney then went on down the big road well content, her knitting-needles
flying faster and faster, as they always were under any unusual stress
of thought. She nodded to Anne Watson, calling out as she hurried by,
that she would come back to see Tom as soon as she could go to the store
to speak to Uncle Watty. She found the old man sitting in his accustomed
place on the goods-box at the shady side of the store door. She paused
close beside him, fanning herself with her bonnet, after she had taken
it off to let down and twist up her hair. For she knew very well that
all the tact and art at her command would be needed to persuade Uncle
Watty not to come home to supper, and to stay at the store--open and
shut--till bedtime. Uncle Watty was never the one to give up his own
wishes, if he could help it, or to sacrifice his supper without a
struggle.

"But you can have a real good, comfortable supper right here," urged
Sidney, lowering her voice, so that Mr. Pettus and his one customer
might not hear. "You're mighty fond of cheese and crackers. I'll see
that you have as much of both as you can eat." She hesitated, and then,
seeing that she was to be pushed to the limit of her resources, and
knowing from long experience that Uncle Watty would exact the full pound
of flesh, she added; "And I'll tell Mr. Pettus to give you a glass of
apple toddy, too, real strong and piping hot!"

"Till the court-house clock strikes nine, then, and not a minute later,"
growled Uncle Watty.

Sidney was quite satisfied. She was used to getting what she wanted
under difficulties. It always made her happy to succeed at all, and it
never made her bitter to fail, even after much trying--this real village
philosopher. How invincible she was that June day! How her
knitting-needles flashed in the sunlight, flying ever faster and faster!
And yet, full as her thoughts were of her own affairs, she did not
forget or neglect Tom Watson. Indeed, not one of the day's regular
engagements was forgotten or slighted or over-looked. She talked also as
usual about almost everything under the shining sun; but her thoughts
were always of the moonflowers and of Doris and of old lady Gordon's
grandson.

At sundown she went to take supper with Miss Pettus, an agreement to
that effect having been entered into upon the day of the truce. But she
said as soon as she entered the house, that she must leave immediately
after supper, as it was absolutely necessary for her to see Miss Judy
before going to bed that night. Miss Pettus, whose curiosity was
excessive, did not ask what she must see Miss Judy about. No one ever
asked Sidney questions about her own private affairs, freely as
everybody always questioned her about public matters. This may perhaps
have been one of the secrets of her memorable success. Miss Pettus was
merely a little miffed to see how absent-minded Sidney was. What was the
use of having cream muffins when Sidney hardly noticed what she was
eating! Then when Sidney asked to be allowed to leave the basket--which
had been well filled for the children and Uncle Watty--till she came for
it the next morning, this was such an unheard-of request that Miss
Pettus's curiosity could hardly be held in leash; yet Sidney went her
way without saying a word in explanation.

Dusk was already falling, and the gathering clouds in the west hastened
the gloaming. Sidney passed her own house, taking care to walk on the
other side of the big road, but she could make out Doris's slim white
figure moving among the flowers, and she also recognized the tall, dark
form near by, notwithstanding the dim light. The murmur of the gay young
voices, too, musically melted into the scented stillness. Sidney did not
know that she was smiling as she listened, and went on wondering what
they were talking about. And she did not ask herself why she was glad
that the honeysuckle smelt so sweet that night, and that so many of the
great white moths were fluttering among the moonflowers.

She found Miss Judy sitting in the passage with Miss Sophia, as they
were always to be found at that time on a warm evening. They were
talking to each other as usual; that is to say, Miss Judy was talking of
Becky, and Miss Sophia was listening, with the never-flagging interest
and complete content which they ever found in one another's conversation
and society. Nevertheless, they were heartily pleased to greet Sidney,
and Miss Judy was particularly gratified by her coming in just at that
moment. The little lady had seen Lynn Gordon passing up the big road
early in the morning, and--quite in a quiver--had asked Miss Sophia if
she thought he was on the way to call on Doris. Of course, she did not
dream of asking Sidney anything about it, but she knew that she would
tell her without being asked, in the event that he had gone to see
Doris. And Sidney did tell her at once, since the telling was precisely
what she had come for--that, and a consultation concerning such future
steps as Miss Judy might think must needs be taken. Miss Judy hung upon
every prosaic word, coloring it with her own romantic fancy, blushing
rosily in the sheltering dimness of the passage, glowing with the new
warmth which was fast gathering around her gentle heart. It was a bit of
a disappointment that Sidney did not say what the young gentleman
himself had said, or what he did or how he looked while with the dear,
dear child. Miss Judy almost asked, she wanted so much to know
everything there was to tell. It did not occur to her that Sidney had
not been present. It did not occur to Sidney that she could have
been--much less that she should have been. So utterly unlike were these
two good, honest women, who were giving their whole minds to the
happiness and welfare of the girl whom they both loved with their whole
hearts. Most of all Miss Judy was longing to know whether Lynn had said
anything of making another call. She could tell a good deal from that,
she thought guiltily, feeling herself a very Machiavelli. Yet she
hesitated to ask. It might possibly seem a little indelicate, a little
inconsiderate of Doris, in case the young gentleman had not named
another time.

"I don't think it will rain before morning," she said, observing
Sidney's glance at the clouds. "Young Mr. Gordon does seem real
friendly," she went on tentatively. "Perhaps he will come
again--sometime."

"He's there now--twice to-day!" said Sidney, triumphantly. With the
training of her profession she had awaited the most impressive moment
for this crowning announcement.

Miss Judy was stunned; there was a tremor of alarm in her voice when she
spoke, after a momentary silence of frightened bewilderment. "Do you
mean to say, Sidney, that Mr. Gordon is at your house--with Doris
now--to-night?"

Sidney nodded coolly, trying not to show the complacency which she could
not help feeling. "Yes. I saw him in the garden with Doris as I came
down the big road--on the other side."

Miss Judy tried to think for a space. Then she said, delicately but
uneasily, "Are you quite sure that Uncle Watty and the children
will--will know how to do the honors?"

"Well, they can't do any harm! I've taken care that they couldn't.
They're not there--not a blessed one of 'em! The children are over at
the doctor's. Uncle Watty is down at the store, and he'll stay there,
too, till bedtime--open or shut!"

As Sidney thus told what she had done, she tossed her yellow head,
giving free rein to what she honestly felt to be just pride.

Miss Judy sprang up with a smothered scream. "Sidney _Wendall_! _Do_ you
mean to tell me that you have left Doris--that poor, poor child--to
receive a perfect stranger entirely alone? Oh--oh--we must run to her.
What will he think now? The other was bad enough, but this can never be
made right! Run!"

She sank back in the chair, pressing her hand to her heart, which was
fluttering, as it always fluttered under agitation, like some winged
thing trying to escape, as perhaps it was.

"You go--don't wait for me," she gasped. "I'll--explain and--and--beg
your pardon--when I get my breath. Go--go--_go_!"

Sidney had risen in blank amazement, which swiftly changed to high
dudgeon under Miss Judy's incoherent reproaches. From the agitated
outburst to the breathless close she had not the vaguest comprehension
of the cause of Miss Judy's excitement and distress. But she saw that
they were serious, and her anger vanished forthwith. She had long since
fallen into the habit of doing whatever Miss Judy wished, even when she
could not understand; no matter whether it agreed with her own views or
not, and wholly regardless of her own stalwart opinion of that little
lady's fastidious ideas, which she thought of as Miss Judy's "pernickety
notions." In anything and everything concerning Doris, especially,
Sidney always gave way at once without an instant's demur, and she did
so now, as soon as she had sufficiently recovered from her amazement to
comprehend what it was that Miss Judy wished her to do. Her good humor,
too, came back quickly; it was never absent long, and she cheerfully
started toward home without more urging. She went at once, stepping out
of Miss Judy's sight with long, swinging strides, but soon slacking her
pace, unconsciously smiling now as she sauntered. A woman who has been
married is apt to smile at an unmarried woman's views of love and
courtship and kindred matters. Sidney stood ready to defer to Miss Judy
in most things, humbly conscious of her own ignorance and honestly
willing at all times to confess it. When, however, it came to
men-folks--laughing silently, Sidney loitered on up the big road,
knitting much faster than she walked, for her needles flew just as
swiftly and surely in the darkness as in the light.

Miss Judy shed a few gentle tears in the gloom of the passage. Her first
distinct feeling was acute distress for the child of her heart. Then it
was a cruel personal disappointment to have her plans for Doris's social
advancement so shockingly upset. But presently Miss Judy's cheerful
spirits began to rally; the tea might perhaps still place Doris properly
before old lady Gordon's grandson, but it would be much harder now,
owing to Sidney's distressing thoughtlessness.

"Yet she is not so much to blame, after all, poor thing," said Miss
Judy, wiping her eyes, as her heart began to beat more naturally.
"Sidney was not brought up as we were; we are bound in fairness to
consider that, sister Sophia," pleaded Miss Judy, as if fearing that
Miss Sophia might be too hard on Sidney.

Miss Sophia straightened up and opened her eyes, surprised to find
Sidney gone; but she responded as usual with firm promptness. Indeed,
when she had thus responded several times, more and more decidedly, as
Miss Judy went on arguing with herself and thinking that she was
discussing the situation with Miss Sophia, the former came gradually to
feel that all would yet be well with Doris--as Miss Sophia believed and
said.

The storm-clouds piled higher and blacker, and the lightning flashes lit
them now and then; but Miss Judy, looking out the open door of the
passage, said that she thought the cloud-bank lay too far south for them
to get a shower, that it had drifted too far away from the rain quarter.
The darkness deepened fast, however. Sudden gusts of wind stirred the
dust of the big road, and set little columns of it whirling along the
darkening highway; but there was still nothing to disturb the little
sisters, sitting peacefully, contented, close together in their low
rocking-chairs. Miss Judy was now chirruping quite like herself, and
Miss Sophia listening and nodding alternately in happy content. Nearly
asleep, she did not hear the soft rustle of Miss Judy's bombazine skirt
as it slipped off in the darkness.

"You don't mind, do you, sister Sophia?" said Miss Judy, feeling,
nevertheless, bound to apologize in respect for her sister. "It's too
dark for any one passing to see. And it does make the back breadths so
shiny to sit on them, no matter how lightly you try to sit down," she
added, as if she could sit any other way, dear little atom of humanity!

Nine o'clock was their bedtime, winter and summer, although it must be
said that Miss Sophia was always perfectly willing to go to bed earlier.
That night they arose, as they always did, on the solemn, lonesome
stroke of the court-house clock, and turned up their little
rocking-chairs side by side, with the seats to the wall, tilting them so
that the cat could not make a bed of the patchwork cushions, and thus be
tempted from her plain duty of attending to the mice in the garret and
the rats in the kitchen. The chairs being thus settled, as if for the
saying of their prayers all night, Miss Judy bent down, and, taking both
hands, rolled the cannon-ball out of the hollow which it had worn in the
daytime, and sent it rumbling into the hollow which it had worn in the
night-time. Shutting the door, she then dropped the wooden bar across it
as a mere matter of routine propriety, and, after this was done, the
little sisters began to undress with their backs to one another. When
they were at last quite ready to retire, when Miss Sophia was in bed and
Miss Judy was on the point of ascending by means of the chair, before
blowing out the candle, there was some polite discussion and a good deal
of hesitation whether or not to close the window at the foot of the bed.
The ultimate decision was to leave it open, Miss Judy thinking this best
on account of the night's being so warm, and the clouds having drifted
so far round that there appeared little likelihood of rain before
morning; and Miss Sophia's thinking that she thought as Miss Judy did,
in this as in everything else. The window was accordingly left open, and
this final question being settled, the little sisters laid themselves
down side by side, and bade one another a formal good night, and wished
one another pleasant dreams, and were soon sleeping the sleep of gentle
innocence and of sweet peace with the whole world.

But while they slept it happened unluckily that the clouds drifted back
to the rain quarter. An ominous murmur arose louder and louder, coming
nearer and nearer; the branches of the old elm suddenly swept the mossy
old roof, and about midnight the tempest broke in its utmost fury. At
the same instant two little nightcaps with wide ruffles lifted
themselves from the pillows, unseen and unheard by each other in the
darkness of the night and the crash of the storm. Both the little
sisters were terrified. They were always very much afraid of a storm,
and this one was terrifying indeed. But love gives courage to the most
timid. And they were very, very tender of one another, these two gentle,
little old sisters. Miss Judy thought of Miss Sophia's rheumatism, with
the wind furiously beating the rain clear across the room, almost to the
very bed. Miss Sophia thought of Miss Judy's heart trouble, which she
had had a touch of that very night, and she dreaded, for her sister's
sake, lest the lightning begin to flash, as the thunder boomed nearer
and louder. But the loving are the daring, and each forgot her own
terror in fear for the other. At precisely the same moment the two
little old sisters began to get up and to leave their opposite sides of
the high bed. Miss Judy, usually much quicker of movement than Miss
Sophia, now moved so slowly in order not to disturb her, that she was
longer than ever before in reaching the floor by way of the chair. Miss
Sophia, on the other hand, hurried down the dwarf staircase backward,
like a fleeing crab, fairly driven by alarm and her loving concern for
Miss Judy. So that--still utterly unaware of one another's being awake,
much less astir, such was the uproar of the blast and the downpour of
the rain--they crept tremblingly round the opposite corners at the foot
of the bed, in the blackness of the room, with tightly shut eyes, with
outstretched arms guarding their faces, and thus ran into violent
collision.

Neither Miss Judy nor Miss Sophia could ever recall very clearly what
happened after that. The neighbors remembered only hearing, above the
tumult of the tempest, blood-curdling screams and shrieks of fire, and
murder, and theft, in tones which none of them recognized. The Oldfield
people, men, women, and children, alarmed and panic-stricken, sprang
from their beds, and rushed to the rescue through the storm and darkness
in their nightclothes. The doctor alone was dressed, as he had not gone
to bed, having just got home from the country. It was he--thus already
afoot--who led all the rest, catching up his lantern, which was still
lighted, and clubbing his umbrella for a weapon as he ran, as much
alarmed as any one of all those who were rushing to the rescue. A single
kick from his great boot shattered the wooden bar and burst open the
front door. The outcry continuing, led him and those who followed close
upon his heels to the bedchamber. When he held up the lantern, there
stood the little sisters, locked together in a death-grip and quite out
of their senses with fright. Their gentle little hands, which had never
touched one another nor any living creature save with kindness, were
fiercely clutched in each other's gray hair, hooked like bird-claws
through the shreds of their tattered nightcaps; their mild eyes, which
had seen only love in all their tranquil lives, were still closed
against the first horrors which they had ever encountered; their soft
voices, which had never before been harsher than the cooing of doves,
now shrilled by wordless terror, still pierced the roar of the tempest
with ceaseless shrieking. Thus it was that all the horrified neighbors
found them. The doctor never knew whether he was laughing or crying when
he picked them both up--one on each arm--and put them to bed as though
they had been his own babies.

Dear little Miss Judy! Poor little Miss Sophia! That night comes back to
most of us with a smile that is tenderly close to tears.



XVII

LOVE'S AWAKENING


But there never was any open smiling over the events of that memorable
night. Miss Judy herself regarded what had happened far too gravely to
allow of its seeming trivial or amusing to any one else. Indeed, she so
plainly shrank from all mention of it that it was rarely spoken of at
all. Everybody saw how pale she turned whenever it was mentioned, and
how she pressed her little hand to her heart. So that, as no one ever
knowingly gave the little lady pain, the memory soon dropped into kind
oblivion.

The only reminder of it was the more frequent pressure of Miss Judy's
hand to her heart, which had always been a weak, soft, fluttering little
thing, and a new paleness of her sweet face which merely made its
delicate blushes more lovely. The shock had been very great, there could
be no doubt of that, and there was not much likelihood of her forgetting
it; but it was ever Miss Judy's way to put painful things behind her as
quickly as possible, and to turn her face toward sweetness and peace as
naturally as a flower turns toward the sunlight.

And she really was very happy during those first days following the
fright. Her happiness always came at second hand, as perhaps the purest
happiness always comes. She was happy because Doris was happy--young,
beautiful, joyous, sparkling with health and spirits. Seeing this, Miss
Judy found nothing lacking in her own life. And then she was so
delightfully busy in building air-castles. She was, to be sure, nearly
always busy in doing this, but she seemed now to have a firmer
foundation to build upon than usually came within her reach. Doris and
Lynn met at her house on these bright summer days, almost every day, and
sometimes twice a day. Doris came at first oftener than she had ever
come before, and stayed longer, on account of her own and her mother's
anxiety about the effect of the shock upon Miss Judy's health. They knew
how frail was the small tenement housing Miss Judy's quenchless spirit.
They almost held their breath for days after that unmentionable night.
The entire community, indeed, was alarmed; even old lady Gordon thought
it worth while to send her grandson to see how Miss Judy was, and to
warn him against saying why he came lest he frighten her. Finding Doris
with Miss Judy, the young man naturally went again on the next day--and
the next and the next--without being sent. Thus gradually it came about
in the natural order of events that Doris and Lynn met daily in Miss
Judy's house; that she saw them constantly together, and that her
greatest, loveliest air-castle thus grew apace. Every day added to its
height and its beauty, till its crystal minarets, towering through
rainbow clouds, touched at last the sapphire key-stone of the arching
heavens.

Doris and Lynn knew nothing of all this. They were merely drifting--as
youth usually drifts--with the sweet summertide. In those glowing,
fragrant days the season was at its greenest and sweetest. The
crystalline freshness of spring still lingered in the dustless air,
which was just beginning to gather the full fervor of the summer
sunshine. Nature now was at her busiest, her kindest, and her
cruelest--glad, blossoming, bewildering, alluring--wreathing her single
relentless purpose with gayest flowers and most intoxicating perfume.
The vivid beauty of the full leafage, gold-flecked by the glorious flood
of sunlight, was not yet dimmed to the browning of a leaf's tip; every
emerald blade of grass held its brimming measure of sap; the rank grass
under foot, the thick foliage overhead, the earth and the air alike,
teemed with life and pulsated with wings. And every living thing, seen
or unseen, high or low, was being swept onward by the same resistless
power toward the common altar. The lacelike white of the flowering elder
covered the whole earth with a delicate bridal veil. Here, there,
everywhere, floated the snowy foam of myriad blossoms--the crest of
creation's tidal wave.

And the young man and the young maid also went the way of all innocent
healthy young creatures in ripening summer, thinking little more of the
titanic forces moving the world, than the birds and the bees and the
butterflies. Lynn was wiser and older than Doris; yet he too was still
young, and still far from any real maturity of wisdom. His knowledge of
life was such as may be gained by a student who goes through a great
university with a definite ambition steadily before him; and who comes
from it into the world with a clear, clean, and upright conception of
what a man who earnestly means to hold a high place in it should be and
should do. But he was only a boy grown tall after all, and he had never
seen so beautiful a girl as Doris was, or any one of such indefinable
charm or of such ineffable grace.

He looked down at her as she walked by his side one day, going up the
big road. They took daily walks together now without objection from any
source. Only dear little Miss Judy, with her funny notions of
chaperonage--which nobody understood any more than many other of the
little lady's dainty whims, and which everybody indulged and quietly
smiled at, as at many another of her odd, sweet ways--would ever have
thought of objecting. It was, indeed, an old, well-established, and
highly respected custom of the country for young men and young maids to
walk alone together. Seeing them do this, the Oldfield people merely
smiled kindly, as kind people do at young lovers anywhere--and sometimes
nodded at one another, thus silently saying that all was well, that this
was just as it should be. The very fact of these daily walks alone
together made everything perfectly open and clear. Even Miss Judy's
rigid scruples on the score of propriety gradually relaxed, as Doris and
Lynn went so openly and frankly from her side to stroll toward the
graveyard, day after day.

From time immemorial the graveyard had been the favorite trysting-place
of Oldfield lovers. Perhaps the graveyard of every far-off old village
always is the lovers' chosen resort. It is certainly nearly always the
most beautiful and the most retired spot, yet it is also usually close
by, for in death, as in life, humanity holds closer together in the
country than in town, and the dead are not laid so far from the living.
And then, to the young everywhere, death itself always seems so distant
that its earthly habitations have no real terrors. No sadness ever comes
to happy youth from the mere nearness to the Eternal Silence; nothing of
the Great Mystery, vast as the universe and inscrutable as life, ever
sounds for the happy young with the sighing of the wind over the long,
long, green, green grass growing only over country graves, the saddening
sound which older and less happy ears always hear. None of that
unutterable feeling of the pain of living, and the peace of dying, ever
wrings the hearts of happy lovers at the moan of the gentlest breeze
through the graveyard cedars, where it seems to those who are older and
sadder to moan as it never does elsewhere.

Certainly, neither of the two young people, sitting that day on the
rustic benches under the tallest cedar, either heard or thought of any
of these sad things. Lynn heard mainly the music of the mating birds,
and thought mostly of the exquisite curve of the fair cheek almost
touching his arm. It was so satiny in its smoothness, so velvety in its
softness, and so delicately tinted with the faint, yet warm, glow of
rich, rare red, which gleams out of the deep heart of a golden tea-rose.
And the glory of her wonderful hair! He felt, as he looked down upon her
radiant head, so close to his shoulder, that he had never realized how
wonderful its dazzling crown was, until he saw it now with the wondrous
light of the sunset re-gilding its fine gold, and with the south wind
ruffling its loveliness into more bewitching disorder. As he gazed, a
sudden gust leaped over the far green hilltops and lifted the wide brim
of her white hat, thus revealing the full beauty of her face.

Lynn saw it, with a sharp indrawing of his breath. A yearning so keen,
so deep and tender, as to cross the narrow border between pleasure and
pain, rushed into the young man's heart. It has been said what an ardent
lover of beauty he was. The feeling which swept over him now was the
yearning that every true lover of the beautiful feels at the sight of
great beauty: the hopeless desire to hold it forever unchanged--be it
the delicate flush on an exquisite cheek, which must go as quickly as it
comes, the freshness of a perfect flower which must fade with the rising
of the sun, or the miracle of the dawn which must soon vanish before the
noontide glare. Doris seemed to him Beauty's very self, to be worshipped
with all his beauty-worshipping soul, not merely a beautiful girl to be
loved with all his human young heart.

She wore that day a dress of faded pink muslin, very thin, very soft,
very scant, so that it clung close to her slender, supple form--a poor
old dress, so old that no one could remember whose it had been first.
The bodice opened daintily at the throat in the pretty old fashion known
as "surplice" to the Oldfield people; and on the glimpse of snow which
drifted between the modest edges of the opening--where the lily of her
fairness lay under the rose of the muslin ruffles, just where the sweet
curve of her throat melted into the lovely roundness of her bosom--there
nestled a little cross of jet held by a narrow band of black velvet,
tied around her neck and whitening its whiteness as jet whitens pearl.
Such a poor little ornament! Such a poor old dress! And yet the picture
that they made when Doris wore them!

Looking at her, Lynn knew well enough that he had but to loose his firm
hold upon himself ever so little, to love her as he might never be able
to love another woman. He never had seen, and never expected to see,
such beauty as this of Doris's, for the true lover of beauty knows its
rarity. And nothing else in the world so appealed to him; no charm of
mind, or heart, or spirit, could ever quite make up for the lack of it,
notwithstanding that he valued these qualities also, and held them
higher than thoughtless youth often holds them. And yet, despite his
frank recognition of the truth, he still had no thought of allowing
himself to love Doris Wendall. Perhaps, all unsuspected even by himself,
the instinct of the Brahmin was in him too; of a certainty, what is bred
in the bone is apt to come out in the flesh. But if this were true, if
he were influenced by any feeling of caste, he certainly did not suspect
it. He was not vain, with the common, harmless vanity of most young men;
nor was there in him any unbecoming pride of birth or position. He
thought that he was held back solely by his determination to let nothing
turn him from his life plans. He was wholly sincere in believing that he
was strong enough to stand firm, to keep himself from loving Doris, as
he knew he could love her. The thought that she might love him had never
crossed his mind. The thought of being able to win her was as far from
him as the thought of reaching out his arms to gather a star--so high
above all earthly things had his beauty-worship enshrined her.

"I wonder what you are thinking about," he said suddenly, that day, with
his eyes still on the curve of her cheek. "Of late I have begun to
believe that you don't any longer think Miss Judy's thoughts
exclusively," he went on, banteringly, in the freedom which now existed
between them. "More than once I have seen unmistakable signs of thoughts
of your own, thoughts which, moreover, were not in the least like Miss
Judy's."

Doris turned with a dimpling smile, and lifted her wide-open, frank
brown eyes to his darker ones. "You must not laugh at dear Miss Judy. I
never allow anybody to do that. I can only wish my thoughts were always
as good and sweet as hers."

"I haven't made any comparison. I've merely mentioned a difference,"
Lynn said, laughing teasingly, in the hope that the rare tinge of color
might linger longer on her fair cheek.

And yet, in a way, he had been quite in earnest in what he had said. It
was a fact that he had marked a great change in Doris, that he had come
gradually to see that a simple, sound strength of mind, a sort of
wholesome common sense, lay under her gentle purity as solid white rock
lies under a limpid brook.

"Well, it is quite true, I suppose, that Miss Judy never thought, in all
her life, of what I was thinking of just then, and what I have been
thinking of a great deal lately," Doris said, slowly, shyly, as if
approaching a difficult subject.

"And what is that? What were you thinking or dreaming of, when I
awakened you just now," the young man asked.

"I wasn't dreaming at all. I was wide awake. I was wondering how--" with
an effort, after a momentary hesitation, and in a tone so low that he
barely heard, "how a girl might earn a living for several persons--for a
whole family." And then, after a longer pause, a quick breath, and a
sudden deepening of the rare red of her cheek, "So that her mother need
not work so hard."

It was the first time that she had spoken to him of this secret wish, so
long cherished. She had, indeed, seldom mentioned her mother to him in
any manner whatever. The reserve was not in the least because she was
ashamed of her--such a feeling was unknown to Doris. She respected her
mother and loved her, knowing, as no one else could know, how good a
mother she was, how utterly unselfish, how absolutely upright, before
the perpetual necessity which drove her to earn the family's bread in
the only way that she knew. With her whole heart Doris loved and honored
her mother. But, alas! their tastes were so unlike, their thoughts were
so different, their whole lives were so far apart. And neither love nor
honor nor any other of all the tenderest, noblest feelings of the truest
heart, can ever bring together those whom cruel nature has set forever
apart. For it is one of the mysteries of the sorrow of living that the
deep rivers of many earnest lives are thus set to run side by side, and
yet forbidden ever to mingle from the beginning to the end; from the
unknown fountain of life to the unsounded sea of death.

Lynn had noticed more than once that a shadow fell over Doris's gentle
spirits whenever, on their strolls together, they caught a glimpse of
Sidney. It was usually in the distance that they saw her, going up or
down the big road, with her long, free, fearless step, her bonnet on the
back of her head, and her knitting-needles flying as she walked. For,
notwithstanding that Lynn had gone to her house almost daily now for
weeks past, she had managed, by hook or by crook,--as she would have
expressed it,--to hold to her original intention of keeping out of the
way, of giving him a fair field and no favor, as she said to herself.
Yet the young man had gathered, nevertheless, although he scarcely knew
how, a tolerably correct impression of the compelling personality of
Doris's mother. Little by little he had begun, consequently, to perceive
the unusual and contending influences which had made this beautiful girl
what she was; and the knowledge caused him to wonder what she would
become, now that she was beginning to be herself, now that the strong
forces of her own character were already in revolt.

He had also divined something of Doris's dislike of her mother's means
of earning a living; but he was still far from knowing how strong the
feeling was, or that it had grown with her growth, gradually and
steadily, until it had taken a great sudden leap--thus coming as close
to bitterness as her gentle nature could ever come--soon after she had
met himself. Nor had he observed that day, as they climbed the hillside
to the graveyard, that Doris had seen her mother far off and that a
shadow had fallen at once over the brightness of her innocent talk,
through which a soft gayety often shone as color gleams out of the
whiteness of the pearl.

"Do you know any girls who work? That is what I was thinking about," she
went on timidly, turning her eyes away and looking toward the hills
enfolding the valley; the near green hills beyond which she had never
been, the far empurpled hills rimming all that she knew of the world.

"_Do_ you know any working girls?" she repeated. "White girls, I mean,
of course. I was wondering--I thought that if so--perhaps you might know
what kind of work they do. The kind of work that might be done by a
young gentlewoman of good breeding."

It was quaintly charming to hear the last thing that Miss Judy would
have thought of, or dreamed of saying, so staidly uttered, in that
little lady's own prim manner and in that little lady's own
old-fashioned words. Lynn could not help smiling, although there was no
doubting Doris's earnestness, and notwithstanding that there was
something in her look and tone which touched him.

"I'll have to think," he said, half in jest and half in earnest. "No, on
the spur of the moment, I am almost sure that I don't know any working
girl who might be described in just those terms. There are doubtless
many working girls who are ladies, but they would scarcely be likely to
call themselves by such an antiquated name. They wouldn't even know
themselves by so antiquated a description."

She did not smile; silently, gravely, she turned her dark eyes on his
face; her own face was lovelier than ever in its wistfulness, and her
dark eyes softer than ever in their unconscious appeal.

"But I am in earnest," she persisted. "Have you ever known any--any
girl--like me--who worked?"

His eyes were grave too, now, and they were looking straight down into
hers. "I have known very few girls of any kind," he said gently. "And I
have never known one--in the least like you."

A rosy light, bright as the reflection of the sunset's glow, flashed
over her face and beamed from her eyes. She did not know why she
suddenly felt so happy. She bent down in sweet confusion and gathered a
handful of the long, green grass, and began braiding the emerald blades
with trembling fingers. Lynn watched her hands in the false security of
his own strength, heedless of the spell which they were innocently
weaving. He followed every movement of the little white fingers, so
delicately tapering and so exquisitely tipped with rose and pearl; and
he saw--as he saw all beauty--the rosy velvet of the soft little palms,
and then his greedy gaze roved further and fed upon the perfection of
the small feet which neither the poor little slippers nor the long grass
could hide. The intensity of his gaze unconsciously brought a sort of
nervous flutter into the little hands; the girl felt it, although she
was not thinking of it, and her hands dropped suddenly on her lap. Her
gaze, uplifted, met his again, helplessly entreating, almost with the
look of a frightened child groping its way through the dark.

"But there must be girls who work. I must find out what they do. I must
learn how to do it too--whatever it is. Won't you help me?"

Her lips were quivering and her eyes were full of tears.

"My dear child! Dear, dear Doris! How can I help you? You to enter the
arena to struggle with brutal gladiators for the spoils which belong to
the strongest and the fiercest? Help _you_ to do this--you soft, lovely,
tender little thing!"

He did not know that love thrilled in every tone of his voice, that
passion barbed his words, winging them straight home to the girl's
awakened heart. He did not know that--for her--love all at once shone
out of his eyes, dazzlingly, blindingly, as a great wide door opens
suddenly upon a chilly twilight, revealing all the alluring warmth, all
the glowing flame of the home firelight within.

"Dear little one," he went on, blindly, with infinite tenderness, "the
only work appointed for one like you is to make a paradise out of a
home. A woman like you was created to be carried over life's rough
places in a good man's strong arms. There is only one place in the world
for you. Only one--only the warm, sweet corner of the household fire,
safe behind the heads of children."

Doris was leaning toward him with her transparent face upturned, and he
saw a sudden tender light tremble over its sweetness as dawning sunbeams
run over rippling water, and--startled, fascinated, awed--he watched its
deepening wonder, its growing radiance, its wondrous illumination, as
the white curtain fell away from the lighted shrine of a spotless soul.
There now followed an instant's tense waiting, with the girl's rose-red
lips apart and a-quiver; with the starry darkness of her eyes softly
aglow, as the evening star glows through the warm twilight; with her
exquisite face sensitively alight, as the spring's tender new leaves
stir, and dimple, and shimmer under a sudden shower of golden
sunlight,--and then swiftly a shadow fell, as a wind-swept cloud covers
the sun, sweeping all the quivering sunbeams out of sight.

Unexpectedly as a swallow darts downward, Doris bent to gather up the
forgotten braid of long green grass. Lifting it with a queer little
laugh, she held it out to him with a movement which was almost mocking
and wholly unlike her gentle self. Her dark eyes, grown suddenly very
bright, seemed actually to be laughing at him.

"Is this the kind of braids that the mermaids wear hanging down their
backs?" she said, lightly. "No, I remember that their locks of seaweed
flow loose, but I am sure that they are no greener than this."

He took the braid and stared at it unseeingly, as if it had been in
truth some such marvel as a mermaid's hair. He did not see that she
hardly knew what she was saying. In a crisis such as this it is nearly
always the woman who first recovers herself, no matter how young and
innocent she may be, nor how wise the man in the ways of the world. And
Lynn Gordon was young, too, and far from being wise--almost as far as
Doris Wendall was. He knew little of women; he had not had experience to
teach him the subtlety of the simplest feminine creature; he had
forgotten for the moment that even the dove is artful enough to lure
danger away from her love secret.

He himself was agitated, confused, perplexed, and, most distinctly and
painfully of all, he was wounded by a vague sense of injury--really hurt
by a feeling that Doris had trifled with him, that she had not met his
sincerity with the earnestness which he felt that he had a right to
expect. He had spoken from his very heart; he had meant every word that
he had said,--meant it as tenderly and as truly as the fondest, most
faithful of elder brothers could speak to the most well-beloved of
sisters. And yet Doris had turned from him carelessly, almost
floutingly, with this light, meaningless talk about the mermaid's hair.
In offended, wounded silence he gave the braided grass again into her
hand, and she took it laughingly, and looked at it absently for a
moment,--at this long, long, green, green grass springing from human
dust,--and then she tossed it into the air so that the wind caught it,
bore it a little way, and, tiring, softly laid it down on a tombstone,
thus giving back its own to the dead.

Doris stood up, and the breeze bent the faded muslin about her slender
young body in longer and more enchanting curves. She pointed, still
smiling, to the purple clouds now pinnacling the west, and said that it
was time to be going homeward. As they went down the grassy path which
wound around the hillside, she talked quietly of indifferent things,
much as she always did, somewhat less at random, perhaps, yet with all
the accustomed gentleness and kindness and brightness and sweetness.

So that, although Lynn had little to say in response, his composure came
back and his feeling of injury went away. By the time they had reached
the silver poplars, dulled under the falling dusk, the chill had
entirely passed, and happiness again warmed his honest heart. For such
is the foolishness of love that knoweth not itself. For such a dull
fellow is this giant Ambition, who must ever be vanquished by Love, the
boy.



XVIII

AN EMBARRASSING ACCIDENT


The fluttering of Miss Judy's heart still kept her from fixing a day for
the tea-party, anxious as she was to do so. Certain small domestic
irregularities also interfered with her plan. For some time past she had
been much disturbed and perplexed by Merica's disappearing at unusual
hours and in a most unaccountable manner, so that her simple and
methodical household affairs had lately become gravely disordered.

On the morning after she had seen Doris and Lynn returning through the
fragrant dusk from their visit to the graveyard, she felt so happy and
strong that she resolved to give the tea-party on the following day, no
matter how her heart might misbehave. It was really silly, as she said
to Miss Sophia, to give up important things merely because your heart
tried, every now and then, to jump out of your mouth and sometimes would
hardly beat at all. It was so silly that she did not intend to do it any
longer. But on going to the kitchen, in order to put her plans in motion
at once, she was dismayed to find Merica missing, as she had been very
often of late. Miss Judy saw, too, that the fire had not been kindled
behind the gooseberry bushes; that not a single spiral of blue smoke
arose above the thick green screen. She consequently began worrying in
her mild way, wondering where Merica could be, and what the girl could
mean by such unheard-of neglect of duty, especially on Monday morning.
Hurrying around the house, the little lady went to the gate and looked
anxiously up and down the big road. No one was in sight except Tom
Watson, sitting in his accustomed place; but the sight of him always
brought Miss Judy to an humble and almost frightened sense of her own
mercies. She shook her head, and then bent it reverently, making with
her little hand an unconscious gesture, which called up thoughts of the
sign of the cross.

Ashamed to be worrying over such a small matter with Tom Watson's
affliction in view, she forgot all about Merica, and, following her
instinct to do something for those who were suffering, she went into the
house to hold a consultation with Miss Sophia as to whether they had
anything which they might send to Tom Watson, since they could do
nothing else for him.

"There's that pretty tender little head of late lettuce," said Miss
Judy, tentatively. "I am afraid, though, that Tom won't care much about
it, but I can't think of anything else. And it's only to show our
sympathy, anyway," she pleaded, seeing the reluctance in Miss Sophia's
face and misunderstanding its meaning. "It would really make quite a
picture if we were to put it on mother's best china plate, the one with
the wreath of roses. And it would please poor Anne, whether poor Tom
notice or not."

So busy was Miss Judy by this time, bustling about, preparing the little
offering, that she hardly observed Merica's sudden reappearance, and did
not think to hold her to an accounting for her absence. Merely telling
her to make haste in starting the fire behind the gooseberry bushes, so
that she might run across the big road with the plate of lettuce as soon
as possible, Miss Judy thought only of giving pleasure to her neighbors.
When the rose-wreathed green gift was ready the girl said, rather
sullenly, that she did not see how she could be taking things to
everybody all over the neighborhood and watching the boiling of the
clothes at the same time, Miss Judy replied gently, though with a vivid
blush, that she herself would watch the wash-kettle. This was an
unpleasant task which the little lady had rarely attempted, but now she
bravely entered upon it without flinching.

The white mysteries of the wash-kettle were by this time thickly veiled
by a snowy cloud of steam. Its contents, boiling furiously, lifted big
bubbles dangerously close to the dry, hot edge of the great black
kettle. Miss Judy gingerly took up the wet stick which Merica had laid
down, and timidly tried to push the bubbles away; but the harder her
weak little hand pushed, the higher and bigger the bubbles arose.
Frightened, and not knowing what else to do, Miss Judy knelt beside the
steaming caldron, looking amid the smoke and steam like some pretty
little witch working some good incantation, and tremblingly drew one of
the blazing brands from beneath the kettle. As she moved the brand, a
fountain of sparks from it shot upward, to come showering down, and one
of these fell upon the biggest and whitest of the bubbles. Miss Judy saw
this as it settled, and, although the kettle's contents were an
indistinguishable, foaming mass, she knew instinctively that it was not
one of Miss Sophia's or one of her own garments, which had been burned.
She sank down on Merica's stool, near the gray border of spice pinks,
with her limbs shaking so that she could not stand, and her heart
beating as it had never beaten before or since the night of the fright.
When she could move to get up, she crept over to the kettle and firmly
pushed the black spot out of sight. But she said nothing to Merica about
it, when the maid returned, more sour and sullen than she had gone away.
In silence and dejection Miss Judy went back to the house, and tried to
think what was best to do. Ordinarily she turned to Miss Sophia for
advice in trouble or perplexity, resting with perfect trust upon the
counsel which she thought she received. But this serious accident, which
must distress her sister, she now locked in her own bosom. Had Lynn
Gordon's shirts been ordinary shirts she felt that the matter would have
been very much simpler. By severer economy, she thought that she might
possibly have been able to buy him a new garment; although it was hard
even for Miss Judy to see how the economy which they practised could be
severer than it always was. But the little pension for their father's
military services would not be due for another six months, and,
moreover, Miss Judy would not have known where or how to get the costly,
mysterious garment had she had the money, or how to find the fine tucks
and the finer embroidery, which she had admired so greatly, though
secretly, of course. She knew how fine the needle-work was, because she
herself had been an expert needle-woman in the days when her blue eyes
were stronger. For a moment a wild hope of copying the burned shirt, of
working the same little rim of delicate tracery around the button holes,
darted thrillingly across her troubled mind; but in another instant it
was dismissed--wholly gone--with a sigh. She remembered, blushingly,
that she had once heard Sidney say that the Queen of Sheba could not
make a shirt that the King of Sheba would wear. Miss Judy did not
remember ever having read in the Scriptures anything about the King of
Sheba, but she had confidence in Sidney's opinions of a good many
matters which she felt herself to be no judge of. No, there was plainly
nothing to be done, except to darn the hole as neatly as possible, and
to tell Lynn the simple truth. Luckily, Miss Judy had reason to believe
that the injury had not been to the splendid, embroidered, tucked, and
ruffled bosom. She blushed again more vividly--and then she turned very
white as a sudden thought stabbed her like a dagger. Ah, the poor little
heart! It was fluttering indeed now, and beating its soft wings like a
caged wild bird.

The effect of the accident upon Doris's prospects--that was the dread
which suddenly struck terror to Miss Judy's heart! What would the young
gentleman and his worldly, critical grandmother think, when they thus
knew that she and Miss Sophia were aware of what was going on behind the
gooseberry bushes? Up to this crisis the means by which Merica earned
the larger portion of her wages had seemed so distinctly apart from Miss
Judy's own affairs, that she had felt no personal concern about it,
beyond an occasional and passing embarrassment. Now, however, the matter
became, all at once, widely different. How could she offer Doris the
disrespect of making an explanation? Come what would that must be
avoided, for Doris's dear sake, let the cost be what it may. A few
gentle tears trickled down Miss Judy's cheeks as she sat patiently
darning Miss Sophia's stockings, while the latter rocked and nodded,
observing nothing unusual.

Many fanciful, impractical schemes flitted through Miss Judy's mind,
rather sadly at first, but gradually turning toward her natural
hopefulness. The end of her thoughts now, as always, was self-sacrifice,
and the sparing of others, her sister and Doris above all. If the worst
came to the worst, she could get the doctor to buy a new garment; he
would know what to get and where to get it,--he would even loan her the
money if she were forced to borrow. Meantime, with innate optimism, she
was hoping for the best, relying upon being able to mend the burned
hole, which might not be so large or so black, after all. Miss Judy's
cheerful spirit could no more be held down by ill luck than an
unweighted cork can be kept under water. When she laid her little head
beside Miss Sophia's that night, her brain was still busily turning ways
and means. If the severest economy became necessary, her sister still
need not know. Once before (when their father's funeral expenses were to
be met), she had been entirely successful in keeping the straits to
which they were reduced from Miss Sophia's knowledge. Fortunately that
hard time had come in the winter, and a turkey sent them by Colonel
Fielding as a Christmas present stayed hard frozen, except as it was
cooked, a piece at a time, for Miss Sophia, till the whole immense
turkey had been eaten in sections by that unsuspecting lady. Miss Judy
chuckled in triumph, lying there in the darkness, remembering how artful
she had been in keeping Miss Sophia from observing that she herself had
not tasted the turkey, and of her deep diplomacy in merely allowing Miss
Sophia to think it a fresh one, every now and then, without telling an
actual fib. It was warm weather now, to be sure, which made a
difference--and poor Colonel Fielding could send no more presents, but
the way would open nevertheless, somehow; dear Miss Judy was always sure
that the way would open. No matter how severely they might have to
economize in order to spare Doris a great mortification, Miss Sophia
need not be deprived of her few comforts. And it was for this, to spare
her sister, that Miss Judy resolved to remain silent, much as she valued
Miss Sophia's advice. In the darkness of the big old room a little thin
hand reached out and softly patted Miss Sophia's broad back with a
protecting tenderness, full of the true mother-love.

At midnight Miss Judy arose, and creeping cautiously from her sister's
side, noiselessly crossed the big, dark room, a ghostly little white
figure. It was not hard to find her thimble, needles and thread, and her
father's near-by spectacles, even in the darkness, since everything in
that orderly old house was always in the same place; and when she had
found them, she softly took up the candle and matches from the chair
beside the pillow, and with her trembling hands thus filled, she stole
across the passage toward the parlor. She opened the door as stealthily
as any expert burglar, and closed it behind her without the faintest
creak. Then, softly putting down the other things, she lighted the
candle, and shading it with a shaking hand, looked around for the basket
of rough-dry clothes, which, for privacy more than for any other reason,
was always put in the parlor over night between washing and ironing. The
stiffness with which some of the well-starched garments asserted
themselves rather daunted Miss Judy when she first caught sight of them.
Nevertheless, she went resolutely on, and soon found what she sought.
She blushed as she gingerly drew it from among the rest, the delicate
color tinting her whole sweet face, from its pretty chin to its silver
frame of flossy curls. Turning the shirt over, she gave an unconscious
sigh of relief to find how small the burned place really was. Burned it
was, however, and she threaded her smallest needle with her finest
thread and set about darning it then and there, with infinite patience
and exquisite skill. As she worked, sitting on a low footstool beside
the great basket, with the candle flickering upon a chair (such a
pretty, pathetic little figure!) her thread involuntarily wrought
delicate embroidery. While she thus wrought, she wished that she knew
where gentlemen usually had their monograms embroidered on garments of
this description. She could not remember ever having seen any on her
father's--and she had never seen anybody else's, she remembered,
suddenly blushing again. Yet she could not help feeling a little bashful
pride in her handiwork. She even held it up and looked at it critically,
with her curly head in its quaint little nightcap on one side,--like a
bird listening to its own song,--before putting the garment back in the
basket exactly where she had found it, as a measure of precaution
against Merica's observing any change and gossiping about it. Every care
must be taken on Doris's account. And then this being secure, Miss Judy
blew out the candle and stole like a shadow back to her place by her
sleeping sister, and lay down with a last sigh of relief; feeling to
have done the best she could for her, for Doris, and for Lynn. She did
not think of herself.

With her mind thus temporarily at rest, she soon fell asleep and dreamed
a radiant vision of Doris. There was some new and wondrous glory around
the girl's beautiful head, but Miss Judy could not make out what it was,
though she gazed through the sweet mist of her soft dream with all her
loving heart in her eager eyes. There also seemed to be some wonderful
little white thing in Doris's lovely arms, resting on her breast as a
bud rests against a rose; and as the light shone brighter and brighter
over the rose-clouds of the silvery dream, Miss Judy saw that the rays
about the girl's head were the aureole of motherhood.

"How strange our dreams are," she said to Miss Sophia, smiling and
blushing, while they were engaged in the usual polite conversation over
their frugal breakfast. "We dream of things we never thought of."

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, who never dreamt at all
unless she had the nightmare.

But the feeling of causeless happiness with which Miss Judy awakened on
that morning passed by degrees into a renewed sense of uneasiness. The
sound of Merica's irons banging in the kitchen appeared to arouse
scruples which had merely slumbered through the night. Was it, after
all, ever right to do wrong to one person in order to benefit another,
even though the injured might never know of the injury? So she wondered
in new alarm. It was the first time in Miss Judy's simple, gentle,
unselfish life that she had been fronted by this common question, which
fronts most of us sooner or later and more or less often; and she knew
even less how to meet it than do those who meet it more frequently.
Deeply troubled, hopelessly perplexed, she silently debated the right
and the wrong of what she had done and was doing, through all the long
hours of that peaceful summer day. It would have comforted her greatly
to have asked Miss Sophia's advice, but she felt that any knowledge of
the accident, however remote, must be distressing, and she still spared
her in this as in everything else.

"Don't you think, sister Sophia, that many of poor Becky's mistakes came
from not knowing just what was right? It isn't always easy for any of us
to tell. We can't be so much to blame--when we are unable to see our
way," she said, after a long silence, hanging wistfully upon Miss
Sophia's reply.

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, with such decisive
firmness as made Miss Judy feel for the moment that there could be no
uncertainty; that it surely must be as Miss Sophia said.

But the sight of Doris and Lynn strolling by on their daily walk set the
balance wavering again. She felt the constraint in her own manner while
she chatted with them over the gate. She saw the wondering and somewhat
anxious gaze which Doris fixed upon her, and she tried to laugh and
speak naturally. But in spite of all that she could do, the uneasy sense
of wrong-doing grew steadily. She had not before fully realized how fine
the young man's linen was--till she guiltily regarded it over the gate.
Its very fineness and the number of its tucks filled her with a
conviction of guilt toward him. She was strongly tempted to call the
young couple back and make a clean breast of it. Then the fear of some
possible humiliation of Doris held her from it. So that she went on,
sorely troubled, still turning the matter this way and that, till a
sudden thought gave her a fresh shock of fear. When the young man saw
the darned place, as he was bound to do some time or other, he would be
sure to think it Merica's doing. There could be no two sides to the
right or wrong of allowing _that_ to happen. Quite in a panic now,
fairly driven into a corner, from which there was no escape, Miss Judy
sprang up, and rushed out to stop the doctor, who chanced to be passing
at that very moment.

He got down from his horse and came up to the fence, throwing the bridle
over his arm, always willing and glad to have a word with Miss Judy, no
matter how weary he might be. He saw at once that she was deeply
agitated, and that her blue eyes were full of tears. A country doctor of
the noblest type--as this one was--is the tower of strength on which
many a community leans. He touches most of the phases of life, perhaps;
certainly he comes in contact with every phase of his own environment.
He is, therefore, seldom to be taken completely by surprise, however
strange a story he may hear. Yet Dr. Alexander now looked at Miss Judy
for a moment in utter bewilderment after she had poured out hers; his
thoughts--astonishment, amusement, sympathy, understanding, and, above
all, affection--coming out by turns on his rugged, open face, like rough
writing on parchment.

"God bless my soul!" he said. "Who ever heard of such a thing! My dear,
dear little lady! Why, you'd do that young jackanapes the honor of his
life if you burnt his shirt off his back!"

Miss Judy blushed and showed how shocked she was at such loud and
indelicate mention of such an intimate article of clothing.

"But I am really in great trouble," she urged gently, her eyes filling
again. "If you would only tell Lynn, doctor. It seems an indelicate
thing for a lady to speak of to a gentleman. If you would only break it
to him, and explain to him how it happened, and that Merica was not to
blame--and--and that Doris knew nothing--nothing in the world--about
Merica's business."

"Of course I'll tell him," the doctor agreed heartily. "I'll tell him
every word that you've told me," he said, mounting his tired old horse,
which was almost as tired as he was himself. "And let the young rascal
so much as crack a single smile, if he dares;" the doctor added to
himself, as he rode off, looking back and carrying his shabby hat in his
big hand, as long as he could see the quaint, pathetic little figure
standing at the gate.



XIX

INVOKING THE LAW


That night the little lady slept the sweet sleep of a tender conscience,
set wholly at rest by a full confession. Old lady Gordon also rested
well, after having taken some drops out of the bag hanging at the head
of her bed, thus settling an uncommonly hearty supper. So that neither
of the ladies either heard or dreamed of a drama which was being enacted
that same night under the dark of the moon, and which threatened to turn
into a tragedy with the light of the next morning.

It was true--as has been said before--that old lady Gordon had known all
along of the trouble brewing between her own cook and Miss Judy's maid
of all work. She had also observed the growing fierceness of their
rivalry for the heart and hand of her gardener and coachman, Enoch
Cotton, but she had not, even yet, thought of interfering, since the
affair had progressed without the slightest interference with her own
comfort. She had merely laughed a little, as she always did at any
candid display of the weakness of human nature; though she had
incidentally given Eunice a characteristic word of advice.

"Don't make any more of a fool of yourself than you can help, Eunice,"
old lady Gordon said, with careless scorn. "You're going about this
matter in the wrong way. Stop all this foolery, all this quarrelling and
fighting, and stop it now--right off the reel, too. And I'll give you a
big red feather for your hat. One red feather is worth more than any
number of fights,--for getting a man back."

Eunice thanked her and accepted the present in dignified silence, but
without saying what she herself thought of it as an antidote for man's
inconstancy to woman, and her mistress had no means of knowing whether
she ever really tried it or not. In fact, the whole matter passed out of
old lady Gordon's mind as an unimportant incident which had amused her
for a moment. And there was nothing to recall it, the warning which she
had let fall having made Eunice more than ever cautious in keeping out
of her mistress's sight all sign or sound of what was going on.

Thus it was that the danger grew quietly and in darkness, utterly
unknown to everybody except the three dusky persons most closely
concerned. It had long been unsafe for Merica to come into Eunice's
kitchen, and it now became dangerous for her even to venture inside the
back gate, when coming for the young master's clothes or taking them
home. Eunice was the very soul of frankness with all save her mistress,
the only human being of whom she ever stood in awe. She accordingly made
no sort of mystery of her intentions to any one else; on the contrary,
she told Enoch Cotton, in the plainest language at her command, just
what she meant to do:--

"Ef ever dat reg'lar ebo darst set her hoof over dat doo' sill agin!"

And Enoch knew that she meant what she said, and that she would do it,
whatever it was. The only doubt was as to the meaning of "ebo." The term
may have been merely an abbreviation of ebony and nothing worse than a
slur upon Merica's complexion. And yet it can hardly have been anything
quite so simple and harmless, if only for the reason that Eunice was the
blacker of the two rivals--if there be degrees in blackness; and,
moreover, Eunice's way of using the word really made it sound like the
very worst thing that one colored person could possibly say against
another. At any rate, Enoch Cotton felt that the crisis was come, and he
warned Merica, as any honorable man--regardless of the color of his
skin--stands bound to guard, so far as he can, the girl whom he means to
marry in the uncertain event of his being able to escape the widow who
means to marry him. Merica was a little frightened at first, and she
readily agreed to Enoch Cotton's elaborate plan of fetching the young
master's clothes to the althæa hedge every Monday morning at sunup, and
of handing them to her there over the fence, shielded from Eunice's
argus eyes by the thick dusty foliage and the dull purple flowers. The
girl also consented to her lover's waiting at the hedge every Tuesday
evening at sundown to take the clothes when she fetched them back and
handed them to him, under shelter of the leafy screen. Eunice saw Enoch
Cotton going and coming, and knew full well what these manoeuvres
meant; but the althæa hedge stood directly in front of her mistress's
window, so that Eunice could only bide her time, in masterly inactivity,
bound hand and foot to the burning rack of jealousy. Most bitterly
trying of all was the fact that at night--and every night--while she was
still busy in ministering to her mistress's wants, Enoch Cotton nearly
always disappeared, and, try as she would, she could not learn whither
he went.

In the rear of Miss Judy's garden, close to a secluded corner, was a
half-leaning, half-fallen heap of butter-bean poles, rankly covered with
vines. That little lady called it a bower, and thought it very pretty
indeed. She had been somewhat disappointed at first when her
butter-beans ran all to vines and did not bear at all. She had expected
a good deal of those butter-beans; they had been so nice and fat and
white when she planted them, and they had doubled out of the earth in
such thick loops of luscious whiteness when they first came up. She had
indeed told Miss Sophia that she thought there would be enough
butter-beans to exchange for two (and maybe three) pairs of stockings,
which Miss Sophia had needed for some time; possibly there might be so
many that she herself could have a pair. But when the vines utterly
failed to bear, and did nothing but riot in rank and tangled greenness
over the bending, falling poles, Miss Judy consoled Miss Sophia and
comforted herself by observing how very pretty and romantic the bower
was. And when she observed, later in the summer, that Merica had formed
a habit of going to sit in the bower every night, as soon as the day's
work was done, she was quite consoled.

"Sitting there all alone must surely tame her in a measure, poor thing,"
Miss Judy said to Miss Sophia. "It would benefit all of us to have more
time for quiet reflection. Think of the difference it must have made to
Becky if she hadn't been so driven."

Accordingly Miss Judy was delicately careful to keep away from the
bower, for fear of disturbing Merica's reflections. Eunice had never
approached it nor even suspected its existence, thinking, when she
noticed it at all, that the green tangle of vines was a mere neglected
heap of butter-bean poles. Her ceaseless, fruitless search had
heretofore always been turned toward the dark windows of Merica's
deserted kitchen and cabin. And thus it was that the girl in comparative
safety awaited her lover's coming night after night, under the dark of
the moon or after its going down, as the savage women of her tribe must
have awaited their warrior lovers in the deepest jungles of Africa.
Nevertheless, Merica's heart was the heart of her feminine type all the
world over, within and without civilization. With her, as with all her
kind, to love and be loved was not enough; the other woman must see and
know, before her triumph could be entirely complete. In vain Enoch
Cotton pleaded and protested, and even tried again to frighten her.
Every word that he uttered only made her the more determined to parade
her victory openly, in utter disdain of all restraint, in unbounded
contempt of all concealment. What was there for her to be afraid of? she
demanded. Was she not younger than Eunice and better-looking and several
shades lighter in color? And was not her hair ever so much straighter
than Eunice's, when freshly combed out on a Sunday, after being tightly
plaited in very small plaits and carefully wrapped with string through
the whole week? Finally, she and her lover came so close to a violent
quarrel that he dared not say anything more; and although Merica ceased
urging the point, she was fully resolved to overthrow the screen of the
althæa hedge, to scorn its protection, at the earliest opportunity. This
came sooner than she hoped for, on the evening following the accident
when the fatal spark had fallen upon the wash-kettle's biggest, dryest
bubble. Enoch, gravely alarmed, was waiting as usual in the shelter of
the althæa hedge, but she passed him boldly, leaving him trembling with
fear and gray with terror; and, marching fearlessly up to the kitchen
door with a challenging giggle, she thrust the basket of clean clothes
through it and under Eunice's very nose. Then she turned deliberately
and flaunted off, with a loud laugh of scornful, mocking defiance.

For an instant the black widow was daunted, overwhelmed, dumfounded,
utterly routed, by the brown girl's unexpected and brazen audacity. She
could do nothing at first but stand glaring after her in dumb, powerless
fury. Enoch had disappeared as though he had sunk into the earth; as
more self-possessed and more courageous men have done under similar
circumstances. Eunice, thus left alone, could only gather her
self-possession gradually, as best she could, and try to think, and
think, and think. She still kept perfectly quiet; there was not one
outward sign of the turmoil of her fierce spirit. She thought and waited
till night came on, and until her mistress had gone to bed, and even
until she felt sure that old lady Gordon was sound asleep. And then, led
by the blind instinct which leads the wild animal through the trackless
forest in search of its mate, Eunice stealthily opened the door of her
solitary cabin, and noiselessly went forth. She crossed the shadowed
orchard through the soundless darkness, a black and terrible shape of
vengeance, and crept softly, her bare, heavy feet padding like the paws
of a tiger, on and on, straight to the bower.

What happened then only the rivals ever knew. Enoch Cotton himself did
not know. He fled at the first onslaught, as braver and whiter men have
done under the same desperate and hopeless conditions; he--and
they--could do nothing else; could not prevent the conflict, and could
not take part. Enoch could only take refuge in instantaneous and
wordless flight.

Neither Eunice nor Merica had ever a word to say of what transpired
after Enoch was gone and they were left alone to have their wild,
furious will of each other. The wrecked bower, of which hardly one pole
remained upon another or one vine clung untorn from the others, silently
told a part of the story. Eunice's face looked like a red map of darkest
Africa, and Merica's face was much mottled by deep blue bruises; Eunice
limped about her work on the following morning, and Merica cooked
breakfast with one hand, having the other in a sling. And still, oddly
enough, neither Eunice nor Merica bore herself quite as the victorious
nor yet quite as the vanquished. There was, in truth, an air of tense
uncertainty on both sides. Nowadays, everybody would know what was to
follow under such circumstances; both sides nowadays would make
instantaneous and vociferous appeal to the law as soon as the court was
open. But things were different then, and this special case was
peculiarly complicated. Eunice was a slave and had consequently no
clearly discernible individual rights or privileges under the law.
Merica on the other hand was free, and this fact, while placing her
socially far beneath Eunice, gave her, nevertheless, certain rights
before the courts which her rival as a slave could not enjoy.
Accordingly it was with pride and satisfaction unspeakable that Merica
set out, unobserved, soon after breakfast, to do what Eunice fully
expected her to do, which was, to swear out a warrant for Eunice's
arrest. This legal formula was, however, known to Eunice and to Merica,
as it is known to most litigants of their race to-day, as a
"have-his-carcass," which sounds to be a much larger and a much graver
thing. Having, then, seen this document safe in the constable's hand,
and having been duly assured of its prompt service, Merica went home as
quietly as she had come away, and slid unseen through a hole in the
fence, soothed by the completeness of the legal victory which she
foresaw, and which could not fail to make her the admired and envied of
all her race, which then found--as it still finds--a strange distinction
in any sort of legal recognition, either good or bad.

The officer nevertheless took his own time in serving the warrant. It
was not the Oldfield way to hurry over the doing of anything. Moreover,
he had, perhaps, had a rather wide experience of colored quarrels,
notwithstanding the fact that they were brought into court much more
rarely at that period than they have been since. And then, no one,
however daring or energetic, ever hastened under any circumstances to
interfere with the old lady Gordon's affairs. Was it not known--as has
been related--that when Alvarado himself dashed along the big road and
everybody else drove into the fence-corner till he went by, old lady
Gordon always kept straight along the middle of the big road, and it was
Alvarado that went round. Bearing this recollection in mind, the
constable strolled very slowly down the highway toward the Gordon place,
and he was glad to catch sight of Eunice in the garden, gathering
vegetables for dinner. It was better than finding her nearer her
mistress. He laid his hands on the top of the garden fence and swung
himself over the pickets.

"Good morning, Eunice," he said, walking toward her between the tall
rows of yellow-flowering okra, from which she was picking tender green
pods, for a delicious soup which only herself knew the recipe for.

"Good morning, Mr. Jim," responded Eunice, calmly. She knew at once what
he had come for. There was a nice distinction in her calling him "Mr.
Jim," rather than "Marse Jim," a subtle social distinction which was
quite as clear to the constable as to herself, and one which he did not
like.

"I've got a warrant here for your arrest for attempted murder," he
accordingly said somewhat less mildly. "You'll have to come along with
me to jail."

"Yes, sir," answered Eunice, respectfully, but adding calmly, as if
stating an accepted and unalterable fact: "Yes, sir, but in course I'll
have to ask Miss Frances first. I can't stop a-gathering her vegetables
while the dew's on 'em--lessen _she_ say so. You know that, Mr. Jim,
just as well as I do. Miss Frances's vegetables ain't to be left
a-layin' round to swivel in the sun--no, sir, they ain't!"

The officer hesitated; he took off his rough straw hat, and looked for a
moment as if he meant to scratch his head. But remembering the dignity
of office, he fanned himself instead. "Well, come on up to the house,
then, and I'll speak to your mistress," he said, with more composure
than he felt.

They turned toward the house, the officer leading the way, and Eunice
walking in her proper place behind him, carrying in her large, clean,
white apron the okra, the beets, the cucumbers, and tomatoes, and all
the other fresh and good, green and red things which she had already
gathered for the daily noontide feast.

Old lady Gordon's keen eyes caught a glimpse of the constable and the
cook a long way off; and she hailed them sharply as soon as they were
within hearing: "What's this? What are you doing, Eunice? What are _you_
here for, Jim, at this time of day?"

The officer, a good-looking, good-humored young giant, bared his head
with an embarrassed smile. He made a brief explanation, turning his hat
in his awkward hands, and resting his huge bulk first on one foot and
then on the other.

Old lady Gordon hardly allowed him to finish what he found to say, which
was very little. "Now, what's the use of your telling me any such
nonsense as that, Jim Slocum? You know I'm not going to let you come
here, interfering with my cook's getting my dinner."

"Yes, ma'am," said Jim, deferentially. "I do hate to inconvenience you,
ma'am. But you see, ma'am, there's the law and here's the warrant. I'm
bound to do what the law requires--I'll have to serve it."

"Indeed, you won't do anything of the kind! Who ever heard of such
impudence!" exclaimed old lady Gordon. "The very idea! Taking my cook
away from getting my dinner to lock her up in jail! Upon my word, Jim
Slocum, I thought you had some sense. But I'm not going to allow you to
annoy me or get me stirred up on a warm morning like this. I'm not even
going to discuss the matter. Just you run along now, Jim, that's a good
fellow, and let Eunice alone--she's busy--and don't bother me any more."

She settled herself back in her wide, low chair, and began to wave the
turkey-wing fan with one hand, turning the leaves of her novel with the
other.

"But you see, ma'am, it's a mighty grave charge, attempted murder,--the
state--"

"Grave fiddlesticks!" retorted old lady Gordon, looking up from her
novel with real fire blazing now in her fine dark eyes. "The state!"
with infinite scorn. "What difference would it make to me if it were the
United States? I tell you I won't have another word!"

Her raised voice, the lower tone of the officer's mild, but firm,
persistence, the hurried gathering and smothered whispering of the
servants around the windows and doors, all these combined had finally
attracted the attention of Lynn Gordon, who was absorbed in reading in
his own room overhead, and he now came hurrying downstairs. Entering his
grandmother's room, he looked in surprise at the group which he found
there; at her, at the constable, and lastly at Eunice, who had stood
quietly by throughout the whole controversy with the manner of a coolly
disinterested spectator. The officer turned eagerly to Lynn with the
relief that every man feels upon the entrance of another man into a
difficult business transaction with women.

"Maybe you can persuade your grandmother to let Eunice go," the
constable said, addressing him, when a few words had made the matter
clear to Lynn. "It is really the quickest way to get her cook back. The
county judge is in town; I saw him tying his horse to the tavern
hitching-post as I passed coming down here. He'd hurry up the case and
get it over in no time to accommodate your grandma, being as they're
kinder kin--him and your grandma's folks."

"Mr. Slocum is right, grandmother. That is certainly the quickest way,
and the easiest," Lynn said. "Let Eunice go and I'll defend her; I'll
take her as my first case,--shall I?" he added smilingly, looking at old
lady Gordon.

"I don't care what any of you do, so long as you let me alone and have
Eunice back here in time to get my dinner. What have you been up to,
anyway?" she said, suddenly turning to Eunice as if the nature of the
charge had just occurred to her for the first time. "Well, you'd better
be back in plenty of time to boil that blackberry roll, that's all I've
got to say to you. Lynn, send somebody to tell Davy,--that's the judge,
Judge Thompson,--to tell Davy Thompson that I would be much obliged if
he would go to the court-house at once and get this bother over, so that
Eunice may be back within an hour. Please ask him to take the trouble to
hurry; tell him I asked it. Send Enoch Cotton--where is Enoch, anyway?"
she said, glancing over the assemblage of black masks crowding the
windows and doors.

Enoch--naturally enough--was not to be found then nor for hours
afterward, but another servant was despatched running in his stead; and
then the procession moved briskly out through the side gate and on up
the big road toward the court-house. Eunice walked behind the officer as
manners required, but there was nothing abject in her carriage. She held
her head high, feeling glad that she happened to be wearing her gayest
bandanna head-handkerchief and that her white apron was still spotlessly
clean. Hers was an imposing figure, and she knew it, and consequently
bore herself with dignified pride. Her friends, too, began to flock
around her as the procession advanced, thus swelling the crowd; and the
white people living along the big road came to the doors and windows of
their houses to see what was going on.

From the opposite direction approached a much larger and longer
procession, headed by Merica, fairly flamboyant in an ecstasy of
triumph, and tailed by dusky ragged figures, some of them little black
children, trailing in the distance, indistinct as a smoky antique
frieze. Merica's forces largely outnumbered Eunice's, as the attacking
army nearly always outnumbers the defending force. Merica came marching
at the very forefront, as if to the throb of inaudible drums and to the
waving of invisible banners. Eunice trod more slowly, as the garrison
goes cautiously to man the walls.

There was one tense, dangerous moment when the opposing forces met at
the court-house steps; but the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the
prisoner's counsel chanced, luckily, to arrive at the same instant, so
that, owing to their restraining presence, the danger passed with no
greater violence than an exchange of threatening glances between the
contending parties. Side by side the furious factions crowded into the
small court-room, and straightway the examining trial of Eunice for
attempted murder was then and there begun, without an instant's delay.

And yet everything was done decently and in order. It was a complete
surprise to the defence to find that the assault which had taken place
in the butter-bean bower was entirely ignored in the indictment. The
charge was that Eunice had put poison in the well from which Merica drew
water, thereby attempting to kill, to murder, and to do deadly harm
etc., to the plaintiff. The prosecuting witness testified that she had
heard a noise about daylight; that on going to the well she had found an
empty box, which she was certain had contained rat-poison, lying beside
it; and that a white powder which she was mortally sure was the
rat-poison itself--and nothing else--was plainly to be seen floating on
the surface of the water. Such was the case made out by the prosecution.
It was not at all what the defence was prepared for, but the prisoner's
counsel showed himself to be a person of resources upon sudden demand.
He readily admitted that the prosecuting witness might have heard a
noise about daylight. There were, as he had himself observed, a great
many cats in that part of the village. Also he admitted with equal
readiness that she might have found an empty box which had once
contained a rat-poison. He pointed out the fact that this particular
variety of rat-poison was in such general use in Oldfield,--where
rat-poison was one of the necessities of life, not merely one of its
luxuries,--that the empty boxes which had contained it were to be found
almost anywhere. As for the alleged poison itself, which a notoriously
untruthful and untrustworthy witness had just testified to seeing still
afloat on the surface of the water in the well, after the acknowledged
lapse of several hours--the court could judge the worth of that evidence
without any assistance from the defence.

Here Mr. Pettus unexpectedly appeared in the court-room. He kept the
rat-poison, as he kept everything in daily Oldfield demand, and he had
been hurriedly summoned as an expert witness for the defence, and he now
took the stand. He testified to having handled that particular variety
of rat-poison in very large quantities for many years. He claimed, on
cross-examination, to be perfectly familiar with the kind of box used by
the manufacturers of the rat-poison, and he gave it as his opinion that
the particular box in question--the one which he then held in his hand,
and which he was examining minutely--had been used for several other
purposes, and harmless ones, apparently, since being emptied of its
original deadly contents. He called the attention of the court to the
fact that a particle of sugar still adhered to one corner, while a grain
of coffee still lingered in another corner. Finally, when the prisoner's
counsel was quite ready for the grand stroke, he allowed the
witness--who was an amateur chemist in the line of his business--to
testify from his own personal knowledge of the rat-poison that it
dissolved instantly upon coming in contact with water.

"And yet, your Honor, the prosecution rests its case upon the testimony
of an ignorant, vindictive savage, who swears--who solemnly testifies
under oath, your Honor--that she saw this identical poison, and no
other, floating on the surface of the water in the well several hours
after she claims to have heard a noise; that it was there, plainly to be
seen, several hours after my innocent client is known to have been at
work in her mistress's kitchen and was seen in her mistress's garden,
openly and constantly in view of the whole community. I can summon any
number of unimpeachable witnesses--"

"The declaration is dismissed. The complaint is denied for lack of
evidence," said the judge, as seriously as possible. "Call the next
case."

"You may go home now, Eunice," said Lynn, smiling.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," said Eunice, calm as ever, and deliberately
dropping a clumsy courtesy.

She courtesied still more clumsily to the court and to Mr. Pettus, and
to all the white persons present, and then she turned slowly and
ponderously, like some large and heavy royal personage, and she cast
openly a high glance of infinite scorn over the humbled heads of her
enemies. They might flock like coal-black crows as much as they had a
mind to, she remarked in the dialect which they best understood; they
were no more to her than the dust of the big road which she had
"trompled under foot." She had white folks for her friends, she said
triumphantly. With this single parting volley she went slowly and calmly
down the court-house steps and set off homeward, bearing herself with
all the arrogance of Semiramis returning victorious to Nineveh.

"Well, so you are back in time! No," said old lady Gordon, holding up
the turkey-wing fan with a restraining gesture and resuming her novel
with a yawn, "I don't want to hear a word about it. I know well enough
that you ought to be in the penitentiary. Go on and get my dinner."

At the other end of the village Merica, deeply dejected, utterly
crushed, stole toward home close in the shelter of the fence. She was
returning entirely alone, as the leader of a lost cause nearly always
returns, if he return at all. One by one her followers had dropped away,
one disappearing here in a back yard, another vanishing there in a
wood-lot, till all were gone. Desertion is the bitter hemlock of defeat
that the vanquished are always forced to drink. The board was still off
the fence at its farthest corner; Merica had squeezed through the hole
on her flamboyant departure, so that Miss Judy might not see her and
prevent her going; and she now dragged herself through it again on her
downcast coming back, and thus reached the coveted shelter of her own
domain and was able to hide her diminished head wholly unobserved by her
unsuspicious, gentle little mistress.

"Merica's very quiet this morning. I haven't heard her stirring," Miss
Judy said to Miss Sophia, as they sat placidly side by side in their
little rocking-chairs--swaying gently--as they so loved to sit. They
were talking, too, with that inexhaustible interest in one another's
conversation which made their lifelong companionship the beautiful and
perfect thing it was.

"Perhaps the poor creature is distressed over the falling down of the
bower. She seemed to be real fond of it. And how strange to think there
could have been such a violent storm without a drop of rain or our
hearing the wind. I thought at first that we might have the bean-poles
set up again, but the poles are broken and the vines are actually torn
up by the roots. Oh, yes,--going back to what we were discussing before
I happened to think of the bower,--I am sure that you are quite right in
thinking that Doris's character has developed very rapidly of late. Her
ideals really appear surprisingly well formed for so young a girl. And,
as you say, there could hardly be anything unsettling now in her reading
about the troubles that poor Becky went through. It can hardly do the
dear child any harm now even to read about the mistakes which poor Becky
made. For you know, sister Sophia, Becky was really good-hearted. You
remember that Amelia might have gone sorrowing all her life, but for
Becky's being so kind-hearted."

Miss Judy pleaded as though Miss Sophia was some keen and merciless
critic from whose stern justice she strove gently to save the innocently
erring.

"Just so, sister Judy," responded Miss Sophia, so promptly, so firmly,
so comprehensively, so conclusively, that Miss Judy beamed at her,
positively radiant with admiration, and sighed a deep sigh of relief and
satisfaction at having the long and sorely vexing question thus
thoroughly disposed of at last.



XX

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FAITH AND LOVE


About that time of the year an aspect of great, glowing beauty and a
feeling of deep, sweet peace always comes to this beautiful, pastoral
country.

The long, warm days are then of the rarest gold, and the short, cool
nights are of the purest silver. The ripened grain has been garnered,
and its golden sheaves no longer tent the rich, broad lands. The tall,
tasselling corn now flows free in rippling, murmuring, ever widening
silvery seas. The ocean of the vast tobacco fields rolls and rolls its
mighty billows of deepening green into the darkening purple haze of the
misty horizon. The wooded hillsides are now very still, and dark blue
shadows linger all day among the trees--which stir scarcely a
leaf--waiting to creep down toward the village at nightfall to meet the
snow-white mist loitering over the resting meadows. The birds, too, are
resting, half asleep in the heart of the ancient wood; they sing more
seldom and their songs are sweeter and softer and come forth touched
with a tender melancholy. The very shrilling of the crickets in the long
grass sounds less shrill, and seems to rise and fall with the waves of
heat. The butterflies, clustering on the commonest wayside weeds like
tropical flowers, hardly move their dazzling wings of yellow and white,
waving them as languorously as a flower unfurls its petals. And then--in
those radiant days--the thistledown also softly spreads its pinions of
gossamer silver, and, borne on the breath of the south breeze, it wings
its weightless way over all the snow-masses of the elder bloom, and
burnishes its lacelike whiteness into the luminous border of the veil
which the midsummer heaven lends to the midsummer earth.

The honeysuckle over Tom Watson's window was thinning under the heat and
bronzing under the drouth. Its leaves, green-yellow, drifted languidly
down to the browning grass of the neglected lawn. So that there was
scarcely a cool shadow left to shield the wretchedness of the stricken
man, sitting day after day in the spot to which destiny had chained him;
or one to cover the sadness of the wife, keeping her hopeless vigil by
his side, in open view for every passer-by to see. It was a sight to
wring any heart, and the Oldfield people were always kind to one another
and always helpful--as simple, poor people are everywhere. But in this
sad case there seemed no way to help, nothing that any one could do. No
one might penetrate the dumb horror of the sick man's awful gaze,
straining all the desolate day through, as long as the light lasted,
toward some unseen and unreachable thing, as a wild creature strains
dumbly at its chain. No one could pass the silence of Anne's reserve to
share, to lessen, or even completely to comprehend the conflict
ceaselessly waging within the high, narrow walls of her spirit.

Up to the beginning of this strife Anne's heart and soul had gone more
nearly abreast, more evenly side by side, than most women's hearts and
souls are able to go through life. The one nearly always goes before the
other in every true woman's breast. And the path of Anne's spirit was
very narrow, much narrower than that in which most women tread; so that,
at this last steep pass, there was not room for both to go together, and
thus her heart and her soul were forced to strive, the one with the
other, for the right of way. There was never a moment's doubt in Anne's
single, simple, and most strenuous mind as to which should lead. Now, as
always, the road between right and wrong lay straight, clear, and open
before her feet. There never was the slightest danger of her wandering
or wavering. But oh, the agonized wringing of her heart, the almost
unendurable travail of her soul--in this death struggle for her
husband's salvation! And yet she suffered the anguish unflinchingly, her
very love forbidding her conscience to yield, to barter the hope of the
life everlasting for the relief of a few broken years. And every day the
conflict grew fiercer as her husband's growing strength increased his
piteously powerless resistance to restraint, and fed the flame of his
desire for cards, now as strong as any ruling passion ever was in death.
Impassive as Anne was by nature, she used sometimes to wonder if she
would be able to bear it any longer and live. Her heart was breaking,
her soul was almost at bay, so desperate was the strife between the two.

It is one of life's cruel ironies that the deepest feeling must often
find trivial and even absurd expression. In poor Anne's first blind
casting about for something to divert her husband's thoughts, in her
first futile trying to remember what he used to like,--and she had known
very little of his tastes in the days of his strength,--the recollection
of seeing him read the county newspaper, which was published weekly in a
neighboring town, came suddenly out of the mists of her memory. She sent
for the paper and tried to read it to him, beginning at the top line of
the first column and going straight through to the last line on the last
page, fearing lest she might miss the article which he most wanted to
hear. But Anne was not a good reader, and a clouded mind and a racked
body do not make a patient listener. Tom gave no sign and he did not try
to speak; but Anne saw his miserable, unresting eyes wander away to the
far-off purpled hills, beyond which lay the free, bright world; and his
thoughts--but who dare wonder whither his thoughts wandered?

After the failure in the reading of the newspaper, Anne turned to books.
There were no new books in Oldfield, had poor Anne known the new from
the old, and there were few of any kind. Miss Judy had more than any one
else, and she was eager in offering all that had belonged to her father,
as well as the handful of more recent ones gathered by her own simple
tastes; and these last she urged upon Anne as being lighter and more
cheerful, and consequently more suited to the cheering of an invalid.
She was quite sure, so she said, smiling to hearten Anne, that Tom would
like to hear about Becky; he had always liked lively, good-hearted
people--like himself. But Anne instinctively chose the major's books
instead, shrinking from all lightness as unsuited to her husband's need,
and believing, as a woman of her type usually believes, that a man is
most interested in what she herself least understands.

When the reading of the dry old books had failed even more completely,
if possible, than the reading of the newspaper, Anne tried to talk to
her husband; and that was the hardest of all. She had always been a
silent woman, well named "still-tongued"; and now that her sad heart lay
in her bosom like lead, she found less and less to say, so that this
last attempt was the most complete and the saddest of her many repeated
defeats. It was then, when at the end of her own resources, that she
held to Sidney's hand, and asked with her appealing eyes for the help
which she knew not how to beg with her lips. After this Sidney went
every day to see Tom, and told him, as amusingly as she could tell
anything, of everything that was going on, no matter whether he listened
or not. And she also sent Doris, who went often (taking Miss Judy's
guitar at that little lady's suggestion) to sing to the invalid, and who
was careful to choose her gayest songs and to play nothing less cheerful
than the Spanish fandango; and it really seemed, once in a while, as if
a light came into the sick man's darkened gaze as it rested upon the
girl as she tinkled the old guitar, with the broad blue ribbon falling
around her beautiful shoulders.

The whole village was, in truth, unwearying in its kindness all the long
days, through all those long months; but there were, nevertheless, the
lonely hours of the endless nights to be passed alone, when the
desperate husband and the despairing wife dumbly faced the appalling
future,--a burning, unlighted, empty desert,--stretching perhaps through
many terrible years. And even then Anne stood firm, with her sad, steady
eyes ever on the white heights which she saw beyond the black gulf,
wherein she strove perpetually with the powers of darkness for her
husband's soul.

She never left him now for a moment, night or day, except when there was
preaching in her own church and her faith required the "breaking of
bread"; and at rare long intervals to go to prayer-meeting, when she
felt her strength failing and hoped to find in the prayers of others new
strength for her own ceaseless petitions. One night of midsummer, when
the bell began to ring for prayer-meeting, she felt that she must go.
She accordingly arose--reluctantly as she always left him--and went into
the bedroom and put on her quakerish bonnet. Then she came back and
stood before her husband, seeking wistfully to do something more for his
comfort before leaving him, as she never forgot to try to do. She turned
the cushions at his back to make them softer, and moved the pillows
behind his head so that it might rest easier, and straightened the cover
over his powerless knees. These poor things, which she always did, were
all that she ever could do. She would return soon, as soon as she could,
she said, as she always said, bending down to press her pale lips to his
scarred forehead. At the gate she stopped and lingered, looking back, as
she always looked, sorely loath still to leave him even for an hour of
uplifting prayer.

Night was near. The last red gold of the sunset had paled from the
highest, farthest hilltop, where the graveyard lay. The tombstones--the
new white ones that stood so straight, the older gray ones that leaned,
the oldest brown ones that had fallen--all were dim now in the soft
glory of the afterglow, as many of the cold, hard things of this world
are softened by the tender light from the world above. The dusk was
already creeping down the darkling arches of the wooded hillsides. Mists
were already arising from the low-lying meadows, trailing long white
cloud-fleeces, all starred with fireflies, thus making a new heaven of
the old earth.

Through the gloaming and the stillness Anne's lonely figure went
steadily, swiftly onward toward the church. Lynn Gordon noted the tense
paleness and the strange exaltation of her still face, when he met and
passed her on the big road, faint as the light was, and the sight of it
touched him, though his own mind was lightly at peace and his own heart
was over-flowing with thoughtless happiness. The impression of suffering
that her face had given him was still in his mind when he drew near the
window beside which the sick man sat, and because of it, or some other
motive that he did not stop to fathom, he suddenly stood still, and
after a hesitating pause, and a longing glance toward the silver
poplars, he opened the gate and crossed the yard and went to the window
to speak to Tom Watson. Nothing was farther from his thoughts than any
intent of going into the house--as he told the doctor afterwards when
speaking of what followed.

"It was like mesmerism. I have not the vaguest idea of how it really
happened. His awful eyes drew me, when I didn't want to go. They dragged
me into that house as if a giant hand had been laid upon my collar. The
first thing that I knew the negro boy who waits on Watson had set out a
table and put the lamp on it, and had laid a pack of cards between him
and me." The young man shuddered at the recollection. "I hope I may
never again see anything like that poor wretch's face when his palsied
hands first touched the cards which I dealt him. I tried to remind
myself that there couldn't be any harm in such a game and that there
might be some good. But to see such a passion as his for gambling
looking out of a dead man's face is a sight which I hope never to look
upon again."

The lamplight shone far down the big road that night, and Anne saw it
almost as soon as she left the meeting-house on her lonely way home. At
the sight her heavy heart seemed to leap as if it would escape from its
cell of pain; and then, faint with deadly fear, it seemed to fall back
as though it could never beat again. Too near to fainting to stand, she
sat down on the roadside, and remained without moving for a long time.
She was all alone in the darkness, no one else was going her way; and no
one passed along the deserted thoroughfare. She knew at once what the
streaming lamplight meant; and she tried to think what was best to do,
now that the worst was come. She arose tremblingly at last, when she had
rallied strength enough, and she went on feebly through the still
blackness of the night, like a woman suddenly stricken with great age.
She did not know that she was weeping, and the great, slow, heavy tears
of the rarely moved fell unheeded down her white cheeks. The gate was
open, as Lynn Gordon had left it, and she entered the yard noiselessly,
passing the window like an unseen shadow and with an averted face. On
the steps at the back of the house she sank down almost prone and lay
motionless, hardly conscious, she knew not for how long. The heavy tears
still fell silently and unnoticed, as the hardest rain falls without
storm. She was trying to think, but she could not; she could do nothing
but pray. And she prayed--praying as one having great faith does pray
when a tidal wave from life's troubled sea sweeps over a stranded soul.
For Anne's faith stood, even now, firm as a mighty rock anchored to the
foundations of the earth. And through all the darkness and turmoil of
this supreme spiritual stress a single ray of white light shone steadily
as a beacon to her tossed spirit. The abomination had not come through
any weakness of hers; her faith had not yielded to her love.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next perfect day had worn slowly to another glorious sunset when
Anne went again down the big road, but this time toward the Gordon
place. Lynn saw her coming, and he arose from his seat on the porch,
where he chanced to be sitting alone with his cigar, and went to meet
her, thinking how foolish it was for him to be smitten at the first
sight of her by a sense of guilt and a painful conviction of having done
her an injury. He tried to throw off the feeling with a smile, as he
stood holding open the gate for her to enter.

There was no answering smile on Anne's pale face, yet its perfect
calmness and the steadiness of her clear gaze reassured him somewhat.
Her voice also was quite calm and steady when she said that she could
not come in to see his grandmother, as he invited her to do; and after a
momentary hesitation added that she had come solely to give him a
message from her husband--one that she could not send by any one else.

"Tom has sent me to ask if you will play cards with him again to-night,"
she said deliberately, in a curiously level tone, as if weighing every
word, and with her clear eyes fixed with singular intensity on the young
man's face.

"Why--of course I will--I'll be delighted to," Lynn responded eagerly,
with much relief. He had not expected her to say anything of this kind.
"But, my dear Mrs. Watson, you needn't have taken the trouble to come
all this distance yourself to ask me. I should have come willingly, no
matter who had brought the request. Mr. Watson had only to tell me when
he wished me to come."

"That is why I came. I wanted to make sure that you would come just the
same, whether I asked you or not," said Anne, still looking at him with
her luminous clearness of gaze, the white light behind her eyes shining
high and bright.

"Certainly," he replied quickly, made uneasy by her look, though he knew
not why and did not in the least understand what was in the mind of this
quiet woman of few words.

She stood silent for a moment, so frail, so pale, under the gloom of the
low, dark boughs of the cypress tree, that she seemed more spirit than
flesh. Then she silently turned away her clear eyes, in which sorrow lay
heavy as stones at the bottom of a still crystal pool. She stood for a
moment silently looking far over the shadowed fields, above which the
white banners of mist were already afloat on the evening breeze. Her
inscrutable gaze then wandered toward the cloud mountains towering in
the west, their snowy summits rifted by rivers of molten gold, and
flooding the peaceful earth with unearthly beauty.

"Until I knew whether anything that I could say or do would make any
difference--about your coming--I could not see my way," she said,
turning back, her strange eyes again looking straight into his perplexed
eyes. "Now that you have told me, I must do what is right--as nearly as
I can."

"I don't understand," faltered the young man. "Would you like me to come
with you now--at once? I am quite ready."

"I can't let you--or any one--do for my husband what I am not willing to
do for him myself. I can't ask another to commit sin for him in my
stead. If it must be done, it is _I_ who must do it--not any one else."

She spoke calmly, but with infinite sadness, and her pale face turned a
shade paler, if it could be paler than it had been when she first
appeared beneath the gloomy cypress boughs.

The young man was startled, bewildered, touched. He no longer felt like
smiling at Anne's taking the matter seriously; there was no longer
anything absurd in her attitude. His impulsive heart, always quick to
see and to respond to the real, the fine, and the high, filled now with
a sudden rush of sympathy for this quiet woman with the white face and
the spare speech, for all her narrow mind and her stern faith.

"But, my dear madam, you don't know how to play cards, do you?" he
protested confusedly, at a loss what to say or to do.

"No," said Anne, with an involuntary movement of shrinking. "But I
thought--I can't see my way. It is the first time. I don't seem to be
able to tell right from wrong. But I thought that if--if you would teach
me--that is if it wouldn't be wrong for me to ask you--even to do that!"

"How could it be wrong?" he said gently. "I have never thought that
there was any harm in card-playing merely for amusement. I will gladly
teach you what I know, which isn't a great deal, nor hard to learn."

"The path is dark before my feet. I can only stumble on till the light
be given," murmured Anne, as if thinking aloud, even as though she were
praying.

"Let's go now," said Lynn, taking a sudden resolution. "If you are not
yet satisfied, we can talk it all over as we walk along."

Anne assented silently; they passed out from beneath the shadow of the
cypress tree and went on their way up the deserted, darkened big road,
but neither found another word to say. The light of the lamp, awaiting
the game on the sick man's table, already shone far to meet them, and
when its beams fell on Anne's face Lynn turned his eyes away.

But she did not falter; she led the way through the gate and straight
into the room where that awful, dumb figure sat, striving to shuffle the
cards with its poor palsied hands, and with the gambler's terrible
eagerness flaming in his eyes. Anne laid off her bonnet, and without
speaking took the player's place opposite her husband.

Lynn was as silent as Anne herself, but he quietly placed himself,
standing, beside her, thinking as he did this and glanced at her that
the look of exaltation on Anne's white, still face must have been the
look that the martyrs wore when they entered the arena to confront the
wild beasts. He felt awed by the solemnity of the scene. He hardly dared
move or speak, it so weighed upon him, but he explained the rules and
the terms of the game as simply and as briefly as he could. He never
forgot the sudden dilation of Anne's eyes and the dimness that followed,
as though the white light behind them had suddenly flared high before
going out, when he first put the cards in her hands and the game began.

"You must draw--you draw to a straight flush. Mr. Watson stands pat,"
said Lynn, in a hushed tone, feeling as if he were desecrating some holy
place--starting at the sound of his own voice as though it sounded
through a cathedral.

"I draw to a straight flush. Mr. Watson stands pat," repeated Anne's
pale lips, as a pious soul in extremity might murmur a Latin prayer
which it did not understand.

"Now you raise him," prompted Lynn.

"Now I raise you," echoed Anne.

"Ah, he calls you and takes the pot."

"He calls me and takes the pot."

Thus begun, the game went on by surer degrees through the terrible hours
of the horrible night, till a later bedtime than Tom Watson had known
since he had ceased to be the keeper of his own time. The next morning
it was resumed as soon as breakfast was over, and continued day after
day and night after night. The teacher wearied after the first day,
though he came oftener than he might have been expected to come, since
he was young and happy, and there were other and pleasanter things
drawing him away. But Anne learned fast--faster, perhaps, than she had
ever learned anything else. There are few things that the slowest-witted
woman cannot learn when her whole heart and soul hang upon the learning.
It was therefore not long before she could play alone, after a fashion,
and from that time on she played ceaselessly through every waking
moment, stopping only for the meals that neither husband nor wife could
eat. So that every morning Anne sat down to the card-table, silently
imploring pardon for the sin which she was about to commit; every night
she lay wearily down on her sleepless bed, praying for forgiveness for
the sin which she had committed during the day. And always Anne played
with the unaltered belief--firm as her belief in the plan of
salvation--that she staked on every game the relief of her husband's
body against the saving of his soul.



XXI

WHAT OLDFIELD THOUGHT AND SAID


Thus it was that all the peace and beauty of those glorious midsummer
days brought neither rest nor pleasure to Anne.

The quiet awakening of the tranquil world, soft as the tenderest
trembling of a harp; the first musical tinkling that came murmuring up
from the misty meadows with the earliest stirring of the flocks and
herds; the gentle calling of the dumb creatures; the aerial flute notes
wafted down the leafy arches of the dew-wet woods; the palest glory of
the dawn coming for the perpetual refreshment of the earth; the final
coronation of the Day King with the marshalling of his dazzling lances
through the royal red and gold of the hilltops,--all these wonders of a
marvellously beautiful world were to Anne but the dreaded daily summons
to the renewal of a hopeless conflict.

It was like her never to think of sitting elsewhere than in the old
place--at her husband's side by the open window--after beginning to play
cards. It would have been utterly unlike her to have thought of doing
anything else, to have considered for a moment what her neighbors might
think or say. For hers was a nature condemned at its creation to a
loneliness even greater than that in which every soul must forever dwell
apart. All her life she had lived as one alone on a desert island. Now,
under this supreme anguish of living, the amazed gaze of the whole
world, its approval or its disapproval, would have been to her--had she
thought of it--no more than the moaning of the winter wind through the
graveyard cedars.

And yet, naturally enough, this utter unconsciousness upon Anne's part
did not lessen in the least the shock which the entire community felt on
seeing her--Anne Watson--of all women in all the world at the card-table
by the open window, in view of everybody passing along the big road!
Those who first saw the incredible sight could scarcely believe their
own eyes. Those who first heard of it utterly refused to credit it until
they had made a special trip up and down the big road, twice passing the
window, in order to see and to make sure for themselves. And then, when
there was no longer room for doubt or dispute, a sort of panic seized
the good people of Oldfield. With this appalling backsliding of Anne
Watson's the whole religious and social fabric seemed suddenly going to
pieces.

Only Lynn Gordon and the doctor knew the truth. Lynn had not told his
grandmother of Anne's visit nor of her request. His grandmother was not
one to whom he would have spoken of anything which had touched him
keenly or moved him deeply. And he had even not told Doris, whom he
would most naturally have trusted, certain of being understood, certain,
too, of sympathy for Anne. A feeling of delicate consideration for Anne,
a sense that she had trusted him, only because she could not do
otherwise, that she had opened her reserved heart to him, who was almost
a stranger, only because she was forced to do it, under terrible
necessity,--all these mingled feelings had a part in holding him silent.
To the doctor alone he felt that he should give a full account of what
had taken place. But when he tried to tell even him, Lynn unexpectedly
found it very hard to make Anne's motives and position as clear to
another person as he had felt them to be. He realized for the first time
that she had somehow made him feel much more than she had been able to
put into words. She had so few words--poor Anne--and the few that she
had were meagre indeed. The impulsive, warm-hearted young fellow
stammered, and reddened, and laughed at himself, in a manly
embarrassment that was a pleasant thing to see, as he tried clumsily to
put the matter before the doctor in its true light, and in a way to do
justice to Anne. Fortunately the doctor understood at once, and might
have understood had the young man said even less than he finally found
to say. That friend of humanity had learned something of Anne's
character during her husband's long illness. Two earnest natures,
stripped for a shoulder to shoulder contest with death over a sick-bed,
come as near, perhaps, to knowing one another as any two souls may ever
approach. A doctor's very calling, moreover, must reveal to him--as
hardly the confessional can reveal to another man--the winding mazes of
the simplest, sincerest woman's conscience.

When the doctor went home after talking with Lynn, he tried to show his
wife that there was no occasion for the widespread excitement over this
unaccountable change in Anne. He hoped that an off-hand word to his wife
might have some effect in settling the swirl of gossip which circled the
village, faster and faster, with Anne's continued appearance at the
card-table, as the continual casting of pebbles agitates a stagnant
pool. But Mrs. Alexander, good, kind, charitable woman though she was,
could only sigh and shake her head. She said that she had never
understood Anne, but that she had always respected her sincerity, no
matter how widely she herself might differ in opinion. But what could
anybody think or say of Anne's sincerity now? The doctor's wife cast a
shocked, frightened, glance at the Watson house. Such open, flagrant
backsliding really was enough to make the lightning strike.

And Mrs. Alexander's view was the one held by most of the Oldfield
ladies, all of whom took the incomprehensible affair much to heart. Only
Miss Judy and Kitty Mills saw nothing to alarm, nothing to wonder at,
nothing in the least unnatural in Anne's change of attitude. But then,
Miss Judy was well known to believe that everybody always had some
praiseworthy motive for everything, if others were only clear-sighted
enough to perceive it. Her pure mind was a flawless crystal, reflecting
every ray of light from many exquisite prisms, but sending nothing out
of actual darkness. And no one ever regarded seriously the views of
Kitty Mills, who was notoriously willing for every one to do precisely
as he liked, as nearly as he could, without any explanation or any
reason whatever, so that her opinion had the very slight value which
usually pertains to the opinions of the easily pleased. All the other
Oldfield ladies were too deeply shocked, too utterly amazed, to know
what to think, or what to say, or what to do. They could only gather in
solemn, excited conclave at one another's houses, and discuss the
situation daily and almost hourly, with growing wonder and bated breath.

Sidney was, of course, the central figure in this, as in all other
things vital to the life of the village. As much at a loss for once as
the dullest, she held nevertheless to her high esteem for Anne, and in
canvassing the strangeness of the latter's conduct from house to house,
as she felt compelled to canvass it, she invariably spoke of her with
great kindness, even while admitting that it would be hard for a
Philadelphia lawyer to find out what Anne meant by whirling round like a
weathercock. It is likely that Sidney took off her bonnet and let down
her hair oftener, and shook it out harder, and twisted it up tighter, at
this time, than at any other period of her entire professional career.
She used, indeed, to stop all along the big road--anywhere--and hang her
bonnet on the fence, while she shook her hair down and twisted it up
again; and her knitting-needles flew faster than they had ever done
before or ever did afterward. One day, as she happened to be entering
the doctor's gate to keep an important engagement with Mrs. Alexander,
she saw Miss Pettus standing before the Watson house, gazing at the
window,--which had now become the stage of a mystery play,--and not only
gazing, but staring as if some dreadful sight had suddenly turned her to
stone. Sidney called to her, but she did not turn or respond in any way
for some minutes; and when she finally joined Sidney and the doctor's
wife on the latter's porch, where they were sitting, she was really pale
from agitation and actually sputtering with excitement.

"Chips!" she gasped, sinking into a chair. "Poker chips. I saw 'em with
my own eyes and heard 'em with my own ears! I give you both my sacred
word as a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in good standing."

"Poker chips are neither here nor there," said Sidney, in the lofty,
judicial tone which she had maintained throughout the controversy.

She eyed Miss Pettus, however, silently and a little severely, as she
loosed several rounds of yarn from her big ball, and held them out and
deliberately shook them apart at arm's length. It did not please her to
hear of poker chips--or anything else of interest--through Miss Pettus
or any other person. It was her own special and exclusive province to
discover and distribute the news. She felt much as the editor of a great
daily newspaper might feel if some casual passer-by should drop in to
tell him of the day's greatest public event.

"Poker chips are neither here nor there," she repeated coolly, and
almost contemptuously, as one looking to larger things. "No matter what
Anne Watson does, and no matter how she does it, there's one thing that
you may always be sure of, Miss Pettus, and that is--that she believes
she is doing right."

"Who said she didn't?" retorted Miss Pettus. "Have I said anything about
the right or wrong of it? I don't care anything about the right or wrong
of card-playing. Some folks think one way and some another--and they may
go on thinking so for all me. What I do say is that a body ought to
stick to what she does believe, whatever it is, no matter whether she's
a Methodist like me or a Christian like Anne."

"Well--'pon my word!" exclaimed Sidney, seeing a chance for reprisal,
and furtively winking the eye next to the doctor's wife. "To hear you
talk, Miss Pettus, folks would think there wasn't anybody but Methodists
and Christians. Where, pray, do the rest of us come in? There's Jane
there--a Cumberland Presbyterian, dyed blue in the wool. Yonder's Miss
Judy, an Episcopalian of the highest latitude and the greatest
longitude, and a-training Doris to be just like her. And here am I--a
Baptist--a Baptist born and a Baptist bred--and a Whiskey Baptist at
that."

"If I were you, Sidney Wendall," replied Miss Pettus, with offended
dignity, "I wouldn't make fun of my own religion if I did make fun of
every other earthly thing I came across. You know as well as I do, and
as Jane here does, that there is no such thing as a Whiskey Baptist--and
never was and never will be."

"No such thing as a Whiskey Baptist?" exclaimed Sidney, pretending to be
wholly in earnest, and slyly winking again at the doctor's wife. "Then
what, may I ask, would you have called my own father and his only
brother--two church members in good and regular standing, and two as
good and highly respected citizens as this Pennyroyal Region ever had,
to boot? What else could you call them, I ask you, 'Mandy Pettus? Didn't
they always pay their debts on the stroke of the town clock, and to a
hundred cents on the dollar? Didn't they always vote the straight
Democratic ticket for fifty years, without ever a scratch from end to
end? Didn't they always get drunk on every county court day of their
lives, and keep sober all the rest of the year? No Whiskey Baptists
indeed!"

"What's all that tirade got to do with what I said about Anne's--and
everybody's--being what they pretend to be?" fumed Miss Pettus. "That's
what I said and what I'll keep on saying as long as I have the breath to
speak my honest mind. And I'll say it about anybody, no matter who, just
the same. Chopping and changing till a body don't know where to find
you, looks to me just as bad in one denomination as another. And levity
in those who ought to be serious-minded is levity to me wherever I find
it. Now, look at our own circuit rider, only last Sunday! After that
powerful sermon which warmed up the whole town, and shook the dry bones,
what did he do?--right out of the pulpit, too,--but stop and hang over
the fence like a schoolboy for a laughing confab with Kitty Mills! There
she was, of course, standing out in the broiling sun with nothing but
her apron thrown over her silly head, while you could hear old man Mills
scolding her, the whole blessed time, at the top of his peevish voice.
It was perfectly scandalous and nothing but scandalous to see such
goings-on on the Lord's Day. Kitty was telling him about her late young
turkeys getting out in that last hard rain and holding up their heads
with their mouths wide open, till the last one of them drowned. As if
there was anything uncommon or funny in that; as if everybody didn't
know that young turkeys always did that whenever they got a chance. And
the simpletons were both laughing as if they'd never heard such a joke,
and as if it had been Monday instead of Sunday, and the circuit rider
hadn't had any good work to do."

"Maybe he thinks that is a part of his good work," said the doctor's
wife, gently. "Kitty Mills surely needs all the kindness she can get
outside her own family, poor thing, though she doesn't seem to know it."

Sidney smiled at a sudden recollection. "I passed there yesterday, in
the heat of the day, and saw her in the garden bending over and pulling
the weeds out of her handful of vegetables. It made me real uneasy to
look at her leaning down so long and steady, and her so short and stout,
and I said so. But she only laughed till she cried, and declared there
wasn't any danger except to her corset-boards. Then, when she could
speak for laughing, she said she had saved almost enough to stick her
bunch peas. And,--if you'll believe it,--Sam left the garden gate open
last night, and the pigs got in and eat every one of 'em up."

"The corset-boards?" gasped Miss Pettus, in a tone of blank amazement,
which implied, nevertheless, that she would not be in the least
surprised at anything happening to Kitty Mills.

Sidney eyed Miss Pettus humorously, as she loosed more rounds of yarn
from her big ball, holding it out again at arm's length; but there was
no time for any reply had she thought it worth while to make one, for
Mrs. Alexander's cook appeared in the doorway just at that moment, to
say that supper was ready, and, following the hostess, the guest went to
enjoy it without allowing it to grow cold. The table had been set on the
back porch, which was on the side of the house that was most pleasant at
that hour. And a truly pleasant place it was, with its whitewashed
pillars, its cool green curtains of Madeira vine, so waxen of leaf and
so frost-like in flower, and with its green and restful environment of
grass and fruit trees. The table stood directly before the back door of
the open passage. Sidney's seat faced the big road, and she had scarcely
seated herself, when, chancing to glance up, she saw Lynn and Doris as
they passed, going along the big road. She said nothing, however, of
having seen them; she was always reserved about her own private affairs,
and then she was still holding fast to her early determination to leave
the young couple entirely free to follow the natural lead of their own
hearts. But the glimpse of them reminded her of an uneasy suspicion that
old lady Gordon was not so minded, a suspicion which had occurred to her
that day for the first time. Now, therefore, with the unhesitating
decision characteristic of her in all things, she resolved, then and
there, to talk it over with Miss Judy as soon as she could get away from
the supper table.

But it was never easy for Sidney to get away; a hostess, paying the
stipulated price of a high-priced entertainer, rightfully expects to get
the worth of her fee. No one knew this better than Sidney herself, and
she accordingly so exerted her utmost ability, so put forth her most
brilliant talent, that she fully made up for the shortened time; and the
only regret upon the part of the hostess was that such a delightful
entertainment should ever come to an end. Miss Pettus, also, was sorry
to have Sidney go; and, now quite restored to good humor, she whispered
to her, as they parted at the gate,--one going up the big road and one
going down,--that she meant to send Kitty Mills a couple of young
turkeys that very night, just to keep her from behaving so like a
simpleton the next time the circuit rider went by, and just to make her
see how shamefully she had behaved about that stubborn old dorminica.

Out into the dim, dusty highway Sidney now swung, with her long, free,
fearless, independent step, which seemed to ask nothing of life and the
world but to be allowed to go her own way; walking and knitting as fast
as though the dusk had been daylight. Reaching Miss Judy's house she
found the little sisters sitting happily side by side just within the
open door of the unlighted passage, as they always were to be found at
that time on the summer evenings. Miss Judy was talking in her soft,
bright little way, which reminded the listener of the chirruping of a
happy bird; and Miss Sophia was listening with enthralled interest
between lapses of unconscious nodding. And now, as always when they
talked together, both had the eager manner of having never before had a
really satisfying opportunity to exchange vividly novel views and
intensely interesting experiences, so that they hardly knew how to make
enough of this truly delightful chance.

They were glad, nevertheless, to greet Sidney, as everybody always was;
and Miss Judy said, as soon as Sidney had come within speaking distance,
that Lynn and Doris had stopped for a moment to ask how she was feeling,
and that she had told them she felt almost strong again,--nearly sure,
indeed, of being able to give the tea-party on the coming Thursday.

"I am really mortified at not having given it before this time," she
went on, blushing unseen in the gloaming. "It does seem too bad, this
spoiling of lovely plans just on account of a foolish shortness of
breath. It was such a disappointment to sister Sophia, not to have the
tea-party while the blush roses were in bloom, for they match mother's
best cups and saucers perfectly. And then came the cinnamon roses--they
might have done fairly well, though they are not quite so delicate a
shade, but they also have bloomed and faded long ago. Now the
hundred-leaf roses will have to do--as I was just saying to sister
Sophia when you came, Sidney--although their hearts are rather too dark
to be as pretty as the others would have been. But we must give the
tea-party anyway, blush roses or no blush roses, without any more delay,
since I have thoughtlessly mentioned it to old lady Gordon, who never
makes any allowances and who is rather critical."

"Oh, you told her, did you?" exclaimed Sidney. "Then that accounts for
what I came to see you about."

"I felt that it was due to Doris that I should tell her; that she should
know that only circumstances over which we had no control have so far
prevented our paying the dear child the compliment of a formal
introduction to society," said Miss Judy, with her pretty, comical,
society air.

"Well, it explains what old Lady Gordon said to me without rhyme or
reason when she met me on the big road yesterday--stopping her coach in
the middle of the big road to do it, too,--something that she never took
the trouble to think of before."

Sidney leaned forward and peered up and down the highway to make sure
that no one was within hearing, and she listened for an instant to Miss
Sophia's deep breathing in the still darkness of the passage.

"Now, mark my words, Miss Judy," she then said, in a guarded undertone.
"That old Hessian means to interfere. She is going to make trouble. I
feel it in my bones."

"Why?" cried Miss Judy, startled and bewildered. "What do you mean,
Sidney? What did she say?"

"She said--without rhyme or reason, as I've told you--that her grandson
was going away very soon to begin the practice of his profession, and
that he hadn't any time to waste on any nonsense, like old women's silly
tea-parties. She didn't call him by his name, either, as she always has
called him heretofore. She called him 'my grandson,' in that high and
mighty, stand-off-and-keep-your-place way that she knows how to put on,
when she wants to and ain't too lazy. Now, mark my word, Miss Judy.
Trouble's a-coming!"

"Oh, how could any one be unkind to that dear child," cried Miss Judy,
almost in tears.

"I'd like to see anybody try it, while I'm 'round," said Sidney, with
the fierceness that appears in the humblest barnyard hen when her chick
is touched. "I'm all ready and a-waiting. Just let old lady Gordon so
much as bat her eye and I'll give her goss. I'll tell her the Lord's
truth, if she never heard it before. I'll tell her to her face that no
Gordon that ever stepped ever was, or ever will be, fit to dust my
Doris's shoes, so far as being good goes--or smart and good-looking
either. This young Gordon is decent enough, I reckon, as young men go.
And his father went pretty straight because he hadn't the spunk or the
strength to go crooked. He was like a toad under a harrow, poor soul! He
was so tame that he'd eat out of your hand. But even that old Hessian
never harrowed or tamed the old man, who was a match for her. No-siree!
Not while he had the strength to hop over a straw. Why, the whole woods
were full of his wild colts."

"Ah, indeed! I never knew that the old gentleman ever had any interest
in horses," Miss Judy murmured absently, almost tearfully, not thinking
in the least of what she was saying.

"That was a long time ago," said Sidney hastily, remembering suddenly to
whom she was speaking. "What the old folks were in their young days is
neither here nor there. It makes no difference now. This young Gordon
seems to be a fine young fellow, but, fine or coarse, all that I ask of
that old Hessian, or of anybody, is to do as I do, and to let him and
Doris alone, and not to meddle; just to give the two young things a fair
field and no favor. And that's what she and everybody's got to do, too,
or walk over Sidney Wendall's dead body."

"Don't--don't," entreated Miss Judy's soft voice, coming out of the
quiet darkness with a tremulous gentleness, and telling of the tender
tears in her blue eyes. "Let not your heart be troubled, dear friend.
All will be well with the child. All is sure to come right at last, if
we are but as patient and as trusting and as true and as faithful and as
loving--above all as loving--as we should be. For love _is now--as it
was in the beginning, and ever shall be_--the strongest thing in the
world."



XXII

THE UPAS TREE


When Miss Judy, thus urged, set the day for the tea-party, naming even
the hour, she forgot for the moment that the higher court of the
district convened its summer session on the day which she had appointed.
And this fact made it impossible to give the party on that day. Not
because she had ever had or ever expected to have anything to do with
any court of law--for coming events do not always cast their shadows
before--but because she expected a visit from Judge Stanley on the
evening of his first day in town. For she always knew just when to look
for him; during many years he had come on the same day of the month, at
the same hour and almost at the same minute. And Miss Judy had through
all those years been in the habit of making certain delightful
preparations for his visit, which nothing but her love and anxiety for
Doris ever could have caused her to forget, and which not even that
could now induce her to forego.

She looked forward from one of these visits to the next as to the
greatest honor, and, after her love for Doris and her tenderness for her
sister, the greatest happiness of her life. She knew how great a man
this quiet, gray-haired, famous jurist was to a wider world than she had
ever known; and the flattery of his open and exclusive devotion filled
her gentle heart with sweet and tender pride. But there was something
far tenderer and sweeter than pride in the feeling with which Miss Judy
awaited the coming of John Stanley; for he was always John Stanley, and
never the famous judge, to her. She had loved him before he became a
judge, even before he had become a man. She had learned to love him soon
after his coming to Oldfield, when he was a mere lad, and her own youth
was not long past. She had loved him then as a young and happy mother
loves a son who is all that the happiest, proudest mother could
wish--noble, gifted, handsome, spirited, fearless--loving him as such a
mother loves such a son when they are young together. She loved him
afterward with a still more tender love--when, in the space of a pistol
shot, he had changed from a light-hearted boy into a sad, silent
man--loving him then as a tender mother loves a son who has suffered and
grown strong.

His blamelessness in the hideous tragedy which had darkened his life,
and the nobility with which he bore himself throughout the monstrous
ordeal of blood, claimed all that was strongest and finest in Miss
Judy's nature, and touched her romantic imagination as all the brilliant
success which came to him later never could have done. It was not for
such innocent gentleness as Miss Judy's ever fully to understand the
meaning of the tragedy; to comprehend how much more terrible it was than
the cruelest destiny of any one man, how much farther reaching through
the past and the future than the length of any one man's life. John
Stanley himself understood it at the time but dimly. Only by degrees did
he come to see the truth: that his forced taking of the life of a man
whom he did not know, whom he never had seen or heard of, had not been
simply an unavoidable necessity in self-defence, as he had tried to
believe,--nor an accident, as the verdict of the law and public opinion
had decreed, seeing that it was accidental only so far as his
instrumentality was concerned; that he himself was not the victim of
chance--_but the helpless transmitter of traditional bloodshed_.

It was revealed to him at the trial which acquitted him, that the man
whom he thus had been compelled to kill had been driven--ay, even
hounded--by public opinion into seeking the life of the man who had
taunted him, and in so doing into finding his own death at the hands of
a lad who had no quarrel with any one. It was then shown him that the
slain and the slayer were equal sacrifices to this monstrous tradition
for the shedding of blood. So that, as he began to see, and as he
continually looked back upon this blighting tragedy of his boyhood, it
thus became--to John Stanley, who was a thinker, and a christian, even
in his youth--infinitely more terrible than any really accidental or
necessary taking of another's life would have been. He saw in this
monstrous deed which he had been forced to commit, the direct result of
a tradition of bloody vengeance: the unmistakable outcome of generations
of false thinking, of false believing, of false teaching, of false
example, of false following; all the rank growth from one poisonous
root, all deeply rooted in a false sense of "honor," which, planted by
the Power of Evil, had grown into the very life of the people, until it
now towered, a deadly upas tree, darkening and poisoning that whole
sunny country, almost as darkly and killingly as its murderous kind had
ever darkened and poisoned beautiful Corsica.

When that awful truth first became plain to John Stanley--plain as the
handwriting on the wall--it altered not only his character, but the
whole trend of his life. From the day that he had first seen it through
the bloody tragedy of his youth, John Stanley had watched the growth of
the poison tree with ever deepening horror. He had seen its deadly shade
pass the limits of the wrong which could never be washed out by the
shedding of all the blood that ever flowed in human veins; he had
watched its creeping on to trivial and even fancied offences, till it
touched trifling discourtesies, till it reached at last inconceivably
small things--the too quick lifting of a hat to a lady, the too slow
response to the bow of another man--causing trifles light as air to be
measured against a human life. As John Stanley thus looked
on,--horror-stricken,--at the working of this deadly poison throughout
the body of the commonwealth, he came gradually to believe it to be even
more deadly and more widespread than perhaps it really was. His dread
and fear of any form of violence, his horror of any lightness in the
holding of life, his abhorrence of bloodshed under any provocation, grew
with this morbid brooding through sad and lonely years, until they
imperceptibly went beyond the bounds of perfect sanity, passing into the
fixed idea which much lonely thinking brings into many sad lives.

And John Stanley's life was still lonely, notwithstanding his late
marriage. Miss Judy felt this to be true, although she could not have
told how she knew. It always had been a source of distress to her that
she could know nothing of his wife, the beautiful, brilliant woman of
fashion whom he had married only a few years before. Miss Judy thought
wistfully that she would know why John seemed still so sad and lonely if
she could only see his wife. But the judge's fine-lady wife apparently
found no inducement to come to Oldfield; so that Miss Judy was compelled
to be content with asking how she was, whenever John came, and with
hearing him say every time that she was well--and nothing more.

But Miss Judy was not thinking about the judge's wife on that midsummer
night. It was enough for her perfect happiness merely to have him there,
settled for the evening in her father's arm-chair, which was fetched out
of the parlor for him and never for any one else. It was delight only to
look at him, smiling at her across the passage--wherein they sat because
it was cooler than the room--quite like old times. He was a very
handsome, very tall man, of slender but muscular build, stooping
slightly from his great height through much bending over books. His head
was fine, with a noble width of brow; his thick hair, once very dark,
was now silvered about the temples; but his eyes were as dark as ever,
and undimmed in their clear, steady brightness. His face was sensitive
in its clean-shaven delicacy, and pale with the pallor of the student.
It was not so sad though on that night as usual, nor nearly so grave. He
was rested and soothed and cheered--this famous man of large affairs--by
listening to Miss Judy's gentle twittering, so kind, so loving. It
pleased him to see the little things that she had done in preparation
for his coming. He smiled at the sight of the small basket of rosy
peaches daintily set about with maidenhair fern. He did not know that in
order to get the fruit Miss Judy had made a hard bargain with the
thrifty Mrs. Beauchamp, who had the only early peaches,--a very hard
bargain whereby the little lady went without butter on her bread for a
good many days. Nor did he suspect that she had climbed to the top of
the steepest hillside trying to reach the woods, regardless of the
fluttering of her heart; or that she had ventured bravely even into the
shadiest dell, heedless of her fear of snakes, in order to get his
favorite fern to wreathe his favorite fruit. Perhaps no man ever knows
what the pleasing of him costs a loving woman; certainly no loving woman
ever takes the cost into account.

But then, on the other hand, perhaps no woman, however loving, ever can
fully realize how much unstinted tenderness may mean to the greatest,
the gravest, the most reserved of men, when he has never found it in his
own home or anywhere else in all the cold world, which he has conquered
by giving up the warmth and sweetness of life--as they must be given up
by every conqueror of the region of perpetual ice. Miss Judy's gentle
love now enfolded him like a soft, warm mantle, so that the chill at his
heart melted away. It was then very sweet on that fragrant midsummer
night, to this sad and weary man, to hear Miss Judy babbling gently on.
He did not always listen to what she said; but the sound of her soft
voice seemed for the moment to take away all weariness and pain, as she
talked to him of the people and the things that he had known in his
youth. She said about the same over and over, to be sure, almost every
time he came, but that made no difference whatever; it was the sweetness
of her spirit, the peace of her presence, that the great judge craved
and loved and rested upon.

"And now, John, here are a few peaches--just the kind you like," Miss
Judy said, in her artlessly artful little way, as if the pretty basket
had only that moment fallen from the clouds--as she always said when he
had sat a certain length of time in her father's chair in the coolest
corner of the passage.

"Why,--so they are!" exclaimed the judge, in delighted surprise, as he
always exclaimed when the peaches were offered precisely at the time
when he expected them to be. "How in the world do you always
remember--never once forgetting--from year to year? And these are the
prettiest of all. See the rose velvet of that peach's bloom."

And then Miss Judy, delighted, and beaming, bustled about, spreading her
mother's best napkin over the judge's knees and under the plate (the
prettiest one with the wreath of forget-me-nots), wishing with all her
loving heart that she might find a pretext for tying something around
his dear neck. When she had put an old silver knife in his hand,--after
being as long about it as she could be--conscientiously,--she gave Miss
Sophia also a share of the rosy feast, and then sat down with a sigh of
complete content, and looked at them positively radiating happiness; the
happiness which only such a woman can feel in seeing those whom she
loves enjoying pleasures and privileges which she never claims nor even
thinks of, for herself.

And thus passed the first two hours of the three hours that the judge
always spent with Miss Judy on the first evening of his coming to
Oldfield. There was something which he felt that he must say before he
went away, but he shrunk from saying it, fearing to disturb Miss Judy;
and so put it off as long as he could, waiting indeed till the last. He
was not sure that it was a matter of real importance; he was rather of
the opinion that it was not of any actual consequence, and yet he could
not help mentioning it in justice to Miss Judy. In glancing over the
docket for the term, as he usually glanced immediately upon reaching the
village, he was surprised to find that a suit had been brought against
the estate of Major Bramwell for the payment of a note given by him to
Colonel Fielding. Looking farther, he saw that the note had been
transferred to Alvarado years before, and that the suit was brought in
the Spaniard's name. This was the shadow now coming over the judge's
visit to Miss Judy--this, and the blacker shadow cast by the past
whenever John Stanley was compelled to remember the existence of the
Spaniard, and the passion, cruelty, and deceit which had so ruthlessly
shut the light out of three hapless lives. He never thought of him if he
could help it; he never had been known to speak of him nor heard to call
his name. When Alvarado--mad with hate and jealousy that death itself
had not been able to soften or to cool--had continued to thrust himself
into the court upon first one wild pretext and then another wilder
pretext, during term after term, the judge had steadily looked away, had
steadily held himself from all anger as well as all violence, avoiding
the clash which the madman sought. The coolness and skill of the jurist
had enabled him to do this without great difficulty up to the present
time, and he had no fear of not being able to do the same in the present
case. He was not even any longer afraid of himself. Still, it was
necessary that he should explain the matter to Miss Judy, since she must
almost certainly hear of it and might naturally be hurt at his silence.
His first impulse had been to send the amount of the note with interest
to the holder of it by some third person, and so to dispose of the suit
without Miss Judy's knowledge. But a second thought made plain to him
that the money was not what the Spaniard wanted, and that such a step,
even if possible, would be utterly useless. It would also be worse than
useless to appeal to Colonel Fielding or to try to learn how and when
the note had come into Alvarado's possession. The old man had always
been a child in heart; he was now a child in mind. And then--the
unhappiness of John Stanley's youth had so warped his maturer judgment
of the causes of his misery--he had never been able to hold Alice
Fielding's father quite without blame for her sacrifice. No, he could
not go to Colonel Fielding, not even now, in his age and feebleness, not
even for Miss Judy's sake.

The strong often find it hard to understand how blamelessly the weak may
yield to violence. The wise, for all their wisdom, hardly ever can see
how innocence itself may lead the unwise into the pit digged by the
wicked. No, John Stanley could not go to Colonel Fielding, who, although
but as an innocent, helpless child himself now, alas! had been the
father of the girl whom he had loved, and who had been given to a
bloodthirsty beast in human form. No, he could not do that, even for
Miss Judy's sweet sake. So John Stanley thought, under a sudden great
wave of the old bitterness, with the pain of memory rushing back as if
the flood of wretchedness had engulfed him but yesterday. He could do
nothing else than tell Miss Judy, and he must tell her at once--lest she
hear it from some other source--and so gently that she could not be
frightened, timid as she was. There need be no trouble about the mere
money; he did not consider that at all; unknown to Miss Judy, he could
shield her from that. Nor was there any danger of so much as a collision
of words with the Spaniard, now or at any time. Nothing that could ever
come to pass--nothing in the vast power of evil--could make him, whose
hands had once been innocently dyed in a fellow-creature's blood, lift
his hand against another man, or force him to utter one word to tempt
another to raise a hand against himself.

Little by little the shadow had deepened, till Miss Judy saw it in his
sensitive face, and had begun to grow uneasy before he spoke.

"Do you know, or, rather, did you ever know, anything about your
father's having given his note to Colonel Fielding," he said, finally,
when he could wait no longer. "A note of hand, and without security, I
believe."

Miss Judy's blue eyes opened wide in startled surprise. Then she blushed
vividly; even by the poor light of the one flickering candle the judge
could see the rose color flush her fair face, which had been so pale of
late. Her father's debts had ever been a sore subject, and, although it
was now many years since they had been recalled to her memory by
mention, her sensitiveness had not lessened in the least.

"No, I do not," she said, with a touch of stiffness. "Our father was not
in the habit of speaking to us of business. He thought that gentlewomen
should be shielded from all sordid matters," she added, her gentle tone
marking a wider distance than had ever before existed between John
Stanley and herself.

The judge felt it, and realized instantly that he had made a bad
beginning, one very far indeed from his intention.

"But why do you ask?" inquired Miss Judy, while he hesitated.

"My dear Miss Judy, nothing was further from my thoughts than to startle
or offend you; but you know that--I only meant to tell you that--that a
small matter has arisen which--that an unimportant suit has been
filed--"

Miss Judy arose suddenly, and stood before him like a sentinel guarding
a post. "Am I to understand, John, that some one is suing my father for
debt," she said stiffly, and almost coldly; but the stiffness and
coldness now were not for him. "Tell me all about it at once, please."

"It is nothing to trouble you. If such a note be in existence, it must
have been barred by the statute of limitation long ago. How long has it
been since your father died?" asked the judge.

"Over twenty-five years,--twenty-six years this coming October." And as
Miss Judy spoke she turned, with a soft sigh, and looked tenderly at
Miss Sophia, and was glad to see that she was fast asleep, sitting
straight up in her chair.

"And this note, if given at all, must, of course, have been drawn before
that date. Your father was in Virginia a long time."

"Yes," sighed Miss Judy, glancing again lovingly and protectingly at
Miss Sophia. "It is very painful to sister Sophia and myself to remember
how long."

"Don't think any more about it," said the judge. "There can be no
necessity for your giving it another thought. The length of time, the
statute of limitation, protects you. The note cannot possibly be of any
value."

Miss Judy stood still for a moment in perplexed thought, with her little
hands very tightly clasped before her.

"But if my father gave the note,--if he ever owed Colonel Fielding the
money, and it never has been paid, I don't see that time can make any
difference," she said at last, a little absently and a little
uncertainly, as if she did not yet quite understand, but was,
nevertheless, firmly feeling her way to the light.

"Well, most people would think it made a difference," the judge
responded, smiling in spite of his sympathy with her troubled
perplexity.

"I can't believe that Colonel Fielding can have meant to bring such a
suit. He loved my father and honored him above all other men. I cannot
believe that he would knowingly smirch the memory of his best friend;
unless, poor old man, his mind is entirely gone. And why has the note
not been known about before? Why have I never been told--all these
years? Are you sure, John, that there is no mistake? Are you sure that
the colonel has actually brought the suit?" asked Miss Judy, piteously,
with her blue eyes--clouded and filling with tears--fixed on the judge's
face.

"It is not the colonel," murmured the judge.

"Then who is it?" persisted Miss Judy, with growing bewilderment and
distress. "Who comes at this late day claiming that my father did not
pay what he owed,--when he could have paid?"

"Alvarado," John Stanley said, in so low a tone that she barely heard,
thus forced himself to utter the name of the Spaniard for the first time
since it had become to him an unspeakable thing.

"John--John, I humbly beg your pardon. I didn't dream--oh, my son," Miss
Judy cried, forgetting her own trouble.

She ran to him and laid her tender little hands on his broad shoulders,
and gazed into his pale, calm face, all unconscious that her own was
quivering and wet with tears--tears for the pain which she saw in his
set face, for his sacrificed youth, for his lost happiness--tears most
of all for gentle Alice Fielding, the girl whom he still loved, although
she had rested so long in the grave of the broken-hearted.



XXIII

THE BEGINNING OF THE END


Misfortune never comes singly to a community any more than to an
individual. No life anywhere may ever stand or fall quite alone, so are
the living all bound together. In a village where every door stands wide
and all lives are in the open, and where no high, hard walls rise
between the people,--as they do in a city,--the bond is closer than it
can be elsewhere. So that the uneasiness which the judge communicated so
unwillingly to Miss Judy on that quiet midsummer night was the beginning
of the end of the peace of many of the good people of Oldfield, for a
long time afterward.

Sorely troubled, Miss Judy had lain awake hour after hour looking into
the darkness, and trying to see the way to do that which she knew was
right. She had seen her duty distinctly enough as soon as the judge's
meaning was clear; the only uncertainty was as to the means of doing it.
The money must be paid, the length of time during which it had been
owing only making the payment more urgent. No loophole of the law could
afford any means of escape to a sense of honor as fine and true as hers.
Such a possibility did not cross her mind as she lay thinking in the
silence of the night, which was broken only by the peaceful little
puffing sound that came tranquilly from Miss Sophia's side of the big,
high bed. Miss Judy again softly put out her thin little hand in the
dark, and softly patted her sister's round, plump shoulder with
protecting tenderness, as she always instinctively caressed her when
trouble drew near. Come what would, this sister, so tenderly loved,
should not know or suffer any privation that could be prevented. It
would be hard to keep her from knowing if the payment of the note should
require the entire amount of the next pension money, which was every
cent they would have for months. Still, Miss Judy remembered how she had
managed, several times ere this, in keeping other unpleasant things from
her sister's knowledge, and she now lay revolving transparent schemes
and innocent fictions, alternately smiling and sighing, half proud and
half ashamed of her own deep duplicity.

The result of the night's reflection was that she went early on the next
morning to the tavern to see Judge Stanley, hoping to be able to speak
to him before he left his room for the court-house. But some little
delay had been required--so at least Miss Judy imagined--in order to
allay Miss Sophia's suspicions, and the judge was already gone when Miss
Judy reached the tavern. She hesitated for a few moments, blushing,
embarrassed, confused, and utterly thrown out of her plans. She had
never entered the court-house; she had never heard of a gentlewoman's
doing such a thing. The very thought of approaching the door of it
shocked her as something improper and almost immodest. And yet it was
absolutely necessary for her to see the judge immediately, so that she
might tell him of her decision before the case could be called. She
would do almost anything rather than allow her father's honored name to
be dishonorably mentioned in the hearing of the people of Oldfield, who
had revered him all their lives, and looked up to him as the finest of
gentlemen, the most valiant of soldiers. Without giving herself time to
shrink or to flinch, she turned desperately and hurried toward the
court-house, as she would have marched to the cannon's mouth.

The court was barely opened, the judge was just taking his seat on the
bench, when the sheriff came and told him that Miss Judy was at the door
and would like to see his Honor if he "would kindly step outside." The
sheriff smiled in bringing him the message, his broad, kind face
broadening and growing kinder with the affectionate indulgence which
everybody always felt for Miss Judy's harmless peculiarities. Even the
judge's grave face relaxed somewhat, lighting and softening, as he
promptly arose from the bench and went to do the little lady's bidding.
He found her on the other side of the big road, and not at the door of
the court-house, where he had expected to find her. She had, indeed,
hastily retreated as far as she dared, after sending for him, and now
stood awaiting him, terrified and trembling, at being even as near the
door as she was--hovering like a bird just alighted but ready to take
flight. In her agitation she held the front breadth of her best
bombazine very, very high indeed, so that her neat little prunella
gaiters were plainly visible, and even her trim ankles were quite
distinctly in sight; and there were also unmistakable glimpses of
snow-white ruffles of an antiquated fashion, like the delicate feathers
about the feet of a white bantam.

"I wanted to see you, John, before the suit could come up," she began
pantingly at once. "I thought it all over last night,--after you were
gone."

"Everything is right, Miss Judy. I considered the matter again when I
went back to the tavern. Don't give it another thought. The suit is
barred by limitation long ago," the judge said gently, as if soothing a
frightened child.

"But is it really a note of my father's? Did he ever owe the money? And
is it true that the debt never has been paid? That is what I wish to
know," persisted Miss Judy, with all the earnestness of a woman who
knows well the meaning of her words.

Her blue eyes were uplifted to his face, and she read in it the answer
which he would have been glad to withhold.

"Then it must be paid," she said firmly, promptly, conclusively. She had
been drifting out of her depth ever since the stunned plunge of the
first shock; but she now felt solid ground once more under her feet.
"There is my dear and honored father's pension for his services in the
War for Independence. A portion of that could scarcely be better used
than in discharging any pecuniary obligation of his, which he may
naturally have forgotten, or chanced to overlook."

This was said loftily, almost carelessly, as though the large size of
the pension made any unexpected demand upon it a mere trifle, and with a
gentle, sweet look of pride. The judge could not help smiling,
notwithstanding that he was touched and even troubled, knowing how grave
a matter any call for money must be to Miss Judy. Looking down upon her
from his great height, he thought he never before had known what a frail
pretty little creature she was, nor how deeply, purely blue her eyes
were, with the blue of fresh-blown flax-flowers, nor how like silver
floss her hair was, till he now saw it new burnished by the sunlight.
But he stood in silence, uncertain what to say, fearing to wound her.

"And the amount of the note? How much is it?" Miss Judy asked suddenly,
after the momentary silence.

Nothing could have been more like her, more entirely characteristic of
her whole life, than that this question, which would have been the first
with many, should have been the last with her. Yet now that it had
occurred to her, she held her breath with fear. If it should be more
than the amount of the whole pension,--more than she had or ever hoped
to have in the wide world,--what should she do then?

"It was drawn for a hundred dollars. I have not yet calculated the
interest," the judge answered reluctantly.

Miss Judy gasped and turned white; the earth seemed suddenly sliding
beneath her feet. Then in another instant a scarlet tide swept the
paleness from her alarmed face. The blood in her gentle veins was, after
all, the blood of a soldier, and she fought on to the last trench.

"It must be paid, as soon as possible," she said formally, as if
speaking to a stranger; but she laid her trembling little hand in John
Stanley's warm, firm clasp with a look of perfect love and trust before
she turned from him and went on her troubled way homeward.

He stood still for a moment when she had left him, gazing after the
little figure in black fluttering against the warm wind. Then he turned
slowly and went back to his seat on the bench, and the routine of the
court forthwith began to drone throughout the long, hot day. A feeling
of foreboding, a vague dread of some unknown calamity, had hung over him
when he had first awakened on that morning; as though a formless warning
had come through the mists of unremembered dreams. He was not able to
cast off the depression which it caused, and the feeling deepened with
the dragging of the heavy hours. But it wavered still without distinct
form. It had nothing to do with his hourly, momentary expectation of
seeing the Spaniard's threatening face and wild eyes confronting him
through the gloom of the low-ceiled court-room. He was used to the sight
and he never had feared it, save as he always feared himself and the
enforced shedding of blood. The only unusual thing was that Alvarado
should not be in his accustomed place that day, as he invariably had
been heretofore, whenever the judge had been on the bench; but this fact
gave the judge no uneasiness, he hardly thought of it at all, for his
mind was filled with other things. He leaned his aching head on his hand
as the business of the court droned dully along and the heat grew
steadily greater. He thought, vaguely, that it must be the heat and the
scent of the catalpa flowers which weighed so heavily upon him. For a
few large, white bells swung uncommonly late amongst the heavy, dusty
foliage of the catalpa trees, crowding close to the deep windows,
darkening the court-room and shutting out every breath of the fitful,
sultry breeze.

He left the court-house as soon as he could get away, and strolled
slowly toward the farthest, highest hillside, whither he often went at
the close of a tiring day. The warm wind had died out of the valley, but
the air would, so he thought, be cooler on the hilltop; a cool breeze
nearly always stirred the tall cedars of the graveyard, as if with the
chill air of the tomb. He found the gate open, as it always was. There
was never any need for closing it. Within were no gilded bones to be
stolen: without were no inhuman robbers of graves. So that here those
who rested within had nothing more to fear; and those who strove without
could not be barred when they also came to stay.

Leaning on the fence, he turned and looked down upon the drowsing
village; at the men, white and black, who were going homeward with the
unhasting pace of the country; at the black women with milk-pails,
crossing the back lots whence the cows were calling; at the farmers,
already far in the distance, riding away from court; at the great road
wagons, with their mighty teams of four and six horses. These great
wagons were the huge ships of this vast inland sea of wheat and corn and
tobacco, and now but lately launched, heavy-laden, with the newly
garnered grain.

And then, as his wandering, absent gaze fell near by, upon the path from
the village leading up the hillside, he saw that Lynn and Doris were
slowly climbing it after him toward the graveyard. He had met the young
man at the tavern on the previous day, and he had known his father. He
had always known Doris in the distant way in which he knew all the
people of Oldfield, with the sole exception of Miss Judy. He therefore
greeted them with the formal courtesy that he gave to every one; and he
talked with them for a few moments, in his grave, impersonal way, but he
was disappointed in his wish for solitude, and he lingered no longer
than good breeding required. He did not stay to go over to an isolated
corner of the graveyard as he had intended, to see if the tangle of
weeds and briers, which makes the desolation of neglected
burial-grounds, had been taken away from one solitary grave, as it
always was when he came and never at any other time. He could not do
this in the presence of any one, so that, lifting his hat with a faint
smile, he now turned his face toward the village and the tavern.

At the foot of the hill he happened upon the little Frenchman, who sat
groaning by the roadside, unable to walk because he had wrenched his
ankle, spraining it very badly, in getting over the fence.

"But it is not that I do care for the pain. Bah!" cried monsieur, with a
Gallic gesture and an inflection that belonged to no nation and was
wholly his own. "It is--hélas!--the ploughing for the spring wheat. A
man may not hobble after the plough, neither may he follow with
crutches."

"Oh, you needn't trouble about that. There's plenty of time, and you
can't plough, anyway, until a rainfall has softened the ground," said
the judge, kindly.

"The black man, devoid of intelligence, who tills the fields of monsieur
the doctor, ploughs to-day in the dust. Should the grain of the fields
of monsieur the doctor grow quicker and thrive better than the grain of
the fields of madame the mistress, whose fields I myself do till, then I
shall surely mortify."

"There's nothing to be done in the fields now," the judge said, trying
not to smile. "Let me help you," bending over and offering his strong
arm and broad shoulder. "You'll be all right again in good time for the
spring wheat. A sprained ankle is no Waterloo!"

The Frenchman shrunk, dropping away from the outstretched arm as though
it had struck him down. His face, open and transparent as a child's, had
been confidingly upturned; now it fell, reddened and clouded with anger,
indignation, and shame. Falling back, he tried at once to rise again,
only to sink--groaning and helpless--more prone than before, while
hissing through his clenched teeth something about _le sentiment du
fer_.

"It is the fatal misfortune of my father that you do insult!" he said
fiercely, in English, striving vainly to maintain an icy civility. "When
it is that I may again stand on my feet, your Highness will perhaps--"

"Come, come, Beauchamp. You are suffering. Here, let me help you."

"_Jamais! Jamais!_--not to ze death!" cried monsieur, shrieking with
mingled rage and pain.

The judge, from his calm height, looked silently down on the pathetic
little form stretched at his feet, at the gray head resting now on the
hard earth, and, seeing the dignity, the tragedy, which strangely
invested it, a great surge uplifted the deep pity for the mystery and
the sorrow of living which always filled his sad heart.

"As you please about that, Mr. Beauchamp. But you must allow me to pull
off your boot before your leg becomes worse swollen. You are risking
permanent injury by keeping it on; the hurt seems more serious than any
mere sprain," he said, with the gentle patience that great strength
always has for real weakness.

And then this stately gentleman, this famous judge, knelt down in the
dust of the common highway, beside this poor distraught, angry,
resisting, atom of humanity, and tenderly released the injured ankle
from the pressure that was torturing it.

"Now, that's better," he said, rising, and looking round in some
perplexity. "Ah, yonder is a cart coming up the big road. I can get the
driver of it to take you home."

He spoke to the negro who was driving the swaying oxen, and gave him
some money, and stood waiting until he saw the Frenchman lifted
carefully and safely into the cart, and well started on the way toward
his home. Then the judge went on his own lonely, homeless road to the
tavern. The lengthening shadows of the hills were already darkening the
valley, although a wonderful golden light still lingered above the
summits, making the new moon look wan. There was only daylight enough
for the judge to see old lady Gordon sitting alone at her window, and
seeing her, he was reminded that it was his duty to tell her of the
accident which had befallen the manager of her farm.

She looked up suddenly, almost eagerly, at the sound of his approach,
and peered into the gloaming with the sad intentness of weary eyes which
are no longer sure of what they see. When she recognized the judge, she
suddenly settled heavily back in her chair with an abrupt movement of
angry disappointment. She did not thank him for coming to tell her, and
she did not ask him to come in. She merely nodded with the rude
taciturnity which, with her, always marked some disturbance of mind.



XXIV

OLD LADY GORDON'S ANGER


For this breaker from a sea of troubles, gradually overspreading all
Oldfield, had now gone so far that it had stirred, at last, even the
long unstirred level of old lady Gordon's vast indifference.

It had been many a long year since she had been moved to such anger as
she was feeling on that day; few things seemed to her worth real anger;
she accepted almost everything with careless, almost amiable, tolerance.
Selfishness as absolute as hers often wears a manner very like good
nature, because it is far too great to be moved by trifles.

Poor old lady Gordon! She had managed to sink her disappointment in
self-indulgence, as wretchedness too often sinks itself in opium. She
had eaten rich food because the eating of it helped to pass the dull
days of her distasteful life; she had read all the novels within her
reach--good, bad, and indifferent--because reading was not so tiresome
as thinking, when there was nothing pleasant to think about; she had
laughed at many follies and mistakes which she saw clearly enough,
because it seemed to her useless to try to prevent folly or the making
of mistakes.

And yet none knew the true from the false better than this honest,
scornful old pagan, who had buried more than one talent, more than
ordinary intelligence, under habitual sloth of mind and body; and none
had a more genuine respect for all that was finest and highest. But her
own early striving toward it had met too complete a defeat for
her--being what she was--to go on striving or to think it worth while
for others to strive. A nature like hers can never submit, unembittered
and unhardened, to wrong and unhappiness; nor is it ever winged by the
spiritual so that it may rise above its false place in the world. It can
only beat itself against the stone wall of environment, or recoil in
fatalistic indifference. And in this last poor old lady Gordon had found
refuge so long ago that she had quite forgotten the pain--and the
pleasure--which comes with suffering through loving.

And then, after she had thus lived through many wasted days, and many
empty nights, it seemed as if this grandson had come at the eleventh
hour to open the door of her prison-house. She had not believed it at
first; more than a half-century is so long to wait for everything which
the heart most craves, that it cannot believe at once when its supreme
desire seems about to be granted at last. But, nevertheless, old lady
Gordon's pleasure and pride in her grandson had grown fast and steadily
through those perfect days and weeks of summer. It had pleased her more
and more to hear his strong, gay young voice ringing through the silence
of the dull old house. It had pleased her more and more to look at his
bright, handsome young face across the table, which had been lonely so
long. It had pleased her most of all to have his cheering young
presence--so over-flowing with hope and spirits--at her side, through
the dreary hours of the lingering twilight, when she had been forced, in
the solitude of the old time, to face alone the dreaded muster of
disappointment's mocking spectres.

Thus had old lady Gordon regarded her grandson in the beginning of her
acquaintance with him. But she gradually began to know him, to see him
as he really was, to think that he might be what he meant to be. And so,
little by little, this hard, embittered, lonely old soul came finally to
believe that a grudging fate was, after all, about to grant to her age
the true son of her own heart, of her great pride, of her unbounded
ambition--the son whom it had so cruelly denied to her youth and
maturity. Then there came a strange and piteous stirring of all her
long-numbed sensibilities; a powerful, and even terrible, uprising of
all her intensest feelings. It was as if a mighty old grapevine, long
stripped of fruit and foliage, long fallen away from every living thing,
long trailing along the earth--deeply covered with mould and weeds--as
if such a mighty, twisted, hard old grapevine were suddenly to put forth
strong new tendrils, and, entwining them around a young tree, should
thus begin to rise again toward the last light of life's sunset.

And now, just as this late warmth was sending its rays through the chill
veins of unloved and unloving old age,--the coldest and the saddest
thing in the whole world,--old lady Gordon once more found herself
facing the same danger which had wrecked all her earlier hopes. She had
shut her keen old eyes to it at first, and had merely smiled, although
she had seen her grandson's interest in Doris quite clearly ever since
its commencement. The girl seemed to her so far beneath her grandson in
station as to be safely outside any serious consideration. For no
Brahmin was ever more deeply imbued with the prejudice of caste than
this slothful old lady Gordon; and no consideration other than a serious
one could disturb her in the least. Moreover, she rested for a while
upon her confidence in Lynn's singleness of purpose, believing in his
determination to allow nothing to turn him from the pursuit of his
ambition. But later, as the summer days went by and she saw him giving
more and more of his time to this yellow-haired, brown-eyed,
sweet-spoken, soft-mannered daughter of the village news-monger, and
less and less to the thought and study of his chosen profession, a doubt
entered her mind, and began to rankle like a thorn in the flesh. As she
was left more and more alone, till she had scarcely any of her
grandson's society, which was now become so sweet, she had time to
remember the folly and weakness of his father, and the folly and
wickedness of his grandfather. These dark memories, surging back, as she
brooded in solitude, brought old bitterness to her new uneasiness; and
yet, recalling many mistakes which she had made in the old time through
the rashness of inexperience, she still kept silence, resolving not to
fall into such errors again. She did not speak slightingly of the girl,
recalling that as one of her most fatal errors; and she was also
withheld by a grim sense of justice which was always lurking,
half-forgotten, within her hard old breast. She accordingly wisely
confined herself to passing comments upon Sidney, and to occasional
references to Uncle Watty, directing most of her witty, satirical talk
toward love and marriage in the abstract. One day she read Lynn a couple
of lines from an old novel which said that:--

"Falling in love is like falling downstairs; it is always an accident,
and nearly always a misfortune."

She had many such dry and stinging epigrams at her sharp tongue's end in
those days, when she was using wit, satire, irony, and ridicule as
weapons to defend her late-coming happiness. Poor old lady Gordon! it
was very hard. Selfishness always makes opposition bitterly hard, and it
is hard indeed to have been compelled to wait through the space of a
generation for the supreme desire of the heart. It was harder than a
nature so imperious as hers could endure, to meet such ignoble
interference at this eleventh hour, now that its late fulfilment seemed
so near, now that she herself had so little time for longer waiting.

So thus it was that scornful impatience gradually gave way to bitter
anger, to the fierce, compelling anger of the autocrat long unused to
having her will crossed, much less lightly set aside, and, least of all,
to having it totally disregarded. It was lightly and even gayly that
Lynn had gone his own way in opposition to hers; but when their wills
had clashed slightly once or twice, old lady Gordon had seen that they
were made of the same piece of cold steel. She had recognized the fact
with a queer mixture of pride and displeasure, but the recognition had
turned her away from all thought of force, and she had henceforth
resorted to subtler measures. She had tried--with a gentleness so
foreign to her nature that it was pathetic--to keep him at her side, as
a tigress might softly stretch out a paw--every cruel claw sheathed in
velvet--to draw a cub away from danger. But this too failed, as the
efforts of the old to hold the young always must fail when nature calls.
And thus it was that the lingering twilights of those last summer days
found old lady Gordon again alone, as the judge had found her; again
solitary at lonely nightfall; again--with the long night so near--gazing
into the gathering darkness at the ghostly assemblage of all her dead
hopes.

Lynn did not come that night until she had turned and tossed through
more than one sleepless hour. At breakfast the next morning they had
little to say to one another. It was nearly always so now, although Lynn
had scarcely noted the fact that all ease and confidence had gone out of
their companionship. He was always in haste of late to get away; every
morning he went earlier to join Doris, forgetting all about the law
books which lay on the table in his room, and which his grandmother used
to go and look at and turn over--most piteously. She now used rarely to
stir from her chair except to do this. Every evening he was later in
leaving Doris, and slower in coming home; and he never lingered now on
the dark porch to think over his plans. And day by day old lady Gordon's
secret wrath burned more fiercely, although she still kept it carefully
covered with the ashes of assumed indifference. But on the evening of
the judge's visit her long-smouldering anger had, for the first time,
burst into flame beyond her control. She had seen Lynn and Doris passing
on their way to the graveyard; she had watched the flutter of the girl's
white skirt at her grandson's side all along the slow, winding way up to
the high hilltop. The sight had been as wind and fuel to raging fire. It
was well for the judge that he had not lingered while the flames thus
raged; it was well for Lynn that he had been for the moment beyond the
reach of his grandmother's burning contempt; it was well for
Doris--though as innocent of all offence as one of the white lambs
feeding on the hillside--well that her return was unseen in the
gloaming; it had been well--most of all--for this fierce old spirit
itself that certain strong, dark drops, from the bag hanging at the head
of her bed, could lay for a few hours the mocking ghosts of dead hopes,
all slain by folly and weakness, even as this last one seemed now being
put to death before her very eyes.

The morning found her spent in strength; and the fire of her anger,
although uncooled, was again covered by the silence of exhaustion. Moods
of silence were, however, not unusual with her, and Lynn was too deeply
absorbed in his own pleasant thoughts to observe his grandmother's
ominous brooding. When the meal was over, with the exchange of hardly a
dozen thoughtless words upon his part, and of taciturn responses upon
her side, Lynn took up his hat and went out of the house and toward the
gate. Pausing under the cypress tree, he looked back and smiled and
waved his hand; and then he went swiftly along the big road toward the
silver poplars.

Old lady Gordon sat quite still in her chair, gazing after him with
darkly drawn brows, with her turkey-wing fan lying forgotten on her lap,
and her novel cast, neglected, on a chair by her side. She had not told
Lynn of the accident to the manager of the farm; she had not spoken of
her intended visit to the Frenchman on that morning; she had not asked
her grandson to go with her, although she walked with difficulty and
even with pain, and longed with age's helplessness to have him near by
to lean upon. When Lynn was quite out of sight she arose--a fine,
majestic old figure in her loose white drapery--and started across the
fields, making her slow, painful way to the Beauchamp cottage. She found
the Frenchman in bed, and, seeing how seriously he was hurt, and
remembering the farm work which must go undirected, she was not in a
better humor when she turned her face homeward. Still she held her wrath
with an iron hand, exercising perhaps the greatest self-control that she
had ever brought to bear upon anything during her whole life. She even
forced herself to make some gruffly civil response when Lynn came back
to dinner at noon, and hastened away again as soon as he could, with a
few hurried, happy words and another gay smile and careless wave of his
hand. But all through the afternoon hours of that long, dull, solitary
day old lady Gordon's anger grew as thunder clouds gather, and when,
after supper, Lynn again took up his hat and turned, intending again to
leave her, the brewing tempest suddenly burst upon him.

"Have you ever stopped to think where all this philandering must lead?
It's high time," she broke out, hoarse with passionate rage.

The young man, holding his hat in his hand, wheeled and looked at his
grandmother in utter amazement, startled, almost alarmed, by the
violence of her tone and by the suddenness of the attack.

"I don't understand. I don't know in the least what you mean," he said
honestly enough, and yet, even as he spoke, a glimmering consciousness
came into his open face.

"Oh, yes, you do. You know perfectly well, but I'll put it plainer if
you want me to," she went on, roughly, sneeringly.

Lynn reddened, putting up his hand with a gesture imposing silence.
"Perhaps I do understand something of what you mean," he said
hesitatingly, with the hesitation which every right-minded man feels at
referring--however distantly--in any such connection to a girl whom he
reveres. "And if I do understand anything of what you mean, you must
allow me to tell you that there has been no philandering, nor any
semblance of it."

"Then what do you call it?" she demanded, with even greater violence and
roughness than before. "May I ask how you characterize this perpetual
dawdling, all day and nearly all night, at the heels of a girl whose
rank is hardly above that of a servant--a girl whom even the son of your
father, or the grandson of your grandfather, could scarcely be fool or
rake enough to think of--except as something to philander after."

She hurled the brutal words at him as she would have thrown stones in
his face, far too furious to think or to care how they might hurt.

He recoiled, shocked, revolted, by the sight of such unrestrained anger
in age. It seemed an incredibly monstrous thing. Then he stood still,
looking at her with a cool courage which matched her flaming rage. He
now moved farther away, but it was solely because he felt a sudden
extreme repulsion.

"Pardon me," he said icily, moving still farther, still nearer the open
door. "It is you who do not understand. There certainly is nothing that
any one else can possibly have misunderstood. I have been scrupulously
careful all along that there should not be. I have guarded every act,
every word, every look--"

Old lady Gordon burst out laughing like a coarse old man deep in his
cups.

"Oh ho!" she scoffed. "So that's how the matter stands, is it? How
high-minded! How prudently virtuous! How perfectly Sidney's daughter
must understand. How highly the girl must appreciate it. Of course she
does understand and appreciate your prudence, your thought--of yourself.
What woman wouldn't? Even a simpleton of a country girl must have been
overcome by it. She can't help forgiving you for trying your best to
make her fall in love with you, if you have been as steadfast--as you
say you have--in warning her that you didn't mean to fall in love with
her. How she must honor and admire you!" she taunted, with something
masculine in her voice, and laughing again like a coarse old man.

The shafts of her merciless scorn pierced the armor of the young man's
cool calmness like arrows barbed with fire. It seemed to him for an
instant as though flame suddenly wrapped him from head to foot. He felt
literally scorched by a burning sense of shame, although, dazed and
bewildered, he could not yet see whence it came. The blood rushed into
his face, into his head; his eyes fell; he could not keep them on his
grandmother's mocking, scornful face.

Old lady Gordon's fiery gaze did not fall, but it softened. A strange
look, one which was hard to read, came to replace the expression of
contemptuous anger. There was still some scorn in it, yet the scorn was
curiously mingled with vanity.

"Well, after all, you are more like me than you're like the men of the
family," she said abruptly, with a sudden return to her usual manner.

Lynn could not speak; he could not look at her. He silently bent down
and took up his hat, which had dropped from his nerveless grasp, and
with bowed head he went silently out into the shielding dusk.



XXV

THE REVELATION OF THE TRUTH


The first wound received by true self-respect is always a terrible
thing. And the truer the self-esteem and the better founded, the more
the slightest blow must bruise it. The deepest stabbing of the derelict
can never hurt so much or be so hard to heal. It may indeed be doubted
whether a touch on the real quick of a fine sense of honor ever entirely
heals.

A man coarser and duller than Lynn Gordon was, less high-minded, less
essentially honorable, could not have suffered as he was suffering when
he went out that night into the dusky peace of the drowsing village. Yet
he could hardly tell at first whence came the blow which had wounded him
so deeply. The suddenness of the arraignment had dazed him; the violence
of the attack had stunned him; so that he was conscious mainly of a
strange bewilderment of pain and humiliation, as though he had been
struck down in the dark.

He went through the gate as if walking in a distressful dream, and
turned toward the silver poplars, as he had turned at that time of the
evening for many weeks, but turning through sheer force of habit,
scarcely knowing whither he went. It was not yet quite nightfall; the
starlight was just beginning to meet the twilight, only commencing to
arch vast violet spaces high above the dim trees on the far-folded
hills. The silvery mists, ever lurking among the fringing willows of the
stream murmuring through the meadows, were already rising to cloud the
lowlands with fleecy whiteness, radiantly starred with fireflies. The
few languid sounds of living heard in the day, now had all passed away
before the coming of night. Only the plaintive song of the white cricket
came from the misty distance; only the lonely chime of the brown cricket
rang from the near-by grass; only the chilling prophecy of the katydid's
cry shrilled through the peaceful silence of the warm, fragrant
gloaming.

But the softest dusk of heaven, the completest peace of earth, is
powerless to calm the storm which beats upon the spirit. Lynn Gordon
strode on as though to confront the full glare of life's fiercest
turmoil. He was driven by such stinging humiliation as he had never
expected to know; he was goaded by such pain of mind as made his very
body ache. So that he thus went forward, swiftly, fiercely, for a score
of paces, and then he stopped and stood still, arrested by a sudden
thought which was as blasting as a flash of lightning. For an instant
his hot and heavy-beating heart seemed to cease its rapid throbbing and
to grow suddenly cold with sickening fear. Another moment and he felt as
if a living flame wrapped him again from head to foot, so intolerable
was the burning shame that flashed over him. Had Doris seen him--as his
grandmother had seen him? Had Doris recognized in his guarded attitude
toward her an intended warning to guard her own heart--as his
grandmother had said? Had Doris felt--as his grandmother had
charged--that he had thus offered her the most unpardonable indignity
that an honorable man can offer a modest woman?

Under the shock of the thought he recoiled from it as too monstrous to
be true. That exquisite, spotless child! That sacred embodiment of
peerless beauty! He could have groaned aloud as the unbearable thought
clung like a flaming garment. Yet he could not cast it from him; and out
of the smoke of memory there now came swirling many little
half-forgotten incidents. Small things, which had then seemed at the
time to be trifles light as air, now came back, seeming confirmations
strong as proof of holy writ. Under the light of this fiery revelation
one recollection stood out more distinctly than any other. He remembered
giving Doris some simple little gift. He saw again in this dim,
unpeopled dusk, even more clearly than he had seen it then, the
bewitching brightness of her beautiful face, the soft radiance of her
lovely, uplifted eyes, as he had put the bauble in her eager little
hands. And now, while he still saw her thus, he heard his own voice
saying an incredible thing. He now heard himself--not some dull,
blundering, brutal dolt--saying something vague about its being strictly
an "impersonal" sort of present.

Ay, he heard again the very tone in which his own voice uttered these
inconceivable words. And then he saw again the dawning bewilderment
which crept over the sunny transparency of the exquisite face; the slow
shadowing of the soft dark eyes, raised so frankly, so confidingly to
his; the quick-coming, quicker-going, quiver of the sweet rose-red lips.
At last, as though the glass through which he had seen darkly were
miraculously become as clear as crystal, he saw again the quivering fall
of the long, curling lashes over the lily cheeks, which reddened
suddenly, as they rarely did, before growing swiftly whiter than ever;
the sudden proud lifting of the golden head, which naturally drooped
like some rare orchid too heavy for its delicate waxen stem: the brave,
steady, upward look from the soft eyes, now suddenly grown very bright:
the abrupt laying down of the simple gift by the little hand, which was
always so gently deliberate in all that it did: the hasty moving away of
the slender form, which had, up to that time, rested at his side in the
perfect trust which only the timid ever give.

All this rushed back, bringing an unendurable self-revelation. The
firmest, deepest foundations of his character were shaken in his own
estimation. His pride of uprightness, his pride of intelligence, his
pride of good breeding, his belief in his own right feeling, his
reliance upon his own quickness of perception, his faith in his fineness
of sensibility,--all these now stood convicted of weakness and falsity.
Faster and more confusedly many self-delusions flew through the stress
of his mind, as burning brands are borne by violent gusts of wind. Thus
was hurled the recollection of that day in the graveyard, the day from
which had dated this growing aloofness of Doris, an aloofness so gentle
that he had mistaken it for timidity; the day from which had dated her
increasing unwillingness to continue these daily strolls--an
unwillingness so subtle that he had taken it for nothing more than
natural anxiety about Miss Judy. Not until this moment had he had the
remotest suspicion of the truth, even though it had gradually frozen the
sweet freedom of her innocent talk into the silence of cold constraint.

He had been standing still, bowed under this intolerable weight of
humiliation, crushed beneath this overwhelming burden of self-reproach.
Now he went slowly onward, unseen and unheard, through the gathering
darkness and the deep dust. When he came within sight of the light
shining behind the white curtain over the one window of Doris's humble
home, he paused again and leaned on the fence and looked at the window
for a long time. He felt that he could not go nearer it that night, that
he could not face Doris until he had more fully faced his own soul. As
he gazed at the white light, he thought how like it was to the girl
herself, so simple, so clear, so steady, so open, shielded only by the
single whiteness of purity. A soft breeze coming over the hills rippled
the silver leaves,--grown as dark now as the sombre plumes of the
cypress tree,--and stirred the white curtain as if with spirit hands.
And then as he lingered there came to him a wonderful change of feeling.
The thought of her stole softly to him through the warm starlight, sweet
as the breath of the white jessamine. A great, deep tenderness welled up
in his heart and went out to her, sweeping all before it--all untrue
dreams of ambition, all false thinking, all self-delusion. Then he knew
that he loved her; then he knew that he had loved her from the instant
that his eyes had fallen upon her, a vision of beauty framed in roses;
then he knew that he would love her with the highest and finest love
that was his to bestow--so long as he should live.

When this bitter-sweet truth came home to his troubled heart, it brought
with it a calm, tender sadness. Even as he recognized it he felt that
his own blind folly, his foolish conceit of wisdom, had robbed him of
whatever chance, whatever hope he might have had, of winning her love in
return. The fatal, unforgivable blunders into which he had fallen so
blindly must forever stand in the way. And he hardly dared think there
ever could have been any hope, even had he not so hopelessly offended.
For humility is always the hall-mark of true love. To be loved by the
one beloved is always true love's most wondrous miracle.

With a last lingering look at the light shining through the white
curtain, Lynn turned slowly and went down the big road toward his
grandmother's house, now lying dark and silent beneath the tall trees
which stood over it and amid the thick shrubbery which crowded around
it. The passionate emotion with which he had left it had passed wholly
away. The love filling his mind and heart, as with the sudden unfurling
of soft wings, left no room for anything hard or unkind or bitter. He
had almost forgotten the hard words with which his grandmother had so
cruelly stoned him; he had wholly forgiven them. For newly awakened love
can forgive almost any harshness in the awakening. He was not, in fact,
thinking of his grandmother at all; he was thinking solely of Doris, and
was planning to see her at the earliest possible moment on the morrow.
It was not easy of late to see her alone; he realized this now with a
guilty pang which touched his new peace with the old pain. Only on the
previous evening he had found her gone from her home, without leaving a
message for him, as she always used to leave one. Only by the merest
accident had he met her coming out of Miss Judy's gate; only by the most
urgent persuasion had he been able to induce her to take the accustomed
walk to the graveyard, which she used always to be so ready and even
eager to take. Ah, that walk up the hillside, which had been as a torch
to the tinder of his grandmother's anger! For that, also, as for
everything else, he alone was to blame. It was too late to undo what had
been done; but never again through any fault of his should evil speaking
or evil thinking approach her spotless innocence. It was not for his
strong arms to protect her; his own folly had forfeited all hope of that
sweetest and most sacred privilege. Nevertheless, he might still beg her
to forgive him, even though he knew that forgiveness was impossible for
an offence such as his. And he might still tell her that he loved her
and ask her to be his wife, although he knew only too well that she
would refuse. And then, having done what he could, he would go on with
his work. He had not forgotten his ambition, nor had he thought of
giving it up; but his old foolish belief that the happiest marriage must
hamper a man's life plans had gone with the rest of his blinding
delusions. He no longer thought of needing both hands free for the
climbing of ambition's unsteady, long ladder. It now seemed to him that
he never could win anything worth the winning without Doris to hold up
his hands; that nothing either great or small was worth the winning
unless shared by her. And his self-delusion had forever lost him all
hope of this. Yet he might still beg her to forgive him, he might still
tell her that he loved her and ask her to be his wife. Nothing should
deny him that honor and happiness--if he were but spared to see another
morning's light.

It came with all the misty glory of the late southern summer. There was
something melancholy, something foretelling the saddest days of the
year, in the sighing wind which drifted the browning leaves of the old
locust trees, wafting them down to the thinning grass. The dim woods
belting the purpled horizon already lifted banners of scarlet and gold,
waving them here and there on the hillsides, among the fast-fading
verdure. The sumac bushes were already binding the foot of the far green
hills with brilliant bands of crimson. The near-by blackberry briers
were already richly spotted with red. The trumpet-vine, with the
dazzling cardinal of its splendid flowers and the rich, dark green of
its luxuriant foliage, already made all the crumbling tree-trunks and
all the falling rail fences gorgeous mysteries of beauty. The
golden-rods were already full-flowering, already gilding the meadows
where the black-eyed Susans, too, were aglow, and where the grass was
still vividly green beneath the purple shadows cast by the distant
hills--the sad, beautiful, dark shadows which slant before the coming of
fall. Beyond the shadows and beyond the hills, the summer sun still
flooded the warm fields, turning the vast billowing seas of tobacco from
blue-green into golden green. And the wide, deep corn-fields, now
flowing in silver-crested waves, were already melting into molten gold.

The great ships of this vast inland ocean of grain--the huge,
heavy-laden wagons, rising high at the ends like the stem and stern of a
vessel, and drawn by doubled and trebled teams--already labored,
swayingly, on their way to the Ohio River to deliver their cargoes of
wheat to the big steamers which were waiting to bear them away to the
whole world. Many of these lurched thunderingly by Lynn Gordon, wholly
unheeded, as he went on that morning to seek Doris Wendall. It was very
early, as early as he could hope to find even Doris awake,
notwithstanding that she awakened with the birds. The wild
morning-glories, clinging, wet, fragrant, and sparkling, on all the
fences along the wayside, were not closed, and still held out their
fragrant blue cups, striped with red like streaks of wine, and brimming
with dew. The evening primroses also had forgotten to close, and were
still blooming bright and sweet, close in the corners of the fences.
Lynn bent down to gather the freshest and sweetest, because it somehow
reminded him of Doris, though he knew not why or how. As he straightened
up he suddenly saw her!--with a great leap of his heart. There she was,
within a stone's throw, just entering Miss Judy's gate. He was not quite
near enough to speak had he found any words; and, although he went
swiftly toward her with the long, firm stride of a strong-willed man
approaching a distinct purpose, she had flitted out of sight before he
reached the gate. He was not sure that she had seen him, but he felt
that she had; and the feeling brought back the new distrust of himself,
the new lack of confidence in his own judgment, the new insecurity in
his own knowledge of what was best to do. All these strange and painful
feelings, which he had never known till the humbling revelation of the
previous night, rushed together now, to hold him dumb and helpless, with
his unsteady hand on the little broken gate.

He turned with a nervous start at a sound by his side. Sidney had drawn
near without his seeing her. She stood within a few paces, looking at
him, and knitting as usual, but with a look of trouble on her honest
face. Silently he bowed and stepped aside, holding the gate open for her
to pass through.

"You've come to ask about Miss Judy," she said, lowering her voice. "I'm
afraid she isn't any better. Doris came on ahead of me, but I haven't
seen her since, so that I have had no news from Miss Judy for nearly an
hour."

"I--I didn't know she was ill," said Lynn, simply.

"Well, your grandmother did. I sent her word last night that we hardly
expected Miss Judy to live till daybreak." Sidney spoke a little
severely, and she looked at him with frank curiosity.

"I am sincerely grieved. What is it?" the young man faltered.

"It seems to be the same old weakness of the heart that she's always
had. Any kind of a shock has always made it worse, and this foolish
lawsuit of that crazy Spaniard's--over an old no-account note of her
father's--gave her the hardest blow she's had this many a year, poor
little soft soul. It didn't make any difference to her that the note
wasn't worth the paper it was written on, and that it had been outlawed
long ago. She has always had her own queer little notions about things,
and you couldn't shake her, either, mild as she has always been. And
she's always worshipped her father, so that she couldn't bear to have
anything against his name. He never worried himself much about his
debts. The major was very slack-twisted in business matters, just
between you and me. But the angel Gabriel, himself, couldn't make Miss
Judy believe that, even if he were mean enough to try. Last night she
came by my house, going on to see Mr. Pettus. She hoped he might buy the
house, and that she could raise the money in that way. But she fainted
before she could tell him what she wanted, and he carried her home in
his arms. Such a poor, light, little mite of a thing! She's been
unconscious most of the time since, but whenever she comes to herself
she tries to say something about selling the house--in a whisper, so
that Miss Sophia won't hear. Then she begins to worry, wondering what
Miss Sophia will do if the house is sold, and honestly believing that
poor Miss Sophia will feel disgraced if it isn't, when Miss Sophia
neither knows nor cares a blessed thing about the whole matter, so that
she's let alone to eat and sleep. I am going into the room now to stay
with Miss Judy while Doris goes home for a little rest. She wouldn't
leave the bedside for an instant last night. Wait for her," Sidney
added, assuming a blank, meaningless expression. "When she comes out she
can tell you how the poor little soul is."

With a strange tightening of the throat and a tender aching in his
breast, Lynn then stood waiting, with his eyes on Miss Judy's window. It
seemed a long time before Doris came out, and when she finally appeared,
there was something indefinable in her manner which made him feel that
she had not come of her own accord. But she was very calm, very quiet,
very sad, and very pale; and her soft dark eyes were softer and darker
than ever with unshed tears. She merely said that her mother had sent
her to say that there was no change. The doctor had decided that there
could be but one. And when she had said this she quietly turned back
toward Miss Judy's room. No, she answered in reply to his keenly
disappointed inquiry, she was not going home. She could rest and
sleep--after--Miss Judy was gone. There was so little time now that they
could stay together.



XXVI

THE TRAGEDY


The news of Miss Judy's illness reached the judge as he was leaving the
tavern for the opening of court. It was then too late for him to go at
once in person to ask how she was, as he wished to do, and as he
otherwise would have done. But he nevertheless turned back and went to
his own room, long enough to write her a few hurried lines telling of
his deep and tender concern.

And when this was written he was not satisfied. He sat hesitating for a
moment, listening absently to the ringing of the court-house bell. Then,
again taking up his pen, he went on to beg her not to give another
troubled thought to the note or to the suit. He wrote that possibly the
case might come for trial on that very day,--writing this as lovingly,
as tenderly, as he could have written to his mother whom he had never
known,--and going on to tell her that he wished her to know, only for
her own peace of mind, that the payment of the note, both principal and
interest, had already been arranged for, and would be made, if possible,
before the opening of court. This was, so he wrote, to be quite
regardless of the decision in the case, and solely to set her mind
wholly at rest. After writing thus far he still sat thinking, feeling as
if he had not yet said just what he meant to say, as if he had not been
quite tender enough of the little lady's tender sensibilities. With his
pen poised he looked out at the passing wagons and at the crowd
gathering around the court-house, taking no heed of anything save the
anxiety in his mind. At last a sudden, gentle smile illuminated his
grave, pale face, as he added another paragraph:--

"Of course you understand, my dear little friend, that this money is
advanced as a loan which you may repay at your convenience. You will
also understand, I am sure, that I should not have taken the liberty of
thus settling your private business without your consent, had I not
heard of your illness and feared that you were not able to attend to it
yourself. As soon as you are well enough you may scold me as much as you
like for my presumption. It is, however, to be between ourselves; no one
else must know."

He gave the letter to a negro boy and watched him fly like an arrow
through the clouds of dust which were hanging heavy over the big road.
He saw the child's hazardous dash between the great wagons, close to the
high, grating wheels, under the huge, clanking trace-chains, almost
under the beating iron hoofs. For this quiet morning of late summer
chanced to be the one out of the whole year when the grass-grown
solitude of Oldfield's single street became a thronged, clamorous,
confused thoroughfare.

But the judge cared nothing for all this unwonted turmoil, beyond the
safe, swift passage of the messenger bearing his letter. He did not know
that Miss Judy was too ill to read it, and he was longing to have it
reach her before she could hear any troubling news through the possible
coming up of the case. Turning slowly toward the court-house, he was
thinking solely of her, and the thought of her illness deepened the
sorrow for the pain of the world which always lay heavy on his sad
heart. As he thought of this gentle soul, whose whole life had been
loving sacrifice for others, and whose very life might now be demanded
for the wrong-doing of others, the sorrowful mystery of living perplexed
him more sorely than ever. As he thought of this other innocent woman
suffering, it might be even unto death, through a madman's causeless
hatred of himself--even his great faith, measured by his judicial mind,
seemed for the moment to shrink.

Feeling his danger, he tried to wrench his thoughts away and to turn
them from this morbid brooding. He strove so strenuously that he
presently was able to fix his attention on the matters of merely human
law and justice which began to come before him, as soon as he had taken
his place upon the bench. Thorough training and long practice helped him
so that he was gradually able to bring his eminently legal mind to bear
upon the wearying routine of the docket with the unerring precision of
some marvellous machine.

His fine face was still pale, but there was nothing unusual in its
paleness, and it now grew calm and collected under the very intensity of
his spirit's stress. For the farthest spiritual extremity lies cold and
still beyond all human passion, as the supreme summit of perpetual ice
rises cold and still above all human life. There was, therefore, no
change in his attitude of mind or body when he suddenly saw the dark,
threatening visage and the wild, bloodshot eyes of the Spaniard
confronting him through the crowded gloom of the heated court-room. He
was accustomed to the sight; it had faced him at every term of his
court. There was consequently no disturbance, not the slightest
uneasiness in the abrupt turning away of his eyes. His sole feeling was
one of unutterable weariness of the struggle of living, of utter
sickness of mind and heart and soul. He was so weary that he did not
even fear himself, so utterly weary that he was--for the moment--no
longer afraid even of the unexpected escape of his own fierce temper,
always so hardly held in leash. He no longer dreaded the sudden breaking
of the steel bars of his own stern self-control, the greatest danger
that he had ever found to fear.

When the case against the estate of Major John Bramwell came to trial in
its due turn, during the dragging hours of the long, hot afternoon, the
judge weighed that also, as he had weighed all which had come before,
and as he intended weighing all which were to come after--coolly,
calmly, scrupulously--according to the letter of the law. Having so
weighed it, and found it wanting, he dismissed the complaint on account
of time limitation, and assigned the costs to the plaintiff, as he would
have done in any similar case under like circumstances. Then he passed
composedly to the deliberate consideration of further business, and the
hot, heavy hours droned on.

Through it all he had scarcely glanced at Alvarado; in truth he had
scarcely thought of him save as a party to one of the many suits before
the court. He had had no opportunity to learn that the Spaniard had
refused to accept the money, offered early in the day, in payment of the
note. He did not observe Alvarado's leaving the court-room after the
decision. He did not know that the man was waiting on the steps when he
himself hastened out after the adjournment of court.

Thus it was that the long-coming crisis found him at last wholly
unprepared. Thus it was that the blow from the heavy handle of the
Spaniard's riding-whip struck him without warning. It sent him, stunned
and reeling, down the steps. His hand went out, through blind instinct,
and caught one of the portico pillars, so that he did not fall quite to
the earth; and he was on his feet instantly, springing to his great
height, to his tremendous power--towering above the surrounding crowd.
As he arose, he made one furious leap, like the magnificent bound of a
wounded lion, straight at the Spaniard, who stood--still as a
statue--braced for the encounter.

A cry of terror had gone up from the crowd when the blow had been
struck. Many restraining arms were now raised, as the white fury flashed
over the judge's pale face, as rare and deadly lightning glares from the
paleness of a winter sky. And then this appalling danger-signal faded
even as it flashed forth. The cry of the crowd was suddenly hushed, its
swaying was suddenly stilled. There now followed a strange pause of
strained waiting!

Every man's eyes were on the judge. No man gave a glance to the
Spaniard; every man knew what he meant to do. But the judge--it was on
his noble figure and on his fine face that every man's eyes were
riveted. Every man knew his horror of violence of any description, and
his abhorrence of the taking of human life under any provocation. Yet
every man, thus looking on, held it to be impossible for any man to
suffer the degradation which this man had just suffered, without
resistance. For in every man's eyes this was, with but one exception,
_the most binding of all the many traditions for the shedding of blood_.

No man might suffer it, and ever hope to hold up his head among his
fellow-men, without killing, or at least trying to kill, the man who had
so degraded him. Breathless, indeed, was this instant's terrible
waiting! The bloodthirsty wild beast, which lurks forgotten in most
men's hearts, now leaped up in its secret lair, scenting blood, and
stared fiercely out of the fierce eyes fixed on the judge. And not one
of all these men--all so feeling, all so believing--could credit the
evidence of his own senses when he saw this man, who stood so high above
other men in body, in mind, and in reputation, now stand still, making
no farther advance. Even less could they believe what their own eyes
beheld, when they then saw him draw back, slowly and silently, from the
nearness to the Spaniard to which that single uncontrollable bound had
carried him. And so the crowd stood--stricken dumb and motionless-for a
breath's space! Then--suddenly--every upraised arm came down as the
judge's powerful arms fell at his side. Calmly, almost gently, he
turned, and, raising his majestic form to its fullest height, and
lifting his noble head to its highest level, he rested his calm, clear
gaze on the murderous passion of the Spaniard's eyes. It was a long,
strange look. It was a look which filled every man who saw it with a
feeling of awe; even though not one, of all those who were looking on,
could comprehend its meaning. It was a look such as not many are
permitted to try to comprehend: it was a look such as no mortal men can
ever have seen, save it may have been the few who stood close to the
foot of the Cross.

In his own room at the tavern, late on that afternoon, the judge felt
more alone than ever before through all his lonely life. He had already
begun to suffer the mental reaction which nearly always follows great
spiritual exaltation. He was even now thinking of what he had done--what
he had _not_ done--as if he were another person. He most distinctly saw
its inevitable, far-reaching, and never-ending consequences. He realized
that he, no more--perhaps even less--than any other man, could expect to
evade them or hope to live them down. The very fact of his prominence
could but make the matter more widely known and more disastrous in its
results. The high office which he held--though it personified the
law--would only make his breaking of this unwritten law all the more
unpardonable. Suddenly he felt completely overwhelmed by the weariness
of life, which had so weighed upon him through the day. In terrifying
fear of himself he sprang to the open window and hurriedly leaned out,
finding a measure of safety in the mere presence of the people passing
on their way home from court. But some of them looked up, and stared at
him curiously, so that he drew back. He had not closed the door of his
room, and he was glad to hear footsteps in the passage, although he
merely turned his head without speaking when the man, to whom he had
given the money for the payment of the note, came in quietly, and laid
it on the table within reach of his hand. Nor did the man speak,--there
was nothing for any one to say,--but he stood for a moment hesitatingly,
irresolutely; and then, still without speaking, he drew a pistol from
his pocket, and laid it on the table beside the money.

When he was gone the judge got up and closed the door, and took the
pistol in his hands, which were beginning to tremble now as they had
never trembled before. Hastily he put the temptation down, and walked to
the door and opened it again: taking swift, aimless turns up and down
the room. At the sound of footsteps again passing along the passage, he
called to a servant and asked for some water. The presence of any one
would protect him against himself. Turning this way and that, aimlessly,
he turned once more to the window, and threw it higher and pushed the
curtain further back--as far this time as it would go. He then leaned
out again, caring nothing now for the curious gaze of the passers-by,
caring only that he might escape this overpowering, horrifying,
paralyzing fear of himself.

The highway was heavily overhung with clouds of dust as the huge wagons
with their mighty teams, which had passed in the morning, now rumbled
homeward, returning from the journey to the river. Through the dark haze
the judge could see only the proud face of his wife, and it seemed to
his fevered fancy that her cool smile was cooler than ever with
something very like scorn. It seemed to his sick imagination that he
could see again the half-contemptuous shrug of her graceful shoulders,
the half-scornful lift of her handsome brows, with which she always
greeted any disregard of the established order. Above the rude sounds of
the iron-bound wheels, the clanking chains, and the beating hoofs, he
heard the music of the light laugh with which she had always mocked his
own deviations. She had called him an idealist, a dreamer--even a
fanatic--half in jest, half in earnest. But this was different. She
would not laugh at this, which must alter her position in the world as
well as his own. And then, as he thought of this, a doubt for the first
time assailed him, piercing his breast like a poisoned spear. Had he the
right--toward her? She had married a man who stood fair before all men.
Again, in the anguish of this last thought, this new dread, this worst
doubt, the deadly fear of himself rushed over him. Weakened and sickened
in body by the anguish of mind which was rending him, he dared not turn
his head toward the table where the temptation lay within such easy
reach of his shaking hand.

Leaning as far as possible the other way, he caught sight of the old
Frenchman, toiling along the big road on crutches, threading a passage
through its unusual turmoil with difficulty and pain. Then the wind
tossed the deep dust and sent it swirling upward in thick, dark clouds,
shutting the highway from the judge's unseeing sight. He had hardly been
conscious of seeing Monsieur Beauchamp; everything was passing in a
fearful dream. He scarcely heard a new, strange roar which now suddenly
arose above the voices of the passing people, above the rumble, the
rattle, and clash of the passing wagons and the heavy beating of many
great hoofs. But he heard more consciously as this came nearer and
louder, like the rapid, roaring approach of a sudden terrible storm. He
saw clearly enough when the cause of the violent sounds burst over the
highest hilltop, and dashed down its side--as a gigantic wave is driven
by a hurricane,--a huge wagon thundering behind six mighty, maddened,
runaway horses. Like some monster missile it was hurled this way and
that, crashing terrifically from side to side of the big road; and
threatening the whole highway with destruction. Like death-dealing
thunder-bolts the flying iron hoofs gave little time to flee for safety,
but the danger appeared to give wings to every living creature, brute
and human alike. The old Frenchman alone stood still, paralyzed by
fright and unable to move. His crutches dropped from his powerless
grasp, so that he could no longer even stand, and--tottering and
shrieking for help--he fell helpless, prone upon the highway straight in
the track of that huge, blurred, black bulk of Force which was being
whirled toward him with the speed of a cyclone by the storm-flight of
those frenzied horses.

And then the judge's vision magically cleared, and he saw the little
Frenchman--his weakness, his utter helplessness--as if by a lightning
flash. The judge, starting up with a leap, was down the stairs and
running along the big road almost as soon as he realized what it was
that he was going to meet. He was such a powerful man, so quick and
strong of mind and body, so prompt, so able, so fearless in the doing of
everything that he thought right! Ah, the pity of it all!

He could not see the old man upon first reaching the highway. Blinding
dust-clouds hung more heavily than ever over the wild, furious confusion
of the big road. The people, terror-mad, were fleeing, each one thinking
only of his own peril. The drivers, panic-stricken, whirled the clashing
wagons hither and thither, utterly bewildered. The horses, helpless and
terrified, plunged amid the clanking of the entangled trace-chains. The
dense clouds of smothering dust hung like a blinding pall. But the judge
knew where the little Frenchman was lying and sprang straight toward him
and found him in time,--barely in time to bend down, to lift him in his
mighty arms and toss him like a feather far beyond danger. But there was
no more time,--not an instant,--and then the judge himself went down as
a church spire falls before a tempest,--down into the dust of the earth
under the awful, crushing hoofs of the maddened horses, down under the
cruel, cutting tires of those merciless wheels,--down to death, giving
his life for the humblest of his fellow-creatures.



XXVII

THE LAST ARTFULNESS OF MISS JUDY


To Lynn Gordon, as to most of the Oldfield people, it seemed as if this
sleepless night--the saddest ever known to the village--never would end.
And yet, when he arose at last, with the first faint glimmer of the
day's gray, and looked out through the dew-wet dimness of the green
boughs at the softly whitening east, a sudden feeling of peace fell upon
his deeply troubled spirit.

The sorrow and terror of the darkness fled away, like evil birds of the
night, so peaceful did the world appear, so free from all pain and wrong
and cruelty and death, now that the soft white dawn-light--cool, sweet,
calm, pure as ever--was coming for the perpetual refreshment of the
earth. Under this fresh whiteness from heaven all living creatures
looked to be resting untroubled, completely in harmony with one another.
Three little screech-owls sat as a single bunch of gray feathers,
motionless among the shadows which still lingered in the nearest tree.
Three little brownish heads merely turned slowly as he appeared at the
window, and six big eyes regarded him calmly, as though all belonged to
the one small bunch of dark gray feathers, still huddled sleepily
together almost within reach of his hand.

From the darker and more distant trees gradually swelled the twitter of
many bird voices, rising into a rapturous chorus as the east became
rifted with rose and seamed with silver. Every member of this divine
choir was singing his softest and sweetest in celebration of the dawn's
eternal renewal of creation. And then, as the rose brightened into royal
red, and the silver melted into molten gold, at the nearer approach of
sunrise, the oriole--already wearing the sun's golden livery--sent forth
his ringing welcome to the king, a greeting so brilliant and so ancient
as to make the trumpeter's mediæval salute to the emperor seem but a
poor dull thing of yesterday.

With this heavenly music in his ears and this seeming peace and
happiness before his eyes, Lynn Gordon could hear no sound of the sorrow
of living, nor could he see any sign of the pain of the world. An
unconscious smile even lifted for a moment the weight from his heart as
he idly watched a merry couple of nuthatches, those gay "clowns of the
green tent of the woods," tumbling up and down a giant elm. He did not
see the solitary butcher bird, nature's most cruel executioner, sitting
in motionless, sinister silence in the dark depths of a great thorn
tree, nature's cruelest scaffold.

As the light grew brighter the young man's eyes followed the wood smoke
arising from the tall chimney of the tavern in slender, thin spirals of
pale blue, and going straight up to the bluer blue of the warm, windless
sky. With the sight, the deep sadness of the night came back suddenly
and overwhelmingly. It was not a terrible dream; it was a more terrible
reality. Under that old mossy roof, so simple, so peaceful-seeming, lay
all that was mortal of the noblest presence, the noblest mind, the
noblest heart that this isolated corner of the earth had ever given to
the greater world.

Before a tragedy so overwhelming every earnest soul striving in Oldfield
stood awed, although it was not given to many to comprehend that the
greatest awe which even the simplest felt was for the awful Mystery of
Life. Never in the history of the village had its simple people been so
slow in taking up the petty burden of daily struggle and strife. It
seemed as if the least imaginative must be feeling the littleness of all
earthly things.

Even old lady Gordon's look and manner were almost gentle, certainly
more gentle than her grandson had ever seen them. Scarcely a word passed
between the two after bidding each other good morning on meeting at the
breakfast table; and she saw him go in silence when the uneaten meal was
over. He hastened straight up the road, looking neither to the right nor
the left. Doris was with Miss Judy; he knew that she was, because he had
haunted the house through the greater part of the terrible night, and,
although he had not been able to speak to her, he had seen her shadow on
the white curtain of Miss Judy's room. The sight had comforted him
somewhat at the moment, but he now was longing more than ever to see
her, to speak to her--longing with the unspeakably softened tenderness
that comes to love through grief.

And he saw her through the window from Miss Judy's gate. The poor old
white curtain, with its quaint border of little snowballs, had been
pushed back as far as it would go, much farther than it ever had been
before when Miss Judy was lying in the high old bed. There was too
desperate need for every wandering breeze, for every straying breath of
air, for appearances to be remembered. Miss Judy herself could no longer
guard the sacred privacy of that spotless chamber. She could no longer
even blush faintly when the doctor laid his shaggy head against her
hard-laboring little heart, listening for its weak fluttering, and
hearing the soft knell of the pericardial murmur. For even this, which
rings so harshly from sterner breasts, rang softly from Miss Judy's
gentle breast. Yet it rang unmistakably, nevertheless, and there was
nothing more that the doctor could do--nothing save to grieve, and he
never stood idle for futile grieving when the suffering needed him
elsewhere. After the doctor was gone to other duties, only Miss Sophia
sat at the bedside, striving piteously to realize what was happening;
and Doris alone hovered silently over it and flitted softly around it;
doing the little that she found to do, and holding back her tears for
Miss Judy's sake. But many others who loved Miss Judy were already
gathering, and waited in the passage, looking out at the passers-by and
shaking their heads speechlessly and sadly at those who paused at the
gate to make anxious inquiry.

Lynn Gordon did not enter the house, and he quickly turned his eyes away
from the uncurtained window. Even his reverend gaze seemed a profanation
of the holiness of that quiet, shadowed old room, whence the soul of a
saint was so near taking its flight from the earth. He crossed the
narrow strip of front yard with noiseless steps and sat down on a broken
bench under the window. He could hear Miss Sophia's heavy breathing as
the little sister tried to understand; and he caught the soft rustle of
Doris's skirts as the girl moved now and then in her loving
ministrations; he could almost hear the swaying of the fan in her hand.
Presently he became conscious of a familiar scent--faint, pure,
delicate, like the spirit of perfume. He did not know at first what it
was, but it seemed to float out through the open window; and after a
little while he knew it to be the old-fashioned, natural, wholesome
sweetness of dried rose leaves, the fragrance which had always clung
round Miss Judy's life, the fragrance which would forever cling round
her memory.

As he sat there waiting,--as so many were now waiting,--others came and
went. Anne Watson crossed the big road before sitting down to the
card-table, and stood for a moment at the door, talking in a low tone to
some one whom Lynn could not see. But her husband's wistful, restless,
compelling gaze followed her, drawing her back, and she did not linger.
Nothing, not even her grateful affection for Miss Judy, could hold her
long away from her post; nothing, save death alone, could ever free her
from it. And even after death--! What then? Always, Anne Watson was
asking herself that question; never was she able so to answer it that
her soul was set at rest. She now went slowly and sadly to her place at
the card-table, and she did not leave it again that day. But Lynn
Gordon, keeping his vigil, saw her strange, mystical gaze wander many
times from the burning stake to which she was bound,--a hopeless,
tortured captive for life,--to the shadowed peace of the window behind
his head. Ah, the inscrutableness of those strange eyes. The eyes of
Anne Watson were the eyes of a fanatic, yet none the less the eyes of a
martyr.

He glanced now and then at the people who were coming and going so
stilly and so sadly through the little broken gate. All gave him a
friendly nod in passing, no matter whether they knew him or not, for
that was the kind custom of the country. But no one stopped to speak to
him; all appeared to be too deeply absorbed in their own sad thoughts.

Only Kitty Mills smiled at him, and she did not know that she smiled,
for her light heart was heavy enough that day. But she never had known
what it was to have her eyes meet other eyes without smiling; and her
merry brown ones smiled now of themselves without her knowledge, through
mere force of habit. They had been sad indeed an instant before, and her
round ruddy cheeks were drawn and pale, and bore traces of tears. She
had been tirelessly running back and forth between her own house and
Miss Judy's, coming and going more often than any one else, as often, in
truth, as she found herself momentarily released from her
father-in-law's ceaseless clamor for attention, and as his querulous
summons recalled her to her perpetual bondage. His shrill, imperious cry
now suddenly made itself distinctly heard through the reigning
stillness; through that awesome stillness which reigns wherever death is
expected; that stillness which awes all, save the very young, who feel
too far away to be afraid, and the very old, who are come too near to
heed the awe.

In response to the call Kitty Mills started to run across the big road
as she had sped many times that day, and in so doing she encountered
Miss Pettus, who had gone home and was now returning in great haste,
bearing a small covered dish with the greatest care. At the sight of her
the sadness instantly flitted from poor Kitty Mills's face--which was
newly wet with tears--and the old quizzical, bantering challenge flashed
into it without her dreaming that it was there. But Miss Pettus saw it
as quickly as it came, and her fiery temper flared up forthwith, like a
flame in a sudden gust of wind. Her sharp little black eyes snapped with
all the old fire, although they were red and swollen with weeping and
watching the whole night through. Her homely, hard, faithful features
stiffened at once with all the old scornful wrath as she caught Kitty
Mills looking at the dish.

"_Yes_, it's a chicken for Miss Judy! And no bigger than a bird
either--and tenderer too. There's no law--that I know of--against my
having late chickens, even if that stubborn old dorminica _won't_ set,"
she said, as fiercely defiant as ever.

She gave the usual contemptuous toss of her head in its gingham
sunbonnet, and the accustomed excited swish of her starched calico
skirt, as she passed Kitty Mills. And then she turned for the parting
shot, which she could not even then bring herself to forego:--

"What if I _have_ cooked this chicken for Miss Judy with my own hands?
Don't _I_ know as well as you do that she can't eat it--nor anything
else--ever again in this world? And what's that got to do with my
cooking this chicken, and thinking that--maybe Miss Judy might feel a
little better--if"--with a burst of angry sobbing, "--if she could see
Miss Sophia eat it. She always liked that better than anything for
herself. You know as well as _I_ do, Kitty Mills, that she always was
just that silly and soft!"

Miss Pettus went on toward the gate, and Lynn Gordon got up to open it
for her, some passer-by having thoughtlessly dropped over the post the
loop of faded blue ribbon which served in the place of a latch. How like
Miss Judy that poor little scrap of daintiness was! As he stood holding
the gate back for Miss Pettus to pass, seeing that her hands were full,
he heard the rumble of wheels, the rattle of some approaching vehicle.
The great, brown cloud of dust lifted, drifting farther down the big
road, and out of it came an old-fashioned buggy drawn by an old gray
horse. This was driven by a white-haired negro, who had once been
Colonel Fielding's coachman, and who was now long since become his
nurse. Beside the driver sat the colonel himself, and Lynn sprang to
assist him in getting down from the buggy; but the negro made a sly
restraining gesture, and when the young man came near he saw that the
colonel's beautiful old head was shaking strangely, and that his fine
old eyes appeared not to see what they were resting upon. The colonel
gazed vaguely down at Lynn before he spoke:--

"Ah, yes--my compliments to little Mistress Judy. _That_ was what I came
to say. Will you be so very kind, young sir, as to give my compliments
to the elder of the major's daughters, and also to the major himself?
Say, if you please, that Colonel Fielding has called this morning to pay
his compliments to her and to her honored father. A man of honor, sir, a
soldier, and a gentleman. Gad--sir--what more would you have? What more
could any man be?" he said, suddenly turning upon his servant with a
piteous touch of bewildered asperity.

"_Toe_-be-shore, sir! _Toe_-be-shore!" said the old negro, soothingly.

"I--I seem--to disremember something," the colonel went on, forgetting
this momentary, formless annoyance. He sat still and silent for a space,
trying to remember why he had come. He put his shapely hand to his high
forehead in mild confusion. His thick, curling, silver hair fell around
his face and upon his shoulders in rather wild disorder.

"Little Judy is a mighty pretty girl--delicate, sweet, and fair as a
sweet-brier blossom. No prettier nor sweeter girl ever footed the
Virginia Reel in this whole Pennyroyal Region. You will give her and her
honored father my message, if you please, young sir. 'Colonel Fielding's
compliments and also Miss Alice Fielding's compliments to Major Bramwell
and his daughter.' You will not forget?"

"I will not forget, sir," said Lynn Gordon, as steadily as he could
speak.

"And--and what else was it? What else did I come for? Tell me this
instant, you black rascal!" the colonel now cried, again turning upon
his servant in excited, displeased bewilderment. "What do you mean--I
say, sir--by sitting there without saying a word? What was it I wanted
to say about that young John Stanley, who's eternally hanging round my
house? What did somebody tell me about him--only this morning? What's
the matter with you, can't you speak, boy?"

The old negro's heavy lips were trembling so that he could not have
spoken had there been anything to say. He sat bolt upright, gazing
straight before him at the dust of the deserted highway; his ragged coat
was as carefully buttoned as his fine livery used to be; he held the
reins--broken and spliced with rope--over the poor old horse, which
stood with a dejected droop, precisely as he used to hold the fine,
strong, lines over his master's spirited bays.

"Well--drive on home, then," the colonel said, after a moment's
hesitation, suddenly recovering his usual mildness. "Perhaps I may
remember--and if so you may fetch me back."

Lynn watched the buggy disappear amid the thickening clouds of dust, and
when it was out of sight he turned with a sigh toward the people who
were still coming and going, looking sadder when they went than when
they came. He was surprised to see how many were passing through that
humble little broken gate, with its pathetic fastening of a loop of
faded ribbon, too weak to bar a butterfly. He had not thought there were
so many in all Oldfield, counting both black and white, for both were
now coming and going. He presently realized that some of these sad
comers and sadder goers were not Oldfield people, that some lived
farther away, and this knowledge filled him with greater surprise. For
he would not have supposed that Miss Judy was known by any one beyond
the compassing hills, so completely had her life seemed bound about by
the wooded borders of the village. He had never known until now how
far-reaching the influence of gentleness may be; he had never realized
until this moment that goodness always wins more friends than greatness.

He said something of this to the doctor's wife, when she came softly
after an hour had passed and silently sat down beside him on the bench
under the window. She did not reply at once, but she took his hand and
pressed it with the sympathy which common trouble begets in every
feeling heart. She did not know how keenly he was craving sympathy, how
sorely he himself was needing it, how bruised and broken he was by the
spiritual crisis--the greatest of his life--through which he was passing
so hardly. It was only that her tender heart was tenderer than ever,
because she had come direct from the tavern.

Thus the two sat for a few moments in silence, listening to the soft
sounds which came at long intervals from the shadowed quiet within Miss
Judy's room. At length the doctor's wife began to talk in the hushed
tone which the feeling use near the dying--who appear to hear nothing
but the Call; and near the dead--who appear to hear nothing--nothing for
evermore. She said that Miss Judy had not been told of the judge's
death; and that she mercifully knew nothing of the horror which had gone
before the tragedy. There was no need now that she ever should know, so
the doctor's wife said, with filling eyes. It would be time enough when
the two met on the Other Side. And then--with that resistless reaching
toward the unknowable, which always moves us when we feel the Mystery
near, so near that it appears as if we have but to put out our hand to
seize the invisible black wings which forever elude mortal grasp--she
asked him if he believed that Miss Judy would know even then. She,
herself, she said, could not see how a soul as gentle as the soft one
then fluttering to escape its frail earthly prison, or how a soul as
just as the one which had already found sacrificial release from a life
of suffering, could be happy in heaven if it still knew the pain and the
wrong and the cruelty of this world. But, however that might be, all
would surely be well hereafter with these two. The doctor's wife, rising
to go back to the tavern, where other sad duties were yet waiting to be
done, declared this with conviction. These two had not had their just
share of happiness here; in fairness it must be awaiting them elsewhere,
she concluded, lapsing into the simple audacity of everyday faith.

Lynn walked with her a little way along the big road, and when she had
gone some distance and he still stood looking after her, he heard again
the sound of wheels and saw a vehicle approaching through the clouds of
dust. He thought at first that the colonel had "remembered" and was
returning; but as the dust-clouds shifted he recognized his
grandmother's coach with a start of surprise, and a feeling very like
alarm came over him as he saw that she herself, erect, massive,
white-robed, sat within the coach. He waited, standing still till the
coach drew nearer, and then went outside and turned down the folding
steps--from which the little black boy sprang--and assisted her to
descend. But he did not speak, nor did she. Silently he offered his arm
and she took it as silently as it had been offered, and they went
together toward the passage door. It touched him to see with what
difficulty she walked. It moved him thus to realize suddenly how old she
was. It seemed to him that age was a very pitiful thing. Yet it also
impressed him to see what a fine, stately personage she still was; to
read in the respectful eyes which followed her that she was still the
great lady of the country, as she always had been.

The abrupt withdrawal of her hand from his arm when they reached the
door told him that she did not wish him to enter the house with her, and
he as abruptly drew back, feeling the blood rush to his face as Sidney
came out of Miss Judy's room to receive his grandmother. Returning to
his seat on the bench under the window, he tried not to strain his ears
toward what was passing within the room, and he heard only the
indistinct murmur of voices. But he could not help wondering miserably
why his grandmother had come. He knew her too well to think that she had
been induced to come by pure fondness for Miss Judy, such as had brought
all these other people, who were so patiently waiting with heavy hearts
and wet eyes. The sudden thought of Doris--a formless fear for her--made
him leap to his feet. And then he put away the vague alarm as unworthy
of the rough justice, the haughty generosity, of his grandmother's
character. He sat down humbly, ashamed of his passing suspicion, to wait
with such patience and composure as he might muster till she should come
from Miss Judy's room. But the intensity of his suspense became almost
unendurable before it was ended. When his grandmother finally appeared
in the passage door, he sprang up with a nervous start and hurried to
help her to the coach. Again they were both silent until she was
comfortably settled on the easy cushions, silent even until the bag had
been rehung closer to her hand, and the little black boy was again
seated on the refolded step. Then she told him, speaking slowly and
gruffly as though she found the few words hard and bitter to utter, that
Miss Judy had asked her to send him to the bedside. When this had been
said, and he had made no reply, old lady Gordon sat still and silent for
a moment, looking grimly straight ahead, as if there were something else
which she wished to say. But if so it was never said; she suddenly and
roughly ordered Enoch Cotton to drive her home, and went away--poor old
lady Gordon--without a single backward glance.

The young man then turned swiftly and went softly into Miss Judy's room,
as the reverential enter a holy place. Doris, bending over the bed, did
not see him come. Miss Sophia was dozing, worn out with watching and
grief and--most of all--with trying to understand. Sidney sat motionless
in the farthest corner of the quiet, shadowy old room, where the shadows
were deepest. The only sound was the hushed murmur of the voices of the
many others who loved Miss Judy and who watched and waited without; some
in the parlor, which had been opened wide at last, others in the
passage, and more in the yard.

The little figure on the big bed lay motionless and with closed eyes.
Such a little creature, so white, so beautiful, so wonderfully
young--almost like a child, with the soft rings of silver hair wreathing
the border of the snowy cap, and the little arms which always had been
so strong for burdens, and the little, little hands, which always had
been so busy for everybody but herself, resting now--as still and cold
as snowflakes--on the deep blue of the old quilt. Looking down with dim
sight and swelling heart, Lynn thought of the Divine Bambino lying
asleep on its azure shield; he could think of nothing else so unearthly
in its loveliness.

The blue eyes opened as if Miss Judy had felt his presence, and the
flicker of a smile went over the sweet, quiet face. The young man,
leaning down, thought that she murmured something in apology, that she
tried to say something about a gentlewoman's bedchamber. But the words
were so faintly uttered, and the pauses between were so long, that he
could not be sure.

"Dear Miss Judy, is there anything--anything in the whole world--that I
can do?" he said, with all his heart.

"It is about the selling of the house. We can't depend on John Stanley
to sell it--to pay himself," panted Miss Judy with long, anguished waits
between the words, almost between the breaths.

There was a still longer pause after this, a still longer wait for a
slow wandering breeze to bring the needed breath.

"Dear John," Miss Judy murmured, when she could speak again, "he must
not know--till the note is paid. He doesn't quite realize what is due
our father. You must overlook it, sister Sophia. He means only to be
kind--so, so kind."

"Just so, sister Judy," replied poor Miss Sophia, through the habit of a
long lifetime, not knowing what she said.

"Dear John. Dear John," Miss Judy said again, hardly louder than her
fluttering breath.

There was a slight movement of her hand, and although the nerveless,
cold little fingers fell powerless on the old blue quilt, the girl who
hung over her knew what the movement meant. Doris understood that Miss
Judy wished to have the judge's letter read to her again; but before it
could be drawn from beneath the pillow the blue eyes were closed, and
Miss Judy seemed softly to fall asleep. In the deep silence which
followed the shadowed room was filled with the hushed hum of the voices
of the people waiting outside.

It seemed to the watchers a long time before Miss Judy's blue eyes
opened gently, yet suddenly and with a clearer look. It was a look quite
like her old sweet self. There was in it even a fleeting expression
almost like her old innocent artfulness.

"I hope you won't mind--the--trouble," she said, going on after a long
pause, after waiting for her reluctant breath to return; after waiting
for her true heart to beat once more. "I--should like--you--to--to
consult Doris--often."

The blue eyes wandered from the young man's face to the golden head
bowed at the bedside. At least the young man thought so, but his own
eyes were very dim, his own heart was beating very, very fast, and he
could not see very clearly.

"I will do all that you wish, as nearly as I can," he said tremulously.
"But--dear Miss Judy, have you considered? This is your sister's
home--all that she has in the world."

Miss Judy's little hand tried to creep toward her sister's, but its
strength failing Doris tenderly took it in hers and laid it on Miss
Sophia's. Yet even then, when it had grown cold--with the coldness that
never passes, and had become weak with the weakness that can never gain
strength--it made a slight protecting movement.

"Sister Sophia--isn't--willing--to keep what is--not--our own. And
Doris--"

There now followed so long a pause that Doris, who had been quiet and
calm in her self-control up to this moment, thought it too late for her
grief to disturb Miss Judy--believed it to be time to say quickly what
she wished to say, if Miss Judy ever were to hear--and, dropping all
guard, she burst into a passion of protest and weeping.

"Oh, you do believe that I can do what I have promised, dear, dear Miss
Judy. You surely believe that I can do what I have promised!" she cried.
"It would break my heart to think that you doubted. I don't know how I
can do it, but I will--I will--I will--somehow. I will take care of Miss
Sophia--always--I will work so hard. There must be work--somewhere, for
me to do. Whatever I can make shall be hers. Anyway, our home is hers. I
will try to be as good to her--as you have been to me."

"I do believe--my child," the faint and distant but sweet and loving
voice said quite distinctly, and then, after one of the long, fluttering
pauses, "but--you must let--Lynn--advise you."

"Oh, if Doris only would--if you only could persuade her," Lynn cried.

He fell on his knees beside the slender bowed figure, and laid his
trembling hand on the golden head which rested now, shaken by sobbing,
on the pillow close to the silver head that lay so quiet. He made no
further vain effort to restrain a man's rare, reluctant tears, nor to
steady his broken voice.

"If you will ask Doris--maybe she can forgive me--for what I never meant
to do--for what I did not know I was doing--till too late. Won't you
ask?" he implored. "Dear, dear Miss Judy, she can refuse nothing--not
even that--to you. And I love her so--with all my heart and soul and
mind and strength. Won't you ask her to let me help her in caring for
Miss Sophia--then all would be well; then there need be no more trouble.
Can't you speak, dear Miss Judy? Just one word. Try--_try_ to ask her to
let me help her--even though she may never consent to be my wife."

But this late-found, powerful plea seemed for a space to come too late,
to fall all unheeded away from death's deaf ears. A wonderful radiance,
such as rarely dawns in the face of the living, was now slowly dawning
in the sweet, still whiteness of Miss Judy's face. The young man could
not look upon it; he could not bear to hear Doris's helpless,
heart-broken sobbing; he could only keep to his knees and lay his
humbled head lower on the old quilt and nearer hers.

And then after a long time, after all hope of hearing the gentle voice
again seemed wholly lost, it came back like a whisper in a dream, and
Lynn and Doris heard Miss Judy say:--

"I do--ask--it--Doris--dear one. But--unless--you are--married--it
wouldn't--be----"

She could say no more, but she had said enough. With this crowning
triumph of her last artless plot the smile on the little white face
brightened forever into unearthly sweetness. With these last words Miss
Judy's gentle spirit breathed itself out of the world.





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