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Title: Old Crow
Author: Brown, Alice, 1857-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Old Crow" ***

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                                    OLD CROW

                                 BY ALICE BROWN


New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1922

_All rights reserved_

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Copyright, 1922,
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1922.



OLD CROW



I


John Raven sat in the library of his shabby, yet dignified Boston house,
waiting for Richard Powell, his nephew, whom he had summoned for an
intimate talk. He was sitting by the fire making a pretense of reading
the evening paper, but really he was prefiguring the coming interview,
dreading it a good deal, and chiefly for the reason that there was an
argument to be presented, and for this he was insufficiently prepared,
and must be, however long it might be delayed. When he telephoned Dick
to come he was at last armed with a bold conviction of being able to
proffer a certain case to him (his own case, in fact); but, as these
last moments went on, he weakened sensibly in any hope he might have had
that Dick would be able to meet him from any illuminating viewpoint of
his own. This was mid-winter, two years after the end of the War, where
Dick and his uncle had worked in the Ambulance Corps to the limit of
their capacities--Dick, no soldier, because of what seemed to him a
diabolic eccentricity of imperfect sight, and Raven, blocked by what he
felt to be the negligible disability of age. John Raven had, with the
beginning of the War--which, as early as 1914 he had decided to be his
war--made up his mind that although he was over forty and of a business
training with inconsiderable excursions into literature, he wanted
nothing so much as to get into the thick of it and the rough of it, so
far as a man might who was past his physical best, and now he was back
again, more fit than when he went, but at this present moment breathless
at the realization that he had been up against life as it actually is,
and that he found it a brute business and hated it. And this was not so
much the horror of life in the field where, however the human heart
cried out against the argument of desecrated flesh, the spirit could
call mightily upon God, challenging Him to grant the chrism of
fulfilment in return for this wild sacrifice of blood, as the horror of
life when peace was exercising her rights in unbelievable ways. This he
was going to explain to Dick, if he could manage it, while he set forth
also his need of retreating from the active scene and leaving some of
his formerly accepted duties on Dick's shoulders. As he sat there,
gaunt, long, lean man, with a thin brown face and the eagle's look, a
fineness of aquiline curve that made him significant in a dominant type,
he fitted his room as the room fitted him. The house was old; nothing
had been changed in it since the year when, in his first-won prosperity,
he persuaded his mother up from the country and let her furnish it with
her shyly modest taste, a sense of values that bade her keep within the
boundary of the atmosphere she brought with her in good old pieces
tenderly used. The room was dim, even by day, from these shadows of the
brooding past, and the dull blue draperies at the windows, while they
touched it to a more inspiriting tone, still spoke softly of the repose
a man wanted when he escaped from the outer world to the assuagement of
silence and his books.

To-night, when Raven had just about come to the conclusion that he could
not possibly enter upon certain things with Dick because, although Dick
elected to be a poet, there was no recognized form of words that would
make him understand, and he'd better telephone him to put the interview
off, he heard his voice in the hall, and, answering it, even breaking
over it, like bright bubbles of a vocal stream, the voice of the girl
they both loved, in ways becoming to their differences. Raven drew a
comfortable breath. The intimate conference with Dick would have to be
deferred, though he would quite as willingly have had Nan listen to it,
except for the chance of her carrying it away with her, in that
sympathetic tenderness of hers, to burden her young heart. Nan would
have made quick work of understanding. She translated you as you went,
and even ran ahead of you, in her haste, just as she sometimes cut in on
your speech, not rudely rebuking you for being too slow, but in her
eagerness to assure you she caught at the first toss. And then they came
in, she full of anticipatory delight at seeing Raven, and Dick so full
of her that he seemed not to know whether his uncle were there or not,
except as an habitual figure in the furnishing of the room.

We must pause a dull minute, while they were projecting themselves into
the scene, to find out how they looked and whether they also fitted the
room and Raven. Nan, known to her larger world as Annette Hamilton, was
a tall, slim, yet muscular girl, graced with as many physical
contradictions as you are likely to imagine. While she stood for an
instant before, puppy-like, precipitating herself upon Raven, her eyes
crinkled up like Mary Seraskier's, and she showed a line of milk-white
teeth. Altogether nature--for she had only the most inconsiderable help
from art--had done her exceedingly well. She had the hurling
impetuosities of the puppy when she found herself anywhere near persons
familiarly dear to her; but, unlike the puppy, she was a thing of grace.
Her hands and slim arms had a girl's loveliest contours, and yet, hidden
somewhere under that satin flesh with its rose and silver lustre, were
muscles serviceably strong. Her eyes were grey like Athena's, her hair
fine and thick and pale, and her face altogether too irregular to talk
about reasonably.

How is it possible to delineate Dick, even with all profuse generosity
of comment, without suggesting that he was not of the type to please
himself, or tagging him with a priggishness afar from him? He certainly
was not the sort of hero his dramatic poems described with a choppy
vigor of detail, and whom there is no doubt he would have chosen to
resemble. But nature had given him a slimness and an actual grace he
found, in his private self-scrutiny, almost girlish, nor could he wholly
outwit and supplement her by the athletic training he never intermitted.
Dick's face, too, he found much against him, being of a round solidity
with a nose too thick and a mouth a thought too small. How could such
despite have happened to him, he asked himself in moments of depression
when, confronting the mirror, he recognized the wrongs inheritance had
done him. But he knew. It was father's people, that was it. They were
all round and owlish, and they thickened up in middle life. If he could
have shared Uncle Jack's lean aquilinity, people would have looked at
him twice, as they did at Uncle Jack, which in itself would be a bore,
except that Nan also might look. Aware of these things and hiding them
in his soul, he held himself tight, shut his mouth close, and challenged
you with a spectacled eye, pinning you down as if to say: "I am born in
every particular as I didn't want to be, but take notice that I'll have
no light recognition of the hateful trick they did me. I am in training
for a husky fellow. I haven't let up on myself one instant since I found
out how horrible it was to be a good deal more of a fellow than I shall
ever look. I never shall let up. And don't you let me catch you letting
up either, in the way you treat me."

Nan, to go back to the minute of their entrance, made a swift assault
upon Raven. In the old days when he was a youngish man and she a little
girl, a growing thing, elongating like Alice, she used to hurl herself
into his arms and insist on staying there. Her aunt, Miss Anne Hamilton,
who had brought her up from babyhood, was always detaching her from
Raven; but Nan clung as persistently. Raven would look at Miss Anne,
over the girl's rumpled silk poll, with whimsically imploring eyes. Why
couldn't Nan be allowed to break upon him like a salty, fragrant wave of
the sea, he seemed to ask Miss Anne, bringing all sorts of floating
richness, the outcrop of her fancies and affections? Aunt Anne would
return the glance with her sweet, immovable deprecation and go on
detaching, while Nan, with an equal obstinacy--though hers was
protesting, vocable, sometimes shrill to the point of anguish--stuck to
her self-assumed rights. It was Raven himself who involuntarily stepped
over to Aunt Anne's side and finished the detaching process. When Nan
came back after her first term at the seminary Aunt Anne preferred to
college, and was running to him with her challenge of welcome, he was
taken aback by the nymph-like grace and beauty of her, the poise of the
small head with its braided crown--the girls at the seminary told her
she might have been a Victorian by the way she wore her hair--and he
instinctively caught her arms, about to enwreath his neck, held her
still and looked at her. She could not know what vision, overwhelming in
its suddenness, she brought before him, of childhood gone and maidenhood
come and the sacredness of this new state. Aunt Anne knew and frowned a
little to herself, from her silent, savage jealousy, realizing, though
she would never, in her proud integrity, allow herself to think it, that
this hushed veneration of Raven's was worse than the old tumultuous
intercourse. What Raven really might have said was:

"Darling, you're a woman and you're a beauty. You don't know it, but you
don't want to hug a jaded old reveler like me."

He was not, by any means, a reveler. His life had been little more than
a series of walks to business. But those were the words that came to
him, catching her adorable freshness of body and mind, and determining
to keep it untouched by dusty old pantaloons such as he saw himself. Nan
stood for a minute paling out under his eyes, and then drew away from
him and left the room, her braid-crowned head high. She had to meet him
at dinner, and he knew she had cried and Aunt Anne knew it and was hard
on her over the little things she could reprove her for, in a silky,
affectionate way, and Raven's heart swelled until he thought they both
must know its congestion, and tried to put round it another bond of
quiet, kind affection. Since that time, Nan had never kissed him; but
now, this two months since the death of Aunt Anne, she had adopted a
greeting of her own. She put her hands on his arm and bent her forehead
for a minute to his shoulder. The first time she did it, he wanted to
kiss the bright hair, but forbade himself, and the second time he said,
he was so curious over it:

"A rite?"

She was ready with her answer. He suspected she must have thought it out
ingeniously beforehand.

"It's because I'm sorry for you."

"Sorry?" he repeated.

"Yes," she said, "about Aunt Anne."

Then he realized she was sorry because Aunt Anne was dead, and he was
more and more conscious of the unbecoming lightness and freedom where he
found himself at the death of Aunt Anne. He had not dared acknowledge it
to himself. He couldn't, for shame. But whereas, in the past years, when
he ventured to formulate his own life a little and see what it had done
to him and how he could go on meeting it, he had had a sense of
harassment and of being driven too hard, after Aunt Anne's death he
began to recognize the stillness of the space she had left behind. Now
to-day, before Nan had accomplished the little rite of the bowed head on
his shoulder, something queer about it seemed to strike Dick, and he
said to her:

"He's your uncle, too, you know."

Raven took this with composure, as signifying the length as well as the
depth of his adoptive relation toward her, but Nan met it with
resentment. She left him and turned upon Dick.

"Now what," she said, "do you mean by that?"

"Why, Nan," said the poor youth, keeping a stiff upper lip, because he
recognized the signs of an approaching squabble, "I've told him. I'll
tell him again. Jack, we're engaged."

"We're nothing of the sort," said Nan, either in pure surprise or an
excellent simulation of it.

Dick met this doggedly.

"We are, too," he said. "You promised me."

"Maybe I did," Nan yielded. "But it was that awful night when you were
going out. We won't talk about that. I'd have promised you anything
then. I'd have promised anybody, just as I'd have given 'em coffee or a
smoke. But when we got back and you expected to begin from there, didn't
I tell you to shut up? I've told you to ever since. And I believe," she
added, with an acumen that struck him in the center, "you're only
dragging it out now to catch me--before him."

"I did shut up," said Dick, holding himself straight and using his mouth
tautly, "because your aunt was sick and then because she was worse. But
you needn't think I've shut up for good. Besides, it's only Jack I told.
He's nobody."

"No," said Raven mildly, "I'm nobody. Only I wish you wouldn't come here
to fight. Why can't you get it over on the steps, and then act like
Christians after you come in?"

Nan laughed. She was instantly and most obligingly sweet, as if wholly
bent on pleasing him. But Richard glowered. It was quite like her, he
thought, to sprinkle herself over with that May morning look of hers
when she knew she had the horrible advantage not only of being adorable
in herself, but a female to boot, within all the sanctities that still
do hedge the sex, however it behaves.

"You see," said Nan maternally, "in France we were living at high
pressure. Now everything's different. We mustn't be silly. Run away,
Dick, just as I told you, and leave me to talk to Rookie."

This was her name for Raven, saved over from childish days.

"All right then," said Dick. "But I sha'n't wait for you. I shall go to
Cambridge."

It was such an anticlimax of a threat, delivered in so determined a
voice, that he expected them to laugh, in a silly way they had of seeing
the merest foolishness always from the same angle. But, as he turned to
go, it was with the chill certainty that they had forgotten all about
him. Nan had settled herself by the fire and his uncle was bringing her
a footstool, an elderly attention, Dick floutingly thought, very well
suited to Aunt Anne, but pure silliness for a girl who flung herself
about all over the place. At any rate, he wasn't wanted, and he did go
to Cambridge and hunted up some of the fellows likely to talk sense; but
no sooner had he settled within their circle of geniality than he found
himself glooming over Nan and tempted to go back and break in on that
mysterious conclave.

It was mysterious. Nan herself had made it so. Her face, on Dick's
going, had fallen into a grave repose, and she turned at once to Raven,
saying:

"You see, Dick ran in on the way over here, and when he told me you'd
sent for him, I said I'd come along, because I'd got to see you instead.
Was that cheeky? I really have got to. Couldn't the other thing wait?"

"Perfectly well," said Raven, with a ready cheerfulness he was aware she
could not understand. How should she? He had not been in the habit of
troubling Dick, or indeed any one, with his vaporings. He had lived, of
late years, as a sedate, middle-aged gentleman should, with no
implication of finding the world any less roseate than his hopes had
promised. As to Dick, the very sight of him had shown him beyond a doubt
how little disposed he was to take the lad into that area of tumultuous
discontent which was now his mind. "Fire away," he bade her. "You in
trouble, dear? You want patriarchal advice?"

Nan might not have heard. She was looking, with a frowning gravity, into
the fire. How should she begin? He saw the question beating about in her
mind and hoped he could give her a lead. But she found the way for
herself. She turned to him with a sudden lovely smile.

"Aunt Anne," she said, "has done something beautiful."

He felt his heart shrinking within him as he combated the ungracious
feeling which, it seemed, would not down: that he was never to be done
with Aunt Anne's deeds, so often demanding, as they did, a reciprocal
action from him. What he wanted, he realized grimly, was to have his
cake and eat it, if he might use so homespun a simile for a woman who
had persistently lived for him and in him and then had made clear spaces
about him by going away in the dignity of death. He wanted to breathe in
the space she had left, and he also wanted to be spared the indecency of
recognizing his relief. But Nan, studying the fire persistently, to
allow his eyes all possible liberty of searching her face while she
generously avoided his, was going on in what was evidently a
preconceived task of breaking something to him.

"Yes, she's done something beautiful, and done it for you."

Raven's heart had shrunk so now that he wondered it could weigh so
heavily. How could a woman, his rebellious intelligence asked him,
manage to pursue a man with her benefits even from the grave? All his
grown-up life he had fought them, but still they hung about him him like
shackles. When he tore them off from one member--always wounding himself
only, and scrupulously sure of never, except by the inevitability of his
refusals, hurting her--they fastened on him somewhere else. When he was
under twenty--for he was fourteen years younger than she--had come the
question of her endowing him for the period of his apprenticeship to
literature, that he might write with a free mind. He had, tempting as
that was and safe as it seemed to his arrogant youth, found the decency
and prudence to refuse. He wondered now how he had been spared, saved
really by the prophetic gods from taking that guarantee, though he was
then so sure of his ability to justify the risk and pay it all back.
Perhaps his mother had helped him. She was a woman of rare sanity, and
though he could not remember her uttering a dissuading word, he was
sure, in the light of his own middle-aged vision, that she must have
been throwing the weight of her clear-mindedness into the scale.

Then there was the question of a college course and of European travel:
those were among the colossal gifts Anne Hamilton had sought to lavish
on him. But again he had saved himself, accepting one thing only, a
benefit that must have hurt her heart like a stone, she was so bent on
his beautiful, bright aptitude at writing taking its place as soon as
possible, and with no dimming from a prosaic drudgery, in the world as
she knew it: the Boston world, the New England world, the court of
judgment that sits across the Atlantic. This benefit he asked for and
received, from her father: a clerk's place in the mills--Hamilton was a
wool magnate--and a chance to earn steady money for himself and his
mother, who was every year, in spite of her stout heart, slipping into
the weakness of the chronic invalid. Raven wrote his books at the fag
end of days given to his dull industry, and he succeeded in calling
attention to himself as a classical scholar, and then, as he impatiently
hit out with what he called pot-boilers in dialect, he got a popular
hearing and more money as well. All the time he was advancing in the
mills, and, as he advanced, he never failed to see before him the
flutter of Anne's discreet draperies or hear the click of her determined
heel. She never appeared in the business at all, but he was perfectly
sure there wasn't a preferment offered him by her father for which he
wasn't indebted to her manipulation of Hamilton in long, skillful hours
beforehand. Hamilton had no slightest idea he was being influenced, but,
as the years went on, he grew in appreciation of young Raven's business
abilities to such a degree that John, reading his mind like a familiar
tongue, wondered whether after all it was true, and he hadn't a genius
for the affairs of wool. Was he doing the thing that seemed so dull to
him with such mechanical and yet consummate cleverness that he was worth
all this unripe advancement, or was it indeed Anne's white hand that was
turning the wheel of power, her wand that was keeping the augmented
vision of him ever before her father's credulous eyes? But he could not
retard the wheels of his progress without making a fool of himself, and
by the time his sister had prosperously married and his mother had died,
he was a partner in the business, and then Hamilton also died and Raven
was asking Dick, hoping all the time he would refuse, if he wanted to
come in. Dick did refuse, with an instant hearty decision for which his
uncle inwardly blessed him. Raven had got so restive by this time over
the position he had himself won through Anne's generalship that he felt
the curse was going down through the family, and that Dick, if he should
come in, would wake up at forty-odd and find himself under the too heavy
shade of the Hamilton benevolence.

"Not on your life," said Dick, when he was halfheartedly offered the
chance of battening on wool, "not while Mum's got the dough. There's
only one of me, and she's bound to keep me going."

"You couldn't marry on it," said Raven.

For that also Dick was cheerfully prepared.

"By the time Nan's ready," he said, having at that point asked her
intermittently for several years, "I shall be getting barrelfuls out of
my plays."

"'If,'" quoted Raven, "'Medina Sidonia had waited for the skin of the
bear that was not yet killed, he might have catched a great cold.'"

"That's all right," said Dick. "You needn't worry, not till it begins to
worry me. The only thing that gets me is not pinning Nan down."

"Yes," said Raven, "she's a difficult person to pin."

And saying it, he had a vision of a bright butterfly with "dye-dusty
wings" in stiff, glass-covered brittleness. He wondered if marrying
might pin Nan down like that.

Another thought troubled him a little: whether Dick had built even
obscurely in his own mind on the money Nan would have from Aunt Anne,
and the more modest sum she had now from her dead father and mother. He
concluded not. He hadn't got to worry about that. Dick had lived in the
atmosphere of money and he took its permanence for granted.

But we are keeping Nan looking at the fire and trying to get her news
out adequately, waiting a long time for these explanatory excursions
into past history. Raven also was waiting, a good deal excited and
conscious of his apprehensive heart. And when she spoke, in a studied
quietude, he found the words were the very last he expected to hear:

"I wanted to be the one to tell you. We've found her will."



II


They sat there silent for several minutes. Raven was keeping desperate
clutch on the inner self lashed by his hurrying heart, and telling it
there was no danger of his saying any of the things it was hounding him
on to say. He wanted to break out with an untempered violence:

"Of course you've found it. And of course she's left a lot of it to me."

He did not really believe that: only it so linked up with the chain of
her unceasing benevolences toward him that it seemed the only thing to
complete them adequately. And Nan, as if his premonition had prompted
her, too, was saying, after the minute she had left him to get his pace
even with hers, as if to assure him that, although she knew so much more
than he, she wouldn't hurry ahead:

"Rookie, dear, she's left it all to you."

Raven felt himself tighten up, every nerve and sinew of him, to do
something before it should be too late. He bent forward to her and said,
a sharp query:

"Who found it?"

"Why," said Nan, smiling as if she couldn't ask anything better, "I
found it, in a perfectly innocent looking envelope with some old deeds
and mortgages."

"You haven't got it here, have you?" he pelted on. "You didn't bring it
with you?"

His eyes interrogated her with his voice, and she shook her head,
wondering at him.

"Nothing to you?" he asked sharply. "I'm the sole legatee?"

"Oh, I have the house, of course," said Nan, "the one here and the place
at Wake Hill. She had those only for her lifetime, you know. Yes, you're
the sole legatee."

"You haven't told anybody, have you?" he asked, in a despairing haste,
as if he were seeking about for ways to suppress the document.

She broke into an amused giggle, the note he sometimes fancied she kept
for him alone.

"Why, yes," she said, "of course I have. I telephoned Mr. Whitney, and
he was in a great state over it. He came round, and I gave it to him."

"A lawyer!" said Raven, in disgust. "A damned accurate,
precedent-preaching lawyer! Well, the fat's in the fire now. What did
you have to be so confounded previous for?"

Nan was smiling at him as if she found herself wiser than he.

"You didn't think you could tear it up, did you, Rookie?" she inquired.
"You can't, you know, except in stories."

"I don't know what I thought," he said. "Only I wish it hadn't been
done, that's all. It's a"--he ended blankly--"a mistake."

She was looking at him now in a warm, sweet way, to tell him she
understood and thanked him.

"You're afraid I sha'n't have enough," she said. "I shall. I'd ever so
much rather you had it, Rookie."

"It isn't a question," said Raven curtly, in his disaffection, "of how
much you're worth. It's simply yours, that's all, and you've got to have
it. Well, I can refuse it, I suppose. Only that's so boorish. It drags
everybody out into the open. What made her! Oh, what made her!"

"I think it's nice," said Nan comfortably. "It seems to make everything
so right. As to other people--why, it's telling them, don't you know,
you really were the one she cared most about, though she couldn't care
quite in the way you wanted her to."

He sat staring at her. What did she mean? What had she made up, in her
adequate mind, about his relation to Aunt Anne? She couldn't know how he
had fought off the yearly increasing benefits Anne had showered him
with, unless indeed Anne had told her. And it wasn't like her. Anne was
dignity itself. She kept her own counsel. She took her stately course
without the least recognition that there were peculiarities in the pace
she kept or the road she chose. She had the unconscious arrogance of her
class, a class perhaps, except as surviving in individuals, almost
extinct. She never accounted for herself, because it could not have
forced its way into her mind, from birth to death, that there was
anything in her conduct save the inevitable best, as ordered as the
stars. So, Raven knew, she had probably never talked over his nebulous
relation with her to Nan; but he was suddenly alive with curiosity to
know. He couldn't coax Nan into betraying that confidence, but he was
nevertheless set on getting at it somehow. He wondered if it might be
decent to do it by direct attack.

"Nan," said he, "just what was my relation to your Aunt Anne? What do
you assume it to have been?"

She looked at him as if in reproach, a hurt pride flushing her cheek and
giving a sort of wounded appeal to her glance.

"Why," she stumbled, "I know. Of course I know. Everybody did that heard
how long you'd been devoted to her."

This gave him so sharp a pang that it might almost have seemed she had
been told off to avenge some of Aunt Anne's wrongs of omission suffered
at his hands. He had never been devoted to her, even with his decent
show of deference in return for the benefits he had to reject. And now
Nan was accusing him of having kept up the relation he had been all his
life repudiating, and since Aunt Anne was gone (in the pathetic immunity
that shuts the lips of the living as it does those of the dead), he
could not repudiate it any more. Nan was looking at him now in her
clear-eyed gravity, but still with that unconscious implication of there
being something in it all to hurt her personally. The words came as if
in spite of her, so impetuously that she might easily not have seen how
significant they were:

"There's nothing to be ashamed of in not getting the woman you want,
especially with that reason. She adored you, Rookie. I know she did. And
it was pretty heroic in her to keep her mind fixed on all those years
between you. I wouldn't, I can tell you. Do you s'pose I'd let a matter
of fourteen years keep me from the only man? No, sir. Not me."

They sat gazing at each other, she as self-willed as her words and he
abjectly afraid of her finding out. Why? He could not have told. But it
did seem as if he must protect Anne, in the shadows where she lived now,
from the flashing directness of this terrible young glance. It was all
he could do for her. It was bad enough to have Nan build up a beautiful
dream house of eternal love and renunciation. It was infinitely worse to
be the cause of her demolishing it. And as his eyes, in sheer terror of
leaving her to reflect any more astutely and productively on this, held
hers, and hers answered back, suddenly he saw a new knowledge dawn in
their clear depths. She had somehow read him, underneath his evasions.
She knew. And before she could turn that involuntary discovery of hers
over in her mind and blur it with some of the discretions he was trying
to maintain, she burst out, in the extremity of her wonder:

"Good heavens! I don't believe it was so at all. You weren't in love
with her. She was with you, and that was the only way she----" Here she
saw the morass her crude candor was leading them both into, and stopped,
but not soon enough for him to miss the look of eager relief sprung into
her eyes. He turned from her and spoke roughly:

"We don't know what we're talking about. Going into things now--why,
it's the merest folly. Haven't we enough to worry over in the matter of
the will? That's the thing we've got to meet next."

She had now, he saw, the consciously sweet and warming smile she had for
him when she wanted to coax him into doing something or ignoring
something she had done.

"I'm in hopes," she said, "you may feel differently after you've read
her letter."

"Her letter?" he repeated, as if that were a superadded shock. "What
letter?"

"It was in the envelope," said Nan soothingly, "with the will."

"Who's it to?"

He was a writer of English, but his extremity was such that only the
briefest slovenliness would serve.

"To you," she said, unclasping her little bag and bringing it out, the
familiar superscription uppermost and the very size and texture of the
envelope so reminiscent of Anne's unchanging habits that he felt again
the pressure of her fine indomitable hand on his.

"Have you," he asked bleakly, "shown that to Whitney?"

"Why, no," said she, in a clear-eyed surprise. "Of course not. It's
addressed to you."

She held it out to him and, after a perceptible pause, he took it from
her and sat holding it, looking over it into the fire, as if he saw his
fate there, or as if he should determine it for himself by tossing the
letter in, to be devoured. Then he became aware that Nan was gathering
herself up to go. It was rather a mental intimation than anything
tangible. She was tight furled, like all the women of that moment of
fashion, and had no flying draperies to collect. But he felt her
flitting and knew at the same instant that he could not lose her, since,
determined as he was to bar her out of the inner recesses of his
unfurnished mental prison, where he and the memory of Aunt Anne dwelt so
miserably together, it was still a comfort to keep her human presence
within call.

"Don't go," he implored her, and she, surprised, settled back, saying:

"No, of course not, if you don't want me to. I thought you'd like to
read it straight off. Wouldn't it be easier to read it alone?"

"I don't know whether I can ever read it," said Raven, and then, seeing
what a great booby he must sound, he ended savagely: "I'll read it now."

Nan took a paper-knife from the table and offered it to him. Evidently
she felt an unformulated tenderness there, a guess that if he tore it
open it would seem as if he were somehow tearing at Aunt Anne's vanished
and helpless delicacies. Then, as he did not accept the knife, or,
indeed, seem to see it, she took the letter from his hand, ran the blade
noiselessly under the flap, withdrew the folded sheets, and gave them to
him. Raven, with a little shake of the head, as if he were reminding
himself not to be a fool, opened the letter, fixed his attention on it
and, without looking up, hurried through the closely written pages. Nan
sat as still as an image of silence, and when he had done and she heard
him folding the sheets and putting them back into the envelope, she did
not look up.

"Well," said he, his voice so harsh and dry that now she did glance at
him in a quick inquiry, "it's as bad as it can be. No, it couldn't very
well be worse."

Harrying thoughts raced through her mind. Had Aunt Anne reproached him
for any friendliness unreturned, any old hurt time had never healed? No,
Aunt Anne was too effectually armored by an exquisite propriety. She
would have been too proud to make any egotistical demand for herself
during life. Assuredly she could not have done it after death. Raven may
have guessed what she was thinking.

"No," he said, in the same tone of dry distaste. All at once it seemed
he could be definitely allowed to treat himself to a little wholesome
rebuttal of Anne and her ways. "It's nothing you could possibly imagine.
She leaves the money to me to be used for a certain purpose. She doesn't
leave it to any association of the people that think as she does,
because she doesn't absolutely trust them never to divert it into some
channel she wouldn't approve. She leaves it to me to administer because
I know precisely what she means and I'd feel bound to do it in her way
and no other."

"But what is the purpose?" Nan asked him. She was thoroughly surprised
and very curious. "So it's for a cause. Aren't you glad, Rookie? A
minute ago you didn't want it. What is the cause?"

"The cause," said Raven, with infinite distaste, as if it galled him
even to say it, "is the cause of Peace."

"Good Lord!" said Nan breathlessly. "O my stars!" She thought of it a
moment, and he thought also, and then she gathered herself hopefully.
"But, Rookie dear, you believe in peace. You don't have to carry it out
in her way. You can carry it out in yours--and mine--and Dick's--we that
have seen things over there. Why, bless you, Rookie, it's a great idea.
It's a chance: Liberty enlightening the world! a big educational fund,
and you to administer it. Cheer up, Rookie dear. It's a chance."

"Oh, no, it's not a chance," said Raven bitterly. "She's seen to that.
She's tied me up, hand and foot. It's got to be done in her way, the way
she'd been doing it herself since 1914."

"The acutely sentimental?" asked Nan ruthlessly. Then the misery of his
face--a look, too, of mortification as if somebody had put him to public
shame--hurt her so that she spoke with an impetuous bitterness of her
own: "It was a cruel thing to do. Well, it was like her."

Raven put in heavily:

"She never meant to be cruel."

"No," said Nan, "but the whole thing--all the things she had to do
with--came out of her being absolutely stupid and absolutely sure she
was right."

Raven thought apathetically for a moment. His mind went plodding back
over the years of his acquaintance with Anne, as he had never meant it
should again. There had been moments, of late, when he wondered if he
need ever go back to that guiding hand of hers on his unresponsive life.
Of herself, he would have protested, he must have the decency to think.
Just now, recurring to that also, he wondered, with a grim amusement,
whether he had perhaps meant to set apart a day for it, say Thursdays
from ten to twelve, to think gratefully of Anne. But here he was again
at war with her, and the curious part of it seemed to be that he
couldn't undertake the warfare with the old, steady, hopeless
persistence he had got used to in their past; the mere thought of it had
roused him to a certain alarming wildness of revolt.

"Well," he found himself saying to Nan, because there might be a
propriety in curbing her impetuous conclusions, "she had a way of being
right--conventionally, you might say."

"Was she right about the War?" Nan threw back at him.

"No," he felt obliged to own.

"Is she right about this, trying to fetter you, hand and foot, against
what she knew you believed, and banking on your doing it because she's
crowded you and rushed you so many times and you've never failed her?"

"Oh, yes," said Raven miserably, "I've failed her often enough."

"But answer me that: was she right when she left you her money to do
this fool thing and give the world another kick down hill where the
sentimentalists are sending it? Now I ask you, Rookie, was she right?"

"No," he owned again.

"Then," said Nan triumphantly, "you mean she's right about teas and
dinners and women's clubs and old portraits and genealogy and believing
our family tree was the tree of life. That's what you mean, isn't it,
Rookie?"

Raven looked at her, an unhappy smile dawning. He was moderately sure,
in his unspoken certainties, that this was what he did mean. She had
been the perfect product of a certain form of civilization, her
proprieties, her cruelties even--though, so civilized were they, they
seemed to rank only as spiritual necessities.

"I'd rather see a monkey climbing our family tree," said Nan, with a
rash irrelevance she hoped might shock him into the reaction of a
wholesome disapproval, "than all those stiffs she used to hold up for me
to imitate."

"Don't!" said Raven involuntarily. "It would hurt her like the mischief
to hear you say a thing like that."

"Why, Rookie," said Nan, with a tenderness for him alone, he saw, not
for Aunt Anne, "you act as if she might be--in the room." She kept a
merciful restraint on herself there. She had almost said: "You act as if
you were afraid she might be in the room."

He sat staring at her from under frowning brows. Was it possible, his
startled consciousness asked itself, that the spell of Anne's tenacity
of will had not lifted in the least and he did think she might be in the
room? Not to intimidate him: he had never feared her. He had been under
the yoke, not only of his decent gratitude, but his knowledge of the
frightful hurts he could deal her. He wondered what Nan would say if he
could tell her that, if he could paint for her the most awful hour in
his remembrance, more terrible even than that of seeing his mother
suffer under mortal disease, when Anne had actually given way before
him, the only time in her ordered life, and accused him of the cruelty
of not loving her. This had not been the thin passion of the family
portraits smiling down on them from her walls, but the terrible
nerve-destroying anguish of a woman scorned. That was one of the things
in his life he never allowed himself to think about; but it would, in
moments of physical weariness, come beating at the door. He would hear
it leave the threshold while he sat, hands clenched and lips shut tight,
and go prowling round the house, peering in at him through the windows,
bidding him waken and remember. And when he did find himself forced to
remember before he could get out of doors and walk or ride, it was
always with an incredulous amazement that he had, in that moment of her
downfall, found the courage to withstand her. When the implacable ghost
of remembrance flashed on his mind the picture of her, face wet with
streaming tears, hands outstretched to him--beautiful hands, the product
of five generations of idleness and care--why did he not meet her
passion with some decency of response, swear he did love her, and spend
the rest of his life in making good? Would a lifetime of dogged
endurance be too much for a man to give, to save all this inherited
delicacy of type from the ruin of knowing it had betrayed itself and was
delicate no more?--the keenest pang it could feel in a world made, to
that circumscribed, over-cultured intelligence, for the nurture of such
flowers of life. He felt, as he stood there looking despairingly upon
her, as if he had seen all the manufactured expensiveness of the world,
lustrous silks, bloom of velvet, filigreed jewels, in rags and ruin. Yet
there was more, and this it was that had brought enduring remorse to his
mind. It was pride. That was in ruins. If she had assaulted him with the
reproaches of an unfed passion, there would have been some savage
response of rebuttal in him, to save them both from this meager sort of
shame. But what could heal in a man's mind the vision of a woman's
murdered pride, as deep as the pride of queens, in the days when the
world itself bowed its neck for queens to set their feet on? Nan was
looking at him curiously. He became aware of it, and returned to himself
with a start. He must, he judged, have been acting queerly. It had never
happened before that he had been under other eyes when the vision rose
to plague him.

"You've been such a long time without speaking," said Nan gently. "What
is it, Rookie dear?"

He shook his head. His forehead was damp with the sweat of his renewed
remorses.

"There's such a lot of things, Nan," he answered, "that can't be said."

"Yes," she agreed, "that's true. Want me to go home?"

He didn't want her to go home. He caught at her dear presence. Almost he
wished he might tell her how horrible it was, not only to repudiate
Anne's last request of him, but to feel he was repudiating it on the
heels of that other refusal years ago.

"No, dear," he said, "not yet. I'll go with you when you must."

"I don't believe," Nan ventured, "it's as bad as you think. She did do
some foolish things," she meditated, "these last years."

"She did some hideous things," said Raven, "because they weren't normal.
They weren't decent. And so they weren't right."

"Maybe I don't know so much as you do about them," said Nan. "You see
she was so furious with me for going to France----"

"Oh, don't say she was furious," urged Raven, still out of that sense of
her being in the room. "It would hurt her so confoundedly."

"Well, she was, you see," said Nan. "I thought you knew about it. But I
remember, you'd gone. And when I told her I was going over, she was
furious. Oh, she was, Rookie! You can't say anything else. I know Aunt
Anne."

"But just cut out some of the adjectives," said Raven, still with that
sense of Anne's being in the room and the unsportsmanlike business of
putting her in her place when she could not, even from her place, defend
herself. "She never was furious. She simply didn't believe in war and
she wouldn't join any relief work and didn't want you to."

"She wouldn't join any relief work," said Nan, relentlessly rehearsing.
"She said the most frightful things and said them publicly. She ought to
have been arrested, only they didn't take the trouble. She wasn't a
Quaker. There was nothing inbred to excuse her. We're decent folks,
Rookie, we Hamiltons. But she stood for non-resistance. She said Belgium
shouldn't have resisted, and England shouldn't have gone in, and France
shouldn't have lifted a finger or thrown a bomb, and when you told
her--that is, I told her--she was crazy, she said something awful."

Raven was startled out of his determination to show no curiosity.

"What did she say?" he asked. "What was it that was awful?"

Nan seemed to have paled a little under the rose-leaf texture of her
cheek.

"Why, you know," she said, "what they all come back to. Whatever they
believe, they come back to that. I don't see how they can. I couldn't,
it scares me so. They tell you what He said--Christ."

Raven sat looking at her, wondering absently, in the unregarded depths
of his mind, how they could go on with a talk that was ploughing deeper
and deeper and yet could get nowhere in the end. For certainly they were
both mercifully bent on saving Anne, and Anne, under this shadow of her
latest past, herself would not let them.

"She absolutely forbade my going to France," said Nan, this with no
special feeling, but as if she had dwelt on it until there was no
emotion left to put into it. "She said it was notoriety I wanted. I told
her I'd scrub floors over there, if they wanted me to. It proved I did,
too, you know. I did it remarkably well. And then she said she forbade
me, and I reminded her I was of age and had my own money. And I went."

Raven nodded. He thought they had said enough, but Nan's calm
impartiality did rest him. It was something he could not himself attain.

"And now," said Nan, "she wants you to keep on doing the fool things
she'd have done then, if they'd let her. She probably wants to get up a
big scheme of propaganda and put it into the schools. And every blessed
boy and girl in this country is to be taught not to serve the truth and
do his job but--safety first."

"Yes," said Raven, drearily "I suppose that's about it."

"But actually," said Nan, suddenly aware that he had not told her, "what
does she say? Does she specify? What does she say?"

"She says," Raven answered, in a toneless voice, glancing at the letter
but making no movement toward sharing it with her more definitely, "that
her money is to build a Palace of Peace--she doesn't say where--for
lectures, demonstrations of the sort I know she approves, all the
activities possible in the lines she has been following--for the
doctrine of non-resistance and the consequent abolishment of war."

Again he ended drearily.

"Well," said Nan, "what are you going to do about it? going to spend
your life and the lives of a lot of more or less intelligent pacifists
teaching children to compute the number of movies they could go to for
the money spent on one battleship----"

"But, good God, Nan!" Raven broke in, "you and I don't want to preach
war."

"No," said Nan, "but we can't let Aunt Anne preach peace: not her brand,
as we've seen it. O Rookie! what's the use of taking the world as it
isn't? Why don't we see if we can't make something of the old thing as
it is and has been? and blest if I don't believe as it always will be?"

Raven looked at her in a maze of interrogation. Was this the fragility
of girlhood speaking, or was it womanhood, old as time itself, with the
knowledge of good and evil? She answered the look.

"No," she said, "I'm not a kid. Don't think it. I suppose it's because
I've seen--life."

The pause before the last word, the drop on the word itself was not from
bitterness, he knew. But it was sad.

"Well," he said irrepressibly, "you've seen life, and what do you think
of it?"

She hesitated. Then she put out her hand and touched the petal of a
rose, one of a great dome of splendor in a bowl.

"I like--roses," she said whimsically.

She looked at him with that most moving look of a lovely face: the
knitted brows of rueful questioning, the smiling lips. Raven, staring
back at her, felt a sudden impulse to speak, to tell. It was the form of
her reply that invited him.

"I don't believe, Nan," he said, "I even care about roses. I don't care
about the whole infernal scheme. That's what I sent for Dick for--to
tell him. Practically, you know I should have to tell Dick. And I
haven't done it and now I'm telling you."



III


Nan sat looking at him with an air of patient alertness, ready, he saw,
to meet what he had to say and do the best she could with it. He had an
irritated apprehension that, as her work through the last few years had
lain chiefly in meeting emergencies, so now he was an emergency. And as
Dick, poet though the inner circle of journalism had listed him, might
not understand in the least what he was driving at, so there was danger
of Nan's understanding too quickly and too much, with the resultant
embarrassment of thinking something could be done. And nothing could be
done beyond the palliatives he meant to allow himself. He would try her.
He might see how far she would insist on going with him along his dreary
way. What if she had Anne's over-developed and thwarted maternity of
helpfulness? What if she insisted on going all the way and never leaving
him to the blessed seclusion of his own soul?

"You see, Nan," he adventured, "I'm sick of the whole show."

She nodded.

"Yes," she said, "I know. Coming back. Finding we aren't any better than
we were before we got frightened and said our prayers and promised God
if He'd stop the War we'd be different forever and ever, amen. That's
it, Rookie, isn't it?"

"Why, yes," said Raven, staring at her, she seemed so accurate,
according to his own mental gauging, and so unmoved in her flippancy,
"that's pretty nearly it."

She nodded at him again, whether to hearten him or to assure him of
their perfect unison he could not tell.

"It was an awful jolt, wasn't it?" she inquired frankly. "You know, I
should think it might make some of them laugh, the ones they say observe
us from--where is it from? Mars? up in the heavens somewhere. It's like
reading a bitter sort of book. It is funny. Rookie, don't you think it's
funny?"

Raven remembered a character in Mr. Owen Wister's "Virginian," the hen
crazed by her thwarted destiny.

"Well," he said, quoting "The Virginian," "not so damned funny either.
But how the dickens did you know what I was going to say?"

"Because it's what we've all come back to," said she, "and what
everybody that stayed at home feels, or ought to if they've got anything
inside their nuts. Just think, Rookie! we were like the great multitude
in the Bible, somewhere, praising God. We broke our idols and--I don't
know what we didn't do. And now we're not scared any more, we've set 'em
up again: same old idols. Rookie, I bet you the only reason we ever
sacrificed to God at all was because we thought He was the biggest joss
and things were so desperate and all, we'd better make a sure thing of
it. And now we think we aren't in any particular danger, seems as if the
little gods would do, same as they did before; and they're not so
expensive."

"Goodness, Nan!" said Raven, "how naughty you are. You didn't use to run
on so."

"I haven't talked very much to you," said Nan drily, "not since I grew
up."

He knew it was true, and knew also that the reason was, if she had
allowed her lips to utter it, "Aunt Anne wouldn't let me."

"But," she said, "I don't understand altogether. I know you're mad and
discouraged and all the rest of it. But I don't see what Dick has got to
do with it."

"It's simply this," said Raven. "I'm going away."

She looked at him in what seemed to be serious alarm.

"Relief work?" she asked. "Reconstruction?"

"No," said Raven. "I don't believe I should be any good to them. There
isn't a blamed thing I can do, so far as I see, except for what money
I've got. I'm no good, Nan. I shouldn't sell for my hide and horns. And
I hate the whole blamed show. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the system,
from the beasts that devour one another to the rest of us. And I'm
simply going to desert. I'm going to run away."

"Where?" asked Nan. "You can't run away from the earth."

"No," said Raven, "I can't jump off. So I'm going to do the next
convenient thing. I'm going up to Wake Hill and shovel snow with Jerry,
and maybe get into the woods and do some thinning out and, if I remember
anything about the millennium we've just shaved the edge of, just say to
myself there ain't a-going to be no millenium, so I can shut up."

"You've taken advice, haven't you?" she concluded. "That's what they've
prescribed. I suppose it's all right."

"Good God, no!" said Raven. "Do you think I've been to a doctor and
turned myself inside out? I'm going because Wake Hill is as far out of
the world as I can manage. If the whole earth hadn't gone crazy, I'd cut
stick for Tartary or some confounded place that isn't on the map. But
they're all on the map. There isn't an inch of ground that isn't under
some sort of moral searchlight. No, I'll be hanged if it's moral. It's
only the mites in the cheese getting busy and stirring up fermentation."

Nan laughed out and then looked up at him in her rueful apology.

"I couldn't help it," she said. "I thought of Dick, your telling him.
Dick's just got his book ready for the printer: Democracy, you know, in
three-legged verse. And they'll say it's full of insight and prophecy.
That's what they said about the other one: insight, prophecy! But Dick
won't have the least idea what you're driving at."

"You see," said Raven, "he's thinking of doing some stiff work and
getting a degree: a sort of sop to his mother. She's as wild as a hawk,
you know, to get him to distinguish himself, doesn't much care how. I'd
meant to ask him to camp here with me this winter. I believe I did
actually ask him, now I think of it."

"Yes, you did," said Nan. "It'll make a lot of difference to him, your
being away."

"I don't think so," said Raven. "Anyhow, he'll have to get used to it,
especially as I'm not merely going away. I'm getting out, out of the
business and all."

He was really surprising her now. She had grown up in the atmosphere of
belief in that particular business. When a Hamilton said his earthly
creed, he would have begun, if he had been honest, "I believe in wool."

"You're not retiring?" she hesitated.

"Yes."

"Made your pile, Rookie?"

At once they thought of Anne and the new complication she had saddled
him with.

"That isn't the question," he evaded. "The amount of it is, I couldn't
go to the office every morning and come home and go the next day,
without--well, Nan, frankly, going off my nut. I hate it. I hate the
whole business of what we call civilized life. I even think of giving
Dick power of attorney and passing all my stuff over into his hands."

"Oh, no," said Nan quickly, "you mustn't do that."

He frowned at her, perplexedly.

"Don't you trust him?" he asked. "Don't you trust Dick?"

"Of course I trust Dick," said she impatiently, "his intentions, that
is."

"You ought to," said Raven. "You're bound to, the man you're going to
marry."

She kept her eyes on him, but she said nothing. And suddenly Raven
realized that he wanted to know about this business of marrying Dick. He
wanted to know tremendously. Yet, though this was the little Nan who
sometimes used to seem more his child than anybody's, he could not ask
her. She looked difficult, if not wayward.

"Well," he compromised, "that's about where it is. I'm going into the
country, to get away from the clack of men. My income, all but the
little of it I set aside for food and taxes, will go to France. It may
go through Dick or it may----Oh, well, well," he added, seeing the
quick rebuttal again on her face, "that hasn't got to be decided in a
hurry. But ultimately it goes to France."

"Why France?" asked Nan. "I see, though. They're all deserting her."

"It isn't altogether that," said Raven, as if he hadn't finished
thinking it out. "It's because I believe in her so tremendously, that
quick intelligence of hers. She mustn't be downed, mustn't be kept
depleted. It's a loss too horrible to face. She sees the world as it is.
She knows the dangers. She's got to be protected from them, so she can
go on seeing."

"What does she see?" asked Nan curiously. "What kind of thing?"

"Everything. Life. When it comes to what the collective brain can do,
you can't limit her. You never'll make her believe in miracles, but she
can find out how they're done."

"Mercy!" said Nan. "You talk like a book."

"Notes, for an essay: 'France.' I've been thinking 'em out. How she
ought to be given a hand, so she doesn't have to spend the next thirty
years or so outwitting the German devil. That's hard sledding for her
beautiful intelligence. She ought to be safe, so she can turn it to
other things: the science of living, hers, ours, everybody's."

"Ah," said Nan, "but they'll tell you it won't be for everybody: only
France."

"That's the point," said Raven. "It's a gamble. But they can't deny
she's got the beautiful intelligence. I can trust anything so perfect. I
trust it absolutely."

"Why don't we do it ourselves? Build a fire under us, Rookie. Come on!"

"We aren't homogeneous," said Raven. "We've no race spirit, no live
nerve through the whole of us. France has. That mind of hers, that
leaping intelligence! If she were as holy as she is keen, she'd make the
world the poets dreamed of."

"Then go to it," said Nan. "Turn in your money. I will mine. Stump you!"

"Not yet," said Raven. "You sit tight and see how I come out. I haven't
got enough to set the Seine afire, but such as it is, I'd like to turn
it over to her for what she needs most: agriculture, schools, research.
Administered so it could be withdrawn if she didn't make good and turned
in somewhere else. Oh, it's a gamble! I told you it was. But
administered, mind you. That's the point."

"Through Dick," she commented, plainly with dissatisfaction. "Now, why
Dick?"

"Because," said Raven, "Dick's got a head for organizing. He's his
father over again, plus the Raven streak. And the Raven streak doesn't
do him any harm. It isn't soft, like Old Crow--and me. It's his mother
in him, and she takes back--but O Lord! what's the sense of going into
that?"

"Anyhow," said Nan, with decision, "you keep your affairs in your own
hands."

"For the present, yes," said Raven. "And I do want to think it out in
detail. I can do it at Wake Hill. I shall get on my pins enough for
that."

"Isn't it funny?" said she. "Aunt Anne with her Palace of Peace and you
with your invincible France. But, Rookie, you hear to me. Whatever you
do with your own money, you do it your own way. Don't be a slacker."

Raven sat looking at her, a slow smile dawning. He rather liked Nan's
taking him in hand.

"That's it, is it?" he asked, with a relish she was glad to see. "A
slacker! so be it. If I'm a slacker, I am. I'm a conscientious objector.
What I object to is the universe, the pattern it's made on. I object to
the way we're running it, and, being made as we are, I don't see how we
can be expected to do anything but what we're doing. It's a perfectly
logical proposition. And except for a few minor chores I've got to see
to, I simply won't play."

Nan was thinking. She looked down at her hands, lying in her lap. Raven
looked at them also and wondered, as he often had, since they came home,
how such hands could have done the tasks she set them to. She looked up
and met his eyes gravely with something imperative in hers. It is a way
women have sometimes. They seem to be calling on the boy in man and
bidding him take heed.

"I wouldn't," said she, "talk to Dick about going to Wake Hill."

"What would you do? Cut stick, and let him wonder what in the deuce it's
all about?"

"I wouldn't talk; I'd write."

"Oh, write!--what's the difference?"

"If you talk, he'll say something that'll shut you up and you'll be just
as far apart as you are to-day. If you write, you can tell him as much
as you want to and no more. And the first thing he'll do will be to
bring the letter to me."

"I see," said Raven. "And you'll interpret."

"I'll interpret. I can, Rookie. I know you, don't I? and I know Dick."

"You ought to," said Raven rashly again because he was again curious,
"the man you're going to marry."

"Yes," said Nan calmly, rising, "the man I'm going to marry. Only"--her
face, as she turned it to him, brimmed over with a childish sort of
fun--"don't tell him that, Rookie. It's perfectly true I haven't
promised him. And I don't mean to--yet."

"Quite right," said Raven, rising. He felt a distinct relief. He, too,
wanted to see what Dick would make of himself. "You do your own
telling."

"There he is," said Nan, "just as it is in a play. We've got to a climax
and he comes in at the door. But, Rookie----" She stopped, for Dick was
nearing in the hall, and Raven knew what she would have said. It was in
both their minds. They hadn't finished their talk. It had merely strayed
into another channel, or bolted and run away there. Aunt Anne's money
and her Palace of Peace still stared them in the face. Dick put his head
in at the door. He looked rather sheepish, as if his dignified going had
been invalidated by this impetuous coming back, as if he couldn't live
without Nan and she was bound to see through it.

"Well?" he said gruffly. "Talked out?"

They both laughed, with the sudden absurdity of it. How should they,
their eyes questioned each other, ever be talked out, what with Aunt
Anne and the universe and France?

"Absolutely," said Nan. "Good night, Rookie. Going to write your letter?
Come on, Dick."



IV


Raven sat down at the table and began his letter. He was wrestling with
it at once, to give himself no time to argue over the point of its being
no ordinary letter such as he had been accustomed to write to Dick. He
began with the succinct statement of what he meant to do. He had made
all his arrangements for getting out of the business. They could be
concluded in short order. As to the business itself, he had no complaint
to make. The old man--he permitted himself this indulgence as he never
could have in Anne's lifetime, as touching her father--the old man had
been square all through. He was as good as they make 'em. But there was
nothing for him, Raven, in the concern except its cumulative capacity
for making money. He'd no traditional pride in it, as the old man had.
He'd worked for all he was worth, to squeeze every drop he could out of
it so that his mother--"your grandmother, you know, Dick"--might have
every last luxury she wanted. Well, she'd had 'em, though one of the
ironical things about it was that she didn't want so very many, and he
needn't have worked so hard or so long. However, that's neither here nor
there. What's done is done. The War's done--they say--and the thing that
would please Raven best would be----Here he brought up with a full stop.
He was running into dangerous revelations, going back to a previous
state of mind, one he had begun cherishing as soon as his mother died,
and even caressed, with a sort of denied passion, when Anne also died,
and he felt so shamefacedly free. All his life he had wanted to wander,
to explore, to bruise himself against the earth and pick himself up and
go on and get bruised again. He loved the earth, he wanted her, in her
magnificence and cruelty, wanted to write about her, and make the
portrait of her for stay-at-homes who weren't adventurous and were
content with reading about her in the blank moments after the office
grind. Yet he was a stay-at-home himself. Why? in God's name why?

He asked himself the question, as he sat with lifted pen, almost the
words dropping off it, to tell Dick the things it would be simply
disconcerting to know. Raven saw, with a sad clearness, why he hadn't
written the books he wanted to about the earth. They would have been
rough books, full of rock and clay and the tumbling of rivers and
thunder grumbling in the clouds. If he had been really afraid of Anne
and her ordered ambitions for him, he could have printed them under an
assumed name. She need never have known at all. They wouldn't have been
the books he could have written if he had been foot-loose and gone
blundering along in strange trails over the earth, but they might have
held something of the sort his inner man wanted to fashion. And if the
secret of them had been kept, they needn't have interfered with his smug
little folk stories Anne and her women's clubs prized so much. Had he
been actually afraid of Anne? Was he one of the men who are shamefully
under the feminine finger, subject to mother, subject to wife, without
the nerve--scarcely the wish, indeed--to break away? He was not afraid
of his mother, or, if he had been, it was the fear of hurting her who
had been so hurt already. Ever since he could remember, he saw himself,
even as a little boy, trying to get her away from his father who had a
positive cast of mind, a perfect certainty of being right and a
confirmed belief that robust measures always were the thing. If you did
wrong, you were to be punished, promptly and effectually. If you were
afraid of the dark, and came downstairs in your nightgown upon the
family sitting by the lamp, you were whaled for it, to teach you there
was something worse than bed even in the dark. If you said your head
ached and you couldn't eat bacon and greens, which father elected to
consider a normal dish, you were made to eat a lot with no matter what
dire result, because there wasn't a physical ill which couldn't be
mended by treating it robustly. He was God. He knew. And he was
perfectly well and had never once for half a minute entered into those
disordered cells of bodily ill where the atom cries to its Creator in an
anguish of bewilderment and pain. And when his body met the fate
appointed for its destruction, as all bodies must, and he was brought
home broken after the runaway that made him a thing almost too terrible
to look upon, except by eyes so full of compassion that they love the
more, Raven, then a very little John, found himself wondering how it
seemed to father now. Even runaways, father had appeared to think, could
always be governed, if you kept your head.

They never knew what he thought. He died quickly, under opiates, and
John believed his mother was so thankful for the merciful haste of it
that she could not, until long after, recall herself to mourn. And she
did honestly mourn. The little John was glad of that. So ill and tired
had she been for years and yet so bound upon the rack of her husband's
Spartan theories for her, that John thought he could not have borne it
if she had not adored her righteous tormentor, if she had had to look on
him as her master, not her lord by love. It seemed to him he was always
mourning over his mother, in those days, always lying awake and
wondering if she were awake, too, always trying to save her from some
task too heavy for her and too heavy for him also, so that, if she were
to be saved, it had to be by stratagem. But stratagem was difficult in
that house, because his older sister, who became Dick's mother, was of
her father's temperament, always perfectly well and also an inferior god
who knew at every point what to do, and she had not merely imbibed
father's certainty that the only thing mother needed was to take a
brace: she had it by nature. And when, father being gone to heaven--and
John, young John now, not little any more, made no doubt he had gone, it
pleased mother so to say it and be obligingly agreed with--Amelia, his
sister, took her departure, on the night of her marriage with a very
prosperous Mr. Powell, for the middle west, John Raven, then beginning
his apprenticeship to wool, danced a fantastic fling in the sitting-room
where the wedding gifts still lay displayed and whooped with emotion at
last let loose. His mother, in the gray silk and commendable lace Amelia
had selected and he had paid for, did smile unwillingly, but she spoke
to him in the reproving tone which was the limit of severity his boyhood
had known from her and which he had learned, in those earliest days,
meant nothing at all:

"I'd be ashamed! Any one would think you were glad your sister had
gone!"

John did not say he was glad. He knew too much to stir up loyal
reactions in mother's conscience. He simply wove a dance of intricate
mazes about her, as she sat in her chair, and his inner mind was one
pæan of thanksgiving to God, not the spurious gods who had been his
father and sister, but the mysterious Deity who had, for obscure
purposes, called them into being, because now John had at last full
swing and could let mother out of bondage. What difference did it make
that he wasn't trekking through darkest Africa or being hunted by the
jungle in India, so long as mother was out of bondage? He even took his
allegiance to Anne rather lightly, those first years, he was so
absent-minded about everything but hypnotising mother into thinking she
was going to be very happy and live a long time doing it. And that was
the part of his life when there seemed to be a great deal of it, and if
he didn't have a thing now there would be plenty of chances to snatch at
it later. He had simply been eaten up, the energy of him, the will,
perhaps, by compassion. And then his mother had died and he knew he
could have done no more for her than he had done, and while he was
turning round to look about him--and ah! in that lean year came Anne's
horrible accusation that he did not love her!--the War broke out, and he
felt himself shocked into action. The very atoms of his body seemed to
fall asunder and rearrange themselves and, as soon as he could decently
get away, without throwing the bewilderment of the business on Anne, he
had gone, and he had never seen her again.

He had written to her faithfully, and with the compassion that was
either natally or by the habit of life a part of him, but he had not
obeyed her. For she begged him, almost, at intervals, commanded him, to
return to work with her for the peace of mankind. At first he tried to
explain himself and assuage her grief over what she called his desertion
of their common ideals. He answered the arguments in the letters that
had become a misery to him to receive as his had become an inexpressible
burden to write. Finally, with a wrench to himself, he ceased, and, with
infinite pains, compiled data that might interest without offending her.
The letters continued, but as soon as he found she was sending him
abstractions valueless because they had no roots in the living issues of
things, he had to stop. That, not her death, had been their lasting
farewell.

What, in the name of all that was mysterious, he reflected, had made
Anne--and so early--assume the burden of an unasked allegiance to him?
His family and hers had been next-door neighbors at Wake Hill, but on no
equality of worldly footing. The Hamiltons, thriving on wool, had been
able to buy for themselves all the picturesque luxuries of civilized
life. Their women toiled not. Their delicate air was the product of
tuition in dainty ways. Their men had acquired the unconscious pose of
dominance, of knowing what was their due and expecting to get it without
argument. Sometimes up there at Wake Hill they did receive a
disconcerting knock or two from some "embattled farmer" whom they called
"my man," and who didn't like the sound of it. But the answering rebuff
never penetrated the fine mail of their acquired arrogance. It meant,
they smilingly said, "New England," and tolerantly passed it by. Raven's
people were of a different stripe, "brainy," he thought with an unspoken
pride of his own, yet deficient in a certain practical quality of taking
the world "but as the world," and consequently always poor. Their ways
were rougher ways. Their women had to work to trim the edges of their
plainer surroundings with the alleviating prettinesses the Hamiltons
cast aside with every changing style. And Anne, coming home from Europe
one summer, where she had not only seen wonder and beauty, already
familiar to her--for she was a young lady then--and where he knew she
had met men and women whose names were trumpet calls in his
ears--singled him out, in his shyness and obscurity, and offered him the
key to the fulfilment of his dreams. Education, travel, the life of
books--all were in her hand, the potential fruit of her father's doting
affection for her, and all were to be his. What could have inspired her
with so wholesale and fantastic a philanthropy? He could never
adequately guess, and he was no nearer doing it now than in the old
bewildering days when the Hesperidean apples were dropping over him and
he was, from some shy instinct, dodging to avoid them. And the reason he
had never guessed and never could guess was that he left out of all the
data at his hand the one first moving factor: that he was a beautiful
youth and Anne had imperiously loved him and had never ceased to love.

As he sat there, the pen lifted, his mind going back over the things
that had led him away from adventure into wool, and were now leading him
as far from wool as might be, he was tempted. What if, in spite of Nan,
he should risk it and tell Dick, once for all, why he was going away,
make it clear so there should be no after-persuasions, no clutter of
half understanding? He was tired of thinking about his life as a life.
The temptation to such morose musing had come upon him in the last six
months, and once yielded to, he felt the egotistical disease of it
through his very blood and bones. If he were Catholic, he could confess
and get rid of it. He was not Catholic, only pagan, the natural man. The
Church had a wisdom of her own. All her rites and ceremonies found their
root in something salutary for the human mind. Confession was salutary.
You might not be absolved, but if you were pagan you could believe that
the very act of it absolved you. Nan said Dick never would understand.
So much the better. Let him carry off the burden of it. If he
understood, he'd see the extreme sacredness of a confidence entrusted to
him. If he didn't, he'd hide it as a thing you'd better say as little
about as possible. So he tucked his first letter into its envelope and
began to write again, with no date and no direct address, but from a
sense that it was going to be an enormously comforting thing to do.



V


"I think I'll tell you the real reason why I'm going to Wake Hill. I've
told you I'm going, but just as my nerves move the muscles that move my
legs to go, so my will moves my nerves and the me that is inside
somewhere and is a perfect stranger to you--and also to the me I am used
to myself--moves my will. You see, the me inside me knows there's
something wrong. Something mighty bad--or it may be merely
inevitable--has happened to me. I went through the War all right, on a
pretty even keel, because I thought I saw a bright light at the end. I
thought we all saw the light. And the light wasn't any electric
signboard out to say there never would be any more wars, but it was a
light you could see to read by. You could see the stars and see them
differently from the old way we'd been seeing them. We could see the
moon and the Milky Way--but I suppose that comes under stars--and the
upshot of it was that we thought we saw God. And after you'd seen God,
you knew saying there shouldn't be any more war was only beginning at
the wrong end of the puzzle. Of course war is a damnable business,
perhaps the most damnable we go into because it's so wholesale. But if
you begin at the right end of the puzzle and not the wrong, the thing we
learn is that the only reality in this universe for which it's worth
going through the obscene hells of which war is one, is God. To be aware
of Him, not to explain Him. You can't explain Him. You can't explain
what He's done to you or means to do. All you can do is to keep your eye
on Him and fall in.

"I came home. I was rather cracked, when I got here, I was so pleased
with my little plaything. I'd seen God. I was only one of a good many
millions that saw Him. And it was exactly as if you went into an
enchanter's cave and expected to find some dream you'd dreamed made
real, and all you found was the Forty Thieves sitting there counting
over their spoils. No! no! it isn't an allegory. I don't mean America
and profiteers. I don't mean anybody particularly. But it began to come
over me more and more every day that we and everybody else on the round
world, if they had seen God, had forgotten all about it. Just as the
old-fashioned men at Wake Hill used to read their Bible Sunday and put
it away on the parlor table with the album and go out early Monday
morning to carry the apples to market all deaconed on top. By George! we
were the same old lot. And worse, for we'd had our look through the
peep-hole into eternities, and now we said, 'It makes my eyes ache. I'm
going to wear a shade.' No, son, I don't mean Leagues of Nations and
Internationalism or any of the quack remedies. I mean just God. We'd
been badly scared--Nan said so to-day--and we got down on our knees and
howled to the Highest and offered Him tribute.

"Now you may say that even if the whole world had forgotten God, if I'd
seen Him why couldn't I still remember Him? Why couldn't I consider the
millions of years that go to the making of man and do my little bit and
wait on His will? Because my temptation came on me. I was tempted in the
wilderness of my own credulity and conceit. For I looked back over time
past and I said like Solomon--I don't know whether he ever said it, but
he's the most blasé Johnnie I remember--'All is vanity.' As it was in
the beginning, so it ever shall be. We are not made in the image of God.
We are made rather grotesquely out of dust, and to dust we shall return,
all our hopes, all our aspirations, all the pretty plans we form for
defeating death and time. And who made us and put us on this dark planet
where it is next to impossible to see a step before us? God. Who is
responsible for us? God. Can we find out His will? Never. Can we hope
for any alleviation of misery on our dark planet? Never: for if we seek
out many inventions to down disease and poverty, we shall unloose as
many by-products of discovery and bring new plagues upon us. And so I
had to turn away from God. Do you see? I didn't deny He exists. I didn't
accuse Him of bad faith to us. How can He show either good faith or bad
when He has made us no promises? He has merely set us on the dark planet
and forced us to whirl with it on the wheel of time. And so, do you see,
having turned away from God--and I had to, I had to in mere honesty--I
simply lost Him. And having lost Him, there is nothing left to lose.
Also, having once seen Him and then lost Him, I can't take up the puzzle
again. I can't play the game. If I hadn't what we New Englanders call
common sense, I suppose I should put an end to myself. What would be the
good? He would simply catch me, like a rabbit out of a cage, and chuck
me back again on the dark planet. Don't think I blame Him. He wouldn't
do it out of cruelty. He'd have to put me back. That's the way His laws
are made. So I'm going up to Wake Hill and live with Charlotte and
Jerry, and see if I can't get tired enough every day to sleep at night.
I couldn't keep on here. I couldn't. What we call civilization is too
sickening to me. I should simply go off my nut. And when you come to
that, it's an awful complication, besides the suffering of it. That I
shrink from, too. I'm talking a good deal, but actually it's the thing I
least want to do. I don't want a fuss."

Here he paused, wondered if he had more to say, thinking Dick must be
unusually dull, even for a poet, if he couldn't understand such a plain
state of things, and then took an irrational satisfaction in carefully
folding these last pages and putting them in the envelope with what he
had written first. He addressed the envelope to Dick, sealed and weighed
it, got up and stretched himself and felt distinctly better. He had, in
a way, confessed, and it was having the effect on him he had so sagely
anticipated. He could sleep to-night. And he did sleep. It was one of
the nights he used to have after long tramps about Wake Hill, when his
tired legs thrilled deliciously before they sank into a swoon of
nothingness.

In the morning, he leaped the chasm from four to six, a wakeful misery
of late, when he was accustomed to go over and over the last harassing
pages in his book of doubts. He did not wake until seven, and then it
was with a clear-eyed resumption of consciousness. And here he was,
exactly as he had found himself on other mornings when the bath of
oblivion had not been so deep. Here was his world, the world he was
trying to run away from, waiting for him in all its ordered hostilities.
Immediately it struck him full in the center that, instead of having
something less to brood upon by reason of his confession to Dick, he had
saddled himself with more. He had the letter itself to repent of. He had
given, not his unhappiness but his actual self away, and, no matter how
clearly Dick understood, he had conjured up another anguish in admitting
to his disordered inner world the lenses of another mind. This was only
a matter of a second's disconcerting thought. It was also immediately
clear to him that the letter must not go, and he spoke from his bedside
to the kitchen and gave orders that nothing should be mailed until he
came down. A contrite voice replied. The letters were mailed: that is,
the thick one on the library table. Mary had gone in last night to lock
the windows, and saw it, and knew he had forgotten to leave it in the
hall. He often did forget. It was stamped and sealed. And the furnace
man came then. Raven thought he might, in another minute, be groaning
into her sympathetic ear; so he shut her up with an assurance that it
was all right. But he felt the sweat start on his forehead at the
picture of Dick sitting down to breakfast--Dick always ordered a big
breakfast, having a hunter's appetite and a general impression that, the
more he nourished himself, the more manly it would make his nose--and
poring over the fable of his uncle's soul, or what seemed to be his
soul, with eyes strained to their limit of credulity. However, it was of
no use. Nothing was of any use when destiny had one of those ironic fits
of hers and sat down to make a caricature of you, just for the fun of
bursting her old sides over it. He dressed in a dogged haste, wondering
if he'd better telephone Dick and ask him not to open any letter he
might have from him that morning, and then dismissing it, because it had
assuredly been received and Dick was now absorbing it with his chops and
eggs.

Raven went down to his own eggs in a grim and sulky frame of mind. He
would repudiate the letter, if need be, tell Dick it was only something
he had written as a literary experiment and thought he'd try it on the
dog. But the moment he heard the boy's key in the door and then his step
through the hall, he knew he could not, for some unexplained reason
inherent in his own frame of mind, "put it over." It was as if Dick
represented the universe Raven was arraigning, was counsel for it, so to
speak, and Raven had got, in sheer decency of honor, to stand to his
guns. But it was all worse than he thought. Dick's entrance was so
quick, his onslaught so unstudied, his glance so full of alarmed
commiseration, that Raven saw at once he had been shocked out of all
manly proprieties. Dick caught at a chair, on the way to the table,
brought it with him and, placing it at a near angle to Raven's, dropped
into it as if exhausted.

"I'd no idea," he began, "why, I'd no more idea----"

Raven's hand tightened on his fork. Then he laid the fork down, for,
after all, he had finished breakfast, and might as well make the most of
running his hands into his pockets and shutting them there.

"Morning, Dick," he said. "Have in some toast and eggs?"

Dick, in no mind even to weigh the significance of toast and eggs, was
staring at him. He was cheated by a poverty of words when he most needed
them, and could only repeat:

"I hadn't the least idea. I tell you it never occurred to me. I don't
believe it did to Nan, either."

"What?" asked Raven. "What is it that didn't occur to you?"

"I did think of it when you first spoke of going to France, you know,"
said Dick, in a justification of himself that seemed more for his own
ease than Raven's. "I didn't believe you could pull it off, a man of
your years. You took it so easy! You never turned a hair. But I might
have known you'd have to pay for it afterward."

"What is it I've taken so admirably?" asked Raven. "What is it I've got
to pay for?"

"Why," said Dick, "your slogging over there--a man of your age----"

"Well," said Raven curtly, cracking his voice at him in a way Dick had
never had to take from him, "how is it I'm paying? What's the matter
with me?"

"Why," said Dick, in a perfect innocence of any offense in it, "don't
you know? You've seen enough of it. I should think you'd be the first to
know."

Raven simply looked at him. Dick had a feeling that his uncle was about
to roar out something, and braced himself for the unbelievable event.
However, it would not surprise him. That, he knew, was a part of it. But
Raven was putting his question again, smoothly and tolerantly, as if to
assure him there was time enough to make a well considered reply:

"Just what, in your opinion, is the matter with me?"

"Why," said Dick, that innocent gaze still upon him, "shell shock."

Raven jumped. Every nerve in him seemed to give a little twitch of pure
surprise with every other.

"O Lord!" said he. "Who could ever have expected that? It's worse than I
thought."

"Why, it's no disgrace," Dick assured him eagerly. "Think how many
fellows have had it. They haven't got over it. They're having it now.
The only thing to do is to recognize it and put yourself under
treatment."

"That'll do," said Raven, with a determined calm. "Your diagnosis has
gone far enough. And now I shall have to ask you to do two things for
me."

"Two!" Dick echoed, and Raven, though at the end of his patience, was
touched to see the suffused look of the boy's eyes. "You needn't cut it
down to two. Just you tell me----"

There, though he was poetically eloquent and diffuse in print, he
stopped and could literally say no more without an emotion he considered
unworthy of him.

"Two things," said Raven. "One is to forget every blamed word of the
screed I was jackass enough to send you. The other is to give me your
word you won't mention it, even to me. Oh, there's another thing. Go
home and burn the thing up."

Dick's eyes were all a wild apprehension.

"Oh," said he, "I can't burn it. I haven't got it."

"You haven't it? Who has?"

"Nobody--not yet."

"Oh, then you've destroyed it already."

"No," said Dick miserably. "I've sent it off."

"Who to? Nan?"

"No. Mother."

Raven could hardly believe him. He did not remember any illuminating
confidences from Dick on the subject of mother, but he made no doubt the
boy looked upon her as he did, as a force too eccentrically
irresponsible to be unloosed.

"Well!" he said. The state of things struck him as too bad to be taken
otherwise than calmly. You couldn't spend on it the amount of emotion it
deserved, so you might as well get the credit with yourself and your
antagonist of an attack unexpectedly gentle. "Now, what did you think
you were doing when you sent it off to your mother?"

"Uncle Jack," said Dick, rather awkwardly blundering about his mental
armory for some reasonable defense, "she's your sister."

"Yes," said Raven, "Milly is my sister. What then?"

"Then, why, then," said Dick, "when a thing like this happens to you,
she'd feel it, wouldn't she?"

"You're perfectly sure you know what has happened to me? You trust your
own diagnosis?"

"Of course I trust it," Dick burst forth. "Your letter--why, your letter
isn't normal. Shell shock's a perfectly legitimate thing. You know it
is. You're just the one to be hit. You did perfectly crazy things over
there, entirely beyond any man of your years. And I'm mighty thankful we
can put our finger on it. For if it isn't shell shock, it's something
worse."

"You mean," said Raven, "I've gone off my nut."

Dick did not answer, but there could be no doubt of his own mental
excitement, and he was apprehensive in a measure that moved Raven to an
amused compassion. Raven sat looking at him a long minute. Then he got
up and took his newspaper from the table beside him.

"Come," he said. "We'll go into the library and see if we can get
anywhere."

Dick followed him, and they sat down together by the fire, this after
Raven had moved a third chair into the space between them. He smiled at
himself as he did it. It was the chair Nan had sat in the night before.
He had a foolish feeling that he was invoking her remembered presence,
calling on her to help them out.

"Now, Dick," he began, when they were seated, "you said something about
my letter's not being normal. What is normal, when you come to that?"

Dick frowned into the fire. This, he felt, had some hidden leading, and
he wasn't going to be caught.

"What's the use of asking fool questions?" he inquired, in his turn.
"You know."

"Can't help it," said Raven. "I've got to be Socratic. Help me out, old
man. Let me have my little game. What is normal?"

"Why," said Dick, floundering, "I suppose it's what the general run of
people think--and do. It's keeping to the rules. It's trotting on the
course. It isn't going off at some tangent of your own."

Dick felt rather proud of this, its fluency and general appositeness. He
plucked up his spirits, thinking he might be going to manage Raven,
after all.

"Now, see here," said Raven, suddenly leaning forward and looking at him
in the friendliest community of feeling, "it means a good deal when a
fellow of my years, as you say, gets a biff that sends him staggering."

"Just what I said," Dick assured him. "It's mighty serious. It's awful."

"Has it occurred to you," said Raven, "that I may be right?"

"Right? How right?"

Thereupon question and answer piled up fast.

"I've indicted the universe, as it were. How can you prove the universe
hasn't laid herself open to it? How do you know the indictment of the
creature she made and then ground under her heel isn't the very thing
she's been waiting for all these millions of years?"

"Oh, come, Jack! the universe hasn't been waiting for you. That's a part
of it, don't you see? You've got delusions, delusions of greatness,
delusions----"

"Shut up. Don't use your spurious jargon on me. Just answer my
questions. How do you know it isn't the healthiest thing that ever
happened in this rotten tissue of pretense we call civilization for even
one man--just one--to get up and swear at the whole system and swear
again that, so far as his little midge's existence goes, he won't
subscribe to it? What business have you to call that disease? How do you
know it isn't health? How do you know I'm not one of the few normal
atoms in the whole blamed carcass?"

Dick felt himself profoundly shocked. He was having to reverse his
conclusions. Uncle Jack had stood for a well ordered sanity, conversant
with wool and books and mysteriously devoted to Miss Anne Hamilton,
whose conventional perfections evidently held within their limit Uncle
Jack's highest ideals. Uncle Jack had shown a neat talent with his pen.
He had grown middle-aged at an imperceptible and blameless pace, and now
he was raging about like a sort of cave man with nothing less than the
universe to bound his wild leaps and curvetings.

"But you know, Jack," he remonstrated feebly, "there isn't anything new
in saying the nation's going to the dogs. The Britishers say it, we say
it----"

"I don't say it," Raven asserted. "We're not going to the dogs. We've
gone. We're there. We're the dogs ourselves, and nothing worse could
happen to a criminal--from Mars, for example--than to be sent to us. We
ought to be the convict colony of the universe."

"Don't," said Dick, with an affectionate sweetness as exasperating as it
was moving. "It only excites you. Come on out and have a tramp. We could
motor out to----"

"O Lord!" groaned Raven. "Why don't you beguile me up to the
Psychopathic?"

Then he was, for the first time, aghast at what he had set going. Dick
was looking at him again with that suffused glance of an affection too
great to mind disclosing itself in all its pathetic abnegation.

"I couldn't say it myself," he began brokenly. "But you've said it; you
see yourself. If you would----"

There he stopped and Raven sat staring at him. He felt as if the words
had got inside his body and were somehow draining his heart. When he
spoke, his voice sounded hoarse in his own ears.

"Dick, old man," he said, "I'm not--that."

"No! no!" Dick hastened to assure him, and somehow his hand had found
Raven's and gripped it. "Only--O good God!" he ended, and got out of his
chair and turned his back.

Raven, too, rose.

"Dick," said he quietly, "you go home now. And don't you speak about
this to anybody, not to Nan even. You understand."

Dick nodded, still with his back turned, and got out of the room, and
Raven thought he must have caught at his hat in the hall, and made one
stride for the door. The door banged and Raven was alone.



VI


The next day Nan telephoned Raven that she was taking train for New York
for perhaps a week's stay with the Seaburys. These were her nearest
relatives, cousins at a remove Raven never really untangled, and of late
they had been spending persuasive energy in trying to induce her to live
with them. Since she had come home from France and Aunt Anne had died,
they were always descending upon her for brief visits in the house where
she succeeded Aunt Anne, and liking her so tumultuously, in her grown-up
state, that they pelted her with arguments based on her presumable
loneliness there and the silliness of carrying on the establishment
really as a species of home for superannuated servants. Nan honestly
liked the cousins, in a casual way, though it was as inconceivable to
her that the Boston house might be given up as it would have been to
Aunt Anne. There was, she felt, again in Aunt Anne's way, a certain
continuity of things you didn't even think of breaking. Now she was
seeking the Seaburys for reasons of her own. They had to be suitably
told that Aunt Anne had left her money away from them as from her, and
naturally, though ridiculously, to "that Raven she was always making a
fool of herself about." They were ruthless of speech within family
conclave, though any one of them would have thought more than twice
about calling Aunt Anne any sort of fool, in her lifetime, even at a
distance safely beyond hearing. Raven was not, if Nan could forestall
the possibility, to be assaulted by mounting waves of family animosity.

Raven was glad, for once, to get rid of her, to find she was removing
herself from the domestic turmoil he had created. There could not be the
triangular discussions inevitable if she and Dick fell upon him at once,
nor should he have to bear the warmth of her tumultous sympathy. Dick
had evidently told her nothing, and he even gathered that she was going
without notice to Dick. Then Raven began a systematic and rapid
onslaught on his immediate affairs, to put them in order. Mr. Whitney,
Anne's lawyer, who had always seemed to regard him in a disconcerting
way as belonging to Anne, or her belonging in some undefined fashion to
him, opened out expansively on the provisions of the will. He most
sincerely congratulated Raven. Of course it was to have been expected,
but----! Raven kept miserably to the proprieties of the moment. He
listened with all due reserve, silent on the subject of Anne's letter.
That was his affair, he thought, his and Nan's; unless, indeed, it was
nobody's affair but Anne Hamilton's, and he was blindly to constitute
himself the unreasoning agent of her trust. That must be thought out
later. If he undertook it now, piling it on the pack of unsubstantial
miseries he was carrying, he would be swamped utterly. He could only
drop it into a dark pocket of his mind where an ill-assorted medley of
dreads and fear lay waiting--for what? For a future less confusing than
this inscrutable present? At least, they could not be even glanced at
now. He wrote Charlotte and Jerry, his caretakers on the place at Wake
Hill, that he was coming for an indefinite stay. He instructed his
housekeeper in Boston that the house was to be kept open; possibly Mr.
Richard would be there a good deal. Then he sat down to write his
sister. That was the problem: what should he say to her who would
presently be receiving his unfortunate screed with some inflammatory
introduction from Dick and would--he knew her!--scarcely have finished
it before she took steps toward flooding him with epistolary advice and
comment. He could see her now at her desk, assembling data of conduct,
bodily well-being, and putting it all down in that masterful hand of
hers. That settled it. He mustn't write her. He must telegraph and
forestall Dick. And he did telegraph her, on the moment, a message of
noncommittal brevity:

"Letter Dick sent you is all poppycock. Forget it."

That might, he concluded, yet without hope, keep her from rushing her
pen to the rescue, even if it did not prevent her fuming. And as he sat
at the library table with a disorder of papers before him, Dick appeared
at the door: good boy, full of zeal and pity. He looked so overflowing
with honest affection, so eagerly ready to help that Raven exasperatedly
loved him for his kind officiousness. Yet he had nothing for him but a
gruff:

"Now what do you think you're here for?"

Dick was prepared for repulse, this or any other. He had armed himself
against all possible whims and obstinacies, and he wore the air of a
carefully adjusted patience.

"Can't I help there?" he inquired, advancing to the table and drawing up
a chair. "Couldn't you let me run over those and just tell you what they
are?"

"You go to thunder," said Raven, rapidly assorting, clapping into
bundles and casting aside. "Yes, you can, too. Take this basket and
empty it into the fireplace. Behind the log and smash it down so it
won't set the chimney afire. Remember how your grandmother used to keep
a scare going all the time for fear of chimneys? I guess I've inherited
it. I have to use the formula."

Dick emptied the papers with a grave care foreign to him, as if even so
small a service, at such a moment, bore a weightier meaning, and brought
the basket back. He sat down and waited in a silence Raven felt more
portentously vocal than the loudest outcry.

"Dick!" he said. He stopped work and looked at the youth, an unwilling
smile twisting his mouth. He was not sure of its being well to take it
humorously; yet it was funny. "Dick, if you've got anything to say, say
it. If you haven't, clear out. This is my busy day."

Dick shook his head despairingly and yet obstinately. He wasn't going to
leave Uncle Jack to the powers of darkness.

"Just tell me what you're winding things up for?" he ventured. "I ought
to know."

"Then don't ask as if you were whispering into the ear of Buddha, or
trying not to wake baby," said Raven, tearing a package of letters with
a sudden savage haste. They were Anne's letters to him when he was in
France, and he had meant to keep them because she would have an ideal of
the sacredness they ought to bear, and exasperatingly the suggestion
seemed to include a power of imposing itself on him. And if Dick hadn't
come in to bait him with irrelevant questions, his perverse inner self
excused itself, he might not be defying the ideal and tearing the
letters up. As it was, he found them a salutary sacrifice.

"If you mean my going to Wake Hill, yes, I'm going. I've written
Charlotte. Or rather I've addressed it to Jerry, she's so careful about
his prerogative as a male."

"When?" asked Dick.

"The minute I get some boots and things to go logging in. This house
will be open. You can come in and roost if you want to. If you marry
Nan"--this was an audacity that occurred to him at the moment. It
suddenly seemed to him a blessed comfort to think of Nan in his
house--"you can come here and live."

Dick lost his sacrificial air and turned sulky.

"I don't know about Nan," he said. "I never know about her, not since
we've come back. She was soft as--as silk over there."

"The maternal," said Raven briefly, tearing one of Anne's letters, with
a crack, across the pages. "It was what you needed to keep you going.
Not personal, only because you were a sojer boy."

The mortification of it all, the despite of not holding his own with her
now he was not serving a cause, was plainly evident in Dick's face. He
had had a bad night of it, after Nan's flouting and Uncle Jack's letter
on top of that.

"She was beastly," he said, with no further elaboration.

But Raven knew he was returning to his walk home with her and some
disconcerting circumstances of it. No doubt Nan had been ruthless. Her
mind had been on Aunt Anne and the Palace of Peace. Little boys in love
couldn't joggle her fighting arm and expect to escape irritated reproof.

"Nan's got a good deal to think of just now," he said. "Besides, you may
not be man enough for her yet. Nan's very much of a woman. She'll expect
things."

Dick sat glowering.

"I'm as much of a man as I was in France," he said obstinately. "More.
I'm older." Then his sacrificial manner came back, and, remembering what
he was there for, he resumed, all humble sweetness, like the little Dick
who used to climb on Raven's knee and ask for a tell-story: "I'm going
down with you. I've made all my plans."

Raven looked up at him in a new surprise.

"The deuce you are," said he. "No, you're not, boy. If I catch you down
there I'll play the game as you've mapped it out for me. I'll grab
Jerry's axe or pitchfork and run amuck, blest if I don't. You'll wake up
and find yourself sending for the doctor."

Glancing cheerfully up, he was instantly aware, from the boy's unhappy
face, that Dick believed him. Raven burst into a laugh, but he quickly
sobered. What a snare they were getting themselves into, and only by an
impish destiny of haphazard speech.

"Don't look so shocked, Dickie," he said flippantly. "I'm no more dotty
than--Hamlet."

There he stopped again to wonder whimsically at the ill fate of it all.
For Hamlet was mad; at least, Dick thought so. He couldn't have caught
at anything more injurious to his cause.

"'They fool me to the top of my bent,'" he reflected ruefully.

That was what Dick was ready to do. But sister Amelia wouldn't fool him,
if she got East with her emergency dressing bag and her perfectly
equipped energy. She would clap him into the Psychopathic before he had
time for even half as much blank verse as Hamlet had. They wouldn't
allow him a first act.

"Don't look like that," he suggested again and kindly, because it was
evident that, however irritating Dick might be as a prospective
guardian, he was actually suffering an honest misery.

"I don't," said Dick. "I mean, I don't mean to look different. But
somehow it's got me, this whole business has, and I can't get away from
it. I've thought of it every minute since you told me. It isn't so much
you I'm thinking about. It's him."

Raven, as a writer of English, paused to make a mental note that, in
cases of extreme emotion, the nominative case, after the verb to be, is
practically no good. You simply have to scrap it.

"Who?" he inquired, in the same line of natural language.

"Old Crow."

Dick uttered the name in a low and hesitating tone. He seemed to offer
it unwillingly. Raven stared at him in a perfect surprise, now uncolored
by any expectation he might have had of what was coming.

"Old Crow?" he repeated. "What do you know about Old Crow?"

"Well," said Dick, defensively, "I know as much as you do. That is, I
suppose I do. I know as much as all Wake Hill does, anyway."

"Who told you?"

"Mother. I didn't suppose it was any secret."

"No," said Raven thoughtfully, "it's no secret. Only he was queer, he
was eccentric, and so I've always assumed he had a pretty bad time of
it. That's why I never've talked about him."

"Mother did," said Dick, in a sudden expansion. It seemed to ease him up
a little, this leading Raven to the source of his own apprehension.
Indeed, he had felt, since Raven's letter, that they must approach the
matter of his tired wits with clearness, from the scientific standpoint.
The more mental facts and theories they recognized the better. "She told
me once you looked just like him, that old daguerreotype."

"Had sister Amelia concluded from that," inquired Raven quietly, "that I
was bound to follow Old Crow, live in the woods and go missionarying
across the mountain?"

"No," said Dick, so absorbed in his line of argument that he was
innocently unaware of any intended irony. "She just happened to speak of
it one day when we found the daguerreotype. Uncle Jack, just what do you
know about him?"

Raven considered a moment. He was scanning his memory for old
impressions and also, in his mild surprise over the pertinency of
reviving them, wondering whether he had better pass them on. Or would
they knot another tangle in the snarl he and Dick seemed to be, almost
without their volition, making?

"Old Crow," he began slowly, "was my great-uncle. His name was John
Raven. He was poor, like all the rest of us of that generation and the
next, and did the usual things to advance himself, the things in
successful men's biographies. He studied by the kitchen fire, not by
pine knots, I fancy--that probably was the formula of a time just
earlier. Anyhow he fitted himself for the college of the day, for some
reason never went, but did go into a lawyer's office instead, was said
to have trotted round after a gypsy sort of girl the other side of the
mountain, found she was no good, went up into the woods and built the
old hut I got into shape in the spring of 1914. Queer! I expected to go
up there to study and write. I'd got to the point, I s'pose, where I
thought if I had a different place to write in I could write better.
Sure sign of waning powers! Well, he lived there by himself, and folks
thought he was queer and began to call him Old Crow. I saw him several
times when I was a little chap, never alone. Father took me with him
when he went up to the hut to carry food. Mother never approved of my
going. She disapproved of it so much that father stopped taking me."

"Well, you saw him," said Dick, in a way of holding him to his
narrative, so that Raven, wondering why it was of such importance, bent
a frowning look on him.

"Yes, I saw him. And he was nice to me, uncommon nice. He put his hand
on my shoulder and looked down at me in a way--well, not the
patronizing, grown-up way, but as if, now I come to think of it, as if
he pitied me."

"How did he look?"

Dick was catching at things, Raven saw, the slightest clue to Old Crow's
withdrawn personality. He seemed, on his side, to be constructing a
portrait. Raven sought about in the closed chambers of his mind and
produced one significant bit of remembrance after another. They were
retrieved with difficulty out of the disorder of things regarded as of
no importance: but here they were.

"He was tall, thin, rather hatchet-faced, something as I am. Oh, you
knew that, didn't you? No beard, and I think he was the neatest person I
ever saw. Father was clean shaven, you remember; but there were days
when he either got lazy or was too busy to shave. I remember how
exquisitely nice and peeled his face used to look on Sunday. But Old
Crow was shaved all the time, judging from the way he looked the few
times I saw him. I've heard father and mother speak of it, too.
Charlotte told me once she'd seen him and he was neat as a new pin."

"How old was he when he went up there into the woods?"

"To live alone? I don't know. Forty, maybe. Comparatively young,
anyway."

"Was it the woman? Was there a cause for it, a cause people knew?"

"There wasn't any cause I knew. He simply, so far as I ever heard,
passed the place over to father--that was his nephew, you know--and went
up the hill and built himself a log hut. It was well built. I only had
to calk it some more and put in another flooring when I came into it."

As Raven went on, he became uncomfortably aware of the resemblance
between his own proposed withdrawal and Old Crow's; but he stuck to it
doggedly. It was all playing into Dick's hands and Amelia's, assuming he
could predicate her mind; but he was resolved they shouldn't have it all
their own way. He would give them every last straw of evidence, and it
should do them no good in the end. There was a bravado about it. If
Dick, in his affectionate virtue and Amelia in her energy of well-doing,
wanted to challenge him to the proof, he'd give them a pretty tussle for
it.

"What I want to know is," said Dick, "what he thought he was going off
there for? Didn't anybody know?"

"They may have," said Raven. "I didn't know."

"And he lived his life out there, till he died?"

"Yes. And died in a very gentlemanly fashion, of pneumonia, and was
found in a dignified position on his bed, hands folded, and everything
in a great state of order, as if he'd known he was going and arranged
things to give as little trouble as he could."

"What did he do up there all by himself? Read? Write?"

"He read a good deal, I believe. We found him reading when we went up."

"What sort of books?"

"Oh, hang it, Dick," said Raven, beginning to fidget under examination,
"you're district-attorneying it a trifle too much to interest me. I'm
getting bored, son. This isn't a third degree."

But Dick was not to be curbed or reasoned with.

"I think," he said, "if you don't mind, we'd better talk it out. You see
I do really need to know about him, and you're the only one that can
tell me. Mother's is chiefly hearsay."

"Fire away," said Raven easily, accepting the situation. He leaned back
in his chair and began making patterns on the block of paper before him
with a silver dagger at his hand. "What is it you want to know?"

"Everything. How the neighbors regarded him, what they said."

"The neighbors didn't regard him at all, in your sense. Don't you know
the way country folks have of passing over the most eccentric things as
if they're all in the day's work? They gossip like thunder, and, if they
can whip up a scandal, they're made. But they never seem so awfully
shocked. Perhaps it's because they're used to the plain facts of life,
death, birth, madness, suicide. Maybe there's a sort of _gaucherie_
about it. There are things you're shocked about that you wouldn't dare
discuss at Cambridge or the Club. You'd be afraid it wasn't good form.
Maybe you would though, now. Sometimes I forget the world's moved on a
peg."

"But what did they say?"

"Can't tell you, Dick. I belong to the family, you know, and maybe they
had some decency about talking over Old Crow when I was round. I don't
think there was anything they could say. He was a perfectly clean,
decent citizen. He kept on voting. He didn't meddle with them and they
didn't with him. The only eccentricity about him was that he lived alone
and that, the last ten years or so of his life, he tramped all round
that region, over the mountain, too, taking care of the sick, if there
were any. The last five years he went round preaching, and the very last
year of all he took old Billy Jones into his hut, an awful old rip, if
ever there was one, and tended him till his death--Billy's death, I
mean. And if you consider that as indicating queerness--except that
people don't do it--I don't. I should call any conventional disapproval
of it an indictment rather, an indictment of Christianity. If it's too
eccentric to fit into a so-called Christian civilization, that is."

Dick wasn't going to call it anything at the moment. He sat staring at
the table, evidently reflecting, digesting and bowed down by his own
gravity in a way that always amused Raven even when he loved the boy
most. He fancied, when Dick looked like that, he was brooding over his
nose.

"Take it easy, son," he advised him pleasantly. "You won't get anywhere
with Old Crow. Guess again."

"No," said Dick, oblivious of the flippancy of this, "we sha'n't get
anywhere. We haven't enough data."

"Now," said Raven, coming up from his lounging posture, "I've got to
hustle. You run along and we'll go out somewhere to-night: dine, if you
want to, and drop in at a show. But, for heaven's sake, don't go to
digging up graveyards and expecting me to reconstruct your ancestors
from as few bones as we've got of Old Crow's. You bore me sometimes,
horribly, Dick. And that's the truth."

Dick did go away, though with an inarticulate remonstrance on his
tongue. But Raven was good-natured and yet decided, and even went to the
door with him, propelling him by a firm yet affectionate hand on his
shoulder.

They did dine out that night in a manner mildly bohemian, really
determined upon by Raven to show Dick he wasn't incapable yet of the
accepted forms of diversion, afflictingly dull though they might prove.



VII


In less than a week Raven, hurried beyond any design of his own by
Dick's anxious attentions, had actually gone. Once in the train on the
way into the uplands where Wake Hill lies, he reflected, with a smile,
that Dick had really helped him inconceivably in this matter of haste.
He might have loitered along, dallying with the wisdom of going, and
possibly ended by not going at all. But Dick's insistence on formulating
the situation, his neatness and energy in getting all the emotions of
the case into their proper pigeon holes, had so harassed and then bored
him that he had worked like a beaver, he told himself, to get off and
escape them altogether. And not a word from Amelia, either to his
telegram or Dick's letter. Things were looking up. It might be Amelia
had been elected to some new and absorbing organization for putting the
social edifice still more irretrievably into the disorder it seemed bent
for, in which case she might forget the inner wobblings of such an
inconspicuous nomad as a brother in metaphysical pangs. He became
recklessly optimistic, as the train climbed higher into the hills, and
luxuriated in it, conscious all the time that it was altitude that was
intoxicating him, not any real hope of hoodwinking Amelia. You couldn't
do that so easily.

The first glimpse of a far-away mountain brought the surprising tears to
his eyes. It was an inconsiderable ridge with an outline of no
distinction, but it had the old charm, the power of clutching at his
heart and dragging it up from the glories and sorrows of the sea. Raven
always insisted that he loved the sea best, with its terrors and
multitudinous activities; but the mountains did pull him up somewhere
into a region he did not inhabit all the time. He had an idea that this
was simply a plane of physical exhilaration; but it didn't matter. It
was an easement of a sort, if only the difference of change. When he
stepped out of the train at Wake Hill he was in a tranquil frame of
mind, and the more the minute he saw Jerry Slate there in the pung,
enveloped in the buffalo coat he had worn through the winter months ever
since he attained his present height. Jerry was a typical man of Wake
Hill. He was ten years, at least, older than Raven and had lived here,
man and boy, all his life, and his wife, Charlotte, was the presiding
benevolence of the Raven home. Seeing his passenger, he lifted his
whip-stock in salute and stepped out of the pung to meet him. Jerry was
yellow and freckled and blue-eyed, with a face, Raven always thought,
like a baked apple. It had still a rosy bloom, but the puckers
overspread it, precisely like an apple's after fervent heat. They shook
hands, Jerry having extracted a gnarled member from his mitten.

"You take a look an' see 'f your trunk's come," he recommended,
restoring his hand to its beautifully knit sheath. "You're better
acquainted with the looks on't than I be. There 'tis now. Anyways it's
the only one there."

It was Raven's own, and he and Jerry lifted it into the back of the
pung, and were presently jogging temperately homeward. Jerry never had
horses with any go in them. In the old days, when Raven used to come to
the farm with his mother, he would write Jerry to see that he had a
horse.

"Get me a horse," he would write, "a horse, a horse, with four feet and
a mane and tail. Not a wooden freak out of Noah's ark, whittled out with
a jack-knife, such as I had last year. Get me a horse."

And he would arrive to find some aged specimen, raw-boned and
indifferent, waiting for him in the stable. And Jerry would slap the
creature's haunches with a fictitious jollity and prophesy, the while he
kept an anxious eye on Raven, "I guess he'll suit ye all right."

He never did suit. He had to be swapped off or, as it happened once or
twice, given away, and yet Raven was obtuse to the real reason until
Charlotte enlightened him. She took him aside, one day in the autumn,
when he and his mother were going back to town.

"I guess if you want any horses next spring," she said, with one eye on
the door where Jerry might appear, "you better fetch 'em along with
you."

"Why, yes," said Raven, "of course I can. Only I had an idea Jerry liked
to do the buying for the place."

"Not horses," said Charlotte firmly. "Jerry's a peculiar sort of man.
They know it an' they kinder take advantage of him. I dunno why."

Then Raven realized that Charlotte herself was responsible for his faith
in Jerry's bargaining prowess. She had hypnotized him into considering
Jerry a great fellow at a trade as at everything else manly and
invincible. She was watching him now with a doubtful and anxious eye.

"No," she repeated, "I dunno why."

"No," said Raven, "I don't know why either. But I'll look out for it."
At that instant he understood her way with Jerry and loved her for it.
She was tall and heavy-browed and dark, with warm, brown tints of eyes
and skin, and seven times the man Jerry was, but it was her passionate
intent to hold him supreme at home and market.

Meantime they were jingling along, with a chill clashing of bells, and
Raven had heard all about the prospects of an open winter and the
difficulties of ice-cutting, and he gathered that Jerry and Charlotte
were extremely pleased to have him come.

"Didn't know's we should ever set eyes on ye ag'in," said Jerry, with an
innocuous flick of his whiplash, hitting the dasher by intent. "That War
an' all."

Raven thought he detected in his tone a general hostility to the War as
a disturber even of Wake Hill, and wondered if he should have to fight
it all over again with the imperfectly satisfied ideals of Jerry and
Charlotte. But Jerry laid that bogey to rest.

"Not that I wouldn't ha' had ye go," he announced. "I'd ha' gone myself
if I hadn't been a leetle mite over age. I dunno but I could ha' been
some use as 'twas. I'm spry for my years. I never so much as thought
you'd git into it. Charlotte an' I were talkin' it over last night, an'
she says, 'He's forty-three, if he's a day.' How old be you?"

"Forty-five," said Raven. "I wasn't in the trenches, you know. Ambulance
Corps."

"Sho!" said Jerry. "Never come nigh the fightin' line, I s'pose."

"Sometimes," said Raven, smiling a little to himself. "But the boys in
the trenches, you know, they're the ones that did the business. I
suppose the Hamilton house was closed all summer?"

Jerry gave him a quick look and then took off a mitten to pass his hand
across his mouth. Raven knew what the look meant. It meant Anne
Hamilton: how had her death affected him? would he ask about her? and
the mild inquisitive neighborhood mind would go back to the old question
it had probably dropped and taken up intermittently for years: why, in
their curious intimacy, had he never married her?

"Yes," said Jerry, "all summer. Little Nan was over there, too, where
you were, I understood."

"Yes, she was over there. She's home now."

"You knew her aunt died?" said Jerry speciously. It was foolish, he knew
it was foolish, and yet he could not, in his craving for some
amplification of the fact, help saying it.

"Yes," said Raven, "I knew it."

There the topic died. They were passing the last stretch of woods that
fringed the road before Raven's own house. Up on that slope at the
right, draped about by a dense woodland, occasional patches of pines
girdled by birch and maple, was the hut where Old Crow had lived. A
logging road came down from the ridge, and Raven saw with interest that
it had been broken out.

"Chopping?" he asked, Jerry following his glance to the ascending road.

Jerry grinned and clucked to the horse. He looked well satisfied with
himself.

"No," he said. "But the minute you wrote you was comin', I yoked up the
oxen an' broke her out. Charlotte said you'd want to be goin' up there."

Raven laughed. It was funny, too grimly funny. Even Charlotte and Jerry
were pushing him on up the rise to Old Crow's hut. Dick had begun it and
they were adding the impulse of their kindly forethought.

"Yes," he said, "I shall. I'll go up at once." ("And have it over!" his
mind cynically added.)

They were descending the last slope and the mild-mannered horse caught
the idea of stables and put on a gait. Raven could see the house,
delightful to him in its hospitable amplitude and starkly fitting the
wintry landscape. There in the columned front porch running away at each
side into wide verandas, stood a woman, tall, of proportions that
looked, at this first glance, heroic. She wore a shawl about her
shoulders, but her head was bare.

"There she is," said Jerry, with an evident pride in so splendid a fact.
"I tell her she never can wait a minute to let anybody turn round."

It was true. Charlotte could not wait. She began to wave--no short,
staccato, pump-handle wave, but a sweep indicative of breadth, like the
horizon line. Raven, while they were jingling up to the house, took one
more look at it, recognizing, with a surprise that was almost poignant,
how much it meant to him. He might not be glad to get back to it--in his
present state of disaffection he could not believe there was a spot on
earth he should be glad to see--but it touched the chord of old memories
and his eyes were hot with the assault of it. A square house with many
additions, so that it rambled comfortably away, threaded over at
advantageous points by leafless lines of woodbine and bitter-sweet and
murmured over by a great grove of pines at the west: his roots of life
were here, he recognized, with a renewed pang of surprise. He was not
used to thinking about himself. Now that the changed bias of his mind
had bred new habits, he was thinking a great deal.

They stopped at the porch and Charlotte came down to them, stepping
lightly yet with deliberation. Raven knew she probably moved slowly
because she was so heavy, but it gave the effect of majesty walking. She
was unchanged, he thought, as he grasped her firm hand: her smooth brown
hair was as thick, her healthy face unlined. When he touched Charlotte
he always felt as if he touched the earth itself. Her hand was the hand
of earth, ready to lead you to wholesome and satisfying things.

"Well," said she, "if I ain't pleased to see you! Jerry, you goin' to
take the trunk in this way?"

Jerry gave her a quick look of inquiry. They had subtle modes of
communication. Charlotte could command him by the flicker of an eyelash
or a modulation of tone, so that Jerry seemed, in the resultant act, to
be following only his own careless or deliberate will.

"Yep," said he, "I'll see to her."

Raven laid hold of it with him and they carried it upstairs to the great
front room looking out to the eastern sky. And Raven was again moved, as
he went, by another surprising discovery: Charlotte had tears in her
eyes. He had at all times a moderate estimate of his own value in the
world, his own appeal to it. Perhaps that was one reason, aside from the
natural sex revulsion, why Anne's exaggerated fostering had roused in
him that wearied perversity. But it was warming to see Charlotte glad
enough to cry over him. When they had set down the trunk and the two had
gone downstairs, he looked about the room and found it good. The walls
were chiefly paneling, all but some expanses of a rich rose and blue
paper; the hangings were of a delicious blue, and a roaring fire was
making great headway. He could guess Charlotte had timed that birch log,
relative to their approach, for the curling bark had not yet blackened
and the fat chuckle of it was still insistent. He laughed a little at
himself. He might have repudiated the scheme of creation and his own
place in it, but he did love things: dear, homespun, familiar things,
potent to eke out man's well-being with their own benevolence and make
him temporarily content in an inhospitable world.

When he went downstairs, the smells from the kitchen were something
overwhelming in their rich pervasiveness. He went directly in where
Charlotte bent at the oven door for a frowning inspection and a
resultant basting.

"Yes," she said, glancing up, "turkey. Terry set him aside, sort of--he
was so well formed and had such nice, pretty ways. Jerry said we'd have
him first time you come. He's always be'n a terrible nice turkey."

Raven had seen his place laid in the dining-room with bravery of damask
and old china.

"I'm not going to eat alone," he said. "I couldn't face a whole turkey.
You and Jerry come on in and back me up. You set on two more plates."

"Oh, no," said Charlotte, closing the oven door and rising. "I guess
I'll give him a minute longer. No. It's real nice of you, but we
couldn't. Jerry never would in the world."

"Jerry be hanged!" said Raven. He wandered into the pantry and began
helping himself to the celery waiting by the cool window-pane. "Tell him
it's all decided. Jerry's got to do what we say."

"If that ain't just like you," said Charlotte, with what seemed a pride
in his knowing ways. "Eatin' up the celery an' all, the minute 'fore
dinner, too. I wonder you don't pry into the cooky jar."

"I will, now you mention it," said Raven, bending to it where it lurked,
with its secretive look, under the lower shelf. He lifted the cover with
an involuntary care. He had been there so often when he wanted a handful
of cookies and knew, if he clinked the cover, he might hear his father's
voice from the dining-room where he sat reading his paper: "What are you
doing out there?" The cookies were waiting for him, unchanged, as if
there were an everlasting pattern of cookies and you couldn't get away
from it: oak-leaf, discreetly specked with caraway. "Hurry up," said he,
coming out to Charlotte with his clutch of oak-leaves. "Put on your
plate and Jerry's or the turkey'll be done before you know it."

Charlotte glanced round at him, absently took the cookies from his hand,
as if he were a child whose greed must be regulated, and laid them in a
plate on the table.

"Don't you spoil your appetite," she said, still absently, for her mind
was with the turkey. "Well, I'll go an' ask Jerry. I don't believe he'll
feel to. Miss Anne----"

Raven was sure he heard the last two words as she made her light way out
into the shed in a fictitious search for Jerry. He stood staring after
her and wondering. It was inconceivable that Anne, by sheer force of a
mind absolutely convinced of its own rightness, should have had such a
grip on everybody she came in contact with. It had been Anne's house
next door. She had spent her summers in it, and even Charlotte had
imbibed through its walls the pronouncements of a social code. Anne was
dead, but when Charlotte and Jerry were asked to sit down to turkey with
their employer and familiar friend, it was Anne's unforgotten ideal that
rose before her, the illuminated copy of the social code in its rigid
hand. As he stood, he saw Jerry pulling the pung under a shed at the
back of the barn. He knew Charlotte hadn't seen him, didn't intend to
take the time to see him, but would presently be back with Jerry's
ultimatum. That was her system. She implicitly followed Jerry's command,
a command she had already put into his mouth. It was so accepted a part
of the household routine that he had ceased to think of it as in the
least unusual. She was back again almost at once.

"Jerry says he'd be happy to, to-day," she announced, "so long's as he
ain't changed back into his barn clo'es. We'll be kinder company. But
after this, he says, we'll begin as usual."

So presently they sat down together to the crackly brown turkey and
Raven carved and fought off Charlotte, who rose from her place in a
majestic authority which seemed the highest decorum to take the fork and
pick out titbits for his plate, and they talked of countryside affairs,
but never, Raven was grateful to notice, of his absence or of France.
Once Jerry did begin a question relative to "them long range guns," but
Charlotte bore him down before Raven could lay hold of the question,
even if he had been eager for it.

"Jerry's forbid me to ask you the leastest thing about how 'twas over
there," she said smoothly, without a look at Jerry, but a direct
intention that was like a swift secret communication between them, a
line not even to be tapped. "He says, 'We won't say one word about what
Mr. Raven's been through, not if he begins to talk about it himself.
He's been through enough,' says he. 'Now le's let him turn his mind to
suthin' else.'"

"Yes," said Jerry boldly, "I guess that's pretty nigh what I said--what
I'd say now, anyways."

Raven smiled a little inwardly, as he often did at "Mr. Raven." He and
Jerry and Charlotte had been neighbors, and he, being younger, was
always "young John" to them, and sometimes, in excess of friendliness or
exhortation, "Jack." He wondered if it had been the social idealism of
Anne that had made them attain the proper title, or if, when the crust
of renewed convention broke through, they would, under the stress of
common activities, flounder about as they did before he went away, in an
intermittent familiarity.

"All the houses shut up," he said, "the summer houses?"

"Yes," said Charlotte, eating her wing delicately, perhaps with a
thought of Anne. "City folks all gone. Went early this year, too. Wood's
so high now, if they ain't cut their own they don't seem to want to lay
in. Jerry says they'd ought to think further ahead."

"Yes," said Jerry, with his mechanical acquiescence, "they'd ought to
think further ahead."

"Who's bought the old Frye place?" asked Raven. "Or is it empty?"

"No," said Charlotte, "it ain't empty. I dunno's you remember the
Tenneys that used to live over the mountain, what they call Mountain
Brook. Kind of a shif'less lot they were. Some of 'em drinked."

"Why, yes," said Raven, "I remember 'em. The boys used to do a lot of
trapping. One of 'em--what was his name? Israel, yes, that's it.
Israel--he seemed to be of a different stripe. Used to work out. Seemed
to want to make something of himself."

"That's him," said Charlotte. "Well, he's bought the Frye place."

"Married?"

"Yes, he married a girl over there, at Mountain Brook. He'd been away
years an' years, sence he was a growin' boy, an' he come back, an' seems
he had money laid up, an' he bought the Frye farm an' went straight off
over to Mountain Brook an' hunted her up an' married her. She used to
have folks, but they've all moved away. Seems if he'd had her in mind
all the time. Kind o' that way, he is, lays his fires a good while
beforehand."

"Nice girl?" Raven inquired.

Charlotte hesitated. Her brown cheek flushed.

"Well," she said, "I never've heard anything ag'inst her, not anything I
should be willin' to repeat. You know what they be, there over the
mountain. There's the Donnyhills. Good folks, but shif'less! my soul!
Though she ain't that."

"Called on her, haven't you?"

"No," said Charlotte. She wore the flush of resentful matronhood. "I was
goin' to. I started, one afternoon. An' after I'd knocked, I heard him
jawin'. Well! You never heard a man talk so in all your life. I never
did, anyways! twittin' her with everything under the sun."

"Nice for you," said Raven, "butting in on a row."

"I didn't butt in," said Charlotte. "I turned round an' come straight
home. An' the next day they rode by, as budge as you please, she with
the baby in her lap. Baby had on a nice white coat. I didn't go ag'in. I
didn't feel to."

Then Raven, seeing that Jerry had regretfully but inevitably laid down
his knife and fork, as one who can no more, relinquished the Tenneys,
and there was a period of that silence so blessed among intimates, and
Charlotte brought in the pudding. And after dinner, while she washed the
dishes, Raven sat in the kitchen and smoked a pipe with Jerry and
thought intermittently, in the inmost cell of his most secret mind,
about the blessed beauties of things. Here they were all about him,
inherited treasures of memory, some of them homely and of little value,
many of them far less convenient than the appliances of the present day.
He even thought he recognized ancient utensils, as Charlotte washed
them, the great iron spider where crullers were fried--always with a few
cut in hands with straight fat fingers, to suit a boyish fancy--and the
colander he had once been found utilizing as a helmet in a play of
chivalry. Such smells came out of this kitchen, like no other smells in
any house he knew. The outlines of things, the tints of time and use!
There was the red door into the buttery, where once, when he was a
little boy, he had caught for a few minutes only an enchanting glow from
the setting sun. Sunrise and rubies and roses: none of them had ever
equaled the western light on the old red paint. Over and over again he
had tried to recall the magic, to set the door at the precise angle to
catch the level rays, but in vain. It was a moment of beauty, fleeting
as the sunset itself, and only to be found in the one permanence that is
memory. He remembered it now with a thousand other impressions as
lasting and as lost, and childhood and youth came alive in him and hurt
and helped him. Yes, this was home. In a hostile universe there was one
spot where he and the past could safely rest.



VIII


Raven went to sleep thinking simply about the house, while the fire
flickered down on the hearth and shadows all about the room flickered
with it and then went out. He always loved shadows, their beauties and
grotesqueries, and he was unfeignedly glad he had no scientific
understanding of them, why they played this way or that and translated
the substance that made them so delicately and sometimes with such an
adorable foolishness. He liked it better that way, liked to make out of
them a game of surprises and pretend they were in good form and doing
particularly well, or again far below their highest. And following his
childishly enchanting game he began to feel rather abashed over what had
brought him here. He was glad to have come. It was the only place for
him, disordered as he was, with its wholesome calm, and he wondered
further if the state of mind that had become habitual to him was now a
state of mind at all. Was it not rather a temporary drop in mental
temperature now calming to normal? Hadn't he exaggerated the
complication of Anne's bequest? There was a way out of it; there must
be, a sane, practical way to satisfy what she wished and what she might
be supposed to wish now. He comforted himself with the pious sophistry
of an Anne raised on the wind of death above early inconclusions and so,
of course, agreeing with him who didn't have to pass the gates of
mystery to be so raised. He knew enough, evidently, so that he didn't
need to die to know more. His letter to Dick seemed of inconsiderable
importance, even the disaster of its reaching Amelia. If she held him up
to it, he could laugh it off. Anything could be laughed off. So, the
shadows mingling with the inconsequence of his thoughts, he drifted away
to sleep, catching himself back, now and then, to luxuriate in the
assurance that he was in the right place, finding comfortable
assuagements, and that inexplicably, because so suddenly, everything was
for the best in a mysterious but probably entirely unaccountable world.

At four o'clock he woke. He had not for a moment last night expected
this. Four o'clock had been for months the hour of his tryst with the
powers of darkness. They hovered over him then with dull grey wings
extended, from sunrise to sunset, from east to west. He never had the
courage to peer up at them and see how far the wings really did reach.
They covered his mortal sky, and when he refused to stare up into their
leaden pinions, they stooped to him and buffeted and smothered him,
until he was such a mass of bruised suffering within that he could
almost believe his body also was quivering into the numbness of
acquiescent misery. And here were the wings again. They were even lower,
in spite of this clear air. They did not merely shut it out from his
nostrils, but the filthy pinions swept his face and roused in him the
uttermost revulsion of mortal man against the accident of his mortality.
The trouble of earth passed before him in its unceasing panorama, a
pageant of pain and death. Every atom of creation was against every
other atom, because everywhere was warfare, murder and rapine, for the
mere chance of living. He had won his inherited chance by sheer luck of
contest through millions of years while his forebears came up from the
slime and the cave. The little hunted creature, shrieking out there in
the wood in the clutch of a predatory enemy was not so lucky. It was the
enemy who was lucky to-night, but to-morrow night the enemy himself
might go down under longer claws and be torn by fangs stronger than his
own. And God had made it so. And God did not care.

Raven lay there panting under the horror of it. The sweat started on his
skin. He was afraid. It was not his own well-being he feared for. Man's
life was short at the most. A few years might finish him up. It was
unlikely that he need live again. But he feared seeing still more of the
acts of this unmindful God, who could make, and set the wheel of being
to turning and then stand aside and let them grind out their
immeasurable grist of woe. And when he asked himself how he knew God was
standing aside, letting the days and years fulfil their sum, he believed
it was because he had suddenly become aware that time was a boundless
sea and that the human soul was sometimes in the trough of it and
sometimes on the crest. But never would the sea cast its derelicts upon
warm shores where they might build the house of life and live in peace
and innocence. Ever would they find themselves tossed from low to high
and fall from high to low again in the salt wash of the retreating wave.
For after all, it was the mysterious sea God had a mind to, never the
derelict atoms afloat on it. They would have to take sea weather to
time's extremest verge, as they always had taken it. They were
derelicts.

As the light came, the leaden wings lifted and he went down to the early
breakfast Charlotte and Jerry intended to eat alone. Charlotte, with her
good morning, gave him a quick glance. He found she had not expected him
so early and knew she saw at once how harassed he was. He insisted on
sitting down to breakfast with them and, after Jerry had gone out, went
over the house in a mindless way, into all the rooms, to give himself
something to do. Also there seemed to be a propriety in it, a
fittingness in presenting himself to his own walls and accepting their
silent recognition. Then, hearing Charlotte upstairs, he went back into
the kitchen, as straight as if he had meant to go there all the time and
had merely idled on these delaying quests, and up to the nail by the
shed door where the key always hung, the key to Old Crow's hut. He took
it off the nail, dropped it in his pocket, got a leather jacket from the
hall and went out into the road. As he went, he heard Jerry moving about
in the barn and walked the faster, not to be halted or offered friendly
company. At the great maples he paused, two of them marking the entrance
to the wood road, and looked about him. The world was resolutely still.
The snow was not deep, but none of it had melted. It was of a uniform
whiteness and luster and the shadows in it were deeply blue. There were
tracks frozen into it all along the road, many of them old ones, others
just broken, the story of some animal's wandering. Then he turned into
the wood road and began to climb the rise, and as he went he was
conscious of an unaccountable excitement. Dick was responsible for that,
he told himself. Dick had waked his mind to old memories. This was, in
effect, and all owing to Dick, a tryst with Old Crow.

He remembered every step of the way, what he might find if he could
sweep off the snow or wait until June and let the mounting sun sweep it
according to its own method. Here at the right would be the great patch
of clintonia. Further in at the left was tiarella, with its darling
leaf, and along under the yellow birches the lady's slipper he had
transplanted, year after year, and that finally took root and showed a
fine sturdiness he had never seen exceeded elsewhere. He went on musing
over the permanence of things and the mutability of mortal joy,
wondering if, in this world He had made without remedies for its native
ills, God could take pleasure in the bleak framework of it. And when he
had nearly reached the top of the slope, the three firs, where a turn to
the left would bring him to the log cabin door, suddenly he stopped as
if his inner self heard the command to halt. He looked about him, and
his heart began to beat hard. But he was not surprised. What could be
more moving than the winter stillness of the woods in a spot all
memories? Yet he was in no welcoming mood for high emotion, and looking
up and about, to shake off the wood magic, there at a little distance at
his right, between pine boles, he saw her, the woman. She was tall and
slender, yet grandly formed. A blue cloak was wrapped about her and her
head was bare. Her face had a gaunt beauty such as he had never seen.
The eyes, richly blue but darkened by the startled pupil, were
bewildering in their soft yet steady appealingness. Her hair was parted
and carried back in waves extraordinarily thick and probably knotted
behind. That, of course, he could not see. But the little soft rings of
it about her forehead he noted absently. And her look was so full of
dramatic tension, of patient, noble gravity, even grief, that one phrase
flashed into his mind, "The Mother of Sorrows!" and stayed there. So
moving was her face that, although he had at the first instant taken in
her entire outline, the significance of it had not struck him until now.
On her arm, in the immemorial mother's fashion, she carried a child. The
child was in white and a blue scarf was tied about his head. When Raven
saw the scarf, his tension relaxed. There was something about the scarf
that was real, was earthly: a ragged break in one free corner. In the
relief of seeing the break, and being thus brought back to tangible
things, he realized that he had, in a perfect seriousness, for one
amazing minute, believed the woman and the child to be not human but
divine. They were, as they struck upon his eyes, a vision, and he would
have been in no sense surprised to see the vision fade. It was the
Virgin Mary and her Son. Now, as he realized with the lightning rapidity
of a morbidly excited mind how terribly sensitive to his own needs he
must be to have clutched so irrationally at a world-old remedy, he took
off his hat and called to her:

"You startled me."

Without waiting for any response, he turned to the left, because the
probabilities were that he had startled her also, and that was why she
had stood there, petrified into the catalepsy of wood animals struck by
cautionary fear. But, as he turned, a man's voice sounded through the
woods, and waked an echo:

"Hullo!" it called. "Hullo!"

Raven involuntarily paused, and saw the woman running toward him. There
were stumps in her way, but she stepped over them lightly, and once,
when she had to cross a hollow where the snow lay deep, she sank in up
to her knees, and Raven involuntarily stepped forward to help her. But
she freed herself with incredible quickness and came on. It might have
been water she was wading in, so little did it check her. She halted
before him, only a pace away, as if she must be near in order to speak
cautiously, and Raven noted the exquisite texture of her pale skin and
the pathos of her eyes, the pupils distended now so that he wondered if
they could be blue. Meantime the voice kept on calling, "Hullo! hullo!"

She spoke tremulously, in haste:

"He'll be up here in a minute. You say you ain't seen me."

"Is it some one you're afraid of?" Raven asked.

She nodded, in a dumb anguish.

"Then," said he, "we'll both stay here till he comes, and afterward I'll
go with you, wherever you're going."

This, it seemed, moved her to a terror more acute.

"No! no!" she said, and she appeared to have so little breath to say it
that, if he had not been watching her lips, he could not have caught it.
"Not you. That would make him madder'n ever. You go away. Hide you
somewheres, quick."

"No," said Raven, "I sha'n't hide. I'll hide you. Come along."

He took her by the arm and, though she was remonstrating breathlessly,
hurried her to the left. They passed the three firs at the turn and he
smiled a little, noting Jerry's good road and thinking there was some
use in this combined insistence on his following the steps of Old Crow.
There was the hut, in its rough kindliness, and there, the smoke told
him, was a fire. Jerry had been up that morning, because Charlotte must
have known he'd come there the first thing. Still smoothing the road to
Old Crow! He had been fumbling with one hand for the key, the while he
kept the other on her arm. She was so terrified a creature now that he
did not trust her not to break blindly away and run. He unlocked the
door, pushed her in, closed and locked it. Then he dropped the key in
his pocket and went back to the wood road. With a sudden thought, he
took his knife from his pocket and tossed it down the road into a little
heap of brush. Meanwhile the man was coming nearer and, as he came, he
called: "Hullo!"

Raven, waiting for him, speculated on the tone. What did it mean? It was
a breathless tone, though not in any manner like the woman's. It was as
if he had run and stumbled and caught himself up, and all the time been
strangled from within by rage or some like madness. The woman's
breathlessness had simply meant life's going out of her with sheer
fright. Now the man was coming up the slope, bent at the shoulders, as
if he carried a heavy load or as if almost doubling himself helped him
to go the faster. He was a thin man with long arms and he carried an
axe. Raven called to him:

"Hullo, there! Take a look as you come along and see if you can find my
knife."

The man stopped short, straightened, and looked at him. Meantime Raven,
bending in his search, went toward him, scrutinizing the road from side
to side. He had a good idea of the fellow in the one glance he gave him:
a pale, thin face, black eyes with a strange spark in them, a burning
glance like the inventor's or the fanatic's, and black hair. It was an
ascetic face, and yet there was passion of an unnamed sort ready to
flash out and do strange things, overthrow the fabric of an ordered life
perhaps, or contradict the restraint of years. He stood motionless until
Raven, still searching, had got within three feet of him. Then he spoke:

"Who be you?"

He had a low voice, agreeable, even musical. Raven concluded he must
have been strangely moved to break into that mad "Hullo." It had been
more, he thought, that wild repetition with the echo throwing it back,
like the Gabriel hounds. But Raven took no notice of the question. He
spoke with a calculated peevishness.

"I'm willing to bet my knife is within three feet, and see how the
confounded thing's hidden itself. It was right along here. Let me take
your axe and I'll blaze a tree."

The man, without a word, passed him the axe and Raven notched a sapling.
Then, still holding the axe, he turned to the man with a smile. No one
had ever told him what a charming smile it was. Anne used to wonder, in
her dignified anguishes of love forbidden, if she could ever make him
understand how he looked when he smiled.

"Well," said Raven, "who may you be?"

"My name's Tenney," said the man, in the low, vibrant voice.

"Oho!" said Raven, remembering Charlotte's confidences. Then, as Tenney
frowned slightly and glanced at him in a questioning suspicion, he
continued, "Then we're neighbors. My name's Raven."

The man nodded.

"They said you were comin'," he remarked.

He held out his hand for the axe. Raven, loath to give it to him, yet
saw no excuse for withholding it. After all, she was safely locked in.
So he tossed the axe and Tenney caught it lightly, and was turning away.
But he stopped, considered a moment, looking down at the ground, and
then, evidently concluding the question had to be put, broke out, and,
Raven thought, shamefacedly:

"You seen anything of her up here?"

"Her?" Raven repeated, though he knew the country shyness over family
terms.

"Yes. My woman."

"Your wife?" insisted Raven. "I don't believe I know her. No, I'm sure I
don't. I've been away several years. On the road, you mean? No--not a
soul."

A swift rage passed over Tenney's face. It licked it like a flash of
evil light and Raven thought he saw how dangerous he could be.

"No," he said, "I don't mean on the road. I mean in the woods."

"Up here?" persisted Raven. "No, certainly not. This is no place for a
woman. A woman would have to be off her head to come traipsing up here
in the snow. Is that what you were yelling about? I thought you were a
catamount, at least."

He laughed. He had an idea, suddenly conceived, that the man, having a
keen sense of personal dignity, was subject to ridicule, and that a
laugh would be salutary for him. And he was right. Tenney straightened,
put his axe over his shoulder, and walked away down the hill.



IX


Raven stood looking after him a minute and then began an ostentatious
search for his knife, went to the little pile of brush and saw it--the
steel tip of the handle shining there--and pulled the brush aside to get
it. As he was rising with it in his hand, he saw Tenney turn and look
back at him. He held up the knife and called:

"I've got it."

Tenney, not answering even by a sign, went on over the rise and
disappeared below. Then Raven, after lingering a little to make sure he
did not reappear, turned up the slope and into the path at the left and
so came again to the hut. He unlocked the door and went in. She was
sitting by the fire and the child was on the floor, staring rather
vacuously at his little fingers, as if they interested him, but not
much. The woman was looking at the child, but only in a mechanical sort
of way, as if it were her job to look and she did it without intention
even when the child was safe. But she was also watching the door,
waiting for him; it was in an agony of expectation, and her eyes
questioned him the instant he stepped in.

"Warm enough?" he inquired, as incidentally, he hoped, as if it were not
unusual to find her here. "Let me throw on a log."

He did throw on two and the fire answered. The solemn child, who proved,
at closer view, to have an unusual beauty of pink cheeks, blue eyes, and
reddish hair, did not intermit his serious gaze at his fingers. When
Raven had put on the logs and dusted himself off, he found himself at a
loss. How should he begin? Was Tenney, with his catamount yells and his
axe, to be ignored altogether, or should he reassure her by telling her
the man had gone? But she herself began.

"I suppose," she said, in the eloquent low voice that seemed to make the
smallest word significant, "you think it's funny."

Raven knew what sense the word was meant to convey.

"No," he said, "not in the least. It's pretty bad for you, though," he
added gravely, on second thought that he might.

She made a little gesture with her hand. It was a beautifully formed
hand, but reddened with work. The gesture was as if she threw something
away.

"He won't hurt me," she said.

"No," Raven returned, "I should hope not."

He drew up a chair to the hearth and was about to take it when she spoke
again. The blood ran into her cheeks, as she did it, and she put her
request with difficulty. It seemed to Raven that she was suddenly
engulfed in shame.

"Should you just as soon," she asked, "take the key inside an' lock the
door?"

She put it humbly, and Raven rose at once.

"Of course," he said. "Good idea."

He locked the door and came back to his chair and she began, never
omitting to share her attention with the child:

"I know who you be. It's too bad this has come upon you. I'll have to
ask you not to let it go any further."

Raven was about to assure her that nothing had come upon him, and then
he bethought himself that a great deal had. She had looked to him like
the Mother of Sorrows and, though the shock of that vision was over, she
seemed to him now scarcely less touching in her beautiful maternity and
her undefended state. So he only glanced at her and said gravely:

"Nobody will know anything about it from me. After all"--he was bound to
reassure her if he could--"I've nothing to tell."

Her face flashed into an intensity of revolt against any subterfuge, the
matter was so terrible.

"Why, yes, you have," said she. "Isr'el Tenney chased his woman up into
the woods with an axe. An' you heard him yellin' after her. That's God's
truth."

Raven felt rising in him the rage of the natural man, a passion of
protection for the woman who is invincibly beautiful yet physically
weak.

"An'," she went on, "you might ha' seen him out there, axe an' all."

"Oh," said Raven, as if it were of no great account, "I did see him."

"O my soul!" she breathed. "You see him? I'm glad you come in. He might
ha' asked you if you'd seen me."

"He did."

This was a new terror and she was undone.

"How'd you do it?" she asked breathlessly. "You must ha' put it better'n
I could or he'd be here now."

"I didn't 'put it,'" said Raven, easily. "I lied, and he went off down
the hill."

Extravagant as it seemed, he did get an impression, like a flash, that
she was disappointed in him because he had lied. But this was no time
for casuistry. There were steps to be taken.

"You won't go back to him," he said, and said it definitively as if it
were a matter he had thought out, said it like a command.

She stared at him.

"Not go back to him?" she repeated. "Why, I've got to go back to him.
I've got to go home. Where do you expect I'm goin', if I don't go home?"

"Haven't you any people?" Raven asked her. "Can't you go to them?"

She laughed a little, softly, showing fine white teeth. The spell of her
beauty was moving to him. He might never, he thought, have noticed her
at all in other circumstances, if he had not seen her there in the woods
and felt her need knock at his heart with the imperative summons of the
outraged maternal. Was this the feeling rising in him that had made his
mother's servitude to his father so sickening in those years gone by?
Was the old string still throbbing? Did it need but a woman's hand to
play upon it? And yet must he not have noted her, wherever they had met?
Would not any man?

"I've got four brothers," she said. "They'd laugh at me. They'd tell me
I'd married well an' got a better home than any of them could scrape
together if they begun at the beginnin' an' lived their lives over.
There's nothin' in Isr'el Tenney to be afraid of, they'd tell me. And
there ain't--for them."

"No," said Raven quietly. He felt an intense desire to feel his way,
make no mistakes, run no risk of shutting off her confidence. "It's a
different thing for you."

Now she turned her face more fully upon him, in a challenging surprise.

"Why," she said, "I ain't afraid--except for him."

By the smallest motion of her hand she indicated the child, who was now,
in sudden sleepiness, toppling back against the wall.

"Put him up here," said Raven, indicating the couch.

He opened the folded rug and held it until she had disposed the little
lax figure among the pillows. Then she took the rug from him and covered
the child, with quick, capable movements of her beautiful worn hands.
Raven, watching her, felt a clutch at his throat. Surely there was
nothing in the known world of plastic action so wonderful as these
movements of mothers' hands in their work of easing a child. With a last
quick touch on the rug, drawing it slightly away from the baby cheek,
she returned to her chair, and Raven again took his. He was afraid lest
she repent her open-mindedness toward him and talk no more. But she was
looking at him earnestly. It was evidently a part of her precautionary
foresight that he should know. Did she think he could help her? His
blood quickened at the thought. It seemed enough to have lived for, in
so brutal a world. She veered for a moment from her terror to the
necessity for justifying herself.

"You needn't think," she said, almost aggressively, "I'd talk to
everybody like this."

He was holding himself down to a moderation he knew she wanted, and
replied:

"No, of course not. But you can talk to me."

"Yes," she said, "I can." She dismissed that, having said it, as if she
saw no need of finding the underlying reasons they were both going by.
"You see," she said, "it's the baby. When he gits one o' them spells,
it's the baby he pitches on."

Raven picked out from her confusion of pronouns the fact that Tenney, in
his spells, incredibly threatened the baby.

"Don't you think," he said, "you make too much of it--I mean, as to the
baby. He wouldn't hurt his own child."

Again the blood ran into her cheeks, and she looked a suffering so acute
that Raven got up and walked through the room to the window. It seemed
an indecency to scan the anguished page of her face.

"That's it," she said, in a strangled voice. "When he has his spells he
don't believe the baby's his."

"God!" muttered Raven. He turned and came back to her. "You don't mean
to live with him," he said. "You can't. You mustn't. The man's a brute."

She was looking up at him proudly.

"But," she said, "baby is his own child."

"Good God! of course it is," broke out Raven, in a fever of impatience.
"Of course it's his child. You don't need to tell me that."

Then, incredibly, she smiled and two dimples appeared at the corners of
her mouth and altered her face from a mask of tragic suffering to the
sweetest playfulness.

"You mustn't say 'it,'" she reproved him. "You must say 'he.' Anybody'd
know you ain't a family man."

Raven stood looking at her a moment, his own smile coming. Then he sat
down in his chair. He wanted to tell her how game she was, and there
seemed no way to manage it. But now he could ask her questions. Her
friendliness, her amazing confidence, had opened the door.

"Exactly what do you mean?" he asked, yet cautiously, for even after her
own avowals he might frighten her off the bough. "Does he drink?"

She looked at him reprovingly.

"No, indeed," she said. "He's a very religious man."

"The devil he is!" Raven found himself muttering, remembering the
catamount yells and the axe. "Then what," he continued, with as complete
an air as he could manage of taking it as all in the day's work, "what
do you mean by his spells?"

She was silent a moment. Her mind seemed to be going back.

"He gits--mad," she said slowly. "Crazy, kind of. It's when he looks at
baby and baby looks different to him."

"Different? How different?"

"Why," she said, in a burst of pride turning for an instant to the
little figure on the couch, "baby's got awful cunnin' little ways. An'
he's got a little way o' lookin' up sideways, kind o' droll, an' when he
does that an' Mr. Tenney sees it"--here Raven glanced at her quickly,
wondering what accounted for her being so scrupulous with her "Mr.
Tenney"--"he can't help noticin' it an' he can't help thinkin' how baby
ain't colored like either of us--we're both dark----"

There she stopped, at last in irreparable confusion, and Raven was
relieved. How could he let her, he had been thinking, go on with the
sordid revelation? When he spoke, it was more to himself than to her,
but conclusively:

"The man's a beast."

"No, he ain't," said she indignantly. "Baby's light complected. You see
he is. An' I'm dark an' so's Mr. Tenney. An' I told him--I told him
about me before we were married, an' he thought he could stand it then.
But we went over to the county fair an' he see--_him_. He come up an'
spoke to him, that man did, spoke to us both, an' Mr. Tenney looked at
him as if he never meant to forgit him, an' he ain't forgot him, not a
minute since. He's light complected, blue eyes an' all. An' he stood
there, that man did, talkin' to us, kinder laughin' an' bein' funny, an'
all to scare me out o' my life for fear o' what he'd say. He didn't say
a word he hadn't ought to, an' when he'd had his joke he walked off. But
he had just that way o' lookin' up kinder droll, an' baby's got it. Mr.
Raven, for God's sake tell me why my baby's got to look like that man?"

She was shaking him into a passion as unendurable as her own. He had
never felt such pity for any human being, not even the men blinded and
broken in the War. And he understood her now. Even through his belief in
her, that sudden belief born of her beauty and her extremity, he had
been amazed at her accepting him so absolutely. Now he saw. He was her
last hope and perhaps because he was different from the neighbors to
whom she could not speak, she was throwing herself into the arms of his
compassion. And she had to hurry lest she might not see him again. He
sat there, his hands clenched between his knees, his head bent. He must
not look at her.

"Poor chap!" he said finally, his altered thoughts now on Tenney. "He's
jealous."

She broke into a sob that seemed to rend her and then pulled herself up
and sat silent. But he could see, from her shadowy outline through his
oblique vision, that she was shaking horribly.

"Can't you," he said, "make him understand, make him see how--how
tremendously you love him?"

That was pretty mawkish, he thought, as he said it, but he meant it, he
meant volumes more. Flood the man with kindness, open the doors of her
beauty and let him see how really incorruptible she was, how loyal, how
wronged. For, with every minute of her company, he was the more
convinced of her inviolate self. Whatever the self had been through, now
it was motherhood incarnate. What was she saying to this last?

"Be nice to him?" she asked, "that kind o' way?" And he saw, as she did,
that he had meant her to drown the man's jealous passion in passion of
her own. "He thinks," she said bitterly, "that's the kind o' woman I
am."

Then he looked with her upon the barricaded road of her endeavor.

"I can't even," she said, "have the house pretty when he comes home an'
be dressed up so's he'll have a pleasant evenin' but he thinks--that's
the kind o' woman I am." The last she said as if she had said it many
times before and it held the concentrated bitterness of her hateful
life. "An'," she added, turning upon him and speaking fiercely, as if he
had been the one to accuse her, "it's true. It is the kind o' woman I
am. An' I don't want to be. I want to set down with my sewin' an' watch
the baby playin' round. What is it about me? What makes 'em foller me
an' offer me things an' try, one way or another, to bring me down? What
is it?"

She was panting with the passion of what seemed an accusation of him
with all mankind. He added one more to his list of indictments against
nature as God had made it. Here she was, a lure, innocent, he could have
sworn, backed up against the defenses of her ignorance, and the whole
machinery of nature was moving upon her, seeking, with its multitudinous
hands, to pull her in and utilize her for its own ends.

"Never mind," he said harshly. "Don't try to understand things. You
can't. We can't any of us. Only I'll tell you how you looked to me, that
first minute. You looked like the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ."

She shrank a little. He had touched, he saw, innocent prejudices.

"Are you a Roman Catholic?" she asked.

"No," he said, "not that nor anything. But you see how good you looked
to me. It doesn't hurt any of us to be Catholic, if we're good."

"I didn't mean anything," she said humbly. "Only there ain't many round
here."

"You say your husband is religious. Does he go to church?"

"Yes," she answered soberly, and also with a kind of wonder at a man's
accomplishing so dull an observance. "We go twice every Sunday, an'
Sunday school an' evenin' meetin' besides."

"Do you like it?"

"No," she said, looking rueful, as if trusting he might forgive her. "I
git sleepy."

At this Raven laughed and she glanced at him mildly, as if wandering
what he had found to please him. He had been thinking.

"Now," he said, "we must plan what you're going to do. You won't let me
send you and the baby away to stay awhile?"

She shook her head.

"Then what are we going to do? Can't you let me go to him and tell him,
man to man, what an infernal fool he is?"

A wild alarm flew into her face.

"No! no!" she said.

"What is going to happen? You can't go home."

"Oh, yes, I can," said she. "I always do. It works off. Maybe it's
worked off now. He gits all wore out actin' the way he does, an' then
he's terrible scared for fear I've made way with myself, an' he's all
bowed down."

"Oh!" said Raven. "And you've got him where you want him. And you settle
down and wait for another spell. How long do you generally stay away?"

"Long's I can," she answered simply. "Till I'm afraid baby'll git cold.
I keep his little things where I can ketch 'em up an' run. But sometimes
he 'most gits a chill."

The yearning of anxiety in her voice was intense enough, he thought, to
balance the grief of all the mothers bereft by Herod.

"I don't see," he said, "how you get up here anyway. You must come by
the road? Why doesn't he follow you?"

The slow red surged into her face. She was hesitating. There was
evidently worse to come.

"He gits so mad," she said, with frequent pauses between the words, "he
don't stay in the house after he's had a spell. I guess he don't dare
to. He's afraid of what he'll do. He goes out an' smashes away at the
woodpile or suthin.' An' it's then I ketch up the baby an' run. I go out
the side door an' up the road a piece an' into the back road. Then I
come down the loggin' road the back way an' end up here. It's God's
mercy," she said passionately, "they've broke out that loggin' road or
there wouldn't be any path an' he'd see my tracks in the snow."

"Then," said Raven, "if he has sense enough to go and work it off on the
woodpile, perhaps you aren't in any real danger, after all."

She looked at him piteously. Her eyes narrowed with a frowning return to
a scene of terror past and persistently avoided in retrospect.

"'Most always," she said, in a low tone, "it comes on him ag'in, an'
then, 'fore you know it, he's back in the house. Once he brought the axe
with him. Baby was in the cradle. The cradle head's split right square
acrost."

"Good God!" said Raven. "And you won't let me send you away from here?"

"Why, Mr. Raven," said she, and her voice was only less exquisite in its
tenderness than when she spoke of the baby, "ain't I married to him?"

They sat looking at each other, and the suffused beauty of her face was
so moving to him that he got up and went to the window and stared out at
the tree branches in their winter calm. He made himself stand there
looking at them and thinking persistently of them, not of her. She would
not bear thinking of, this thing of beauty and need and, at the same
time, inexorability of endurance. Unless she would let him help her, he
was only driving the hot ploughshare of her misery through his own heart
for nothing. So he stood there, mechanically studying the trees and
remembering how they would wake from this frozen calm on a night when
the north wind got at them and made them thrash at one another in the
fury of their destiny. Her voice recalled him.

"I don't mean," she said, "to make you feel bad. I hadn't ought to put
it on anybody else's shoulders, anyway."

Then Raven realized that the tenderness in her voice was for him. He
turned and came back to his place by the fire. But he did not sit. He
stood looking at her as she looked anxiously up at him.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," he said, "for the present, anyway. I'm
going now, and you're to stay here as long as you think best. When you
go, lock the door and put the key under the flat stone out by the step.
I often leave the key there. I'll make sure the stone isn't frozen down.
Now, you understand, don't you? You're to come up here whenever you
like. If there isn't a fire, you're to build one. Nobody will disturb
you. Jerry won't be cutting up here. I'll send him down into the lower
woods."

"But," she said, in evident concern, "I can't do that. You come up here
to write your books. Mr. Tenney said so, when he was tellin' me who all
the neighbors were. He said you had the shack repaired so's to write
your books."

Raven smiled. Books seemed far removed from this naked face of life.

"I'm not writing books now," he said. "I'm just hanging round. I may go
over and see your husband, ask him to do some work for me."

The quick look of alarm ran into her face.

"Oh," she breathed, "you won't----"

"No," he answered steadily, "I won't say a word about you. Of course I
sha'n't. And I won't to anybody."

"An'," she broke in tumultuously, "if you should see me--oh, it's an
awful thing to say, after what you've done for me this day--but you
won't act as if you ever see me before?"

That was the only wisdom, Raven saw, but a band seemed to tighten about
his heart. Deny her before men, she whom he had not yet untangled from
the rapt vision of their meeting?

"No," he said, "I won't even look at you. Now I'm going. I'll loosen up
the stone."

She rose to her imposing height and came to him where he stood, his hand
on the latch. Her eyes brimmed. In the one glance he had of her, he
thought such extremity of gratitude might, in another instant, break in
a flood of words.

"Go back," he said, "where nobody can see you when I open the door.
Jerry may have taken a notion to come up."

She turned obediently and he did not look at her again. He opened the
door and stepped out. The stone was there beside the larger one below
the sill. He bent and wrenched it up from the ground where the frost was
holding it, and with such unregarding force that the edges hurt his
hands. He smiled a little at the savage satisfaction of the act,
wondering if this was how Tenney felt when he smashed away at the wood.
Then he remembered that the key was inside, tapped on the door, opened
it and spoke to her:

"You'd better lock the door. Keep it locked till you go."

She was sitting before the fire, her head bent almost to her knee, her
face in her hands. He closed the door and waited until he heard her step
and the turning of the key. Then he strode out into the logging road and
down the slope. One certainty surged and trembled in him: that he had
never been so sorry for anybody in his life.



X


Raven, determinedly shedding his emotion, plunged fast down the hill and
into the house where Charlotte was busy in a steam of fragrances from
stove and cooking table and Jerry sat smoothing an axe helve.

"See here," said Raven, pulling off his gloves and advancing to the
stove, where Jerry, looking mildly up, made room for him, "are you
thinning out up on the ridge?"

Jerry nodded.

"That's what you wrote," said he.

"I've changed my mind," said Raven. "It looks mighty well up there as it
is, for the present, anyway. Didn't you say there was a lot of gray
birch that needed to go down in the river pasture?"

Again Jerry nodded, and Charlotte, evidently not finding this definite
enough, put in:

"Why, yes, Jerry, seems to me you said so. 'Twas in that letter you had
me write."

"Well," said Raven, "I want you to get at the river woods. I want 'em
cleaned up. Couldn't you get somebody to help you? That man Tenney, how
about him?"

Jerry, confronted by haste and emergency, two flying visitants he never
could encounter adequately, opened his mouth and looked at Charlotte.

"Why, yes," said she. "He's a great hand to work. You said so yourself,
Jerry, only last week."

"Then what if we should hire him?" said Raven. "What if I should go up
and ask him now?"

Jerry was slowly coming to.

"He's been by here to-day," said he, "axe in his hand. Went as if he's
sent for. Then he went back."

"Well, that was an hour or more ago," said Charlotte. "You says to me,
'Where's he be'n?' says you. Yes, he's got home long 'fore this. You'll
find him some'r's round home."

"All right," said Raven. "Don't go up on the ridge again, Jerry. I want
it left as it is."

He hurried out through the shed and Charlotte and Jerry exchanged
glances, his entirely bemused and she sympathetically tender.

"'Course he don't want you cuttin' on the ridge," she said. "He's goin'
up there to write his books. I should think you could see that."

For Charlotte, when no third person was by to observe Jerry's sloth at
the uptake, had methods of her own to keep him mentally alive. If he did
lag a pace behind, it was his secret and hers, and sometimes, between
themselves, it was wholesome to recognize it.

Raven walked at top speed. He could not, at his utmost, get to Tenney
soon enough. It was true, he was under vow not to assault or accuse him,
but it seemed to him the woman would not be even intermittently safe
unless the man were under his eye. As the picture of her flashed again
to his mind, sitting by his hearth, her head bowed in grief unspeakable,
he wondered what he should call her. Surely not, in his rage against
Tenney, by Tenney's name. She was "the woman," she was the pitiful type
of all suffering womanhood.

There was the house, rather narrow in build, but painted white, with
green blinds. The narrowness gave it a look of unwelcoming meagerness,
this although it was of a good size. Raven wondered why some minds ran
to pointed roofs, inhospitable to the eye. This looked to him like
Tenney, his idea of him. The barn was spacious, and beautiful in silver
gray, and the woodpile, Raven decided ironically, a marvel of artistic
skill. He had never seen such a big woodpile, so accurately trimmed at
the corners, so perfect in the face of an extended length. It must, he
judged, represent a good many hours of jealous madness, if it was
entirely the product of those outbreaks when Tenney went out to smash
wood. And there, round one corner of the pile, was Tenney himself. Raven
realized that he had not expected to find him. Actually he had believed
the man was raging over snowy hillsides somewhere about, armed with his
axe and uttering those catamount cries. Tenney was not at work. He was
standing perfectly still, looking up the road.

"Hullo!" called Raven, turning into the yard, and the man jerked back a
step and then stopped and awaited him.

It was not a step actually. His feet did not leave the ground. He
merely, his whole body, seemed thrown out of position, to recover
instantly. Raven, watching him as he traversed the few steps between
them, decided that he was uncontrollably nervous, frightened, too,
perhaps, at what his apprehensive mind pictured: and that was good for
him. What was Tenney, according to his look? Raven, scrutinizing him as
he approached, determined to know something more than he had caught from
those preoccupied minutes in the woods. How, if he had his pen in hand,
would he describe Israel Tenney for one of the folk tales Anne had so
persistently urged him to? A thin, tall man with narrow shoulders and
yet somehow giving an impression of great wiry strength. He had a boldly
drawn line of profile, hair black and glossy and, as Raven saw with
distaste, rather long under his hat, vertical lines marking his cheeks,
lines deeper than seemed justified by his age, and, as he had noted
before, his eyes were also black with a spark in them. What was the
spark? It was, Raven concluded again, in this quick scrutiny, like that
in the eyes of inventors and visionaries. He wore clothes so threadbare
that it seemed as if he must have been cold. But they were patched with
a scrupulous nicety that made some revulsion in Raven rise up and
dramatically spur him to a new resentment. She had patched them. Her
faithful needle had spent its art on this murderer of her peace. He had
reached the woodpile now and Tenney came a step forward.

"Great woodpile you've got here," said Raven.

Tenney put out his hand and rested it on one of the sticks. He might
have been caressing a pet dog.

"Stove wood length," he said briefly. Then he seemed to feel some
curiosity over being sought out after their meeting on the rise and
asked: "D'you find your knife?"

"Why, yes," said Raven. "Didn't you see me hold it up to you?"

Tenney nodded, frowning. He seemed to conclude he was giving himself
away, showing more interest in the stranger than the stranger had in any
way earned. But he asked another question. It leaped from him. He had to
ask it.

"D'you see anybody up round there after I come down?"

Raven shook his head, looking, he hoped, vague.

"I came down myself," he said. "I had to talk with Jerry about his
thinning out."

The eagerness faded from Tenney's face.

"I didn't see Jerry up there this mornin'," he volunteered, in an
indifferent contribution toward the talk.

"No," said Raven. "You won't see him up there at all after this--for a
spell, that is. I write, you know, books. I like to go up to the hut to
work. Not so likely to be interrupted there. I don't want chopping going
on."

Tenney, with a quick lift of the head, looked at him questioningly.
Raven saw anger also in the look, at last anger ready to spring. Both
men had the same thought. Tenney wondered if the owner of the wood was
going to taunt him again with yelling like a catamount, and Raven did
actually put aside an impulse toward it.

"D'you come over here to forbid my goin' up in your woods?" Tenney
inquired.

"No," said Raven. "I came to ask you if you could help Jerry do some
thinning out in the river pasture. I'm rather in a hurry about that."

"Why, yes," Tenney began. Then he added breathlessly, as if another part
of his mind (the suffering, uncontrolled part) broke in on his speech:
"Not yet, though. I can't do anything yet, not till I see how things
turn."

Raven thought he understood. Tenney could settle to nothing until he
knew when his wife was coming back or whether she was coming at all. Now
that the vision of her had entered on their stage, he was conscious of
answering coldly:

"All right. You can make up your mind and go over and see Jerry. He'll
arrange it with you."

On these words, he was about turning away, when he found Tenney suddenly
oblivious of him. The man's thin face was quivering into a pathetic
disorder, flushed, quite beyond his control. He neither heard Raven nor
saw him, though he did speak brokenly:

"There!" he said. "There she is now."

Raven, turning, followed his gaze, directed up the road, not the way he
had come. There she was, walking toward them with swift, long steps, the
child held with the firmness that still seemed a careless buoyancy, as
he had seen her in the woods. She had come home, as she went, the back
way. Raven could have stood there through the long minute, motionless,
waiting for her to come to him, for it seemed as if it were to him she
came, not Tenney. But he recalled himself with a brusqueness so rough
and sudden that it was as if he gave himself a blow. That last glance
had shown him she had nothing more to fear from Tenney, for this time at
least. The man had been horribly frightened at her going. Now he was
under her heel. Raven did not give her another look. He turned homeward,
and called back to Tenney loudly enough for her to overhear him and be
under no apprehension as to what had passed:

"Make up your mind, then come and talk it over with Jerry. It's
chopping, you understand, gray birches down in the river pasture."

Tenney did not answer, and Raven, striding along the road, listened with
all possible intentness to hear whether husband and wife spoke together.
He thought not, but he did hear the closing of a door.



XI


Thyatira--this was her name, and she was called Tira--passed her husband
apparently without a glance. Nevertheless she had, in approaching,
become adequately aware of his disordered look, and the fact of it
calmed her to a perfect self-possession. She could always, even from one
of these fleeting glimpses, guess at the stage his madman's progress had
reached, and the present drop in temperature restored her everyday sense
of safety. With it came a sudden ebbing of energy and endurance. The
"spell" was over for the time, but her escape from the shadow of it left
her nerveless and almost indifferent to its returning; apathetic, too,
to her tormentor. Going in, she closed the door behind her, apparently
not noticing that he followed her, and when he opened it and came in,
she was sitting in his great chair by the fire, taking off the baby's
coat, and, with the capable, anxious mother motion, feeling the little
hands. Tenney came up to her and the child, turning at his step, looking
up at him solemnly. Tira's heart seemed to contract within her. This was
the very glance, "lookin' up kinder droll," that had brought on the
storm. But for Tenney it evidently meant something now that fitted his
mood of passionate anxiety to get back into the warm security of
domestic peace.

"You lemme take him," he said, "whilst you git off your things. You'll
ketch your death o' cold, carryin' on so."

The last he had to add. She was, his defensive inner mind told him, all
wrong in flying out of the house "like a crazed creatur'" when she might
have stayed and told him, just told him, whether she was the kind of
woman he, at these unheralded mad moments, thought she was. That was the
undercurrent always in his mind: if she wouldn't be so still and
hateful, if she would only tell him. She might have some pity on a man,
that defensive inner mind advised him, when she saw him all worked up.
But the minute he warned her the devil of doubt was again tempting him,
she began to freeze up and wouldn't speak to him at all. No wonder, with
that devil inside whispering to him and hounding him on--no wonder he
said things and--he trembled here and dared not follow out that
thought--and was afraid he might do things. But she shook her head, at
his offer of taking the child.

"You might go an' cut a slice o' ham," she said wearily. "It's 'most
dinner time. We might's well have that as anything."

But the baby reached out and closed his little fingers about Tenney's
thumb. Tenney stood there, his heart swelling within him at the contrast
between the child's forgivingness and her cruelty. Now she had the
child's outer things off, and she rose with them in one hand, carrying
the child on the other arm, and it was her movement that dragged the
little fingers away and broke that significant clasp on Tenney's thumb.
How hateful she could be, he thought, his heart swelling more and more.
He stood where she left him, and she went to the low couch and set the
baby down there, and put into his hand a formless doll she wanted him to
love. He never really noticed it, but she felt he would sometime love
the doll. Then she glanced, with the air of being recalled to a
wearisome routine, at the table in the middle of the floor; it meant ham
and eggs. It seemed also to occur to her that she had not taken off her
cloak, and she hung it on its nail behind the door. Soon, as Tenney,
still motionless there by the stove, seemed mutely accusing her, mutely
imploring her not to be cruel, she did turn and look at him. The thought
of Raven was uppermost in her mind. It had been there every minute since
she had gone into his house in the woods, but now it roused
compellingly, stronger than even her present apprehension. Most of all,
she was penetrated by a wonder almost greater than any emotion she had
ever felt, at having laid before him at once and without persuasion, the
story of her life. Why should she have told him? She would have said no
decent woman could betray her husband to another man. It was entirely
mysterious, and she gave it up. But there was, behind the wonder, a
dazzling sense that he was different. As he had told her that strange
thing she hardly dared think of now, because it seemed as if she must
have misunderstood him--the thing about her looking so good and
wonderful when he came upon her--so he, in his kindness and compassion,
his implication of assuming a mysterious responsibility for her, seemed
unbelievably good, not a citizen of this bleak neighborhood--or even the
world (her mind, though stumblingly, ran as far as that) and, more
astounding still, the real miracle was that he had been sent for this:
to save her. And at that moment of dazed reflection, it all meant the
passionate necessity of obeying him. He had bade her show her husband
how she loved him. Seeing the man was jealous, he had pitied him.
Perhaps she had not thought, since these last apprehensive days with
Tenney, whether she loved him or not. He had simply, at the times of
recurrent tragedy, been the terror within the house, and she had lived a
life of breathless consecration to the one task of saving the child. Did
she love him? Raven had assumed she did, and in her devotion to him she
must, in some form, obey. Almost it seemed to her there would be shame
in not loving her husband, if Raven expected it of her. None of these
things were formulated in her mind. They were only shadowy impulses,
like the forces of nature, persuading, impelling her. She had no words;
she had scarcely, as to the abstractions she dimly felt and never saw,
any reasoned thought. But she did have an unrecognized life of the
emotions, and this was surging in her now.

She stood for a second looking at Tenney, the distended beauty of her
eyes like a question, a challenge. She seemed, though this neither of
them could know, to be beseeching him to tell her what treatment he
deserved of her, or what would make their case whole. They were simple
people, these two, but she had leaped, without knowing it herself, to a
new plane of life. She was still with Raven in the hut, trying to speak
his language, follow out his thought for her. She gave a little quick
rush across the room and, to Tenney's overwhelming surprise, her hands
were on his shoulders, her face so close to his that her sweet breath
fanned him. He had never seen her so. She had to be pursued, coaxed,
tired out with persuasion before she would even accept the warmth he too
often had for her.

"Isr'el," she said, "Isr'el Tenney! if you ever ag'in, so long as you
live, think wrong o' that baby there, you'll be the wickedest man on
God's earth."

His arms closed about her and she stood passive. Yet she wanted to free
herself. Did she love him? The question Raven had seemed to illuminate
kept beating on in her tired head. Did she love him? And as Tenney's
arms clung closer and his lips were on hers, she threw back her head and
cried violently:

"No, I don't."

"Don't what?" he asked, releasing her slightly, and she drew away from
him and, still obeying Raven, made one disordered effort at assurance.

"If you think"--here she stopped. She could not go on. It had always
seemed to her a wrong to the baby to put the vile suspicion into words.
"If you think," she tried again, "what you said this mornin'--O Isr'el,
I've been as true to you as you are to your God."

He was religious, she often told herself, chiefly in her puzzled musings
after a "spell" was over, and this was the strongest vow she could
imagine. But it disconcerted him.

"There! there!" he said. "Don't say such things."

Evidently the name of God was for Sundays. But he was uneasily
reassured. He was, at least, in a way of sense, delighted. He put his
face to hers and thickly bade her kiss him. He was not for the moment
horrible to her unconsenting will. Rather she found herself rejoicing.
When she could escape from him (and she felt no fear, her wild belief in
herself was so great) she thought she could dance and sing. For now she
knew she did not love him, and it made her feel so free. Always there
had been some uneasy bond, first with the man who cajoled her to her
heart-break and the miserable certainty that, whatever magic was in a
good name, it was hers no more, and then with Tenney, whom she had
followed humbly, gratefully, because he had been so kind and told her
nothing mattered if she would marry him. But now she felt a sudden
snapping of the bond and she knew that, in her mind, at least, in her
moments of solitude with the baby, she could dance upon the hills of
life. It was an entirely new sense of ecstasy, a thrilling of her blood.
She laughed out, a low, excited laugh, and put him from her and called
gaily:

"You slice the ham, an' I'll git out some eggs."

Tenney stared at her a minute, perplexed and wondering. Then his face
relaxed slightly. It might have been said he smiled. There was
apparently a good feeling in the house, such as he had never been able
to create. She had always been kind, conformable, but she had never
laughed like this, nor in his sight taken up the baby and tossed him
until he, too, laughed gurglingly. She cooked the dinner and Tenney, not
able to take himself out of her bewildering presence, hung about and
watched her and, when the baby began to fret for food, took him up and
walked with him until Tira was free. And while they ate dinner the baby
slept again on the lounge: for the cradle, grim witness Tenney could not
bring himself to look at now, had been moved into the bedroom.

"D'you see that feller jest goin' when you come into the yard?" Tenney
asked her, when his first hunger was over and he leaned back in his
chair to look at her where she sat, only picking at her food, he thought
anxiously. She seemed queer to him to-day, with the rapt, exalted look
of one who had seen strange things and been tired by them, the tremulous
eloquence of her lips. She was, he owned to himself, yet not with any
satisfaction, because any smallest allurement in her lessened his chance
of keeping her faith inviolate, a likely looking woman.

"I wish," he said irritably, out of his uneasiness over her, "you'd eat
suthin.' You're all beat out."

She smiled at him. She felt kindly toward him as to a part of the world
that had at least begun to show its softer side to her.

"No," she said, "I ain't beat out."

"D'you see him?" he pursued, his thoughts recurring to Raven.

"Yes," she responded, in a low tone, "I see him."

"'Twas Raven. You knew he was comin' up to stay a spell. Don't ye
remember I see Jerry an' he told me? He wants me to go down in his river
pastur', choppin'. All of a whew to git at it. Jest like them city
folks. If a thing comes into their head, they'll shake the footstool but
they'll git it."

"Yes," said Tira. "I think 's likely."

She got up to bring the pie, warming in the oven, and when her back was
toward him she allowed herself a smile, happy, unrestrained, at Raven's
thought for her. She knew why Tenney was to be drawn off down to the
river pasture. This was a part of Raven's understanding and his
beneficence.

"You goin'?" she asked, returning to her chair.

"Yes," said Tenney. "Might 's well."

When he had eaten he went out to his chores and she cleared the table
and walked about the house with a light step. She had been working
heavily of late, with a dull mind, but now there seemed to be a reason
for doing every task as perfectly as it could be done. There was not a
suspicion in her mind that Raven had a charm for her or that she could
possibly have a charm for him. He had simply opened a window for the
light to come in; he had shown her the door of escape. This was the
first simple kindness she had ever had. When she was little, the family
life had been a disorderly struggle for bare existence, and as she grew
into an ignorant girlhood she began to be angrily conscious that she
herself, she who did not recognize the power of her own beauty and with
it the strange force that lay beneath it, like a philter, for man's
undoing, was an object of pursuit by men made mad through passions she
hated. She had the simplest tastes, the most inconsiderable desires. She
would go off by herself then and spend a day wandering about the woods,
cooling her feet in brooks, sleeping under a tree. No man could make her
happiness completer, hanging about her steps, staring her down with
bold, impudent eyes. She even thought, in a formless way (for she had no
orderly inner life of wonder and conclusion) whether she should have
taken refuge with the light-haired man who was now driving Tenney to
madness, if he had not had that drollery of looking at you, like a boy
really, who cared only for a boy's fitful fun. But he was not kind. The
kindness had been only to lure her into trusting him, just as Tenney's
had turned into a rage of abusive jealousy. Raven's kindness was
different. It was not in any degree personal to her. She knew he would
have been as merciful to a squirrel caught in a trap. And the scars of
his own mental sufferings and restraints had done something to him,
something inexplicable that made him wonderful in her eyes. He seemed,
too, all-powerful. He was that miraculous combination of the human guide
and heavenly helper, with the wisdom to understand earthly trouble and
the power to administer what remedy there might be.

Tenney did not come in until supper time. He had been over to Raven's,
he told her, and seen Jerry about the chopping. They were going in the
morning early. She made no reply. She was still at peace in the thought
of Raven's kindness, but the turmoil of the day had told on her, and she
was so tired that she could scarcely drag herself about; her eyes kept
closing as she moved. Tenney was still expectantly eager for an
awakening of her leniency. At eight o'clock he brought out the Bible and
stiffened himself into the rigidity that was the mail for his spiritual
combats. He was always referring to himself, at these times of religious
observance, as a servant of the Cross, and Tira used wearily to wonder
whether he felt obliged to arrange himself for combats that, so far as
she knew, never seemed to come off. There was a mysterious adversary he
was always describing with an apprehension that made her wonder if
Israel could really be afraid, and if that was why he announced so
belligerently that he was ready for him. Neither of them thought of the
combat as being simply the grim fight the will of men is doomed to on
the dark plain of man's mysterious sojourn. It seemed to them outside
somewhere, dramatic, imminent, and yet, if you prayed loudly enough and
read your chapter, not certain to happen at all. At least this seemed to
be what Tenney thought, and Tira, when she dwelt upon it, sleepily
followed him. To-night he was reading in Revelation, and when he had
finished that, he would begin, in due course, at Genesis, and go on with
an iron persistency of accomplishment as methodical as ploughing a
field. Tira, sitting at her side of the hearth, heard, through drowsy
ears, the incomprehensible vision of the tree of life with its twelve
manner of fruits, and when Israel shut the Bible with an air of virtuous
finality, she came awake and sat guiltily upright.

"You've been asleep," he accused her frowningly. "Anybody'd think you
could keep yourself awake over the Word o' God."

Tira leaned back in her chair and yawned with the simplicity of the
natural animal. Tenney caught his breath, the redness of her mouth and
the gleam of her teeth were so bewitching to him. He got up and carried
away the Bible. When he came back from the best room she was moving
about, setting away chairs and then brushing up the few chips on the
hearth.

"I'm beat out," she acknowledged, with a wistful look at him, half
deprecating humility. "I guess I'll poke off to bed."

"Yes," said Tenney, "le's go."

At that minute there was a little waking call from the bedroom off the
sitting-room. Tenney gave her a startled glance.

"Why," he said, "you got him in there?"

They had been used to keeping the baby covered on the kitchen or the
sitting-room couch until their own bedtime and Tenney, preoccupied with
his last chore of reading the Scriptures, had not noticed that his wife
had carried him into the bedroom instead.

"Yes," she said, with a significant quiet. "I thought 'twas full warmer
in the bed. I'm goin' to stay with him."

"In there?" Tenney repeated. "All night?"

She nodded at him. The afternoon brightness was again on her face, and
for an instant he felt afraid of her, she looked so strange. Then he
laughed a little. He thought he understood, and, advancing, put a hand
on her shoulder and spoke in an awkward tenderness.

"Here," said he, "you ain't afraid o' me, be you? Why, I wouldn't no
more lay hands on him----"

He had meant to add that she had reassured him by her disclaimer of the
morning. But he could not quite manage that. Words were not his
servants. They were his enemies, especially at such times as he was mad
with rage. Then they came too fast and got the better of him, and he
could hardly ever remember afterward what they were. Tira slipped from
under his hand and continued her ordered tasks about the room. But she
smiled at him in the friendliest way.

"Oh, no," she said, "I ain't the leastest mite afraid." She laughed a
little, in a manner mystifying to him, for it suddenly seemed to her she
should never be afraid of anything again.

Tenney stood there, his eyes following her as she moved about the room,
and again the thought of her cruelty possessed him. Last of all her
orderly deeds, she lighted a little lamp and set it on the table near
him.

"Don't you forgit to blow it out," she warned him. "I'm terrible afraid
o' fire, these winter nights. I won't put out the big lamp yet. I can
see to undress by it, an' then baby won't wake up."

He took his lamp and set it down again and went to the bedroom door, her
eyes following him.

"I dunno," he said, in a strangled voice, "as there's any need o' that
in there, for folks to tumble over."

He stepped inside, took up the cradle with the telltale gash in the
hood, carried it through the kitchen and set it outside the door, in the
shed.

"I'll carry it up into the shed chamber to-morrer," he said, in the same
tortured voice.

Then he took his lamp and turned to go. He was as much surprised at
himself as she could have guessed. For some reason--and he did not know
the reason--he could not bear to leave her there in the dark with the
silent witness standing by to cry out against him. Yet this he did not
think. He only knew he must get the cradle out of the room and do it
quickly. When he had reached the door to the enclosed staircase, her
voice halted him so abruptly that the light quivered in his hand.

"Isr'el," it called, "you're real good. Don't you be cold. There's a
blanket on the foot."

But though he hesitated another minute, the voice had nothing more for
him, and he went slowly up to bed. As he undressed, his thoughts down
there with her, he wondered how her voice could have sounded so gay.

In the middle of the night, Tira woke suddenly, with the sense of
something near. There was the moon flooding the little room, and in the
doorway stood a figure.

"That you, Isr'el?" she called clearly.

"Yes," he said, and then hesitated, "you all right?"

"Yes," she answered, in the same clear voice, with something commanding
in it now. "We're all right. You go back to bed, so's to git your sleep.
I'll call you if I'm up first."

Tenney turned away, and she heard his hesitating step through the
kitchen and on the stairs. Then, as if this had been as commonplace an
interlude in her night as the baby's waking and drowsing off again, she
felt herself surging happily away to sleep.



XII


Raven, tired to lethargy by the morning's turmoil, stayed in the house
until after dinner. He sat by the library fire, a book on his knee,
chiefly to convince Charlotte, who would inevitably detect his drop in
responsive liveliness, that he was merely absorbed and not moping. Once
or twice she did appear at the door, plainly to look at him, but,
finding he kept his eyes on the page, she did not speak. The life had
gone out of him. He wondered at himself for being so fagged. Yet it had
been a good deal of a strain, that anguish of a creature he was not
allowed to help; it was exacting a heavy penalty. He found his mind
dwelling on it, look by look, word by word, and finding no relief except
in the thought of Tenney in the river pasture, chopping. If that came to
pass, the woman would be safe for hours she could count upon.

That afternoon, Jerry reported that Tenney had been over and promised to
appear next morning with his axe. Then Raven went off for a walk along
the road skirting the base of the mountain. Possibly he chose it because
it led to the woman's old home, and the thought of her was uppermost in
his mind. The road itself was still and dark, subdued to a moving
silence, it might almost seem, by the evergreens, watchers on the high
cliff at the left, and the quiet of the river, now under ice, on the
other side below. He kept on to the stepping stones, at the verge of the
scattered settlement of Mountain Brook. They were rough granite at
regular distances apart, only the tops of them visible above the ice,
and they made the concluding stage of the walk across lots from Wake
Hill to Mountain Brook. In spring the water swirled about them madly,
and it was one of the adventures of boyhood for a squad to go over to
the stepping stones and leap from one to another without splashing into
the foam below. This was "playing Moosewood," the Indian who had been
found there drowned, whether by his own act because the local palefaces
had got his hill-top, over beyond, or from prolonged fire-water, no one
knew. But always he was a noble red man and one boy acted his despairing
part, and the others hunted him across the stones. In the game, he
always escaped and "shinnied" up the cliff opposite, by fissures the
boys of every generation knew, and struck a pose among the evergreens
above, whooping down defiance.

Raven stopped there and gave a thought to the boy he had been, and then
to Anne, who had once taken the walk across lots with him, and who, when
he told her how they used to play Moosewood, insisted on crossing,
though he had tried to dissuade her, noting her foolish shoes, and aware
that she had no adroitness of eye and muscle. But she had a will of
steel in these matters, as well as those of the spirit, and would not be
prevailed on. Three of the daring leaps she made from one stone to
another and at the fourth she slipped and he caught and held her, the
delicate slenderness of her, in his arms. He had felt awkward merely and
sorry for her, she so overprized doing things superlatively well, and
when they reached the bank she was flushed and shaken, and again he was
sorry, it seemed so slight a thing to care about. But as he looked down
there now he was thinking really about her he called "the woman" in his
mind. She would not slip. She was as perfectly adapted in every tempered
muscle to the rough conditions of natural life as the pioneer women who
helped their men clear the wilderness and set hearthstones. It darkened
between the firs and they began to stir a little, as if a wind were
coming up, and he turned back home, again growing uneasy about her, shut
up there with her tormentor and walled about by the dark.

He had his supper early, and he did not again invite Charlotte and Jerry
to eat with him. Now, he felt, he should need all the solitude he could
get to think out this thing he seemed to have taken upon himself, and
keep a grip on his anxiety. After supper he asked Charlotte for blankets
and a pillow. She did not look at him, but he was clearly aware that she
was worried and would not let him read it in her eyes.

"It's all right, Charlotte," he assured her. "I just want some things up
there at the hut, for the couch, that's all."

"You ain't goin' to sleep up there, be you?" she asked quietly.
Charlotte, he knew, had felt his mood. She saw he was on edge.

"No," he said, "I shall be right back. Only I want to get them up there.
To-morrow I shall be carrying books and things."

She got the blankets without a word, venturing only, as she gave them to
him:

"Jerry'll be as mad as fire with me for not sendin' him up to lug 'em."

Raven smiled at her and went off with his load. He carried also his
electric torch, and traversing the dark between the moving trees,
creaking now and complaining, at the door of the hut he flashed on the
light and lifted the stone. The key was there. That gave him a momentary
relief. She had understood and done her part toward his task of
defending her. He went in, tossed the things over a chair, and lighted
one of the candles on the mantel. The hearth was cold and he piled logs
and kindling. Then he put the pillow in its place on the couch and
spread the blankets. That was to show her she was to make herself
comfortable. The match-box he placed on the mantel, where it seemed
likely her hand would touch it, if she thought to feel there, and beside
it his torch. It might be a momentary defence against the impalpable
terrors of the night. But he was not sure she would feel any terrors,
save of the defined and tangible. That he considered absorbedly as he
went down the path after placing the key under the stone. It was not
that she was insensitive. He felt in her the alert readiness of a
perfectly acting nervous system. It showed itself in her self-control,
her readiness of courage, her persistent calm. She would not thrill with
apprehension over the tapping of those boughs against the walls: only at
a voice or a human tread.

When he went in at his own door Charlotte appeared, with a quick step,
from the kitchen. She was relieved, he saw. Dear Charlotte! she did not
know how his anxieties were mounting, but she did feel the uneasiness he
had brought with him. He tried to throw her off the track of her silent
interrogations.

"I'm dog tired," he told her. "I believe I'll go to bed."

"That's right," said she. "Your fire's been blazed up quite a while."

"Don't you know," he called back to her from the stairs, "how we always
sleep when we first come? I suppose it's the altitude."

"Yes," said Charlotte. "So 'tis, anyhow accordin' to Jerry."

Raven carried the look of her anxious, warm-colored face with him. It
was all motherly. Yet she had no children. Jerry lived under the daily
chrism of that soft well-wishing. And there was the woman up the road,
looking like a spiritual mother of men and strangely, mysteriously, also
like the ancient lure that makes men mad, and she had to fight like a
tigress for the mere life of her child. The contrast leaped into the
kaleidoscopic disorder he saw now as life like a brilliant, bizarre
fragment to make the whole scheme (if the scheme could be even estimated
by mortal minds) more disorderly still. But he was tired and he slept.
It would be good, he had thought for many weeks now, when he felt
himself drifting off, to sleep forever. To-night he did not want that
everlasting sleep. He wanted life, life to its full of power and
probity, to stand between the woman and her terror. Suddenly he woke,
and lay, his heart beating hard at the sound of the pines in the grove.
Charlotte had done her best to put the breadth of the house between him
and their lamenting, but their voices crept round the corner and into
his open windows, and invaded his mind. He lay there, the wind on his
face and that sighing melancholy of theirs calling him to an answering
sadness of his own. And now it was not his inexplicable panic of
disaffection toward the earth as God had made it, but a pageant of
darkness where formless terrors moved, all hostile to the woman. At this
moment, she seemed to him the point of blinding pain about which the
general misery of the world revolved. She was beauty in the flesh. She
led the mind to the desire of holy things. At least, that was where she
had led his mind.

But the cruelty of creation was not content with setting her loose in
the world of created things with the gift of beauty and holiness in her
hand. It had veiled her also with the mysterious magic that was simple
enough and directly compelling enough to rouse the beast of jealousy,
the beast of mastery, in the hearts of men. She did not seem to him an
Aphrodite, bearing in her hand the cup of love. There was something
childlike about her, something as virginal as in Nan. He could believe
she would be endlessly pleased with simple things, that she could be
made to laugh delightedly over the trivialities of daily life. But the
hand of creation having made her, the brain of creation (that inexorable
force bent only on perpetuation) saw she was too good a thing to be
lost, too innocently persuasive to the passion of men. So it had thrown
over her the veil of mystery and pronounced against her the ancient
curse that she should be desired of many and yet too soft of her heart,
too weak in her defenses, even to foresee the pitfalls that awaited her
wandering feet and would sometime break her bones.

This was the worst of all the sleepless hours he had had, and in the
morning he was up and out before Charlotte was ready for him. Jerry had
breakfasted, when Raven came on him in the barn. He expected Tenney to
go chopping, and he wanted the chores done, to get off early. Raven went
in then and told Charlotte he would not have his own breakfast until
Jerry had gone. He wanted to say a word to him as to the gray birches.
But actually he could not down his impatience to know whether Tenney was
coming at all. So he hung about and hindered Jerry with unnecessary talk
for a half hour or so, and while they were standing in the yard
together, looking down toward the river pasture, and Raven was
specifying, with more emphasis than he felt, that a fringe of trees
should be kept along the mowing, Tenney came. Jerry at once said he'd go
in and get his dinner pail and Raven waited for Tenney. This was not the
man of yesterday. He carried his axe and dinner pail. He walked alertly,
as if his mind were on his day's work, and the pale face had quite lost
its livid excitement. It was grave and even sad. Raven, seeing that,
wondered if the fellow could feel remorse, and was conscious of a lift
in the cloud of his own anxiety. Tenney, not waiting to be addressed,
walked straight up to him. He spoke, as soon as he was within hearing
distance of a tone of ordinary volume, and what he said surprised Raven
even more than the catamount calls of yesterday:

"Be you saved?"

Raven knew the salient country phrases, but, so alien was the question
to his conception of the man, that he answered perplexedly:

"What do you mean by saved?"

Tenney set down his dinner pail, as if it hampered him, and began
rhythmically, in the voice of the exhorter:

"Saved by the blood of the Lamb."

Raven stepped back a pace.

"No," he said coldly, "not that I'm aware of."

Tenney came forward a step and Raven again backed. There was something
peculiarly distasteful in being exhorted by a fellow of unbridled temper
and a bestial mind.

"You are a sinner," said Tenney. "If you reject the great atonement, you
are lost. Don't you know you be?"

"No," said Raven. He was on the point of turning away, when he
remembered it was an ill-judged impetuosity he could not afford. It was
more important, in this world of persecution and unstable defense, to
keep your antagonist busy, cutting gray birches.

"Do you reject Him?" Tenney, too, had his day's work on his mind and he
spoke rapidly, with a patent show of getting his exhortation done in
time to fall into step with Jerry, appearing, at the moment, axe in
hand. He picked up his dinner pail. "Do you reject Him?" he repeated, in
his former singsong. "Do you reject Christ crucified?"

And in spite of the prudence his inner self had counseled, Raven found
he was, perhaps only from force of habit augmented by his distaste for
the man, answering truthfully:

"Yes," he said, "as you mean it, I do."

Jerry, in the road, had halted and was looking back inquiringly. Tenney
started after him. Instead of being rebuffed by Raven's attitude, he
seemed to be exhilarated. Raven concluded, as he saw the light of a
perhaps fanatical zeal playing over his face, that the fellow took it
for a challenge, an incentive to bring one more into the fold. It was
something in the nature of a dare.

When he went in, Charlotte was about her tasks at the kitchen stove.

"You're not going to fodder the cattle, you know," he said to her,
passing through. "I'll see to that. Jerry showed me the mow he is using
from."

"I always do," said Charlotte, "when he's away all day. I admire to git
out there an' smell the creatur's and hear 'em rattlin' round the
stanchils till they see the hay afore 'em."

"Never mind," said Raven. "I'll do it to-day." Then a thought struck
him. "I wonder," he said, "who Tenney leaves to do his chores."

"Why," said Charlotte, "I s'pose she does 'em, same's I do when I'm
alone. 'Tain't no great of a job, 'specially if the hay's pitched round
beforehand."

Raven, sitting down to his breakfast, thought it a good deal of a task
for a woman made for soft, kind ways with children and the small
domestic animals by the hearth. And then he did have the humor to laugh
at himself a little. It showed how she had unconsciously beguiled him,
how she had impressed him with her curious implication of belonging to
things afar from this world of homespun usages. She was strong and
undeniably homespun herself, in every word and look. Let her fodder the
cattle. Perhaps they would add to the lonesome tranquillity of her day,
with their needs and their sweet-breathed satisfactions.



XIII


For a week it was hard, clear weather, with a crystal sky and no wind.
Tenney appeared in the early mornings and he and Jerry went off to their
chopping. Raven's relief grew. By the last of the week he found his
apprehension really lessening. Every hour of her safety gave him new
reassurance, and he could even face the nights, the long hours when
Tenney was at home. Tenney he took pains not to meet. He distinctly
objected to being pressed into a corner by the revivalist cant of a man
he could not wisely offend. Nor did he see her whom he called "the
woman." Sometimes in the early dusk after Tenney had got home, he was
strongly moved to walk past the house and see if their light looked
cheerful, or if he could hear the sound of voices within. Smile at
himself as he might, at the childishness of the fancy, he alternately
thought of her as being pursued out of the house by a madman with an axe
and exhorted to save herself by the blood of the Lamb. And, Tenney being
what he was, the last was almost as disquieting as the actual torment.
Every morning he went up to the hut to find no slightest sign of her
having been there. If he stayed long enough to build a fire, he went
back, after it had time to die, and laid another, so that she might
light it without delay.

On the Saturday night of that week the wind veered into the east and the
clouds banked up. The air had a grayness that meant snow. He had been up
at the hut all the afternoon. He had pulled out an old chest, the
sea-chest of a long dead Raven who had been marked with sea longing, as
it sometimes happens to those bred in the hills, and had run away and
become mate and captain. Raven had always been vaguely proud of him, and
so, perhaps, had other Ravens, for Old Crow, when he moved up here, had
brought the sea-chest with him, and his own books also were stowed away
in it. Old Captain Raven's were entirely consistent with his
profession--charts, a wonderful flat volume full of the starry heavens
and more enchanting to Raven than any modern astronomy; but Old Crow's,
in their diverse character, seemed to have been gathered together as it
happened, possibly as he came on them, in no sense an index of
individual taste. There were poets (strange company they made for one
another!) Milton, Ossian, Byron, Thompson, Herrick, and the Essays of
Montaigne, the Confessions of Rousseau. Also, the Age of Reason, which,
on the testimony of uncut leaves, had not been read. And there was a
worn, dog-eared Bible. Raven had never wanted to appropriate the books
so far as to set them with his own on the shelves. They seemed to him,
through their isolation, to keep something of the identity of Old Crow.
He believed Old Crow would like this. It was precious little earthly
immortality the old chap had ever got beyond the local derision, and if
Raven could please him by so small a thing, he would. He had them all
out on chairs and sat on the floor beside the chest, looking them over
idly until it began to grow dark and, realizing how early it was, he
glanced up at the windows and saw the veil of a fine falling snow. He
got up, left his books in disorder, and lighted the lamp. The fire had
been dying down and he kicked the sticks apart. It must die wholly so
that a fresh one would run no chance of catching the coals. Yet it was
unlikely she would come to-night. Tenney would be tired with his week's
work.

And just as he was making himself reasons, in a mechanical way, while he
put the room in order, there was a knock, quick, imperative, the door
was thrown open and there she was. She was about to shut the door, but
he ran before her. He did it and turned the key. Then he passed her and
hurried to the fire and with both hands heaped on cones and kindling
until it flared. While he did this she stood as still as a stone and
when, having his fire, he turned to her, he saw she had nothing on her
head and that the fine snow had drifted into the folds of her clothing
and was melting on her hair. She looked more wildly disordered than when
he had seen her before, for she had wrapped a blanket about her, and the
child was under it, covered so closely that Raven wondered how he could
breathe. He tried to take the blanket from her, but she held it
desperately. It seemed as if, in unreasoning apprehension, she dared not
let the child be seen. But he laid his hand on hers, saying, "Please!"
authoritatively, and she let him unclasp the tense fingers, remove the
blanket, and then take the child. Raven had had no experience with
babies, but this one he took, in the heat of his compassion, with no
doubt that he should know what to do with him. He felt the little feet
and hands and, finding them warm, drew forward an arm-chair for her,
and, when she sank into it, set the child in her lap.

"Put your feet to the fire," he said. "Your shoes are all snow. Better
take them off."

She shook her head. She stretched her feet almost into the blaze and the
steam rose from them. Raven went to the cupboard at the side of the
fireplace and took down a bottle of chartreuse. But she shook her head.

"I dassent," she said. "He'll smell it."

Raven came near breaking into an oath. Did the beast own her, that he
should be able, after this new outrage, to get her sweet breath?

"I ain't cold," she assured him, "not now. No, I won't drink any"--for
he was about to pour it for her--"I never took much stock in them
things. I've seen too much of 'em."

Then Raven remembered that Charlotte had told him all the boys
drank--her brothers--and he seemed to have turned another page in her
piteous life. He set back the bottle and, to give her time to recover
herself, resumed his task of straightening the room. At her voice, he
was at once beside her.

"Should you just as soon," she asked quietly, as if the question were of
no moment, "I'd stay up here all night?"

"Of course you're to stay all night." It seemed to him too beautiful a
thing to have happened, to know she was here in safety with the trees
and the snow. "I'll go down and get some milk and things for him"--he
was indicating the baby who, under the ecstasy of warmth, was beginning
to talk strange matters, standing on his mother's knee--"I'll tell
Charlotte I'm staying up here all night."

But now he saw, in surprise (for he had failed to guess how his words
would strike her) that she was terrified, perhaps more by him than she
had been by Tenney.

"No," she cried violently. "You can't do that. You mustn't. If you stay,
I've got to go."

"I can't have you up here in the woods alone," he reasoned.

She gave a little laugh. The quality of it was ironic. It made him
wonder what her laughter would be if she were allowed to savor the
quaintness of sheer fun. She spoke obliquely, yet accounting for the
laugh.

"What do you s'pose'd happen to me?"

"Nothing," he owned, comparing, as she meant him to, the safety of her
state up here, surrounded by the trees and the wind, and her prison with
the madman down below. "But I can't have it. Do you suppose I can go
down there and sleep in my bed?" He paused and began to coax. Charlotte
could have told her how beguiling he was when he coaxed. "I'll stay in
the other room and keep an eye out. I sha'n't sleep. I won't even
disturb you by tending the fire. You can do that. Come, is it a bargain.
It's the only safe thing to do, you know. Suppose he should come up here
in the night?"

"That's it," she said quietly. "S'pose he should? Do you want I should
be found up here with a man, any man, even you?"

He was silent, struck by her bitter logic. His heart, in the actual
physical state of it, ached for her. She would not let him save her, he
thought despairingly; indeed, perhaps she could not. For she alone knew
the noisome perils of her way. He relinquished his proposition, without
comment, and he could see at once what relief that gave her.

"Very well," he said, "I'll go down. But I shall certainly come back and
bring you some milk. Something to heat it in, too. Old Crow used to have
dishes, but they're gone. Lock the door after me. I'll call when I
come."

But she rose from her seat, put the baby on the couch and took the
blanket from the chair where he had spread it. There were still drops on
it, and she went to the other side of the room, at a safe distance from
the baby, and shook it. She had settled into a composure as determined
as his own.

"It's no use talkin'," she said. "I've got to go back."

"Go back?" He stared at her.

"Yes. What we've just said shows me. Nothin's more likely than his
comin' up here. He might reason it out. He knows I wouldn't go to any o'
the neighbors, an' he'd know I wouldn't let baby ketch his death, a
night like this, the storm an' all. An' if he found me here locked in,
even if there wa'n't nobody here with me, I dunno what he'd do. Burn the
house down, I guess, over my head."

The last she said absently. She was arranging the blanket about her with
an anxious care, evidently making it so secure that she need not use her
hands in holding. They would be given to the baby.

"Burn my house down, will he? Let him try it," said Raven, under his
breath.

She looked at him in a calm-eyed reproach that was all motherly.

"We mustn't have no trouble," said she. "I dunno what I should do if I
brought that on you."

"What does the man mean," Raven broke out, chiefly to attract her
attention and keep her there under shelter, "by going dotty half the
time and the other half butting in and asking people if they're saved?"

"Did he ask you?" she inquired. She nodded, as if it were precisely what
might have been expected. "I s'pose he thinks he has to. He's a very
religious man."

"Religious!" Raven muttered. "Does he have to do the other thing, too:
go off his nut?"

She was looking at him gravely. Suddenly it came to him he must be more
sympathetic in his attitude. He must not let her feel rebuffed, thinking
he did not understand.

"I dunno's I blame him," she said slowly, as if she found it a wearingly
difficult matter and meant to be entirely just. "You see he had
provocation." The red came flooding into her cheeks. "He come home from
work an' what should he see but the man, the one I told you----"

She stopped, and Raven supplied, in what he hoped was an unmoved manner:

"The one that looks up kinder droll?"

For his life he could not have helped repeating the words as she had
given them to him. He had found them too poignant in their picturesque
drama to be paraphrased or forgotten.

"Yes," she said eagerly. She was relieved to be helped. "He drove up in
his sleigh, about fifteen minutes 'fore Isr'el come home. He come up to
the house. I went to the door. 'What do you want?' I says. Then he begun
to say things, foolish things same's he always did----"

She stumbled there, as if in shame, and Raven knew what kind of things
they were: things about her eyes, her lips, insulting things to an
honest wife, taunting things, perhaps, touching the past. More and more
she seemed to him like a mother of sorrows, a child unjustly scourged
into the dark mysteries of passion and pain.

"Never mind," he said reassuringly. "Don't try to tell me. Don't think
of them."

But she would tell him. It seemed as if she had to justify herself.

"He told me he wanted to come in. 'You can't,' says I, 'not whilst I
live.' An' he laughed an' stood there an' dug his heel into the snow an'
waited, kinder watchin' the road till Isr'el hove in sight with his
dinner pail. An' then I see it all. He'd drove along that way an' see
Isr'el an' Jerry comin' acrost from their work an' he meant to stan'
there drivin' me out o' my senses till Isr'el see him. An' soon as he
was sure Isr'el did see him, he turned an' run for the sleigh an' got in
an' give the hoss a cut, an' he was off same's he meant to be."

"And you were left alone with Tenney," said Raven quietly. "There! don't
tell me any more."

She smiled upon him, giving him an ineffable sense that she had, in
telling him, somehow dropped her burden. Now she said, with as calm a
resolution as that of the martyr marching to the fire he is sure his
Lord has called him to:

"I'll go down along."

She went over to the couch, took up the child, and began to tuck about
him the folds of her enveloping blanket. Raven moved to her side. He had
an overwhelming sense of their being at one in the power of their
resolution. If she would yield to his deliberate judgment! if only their
resolutions could coincide!

"No," he said, "you're not going down there. I won't have it."

She looked at him and faintly smiled.

"I've got to," she said. "If I stay away all night an' he don't know
where, there wouldn't be any way o' piecin' on."

And suddenly he knew, if she was to persist in "piecing on," she was
right.

"Wait," he said. "Let me think."

There must be some way, he reflected, some means, by violence or
diplomacy, to help her fulfill the outer rites of her bargain until he
could persuade her to be taken beyond the reach of persecution. He
wanted to fight for her; but if that was not the way, if his fists would
only bruise her as well as Tenney, he was ready to lie. He had his idea.
It might be good, it might not, but it was an emergency idea.

"I'll go down," he said. "I'll go over to your house and offer to pay
him for his week's work. You follow. Give me time enough to go into my
house on the way and get some money. Then you come while I'm talking to
him and I'll stay a bit, as long as I can. When you come, we can see how
he is. If he's violent to you--if he looks it, even--you've got to come
away."

"Oh, no," she cried sharply, "I can't do that. You must see I can't."

"I'll take you to my house," he said. "You know Charlotte. She'll be
nice to you. Why, if Charlotte found out a thing like this was going on
in the neighborhood, she'd go for him tooth and nail."

"No," said she, in a dull decision. "I can't. It would all come on you."

He understood. The madman would drag him into that range of jealous fury
and because he was a man.

"I can look out for myself," he said roughly, "and you, too."

Again she shook her head.

"No," she said, "he might kill you. Anyways, he'd burn your barn."

"He won't kill me," said Raven, "and I don't care a hang about my barn.
Let him burn. Good thing. I'll clap him into jail and you'll know where
he is. Now!" He looked at the clock on the mantel. "I'm going. In just
twenty minutes you start and come along as fast as you want to. I'll be
at your house."

She had begun to speak, but he paid no attention. He turned up his
collar and stepped out into the storm.

"Lock the door," he called back to her. "Keep it locked till you go."

The road down the slope was scarcely clogged at all. The firs, waving
now and interlocking their branches in that vague joy or trouble of the
winter wind, were keeping off the powdery drift. When he got to his
house he saw Jerry on the way to the barn, but he did not hail him.
Possibly Jerry had paid Tenney for his week, and although Raven's own
diplomacy would stick at nothing, he preferred to act in good faith,
possibly so that he might act the better. He smiled a little at that and
wondered, in passing, if he were never to be allowed any arrogance of
perfect behavior, if he had always got to be so sorry for the floating
wisps of humanity that seemed to blow his way as to go darting about,
out of his own straight course, to pluck them back to safety. There were
serious disadvantages, he concluded, as he often had before, in owning a
feminine vein of temperament. He went in at the front door and up the
stairs, took a roll of money from his desk and ran down again. Charlotte
had not seen him. She was singing in the kitchen in a fragmentary way
she had when life went well with her, and the sound filled Raven with an
unreasoning anger. Why should any woman, even so dear and all deserving
as Charlotte, live and thrive in the warmth and light while that other
creature, of as simply human cravings, battled her way along from cliff
to cliff, with the sea of doom below, beating against the land that was
so arid to her and waiting only to engulf her? That, he thought, was
another count in his indictment against the way things were made.

The Tenney house, when he approached it, was cold in the darkness of the
storm. The windows were inhospitably blank, and his heart fell with
disappointment. He went up to the side door looking out on the pile of
wood that was the monument to Tenney's rages, and knocked sharply. No
one came. He knocked again, and suddenly there was a clatter within, as
if some one had overturned a chair, and steps came stumbling to the
door. A voice came with them, Tenney's voice.

"That you?" he called.

He called it three times. Then he flung open the door and leaned out
and, from his backward recoil, Raven knew he had hoped unreasonably to
find his wife, knocking at her own door. Raven kicked his feet against
the step, with an implication of being snow-clogged and cold.

"How are you?" he said. "Let me come in, won't you? It's going to be an
awful night."

Tenney stepped back, let him enter, and closed the door behind him. They
stood together in the darkness of the entry. Raven concluded he was not
to be told which way to go.

"Smells warm in here," he said, taking a step to the doorway at the
left. "This the kitchen?"

Tenney recovered herself.

"Walk in," he said. "I'll light up."

Raven, standing in the spacious kitchen, all a uniform darkness, it was
so black outside, could hear the man breathe in great rasping gulps, as
if he were recovering from past emotion or were still in its grasp. He
had taken a lamp down from the high mantel and set it on the table. Now
he was lighting it, and his hand shook. The lamp burning and bringing
not only light but a multitude of shadows into the kitchen, he turned
upon Raven.

"Well," he said, harshly. "Say it. Git it over."

Raven heard in his voice new signs of a tremendous, almost an hysterical
excitement. It had got, he knew, to be quieted before she came.

"If you'll allow me," he said, "I'll sit down. I'm devilish cold."

"Don't swear," said Tenney, still in that sharp, exasperated voice, and
Raven guessed he was nervously afraid, at such a crisis, of antagonizing
the Most High.

The vision of his own grandmother came up before him, she who would not
let him read a child's book in a thunder shower lest God should consider
the act too trivial in the face of elemental threatening and strike him
dead. He took one of the straight-backed chairs by the stove and leaned
forward with an absorbed pretense of warming his chilled hands. But he
was not reassuring Tenney. He was still more exasperating him.

"Say it, can't you?" the man cried to him piercingly. "Tell it an' git
it over." Then, as Raven merely looked at him in a civil inquiry,
"You've got suthin' to break, ain't ye? Break it an' leave me be."

Raven understood. The man's mind was on his wife, fled out into the
storm. His inflamed imagination was picturing disaster for her. He was
wild with apprehension. And it was well he should be wild. It was a pity
she was likely to come so soon. Raven would have been glad to see his
emotions run the whole scale from terror to remorse before she came, if
come she would, to allay them.

"No," he said quietly, "I haven't anything to break. But it's going to
be an awful night. I guess there will be things to break about the folks
that are out in it."

Tenney came up to him and peered down at him in blank terror.

"Who's out in it?" he asked. "Who've you seen?"

Raven laughed jarringly. It did seem to him grimly amusing to be
dallying thus with a man's fears. He was not used to playing games with
the human creature's destiny. He had always looked too seriously on all
such drama, perhaps because he had been so perplexed by drama of his
own. If his life was too puzzling a thing to be endured, was not all
life, perhaps, equally puzzling and therefore too delicate a matter to
be meddled with? But now the game was on, the game of sheer diplomacy.
The straight and obvious path wouldn't do if he was to save a woman who
handicapped him in advance by refusing to let herself be saved.

"The night?" he repeated. "Who's out in it? Why, I'm out in it myself;
at least, I have been. But now I'm here by this stove, I don't know when
you'll get rid of me. Put in a stick, won't you, Tenney? These big rooms
have a way of cooling off before you know it."

Tenney did put in a stick and more. He crammed the stove with light
stuff and opened draughts. Raven noted, in the keen way his mind had
taken up, of snatching at each least bit of safety for the woman, that
the tea kettle was boiling. She would be chilled. She would need hot
water. And suddenly he felt the blood in his face. There was a hand at
the latch of the side door. Tenney, too, heard it. He threw back into
the box the stick of wood he had selected and made three strides to the
entry. Again he called, in that voice of sharp anxiety:

"That you?"

She opened the door just before he could put out his hand to it, passed
him without a look, and came in. He shut the door and followed her.
Raven got up from his chair and stood, glancing at her with what he
hoped was a casual attention. Tenney came back and, when she had thrown
off the blanket, took it from her hand and dropped it on a chair. He was
all trembling eagerness. That act, the relieving her of the blanket, was
incredible to Raven. The man had wanted to kill her (or, at the least,
to kill his child), and he was humbly inducting her into the comforts of
her home. She had not looked toward Raven. With a decorum finer, he
thought, than his own, she would not play the game of diplomacy. She
knew him and she could not deny him, even to save her life. Suddenly
Tenney, brushing past to draw up a chair for her at the stove, became
aware of him. Raven believed that, up to the moment, he had, to the
man's absorbed gaze, been invisible. Now Tenney seemed to recognize the
decencies toward even an unbidden guest.

"She's all beat out," he said, in uncouth apology. "It's my woman."

Raven turned to her, waiting for her cue. Would she take a hand at the
game, as it imposed itself on him? Her silence and aloofness were his
answer. She was sitting forward in her chair, to get the baby's feet
nearer the warmth. But since she would not speak, Raven did.

"I should think any one would be beat out, a night like this," he said,
as casually as he could manage, "carrying a baby, too, in such a storm.
You'd better be careful of the child, at least," he added curtly,
turning to Tenney, "if you want to keep him. Out in this cold and sleet!
You don't want their deaths on your hands, do you?"

Tenney stared back at him in a wildness of apprehension.

"Be you a doctor?" he managed to ask.

Raven remembered the words: "Their tongue cleaved to the roof of their
mouth." That seemed to be what Tenney's tongue was doing now.

"No," said he, "I'm not a doctor, but I've seen a good deal of sickness
in the War. Get them warm," he added authoritatively, "both of them. Put
the child into warm water."

"Yes," said Tenney, in an anguished sort of haste. Then to his wife he
continued, in a humility Raven noted as her best guaranty of at least
temporary safety, "I'll bring you the foot tub, an' whilst you're doin'
it, I'll warm the bed."

"Yes," she said quietly, but with a composure of mastery in her voice.
"So do."

Raven got up and made his way to the door. Then he bethought himself
that he had not given any reason for coming and that Tenney might
remember it afterward and wonder.

"I thought I'd run up," he said, "and pay you for your week's work."

Tenney was darting about with a small tin tub, filling it from the
kettle and trying the temperature with his hand.

"No," he answered absorbedly, "I can't bother with that to-night. Let it
be till another time."

He had drawn a chair to his wife's side and set the tub on it, and now
she also tried the temperature while he watched her anxiously. And at
once the baby who, in his solemnity of silence, had seemed to Raven
hitherto little more than a stage property, broke into a lusty yelling,
and Tenney put out his hands to him, took him to his shoulder and began
to walk the floor, while the woman poured more water into the tub.
Neither of them had a look for Raven, and he went out into the
blustering night with a picture etched so deeply on his brain that he
knew it would always be there while he, in his flesh, survived: the old
picture of the sacred three, behind the defenses of their common
interests, the father, mother and the child.



XIV


All that night Raven, through his light sleep, had a consciousness of
holding on to himself, refusing to think, refusing angrily to fear. The
sleep seemed to him like a thin, slippery coating over gulfs unplumbed;
it was insecure, yet it failed to let him down into blessed depths of
oblivion below. But he would not think to no purpose (he had a dread of
the wild, disordered clacking of the wheels in unproductive thought),
and he would not invite again the strange humiliation, the relief tinged
by aversion, that came over him when he felt, on leaving them, the
inviolability of the three in their legal bond. She had looked to him so
like heaven's own, he had upborne her in his thought almost to the gate
of heaven itself; and yet she was walled in by a bond she would not
repudiate with the brute who persecuted her. In spite of her uncouth
speech, in spite of her ignorance of delicate usage, she seemed to him a
creature infinitely removed from the rougher aspects of this New England
life; yet there she was in one of the most sordid scenes of it, and she
was absorbed by it, she fitted it as a Madonna fits a cave. And what
business had he, he asked angrily, to weave about her the web of a
glorifying sympathy, exalting her only from that pernicious habit of his
of being sorry? Yet, as he thought it, he knew she was different from
the ordinary country woman afraid of her man, and that any fine mantle
he wove for her could not equal the radiance of her pure courage and
undaunted truth.

Once he rose from his bed and began to dress hastily, with what he
recognized at the same moment as the wild purpose of slipping out of the
house and going up to Tenney's, to see if there was a light or to listen
for the catamount voice. But that, he realized immediately, was folly.
Suppose Tenney saw him. What reason could he plant in the man's inflamed
mind, except one more hostile to her peace? So he went back to bed,
chilled, and was savagely glad of his discomfort. It gave him something,
however trivial, to think about besides the peril of a woman who looked
like motherhood incarnate, and so should have been heir to all the
worship and chivalry of men. With the first light he was up and had
built his fire, and Charlotte, hearing him, got, sooner than was her
wont, out of her warm bed. Charlotte owned to liking to "lay a spell" in
winter, to make up for the early activities of summer mornings when you
must be "up 'fore light" to keep pace with the day. For after nine
o'clock "the day's 'most gone." She looked up at him as he came into the
kitchen where she was brashing her fire for a quick oven, and he found
her eyes clearly worried in their questioning.

"No toast, Charlotte," he said. He wondered if even his voice was
trembling in his haste. "No biscuits. I'm going up to the hut."

Charlotte nodded and seemed to settle into understanding. She had a
sympathetic, almost a reverent tolerance for the activities of pen and
ink. To her, Raven was a well-beloved and in no wise a remarkable being
until he stepped into the clouded room of literary activity. There she
would have indulged him in any whim or unaccountable tyranny. Charlotte
had never heard of temperament, but she believed in it. Once only did
she speak to him while he was drinking his coffee:

"You got any ink up there?"

He started and looked at her a moment, dazed. Nothing was further from
his mind than ink. Other liquids, tears, waters of lethe, lakes of fire
and brimstone would not have sounded foreign to his thought. But ink!
how incalculably far was the life of the written word from this raw
anguish of reality he was caught in to-day! He recovered himself
instantly.

"I've got my pen," he told her, "my stylograph."

And presently he had put on his coat, bidden her a hasty good-by and was
plunging up the slope. Somehow, though the crest of the wave had been
reached the night before and that usually, Tira had assured him, meant a
following calm, he was certain of seeing her to-day. It was not that he
wanted to see her, but an inner conviction, implacably fixed as the laws
of nature that are at no point subject to the desires of man, told him
she would come. The hut must be warm for her. The fire must be relaid.
And, he told himself grimly, the apex had been reached. The end of the
thing was before them. He must not yield to her again. He must command
her, persuade and conquer her. She must let him send her away.

At the hut he almost expected to see her footprints in the light snow by
the door. But the exquisite softness lay untouched. The day was a heaven
of clearness, the shadows were deep blue and the trees beginning the
slow waving motion of their majestic secrecies. He took out the key from
under the stone, went in and made his fire with a hand too practiced to
lose in efficacy from its haste. Presently it was roaring upward and,
after a glance about to see that the room was not in any disorder too
great for him to remedy quickly, he walked back and forth, and whenever
it died down enough to let him, fed the fire. It began to seem to him as
if he were going to be there days feeding the fire to keep her warm, but
it was only a little before ten when he heard a step and his heart
choked him with its swelling of relief. At once he was also calmer. A
moment ago even, he would have wondered how he could meet her, how keep
the storm of entreaty out of his voice if he was to beg her to let him
save her. But now he knew he should be himself as she had briefly known
him and though he must command, he should in no sense offend. He stood
still by the fire, half turning toward the door, to wait. It was an
unformulated delicacy of his attitude toward her that she should not
find him going forward to meet her as if she were a guest. She should
enter as if the house were her own. But she did not enter. There was a
hand at the door. It knocked. Then he called:

"Come in."

The door opened, under what seemed to him, in his first surprise, a
halting hand and a woman stepped in. It was Nan. She came a hesitating
pace into the room and stood looking at him, after the one interested
glance about her, smiling a little, half quizzically, as if aware she
had brought a surprise and yet not in doubt of its being welcome. Raven
stared back at her for one bewildered minute and then, so instant and
great was the revulsion, burst into a shout of laughter. Nan stood there
and laughed with him.

"What is it, Rookie?" she asked, coming forward to him. "I'm funny, I
suppose, but not so funny as all that. What's the joke?"

She was a finished sort of creature to come into his wood solitude, and
yet an outdoor creature, too, with her gray fur cap and coat. She looked
younger, less worn than when he saw her last, perhaps because her cheeks
were red from the frosty air and her eyes bright at finding him.

"Let me have your coat," he said. "Come to the fire."

She took off her coat and he dropped it on the couch. He pulled a chair
nearer the hearth (it was his own chair, not Tira's), and motioned her
to it. She did not sit. She put out her thickly shod foot to the blaze
and then withdrew it, for she was all aglow from her plunge up the hill,
and turned to him, her brows knitted, her eyes considering.

"What is it, Rookie?" she asked. "Something's up and you wish I hadn't
come. That it?"

"I haven't had time to wish you hadn't come," he said. He had to be
straight with her. "I never was more surprised in my life. You were the
last person I expected to see."

"But why d'you laugh, Rookie?" she persisted, and then, as he hesitated,
evidently considering exactly why he did and what form he could put it
in, she concluded: "I know. You were taken aback. I've done the same
thing myself, often. Well!" She seemed to dismiss it as unimportant and
began where she had evidently meant to begin. "Now I'll tell you what
I'm here for."

"Sit down, Nan," he bade her.

Now that his first derangement was over, he was glad to see her. Tira
might not come. If she did, he could do something. He could even, at a
pinch and with Tira's consent, put the knowledge of the tawdry business
into Nan's hands. But she would not sit down. Plainly she had received a
setback. She was refusing to accept his hospitality to any informal
extent. And he saw he had hurt her. He was always reading the inner
minds of people, and that was where his disastrous sympathy was forever
leading him: to that pernicious yielding, that living of other people's
lives and not his own.

"It was only," he said, trying to pick up the lost thread of her
confidence, "that I didn't expect you. I couldn't have dreamed of your
coming. How did you come so early?"

"Took the early train," said Nan curtly.

"Not the beastly old thing that starts before light?"

She nodded.

"What for?"

"To get ahead of them," she answered, still curtly.

"Them? Who?"

"Dick and his mother and Doctor Brooke."

"Dick and Amelia? What's Amelia on here for?"

He had half expected her and yet, in the new turmoil about him, he had
actually forgotten she might come.

"Because Dick sent her your letter. They both assume you've broken down,
and she's called in an alienist to come up here and eye you over, and
Dick's pretty sick over the whole business; so he's coming along, too.
He was prepared for mother, I fancy, but not the alienist."

"But what's it all for?"

"Why, you know, Rookie. You've broken down."

Raven stared at her. Then he laughed.

"Well," he said, "let 'em come. Charlotte'll give 'em some dinner and
they can look at the mountain and go back on the six to-night."

"That's precisely what they won't do," said Nan, her lips tightening.
"At least your sister. She's going to stay."

"The deuce she is," said Raven. "What for?"

Then Nan did break out of the stiffness that seemed to have held her
like an armor since the momentary setback of her coming. Her own laugh
ran over her face and creased it into delighted merriment.

"Why, don't you see?" she asked him. "To brighten your life."

Raven's eyes met hers with a rueful terror. He reached, at a leap, the
motive for her coming.

"And you rushed off up here to tell me," he said. "Dear Nan! Good child!
But you don't mean they're actually coming to-day?"

"Of course I do," she said impatiently. "Didn't I tell you so? They were
going to take the nine. They're well on the way. They'll get a pung or
something at the station and be driving up to the house presently, and
your sister'll give Charlotte the hamper of provisions she brought and
tell her there'll be four to dinner. There'll be five, though. She
didn't know that. She didn't hear about me. I s'pose you'll ask me to
stay."

Raven put out his hand and stroked her sleeve. This was the first time
she had seemed to him a woman grown. When she came back from school,
those years ago, she had changed to girlhood. It was the girl always
even when she came home from France with a world of hideous memories
sealed away in her heart and brain. They had not, these memories, seemed
so much as to scar her, she had obliterated them so carefully by the
decorum of her desire to make the world no sadder by her knowledge. But
now, at some call, the call of his personal extremity perhaps, she
looked suddenly forceful and mature, as if her knowledge of life had
escaped her restraining hand and burst out to the aid of a knowledge of
him.

"I don't exactly know," he said, "what to do with them. I don't mind the
alienist of course; but what do you suppose put it into her
head--Amelia's--to bring him along?"

"Why," said Nan, "it's precisely the thing she would do. Don't you see?
She does everything by rule, by theory, the most modern, most advanced.
When Dick wrote her, she made up her mind like a shot. She had to put
you in a pigeon hole. Shell shock, _cafard_! So the next thing was to
set a specialist on the job. And there you are."

Raven grinned. The whole thing was more and more fantastic to him.

"I wonder how Dick likes the hornet's nest," he reflected, "now he's
stirred it up."

"I can tell you," said Nan, a little white coming round her lips, as it
did when she was excited, "how he liked me. He told me the whole
business last night and I went for him. I told him he was a fool, a
plain downright fool, and he'd seen his last of me till he got us out of
the mess he'd got us into: you, me, and incidentally himself."

"It is mighty nice of you to come into it," said Raven.

"Well, how could I help it?" she asked impetuously, "when you're in?
Why, Rookie, wouldn't you----"

There she stopped, and Raven answered the implication.

"You bet I would. What concerns you concerns me. But I'd no business to
assume it's the other way about. That is, when it's Dick. You're bound,
you know," he said, in a tentative way he thought he ought to venture
and yet not quite sure of it, "to stand by Dick."

Nan turned a little, to look at him fully. She seemed to be angry now,
and well it became her.

"Why am I?" she demanded. "Why am I bound to stand by Dick? I'm bound to
nothing, with any man, Dick least of all, if he won't devote some of his
surplus energy to growing up. So I've told him. He's got to grow up."
But suddenly she seemed to recall herself to another question, put her
personal anger aside and veered to that. "Rookie," she said, "what about
Aunt Anne's will?"

"Anne's will?" he repeated, staring at her. "Well, what about it?"

"You've had notice of it, haven't you?" she asked. "Official notice,
that is?"

"Oh, yes," he said, "before I left town. Whitney went over the whole
ground." But he said it as if it did not interest him to any degree. And
yet, as she amazedly thought, it had, the last time she saw him,
interested him to the exclusion of everything else.

"I thought I'd remind you," she said, "that it's been in the papers. You
are Miss Anne Hamilton's residuary legatee. Dick knows it. So does your
sister. She'll ask you things. I thought if you'd made up your mind to
refuse it or, in short, anything about it, you'd want to be prepared for
her. Those questions of hers--you can't evade them. They go to the
bottom of your soul--and then some."

"Oh," said Raven dazedly, recalling himself to a complexity he had all
but forgotten. "So they do. I dare say she will ask me. But I
don't--Nan, to tell the truth, I haven't thought of it at all."

The inevitable comment sprung up in Nan's mind, as if his words had
touched a spring, releasing it:

"What have you been thinking then?"

And as if in exact comment upon that, came a sound at the door, a knock,
a hand on the latch and Tira stepped in. Nan turned sharply, and Raven
had only to lift his eyes to see the picture his mind had painted for
him. There she was, a little color in her cheeks from the air, her eyes
heavy, as if she had not slept. She carried the child in his little
white coat and cap, showing, Raven concluded, that she had not been
forced to leave the house in desperate haste. For an instant she
confronted Nan; the life in her face seemed to go out and leave her
haggard. Then, before Raven could take more than the one step forward to
meet her, she had turned and shut the door behind her.

"Wait for me," he threw back over his shoulder at Nan and ran out.



XV


Tira was hurrying through the snowy track, ankle deep at every step.
Raven, bareheaded, ran after. In a minute he had overtaken her.

"Stop!" he called, breathless, more from his emotion than from haste.
"Stop! I tell you."

She did stop, and he came up with her. Now, at last, there were tears in
her eyes, and he thought angrily that he had been the one to overthrow
her control more absolutely than the danger she apprehended. He had, he
thought, in this unreasoning anger, promised her asylum in the hut and
she found it invaded. But curiously he did not think of Nan, who had
come uninvited and scared the poor fugitive away. Nan, child and woman,
was always negligible, too near him to be dealt with. But he had offered
this woman the safety of a roof and walls, and she had fled out of it.
At sight of his face, its contrite kindliness, her own set again into
its determined composure. She seemed to see that she could not count on
aid outside herself and returned again uncomplainingly to her old
equilibrium of endurance.

"Come back," he said. "She's going down to the house with me. Besides,
if she did stay, you'd like her. You'd love her. That's only Nan."

He said "Nan" of set purpose. It was the custom of this country folk,
when they talked among themselves, to call all alike by their Christian
names, even when they scrupulously used the surname in direct address.
He meant to reassure her. It was a way of bringing Nan into a friendly
nearness.

"You've heard of her," he said, "Miss Hamilton's niece. She owns the
next house to mine, the Hamilton house. She'll be here this summer.
You'll be neighbors. Come back and speak to her."

"No," said Tira, in a gentle obstinacy. "I guess I'll be gittin' along
toward----"

Here she stopped. She did not know what the direction or the end of her
journey was to be.

"You're not going off the place," said Raven bluffly. "That's flat. The
place is mine and you're safe on it. Do you want to go traipsing round
the woods in this snow"--he fell purposely into the country habit of
speech--"and get wet to your knees and have a cold?"

"I sha'n't have a cold," she said, smiling dimly at him and looking, as
he realized, like a mother who was sorry her son could not have all he
grasped at, but still remained immovable. "I don't hardly remember
havin' one since I was little."

The child had resumed the rôle of Buddhistic calm temporarily abandoned
last night when he screamed out his distaste for earthly complications,
and Raven, glancing at the solemn blue eyes, saw that the only hope of
moving her lay in him.

"Do you want," he shot at random, "to have the baby get chilled--and
hungry?" There he broke off, though he saw that did move her. He had to
know from what extremity she fled. "Has this been going on all night?"
he asked.

"No," she said, with the same air of gently reassuring him. "I slept
'most all night. So did he, Mr. Tenney, I guess. An' we started out all
right this mornin'. But after he'd read the chapter an' prayed, it all
come over him ag'in, an' I had to go."

"After he'd read his chapter," said Raven. "And prayed! God!"

The invocation sounded as if he also prayed.

"This time," she continued, "he--he seemed to have a realizin' sense."

She paused a perplexed moment. In the little she had said to Raven, he
had noted from the first that she was often blocked by a difficulty in
finding words she thought adequate. "He seemed to know what was comin',"
she said. "He give me warnin'."

"Warning?"

"Yes. He come in an' he says to me, 'You don't want to go traipsin'
round in this snow.'"

Raven noted the word and smiled slightly. He and Tenney were at one in
their care for her.

"'You go up chamber,' he says, 'an' have a fire in the air-tight an'
turn the key. I dunno,' he says, 'what's goin' to happen, this day. I
dunno.'"

"Why didn't you?" asked Raven.

"I didn't hardly dast to," she said, with her clear look at him. "I knew
if he knew I's up there he never could stan' it till he--broke in the
door."

Raven could only look at her.

"Besides," she said, "even if I be safer in the house, I don't feel so,
somehow. I've always lived a good deal out door."

"So you came away," said Raven quietly. "You came here." The words
really were, "You came to me," but he would not say them.

"I did lock the chamber door," she said, "jest as he said. But I locked
it on the outside an' took away the key. I thought he'd think I was
there an' it might keep him out a spell, an' when he did git in, it'd
give him a kind of a shock an' bring him to. It does," she added simply.
"It always gives him a shock, not findin' me. He's asked me over 'n'
over ag'in, when he come to, not to make way with myself, but I never'd
answer. He's got it before him, an' that's about all there is in my
favor, far as I can see."

The gentle monotony of her voice was maddening to Raven; it brought him
such terrible things, like a wind carrying the seeds of some poisonous
plant that, if they were allowed to spring up, would overrun the world
of his hopes for her.

"You wouldn't promise him," he said thickly, "but you'll promise me.
Promise me now. Whatever happens to you, you won't make way with
yourself."

"Why, of course I sha'n't," she said, as if in some surprise that he
should ask it. "How could I? Not while there's baby."

This threw him back to the sanity of their common cause. They were both
to fight, he for her and she for the mother's one absorbing task: the
child. He returned to his old grave way with her.

"Now," he said, "you're going to do exactly what I tell you. If you
won't go back to the hut and see Nan, you're to stay here until I've got
Nan and taken her down to the house. And we sha'n't come up here at all,
unless I come to bring you something to eat."

"I don't want," she hesitated, "to put her out."

"Nan? You don't put her out. She only came because she didn't find me at
the house. If you don't do precisely what I tell you, that'll be putting
everybody out. I shall make an awful row. Do you hear me?"

She smiled, a little flicker of a smile. She might not like to be
pursued by jealousy incarnate, but she was, he saw, rather amused at
being fraternally tyrannized over.

"Now," he said, "I'm going. You're to stand here in your tracks, and
when I've sent Nan down the path I'll come and get you."

He gave her no time to object, but went back to the hut, and in to
solitude and a deadening fire. He threw open the door of the other room,
though Nan would surely not be there, and swore at not finding her.
Womenfolk were giving him a good deal of trouble with their exits and
their entrances. He mended the fire, snatched up his cap and gloves and
went out again, up the path to Tira. She was standing motionless
precisely, he thought, in the tracks where he had left her, and the
Buddhistic child indifferently regarded him.

"Come on," Raven called to her, stopping at a pace from them. "She's on
her way down along, and there's a good fire."

She started obediently after him and Raven, though he saw in her
slowness the hesitating desire to express her distaste for putting any
one out, paid no attention but went on ahead and opened the door.

"Keep up the fire," he bade her. "I'll be back along about one and bring
you something to eat. The little chap, too. We mustn't forget him."

She had stepped inside and he was about closing the door; but she turned
and seemed to recover her attitude of protest.

"No," she said, "don't you bring up anything. I shall be gone long 'fore
then."

"Why, no, you won't," said Raven impatiently. "You're not going back
into that----" he paused, seeking a word that should not offend her. She
had clung to incredible loyalties. Perhaps she even clung to her home.

"Oh," she said earnestly, "it'll be over by then, an' he'll want his
dinner."

Tenney would want his dinner! He had no words for that. He turned away.
But she seemed to feel the finality of his going. Was he giving her up?
She put the child down on the couch and turned to follow. Raven was just
closing the door.

"Don't!" she cried. There was piercing entreaty in her voice. "Don't!"

It was really begging him not to give her up, and though he did not
clearly understand it so, he knew he was forcing on her something to
bear, in addition to all the rest. She must not think that of him. She
must feel safe, in whatever manner it was easiest for her to accept
safety. He smiled back at her in that way Anne Hamilton, when she had
caught him smiling at Nan, thought so maddeningly beautiful. Poor Anne!
She had starved for the sweetness of what seemed to her, in her hunger
of the heart, an almost benedictory tenderness.

"Don't you worry," he said to Tira, in the phrasing he unconsciously
adopted to her. "Everything's going to be exactly as you want it. Only,"
he added whimsically--a tone she had never heard in her life before--"if
I could have my say for a few hours, it would be to find you here when I
come back."

He closed the door and hurried down the path, moved even beyond his pity
by the certainty that she was nearer him. She had accepted that strange
community of interest between them. She had to be saved and he was to
save her. Now it would be easier. He had no thought but to find Nan down
at the house, but two-thirds of the way along the path he saw her,
sitting on a slant of the great boulder and looking grave. She was not
the Nan who had come to the hut, a half hour ago, so gaily certain of
her welcome. The two women had shied at the sight of each other. He had
cleared up the situation for the one, and now he had to do it for Nan.
That was simple. He had never known her to fail in understanding. He
came up to her and she raised her eyes, earnest now, startled, to his.

"Aren't you too cold there?" he asked.

She shook her head and smiled a little.

"No, not with my fur. I'm afraid the gray squirrels will see me. What
would they think of skinning so many of their little brothers?"

"Nan," he said, "you saw her."

She nodded, slid off the rock and stood there, not looking at him. Of
course she saw her, Nan's inner self was answering. Didn't they meet
face to face? But she knew this was but his beginning and she would not
challenge it. He plunged into the turmoil of Tira's affairs, foreign to
him so short a time ago and yet his.

"She's the wife of the man who bought the old Frye place, next to yours.
He's jealous of her, has fits of insane rage against her and she has to
get out. One day I found her hiding up here in the woods. I told her,
whenever she had to make tracks to come here to the hut, and build a
fire and stay. I leave the key under the stone."

"Yes," said Nan. "I see."

"No, you don't," cried Raven, "or you wouldn't look like that. What is
it you don't see? What is it you don't like? Out with it, Nan."

Nan said nothing, and suddenly he saw she was trembling. It was in her
lips, it must be all over her, because he could see it in her hands, the
tight shut ball of them under her long sleeves.

"Now," he said, irritated beyond measure by the unkindness of
circumstance, "what is it I haven't made clear? Don't you like her?
Don't you believe in her? Or don't you take any stock in what I tell
you?"

"Of course I believe you," said Nan quietly. He could see her relax. "As
for liking her--well, she's beautiful. I agree with you perfectly
there."

But he had not said she was beautiful. That he did not remember.

"She is, isn't she?" he agreed. "And so--Nan, she's the strangest
creature you ever saw in your life. I suppose I could count up the words
she's spoken to me. But the queer part of it is, I know they're all
true. I know she's true. I'd stake----" there he paused.

"Yes," said Nan quietly. "I've no doubt she's true. And she's a very
lucky woman."

"Lucky?" repeated Raven, staring. "She's the most unfortunate creature I
ever saw. Lucky! what do you mean by that?"

"Well," said Nan, and now she spoke with an edge in her voice, "what's
she going to do about it? She's in danger of her life, you say." He
nodded absently, his mind going back to that word, lucky. "She's afraid
of her husband, afraid he'll kill her."

"Not so much that as afraid he'll kill the child."

"Well, then, isn't she going to leave him?"

"No. She won't."

"Have you asked her?"

"Oh, yes," said Raven. "I asked her at once. I told her I'd send her
away from here, find her something to do: just what anybody'd say in a
case like that."

"And she wouldn't let you?"

"She wouldn't let me."

"Why not?" asked Nan. "Does she--love the brute?"

She might have flicked a lash across his face and his nerves winced
under it. There was, she saw, in his mind, something disparaging to the
woman in coupling her with a softness misplaced.

"I don't know," he said, with a thoughtful precision. "Sometimes I think
she's all mother: doesn't care about anything but the child. I know
she's square, knew it at once, but that doesn't mean I know any more
about her. She's a locked door to me."

His tone was low, but it told Nan how he wished the door would open and
let him in to persuade her to her own well-being. She looked at him a
moment, as he stood staring down at his feet where a ragged wisp of
yellowed brake came through the snow, looked as if he hurt her beyond
endurance, and yet she had to probe ill circumstance to its depths. Then
she spoke, but in her old voice of childlike gentleness toward him:

"I see. I really believe, Rookie, I do see."

He looked up at her in a palpable relief.

"That's a good girl," he said. Again she was half child to him. "You'll
take a hand, too, won't you?"

That was more than she had bargained for. She would believe in the
mysterious woman and leave him free to carry out any mission, however
sophistical or chivalrous, he would. But she had not expected to enter
the arena with him and defend the martyr thrown to the wild beast of
marital savagery. Raven felt her recoil.

"I can't do anything for her," he pursued, with a discouragement she
read. "Anything real, that is. I can give her the shelter of the hut,
but he'll find that out some day and go crashing in. I can't be there
always. Fact is, I can't be there at all."

"Yes," said Nan. "I see." There was in her voice a sweetness new to him.
"I'll do anything you say, Rookie, to make your mind easy. What do you
want me to do. Take her away from here?"

He considered a moment. Yes, that was really what he did want. She had
put the words into his mouth.

"But," said Nan practically, "what you've got to do now is to go down to
the house and be tried for your life. Your sister'll be there something
after two. And Dick. And the alienist."

Raven shrugged his shoulders as if he shook them free of a burden.

"I don't care anything about the alienist," he said. "Nor Dick. I do
care a lot about Amelia. She's an awful bore. But it can't be helped.
Come on down."

"You know," said Nan tentatively, as they took the road, "we could ask
Charlotte for a luncheon and go off over the mountain. You've got
snowshoes, haven't you?"

Raven shook his head.

"You can't foil Amelia," he said, "by running away from her. She'd camp
for the winter. Or she'd get on our trail and follow us. No, we've got
to see it through."



XVI


At the house they found Charlotte, in a silent alertness, making ready
for the guests whom Nan, before going up to the hut, had announced to
her. She was systematically refusing to be flurried, but Raven knew that
Amelia, with her rigid conventions and perilous activity, was a
disquieting guest. Remembering that, he took the incident with an
ostentatious lightness, and Nan followed his lead. Presently Charlotte's
kind face relaxed, and when they saw she was continuing her preparations
with a less troubled brow, Raven took Nan upstairs to the great west
room made ready for his sister with a fire roaringly active. There he
installed her, and when she reminded him that the room had been wakened
from its winter drowse to this exhilaration for Amelia, he bade her
"hush up and stay put." Two facts were paramount: she was the first
comer and this was the best room. But, Nan said, she wasn't going to
stay over night. She should get the six o'clock back to Boston. Raven
might here have reflected that, if she had merely the fact of Amelia's
coming to break to him, she could have done it by telephone. Was there
something in the unexpectedness of finding him immersed in the problem
of Tira that had overthrown her preconceived plan? Had she, finding him
absorbed in a new association, lost immediate interest in the drama she
had mischievously meant to share?

"I take it for granted," she said, "you'll let Jerry carry me to the
station."

"No," said Raven, impishly determined, "you're going to stay. You'll
borrow nighties and things from Amelia."

"Seethe the kid in its mother's milk?" inquired Nan, her own impishness
flashing up, irresistible. "Come up here to undermine her and then
borrow her things?"

"Seethe the kid in its own tooth paste," said Raven. "Yes, you're simply
going to stay. It's foreordained. Actually you came up here to help me
out in more ways than one."

"Did I?" she asked, and reflected. She had one of her moments of clever
guesswork over him. Rookie was a simple proposition. She could always,
she had once boasted to him, find him out. And reaching about for the
clue, suddenly she had it and proclaimed it in triumph.

"I've got it. Your farmer's wife! you want me to do something, something
she won't let you do. It's what we said. You want me to take her back
with me."

"Yes," he said. "Just that."

They stood looking at each other gravely in the silence of the gaily
flowered room with the great blaze rushing up the chimney. It might have
seemed that they were measuring each other. Yet they were inadequately
matched, for though Raven knew Nan, it was not especially in her
relation to him, and she knew herself and him intimately, in their
common bond. The woman was the more intuitive, but the man was no less
honest. She thought a moment now, her gaze unseeingly following the
pattern of the rug at her feet.

"Very well," she said. "I'll go over to the house and get some things,
and I'll stay."

There were, they both knew, bureau drawers full of Aunt Anne's things,
doubtless in the perfect order that was a part of her exquisite mastery
of life. She disliked traveling with a cumbersome outfit, even from the
city to this ancestral foothold. Everything possible was left behind her
in each place.

"I'll go with you," said Raven. She should not poke into the cold house
alone for the first time since she had inherited it, and encounter the
desolation of change.

They went downstairs and out into the road, Charlotte looking from the
window after them and wondering if they were bound on some jaunt that
would leave her to encounter Mrs. Powell undefended. Nan's spirits
always came up in the out-of-doors. She was a normal creature, needing
to be quickened only by full air. She began to laugh.

"Rookie," she said, "I could tell you something funny."

"Fire away," said Raven.

"It's about my staying. I didn't bring any real things, because I knew I
could come over here and get some, but my toothbrush is right here in my
coat pocket. Don't you see, Rookie? I was going to stay if you made me,
but not if you didn't, and you weren't to know I so much as thought of
it."

"Humbug!" said Raven. "I might ha' knowed."

They came to the house, a great yellow square, well back from the road,
and there being no path through the snow, Nan boasted of her boots and
laughed at him for ordering her to wait until he went back for a shovel.
So he strode ahead and broke a path and she followed, and he was not
really concerned for her because she looked so fit; it seemed unlikely
the natural conditions of nature would hurt her, however hostile. She
opened the door with the key produced from her coat pocket and stepped
into the great hall, darkened from the obscurity of the rooms on each
side where shades had been drawn, and a winter coldness reigned. Nan
gave herself no time to shiver over the chill of her homecoming, but ran
up the stairs as if she expected to find the sun at the end, and Raven
stood in the hall, waiting, and the presence of Anne seemed suddenly
beside him, and something he tried to think of as the winter cold
(though it was far more penetrating and ethereal) struck him with a
chill. Anne, the poignant memory of her, was certainly there with him as
he stood absently following with his eyes the bridge-crossed road of the
old landscape paper and thinking how different it used to look when the
summer sunlight struck it through the open door; and Anne was beating,
with her beautiful hands, at his unwilling heart, crying:

"Let me in! let me in to crowd Nan and that common woman out!"

Nan, coming down with a roll under her arm, glanced at him, perturbed.
He had, she judged, been seeing ghosts. They went out and locked the
door behind them (locking in, Nan silently hoped, the ghosts also), and
hurried back along the road. And when they had gone into his house
again, Raven told her to run upstairs and put her things in the west
chamber.

"Scatter 'em all over the place," said he. "Amelia'll fight for that
room. She'll fight tooth and nail. I sha'n't let her have it, not even
if you give it up. Understand?"

"But what is she going to have?" Nan asked, from the stairs.

"She's going to sleep down here, back of the dining-room," said Raven
perversely, "in the room they made over for Old Crow when they were
going to get him to give up the hut and come down here to die. Amelia's
scared out of her boots in the country, unless she hears voices on every
side of her. I know Amelia. Cut along and come down again and help me
set the scene."

They did set the scene, with an exhilaration that played back and forth
between them like a heady atmosphere. Charlotte was bidden to make the
bed in Old Crow's room and while Raven built the fire, Nan helped
Charlotte. And when the pung drove up from the station at the moment Nan
had foreseen, she and Raven were sitting before the dining-room fire,
apparently deep in talk. Whether Charlotte took her cue from them they
did not know, but she was too busy in the back of the house to appear at
once, and Mrs. Powell and Dick came in unheralded, turning first to the
dining-room. There sat the two, absorbed. The visitors began, on an
according note.

"John!" cried Amelia, and "Nan!" Dick cried, in an identical voice.
Raven and Nan had the same effect of unison. They laughed, it was so
exactly what they had known it would be, and Raven came forward, put his
hands on his sister's shoulders, and gave her a little shake.

"Now, Milly," he said, "what the dickens are you up here for?"

Nan, having alienists on her mind, and finding none, was plumping her
question at Dick:

"Where's Doctor Brooke?"

Dick evaded it by the self-evident statement that he hadn't come, and
ended in a morass of frowning confusion.

Mrs. Powell turned to her with a surprised interrogation, a doubtful
warmth. It tried subtly to convey an entire acceptance of her as an
individual, combined with disapproval of finding her in the spot she had
no excuse for seeking. And while they were exchanging civil commonplaces
veiling unspoken implications, Raven was looking at his sister and
thinking, in a whimsical terror, what a very large grain of sand she was
likely to prove in the machinery of his daily life, and how little she
had changed during his absence from America. Here she was, so
indomitable in every particular that you could almost believe she was
going to be as lasting as the processes that went to her equipment. She
had, you learned to know, tackled life as a servant to be governed, an
enemy to be downed. If it had antidotes, she would lose no moment in
equipping herself with them. If circumstance proved unfriendly, she
would ignore it and forge ahead. She was, Raven had always recognized,
the feminine replica of his father's special type. As to her looks, she
was a thin, whip-like woman, who gave an impression of wiry endurance
and serviceable resiliency. You would expect her to be hard to the
touch, mental or moral, and yet she could double, evade, rebound. Put
her in a hole, and she soon proved to you that its obscurity was the
last place where she proposed to stay. She looked the latest thing
evolved by the art of man. Her clothes were the prevailing fantastic
creation, and yet, on her, they were not illogical. They were the
plumage of an eccentric bird hatched to look that way. Her face, in its
sandy monotone of color, fitted the art of her wonderful and yet not too
noticeable hat, and her gloves and veil were the last word of style.
Amelia had begun making herself, Raven used to think, long before God
stopped making her. As a girl, she had gone after strange gods of
culture and æstheticism, forsaking them, when they toppled, for newer
gods still; but always she was undaunted, always persisting in her
determined pose of governing the situation and her own attitude toward
it. And Amelia, he knew, could hang on like grim death.

"But Nan!" she was exclaiming, "who'd have expected to find you here?"

"Well," said Nan, in the shock of realizing she hadn't quite remembered
what Amelia was like, and ranging herself to fight on Rookie's side,
"who'd have expected you, Mrs. Powell?"

Dick stood frowning at them impartially and twisting his hat in his
hands like a sulky boy.

"Have you opened your house?" Amelia persisted. "You're not staying----"

"She's staying here," said Raven. "Nan's taken pity on me and come up
for a visit. Oh, Charlotte! here you are. Show Mrs. Powell to her room,
will you?"

Charlotte appearing, white-aproned, in the doorway, looking like the
beneficent goddess of home, Mrs. Powell greeted her urbanely and asked
appropriate questions. Was she well, as well as she looked? And how was
her husband? Always well, she remembered. Yes, she would go to her room,
please. But she'd go up by herself. She knew the way. She should think
so, indeed! And her reminiscent laugh endowed them with the picture of
the little girl she had been, born and brought up in this very house.

"Oh, but it isn't up," said Raven cheerfully. "It's the west bedroom."

"Not----" she began, and he nodded, taking her coat from the chair.

"Yes, Old Crow's room. What was going to be his if he hadn't given 'em
the slip. I put Nan into the west chamber. You'll be awfully comfortable
in that room, Milly. I'll take in your bag."

Amelia, immediately circumspect when she did not see her way, did follow
him, but she was in as great a state of suppressed dudgeon as a
civilized lady, living by the latest rules, allows herself to be. Dick
and Nan, left alone in the dining-room, turned upon each other like two
young furies.

"You came up here," said Dick, in a tone of ill-suppressed ire, "to tell
him we were coming. I call it a mean trick."

"What about you?" inquired Nan. "You'd better not talk about tricks. Can
you think of a meaner one than giving him away to the entire middle
west?'"

"The middle west!" echoed Dick bitterly. "I told my mother."

"Yes, you told your mother. And she comes up here with her alienists."

"You'll notice," said Dick icily, "the alienist didn't come."

"I assume," said Nan, "he's expected on the next train. Or he's going to
pounce some time when Rookie isn't prepared."

"You little beast!" said Dick. "You don't deserve it, but I'll inform
you he isn't coming at all. I choked him off. I told him mother's the
one that's dotty or she wouldn't have called him in, and Uncle Jack
wasn't a patient and never'd consent if he knew. And he was an awfully
decent fellow and said nothing would induce him to come."

"You did, did you?" said Nan ungratefully. "Well, you'd better. You've
made enough mischief for one not very inventive young person, don't you
think? And wouldn't it seem to you you'd better use your influence with
your mother to-morrow morning and get out of here?"

"Out of here?" repeated Dick. "Out of my uncle's house. You
act----" here he paused.

"Yes," said Nan, "I do act precisely that way. I act as if I had more
right here than you. And I have. For I adore Rookie. And that gives me a
right to stay with him and fight for him, and die for him, if I want to.
And you don't care a sixpence, or you wouldn't have brought this on
him."

Dick, the man, cooled sooner than she. He paled, and stood looking at
her. Then he spoke in a voice dulled by wonder:

"I believe you do adore him."

"Of course I do," cried Nan, all her anger of impatience thrilling in
her voice. "I love him more than anything in this world or the next and
I always did and I always shall."

This Raven, coming back through the hall, heard.

"Good Lord!" he said to himself. "Good Lord!"

So these two, with all the forces of probability and beckoning fortune
pushing them together, could not approach even within hailing distance.
It was the hideous irony of a world bent on disorder. He walked in on
them with a consciously grave aspect of recalling them to their more
reasonable selves.

"What are you two scrapping for?" he inquired, and Nan looked at him
humbly. She hated to have him bothered by inconsiderable persons like
herself and Dick. "Don't you know you've got the universe in your fists
for the last time you'll ever have it? You're young----"

There he stopped awkwardly in the enumeration of their presumable
blessedness. It was Nan's face that stopped him. It had paled out into a
gravity surprising to him: a weariness he had often expected to see on
it after her work abroad, but had not yet found there.

"Yes," she said, in a tone that matched her tired face, "we're young
enough, if that's all."

The talk displeased her. Nan never liked people to be dull and smudgy
with disorderly moods. She kept a firm hand on her own emotions and
perhaps she could not remember a time when they had got away from her
under other eyes. Aunt Anne was partly responsible for that, and partly
the proud shyness of her type.

"No, Rookie," she said, "we won't fight. Not here, anyway. Not in your
house."

She held out a careless hand to Dick, who looked at it an instant and
then turned sulkily away. "Young cub!" Raven thought. He should have
kissed it, even gone on his knees to do it, and placated her with a
laughing extravagance. He recalled the words he had caught from her lips
when he was coming in and flushed to his forehead over the ringing
warmth of them. He bent to the fine hand about relaxing to withdrawal,
after Dick's flouting, drew it to his own lips and kissed it: not as he
would have had Dick do it but yet with all his heart. As he lifted his
head he smiled into her eyes, and their look smote him. It was as if he
had somehow hurt her.

"O Rookie!" she said, under her breath.

And at the instant, while they stood awkwardly in the rebound from
emotions not recognized, Amelia came out from her bedroom, perfected as
to hair and raiment, but obviously on edge and cheerfully determined on
not showing it. Evidently she liked Old Crow's room no more than she
might have guessed.

"O Lord!" said Raven ruefully to his inner self, "we're going to have a
cheerful house-party, now ain't we?"



XVII


The afternoon went off moderately well. Nan forgot the late
unpleasantness between her and Dick and assumed they were on their usual
terms, a fashion of making up more exasperating to him than the quarrel
itself. He was too often, he suspected, out of the picture of her
immediate mind. But it was most unproductive to sulk. When she forgot
and he reproached her for it, she forgot that also; and now when she
suggested a walk he got his cap with a degree of cheerfulness and they
went out, leaving Raven and his sister together by the fire, for what
proved to be one of the rich afternoons of Raven's life. Amelia sat down
at the hearth and put her perfectly shod feet to the blaze.

"Now, John," she said crisply, while he was fidgeting about, wondering
whether he dared offer her a book and take himself out of doors, "sit
down and tell me all about it."

Raven went to the fire, but stood commanding it and her. He might, he
thought, as well meet the issue at once.

"What?" he asked. "What do you want to know?"

"You mustn't think I can't sympathize," she informed him, in the clear
tone he recognized as the appropriate one for an advanced woman who sees
a task before her--"damned meddlers," he was accustomed to call them in
his sessions of silent thought--"you mustn't think I'm not prepared.
I've heard lectures on it, and since Dick sent me your letter I've read
more or less."

"My letter!" groaned Raven. "If ever a chap was punished for a minute's
drunkenness----"

"Drunkenness?" interrupted Amelia incisively.

"Oh, drunkenness of feeling--irresponsibility--don't you know? Didn't
you ever hear of a chap's killing himself in a minute of acute
discontent because he couldn't stand the blooming show an instant
longer? Well, I didn't kill myself. I did something worse. I wrote a
letter, and, by an evil chance, it was mailed, and Dick, like a fool,
sent it on to you."

"Dick did absolutely right," said Dick's mother conclusively. "We won't
discuss that. We'll go into the thing itself."

"What the deuce is the thing?" Raven inquired. "The letter, or my
bursting into tears, like a high-strung maiden lady, and calling Dick in
to be cried over?"

"Don't evade it," she charged him, with unabated gravity. "We mustn't,
either of us. You know what I mean--_cafard_."

"_Cafard!_" Then he remembered Dick also had caught up the word, like a
missile, and pelted him with it. He gulped. Ordinary speech wasn't going
to be adequate. She belonged to this infernal age that lived by phrases.
If he told her he was still of the opinion that the world was a
disordered place of torment you could only exist in by ignoring its real
complexion, she would merely consign him to a cell more scientifically
padded, and stand gazing at him through the bars, in solemn sympathy.
"So I've gone _cafard_," he said slowly, looking down at the fire and
wondering how to answer a fool according to her folly. Or was she
incredibly right? Had he some creeping sickness of the brain, the very
nature of which implied his own insensitiveness to it? "Or do you say
'got' _cafard_? And what's your personal impression of _cafard_,
anyway?"

She had her answer ready. From the little bag in her lap she took out a
small sheaf of folded papers, memorandum slips, they seemed to be, and
whirled them over in capable fingers.

"It ought to be here," she said absorbedly. "Yes, here it is. No, it
isn't either. It must be among my club notes. What Galsworthy says about
it, you know. He makes it so clear. Just what they mean by it, the
French, how you simply go to pieces. You know, John. Of course you
know."

"Yes," said Raven drily, "I heard of it remotely among the boys."

"No wonder it happened to you. Really, you know, John, you ought not to
have gone over there at all, not at your age. It was fine of you. I'm
not denying that. But there were lots of things you could have done at
home: dollar a year men and all that. However, we must take it as we
find it. You've got _cafard_, and we must make sure you have the best
thing done for you. Do you see?"

"And what," inquired Raven, curiously, "is the best thing?"

"My idea," she said, pelting on in her habitual manner of manipulation
without much regard to the material she was working on, "would be for
you to see an alienist."

"I thought," he was beginning mildly, and paused, with a sense of
danger. He must, he saw, forego the fun of chaffing her from his
awareness that the professional gentleman was to have been sprung on him
to-day, and that he knew equally the infliction could only be deferred.
But how, she would have questioned, did he get his news? Not, he would
have to convince her, through Nan. He amended his attack. "Why didn't
you scare one up and bring him along?"

She frowned. Amelia was always restive under raillery.

"We needn't," she said, "go into that. I did hope to arrange it, but
Dick upset things frightfully. He has behaved badly, very badly indeed.
I hope now to persuade you to call in Doctor Brooke yourself. I should
suppose he'd recommend your going into a sanitarium. However, we can't
judge till we see what he says. Only, John"--and here she looked at him
with some appearance of anxiety, as not knowing how he would take
it--"you must give yourself into our hands."

"Whose hands?" asked Raven. "Yours? Dick's?"

"Oh, dear, no, not Dick's." Again she mentally champed her bit.
Evidently Dick had exhausted her forbearance on the way up. "He's
behaved like a----" Invention failed her. "I do wish," she ended
plaintively, "the modern young man and woman had a vestige of respect
left--only a vestige--for their elders. They're queerness itself. Now
Nan! there's Nan. What's she posting off up here for and settling
herself in your house"--in the west chamber, Raven's inner mind
ironically supplied--"and acting as if you couldn't pry her out?"

"You can't," said Raven. "Nan's here and I'm going to keep her, all
winter, if she doesn't get bored."

Amelia gave a little staccato shriek.

"All winter? I can't stay here all winter."

"Dear old Milly, no," said Raven, with the utmost gentleness. "I
wouldn't have you for the world. It's Nan that's going to stay."

"Why," said Amelia, "it isn't decent. You're not an old man, John.
Sometimes you don't even look middle-aged."

"You said I was," he reminded her. "You said I was so old I went and got
_cafard_."

"Besides," said Amelia, clutching at her vanishing argument, "age has
nothing to do with it. The older you are the more ridiculous they get
over you, these romantic girls. And you'd cut in and take her away from
Dick, right under his nose."

Raven suddenly tired of it.

"Amelia," he said, "don't be a fool. And don't say that sort of odious
thing about Nan. I won't have it. Nan's a child."

"Oh, no," said Amelia, shaking her waved head with an air of doom.
"Nan's no child. Don't make any mistake about that. She's no child."

At this, Raven found he was so unreasonably tired of her that he had to
call himself to order and wonder if he really could be disgusted with
Amelia, old Milly who was such a sophisticated fool and yet meant so
well by everybody that you had to keep reproving yourself when you were
tempted to consign her--elsewhere.

"Milly," he said, in the tone he always had toward her at her worst, a
tone of recalling her, bidding her remember she was a nice ordinary
woman, not an arbiter of social destinies, "Milly, sometimes you're an
awful idiot. Don't you know you are? Don't you see it won't do to keep
hitting me on the raw? I sha'n't stand it, you know. I shall have to
take Nan under my arm and get out and leave you the house to yourself.
It's all very well for you to call down alienists on me, and get me to
put myself under restraint, but Nan's rather sacred to me. You can't
meddle with Nan, and if you weren't so wrapped up in your own conceit,
you'd see you couldn't."

Amelia seemed to be reflecting on something which resulted in shocking
her into a further uneasiness.

"And the thing she said! I heard it with my own ears. She adored you!
That's what she said, adored you. To Dick, too, of all people, Dick
she's virtually engaged to."

Raven remembered a scene in a play where a drunken man lifts a chair and
then, aware of his own possibilities, gently sets it down again. He
wanted to lift a chair. Only he wanted to complete the act and smash it.

"Milly," he said gently, "I tell you Nan is a child. Doesn't that show
she's a child--the pretty extravagance of it! Why, I'm 'old Rookie' to
Nan. What else do you think I could possibly be?"

"Heaven knows," said Amelia, tightening her lips. "I can't imagine what
her Aunt Anne would have said. John, wasn't it wonderful her leaving you
practically all her money? And just what might have been expected. She
was bound up in you."

"O Lord!" said Raven.

But Amelia, once started, knew no bounds.

"And that's what I say, John. If you take hold of yourself now and get
into shape again, you've a great many years before you, and Anne's money
with yours--well, I don't see why you shouldn't look forward to a great
deal."

Raven went over to the window and sat down there staring at the black
bare branches and the clear sky. It seemed to him unspeakably desolate
and even, in its indifference to his own mood, cruel. So was Amelia, he
thought. In spite of her platitudes about enjoying a great deal, she had
him dead and buried. He became absurdly conscious that he was afraid,
but of one thing only: to hear her voice again. Upon that, thinking how
it would actually sound, he turned about and ignominiously left the
room. And since there was no spot in the house where she might not
follow him he took his hat and jacket from the kitchen and went out
through the shed. Charlotte was washing dishes at the sink, but she did
not, according to her custom, look up to pass the time of day. A cloud
rested even on her brown hair and splendid shoulders. Amelia had brought
the cloud. She'd have to get out, even if he had to tell her so.

With no intention, but an involuntary desire to be where Amelia would
not find him (and also, it was possible, where that other quietest of
women could be found) he went down the road to the maples, and then
plunged into the woods and up the hill. He had first gone along the road
to mislead Amelia, if she chanced to be looking out. He couldn't have
her following, and she was equal to it, pumps and all. Halfway up the
hill, making his way through undergrowth where the snow packed heavily,
he turned off at his left and so got into the wood road. And then, his
breath coming quick from haste and the vexation of the clogged way, he
did not slacken to cool off in the relief of easier going, but,
breathless as he was, began to run, and got more breathless still. Tira
was up there in the hut. He was sure of it. And for those first hurried
minutes he forgot her presence there meant only added misery, but dwelt
upon his own need of such a spirit as hers; the strength, the poise, the
ready coolness.

At the door he felt rebuffed, it looked so inhospitable, so tight
against him. He tapped and waited. No one came. Then he tried it and
found it locked and the revulsion was bitter. He was about turning away
when it came to him that at least he might go in. The key would be under
the stone. He put his hand into the hollow and found it there, and only
when he was setting it in the lock realized that this meant a deeper
loneliness. It would be easier to think she was there, the key turned
against him, but still in his house, than to find the house itself void
of her presence. He shook himself, in anger at the incomprehensible way
the whole thing was moving him. Why should it move him? Then, finding it
cold, the deserted room, he made himself busy and laid the fire and set
the two chairs hospitably by the hearth. He did not light the fire. It
must be ready for her if she came. After it was in order (her house, it
seemed to him now, with a fatalism of belief he accepted and did not
dwell upon) he sat down by the cold hearth and tried to think. But never
of himself. He thought of her: beautiful, lustrous, caged bird with the
door of her prison open, and who yet would not go. His mind went back to
Milly, waiting there at home to apply scientific remedies to his
diseased spirit, and he laughed a little, Milly seemed of such small
consequence. But the thought of the misery of mind that had brought him
here gave him a new sense of the cruelty of the world. For it had been
the sad state of the whole world he had fled away from and here, as if
all misery had converged to a point, he had taken a straight path to the
direst tragedy of all: a mother trying against hope to save her child,
the most beautiful of women pursued by sex cruelty, the gentlest
threatened by brute force. How could he save her? He could not, for she
would not be saved. He sat there until the dark in the corners crept
toward him like fates, their mantles held up in shadowy hands, to
smother him, and then suddenly remembering Nan and hospitable duties
down below, he got up, chilled, went out, and locked the hut behind him.
The house he found was a blaze of windows. Charlotte had lighted lamps
and candles all over it. He was half amused by that, it gave such an air
of fictitious gayety. He did not know Nan had whispered her to make it
bright because he would see it, coming up the road.

The three were in the library by the fire. Amelia had dressed for supper
in chiffon absurdly thin and curtailed, neck and hem, so that Dick had,
without being told, brought her fur coat and put it about her shoulders.
That was just like her, Raven thought, as he went in upon them, to go by
the clock and, because winter evenings necessitated evening dress,
ignore the creeping cold of a country house. Nan wore her gown of the
morning, and her stout shoes. Indeed she had to, Raven reminded himself,
when he was about to commend her for good taste. She had brought only
her little bag. Nan was now sweet reasonableness itself. No sleepiest
kitten, claws in drawn, could have been softer. Amelia was baiting her,
asking her, with a reproving implication that she ought not to have been
in a position to know, about the life over seas, and Nan was answering
by the card, compliantly, sincerely.

She had determined, Raven could see, that there should be no more
ructions in his house. When he came in, they looked up at him, frankly
pleased, and Amelia as patently relieved.

"I'm so glad you've come back," she said, getting up so that Dick could
set another chair, and Raven join them in the conventional family
circle. "I've been trying to send Dick out after you, but he wouldn't
go. John, you mustn't get into the habit of wandering off alone like
that. You really mustn't."

Raven grimaced as he took the properly adjusted chair, and wondered
whether he'd got again to invite Milly to shut up. But Dick did it, in
an honest despair that seemed entirely adequate.

"Ain't mother the limit?" he remarked, to no one but perhaps his own
wondering mind.

Raven gave a little bark of laughter, and Amelia betrayed no sign of
having heard. But Raven caught the grateful tribute of Nan's tone.

"My hanky," she said, "Dickie, dear."

He saw it dropped, saw Dick dart for it, and Nan, accepting it, give his
fingers a little squeeze. Evidently Dick, who flushed red, was being
paid for having briefly illuminated mother. Supper was got through
successfully, Raven and Dick doing active service. Raven talked about
thinning out the lower woods and Dick played up beautifully, taking it
with the greatest attention and answering at length. Mother was to be
shunted imperceptibly from _cafard_. And when they had finished and
returned again to the library fire, Nan, after perhaps half an hour of
desultory talk, yawned rudely and asked if she might go to her bed.
Raven suspected her. He noted how she half closed the library door
behind her; so he took the chair she had lately left, commanding the
crack of it. In about the time he expected, he heard her in the hall.
She had come down the back stairs, he judged, and was now putting on her
hat and coat, with scarcely a rustle, the sly one!

"Draught from this door?" he suggested, got up and closed it.

At least Dick shouldn't know she was going. If anybody stole behind her
in the friendly "outdoors" it should be he, to guard her from her own
foolhardiness. These roads were paths of peace, but Nan was equal to
adventure more extended. She might have snatched snowshoes, in her
stealthy preparation, to go off wood wandering. She might brave the
darkness where, to country minds, lurked the recurring legend of the
"lucivee." There was no actual danger, but Pan might be wandering.

"These old windows are draughty, too," said Raven. He paused at one of
them, fumbling with the catch. Really he was watching the path. There
she was, at the left, going toward her own house. He pulled down the
shade and lounged back to his seat by the fire.

"You probably feel the cold," said Milly drowsily. The fur coat and
blazing logs were beginning to do their blessed work. "Your vitality is
low."

"Yes," said Raven piously. He would have sworn to anything. "Just so."
He went on talking to Dick, and Dick caught the ball neatly, so that
presently they could glance at each other in a community of
understanding. "She's off!" said Raven's face, and Dick's returned,
"Right you are!" while he droned on about "popple," the local word for
poplar, and the right month for peeling and whether it really paid to
cut it if you had to hire. Raven loved Dick at times like these, when he
was neither sulky over Nan's aloofness nor didactic about democracy and
free verse. Amelia choked and came awake.

"Did I," she ventured, fearing a too frank reply, "did I--make a noise?"

"No, dear," said Raven mellifluously.

If Milly had been cleverer she would have remembered that when he was
deceiving her he spoke, "as if butter wouldn't melt," as if his vocal
arrangements dropped oil and balm.

"Dick and I are talking out this lumber question. Don't you bother. You
don't know anything about popple."

Milly, reassured, dropped her cheek, with a little breath, and closed
her eyes. "Gone?" Dick telegraphed Raven, who nodded "Gone!" took a step
to the door, opened it, and was himself away. He snatched, haphazard, at
a hat and coat on the great chest in the hall. Dick had a way of
throwing things down and leaving them where they fell. Yes, they were
Dick's, and Raven hastily shoved himself into them, judging it was
better, if Dick decided to go roaming, to keep him looking for them.
Then he went out and down the path and along the road where Nan had
gone. He came to her house and stopped, interrogating it. There was no
light. Still she might be in the back part, hunting about for something
she perversely couldn't wait for over night. He went up the path and
tried the front door. It was fastened and he called to her. But there
was no Nan, and he went back to the road and walked up and down,
waiting. If she wanted a run alone in the dark, she must have it. After
he had been pacing for what seemed to him a long time, he heard voices
and the crunch of snow. One voice was hers, and he went on to meet it.
The other, a man's, short-syllabled, replied at intervals. Nan seemed to
be holding forth. They were coming on briskly, Nan and a tall figure at
the other side of the road. She had seen Raven and called, clearly,
though not with any implication of relief:

"That you, Rookie?"

He came up to them and saw, with a surprise out of all proportion to the
event, in this neighborhood where anybody might join anybody else in
familiar intercourse, that it was Tenney. They stopped, Tenney a step
behind her. It looked as if he understood he had fulfilled his civility
to her and could be dismissed.

"I've been calling on Mrs. Tenney," said Nan, "and I asked Mr. Tenney to
walk home with me. Thank you, Mr. Tenney. Good night. Think it over,
won't you?"

Tenney turned, without a word, and went back along the road, with his
habitual look, Raven had time to note, in the one glance he cast after
him, of being blown by a hurrying wind. Raven faced about with Nan and
asked at once, in the excess of his curiosity:

"Now what are you up to, calling on the Tenneys?"

Nan answered seriously. There was trouble in her voice.

"Well, I got thinking about them so I knew I shouldn't go to sleep, and
I just went up by, without any real plan, you know. The woman had such
an effect on me. I couldn't keep away from her."

Raven was struck with the inevitableness of this. Yes, she had that
effect. You couldn't keep away from her.

"I'd no idea of going in," said Nan. "And I did want a run. Isn't the
air heady? But just as I got to the house, she opened the door. She was
coming out, I suppose. She had the baby. The baby was all wrapped up.
She wasn't, though. She had just an apron on her head. And when the door
opened, I could hear him yelling inside. I don't know whether he was
driving her out or whether she'd started to run for it."

"Well?" prompted Raven harshly. Why should she be so slow about it?
"What then?"

"I went up the path," said Nan, in a half absent way, as if what she was
telling seemed far less important than the perplexing issues it had bred
in her. "I said good evening to her. I went by her: I think I did. I
must have got into the kitchen first. And there he was. He's a striking
fellow, isn't he, Rookie? Like a prophet out on the loose, foaming at
the mouth and foretelling to beat the band. He'd got something in his
hands. It was little and white; it might have been the baby's cap. He
was tearing it to rags. You ought to have seen him at it."

"You shouldn't have gone in," said Raven angrily. "The fellow's dotty.
Don't you know he is? Did he speak to you?"

Nan gave a little laugh. Suddenly the incongruity of it came over her.

"No," she said, "I spoke to him. Suddenly I seemed to see how Charlotte
would have spoken--that mother way, you know, men can't stand up
against. I said--I _think_ I said--'Mr. Tenney, what under the sun are
you carrying on like this for? I should think you were in liquor.'"

Raven, wondering if he should cry at the relief of having her safe out
of the ogre's den, had to laugh with her.

"It caught him," said Nan, beginning to enjoy it, "as grandsir used to
say, between wind and water. He looked down at the thing in his
hands--the rags, you know--and dropped them into the wood-box. You see
that was the real wiliness of the serpent, my telling him he was in
drink. He's full of spiritual pride, all eat up with it. Then I played
Charlotte some more. I told Mrs. Tenney to come in, and remarked that
she'd get her death o' cold; and she did come in and her eyes--what eyes
they are, Rookie!--they were big as bread and butter plates. I suspected
she regarded me as specially sent. And I lit on him and told him, in
good set terms, that if I knew of his driving his wife out of the house
in one of his sprees, I'd have him hauled up and testify myself. Then I
ordered him to get his hat and walk home with me."

"And he did!" cried Raven, in amazement at her. "Oh, yes, of course he
did. Go on."

"Yes, he came to heel with a promptness that would have surprised you.
And I didn't let up a minute. I discoursed all the way, on the whole
duty of man."

"Did he answer?"

"Yes. That is, he spoke twice, the only times I'd let him. Once he broke
in: 'I ain't a drinkin' man.' That rankled, you see."

"What did you say?"

"I said: 'Yes, you are, too. No decent man would act as you've been
acting, unless he was drunk. And probably,' I said, 'you've been brewing
it in the cellar, and selling it to the neighbors.'"

"That was a bliffer."

"It was. I had an idea he might drop dead in his tracks."

"That all he said?"

"Yes. Oh, no, there was one other thing. He asked me if I were saved."

"What did you say?"

"Told him not to be a fool."

Raven lifted up his voice and laughed.

They were opposite his own house, and Dick, who had just opened the
front door, heard him.

"Oh," said Dick icily, when they came up to him. "So that's where you
were. Uncle Jack"--for now he saw he had just cause for anger--"I'll
thank you to let my hat alone."

"Yes, Dick," said Raven meekly. "But I saw it and it's such a dandy
hat."

"Don't be rude to your only uncle," said Nan.

She was slipping off her coat and Raven judged, seeing her so calm, that
her evening pleased her.

"Mother in there?" Raven inquired of Dick.

He had hung up the pilfered coat and hat, with great nicety of care, in
the hall closet.

"No," said Dick. "She's gone to bed."

The implication was that she shouldn't have been allowed to get bored
enough to go to bed.

"I'm going, too," said Nan. She gave her hand to Raven. "'Night,
Rookie." Then she apparently remembered Dick, and shook her head at him.
"Silly!" she commented. "Nobody'll love you if you behave like that."

Dick did not answer. He turned about and went into the library, and
Raven following, after he had seen Nan at the top of the stairs, found
him reading a day-old paper with a studied absorption it was evident he
was far from feeling.



XVIII


Dick tossed the paper aside and turned upon Raven who, taking his chair
at the hearth, had bent to throw on a handful of light wood: the sticks
that wake and change a room so completely that they might almost lighten
the mood of the man their burning plays upon.

"Look here," said Dick, "you put the devil into Nan. What do you do it
for?"

Raven looked up at him in a complete surprise.

"No, I don't. The devil? Nan's got less to do with the devil than
anybody you and I ever saw. She's kept herself unspotted. She's a
child."

This last he said of sudden intent for, having noted its effect on
Milly, he wondered how it would strike Dick.

"Oh, no, she isn't," said Dick, with bitterness. "Unspotted--yes, of
course she is. But Nan knows her way about. She can play fast and loose
with the rest of 'em."

He stopped, conscious of talking too much, and ashamed of it. Raven
remembered that quick interchange of ownership and repudiation between
the two as they flashed back at each other in his library, those weeks
ago, but he could not tell the boy Nan had kissed him out of her
impetuous bounty only because the terrors of the time had lifted her
beyond habit and because Dick's need was so great. She had put the
draught of life to his lips, that was all. He remembered Monna Vanna
going to the sacrificial tent, and his heart melted at the thought of
woman's wholesale giving even when the act is bound to recoil upon
herself alone.

"You'd better not remind her of anything she said to you over there," he
allowed himself to advise. "Things were pretty strenuous then, Dick,
don't you remember? We've come back to a"--his voice failed him as he
thought how base a time they had returned to--"a different sort of thing
altogether. I'm an old fellow, according to you, but there's one thing I
know. You won't get a girl by 'flying off the handle,' as Charlotte
would say. Honest, old boy, when you have these fits of yours, you don't
seem, according to the prophet of your generation, as impressive as
usual."

"Who is the prophet of my generation?" put in Dick sourly, as if that
were the issue between them.

"G. B. S., I've understood," said Raven mildly. "Don't I recall your
telling me he was the greatest ever, at least since Aristophanes?"

"Oh, cut it," said Dick, whose gods were subject to change.

"Cut it by all means. But there is a thing or two I'd like your vote on.
Your mother now: what's your impression of her plans about staying along
here? Think she's game to tough it out as long as I do?"

"She'll stay as long as Nan does." Dick was frowning into the fire, and
Raven doubted whether one of his admonitory words had sunk in. "I had an
idea I could go back to town to-morrow morning and wire her I'd broken
my leg or something. But Nan's got to go with me."

"Nan will do as she pleases," said Raven. He rose from his chair
disgusted with young love so unpicturesque and cub-like. "Turn off the
lights, will you, when you go?" And he went off to bed.

But in the morning, when he came down, Dick met him at the foot of the
stairs. It was a changed Dick. His lip was trembling. Raven concerned,
yet unable to deny himself a flippant inward comment, thought the boy
looked as if he'd been saying his prayers.

"She's gone, Jack," said Dick.

In stress of intimacy, he often dropped the prefatory title.

"Gone?" Raven's mind flew to Tira. "Where?"

"Back to Boston. Walked to the station. Took the milk train. Charlotte
says she simply walked out and said she wasn't coming back."

"Your mother or--you don't mean Nan?"

"Nan, yes. Do you see mother walking five miles to a train?" But if Dick
was unsettled, this was not his surly mood of the night before. "If I
drove her away"--he began, and then ended with an appealingness to be
remembered of the Dick who had not been nettled by life, "Jack, I wish
she wouldn't."

"I'll ask Charlotte," said Raven. "Your mother out yet? No? Well, don't
bring her into it."

He went off to the kitchen where Charlotte was just setting little
silver pots on a damask-covered tray. She glanced up at him, not
absently, because Charlotte always seemed so charged with energy that
she could turn from one task and give full attention to another.

"For Mrs. Powell," she explained, setting her hands to the tray, as if
she expected him to make whatever remark he would without delaying her.
"She's havin' her breakfast in bed."

"Dick tells me----" he began, and she nodded.

"Yes, she's gone. Nan, you was inquirin' about, wa'n't you? It's all
right. I shouldn't ask any questions, if I was you: not yet anyways.
I've got a kind of an idea Dick'll be takin' the noon back to Boston.
Maybe his mother, too. But there!"

This last was as if it were too much to hope for, and she lifted the
tray and hurried away with it to Old Crow's room. Raven went
thoughtfully back to the hall where Dick stood waiting, gnawing at his
lip, and looking curiously like the Dick who had been a boy and come to
Uncle Jack to have his fortunes mended as they affected kite or ball.

"Yes," said Raven, "she's gone. Don't take it that way, old man. Nan
knows what's best for her."

"Walked to the station," said Dick bitterly. "Just plain cut stick and
ran. Probably carried a bag. All because I made it so sickening for her
she couldn't stay."

Raven thought of the things Nan had carried in the work of the last
years--supplies, babies born on retreats. She had seen the fortunes of
war. But there was no need of bracing Dick by telling him he could
testify she hadn't any bag. If the boy could be melted into a passion of
ruth over Nan, instead of a passion of resentment, so much the better
for him.

"Come and have breakfast," he said. "Charlotte's bringing it in."

They went together, and when Dick had bolted his coffee and egg he said:

"Of course I've got to take the 11.03."

"Of course," said Raven. He knew if he were a young lover who had
offended Nan and driven her away, that was what he should do: follow and
humble himself before her. "Jerry'll drive you down."

So it happened that when Amelia, carefully dressed, came out of her room
at noon, Dick had left without a word to her and her dignified
resentment was only diverted by hearing Nan, too, had gone.

"John," said she, disposing herself by the fire, "I should like to know
how you account for that girl?"

"For Nan?" said Raven absently. He was wishing Nan had found it easy to
tell him she was going. "I don't account for Nan. I don't have to."

"So unexpected," said Amelia. "So absolutely impervious to everything
we've brought them up to reverence. It's all of a piece. Depend upon it,
no young girl could go over there and do the things she did and not feel
the effects of it: for life, absolutely for life. You yourself feel the
effects in one way, the young ones in another."

Raven was very considerate of her, left stranded there with him. But
after the noon dinner, when they settled again by the fire, he began to
realize the magnitude of his task. He was simply saddled with Amelia.
She hadn't been able to get her alienist up here, but she had
constituted herself a psychic detective on her own account. At first he
didn't mind, she was so "simple honest" in her expedients. It was
amusing, to a moderate degree, to evade them. How did he sleep? Did he
dream? Did he know anything about the psychology of dreams? There was
Freud.

"Yes," Raven interpolated. "Nasty fellow. Peeps and botanizes on his
mother's grave."

Did the world still seem to him as hopeless as it did at the time of his
writing the letter? That gave him an idea.

"Where is that letter?" he asked, cutting across the track of her
calculated approaches. "What became of it?"

She did not evade him. She was too surprised.

"I gave it," she owned, "to one of our doctors at home. For a medical
congress."

"The devil you did!" Raven permitted himself. "Milly, sometimes I think
you advanced women--O Lord!"

"What else could I do?" Milly inquired, with her deliberate
fair-mindedness, which was, he miserably knew, a part of her culture.
"Surely, you wouldn't suppress evidence. And it won't be traced to you.
You're simply Mr. X."

Raven was silent. He was thinking what a fool he had been to unpack his
heart with words, and that if he told Milly so he should simply be
unpacking it some more. He looked at the clear winter day occupying
itself out there without him, and wondered why the deuce he couldn't put
on snowshoes and tramp off his discontent leaving her to fight her
boredom by the fire. She'd brought it on herself, hadn't she? Nobody
wanted her to come. Was there some hidden force in women, their apparent
vulnerability to the harsh world conditions that were bound to crush out
even them in the end? They seemed so weak you had, in mercy, to
reënforce them and then they proved so horribly strong, and used their
strength against you, depleted as you were by fighting for them. Anyway,
if he could get Milly's blood to moving and pump some of this hill air
into her she, too, might be a more wholesome citizen of even an
unfeeling earth.

"Want to go to walk, Milly?" he suggested seductively, and she looked at
him pleasantly, grateful for the tone, at least.

"No," she said, "we're so cozy here."

Cozy! it might be cozy, if that meant being choked. But he thought he
could stand a little more of it, and then he would at least drop asleep
and snore. The indiscretions of the body were terrible to Amelia. And he
did fall into a hopeless lethargy, and only about five o'clock, when the
early dark had come, threw it off and got to his feet.

"'Bye," he said. "I'll be back for supper."

Before she could answer, he was gone. Now he was afraid she might say,
with an ill-timed acquiescence, that after all she would have a little
walk, and he knew he simply couldn't stand it. By the fire, making an
inexorable assault on his senses, the calm, steady beat of her futile
talk could be borne. You bore it by listening through a dream. But out
of doors, when the crisp air had waked you, you'd simply have to swear
or run. He did run, snatching his hat as he went, up the road toward
Tenney's. It was not a reasoned flight, but he did want to calm himself
by the light burning through their windows, perhaps a glimpse of Tira
moving about. The night was going to be clear and not too cold for
pleasant lingering. Over beyond the rising slope opposite Nan's house he
heard an owl hooting and, nearer, the barking of a fox. He turned that
way and stood facing the dark slope. He knew what those trees were in
spring, pink and light brown in the marshes at the foot of the rise,
running up into a mist of sunshine with islands of evergreen. Then,
turning to go on, he cast a glance at the house and stopped with a word
of surprise. There was a light. Somebody had broken in (an incredible
happening here) and was beguiled by loneliness and silence into an
absurd security. He turned into the path and went softly up to the front
door, lifted the latch and was stepping in when some one came. It was
Nan. She was in the hall, a pile of blankets in her arms. Seeing him,
she did not start, only laughed a little, all the mischief of her face
running into it and waking it like the sun on moving water.

"Nan," said Raven, "Nan, my darling, why are you here?"

Nan did the incredible thing. She laid her pile of blankets in a chair,
came back to him and deliberately put arms over his shoulders and about
his neck. Her face, beautifully sweet in its new flush, was close to
his. It might well be flushed, for he had called her darling, and Nan,
feeling lorn and bewildered in losing the Rookie she used to think she
knew, felt for the instant that she had got home again. She had lost
him, she felt, when she saw the shaken look he gave the strange
beautiful woman up in the hut. Now here he was again, quite the same,
only it was true that she had not seemed to be, for years, what he
called her now.

"Rookie, my darling," said Nan, seeing no reason why she shouldn't give
him the precious thing back again, "I'm terrible glad you've come.
Charlotte tell you?" She put her cheek against his for a minute, took
her arms away and turned into the west sitting-room where a fire was
leaping and making soft, living shadows on the ceiling. In the middle of
the room she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Look at the shadows,"
she said, in a low voice, as if they might hear and flee away. "It's
exactly as if they lived here all the time and waited for us to come
back to them. Look at the ones behind those candlesticks. They've always
been just like this, little old scholarly gentlemen in queer hats
walking along a London street. I used to think they were going to old
second-hand shops to buy old second-hand books. I wouldn't have those
candlesticks moved by half an inch for fear the shadows would get mad
and go with them. Sit down, Rookie, there where you used to read to me.
I'll light up, so we can see each other."

He did sit down without waiting for her, on the little squat,
old-fashioned sofa, and Nan went about the room with her match and
dotted it with candles. Raven looked after her in her housewifely
progress; he was still concerned, still grave over her leaving his house
for this. She had on her walking suit, whatever frills she might have
discovered upstairs, and she looked ready for outdoor enterprise. What a
hardy child she was, slender and supple, but taut for action in the
homespun service of the day! She threw her match into the fire and came
to him, sat down beside him and, like the Nan of a hundred years ago,
her childhood and his youth, put her head down on his shoulder.

"Nan," said he, abandoning what he sometimes considered the heavy father
attitude and jamming the silky head down into its hollow, "what did you
do it for? Didn't you like my house?"

"Yes, Rookie darling," she said, in a tone of drowsy happiness. "I meant
to stay--truly I did--and cut in when Mrs. Powell tried to get you to
give yourself away so she could tell her alienists how crazy you are.
But if I had, Dick would have stayed, too. He never'd have gone, never
in the world. And he's so quarrelsome."

"How do you know he's gone?" Raven asked.

"Why, of course he has. He would, the minute he thought I had. Hasn't
he?"

"Yes," said Raven, "he has. Nan, why the dickens do you treat him so?
You mean to take him in the end."

"Do I?" asked Nan, still most contentedly. "Rookie, what a lot you know.
Wake me if you hear a step."

"A step? Who's coming?"

"Charlotte. I told her I was no more afraid than up in your west
chamber. Not so much: Dick and his mother can't pounce on me here. I
didn't say that though. Charlotte thinks I just came over for a freak;
but she's coming to stay with me."

"You don't know what Charlotte thinks," said Raven succinctly. "She's
got a pretty accurate idea of all of us. You're not going to stay here.
That's flat. We'll blow out the candles in a minute or two and poke off
home."

"This is home," said Nan and rubbed her cheek on his coat. "Darling
Rookie!"

"You're running away from Milly," said Raven. "That's all right. I wish
I could myself. But what are you going to say when she finds the house
is open and you're here? I found it out and so can she. I was going by
and saw the light."

"She won't go by and see the light," said Nan, from the same far
distance. "Consider those pumps. She won't go out. If she does, you must
just take her the other way. Head her off, Rookie, that's what you do,
head her off."

"Do you know, Nan," said Raven, with a sudden resolution, "what Dick
feels about you: I mean, what makes him so sore and ugly? He told me."
(There was a slight disturbance on his shoulder. Nan seemed to be
shaking her head.) "He apparently can't get at you. There's something in
you that baffles him, puts him off. It makes him mad as thunder. You
won't let him in, Nan. You don't let him see you as you are."

"Why, Rookie!" said Nan. She sat up straight and looked him in the face.
Her eyes were beautifully calm. If her clinging to him was against the
rules of this present life, nothing in her expression showed it. She was
really like a child used to being loved and innocently demanding it.
"Why, Rookie, Dick's not more than half grown up."

"He writes," said Raven obstinately, aware of having really no argument.

"What kinds of books? Conventional rot. Verse. Anybody could do it by
the yard. No, you needn't look like that. 'Course I couldn't! But
anybody that could write at all. You could, Rookie, only you wouldn't
have the face. You'd feel such a fool."

"Of course it's conventional," said Raven, "his poetry is. But that's
natural enough. He belongs to the new school. You don't find him
conventional himself, do you? Too conventional?"

"He's precisely like his mother," said Nan. She had the air of wanting
to account for him, once for all, and sweep him out of the way. "Only
she's conventional about waving her hair and uplift and belonging to
societies, and he's conventional about brotherhood and a new world and
being too broad-minded to be healthy. Don't you know there are crude
things in a man that have got to stay there, if he is a man? War, now!
if some beast goes out on a prowl (like Germany) the normal man doesn't
call it a herd madness and quote the New Testament. He gets his gun. So
did Dick get his gun, but now he thinks it's all over, he's too
broad-minded to live. Oh, you can laugh, Rookie, but there is such a
thing as being too superior to be decent, and that's Dick. The only time
I come anywhere near liking him is when he forgets to call the world a
fraternal sewing circle and comes out with a healthy damn. That's the
streak of you in him. Don't you know the nicest thing about him is the
streak of you?"

Raven was not aware of knowing that, but he had to own, though silently,
that there was an exasperating three-quarters of Dick he himself could
not, of late years, get along with. Was it youth? he wondered. Yet Nan
was young. Who so sweetly sympathetic as Nan?

"Let's not talk about him," said she. "Yes, a minute more, though. I've
sent off a letter to him. Charlotte was to give it to Jerry to mail on
the train. It told him I shouldn't tell where I was, and I certainly
shouldn't come back till he got his mother away from here. He'd simply
got to do it. I told him plainly."

"And then you're going back? You promised him?"

"I didn't promise him anything. Because, how could I? I don't know how
things are coming out. There's the woman."

"What woman?"

He asked this in a perfect good faith.

"Mrs. Tenney." She withdrew from him slightly. If Tira made his heart
race, she wouldn't hear it. He should not be spied upon. "Don't you
know," said she clearly, "I've got to see this thing through?"

"See it through?" he repeated. "You can't. She won't let you. She won't
let me."

"Of course she won't let you. If the man's mad with jealousy, he won't
stand another man's supporting his wife."

"I should very much doubt if she let you. She's got a loyalty--well,
it's the sort you read about when a brute breaks a woman and she says
she fell and hurt herself. It's been the surprise of my life that she
said a word to me."

"That's easy," said Nan. "You're so awfully sorry for everybody. They
feel it in you. She thought you were an archangel."

"An archangel!" groaned Raven. "Good Lord! Well, what do you propose
doing?"

"Go over there to-morrow. Ask her to come here and help me get the house
in order."

"Then what? Talk to her? You'll frighten her."

But he knew Nan would frighten no one, not the least of the maimed and
spent.

"No, but I thought maybe if things kept happening, I could take her back
with me to town, to work."

"There's the child," suggested Raven.

"Yes, that's a drawback," she owned seriously. "On the other hand, it's
an advantage. The child might be made the reason: to have somebody look
at him, you know. I suppose you saw he isn't quite right."

"Not right? what do you mean? Deficient?"

"I don't know," said Nan. "That or something. Deaf, maybe. But not
right. I hear something. It's Charlotte. Kiss me, Rookie. On my
forehead"--he did it--"on my forehead, on my right cheek, on my left
cheek, on my chin. No, that's all. That's good-night, Rookie--darling
Rookie! It is Charlotte. I'll let her in."

She went to the door and opened it and Charlotte appeared, done up in an
old-fashioned shawl and--Raven noted in an amused incredulity--a
nondescript knitted thing, old-fashioned when he was a child.

"A cloud," he said to himself. "That's what they called the thing."

He felt absurdly thankful at seeing it again. It seemed to assure him
that although the surface of life might heave and sink with revolution
and the fate of dynasties, Charlotte and her equipment of bed-rock
integrity and clouds existed still. She paused in the doorway to take a
basket from Jerry, and closed the door on him, after a casual
good-night. Raven went into the hall. The basket was generous, in its
oval capacity, the contents covered with a napkin.

"Want this carried upstairs?" he asked, but Charlotte shook her head.

"No," she said. "It's for her breakfast. I shall be gone 'fore light."
She lifted her sincere gaze to Raven. "I thought I'd come over," she
added. "I shouldn't feel easy to have her here all alone. Jerry said he
wanted I should."

Raven nodded at her and carried the basket off into the kitchen, and
when he came back both women were upstairs and he heard the interchange
of voices and their quick tread.

"'Night, Rookie," Nan broke off her housewifely deeds to call, and he
called back:

"Good night."

Then he went out and home again, and fulfilled his destiny for the day
by another somnolent hour with Milly before the fire.



XIX


Nan and Charlotte, each in a front chamber, were soon cozily in warmed
sheets. But when Nan judged Charlotte must be asleep, she got up, put
more wood on the dying fire, slipped on her fur coat over a wrapper, did
up her knees in a blanket and sat down by the window she had not yet
opened, in anticipation of this hour of the silent night. Really she had
lived for it, ever since she entered the hut and found the strange
woman. The night at Raven's house had been as still as this, but there
were invisible disturbances in the air; they riddled her chamber through
and pierced her brain: what Amelia thought, what Dick thought. Here
there was only the calm island of Charlotte's beneficence, and even that
lay stiller than ever under the blanket of a tranquil sleep. She felt
alone in a world that wasn't troubling itself about her, because it
never troubled itself about anything.

The moon was just up above the fringe of trees at the east and shadows
were black across the snow. She sat looking out with intentness as if
she were there at the window for the sole purpose of watching the silent
world, but really to get her mind in order for the next day and all the
coming days. She felt about the heart the strange dropping we know as
grief. No wonder the mortal creature, looking on at the commotions
within the frail refuge of his body, should have evolved the age-old
phrase that the heart bleeds. Nan's heart had been bleeding a long time.
There used to be drops on each shock of her meeting Raven after absence
and finding herself put away from the old childish state of delighted
possession. At first, she had believed this was one of the mysterious
cruelties of Aunt Anne's inexorable delicacy of behavior; but when she
grew older she had one day a great happy light of understanding, one of
those floods that sweep over youth after washing at the barriers of its
innocence. Rookie himself had put her away. It was one of the scrupulous
things he had done for her, because she had been too ignorant to do them
for herself. He had seen she was grown-up. It was true, Nan had to own,
that this was one of the lines, drawn across her life, that pleased Aunt
Anne most, because it removed her (or seemed to remove her) from Rookie.
Aunt Anne was jealous to her fingertips, the ends of those beautiful,
delicately prisoning hands. Nan had tried never to acknowledge that. It
always seemed such a barbarity to find in Aunt Anne the things that
would have shocked her in herself.

To-night she looked it in the face. Aunt Anne was jealous. That was the
first count. All her own life, too, Nan had been vaguely irritated by
Raven's not marrying Aunt Anne. He was her property, wasn't he, in a
queer way, never questioned, never, on his part, rebelled against? Yet
it was a bondage. And if the real reason was that Aunt Anne wouldn't
have him, why didn't he play the man and batter down her scruples, even
that barrier of the years between them? But after that sudden look into
Raven's eyes, the night she told him about the will, she had never been
able to think of him as loving Aunt Anne at all. It was that horrible
compassion of his, she believed, that obedience of the male to the
weaker (and yet the stronger) principle of the demanding opposite. He
had always been in bondage through his affections, first to his mother,
then Aunt Anne, and then suddenly, terrifyingly, but most gloriously
because this was the only wildly spontaneous thing of all, to the
strange woman in the hut. He was innocent there, he was unthinking, he
didn't know what tale his eyes told of him. It wasn't earthly passion
they told. She had seen many things in her tumultuous life of the last
few years, this woman he called a child. The eyes told how his soul was
going down in a wreckage of worship of the charm that blooms in a few
women only, translated to him through the pity of this woman's wretched
state. Should she interpret him to himself? She could, without
offending. Rookie was sensitive to see, and she found her hand steady to
hold the torch. But there she saw herself slipping into Aunt Anne's
mandatory attitude, choking, dominating, sapping him, heart and brain.
It mustn't be done. It shouldn't. Rookie had had enough of spiritual
government. Above all, she wanted him to have his life: not the sterile
monotony of a man who renounced and served and deferred to managing
females.

Had the woman any soul in her? If Rookie kidnaped her (and the child, it
would have to be, the doubtful child) would she pay in love for love, or
only an uncomprehending worship? One thing Nan had determined on, the
minute she opened her door to him this night and saw the quick concern
in his face and heard his tone in greeting: Rookie should feel there was
somebody in this disordered world who plainly adored him. If he could
believe that the better for her putting her cheek on his and loving him
to death, he should have it. Rookie should feel warm. As for her, she
was cold. She shivered there by the window and knew it was the inner
tremor of her nerves, for the fire still leaped and the room was
pulsing. "The amount of it is," said Nan to herself, "my heart's broken.
Oh, hang Aunt Anne!" Then she remembered Aunt Anne was dead. But she
would not have recalled the little missile hurled at the impalpable
ghost through the shade of removedness that enveloped her. Nan was
inexorable in standing for what she saw.

In the morning she found the fires burning below stairs and her tray set
out, with cup and plate. Charlotte had gone. Nan felt the mounting of
spirit due a healthy body, with the new day, and made her toast and her
coffee with a great sense of the pleasure of it all. There was one
drawback. It was distinctly "no fair" to let Charlotte come over to
companion her at night when there was so much to do with the exigent
Amelia on board. But that must settle itself. If she could get Tira
(whom she also called "the woman" in her thoughts) to run away with her
to town, it could hardly be done too quickly. So immediately after her
breakfast she put on coat and hat and went "over to Tenney's," as the
country folk would put it. This was a day brightly blue, with mounting
warmth, the road a smoothness of packed snow. When she reached the
house, Tenney was just driving up to the side door in the sleigh, and
she rejoiced. It made her errand easier. He was going to town, and she
could see the woman alone. But immediately Tira, carrying the baby, a
little white lump in coat and hood, came out and stepped into the
sleigh. She, too, was going. Tenney waited while she settled herself and
tucked the robe about her. He was not solicitous, Nan saw, but the
typical country husband, soberly according her time to get herself and
the child "well fixed." Nan, waiting, her eyes on them, still halted
until they drove out, and nodded her good morning. Tenney drew up. His
sharp eyes signaled her.

"I've got it in mind," he announced, "to have a prayer-meetin', come
Wednesday. I'm goin' to put up a notice in the post-office."

He turned a reminding look on Tira who responded by what seemed to Nan
an unwilling confirmation:

"You're invited to come."

"You're all invited," said Tenney harshly, as if Tira had lagged in
urgency. "All on ye."

"Thank you," said Nan, with a cheerful decisiveness. "I'll come."

Tenney slapped the reins and they went on, to a jingling of bells thinly
melodious in the clear air, and Nan turned back to her house. How
beautiful she was, the strange woman, she thought, with a renewal of her
wonder over Tira, the calm majesty of her, the way she sat erect in the
old red sleigh as if she were queen of a triumphal progress, the sad
inscrutability of her wonderful eyes, the mouth with its evasive curves;
how would an artist indicate them delicately enough so that you kept
them in your memory as she saw herself doing, and were yet not able to
say whether it was the indented corner or the full bow? She found
herself remembering poetic lines about Grecian Helen, and then recalling
herself to New England and the unlikelihood of such bewitchingness.
There couldn't be a woman so compact of mystery and unconsidered
aloofness, and yet beauty, beauty to the bone.

When the Tenneys drove by Raven's, each with face set forward, not
looking at the house, Raven was in the kitchen consulting Charlotte
about supplies. Jerry, also, was going to town, for, imperious even in
her unspoken needs, Amelia would have to be delicately fed. Charlotte,
hearing the bells, glanced absently at the window and Raven's eyes
followed. He felt his heart give a little added start, of relief, he
knew. At least Tenney wouldn't stop the horse and brain his wife on the
road.

"There's the Tenneys," said Charlotte. "That's a queer kind of a woman,
that wife he's got."

"Why is she?" Raven demanded.

Whatever Charlotte felt, he must pluck it out of her. It was sure to be
true.

She spoke thoughtfully, as if reviewing what was not altogether clear in
her own mind.

"I dunno's I know. But she's so kind o' quiet. Pleasant enough, but you
al'ays feel as if she's a mile off."

Yes, Raven owned to himself, Charlotte was right. That was the way he
felt, only it was not one mile but many miles off.

"That baby, too," said Charlotte, her brows knitted, as if the whole
thing troubled her. "The baby ain't right."

Just what Nan said. What witchery women had!

"What's the matter with the baby?" he asked, and was nettled at the
roughness of his voice.

Charlotte shook her head and seemed to shake off perplexed imaginings.

"I dunno," she said again. "But suthin' is. An' that's the queer part
on't. You never'd know whether Mis' Tenney knows it or whether she
don't. But there!" Then her mind settled to its task. "No, you couldn't
git sweet-breads this time o' year, up here anyways. They don't kill."

Raven, after the consultation was over and Charlotte had explained the
ease with which she could pack a hamper of hot dishes to carry over to
Nan, "come one o'clock," went to his social task in the library where
Amelia sat at the drowsy rite of warming her toes. He had a more or less
relaxed feeling with Amelia now; she had shot her bolt and sprung her
mine and could hardly have more in hiding. But she had, the completest
shock possible. She sat with her eyes fixed on the doorway, waiting, and
her question was ready:

"John, what do you know about Uncle John? Great-uncle, of course I
mean."

Raven advanced into the room and chose a seat by the window. Amelia,
still thinly clad above and ineffectually baking herself, made him
irrationally want to get away from fires.

"Old Crow?" he asked.

"Why, yes, if you want to call him that. I suppose that's what the
country people did call him."

"Why," said Raven slowly, getting his recollections in order, prepared
to give her what was good for her and no more, "I suppose there's no
doubt he was an eccentric. He built the hut up there and moved into it
and finally went over the countryside doctoring, in an unscientific
way--and praying--and finally hauled in Billy Jones, a sort of old rake
they thought of sending to the poor farm, and took care of him till he
died. Billy was a tank. When we were little, there used to be stories we
got hold of about the way Billy's legs swelled. One of the boys 'down
along' told me he'd been up there and looked into the hut and Billy sat
there in a chair with his legs bandaged and the water dripping through
to the floor. We all wished our legs would drip. We thought it was
great. Mother wouldn't let me go up there after old Billy went into
residence. But we boys kept on hearing about him. I've no doubt we got
most of the salient points."

He was giving her more than was good for her, after all. Amelia wouldn't
like this. She didn't like it.

"Shocking!" she commented, shaking her head in repudiation.

"I've thought since," said Raven, partly in musing recollection and
perhaps a little to show her what she got by fishing for old memories,
"Billy had cirrhosis of the liver. As I said, Billy was a tank."

"We needn't go into the question of Jones," said Amelia, with dignity.
"He doesn't concern us. It was a perfectly unjustifiable thing for Uncle
John to do, this taking him into his own house and nursing him.
Perfectly. But it only shows how unbalanced Uncle John really was."

"Call him Old Crow, Milly," Raven interrupted her, resolved she should
accept the picture as it was if she were bent on any picture at all.
"Everybody knew him by that: just Old Crow. At first, I suppose it was
the country way of trying to be funny over his name, as soon as he got
funny to them with his queerness. And then, after he'd gone round
nursing the sick and praying with the afflicted, they may have put real
affection into it. You can't tell. You see, Milly, Old Crow was a
practical Christian. From all I've heard, he was about the only one you
and I've ever met."

"He was certainly not normal," said Amelia ingenuously, and while Raven
sat rolling that over in his delighted mind and getting the full logic
of it, she continued: "Do you know, John, he was a very commanding man,
very handsome really? You look like him."

"Much obliged, Milly," said Raven. He was smiling broadly at her. His
eyes--the crinkles about them multiplied--withdrew in a way that always
made her uneasy, she was so unlikely, at such times, to guess what he
was thinking about. In another instant he was to inform her. It all came
over him, in a wave. He gasped under the force of it and then he roared
with laughter. "By George, Milly," he cried, "I've got you. As the
Scotch say (or are said to say) I hae it noo. Old Crow was dotty and my
nose is like Old Crow's. So I'm dotty, too."

"I think," said Amelia, with dignity, "any specialist, if you could only
be persuaded to put your case into his hands, would inquire very closely
into family traits. And you and I, John, ought to help him by tabulating
everything we can."

"Sure!" said Raven, relapsing into a vulgarism likely to set her teeth
on edge and possibly, in the spasm of it, close them momentarily on
reminiscence. "I'm willing to let you in for all I know about Old Crow.
To tell the truth, I'm rather proud of him myself."

Charlotte was passing through the hall and Amelia called to her.

"Charlotte, a minute, please. You know our uncle, Mr. John Raven."

"Old Crow, Charlotte," Raven reminded her, seeing she needed prompting,
not yet guessing where the question was to lead. Curiously, he thought,
it was Milly's exasperating fate to put everybody on guard. But it was
inevitable. When you had a meddler in the family, you never knew where
you'd have to head her off.

"What," continued Amelia, "has become of Uncle John's books?"

"His books?" interrupted Raven, himself off the track now, "what the
deuce do you want with Old Crow's books?"

"Where are they?" Amelia continued, now turning to him. "There's
something somewhere--a book--I know it perfectly well--and we've got to
have it. It came to me in the night."

"What was it?" asked Raven. "Old Crow was rather a bookish chap, I
fancy, in a conventional way. I've got some of his stuff up in the hut:
rather academic, the kind daguerreotyped young men with high stocks used
to study by one candle. What do you suspect--a will, or a love-letter
slipped in behind a cover and forgotten? It can't be a will. Old Crow
didn't have anything to leave."

Amelia's hands trembled a little. A brighter rose had encircled the
permanent red of her cheeks. She was, Raven saw with curiosity, much
excited.

"There was certainly a book," she said, "a mottled blank book a third
full of writing. It was a sort of journal. I was in the room when mother
brought it from the hut and passed it to father to look at. He'd just
come down from your room. You were ill, you know: diphtheria. Mother
passed it to him without a word, the way people do when there are
children in the room. He looked at it and then at her, and they nodded.
I was little, you know, but I saw it was important, and I listened. And
father said: 'No, it won't do to have it lying around. I'll carry it up
attic and put it in the red chest.' That's what I mean, Charlotte," she
continued, turning to Charlotte, who stood with a frown of concentration
on her smooth forehead. "You know that old red chest, the one where
uncle's book was put."

"Oh, yes," said Charlotte. "I know the old chest."

"Well," said Amelia conclusively, having made her point, "then you go up
attic, will you, and open the chest, take out the blank book and bring
it down."

"Nonsense!" said Raven. "Charlotte's got her hands full. I'll run up by
and by."

Charlotte gave him a serious, perhaps a warning look, he remembered
afterward, and went out of the room.

"You recall it, don't you," Amelia continued, "how you had diphtheria
after Uncle John's death, and father had it next week."

"Yes," said Raven, tasting the unchanged bitterness of an old misery.

That had been one of the points where his life turned. His father had
taken the infection from him and nearly died, and the child he was then
had never been able to escape a shuddering belief that he might have
been guilty of his father's death. That had made him turn the more
passionately to the task of lightening his mother's burden in the wild
anxiety he had caused her. Poor little boy, he thought, poor little
fool! Making his life a business of compensating somebody for something,
and never, until these later years, even seeing the visible path his own
feet should have taken. He forgot Amelia and showed himself so absent
that she got huffy and fell into silence and only when he left the room
did she remind him:

"Don't forget the journal. You'd better run up and look for it now."

He did go upstairs, really with an idea it might be best to run over the
journal before Amelia pounced on it and turned it, in some manner, to
his own undoing. At the head of the stairs stood Charlotte, waiting. One
hand was under her apron. She stepped silently into his room, tacitly
inviting him to follow, and brought out the hand and the mottled book.

"Here," she said. "Here 'tis. You lay it away safe some'r's. Don't seem
to me I'd let anybody see it, if I's you, till you've been over it
yourself."

Raven, with a nod of understanding, took the book, put it into his desk
drawer and turned the key, and Charlotte hurried away to her kitchen.
When he went downstairs again, he found Amelia at the open door. She was
all an excitement of anticipation.

"Law, Milly," said he, in the country phrasing he loved to use to her
when she was most securely on her high horse of the cultured life, "you
look as nervous as a witch."

"Where is it?" said Amelia, beating a tattoo of impatience, with one
hand, on the door. "You've been up attic, haven't you?"

"Bless you, no," said Raven. "I can't go up attic now. I've got to do an
errand for Charlotte." This was true. Nan's dinner had to be carried
over. "You run up, there's a good girl. Give you something to do. No!
no!" She was turning toward the kitchen. "Don't you go bothering
Charlotte. I won't have it. Cut along."

And Amelia did, in a dignified haste, to show him how journals were
found, and later, when the moment came, Raven went with his hot hamper
to Nan's.

She met him at the door, no such overflowing Nan as last night, but
serenely practical and quite settled into the accustomed comforts of her
house.

"I'm as hungry as a bear," said she. "Come through to the kitchen. I eat
in there. The only drawback to this, Rookie, is that it takes it out of
Charlotte. Still, it won't last long, and I'll give her a kiss and a
blue charmeuse. That would pay anybody for anything."

They unpacked the basket together, and Nan, her plate and knife and fork
ready on a napkin, began to eat. Raven sat down at the other end of the
table.

"I wish you'd stay," he said, watching her in her pretty haste. "I don't
mean here: over with me. Come on, Nan. Amelia's settled down for good.
She won't bother you--much. Anyhow, you can run off up to the hut."

Then he remembered what other fugitive she might find at the hut, and
saw she, too, remembered. Her words came pat upon it.

"The Tenneys are going to have a prayer-meeting Wednesday night."

"A prayer-meeting!" He heard himself echoing it incredulously.

"Yes, and you're to take me, Rookie. Don't scowl. I've got to see that
man when he worships his idols, and you've got to see him, too. His god
must be an idol: burnt offerings, that sort of thing. Perhaps that's
what he's doing it all for: offering her up, as a kind of sacrifice. His
wife, I mean. What's her name, Rookie?"

"Thyatira," said Raven, and got up, his mind suddenly dense to the
comfortable picture of Nan and her dinner, and went home.



XX


The next few days went by, all alike cloudless and uneventful within the
house. Nan coaxed Charlotte into bringing her over meat and vegetables,
and, with a plea of liking it, cooked them herself. Raven swung back and
forth between the houses, but Nan found him silent and, she decided,
cross. Every day he went up to the hut to see whether the fire had been
lighted, and every day found the place in its chilly order. It seemed to
him as if the whole tragic background against which Tira had been moving
had been wiped away by some wide sweeping sponge of oblivion, as if he
had dreamed the story or at least its importance in his own life, as if
Nan had always been living alone in her house, and Amelia, tied up in
Charlotte's aprons, her lips compressed in implacable resolution, always
going through trunks in the attic, searching for a mottled book. He had
no compunction over Amelia. Let her search, he thought, when Charlotte
came to him with a worried brow and asked if he didn't think he could
put it somewheres in sight, so's 't she should know 'twas no use. Do her
good. If she didn't like it she could go back to her clubs and her
eugenics and her Freudians. And when the evening of the prayer-meeting
came he looked out at the brilliant weather, judged that the immediate
region might seize upon it as an excuse for sleigh-riding, and was
returning to his book for a brief minute more, when Amelia called from
the window:

"Three sleighs! Where can they be going?"

"Oh," said Raven, without raising his eyes from the page, "sleighing,
most likely."

But the minute she left the window, he put down his book, got his hat
and coat from the hall, and went out through the kitchen where Charlotte
was sponging bread.

"Going to the meeting?" he asked her.

"No," said Charlotte, absorbedly dissolving her yeast cake. "I never
take much stock in----" There she paused, lest she might be uncharitably
expansive, and found refuge in Jerry. "He says Isr'el Tenney ain't so
much of a man, when all's said an' done, an' don't seem as if he could
stan' seein' him on his knees. But there!"

Raven went on through the shed and up the road, to Nan's. She had seen
him from the window and came down the path.

"Knew I'd come, did you?" he grumbled.

"Yes," said Nan. "We'd really better go."

Raven hated it all, out of his element as he was, going to spy on Tenney
and hear him pray. What other reason was there? He and Nan simply wanted
to search out the reactions in Tenney's spiritual insides in order to
defeat him the more neatly.

The house was brightly lighted downstairs. Six or eight sleighs stood in
the shelter of the long open shed at right angles to the barn. The
horses had been taken in and blanketed. When Raven and Nan arrived, no
one else was outside, and he was about to knock when Nan, who remembered
the ways of neighborhood prayer-meetings, opened the door and stepped
in. Men and women were seated in a couple of rows about the walls of the
two front rooms, and Tenney stood in the square entry beside a table
supplied with a hymn-book, a Bible, and a lamp. He had the unfamiliar
aspect of a man reduced to discomfort of mind by the strictures of a
Sunday suit. His eyes were burning and his mouth compressed. What did
they mean, that passion of the distended pupil, that line of tightened
lip? Was it the excitement of leadership, the responsibility of being
"in charge" of the solemn convention of prayer-meeting? It was the face,
Nan thought, of one who knew the purposes of God from the first word of
creation to the last, and meant to enforce them by every mastery known
to man: persuasion, rage, and cruelty. She gave him a good evening and
he jerked his head slightly in response. The occasion was evidently too
far out of the common to admit of ordinary greetings. A man and woman
just inside the doorway of the front room moved along, and signed Raven
and Nan to take their vacated seats. As soon as they were settled Tenney
began to "lead in prayer," and Raven, his mind straying from the words
as negligible and only likely to increase his aversion to the man, sat
studying the furnishings of the room, a typical one, like all the
parlors of the region from the time of his boyhood to that of his father
and Old Crow. There was the center table with the album and three red
volumes of Keepsakes and Garlands, a green worsted mat, hopefully
designed to imitate moss, and on the depression in its center the astral
lamp. On the wall opposite were pictures of Tenney's father and mother,
painful enlargements from stiff photographs, and on the neighboring wall
a glazed framing of wax flowers and a hair wreath. The furniture was
black walnut upholstered with horsehair. Tenney was of the more
prosperous line of farmers. And yet he had not begun so. All this
represented the pathetic ideal of one who toiled and saved and bought
after the fashion of his type.

Raven's eyes strayed to the faces about him: these were the younger set,
boys and girls from sixteen to twenty. The first two or three had, by
chance perhaps, dropped into this room and the rest gravitated shyly to
it. There was always a line of cleavage at prayer-meeting, as at teas
and "socials," between old and young. Raven was glad he had chosen the
room at random. He liked the atmosphere of half-awed, half-tittering
youth. They were always on the verge, always ready to find hilarity in
untoward circumstance, and yet trained to a respect for meeting, doing
their conventional best. What hard red cheeks there were, what great
brown hands of boys, awkwardly holding hats, and yet, taken into the
open, how unerringly they gripped the tasks that fell to them. All of
them, boys and girls alike, were staring at him and Nan: at Nan with a
frank admiration, the girls perhaps with envy. At the corner of the room
corresponding to his own, two chairs had been left vacant, and when his
eyes came to them he saw a blue scarf depending from the back of one; it
had been dropped when the occupant of the chair had left it. It was
Tira's chair, and Tira herself appeared from the door opposite, leading
from the kitchen, crossed the room, took the scarf and wrapped it about
her shoulders and sat down. She had been called out, perhaps in response
to a cry from the child who seemed to be the center of commotion in this
house, though so mysteriously inactive. Raven felt the blood mounting to
his face, she was so movingly beautiful in this scene of honest but
unlovely mediocrity. Even her walk across the room, unconscious of
herself, yet with the rhythmic step of high processionals--how strange a
part she was of this New England picture! He could not see her now,
without turning, and tried to summon his mind home from her, to fix it
on Tenney, who, having finished his prayer, was calling on one and
another, with an unction that seemed merely a rejoicing tyranny, for
testimony. It was a scene of tension. Church members were timid before
the ordeal of experience or pleading, and the unconverted were strained
to the verge of hysteria over a prospect of being haled into the open
and prayed for. Neither Raven nor Nan knew how unpopular Tenney had
become, because he could not enter the conventional limits of a
prayer-meeting without turning it into something too tense, too
exciting, the atmosphere of the revival. Yet, though his fellow
Christians blamed him for it, they sought it like a drug. He played on
their unwilling nerves and they ran to be played on. He was their opera,
their jazz. Breath came faster and eyes shone. The likelihood of a
hysterical giggle was imminent, and some couples, safely out of range of
Tenney's gaze, were "holding hands" and mentally shuddering at their own
temerity.

Now he was telling his own religious experience, with a mounting fervor
ready to froth over into frenzy. Raven, turning slightly, regarded him
with a cold dislike. This was the voice that had echoed through the
woods that day when Tira stood, her baby in her arms, in what chill of
fear Raven believed he knew. Tenney went on lashing himself into the
ecstasy of his emotional debauch. His eyes glittered. He was happy, he
asserted, because he had found salvation. His conversion was akin to
that of Saul. To his immense spiritual egotism, Raven concluded, nothing
short of a story colossally dramatic would serve. He had been a sinner,
perhaps not as to works but faith. He had kept the commandments, all but
one. Had he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, all his soul, all
his might? No: for he had not accepted the sacrifice the Lord God had
prepared for him, of His only Son. That Son of God had been with him
everywhere, in his down-sittings and his uprisings, as He was with every
man and woman on earth. But, like other sinful men and women, he had not
seen Him. He had not felt Him. But He was there. And one day he was
hoeing in the field and a voice at his side asked: "Why persecutest thou
me?" He looked up and saw----Here he paused dramatically, though Raven
concluded it was simply because he found himself at a loss to go on. He
had appropriated the story, but he was superstitiously afraid to
embroider it. For he (Raven gave him that credit) honestly believed in
his self-evolved God.

"And then," said Tenney, in a broken voice, tears trickling down his
cheeks, "the voice said to me: 'Go ye out and preach the gospel.'"

The front door opened and a little answering breeze flickered in the
flame of the lamp. A girl near Nan, her nerves on edge, gave a cry. A
man stepped in and closed the door behind him. He was a figure of
fashion evolved from cheap models and flashy materials. Tall, quick in
his movements, as if he found life a perpetual dance and
self-consciously adapted himself to it, with mocking blue eyes, red hair
and a long nose bent slightly to one side, he was, in every line and
act, vulgar, and yet so arrogantly bent on pleasing that you
unconsciously had to acknowledge his intention and refrain from turning
your back on him. He looked at Tenney in a calculated good humor,
nodded, had his great coat off with a quick gesture, and slung it over
his arm. Then he stepped past Tenney, who stood petrified as if he saw
the risen dead, and into the room. This was Eugene Martin. He seemed not
to be in the least subdued to the accepted rules of prayer-meeting, but
nodded and smiled impartially, and, as if he had flashed that look about
for the one niche waiting for him, stepped lightly over to Tira's corner
and took the chair at her side. Raven, from the tragic change in
Tenney's face, knew who he was and bent forward to see what Tira's eyes
would tell. She was, it seemed, frozen into endurance. Martin, in
seating himself, had given her a cordial good evening. She did not
answer, nor did she look at him. Her pale lips did not move. Nor did
she, on the other hand, withdraw from him. The chairs had been pushed
close, and, as she sat upright, scarcely moving a muscle with her
breath, the blue scarf touched his shoulder. Raven withdrew his gaze,
not to make the moment in any sense conspicuous, and, feeling the
silence, turned to Tenney to see if his leadership could surmount this
base assault. The assault was premeditated. The gay insolence of the
man's manner told him that. Tenney stood there silent, flaccid, a hand
on the casing of the door. Every vestige of religious excitement had
left his face. His overthrow was complete, and Raven, judging how Martin
must rejoice, was for the moment almost as sorry for Tenney as for his
wife. The little disturbance had lasted only a moment, but now all eyes
were turning on Tenney, who had ceased to "lead." In another minute the
eyes would be curious, the silence would be felt. As Raven wondered what
would break the evil spell, Nan's voice came out clear, untinged by the
prevailing somberness, warm with the confidence of youth:

"Can't we sing one of the nice old hymns? Coronation! That's got such a
swing to it."

She began it, and the young voices broke in pell-mell after her like a
joyous crowd, seeing a vine-clad procession, and losing no time in
joining for fear of losing step. Raven knew perfectly well the great old
hymn was no matter for a passionately remorseful, sin-laden meeting of
this sort. Nan knew it, too. He was sure she had not ventured it for the
protection of Tira. No one had ever told Nan about the man with the
devil in him who "looked up kinder droll." But she could see the tide of
human emotion had better be turned to the glorification of God than to
the abasement of man. Raven, in the swell of it, put his lips to her ear
and whispered:

"I'm going to ask you to change your seat."

She gave no sign of having heard, but sang on, in a delightful volume,
to "Crown Him Lord of all." The moment the last note died, Raven came to
his feet. He addressed Tenney:

"One minute. There's a draught here by the door."

He went over to Martin, Nan following:

"Do you mind sitting by the door?" he asked the man. "There's a good
deal of a draught."

Martin, his surprised look at Nan changing to a ready gallantry, got up
at once.

"Anything," said he, "to oblige a lady."

Nan sat down and Raven and Martin took the seats by the door. There,
too, Martin had advantage of a sort. He could stare down Tenney at short
range, and this he did with a broad smile. Tenney, Raven concluded, was
down and out. His comb was cut. Whatever passions might stir in him
later--however, in reviewing the scene, he might rage over the disturber
of his peace--now his spiritual leadership had passed from him and the
prayer-meeting itself was quashed. An air of curiosity hung over it. Two
or three of the older men and women in the other room offered testimony
and one man, the old clock-mender from the other side of the mountain,
who swore with a free tongue about his secular affairs, but always wept
when he went through the observance he called approaching the throne,
knelt and prayed in a high voice through sobs. This lightened the
atmosphere. No one ever regarded this performance seriously. He was the
comic relief. On his Amen, Nan (blessed Nan! thought Raven) proposed:

"Let's sing again."

"No!" said Tenney. He had got back his self-assertiveness. Raven could
guess his jealous anger, the tide of fury coming, flooding the stagnant
marshes of his soul. "I want to hear one more testimony. Thyatira
Tenney, get up and tell what God has done for you."

Tira gave a start so violent that the blue scarf fell from her shoulders
and one end of it lay over Nan's arm. She did get up. She rose slowly
and stood there looking straight before her, eyes wide and dark, her
hands clasped. Her stiff lips moved. She did piteously, Raven saw, try
to speak. But she could not manage it and after the long moment she sank
back into her seat. Nan placed the blue scarf about her shoulders,
carefully, as if the quiet concern of doing it might tell the woman
something--that she was companioned, understood--and, one hand on the
knot of Tira's clasped fingers, began to sing. She sang the Doxology,
and after that, through unbreakable custom, the meeting was over and you
had to go home. Men and women came to their feet, there were greetings
and good nights and about Nan gathered a group of those who remembered
her. But she kept her left hand on Tira's, and after the others had gone
she said something quickly to the woman who stood, looking dead tired,
uttering mechanical good nights. Martin, with a jovial good night to
Tenney, had hurried off at once.

"See you later," he called back to him at the door, and Tenney looked
after him with the livid concentration of a man who sends his curse
forward to warn where it is not yet time for a blow. A laughing group
followed Martin. There were girls who, horrified at the implications
that hung about his name, were yet swayed by his dashing gallantry, and
young men who sulkily held the girls back, swearing under their breath.
Tira broke loose from Nan and went, fast as running water, through the
room, to the back of the house. Raven made no pretense of saying good
night to Tenney. He forgot it, forgot Tenney, save as an element of
danger to be dealt with later. On the doorstep he stopped with Nan, in
the seclusion of the moment while the others were bringing out horses
and putting them into the sleighs.

"We can't leave her here with him," he said.

"What was the matter?" Nan returned as quickly. "What happened? That
man?"

"Yes. The one he's jealous of. We can't leave her here."

"No use," said Nan. "She won't go. I asked her, told her I was living
over at the house alone, wanted company. No use. She wouldn't go."

"She must go."

"She won't, I tell you. Then I asked if she'd let me stay over here and
she said no. She said----"

"What?" urged Raven when she stopped.

"I almost can't tell, it's so pathetic. Just a word--three words: 'You
don't know.' Then she stopped. Just that: 'You don't know.'"

Raven gave a little sound she could not bear, a breath, a curse--what
was it? Anyway, the breaking impatience of a helpless man. He did not
stir. He meant, she saw, to stay there, doggedly stay, on the step, to
await what happened. She put her hand through his arm.

"Come," she said authoritatively, "let's walk up the road and drop in
again when they've all gone. It's no use staying now."

That, he saw, was wise, and they went out into the road, waited a moment
for the sleighs just starting, and then walked away from home. Some of
the people were singing "camp-meeting hymns," and there was one daring
burst of "Good night, ladies," and a chorused laugh. Prayer-meeting at
Tenney's was not, Raven concluded, regarded much more seriously than
Charlotte had foreseen. The bells jingled off into the distance. The
horses were bent on home. As if the sound only had torn up the night
into shreds of commotion, so now the bits of silence drew together into
a web and the web covered them. Nan, in spite of the perplexed question
of Tira, could have settled under the web, there with Raven, as under
wings. But he was hot with impatience. They had gone half a mile
perhaps, when he stopped.

"Come back," he said. "I've got to know."

Nan turned with him and they went on in silence but very fast. Once or
twice she was about asking him not to take such long steps, but she set
her teeth and swung forward. In front of Tenney's they stopped. The
rooms were lighted. The house was still. Raven drew a deep breath. What
he had expected he did not know, whether calls for help or Tenney's
voice of the woods shouting, "Hullo!" This, at any rate, was a reprieve.

"Come on," he said. "I'll take you home and then come back."

Again Nan stepped out in time. No use, she thought, to beg him to let
her come, too. But she could come back. Women were useful, she knew,
with their implied terrors and fragility, in holding up certain sorts of
horror. Nan was willing to fight, if need were, with all the weapons of
her sex. In the road in front of her own house, was Charlotte, waiting
for them. Nan left Raven, put a hand on Charlotte's arm, and called her
"Ducky."

"You won't come in?" she said to Raven. "Don't you think you'd better.
Half an hour or so?"

"Not a minute," said Raven. "Good night."

He left them and after a few striding steps was aware of Charlotte,
calling him. She came up and spoke his name.

"I've just met that woman."

"What woman?" he asked impatiently.

"Tira Tenney. With the baby. This time o' night."

"Where?"

"Front o' the house, just as I come out."

"Then she was coming there," he burst forth. "Too bad! too bad! Didn't
you know that? Didn't you ask her in?"

"Yes," said Charlotte, "I asked her in an' she said no, she was goin'
down along. An' I stood an' watched her an' she turned off up the rise
into the woods."

So it had begun, the terror, the flight. She was going to the hut and,
for some reason, not the back way.

"There's somethin' 'tain't right," Charlotte was beginning, but he
seized her wrist and held it. To keep her attention, or to feel the
touch of something kindly and warm?

"Yes," he said, "something's wrong. Don't tell, Charlotte. Not a
word--not to Nan or Jerry or--above all not to Tenney. I'll see to it."

He left her and hurried loping along the road, almost at a run, and
Charlotte went in to Nan.



XXI


Raven passed his house and turned into the wood road. There he did not
slacken, but took the rise at a great gait. He was at the hut a moment
after Tira: she had had time for neither light nor fire.

"It's Raven," he called. She did not come, and he added: "I'm alone. Let
me in."

Waiting there at the door, he had time to note the stillness of the
woods, the creak of a branch now and then, and the half-drawn sigh from
the breeze you hardly felt. At the instant of his beginning to wonder
whether she might have fallen there from a hurt or whether she was even
terrified of him, he heard the sound of the key and the door opened. He
stepped in and her hand was at once on the key. She turned it and melted
noiselessly into the dark of the room, and he followed her.

"No fire!" he reproached her, or perhaps himself, for it seemed, in the
poignancy of his tenderness, as if he should have had it burning night
and day. He set a match to the kindling and the flame answered it. She
had taken one of the chairs at the hearth and he saw, in the leaping
light, that she had put the child on the couch and covered him. She was
shuddering all over, shaking horribly, even her lips, and he went into
the bedroom, came back with a blanket and wrapped it about her. She held
it close, in that humble way she had of trying to spare him trouble,
indeed to make no confusion in the world she found so deranged already.
He remembered the chartreuse she had once refused and took it down from
the high cupboard, poured a little and set the glass in her shaking
hand, and, when the muscles did not answer, put it to her lips.

"It won't hurt you," he said. "Down it."

She drank, and the kindly fire of it warmed her. She looked up at him,
and what she said was more unexpected than anything he could have
imagined:

"Do you believe it?"

"Believe what?"

He could only guess she meant something connected with Tenney's madness
of suspicion and the devil of a man.

"What he said." She was looking at him with intensity, as if life and
death lay in his answer. "He said He was there to-night, there in the
room. Do you believe that?"

"Who was there?" Raven prompted her, and the immediate reply staggered
him.

"Jesus Christ."

He temporized.

"I've no doubt he believed it," he said, unwilling to speak Tenney's
name. It was doubly hateful to him at the moment of her being so
patently undone. He could only think she was trying to reconcile the
ugly contrast between her husband's expressed faith and his insane
action. "I'm sure he thought so."

"That ain't what I mean," she hesitated, and he began to see how her
mind was striving in an anguish of interrogation. "What he
thinks--that's neither here nor there. What I want to know is whether
it's _so_. If there's Somebody"--she clasped her hands on her knees and
looked up at him, mutely imploring him who was so wise in books and life
to help her striving mind--"if there's Somebody that cares--that died
over it, He cared so much--if He's round here everywhere--if He sees it
all--an' feels terrible, same as we do ourselves--why, then it's
different."

"What's different?" Raven asked, out of his fog.

She was demanding something of him and he felt, in a sickness of
despair, that it was something he couldn't give her because he hadn't it
himself. Tenney could read her the alphabet of comfort, though he was
piling on her those horrors of persecution that made her hungry for it.

"Why," she said, and the light and a bloom of something ineffable swept
over her face, changing its tragic mystery from the somberness of the
Fates to the imagined youthful glory of the angels, "if He's here all
the time, if He's in the room when things happen to us, an' wishes He
could stop it an' can't because"--again her mind labored and she saw she
had come up against the mysterious negatives of destiny--"anyways, He
would if He could--an' He knows how we feel inside when we feel the
worst, an' cares, cares same as----" here she was inarticulate. But she
turned for an instant toward the couch where the child lay, and her face
was the mother face. She meant, he knew, as she cared for her child.
"Why, then," she continued, "there wouldn't be anything to fret about,
ever. You never'd be afraid, not if you was killed, you wouldn't. You'd
know there was Somebody in the room."

This was the most deeply considered speech of her whole life. The last
words, ingenuous as a child's unconscious betrayal, tore at him as, he
suddenly thought, it would be if he saw a child tortured and in fear: as
if he saw Nan. They told him how desperately lonesome and undefended she
had felt.

"An' don't you see," she concluded, with the brightness of happy
discovery, "even if you was killed, what harm would it do you? He'd be
waitin'. You'd go with Him. Wherever it is He lives, you'd go."

Raven turned abruptly, walked to a window and stood there looking into
the dark. The challenge of her face was impossible to bear. Suppose she
asked him again if he believed it? Did he believe in a God made man? By
no means. He believed in one God, benevolent, he had once assumed, but
in these latter years too well hidden behind His cloud for man to say.
Did the old story of a miraculous birth and an atonement move him even
to a desire to believe? It repelled him rather? What, to his honest
apprehension, was the God made man? An exemplar, a light upon the path
of duty, as others also had been. Had the world gone wrong, escaped from
its mysterious Maker, and did it need to be redeemed by any such
dramatic remedy? No, his God, the God who made, could not botch a job
and be disconcerted at the continuing bad results of His handiwork. The
only doubt about his God was whether He was in any degree benevolent.
When he reflected that He had made a world full to the brim of its cup
of bitterness, he sometimes, nowadays, thought not. All this swept
through his mind in a race of thoughts that had run on that course
before, and again he heard her and knew she was pulling him back to the
actual issue as it touched herself.

"You tell me," she was calling him. Her voice insisted. He did not turn,
but he knew her face insisted even more commandingly. "You know. There's
nothin' you don't know. Is it true?"

Nothing he didn't know! The irony of that was so innocently piercing
that he almost broke into a laugh. Nan was right then. Tira did regard
him, if not as an archangel, as something scarcely less authoritative.
He turned and went back to the fire, threw on an armful of sticks, and
stood looking into the blaze.

"What makes you say that?" he asked her. "What makes you think I know?"

"Why," said she, in a patent surprise, "'course you know. I've always
heard about you, writin' books an' all. An' that's the kind you be, too.
You're"--she paused to marshal her few words and ended in an awed
tone--"you're that way, too. When folks are in trouble, you're so sorry
it 'most kills you."

This was a blow staggering enough to hit his actual heart and stop it
for a beat. What if he should say to her: "Yes, I do care. I care when
you are hurt. I don't know about the God made man, but isn't my caring
enough for you?"

Then bitter certainties cut in and told him it wouldn't do. She had
learned her world lesson too terribly well. It would be only another
case of man's pursuing, promising--what had they promised in the past?
And after all, he thought recklessly, what did the private honor of his
testifying yes or no amount to anyway? What moral conceit! To save his
own impeccable soul by denying a woman the one consolation that would
save her reason.

"Yes, Tira," he said quietly, and did not know he had used her name,
"it's all true."

She gave a little sound, half sob, half ecstatic breath, and he saw she
had not been sure he would yield her the bright jewel she had begged of
him.

"True!" she said, in the low tone of an almost somnolently brooding
calm. "All of it! Everywhere!"

"Yes," said Raven steadily, "everywhere."

"Over there where He was born, here!" That seemed to amaze her to a
glory of belief. "Why, if He's everywhere, He's here, too."

"Yes," said Raven. He loved his task now. He was putting her sorrows to
sleep. "He's here, too."

At that moment, incredibly, it seemed to him that a difference pervaded
the place, or at least that his eyes had been opened to a something
unsuspected, dwelling in all things. Did he, his unchanged mind asked
him, actually believe what he had not believed before? No, the inner
core of him signaled back to his mind. His belief had not changed. Yet
indubitably something had happened and happened blessedly, for it
brought her peace. Tira gave a little laugh, a child's laugh of
surprised content. He glanced at her. She was looking into the fire and
the haggardness of her face had softened. It was even, under the warmth
of the flames and her own inner delight, absorbed and dreamy. And Raven
knew he must wake her, and, he hoped, without flawing the dream, to
present action.

"Now," he said, "I want you to come with me down to Nan's"--still he
dared not put her off a step from the intimacy of neighborly relations
by presenting Nan more formally--"and spend the night there. In the
morning, you'll go back to Boston with her. I shall enter a complaint
against your husband."

It wasn't so hard to give Tenney the intimacy of that name, now she
looked so sweetly calm. She started from her dream, glanced up at him
and, to his renewed discomfort, broke into a little laugh. It was sheer
amusement, loving raillery too, of him who could give her the priceless
gift of a God made man and then ask her to forsake the arena where the
beasts were harmless now because she no longer feared them.

"Why, bless your heart," she said, in a homespun fashion of address that
might have been Charlotte's, "I wouldn't no more run away! An' if you
should have him before the judge, I'd no more say a word ag'inst him! I
wouldn't git you into any trouble either," she explained, in an anxious
loyalty. "I'd say you was mistaken, that's all."

Something seemed to break in him.

"What do you mean?" he asked roughly. "What do you think you mean? I
suppose you're in love with him?"

Tira looked at him patiently. She yielded to a little sigh.

"Why," she said, "that's where I belong. I don't," she continued
hesitatingly, in her child's manner of explaining herself from her
inadequate vocabulary, "I guess I don't think about them things much,
not same as men-folks think. But there's one or two things I've got to
look out for." Here she gave that quick significant glance at the little
mound on the couch. "An' there ain't no way to do it less'n I stay right
there in my tracks."

Raven, his hand gripping the mantel, rested his forehead on it and dark
thoughts came upon him. They quickened his breath and brought the blood
to his face and his aching eyes. It was all trouble, it seemed to him,
trouble from the first minute of his finding her in the woods. She might
draw some temporary comfort from his silent championship, in the
momentary safety of this refuge he had given her. But he could by no
means cut her knot of difficulty. She was as far from him as she had
been the moment before he saw her. She was speaking.

"It ain't," she said, in a low voice, "it ain't that I don't keep in
mind what you've done for me, what you're doin' all the time. But I
guess you don't see what you've done this night's the most of all. Now
you've told me you know it's true"--here she was shy before the talk of
god-head--"why, I know it's so, too. An' I sha'n't ever be afraid any
more. I sha'n't ever feel alone."

"But Tira," he felt himself saying to her weakly, "I feel alone."

Did he actually say it, he wondered. No, for he lifted his face from his
shielding hand and turned miserable eyes upon her, and her eyes met him
clearly. Yet they were deeper, softer, moved by a sad compassion. There
was something patiently maternal in them, as if she had found herself
again before the old sad question of man's uncomprehended desires. She
spoke, strangely he thought then, and afterward he wondered if she
actually had said the thing at all.

"There's nothin' in the world I wouldn't do for you, not if 'twas
anyways right. But----" and again she gave that fleeting glance of
allegiance to the child.

He tried impatiently to pull himself together. She must see there was
something hideous in his inability to make her safe, something stupid,
also.

"Tira," he said, "you don't understand. Sometimes I think you don't
realize what might happen to you. And it's silly to let it happen,
foolish, ignorant. If some one told you there was a man outside your
door and he wanted to kill you, you'd lock the door. Now there's a man
inside your house, inside your room, that wants to kill you. Yes, he
does," he insisted, answering the denial in her face, "when he's got one
of his brain storms. Is there anything to pride yourself on in staying
to be killed?"

She answered first with a smile, the sweet reassurance of a confident
look.

"He won't," she said, "he won't try to kill me, or kill him"--she made a
movement of the hand toward the couch--"no, not ever. You know why? I'm
goin' to remind him Who's in the room."

"Why didn't you remind him this time?" Raven queried, pushed to the
cynical logic of it. "You could have turned his own words against him.
It wasn't an hour since he'd said it himself."

"Because," she answered, in a perfect good faith, "then I didn't know
'twas so."

"Didn't know 'twas so? Why didn't you?"

Her eyes were large with wonder.

"Because," she said, "then you hadn't told me."

Raven stared at her a full minute, realizing to the full the exact
measure of his lie coming back to him.

"Tira," said he, "I believe you're not quite bright."

"No," said she simply, with no apparent feeling, "I guess I ain't. 'Most
everybody's told me so, first or last."

It sobered him.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I didn't mean that. I'm off my head a
little. I'm so worried, you see. I want to know you're safe. You're not
safe. It isn't easy to accept that--to lie down under it."

Usually he had spoken to her in the homespun phrasing he instinctively
used with his country neighbors, but the last words were subtly
different to her, they were more distant, and she accepted them with a
grave humility.

"Yes, sir," she said, and Raven awoke to the irritating knowledge that
she was calling him "sir." He smiled at her and she realized that, as
mysteriously as she had been pushed away, now she was taken back.

"So," he said, "you won't go down to Nan's and spend the night?"

She shook her head, watching him. Little as she meant to do what he told
her, she wanted less to offend him.

"Then," said Raven, "you'll stay here. I'll bring in some more blankets,
and you lie on the couch. You'll have to keep an eye on the fire. Don't
let it go down entirely. It can get pretty cold."

He got up, lighted a candle and went into the bedroom for the blankets.
Tira followed him and silently took the pair he gave her, came back to
the couch and spread them carefully, not to waken the child. He followed
with more and, while she finished arranging her couch, piled wood on the
fire. For a moment he had an idea of announcing that he would stay and
keep the fire up while she slept. But even if she submitted to that, she
would be uneasy. And she was a hardy woman. It would not hurt her to
come awake, as he knew she could, with the house-guarding instinct of
the woman trained to serve.

"There," he said, beating the wood-dust from his hands, "now lock me
out. Remember, you're not to go back there to-night. You owe that to me.
You've given me bother enough."

But his eyes, when hers sought them timidly, were smiling at her. She
laughed a little, happily. It was all right, then.

"You ain't mad," she said, half in shy assertion, following him to the
door.

"No," he said gravely. "I'm not mad. I couldn't be, with you. I never
shall be. Good night."

He opened the door, went out and waited an instant to hear the key click
behind him and ran plunging down the snowy road. Once on the way he
looked up at the mysterious stars visible in the line of sky above the
track he followed. Deeper and deeper it was, the mystery. He had given
her a God to adore and keep her protecting company. He who did not
believe had wrought her faith out of his unbelief. When he turned into
the road, he thought he saw someone under the porch of his house and
hurried, his mind alive to the chance of meeting Tenney, searching for
her. The figure did not move and as he went up to the house a voice
called to him. It was Amelia's.

"O John, is that you? I can't see how you can leave the house alone to
go wandering off in the woods and never saying a word."

There she was in her fur coat, not so much frightened, he thought, as
hurt. She was querulous with agitation.

"All right, Milly," he said, and put an arm through hers, "here I am.
And the house isn't alone. Don't get so nervous. Next thing you know,
you'll have to see a specialist."

"And Charlotte's gone," she lamented sharply, allowing him to march her
in and turning, in the warm hall, to confront him. "Here I've been all
alone."

"Where's Jerry?"

Raven had thrown off his hat and coat and frankly owned himself tired.

"In the kitchen. But he won't tell where Charlotte is. He says she's
gone up along."

"Well, so she has, to a neighbor's. Come into the library and get 'het'
through before you go to bed."

"And," she lamented, letting him give her a kindly push toward the door,
"I've got to pack, myself, if Charlotte doesn't come."

"Pack?" He stared at her. "You're not leaving?"

"Yes, John." She said it portentously, as bidding him remember he might
be sorry when she was no more. "I'm going. Dick has telegraphed."

"Anything the matter?"

"That's it. I don't know. If I did, I could decide. He orders me, simply
orders me, to take the early train. What do you make of it?"

Raven considered. Actually, he thought, Dick was carrying out his
benevolent plan of getting her back, by hook or crook.

"I don't believe I'd worry, Milly," he said, gravely, "but I think you'd
better go."

"Yes," she said, "that's it. I don't dare not to. Something may be the
matter. I've tried to telephone, but he doesn't answer. I must go."



XXII


Raven always remembered that as the night of his life, up to this
present moment, the mountain peak standing above the waters of his
discontent. The top of the mountain, that was what lifted itself in an
island inexpressibly green and fair above those sullen depths, and on
this, the island of deliverance, he was to stand. After he had reasoned
Amelia into her room and persuaded her to leave her packing till the
morning, he went up to his own chamber, mentally spent and yet keyed to
an exhausting pitch. He was excited yet tired, tied up into nervous
knots without the will to loose them. What sense in going to bed, when
he could not sleep? What need of reviewing the last chapter of his
knowledge of the woman who was so compelling in her helplessness and her
childlike faith? He would read: something silly, if he had it at hand.
The large matters of the mind and soul were not for this unwilling
vigil; and at this intruding thought of the soul he smiled, remembering
how glibly he had bartered the integrity of his own to add his fragment
to the rising temple of Tira's faith. He had strengthened her at the
expense of his own bitter certainties. It was done deliberately and it
was not to be regretted, but it did open a window upon his private
rectitude. Was his state of mind to be taken so very seriously, even by
himself? Not after that! Lounging before his book-shelves in search of a
soporific, suddenly he remembered the mottled book. It flashed into his
mind as if a hand had hurled it there. He would read Old Crow's journal.

Settled in bed, the light beside him and the mottled book in his hand,
he paused a thoughtful minute before opening it. Poor old devil! Was
this the jangled record of an unsound mind, or was it the apologia for
an eccentricity probably not so uncommon, after all? Foolish, he
thought, to leave a record of any sort, unless you were a
heaven-accredited genius, entrusted with the leaves of life. Better to
recognize your own atomic insignificance, and sink willingly into the
predestined sea. He opened it and took a comprehensive glance over the
first page: an oblong of small neat handwriting. Many English hands were
like that. He was accustomed to call it a literary hand. Over the first
date he paused, to refer it back to his own years. How big was he when
Old Crow had begun the diary? Seven, that was all. He was a boy of seven
years, listening with an angry yet fascinated attention to the other
boys talking about Old Crow, who was, they said, luny, love-cracked. He
never could hear enough about the terrifying figure choosing to live up
there in the woods alone, and who yet seemed so gentle and so like other
folk when you met him and who gave you checker-berry lozenges. Still he
was furious when the boys hooted him and then ran, because, after all,
Old Crow was his own family. And with the first words, his mind started
to an alert attention. The words were to him.

"I am going to write some things down for the boy," Old Crow began, in
the neat-handed script. "He is a good little boy. He looks like me at
his age. I had a kind of innocence. He has it, too. If he should grow up
anything like me, I want him to have this letter"--the last word was
crossed out and a more formal one substituted--"statement. If he thinks
about things anyways different from what the neighbors do, they will
begin to laugh at him, and try to make him believe he is not in his
right mind."

Over and over, through the first pages of the book, there were
grammatical lapses when Old Crow, apparently from earnestness of
feeling, fell into colloquial speech. This was always when he got so
absorbed in his subject that he lacked the patience to go back and
rewrite according to rules he certainly knew but which had ceased to
govern his daily intercourse.

"He must remember he may be in his right mind, for all that. If one man
thinks a thing, it might be true if forty thousand men think different.
The first man that thought the earth was round, when everybody else
thought it was flat, was one man. The boy will be told I was crazy. He
will be told I was love-cracked. I did want Selina James. She was a
sweet, pretty girl and high-headed, and the things some folks thought of
her were not so. But she was the kind that takes the world as it was
made and asks no questions, and when I couldn't take it so and tried to
explain to her how I felt about it, she didn't know any way but to
laugh. Perhaps she was afraid. And she did get sick of me and turned me
off. She married and went away. I was glad she went away, because it is
very hard to keep seeing anybody you thought liked you and find they
didn't, after all. It keeps reminding you. It was after that time I
built me the hut and came up here to live.

"Now the boy will hear it was on account of Selina James that I came up
here, but it is not so, though it well might have been. It was about
that time I began to understand what a hard time 'most everybody is
having--except for a little while when they are young, and sometimes
then--and I couldn't stand it. And I thought how it might not be so if
everybody would turn to and help everybody else, and that might be the
kingdom of heaven, the same as we read about it. And then one day I went
out--I was always going round the fields and woods, kind of still,
because I liked to come on little animals living their own lives in
their own way--and I came to the open spot up above the hut where there
are the old apple trees left from the first house the Ravens lived in,
on the back road, before the other road went through. And on one of the
lower limbs of the apple tree was a robin and she was making that noise
a robin makes when she is scared 'most to pieces, and on another limb
there was a red squirrel, and he was chattering so I knew he was scared,
too. And down under the tree there was a snake pointed right at a little
toad, and I stamped my foot and hollered to scare him away; and that
same minute he struck and the toad fell over, whether poisoned to death
or scared to death I didn't know. And the snake slipped away, because he
was afraid of me, just as the toad was afraid of him. And the bird
smoothed down her feathers and flew away, and the squirrel run along
where he was going. They had got off that time, and I suppose the next
minute they forgot all about it. But I never forgot. It was just as if
something had painted a picture to show me what the world was. It was
full of fear. Everything was made to hunt down and kill everything else,
except the innocent things that eat grass and roots, and innocent as
they be--as they are--they are killed, too. And who made it so? God. So
what peace could I have--what peace could anybody ever have--in a world
where, from morning till night, it is war and murder and the fear of
death? And what good is there in trying to bring the kingdom of heaven
down to men? You can't bring it to the animals. What if you could die
for men? A good many have done that besides Jesus Christ. But who is
going to die for the animals? And the animals in captivity--I saw a bear
once, in a cage, walking up and down, up and down, and moaning. I saw a
polar bear once trying to cool himself on a cake of ice. I saw an eagle
with his wings clipped. An eagle ought to be up in the air. And all that
could be done away with, by law, if men would see to it. But even then
(and this is the strangest part of it, the part that won't bear thinking
about) it is not only that men are unmerciful to the animals, but the
animals, when they are hungry, are unmerciful to one another. I shall
come back to this.

"Now about Jesus Christ. I hate to write this because, if the boy does
not see things as I do, maybe it will be bad for him to read it, and he
may think I am blaspheming holy things. I pray him to remember I write
in earnestness and love, love for him, for the earth and for the
animals. I want to tell him things look very black to me. When I think
how I felt over losing Selina James it seems to me as nothing compared
with the way I feel about the way the world is made. For it is all
uncertainty and 'most all pain. It seems to me it is not possible for
anything to be blacker than the earth is to me. I wake in the morning
with a cloud over me, and when I go to bed at night the cloud is there.
It settles down on me like--I don't know how to say what it is like--and
I call out, up here alone in the woods. I call to God. I remember how He
made the earth and I ask Him why He had to do it so. Over and over I ask
Him. He does not answer. He can't. I suppose that is what it is to be
God. You have to make a thing a certain way, and after it is done they
have to take it, the men and the animals, and do the best they can with
it. And one night when I was calling to God, there was a scream of an
animal--a little animal--just outside, and I knew an owl had got him.
And I covered my ears, for it seemed as if that was God's answer to me,
and I didn't want to hear any more. I even thought--and I tell the boy
this so that if he has thoughts that frighten him he will have the
comfort of knowing somebody has thought them before--I thought that
scream was God's answer. It was a good many months before I could pray
again, even to ask God why.

"Now about religion. A great many people go to church and find comfort
in it, and they come home and eat meat for their dinners, meat
killed--they don't know how it is killed. Sometimes it is killed the
best you can and sometimes not. They don't seem to think about that.
They have done their duty and gone to church, and they go out to feed
the animals they are going to kill when they are fat enough, and
sometimes the animals will be killed the best they can and sometimes
not. And if they think about their sins, they quiet themselves by
thinking Christ has taken them on His own shoulders. And so, unless
somebody they love has died, or they are poor or disappointed, they say
it is a very pleasant world, and they ask for another slice of beef and
plan what they will do Monday, now Sunday is so far along. Now if the
boy is that kind of a boy, let him be like those people who do the best
they can without questioning. Let him do the best he can and not
question. But if he is different, if he has to think--sometimes I am
sure he will have to, for I cannot help seeing he looks out of his eyes
like me. His eyes are terrible to me, for they are always asking
questions, and that is what Grandmother Raven used to say to me. She
used to say: 'You are always asking questions with your eyes. Stop
staring and ask your questions right out.' But I couldn't. As long ago
as that, I knew my questions hadn't any answers.

"Now if the boy begins to ask himself questions about Jesus Christ,
whether He is the son of God, and whether He could take on Himself the
sins of the world, I want to tell him that I am sure it is not so. I
want the boy to remember that nobody can take away his sins: nobody but
himself. He must accept his punishments. He must even go forward to meet
them, for through them alone can he learn how to keep away from sin. And
I want him to regard the life of Jesus Christ with love and reverence,
and make his own life as much like it as he can. But I want him to
remember, too, that God made him as he is, and made his father and
mother and all the rest back to the first man, and that there is no
guilt of sinfulness upon man as a race. There is only the burden of
ignorance. We live in the dark. We were born into it. As far as our
knowledge of right and wrong goes, so far are we guilty. But He has made
us as we are, and if there is guilt, it is not ours."

As Raven read this, he found himself breathing heavily in the excitement
of knowing what it cost the man to write so nakedly for casual eyes. To
that elder generation, trained in the habit of thought that prevailed in
a country region, so many years ago, it was little short of blasphemy.
He turned a page, and had a cumulative surprise. For time had leaped.
The date was seven years later. Old Crow was now over sixty, and this
was the year before his death. Raven could hardly believe in the
likelihood of so wide a leap, but the first line showed him it was
actual. The subject matter was different and so was the style. The
sentences raced as if they were in a hurry to get themselves said before
the pen should drop from a palsied hand.

"I gave up writing with that last line. I thought there was no more to
say. I didn't even want to read it over. If I hadn't said it well, still
I had said it and I didn't see any better way. I wanted to fortify the
boy against the loneliness of feeling there was nobody that understood.
I wanted to tell him I understood. That was all I could do for him at
that time. But a great deal more has happened. The last of it happened
over two years ago, but I was too busy to write it down. Besides, I
didn't know there would be such things to write. The boy knows me a
little now. He comes up oftener. His mother brings him. She is very
sweet and gentle, but she will not leave him alone with me because I am
queer and she is afraid I may teach him to be queer. She does not
understand. She wouldn't if I told her. She takes things as they are.
There are no questions in her mind. There will be in the boy's. They
have begun to come. I can see them more than ever by the look in his
eyes. Several years ago, about when I finished writing in this book, I
saw I should have to give up questioning myself and calling on God.
There were no answers. If there were, He didn't mean to let me have
them. I mustn't keep on. It was dangerous. I got no good out of it and I
should come to harm. And if I had got to live, I must be as near like
other folks as I could. So I must be as busy as I could. And it came to
me that over beyond the mountain there were folks poorer than I am, and
that knew less, a good deal less. I didn't know anything about God, but
I did know I must keep clean and eat the right food. So I begun to take
long tramps round the countryside, and wherever I went I'd try to find
out the sick and, if the family was poor, work for them a while and sit
up with the sick one, and, if he was discouraged, try to help him
through.

"So it happened I was away from the hut a good deal of the time, and I
got an idea the Ravens liked that. It must have touched their pride to
have Old Crow living up here alone, queer as Dick's hat-band. Whichever
way I fixed it, I was a kind of a curse: for when I went off on my
wanderings I was a tramp and the news of it came back home, and I often
think the boy's mother was sorry and wished I wouldn't, though even that
was better than my being around, toleing off the boy. I liked my
wanderings, in summer best of all. But in winter the folks needed me
more, shut up so in tight houses, catching colds in bad air, and it got
so when they were sick they'd send for me and I was proper pleased to
go. And they came to have a kind of a trust in me, and I was nearer
being contented than I'd been in my whole life. Because the questions
didn't come hardly at all, now. I was too busy by day and too tired at
night. So it went on till one day I came to old Billy Jones's little
house, where he lived all alone in the dirt and filth. It was just at
the foot of the mountain and no neighbors under half a mile. I say he
lived there, but he wasn't there more than a third of the time. The boy
will remember how he used to go along the road, full as a tick, and the
school children making fun of him and then running before he could get
at them. I don't know as he would, though. There never was any harm in
him, only he did neglect himself so he was an awful sight. And the only
time he was in his little house was when he'd been hired out haying or
something, and got his money and spent it and come back with crackers
and cheese in his old carpet bag, to sober up.

"This day I was speaking about (it was October and no wind) I was going
by his house and I saw a smoke coming out of the chimney, and I thought
old Billy had come home to sober up. But I hadn't hardly got to the
house before I heard him calling me, and I looked and there he was in
the front door leaning on a cane.

"'You come in here,' says he, and I went in.

"It was a terrible hog's nest, his front room was, but I paid no
attention, for that's the way he lived. He sat down in a chair and made
a motion with his hand for me to come near, and I did, and he took my
hand and put it on his knee.

"'Feel that,' he says. And when I didn't know what he meant, nor care
hardly, for I thought he might be in drink, he called out, in a queer
voice--sharp it was, and pitiful--and says he: 'My legs are swelling.
Hard as a rock.'

"Then I saw he was in a trouble of fear, and I asked him questions and
he told me how long it had been coming on and how he went to the doctor
down to the street, and the doctor told him he was a sick man, and how
he would grow worse instead of better and could never take care of
himself in the world, and the doctor would get him sent to the Poor
Farm. That was his trouble. He did not want to go to the Farm, and when
I told him it was the right way, he broke down and shook and cried and
said he was afraid to go. Then he told me why. The boy must not read
this until he is grown up, but when he is, he will hear there was a man
killed over across the mountain: Cyrus Graves, a poor, good-for-nothing
creature as it was said. (But God made him.) He was found by the side of
the road, and it was thought he had words with a peddler that went along
that day and never was found afterward. But some thought the authorities
never tried so hard as they might to find the peddler, because Cyrus was
such a poor good-for-nothing that he was well rid of, and if the peddler
was found and not convicted he might come back and burn their barns. And
when old Billy Jones was shaking there before me, I kept asking him what
he was afraid of, and he said:

"'Will you promise not to tell?'

"I said I would. And he said:

"'It was me that killed Cyrus Graves. We were coming home together, and
we had both had a drop too much, and we had words about something, I
forget what. And which of us struck first I don't know, but I know I
struck him and he fell pitch-polling down the side of the road into the
gully and I went home and crawled into bed. And the next day they found
him, and I said I came home across lots, and there was a man that met me
and he said it was so and I was so far gone in liquor I never could have
raised my head again that night, once I'd laid down and begun to sleep
it off. But he never knew I did raise my head for I was not so well
started as common and I went out again about ten to fill up. And it was
then I met Cyrus Graves.'

"I told him there was but one thing for him to do. He must send for the
sheriff and give himself up. But he cried out at that and said:

"'Look at my poor legs. Do you think a man with such legs as mine has
got strength enough to be hung?'

"I told him he would not be hung. He was a very sick man, and there was
no court of law in the world so unmerciful as not to take that into
account. But he would not do it. He had not meant to kill Cyrus Graves,
he said, and he would not die a murderer and known for one. And that was
why he would not go to the Poor Farm. As he got sicker, he might be
delirious or talk in his sleep. Rave, that was the word he used. He
might rave. After he stopped speaking, I sat thinking it over, and he
watched my face. He spoke first, and he spoke as if he could hardly wait
to hear the answer and yet was obliged to hear it.

"'Ain't you goin' to say you'll come here an' take care of me?' he said.
'My time won't be long.'

"Then I could see my going round taking care of the sick had made him
turn to me. That was the way with all of them round here. They turned to
me. It was the only comfort I had. I told him I could not take care of
him there. It was no fit place. I thought a spell longer, and he watched
me. His eyes were full of fear. The little animals look like that when
they are trapped. Then I told him I would have him brought over to the
hut if he would come, and he jumped at it. I scarcely ever saw a man so
wild with thankfulness. And the next day I hired a team and went over
after him, and I took care of him to the end."

Here was a heavy dash. Raven could imagine Old Crow's drawing the line
with one impatient stroke because he had got so far in a story he could
ill stop to write, but that had to be written. Raven had forgotten Tira
up there in the lonesome woods, forgotten a day was very near when she
would have to make one more of her desperate decisions. He was thinking
of Old Crow.



XXIII


He went on reading:

"There is no need of going into old Billy's sickness. It made a great
change in my life. As soon as it got about that I had taken him to live
with me, folks began to say I was queer, the same as they did before,
and the children would hoot and run. He was known to be so bad (they had
always called him bad; they never once thought God made him) they
thought I liked to keep company with him because I must be bad, too. And
I could not go about any more doing for people because I was doing for
him and there was no time. But people kept sending for me, and when they
saw old Billy Jones sitting there with his bandaged legs, they would
feel hard toward me. They said I would rather do for him than for them,
and he ought, by rights, to be on the town. That meant his going to the
Farm. Sometimes I thought they felt so about it there might be action
taken to get him there--to the Poor Farm. He never thought of this, I am
sure. He had a peaceful time, as much so as a man could have that has
killed his body and begins to be afraid he has killed his soul. That was
the hardest time I had with him: about his soul. He was afraid to die. I
told him God made him and would see to him in the end, and that He well
knew he did not mean to kill Cyrus Graves. He said that was true, but if
he had been tried here in a court of law the jury would have pronounced
him guilty and it was very likely God would. And there was hell. These
things I could not answer because I did not know, and if I had any
convictions they were as dark as his, though of another sort. But I did
try to put heart into him, and I hoped the end would come before he
suffered any more.

"I want the boy to know that all this time his mother was a very great
comfort to me. Of course she could not let the boy come up to the hut,
because old Billy Jones was too dreadful a sight for a child to see. But
she cooked a great many delicate things and brought them up or sent
them, and, one day I shall never forget, when I had a blind headache and
had to lie down in the dark, she sat with Billy a long time, to keep him
from being lonesome, and afterward I found she had bandaged his legs.

"As time went on and he grew worse and worse, there was but one thing he
wanted. It was to be forgiven. I tried again to persuade him to tell
publicly the straight story of the killing and so die with a clean mind.
This he would not do. He had asked me to get him a headstone, with his
name on it all complete, and he was much set against being remembered as
a murderer. All his life he had lived outside the law, so to speak, and
he wanted to die respectable. I told him it might happen to him that,
after his death, somebody would be accused of the death of Cyrus Graves
and in that case I should break my promise to him and tell. To this he
consented, though unwillingly, and I am now telling, not only for the
sake of the boy, but for the sake of all to whom the boy may have to
pass on the strange things that came to Billy Jones. His sickness went
on in a very painful way, and when it got to be near the end he was
still more distressed in mind. He could not die, he said, unless he was
forgiven. And yet he had to die. For a while he seemed almost to hate me
because I could not show him the way.

"'If I was a Roman Catholic,' he said, 'and you was a priest, you could
forgive me yourself. You would forgive me, I'll warrant ye.'

"I did not deny it, though I felt very hopeless of anything I might do.
In those last days I could have denied him nothing. He seemed to me like
all the trouble in the world beating out there in the hut. God had made
him, and made him so that he did not rightly see good from evil, and he
had ruined his body, and now he was taking the consequences. And the
night before he died, he cried out a terrible voice:

"'You don't say a word about Jesus Christ.'

"I stood by his bed in anguish of mind perhaps as great as his. Yet not
as great, for he had no strength of body to bear the anguish with.

"'You never have said anything,' he went on.

"I felt as if he was accusing me of not giving him water when he was
fevered, or bread if he was hungry. Then he said he remembered something
he used to hear when he was little and he had hardly ever heard of it
since. But he had heard other things. And I guessed he was remembering
he had lived with the people who used the name of Jesus Christ only to
swear by. He had heard, he told me, that Jesus Christ was the son of
God, and God sent Him here to save sinners, and, if sinners called on
Him to save them, they would be saved. And then he looked at me for a
minute with that same look, as if he hated me, and he said:

"'You don't believe it. You wouldn't let me suffer like this, if you
did.'

"And all my spirit broke up in me, and my legs were weak under me, and
the tears ran down on my face, and I said to him:

"'I do believe it.'

"'Will you swear it?' he asked me. He was very wild then. 'Will you
swear by Jesus Christ it is so?'

"'Yes,' I said, 'I will swear.'

"And I fell on my knees by the bed and said: 'Let us pray.' And I
prayed, in what words I don't know, but my hand was on his, and when I
said Amen, he said Amen, too, and when I looked at him all the trouble
was smoothed out of his face and he said, 'Jesus Christ!' as he never
could have said it in his life before. It was as if you were speaking to
your mother or your friend (yet not just a friend, but a heavenly
friend) and shortly he died. And I had told him a lie. But I was not
sorry. I was glad. What was my keeping my poor soul clean to old Billy
Jones's dying in peace? It was the last thing I could give him, and he
was welcome to it.

"It was in the early morning he died, and I did what I knew about making
him right for his coffin, and then went down to get one of the neighbors
that knew more, and all that day I was busy. The next day he would be
taken away and lie in the Methodist church at the Ridge, and the third
day he would be buried. And nobody had ever taken any interest in him
except to call him a poor good-for-nothing creature--nobody except your
mother (she is a good woman) but it looked as if he would have a
well-attended funeral. I was glad of that, for I knew he would be
pleased. He was laid out in the bedroom of the hut and the window was
open and the cold air blowing on him, and I lay down on the couch in the
large room. I didn't take my clothes off, for at such times it is
respectful to have watchers about the dead. It may not be necessary, but
it is the custom, and I wanted old Billy to have everything that was
fitting and right. I did not mean to go to sleep, but lie there a spell
and then get up and put on more wood and go into his cold room and let
him feel as if he was being taken care of to the last. And I lay there
thinking how I had heard there was diphtheria over beyond the mountain
and I would take a day or two to rest me and then I'd go over there and
help. I laughed a little to myself, and I see now it wasn't a very
pleasant kind of laugh, for I thought the people would begin to like me
again because I was free to do for them.

"And I did go to sleep, being, as I said, very tired, and how long I
slept I don't know. But suddenly I waked up, just as wide awake as I am
this minute, and I knew as well as I ever knew anything, that Billy
Jones was in the room. I didn't see him. I didn't hear him. I didn't
hear anything, outside or in. It was a very still night, and there
wasn't even the creaking of the branches against each other. But Billy
Jones was in the room. I wasn't afraid, but I felt queer. I had a kind
of prickly feeling all over me. The hair on my head moved somehow,
according to the feeling it gave me. Perhaps that was being afraid, only
I don't take it so. The reason I think differently is that I didn't want
it to stop. If Billy Jones was there, I didn't want him to go away. If
he had anything to say, I wanted to hear it. And I was as sure as ever I
was of anything in my life that there was something to say. If this was
the beginning of something that was going to happen, it was only the
beginning. There was more to come. And I wanted to know what. I lay
there as still almost as Billy's body in the next room. I was afraid of
missing something. If there was something for me to hear I'd got to keep
still to hear it. But I said that before. I have to keep saying it, it
took such hold of me. The fire hadn't wholly died down. I could tell by
that I hadn't been asleep long. But I didn't dare to get up and put on
another stick. I was afraid if I moved I might jar something and it
would break. And I couldn't have it break till the end--the end of my
knowing what it was.

"And now the boy must remember that what follows, if I live to write it,
is faithful and true. That is what the Bible says about things like
that: they are faithful and true. And mine are just as true. It seemed
to me as if the ceiling of the room raised up and the walls opened out
and the room was as if it was not. Whether I looked through it or
whether it was gone, I do not know. But I looked into a great space. And
it was dark and at one side of it there was a great light. And the light
was not angry, as a sunset looks when it flames and flares. It was
steady, and I knew it was to light the world. And there came into my
head some words: 'And the darkness comprehended it not.' When I waked
up, I found the words in the Bible, but that night it seemed to me they
were said for the first time. The boy must remember Billy Jones was in
all this. He was the chief part of it. As to the words, it was as if
Billy Jones said them. I was in the darkness, and I was to be made to
comprehend. And when I looked lower through the darkness--and I cannot
tell how, but I seemed to be in it and yet at the same time I was above
it, so that I looked down and saw what was going on--I saw multitudes of
men and women, trying to get through it. Sometimes they walked slowly,
as if it was hard to walk, and sometimes they jostled each other and
sometimes stopped to push one another about, and sometimes when some
were down the others stamped on them. But they were all going somewhere,
and it was toward the light. And as I say, I was in the darkness though
I could see through it, and I wondered if I was going, too.

"And then I understood. I couldn't tell the boy how I understood, not if
he was here to ask me; but it was as if a voice spoke and told me in two
or three words, and few as they were, I took them in and I knew. Perhaps
there was a voice. Perhaps it was the voice of Billy Jones. There is no
reason why not. The minute after he got out of his body, he might have
known everything: I don't mean everything, I mean the one thing that
would explain it all. And he had a kindness for me, and if he learned
anything that smoothed out his trouble and turned it into joy, he would
want me to know, too. And this is it, though now I have got to the place
for telling it, I don't know how. It is like a dream. You have to tell
it the minute you wake, or it is gone. I saw that creation had been a
long time going on. I saw that although we have minds to think with, we
haven't really, in comparison with the things to be thought out. I saw
that we are so near the dust that we can no more account for the ways of
Almighty God than the owl hooting out there in the woods can read the
words I am writing here. I saw that nothing is to be told us. We are to
find out everything for ourselves, just as we have found electricity and
the laws of physics. And poisons--we have found out those, some of them,
even if we had to die to do it. And God lets us die trying to find out.
He doesn't care anything about our dying. And if He doesn't care
anything about our dying, He doesn't care anything about the rabbit
broken by the owl, or the toad struck by the snake.

"Now, why doesn't He care? For the first time, I knew there was a reason
that was not a cruel reason. I knew His reasons were all good. And I saw
that though He could not break the rules of His plan by telling us
things, He could give us a kind of a something inside us that should
make us work it out ourselves. We had hungers. We had one hunger for
eternal life. We had to believe in it, to help us bear this present
life. We believed it so hard that men rose up and said it was so, and we
said God had put the words into their mouths. And out of our sufferings,
pity was born, and now and then a man would be raised up so full of pity
that other men believed in him and followed everything he said and even
called him a god. And this was well, because if they had not thought he
was a god, they might not have followed him. And I seemed to be told
that a great many men were born who were sent from God, but I have not
read many books and how can I prove whether it is true?

"But Jesus Christ came, and His story is the story of the will of God.
For men believed His father was God. That is to keep in our minds always
the fatherhood of God. And his mother was believed to be a virgin. I do
not know how to say this, but I was given to believe that that was no
more true than I had thought, but still that it was the truest of all.
It is one of the things we are to believe. We are to learn from it--how
can I say?--that there is a heavenly birth out of purity and light. It
is a symbol. That is the word: a symbol. And His death for mankind is
the everlasting symbol of man's duty: to die for one another. And He
went into the grave, and ascended into heaven, and so shall we all die
and live again. But every observance of every church is a
symbol--nothing more. And the man that was a god is a symbol and nothing
more. But nothing could be more. For to find a symbol that has lasted,
in one form or another, since the beginning of the world is to learn
that it is something the world itself is built on. It is the picture
book we are given before we can read print. And it means that something
is working out--and is not yet--and the eye of man hath not seen or the
ear of man heard. And about fear--that is the most wonderful of all and
the hardest to tell. It is our friend. At first everything fed upon
everything else; and so it does now, for how shall I say the animal has
fear and the growing plant has not? And our fear tells us what to turn
away from, and it fits us for the fight of the mortal life. But in the
end will our fear be only the fear of evil? Fear is our counselor. It is
our friend.

"Now perhaps I have done wrong in trying to write this out. Perhaps I
have not helped the boy or anybody he tells. Perhaps I have offended
them. I know the sound of what I must have heard and the sight of what I
saw was clearer to me before I tried to tell about them. At first I kept
them back somewhere in my mind and didn't try to see them or hear them
too close. And when I did that, the great light was always there and I
was running toward it. But now I have tried to tell, I see it is no more
than words. They darken counsel. And I have put it back into my mind,
not so much to be thought about as to have at hand. And all my trouble
has gone. It has been a long trouble. I am over sixty now. But I am not
afraid of anything and I am not in doubt. When I see men suffering, I
know they are suffering for a reason. When I find the bird with a broken
wing or the rabbit bit by the trap I know God knows about them, and if I
cannot know, it proves it is not necessary I should. For there is the
great light. (But it is not likely the boy will see this account of it
at all, because I shall try to write it over--to write it better--and if
I make it clearer this will be destroyed.)

"Another thing: about the worship of God. He does not want us to worship
Him as we understand it, to crawl before Him as if He were an idol we
had set up to get us victories over our enemies and to fill us with
food. He wants us--what shall I say?--to open our hearts and our minds
and our ears and eyes to what He wants us to know. He is not an idol. He
is God. And all the way to Him, the horrible way through burnt
offerings, the blood of lambs and goats--blood, blood, all the way--is
the way that climbs up to the real sacrifice, the last of all: the man's
own heart.

"One thing more: the greatest thing that ever happened to me was old
Billy Jones. Was it because I was sorry for him? Was it because I could
do something for him? I don't know. But I tell the boy that the man or
the woman that makes him shed his blood in pity for them, that is the
man or woman that will open his eyes to what we call Eternal Life. What
is Eternal Life? Is it living forever? I do not know. But the
words--those two words--stand for the great light ahead of us, the light
I truly saw. And what the light is, still I do not know. But this I
know: God is. He lives. And He is sorry. The boy may tell me this is no
more than the words about His caring for the sparrow that falleth. But I
tell him it is more to me, for this I have found out for myself. And I
have found it out through great tribulation. But the tribulation is not
now. It has stopped. It stopped with the sound of old Billy Jones's
voice I heard--somehow I heard it--when his body lay in there dead. And
I am not afraid. I am not afraid of fear--even for the little
animals--and that is more than for myself. And that is my legacy to the
boy. He must not be afraid."

There it ended, and Raven sat for a long time looking at the fine
painstaking script and seeing, for the moment, at least, the vision of
Old Crow. He felt a great welling of love toward him, a longing to get
hold of him somehow and tell him the journal had done its work. He
understood. And it meant to him, in its halting simplicity, more than
all the books he had ever read on the destiny of man. Meager as it was,
it seemed to him something altogether new, because it had come out of
the mind of an ignorant man, if a man can be called ignorant who has
used his mind to its full capacity of thought and unconsciously fitted
it, so far as he might, to the majestic simplicities of the Bible. Old
Crow had never read anything about legend or the origins of belief.
There were no such books then at Wake Hill. He read no language but his
own. Whatever he had evolved, out of the roots of longing, had been done
in the loneliness of the remote shepherd who charts the stars. And in
the man himself Raven had found a curious companionship. Their lives
seemed to have run a parallel course. Old Crow, like himself, was a
victim of world sickness. And his wound had been cleansed; he had been
healed.

Raven did give a little smile to the thought that, at least, the man had
been saved one thing: he had no authoritative Amelia on his track to
betray him to organized benevolence. And for himself something, he could
not adequately tell what, was as clear to him as a road of light to
unapprehended certainties. It was a symbol. It was the little language
men had to talk in because they could not use the language of the stars:
their picture language. But it was the rude token of ineffable reality.
As the savage's drawing of a man stands for the man, so the symbols
wrought out by the hungry world stand for what is somewhere, yet not
visibly here. For the man exists or the savage could not have drawn him.
Not all the mystics, he thought, smiling over his foolish inner
conviction that could not be reached through the mind but only through
the heart, not all the divines, could have set up within him the altar
of faith he seemed suddenly to see before him: it had to be Old Crow.
And he slept, and in the morning it did not need the mottled book at his
bedside to remind him. Still it was Old Crow.

He put it all away in his mind to think over later, just as Old Crow had
turned aside from his vision for the more convincing clearness of an
oblique angle upon it, and dressed hastily. He got out of the house
without meeting even Charlotte, and was about crossing the road on the
way to the hut when he saw Tenney coming, axe and dinner pail in hand.
Raven swerved on his path, and affected to be looking down the road. He
could not proceed the way he was going. Tenney's mind must not be drawn
toward that living focus by even the most fragmentary hint. Yet if Tira
was still there, she and the child must be fed. After his glance down
the road he turned back to the house, nodding at Tenney as he neared.
But Tenney motioned to him.

"Here," he called stridently. "You wait."

Raven halted and as Tenney was approaching, at a quick stride, noted how
queerly he was hung. It was like a skeleton walking, the dry joints
acting spasmodically. When the man came up with him, he saw how ravaged
his face was, and yet lighted by what a curious eagerness. Ready, he
hoped, at all points for any possible attack involving Tira, Raven still
waited, and the question Tenney shot at him could not have been more
surprising:

"Did you find salvation?"

Raven stood looking at him for an instant, and suddenly he remembered
Old Crow, who had accomplished the salvation of a sick heart and
bequeathed the treasure to him.

"Yes," he said, more tolerantly than he had ever spoken to Tenney. "I
think I did."

Was it his imagination that Tenney looked disappointed?

"Last night?" the man insisted. "Did you find it last night? Through
me?"

"No," said Raven. "I didn't find it through you."

Tenney was ingenuously taken aback.

"There is one way," he said, "into the sheepfold--only one."

He turned about, muttering, and Raven, looking after him, thought he was
an ugly customer. For a woman to be shut up alone with him, her young,
too, to defend! It was like being jailed with an irrational beast. But
Tenney paid no further attention to him. He walked away, swinging his
dinner pail, down across the meadow to the lower woods, and Raven, after
the fringe of birches had closed upon him, hurried off to the hut. He
did not expect to find her. The pail in Tenney's hand was sufficient
evidence, even if the man's going to his work were not. Tenney would
never have abandoned his search or his waiting for her, and if he had,
he would not have delayed to pack a dinner pail. The hut was empty of
human life, but the bricks were warm. She could not have left until the
early morning. Mechanically he piled kindling near the hearth. But
curiously, though the hut was warm not only with the fire but the
suggestion of her breathing presence, it was not she who seemed to be
with him but Old Crow.

He went back to the house and found Amelia in traveling dress, her face
tuned to the note of concentration when something was to be done. She
was ready. She had the appearance of the traveler needing only to slip
on an outer garment to go, not merely from New Hampshire down to Boston,
but to uncharted fastnesses. It meant, he found, this droll look of
being prepared for anything, not the inconsiderable journey before her
but a new enterprise for him. And he would have to be persuaded to it.
Well, she knew that. She met him in the hall.

"John," she said, with the firmness of her tone in active benevolences,
"I have asked Jerry to take me to the train. I want you to go with me."

"Me?" said Raven, unaffectedly surprised. "What for?"

"For several things. If Dick is in any sort of trouble----"

"He's not," said Raven. "Take my word for that."

"And," she concluded, "I want you to see somebody."

"Somebody?" Raven repeated. He put his hand on her shoulder, smiling
down at her. Milly was a good sort. It was too bad she had to be, like
so many women benevolence mad, so disordered in her meddling. "I suppose
you mean an alienist."

She nodded, her lips compressed. She would stick at nothing.

"Now Milly," said Raven, "do I seem to you in the least dotty?"

Tears came into her eyes.

"I wish you wouldn't use such words," she said tremulously. It meant
much for Milly to tremble. "It's like calling that dreadful influenza
the flu."

Raven was reminded of the old man down the road who forbade secular talk
in the household during a thunder shower. It "madded" the Almighty. You
might be struck.

"I won't," he said, the more merciful of her because she was on the
point of going. "And I won't go back with you."

"Will you come later?" she persisted, still tremulous.

"No," said Raven, "probably not. If I do, I'll let you know. And you
mustn't come up here without notifying me well in advance."

"That shows----" she began impulsively. "John, that isn't a normal thing
to say: to expect your own sister to notify you."

"All right," said Raven cheerfully. "Then I'm not normal. The funny part
of it is, I don't care whether I'm normal or not. I've got too many
other things to think of. Here's Charlotte with your brekky. Come on."

In the two hours before she went, he was, she told Dick afterward,
absolutely scintillating. She never knew John could be so brilliant. He
talked about things she never knew he had the slightest interest in:
theosophy and feminism and Americanization. She couldn't help wondering
whether he was trying to convince her of his mental soundness. But he
certainly was amazing. Dick received this in silence. He understood.

It was true. Raven did fill the time from a racing impetuosity, only
slackened when Jerry appeared with the pung. Then he hurried her into
her coat, kissed her warmly--and she had to comment inwardly that she
had never found John so affectionate--and, standing bareheaded to watch
her away, saluted her when she turned at the bend in the road. Then,
when the scene was empty of her, he plunged in, past Charlotte, standing
with hands rolled in her apron, snatched his cap, and hurried up the
road to Nan.



XXIV


Raven, relieved of his hindering Amelia, felt extraordinarily gay. He
went fast along the road, warm in the deepening sun, and saw Nan coming
toward him. He waved his cap and called to her:

"She's gone."

"Who?" Nan was coming on with her springing stride, and when she reached
him she looked keenly at him, adding: "What's happened to you, Rookie?"

Nothing had happened to her, he could see. She was always like a piece
cut out of the morning and fitted into any part of the day she happened
to be found in: always of a gallant spirit, always wholesome as apples,
always ready. This was not altogether youth. It was, besides, something
notable and particular which was Nan. He laughed out, she caught his
mood so deftly.

"Something has happened," he said. "First place, Milly's gone. Second,
I've found Old Crow."

"You've found Old Crow? What do you mean by that?"

"Can't tell you now. Wait till we sit down together."

"And she's truly gone?"

They stood there in the road as if Nan's house were not at hand; but the
air and the sun were pleasant to them.

"Gone, bag and baggage. Dick wired and ordered her in some way she
didn't dare ignore. I suspect he did it to save me. He's a good boy."

"He is a good boy," said Nan. There was a reminiscent look in her eyes.
"But he's a very little one. Were we ever so young, Rookie, you and I?"

"You!"

"Yes. I'm a sphinx compared with Dick. I didn't tell you last night,
there was so much else to say, but I had a letter from him, returned to
Boston from New York. He assumed, you know, if I wasn't in Boston I'd
gone to the Seaburys'. So he wrote there."

"What's he want?"

Nan hesitated a moment. Then she said:

"It's a pretty serious letter, Rookie. I suppose it's a love-letter."

"Don't you know?"

"Yes, I suppose I know. But it's so childish. He's furious, then he's
almost on his knees begging, and then he goes back to being mad again.
Rookie, he's so young."

"When it comes to that," said Raven, "you're young, too. I've told you
that before."

"Young! Oh! but not that way. I couldn't beg for anything. I couldn't
cry if I didn't get it. I don't know what girls used to do, but we're
different, Rookie, we that have been over there."

"Yes," said Raven, "but you mustn't let it do too much to you. You
mustn't let it take away your youth."

Nan shook her head.

"Youth isn't so very valuable," she said, "not that part of it. There's
lots of misery in it, Rookie. Don't you know there is?"

"Yes," said Raven, "I know." Suddenly he remembered Anne and the bonds
she had laid on him. Had he not suffered them, in a dumb way, finding no
force within himself to strike them off? Had he been a coward, a dull
fellow tied to women's restraining wills? And he had by no means escaped
yet. Wasn't Anne inexorably by his side now, when he turned for an
instant from the problem of Tira, saying noiselessly, this invisible
force that was Anne: "What are you going to do about my last wish, my
last command? You are thinking about Nan, about that strange woman,
about yourself. Think about me." But he deliberately summoned his mind
from the accusing vision of her, and turned it to Nan. "Then," he said,
"there doesn't seem to be much hope for Dick, poor chap!"

"Doesn't there?" she inquired, a certain indignant passion in her voice.
"Anyway, there's no hope for me. I'd like to marry Dick. I'd like to
feel perfectly crazy to marry him. He won't write his poetry always.
That's to the good, anyhow. If I don't marry him I shall be a miserable
old thing, more and more positive, more and more like all the women of
the family, the ones that didn't marry"--and they both knew Aunt Anne
was in her mind--"drying rose leaves and hunting up genealogical trash."

"But, my own child," said Raven in a surge of pity for her, as if some
clearest lens had suddenly brought her nearer him, "you don't have to
marry Dick to get away from that. You'll simply marry somebody else."

"No," said Nan, "you know I sha'n't."

"Then," said Raven, "there is somebody else."

She shook her head.

"I'm an odd number, Rookie," she said, with a bitterness he found
foreign to her. "All those old stories of kindred souls may be true, but
they're not true for me."

"You have probably," said Raven, a sharp light now on her, bringing out
the curves and angles of her positive mind, "you have done some perverse
thing to send him off, and you won't move a finger to bring him back."

Nan laughed. She was no longer bitter. This was the child he knew.

"Rookie," she said, "you are nearer an absolute fool than any human
being I ever saw. If I wanted a man back, it's likely I could get him.
Most of us can. But do you think I would?"

"Then you're proud, sillykins."

"I'm not proud," said Nan--and yet proudly. "If I loved anybody, I'd let
him walk over me. That's what Charlotte would say. Can't you hear her?
It isn't for my sake. It's for his. Do you think I'd bamboozle him and
half beckon and half persuade, the way women do, and trap him into the
great enchantment? It is an enchantment. You know it is. But I'd rather
he'd keep his grip on things--on himself--and walk away from me, if
that's where it took him. I'd rather he'd walk straight off to somebody
else, and break his heart, if it came that way."

"Good Lord, Nan," said Raven, "where do you get such thoughts?"

"Get them?" she repeated. "I got them from you first. You've been a
slave all your life. Don't you know you have? Don't you know you had
cobwebs spun round you, round and round, till she had you tight, hand
and foot, not hers but so you couldn't walk off to anybody else? And
even now, after her death----"

"Stop," said Raven. "That's enough, Nan."

Again Anne Hamilton was beside them on the wintry road, and they were
hurting her inexpressibly.

"That's it," said Nan. "You're afraid she'll hear."

"If I am," said Raven, "it's not----" There he stopped.

"No," said Nan. She had relented. Her eyes were soft. "You're not afraid
of her. But you are afraid of hurting her. And even that's weak,
Rookie--in a man. Don't be so pitiful. Leave it to the women."

Raven laughed a little now. Again she seemed a child, crying after the
swashbuckling hero modern man has put into the discard, where apparently
he has to stay, except now and then when he ventures out and struts a
little. But it avails him nothing. Somebody laughs, and back he has to
go.

"I am pretty stupid," he said. "But never mind about an old stager like
me. Don't be afraid of showing him--the man, I mean--all your charm.
Don't be afraid of going to his head. You've got enough to justify every
possible hope you could hold out to him. You're the loveliest--Nan,
you're the loveliest thing I ever saw."

"The loveliest?" said Nan, again recklessly. "Lovelier than Tira?"

For an instant she struck him dumb. Was Tira so lovely? To him certainly
she had a beauty almost inexpressible. But was it really inherent in
her? Or was it something in the veil he found about her, that haze of
hopeless suffering?

"Do you think she's beautiful?"

His voice was keen; curiosity had thinned it to an edge. Nan answered it
with exactness.

"I think she's the most beautiful thing I ever saw. She doesn't know it.
If she did, she'd probably wave her hair and put on strange chiffons,
what Charlotte calls dewdads. She'd have to be the cleverest woman on
earth to resist them. And because she's probably never been an inch out
of this country neighborhood, she'd rig herself up--Charlotte again!--in
the things the girls like round here. But she either doesn't know her
power or she doesn't care."

"I'm inclined to think," said Raven slowly, "she never has looked at
herself in that way. It has brought her things she doesn't want, things
that made her suffer. And she's worked so hard trying to manage the
whole business--life and her sufferings--she hasn't had time to lay much
stress on her looks."

"It's all so strange," said Nan, as if the barriers were down and she
wanted to indicate something hardly clear to herself. "You see, she
isn't merely beautiful. Most of us look like what we are. We're rather
nice looking, like me, or we're plain. But she 'takes back,' as
Charlotte would say. She reminds you of things, pictures, and music, and
dead queens--isn't there a verse about 'queens that died young and
fair'?--and--O heavens, Rookie! I can't say it--but all the old hungers
and happinesses, the whole business."

"I wonder," said Raven impetuously, "if you think she's got any mind at
all. Or whether it's nothing but line and color?"

Nan shook her head.

"She's got something better than a mind. She has a faithful heart. And
if a man--a man I cared about--got bewitched by her, I'd tell him to
snatch her up and run off with her, and even if he found she was hollow
inside, he'd have had a minute worth living for, and he could take his
punishment and say 'twas none too much."

"You'd tell him!" Raven suggested, smiling at her heat and yet moved by
it. "You weren't going to fetter your man by telling him anything."

"No," said Nan, returned to her composure, which was of a careless sort,
"I shouldn't, really. I'd hope though. I'd allow myself to hope he'd
snatch her away from that queer devil's darning needle she's married to,
and buy her a divorce and marry her."

"You would, indeed! Then you don't know love, my Nan, for you don't know
jealousy. And with a mystery woman like that, wouldn't the man be
forever wondering what's behind that smile of hers? Tenney wonders. It
isn't that flashy fellow at the prayer-meeting that makes him wonder.
It's the woman herself. Yet she's simplicity itself--she's truth--but
no, Nan, you don't know jealousy."

"Don't I?" said Nan, unperturbed. "You're mighty clever, aren't you,
Rookie? But I tell you again I'd rather leave my man to live his life as
he wants it than live it with him. Now"--she threw off the moment as if
she had permanently done with it--"now, I went to see her this morning."

"You did? What for?"

"It was so horrible last night," said Nan. "Hideous! There was that
creature sitting there beside her, that perfumery man."

"Perfumery?"

"Yes. He smelled like the soap the boys used to buy, the ones that lived
'down the road a piece.' He frightened her, just his sitting down beside
her. And it put some kind of a devil into that awful Tenney. I thought
about her all night, and this morning I went over and asked her to go
back with me now, while Tenney's away chopping. I told her I'd help her
pack, and Jerry'd take us to the train."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing. Oh, yes, she did." Nan laughed, in the irritation of it. "She
said I was real good. Said Israel was going to kill soon."

"Kill?"

"Hogs. There were two. They'd weigh three hundred apiece. It was quite a
busy season, trying out and all, and no time for her to be away."

It was irresistible. They both laughed. They had been dowering her with
the grace of Helen, and now she stood before them inexorably bent on
trying out.

"I gather," said Nan, rather drily, "you're going over to see her
yourself."

"Yes," said Raven. "But not till I've seen you. You ran away from Milly.
Now Milly's gone, and you're coming back."

Her eyes roved from him to the steadfast green of the slope across the
road. She was moved. Her mouth twitched at the tight corners, her eyes
kindled.

"It would be fun," said she.

"Besides, think how silly to keep Charlotte provisioning you and tugging
over to spend nights, poor Charlotte!"

"I really stayed," said Nan, temporizing, "for this Tira of yours--and
Tenney's."

This form of statement sounded malicious to her own ears, but not to
his. Sometimes Nan wished he were not quite so "simple honest." It was,
she suspected, the woman's part--her own--to be unsuspecting and
obstinately good.

"But if," she continued, "she won't have anything to do with you, I
might as well go back to town."

"Not yet," said Raven. "I've got something to tell you."

"What's it about?"

"Old Crow."

Nan thought a minute.

"All right," she said. She looked at once unreasonably happy, like, he
extravagantly thought, a beautiful statue with the fountain of life
playing over it. "I'll come--for Old Crow."

"Pick up your duds," said he, "and I'll go along and see if I can make
anything out of her. You be ready when I come back."

Nan looked after him and thought how fast he walked and how Tira, as
well as Tira's troubles, drew him. If Tira knew the power of her own
beauty, how terribly decisive a moment this would be in the great dark
kitchen Nan had just left! And yet if Tira, having looked in her mirror
and the mirror of life, were cruelly sophisticated enough to play that
part, the man would be given odds to resist her. He was no ingenuous
youth.



XXV


Raven walked up to the side door of the house and knocked. She came at
once, her face blank of any expectation, though at seeing him she did
stand a little tenser and her lips parted with a quicker breath.

"Good morning," said he. "Aren't you going to ask me in?"

"Oh!" breathed Tira. It seemed she did actually consider keeping him
out. "I don't know," she blundered. "I'm alone, but I never feel
certain----"

She never felt certain, he concluded, whether her peril might not be
upon her. But he had a sense of present security. He had seen Tenney
disappearing inside the fringe of woods.

"Let me come in," he said quietly. "I want to talk to you. It's cold for
you out here."

She moved aside and he followed her to the kitchen. The room was
steaming with warmth, the smell of apple sauce and a boiling ham. Her
moulding board, dusted with flour, was on the table, and her yellow
mixing bowl beside it. Raven did not think what household duties he
might be delaying, but the scene was sweet to him: a haven of homely
comfort where she ought to find herself secure. There was, in the one
casual glance he took, no sign of the child, and he was glad. That
strange, silent witness, since Nan and Charlotte had both, by a phrase,
banished the little creature into an alien room of its own, had begun to
embarrass him. He wanted to talk to Tira alone.

"Baby's in the bedroom," said Tira, answering his thought. "When he's in
here, I wake him up steppin' round."

Raven stood waiting for her to sit, and she drew forward a chair,
placing it to give her an oblique view from the window. Having seated
herself, she asked him, with a shy hospitality:

"Won't you set?"

He drew a chair nearer her and his eyes sought her in the light of what
Nan had said. Yes, she was beautiful. Her blue calico, faded to a
softness suited to old pictures, answered the blue of her eyes. The
wistful look of her face had deepened. It was all over a gentle
interrogation of sweet patience and unrest.

"So Nan came over," he began. It seemed the only way to pierce her
reserve, at once, by a straight shaft. "You wouldn't do what she wanted
you to."

She shook her head.

"Why wouldn't you?" he urged, and then she did answer, not ungraciously,
but with a shy courtesy:

"I didn't feel to."

"It would be"--he hesitated for a word and found an ineffectual
one--"nice, if you could talk to her. She wouldn't tell."

"I don't," said Tira, still with the same gentle obstinacy, "hold much
with talkin'."

Raven, because he had her to himself and the time was short, determined
not to spare her for lack of a searching word.

"Tira," he said, and she smiled a little, mysteriously to him but really
because she loved to hear him use her name, "things aren't getting any
better here. They're getting worse."

"Oh, no," she hastened to say. "They're better."

"Only last night you had to run away from him."

"Things are ever so much better," said Tira, smiling at him, with a
radiance of conviction that lighted her face to a new sort of beauty.
"They're all right. I've found the Lord."

What could he say? Old Crow had besought him, too, to abandon fear in
the certainty of a safe universe speaking through the symbols man could
understand. He tried to summon something that would reach and move her.

"What if I were drowning," he said. "Suppose I knew I should"--he sought
for the accepted phrase--"go to heaven, if I drowned. Do you think I
should be right in not trying to save myself?"

Tira knit her brows. It was only for an instant, though.

"No," she said. "Certain you'd have to save yourself. You'd have to try
every way you knew. That's what I've done. I'm tryin' every way I know."

"I'm telling you another way," said Raven sharply. "I'm telling you you
can't live with a crazy man----"

"Oh, no," she interrupted earnestly. "He ain't that. He has spells,
that's all."

"I'm not even asking you to go away with me. I'm asking you to go with
that good woman over there." Somehow he felt this was more appealing
than the name of Nan. "I trust her as I do myself, more than myself.
It's to save your life, Tira, your life and the baby's life."

She was looking at him out of eyes warm with the whole force of her
worshiping love and gratitude.

"No," she said softly. "I can't go. I ain't got a word to say ag'inst
her," she added eagerly. "She's terrible good. Anybody could see that.
But I can't talk to folks. I can't let 'em know. Not anybody," she added
softly, as if to herself, "but you."

Raven forbade himself to be moved by this.

"Then," he said, "you'll have to talk to other folks you may not like so
well. I shall complain of him. I shall be a witness to what I've seen
and what you've told me. I've threatened you with that before, but now
it's got to be done."

"No," said Tira, trying, he could see, through every fiber of will in
her to influence him. But never by her beauty: she was game there. "You
wouldn't tell what I've said to you. You couldn't. 'Twas said to you an'
nobody else. It couldn't ha' been said to anybody else on this livin'
earth."

Here was a spark of passion, as if she struck it out unknowingly. But he
must not be moved, and by every means he would move her.

"What is there," he said, in the roughness of an emotion she saw
plainly, "what is there I wouldn't do to save your life? To save you
from being knocked about, touched"--he was about to add "violated," the
purity of her seemed so virginal, but he stopped and she went on:

"It's just as I told you before. If they asked me questions, I should
say 'twa'n't so. I should say you thought 'twas so, but 'twa'n't. I
should say you wrote books an' you got up things, I guessed. It made you
wrong in your head."

Old Crow! The innocent observers of his life and Old Crow's were in a
mysterious conspiracy to prove them both unsound. He laughed out
suddenly and she looked at him, surprised.

"Do you know why I would?" she continued earnestly. "Because he never'd
overlook it in this world. If they hauled him up before a judge, an' you
testified, the minute they let him go he'd take it out o' you. You'd be
in more danger'n I be now. Besides, I ain't in any danger. I tried it
this mornin' an' I found out." He sat with knitted brows and dry lips
waiting for her to go on. "Last night," she said, "after you went down
from the shack, I couldn't sleep. I never closed my eyes. But I wa'n't
lonesome nor afraid. I was thinkin' o' what you said. He was there.
Jesus Christ was there. An' I knew 'twas so because you said so.
Besides, I felt it. An' 'long about three I got up an' covered the coals
an' took baby an' come down along home. For, I says, if He was there
with me in the shack, He'll go with me when I go, an' my place is to
home. An' there was a light in the kitchen, an' I looked in through the
winder an' Isr'el was there. He was kneelin' before a chair, an' his
head was on his hands an' through the winder I heard him groan. An' I
stepped in an' he got up off his knees an' stood lookin' at me kinder
wild, an' he says: 'Where you been?' An' I says: 'No matter where I
been. Wherever I been He's come home with me.' An' he says, 'He? Who is
it now?' An' I felt as if I could laugh, it was so pleasant to me, an'
seemed to smooth everything out. An' I says, 'Jesus Christ. He's come
home with me.' An' he looked at me kinder scairt, an' says: 'I should
think you was out o' your head.' An' I went round the room an' kinder
got it in order an' brashed up the fire an' he set an' looked at me. An'
I begun to sing. I sung Coronation--it stayed in my mind from the
meetin'--I dunno when I've sung before--an' he set an' watched me. An' I
got us an early breakfast an' we eat, but he kep' watchin' me. I'd ketch
him doin' it while he stirred his tea. 'Twas as if he was afraid. I
wouldn't have him feel that way. You don't s'pose he is afraid o' me, do
you?"

This she poured out in a haste unlike her usual halting utterance. But
there was a steadiness in it, a calm. He shook his head.

"No," he said. "I wish he were afraid of you." He wanted to leave her
the comfort of belief and at the same time waken her to the actual
perils of her life. "Tira," he said, looking into her eyes and trying to
impress her with the force of his will, "he isn't right, you know, not
right in his head, or he never would behave to you as he does. Any man
in his senses would know you were true to him. He doesn't, and that's
why he's so dangerous."

A convulsive movement passed over her face, slight as a twitching of
muscles could well be. The sweat broke out on her chin.

"No," she said, "any man wouldn't know. Because it's true. That man that
come into this house last night an' set down side o' me--an' glad enough
he was there happened to be that chair left, same as if I'd left it for
him--he's bad all through, an' every man in this township knows it, an'
they know how I know it, an' how I found it out." The drops on her
forehead had wet the curling rings of her hair and she put up her hand
and swept them impatiently away. Her eyes, large in their agonized
entreaty, were on Raven's, and he suffered for her as it was when he had
seen her at the moments of her flight into the woods. And now he seemed
to see, not her alone, but Nan, not a shred of human pathos that had
been tossed from hand to hot hand, but something childlike and
inviolate. And that was how he let himself speak.

"But, dear child," he said, "Tenney knows how faithful you are. He knows
if you hadn't loved him you wouldn't have married him. And he knows if
you love anybody, you're true through everything."

"That's it," she said loudly, in a tone that echoed strangely in the
great kitchen. "That's it."

He knew what she meant. If she loved the man, she could convince him,
mad as he was. But she did not love him. She was merely clinging to him
with all the strength of her work-toughened hands.

"But talk to him," he insisted. "Show him how well you mean toward him."

"I can't," she said. "I never've talked to anybody, long as I lived. I
git"--she paused for a word and ended in a dash: "I git all froze up."

She sat staring at him, as if her mind were tied into knots, as if she
could neither untie them, nor conceive of anybody's doing it. But he
could not know just what sort of turmoil was in her nor how it was so
strange to her that she felt no mental strength to meet it. In the
instinct to talk to him, that new impulse born out of the first human
companionship she had ever had, she felt strange troubles within her
mind, an anguish of desire, formless and untrained. She was like a child
who stretches out arms to something it dearly longs for and finds its
fingers will not close on it. She had never, before knowing him, felt
the least hunger to express anything that did not lie within the small
circle of her little vocabulary. But her mind was waking, stretching
itself toward another mind, and suffering from its own impotence.

"O God!" she said, in a low tone, and then clapped her hand over her
mouth, because she had not meant to speak that name.

There came a knock at the door. Instantly the look of life ebbed from
her face. It assumed at once its mask of stolid calm. She got up and
went to the door and Raven, waiting for her to come back, remembered
absently he had heard the clang of bells. Visualizing her face as she
had talked to him, trying to understand her at every point, the more as
she could not explain herself, he was suddenly and sharply recalled. He
heard her voice.

"No," she cried, so distinctly that the sound came through the crack of
the door she had left ajar. "No, no, I tell you. You never've stepped
foot into this house by my will, an', so long as I'm in it, you never
shall."

Raven rose and went to the door. He had not stopped to think what he
should find, but at least it was, from her tone, a menace of some sort.
There stood Eugene Martin, in his fur coat, his florid extravagance of
scarf and pin, on his face the ironic smile adapted to his preconceived
comedy with Tira. Martin, hearing the step behind her, started,
unprepared. He had passed Tenney, slowly making his way homeward, and
counted on a few minutes' speech with her and a quick exit, for his
butt, the fool of a husband, to see. But as Raven appeared, the fellow's
face broke up in a flouting amusement. Here was another, the satiric
lips were ready to swear. Deepest distrust of Tira shone forth in the
half smile; a low community of mean understanding was in his following
glance at Raven. He burst into a loud laugh, took off his hat and made
Tira an exaggerated bow.

"Don't mention it," he said. "Didn't know you had company. Wouldn't
think o' comin' in."

He turned away, his shoulders shaking with ostentatious mirth. It was
all in a minute, and Raven's following act, quite unreasoned, also
occupied a minute. He put Tira aside, stepped out after Martin and
walked behind him down the path. When Martin reached the sleigh, Raven
was at his side. Martin had ceased shaking his shoulders in that
fictitious mirth. Now in that last moment, it seemed, he took cognizance
of Raven, and turned, apprehension, in spite of him, leaping to his
face. Raven, still with no set purpose, grasped him by the collar with
one hand and with the other reached for the whip in the sleigh. It was
over quickly. Raven remembered afterward that the horse, startled by the
swish of the blows, jumped aside and that he called out to him. He did
not propose depriving Martin of the means of exit. The fellow did not
meet judgment lying down. He did a wild feat of struggling, but he was
soft in every muscle, a mean antagonist. The act over, Raven released
him, with an impetus that sent him staggering, set the whip in the
socket and turned back to the house. At that moment he saw Tenney coming
along the road, not with his usual hurried stride, but slowly, his head
lifted, his eyes upon the figures at his gate. Raven recoiled from the
possibility of a three-cornered wrangle when Tenney also should reach
the scene. It was an impossible predicament. Not for himself: he was
never troubled by any hampering sense of personal dignity, but for Tira,
who stood in silence watching them. She had advanced a few steps into
the snowy path and waited, immovable, the light breeze lifting her rings
of hair. To Raven, in the one glance he gave her, she was like a Fate,
choosing neither good nor ill, but watching the even course of time. If
Martin saw Tenney, he was not going to linger for any problematic issue.
He stepped into the sleigh and, without drawing the fur robe over his
knees, took up the reins. His face, turned upon Raven, was distorted
with rage.

"That's assault," he called to him, "assault an' battery. I'll have the
law on you an' she's my witness."

"Stop!" called Tira. She came down the path with long strides, her
garments blowing back. At three paces from the sleigh she halted and
called to him in a voice so clear and unrestrained that Raven thought
Tenney, coming on with his jerky action, might also have heard it.

"You stir a step to git the law on him an' I'll tell what I know. What
did I find out about you? The money stole out o' the box after they had
the raffle for the War, the deed under old lady Blaisdell's feather bed,
because it wa'n't recorded an' it left you with the right an' title to
that forty feet o' land. Five counts!" She held up her left hand and
told off one finger after the other. "I've got 'em all down in my mind,
an' there they've been ever since I left you. What d' I leave you for?
Not because you treated me like a dog, whenever the fit was on ye, but
because you was meaner'n dirt."

He sat there, the reins gathered in his hand, staring at her, his face
stiffened in a reflex of the cold passion of hers. Upon her last word,
he called to the horse with an oath as if it had been the beast that
offended him, turned the sleigh and drove off. Tenney, breathless, was
now on the scene. His thin lips curled and drew back, the snarl of the
angry feline.

"Two on ye," he said to Raven. "Come to blows over her, have ye? An'
you're on top."

Raven turned to Tira.

"Go into the house," he said.

Tenney laughed. It was not the laugh of the man who had just left them.
There was no light mockery in it, but a low intensity of misery, the
cynical recognition of a man whose house has been destroyed and who asks
his inner self how he could have expected anything different. But when
he spoke it was jeeringly, to Tira.

"Go into the house," he mocked. "Didn't ye hear him? He tells ye to go
into the house, into my house, so's he can fight it out ag'in same's he
done with t'other one. You better go. He won't git no odds from me."

He set his dinner pail down beside him, and his hand moved a few inches
along the helve of his axe. And Raven, like Tira, was sorry for him.

"No," said Tira, "I sha'n't go into the house. An' this to-do ain't so
much about me as about you, Isr'el Tenney, because you're makin' a fool
o' yourself. You'll be town talk, an' you deserve to be. You've brought
it on yourself."

Raven, his eyes on the man's face, saw it change slightly: something
tremulous had come into it, though it might have been only surprise. The
hand on the axe helve shook perceptibly. Now it looked to Raven as if it
might be his turn.

"I came up here this morning," he said, "to see her." Curiously, at the
moment of saying "your wife," he balked at it. He would not, even by the
sanction of the word, seem to give her over to him.

"Yes," said Tenney. The lividness of anger tautened his face. "You see
me off to my work. You knew you'd find her here."

"Yes," said Raven. "I knew I should find her. I had to see her alone,
because I wanted to ask her to leave you, go away from here, and be
safe."

Tenney stared at him. The brusque fact was too much for him. Why should
Raven have told it?

"You are known," Raven continued steadily, "to abuse your wife."

Tenney's lips again curled back.

"I ain't laid a finger on her," he snarled. "Anybody but a liar 'd tell
you so."

"She has told me so," continued Raven. "I came to warn her I should
complain of you and have you bound over to keep the peace. She said if I
did that she would refuse to testify against you. She said she would
rather"--here a slight bitterness came into his voice and, for an
instant, he had a foolish satisfaction in reminding Tira of her
unfriendliness in blocking him--"she would rather have me considered out
of my mind than let you get your just deserts."

"Ah!" snarled Tenney. "I wa'n't born yesterday."

This interchange had had on Tira all the effect Raven could have wished.
She started forward a step, with a murmured sound. But Tenney was
unmoved.

"Now you know," said Raven, "you're not going to tell me I'm a liar. I
draw the line at that. You'll have to drop your axe--that's a cowardly
streak in you, Tenney, a mighty mean streak, that axe business--and I'll
give you your punishment without waiting for judge or jury."

Tenney looked down at the axe frowningly, and the hand holding it sank
to his side.

"Besides saying she wouldn't testify against you," Raven continued, "she
refused to leave you. She is a foolish woman, but she's like most of
them. They hang on to the beast that abuses 'em, God knows why. But the
rest of us won't let you off so easy. Don't think it, for a minute. The
next time she's seen wandering round the woods with her baby and you
after her, yelling like a catamount, you're going to be hauled up and,
even if she won't testify, there's enough against you to make it go hard
with you."

Tenney ceased staring at the axe and looked up at Raven. Was it hatred
in the eyes? The gleam in them flickered, in a curious way, cross
currents of strange light. He tried to speak, gulped, and moistened his
dry lips. Then he managed it:

"What business is it o' yourn?"

"It's every man's business," said Raven. "When you began running over
the woods, yelling like a catamount"--he returned to this of set
purpose, because it evidently bit--"I thought it was queer, that's all.
Thought you were out of your head. But it got to be too much of a good
thing. And it's one thing to make yourself a laughing-stock. It's
another to be indicted for murder."

"I don't," said Tenney, "stan' any man's interferin' with me. I give ye
fair warnin' not to meddle nor make."

"Then," said Raven, "we've both got our warning. I've had yours and
you've had mine. You're a mighty mean man, Tenney. A mean cuss, that's
what you are."

Tenney, in the surprise and mortification of this, barked out at him:

"Don't ye call me a cuss. I'm a professin' Christian."

"Stuff!" said Raven. "That's all talk. I wonder a man of your sense
shouldn't see how ridiculous it is. You're not a Christian. When you
stand up in meeting and testify, you're simply a hypocrite. No, I don't
call you a Christian. I call you a scamp, on the way to being locked
up."

Tenney's mind leaped back a space.

"You're tryin' to throw me off the track," he announced. "Ye can't do
it. When I come up the road you an' Eugene Martin was out there an' you
knocked him down. I see ye. You horsewhipped him. Now if it's anybody's
business to horsewhip Eugene Martin, it's mine. What business is it o'
yourn horsewhippin' a man that's hangin' round another man's wife
unless----"

"Hold on there," said Raven. "I gave him his medicine because he was too
fresh." Here he allowed himself a salutary instant of swagger. Tenney
might as well think him a devil of a fellow, quick to act and hard to
hold. "It happens to be my way. I don't propose taking back talk from
anybody of his sort--or yours. He's a mean cuss, too, Tenney, ready to
think every man's as bad as he is--a foul-mouthed fool. And"--he
hesitated here and spoke with an emphasis that did strike upon Tenney's
hostile attention--"he is the kind of cheap fellow that would like
nothing better than to insult a woman. That was what he sat down by your
wife for, last night. That was why I made an excuse to get him away from
her. I wouldn't allow him within ten feet of a woman of my own family.
You ought to be mighty glad I looked out for yours."

Tenney was in a coil of doubt. Suddenly he glanced round at Tira,
standing there in the path, her eyes upon one and the other as they
spoke. Raven would not willingly have looked at her. He felt her
presence in his inmost heart; he knew how cold she must be in the wintry
air with nothing about her shoulders and the breeze strong enough to
stir those rings of hair about her forehead. But she must suffer it
while he raked Tenney by the only language Tenney knew.

"But here be you," cried Tenney, as if his mind, unsatisfied, went back
to one flaw after another in Raven's argument. "You see me go by to my
work, an' you come up here to talk over my folks behind my back an' tole
'em off to run away with you."

"I have explained all that once," said Raven. "You'll have to take it or
leave it."

At that instant Tira stepped forward. She gave a little cry.

"You've hurt your foot!"

Raven's glance followed hers to the ground and he saw a red stain
creeping from Tenney's boot into the snow. Tenney also glanced at it
indifferently. It was true that, although the cold was growing anguish
to a numbing wound, he was hardly aware of it as a pain that could be
remedied. This was only one misery the more.

"Course I've hurt my foot," he said savagely. "What d'ye s'pose I come
home for, this time o' day?"

"Why," said Tira, in an innocent good faith, "I s'posed you come back to
spy on me."

That did take hold of him. He looked at her in an almost childish
reproach. Now he put the foot to the ground--he had been, though
unconsciously, easing it--but at the first step winced and his face
whitened.

"God A'mighty!" Raven heard him mutter, and was glad. He seemed more of
a man invoking God in his pain than in waving deity like a portent
before unbelievers.

Tira had gone to him.

"You put your hand on my shoulder," she said, something so sweetly
thrilling in her voice that Raven wondered how Tenney could hear it and
not feel his heart dissolve into water. For himself, he was relieved at
the warming tone, but it mysteriously hurt him, it seemed so horrible
that all the tenderness of which it was witness had to be dammed in her
with no outlet save over the child who was "not right." Tenney paid no
attention to her, and Raven took him by the arm. The snow was reddening
thinly and Raven could see the cut in the boot.

"Open the door," he said to Tira. "I'll help him in."

Curiously, though Tenney had forgotten the hurt except as a part of his
mental pain, now that his mind was directed toward it he winced, and
made much of getting to the door. Yet it seemed to be in no sense to
challenge sympathy. He was simply sorry for himself, bewildered at his
misfortune, and so intently was his mind set on it now that he did not
seem annoyed by Raven's supporting him. Tira hurried on in advance, and
when they entered she was putting wood into the stove and opening
drafts, to start up the neglected fire. Raven led him to the chair by
the hearth, knelt, without paying any attention to his muttered
remonstrance, and, with much difficulty of frequent easements, got off
the boot and the soaked stocking. It was an ugly cut. Tenney, glancing
down at it, groaned and looked away, and Tira brought a pillow and
tucked it behind his head. Raven, glancing up at him, saw he was white
and sick and Tira said:

"He never can stan' the sight o' blood."

Evidently the irony of it did not strike her at all, but Raven wrinkled
his brows over it. He sent her here and there, for water to wash the
wound and for clean cloth. He rolled a bandage and put it on deftly
while Tenney stared.

"Now," said he, coming to his feet, "you'd better telephone the doctor.
This is all I know."

Tira went to the telephone in the next room and Raven cleared away the
confusion he had made and again Tenney watched him. At intervals he
looked down at his bandaged foot as if he pitied it. Tira, having given
her message, came back and reported that the doctor would be there
shortly.

"Then," said Raven, "I'll be off. Telephone if you need anything.
Perhaps I'd better come over anyway. He'll have to be got to bed. I'll
call you up."

He felt a sudden easement of the strain between himself and Tira. Tenney
himself, through his hurt, had cleared the way. Their intercourse, void
of secrecy, was suddenly commonplace; at the moment there was nothing in
it to light a flash of feeling. Tenney did not look at him. Then Raven,
in a sudden mounting of desire to show Tira how sorry he was for her,
said to her impetuously:

"I hate to leave you alone."

And again she surprised him as she had the night before in implicit
acceptance of her new faith, something as tangible as divine. She spoke
in a perfect simplicity.

"I ain't alone," she said.

Tenney had turned his head, to listen.

"We ain't alone, Isr'el, be we?" she challenged breathlessly.

"I dunno what you're talkin' about," said Tenney uneasily, and she
laughed.

It was, Raven wonderingly thought, a light-hearted laugh, as if she had
no longer anything to bear.

"Why," said she, "same as I told you. We ain't alone a minute o' the
time, if we don't feel to be. He's with us, the Lord Jesus Christ."

The telephone bell rang and she went off to answer it. Tenney, as if
with a hopeful conviction that another man would understand, turned his
eyes upon Raven.

"What's anybody want to talk like that for?" he questioned
irrepressibly.

"It's the way you talk yourself," said Raven. "That's precisely what you
said last night."

"It's no kind of a way----" Tenney began, and then pulled himself up.
Raven believed that he meant it was one thing to invoke the Founder of
his religion in a sacerdotal sense, but not for the comforting certainty
of a real Presence. "Seems if anybody's crazed. Seems if----" Here he
broke off again, and Raven took satisfaction in the concluding phrase:
"It's no way to talk when a man's lamed himself so's't he can't git
round the room 'thout bleedin' to death."

By this Raven understood the man was, in an hysterical way, afraid of
Tira and her surprising invocation. He judged things were looking rather
better for her, and went off almost cheerfully, without waiting for her
return.



XXVI


When Raven came to Nan's, he went in without knocking and found the
house still. He called her name, and she answered from an upper
distance. Presently she appeared, traveling bag in hand, and came down
to him.

"You really want me, Rookie?" she asked him, pausing at the closet door
where she had hung her hat and coat. "You want an unattached female,
unchaperoned, very much at large?"

"I want her," said Raven, "more than anything else I'm likely to get in
this frowsy world. As to chaperons, Charlotte will do very well, without
legging it over here every night to keep you in countenance."

Nan put on her hat and coat, and he picked up the bag.

"Back door locked?" he asked.

She laughed.

"Yes," said she. "That shows I meant to come. Go ahead, Rookie. I'll
lock this door." Mid-way down the path, she glanced at him and then
ventured: "You look very much set up. What is it, Rookie? what
happened?"

"The thing that's happened," said Raven, with a little reminiscent
laugh, "is that Tenney's afraid of his wife. And he's cut his foot and
can't get away from her. I call it the most ironical of time's revenges
I've ever had the pleasure of seeing."

He went on and told her the story of Tenney's disabled foot. Nan,
listening, did not take it in.

"But I don't see," she offered, "why it makes him afraid of her."

"It doesn't. Though it makes it more difficult for him to get at her.
The thing that's bowled him over is that she's taken him at his word.
He's told her the Founder of his religion is everywhere present, and now
she's accepted it and assumes the Presence is there in the kitchen, it
scares him. He assumes she's dotty. Hence he's afraid of her. You see,
Nan, the Presence he's in the habit of invoking is something he
conceives of as belonging to strictly sacerdotal occasions. Really, it's
a form of words. But she believes it and that, as I told you, scares
him. It's like raising a ghost. He's raised it and somebody's seen it
and he's scared."

"Can't the queerest things happen," Nan asked him, in a discursiveness
he found nevertheless relevant, "here in New England? There isn't a
human trait or a morbid outcrop but we've got it. See! Charlotte's at
the window. S'pose she'll want me?"

"She'll love it," said Raven. He lifted up his voice and called and
Charlotte left the window to appear at the door. "I've got her,
Charlotte," said Raven. "She's going to make us a visit. Give us almond
pudding for dinner, can't you?"

It was too late for that, Charlotte told him indulgently, but she
guessed there'd be suthin'. She lingered in the hall while Nan took off
her coat, and volunteered information about the fire being lighted in
the west chamber.

"I 'most thought you'd come," she said, in a way softly confidential.
"You can settle right down now, you two, an' visit."

She put a hand for an instant on Nan's shoulder and Nan felt the glow of
her beneficence. Did Charlotte know what it was to her to have even one
evening alone with Rookie? Charlotte knew most things. Probably she knew
that.

Nan and Raven had their noon dinner and went for a walk, up the road.
That led them past Tenney's and when they reached the house Raven said:

"You wait a jiff and I'll ask how he is."

Tira came, in answer to his knock. She was gravely calm, not even
disturbed in her secret mind, Raven concluded, not keyed up by inner
apprehension, and keeping herself firm. Where, he wondered absently, at
the same instant, did she get those clothes, blue, always worn to the
exact point of soft loveliness, the very moral of her eyes? She glanced
down the path at Nan, and Nan waved to her. Tira gave a serious little
bow and turned her glance to Raven, who inquired:

"How's his foot?"

"It pains him a good deal," she said, with that softness he had noted in
her voice while they dressed the hurt. "He has to set with it in a
chair. It worries him to death not to git round."

"Good Lord!" said Raven. "You must think I'm a nice chap. Who's doing
the barn work?"

"Oh," said Tira, "that's all right. I can see to that. I always do when
he's gone for day's works."

"You can't water the stock."

"Oh, yes, I can." Now she smiled at him, beautifully, bewilderingly, for
his kindness in asking. "I done it before dinner. That's nothin'.
Besides, I like it: takes me out door."

"Don't do any more," said Raven. "We'll be over, 'long about four
o'clock, Jerry or I." Then, for he had forgotten Tenney, in his
awareness of her, he remembered to ask: "The doctor came, did he?"

She nodded gravely.

"Say anything?"

She shook her head, and then offered, it seemed unwillingly:

"He thought he might be laid up quite a spell."

To Raven, that seemed so desirable, that he wondered at the
commiseration in her voice; evidently she could be sorry for Tenney
without an admixture of relief at having him safely fettered for a
while.

"Well," he said, "I'll be over. And if there's anything----" he stopped
and looked her in the eyes, gravely authoritative. It was the first time
their two inner selves had met in such unrestrained interchange. If
there was anything he could do for her, the glance said, she was to know
he would do it, to the very limit of allegiance. What did her own glance
say? Was there acceptance in it? Not so much that as a grave
understanding and gratitude. He was her refuge, her strength. She might
still go winging brokenly about the obscurity that made her life, but he
was the shelter where she might take cover if she would. Their gaze
broke (it was locked there an instant only) and however she felt in
turning from him, Raven had the sensation of dragging his eyes away.

"I'll be over," he said, "in time to fodder and milk."

He was leaving, but she called after him:

"No, don't you come. You send Jerry."

"I can do it as well as Jerry," he answered impatiently, and again she
called:

"No, don't you come. I don't think best."

Immediately Raven knew, if she put it in that tone (the mother tone it
was) he himself didn't "think best." He joined Nan and they walked on,
not speaking. Suddenly he stopped for an instant, without warning, and
she too stopped and looked at him. He took off his hat and was glad of
the cold air on his forehead.

"Mystery of mysteries!" he said. There was bitterness in his tone,
exasperation, revolt. Evidently he saw himself in a situation he neither
invited nor understood. "Who'd think of finding a woman like that on a
New England doorstep talking about foddering the cows?"

Nan considered the wisely circumspect thing to say and managed tamely:

"She's a good woman."

They went on.

"Yes," said Raven, after a while, "she's a good woman. But does she want
to be? Or isn't there anything inside her to make her want to be
anything else?"

"I have an idea," said Nan, going carefully, "most of the men she's
known have wanted her to be something else."

"Now what do you mean by that?" said Raven irritably. "And what do you
know about it anyway? You're nothing but a little girl."

"You keep saying that," said Nan, with composure, "because it gives you
less responsibility."

He stared at her, forgetting Tira.

"Responsibility?" he repeated. "What responsibility is there I don't
want to take--about you?"

"You don't want me to be a woman," said Nan. "You want me to be a little
girl, always adoring you, just enough, not too much. You've been adored
enough by women, Rookie."

They both knew she was talking in a hidden language. It was not women
she meant; it was Aunt Anne.

"But," said she, persisting, "I'm quite grown up. I've been in the War,
just as deep as you have, as deep as Dick. I've taken it all at a
gulp--the whole business, I mean, life, things as they are. I couldn't
any more go back to the Victorian striped candy state of mind I was
taught to pattern by than you could yourself."

"You let the Victorians alone," growled Raven. "Much you know about
'em."

"They were darlings," said Nan. "They had more brains, any ten of 'em,
than a million of us put together. But it does happen to be true they
didn't see what human nature is, under the skin. We do. We've scratched
it and we know. It's a horrible sight, Rookie."

"What is it?" said Raven. "What is under the skin?"

Nan considered.

"Well," she said finally, "there's something savage. Not strong,
splendid savage, you know, but pretending to be big Injun and not
fetching it. Wearing red blankets, and whooping, and tearing raw meat. O
Rookie, how do folks talk? I can't, even to you. But the world
isn't--well, it isn't as nice as I thought it: not so clean. You ought
to know. You don't like it either."

"So," said Raven, meditatively, "you don't like it."

"It's no matter whether I like it or not," said Nan, in a chilly way he
interpreted as pride. "I'm in it. And I'm going to play the game."

They went on for a while without speaking, and then Raven looked round
at her, a whimsical look.

"So you give notice," he said, "you're grown up."

"I give notice," said Nan tersely. "I'm a very old lady really, older
than you are, Rookie." Then she judged the moment had come for setting
him right on a point that might be debatable. "If you think I was a
little girl when I sat there and loved you the other night, you might as
well know I wasn't. And I wasn't a woman either: not then. I was just a
person, a creatur', Charlotte would say, that wanted you to get under
your tough lonesome old hide there's somebody that loves you to death
and believes in you and knows everything you feel."

"Am I lonesome, Nan?" he asked quickly, picking out the word that struck
him deepest. "I don't know."

"I do," said Nan. "You haven't had any of the things men ought to have
to keep them from growing into those queer he-birds stuck all over with
ridiculous little habits like pin feathers that make you want to
laugh--and cry, too. Old bachelors. Lord!"

"Look out," said Raven. "You'll get me interested in myself. I've gone
too far that way already. The end of that road is Milly and
psycho-analysis and my breaking everybody's head because they won't let
me alone."

"Break 'em then," said Nan concisely. "And run away. Take this Tira with
you and run off to the Malay Peninsula or somewhere. That sounds further
away than most places. Or an island: there must be an island left
somewhere, for a homesick old dear like you."

"Now, in God's name," said Raven, "what do you say that for?"

"Tira?" Nan inquired recklessly. "What do I tell you to take her for?
Because I want to see you mad, Rookie, humanly mad. And she's got the
look that makes us mad, men and women, too."

"What is it?" Raven asked thickly. "What is the look?"

"Mystery. It's beauty first, and then mystery spread over that. She's
like--why, Rookie, she's like life itself--mystery."

"No," said Raven, surprising her, "you're not a little girl any more:
that's true enough. I don't know you."

"Likely not," said Nan, undisturbed. "You can't have your cake and eat
it. You can't have a little Nan begging for stories and a Nan that's on
her job of seeing you get something out of life, if she can manage it,
before it's too late."

There she stopped, on the verge, she suddenly realized, of blundering.
He was not to guess she had too controlling an interest in that
comprehensive mystery which was his life. How horrible beyond measure if
she took over Aunt Anne's frantic task of beneficent guidance! Rookie
should be free. He began to laugh, and, without waiting for the reason,
she joined him.

"Maybe I will," he said, "the Malay prescription, half of it. But I
should want you with me. You may not be little, but you're a great Nan
to play with. We won't drag Tira's name into it," he added gravely.
"Poor Tira's name! We'll take good care of it."

"Oh, I'll go," said Nan recklessly. "But we'll take Tira. And we'll
build her a temple in a jungle and put her up on a pedestal and feed her
with tropical fruits and sit cross-legged before her so many hours a day
and meditate on her mystery."

"What would she say?" Raven wondered, and then laughed out in a quick
conviction. "No, she wouldn't say anything. She'd accept it, as she does
foddering the cows."

"Certainly," said Nan. "That's Tira."

"You've forgotten the baby."

"Yes," said Nan, soberly. "Poor little boy!"

They were serious and could play no more, and presently turned into the
back road and so home. At supper they had a beautiful time, the lights
soft, the fire purring, and the shades up so that the cold austerities
of night could look in without getting them. Nan had done a foolish
thing, one of those for which women can give no reason, for usually they
do not know which one it is out of the braided strands of all the
reasons that make emotion. She had unearthed a short pink crêpe frock
she used to wear in her childish days, and let her heavy hair hang in
two braids tied with pink ribbons. Did she want to lull Rookie's
new-born suspicion of her as a too mature female thing, by stressing the
little girl note, or did she slip into the masquerading gown because it
was restful to go back the long road that lay between the present and
the days when there was no war? Actually she did not know. She did know
she had flown wildly "up attic," the minute Rookie announced the daring
plan of the visit, and flung open chest after chest, packed by Aunt
Anne's exact hands, with this and that period of her clothes. Why had
Aunt Anne kept them, she straightened herself to wonder, at one point,
throwing them out in a disorderly pile, ginghams, muslins, a favorite
China silk. Could it be Aunt Anne had loved her, not so much as she
loved Rookie, but in the same hidden, inflexible way, and wanted to
preserve the image of her as she grew to girlhood, in the clothes she
had worn? It was not likely, she concluded, and was relieved to dismiss
even the possibility. It would have made too much to live up to, a
present loyalty of obedience which, if Aunt Anne in the heavenly courts
had anything like her earthly disposition, would be the only thing to
satisfy her. Nan didn't mean to do anything definitely displeasing,
especially to Aunt Anne. She simply meant to enjoy to the full the
ecstasy of living, just as if it were going on for a lifetime, under the
same roof with Rookie and having him all to herself. Then she came on
the pink crêpe, with its black bows, and gave a tiny nod of satisfaction
there in the attic dusk, and was all in a glow, though it was so cold.

When she came down to supper that night, Raven was reading his paper by
the fire. He glanced up as if she came in so every night, Nan thought.
She liked that. But she was a little awkward, conscious of her
masquerade and so really adding to the illusion of girlhood, ill used to
its own charm. Raven threw down his paper and got up.

"Lord!" said he. "Come here, you witch. Let me look at you."

Nan was actually shy now.

"Why, my darling," said Raven, in a tone so moved she was almost sorry
she had brought it all about. It made too many responsibilities. Which
Nan was she going to be? ("But no kissing!" she reminded herself.)
"You've come back to me."

"I haven't been away," said Nan, recovering herself and treating him to
a cool little nod, "not actually. Like it, Charlotte?" For Charlotte had
come in with a platter, and Nan turned about, peacocking before her
unsurprised gaze. "I found it up attic."

"It's real pretty," said Charlotte. "Them scant things they're wearin'
now, they ain't to be thought of in the same day."

Then, having given the room a last glance (almost a caressing touch
Charlotte had, a little anxious, too, because all comforts were so
important) she went out, and Nan was sitting opposite Raven at the
table, demure, self-contained, yet playing her wildest. It was a game
she knew she was to have entirely alone. The game was that she and
Rookie were living here in this house in some such potency of possessive
bliss that nothing could separate them. She was careless over the terms
of it. She was a child, she was a woman, she was everything Rookie
wanted her to be. Here they were together, and the universe, finding the
combination, Nan and Rookie, too strong to fight against, had given up
the losing battle, turned sulkily and left them alone.

They were hungry and in high spirits, and they ate and talked a great
deal. Nan meant to remember what they talked about. Even the words were
so dear to her she would have liked to set them down in a book to keep
for her old age that was to be as desolate as Aunt Anne's. But it
shouldn't be as conventional. There should be waves on that sea. Then
Charlotte had come in to clear the table and afterward, by Raven's
invitation, sat ten minutes or so by the fire and talked of neighborhood
things, and they were left alone again, and he was suddenly grave. Was
the game over, Nan wondered, and then went on into a more unbridled
speculation whether he was finding himself reminded of the old scruples,
the old withholdings when Aunt Anne, unable to keep up with their
galloping horses of fun, restrained them delicately but with what a hand
of steel! And suddenly she realized he was not thinking of her. Was the
grim house over the rise of the road calling to his anxious heart?

"Nan," he said, as if he had suddenly made up his mind, "I've got
something to show you."

He left the room and she heard him running upstairs. Presently he was
back, carrying the mottled book. Instantly it had a vivid interest for
her, he held it so reverently and, it seemed, so tenderly. She was at
the fire and he told her to get up and take the other chair. It would
bring the light at her back. With the book still in his hand, he sat
down before the fire and began to tell her the story of Old Crow. Nan
had known it, in its outer eccentricities; but had Old Crow been
unhappy? That was new to her. She had heard of him as queer, the country
oddity who, being frenzied over God or love, had madly incarcerated
himself in the loneliness of his own eccentricity.

"At odds with life as he found it," Raven concluded, "not actually able
to bear it. That's how it looked to the rest of us. Now, this is how it
looked to him."

"Is it a journal?" Nan asked.

She had forgotten her game. She was no child now, but a serious woman
with an intensely frowning glance.

"Yes. This is his journal. Want to read it, or me read it to you?"

"Oh, you," said Nan.

"I'd better, I guess. His punctuation's queer, and so's his spelling
sometimes. But I wish I could write as good a fist."

So he began. Nan sat perfectly still while the reading lasted. Once
getting up to tend the fire, she went back to a higher chair and sat
tense, her hands clasped about her knees. Old Crow seemed to have
entered the room, a singularly vital figure with extraordinary things to
say. Whether you believed the things or not, you had to listen, Old Crow
believed them so tremendously. He was like a shock, an assault from the
atmosphere itself. He affected Nan profoundly. Her perched attitude in
the chair was, in an unreasoned way, her own tribute of strained
attention. She was not combating him, but she had to tune herself up
high not to be overwhelmed. When Raven had finished, he turned and laid
the book on the table behind him, but lingeringly as if, Nan thought, he
had an affection for it.

"Well," he asked, "what do you think?"



XXVII


"What do I think?" Nan repeated. "About Old Crow, or his religion? It is
that, isn't it, Rookie? It is a religion."

"It's a religion, all right," said Raven. "And curiously, Nan, it's
given me a tremendous boost."

"Because you think----"

"Not because I think anything. I've an idea that with religions you'd
better not think. You'd better believe."

"If you can," said she.

"But don't you believe?" he asked her, out of an impetuosity like her
own. "I never thought to wonder what you believed. I remember though,
one time."

"Yes," said Nan. A deeper red ran into her cheeks, and her brows came
down a little over her eyes. Raven could see she was visualizing
something. "You're going back to the time when I wouldn't be confirmed."

"I remember. Mighty disagreeable, that was."

"Yes. I was in disgrace. She looked at me as if she'd been frozen. And
you brought me a peach. Do you remember that peach?"

He shook his head. But he did remember, though he said nothing, his mind
on the poor little girl chilled by Aunt Anne's frozen look.

"It was the most beautiful peach," said Nan, looking into the fire, and
continuing to hug her knees. "It wasn't that I didn't have peaches.
There were plenty to be eaten like a lady with a silver knife, or even
stolen off the sideboard and gobbled in the garden with the juice
squshing over your white frock. But this one--you slipped it into my
hand and I knew it was because you were sorry for me. And I took it out
of the room and went into the garden with it. And what do you s'pose I
did then, Rookie?"

"Ate it, I hope," said Raven. He felt his eyes hot with angry sorrow
over her. "That's the only thing I know of to do with a peach."

"I went round behind the lilacs, where the lily bed is, and stood there
and cried like--like a water spout, I guess, and I kissed the peach. I
kissed it and kissed it. It was like a rough check. And then I buried it
among the lilies because the dirt there looked so soft."

"Did it come up?"

He wanted, though so late, to turn it into childish comedy. Nan laughed
out.

"No," she said ruefully, "not the way you'd expect. It did come up. I
saw her troweling there the next morning. She'd called me to bring her
other gardening gloves. She'd found a hole in one she had on. You know
how exquisitely she kept her hands. And just as I came, she turned up
the peach, and looked at it as if it had done something disgraceful to
get there, and tossed it into her basket."

"Now," said Raven, "you can't make me think anybody"--he couldn't allow
himself to say Aunt Anne--"went hunting out your poor little peach."

"No," said Nan, bending on him a limpid gaze. "Of course not,
consciously. Only there was something----" But even she, with all her
recklessness, could not follow this out. To her own consciousness was
the certainty that deep in Aunt Anne, deep as the principle of life
itself, was an intuition which led her will to the evidence it needed
for its own victories. "And the queer thing about it was," she ended, "I
didn't refuse to be confirmed because I doubted things. I refused
because I believed. I believed in God; I believed so hard I was afraid."

"What of?"

"Afraid of standing in with what I didn't like. Afraid I couldn't carry
it through, and if I didn't, there'd be ginger for me somewhere. So
queer, Rookie, like all the things that keep happening to us. Little
ironies, you know, that sort of thing. For she thought I was behaving
shockingly toward God. And really, Rookie, it was because I was so
afraid of Him. I believed in Him so much I couldn't say I believed in a
way I didn't."

"Like Old Crow," said Raven. "Only you didn't go far enough. You didn't
say it's only a symbol."

"I tried not to think much about it, anyway," she owned. "I couldn't
believe what she did. But I couldn't go into it. I can't now. Don't you
know, Rookie, there are things you can't talk about? It's bad manners."

"I wish the learned divines thought so," said Raven. "Dear Nan!" he
added, his mind returning to her. "I didn't know you so very well, after
all. I must have seen you were having a beast of a time, or I mightn't
have butted in with the peach, but I didn't know how deep it went."

"Oh, it always goes deep with children," said Nan, carelessly, as if the
child he was pitying being snowed under by the years, it made no great
difference about her, anyway. "You get gashed to the bone and the scars
are like welts. But so far as I see, it has to be, coming into a world
you don't even know the rules of till they're banged into you."

"You wouldn't be willing," said Raven, spurred on by a mounting
curiosity over her, the inner mind of her he seemed never to have
touched before, "you wouldn't be willing to tell me what it was in the
church you didn't like?"

"Yes," said Nan decisively, "I should mind. Oh, I'd tell you, Rookie, if
I could anybody. But I can't. Maybe I could if I hadn't seen it working:
over there, you know--seen boys clinging to it so at the
end--confession--the crucifix. (The vestments, do you remember? over
that faded horizon blue!) I couldn't do it, Rookie, what they did, not
if I died this minute. Only," she added, struck by a thought, "I might
want it to remind me. I might touch the crucifix, you know, or look at
something or feel the holy water on my forehead. I might be too far gone
to think up to God but--yes, it might remind me."

"Symbols," said Raven, profoundly moved by the vision of the bright
spirit in her mortal beauty flickering out. "Old Crow."

"And when I said," she hesitated, anxious to give him everything he
asked of her, "the things I didn't like, I meant the things they tell
us, Rookie. You know: facts, details. And then you think of God and--no
use, Rookie, no use!"

"Yes," said Raven, "that's where Old Crow was up against it. But picture
writing, because it's the only kind of writing we can read--picture
writing, Nan, because we're savages--he could take that and not wince."

"Anyway," said Nan, "I'm happiest not thinking of it. I say my prayers:
God bless Rookie. God bless me. That's all."

"I don't believe it."

"Don't believe what? That I say 'God bless Rookie'? Course I do. Why
not?"

"Well, I'm blessed!" said Raven, at a loss. Then, recovering himself,
"Nan, I never've known you in the least. How am I getting at you now?"

"Because we're shut up here with the quiet and the snow," said Nan.

She looked at the fire, not at him. He thought, with a startled delight
in her, he had never seen a more contented figure and, the beauty of it
was, entirely oblivious of him. It made no demands.

"It's a fact," he reflected, "I've really never seen you since you grew
up. First you were a child, then you went over there. You had to take
life whole, as Old Crow took his religion."

"Yes," said Nan, "I guess we're all queer, we young ones, that have been
in service. You see we've had to take things as they are. You can't veil
them from us. We've seen 'em. We know." She laughed out. "Rookie, it's
queer, but I'm a good deal more like the old-fashioned girl we read
about than the rest of the crowd I run with."

"Why?" Raven ventured.

If Nan was in a mood to unveil her dear mind, he wanted her voice to
rush on and on in that sweet staccato. And her answer was in itself
surprising:

"Aunt Anne."

Raven sat looking at her, a slow smile dawning. There she was, "prim as
a dish," Charlotte would say, her two braids down her back, her hands
clasped about her knees. He had never, the undercurrent in his mind
still reminded him, been so alone with her since the days when they had,
with an unspoken sense of lawlessness, slipped away together for a day's
fishing or a breathless orchid hunt in the woods. The adventures had
been less and less frequent as time ran on and it had begun to dawn on
Raven that they were entirely contrary to Aunt Anne's sense of New
England decencies. After each occasion Nan would be mysteriously absent
for a half day, at least, and when she reappeared she was a little shyer
of him, more silent toward Aunt Anne. Had she been put to bed, or shut
up with tasks, to pay the tax on her stolen pleasures? He never knew. He
did know, however, that when he proposed taking her off to wild delights
that made her eyes glow with anticipation she always refused, unless he
acceded to her plea to slip away: always to slip away, not to tell.
Could it be she had known by a child's hard road to knowledge--of
observation, silence, unaided conclusion--that Aunt Anne would never
allow them to run away to play? Curious, pathetic, abnormal even, to
have been jealous of a child! Then he pulled himself up with the shocked
sense, now become recurrent, that he had never allowed himself to attack
Anne's fair dignity with the weapon of unsuppressed guesswork about her
inner motives. He had assumed, he had felt obliged to assume, they were
as fine as her white hands. All the more reason for not assailing them
now when she was withdrawn into her strange distance. Yet one source of
wonder might be allowed him to explore unhindered: the presence of Nan
here at his hearth, inviting him to know her to the last corner of her
honest mind. She was even eager in this loving hospitality. He would
hardly have seen how to define the closeness of their relation. She had
turned her eyes from the fire to meet his.

"Well?" she said. "What?"

"I was thinking how queer it is," said Raven, "we never've been alone
together very much--'all told' as Charlotte would say--and here we sit
as if we were going to be here forever and talk out all the things."

"What things?" asked Nan.

She was not looking at him now, but back into the fire and she had a
defensive air, as if she expected to find herself on her guard.

"Lots of 'em," said Raven. "The money." His voice sounded to her as if
he cursed it, and again he pulled himself up. "What are we going to do
with it?"

"Aunt Anne's," she said, not as a question but a confirmation.

"Yes. I can't refuse it. That means throwing it back on you. If I won't
decide, I'm simply making you do it for me. I don't see anything for it
but our talking the thing out and making up our minds together."

"No," said Nan. "I sha'n't help you."

"You won't?"

"I suppose it amounts to that."

"Now why the dickens not?"

Nan kept up her stare at the fire. She seemed to be debating deeply,
even painfully.

"Rookie," she said, at last, in a tumultuous rush, "I never meant to say
this. I don't know what'll come of saying it. But you've had a terrible
sort of life. It's almost worse than any life I know. You've been
smothered--by women." This last she said with difficulty, and Raven
reddened, in a reflecting shame. "You've done what they expected you to.
And it's all been because you're too kind. And too humble. You think it
doesn't matter very much what happens to you."

"You've hit it there," said Raven, with a sudden distaste for himself.
"It doesn't."

"And if I could clear your way of every sort of bugbear just by deciding
things for you, I wouldn't do it."

"Don't try to change my destiny," said Raven, plucking up spirit to
laugh at her and lead her away from this unexpected clarity of analysis
that could only mean pain for both of them. "I'm old, dear. I'm not very
malleable, very plastic. We're not, at forty-odd."

"And if," said Nan deliberately, "I loved you better, yes, even better
than I do (if I could!) I wouldn't tell you. It would be putting bonds
on you. It would be setting up the old slavery. The more I loved you,
the more I should be taking over the old tyranny: direct succession,
Rookie, don't you see?"

Here she laughed, though with some slight bitterness, and he did see.
Aunt Anne had ruled his life, to the drying up of normal springs in it.
Nan didn't mean to accept the inheritance. He was profoundly touched, by
her giving so much grave thought to it, at least.

"But, dearest child," he said, "what does it matter now? I'm rather a
meager person. You couldn't dress me up with attributes, out of your
dear mind. I shouldn't know how to wear 'em. I'm no end grateful to you
for wanting to. But if you gave me the earth for a football now I'm too
stiff to kick it. It's a curve, life is. Don't you know that? You're on
the up-grade, you and Dick. I may not have got very far, but I'm on the
down."

"And yet," said Nan, turning and laying a finger on the book at her
side, "you can read a thing like that, a man's life turned inside out
for you to see, and understand what he meant by it, and then say the
game's up. You make me tired."

If he made her tired, she made him unaffectedly surprised.

"But, Nan," he said, "I didn't know you caught on so tremendously to the
old chap. I didn't know it meant so very much to you."

"Of course it means things to me," she said. "Anyway because it does to
you. You came up here sick, sick at heart, sick in your mind, because
you've been through the War and you've seen what's underneath our
proprieties and our hypocrisies. You see we're still in the jungle. And
it's nearly killed you out, Rookie, the dear you inside you that's not
at home in the jungle. You wouldn't believe me if I told you what kind
of a Rookie you are. Things hurt you like blazes. And then here comes
Old Crow, just as if he rose out of his grave and pointed a finger at
you. And he says, 'Don't be afraid, even of the jungle.' And suddenly
you weren't afraid. And now you're afraid again, and talk about downward
curves, and all that. Why, Rookie, I'm older than you are, years and
years."

Raven's mouth and eyes were wide open in amazement at her.

"I'm damned!" said he conversationally. "The way you young things go on.
You put us in our places. Dick does, too. You've heard him. But, as I
remember, then you had a tendency to choke him off."

"We won't discuss Dick," said she, again prim as a dish. "And I'm not
putting you in your place because I belong to my own generation. It's
only because you fill up the foreground. I have to look at you. I can't
see anything else. I never could. And as a matter of fact, I don't
belong to this generation. I haven't got their conceit and their
swagger. Sometimes I wish I had. I can't even talk their slang. I can't
smoke a cigarette."

Then Raven remembered, as if she had invited a beam of light to throw up
what would appeal to him as her perfections, that she did seem to him an
alien among her youthful kind, and a shy alien at that, as if she hoped
they might not discover how different she was and put her through some
of those subtle tortures the young have in wait for a strange creature
in the herd.

"No," he said, "you're not like the rest of them. I should have said it
was because you're more beautiful. But it's something beyond that. What
is it?"

"Don't you know?" said Nan, turning to him, incredulous and even a
little accusatory, as if he should long ago have settled it for her
doubting mind whether it was a gain for her or irreparable loss. "No, I
see you don't. Well, it's Aunt Anne."

"Aunt Anne?"

"Yes. I never had the college life girls have now. When she sent me to
the seminary, it was the privatest one she could find. If she could have
exiled me to mid-Victorianism she would. I don't say I should have liked
college life. Maybe I shouldn't. Except the athletics. Anyhow, I can
hold my own there. I was enough of a tomboy to get into training and
keep fit. And Rookie--now don't tell--I never do--I see lots of girls,
perfectly nice girls, too, doing things Aunt Anne would have died before
she'd let me do. And what do you think? I don't envy them because
they're emancipated. I look at them, and I feel precisely what Aunt Anne
would feel, though I don't seem to get excited about it. The same word
comes into my mind, that word all the girls have run away from:
unladylike! Isn't that a joke, Rookie? Charlotte would say it's the
crowner."

"You're a sweet thing, Nan," said Raven, musing. He did wonder whether
she was really in revolt against Aunt Anne's immovable finger.

"Smoking!" said Nan, her eyebrows raised in humorous recollection. "I
used to be half dead over there, dog tired, keyed up to the last notch.
You know! I'd have given a year of life for a cigarette, when I saw what
the others got out of it. I was perfectly willing to smoke. I was eager
to. But I'd think of Aunt Anne, and I simply couldn't do it."

Then it seemed to him that, since Aunt Anne's steel finger had resulted
in such a superfine product of youth, they'd better not blame her too
radically. It was her tyranny, but it was a tyranny lineally sprung from
a stately past.

"I don't believe it was Aunt Anne alone," he said. "It was your
remembering a rather fine inheritance. Your crowd think they're very
much emancipated, but they've lost the sense of form, beauty, tradition.
You couldn't go all the way with them. You couldn't be rough-haired."

"At any rate," said Nan, "I can't be young: in the sense they're young.
I'm a 'strayed reveler,' that's all. But I don't know why I'm painting a
Sargent portrait of me. Yes, I do. I want to squeeze everything I can
out of this darling minute together, so when we don't have any more
minutes I can go back to this. And you can remember, in case you ever
need me, just what sort of an old Nan I am."

"And you suggest," said Raven, "my kidnaping a nice New England woman
and her baby and carting them off to the Malay Peninsula."

Nan turned upon him delightedly. He could not know what he did for her
by juggling the Tira myth into raillery.

"But think, Rookie," she said, "a woman so beautiful she's more than
that. She's mystery. Now, isn't she beautiful?"

"Beautiful," Raven agreed, and the picture of her, madonna-like, in the
woods, suddenly smote the eyes of his mind and blinded them to all but
Tira.

She saw him wince, and went on more falteringly, but still determined to
go all the way.

"Into a new world, Rookie, all ferns and palms."

"And snakes!"

"Perfectly honest, perfectly free, and no jungle except the kind that
grows up in a night."

"And you," said Raven, "with your New England traditions and your
inherited panic over a cigarette!"

They looked at each other across the length of the hearth, and it all
seemed delightfully funny to them--their solitude, their oneness of
mind--and they began to laugh. And at the combined shout of their
merriment (almost competitive it was, in the eagerness of each to
justify the particular preciousness of the moment) the door opened and
Dick came in, halted, stared, in a surprise that elicited one last hoot
at the unexpectedness of things, and indulged himself in a satirical
comment of greeting, far from what he had intended. Poor Dick! he was
always making sage resolutions on the chance of finding Raven and Nan
together, but the actuality as inevitably overthrew him.

"Oh," said he, "that's it, is it? So I thought."

If he thought it, he was none the less unwise in saying so. He knew
that, knew the effect he had produced, and yet was powerless to modify
it. Nan was plainly taken aback, and she knew why. He was destroying her
happy moment, snatching it out of any possible sequence of hours here
with Rookie. Dick had come and he would stay. Raven read the boy's face
and was bored. He had seen that look too much of late. But he rose and
went forward with the appropriate air of welcome.

"Well, old boy," said he, his hand on Dick's shoulder, "why didn't you
'phone up? There'd have been something ready for you. No matter. We'll
make a raid on the pantry."

"I don't want anything," said Dick morosely.

His eyes never left Nan. They traveled from her braids to her feet. Why,
his angry gaze demanded, was she sitting here in a beguiling
masquerade--silly, too! The masquerade was silly. But it made her into
something so unapproachable in the citadel of a childhood she had no
lien on any longer that his heart ached within him. Except for that one
kiss in France--a kiss so cruelly repudiated after (most cruelly because
she had made it seem as if it were only a part of her largess to the
War) he had found little pleasure in Nan. Yet there could be such
pleasure with her. The generous beauties of her mind and heart looked to
him a domain large enough for a life's exploring. But even the woman who
had given him the kiss in France had vanished, withdrawn into the little
girl Raven seemed to be forever wakening in her. He got out of his
driving coat and stepped into the hall to drop it. When he came back,
Nan had made room at the fire and Raven had drawn up another chair.

"Now," said Raven, "I'll forage for some grub."

At that, he left them, and Nan thought bitterly it was the cowardice of
man. Dick was in the sulks and she was to suffer them alone.



XXVIII


Dick, looking down upon Nan, had that congealed aspect she alone had the
present power of freezing him into. She knew all the possibilities of
that face. There was the angry look: that had reigned of late when she
flouted or denied him. There was the sulky frown, index of his jealousy
of Rookie, and there had been, what seemed a long time ago, before they
went through this disintegrating turmoil of war, the look of a boy's
devotion. Nan had prized him very much then, when he was not flaunting
angry rights over her. Now she sat perversely staring into the fire,
realizing that everything about her angered him: the childish vanity of
her dress, assumed, he would be sure, to charm the Rookie of old days
into renewed remembrance. But he had to be faced finally, since Rookie
was gone so long, stirring up Charlotte to the task of a cold bite, and
with a little shrug she lifted her eyes to face exactly the Dick she had
expected to see: dignified reproach in every line. Nice boy! she had the
honest impartiality to give him that grace only to wish he would let her
enjoy him as she easily could. What a team he and she and Rookie would
be if they could only eliminate this idea of marriage. How they could
make the room ring, here by the fire, with all the quips of their old
memories. Yet wouldn't Dick have been an interruption, even then? Wasn't
the lovely glow of this one evening the amazing reality of her sitting
by the fire with Rookie alone for the first time in many years, and, if
he fell into the enchantment of Malaysia and the mysteries of an
empty-headed Tira, the last? And now here she was dreaming off on Rookie
when she must, at this very instant, to seize any advantage at all, be
facing Dick. She began by laughing at him.

"Dick," she said, "how funny you are. I don't know much about Byron, but
I kind of think you're trying to do the old melancholia act: Manfred or
what d'you call 'em? You just stand there like old style opera,
glowering; if you had a cloak you'd throw an end over your shoulder."

"Nan!" said he, and she was the more out of heart because the voice
trembled with an honest supplication.

"There!" she hastened to put in, "that's it. You're 'choked with
emotion.' Why do you want to sound as if you're speaking into a barrel?
In another minute you'll be talking 'bitterly.'"

Dick was not particular about countering her gibes. That was
unproductive. He had too much of his own to say.

"What do you suppose I'm here for?" he asked, as if, whatever it might
be, it was in itself accusatory.

"Search me," said Nan, with the flippancy he hated.

She knew, by instinct as by long acquaintance, that one charm for him
lay in her old-fashioned reticences and chiefly her ordered speech.
Almost he would have liked her to be the girl Aunt Anne had tried to
make her. That, she paused to note, in passing, was part of the general
injustice of things. He could write free verse you couldn't read aloud
without squirming (even in the company of the all-knowing young), but
she was to lace herself into Victorian stays.

"I suppose," said she, "you came to see whether I mightn't be having the
time of my life sitting here with Rookie by the fire."

"I did," he frankly owned. "Mother said you'd gone to New York. So she
went on."

"Now what the dickens for? Haven't I a perfect right to go to New York
without notice?"

"Why," said Dick, "you'd disappeared. You'd gone away from here, and you
were lost, virtually lost. You weren't anywhere."

"If she thought I was in New York, why didn't that settle it? What did
she have to go trailing on after me for?"

"Because," said Dick, "we didn't know. She wanted to telephone. I
wouldn't let her. I couldn't have the Seaburys started up. I couldn't
have you get into the papers."

"Into the papers!" said Nan. "Heavens! I suppose if I'm not in at curfew
I'm to be arrested."

"I let her go," repeated Dick. "But I knew as well as I wanted to you'd
doubled back here and you were with him."

"Then, for God's sake," said Nan, in a conversational tone, knowing the
adjuration would be bitter to him, "if I wanted to be with him, as you
put it--I'm glad I ain't a poet--why didn't you let me?"

"Because," said Dick promptly, "it's indecent."

She had no difficulty in facing him now. It was a cheap means of
subjugating, but, being an advantage, she would not forego it. And,
indeed, she was too angry.

"Dick," she said, "you're a sickening little whelp. More than that,
you're a hypocrite. You write yards and yards of your free verse to tell
us how bold and brave you are and how generally go-as-you-please we've
got to be if we're going to play big Injun, and then you tell me it's
indecent to sit here with Rookie, of all people in the world. My God!
Rookie!"

Again she had invoked her Maker because Dick would shiver at the
impropriety. "No violence," she thought satirically, remembering he was
himself the instigator of violence in verse. But Dick was sorry. He had
not chosen his word. It had lain in his angry mind and leaped to be
used. It could not be taken back.

"You can't deny," said he, "you are perfectly happy here with him. Or
you were a minute ago before I came."

"No," said Nan, "I don't deny it. Is that indecent?"

Now she had the whip hand, for he was not merely angry: he was plainly
suffering. The boyish look had subtly taken possession of his face. This
was the Dick she had loved always, next to Rookie. But his following
words, honest as they were, lost him his advantage of the softened look.
He was hanging to his point.

"Yes," he said. "He's old. You're young. So am I. We belong together. We
can be awfully fond of him. We are. But it's got to be in the right way.
He could live with us. We'd simply devote ourselves to him. But Nan, the
world belongs to us. We're young."

At that instant Raven came in and set down his tray. Nan glanced up at
him fearfully, but it was apparent he had not heard. She was no longer
angry. The occasion was too big. Dick seemed to her to be speaking out
of his ignorance and not from any wilful cruelty. She got up and went to
Raven, as he stood there, put her hand through his arm and smiled up at
him.

"Rookie," she said, with a half laugh that was really a caress,
"darlingest Rookie! Charlotte never got that supper together in the
world. You did it yourself, not to disturb her. I never saw so much food
at one time, in all my life."

It was a monstrous feast, bread, butter, cheese, ham: very neatly
assembled, but for a giant's appetite.

"We'll all have some," sad Raven. "Draw up, old son. Nan'll butter for
us."

For the first minutes it seemed to Dick he could not eat, the lump in
his throat had risen so. But Nan buttered and they did eat and felt
better. Raven avoided looking at them, wondering what they were
quarreling about now. It must, he thought, be the way of this new
generation starting out avowedly "on its own."



XXIX


The blessed diversion of eating ended, a blank moment stared them in the
face. What to say next? Were Nan and Dick, Raven wondered, to go on
fighting? Was it the inevitable course of up-to-date courtship? Perhaps
the new generation, from its outlook on elemental things, was taking to
marriage by capture, clubbing the damsel and striding off, her limpness
flung over a brawny arm. It seemed to him a singularly bare, unshaded
way to the rose-leaf bowers his poets had been used to sing; but
undoubtedly the roads were many, and this was one. Possibly the poets
wouldn't say the same now. Dick ought to know. But at least there must
be no warfare here in this warm patch of shelter snatched out of the
cold and dark. His hand was on Old Crow's journal, Dick's inheritance,
he thought, as well as his, and now a fortunate pretext to stave off an
awkward moment.

"Run over this," he said. "Nan and I've been doing it. I don't believe
we're in any hurry for bed."

Dick took it, with no show of interest. How should he have been
interested, forced to switch his mind from the pulsating dreams of youth
to worn mottled covers?

"What is it?" he asked indifferently.

Raven was rather curious now. What impression would Old Crow make,
slipping in like this, unheralded?

"Never mind," he said. "Run over it and get on to it, if you can. I'd
like to know what you think."

Dick, without much heart, began to read, and Raven lighted a pipe.
First, a tribute to Nan's abstinence, he passed her the cigarettes, and
when she shook her head, smiled back at her, as if he reminded her of
secrets they had together. Presently she got up, and Dick, closing the
book, threw it on the table.

"Bed?" Raven asked, also getting up, and Nan said good night and was
gone.

The two men sat down, each with the certainty that here they were to
stick until something determining had been said, Raven irritated by the
prospect and Dick angrily ready.

"Well," said Raven, indicating the book, "what do you think?"

"That?" said Dick absently. "Oh, I don't know. Somebody trying to write
without knowing how?"

Raven gave it up. Either he had not read far, or he had not hungered or
battled enough to be moved by it.

"Now, look here," said Dick, "I may not be interested in that, but
there's something I am interested in. And we've got to talk it out, on
the spot."

"Well!" said Raven. He mended the fire which didn't need it, and then
sat down and filled his pipe. He wasn't smoking so very much but, he
thought, with a bored abandonment to the situation, gratefully taking
advantage of a pipe's proneness to go out. While he attended to it he
could escape the too evidently condemnatory gaze from those young eyes
that never wavered, chiefly because they could not be deflected by a
doubt of perfectly apprehending everything they saw.

"Now," said Dick, plunging, "what do you want to do this kind of thing
for?"

"What kind of thing?" asked Raven, lighting up. "Smoke?"

Dick looked at him accusingly, sure of his own rightness and the clarity
of the issue.

"You know," he said. "This business. Compromising Nan."

Raven felt that slight quickening of the blood, the nervous thrill along
the spine a dog must feel when his hair rises in canine emergency. He
smoked silently while he was getting himself in hand, and, in the space
of it, he had time for a good deal of rapid thinking. The outrage and
folly of it struck him first and then the irony. Here was Dick, who
flaunted his right to leave nothing unsaid where realistic verse
demanded it, and he was consigning Nan to the decorum Aunt Anne herself
demanded. Was the young animal of the present day really unchanged from
the first man who protected his own by a fettering seclusion, simply
because it was his own? Was Dick's general revolt only the yeasty
turmoil sure to take one form or another, being simply the swiftness of
young blood? Was his general bravado only skin deep? Raven hardly knew
how to take him. He wouldn't be angry, outwardly at least. The things
Dick had said, the things he was prepared to say, he would be expected
to resent, but he must deny himself. It was bad for the boy, and more, a
subtle slur on Nan. They mustn't squabble over her, as if her sweet
inviolateness could be in any way touched by either of them. Presently
he took his pipe out, looked at it curiously as if it did not altogether
please him and remarked:

"Dick, you're a fool."

"Oh, yes," said Dick, with a bitterness that curled his lip a little,
"I'm a young fool, too, I suppose. Well, thank God for that. I am young,
and I know it, and just what I'm getting out of it and what I've a right
to get. You can't play that game with me, Uncle Jack. You simply can't
do it. The old game's played out."

"And what," said Raven mildly, "is the old game? And what's the new one
going to be? You'll have to tell me. I don't know."

"The old game," said Dick, "was precisely what it was in politics. The
old men made the rules and the young were expected to conform. The old
men made wars and the young fought 'em. The old men lied and skulked and
the young had to pull them out of the holes they got into. I suppose
you'd say the War was won at Chequers Court. Well, I shouldn't. I should
say it was won by the young men who had their brains blown out, and lost
their eyes and their legs."

"No," said Raven quietly, "I shouldn't say the War was won at Chequers
Court. We needn't fight over that. The thing that gets me is why we need
to fight at all. There's been a general armistice and Eastern Europe
doesn't seem to have heard of it. They go on scrapping. You don't seem
to have heard of it either. You come home here and find me peaceably
retired to Charlotte and Jerry and my Sabine Farm, and you proceed to
declare war on me. What the devil possesses you?"

"Yes," said Dick, the muscle twitching in his lip, "I do find you here.
And Nan with you."

"Dick," said Raven sharply, "we'll leave Nan out of this."

Dick, though the tone was one that had called him to attention years
ago, told himself he wasn't afraid of it now. Those old bugaboos
wouldn't work.

"I am going," he said, "to marry Nan."

"Good for you," responded Raven. "No man could do better."

"Do you mean to tell me," countered Dick, "you're not bluffing? Or do
you actually want to let her marry me and you--you'd continue this under
my nose?"

Raven stared at him a full minute, and Dick angrily met him. "Stare
away," Dick was thinking. "I'm in the right. I can look you down."

"Dick," said Raven finally, "I called you a fool. It isn't such a bad
thing to be a fool. We're most of us fools, of one sort or another. But
don't let me think you're a dirty-minded little cad. Now I don't want to
bring Nan into this, but I rather think I've got to. What are you
driving at? Come, out with it!"

To his wonderment, his pain amounting to a shock of perplexity and
grief, he saw Dick's face redden and the tears spring to his eyes. How
horribly the boy cared, perhaps up to the measure of Nan's deserts, and
yet with what a childish lack of values! For he had no faith either in
Nan or in old Jack. The ties of blood, of friendship, were not holding.
He was as jealous as Othello, and no sane certainties were standing him
in stead. Dick, feeling the painful tears, felt also the shame of them.
He wanted to answer on the instant, now Raven had given him his chance;
but so unused was he to the menace of betraying emotion that he was not
even sure of not blubbering like a boy. He swallowed and came out with
it:

"You've got some sort of hold on her nobody else has. You've hynotized
her. She eats out of your hand."

Raven, in despair, sat looking at him. He ought, he felt, to be able to
laugh it all away, but he was too bewildered and too sorry.

"Dick," said he finally, "I shall have to say it again. You're an awful
fool. Nan and I were always the best of friends. I rather think I have
known her in a way none of the rest of you have. But--hypnotized her!
Look at me, Dick. Remember me plodding along while you grew up; think
what sort of a chap I am. You won't find anything spectacular about me.
Never has been, never will be. And Nan, of all people! little Nan!"

Dick forgot the imminence of a breaking voice and humid eyes. Raven, he
felt, wasn't playing the game. He was skulking out of it.

"Do you deny," he said, in a voice so loud and hoarse that it startled
him as it did Raven, "that you're in love with her?"

"Good God!" said Raven. He rose, laid his pipe on the mantel and stood,
trembling, even in his clenched hands. "What is there to answer," he got
out at length, "to a question like that? You've just reminded me I'm
past my youth. Why don't you remember it yourself when it'll do you some
good? I'm an old chap, and you----"

"You're as fit as ever you were in your life," said Dick, as if he
grudged it to him. "And more fascinating, I suppose, to a girl like her.
There's something pathetic about it. It's half pity, too! Nothing so
dangerous in the world."

Raven swung round, walked to the window and, hands in his pockets, stood
looking out. In love with Nan! well, he did love Nan better than any
created thing. All the old tests, the old obediences, would be nothing
to him if he could consecrate them to Nan, her happiness, her safety in
this dark world. How about his life? Yes, he would give that, a small
thing, if Nan needed the red current of it to quicken her own. But "in
love" as Dick understood it! If you were to judge Dick's comprehension
of it from his verse, love was a sex madness, a mortal lure for the
earth's continuance, by the earth begot. And who had unconsciously held
out that lure to him but the woman of mystery up there on the road in
that desolate house with her brutal husband and her deficient child? He
had seen the innocent lure, he had longed to put out his hand to the
hand unconsciously beckoning. Through the chill wintry night the message
came to him now. And only Nan could understand that the message might
come and that it was a part of the earth and to be forgotten, like a hot
wind or a thrilling song out of the dark--Nan, his darling, a part of
him, his understanding mind, as well as the fiber of his heart. Suddenly
he turned on Dick who was watching him, ready, it seemed, to pounce on
his first change of look.

"Dick," he said, "I adore Nan."

"Yes," said Dick, "I know you do. I told you----"

"But," broke in Raven, "you don't know anything about it."

"Oh," said Dick, "then I don't adore her, too."

Raven reflected. No, his inner mind told him, there was no community of
understanding between them. How should Dick traverse with him the long
road of rebuff and downfall he had traveled? How should youth ever be
expected to name the cup it has not tasted? For Dick, he thought again,
what is known as love was a simple, however overwhelming, matter of the
mounting blood, the growing year. For him it would be the ashes of
forgotten fire, the strange alembic mixed of bitter with the sweet. In
that moment he faced an acknowledged regret that he had not lived the
normal life of marriage at the start, the quieting of foolish fevers,
the witness of children. We are not, he reflected, quite solvent unless
we pay tribute before we go. He mused off into the vista of life as it
accomplishes itself not in great triumphal sweeps, but fitful music
hushed at intervals by the crash of brutal mischance, and only, at the
end, a solution of broken chords. Meantime Dick watched him, and Raven
at last, feeling the boy's eyes on him, came awake with a start.

"Yes, Dick," he answered gently, "of course you love her. And it ought
to do you good. It's a big thing to love Nan."

"Very well then," said Dick, his voice trembling a little in answer to
that gentler tone, "you let her alone, can't you? Nan's a different girl
when she's with you. It's no use denying it. You do hypnotize her."

"Dick," said Raven, "that's a beastly thing to say. If you mean it to be
as offensive as it sounds, you ought to be booted for it."

"Oh," said Dick, with a simple certainty in what he knew, "I don't blame
you as I should any other fellow that wasn't going through what you are.
That would be a simple matter to deal with: a chap that knew what he was
doing. You don't, old man. You may not know it, but you don't."

"For the land's sake!" said Raven, echoing Charlotte, "And what, again
for the land's sake, am I going through?"

"You know," said Dick uneasily because he did hope to avoid putting it
into words. "_Cafard._"

Raven had one of his moments of silence, getting hold of himself, taking
the matter in, with its forgotten enormity.

"So," he said, "you've adopted your mother's word for it. I hadn't
realized that."

"Oh, Mum's no such fool," said Dick. "She may be an aggravation and a
curse--I'll own that--but she's up to date. Why, Jack, anybody that ever
knew you'd know you're not yourself."

"No," thought Raven, "few of us are ourselves. We've been through the
War, my son. So have you; but you didn't have such a brittle old world
inside you to try to put together again after it was smashed. Your inner
world was in the making. Whatever you might feel in its collision with
the runaway planet of the mad human mind, it could right itself; its
atoms might cohere."

"You needn't think," proceeded Dick generously if a trifle too
magnificently, "I can't see. There's a lot of things I see that don't
bear talking about. I've pitched into you about Nan, but you needn't
suppose I don't know it's all a matter of hidden complexes."

Again recurring to Charlotte in this moment of need, Raven reflected
that he didn't know whether he was afoot or a-horseback.

"You don't mind, I hope," he said, with humility before this perfectly
equipped intelligence, "explaining a little."

"Why," said Dick, "there's all your previous life. It's a case of
inhibition. There was Miss Anne."

"Stop," said Raven, his curiosity over the boy's mind dying in a crash.
"Stop right there, Dick; you're making a fool of yourself. Now we'll go
to bed."

He got up and waited, and Dick, sulkily, rose too.

"You needn't think," he began, and Raven broke in:

"You needn't think I shall stand another word of your half-baked
psycho-deviltries. You can believe what you like. It'll harm nobody but
yourself. But you don't talk it here, or out you go. Now!"

The last word meant he was waiting to put out the light and Dick,
without another look at him, strode out of the room, snatched his
suit-case and went up the stairs. Raven heard the decisive click of his
door and, his own heart beating in a quick response to what he knew must
happen, turned on the light again and stood there silent, waiting. It
did happen. A soft rustle, like a breeze blowing down the stairs, and
Nan came in. She had taken off her child's dress, as if to show him she
had left their game behind her. The long braids were pinned up, and she
wore her dark walking dress. She was paler, much older, and he was
renewedly angry with Dick for banishing the Nan that was but an hour
ago. Perhaps that Nan would never come back.

"Darling Rookie," she said, so softly that the sound of it could not
have got half way up the stairs, "what's it all about?"

"About you, Nan," he answered, and denied himself the darling Nan he had
for her. "And being in love. And Dick's wanting you."

"It's more than that," said Nan wistfully. "He's been at you somehow.
He's dug ditches across your dear forehead and down your cheeks. What
d'he say, Rookie? What d'you say to him?"

Raven shook his head. He had no idea of inviting her into the
psycho-analytic ward of Dick's mind.

"Nan," he said, "the boy's unhappy. He's in love with you. No doubt
about it."

Nan, on her part, had nothing to say to this.

"What made you change your dress?" asked Raven. "You give me a funny
feeling, as if you'd put the little Nan to bed and come down here to say
you're going, in a minute, and never coming back."

"I am going," said Nan, "only not in a minute. Charlotte says Jerry
shall take me to the early train."

"Now, by George!" said Raven, so loudly she put her finger to her lip,
"if that's what Dick's done, he shall go himself, and know the reason,
too. Spoil my visit with you, break it all up? Why, I never had a visit
from you before."

"It's broken," said Nan. "You couldn't put it together again." The red
had come into her cheeks and her eyes showed a surface glitter he did
not know. "I'm going to leave you to Tenney--and Tira--and your
destiny--and Old Crow."

"Is this a part of your scheme?" asked Raven roughly. He was curiously
dashed, almost shamed by her repudiating him. "You're as bad as Dick.
He's been bringing all his psychopathic patter to bear on me, and you're
deserting me. Oh, come! Let's be safe and sane, like the Fourth."

"So we will be," said Nan. She was retreating toward the door. There
were simple natural things she wanted at that moment. She wanted to go
to him, put her arms about him, mother or child arms, as he might wish,
and bid him a good-by that would wrap him about like a cloak while they
were absent one from the other. He should have her lips as he had her
heart. Nan was an adventurer on the high seas of life. She cared very
little whether her boat rode the wave or sank, so it could unload the
gold and gems it carried on the sand of the world she loved. Rookie was
the home of her heart. The gold was all for him. But if he did not want
it--and meantime she was at the door. "Don't get up," she said, "to see
me off. If you do, he will, too, and there'll be more fireworks. No, no,
Rookie. Don't look like that. I'm not hateful about him, really, only he
has spoiled my fun."

"Why you should go," said Raven, advancing; "why you should leave this
house just because he's come!"

"No fun!" said Nan. "Do you see us, the three of us, sitting down to
meals together? No, Rookie. Can't be done. Good night."

Here she did turn definitely and went up the stairs, and Raven presently
followed. In his room he stood for a moment thinking, not of Dick, who
was troublesome, in an irritating way incident to biting young cubs just
aware of their teeth, but of the challenge that was Nan. Here she was,
all beauty, all wisdom, in the natal gifts of her, telling him, with
every breath, she loved him and only him. And yet, his knowledge of life
was quick to answer, it was the accretion of long hungers, the sum of
all desires since she was little and consigned to Aunt Anne's delicate
frigidities for nurture and, as the event proved, for penury. She had no
conception of a love as irresistible as hers was now abounding. In a
year or two, youth would meet her on the road of youth, and they would
kiss and old Rookie would become the dim duty of remembered custom. And
as he thought these things, his overwhelming revolt against earth and
its cruelty came over him, and he stood there gripping his hands into
their palms, again at open war with life. It was a question without an
answer, a hunger unfed, a promise broken. Eternal life was the soporific
distilled by man, in his pathetic cunning, to dull the anguish of
anticipated death. Standing there in the silence, he felt the waves of
loneliness going over him, and thought of Nan in her chamber across the
hall, angelic in her compassion, her arms ready for him as a mother is
ready for her child. The moonlight made arabesques on the walls, and he
walked to the window with an instinctive craving for the open. He stood
gripping the casing with both hands and looking up over the hillside
where also the light lay revealingly. Up there was the hut where Tira
might be now if Tenney had not wounded himself, fleeing in her turn from
earthly cruelty. Up there Old Crow had lived in his own revolt against
earth cruelty. And, with the thought, Old Crow seemed to be, not on the
hillside, but beside him, reading to him the testimony of the mottled
book, but more insistently, in a clearer voice. If it could be so, if
God had intention, not only toward his own colossal inventiveness, but
as touching the well-being of man--yes, and of the other creatures, too,
the pathetically oppressing and oppressed--if He had given man the
problem with no solution indicated, to work it out as he had worked out
pottery and fabrics, and light and talking over space--always in
conformity to law--it was stupendous. No matter how many million men
went to the building of the safeguarding reefs, no matter through what
blood and tears the garden of the earth was watered if the flower of
faith could grow at last.

"That is my legacy to the boy," he seemed to hear Old Crow repeating.
"He must not be afraid."

And as he was sinking off to sleep he had an idea he was praying,
perhaps to God; or was it to Old Crow? At any rate, he was saying:

"For God's sake look out for Nan. You don't need to make it so devilish
hard for Nan."

He was downstairs early. At the foot of the stairs stood Charlotte,
waiting. She looked--what? compassionate?

"She's gone," said Charlotte. "Jerry was up 'fore light."

"Gone?" echoed Raven. "At this time of day? What for? She'll have an
hour to wait."

"She would have it so," said Charlotte. "She was terrible anxious to git
off."

So, Raven thought, she didn't want to see either of them. She was tired
of them, of him with his stiff withdrawals and Dick's young puppyhood.
He ran upstairs, snatched some old riding breeches out of a closet, put
them on and, without a word to Charlotte, went to the barn. But her eye
was on him and she called out of the shed door:

"You took your saddle with you. Don't you know you did? There's nothin'
but your father's hangin' there, old as the hills."

Raven did not answer, or even turn his head. He went into the harness
room, found the old saddle hanging in its place, led out Nellie,
surprised at being expected to leave her oats, saddled her and rode
away. He was angry, with Nan, with all the childish trouble of the
business, and--as two neighbors agreed, seeing him gallop past--rode
like the devil, yet not coming upon Nan and Jerry until they were at the
station platform. Nan saw him first. She was gloriously glad, waving her
hand and laughing out. Jerry stood with mouth open, silent but
incurious, and Raven dismounted and threw him the reins.

"Hitch her behind," he said. "I'll go back with you. Got something extra
to blanket her?"

He came up to Nan, and they took hands and went into the waiting room
together. It was steaming hot from the monster stove and they retreated
again to the platform.

"Come out and walk," said Raven, "up to Pine Grove. You've got an hour,
you little simpleton. What did you run away for?"

The station is in a cluster of houses, awake early every morning when
the milk goes away. But the road across the track leads up a little rise
into Pine Grove, where church and sociables have picnics, the merrier
for the neighborliness of the few trains. Raven and Nan climbed the rise
almost at a run, and when they reached the shadowing pines, looked in at
the pure spaces, remembering, for the first time, the snow would bar
them out. They must keep to the road.

"Forty-eight minutes," said Raven. "We'll walk twenty and then cut back.
Come on."

They walked a little, raced a little, talked--not much--and laughed a
great deal. Raven was in the highest spirits, sure he was sending her
off happy, since she would go. Never afterward could they remember what
they talked about: only it seemed a fortunate moment stolen from the
penury of years. Again he took out his watch.

"Time's up!" he said, and they went back.

The station was alive with its small activities. Jerry was walking
Nellie up and down. The train came in and when Nan left him Raven
remembered they had not said good-by. There was a kind of permanence in
it; the moment had cemented something into bonds. When she had gone he
and Jerry got into the pung and drove away leading Nellie, and then
Raven remembered he had not breakfasted. They talked horse all the way
home, and when Dick, appearing on the porch, called to them:

"What you got Nellie for?"

Raven answered cheerfully:

"I took a notion."

Then he and Dick went in to breakfast, and Nan's name was not mentioned.
Charlotte, Raven concluded, had told the boy she was gone. He seemed to
detect in Dick some watchful kindness toward himself, the responsible
care attendants manifest toward the incapable. Dick was, he concluded,
bent on therapeutic measures.



XXX


Tira, from the forenoon of Tenney's accident, entered on uneventful
days. He lowered over his helplessness; he was angry with it. But the
anger was not against her, and she could bear it. For the first time she
saw his activities fettered, and the mother in her answered. She
ventured no outspoken sympathy, but he was dependent on her and in that,
much as it chafed him, she found solace. He was chained to his chair,
his wounded foot on a rest, and he had no diversions. Tira sometimes
wondered what he was thinking when he sat looking out at the road,
smooth with the grinding of sleds and slipping of sleighs. Once she
brought the Bible and laid it before him on a stand. If its exposition
was so precious to him at evening meeting, there would be comfort in it
now. But he glanced at her in what looked like a quick suspicion--did it
mean he thought she meant to taunt him with the unreality of his
faith?--and, after it had lain there a forenoon untouched, he said to
her uneasily:

"You put that away."

She took it back to its place on the parlor stand under Grandsir
Tenney's hatchet-faced photograph, wondering in her heart why it was not
what she had heard them read of God: "A very present help in time of
trouble." If you knew it was so, Tira reasoned, you never had to fret
yourself any more. And if that place was waiting for you--the good place
they talked about--even a long lifetime was not too much to face before
you got to it. After she had laid the book down and turned away from it
to cross the ordered stillness of the room, she stopped, with a sudden
hungry impulse, and opened it at random. "Let not your heart be
troubled," she read, and closed it again, quickly lest the next words
qualify so rich a message. It might say further on that you were not to
be troubled if you fulfilled the law and gospel, and that, she knew, was
only fair. But in her dearth she wanted no sacerdotal bargaining. She
needed the heavens to rain down plenty while she held out her hands to
take. When she entered the kitchen again Tenney, glancing round at her,
saw the change in her look. She was flushed, her mouth was tremulous,
and her eyes humid. He wondered, out of his ready suspicion, whether she
had seen anyone going by.

"What's the matter?" he asked sharply.

"Nothin's the matter," she answered. But her hands were trembling. She
was like Mary when she had seen her Lord.

"Who's gone by?" he persisted. "I didn't hear no bells."

"No," said Tira. "I don't believe anybody's gone by, except the
choppers. It's a proper nice day for them."

The child woke and cried from the bedroom and she brought him out in the
pink sweetness of his sleep, got the little tub and began to give him
his bath by the fire. As she bent over him and dried his smooth soft
flesh, the passion of motherhood rose in her and she forgot he was "not
right," and sang a low, formless song. When he was bathed she stood him
naked on her knee, and it was then she found Tenney including them both
in the livid look she knew. And she saw what he saw. The child's hair
was more like shining copper every day, his small nose had the tiniest
curve. By whatever trick of nature, which is implacable, he was not like
her, he was not like Tenney. He was a message from her bitter, ignorant
past. Her strong shoulders began to shake and her hands that steadied
the child shook, too, so that he gave a little whimper at finding
himself insecure.

"Isr'el," she broke out, "before God!"

"Well," said he, in the snarl she had heard from him at those times when
his devil quite got the better of him, "what? What you got to tell?"

"It ain't so," she said, her voice broken by her chattering lips.
"Before God, it ain't so."

"So ye know what I mean," he jeered, and even at the moment she had
compassion for him, reading his unhappy mind and knowing he hurt himself
unspeakably. "Ye know, or ye wouldn't say 'tain't so."

Words of his own sprang up in her memory like witnesses against him,
half phrases embodying his suspicion of her, wild accusations when, like
a drunken man, he had let himself go. But this he did not remember. She
knew that. Shut up in his cell of impeccable righteousness, he believed
he had dealt justly with her and no more. She would not taunt him with
his words. She had a compassion for him that reached into his future of
possible remorse. Tira saw, and had seen for a long time, a catastrophe,
a "wind-up" before them both. Sometimes it looked like a wall that
brought them up short, sometimes a height they were both destined to
fall from and a gulf ready to receive them, and she meant, if she could,
to save him from the recognition of the wall as something he had built
or the gulf as something he had dug. As she sat looking at him now,
wide-eyed, imploring, and the child trod her knee impatiently, a man
went past the window to the barn. It was Jerry, gone to fodder the
cattle, and Jerry brought Raven to her mind who, if he was obeying her
by absence, was none the less protecting her. The trouble of her face
vanished and she drew a quick breath Tenney was quick to note.

"Who's that?" he asked her sharply, turning in his chair to command the
other window.

"Jerry," she said. Her heart stilled, and she began to dress the child,
with her mother's deftness. "He comes a little early to fodder, 'fore he
does his own."

"I dunno," said Tenney, irritably because he had to wear out his spleen,
"why you can't fodder the cows when anybody's laid up. There's women
that do it all the time if their folks are called away."

"Why, I could," said Tira, with a clear glance at him, "only he won't
let me."

"What's he got to do with it," said Tenney, in surprise. "Won't let ye?
Jerry Slate won't let ye? Jerry ain't one to meddle nor make. I guess if
you told him 'twas your place to do it an' you'd ruther stan' up to it,
he'd have no more to say."

The blood came again to her face. She had almost, she felt, spoken
Raven's name, and a swift intuition told her she must bury even the
thought of it.

"There ain't," she said, "two nicer folks in this township than
Charlotte an' Jerry, nor two that's readier to turn a hand."

Tenney was silent, and Jerry did the chores and went home. Sometimes he
came to the house to ask how Tenney was getting on, but to-day he had to
get back to his own work.

This was perhaps a week after Tenney's accident, when he was getting
impatient over inaction, and next day the doctor came and pronounced the
wound healing well. If Tenney had a crutch, he might try it carefully,
and Tenney remembered Grandsir had used a crutch when he broke his hip
at eighty-two, and healed miraculously though tradition pronounced him
done for. It had come to the house among a load of outlawed relics, too
identified with the meager family life to be thrown away, and Tira found
it "up attic" and brought it down to him. She waited, in a sympathetic
interest, to see him try it, and when he did and swung across the
kitchen with an angry capability, she caught her breath, in a new fear
of him. The crutch looked less a prop to his insufficiency than like a
weapon. He could reach her with it. He could reach the child. And then
she began to see how his helplessness had built up in her a false
security. He was on the way to strength again, and the security was
gone.

The first use he made of the crutch was to swing to the door and tell
Jerry he need not come again. Tira was glad to hear him add:

"Much obleeged. I'll do the same for you."

Afterward she went to the barn with him and fed and watered while he
supplemented her and winced when he hurt himself, making strange sounds
under his breath that might have been oaths from a less religious man.
And Tira was the more patient because the doctor had told her the foot
would always trouble him.

It was two days after he had begun to use his crutches, that Tira, after
doing the noon chores in the barn and house, sat by the front window in
her afternoon dress, a tidy housewife. The baby was having his nap and
Tenney, at the other window, his crutch against the chair beside him,
was opening the weekly paper that morning come. Tira looked up from her
mending to glance about her sitting-room, and, for an instant, she felt
to the full the pride of a clean hearth, a shining floor, the sun lying
in pale wintry kindliness across the yellow paint and braided rugs. If
she had led a gypsy life, it was not because her starved heart yearned
the less tumultuously for order and the seemliness of walls. For the
moment, she felt safe. The child was not in evidence, innocently calling
the eye to his mysterious golden beauty. Tenney had been less irascible
all the forenoon because he had acquired a fortunate control over his
foot, and (she thought it shyly, yet believingly) the Lord Jesus Christ
was with them. Disregarded or not, in these moments of wild disordered
living, He was there.

She heard sleigh-bells, and looked out. Tenney glanced up over his
glasses, an unwonted look, curiously like benevolence. She liked that
look. It always gave her a thrill of faith that sometime, by a miracle,
it might linger for more than the one instant of a changed visual focus.
She caught it now, with that responsive hope of its continuance, and
knew, for the first time, what it recalled to her: the old minister
beyond Mountain Brook looked over his glasses in precisely that way,
kindly, gentle, and forgiving. But mingled with the remembrance, came
the nearing of the bells and the shock to her heart in the man they
heralded: Eugene Martin, driving fast, and staring at the house. The
horse was moving with a fine jaunty action when Martin pulled him up,
held him a quieting minute, and got out. He paused an instant, his hand
on the robe, as if uncertain how long he should stay, seemed to decide
against covering the horse and ran up the path. He must have seen Tira
and Tenney, each at a window, but his eyes were on the woman only. Half
way along the path, he took off his hat and waved it at her in
exaggerated salute, as if bidding her rejoice that he had come. In the
same instant he seemed, for the first time, to see Tenney. His eyes
rested on him with a surprise excellently feigned. He replaced his hat,
turned about like a man blankly disconcerted and went back down the
path, with the decisive tread of one who cannot take himself off too
soon. He stepped into the sleigh and, drawing the robe about him, drove
off, the horse answering buoyantly. Tira sat, the stillest thing out of
a wood where stalking danger lurks, her eyes on her sewing. Tenney was
staring at her; she knew it, and could not raise her lids. Often she
failed to meet his glance because she so shrank, not from his conviction
of her guilt, but the fear of seeing what she must remember in blank
night watches, to shudder over. For things were different at night,
things you could bear quite well by day. Now he spoke, with a restrained
certainty she trembled at. He had drawn his conclusions; nothing she
could possibly say would alter them.

"Comin' in, wa'n't he?" the assured voice asked her. "See me, didn't he,
an' give it up?"

Tira forced herself to look at him, and the anguished depths of her eyes
were moving to him only because they seemed to mourn over his having
found her out.

"No, Isr'el," she said quietly. "He wa'n't comin' in. He drew up because
he see you, an' he knew 'twould be wormwood to both of us to have him do
just what he done."

Tenney laughed, a little bitter note. Tira could not remember ever
having heard him laugh with an unstinted mirth. At first, when he came
courting her, he was too worn with the years of work that had brought
him to her, and after that too wild with the misery of revolt. She was
sorry for that, with an increasing sorrow. Tira could bear no
unhappiness but her own.

"Wormwood!" he repeated, as if the word struck him curiously. "D'he
think 'twas goin' to be wormwood for a woman to find a man comin' all
fixed up like courtin' time, to steal a minute's talk? You make me
laugh."

He did laugh, and the laugh, though it might have frightened her, made
her the more sorry. She had the sense of keeping her hand on him, of
holding him back from some rushing course that would be his own
destruction.

"Yes," she answered steadily. "'Twould be nothin' but wormwood for me,
an' well he knows it. He don't--love me, Isr'el."

She hesitated before the word, and with it the thought of Raven came to
her, as she saw him, unvaryingly kind and standing for quiet, steadfast
things. "He hates me."

"Hates ye," he repeated curiously. "What's he hate ye for?"

"Because," said Tira, bound to keep quietly on in this new way of reason
with him, "I left him. An' I left him 'fore he got tired o' me. He
never'd overlook that."

"You left him, did ye?" he repeated. "Then that proves you was with him,
or ye couldn't ha' left him."

"Why, Isr'el," said she, her clear gaze on his turbid answering one, "I
told you. I told you long 'fore you married me. First time you ever
mentioned it, I told you, so's to have things fair an' square. I told
you, Isr'el."

He said nothing, but she knew the answer at the back of his mind, and it
seemed to her wise now to provoke it, to dare the accusation and meet
it, not as she always had, by silence, but a passionate testimony.

"You said," she continued, "it shouldn't make no difference, what I'd
done 'fore you married me. You said we couldn't help the past, but we
could what's comin' to us. An' I thought you was an angel, Isr'el, with
your religion an' all. Not many men would ha' said that. I didn't know
one. An' we were married an' you--changed."

"Yes," he said. His hands were shaking as they did at the beginning of
his rages, but Tira, embarked on a course she had long been coming to,
was the more calm. "Yes, I changed, didn't I? An' when d' I change? When
that"--he paused and seemed to choke down the word he would have given
the child--"when that creatur' in there turned into the livin' pictur'
of the man that drew up here this day. Can you deny he's the image of
him?"

"No," said Tira, looking at him squarely. "He is the image of him."

"What do folks think about it?" he asked her. "What do you s'pose the
neighbors think? What'll it be when it grows worse an' worse? What'll
the school children say when he's old enough to go to school? They'll
see it, too, the little devils. The livin' image, they'll say, o' 'Gene
Martin."

Tira laid her work on the table in front of her. The moment of
restraining him had failed her, but another moment had come. This she
had seen approaching for many months and had pushed away from her.

"Isr'el," she said, "I guess you won't have that to worry over. There's
no danger of his goin' to school. He--ain't right."

He stared at her a long moment, puzzling instances accumulating in his
mind, evidences that the child was not like other children he had seen.
Then he began to laugh, a laugh full of wildness and despair.

"O my Lord!" he cried. "My Lord God! if I wanted any evidence I hadn't
got, You've give it to me now. You've laid Your hand on her. You've laid
Your hand on both of 'em. He can't ride by here an' see a red-headed
bastard playin' round the yard an' laugh to himself when he says,
'That's mine.' You've laid Your hand on 'em."

Tira rose from her chair and went to him. She slipped to the floor, put
her head on his unwelcoming shoulder and her arms about his neck.

"Isr'el," said she, "you hear to me. If you can't for the sake o' me,
you hear to me for the sake o' him,--sleepin' there, the pitifullest
little creatur' God ever made. How's he goin' to meet things, as he is?
'Twould be hard enough with a father 'n' mother that set by him as they
did their lives, but you half-crazed about him--what'll he do, Isr'el?
What'll the poor little creatur' do?"

Tenney sat rigid under her touch, and she went on, pouring out the
mother sorrow that was the more overwhelming because it had been locked
in her so long.

"Isr'el, I could tell you every minute o' my life sence you married me.
If 'twas wrote down, you could read it, an' 'twould be Bible truth. An'
if God has laid His hand on that poor baby--Isr'el, you take that back.
It's like cursin' your own flesh an' blood."

"I do curse him," he muttered. "I curse him for that--not bein' my flesh
an' blood." With the renewed accusation, his anger against her seemed to
mount like a wave and sweep him with it, and he shook himself free of
her. "Jezebel!" he cried. "Let go o' me."

Tira rose and went back to her chair. But she did not sit down. She
stood there, looking out of the window and wondering. What to do next?
With a man beside himself, what did a woman do? He was talking now,
drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair and looking at her.

"Sometimes," he said, "when it all comes over me, I think I'll shet you
up. I'll leave him asleep in there an' lock you in, up chamber, an' you
can hear him cry but you can't git to him. An' mebbe you can work it out
that way. He'll be the scapegoat goin' into the wilderness, cryin' in
there alone, an' you'll be workin' out your punishment, hearin' him
cry."

Tira stood listening and thinking. This was a new danger. If he shut her
away from the child (and he might do it easily, when his foot would
serve him again) nobody would hear. They were too far away. He was
frightening her. She would frighten him. She walked up to him and stood
looking down on him.

"Isr'el," said she quietly, "don't you git it into your head you could
shet me up."

"Yes," said he, and his tone was as ominous as her own, "I guess I could
shet you up all right."

"Yes," said Tira, "mebbe you could. But if you do, I'll break out. An'
when I've broke out"--she towered over him--"I'll break your neck."

Tenney, looking up and seeing in her eyes the mother rage that sweeps
creation from man to brute, was afraid, and Tira knew it. She looked him
down. Then her gaze broke, not as if she could not have held his
forever, but haughtily, in scorn of what was weaker than herself.

"I've been a true wife to you, Isr'el," she said. "You remember it now,
'fore it's too late. For as God's my witness, if you turn your hand
ag'inst a little child--whether it's your own or whether it ain't--an'
that baby in there is yourn an' no man but you has got part nor lot in
him--if you turn ag'inst him, I turn ag'inst you. An' when I've done
that, you'll find me as crazy as you be, an' I can't say no worse."

She went into the bedroom and he heard her crooning there, defiantly he
thought, even through the low sweetness of her voice. But her passion
had shaken him briefly. For the moment, the inner self in him could not
help believing her. He went back to his newspaper, trying, though the
print was dim before him, to recover his hold on the commonplace of the
day. He, too, would be unmoved; she should see he was not afraid of her
tantrums. But he had not read half a column before an evil chance drew
his eyes to a paragraph in the gossip from the various towns about. This
was under the caption of his own town:

"A certain gentleman appeared last week with a black eye, gained, it is
said, in a scrap with a non-resident interested in keeping the peace in
country towns. It is said both combatants bore themselves gallantly, but
that suit for assault and battery is to be brought by the party
attacked."

Tenney sat staring at the words, and his mind told him what a fool he
was. That meant the encounter at his gate. He had ignored that. He had
been deflected from it simply because he had cut his foot and let
himself be drawn off the track of plain testimony by his own pain and
helplessness. Was Raven in it, too? Was there a shameless assault of all
the men about on Tira's honesty? While he was the dupe of Martin, was
Martin Raven's dupe? Did such a woman bring perpetual ruin in her path?
This he did not ask himself in such words or indeed through any
connected interrogation. It was passion within him, disordered, dim, but
horrible to bear. He got up presently, took her scissors, cut out the
paragraph and laid it on her basket where her eyes must fall upon it.
When he had gone back to his chair, she appeared from the bedroom and
went up to him. He did not look at her, but her voice was sweeter,
gentler than the song had been, with no defiance in it, and, in spite of
him, it moved his sick heart, not to belief in her, or even a momentary
rest on her good intent toward him, but to a misery he could hardly
face. Every nerve in him cried out in revolt against his lot, his aching
love for her, his passion forever unsatisfied because she was not
entirely his, the anguish of the atom tossed about in the welter of
elemental life.

"Isr'el," said she, "there's one thing we forgot when we spoke so to
each other as we did a minute ago."

She waited, and he looked up at her, and the hunger of his eyes was as
moving to her as if, like the child they had fought over, he was himself
a child and "not right."

"We forgot," she said, in a soft shyness at having to remind him who was
a professing Christian of what he knew far better than she, "Who was
with us all the time: the Lord Jesus Christ."

She turned away from him, in a continued timidity at seeming to preach
to him, and seated herself again by the other window. The newspaper
clipping arrested her eye. She took it up, read it over slowly, read it
again and Tenney watched her. Then she crumpled it in her hand and
tossed it on the table. She glanced across at Tenney and spoke gravely,
threading her needle with fingers that did not tremble.

"That's jest like him," she said. "Anybody 't knew him 'd know 'twas
what he'd do. He's hand in glove with Edson that carries on that paper.
They go to horse-trots together. He's willin' to call attention to
himself, black eye an' all, if he can call attention to somebody else,
same time. That's wormwood, too, Isr'el. We're the ones it's meant for,
you an' me."



XXXI


In a day or two Raven had convinced himself that Dick, firm-lipped,
self-controlled, as if he had set himself a task, did not mean to leave
him. Raven, half amused, half touched, accommodated his behavior to
their closer relation and waited for Dick to disclose himself. He would
have been light-heartedly glad of the boy's company if he had found no
strangeness in it, no purpose he could not, from point to point, divine.
Dick sent for more clothes, and a case came by post. He wrote in his
chamber, for an hour or two every morning, and after that, Raven became
conscious that the boy was keeping a watchful eye on him. If Raven went
up to the hut, Dick was sure to appear there, in ten minutes at the
most. Once, after a heavy snow, Raven had the wood road broken out, and
Dick looked on in a darkling conjecture. And when Raven, now even to
Jerry's wonder, proceeded to break from the hut to the back road, Dick
found it not only impossible to restrain himself but wise to speak. They
were standing by the hearth in the hut, after Raven had swept it and
laid a careful fire. He had worked with all possible haste, for he never
was there now without wondering whether she might come. He had been
resting in the certainty of Tenney's crippled state, but the wounded
foot, he knew, was bettering every day, and with it Tira's security
lessened. Jerry's dismissal from the chores had troubled him so much
that he had gone up, immediately after, to reason with Tenney. But
Tenney was entering the barn door at the moment of his turning into the
yard, and Tira, following, stopped an instant and made Raven a little
gesture that seemed to him one of hasty dismissal, and he went back home
again.

"Jack," said Dick, this morning in the hut--it was as if he had to
speak--"what are you getting this place ready for, and breaking out the
back road? You don't need to come up here, in weather like this. If you
do, you've got your snowshoes. What the deuce are you breaking out for?"

Raven stood a moment looking down at Tira's fire. It seemed a sacred
pile, consecrated to holy use. What would Dick say if he told him the
paths had been broken for a woman's flying feet, the fire was laid to
warm her when she came here hunted by man's cruelty? Dick was said to
have written some very strong verse, but how if he found himself up
against life itself?

"It's a jolly old place," Raven said, rousing himself out of his musing.
"As for breaking out, that's what oxen are for."

Dick was looking at him in a manifest concern. It was true affection.
The boy might find it difficult to hail him across the interval of years
between them, but he did love old Jack, though with the precise measure
of patronage due the old.

"You know," said Dick, "it worries me like the deuce to see you coming
up here like----"

He paused as if the matter were too complex to be gone into lightly.

"Like what?" Raven asked him.

"Well, we've been over that. You know who built this. You know what he
did in it. He brought an old rip up here to live with him, and--oh,
confound it, Jack! don't pretend you don't even remember old Crow."

"Yes," said Raven gravely, "I remember Old Crow."

"Well, anyhow," said Dick, "he was a family disgrace, and the less said
about him the better."

"I showed you, the night you came," said Raven, "the story of Old Crow's
life. You didn't quite catch on. Want another try at it?"

Dick had to search his memory. The only thing he had kept in mind about
that night was his anger against Nan. There was a book, he recalled
vaguely: some sort of stuff in a crabbed hand.

"Old Crow?" he said. "Old Crow never wrote anything."

"You think," said Raven, "he brought his bum up here and they sat and
guzzled. Well, you're wrong, my son. Come, let's go down, and though I
don't know whether it'll mean anything to you, you shall have another
hack at Old Crow."

He was not easy until he had turned the key on the safety of the hut and
started down the hill. When they had rounded the curve made by the three
jutting firs, he stopped.

"Go on," he said. "I'll overtake you."

He ran back and slipped the key under the stone. It was a part of her
security to keep the secret from Dick also.

No more was said of Old Crow that day, but, in the early evening, when
they were before the fire, Raven brought down the book, always in the
drawer of the little table by his bed. It was, in an undefined way,
kindliness and company, always reminding him that, whatever his
undesirable status now, he had been "the boy," and this was his own
personal message from Old Crow.

"There you are," he said. He laid it on the table. "Don't read it unless
you'd really rather. It's meant a good deal to me. Maybe it won't to
you. I don't know much about the processes of your mind. You may feel at
home in this particular world. I never do. Old Crow didn't either. But
you'll see."

Dick began to read and, since Nan was not by to be loved and hated, with
an intent mind. Once or twice he turned back, Raven saw, to ponder some
passage again. It was slow reading. He had not the passionate haste of
one who has thirsted for some such community of assurance, and flies
over the ground, plucking a leaf here and there, meaning to return. When
he had finished he closed the book, laid it on the table, and pushed it
aside as if he had definitely done with it.

"Jackie," said he, "I'm mighty glad you showed me this."

"Good!" said Raven. "Got inside it, have you?"

"Why, yes," said Dick, with assurance. "That's easy enough. It isn't
new, you know. And it isn't so much my getting inside that as getting
inside Old Crow."

"Oh!" said Raven mildly, "so you got inside Old Crow. Now what did you
find there?"

"I don't know," said Dick, "whether you'd better be told. From a
psychopathic point of view, that is. But I rather guess you ought."

"Dick," said Raven, "in the name of all the gods you worship, what
shouldn't I be told? And exactly how do you see us two living along
here, mild as milk? What's our relation? Sometimes, when I find you
plodding after me, I feel as if you were my trainer. Sometimes I have a
suspicion I really am off my nut and you're my keeper. Out with it, boy?
How do you see it? Come!"

Dick, from a patent embarrassment, was staring down at the hearth, and
now he looked quickly up in a frankness truly engaging.

"Jack," he said, "you needn't think you're going to be left here alone,
to work things out by yourself. There's no danger of mother. I told her
to keep off. She only irritates you. But she hasn't gone back home.
She's right there in Boston, waiting to come."

Raven got up and walked back and forth through the room. Then he
returned to his chair.

"Dick," he said conversationally, "if you were as young in years as you
are in your mind, I'd mellow you."

Dick generously ignored this. He had the impeccable good nature of the
sane set in authority over the sick.

"What I think, is," he said, with a soothing intonation Raven
despairingly recognized as the note of strength pitting itself against
weakness, "we can work it out together, you and I. We can do it better
than anybody else. I suppose if I went back you'd send for Nan. But that
won't do, Jack. You'll see it for yourself, when you're all right again.
Now what I mean about Old Crow is, that his complexes are like yours--or
rather yours are like his. Don't you see what an influence he's had on
you? More than Miss Anne even."

"Hold up," said Raven. "I'm being mighty patient with you, but certain
things, you know, you don't say."

"You used to go up there and see him," said Dick, willingly
relinquishing Miss Anne. There were times when, as he remembered from
boyhood, old Jack was dangerous. "Some of the things about him shocked
you. Some appealed to you. Pity, too: you must have pitied him
tremendously. You probably knew about his craze over this girl he
mentions here. You may have heard things about her, just as he did.
Jack, I can see--the whole thing has come to me in the last ten
minutes--Old Crow has been the big influence in your life. Everything
else has come from that. And then the war knocked you out and you got
_cafard_ and the whole blasted business blew up and came to the surface
and--there you are."

"Yes," said Raven, "here we are."

He leaned back in his chair and laughed until he could have cried. Never
had he found anything funnier than the boy's honest face and his honest
voice pouring forth undigested scraps from haphazard gleanings.

"Dick," he said, "you're a dear fellow. But you're an awful ass. The
trouble is with you, old man, you've no imagination. It was left out.
You're too much like your mother and it'll be the death of you as it is
of her if you don't stop being intelligent. That sort of popular science
stuff, you know. Be a little sloppy, boy. Come off your high horse."

Dick was still unassailably good-natured. Raven was his job, and he
could hold himself down with a steady hand.

"Now," said Raven, "for heaven's sake scrap your complexes, even if you
scrap Old Crow with 'em, and let's see if we can't be moderately
peaceable. That is, if we've got to be marooned here together."

And by dint of giving his mind to it, he was himself peaceable and even
amusing, but as the dark came on he found he had much ado to keep up the
game; he was too sensitively awake to Tira. With no new reason for it,
he was plainly worried, and, leaving Dick reading by the fire, went up
to his own room. He sat down by a front window, facing the dark wall of
the hill, but when, after another hour, he heard Dick come up and shut
himself in, he slipped down the stairs, took his cap and went off to the
hut. The sky was dark, but clear, and the stars burned in galaxies of
wonder. But the beauty of the night only excited and oppressed him until
he could assure himself she was not out in it on one of her dreadful
flights. If he found her in the hut, he could go home to bed. He reached
the door, stopped, and put his hand under the stone. The key was there,
and he laughed out in his thankfulness. The laugh was at his fears, and
he wondered whether he would rather think of her there in her prison or
here, still under sentence, due at her prison again. Then he heard a
step: a man's crashing on regardless of underbrush. Was it Tenney?
Should he hear that voice as he had before in its wild "Hullo"?

"Where are you?" came the voice. "Where are you, old man?"

Dick had followed him and was, in his affectionate solicitude, warning
him against surprise. Raven ran down to meet him, and by the turn of the
fir trees they faced each other.

"Dick," said Raven, "what are you up here for?"

"Can't help it, old man," said Dick. The eagerness of his voice made it
very moving. "Really, you know, I can't have you trotting round, this
time of night, all by your lonesome. If you want to hang round here, you
let me come, too. We'll light the fire and smoke a pipe and finish the
night, if you say so. Come, old man. Come on."

"No," said Raven quietly, "we won't light fires and smoke pipes. We'll
go down now, to bed. Dick, you're a fool. I've had to tell you so more
than once. But you're a dear fool, and sometime I may be able to
remember that and nothing else. Just now I can't seem to want to do
anything but pitch you, neck and crop, into the snow."

They went down together, Dick still doggedly conscious of doing the only
thing possible, and when they were near the foot of the hill, Raven
yelled at him, the old Moosewood whoop, and sprang. It was the signal
between them when one or the other had a mind to "wrastle," and they
stood there in the road and assailed each other scientifically and with
vigor, to the great benefit of each. It was a beneficent outburst, and
Charlotte, roused by the cry, ran to a chamber window and stood there in
her nightgown, watching.

"How they do carry on!" she commented to Jerry, when they had separated
and come in, chaffing volubly. "For all the world like two toms."

Things were easier between them, now they had mauled each other, and
they ran upstairs together, "best friends" as they used to be when Dick
learned the game. He was wonderfully encouraged. This was the Uncle Jack
he used to tag about the place. He went to bed with a hopeful
presentiment that, if things kept on like this, he might take Raven back
to town presently, reasonable enough to place himself voluntarily in the
right hands.

To Tira, the week dragged on with a malicious implication of never
meaning to end until it ended her. Strange things could be done in a
week, it reminded her, conclusive, sinister things. The old fears were
on in full force, and though it had not looked as if they could be much
augmented, now they piled up mountain high. And she presently found out
they were not the old fears at all. There was a fresh menace,
ingeniously new. She had studied the weather of Tenney's mind and knew
the signs of it. She could even anticipate them. But this new menace she
could never have foreseen. It was simply his crutch. An evil magic
seemed to have fallen upon it, and it was no longer a crutch but a
weapon. Tenney would not abandon it. His foot was improving fast, and
the doctor had suggested his dropping the crutch for a cane; but he kept
on with it, kept on obstinately without a spoken pretext. To Tira, there
was something sinister in that. She saw him not relying on it to any
extent, but sedulously keeping it by him. Sometimes he gesticulated with
it. He had, with great difficulty, brought in the cradle again, as if to
emphasize his callousness to the gash in it, and once he tapped it with
the crutch, while the baby lay there asleep, and set it rocking. Tira,
cooking at the table, felt her heart stand still. An actual weapon she
could flee from, but was this a weapon? The uncertainty was in itself
terrifying.

It was the day he set the cradle rocking that she awoke in the night,
her fear full upon her. He was at her side, sleeping heavily. The baby
was on her other arm. Yet it seemed to her that the menace from Tenney
had pierced her to reach the child and, on its passage, stabbed through
her racing heart. Then her temptation came upon her, so simple a thing
she seemed stupid never to have thought of it before. She rose to a
sitting posture, put her feet out of bed, took the child, and carried
him with her into the sitting-room. She laid him on the couch and
covered him, and then stole back into the bedroom. The crutch was there,
in its habitual place at night, leaning against the foot of the bed. She
could put her hand on it in the dark. Tenney, too, she had begun to
reflect, could put his hand on it. What deeds might he not do with it in
those hours when the sanities of life also sleep? She took it gently and
went out again through the sitting-room and kitchen into the shed. Her
purpose had been to hide it behind the wood. But if he came on it there,
it would not be a crutch he found. It would be a weapon. She put her
hand on an upright beam, as she stood painfully thinking it out, and
touched the handle of a saw, hanging there on a nail; immediately she
knew. She went back into the kitchen, lighted the lantern and carried it
into the shed. There stood the crutch leaning against the beam below the
saw, a weapon beyond doubt. She set down her lantern, laid the crutch on
the block Tenney used to split kindlings, set her foot upon it and
methodically sawed it into stove wood lengths. When it was done she
gathered up the pieces, carried them into the sitting-room, to the stove
where Tenney always, in winter weather, left a log to smoulder, dropped
them in and opened the draught. Then she went back to the shed, swept up
her scattering of sawdust, hung the saw in its place, gave a glance
about her to see that everything was in its usual order, and returned
into the kitchen. She put out the lantern, hung it on its nail, went
into the sitting-room and partially shut the draft on the noisy blaze.
She did not dare quite shut it, lest a bit of the weapon should be left
to cry out from the ashes and tell. When she was back in bed again, the
child on her arm, Tenney, disturbed by her coming, woke and turned. He
lifted his head from the pillow, to listen, and she wondered if he could
hear the beating of her heart.

"You there?" he asked. "What's that stove started out roarin' for? The
chimbly ain't afire?"

"No," said Tira. "Mebbe somethin's ketched." She got out of bed, ran
into the sitting-room, noiselessly shut the crack of draught, and came
back. "Them knots are kinder gummy," she said calmly, and was heartened
by the evenness of her voice. "I guess 'twon't roar long."

They listened together until the sound diminished, and Tira knew when he
relaxed and dropped off again. It did not seem to her that she dropped
off at all, she was so relieved to think of her enemy smouldering and
done for.

This was the night Raven had had his premonition of her and gone up to
the hut to find her, and the next night he was aware of her again, as if
she had put a hand out through the darkness and given him an imploring
touch. He and Dick had had an almost jovial day. Their wrestling bout
had proved sound medicine. It had, Raven thought, cleared the air of the
fool things they had been thinking about each other. This evening they
had talked, straight talk, as between men, chiefly of Dick's future and
his fitness for literature. There was no hint of Nan, though each
believed she was the pivot on which Dick's fortunes turned. About ten
they went up to bed, and again Raven found himself too uneasy to sleep,
and again he sat down by the window in the dark. Incredibly, yet as he
found he knew it would happen, he saw a figure running up the path. It
came almost to the front door, halted a moment, as if in doubt, stooped
and threw up a clutch of snow against a window. The snow was full of icy
pellets; they rattled against the pane. But it was not his window, which
was dark; the hand had cast its signaling pellets to the room where a
light was burning and where the outline of a man's figure had just been
visible. And the man was Dick. But Raven knew. He opened his door and
shut it as softly, stole down the stairs, opened the outer door, and
drew her in. Then, in the instant of snapping on the light, he saw Tira
recoil; for there, at the foot of the stairs, was Dick. She would have
slipped out again, but Raven's hand was on her. He still held hers, as
he had taken it, and now he turned her to the library door. It was all
done quickly, and meantime he said to Dick, "Go back to bed," and Dick
perhaps not responding exactly, commented under his breath, "Good God!"
Raven followed Tira into the library, turned the key in the lock,
switched on the light in his reading lamp, and drew a chair to the
smouldering fire.

"Sit down," he said. "You must get warm."

He threw on cones and roused a leaping blaze. Then he made himself look
at her. He forgot Dick and Dick's shocked bewilderment. He was calm as
men are calm in an accomplished certainty. She had come. She did not
seem cold or in any sense excited, though she put her hands to the blaze
and bent toward it absently, as if in courtesy because he had given it
to her. As she sat, drawing long breaths that meant the ebbing of
emotion, he let his eyes feed on her face. She was paler than he had
seen her. There were shadows under her eyes, and the lashes on her cheek
looked incredibly long: a curved inky splash. Her hood had fallen back,
but she kept the blue cloak about her to her chin, as if it made a
seclusion, a protection even against him. But it was only an instant
before she withdrew her hands from the blaze and turned to him, with a
little smile. She began to speak at once, as if she had scant time,
either for indulging her own weakness or troubling him.

"You'll think it's queer," she said. "I've come here routin' you out o'
bed when you've give me that nice place up there to run away to."

Raven found himself ready to break out into asseverations that it was
the only natural thing for her to do. Where should she go, if not to
him?

"No," he said, the more gravely because he was counseling himself while
he answered her. "You did right. But," he added, "where's----?"

She understood. Where was the baby who always made the reason for her
flight?

"He's up there," she answered, with a motion of her hand toward the
road.

"In the hut?" he exclaimed. "You left him there?"

It seemed impossible.

"Yes," she said quietly, "all soul alone. I run out with him, same as I
always have. I run up there. I found the road all broke out. I wa'n't
surprised. I knew you'd do it. That is, I'd ha' known it if I'd thought
anything about it. An' I found the key an' started the fire. An' then I
knew I'd got to see you this night, an' I put him on the lounge an' set
chairs so's he wouldn't fall out, an' packed him round with pillers, an'
locked him in an' left him."

She paused and Raven nodded at her as if he wanted to find it as simple
as it seemed to her.

"You see, I couldn't bring him down here," she said. "He might cry. An'
there's Charlotte. An' Jerry. An' the young man. I'm sorry the young man
see me. That's too bad."

"It's all right," said Raven briefly, though he was aware it was, from
Dick's present point of view, all wrong. "I'll attend to that."

"He's safe enough," said Tira, her eyes darkening as she recurred to the
baby. "If he cries, 'twon't do no hurt up there. Well!" She seemed to
remind herself that there was much to say. "I must be gittin' along with
my story." She looked at him in a most moving wistfulness, and added: "I
got scared."



XXXII


Raven gave his answering nod. That seemed to be about all he could
respond with, in his danger of saying the rash thing.

"Yes," he said, "scared. Same way?"

"No," she said. "Worse. I guess I never've been so scared. An' I've got
myself to thank. You see, last night----"

"Yes," said Raven. "I got wind of it last night."

This, though it puzzled her, she could not stay to follow out, with the
baby up in the hut defended only by pillows and Tenney perhaps turning
to ask: "You there?"

"You see," she said, "it's his crutch."

"You mean," supplied Raven, brute anger rising up in him against brute
man, "he's struck you with it?"

"No, no," she hastened to assure him. "He ain't even threatened me. Only
somehow it was like his havin' somethin' always by him, somethin' he
could strike with, an'--I dunno what come over me--I burnt it up."

At once Raven faced the picture of it, the mad impulse, the resulting
danger. But he would not add his apprehensiveness to hers.

"I dunno," she said, "as you'll hardly see what I mean: but it begun to
look kinder queer to me, that crutch did. All I could think of was how
much better 'twould be for everybody concerned if 'twas burnt up."

"Yes," said Raven. "I see. We all feel so sometimes, when we're tired
out." The moderation of these words but ill expressed his tumultuous
mind. That was it, his passionate understanding told him. The natural
world throws its distorted shadows, and our eyes have to be at their
strongest not to recoil in panic, while we turn back to strike. "And,"
he said, because she seemed to be mired here in the bog of her own
wonderment, "in the morning of course he found it out."

The strangest look came into her face: she was horrified, and more than
that, indubitably more, she was perplexed.

"Yes," she said, "he found it out. 'Course he found it out first thing,
'fore he dressed him even. I got up early an' made the fires. I've been
makin' 'em sence he's laid up. So I don't know no more'n the dead how he
looked when it first come over him the crutch wa'n't there. But he come
out int' the kitchen--I'd been t' the barn then an' give the cows some
fodder--an' he carried a cane, his gran'ther's it was, same's the
crutch. It's got a crook handle, an' I've kep' it in the chimney corner
to pull down boxes an' things from the upper cupboard. An' he went out
to the barn an' come in an' eat his breakfast, an' eat his dinner an'
his supper, when they come round, an' we done the barn work together,
an' he ain't mentioned the crutch from first to last."

"Well," said Raven, in a futile reassurance, "perhaps he thinks he's
left it somewhere, and if he doesn't particularly need it--Jerry told me
only this morning the doctor said he might as well be getting used to a
cane."

"No," said Tira conclusively, "he don't think he's left it anywheres.
He's keepin' still, that's all."

Immediately Raven saw the menacing significance of Tenney's keeping
still. His mind ran with a quick foot over the imprisonment of the two
there together. Was there a moment, he wondered, when the suffering
brute was not threatening to her, when her heart could rest itself for
the next hurried flight? He ventured his question.

"Has he been"--he hesitated for a word and found what sounded to him a
mawkish one--"good to you at all, these last weeks?"

Tira reflected a moment and then, for the first time since she came in
from the cold, the blood rushed to her haggard cheeks. She remembered a
moment, the day before the burning of the crutch, when he had found her
doing her hair before the bedroom glass and had caught her to him
wildly. She had put him away from her, though gently, because his
violence, whether it took the form of starved passion or raging hate,
always seemed to her the unbecoming riot of a forward child, and he had
left her in a shamefaced anger, a grumbling attempt to recover his lost
dignity. Tira hid even from herself the miserable secrets of marital
savagery. No sacrifice was too great to hide from Tenney her knowledge
of his abasement. Most of all must she hide it from another man, and
that man Raven. Her answer was not ready, but she had it for him, and he
understood, in his unfailing knowledge of her, that it was the first
crooked one she had ever given him, and for the first time he felt anger
toward her. She was defending her enemy, and against him.

"He does the best he can," she said. "He takes things terrible hard. I
dunno's I ever see anybody that took 'em so hard."

Then, as he did not speak, she looked at him and meeting the cold
unresponsiveness in his face her composure broke and she stretched out
her hands to him in a wildness of entreaty.

"Oh, don't you look like that," she cried. "If you turn from me 'twill
be my death."

He was not cold now. He bent to her and took her hands in his.

"Tira," he said, "come away with me. You can't bear this any longer.
Take the child and come. You'd be safe. You'd be happy, if you weren't
afraid. Don't go back there for another minute. Stay here over night,
and to-morrow I'll take you away."

He was looking at her, his eyes holding hers as his hands held her
hands. And, whatever he had meant, the strangest, swiftest retribution
of his life came to him through the change in her face. How could flesh
and muscle bring about such an alteration in human line and texture, the
Mother of Sorrows transformed to a Medusa head? Her lips parted,
trembling over words they could not bring themselves to say. Her eyes
widened into darkness. Her brows drew together in a pitiful questioning.
And her voice, when she did speak, was a vibrating protest against what
her eyes knew and her mind.

"You don't mean," she said, "_that_?"

Raven dropped her hands as if they had struck him. The question was a
rushing commentary on his life and hers. Was he, she meant, only another
actor in this drama of man's hunger and savagery? Was he a trader in the
desire of beauty, that tragic dower nature had thrown over her like a
veil, so that whoever saw it with a covetous eye, longed to possess and
rend it? Probably Tira never did what would be called thinking. But her
heart had a vital life of its own, her instinct was the genius of
intuition. He had been kind to her, compassionate. She had built up a
temple out of her trust in him, and now he had smoked the altar with the
incense that was rank in her nostrils. He had brought, not flowers and
fruits, but the sacrifice of blood. And he, on his part, what did he
think? Only that he must save her.

"No, Tira," he said, "I don't mean that. I mean--what you want me to
mean. You can't understand what it is to a man to know you're afraid, to
know you're in danger and he can't help you. I didn't ask you as I
ought. I asked you to come away with me. I ask you again. Come away with
me and I'll take you to the best place I know. I'll take you to Nan."

He had not guessed he was going to say this. Only, as he spoke, he knew
in his inner mind the best place was Nan. Suddenly she seemed to be in
the room with them. What was it but her cool fragrant presence? And she
understood. Tira might not. She might feel these turbid waves of his
response to he knew not what: the beauty and mystery of the world, the
urge of tyrant life, all bound up in the presence of this one woman. She
was woman, hunted and oppressed. He was man, created, according to the
mandate of his will, to save or to undo her. But the world and the
demands of it, clean or unclean, could not be taken at a gulp. He must
get hold of himself and put his hand on Tira's will. For she could only
be saved against her own desire. Whatever he had seemed to ask her, or
whatever his naked mind and rebellious lips had really asked, he could
not beg her to forgive him. He must not own to a fault in their
relation, lest he seem, as he had at that moment, an enemy the more.

"That's exactly what you must do," he said. "You must let me take you to
Nan."

A soft revulsion seemed to melt her to an acquiescence infinitely
grateful to her.

"That," she said, "was what I had in mind. If she'd take him--the
baby--an' put him somewhere. She said there were places. She said so
herself. I dunno's you knew it, but she talked to me about him. She said
there was ways folks know now about doin' things for 'em when they ain't
right, an' makin' the most you can of 'em. She told me if I said the
word, she'd come here an' carry him back with her."

"But," said Raven, "what about you? I'm ready to stand by the child,
just as Nan is. But I'm doing it for your sake. What about you?"

"Oh," said Tira, with a movement of her eloquent hands, as if she tossed
away something that hindered her, "tain't no matter about me. I've got
to stay here. Mr. Raven"--her voice appealed to him sweetly. He
remembered she had not so used his name before--"I told you that. I
can't leave him."

The last word she accented slightly, and Raven could not tell whether
the stress on it was the tenderness of affection, or something as
moving, yet austere. And now he had to know.

"You want to stay with him"----he began, and Tira interrupted him
softly, looking at him meantime, as if she besought him to understand:

"I promised to."

Raven sat there and looked into the fire, thinking desperately. At that
moment, he wanted nothing in the world so much as to snatch her away
from Tenney and set her feet in a safe place. But did he want it solely
for her or partly for himself? What did it matter? Casuistry was far
outside the tumult of desire. He would kick over anything, law or
gospel, to keep her from going back there this night. Yet he spoke
quietly:

"We'll go up and get the baby, and I'll call Charlotte, and you'll stay
here to-night. To-morrow we'll go."

"No," said Tira, gently but immovably, "I couldn't have Charlotte an'
Jerry brought into it. Not anyways in the world."

"Why not?" asked Raven.

"I couldn't," she said. "They're neighbors. They're terrible nice folks,
but folks have to talk--they can't help it--an', 'fore you knew it, it'd
be all over the neighborhood. An' he's a professin' Christian. 'Twould
be terrible for him."

Sometimes he only knew from the tone of her voice, in this general
vagueness of expecting him to understand her, whether she meant Tenney
or the child.

"What I thought was," she went on timidly, "if she'd come an' git
him"--and here "him" evidently meant the child--"'twould be reasonable
she was takin' him back where he could be brought up right. She'd just
as soon do it," she assured him earnestly, as if he had no part in Nan.
"Some folks are like that. They're so good."

He was insatiate in his desire to understand her.

"And you mean," he said, with a directness he was willing to tincture
with a cruelty sharp enough to serve, "to send the child off somewhere
where he will be safe, and then live here with this brute, have more
children by him----"

"No! no!" she cried sharply. "Not that! don't you say that to me. I
can't bear it. Not from you! My God help me! not from you."

He understood her. She loved him. He was set apart by her overwhelming
belief in him, but she was in all ways, the ways of the flesh as well as
the spirit, consecrated to him. Her body might become the prey of man's
natural cruelty, and yet, while she wept her tears of blood in this
unreasoning slavery, she held one worship. There he would be alone. The
insight of the awakened mind told him another thing: that, in spite of
her despairing loyalty, he could conquer her scruples. He could, by the
sheer weight of a loving will, force her to follow him. A warm entreaty,
one word of his own need, and she would answer. And while he thought,
the jungle feeling came upon him, hot, hateful to his conscious mind,
the feeling of the complexity of it all, strange beasts of emotion out
for prey, the reason drugged with nature's sophistries. The jungle! That
was what Nan had called it, this welter of human misery. Who else had
been talking to him about it? Why, Old Crow! He had not called it the
jungle, but he had been lost in its tortuous ways. This prescience to
Old Crow brought a queer feeling, as if a cool air blew on him. The
jungle feeling passed. Almost he had the vision of an eternal city,
built up by the broken but never wholly failing strength of man, and Old
Crow there beckoning him into it and telling him he'd kept a place for
him. And the cool breeze which was Old Crow told him that although Tira
must be rescued, if it could be brought about, it must not be through
any of the jungle ways. She must not be drugged by jungle odors and
carried off unwillingly, even to the Holy City itself, by that road. He
and Tira--yes, he and Tira and Nan--would march along together with
their eyes open. He hastened to speak, to commit himself to what he must
deliberately wish:

"Then we'll telephone Nan."

She looked at him, all gratitude. Her friend had gone away into strange
dark corners of life where only her instinct followed him, and here he
was back again.

"No," she said, "don't you telephone. Somebody'd listen in. You write. I
guess mebbe nothin'll happen right off, even if I did burn the crutch. I
guess I got kinder beside myself to-night. I ain't likely to be so
ag'in."

"I'll walk up to the hut with you," said Raven, rising as she did, "and
see you safe inside."

"No," said she, "I couldn't let you no ways. It's bad enough as 'tis."

By this she meant the paragraph in the paper which had laid an insulting
finger on him; but he had not seen it and did not understand. Only it
was plain to him that she would not let him go. She drew her hood up,
and made it secure under her chin. Then she looked at him and smiled a
little. She had to smile, her woman's instinct told her, to reassure
him. She opened the door, and though he followed her quickly, had
slipped through the outer door as softly and was gone. He stood there on
the sill watching her hurrying to the road. When she had turned to the
right, she began to run, and he went down the path after her to look up
the road, lest she had seen something pursuing her. But the night was
still. There was no sound of footsteps on the snow, and the far-off
barking of a fox made the silence more complete. She was only hurrying,
because her mother heart had wakened suddenly to the loneliness of the
child up there among the pillows, torturing herself with wonders that
she could leave him. He went out into the road and continued on her
track, until he saw her turn into the woods. Then, waiting until she
should be far enough in advance not to catch the sound of his pursuit,
he suddenly heard footsteps on the road and turned. A man was coming
rapidly. It was Dick.



XXXIII


In his relief--for, in spite of the man's lameness, he had made sure it
was Tenney--Raven laughed out. At once he sobered, for why was Dick here
but to spy on him?

"Well," he inquired brusquely, "what is it?"

They turned together, and Dick did not speak. When they had gone in and
Raven closed the hall door and glanced at him, he was suddenly aware
that the boy had not spoken because he could not trust himself. His
brows were knit, his face dark with reproachful anger.

"Think the old man shouldn't have gone out in the cold without his hat
and muffler?" asked Raven satirically.

"Yes," said Dick, in a quick outburst. "I think just that. It's a risk
you've no business to take. In your condition, too. Oh, yes, I know you
do look fit enough, but you can't depend on that. Besides--Jack, who's
that woman? What's she going up into the woods for? She's not going to
the hut? Is that why----?"

Raven stood looking at him, studying not so much his face as the
situation. He turned to the library door.

"Come in, Dick," he said. "We'll talk it out. We can't either of us
sleep."

Dick followed him in and they took their accustomed chairs. Raven
reached for his pipe, but he did not fill it: only sat holding it,
passing his thumb back and forth over the bowl. He was determining to be
temperate, to be fair. Dick could not forget he was old, but he must
force himself not to gibe at Dick for being young.

"Do you feel able," he said, "to hear a queer story and keep mum over
it? Or do you feel that a chap like me, who ought to be in the
Psychopathic, hasn't any right to a square deal? When you see me going
off my nut, as you expect, shall you feel obliged to give in your
evidence, same as families do to the doctor and the clergyman if a man's
all in?"

Dick was straight.

"I'll do my best," he said. "But a woman--like that--and you meeting her
as you did! It's not like you, Jack. You never'd have done such a thing
in all your born days if you weren't so rattled."

There were arguments at the back of his mind he could not, in decency,
use. He remembered Raven's look when he drew her in, and the tragic one
that mirrored it: passionate entreaty on the woman's face, on the man's
passionate welcome. As usual, it was the real witnesses of life standing
dumb in the background that alone had the power to convict. But they
could not be brought into court. Custom forbade it, the code between man
and man. Yet there they were, all the same.

"Well!" said Raven. He had responded with only a little whimsical lift
of the eyebrows to this last. "If you won't trust me, I must you. That's
all there is about it. The woman is our neighbor. Israel Tenney's wife,
and she's in danger of her life from her husband, and she won't leave
him."

Dick stared as at the last thing he had expected. He shook his head.

"Too thin," he said. "I've seen Tenney and I've heard him spoken of.
He's a psalm-singing Methody, or something of that sort. Why, I met him
one day, Jerry and I, and he stared at me as if he wanted to know me
again. And Jerry said afterward he was probably going to ask me if I'd
found the Lord; but he changed his mind or something. No, Jack, don't
you be taken in. That woman's pulling your leg."

"Dick," said Raven, "I've been told you have a very vivid sense of drama
in your narrative verse. You couldn't, by any possibility, apply it to
real life?"

"Oh, I know," said Dick, "New England's chock full of tragedy. But I
tell you I've seen Tenney. He's only a kind of a Praise-God Barebones.
Put him back a few hundred years, and you'd see him sailing for
Plymouth, for freedom to worship God. (Obstinate, too, like the rest of
'em. He wouldn't worship anybody else's God, only the one he'd set up
for himself.) If his wife didn't mind him, he might pray with her or
growl over the dinner table, but he wouldn't bash her head in.
Understand, Jack, I've seen Tenney."

"Yes," said Raven drily, "I've seen Tenney, too. And seen him in action.
Now, Dickie, you put away your man-of-the-world attitude toward battle,
murder, and sudden death, and you let me tell you a few things about
Tenney."

He began with the day when he had found Tira in the woods. He touched on
the facts briefly, omitting to confess what the woman looked to his
dazzled eyes. It was a drawing austerely black and white. Could he tell
anyone--anyone but Nan--how she had seemed to him there, the old, old
picture of motherhood, divine yet human? It was too much to risk. If he
did lay his mind bare about that moment which was his alone, and Dick
met it with his unimaginative astuteness, he could not trust himself to
be patient with the boy. He said little more than that he had given her
the freedom of the hut, and that he meant always to have it ready for
her. Then he came to this last night of all, when she had run away from
Tenney, not because he had been violent, but because he had "kept
still." That did take hold on Dick's imagination, the imagination he
seemed able to divorce from the realities of life and kept for the
printed page.

"By thunder!" he said. "Burned the crutch, did she? That's a story in
itself, a real story: Mary Wilkins, Robert Frost. That's great!"

"Sounds pretty big to me," said Raven quietly. "But it's not for print.
See you don't feel tempted to use it. Now, here we are with Tira up
against it. She's got to make a quick decision. And she's made it."

"Do you call her by her first name?" asked Dick, leaping the main issue
to frown over the one possibly significant of Raven's state of mind.

"Yes," said Raven steadily, "I rather think I call her by her first
name. I don't know whether I ever have 'to her head,' as Charlotte would
say, but I don't seem to feel like calling her by Tenney's name. Well,
Tira's decided. She's going to give her baby to Nan."

Dick's eyes enlarged to such an extent, his mouth opened so vacuously,
that Raven laughed out. Evidently Dick wasn't regarding the matter from
Tira's standpoint, or even Raven's now, but his own.

"Nan!" he echoed, when he could get his lips into action. "Where does
Nan come in?"

"Oh," said Raven, with a most matter-of-fact coolness, "Nan came in long
ago. I told her about it, and it seems she went to see Tira off her own
bat, and offered to take the baby."

"She sha'n't do it," proclaimed Dick. "I simply won't have it, that's
all."

"I fancy," said Raven, "Nan'll tell you you've got nothing whatever to
do with it. And really, Dick, you never'll get Nan by bullying her.
Don't you know you won't?"

Dick, having a perfectly good chance, turned the tables on him neatly.

"That'll do," said he, remembering how Raven had shut him up when he
dragged in Anne Hamilton. "We won't discuss Nan."

Now it was Raven's turn to gape, but on the heels of it, seeing the
neatness of the thrust, he smiled.

"Right, boy," he said. "Good for you. We won't discuss Nan, and we won't
discuss Tira. But you'll hold your tongue about this business, and if
you find me opening the door of my house at midnight, you'll remember
it's my business, and keep your mouth shut. Now I'm going up the hill to
see she's safe, and if you follow me, in your general policy of keeping
on my trail, I don't quite know what will happen. But something will--to
one of us."

He got up, went into the hall and found his cap and leather jacket. Dick
meantime stood in the library door regarding him from so troubled a mind
that Raven halted and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Cut it out, boy," he said, "all this guardian angel business. You let
me alone and I'll let you alone. We're both decent chaps, but when you
begin with your psychotherapy and that other word I don't know how to
pronounce----"

Dick, having, at this period of his life only an inactive sense of
humor, mechanically supplied it: "Psychiatry."

"What a beast of a word! Yes, that's it. Well, they're red rags to me,
all these gadgets out of the half-baked mess they've stirred up by
spying on our insides. I can't be half decent to you. But I want to be.
I want us to be decent to each other. It's damnable if we can't. Go to
bed, and I'll run up and see if poor Tira's safe."

He did not wait for an answer, but went out at the front door, and Dick
heard him whistling down the path. The whistle seemed like an
intentional confirmation of his being in a cheerfully normal frame of
mind, not likely to be led too far afield by premonitions of New England
tragedy. Perhaps that was why he did whistle, for when he reached the
road he stopped and completed the first half of the ascent in silence.
Then, as the whistle might mean something reassuring to Tira, he began
again with a bright loudness, bold as the oriole's song. He reached the
hut, whistling up to the very door, and then his breath failed him on a
note, the place looked so forbiddingly black in the shadow, the woods
were so still. It did not seem possible that a woman's warm heart was
beating inside there, Tira's heart, home of loves unquenchable. He put
his hand down under the stone. The key was there, and rising, he felt
his mind heavy with reproaches of her. She had gone back to Tenney. The
night's work was undone. What was the use of drawing her a step along
the path of safety if she turned back the instant he trusted her alone?
He went down the hill again in a dull distaste for himself. It seemed to
him another man might have managed it better, swept her off her feet and
bound her in an allegiance where she would obey. When he reached his own
house, he was too discontented even to glance at Dick's window and
wonder whether the boy was watching for him. The place was silent, and
he put out the lights and went to bed.

Next morning he had got hold of himself and, with that obstinate
patience which is living, went to the library after breakfast and called
up Nan. It was wonderful to hear her fresh voice. It broke in upon his
discouragements and made them fly, like birds feeding on evil food.
Would she listen carefully, he asked. Would she translate him, because
he couldn't speak in any detail. And when he had got thus far, he
remembered another medium, and began the story of last night in French.
Nan listened with hardly a commenting word, and when he had finished her
bald answer was ridiculously reassuring.

"Sure!" said Nan. "I'll be there to-night. Send Jerry for me. Eight
o'clock."

"God bless you!" said Raven. "You needn't bring any luggage. It'll
probably be wiser to go right back."

Nan said "Sure!" again, no doubt, Raven thought, as indicating her view
of her errand as a homespun one there was no doubt of her carrying out
with the utmost simplicity. Then he went to tell Jerry he was to meet
the evening train, and on the way he told Dick:

"Nan's coming to-night."

"Nan!" said Dick. "Not----"

"Yes," said Raven. "I telephoned her. Buck up, old man. Here's another
chance for you, don't you see? We're in a nasty hole, Tira and
incidentally Nan and I. Play the game, old son, and help us out."

"What," inquired Dick, "do you expect me to do?"

"Chiefly," said Raven, "keep out. It's my game and Nan's and Tira's. But
you play yours. Don't sulk. Show her what a noble Red Man you can be."

Dick turned away, guiltily, Raven thought, as if he had plans of his
own. What the deuce did he mean to do? But their day passed amicably
enough, though they were not long together. Raven went up to the hut and
stayed most of the afternoon. It was not so much that he expected Tira
to come as that he felt the nearness of her there in the room she had
disarranged with barricading chairs and pillows and then put in order
again before she left. He could see her stepping softly about, with her
deft, ordered movements, making it comely for him to find. She had left
pictures of herself on the air, sad pictures, most of them, telling the
tale of her terror and foreboding, but others of them quite different.
There were moments he remembered when, in pauses of her talk with him,
she glanced at the child, and still others when she sat immobile, her
hands clasped on her knee, her gaze on the fire. Henceforth the hut
would be full of her presence, hers and Old Crow's. And, unlike as they
were, they seemed to harmonize. Both were pitiful and yet austere in
their sincerity; and for both life had been a coil of tangled meanings.
He stayed there until nearly dark, and his musings waxed arid and dull
with the growing chill of the room. For he would not light the fire. It
had to be left in readiness.

When he went down he found Dick uneasily tramping the veranda.

"Charlotte wants us to have a cup of tea," said Dick. "She said supper's
put off till they come."

"They?" inquired Raven. "Who's they?"

"It's no use, Jack," Dick broke forth. "I might as well tell you. I
s'pose if I didn't you'd kick up some kind of a row later. I telephoned
Mum."

"You don't mean," said Raven, in a voice of what used to be called
"ominous calm," before we shook off the old catch-words and got
indirections of our own, "you don't mean you've sent for her!"

"It's no use," said Dick again, though with a changed implication, "you
might as well take things as they are. Nan can't come up here slumming
without an older woman. It isn't the thing. It simply isn't done."

Raven, through the window, saw Charlotte hovering in the library with
the tea tray. He watched her absently, as if his mind were entirely with
her. Yet really it was on the queerness of things as they are in the
uniform jacket of propriety and the same things when circumstance
thrusts the human creature out of his enveloping customs and sends him
into battle. He thought of Dick's philosophy of the printed word. He
thought of Nan's desperate life of daily emergency in France. Yet they
were all, he whimsically concluded, being squared to Aunt Anne's
rigidity of line. But why hers? Why not Old Crow's? Old Crow would have
had him rescue Tira, even through difficult ways. He opened the door.

"Come on in," he said. "Charlotte's buttered the toast."

Dick followed him, and they sat down to their abundant tea, Charlotte
pausing a moment to regard them with her all-enveloping lavishment of
kindliness. Were they satisfied? Could she bring something more?

"The trouble with you, Dick," said Raven, after his third slice of
toast, buttered, he approvingly noted, to the last degree of drippiness,
"is poverty of invention. You repeat your climax. Now, this sending for
Milly: it's precisely what you did before. That's a mistake the actors
make: repeated farewells."

Dick made no answer. He, too, ate toast prodigiously.

"Now," said Raven, when they had finished, "do I understand you mean to
put your mother wise about what I told you last night? Yes or no?"

"I shall do----" said Dick, and at his pause Raven interrupted him.

"No, you won't," said he. "You won't do what you think best. Take it
from me, you won't. What I told you wasn't my secret. It's poor Tira's.
If you give her away to your mother--good God! think of it, Milly, with
her expensive modern theories and her psychiatry--got it right, that
time!--muddling up things for a woman like her! Where was I? Well,
simply, if you play a dirty trick like that on me, I'll pack you off,
you and your mother both. I don't like to remind you but, after all, old
man, the place is mine."

The blood came into Dick's face. He felt misjudged in his affection and
abused.

"You can't see," he said. "I don't believe it's because you can't. You
won't. It isn't Nan alone. It's you. You're not fit. You're no more fit
than you were when Mum was here before. And you can pack me off, but, by
thunder! I won't go."

"Very well," said Raven, with a happy inspiration. "You needn't. I'll go
myself. And I'll take Nan with me." A picture of Nan and her own vision
of happy isles came up before him, and he concluded: "Yes, by George!
I'll take Nan. And we'll sail for the Malay Peninsula, or an
undiscovered island, and wear Mother Hubbards and live on breadfruit,
and you and your precious conventions can go to pot."

So, having soothed himself by his own intemperance, he got up, found his
pipe and a foolish novel he made a point of reading once a year--it
would hardly do to tell what it was, lest the reader of this true story
fail to sympathize with his literary views and so with all his
views--and sat down to await his guests in a serviceable state of good
humor. He had brought Dick to what Charlotte would call "a realizing
sense." He could afford a bit of tolerance. Dick got up and flung out of
the room, finding Raven, he told himself, in one of his extravagant
moods. Nine times out of ten the moods meant nothing. On the other hand,
in this present erratic state of a changed Raven, they might mean
anything. For himself, he was impatient, with the headlong rush of young
love. Nan was coming. She was on the way. Would she be the same, distant
with her cool kindliness, her old lovely self to Raven only, or might
she be changed into the Nan who kissed him that one moment of his need?
He snatched his hat and tore out of the house, and Raven, glancing up
from his novel, saw him striding down the path and thought approvingly
he was a wise young dog to walk off some of his headiness before Nan
came. As for him, he would doze a little over his foolish book, as
became a man along in years. That was what Charlotte would say, "along
in years." Was it so? What a devil of an expression, like all the rest
of them that were so much worse than the thing itself: "elderly,"
"middle-aged," what a grotesque vocabulary! And he surprised himself by
throwing his foolish book, with an accurate aim, at a space in the
shelves, where it lodged and hung miserably, and getting up and tearing
down the walk at a pace emulating Dick's, but in the opposite direction:
the result of these athletic measures being that when Amelia and Nan
drove up with Jerry, the station master's pung following with two small
trunks that seemed to wink at Raven, with an implication of their
competitive resolve to stay, two correctly clad gentlemen were waiting
on the veranda in a state of high decorum. As to the decorum, it didn't
last, so far as Raven was concerned. Messages of a mutual understanding
passed between his eyes and Nan's. He burst into sudden laughter, but
Nan, more sagely alive to the dangers of the occasion, kept her gravity.

"Well," said Amelia, as Raven, still laughing, solicitously lifted her
out, "you seem to be in a very happy frame of mind. I'm glad you _can_
laugh."



XXXIV


Thereafter they all behaved as if they had separated yesterday and
nothing was more natural than to find themselves together again. Amelia,
with bitterness in her heart, accepted the room she again longed to
repudiate, and Nan, with a lifted eyebrow at Raven, as if wondering
whether she'd really better be as daring as he indicated, followed
Charlotte up the stairs. At supper they talked decorously of the state
of the nation, which Raven frankly conceived of as going to the dogs,
and Amelia upheld, from an optimism which assumed Raven to be amenable
to only the most hopeful of atmospheres. After supper, when they
hesitated before the library door, Nan said quite openly, as one who has
decided that only the straight course will do:

"Rookie, could I see you a minute? In the dining-room?" She took in
Amelia with her frank smile. "Please, Mrs. Powell! It's business."

"Certainly," Amelia said, rather stiffly. "Come, Dick. We'll keep up the
fire."

They had evidently, she and Dick, resolved, though independently of each
other, to behave their best, and Dick, in excess of social virtue, shut
the library door, so that no wisp of talk would float that way and
settle on them. Nan confronted Raven with gayest eyes.

"Did you ever!" she said, recurring to the Charlottian form of comment.
"At the last minute, if you please, when I was taking the train. There
she was behind me. We talked all the way, 'stiddy stream' (Charlotte!)
and not a thing you could put your finger on. Did he send for her?"

"I rather think so," said Raven, giving Dick every possible advantage.
Then, rallied by her smiling eyes, "Well, yes, of course he did. Don't
look at me like that. I have to turn myself inside out, you she-tyrant!"

"Does Dick know?" she hastened to ask. "About Tira?"

"Yes."

"Know what I'm here for?"

"Yes."

"Given his word not to blab? Hope to die?" That was their childish form
of vow, hers and Dick's.

"I hope so," said Raven doubtfully. "I represented it to him as being
necessary."

"I'll represent it, too," said Nan. "Now, Rookie, I'm going over there,
first thing to-morrow morning. I'm going to see Tenney."

"The deuce you are! I'm afraid that won't do."

"Nothing else will," said Nan. "Tenney's got to give his consent. We
can't do any kidnaping business. That's no good."

She said it with the peremptory implication of extinguishing middle-aged
scruples, and Raven also felt it to be "no good."

"Very well," said he. "You know best. I'll go with you."

"Oh, no, you won't. There are too many men-folks in it now. I'm going
alone. Now, come back and talk to the family. Oh, I hope and pray
Dick'll be good! Doesn't he look dear to-night, all red, as if he'd been
logging? Has he? Have you? You look just the same. Oh, I do love Dick! I
wish he'd let me, the way I want to."

Meantime Charlotte had come in, and Nan went to her and put her hands on
her shoulders and rubbed cheeks, as she used to do with Raven.

"Come on," she said to him. "Time!"

So they went into the library and conversed, with every conventional
flourish, until Amelia set the pace of retirement by a ladylike yawn.
But she had a word to say before parting, reserved perhaps to the last
because she found herself doubtful of Raven's response. If she had to be
snubbed she could simply keep on her way out of the room.

"John," said she, at the door, with the effect of a sudden thought, "how
about Anne's estate? Are they getting it settled?"

Raven hesitated a perceptible instant. He somehow had an idea the estate
was an affair of his, not to say Nan's.

"I suppose so," he answered, frowning. "Whitney's likely to do the right
thing."

Amelia was never especially astute in the manner of danger signals.

"I suppose," she said, "you've made up your mind what to invest in. Or
are the things in pretty good shape? Can you leave them as they are?"

Dick was standing by the hearth, wishing hard for a word with Nan. She
had smiled at him once or twice, so peaceably! The next step might be to
a truce and then everlasting bliss. Now, suddenly aware of his mother,
he ungratefully kicked the fire that was making him such pretty dreams,
went to her, took her by the arm and proceeded with her across the hall.

"You talk too much," said Dick, when he had her inside her room. "Don't
you know better than to drag in Miss Anne? He's touchy as the devil."

"Then he must get over it," said Amelia, in her best manner of the
intelligent mentor. "Of course, she was a great loss to him."

"Don't you believe it," said Dick conclusively. "She had her paw on him.
What the deuce is it in him that makes all the women want to dry-nurse
him and build him up and make him over?"

Then he wondered what Nan was saying to Raven at the moment, remembered
also Raven's injunction to play a square game with her and, though his
feet were twitching to carry him back to the library, sat doggedly down
at his mother's hearth and encouraged her to talk interminably. Amelia
was delighted. She didn't know Dick had so earnest an interest in the
Federation of Clubs and her popular course in economics. She was
probably never more sustainedly intelligent than in that half hour,
until Dick heard Nan going up to bed, sighed heavily, and lost interest
in the woman citizen.

Nan and Raven, standing by the fire, in their unexpected minute of
solitude, looked at each other and smiled in recognizing that they were
alone and that when that happened things grew simple and straight. To
Raven there was also the sense of another presence. Anne had somehow
been invoked. Amelia, with her unfailing dexterity in putting her foot
in, had done it: but still there Anne was, with the unspoken question on
her silent lips. What was he going to do? He knew her wish. Presently he
would have her money. He caught the interrogation in Nan's eyes. What
was he going to do?

"I don't know, Nan," he said. "I don't know."

"Never mind," said Nan. "You'll know when the time comes."

And he was aware that she was still in her mood of forcing him on to
make his own decisions. But, easily as he read her mind, there were many
things he did not see there. It was a turmoil of questions, and of these
the question of Aunt Anne was least. Did he love Tira? This headed the
list. Did he want to tear down his carefully built edifice of culture
and the habit of conventional life, and run away with Tira to elemental
simplicities and sweet deliriums? And if he did love Tira, if he did
want to tear down his house of life and live in the open, she would help
him. But all she said was:

"Good night, Rookie. I'm sleepy, too."

To leap a dull interval of breakfast banalities is to find Nan, on a
crisp day, blue above and white below, at the Tenneys' door. Tira,
frankly apprehensive, came to let her in. Tira had had a bad night. The
burning of the crutch fanned a fire of torment in her uneasy mind. She
had hardly slept, and though she heard Tenney's regular breathing at her
side, she began to have a suspicion it was not a natural breathing. She
was persuaded he meant now to keep track of her, by night as well as
day. It began to seem to her a colossal misfortune that the crutch was
not there leaning against the foot of the bed, and now its absence was
not so much her fault as a part of its own malice. Nan, noting the worn
pallor of her face and the dread in her eyes, gathered that Tenney was
at home. She put out her hand, and Tira, after an instant's hesitation,
gave hers. Nan wondered if she were in a terror wild enough to paralyze
her power of action. Still, she had given her hand, and when Nan stepped
up on the sill, with a cheerful implication of intending, against any
argument, to come in, she stood aside and followed her. But at the
instant of her stepping aside, Nan was aware that she threw both hands
up slightly. It was the merest movement, an unstudied gesture of
despair. Tenney was sitting by the kitchen stove, and Nan went to him
with outstretched hand.

"I thought I should find you if I came early enough," she said. "How's
your foot?"

She had a direct address country folk liked. She was never "stand-off,"
"stuck-up." It was as easy talking with her as with John Raven.

"Some better, I guess," said Tenney. He eyed her curiously. Had Raven
sent her, for some hidden reason, to spy out the land?

"You get round, don't you?" pursued Nan.

She took the chair Tira brought her and regarded him across the shining
stove. Tira withdrew to a distance, and stood immovable by the scullery
door, as if, Nan thought, she meant to keep open her line of retreat.

"No," said Tenney grimly, "I don't git about much. Three times a day I
git from the house to the barn. I expect to do better, as time goes on.
I've got my eye on a cord wood stick, an' I'm plannin' how I can whittle
me out a crutch."

Nan, glancing at Tira, caught the tremor that went over her and
understood this was, in a veiled way, a threat. She came, at a leap, to
the purpose of her call.

"Mr. Tenney," she said, "I'm an awfully interfering person. I've come to
ask you and your wife to let me do something."

Tenney was staring at her with lacklustre eyes. In these latter days,
the old mad spark in them had gone.

"Your baby," said Nan, feeling her heart beat hard, "isn't right. I know
places where such poor little children are made--right--if they can be.
They're studied and looked after. I want you to let me take him away
with me and see if something can be done. His mother could go, too, if
she likes. You could go. Only, I'll be responsible. I'll arrange it
all."

Tenney still stared at her, and she found the dull gaze disconcerting.

"So," he said at length, not even glancing at Tira, "so she's put that
into your head."

"So far as that goes," said Nan boldly, "I've put it into hers. I saw he
wasn't right. I told her I'd do everything in my power, in anybody's
power, to have him"--she hesitated here for a homely word he might take
in--"seen to. And now (you're his father) I've come to you."

Tenney sat a long time, motionless, his eyes on the window at the end of
the room where a woodbine spray was tapping, and again Nan became
conscious of the increased tremor in Tira's frame. For now it seemed to
have run over her and strangely to keep time to the woodbine spray
outside. One would have said the woodbine, looking in, had, in a mad,
irritating way, made itself the reflex of these human emotions within
the room. Tenney spoke, drily yet without emphasis:

"Then he put ye up to this?"

"Who?" asked Nan.

For some obscure reason he would not mention Raven's name. But he spoke
with a mildness of courtesy surprising to her and evidently the more
alarming to Tira, for she shook the more and the vine appallingly knew
and kept her company.

"I'm obleeged to ye," said Tenney. "But I don't want nothin' done for me
nor mine. He's mine, ye see. He's in there asleep"--he pointed to the
open bedroom door--"an' asleep or awake, he's mine, same's any man's
property is his. An' if he ain't right, he ain't, an' I know why, an'
it's the will o' the Lord, an' the Lord's will is goin' to be fulfilled
now an' forever after, amen!"

The tang of scripture phrasing led him further to the channel his mind
was always fumbling for.

"Do you," he asked Nan, not with any great show of fervor, but as if
this were his appointed task, "do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ
yet? Be ye saved?"

"Mr. Tenney," said Nan, "I don't care a scrap whether I'm saved or not,
if I can make this world swing a little easier on its hinges." That
seemed to her a figure not markedly vivid, and she continued. "It needs
a sight of oiling. Don't you see it does? O, Mr. Tenney, think of the
poor little boy that's got to live along"--the one phrase still seemed
to her the best--"not right, and grow to be a man, and you may die and
leave him, and his mother may die. What's he going to do then?"

"No," said Tenney quietly, with the slightest glance at Tira in her
tremor there by the door, "I ain't goin' to die, not this v'y'ge. If
anybody's goin' to, it ain't me."

"O Isr'el!" said Tira. Her voice rose scarcely above a whisper and she
bent toward him in a beseeching way as if she might, in another instant,
run to him. "You let him go. You an' me'll stay here together, long as
we live. There sha'n't nothin' come betwixt us, Isr'el." In this Nan
heard a hidden anguish of avowal. "But you let him go."

Tenney did not regard her. He spoke, pointedly to Nan:

"I'm obleeged to ye." He rose from his chair. He was dismissing her. His
action approached a dignity not to be ignored, and Nan also rose.

"I sha'n't give it up," she said. "I shall come again."

She tried to smile at him with composure, including Tira in the
friendliness of it, but Tira, oblivious of her, was staring at Tenney,
and Nan found herself outside, trouble in her mind. Tira had not gone to
the door with her. She had staid still staring, in that fixed
interrogation, at Tenney. He looked at her now, met her eyes, and gave a
little grimace. He had done well, the movement said. He had seen through
it all. He was pleased with himself. Now he spoke to her, so affably
that she frowned with perplexity at finding him kind.

"'Tain't so terrible hard," said Tenney, "to see through folks, once ye
set your mind on it. He started her out on that, he an' you together,
mebbe. ''F I git rid o' the young one,' you says, 'I shall have more
freedom to range round, outdoor.' Mebbe you said it to him. Mebbe he
said it to you. Mebbe 'twas t'other one--Martin--that said it an' you
took it up. No, 'tain't so hard to see through folks, once ye git a
start."

He turned and took, with a difficulty half assumed, the few steps to the
wood-box, selected a couple of sticks and, with a quiet deftness that
seemed to indicate a mind bent only on the act itself, put them in the
stove. Tira watched him, fascinated by him, the strength in abeyance,
the wayward will. When he set on the stove cover, it seemed to break the
spell of her rigidity and she turned, hurried into the scullery and came
back. She had, he saw, a knife. That was not alarming. It was a small
kitchen knife, but he recognized it as the one she made a great fuss
about, asking him to sharpen it often and keeping it for special use.
But she gripped it strangely. Besides, there was the strangeness of her
face.

"Here! here!" he said. "What you doin' o' that knife?"

Tira was not thinking of him. She had gone, with her quick, lithe step,
to the window where the vine was tapping, and thrown it up.

"Here!" he called again, his uneasiness shifting; whatever a woman was
doing, with a face like that, she must be stopped. "What you openin'
winders for, a day like this, coldin' off the room?"

Tira reached out and seized the woodbine spray, cut it savagely and then
shut the window. She came back with the spray in her hand, took off the
stove cover and thrust it in, twining and writhing as if it had life and
rebelled against the flame.

"There!" she said. "I ain't goin' to have no vines knockin' at winders
an' scarin' anybody to death."

Then she went into the scullery and put the knife in its place, blade up
in a little frame over the sink, and came back into the bedroom where
the child was whimpering. She stayed there a long time, and Tenney stood
where she left him, listening for her crooning song. When it began, as
it did presently, he gave a nod of relief and started moving about the
room. Once he went into the scullery, and Tira heard him pumping. But
when she had got the child dressed, and had gone out there herself, to
prepare the vegetables for dinner, she put her hand mechanically,
without looking, on the rack above the sink. The hand knew what it
should find, but it did not find it. The knife was gone. Tira stood a
long time looking, not at the empty place, but down at her feet. It was
not alarming to miss the knife. It was reassuring. It was not to be
believed, yet she must believe it. Tenney was taking precautions. He was
afraid.

Nan, halfway home, met Raven. He had been walking up and down, to meet
her. Defeat, he saw, with a glance at her face.

"Yes," said Nan, coming up with him. "No go, Rookie. He was civil. But
he was dreadful. I don't know whether I should have known it, but it's
the way she looked at him. Rookie, she was scared blue."

Raven said nothing. He felt a poor stick indeed, to have brought Nan
into it and given her over to defeat.

"Can't we walk a spell?" said she. "Couldn't we take the back road to
the hut? I do so want to talk to you."

They turned back and passed the Tenneys' at a smart pace. Raven gave the
house a swift glance. He was always expecting to hear Tira cry out, she
who never did and who, he knew, would endure torture like an Indian.
They turned into the back road where the track was soft with the latest
snow, and came into the woods again opposite the hut. When they reached
it and Raven put down his hand for the key, Nan asked:

"Does she come here often?"

"Not lately," he said, fitting the key in the lock. "She had rather a
quiet time of it while he was lame."

They went in and Nan kept on her coat while he lighted the fire and
piled on brush.

"Rookie," she said, when he had it leaping, "it's an awful state of
things. The man's insane."

"No," said Raven, "I don't feel altogether sure of that. We're too ready
to call a man insane, now there's the fashion of keeping tabs. Look at
me. I do something outside the ordinary--I kick over the traces--and
Milly says I'm to go to the Psychopathic. Dick more than half thinks so,
too. Perhaps I ought. Perhaps most of us ought. We deflect just enough
from what the majority are thinking and doing to warrant them in
shutting us up. No, I don't believe you could call him insane."

They talked it out from all quarters of argument. Nan proposed emergency
activities and Raven supplied the counter reason, always, he owned,
going back to Tira's obstinacy. Nan was game to kidnap the child, even
from Tira's arms. Couldn't be done, Raven told her. Not longer ago than
yesterday, Tira would have consented, but now, he reminded her, Tenney's
crazy mind was on him. Yes, it was a crazy mind, he owned, but Tenney
was not on that account to be pronounced insane. He couldn't be shut up,
at least without Tira's concurrence. And she never would concur. She
had, if you could put it so, an insane determination equal in measure to
Tenney's insane distrust, to keep the letter of her word. Then, Nan
argued, Tira and the child together must go back with her. To Tenney,
used only to the remote reaches of his home, the labyrinth of city life
was impenetrable. He couldn't possibly find them. He wouldn't be
reasonable enough, intelligent enough, to take even the first step. And
Raven could stay here and fight out the battle. Tenney wouldn't do
anything dramatically silly. Tira was "'way off" in fearing that. He
would only fix Raven with those unpleasant eyes and ask if he were
saved. Very well, Raven agreed. It was worth trying. They must catch the
first chance of seeing Tira alone.

Then, though his mind was on Tira, it reverted to Anne. Again she seemed
to be inexorably beside him, reminding him, with that delicate touch of
her invisible finger, that he was not thinking of her, not even putting
his attention uninterruptedly on what she had bidden him do: her last
request, he seemed to hear her remonstrating, half sighing it to
herself, as if it were only one more of the denials life had made her.
Even if he did not agree with her, in his way of taking things (throwing
away his strength, persuading young men to throw away theirs, that the
limited barbarism called love of country might be served) could he not
act for her, in fulfilling her rarer virtue of universal love?

"I tell you what, Nan," he said, with a leap from Tira to the woman more
potent now in her unseen might than she had ever been when her subtle
ways of mastery had been in action before him, "it's an impossible
situation."

How did she know he was talking, not of Tira but of Anne? Yet she did
know. There had been a moment's pause and perhaps her mind leaped with
his.

It was, she agreed, impossible. Yet, after all, so many things weren't,
that looked so at the start. Think of surgery: the way they'd both seen
men made over. Well! He didn't remind her that they had also seen a
mountain of men, if fate had piled their bodies as high as it was piling
the fame of their endeavor, who couldn't be made over.

"If we refuse her," he said--and though Nan was determined he should
make his decision alone, she loved him for the coupling of their
intent--"we seem to repudiate her. And that's perfectly devilish, with
her where she is."

It was devilish, Nan agreed. Her part here seemed to be acquiescence in
his attitude of mind, going step by step with him as he broke his path.

"And," said Raven, lapsing into a confidence he had not meant to
make--for would Anne in her jealous possessiveness, allow him to share
one intimate thought about her, especially with Nan?--"the strange part
of it is, I do seem to feel she's somewhere. I seem to feel she's here.
Reminding me, you know, just as a person can by looking at you, though
he doesn't say a word. Have you felt that? Do you now?"

"No," said Nan, with her uncalculated decisiveness that made you sure
she was not merely speaking the truth as she saw it, but that she did
see it clearly. "I have felt it, though, about other people. About two
or three of the boys over there, you know. They were the ones I knew
rather well. And Old Crow! up here, Rookie, alone with you, I have that
sense of Old Crow's being alive, very much alive. Is it the thoughts
he's left behind him, written on the air, or is it really Old Crow?"

"The air's been changed a good many times since he was here," said Raven
lightly. It was not good for little girls to be wrestling forever with
things formless and dark.

"Oh," said she, "but there's something left. Our minds make pictures.
They don't get rubbed out. Why, I can see old Billy Jones sitting here
and Old Crow bandaging his legs, and your mother and little Jack coming
up to bring things in a basket. You can say that's because Old Crow told
it so vividly I can't get it out of my mind. But that isn't all. Things
don't get rubbed out."



XXXV


The next day Raven saw Tenney driving by, probably to the street where
all the neighbors went for supplies. Up to this time Jerry had offered,
whenever he was going, to do Tira's "arrants," and Tenney had even
allowed him to bring home grain. Raven at once summoned Nan. It was
their chance. Tira must be taken by storm. Let her leave the house as it
was and run away. Nan hurried on her things, and they went up the road.

"There she is," said Nan, "at the window."

Raven, too, saw her white face for the moment before it disappeared. She
was coming, he thought, making haste to let them in. He knocked and
waited. No one came. He knocked again, sharply, with his stick, and
then, in the after silence, held his breath to listen. It seemed to him
he had never heard a house so still. That was the way his mind absurdly
put it: actively, ominously still.

"She was at the window," said Nan, in a tone that sounded to him as
apprehensive as the beating of his own heart. "I saw her."

He knocked again and, after another interval, the window opened above
their heads and Tira leaned over the sill.

"You go away," she said quietly, yet with a thrilling apprehension. "I
can't let you in."

They stepped back from the door and looked up at her. She seemed even
thinner than when Nan had seen her last, and to Raven all the sorrows of
woman were darkling in the anguish of her eyes. He spoke quietly, making
his voice reassuring to her.

"Why can't you? Have you been told not to?"

"No," said Tira, quick, he thought, to shield her persecutor, "nobody's
said a word. But they've gone off, an' you can't be certain when they'll
be back."

"Hasn't he gone to the street?" Raven asked her, and now her voice, in
its imploring hurry, could not urge him earnestly enough.

"He said he was goin'. You can't tell. He may turn round an' come back.
An' I wouldn't have you here--either o' you--for anything in this
world."

But though she said "either of you," her eyes were on Raven, beseeching
him to go. He did not answer that. In a few words he set forth their
plan. She was to take the child and come. It was to be now. But she
would hardly listen.

"No," she called, in any pause between his words. "No! no! no!"

"Don't you want to save the child?" Raven asked her sternly. "Have you
forgotten what may happen to him?"

She had her answer ready.

"It's his," she said. "He spoke the truth, though it wa'n't as he mean
it. But the baby's his, an' baby as he is, an' _as_ he is, he's got to
fight it out along o' me. You go now, an' don't you come a-nigh me
ag'in. An' if you stay here knockin' at my door, I'll scream so's I
sha'n't hear you."

She withdrew her head from the window, but instantly looked out again.

"God Almighty bless you!" she said. "But you go! you go!"

"Tira!" called Raven sharply, "don't you know you're in danger? Don't
you know if anything happens to you it'll----" He paused, and Nan
wondered if he meant to say, "It will break my heart!" and scarcely felt
the pain of it, she was so tense with misery for them both.

Tira leaned out again and seemed to bend even protectingly toward them.
She smiled at them, and the softening of her face was exquisite.

"I ain't in danger," she said. "I've said things to him. He's afraid."

"Threatened him?" Raven asked.

"I've kep' tellin' him," said Tira, in that same tone of tender
reasonableness such as mothers use when they persuade children to the
necessities of things, "he must remember we ain't alone. An' somehow it
seems to scare him. He don't see Him as I do: the Lord Jesus Christ."

She shut the window quietly, and Raven and Nan went away. They walked
soberly home without a word, but when Nan was taking off her hat she
heard bells and went to the library window. Raven was standing by the
table, trying to find some occupation to steady his anxious mind.

"Look!" said Nan.

It was Tenney, and he was "whipping up."

"She knew, didn't she?" commented Nan, and he answered:

"Yes, she knew."

Here his trouble of mind broke forth. He had to be enlightened. A woman
must guess what a woman thought.

"I can't understand her," he said. "I believe I have understood her, up
to now. But to say the child's got to bear it with her! Why, a woman's
feeling about her child! It's as old as the world. A woman will
sacrifice herself, but she won't sacrifice her child."

He looked at her with such trouble in his face that Nan had to turn
away. He understood her too well. Could he read in her eyes what her
mind had resolved not to tell him? Yet she would tell him. He shouldn't
grope about in the dark among these mysteries. She wanted, as much as
Old Crow wanted it, to be a light to his feet.

"She would," she told him quietly, "sacrifice herself in a minute. Only
she can't do it the way we've offered her, because now you've come into
it."

"I've been in it from the first," frowned Raven. "Ever since the day I
found her up there in the woods."

"Yes, but then that poor crazy idiot was jealous only of him, the
creature that sat down by her at prayer-meeting; and now he's jealous of
you. And she's saving you, Rookie. At any risk. Even her own child."

Nan thought she could add what had been in her mind, keeping time to
every step of the way home: "For now she loves you better than the
child." But it proved impossible to say that, and she went out of the
room, not looking at him, and only waiting to put away her hat and coat
in the hall. She went upstairs with the same unhurried step and shut the
door of her room behind her. She stood there near the door, as if she
were guarding it against even the thoughts of any human creature. They
must not get at her, those compassionate thoughts, not Charlotte's,
certainly not Raven's. For at that moment Nan found herself a little
absurd, as many a woman has who knows herself to be starving for a man's
love. She began to tremble, and remembered Tira shaking there by the
door that morning that seemed now years away. The tremor got hold of her
savagely and shook her. It might have been shaking her in its teeth.

"Nervous chill!" said Nan to herself, insisting on saying it aloud to
see if her teeth would actually chatter and finding they did. She had
seen plenty of such nervous whirlwinds among her boys and helped to
quiet them. "I'm an interesting specimen," chattered Nan. "Talk about
_cafard_!"

All that forenoon, Dick fretted about the house, waiting for her, hoping
she would go to walk, let him read to her--Dick had a persistent habit
of reading verse to you when he found you weren't likely to get into the
modern movement by yourself--but no Nan. At dinner, there she was,
rather talkative, in a way that took Amelia into the circle of intimacy,
and seemed to link up everybody with everybody else in a nice manner.
Nan had the deftest social sense, when she troubled herself to use it.
Aunt Anne would have been proud of her.



XXXVI


Then everything, so far as Raven and Nan were concerned, quieted to an
unbroken commonplace, and the four--for Amelia and Dick held to their
purpose of "standing by"--again settled down to country life, full of
the amenities and personal abnegations of a house party likely to be
continued. Charlotte was delighted, in her brooding way, and ascribed
the emotion to Jerry who, she said, "liked somethin' goin' on." Nan and
Dick had vaulted back to their past: the old terms of a boy and girl
intimacy in robust pursuits admitting much laughter and homespun talk.
They went snowshoeing over the hills, Raven, though Nan begged him to
come, electing to stay at home with Amelia, who would stand at the door
to see them off, half persuaded she was up to going herself and, indeed,
almost feeling she had gone, after considering it so exhaustively, and
then retreating to the library where she was cramming for next year's
economics. Raven was very good to her. He would sit down by the blazing
hearth, listening with an outward interest to her acquired formulae of
life, and then, after perfunctory assent or lax denial, retire to his
own seclusion over a book. But he seldom read nowadays. He merely, in
this semblance of studious absorption, found refuge from Amelia. He was
mortally anxious for Tira, still face to face with brute
irresponsibility, and when the mental picture of it flamed too lividly
and could not be endured, he threw down his book and hurried up to the
hut, to find her. She never came. The fire, faithfully laid for her, was
unlighted. The room breathed the loneliness of a place that has known a
beloved presence and knows it no more. Nearly every day he and Nan had a
word about her, and often he saw Nan going "up along" and knew she was,
in the uneasiness of no news, bent on walking past the house, if only
for a glance at the windows and the sight of Tira's face. Three times
within a few weeks Tenney had driven past, and each time Nan, refusing
Dick's company, hurried up the road. But she came back puzzled and
dispirited, and called to Raven, who, in a fever of impatience, had gone
out to meet her:

"No. The door is locked."

She would put a hand on his arm and they would walk together while she
told him her unvarying tale. When she had knocked persistently, Tira
would appear at the chamber window, and shake her head, and her lips
seemed to be saying, "No! no! no!" And each time Tenney returned
shortly, and they were sure his going was a blind. He never went to the
street, and even Charlotte remarked the strangeness of his short
absences.

"What under the sun makes Isr'el Tenney start out an' turn round an'
come back ag'in?" she inquired of Jerry. "He ain't gone twenty minutes
'fore he's home."

Jerry didn't know. He "'sposed Isr'el forgot suthin'."

How was Tira? Raven asked after Nan had seen her at the window, and she
did not spare him. Pale, she said, paler than ever, a shadow of herself.
But Nan had faith that her courage would hold. It was like the winter
and the spring. Tenney stood for the forces of darkness, but the spring
had to come in the end. Also she owned that her great reason for
believing in Tira's endurance was that Tira was not alone. She had, like
Old Crow, her sustaining symbol. She had, whatever the terrifying
circumstance of her daily life, divine companionship. She had her Lord,
Jesus Christ.

"I believe," said Raven abruptly, one day when they were tramping the
snowy road and she was answering the panic of his apprehensive mind,
"you swear by Old Crow's book."

"I do," said Nan simply, "seem to be hanging on to Old Crow. I've read
it over and over. And it does somehow get me. Picture writing! And human
beings drawing the lines and half the time not getting them straight!
But if there's something to draw, I don't care how bad the drawing is.
If there's actually something there! There is, Rookie. Tira's got hold
of it because she's pure in heart. It's something real, and it'll see
her through."

Raven was not content with its seeing her through until he could be told
what the appointed end was likely to be. If Tira was to fight this
desperate battle all her mortal life, he wasn't to be placated by the
rewarding certainty of a heavenly refuge at the end.

"I can never," he said, "get over the monstrous queerness of it all.
Here's a woman that's got to be saved, and she's so infernally obstinate
we can't save her. When I think of it at night, I swear I'm a fool not
to complain of the fellow in spite of her, and then in the morning I
know it can't be done. She'd block me, and I should only have got her in
for something worse than she's in for now."

"Yes," said Nan, "she'd block you. Wait, Rookie. Something will happen.
Something always does."

Yes, Raven thought, something always does, and sometimes, in country
tragedies, so brutal a thing that the remorseful mind shudders at itself
for not preventing it. But Nan, equably as she might counsel him, was
herself apprehensive. She expected something. She had a sense of waiting
for it. Dick must be prepared. He must be found on their side. Whatever
the outcome, Raven must not suffer the distrust and censure of his own
house.

Dick had been reading to her by the fire while Raven was taking Amelia
for a sober walk. Nan wished Dick wouldn't read his verse to her. It
made her sorry for him. What was he doing, a fellow who had seen such
things, met life and death at their crimson flood, pottering about in
these bizarre commonplaces of a literary jog-trot? They sounded right
enough, if you stood for that kind of thing, but they betrayed him, his
defective imagination, his straining mind. He didn't see the earth as it
was. He was so enamored of metaphorical indirection that he tried to see
everything in the terms of something else. But to-day she had her own
thoughts. She sat staring into the fire, her cheeks burned by the
leaping heat, and Dick, looking up at her, stopped on an uncompleted
line.

"You haven't," he said, "heard a word."

"Not much of it," said Nan. She looked at him disarmingly. When her eyes
were like that, Dick's heart was as water. "I was thinking about Tira."

He had to place this. Who was Tira?

"Oh," said he, "the Tenney woman. Jack needn't have dragged you into
that. It's a dirty country story."

"Not dirty," said Nan. "You'd love it if you'd thought of it yourself.
You'd write a play about it."

Dick frowned.

"Well, I didn't think of it," said he, "and if I had, I shouldn't be
eating and sleeping it as you and Jack are. Whatever's happening up
there, it isn't our hunt. It's hers, the woman's. Or the authorities'.
The man ought to be shut up."

Nan began telling him how it all was, how they wanted definitely to do
the right thing and how Tira herself blocked them. Dick listened,
commended the drama of it, and yet found it drama only.

"But it's a beastly shame," he commented, "to have this come on Jack
just now when he isn't fit."

Nan had her sudden hot angers.

"Do you mean to tell me," she countered, "you believe that now, now
you've lived with him and seen he's exactly what he used to be, only
more darling--you believe he's broken, dotty? Heavens! I don't know what
you'd call it."

Dick did not answer. He scarcely heard. One word only hit him like a
shot and drew blood.

"Stop that!" he ordered.

They faced each other with eyes either angry or full of a tumultuous
passion an onlooker would have been puzzled to name.

"Stop what?"

"Calling him darling. I won't have it."

Nan found this truly funny, and broke into a laugh.

"Do you know," she said, "how every talk of ours ends? Rookie! It always
comes round to him. I call him darling and you won't have it. But you'll
have to."

"No," said Dick, "I won't have it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
You little devil! I believe you do it to work me up. That's all right if
it stopped there. But it won't. Some day he'll hear you and then----!"

She was flaming again.

"Hear me? Hear me call him darling? Why, he's heard it so often it's no
more to him than your calling him Jack. But if he asked me what I meant
by it! do you know what would happen then?"

"What would?"

"Then," said Nan enigmatically, "I should tell him, that's all."

She would say no more, though he hurled questions at her, and hardly
remembered afterward what they were. He was of an impression that he
begged her to love him, to marry him, though Dick, prodigal as he was of
great words in his verse, scarcely believed he used them in the direct
address of love-making. But certainly he did beg her, and Nan was gentle
with him, though always, like Tira, as she remembered afterward,
repeating, "No! no!" At the end, his passion softened into something
appealing, as if they were together considering the sad case he found
himself in and he depended on her to help him through.

"Nan," he said, in the boyish way she loved, "don't you see it's got to
be in the end? We've always been together. We're always going to be.
Don't you see, old Nan?"

Nan smiled at him, brilliantly, cruelly, he thought. But she was sorry
for him, and it was only a show of cruelty. It came out of her kindness,
really. Dick mustn't suffer so for want of her. Bully him, abuse him,
anything to anger him and keep him from sheer weak, unavailing regret.
Nan had a great idea of what men should be: "tough as a knot," she
thought, seasoned all through. If they whimpered, she was aghast.

"No," she said again, with the brilliant smile, "no! no! I can't. I
won't. Not unless"--and this, too, was calculated cruelty--"unless
Rookie tells me to."

They sat staring at each other as if each wondered what the outcome was
to be. Nan was excitedly ready for it. Or had the last word been
actually said? But Dick altogether surprised her. He got up and stood
looking down at her in a dignity she found new to him.

"When you come to me," he said, "you'll come because I ask you. It won't
be because any other man tells you to."

He walked past her, out of the room. Did he, Nan wondered, in her
ingenuous surprise, look a very little like Rookie? When he was twenty
years older, was he going to look as Rookie did now? His expression,
that is. For, after all, there was Dick's nose.

And in these days what of Tira? She, too, was on an edge of nervous
apprehension. Tenney was about the house a great deal. He still made
much of his lameness, though never in words. Every step he took seemed
an implication that a cane was far from sufficient. He needed his
crutch. And as the period of his silence lengthened, Tira was driven by
her fear to another greater fear: that she might mention it herself.
What if she should tell him how the crutch, leaning there at the foot of
the bed, had seemed to her a weapon, not a crutch? What if she appealed
to his pity and even played a part with him, dwelling on her woman's
weakness of nature, her tremors, deprived of the protection that should
be hers? Artifice was foreign to her. Yet what was there, short of
implicating Raven, she would not do for the child? But a glance at
Tenney's face, the tightness of reserve, the fanatical eyes, closed her
lips, and they moved about together dumbly at their common tasks. As she
grew paler and the outline of her cheek the purer over the bones
beneath, he watched her the more intently, but still furtively. One
forenoon when the sky was gray and a soft snow fell in great flakes that
melted as they came, he went haltingly up to the shed chamber and came
down with his gun. He was not a huntsman, and when they moved into the
house it had been left there with a disorder of things not likely to be
needed. He drew a chair to the table and then addressed her almost
urbanely. He wanted, she guessed, to call her attention in some explicit
way.

"You git me some kind of a rag," he bade her. "I'm goin' to clean up
this old musket. You might's well hand me that oiler, too, off'n the
sink shelf. I can't git about any too well."

She brought him the cloth and the oiler and went away to the sink again,
determined not to be drawn into any uneasiness of questioning. But it
fascinated her, the sight of him bending to his task, and her will
weakened. In spite of herself, she went over to the table and stood
looking down at him. Presently he glanced up at her and smiled a little
in a way she did not like. It seemed to imply some recognition of a
common knowledge between them. He had, the look said, more than the
apparent reason for what he was doing. The oiling of the gun was not
all. Something at the back of his mind was more significant than this
act of his hands, and this something, the look said, she also knew. All
through the moment of her gazing down at him Tira was telling herself
she must not speak. Yet she spoke:

"You goin' gunnin'?"

"I dunno but I be," he returned, his eyes again on his work. "I've had
it in mind quite a spell, an' I dunno's there's any reason for puttin'
on't off."

"What you goin' after, Isr'el?" she asked, against her will, and he was
silent for what seemed so long, that she pursued: "You goin' rabbitin'?"

"No," said Tenney. "I dunno's I be. What's the use o' shootin' down
four-footed creatur's? T'other ones'll do well enough for me."

Again he glanced up at her and her look of frozen horror evidently
warned him against terrifying her unduly. She must be shaken enough to
obey him, not to fight.

"You look kinder peaked," he said, with what she found a false air of
interest. "You don't git out enough. Mebbe you'd ought to git out
nights. I've been noticin' how peaked you look, an' I thought mebbe I'd
git the old musket loaded up an' go out an' shoot ye a pa'tridge. Tempt
your appetite, mebbe, a mite o' the breast."

"I dunno," said Tira, speaking with difficulty through her rigid misery,
"as you'd ought to, so near nestin' time. I dunno's as it's the season
to kill."

"All seasons are the same to me," said Tenney. "When it's time to kill,
then kill, I say. Kill!"

He spoke the word as if he loved it, and Tira walked away from him into
the bedroom, and stretched herself on the bed, her hand on the sleeping
child. When it was time to get dinner she came out again and found him
reading his paper by the stove. He had set the gun away in a corner. But
directly after dinner he shaved at the little glass by the kitchen
window and told her, again with the air of abundant explanation she
found foreign to him, that he was going to the street, to get the colt
shod. The colt did need to be shod. She knew that. Perhaps this time he
was actually going.

"You want to take along the eggs?" she said, and he assented.

He asked her, too, for a list of groceries she needed. He would have to
wait his turn at the blacksmith's. He might be a long time. She need not
expect him before dark. She might as well go out, he told her, and
again:

"You're lookin' peaked. You need the air."

She heard him drive briskly out of the yard, but she would not, for some
reason she did not herself know, go to the window to look after him. It
was all a plan, she told herself. She was not to be taken in by it. She
would force herself to sit down to her sewing. She would not leave the
house while he was gone. If he wanted to tempt her out, to trap her, let
him have his will. It was better, she thought, with a moment's satirical
comment, for him to be driving off on a fictitious mission than roaming
the neighborhood with a gun in his hand. She glanced involuntarily at
the corner where the gun had stood not many minutes before he left the
house. It was gone. Then she knew. She threw down her work, went to the
telephone, and called Raven. He was there, and she felt her heart answer
wildly when, at her first word, he broke in:

"Is it you?" Not her name, only the intimacy of the significant word.
"The hut?" he added.

"Up there," said Tira, breathless. "Both of you. I've got to see you
both. Come quick."

She got her cloak and threw it down again, remembering it was what she
was used to wearing and that Tenney would most certainly recognize her
outline in it, even though a long way off. Grandmother Tenney's black
blanket shawl was in the parlor chest of drawers, that and her hood,
disfiguring ancientry of dress. She ran into the parlor, snatched them
out, tied on the black knitted hood and, not unfolding the shawl,
wrapped it about her shoulders. The baby was in his cradle, and she gave
him one glance. If he waked, he would cry. Let him cry. But she did lock
the door behind her, and put the key on the sill, a place Tenney would
know. Half way down the path, she went back, took the key again and
dropped it into her apron pocket. Tenney might come, but he should not
go into the house and find the child alone. Lest he should come the way
he went, she took the back road, and there, when she was about to turn
into the wood road, she heard sleigh-bells behind her, the horse going,
as her ear told her, "step and step." But she was actually on the wood
road when the driver whipped up and the bells came clashingly. She did
not turn to look. It was not Tenney. She would have known his bells. The
horse drew up, the driver called to him a peremptory and jovial word,
and she knew the voice. It was Eugene Martin's, and instinct told her to
stop and face him. He stepped out of the sleigh and threw the robe, with
a quick motion, over the horse. Then he came on to her, smiling,
effusively cordial, and Tira waited. A pace away he took off his hat and
made her an exaggerated bow. He was carefully dressed, but then he was
always that, according to his lights. Only Tira, who knew him so well,
all his vain schemes of personal fitness, judged this to be a day of
especial preparation. For what? He took the step between them and put
out both hands.

"If this ain't luck!" he beamed. "How are you, girl? I made up my mind
I'd see you, but I hadn't an idea you'd be on the road."

Tira rolled her hands in her apron, as if they were cold. His extended
hands she did not seem to see.

"I ain't waitin' for you," she said quietly, her eyes on his. "You
better go right straight along about your business an' leave me to
mine."

"I ain't done right, Tira," said Martin, with the specious warmth she
knew. "I did try to git you in bad with Tenney, but don't you know what
that sprung from? I'm jealous as the devil. Don't you know I be?"

"You've no call to be jealous nor anything else," said Tira steadily.
"You an' me are as fur apart"--she hesitated for a word, and her eyes
rested for a moment on one of the tall evergreens moving slightly in the
breeze. "We couldn't any more come together than I could climb up to the
pick o' that pine tree."

He still regarded her solicitously. He was determined not to abandon his
part.

"Ain't somebody come betwixt us?" he demanded, with that vibration of
the voice once so moving to her. "You can't deny it. Can you now?"

"Nobody's come betwixt us," said Tira. "If you was the only man on this
earth to-day, I'd run from you as I would a snake. I hate you. No, I
don't. I look on you as if you was the dirt under my feet."

But as she said it she glanced down, wistfully troubled, as if she
begged forgiveness of the good earth. The quick anger she knew in him
flared like a licking flame. He threw his arms about her and held her to
him as tightly, it seemed to her, as if he were hostile to the very
breath within her body. And she was still, not only because he gripped
her so but because she had called upon that terrible endurance women
recognize within themselves. He kissed her, angry, insulting kisses she
could bear more patiently than the kisses of unwelcome love. But as his
lips defiled her face, he was suddenly aware that it was wet. Great
tears were rolling down her cheeks. He laughed.

"Cryin'?" he jeered. "Poor little cry-baby! wipe her eyes."

While he held her with one arm, the other hand plunged into her apron
pocket and brought out her handkerchief. It also touched the key. His
instincts, she knew, had a scope of devilish cunning, and at once he
knew what key it was. He laughed. Looking off through the trees, he had
seen what gave him another clue.

"Smoke!" he called, as if he shouted it to an unseen listener who might
not have been clever enough to guess. "Smoke from that shack Raven lazes
round in same as Old Crow did afore him. That's where you were goin'.
The wood road all broke out for you. I might ha' known it when I see
that. Go along, my lady. He'll be there waitin' for you. Go along. But
jest for the fun o' the thing, you leave the key with me."

She answered with a desperate wrench; but though one of her hands
reached the pocket where the key lay, she could only twitch the fingers,
and while he laughed softly he pulled the tie of her apron and,
releasing her with a little push, snatched the apron from her, rolled it
and thrust it into his pocket. She sprang at him, but he gave her
another push that sent her staggering and ran laughing to the sleigh.

"So long!" he called back at her.

She recovered herself and started after him. But the horse plunged
forward and Martin was shouting at her jovially, in what words she did
not hear. She only knew, through the bewilderment of her despair, that
the tone was merciless.

She stood there a moment, looking after him, and realizing that he had
forced her into a corner from which there was no possible way out. But
then another fear beat in her numbed brain. She had not accomplished the
task for which she came here. Martin and his trick must wait. That other
need was more important. There was the hut and its welcoming smoke and
there Raven must be looking for her. She started running along the snowy
path, reached the door, found it unlocked and went in.



XXXVII


Raven, as soon as he had Tira's message, went to find Nan. She was not
in her room, but Charlotte, when he finally brought up at the kitchen,
told him Nan and Dick had gone to walk. Down the road, she said. They
had called to him, but he was in the barn.

"Then," said Raven, getting into his jacket, "see her the minute she
comes back and send her up to the hut."

Yes, Charlotte meant to be in the kitchen all the afternoon. She would
see Nan. Raven left the house and hurried up the hill. He found the hut
in order, the fire laid as he had left it. That was, foolishly, always a
surprise. Her presence hung so inevitably about the place that he was
taken aback to find no visible sign of it. Now when she appeared it was
breathlessly, not, as he thought, from haste, but from her encounter
with Martin. And she came stripped of her reserves, the decorum of
respectful observance she always kept toward him. At first glance he was
shocked by the change in her appearance and could not account for it,
not knowing he missed the familiar folds of the blue cloak about her,
not seeing that her black shawl and the knitted hood accentuated the
tragic paleness of her face. She came straight to him and he took her
hands and, finding them so cold, held them in one of his and chafed
them. This she did not notice. She neither knew that they were cold nor
that he was holding them.

"You must go away," she said, surprising him because he thought she had
come to say she herself was ready to go. "Where is she?" Tira asked,
with a quick glance about the room, as if the least deviation in her
plan fretted her desperately. "I depended on seein' her."

"Nan?" asked Raven. "I couldn't find her. What is it, Tira?"

"She'd ha' helped me out," said Tira despairingly. "She'd ha' seen
you've got to go away from here an' go quick. Couldn't you pack up an'
git off by the nine o'clock?"

"Don't be foolish," said Raven. He released her hands and drew a chair
nearer the fire. "Sit down. I haven't the least idea of going anywhere.
Do you suppose I should go and leave you in danger?"

But she did not even seem to see the chair he had indicated or the fire.
She stood wringing her hands, in a regardless way, under her shawl, and
looking at him imploringly.

"I ain't in any danger," she said, "not compared to what you be. He's
stopped dwellin' on that man an' his mind is on you."

The shame of this did not move her now. Her fear had burned every
reticence to ashes and her heart looked out nakedly.

"He's got out the old gun," she went on. "I dunno's he's fired a gun
sence we've been here unless it might be at a hawk sailin' over. He says
he's goin' to shoot me a pa'tridge--for me! a pa'tridge for me to
eat!--an' he looked at me when he said it, an' the look was enough. You
go. You go to-night an' put the railroad betwixt you an' me."

"Don't be foolish, Tira," said Raven again. "I've been in more dangerous
places than this, and run bigger risks than Tenney's old musket. That's
all talk, what he says to you, all bluff. I begin to think he isn't
equal to anything but scaring a woman to death. But"--now he saw his
argument--"I will go. Nan and I will go to-night, but only if you go
with us. Now is your chance, Tira. Run back to the house and get the
boy. Bring him here, if you like, to stay till train time and then
come."

He stretched out his hand to her and waited, his eyes on hers. Would she
put her hand into his in obedience, in fealty? She began to cry,
silently yet rendingly. He saw the great breaths rising in her, and was
sick at heart to see her hand--the hand she should have laid in
his--clutching her throat to still its agony.

"I dunno," she said brokenly. "Yes, I s'pose I do know. I've got to do
it. It's been pushin' me an' pushin' me, an' now I've got to give up
beat. You won't save yourself, an' somehow or another you've got to be
saved."

Raven felt the incredible joy of his triumph. He had yielded to her
obstinacy, he had actually given up hope, and now, scourged by her
devotion to him, she was walking straight into the security he had urged
upon her. Yet he dared not betray his triumph, lest outspoken emotion of
any sort should awaken her to a fear of--what? Of him? Of man's nature
she had learned to abhor?

"That's right, Tira," he said quietly. "Now you've given up
responsibility. You've put yourself and the boy in my hands, mine and
Nan's. You've promised, remember. There's no going back."

Still he held out his hand, and though she ignored it, her dumbly
agonized look was aware of it. It was waiting for her, the
authoritative, kind hand, and she took hers from her throat and laid it
in his grasp. Tira seemed to herself to be giving up something she had
been fighting to keep. What was she giving up? Nothing it was right to
keep, she would have said. For at that minute, as it had been in all the
minutes that led to it, she believed in him as she did in her Lord,
Jesus Christ. Yet she was aware, with that emotional certainty which is
more piercing than the keenness of the most brilliant mind, that she had
surrendered, the inner heart of her, and whatever he asked her to do
would now be humbly done.

In the instant of their standing there, hand clasped in hand, the
current of life between them rushed to mingle--humble adoration in her,
a triumphant certainty in him. But scarcely had the impetuous forces met
before they were dissolved and lost. The sharp crack of a gun broke the
stillness outside, and Tira tore her hand from his and screamed
piercingly. She threw herself upon Raven, holding him with both hands.

"Hear that!" she whispered. "It's right outside here. He's shot to make
you come out an' see what 'tis. In the name o' God, don't you open the
door."

Raven shook himself free from her, and then, because she was sobbing
wildly, took her by the shoulders and pushed her into the chair by the
hearth.

"Stop that," he said sternly. "Stay there till I come back."

He took the key from the lock, opened the door and stepped out. There
lay Dick on his face, his head close by the door-stone, and Tenney, gun
in hand, stood stupidly staring at him.

"I shot at a pa'tridge," Tenney babbled, "I shot----"

But Raven was kneeling by Dick in the reddening snow.



XXXVIII


Eugene Martin had driven at a quick pace through the back road and down
again to the point where it met the highway. He had stuffed Tira's apron
into his pocket, and through his passion he was aware of it as something
he could use, how he did not yet know. But the key: that was a weapon in
itself. She could not get into her house without it. Tenney could not
get in. So far as Tira was concerned, it was lost, and Tenney would have
to be told. And as he turned into the other road, there was Tenney
himself driving toward home, and Martin knew what he was to do.

"Hi!" he called, but Tenney did not stop. He drew out slightly to the
side of the road, the implication that Martin might pass. Martin drove
up alongside and, the way growing narrower, seemed bent on crowding him.
The horses were abreast and presently the road narrowed to a point
where, if they continued, one would be in the ditch.

"I've got something o' yourn," called Martin. He was good humor itself.
The chances of the road had played patly into his hand. "Anyways, I
s'pose 'tis. I come across your woman on the back road. She turned into
the loggin' road, to Raven's shack. She dropped her apron an' I picked
it up. There's a key in the pocket. Looks like a key to somebody's outer
door. Yourn, ain't it? Here 'tis, rolled up in the apron. Ketch!"

He had taken out the apron, rolled it tighter and then, as Tenney made
no movement, tossed it into the sleigh. He shook the reins and passed,
narrowly escaping an over-turn, but, at the same moment, he was aware
that Tenney had stooped slightly and lifted something. It was a familiar
motion. What had he lifted? It could not be a gun, he told himself. Yet
he knew it could be nothing else. Was this the next move in the mad
game? For the first time he began to wonder whether Tenney's religion
would really keep him cool and questioned whether, having neatly
balanced his own account, he might close it now before he found himself
in danger. Driving fast, he was aware that Tenney, behind him, was also
coming on. But he would not look until he had passed Tenney's house, and
then he did give one backward glance. Tenney had turned into the yard,
and Martin relaxed, satisfied with the day's job. Perhaps it was really
finished, and he and Tira were square.

Tenney, having driven into the yard, blanketed the horse and thrust the
apron under the seat of the sleigh. He stood for a moment, thinking.
Should he unlock the door, go into the house, and lock it against the
woman who had run away to Raven's shack? He could not think clearly, but
it did seem to him best to open the door and look about. How had she
left things behind her? Was her absence deliberately planned? Inside, he
proceeded mechanically with the acts he would ordinarily have done after
an absence. The familiar surroundings seemed to suggest them to him. He
fitted the key into the lock again, took off his great-coat and hung it
up, chiefly because the nail reminded him, and then, the house suddenly
attacking him with all the force of lonely silence, he turned and went
out again and shut the door behind him. There was the horse. Why had he
covered him? He would naturally have unharnessed. But then he saw the
gun in the sleigh, and that, like the silent house, seemed to push him
on to something he had lost the power to will, and he took the gun and
walked fast out of the yard. Now at once he felt clear in the head. He
was going to find Raven. That was the next step. Wherever Raven was, he
must find him. But when he turned out of the yard to go up the back
road, he was aware of a strange dislike to coming upon him at the hut.
Tira was there, he knew, but if Raven also was, then there would be
something to do. It was something in the back of his mind, very dark and
formless as yet, but it was, he told himself again, something that had
to be done. Perhaps after all, even though it was to be done sometime,
it need not be to-day. Even though Tira was up there, the job was a
terrifying one to tackle when he felt so weak in his disabled foot, so
cold after Martin's jeering voice when he tossed over the key. He turned
again and went down the road to Raven's. His foot ached badly, but he
did not mind it so much now, the confusion and pain of his mind had
grown so great. It seemed, like this doubt that surrounded Tira, a curse
that was to be always with him. At Raven's, he went to the kitchen door
and knocked, and Charlotte came.

"He to home?" he asked, not looking at her, but standing there a
drooping, miserable figure.

"Jerry?" she asked. "Yes. He's in the barn, gone to feed an' water."

"No," said Tenney. "John Raven. Is he to home?"

"Why, no," said Charlotte. "Not round the house. He said he's goin' up
to the hut."

At that he stared at her desperately, as if begging her to take back her
words; they might have been a command to him, a verdict against him. She
stepped out a pace.

"Why, Mr. Tenney," she said, "what you round with a gun for, this time
o' night? You can't see nothin'. It'll be dusk in a minute."

"Pa'tridges," he called back to her, adding darkly, "I guess I can see
well enough, come to that."

Charlotte stood there watching him out of the yard and noted that he
turned toward home. When Nan and Dick came up the road the other way,
she had gone in, and they had been in the house five minutes or more
before she knew of it. Then Dick wandered into the kitchen, on one of
the vague quests always bringing the family there in search of her, and
she called to him from the pantry:

"D'you see anything of Isr'el Tenney on the road?"

No, Dick had seen nobody. He stood leaning against the casing, watching
her floury hands at their deft work.

"He come here, not ten minutes ago," said Charlotte, "after your Uncle
John. He had a gun. I never see Isr'el Tenney with a gun. 'Pa'tridge
shootin,' he said. Pa'tridges, when you can't see your hand afore you in
the woods! I told him Uncle John'd gone up to the hut. When Uncle John
went off, he said he wanted Nan should come up there, quick as ever she
could. You tell her, won't you? I forgot."

Then Dick knew. Tira was up there. And Tenney was out with a gun: New
England tragedy. It was impossible, the sanctimonious Tenney. Yet there
was New England tragedy, a streak of it, darkly visible, through all New
England life. It would be ridiculous: old Tenney with his
prayer-meetings and his wild appeals. And yet, he reflected, all tragedy
was ridiculous to the sane, and saw before his mind's eye a satiric poem
wherein he should arraign the great sad stories of the world and prove
their ironic futility. But all this was the hurried commentary of the
mind really bent on something actual, and from that actuality he spoke:

"Don't tell Nan, Charlotte. I'll see what he wants."

He went off and Charlotte thought he was right, the afternoon waning as
it was. She would tell Nan later, a good deal later, when Raven and Dick
had had time to come down again. And this was how Dick climbed the slope
and was approaching the door of the hut when Tenney stole behind him
through the dusk and fired.

Raven, in the instant of seeing Dick there on the ground, locked the
door of the hut, dropped the key in his pocket, knelt by him and, with a
hand on his pulse, snapped out his orders to Tenney, standing there
staring vacuously:

"Go down to the house. Get Jerry and the sled. Come back with him. Get a
move on. Run!"

Tenney continued looking emptily at him, still babbling about
pa'tridges, and Raven got up and wrenched the gun from his hand, calling
loudly, though they were close together:

"Don't you hear me? Get Jerry and the sled. Run, man, run."

Tenney started away in a dazed indecisiveness and Raven remembered his
hurt and that he probably could not run. At the same instant Tenney's
mind cleared. He was plunging down the slope and, whatever anguish it
caused him, insensible to it.

Raven unlocked the door, stepped in and found Tira facing him.

"Go home," he said. "Get the boy and go down to my house. You're to stay
there now."

At the instant of saying this, he set the gun inside the door, snatched
some blankets from the bedroom and came out again. Tira stepped aside to
let him pass. It looked as if he would have walked over her. He covered
Dick warmly, picked up the boy's glasses from the snow and dropped them
into his pocket. With that involuntary act, the emotional assault of the
whole thing nearly had him. He remembered Dick's eyes as he had
sometimes seen them without their glasses, wistful and vaguely soft.
Always his eyes, denuded of the lenses behind which they lived, had a
child's look of helpless innocence, and here he was floored by life's
regardless cruelty. Though, if he was not only floored but actually done
for, he was not yet the one to suffer. He was away in that sanctuary of
the assaulted body known as unconsciousness, and Raven did not dwell for
more than an instant on "the pity of it" all.

Tira had come out of the hut and, at sight of Dick under his mound of
covering, she gave a little cry and stooped to him with outstretched
hand, perhaps with an idea of somehow easing him. But Raven caught her
wrist before she touched him.

"Don't," said he. "I've sent down for the sled."

"Is he----?" she whispered, stepping back as he released her.

"I don't know," said he. "You can't do anything. Don't stay here."

But she stood still, staring down at the mound of blankets and Raven
again on his knees beside it, his fingers on Dick's wrist.

"Didn't you hear me?" said he curtly. "You're to get the child and come
to my house for the night."

"Will he"--and now he saw her mind was with Tenney--"will he be
arrested?"

"I hope," Raven allowed himself the bitterness of saying, "I hope he'll
get imprisonment for life."

And there was such sternness in the kind voice that Tira turned and
went, half running, up the path to the back road and home.

That night at eleven, when the house had quieted, and Raven was alone in
the library, he permitted himself a glimpse at the denied emotional
aspect of the day. Jerry had got quickly to the top of the hill and Dick
had been moved down without disaster, Tenney, white-faced and
bewildered, lending his strength as he was told. Raven called upon him
for this and that, and kept him by them on the way down to the house, so
that Tira might have time to snatch the child and hurry away. At the
moment of nearing the house he remembered her, and that if Tenney went
directly back by the high road, he might meet her.

"Here!" This to Tenney, who was sagging on behind the sled, and who at
once hurried along to his side. "Go back to the hut and see if I've left
the key in the door. If it's there, you can lock up and bring it down to
me. If it isn't, don't come back."

Then, he assumed, Tenney would go home by the back road, the shortest
route. For he would not find the key, which was still in Raven's pocket.
Tenney looked at him, seemed to have something to say, and finally
managed it. As Raven remembered, it was something about pa'tridges and
his gun. Whether he was shaken by fright, one could not have told, but
he was, as Charlotte remarked upon it afterward, "all to pieces." Raven
ignored the mumble, whatever it was, and Tenney, finally understanding
that he might as well be as far off the earth as Dick, for all the
attention anybody was going to pay him, turned, limping, and then Raven,
with that mechanical sensitiveness to physical need always awake in him
now, caught up a stick lying in the dooryard and tossed it to him.

"Here!" said he. "That'll do for a cane."

Tenney could not catch; he was too stupid from bewilderment of mind. But
he picked it up, and went limping off across the road and up the hill.
Then the women had to be told, and when Jerry brought the horses to a
standstill at the door, Raven ran in, pushing Charlotte aside--dear
Charlotte! she was too used to life and death to need palliatives of
indirection in breaking even such news as this--and believed now, as he
thought it over, that he met Milly and Nan, who had seen their approach,
running to meet him, and that he said something about accident and, as
if it were an echo of Tenney, a fool shooting partridges. Milly, shocked
out of her neat composure, gave a cry, but Nan turned on her, bade her
be quiet, and called Charlotte to the bedroom to get it ready. It was
Milly's room, but the most accessible place. Raven telephoned for the
doctor at the street and called a long-distance for a Boston surgeon of
repute, asking him to bring two nurses; and he and Nan rapidly dressed
the wound, with Dick still mercifully off in the refuge called
unconsciousness. Raven remembered that Milly, as she got in his way,
kept telling him she ought to have taken a course in first aid, and that
Dick was her son and if a mother didn't know, who did? But he fancied he
did not answer at all, and that he and Nan worked together, with quick
interrogative looks at each other here and there, a lifted eyebrow, a
confirming nod. And now the local doctor had arrived, had professed
himself glad his distinguished colleague had been summoned and approved
Raven's work. He was gone in answer to another urgent call, and the
surgeon had not come, could not come for hours. But Dick was conscious,
though either too weak or too wisely cautious to lift an eyelid, and Nan
was with him. That Raven had ordered, and told Milly she was to come to
the library after Jerry moved her things upstairs and she was settled
for the night.

Milly was badly shaken. She looked, her strained eyes and mouth
compressed, as if not only was she robbed of the desire of sleep, but
had sworn never, in her distrust of what life could do to her, to sleep
again. But she had not appeared, and as Raven sat there waiting for her,
Charlotte came down the stairs and glanced in, a comprehensive look at
the light, the fire, and at him, as if to assure him, whatever the need
in the sick room, she kept him also in mind. Raven signed to her and she
nodded. He had a question to ask. It had alternated in his mind with
queer little heart-beats of alarm about Dick: hemorrhage, shock,
hemorrhage--recurrent beats of prophetic disaster.

"Have you seen Tira?" he asked. "I told her to come here and stay till
we could get her off somewhere."

Then he remembered that, so wide-reaching did Charlotte always seem to
him in her knowledge of the life about her, he had not explained why
Tira must be got out of the way, and that also was before him. But in
her amazing habit of knowing, she knew.

"No," she said, "she ain't b'en near. She won't leave Tenney. She's one
o' them that sticks by."

Immediately he was curious to hear what she had imagined, how she knew.
Was the neighborhood awake to even the most obscure local drama? While
Tira thought she was, at the expense of her own safety, covering
Tenney's wildness of jealousy, were they all walking in the sun?

"Who told you?" he asked her.

"Why, nobody," said Charlotte. "It didn't take no tellin'. Jerry heard
him hollerin' after her that day you was up in the woods, an' when you
kep' the loggin' road broke, I knew you was givin' her some kind of a
hole to creep into."

So they had known, she and Jerry. But they had not told. They would
never tell.

"One thing," said Charlotte, smoothing her apron and looking at him in
an anxious interrogation, "what be we goin' to say? That was the first
thing doctor asked: 'Who done it?' (You know I let him in.) ''Twas a
poor crazed creatur,' says I, 'after pa'tridges.' I was goin' to say
Dick had a gun an' tripped up over a root; but that never'd do in the
world, shot in the back so."

"The partridges'll do for the present," said Raven grimly. "He's
certainly crazy enough. He said he was shooting partridges. We'll take
it at that."

Charlotte went on, and he sat thinking. So Tira had chosen not to come.
So fixed was his mind on the stern exigency of the situation, as it now
stood, that her disobedience in itself irritated him. The right of
decision, as he reasoned, had passed out of her hands into his. He was,
in a sense, holding the converging lines of all this sudden confusion;
he was her commanding officer. At that moment, when he was recognizing
his anger against her and far from palliating, cherishing it as one of
the tools in his hand, to keep him safely away from enfeebling doubt,
Milly came noiselessly down the stairs. She would, he realized, in her
unflinching determination to do the efficient thing, be as silent as a
shadow. She appeared in the doorway, and her face, her bearing, were no
longer Milly's. This was a paper semblance of a woman, drawn on her
lines, but made to express grief and terror. Quiet as she was, the shock
had thrown her out of her studied calm. She was elemental woman,
despising the rigidities of training, scourged into revolt. Even her
dress, though fitted to the technical needs of the hour, was unstudied.
Her hair, ordinarily waved, even in the country, by the intelligence of
her capable fingers, was twisted in a knot on the back of her head.
Raven, so effective had been the success of her ameliorating devices,
thought Milly's hair conspicuously pretty. But now there was a little
button of it only, as if she had prepared for exacting service where one
displaced lock might undo her. A blue silk negligée was wrapped about
her, with a furled effect of tightening to the blast, and her face was
set in a mask of grief that was not grief alone, but terror. She came in
and sat down in one of the chairs by the hearth, not relaxing in the
act, but as if she could no longer stand.

"John!" she said, in a broken interrogation. "John!"

He got up and elaborately tended the fire, laying the sticks together
with an extreme care, and thinking, as he did it, by one of those idle
divagations of the mind, like a grace note on the full chord of action,
that a failing fire had helped a man out of more than one hole in this
disturbing life. It gave your strung nerves and rasped endurance a
minute's salutary pause. He put down the tongs and returned to his
chair.

"Buck up, Milly," said he. "Everything's being done. Now it'll be up to
Dick."

But he realized, as if it were another trial setting upon him at the
moment when he had borne enough, that his eyes were suddenly hot. This
was not for Milly, not for himself. Again, for some obscure reason, he
saw Dick's eyes, softened, childlike, as he had recalled them without
their glasses. Through these past weeks of strain, he had been irritated
with the boy, he had jeered at him for the extravagances of his gusty
youth. Why, the boy was only a boy, after all! But Milly, leaning
forward to the fire, her trembling hands over the blaze, was talking
with amazing intensity, but still quietly, not to disturb the stillness
of the expectant house. For the house, suddenly changed, seemed itself
to be waiting, as houses do in time of trouble. Was it for Dick to die
or to take on life again? Houses are seldom kind at such times, even in
their outward tranquillity. They are sinister.

And when Milly began to speak, Raven found he had to deal with a woman
surprisingly different from the one who had striven to heal him through
her borrowed aphorisms.

"To think," she began, "to think he should escape, after being over
there--over there, John, in blood and dirt and death--and come home to
be shot in the back by a tramp with a gun! Where is the man? You
detained him, didn't you? Don't tell me you let him go."

"I know where to find him," Raven temporized. "He'd no idea of going."

She insisted.

"You think it was an accident? He couldn't have had a grudge. Dick
hadn't an enemy."

"You can make your mind easy about that," said Raven, taking refuge in a
detached sincerity. "It wasn't meant for Dick. He was as far from the
fellow's thoughts as the moon."

He remembered the fringe of somber woods and the curve of the new moon.

"It isn't so much the misfortunes of life," Milly kept on. She was
beating her knee now with one closed hand and her voice kept time. "It's
the chances, the horrible way things come and knock you down because
you're in their path. If he doesn't"--here she stopped and Raven knew
she added, in her own mind, "if he doesn't live--I shall never believe
in anything again. Never, John, never!"

Raven was silent, not only because it seemed well for her to free her
mind, but because he had a sudden curiosity to hear more. This was Milly
outside her armor at last. When she had caught him out of his armor, she
had proposed sending him to the Psychopathic, and here she was herself,
raving against heaven and earth as unrestrainedly as a savage woman
might beat her head against a cliff.

"Chance!" she repeated. "That's what it is, chance! He got in the way
and he was struck. I lived through the War. I gave my son. What more
could I do? But now, to have him come home to our old house and be shot
in the back! How can you sit there and not move a muscle or say a word?
What are you thinking about?"

"Well," said Raven quietly, "if you'll believe me, I'm thinking about
you. I'm mighty sorry for you, Milly. And I'm keeping one ear cocked for
Nan."

"There's no change," she interrupted him. "Charlotte would tell us. I
left Nan on purpose. I want him, every time he opens his eyes, to see
her there. She's the one he wants. Mothers don't count." Here again the
elemental woman flashed out and Raven welcomed the reality of it. "She
couldn't help being kind, with him as he is."

No, he inwardly concurred, Nan, who had kissed the boy to hearten him in
his need, would be ready with her medicinal love again. She'd pour
herself out: trust her for that.

"Besides," he said, "besides you and Dick and Nan, I was thinking of Old
Crow."

"Old Crow?" This threw her out for an instant and she went back to her
conception of Raven as a victim of complexes of which Old Crow was
chief. "It's no time for dwelling on things that are past and gone. You
think far too much about Old Crow. It weakens you."

"Old Crow," said Raven quietly, "is the chap you and I need here
to-night. I'd like mighty well to sit down and talk it over with him. So
would you, if you knew him better. Old Crow went through what you and I
are going through now. He found the world a deuced puzzling place and he
didn't see the conventional God as any sort of a solution. And then--I
don't suppose you're going to bed right off. You won't feel like sleep?"

"Bed!" she flung out. "Sleep!"

"Then look here, Milly," said Raven, "you do what I tell you." He opened
a drawer in his desk and took out the mottled book. "Here's Old Crow's
journal. You sit here by the fire and read it while I take Nan's place
and send her off to bed. And if it doesn't give you an idea Old Crow's
got his mind on us to-night, wherever he is, I'm mistaken."

He brought her the book. She took it, with no interest, leaving it
unopened on her knee.

"Wherever he is," she repeated, not precisely curious, but as if she
might be on the verge of it when she again had time. "I didn't know you
believed in immortality."

"I didn't, either," said Raven. "But," he added, "I believe in Old
Crow."

She was holding the book mechanically and he left her sitting with it
still unopened and went in to Dick. He found him restless, not in any
movement of his body but in the glance of his dilated eyes. Nan looked
up, grave, steady, gone back, as Raven saw, to her trained habit of
action, emotionless, concentrated on the moment.

"You'd better go up to bed," said Raven. "I'll stay now. He can have you
to-morrow."

"He can have me all the time," said Nan clearly, and Dick's eyes turned
upon her with an indifferent sort of query. How much did she mean by
that? It sounded as if she meant everything, and yet Raven, his heart
constricting, knew it might not be more than impetuous sacrifice, the
antidote given in haste. But now Dick spoke and Raven bent to him, for
either he was too weak to speak clearly or he was saving himself.

"Don't arrest him. No end of talk."

"No," said Raven. "It wasn't you he was out for."

The restless eyes turned on Nan.

"Go to bed," said Dick.

Her hand had been on his and she took it gently away, and got up.

"I'm not sleepy," she said. "I'll camp in the library a while."

When she had gone Raven, sitting there by Dick, who did not speak again,
listened for the murmur of voices from the library. Would they keep
companionable vigil, the two women, heartening each other by a word, or
would they sit aloof, each wrapped in her own grief? There was not a
sound. They were falling in with that determination of the house to
maintain its sinister stillness, its air of knowing more than it would
tell.



XXXIX


Tenney, not finding the key of the hut, and increasingly alive to the
anguish flaring in his foot, went home by the back way. Tira was waiting
at the door. She saw him coming, and, for that first moment, he could
ignore the pain in a savage recognition of her plight. She had, he
thought, having missed the key, not even tried the door. But this brief
summary of her guilty folly angered him for the moment only. He was
suddenly tired, and his foot did ache outrageously. He gave way to the
pain of it, and limped heavily. As he neared the house, however, his
face did relax into a mirthless smile. There were tracks under the
kitchen window. She had hoped to get in that way and had found the
window fastened. And all the time there was the door, ready for a
confident hand. But the ill chance of it amused him for not much more
than the instant of its occurrence. His mind recoiled upon his own
miserable state. He had gone out in search of justice, and he had come
home in terror of what he had himself unjustly done. If he had been
imaginative enough to predict the righteous satisfaction he expected
from his vengeance on Raven, he might have foreseen himself coming back
to bring Tira the evil news, and smiling, out of his general rectitude,
at her grief and terror. Perhaps he would have been wrong in those
unformulated assumptions. Perhaps he would not have been calm enough for
satisfaction in the completed deed, since the mind does, after a red
act, become at once fugitive before the furies of inherited beliefs and
fears. Perhaps it would have shrunk cowering back from the old, old
penalty against the letting of blood, as it did now when he was faced
with the tragic irony of the deed as it was. He had shed blood and, by
one of the savage mischances of life, the blood of a man innocent of
offense against him. After the first glance at Tira, he did not look at
her again, but passed her, threw open the door, and went in. His
thoughts, becoming every instant more confused, as the appalling moments
in the woods beat themselves out noisily, seemed to favor closing the
door behind him. It was she who had brought him to this pass. It was she
who had locked his door upon herself and, in her wantonness, as good as
thrown away the key. Let her stay outside. But he was not equal to even
that sharpness of decision and Tira, after she found the door swinging
free, went in.

Tenney had seated himself in his arm-chair by the window. He had not
taken off his hat, and he sat there, hands clasped upon the stick Raven
had tossed him, his head bent over them. He looked like a man far gone
in age and misery, and Tira, returning from the bedroom, the child in
her arms, felt a mounting of compassion and was no longer afraid. She
laid the child in its cradle and, with a cheerful clatter, put wood in
the stove. The child cried fretfully and, still stepping about the room,
she began to sing, as if to distract it, though she knew she was making
the sounds of life about Tenney to draw him forth from the dark cavern
where his spirit had taken refuge. But he did not look up, and presently
she spoke to him:

"Ain't you goin' to unharness? I'm 'most afraid Charlie'll be cold."

The form of her speech was a deliberate challenge, a fashion of rousing
him to an old contention. For it was one of her loving habits with
animals to name them, and Tenney, finding that "all foolishness," would
never accept the pretty intimacies. To him, the two horses were the bay
and the colt, and now Tira, with an anxious intent of stirring him even
to contradiction, longed to hear him repeat, "Charlie?" adding, "D'you
mean the bay?" But he neither spoke nor moved, and she suddenly realized
that if she screamed at him he would not hear. She went on stepping
about the room, and presently, when the dusk had fallen so that she
could see the horse in the yard only as an indeterminate bulk, she
slipped out, unharnessed him, and led him into his stall. She began to
fodder the cattle, pausing now and then to listen for Tenney's step. But
he did not come. She returned to the house for her pails, lighted a
lantern, and went back to milk. Still he did not come, and when she
carried in her milk, there he sat in the dark kitchen, his head bent
upon his hands. Tira shut up the barn, came back to the kitchen, and put
out her lantern; then she was suddenly spent, and sat down a moment by
the stove, her hands in her lap. And so they sat together, the man and
woman, and the child was as still as they. He had whimpered himself off
to sleep.

Tira, recognizing herself, with a dull indifference, as too tired to
move, was not at first conscious of thinking either about what she had
gone through or what was before her. But as her muscles relaxed, her
mind, as it was always doing now for its rest and comfort, left this
present scene where, for the first active moments, Tenney had filled her
thoughts, and settled upon Raven. He had told her to come to him. He had
ordered it, as if she belonged to him, and there was heavenly sweetness
in that. Tira loved this new aspect of him. She rested in it, as a power
alive to her, protecting her, awake to her well-being. Yet, after that
first glance at Tenney, sitting there with head bent over the stick, she
had not a moment's belief in her right to go. It was sweet to be
commanded, to her own safety, but here before her were the dark
necessities she must share. And suddenly, as she sat there, and the
sense of Raven's protectingness enfolded her and she grew more rested, a
feeling of calmness fell upon her, of something friendly nearer her than
Raven even (though it had seemed to her lately as if nothing could be
more near), and she almost spoke aloud, voicing her surprised delight:
"Why, the Lord Jesus Christ!" But she did not speak the words aloud. She
refrained in time, for fear of disturbing Tenney in some way not wise
for him; but her lips formed them and they comforted her. Then, suddenly
tranquillized and feeling strong, she rose and fed the child and made
some bustling ado, talking about milk and bread, hoping to rouse Tenney
to the thought of food. But he sat there darkly, and by and by she put
the kettle on and, in the most ordinary manner, made tea and spread
their table.

"Come," she said to him. "Supper's ready. We might's well draw up."

He did glance at her then, as if she had surprised him, and she smiled,
to give him confidence. At that time Tira felt all her strength, her
wholesome rude endurance, to the full, and stood tall and steady there
in the room with the two who were her charge and who now, it seemed to
her, needed her equally. Tenney rose with difficulty and stood a moment
to get control of his foot. He walked to the table and was about to sit
down. But suddenly his eyes seemed to be drawn by his hand resting on
the back of the chair. He raised it, turned it palm up and scrutinized
it, and then he looked at the other hand with the same questioning gaze,
and, after a moment, when Tira, reading his mind, felt her heart beating
wildly, he went to the sink and pumped water into the basin. He began to
wash his hands. There was nothing on them, no stain such as his fearful
mind projected, but he washed them furiously and without looking.

"You stop a minute," said Tira quietly. "I'll give you a mite o' hot
water, if you'll wait."

She filled a dipper from the tea kettle, and, tipping the water from his
basin into the sink, mixed hot and cold, trying it solicitously, and
left him to use it.

"There!" she said, standing by the table waiting for him, "you come as
quick's you can. Your tea'll be cold."

So they drank their tea together, and Tira forced herself to eat, and,
from the store of woman's experience within her, knew she ought to urge
him also to hearten himself with meat and bread. But she did not dare.
She could feel the misery of his sick mind. She had always felt it. But
there were reactions, of obstinacy, of rage almost, in the obscurity of
its workings, and these she could not challenge. But she poured him
strong tea, and when he would take no more, got up and cleared the
table. And he kept his place, staring down at his hand. He was studying
it with a look curiously detached, precisely as he had regarded it at
the moment when he seemed to become aware of its invisible stain. Tira,
as she went back and forth about the room, found herself also, by force
of his attitude, glancing at the hand. Almost she expected to find it
red. When her work was done, she sat down by the stove and undressed the
baby, who was fretful still and crying in a way she was thankful to
hear. It made a small commotion in the room. If it irritated Tenney into
waking from his daze, so much the better.

Ten o'clock came, and Tenney had not stirred. When eleven struck she
roused from her doze and saw his head had sunken forward; he was at the
nodding point of sleep. She had been keeping up the fire, and presently
she rose to put in wood, knocking down a stick she had left on the end
of the stove to be reached for noiselessly. He started awake and rose,
pushing back his chair.

"Is that them?" he asked her, with a disordered wildness of mien. "Have
they come?"

By this she knew he expected arrest for what he had done.

"No," she said, in her quietest voice. "Nobody's comin' here to-night. I
dropped a stick o' wood, that's all. Don't you think you better poke off
to bed?"

He did not answer her, but went to the window, put his hands to his face
and peered out. Then he turned, stood a moment looking about the room as
if for some suggestion of refuge, went to the couch, and lay down. Tira
stood for a moment considering. Almost at once, he was asleep. She threw
a shawl over him and went into the bedroom and stretched herself as she
was on the bed.



XL


Raven, to his sorry amusement, discovered something. It was Milly, and
she had changed. Indubitably Milly regarded him with a mixture of wonder
and of awe. He had taken command of the situation in the house and
developed it rationally. The house itself had become a converging point
for all medical science could do for a man hit in a vital spot and
having little chance of recovery. But what Raven knew to be the common
sense of the measures he brought to pass, Milly, in her wildness of
anxiety, looked upon as the miracles of genius. She even conciliated
him, as the poor human conciliates his god. She brought him the burnt
offering of her expressed belief, her humility of admiration. And
whenever one of the family was allowed to supplement the nurses, by day
or night, she effaced herself in favor of Raven or Nan. Raven was the
magician who knew where healing lay. Nan was warmth and coolness, air
and light. Dick's eyes followed Nan and she answered them, comforting,
sustaining him, Raven and Milly fully believed, in his hold on earth.
But as to Milly, Raven had to keep on wondering over her as she wondered
at him. So implicit had been his belief in her acquired equipment for
applying accepted remedies to the mischances of life, that he was amazed
at seeing her devastated, overthrown. She was even less calm than the
women he remembered here in this country neighborhood. When sickness
entered their homes, they were, for the most part, models of efficient
calm. They had reserves of energy. He wondered if Milly had crumbled so
because she had not only to act but to decide how to seem to act. She
had to keep up the wearisome routine of fitting her feelings to her
behavior, her behavior to her feelings. There were not only things to be
done; there were also the social standards of what ought, in crises, to
be felt. She had to satisfy her gods. And she simply wasn't strong
enough. Her hold was broken. She knew it, clutched at him and hung on
him, a dead weight, while he buoyed her up. Were they all, he wondered,
victims of the War? Milly, as she said that night when she came to him
in her stark sincerity while Dick lay unconscious, had given him up
once. She had given him to the War, and done the act with the high
decorum suited to it. And the country had returned him to her. But now,
grotesque, bizarre beyond words, she had to surrender him to a fool
"shooting pa'tridges." For facing a travesty like that, she had no
decorum left.

Dick, too, was the victim of abnormal conditions. He had been summoned
to the great act of sacrifice to save the world, and the call had
challenged him to after judgments he was not ripe enough to meet. It had
beguiled him into a natural sophistry. For had not the world, in its
need, called mightily on the sheer strength and endurance of youth to
slay the dragon of brute strength in her enemies? Youth had done it.
Therefore there was no dragon, whether of the mind or soul, it could not
also slay. His fellows told him so, and because they were his fellows
and spoke the tongue he understood, he believed it with a simple honesty
that was Dick.

As to Nan, she seemed to Raven the one sane thing in a bewildered world;
and for himself: "I'm blest if I believe I'm so dotty, after all," he
mused. "What do you think about it?" And this last he addressed, not to
himself, but to the ever-present intelligence of Old Crow. He kept
testing things by what Old Crow would think. He spoke of him often, as
of a mind active in the universe, but only to Nan. And one night, late
enough in the spring for the sound of running water and a bitterness of
buds in the air, he said it to her when she came down the path to him
where he stood listening to the stillness broken by the ticking of the
season's clock--steady, familiar sounds, that told him winter had broken
and the heart of things was beating on to leaf and bloom. He had, if he
was not actually waiting for her, hoped she would come out, and now he
saw her coming, saw her step back into the hall for a scarf and appear
again, holding it about her shoulders. At last, firm as she was in
spirit, she had changed. She was thinner, with more than the graceful
meagerness of youth, and her eyes looked pathetically large from her
pale face. She had seen Dick go slipping down the slope, and now that
beneficent reactions were drawing him slowly back again, she was feeling
the waste of her own bodily fortitude.

"Where shall we go?" she asked him. "Been to the hut lately?"

No, Raven told her, he hadn't been there for days. They crossed the road
and began the ascent into the woods.

"So you don't know whether she's been there?" Nan asked. She stopped to
breathe in the wood fragrances, coming now like a surprise. She had
almost forgotten "outdoors."

"Yes," said Raven. "I know. Sometimes I fancy she won't need to go there
again. Tenney's a wreck. He sits there in the kitchen and doesn't speak.
He isn't thinking about her. He's thinking of himself."

"How do you know? You haven't been over?"

"Yes, I went over the morning after the shooting. I intended to tell
Tira to get her things on and come down to the house. But when I saw
him--saw them--I couldn't."

"You were sorry for him?" Nan prompted.

They had reached the hut, and Raven took out the key from under the
stone. Close by, there was a velvet fern frond ready to unfurl. He
unlocked the door and they went in. Her last question he did not answer
until he had thrown up windows and brought out chairs to the veranda at
the west. When they were seated, he went on probing for his past
impression and speaking thoughtfully.

"No, I don't know that I was particularly sorry for him. But somehow the
two of them there together, with that poor little devil between
them--well, it seemed to me I couldn't separate them. That's marriage, I
suppose. Anyhow it looked to me like it: something you couldn't undo
because they wouldn't have it undone."

Nan turned on him her old impetuous look.

"You simpleton!" she had it on her tongue to say. "She doesn't want it
undone because anybody that lifts a finger will get you--not her--deeper
into the mire." But she did say: "I don't believe you can even guess
what she wants, chiefly because she doesn't want anything for herself.
But if you didn't ask her to leave him, what did you do?"

"I told him to hold himself ready for arrest."

"You're a funny child," commented Nan. "You warn the criminal and give
him a chance to skip."

"Yes," said Raven unsmilingly. "I hoped he would. I thought I was giving
her one more chance. If he did skip, so much the better for her."

"How did she look?" asked Nan, and then added, tormenting herself,
"Beautiful?"

"Yes, beautiful. Not like an angel, as we've seen her. Like a saint:
haggard, with hungry eyes. I suppose the saints hunger, don't you? And
thirst." He was looking off through the tree boles and Nan, also
looking, found the distance dim and felt the sorrow of youth and spring.
"Everything," said Raven, "seems to be in waves. It has its climax and
goes down. Tenney's reached the climax of his jealousy. Now he's got
himself to think about, and the other thing will go down. Rather a big
price for Dick to pay, to make Tira safe, but he has paid and I fancy
she's safe." He turned to her suddenly. "Milly's very nice to you," he
asserted, half interrogatively.

He saw the corner of her mouth deepen a little as she smiled. Milly had
not, they knew, been always nice.

"Yes," she agreed, "very nice. She gives me all the credit she doesn't
give you about doctors and nurses and radiographs and Dick's hanging on
by his eyelids. She says I've saved him."

"So you have," said Raven. "You've kept his heart up. And now you're
tired, my dear, and I want you to go away."

"To go away?" said Nan. "Where?"

"Anywhere, away from us. We drain you like the deuce."

"No," said Nan, turning from him and speaking half absently, "I can't go
away."

"Why can't you?"

"He'd miss me."

"He'd know why you went."

Her old habit of audacious truth-telling constrained her.

"I should have to write to him," she said. "And I couldn't. I couldn't
keep it up. I can baby him all kinds of ways when he's looking at me
with those big eyes. But I couldn't write him as he'd want me to. I
couldn't, Rookie. It would be a promise."

"Milly thinks you have promised." This he ventured, though against his
judgment.

"No," said Nan. "No, I haven't promised. Do you want me to?"

"I don't know," Raven answered, without a pause, as if he had been
thinking about it interminably. "If it had some red blood in it, if you
were--well, if you loved him, Nan, I should be mighty glad. I'd like to
see you living, up to the top notch, having something you knew was the
only thing on earth you wanted. But these half and half things, these
falterings and doing things because somebody wants us to! God above us!
I've faltered too much myself. I'd rather have made all the mistakes a
man can compass, done it without second thought, than have ridden up to
the wall and refused to take it."

"Do you think of her all the time?" she ventured, in her turn, and
perversely wondered if he would think she meant Tira and not Aunt Anne.

But he knew. "No," he said, "I give you my word she's farther away from
me than she ever was in her life. For a while she was here, at my elbow,
asking me what I was going to do about her Palace of Peace. But
suddenly--I don't know whether it's because my mind has been on
Dick--suddenly I realized she was gone. It's the first time." Here he
stopped, and Nan knew he meant it was the first time since his boyhood
that he had felt definitely free from that delicate tyranny. And being
jealous for him and his dominance over his life, she wondered if another
woman had crowded out the memory of Aunt Anne. Had Tira done it?

"And you haven't decided about the money."

"I've decided," he surprised her by saying at once, "to talk it out with
Anne."

She could only look at him.

"One night," he continued, "when Dick was at his worst, I was there
alone with him, an hour or so, and I was pretty well keyed up. I seemed
to see things in a stark, clear way. Nothing mattered: not even Dick,
though I knew I never loved the boy so much as I did at that minute. I
seemed to see how we're all mixed up together. And the things we do to
help the game along, the futility of them. And suddenly I thought I
wouldn't stand for any futility I could help, and I believe I asked Old
Crow if I wasn't right. 'Would you?' I said. I knew I spoke out loud,
for Dick stirred. I felt a letter in my pocket--it was about the estate,
those bonds, you remember--and I knew I'd got to make up my mind about
Anne's Palace of Peace."

Nan's heart was beating hard. Was he going to follow Aunt Anne's
command, the poor, pitiful letter that seemed so generous to mankind and
was yet so futile in its emotional tyranny?

"And I made up my mind," he said, with the same simplicity of hanging to
the fact and finding no necessity for explaining it, "to get hold of
Anne, put it to her, let her see I meant to be square about it, but it
had got to be as I saw it and not as she did. Really because I'm here
and she isn't."

Her eyes filled with tears, and as she made no effort to restrain them,
they ran over and spilled in her lap. She had thought hard for him, but
never so simply, so sternly as this.

"How do you mean, Rookie," she asked humbly, in some doubt as to her
understanding. "How can you get hold of Aunt Anne?"

"I don't know," said he. "But I've got to. I may not be able to get at
her, but she must be able to get at me. She's got to. She's got to
listen and understand I'm doing my best for her and what she wants. Old
Crow understands me. And when Anne does--why, then I shall feel free."

And while he implied it was freedom from the tyranny of the bequest, she
knew it implied, too, a continued freedom from Aunt Anne. Would he ever
have set his face so fixedly toward that if he had not found Tira? And
what was Tira's silent call to him? Was it of the blood only, because
she was one of those women nature has manacled with the heaviness of the
earth's demands? Strangely, she knew, nature acts, sometimes sending a
woman child into the world with the seeds of life shut in her baby hand,
a wafer for men to taste, a perfume to draw them across mountain and
plain. The woman may be dutiful and sound, and then she suffers
bewildered anguish from its potency; or she may league herself with the
powers of darkness, and then she is a harlot of Babylon or old Rome. And
Tira was good. Whether or not Raven heard the call of her
womanhood--here Nan drew back as from mysteries not hers to touch--he
did feel to the full the extremity of her peril, the pathos of her
helplessness, the spell of her beauty. She was as strong as the earth
because it was the maternal that spoke in her, and all the forces of
nature must guard the maternal, that its purpose may be fulfilled. Tira
could not speak the English language with purity, but this was
immaterial. She was Tira, and as Tira she had innocently laid on Raven
the old, dark magic. Nan was under no illusion as to his present
abandonment of Tira's cause. That he seemed to have accepted the ebbing
of her peril, that he should speak of it with something approaching
indifference, did not mean that he had relaxed his vigilance over her.
He was not thinking of her with any disordered warmth of sympathy. But
he was thinking. Suddenly she spoke, not knowing what she was going to
say, but out of the unconscious part of her:

"Rookie, you don't want anything really, do you, except to stand by and
give us all a boost when we're down?"

Raven considered a moment.

"I don't know," he said, "precisely what I do want. If you told me Old
Crow didn't want anything but giving folks a boost, I'm with you there.
He actually didn't. You can tell from his book."

"I can't seem to bear it," said Nan. She was looking at the darkening
woods and her wet eyes blurred them more than the falling dusk. "It
isn't healthy. It isn't right. I want you to want things like fury, and
I don't know whether I should care so very much if you banged yourself
up pretty well not getting them. And if you actually got them! O Rookie!
I'd be so glad."

"You're a dear child," said Raven, "a darling child."

"That's it," said Nan. "If you didn't think I was a child, perhaps you'd
want me. O Rookie! I wish you wanted me!"

Into Raven's mind flashed the picture of Anne on her knees beside him
saying, in that sharp gasp of her sorrow, "You don't love me." This was
no such thing, yet, in some phase, was life going to repeat itself over
and over in the endless earth journeys he might have to make, futilities
of mismated minds, the outcry of defrauded souls? But at least this
wasn't his cowardly silence on the heel of Anne's gasping cry. He could
be honest here, for this was Nan.

"My darling," he said, "you're nearer to me than anything in this
world--or out of it. Don't you make any mistake about that. And if I
don't want things 'like fury,' as you say, it's a matter of the
calendar, that's all. Dick wants them like fury. So do you. I'm an old
chap, dear. You can't set back the clock."

But he had pushed her away, as his aloofness had pushed Anne. He had
thrown Anne back upon her humiliated self. He had tossed Nan forward
into Dick's generation and hers. But here was the difference. She wasn't
going to cry out, "You don't love me." Instead, she turned to him,
shivering a little and drawing her scarf about her shoulders.

"We'd better go down," she said. "It's getting cold. Dick'll be
wondering."

They got up and Raven set the chairs inside the hut and took his glance
about to see if all was in order: for he did not abandon the unwilling
hope that Tira might sometime come. As they went down the hill the talk
turned to the hylas and the spring, but when they reached the house Nan
did not go in to Dick. She went to her own room and lay down on her bed
and thought passionately of leaving Rookie free. How was it possible?
Could he be free while she was bound? Sometimes of late she had been so
tired that she could conceive of no refuge but wild and reckless outcry.
And what could he think she meant when she said: "I wished you wanted
me"?



XLI


Spring came on fast and Nan, partly to assure Milly she wasn't to be
under foot forever, talked of opening her house and beginning to live
there, for the first time without Aunt Anne. But she predicted it, even
to Milly, with no great interest, and Raven, though he had urged her to
run away from the cloudy weather Milly and Dick made for her, protested
against her living alone. Dick was now strong enough to walk from his
room to the porch, and Raven, watching him, saw in him a greater change
than the languor of low vitality. He had the bright-eyed pallor of the
man knocked down into the abyss and now crawling up a few paces (only a
few, tremulous, hesitating) to get his foothold on the ground again. He
was largely silent, not, it sometimes seemed, from weakness, but the
torpor of a tired mind. He was responsive to their care for him, ready
with the fitting word and look and yet, underneath the good manners of
it all, patently acquiescent.

Then Nan found herself rested, suddenly, in the way of youth. One
morning she got up quite herself again, and wrote her housekeeper to
assemble servants and bring them up, and told Raven he couldn't block
her any longer. She had done it for herself, and she quoted the
over-worked commonplace of the psychological moment. He, also believing
in the moment, refrained from argument and went over to open doors and
windows. He was curiously glad of a word with her house, not so much to
keep up old acquaintance as to ask its unresponsiveness whether it was
going to mean Nan alone for him hence-forth or whether, at a time like
this when he stood interrogating it, Anne Hamilton also stood there, in
her turn interrogating him. Was she there to-day? Everything spoke
mutely of her, the wall-paper she had prized for its ancient quaintness,
the furniture in the lines of grace she loved. At that desk she had sat,
slender figure of the gentlewoman of a time older than her own. Was her
presence so etched in impalpable tracery on the air that he ought to
feel it? Was she aching with defeated hopes because she might almost be
expecting him, not only to remember but even to hear and see? No death
could be more complete than the death of her presence here. He could
not, even by the most remorseful determination, conjure up the living
thought of her. Somehow it had seemed that here at least he might
explain himself to her, feel that he had made himself clear. He did
actually speak to her:

"I can't do it, Anne. Don't you see I can't?"

This was what he had meant when he told Nan he must get hold of her.
What place could be so fortunate as this, full of the broken threads of
her personality? They only needed knitting up by his passionate
challenge, to be Anne. He called upon her, he caught the fluttering
fringes of her presence in his trembling hands. But he could not knit
them up. They broke, they floated away. It seemed, from the dead
unresponsiveness of her house, as if there had never been any Anne. So
he gave it up, and, in extreme dullness of mind, went about opening
windows, and as the breeze idled in and stirred the waiting air and the
sunlight rushed to it, he seemed to be sweeping the last earthly
vestiges of her from the place that had known her best. And at once it
appeared to him that he had done an inexorable, perhaps even a cruel
thing, and he hurried out, leaving the air and sun to be more merciful
than he.

When he went into his own yard he saw Dick sitting under the western
pines, where Raven had set a couple of chairs and had a hammock swung.
Dick had ignored the hammock. He scarcely sat at ease, and Raven had an
idea he was meeting discomfort halfway, with the idea of making himself
fit. He did say a word of thanks for the chairs.

"Only," he added, "don't let it look too sociable. That'll be as bad as
the porch." He laughed a little, and concluded: "I don't mean you, Jack.
You know that, don't you?"

Raven guessed he was allowing himself the indulgence of avoiding his
mother. For now Milly, as he recovered, had struggled hard for her lost
poise and regained it, in a slightly altered form, it is true; but still
she had it pretty well in hand, she was unweariedly attentive to him and
inexorably self-sacrificing in leaving Nan the right of way. Her life
had again become a severely ritualistic social enterprise, but now she
was just far enough lacking in spontaneity to fail in playing her game
as prettily as she used. It was tiring to watch, chiefly because you
could see how it tired her to play.

Raven went down the little foot-path to Dick, and he thought anew how
illness had ravaged him. He had the tired eyes, the hollow cheek of
ineffective youth.

"Hoping you'd come," said Dick. "Now, where's Tenney?"

"Tenney," said Raven, "is at home, so far as I know. I saw him last
night."

"Go up there?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

Raven smiled a little, as if he found himself foolish or at best
incomprehensible.

"Well," he said, "I gave him every chance to skip. I hoped he would.
That would be the simplest way out. But when I found he wasn't going to,
I began to go there every night to let him see I was keeping an eye on
him. I don't go in. I just call him out and we stare over each other's
heads and I inform him you're better or not so well (the probation
dodge, you know) and he never hears me, apparently, and then I go away.
I've got used to doing it. Maybe he's got used to having it done. Maybe
it's a relief to him. I don't know."

"Does he still look like a lunatic at large?"

"More or less. His eyes are less like infuriated shoe buttons, but on
the whole he seems to have quieted a lot."

"You don't suppose," said Dick, "you've put the fear of God into him?"

"Not much. If anybody has, it was you when he saw you topple over and
knew he'd got the wrong man."

"He was laying for you, then," said Dick.

"Why, yes," said Raven. "Tira was there, telling me he'd set up a gun,
and she'd got to the point of letting Nan take her away, when he fired.
What the dickens were you up there for, anyhow?" he ended, not quite
able to deny himself reassurance.

"I'd heard he was out with a gun," said Dick briefly. "Charlotte told
me. And I gathered from your leaving word for Nan that the Tenney woman
was there--at the hut, you know."

"Don't say 'the Tenney woman,'" Raven suggested. "I can't say I feel
much like calling her by his name myself, but 'the Tenney woman' isn't
quite----"

"No," said Dick temperately. "All right, old man, I won't."

"Awfully sorry you got it instead of me," said Raven, apparently without
feeling. He had wanted to say this for a long time. "Wish it had been
the other way round."

"I don't, then," said Dick, gruffly in his turn. "It's been an
eye-opener, the whole business."

"What has?"

"This." He evidently meant his own hurt and the general viewpoint
induced by it. "I'm not going to stay round here, you know," he
continued, presenting this as a proposition he had got to state abruptly
or not at all.

"Why not?"

"I don't believe I could say," Dick temporized, in a way that suggested
he didn't mean to try. "There's Mum, you know. She's going to be at me
again to go in for my degree. Oh, yes, she will, soon as she thinks I
won't come unglued. Well, I don't want it. I simply don't. And I don't
want what she calls a profession: any old thing, you know, so long as
it's a profession. I couldn't go in for that either, Jack. If I do
anything, it's got to be on my own, absolutely on my own. Fact is, I'd
like to go back to France."

"Reconstruction?" Raven suggested, after a minute.

"Maybe. Not that I'm specially valuable. Only it would be something to
get my teeth into."

Was this, too, Raven wondered, an aftermath of the War? Had it shaken
the atoms of his young purpose too far astray for them ever to cohere
again? Dick had had one purpose. Even that didn't seem to be surviving,
in any operative form.

"Writing?" he suggested. "Oxford--and poetry?"

Dick shook his head.

"Well," said Raven, "if it's France then, maybe I'll go with you."

Dick smiled slightly. Did his lip tremble?

"No," he said, at once, as if he'd been waiting for it, "you stay here
and look after Nan."

This gave Raven the slightest opening.

"That's the devil of it," he said, "your leaving Nan."

"Yes," said Dick quietly, his eyes on an orchard tree where an unseen
robin sang, "I'm leaving her."

"She's been devoted to you," Raven ventured.

"Quite so. I've been lying there and seeing----"

He paused and Raven prompted:

"Seeing what?"

Dick finished, with a deeper quiet:

"Seeing her look at you."

Raven, too, stared at the tree where the robin kept up the bright beauty
of his lay. He was conscious, not of any need to combat this finality of
Dick's, but of a sense, more poignant than he could support without
calling on his practiced endurance, of the pity of it, the "tears of
things." Here was youth, its first bitter draught in hand, not recoiling
from it, but taking it with the calmness of the older man who has fewer
years to taste it in. He could not ask the boy to consider, to make no
hasty judgment. Whatever lay behind the words, it was something of a
grave consequence. And Dick himself led the way out of the slough where
they were both caught.

"Curious things come to you," he said, "when you're laid by the heels
and can't do anything but think: I mean, as soon as you get the nerve to
think."

"Such as?"

"Well, poetry, for one thing. When I began to think--and I didn't want
it to be about Nan any more than I could help--I used to have a
temperature, you know--puzzled them, doctor, nurse, all of you. Nan,
that was! I knew it, though the rest of you hadn't the sense. Well, I
made my mind run away from it. I said I'd think about poetry, my long
poem. I'd lie there and say it over to myself, and see if the rest of it
wouldn't come." He laughed a little, though not bitterly. He was frankly
amused. "What do you think? I couldn't even remember the confounded
thing. But I could other things: the verse I despised. Wasn't that the
limit? Omar Khayyám! I lay there and remembered it by the yard."

"That's easy," said Raven. "Nothing like the first impressions. They
stick."

"Evidently," said Dick. "They did stick. And my stuff didn't."

"Is this," Raven ventured, not seeing whether the boy was quivering
under his calm, "a case against the moderns?"

Dick answered promptly, though Raven could only wonder, after all, just
what he meant:

"It's a case against me." He went on, his eyes still on the melodious
orchard converts. It must have been a vagabond robin swaggering there,
really deriding nests, he found so much leisure to sing about them. "I
wanted to say I didn't get you that time when you told me you'd pretty
much done with the world. I though Mum was right: _cafard_, you
remember. But I've swung round into the same rut. It's a rotten system.
I'm done with it."

Raven looked at him in a sudden sharp misery of apprehension. First, Old
Crow, then he, then Dick, one generation following another.

"Don't you go that path, old man," he said. "You'll only lose your way
and have to come back."

"Come back?"

"Yes. Old Crow did. Remember the book. He challenged the whole business,
and then he swung round to adoring it all, the world and Whoever made
it. He didn't understand it a whit better, but he believed, he accepted,
he adored."

"What would you say?" Dick asked curiously, after a moment. "Just what
happened to him?"

"Why, I suppose," said Raven, "in the common phrase, he found God."

They were silent for a time and both of them tried desperately to think
of the vagabond robin. Raven, his mind released by this fascination of
dwelling on Dick apart from any responsibility of talking to him, found
it running here, there, back and forth, over these weeks of their stay
together. It halted, it ran on, it stopped again to consider, but always
it was of Dick and incidentally of himself who didn't matter so much,
but who had to be in it all. Were they at one in this epidemic of world
sickness? As the great explosive forces of destruction and decay seemed
to have released actual germs to attack the physical well-being of
races, had the terrible crashes of spiritual destinies unsettled the
very air of life, poisoned it, drugged it with madness and despair? Was
there a universal disease of the mind, following this wholesale
slaughter, which the human animal hadn't been able really to bear though
it had come to a lull in it, so that now it was, in sheer shrieking
panic, clutching at its various antidotes to keep on living? One
antidote was forgetfulness. They were forgetting the War, some thousands
of decent folk who clearly had meant to remember. A horrible antidote
that, but perhaps they had to take it to save themselves. Too big a
price to pay for living (and such thread-paper lives!) but still there
did seem to be a prejudice in favor of the mere drawing of breath. Maybe
you couldn't blame them, spinning in the sunshine like insects of a day.
Some of the others had to save themselves by the wildness of a new
intoxication. They danced, their spirits danced: a carmagnole it was, a
dance of death, the death of the spirit as he saw it. But maybe, with
this preposterous love of life in them they, too, had to do it. Maybe
you couldn't blame them. He and Dick--they had been like two children,
scared out of their wits, crying out, hitting at each other in the dark.
Youth and age, that was what they had fought about. It had been an
unseemly scrap, a "you're another." Dick had been brought up against
life as it looks when you see it naked, the world--and what a world! No
wonder he swore it was a world such as neither he nor his fellows, like
him aghast, would have made. He would simply have to live some quarter
century to find out what sort of a world he and his fellows did actually
make.

And Raven: Lord! Lord! what was the use of having traveled his own
quarter century along the everlasting road if it didn't make him at
least silent in sheer pity of it: youth singing along to the Dark Tower,
jingling spurs and caracoling nag, something it didn't quite know the
feeling of shut in its nervous hand? What was it shut there? The key,
that was it: the key to the Dark Tower. Youth made no doubt it was the
key, easy to hold, quick to turn, and the gate would fly open and, if
youth judged best, even the walls would fall. And yet, and yet, hasn't
all youth held the key for that borrowed interval and do the walls ever
really fall? But if age doesn't know enough to include youth in its
understanding, as youth (except the poets) couldn't possibly include
age, why then!

"I am," thought Raven, returning to the Charlottian vernacular, "very
small potatoes and few in a hill."

And what was the Dick, the permanent Dick who would remain after a few
more years had stripped him of the merely imitative coloring he caught
from his fellows? Dick talked about "herd madness," and here was he, at
one with his own herd. He piped in verse because a few could sing,
he--but what was the use hammering along on the old dissonance: youth,
age, age, youth. And yet they needn't be dissonant. They weren't always.
There was Nan! But as to Dick, he was simply Dick, a good substratum of
his father, Anthony Powell, in him, a man who had had long views on
trade and commerce and could manage men. And a streak of Raven, not too
much but enough to imagine the great things the Powell streak would show
him how to put his hand to.

Dick had been staring at him, finding him a long way off, and now he
spoke, shyly if still curiously:

"Would you say you'd found God?"

Raven came back; he considered.

"No," he said, at last, "I couldn't say anything of the sort: it sounds
like such awful swank. But I rather stand in with Old Crow. The fact is,
Dick"--it was almost impossible to get this clarified in his own mind to
the point of passing it on--"Old Crow's made me feel somehow--warm. As
if there's a continuity, you know. As if they keep a hand on us, the
generations that have passed. If that's so, we needn't be so infernally
lonesome, now need we?"

"Well," said Dick, "we are pretty much alone."

"But we needn't be," said Raven, painfully sticking to his text,
"because there are the generations. The being loyal to what the
generations tried to build up, what they demand of us. And behind the
whole caboodle of 'em, there's something else, something bigger,
something warmer still. Really, you know, if only as a matter of
convenience, we might call it--God."

A silence came here and he rather forgot Dick in fantastically thinking
how you might have to climb to the shoulders of a man (Old Crow's, for
instance) to make your leap to God. You couldn't do it from the ground.
Dick had taken off his glasses to wipe them and Raven, recalling himself
and glancing up, found his eyes suffused and soft.

"Jackie," said Dick, "you're a great old sport."



XLII


The spring had two voices for Tira, the voice of a fainting hope and the
voice of fear. The days grew so capriciously lovely that her heart tried
a few notes in answer, and she would stand at her door and look off over
the mountain, fancying herself back there on the other side with the
spirit of girlhood in her, drawing her, in spite of dreary
circumstances, to run, to throw herself on the ground by cool violet
banks to dream and wake, all flushed and trembling, and know she must
not tell that dream. But when the dusk came down and the hylas peeped
and the moist air touched her cheek, she would lose courage and her
heart beat miserably in tune with the melancholy of spring. Still, on
the whole, she was coming alive, and no one knew better than she that
life, to be life, must be also a matter of pain. Tenney was leaving her
to a great extent free. He was off now, doing his fencing, and he would
even, returning at noon or night, forget to fall into the exaggerated
limp he kept in reserve to remind her of his grievance. She had not seen
Raven for a long time now, except as he and Nan went by, always looking
at the house, once or twice halting a moment in the road, as if debating
whether they should call. And Tira, when she saw them, from her hiding
behind the curtain, would step to the door and fasten it against them.
She would not answer, she told herself, if they knocked. But they never
did knock. They went on and left her to her chosen loneliness. For an
instant she would be unreasonably hurt, and then smile at herself,
knowing it was she who had denied them.

It was an April morning when the spring so got into her blood that she
began to wish for things. They were simple things she wished for:
chiefly to feel herself active in the air and sun. She wanted to go
away, to tire herself out with motion, and she made up her mind that, if
Tenney went to the long pasture fencing, she would shut the house and
run off with the baby into the woods. The baby was heavy now, but
to-day, in her fullness of strength, his weight was nothing to her. They
might even go over to Mountain Brook by the path "'cross lots" where the
high stepping stones led to the track round the mountain. She loved the
look of the stepping stones in spring when the river swirled about them
and they dared you to cross and then jeered at you because the water
foamed and threatened. She sang a little, finishing her morning tasks,
and Tenney, coming from the barn with his axe, to start on his day's
fencing, heard her sing. Tira, when she saw him, was in such haste to be
off herself that she called to him from the window:

"Here! don't you forget your luncheon. I've got it 'most put up."

He glanced back over his shoulder, and spoke curtly:

"I don't want it. I'm goin' over on the knoll."

Her heart fell. The day was done. She would have to stay and get his
dinner. Even an hour's vagabondage would be impossible, for the knoll
was across the road overlooking the house and he would see her go. All
these weeks she had held herself to a strict routine, so that every
minute could be accounted for. This day only she had meant to break her
habit and run. It was over then. She was bitterly disappointed, as if
this, she thought, smiling a little to herself, was the only day there
was. She might as well wash blankets. She went to the bedroom to slip
off her dress and put on a thick short-sleeved apron: for Tira was not
of those delicate-handed housewives who can wash without splashing. She
dripped, in the process, as if, Tenney used to tell her in the first
days of their marriage, she got in all over. In her bedroom, with the
sweet air on her bare arms and the robins calling and the general tumult
and busy ecstasy outside, she stopped to wonder. Could she take the baby
and slip out by the side door, and come back in time to fry Tenney's ham
for dinner? No, it wouldn't do. He would be in for a drink, or the cow
shut up in the barn with her calf would "loo" and he would wonder if
anything was happening to them. A dozen things might come up to call him
back. She would wash blankets. Then she saw the baby, through the
doorway, sitting where she had put him, on the kitchen rug, and a quick
anger for him possessed her.

"In that hot kitchen," she said aloud, "when there's all outdoors!"

She dragged one of the blankets from the bed, ran out as she was,
bare-armed, bare-necked, and spread it on the grass in front of the
house.

"It's goin' to be washed anyways," she placated the housewifely instinct
within her, and she ran in for the baby and set him on the blanket. One
heart-breaking thing about this baby who was "not right" was that there
were no answers in him. She had tried all the wiles of motherhood to
show him how she loved him, and coax him to respond, not so much in
actual sentience to her as a baby's rejoinder to the world he could see
and touch. He had no answers. But this morning when the sun fell warmly
on him and the breeze stirred his coppery hair, he did, it seemed, hear
for an instant the voice of earth. He put out his fat hands and gurgled
into a laugh. Tira went mad. She was immediately possessed by an
overwhelming desire to hear him laugh again. She called to him, in
little cooing shouts, she stretched out her arms to him, and then, when
he would not be persuaded even to turn his head to her, she began to
dance. Perhaps after the first step she really forgot about him. Perhaps
the mother ecstasy ran into the ecstasy of spring. Perhaps, since she
could not answer the lure of the woods by running to them that morning,
the woods ran to her, the green magic of them, and threw their spell on
her. She hardly saw what was about her, even the child. The cherry tree
in bloom was a great whiteness at her right, the sun was a splendor, the
breeze stirred her hair, and the child's head was a coppery ball she
fixed her eyes upon. And while she waved her arms and danced, Martin,
who had seen her from the road, and left his horse there, was coming
toward her across the grass. Why could she not have seen him stop? Why
was he nothing more than a tree trunk in the woods, standing there while
she flung up her white arms and danced? The earth spirits may know. Pan
might know. They had got Tira that day, released from her winter's
chill. She did not, and still less Martin, his own blood rising with
every pulse.

"Hooray!" he yelled. "That's the talk."

He made a stride and Tira darted back. But it was not she he ran toward.
It was the child. He bent to the baby, caught him up and tossed him
knowingly and the baby, again incredibly, laughed. Tira, taken aback at
the sight of Martin, like a sudden cloud on her day, was arrested, in
her first rush toward him, by the pretty laugh. Her baby in Martin's
hands: that was calamity unspeakable. But the child had laughed. She
would hardly have known what price she would refuse even to the most
desperate of evil spirits that could conjure up that laugh. She stood
there breathless waiting on the moment, afraid of the event yet not
daring to interrupt it, and Martin tossed the baby and the baby laughed
again, as if it were "right." For Martin himself, except as the
instrument of the miracle, she had hardly a thought. It might have been
a hand out of heaven that had caught up the child, a hand from hell. But
the child laughed. Martin, for the interval, was neither malevolent nor
calculating. This was not one of his impish pleasantries. It might have
been in the beginning, but he was enormously flattered at having touched
the spring of that gurgling delight. For this was, he knew, a solemn
baby. He had glanced at it, when he came Tira's way, but only carelessly
and with no idea it was not like all babies. He supposed they began to
take notice sometime, when they got good and ready. Queer little devils!
But he was as vain and eager in his enjoyment of the response to his own
charm as he was prodigal in using it. The spring day had got into his
blood, too, and when he saw Tira dancing, the baby a part of the bright
picture, he had taken the little devil up, with no purpose but somehow
because it seemed natural, and when the child laughed he knew he had
made a hit and kept on, singing now, not a cradle song but a man's song,
something he had not himself thought of since he heard his old
grandmother drone it between smokes, while she sat by the fire and
dreamed of times past. It was something about Malbrook--"gone to the
army"--"hope he never'll come back." And there was Tira now, within the
circle of his fascination, bending a little toward him, her eyes darker
than he had seen them for many a day, her white arms wide, as if she
invited him. He wondered how a woman with her black hair could have a
skin so white; but he never guessed the lovely arms were stretched
toward the child and not to him, and that they would have snatched the
baby but for that amazing laugh. He stopped, breathless more from his
thoughts than his gay exertion, and gave a shout.

"Here!" he cried, to Tira, in a joviality of finding her at one with him
and the day (this first prime day of spring, a day that ought to make a
person shake a leg), "you take him. Fine little chap! Set him on the
ground ag'in an' you an' me'll have a tell."

Tira took the step toward him and lifted her arms for the child. She was
glad the wild game had ended. Martin put the baby into her arms, but
instantly she felt his hands on her elbows, holding her.

"Guess that's the way to git you, ain't it?" he inquired, in jovial good
humor. "You can't scratch with the youngster between us. You can't cut
an' run. By thunder, Tira! you're as handsome as you were that day I see
you first an' followed you home? Remember? You're like"--his quick mind
saw it at a leap--"you're like this cherry tree, all a-bloom."

He bent his head to her arm, almost as white as the cherry bloom and
kissed it. A shadow dropped upon them. It was only a little sailing
cloud but it startled Tira more than the kiss; the look of the day had
changed so suddenly and as if it were changing for them alone. For there
outside was the bright affluence of spring just as it had been but over
them the warning cloud. She glanced about, in the one instant of
darkening, and on the knoll across the road saw what the kind little
cloud might have been sent to tell her. Tenney stood there, a stark
figure, watching them. Her numbness to the presence of Martin who stood
holding her broke in a throb of fear. The instant before, his lips on
her arm had been no more than the touch of a leaf that might have blown
there. She did not even remember it. She lifted her face to his and,
seeing the fear in it, he involuntarily released her and she stepped
away from him.

"You go," she said. "Go quick. He's over there on the knoll. My God!
don't look. Don't you know no better'n to look? He's fencin'. He's got
his axe."

But Martin had looked. He gave a little disconcerted laugh and turned
away.

"So long!" he called back over his shoulder. "Glad the little chap took
to me. Have him out here an' whenever I'm goin' by----"

She did not hear. She had run, as if from nearing danger, into the house
and closed the door behind her. It was warmer even in the few minutes
since she had come out, but she had lost her delight in the open. She
was afraid, and as Martin stepped into his wagon, he wondered why. Tira
was a good, strong, husky girl, a streak of the gypsy in her. Sometimes
in the old days he'd been half afraid of her himself when things didn't
suit, mostly after he got carrying on with some other girl. The way her
eyes opened on a chap! Why didn't she open 'em that way on Tenney? Queer
proposition, a woman was, anyways.

Tira carried the baby into the front room and sat down by the window,
still holding him. She pushed her chair back until the curtain hid her
and, through the narrow strip between curtain and casing, kept her eyes
on Tenney. For several minutes after Martin had driven away, he stood
there, still as a tree. Then the tree came alive. Tenney moved back to
the left, where the fence ran between field and pasture, and she lost
him. But she could not hear his axe. In her anxiety she strained the
child against her until he struggled and gave a fitful cry. She did not
heed the cry. This, her instinct told her, was the only safe place for
him on earth: his mother's arms.

All through the morning she sat there, looking now and then from the
window, and still holding the child. When the clock struck eleven, the
sound awoke her. If she was to get dinner, she must be about it. Was she
to get dinner? Or was she to assume that this day marked the settlement
of the long account? The house itself, still in its morning disorder,
told her the moment had come. The house itself, it seemed to whisper,
could not possibly go on listening to the things it had listened to
through the winter or holding itself against the horror of the more
horrible silence. Who would think of eating on the verge of this last
inevitable settlement? And what would the settlement be? What was
there--she thought over the enemies she had feared. The crutch: that was
gone. She had made sure of that. The gun: but if it were here she
doubted whether Tenney would dare even look at it again, remembering
that night when he washed at the invisible stain on his hands. A quarter
of an hour had gone in these imaginings, and then she did get up, went
into the kitchen, built her fire, and set the table. But as she moved
about the room, she carried the baby with her, working awkwardly against
his weight and putting him down for a minute only at a time and
snatching him up again at an unexpected sound. Once a robin called just
outside the window, a bold bright note; it might have been the vagabond
robin from Raven's orchard who sang about nests but seemed never to
break off singing long enough to find a straw for one. She caught up the
child from the couch and stood breathless, listening. It seemed as if
the robin knew, and somehow, like Martin, felt like laughing at her.

Tenney was there, at a few minutes after twelve, but dinner was not on
time. He came in, washed his hands at the sink and glanced about him.
The table was set, and Tira, at the stove, the child on her hip, was
trying the potatoes. She did not look at him. If he looked strange, it
seemed to her she might not be able to go on.

"I ain't dished up," she said. "I'm kinder late."

Tenney spoke immediately and his voice sounded merely quiet, not, she
reasoned anxiously, as if he tried to make it so, but just--quiet.

"You ain't washed the breakfast dishes neither. Ain't you feelin' well?"

"Yes," said Tira, "well as common. I left 'em, that's all."

"Oh," said Tenney. "Wanted to git at suthin' else."

She turned and looked at him. Yes, he was different, not paler, nor, as
she had seen him, aflame in a livid way, but different.

"Isr'el," she said, "I never knew 'Gene Martin was goin' to stop here. I
knew no more'n the dead."

"Was that him?" asked Tenney indifferently. "I see somebody stopped. I
thought mebbe 'twas the butcher. Then I remembered he comes of a
Wednesday."

That settled it in her mind. The weekly call of the butcher was as fixed
as church on Sunday. Tenney was playing for something, and she
understood. The moment had come. The house and she both knew it. She was
not sorry, and perhaps, though she had been good to it and kept it in
faithful order, the house was not sorry either. Perhaps it would rather
rest and fall into disorder the way Tenney would let it, if he were here
alone. That was it. He had had enough of threats that made him sick with
the reaction of nervous violence. He had had enough of real violence
that recoiled on himself and made him cower under the shadow of the law.
He was going to turn her out of the house, the baby with her. And he did
not seem to be suffering much over it, now he had made up his mind.
Perhaps, now that the scene of the morning--three together in May
sunshine--had confirmed his ugly doubts, he was relieved to wash his
hands of them both. The phrase came into her mind, and that in itself
startled her more than any fear of him. Wash his hands! How pitiful he
had been that night he washed his hands!

They sat down to dinner together, and though Tira could not eat, she
made pretense of being too busy, getting up from the table for this and
that, and brewing herself a cup of tea. Tenney had coffee left over from
breakfast, and when her tea was done she drank it hastily, standing at
the sink where she could spill a part of it unnoticed. And when dinner
was over he went peaceably away to the knoll again, and she hastily set
the house in order while the baby slept.

When Tenney came home he was quite the same, silent but unmoved, and
after milking he took off his boots by the stove and seemed to doze,
while Tira strained the milk and washed her dishes. She was still sure
that she and the child were to go. When would it be? Would the warning
come quickly? She wanted to leave the waiting house in order, the house
that seemed to know so much more about it all than she did. The fire had
gone down in the stove, but though the night was warm, Tenney still sat
by the hearth, huddled now in his chair, as if he wanted the comforting
of that special spot: the idea of the hearthstone, the beneficence of
man's cooking place. Tira's mind was on the night, the warmth of it, the
moist cool breath bringing the hylas' peeping. It made her melancholy as
spring nights always had, even when she was most happy. She thought of
the willows feathering out on the road to her old home, and how the
sight of them against the sky, that and the distant frogs, made her
throat thick with the clamor of a rising fear. The river road was the
one she would take when she was turned out, even if the willows did look
at her as she went by and lay that moist, cool hand of foreboding on her
heart. She had a plan, sprung together like the pieces of a puzzle since
she had known he was to send her away. There was a sawmill over the
other side of the mountain and the men's boarding house. She could get
work there. It would be strange if a woman so strong and capable could
not get work.

Tenney stirred in his chair, roused himself from his huddled posture and
got up. Was he going to tell her now?

"I guess mebbe I'll poke off to bed," he said, in his commonplace manner
of that noon. "I've got to be up bright an' early."

"Ain't you finished on the knoll?" she ventured.

"Yes, or next to it. But I've got quite a number o' jobs to do round
home."

He went up the stairs without a light, carrying his shoes in his hand,
and Tira shivered once, thinking how horrible it was to go so softly in
stockinged feet. She was not afraid of him. Only she did wish his feet
would sound. She did not sleep that night. She brought in the cradle,
put the baby in it, and drew it to the window and there she sat beside
it, the night through, her hand on the broken hood. She had chosen a
high, straight chair, so that she might be too uncomfortable to sleep,
but she had no temptation to drop off. All her nerves were taut, her
senses broad awake. She was ready, she knew, for anything. The night was
peaceful, thrilled by little sounds of stirring life, and the house,
whatever it guessed, had forgotten all about her. Toward three o'clock
she suddenly lost her sense of vitality. She was cold, and so sleepy now
that the thought of bed was an ache of longing. She got up, found
herself stiff and heavy-footed, lifted the child from his cradle and
went into the bedroom with him. There she put him inside the sheets, and
lay down beside him on the outside of the bed. She slept at once, but
almost at once she was recalled. Tenney was standing in the bedroom
door, looking at her.

"Wake up," he was saying, not unkindly. "Wake up."

She came drowsily awake, but before she was fully herself her feet were
on the floor and she was rubbing her heavy eyes. The sun was streaming
in.

"I've blazed the fire an' het me up some coffee," he said, still in that
impersonal way which was so disturbing only because it was not his way.
"I've harnessed up. I'm goin' to the street. You remember where that
Brahma stole her nest? I've got to have two eggs for even dozens."

"Up in the high mow," said Tira. "Right under the beam."

She heard him go out through the shed, and she followed, to the kitchen,
slowly, with the squalid feeling that comes of sleeping in one's day
clothes, and there she found the fire low and his cup and plate on the
bare table. She could see him through the window. There was the horse,
hitched to the staple in the corner of the barn, there was the basket of
eggs on the ground waiting for its even dozens.

"D'you find any?" she called.

He did not answer, and she ran out to the barn and called up to the mow:

"You there? You find any?"

But the barn, in its soft darkness, with a beam of dusty light here and
there, knew nothing about him. He had not climbed to the mow, for the
ladder was on the other side of the barn floor. She lifted it, brought
it over, set it against the hay and climbed. She was broad awake now,
and her taut muscles obeyed and liked it. She stepped on the hay, found
the dark hole old Brahma chose for her secret hoarding place, and put in
her hand, once, twice. Three eggs! Brahma must have thought she was
pretty smart to lay three without having them stolen away from her. Tira
put the eggs carefully in her apron pocket and hurried down the ladder,
and out to the basket waiting on the ground. How many eggs did he want
to make even dozens? Did he tell her? She could not remember. Probably
he had forgotten himself, by now. She sat down on the step and took the
eggs out in her lap, and then began to count and put them back again.
The sun lay on them and they looked pretty to her in their brown
fairness. She liked them, she thought, as she counted, liked all the
farm things, the touch of them, the smell. Even old Charlie, standing
there, smelled of the barn, and that was good, too. Five dozen, that was
it, and one over. She put the extra egg in her pocket, got up and
carried the basket to the wagon, placing it in front where it could sit
safely between Tenney's feet. And at that minute Tenney himself came
round the corner from the front of the house, and the day was so kind
and the sun so warm on her face that it seemed a long time ago she had
thought he meant to send her away, and she called to him:

"You might git a quarter o' tea, the kind they call English breakfast.
An' a half a dozen lemons. It's terrible hard to think up any kind of a
pie these days, 'twixt hay an' grass."

"Tea," said Tenney, as if he were putting it down in his mind. "An'
lemons. You might go out, in a half an hour or so, an' look at that
calf."

He stepped into the wagon, took up the reins and drove away. Tira
watched him out of the yard, and at last she had no suspicion of his
coming back, as he had done so often, to surprise her. He was
somehow--different. He was really gone. She went in, got her breakfast
and ate it, this with more appetite than she had had for many weeks, and
smiled at herself, thinking she was not sleepy yet, but when sleep came
on her it would come like a cloud and smother her. She moved fast about
the kitchen to get her work done before it came, and in perhaps an hour
she remembered Tenney's telling her to have an eye to the calf. She
smiled a little, grateful for even the tiniest impulse to smile, and
told herself she wouldn't go out to look after any calf until she had
looked at somebody else who ought to be awake. She went into the
bedroom, and stopped a choked instant at the strangeness of the bed. The
little coppery head was what she should have seen, but there was only
the straight expanse of quilt, and a pillow, disarranged, lying
crookedly near the top. She snatched up the pillow. There was the little
coppery head. The baby was lying on his back, and over his face,
carefully folded into a square, was her apron, the one Eugene Martin had
torn away from her. The baby was dead.



XLIII


Tenney did not come home until two o'clock. When he drove into the yard
he found Tira there, standing on the step. This was a day of clear
sunlight, like that of yesterday, and the breeze moved her light rings
of hair. Tenney glanced at her once, but, saying nothing, got out and
began to unharness. Tira stood waiting. He led the horse into the barn,
and when he came out and walked toward the house she was still waiting,
a woman without breath even, one might have thought. When he was perhaps
three feet from her she spoke, but in a quiet voice:

"Stop! You stan' right there an' I'll tell you. The doctor's been. I
'phoned him. I told him I overlaid the baby."

"Overlaid?" muttered Tenney, in a puzzled way.

Now a little feeling did manifest itself in her voice, as if he must be
a fool not to have known these tragedies that come to mothers.

"Overlaid," she repeated, with the slightest tinge of scorn. "That's
what women do sometimes, big heavy women! Roll over on the little
creatur's an' lay on 'em so 't they can't breathe. I s'pose they can't
help it, though. They're tired. I told him I done that. He was sorry for
me. I asked him if the crowner'd come, an' I'd have to swear to't, an'
he said no. I was glad o' that, though mebbe it's no worse to swear to
anything than 'tis to say it. He was terrible good to me. I told him
baby'd got to lay over to Mountain Brook, side o' mother, an' he said he
was goin' there an' he'd git one of 'em to dig the little grave. I told
him you're all run down, your foot behavin' so, an' you wouldn't be able
to do nothin', an' I was 'most afraid o' your givin' out, when I told
you. So he's goin' to send the man with the little coffin."

There was no faintest tremor of bitterness or gibing in this. It was the
simplest statement of facts. Tenney had stood perfectly still, but now
he lifted one hand and looked at it casually, as he had that other time.
He made an uncertain step, as if to pass her and enter the house, but
Tira stretched out her arms. They barred the way.

"No," she said, "you ain't comin' in."

"Ain't comin' in?" repeated Tenney.

He looked up at her, but his glance fell at once to the trembling hand.

"No," said Tira, "you ain't comin' into this house ag'in till he's
carried out of it. I've made you up a bed in the lower barn an' I've set
you out suthin' to eat there. Day after to-morrer mornin' the doctor's
comin' over after me an' baby--or send somebody, if he can't come--an'
he's goin' to see to the minister an' all. He was terrible sorry for me.
An' that night, day after to-morrer night, you can come back into the
house; but you can't come before."

She went in and shut the door behind her, and Tenney heard the key turn
sharply in the lock. He stood there several minutes, moistening his dry
lips and looking down at his hands, and then he, too, turned about and
went down to the lower barn, where he found a bed made up and a cold
lunch on a little table. But while he ate he wondered, in an absent
muse, about the bed. It was the old four-poster he had packed away in
the shed chamber. How had she carried the heavy hardwood pieces down,
fitted them together and corded them? He was curious enough to lift the
tick to find out what she had used for cord. Her new clothes-line; and
there was the bed wrench in the corner by the chopping block. It looked
as if, having done with it, she had thrown it there in a wild haste to
get on with these things that must be done before he came. Even then,
with his mind on his hands--not hands, it seemed to him, he could quite
bear to touch food with--he wondered if some man had helped her. Had
Martin been here again, or was it Raven? But, after all, nothing seemed
to matter: only the queer state of his hands. That was the trouble now.

All through the next day he hung about the place, doing the barn work,
milking, taking the milk to the house, but stopping there, for Tira met
him at the door, took the pails from him, and carried them in without a
word. He wondered vaguely whether, having denied him entrance to his own
house, she meant to refuse him food also, but presently she appeared
with a tray: meat and vegetables carefully arranged and the coffee he
depended on. Then she pointed out a wooden box, a little chest that had
lived up in the shed chamber, lifted the lid and bade him note the
folded garments within: he must change to-morrow, and these were his
clean clothes. Occasionally he glanced at her, but he could not see that
she looked very different. She was always pale. Early in the morning of
the third day she appeared with hot water and a basket filled with what
seemed to him at first a queer assortment of odds and ends.

"Here," she said, "here's your shavin' things. I'll set the little
lookin' glass up ag'inst the beam. Here's your razor. I'll fill the mug.
Now, you shave you. If anybody should happen to see you, they'd say
'twa'n't fittin' for a man to have his baird all over his face, day of
his baby's funeral."

The glass, with its picture of a red and blue house and a cedar tree,
she set against a beam, but it escaped her fingers and fell forward and
cracked straight across the little house. She picked it up, balanced it
against the beam and held it, with a frowning care, until it was secure.

"Sign of a death!" she said, as if to herself, but indifferently.
"There! you shave you now, an' then I'll bring you out your breakfast
an' carry in the things."

Tenney shaved before the little mirror with its crack across the house,
and, as if she had been watching him, she appeared at the minute of his
finishing. Now she was carrying a breakfast tray, poising it absorbedly,
with the intentness of a mind on one thing only. It was a good
breakfast, eggs and coffee and bacon, and the thick corn-cake he liked;
also, there was his tin lunch box. She pulled out the little table, set
the tray on it and brought his chair.

"There!" said she. "Now soon as ever you've finished eatin' you take
your luncheon an' your axe an' go over to the long pastur' an' don't you
show your head back here till it's time to fetch the cows. You can bring
'em along with you, an' I'll have the pails out on the step so 't you
can start right off milkin'. An' when you've got through, you fetch the
milk into the house, same as usual."

As she was leaving the barn she turned and the breeze lifted those
little rings of her hair and Tenney, looking full at her now, groaned.
It was not, he felt, any of the other things that had happened to them:
only there was always breeze enough, even on the stillest day, to stir
her hair. Now it seemed to be the only thing in the world with life in
it.

"I shall tell 'em," she said clearly, as if she wanted him to understand
and remember--and she did not look at him, but across the road and up
the slope where the hut stood waiting for her--"the doctor an' all the
rest I've got to see, you was so sick over it, you couldn't come."

Then she stepped out of the picture she had made against the smiling
day, the dark interior of the barn framing her, and walked, with her
free-swinging step, to the house. And Tenney ate his breakfast, took his
luncheon box and axe, and started for the woods. But he had not got out
of the yard when she called to him. He stopped and she came running; she
was no longer pale, and her eyes were rimmed with red. She came up with
him.

"Isr'el," she said, "you think o' this. You think of it all day long.
'I'm goin' through it alone,' you says to yourself mebbe, after you've
got off there into the woods. 'But I ain't alone. He'll be with me, the
Lord Jesus Christ.' An' you remember there's that to think on. An'
there's forgiveness. Isr'el, you lay down your axe. You let me take holt
o' your hand."

He could only stare at her, and she took the axe from his hand and laid
it at their feet. She took his hand and put it to her cheek. Then she
took his other hand and laid that also on her cheek, and murmured a
little formlessly, but in a way he sharply remembered as a means of
stilling the baby. She lifted her head then, smiling a little, and still
holding the hands. But before releasing them she stroked them softly and
said, "There! there! Poor souls," she added, "poor souls!" Did she mean
the unhappy hands, or all souls of men caught in the network of
mysterious life? She picked up his axe and gave it to him as a mother
might dismiss a child who was going to a distasteful task. "There!" she
said again. "Now, you remember." She turned from him, and Tenney went,
head down, to his work.

That afternoon, about three o'clock, Nan was in her garden, busy with
the peony bed. She was dressed in cotton crêpe the color of the soil,
and her cheeks were red, like wild roses, and her ungloved hands also
the color of mould. She was delightfully happy getting into the earth
and the earth into her, and she looked it. Charlotte, coming on her
across the grass, thought her face was like a bloom the rest of her had
somehow made, as the earth was going to make red peonies. That is, I
think Charlotte thought something of this sort, though she would not
have put it in that way. Only she did have a great sense of Nan's entire
harmony with the garden bed and the garden bed with her. Charlotte had
other things on her mind, and she spoke without preamble:

"D'you know what's happened over to Tenney's?"

Nan got up from her knees, and her face was no longer the April-May face
she had bent above the peonies.

"No," she said. "What is it?"

"I see doctor go by this mornin' in his car," said Charlotte, "carryin'
Tira. In a couple of hours they come back. An' then he went by ag'in,
goin' down home. I was on the lookout an' stopped him. I was kind of
uneasy. An' he says: 'Yes, Mis' Tenney's baby's dead. She overlaid it,'
he says. 'They feel terribly about it,' he says. 'Tenney run away from
the services.'"

Nan stood staring. She was thinking not only about the baby and the
Tenneys' feeling terribly--this Charlotte saw--but something farther
behind, thinking back, and thinking keenly.

"I didn't say nothin' to nobody," Charlotte continued, "but the more I
thought on't the more stirred up I got. The baby gone, an' she there all
alone! So I run over. I knocked an' knocked, an' not a sound. Then, as I
was turnin' away, I got a glimpse inside the kitchen winder, an' if
you'll believe me there she set, hat an' all on, an' her hands full o'
daffies. You know them big double daffies always come up in their grass.
Well!"

Nan threw down her trowel.

"I'll go over," she said. "We'll both go."

"What I come for," Charlotte hesitated, as they crossed the grass, "was
whether I better say anything to anybody."

Nan knew she meant Raven.

"No," she said, "Oh, I don't know! We can't tell till we see."

Nan remembered she had not washed the earth off her hands, and yet,
though they were passing her door, she could not stop. When they came in
sight of the house, there was Tira in the doorway. She had taken off her
hat now, and there was no daffies in her hands. She looked so
commonplace, if her height and nobility could ever be less august, that
Nan felt a sudden drop in her own anxiety. Tira called to them.

"Couldn't you come in a minute? I'd be pleased to have you."

They went up the path, and when they stood at the foot of the steps,
confronting her, Nan saw how she had changed. And yet not tragically:
she was merely, one would have said, entirely calm, the stillest thing
in that pageant of the moving day.

"I'd be pleased," she said, "if you'd walk in."

She looked at Nan, and Charlotte at once turned away, saying, as she
went:

"If there's anything--well, I'll be over."

Nan and Tira went in, Nan holding Tira's hand in her earthy one.

"Let's sit here," said Nan, crossing the room to the sofa between the
side windows. She was not sure of anything about this talk except that
she must keep her hand on Tira. She noticed that the double daffies, a
great bunch of them, were lying on the table. Tira was smiling faintly.
She drew a deep breath. It sounded as if she had been holding herself up
to something and had suddenly let go.

"Seems good to set," she said. "I ain't hardly set down to-day
except----" She had it in mind to say except when she was in the car,
carrying the baby over to Mountain Brook, but it seemed too hard a thing
to say.

"If you'd just lie down," said Nan, "I'd sit here."

"No," said Tira, "I can't do that. I'm goin' over to Mountain Brook."

"Not again? Not to-day?"

"Yes, right off. I'm goin' to carry them daffies. He didn't have no
flowers, the baby didn't. I never thought on't--then. But he never had
none. He played with a daffy, 'most the last thing. I've got to git 'em
over there."

"Not to-day, Tira," urged Nan. "You wouldn't get back till after dark."

"I shouldn't come back to-night," said Tira. "The Donnyhills were real
good to me. They come to the grave. They'd admire to have me pass the
night."

"Then," said Nan, "you wait till I go home and wash my hands, and I'll
ask Mr. Raven for his car and you and I'll go over. Just we two."

"No," said Tira. "'Twouldn't do me no good to ride. When I've got
anything on my mind I can't do better'n walk it off. You let me be!"

The last was a sharp, sudden cry, like the recoil from an unlooked-for
hurt.

"I see," said Nan. "Yes, you must walk. I should want to, myself. But in
the morning, Tira--mayn't I come over after you?"

Tira considered, her eyes on Nan's hand and her own clasped, lying on
Nan's knee.

"Yes," she said, "you better. You come to the Donnyhills'. Yes, you
come."

Then she considered again, and began one of her slow, difficult
meanderings, where the quickness of her heart and brain ran ahead of her
tongue's art to interpret them.

"Seems if you knew," she said, "'most everything that's gone on."

"Yes," said Nan, at a venture, and yet truthfully. "I think I've known."

"An' now it's come to an end," said Tira. "Or if it ain't, it's on the
way to it. An' seems if you ought to know the whole. You're tough enough
to stan' up to 't."

"Yes," said Nan simply, "I'm very tough. Nothing's going to hurt me."

"I bring," said Tira, still with difficulty, "bad luck. Some folks do.
Folks set by me a spell. Then they stop. They think I'm goin' to be
suthin' they'd do 'most anything for, an' then they seem to feel as if I
wa'n't. An' there's no"--she sought for a word here and came out
blunderingly--"no peace nor rest. Nor for me, neither. I ain't had peace
nor rest. Except"--here she paused again and ended gravely, and not this
time inadequately--"in him."

Nan understood. She was grave in her answer.

"Mr. Raven," she said. "I know."

The color flowed into Tira's face and she looked at Nan, with her
jewel-like eyes.

"I'm goin' to tell you," she said, "the whole story. He's like--my God.
Anything I could do for him--'twould be nothin'. Anything he asked of
me----"

Here the light faded out from her face and the flesh of it had that
curious look of curdling, as if with muscular horror.

"But," she said, "here 'tis. S'pose it come on him, that--that"--she
threw back her head in despair over her poverty of words--"s'pose it
made him like----Oh, I tell you there's suthin' queer about me, there's
suthin' wrong. It ain't that I look different from other folks. I ain't
ever meant to act different. I swear to my God I've acted like a decent
woman--an' a decent girl--an' when I was little I never even had a
thought! You tell me. You'd know."

Nan felt the hand on hers tighten. She put her other hand over it, and
thought. What could she tell her? These matters were too deep in the
causes of things for man to have caught a glimpse of them, except now
and then darkly through some poet's mind. There was one word that, to a
poet's mind only, might have illumined the darkness if only for an
instant: beauty, that was the word. Mankind could not look on beauty
such as this and not desire, for a moment at least, to possess it
utterly. But these things belonged to the dark places where brute nature
wrought her spells. And there were other beauties, other enchantments,
and of these, what could Tira, her mind moulded by the brutal influences
of her life, see, except as dreams of her own, not as having wholesome
correspondences in the mind of man? Could she guess what the appeal of
her loveliness would meet in Raven? Fastidious standards, pride of
honor, pride of race. The jungle, in itself, was as hateful to him as it
could be to her, who had been dragged through its fetid undergrowth with
a violence that had cut indelible marks into her. But for him, Raven--as
Nan believed she knew him and as Tira, her striving mind obscured by the
veil of her remembered past, could never know--hadn't the jungle
something for him beyond choking savors and fierce destructive poisons?
Didn't he know that even that miasma nourished wholesome virtues,
strength, abstinence, infinite compassion, if you crossed the horrible
expanse to the clear air beyond? Tira, fair as her mind was in its
untouched integrity, hated the jungle, but it was a part of the wrong
life had done her that she could not, highly as she worshiped Raven,
keep herself from seeing his kinship to the natural earth as Martin's
kinship with it, Tenney's--all the beasts who had desired her. How to
tell her that? How to tell her that although it was most loving of her
to save Raven from the curse she believed to be upon all men, he would
save himself?

"They think," Tira continued, in a voice rough enough to hurt the ear,
"there's suthin' about me--different. An' they feel as if, if they owned
me body an' soul they'd be--I dunno what they'd be."

"They think they'd be gods," Nan's mind supplied. "You are beauty, Tira.
You are the cup. They think if they could drink of you they would never
thirst again."

"An' now," said Tira, "s'pose a man like--like him--s'pose it looked to
him some minute he never'd so much as expected--s'pose it looked to him
as if he'd be made if he owned me body an' soul. Well! That's easy, you
say. If I love him, what's my body an' what's my soul? Offer 'em to him,
quick. An' wouldn't I, if that was all? Wouldn't I?"

She called it sharply, in an angry challenge.

"Yes," said Nan quietly, "I know you would."

"Well," said Tira, "what then? It wouldn't be any more"--her eyes,
glancing here and there in troubled search for help in her impossible
task of speech--"like them daffies over there. 'Twould be--mud."

This, though it did not satisfy her, carried an ineffable loathing, the
loathing that had its seed in the pathway of her difficult life.

"Now," she said, "you set by him, don't you?"

"Yes," said Nan.

"If 'twas your body an' soul, they'd be nothin' to you if he needed
'em."

"Nothing."

"An' you're goin' to stan' by him, an' if you marry away from him----"

"Never mind that," said Nan. "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you," said Tira, "to see what I mean. An' I want you to tell it
or not to tell it, as it seems best. An' if ever the time comes, when
it'll do him good to know I run away from him because he was my life an'
my soul an' my God, you tell him. An' if it ain't best for him to know,
you let it rest betwixt you an' me."

"But, Tira," said Nan, "you're coming back?"

Tira considered.

"You see," she answered finally, "I've got my walkin' papers, as you
might say. The baby's gone. 'Twas the baby that made trouble betwixt his
father an' me. An' now there won't be no reason for my hidin' in the
shack up there or even passin' the time o' day with you, either of you.
An' that's a kind of a runnin' away, ain't it? Shouldn't you call it
runnin' away?"

She smiled dimly, and Nan said:

"Yes. But I shall come over to the Donnyhills' to-morrow."

"Yes," said Tira, "so do. Now I'd better go."

They got up and Nan put her hands on Tira's shoulders--and one hand was
numb from that iron clasp--and stood looking at her. Nan was not a
kissing woman, but she considered whether she should kiss her, to show
she loved her. She thought not. Tira's body had so revolted against
life, the life of the earth that had grown up into a jungle, that it
would be kinder to leave it inviolate even by a touch.

"Don't you want to change your mind?" Nan asked. "Mayn't I get the car?
It's seven long miles, Tira."

"Not the way I'm goin'," said Tira. There was a little smile at the
corners of her mouth. It was a kind smile, a mother smile. She meant to
leave Nan reassured. "I go 'cross lots, by old Moosewood's steppin'
stones."

Nan withdrew her hands and thought absently how thin Tira's shoulders
were under her dress. She was like a ship, built for endurance and
speed, but with all her loveliness in the beauty of bare line. Tira put
on her hat and took up her daffodils and followed, out at the front door
and down the path. Nan looked back.

"You've left the door open," said she. "Don't you want to lock up?"

"No," said Tira, "he'll see to it."

At the gate they parted, with a little smile from Tira, the kind that so
strangely changed her into something more childlike than her youth.

"You come," she said, "in the mornin'. I shall be there, an' glad enough
to have you."

She turned away and broke at once into her easy stride. Nan stood a
minute watching her. Then something came up in her, a surge of human
love, the pity of it all--Tira, Raven, the world, and perhaps a little
of it Nan--and she ran after her. The tears were splashing down her face
and blurring the bright day.

"Tira!" she called, and, as she came up with her, "darling Tira!"

"Why," said Tira, "you're cryin'! Don't you cry, darlin'. I never so
much as thought I'd make you cry."

They put their arms about each other and their cheeks were together, wet
with Nan's tears, and then--Nan thought afterward it was Tira who did
it--they kissed, and loosed each other and were parted. Nan went home
shaken, trembling, the tears unquenchably coming, and now she did not
turn to look.



XLIV


Nan was very tired. She went to bed soon after dark and slept deeply.
But she woke with the first dawn, roused into a full activity of mind
that in itself startled her. There was the robin outside her window--was
it still that one robin who had nothing to do but show you how bravely
he could sing?--and she had an irritated feeling he had tried to call
her. Her room was on the east and the dawn was still gray. She lay
looking at it a minute perhaps after her eyes came open: frightened,
that was it, frightened. Things seemed to have been battering at her
brain in the night, and all the windows of her mind had been closed, the
shutters fast, and they could not get in. But now the light was coming
and they kept on battering. And whatever they wanted, she was
frightened, too frightened to give herself the panic of thinking it
over, finding out what she was frightened about; but she got up and
hurried through her dressing, left a line on her pillow for the maid and
went downstairs, out into a dewy morning. She had taken her coat, her
motor cap and gloves. Once in the road she started to run, and then
remembered she must not pass Tenney's running, as if the world were
afire, as things were in her mind. But she did walk rapidly, and
glancing up when she was opposite the house, saw the front door open as
Tira had left it, and a figure in one of the back rooms outlined against
the window of the front one where she and Tira had sat. That would be
Tenney. He must be accounting to himself for the lonesome house, though
indeed Tira would have left some word for him. When she went up the path
to Raven's door she was praying to the little imps of luck that Amelia
might not be the first to hear her. She tapped softly, once, twice, and
then Raven's screen came up and he looked down at her. They spoke a word
each.

"Hurry," said Nan.

"Wait," he answered, and put down the screen.

When he came out, Nan met him on the top step where she had been
sitting, trying harder still not to be frightened. But he, too, was
frightened, she saw, and that this, to him also, meant Tira.

"Get your coat," she said. "She's gone. Over to Mountain Brook."

Raven's face did not alter from its set attention.

"Yes," said Nan, "the car. I'll tell you the rest of it on the way."

He got his coat and cap, and they went down to the garage together.
Shortly, they were slipping out of the yard, and she, with one oblique
glance, saw Amelia at a window in her nightie, and forgot to be
frightened for the instant while she thought Amelia would be accounting
for this as one of her tricks and compressing her lips and honorably
saying nothing to Dick about it. Raven turned down the road and Nan
wondered if she had even spoken the name of Mountain Brook.

"Let her out," said she.

Raven did let her out. He settled himself to his driving, and still he
had not questioned her. Nan turned her face to him and spoke incisively
against the wind of their going:

"The baby died. Tira lay on it in her sleep. That was Monday. It was
buried yesterday. At Mountain Brook. Tira went back to Mountain Brook
yesterday afternoon, to carry the baby some flowers"--the moment she
said this she saw how silly it was and wondered why she had not seen it,
why she had been such a fool as not to be frightened sooner. "She said
she would spend the night with those Donnyhills." But had Tira thrown in
the Donnyhills to keep Nan from being frightened?

Raven gave no sign of having heard. They were speeding. The east behind
them was a line of light, and the mists were clearing away. When they
turned into the narrow river road, the gray seemed to be there waiting
for them, for this was the gorge with the steep cliff on one side and
the river on the other, always dark, even at midday, with moss patches
on the cliffs and small streams escaping from their fissures and
tumbling: always the sound of falling water.

"The Donnyhills?" Raven asked. "Don't I remember them? Sort of gypsy
tribe, shif'less."

"Yes, that's it. She must have known them when she lived over there,
before she married."

"That's where we go, is it?"

"No," said Nan, and now she wondered if she could keep her voice from
getting away from her. "Stop where the cross cut comes out! Old
Moosewood's stepping stones. She was going to cross by them, where old
Moosewood----" There she stopped, to get a hand on herself, knowing she
was going to tell him, who knew it before she was born, the story of
Moosewood, the Indian, found there dead.

If the stab of her disclosures drew blood from Raven she could not have
told. The road was narrower still, and rougher. Nan had forgotten where
the stepping stones came out. He was slackening now. She knew the curve
and the point where the cliff broke on the left, for the little path
that continued the cross cut on the other side of the road. He got out
without a glance at her, stepped to the water side of the roadway, and
she followed him. And it was exactly what her fear had wakened her to
say. There was no sign of Tira, but, grotesquely, her hat was lying on
one of the stepping stones, as if she had reckoned upon its telling
them. Raven ran down the path and into the shallow water near the bank,
and again Nan followed him, and, at the edge of the water, stopped and
waited. When the water was above his waist, he stooped, put down his
arms and brought up something that, against the unwilling river, took
all his strength. And this was Tira. He came in shore, carrying her, and
walking with difficulty, and Nan ran up the bank before him. He laid
Tira's body on the ground, and stood for an instant getting his breath,
not looking at her, not looking at Nan.

"It's over," he said then quietly. "It's been over for hours." That was
the instant of reaction, and he shook himself free of it. "Where do they
live?" he asked Nan brusquely. "Yes, I know. We'll take her there. I'll
hold her. You drive."

He lifted Tira again, put her into the car as if a touch might hurt her,
and sat there holding her, waiting for Nan. And Nan got in and drove on
to the Donnyhills'.

All that forenoon was a madness of haste and strangeness. It is as well
to look at it through the eyes of Nan, for Raven, though he seemed like
himself and was a model of crisp action, had no thoughts at all. To Nan
it was a long interval from the moment of stopping before the little
gray Donnyhill house (and rousing more squalid Donnyhills than you would
have imagined in an underground burrow of wintering animals), through
indignities they had to show Tira's body, the hopeless effort of rousing
it again to its abjured relations with an unfriendly world. And while
they worked on the tenant-less body, the Donnyhill boy, a giant with a
gentle face, said he could drive, and was sent with Raven's car to the
farmer who had a telephone, and the doctor came and Nan heard herself
explaining to him that she woke up worried over Tira, because Tira had
spoken of the stepping stones. The doctor shook his head over it all.
The woman had been almost beside herself after the child's death.
Perfectly quiet about it, too. But that was the kind. Nan didn't think
she had any intention--any design?--and Nan hastened to say Tira had
told why she was going, told it quite simply. She had forgotten to give
the child any flowers. Of course, that did show how wrought up she was.
And there were the stepping stones. They were always tricky. Here the
doctor brought up old Moosewood, and said there were queer things. When
you came to think of it, New England's a queer place. Suicide? No!
Inquest? No! He guessed he knew. Then he went away and promised to send
the other man who would be the last to meddle with the body of Tira.

The Donnyhill house was still, for all the children, with consolatory
chunks of bread in hand, had been sent off into the spacious playing
places about them. Mrs. Donnyhill, who looked like a weather-worn gypsy,
went about muttering to herself passionately sorrowful lamentations:
"God help us! poor creatur'! poor soul!" and she and Nan bathed Tira's
body--somehow they were glad to wash off the river water--and put on it
a set of clothes Nan suspected of being Mrs. Donnyhill's only decent
wear. For the folded garments were all by themselves in the bedroom
bureau, and it was true that the women in this region had forethought
for a set to be buried in. When this was over and before the coming of
the other man who was to have rights over Tira's body, Mrs. Donnyhill
remembered Raven and Nan might not have breakfasted, and gave them bread
and strong tea--brewed over night, it seemed to have been. They ate and
drank, and she moved about tucking children's tyers and sweaters into
holes of concealment and making her house fitting for Tira's majesty,
all the time muttering her pleas to God.

About noon, when Tira was lying in the front room, in her solitude, no
more to be touched until she was put into her coffin, Raven came in from
his steady walk up and down before the house and went to Nan, where she
sat by the window in the other front room. The strength had gone out of
her. She sat up straight and strong, but her lips were ashen. As they
confronted each other, each saw chiefly great weariness. Raven's face,
Nan thought, was like a mask. It was grave, it was intent, but it did
not really show that he felt anything beyond the general seriousness of
the moment.

"Get your things," he said to her. "We'll go back. Tenney's got to be
told, and I suppose Charlotte or somebody will have to do something to
his house."

They both knew the strange commotion attendant here on funerals.
Sometimes houses were upturned from top to bottom and cleaned, even to
the paint. Nan put out a hand and touched his arm.

"Don't do that, Rookie," she said, "don't take her back there. She
mustn't go into that house again. She wouldn't want it."

Raven considered a moment. His face did not lose its mask-like calm.

"No," he said then, "she mustn't. She must come to my house--or yours."

"No," said Nan again, still keeping her hand on his arm, and aching so
with pity that she was humbly grateful to him for letting her touch his
sleeve, "she mustn't do that either. It would be queer, Rookie. It would
'make talk.' She wouldn't like that. Don't you see?"

He did see. He gave a concurring motion of the head and was turning away
from her, but Nan rose and, still with her hand on his arm, detained
him.

"We'll leave her here," she said. "That woman--she's darling. We can
make up to her afterward. But you mustn't appear in it again, except to
tell Tenney, if you'd rather. Though I could do that. Now, let's go."

He was ready. But when he had reached the little entry between this room
and the one where Tira's body lay, she ran to him.

"Rookie," she said, "Mrs. Donnyhill's out there with the children. Don't
you want to go in and see Tira?"

Raven stood for a minute, considering. Then he crossed the entry and
Nan, finding he could not, for some reason, put his hand on the latch,
opened the door for him, and he went in. But only a step. He stood
there, his eyes on the poor bed where Tira lay, and then, as if he were
leaving a presence, he stepped back into the entry, and Nan understood
that he was not even carrying with him the memory of her great majesty
of beauty. She thought she understood. Even Tira's face was to be left
covered. She was to be inviolate from the eyes of men. In a few minutes
he had brought round the car, Nan had arranged things with Mrs.
Donnyhill, and they drove out into the day--blazing now, like
midsummer--and so home. And all the way they did not speak, until,
passing Tenney's, the door open and the house with a strange look of
being asleep in the sun, Nan said:

"Leave me here. I'll see him and then go on."

Raven did not answer. He drove past, to her own gate, and Nan,
understanding she was not to move further in any direction, got out.
Raven, perhaps feeling his silence had been unmerciful to her, spoke
quietly:

"Run and get a bath and a sleep. I'll see him. I'll come for you if
you're needed."

He turned the car and drove back, and Nan went in to her waiting house.
Raven stopped before Tenney's and, since the front door was open, halted
there and knocked. No answer. Then he went round to the side door and
knocked again, and called out several times, and the sound of his voice
brought back to him, like a sickness, the memory of Tenney's catamount
yell when he had heard it that day in the woods. No answer. The house
was asleep and a calf blared from the barn. He went back to the car,
drove home, and found Jerry waiting in the yard and Charlotte at the
door. Dick was in his chair down under the trees, his mother beside him,
reading. It was so unusual to see Amelia there that Raven wondered
idly--not that it mattered--he could meet a regiment of Amelias with
this callousness upon him--if Dick had beguiled her away so that she
might not pounce on him when he returned. He got out of the car stiffly.
He was, he felt at that instant, an old man. But if physical ineptitude
meant age, Jerry and Charlotte were also old, for Jerry was bewildered
beyond the possibility of speech and Charlotte shaken out of her calm.

"You come into the kitchen," she said, and Raven followed her, and sank
into a chair, set his elbows on the table, and leaned his head in his
hands. He was very tired, but Mrs. Donnyhill's boiled tea was inexorably
keeping him up. Charlotte, standing above him, put her hand on his
shoulder.

"Johnnie," she said, "Isr'el Tenney's been here. He wants you to give
him back his gun."

"Oh," said Raven, taking his head out of his hands and sitting up. "His
gun?"

"He says," Charlotte continued, her voice shaking, "Tira's run away. I
told him the last I see o' Tira was yesterday afternoon standin' in her
own door, an' he asked if she had her things on an' I didn't know what
to say. An' he said somebody down the road said you went by 'fore light,
drivin' like blazes. An' you had a woman in the car. An' Tira'd run
away."

Raven was looking up at her, a little smile on his lips, but in his eyes
such strange things that Charlotte caught his head to her and held it
against her breast.

"Yes," he said, "yes, Charlotte, Tira has run away. She went yesterday,
over to Mountain Brook. She tried to cross the stepping stones. She's
over at the Donnyhills' now. She's going to stay there till she's
buried. I'll go and tell him. Where do you think he is?"

Charlotte still held his head against her warm heart.

"You don't s'pose," she whispered, "you don't believe she done _that_?"

"What?" he answered, and then her meaning came to him as his first hint
of what Tira might have done. He drew himself away from the kind hand
and sat up straight. "No," he said sharply. "It was an accident. She
never meant"--it had come upon him that this was what she had meant and
what she had done. But it must not be told of her, even to Nan. "Where's
Tenney?" he said. "Where do you think he is?"

Charlotte hesitated.

"He's up there," she said, after a moment while Raven waited, "up to the
hut. He said he's goin' to git his gun out o' there if he had to break
an' enter. He said he see it through the winder not two days ago. An'
Jerry hollered after him if he laid hand to your property he'd have the
law on him. Jerry was follerin' on after him, but you went by in the car
an' I called on him to stop. O Johnnie, don't you go up there, or you
let Jerry an' me go with you. If ever a man was crazed, that man's
Isr'el Tenney, an' if you go up there an' stir him up!"

"Nonsense!" said Raven, in his old kind tone toward her, and Charlotte
gave a little sob of relief at hearing it again. "I've got to see him
and tell him what I've told you. You and Jerry stay where you are.
Tenney's not dangerous. Except to her," he added bitterly to himself, as
he left the house. "And a child in its cradle. My God! he was dangerous
to her!" And Charlotte, watching from the window, saw him go striding
across the road and up the hill.

Raven, halfway up, began to hear an unexpected sound: blows, loud and
regular, wood on wood. When he had passed the turning by the three firs
he knew, really before his eyes confirmed it. Tenney was there at the
hut, and he had a short but moderately large tree trunk--almost heavier
than he could manage--and was using it as a battering ram. He was
breaking down the door. Raven, striding on, shouted, but he was close at
hand before Tenney was aware of him and turned, breathless, letting the
log fall. He had actually not heard, and Raven's presence seemed to take
him aback. Yet he was in no sense balked of his purpose. He faced about,
breathless from his lifting and ramming, and Raven saw how intense was
the passion in him: witnessed by the whiteness of his face, the burning
of his eyes.

"I come up here," said Tenney, "after my gun. You can git it for me an'
save your door."

Raven paid no attention to this.

"You'd better come along down," he said. "We'll stop at my house and
talk things over."

This he offered in that futile effort the herald of bad news inevitably
makes, to approach it slowly.

"Then," said Tenney, "you hand me out my gun. I don't leave here till I
have my gun."

"Tenney," said Raven, "I've got bad news for you."

"Yes," said Tenney blankly. "She's run away. You carried her off this
mornin'. You don't need to tell me that."

"I didn't carry her off," said Raven, speaking slowly and clearly, for
he had a feeling that Tenney was somehow deaf to him. "Tira went over to
Mountain Brook yesterday. Nan knew she was going, and this morning she
was worried, because she got thinking of Tira's crossing the stepping
stones. She asked me to take her over there. We found her. She was
drowned."

Tenney's eyes had shifted from Raven's face. The light had gone out of
them, and they clung blankly to the tree spaces and the distance.

"Have it your own way," said Tenney, in as blank a tone. "Settle it
amongst ye."

"We shall go over to-morrow," said Raven. "Will you go with us?"

"No," said Tenney.

"Drownded herself," he said, at length. "Well, that's where it led to.
It's all led to that."

"She slipped," said Raven roughly. "Don't you understand? Anybody could,
off those wet stones."

"You open that door," said Tenney, "an' gimme my gun."

But Raven went on talking to him, telling him quietly and reasonably
what they had judged it best to do, he and Nan. If Tira had wanted the
baby buried over there by her mother, wouldn't she want to be buried
there herself?

"Very well, then. We'll arrange things. The day after"--he could not
bring himself to put the bare ceremonial that would see her out of the
world into the words familiar to the country ear--"that will be the day.
We shall go over. We'll take you with us."

"No," said Tenney, "you needn't trouble yourselves. I sha'n't go over
there. Nor I sha'n't keep nobody else from goin'."

By this Raven judged he meant that he would not interfere with their
seeing Tira out of the world in their own way. The man had repudiated
her. It was a relief. It seemed to leave her, in her great freedom, the
more free.

"Come down now," said Raven, "to my house. We'll have something to eat."

That was all he could think of, to keep the stricken creature within
sound of human voices.

"I ain't hungry," said Tenney. "An' if I was"--here he stopped an
instant and a spasm shot across his face--"she left me cooked up."

"All right," said Raven. "Then you go home now, and later in the day
I'll come over and see if you've thought of anything else."

He believed the man should not, in his despairing frame of mind, be left
alone. Tenney turned, without a look at him, and went off down the
slope. Raven watched him round the curve. Then he took out the key from
under the stone, remembering it need never be put there again, went in
and locked the door. Suddenly he felt deadly sick. He went to the couch,
lay down and closed his eyes on the blackness before them. If he had a
wish, in this infinitude of desolation, it was that he might never open
them again on the dark defiles of this world. It was dusk when he did
open them, and for a minute he had difficulty in remembering why he was
there and the blow that had struck him down to such a quivering
apprehension of what was coming next. Then, before he quite found out,
he learned what had waked him. There was a voice outside--Tenney's
voice, only not Tenney's as he had known it--whimpering, begging in a
wild humility:

"You there? You let me in. You there? For God's sake let me in."

Raven was at once clearly awake. His mind was, after its interlude of
darkness, ready. He got up, and opened the door.

"Come in," he said. "Yes, leave the door open. I've been asleep. It's
close in here."

Tenney came in, not so much limping as stumbling. He seemed to be
shorter in stature. His head was bent, his body had sagged together as
if not a muscle of it had strength to do its part. Raven pulled forward
a chair, and he sank into it.

"What do you s'pose," he began--and the voice was so nearly a whimper
that Raven was not surprised to see tears on his cheeks--"what do you
s'pose I wanted my gun for? To use on you? Or him? No. On me. But I
don't know now as I've got the strength to use it. I'm done."

This was his remorse for the past as he had made it, and Raven had no
triumph in it, only a sickness of distaste for the man's suffering and a
frank hatred of having to meet it with him.

"You know," said Tenney, looking up at him, sharply now, as if to
ascertain how much he knew, "she didn't do it. The baby wa'n't overlaid.
God! did anybody believe she could do a thing like that? She slep' like
a cat for fear suthin' would happen to him."

"What," asked Raven, in horror of what he felt was coming, and yet
obliged to hear, "what did happen to him?"

Tenney stretched out his hands. He was looking at them, not at Raven.

"I can't git it out o' my head," he continued, in a broken whisper,
"there's suthin' on 'em. You don't see nothin', do you? They look to
me----"

There he stopped, and Raven was glad he did not venture the word. What
had Raven to say to him? There seemed not to be anything in the language
of man, to say. But Tenney came alive. He was shaking with a great
eagerness.

"I tell you," he said, "a man don't know what to do. There was
that--that--what I done it to--he wa'n't mine."

He looked at Raven in a hunger of supplication. He was almost dying to
be denied.

"Yes," said Raven steadily. "He was yours."

"How do you know?" shrieked Tenney, as if he had caught him. "She talk
things over?"

Raven considered. What could he say to him?

"Tenney," he said at last, "you haven't understood. You haven't seen her
as she was, the best woman, the most beautiful----"

Here he stopped, and Tenney threw in angrily, as if it were a part of
his quarrel with her:

"She was likely enough. But what made her," he continued violently,
"what made her let a man feel as if her mind was somewheres else? Where
was her mind?"

That was it, Raven told himself. Beauty! it promised ineffable things,
even to these eyes of jealous greed, and it could not fulfil the promise
because everything it whispered of lay in the upper heavens, not on
earth. But Tenney would not have heard the answer even if Raven could
have made it. He was broken. He bent his head into his hands and sobbed
aloud.

"Good? 'Course she was good. Don't I know it? An' she's gone. An'
me--what be I goin' to do?"

Somehow Raven understood that he was not thinking of his desolate house
and lonesome mind, but of himself in relation to the law he had broken
and the woman's heart, broken, too. Grotesquely almost, came to his mind
Tira's grave reminder: "He's a very religious man." And Tenney seemed to
have come, by some path of his own, round to the same thing.

"If there was a God----"

"Oh, yes," Raven threw in, moved by some power outside himself, "there
is a God."

"If there was," said Tenney, "he couldn't forgive me no more'n He could
Cain. There's _that_ on my hands. When there's that----"

He stopped before the vision of the man God had scourged into exile for
the shedding of blood. To Raven there was suddenly a presence beside
them: not a Holy Presence, such as they might well have invoked, but Old
Crow. And he remembered how Old Crow had eased the mind of Billy Jones.

"Tenney," he said, "don't you remember what Tira believed in? She
believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. She believed He could forgive sins."

"Do you believe it?" Tenney hurled at him. "Can He forgive--that?"

Again he stretched out his hands.

"Yes," said Raven. "He can forgive that."

"An' I be," Tenney continued, in his scriptural phrasing, "whiter than
snow?"

Raven found himself halting. There were, behind this vision of the
symbol by which God made Himself manifest to man, reserves of strict
integrities.

"Tenney," he said, "you've killed a child. Your child. You're a
criminal. The only thing you can do to get back among men is to give
yourself up. To the law. And take your medicine."

"O my God!" cried Tenney. "Tell it? Tell that? Bring it up afore judge
an' jury how I thought----"

"Don't tell me what you thought," said Raven sharply. "You've said it
once. You were crazy, and you killed your child."

"An' what if----" he began, and Raven finished for him:

"What if they hang you? We can't go into that. There's your first step.
Give yourself up."

The next instant he was sorry for the brutality of this. But Tenney did
not find it brutal. Strangely it seemed to him a way out, the only way.
He was brooding. Suddenly he looked up.

"You told me," he said, apparently in wonder, "you didn't believe."

What to say? "I believe in God Who is letting me--tenderly, oh, with
such pity for my human foolishness--seize whatever crutch I can to help
you over this dark mortal way?" Could he say that? No, it was true, but
somehow it couldn't be said.

"Yes," he answered gravely, "I believe."

"Then," said Tenney eagerly, "you pray with me."

Raven, thinking on this afterward, knew he did pray, in what words he
never could recall, and that the substance of it was Forgiveness:
Forgive our sins. And that when he had finished Tenney completed his
faltering close with "For Christ's sake. Amen!" And that because Tenney
looked at him for confirmation, he, Raven, repeated it after him, humbly
and with sincerity. And when, shaken both of them beyond the possibility
of speech, they rose from their knees, they heard a voice outside, Nan's
voice:

"Rookie, let me in."

Raven opened the door, and found her there, and Dick was with her.

"You shouldn't have come up here," he said to Dick. "You're not supposed
to climb hills."

"He had to," said Nan. "I came up and listened and I heard voices. So I
went back again and asked Charlotte for sandwiches. And Dick would come.
But I carried the basket." She had gone past him into the room and was
unpacking food. "No, Mr. Tenney, you stay. They're for you, too. We're
all tired out, you know. Let's keep together all we can. We're so
lonesome. Tira! but she's the only one that isn't lonesome. _She's_ gone
to heaven. Look! hot coffee, too. Now you eat, both of you. There's
nothing like grub."

In the midst of this, Dick had gone round the table and put out his hand
to Tenney and said:

"H' are you, Tenney?" and Tenney, dazed, had given his.

Raven found he was hungry and began to eat, and Nan somehow saw to it
that Tenney also ate. And Raven, at least, felt in the breath of the
spring night, something ebbing there in the hut. What was it: waves of
wild human turmoil finding a channel where they could flow equably? Nan
and Dick went out on the veranda while the two finished, and Raven noted
the murmur of their voices and wondered a little, idly, whether they
were better friends--lovers or only better friends. Presently Nan was
back again. She brushed up their crumbs and packed the dishes into the
basket.

"Now, Mr. Tenney," she said, "this is what we've done. When I found you
were both up here, I had Jerry go over and get your cows. He milked and
I strained the milk. I locked up the house, too. Here's your key. What
makes you go back to-night? It'll be easier by daylight. Rookie,
couldn't he sleep up here?"

"Yes," said Raven, "of course he can. We'll be down to breakfast, tell
Charlotte."

Tenney offered no preference or opinion. He sat there, his key--the key
Tira had lost, he did remember vaguely--on the table before him. Nan,
with the air of there being no more to do, wafted Dick away with her.
And Raven and Tenney spent the night together in the hut. Raven did not
sleep. He had an impression that Tenney did not, either. It seemed to
him a watch with the dead.



XLV


In that darkest minute when it seems as if dawn will never come or, if
it does, to bring with it a deeper chill, Raven, for the first time in
weeks, found his old enemies upon him: the fear of life, the terrible
distaste for continuance in a world where there is no escape, even in
going on. Was this grief for Tira? Her needs had pulled him out from his
own sickness of mind, and now that she would never need anything again,
must he return to the dark dwelling of his mental discontent and crouch
there whimpering as Tenney had whimpered when he came to him here a few
hours ago? And slowly, achingly, his mind renewedly accepted the iron
necessity which is living. There was no giving up. There was no escape.
He had to live because the other choice--was it the fool's choice or the
coward's?--was not only unthinkable, but it did no good. There was no
escape. And side by side with the sickness of distaste for life as he
found it, was another distaste, as strong: for this malady of nostalgia
itself. He could not abide it another instant. It was squalid, it was
unclean, and he found his mind crying out: "Help me! for God's sake help
me!" But it was not to God he cried. It was to Old Crow. And Old Crow
heard. Indubitably he heard. For there was an answer. "Yes! yes!" the
answer kept beating in his mind. He would help.

And what of Tira? Was she resolved into the earth that made her? Or
would she also help? He wondered why she had died. Was it because she
had been unable to face the idea of the little boy who was not right
taking his maimed innocence into some other state alone? No. Tira had
her starkly simple faith. She had her Lord Jesus Christ. She would, as
simply as she believed, have trusted the child to Him. Did she so fear
to face her life with Tenney--the hurtling, blind, elemental creature
with blood on his hands--that she took herself away? No. Tira was no
such person. There was a wild, high courage in her that, the more
terrible the challenge, responded the more valiantly. Why did she take
herself away? And what was she in these walls that had been dedicated to
her safety? Was she existent, like Old Crow? Was she here with Raven
when his mind clamored for peace? Did she, too, answer "Yes, yes!" She
had, he concluded, gone. It seemed as if she had withdrawn herself, by
her own will, for some inexorable reason. He remembered threnodies that
saw the beloved dead absorbed into the course of nature: the dawn, the
sunset, the season's round, the flowers that spring ever renewed to deck
the laureate hearse. And as his mind sought her in the night breeze that
came in to fan him and Tenney alike, in the sky where the stars, through
arboreal spaces, never looked so piercingly bright, he did seem to be
aware of an actual intelligence. But it was assuredly not Tira and it
was not Old Crow. It was Anne.

Whether his mind had been so occupied by these other more immediate
things that she could not get the connection between her will and his,
whether she now found him, bereft of Tira, free to do her unchanged
bidding, he could not see. But Anne was there. At least, the knowledge
of her was in his mind, insisting on being heard, and insisting as it
never had in this present life. For whereas then her attack had been
subtly organized, Anne herself, the directing general, behind almost
invisible potencies of suggestion and finesse, now here she was in the
open, plainly commanding him, as if this might be the only fight she
should be able to manage, and it must be to the finish. And what she
wanted was plain obedience touching the disposal of her trust. It was
not his love she was asking for now. That, he concluded, though without
bitterness, might not look desirable to her any more. Or perhaps she had
learned how futile it was to ask it. Or, indeed, was all love futile
beyond the grave? No, for he loved Tira withdrawn into her impenetrable
seclusion--but that he must not think of. The fight was on, the
conclusive fight with Anne. And he seemed to be battling for the
integrity of his own soul, the freedom of his will. He sat up on his
couch, and heard himself say aloud:

"No. I won't do it. You can't make me."

Was this the way to speak to Anne, to whom all the reticences and
delicacies of life were native air? But she was not Anne now so much as
the enemy of sane conduct here in this world and of his struggling will.

"D'you speak?" called Tenney from the next room.

"All right," said Raven, and realized he must not speak again.

Thereafter the fight with Anne went on within the arena of his mind. He
poured himself forth to her. For the first time in his life, he admitted
her to his inner beliefs and sympathies. He would not, he told her,
devote her money to the debasing of the world. Wherever she was, she had
not learned a page more than she had known when she wrote that letter to
him about the things that help the world and the things that hinder. He
didn't believe, he told her, she really wanted to learn. She wanted only
to be obeyed, to put her money where she had ordered it to go merely
because she had ordered it.

"You can't have it, Anne," he repeated, whenever his mind halted in
argument, and she kept pressing him back, back into his old hopeless
subserviency. "I'll tell you where it's going. It's going to France.
There won't be any palace, Anne. It's going into the land. It's going to
help little French boys and French girls to grow up with time enough and
strength enough to put their beautiful intelligence into saving the
earth. It's going to be that sort of a bulwark between them and the
enemies of the earth. And that's the only road to peace. Don't you see
it is, Anne? Don't you see it? You won't get peace by talking about it.
You wasted your money when you did it, all through war-time. You harmed
and hindered. Don't you know you did? If you don't, what's the use of
dying? Don't they know any more there than we do here? Anyway, I know
more than you did when you made your will, and that's what I'm going to
do. Train up beautiful intelligences, Anne, the ones that are likeliest
to work it all out practically: how to live, that's what they're going
to work out, how to live, how to help the world to live. Don't you see,
Anne? For God's sake, don't you see?"

She didn't see, or, if she did, she was too angry to give him the
comfort of knowing she did. But suddenly, in the midst of her anger,
there was a break, a stillness, though it had been still before. Perhaps
it was most like a stillness of mind, and he felt himself as suddenly
awake to a certainty that Anne had done with him. Once before she had
seemed to leave him, but this time it was for good. She had gone,
wherever the road was open to her. He had armed his will and sent it out
to fight her will. She was routed, and she would never challenge him
again. Perhaps, in her scorn, she had repudiated him. Perhaps the world,
if it were called on to pronounce judgment, would repudiate him for
betraying a dead woman's trust. Well, let it. The impeccability of his
own soul wasn't so very valuable, after all, weighed against what he saw
as the indisputable values of mortal life. He lay back on his bed,
exhausted by the fight, foolishly exhausted because, he told himself,
there hadn't been any real Anne. Only her mind, as he had known it, and
his own mind had been grappling, like two sides of an argument. But
while he tried to dull himself with this denial of the possibilities
beyond our sense, he knew underneath that there had been Anne. And she
had gone. She would not come again.

Then he must have slept, for there was a gulf of forgetfulness, and when
his eyes came open, it was on Tenney standing there in the doorway.
Raven felt squalid after the night in his clothes, and Tenney looked to
him in much the same case. Also Tenney was shrunken, even since he had
come to the hut the day before, and then he had seemed not
three-quarters of his height. He asked now, not as if he cared, but as
if he wondered idly:

"D' I leave my ammunition up here?"

He had the gun in his hand.

"Let the gun alone," said Raven. He got up and took it away from him,
and Tenney dumbly suffered it. "We'll go down now and have some
breakfast, and Jerry'll do your chores."

"I can do my own chores," said Tenney. "I can go into the barn, I
guess."

By this Raven understood that he did not mean to go into the house.
Perhaps he was afraid of it. Men are afraid of houses that have grown
sinister because of knowing too much.

That day was a curious medley of watchfulness over Tenney: for Raven
felt the necessity of following him about to see he did himself no harm.
He called him in to breakfast, but Tenney did not even seem to hear, and
stood brooding in the yard, looking curiously down at his lame foot and
lifting it as if to judge how far it would serve him. Then Charlotte,
who had been watching from the window, went out and told him she had a
bite for him in the shed, and he went in with her at once and drank
coffee and ate the bread she buttered. He didn't, so he told her, want
to touch things any more. So she broke the bread and he carried the
pieces to his mouth with an air of hating them and fearing. When he went
over to his house, Raven went with him, and, finding Jerry had milked
and driven the cows to pasture, they stood outside, miserably loitering,
because Tenney had evidently made that resolve not to go in.

"I suppose," said Raven, after a little, to recall him, "the milk is in
there."

"Yes," said Tenney. "I s'pose 'tis."

"It isn't strained, you know. What do you mean to do about it?"

"Do?" said Tenney. "Let it set."

Again they loitered, back and forth, sometimes on one side of the
woodpile, sometimes the other, each with a pretense of finding the
woodpile itself a point of interest. Suddenly Tenney ceased his foolish
walk up and down.

"Look here," said he, "should you jest as lieves go in?"

"Yes," said Raven. "Only you'd better come with me. Get it over. You've
got to go into your own house."

"What I want," said Tenney, "is a blue apron, blue with white specks. I
don't believe it's there, but if 'tis I want it."

To Raven, this was not strange. It was Tira's apron he wanted, something
that belonged to her, to touch, perhaps to carry about with him as a
reminder of the warmth and kindliness that lay in everything she owned.
Blue! that was her Madonna color. No wonder Tenney remembered it, if it
was blue.

"It ain't hangin' up," said Tenney, with a particularity that seemed to
cause him an intense pain of concentration. "She never'd hang it up with
t'others. It's folded. Mebbe in her work-basket, mebbe--my God in
heaven! she wouldn't ha' kep' it. She's burnt it up. You take off the
cover o' the kitchen stove. You look there an' see if you can't find the
leastest scrid. Blue, you remember, all folded up."

Raven went into the kitchen where the pails of milk were on the table,
waiting. He took off the stove cover and looked in, still an idle
compliance, to quiet the man's mind. It was like an outcome to a dream.
For there it was, a soft disorder easily indicating burned cloth, and
one shred of blue, a piece perhaps an inch and a half square, hemmed on
three sides: the end of an apron string. He took this carefully out, and
stood there looking at it a tense moment, as if it could summon Tira
back to tell him what it meant; look out his pocketbook, laid it in, and
put the pocketbook away. Then he went back to Tenney.

"You were right," he said. "She burned it up."

Tenney stared at him for what seemed a long time.

"Oh," he said, as if it had been Raven who suggested it, "so she burnt
it up. Wa'n't there any left--not a scrid?"

"Yes," said Raven, "there was. What do you want of it?"

"Nothin'," said Tenney. "No, I don't want it. If 'twas the whole on't I
shouldn't want it, come to think. A man couldn't hang himself by an
apron. Even that one you couldn't. I guess"--he turned upon Raven so
sick a gaze that Raven advanced to him and put a hand on his arm--"I
guess," said Tenney, "I'm done. I've got to git some sleep. Should you
jest as soon I'd go up to that shack o' yourn an' lay down a spell?"

Again they went up to the hut, and Tenney, throwing himself on the
couch, was at once asleep. All that day Raven watched by him, and that
night also they were there together: a strange day and night, Raven
remembered afterward, with Charlotte coming and Nan and finally Dick,
all with food or wistful companionship, and Nan's assuring him, in her
way of finding nothing out of the common, that everything had been done
for Tira, and she would go over to the service. Charlotte would go with
her. It would be better--her eyes questioned him, and he nodded, not
answering. It would be better he should not go. On the third day she
appeared again, in the middle of the afternoon, and said she had just
come from Mountain Brook and everything was----That she did not finish,
Tenney's somber eyes waited upon her with such a dumb expectancy. What
was going to be done, she wondered. Tenney couldn't stay in the hut,
keeping Raven there with him, as Billy Jones had kept Old Crow. Yet she
wasn't sure Raven wouldn't stay. But while she thought it, Tenney was
answering her, though he didn't seem to be speaking to either of them.
He might have been appealing to something invisible in the room.

"I'll shave me," he said, "an' then I'll see." Something passed over him
like a great moving wind. "Why, God A'mighty!" he cried. "I can't stop
to shave me. It's now or never, don't you know 'tis?"

He snatched his hat from the chair where he had thrown it, and went out
of the hut, limping down the hill. And Raven was with him. He was with
him as he hurried along the road so fast that it seemed as if the next
step meant breaking into a run. He was with him when, halfway to the
street, Eugene Martin passed them, in his buggy, stopped further on and
called to them: "Ride?" He was not laughing now, he was not jibing. He
seemed to be constrained to ask them to ride, they were hurrying so.
Raven threw a curse at him, but Tenney broke into a limping run and
jumped into the tail of the wagon and sat there, his legs dangling. And
he called so piercingly to Martin to drive along, to "Hurry, for God's
sake, hurry!" that Martin did whip up, and the wagon whirled away, and
Raven hurried on alone.

That night, at eight o'clock, Nan went over to ask if Raven had come
home, and finding he had not, loitered back to her own gate and waited.
She could not go in. If she kept her mind on him, he might come. And
presently he came. She walked to meet him and put her hand through his
arm. He was walking firmly, but he looked "all in."

"Come," she said. "Supper's waiting."

"No," said Raven, "not yet. I got a fellow to bring me back from the
street. Dick said you'd been over."

"Yes," said Nan. "I was horribly worried. Where's Tenney?"

"Gone."

"Where?"

"To jail. He had Martin take him to a man he knew about at the street.
Sworn in special constable in the War. Had him telephone the sheriff.
Then I got there. Had to inquire round, to find out where he'd gone.
When I went in, Tenney was sitting there telling the sheriff he'd killed
his child. Sheriff asked what for. Said he had to do it. Then I came in
and he began to ask me questions about the Lord Jesus Christ."

"But, Rookie," said Nan, "he didn't. He couldn't. Tira told me she----"

"Yes," said Raven heavily. "You may be called to testify."

"But when he asked that," said Nan, "about----" she hesitated.

"About the Lord Jesus Christ? It was whether his sins were whiter than
snow."

"What did you tell him?"

"Oh," said Raven, "I told him yes. If he was sorry, they were. Of course
I told him yes. What could I tell him? But I don't believe I'd have told
Martin yes, if he'd asked me about his sins. He's scared blue. He was
there at the gate when I went in. Shook like a palsy, kept saying he
didn't know--didn't think--nobody need ask him----"

"What did you say, Rookie?"

"Nothing. I went in to Tenney. Now I'll go back."

"You won't come in and have a bite? Nice supper, Rookie. Saved for you."

"No. Not to-night." He turned away from her as if she were as actually
the outside shell of herself as he was of himself. They were mechanical
agents in a too terrible world. But he called back to her: "Nan, I've
told her."

She was at his side, hoping for more, perhaps a touch of his hand.

"Anne. I got word to her somehow. She understood."

"Was she----" Nan paused.

"Yes," said Raven. "But it's over--done."

He turned away from her and went fast along the road home. He had, she
saw, escaped Aunt Anne. He had got himself back. Did his quick steps
along the road say he meant to escape her, too? That was easy. Darling
Rookie! he should if he wanted to.



XLVI


The story ends, as it began, with a letter. It was written by Raven, in
Boston, to Dick, in France, about a year after Tenney gave himself up.
The first half of it had to do with accounts, money paid over by Raven
to Dick, requisitions sent in by Dick to Raven, concise statements of
what Raven judged it best to do in certain contingencies Dick had asked
instructions upon. Then it continued on a new page, an intimate letter
from Raven to the nephew who was administering the Anne Hamilton Fund.
The previous pages would be submitted to the two Frenchmen, who, with
Dick, formed the acting board. These last pages were for Dick alone.

"No, Tenney wasn't even indicted. There was the whirlwind of talk you
can imagine. Reminiscent, too! 'Don't you remember?' from house to
house, and whenever two men met in the road or hung over the fence to
spit and yarn. It was amazing, the number of folks who had set him down
as 'queer,' 'odd,' all the country verdicts on the chap that's got to be
accounted for. Even his religion was brought up against him. The chief
argument there was that he always behaved as if the things he believed
were actually so. He believed in hell and told you you were bound for
it. But I can't go into that. They couldn't, the ones that tried to.
They got all balled up, just as their intellectual betters do when they
tackle theology. All this, of course, began before you went away, and it
continued in mounting volume. If you want New England psychology, you
have it there, to the last word. That curious mixture of condemnation
and acceptance! They believed him capable of doing things unspeakable,
and yet there wasn't a public voice to demand an inquiry as to whether
he really had done them. They cheerfully accepted the worst and believed
the best. And it's true he had behaved more or less queer for a long
time, wouldn't speak to people when he met them, didn't seem to know
them, and then suddenly breaking out, in the blacksmith's shop or buying
his grain at the store, and asking if they were saved. The women were
the queerest. They said he set his life by the child. Why, he couldn't
even bear to go to the funeral of his wife or the child either, and
hadn't they seen him and Tira drivin' by, time and again, the baby in
Tira's lap, in his little white coat and hood? I don't know how many
times I heard the evidence of that little white hood. Even Charlotte
caught it and plumped it at me.

"You remember yourself how disgusted the authorities were when he
trotted about like a homeless dog and insisted on being arrested for a
crime they knew he didn't commit. Poor old Tenney! they said, any man
might be crazed, losing his wife and child in one week. They were very
gentle with him. They told him if he hung round talking much longer he'd
be late for his planting. Of course the doctor did set the pace. He'd
told, everywhere he went, how Tira had sent for him at once, and how she
had said she had, in that hideous country phrase, 'overlaid' the child.
One interesting psychological part of it has persisted to this day: the
effect Tira had on the doctor, his entire belief in her simple statement
which she was never asked to swear to. (You remember there was no
inquest.) He never, he said, was so sorry for a woman in his life. He
seems to have been so determined to prove her a tragic figure that he
wouldn't for a moment have the disaster lightened by denying her that
last misfortune of having done it herself. Lots of these things I
haven't told you, they're so grim and, to me now, so wearing. They've
got on all our nerves like the devil, and I fancy even the Wake Hill
natives are pretty well fed up with 'em. At first they couldn't get
enough. When Tenney couldn't get the law to believe in him so far as to
indict him, the embattled farmers took it on themselves to cross-examine
him, not because they thought for a minute he was guilty, but because
they itched to hear him say so: drama, don't you see? And he never
wavered in asserting he did it: only when they asked him how, he just
stared, and once told a particularly smart Alec, he guessed it was a
man's own business how he killed his own child. And he stayed up in the
hut, just as he was doing when you went away, and night after night I
had to stay with him. Stuck to me like a burr and wore me threadbare
asking if he was forgiven, and if that didn't mean he was whiter than
snow. I tell you, Dick, it was all so involved that I believe, although
he used the set phrases about the Lord Jesus Christ, he really believed
it was I that had forgiven him. He used to ask me to tell God to do it
for my sake; and I remembered Old Crow and how he played up to Billy
Jones, and, if you'll believe it, I _did_ ask God (though not for my
sake!), and horrible as it is, grotesque as it is (no, by George, it
isn't grotesque to speak to a man in the only language he can
understand! he wanted God and he couldn't any more reach Him! he had to
climb up on another man's shoulders), well, I told him it was all right.
He was forgiven. Then he scared me blue by saying he was going round
preaching the gospel--his farm is sold, you know, stock gone, everything
wiped out--and I told him he'd proved too dangerous to be let loose on
the world again. But he had me there. He asked if he was forgiven, why
wasn't he whiter than snow? And he hung to me like my shadow, and asked
if he couldn't keep on living in the hut, till he felt strong enough to
preach. I told him he could, and blest if I didn't see him and me there
together, world without end, like Old Crow and Billy Jones, for nothing
was ever going to persuade him to let go of me again. You'd better
laugh, Dick. Nan and I had to. We almost cried. It is funny. I bet Old
Crow laughed. But Tenney saved me. He took it into his own hands. And
what do you think did it? We went down to the house one morning for
breakfast, and Charlotte came out to meet us, tying on a clean apron. It
was blue with white spots (I forgot you don't see any significance in
that, but Tenney did) and he stopped short and said: 'God A'mighty! I
was in hopes I never should set eyes on a woman's apron again.'

"I went up to have a bath (my staying at the hut was a kind of emergency
business, you see) and he disappeared, and Charlotte and Jerry didn't
get on to it that he was really gone, and later on he was seen wading
into the water over at Mountain Brook, there by the stepping stones. The
Donnyhills saw him, and at first they thought he knew what he was about,
but kept on watching him. He stooped and dipped himself, and they had an
idea it was some kind of a self-conducted baptism. I believe it was. Nan
often has to remind me that 'he's a very religious man.' But they
watched, and presently he went under, and they knew then he was making
way with himself, and the Donnyhill boy, that calm young giant, fished
him out, Tenney fighting him furiously. And it began to look to me as if
he ought to be under a mild supervision (it wasn't for nothing you and
your mother let fly at me with your psychiatry! I escaped myself, but I
learned the formula). And now Tenney, agreeing to it like a lamb, is at
that little sanitarium Miss Anne Hamilton started 'up state,' and very
well contented. Nan goes to see him, and so do I. He is as mild--you
can't think! Reads his Bible every minute of the day when he isn't doing
the work they give him or converting the staff.

"You'll say he's insane. I don't know whether he is or not. I don't know
whether they'll say so, the psychopathic experts they've let loose on
him. I simply think he found the difficulties of his way too much for
him and he revolted. He tried to right the balance of some of the most
mysteriously devilish inequalities a poorly equipped chap ever found
himself up against (strange forces that struck at him in the dark) and
being ignorant and at the same time moved by more volts of energy than
even the experts will be able to compute, he took the only path he saw,
slam-bang into the thick of the fight. As to his spouting his Bible like
a geyser--well, if he believes in it as the actual word of God, a word
addressed to him, why shouldn't he spout it? And if it tells him that,
after certain formulae of repentance, his sins shall be whiter than
snow, why shouldn't he believe that and say so with the simplicity he
does? All the same, I don't think he's exactly the person to wander at
large, and I've no idea what will happen when his good conduct and
general mildness come it over the psychiatrists. I grin over it
sometimes, all by myself, for I remember Old Crow and Billy Jones and I
wonder if the logic of inherited events is going to herd Tenney and me
together into the hut to live out our destiny together. But I don't
think so, chiefly because I want to keep my finger in this pie of the
French Fund and because it would distress Nan. Distress you, too, I
guess! And me!

"Now, as to Nan. You gave it to me straight from the shoulder, and I've
got to give you one back. I agree with you. There's no hope for you.
She's enormously fond of you, but it's not _that kind_. And Nan's
old-fashioned enough to insist on that or nothing. I was so meddlesome
as to bring it up with her before you went away. She put me in my place,
told me practically it was nobody's business but hers--and yours--and
that she'd already talked it out with you and that you're a 'dear' and
you 'saw.' So, old man, as you say, that's that. _Finis._ But when,
after I've butted in, you butt in and accuse me of not 'seeing,' so far
as I myself am concerned, of holding her off, of being unfair to her,
all the rest of it (very intemperate letter, you must own) I've got to
give you your quietus as Nan gave me mine. First place, you say, with a
cheek that makes my backbone crawl, that Nan 'loves' me. (Do you really
want to be as Victorian as that, you slang-slinging young modern? But I
know! You think I mightn't catch on to your shibboleths and you borrow
what you judge to be mine, give me the choice of weapons, as it were.)
And you're a trump, Dick! Don't think I don't know that, and if I poke
fun at you it's to keep from slopping all over you with the Victorian
lavishness you'd expect. What did we ever fight for about your youth and
my age? Or wasn't it about that, after all? Was it really about--Nan?

"Well, when it comes to 'love', I do love Nan. There you have it, good
old-fashioned direct address. She is as immediate to me as my own skin
and veins. She always has been. She began to grow into me when she was
little, and she kept on growing. There are fibers and rootlets of Nan
all through me, and the funny part of it is I love to feel them there. I
can't remember being dominated by anybody without resenting it, wanting
to get away--escape! escape!--but I never for an instant have felt that
about Nan. She's the better part of me. Good Lord! she's the only part
of me I take any particular pleasure in or that I can conceive of as
existing after I join Old Crow. (Not that I'm allowed to take much
pleasure in her now. She sees me when I call, answers when I consult her
about the Fund--and she's been tremendously sympathetic and valuable
there--but she seems to feel and, I've no doubt, for very good reasons,
that we're better apart. She has, I believe, a theory about it; but we
needn't go into that. And I don't quarrel with it.)

"The queer part of it is that I feel Nan herself couldn't break the bond
between us, couldn't if she tried. It's as deep as nature, as actual as
Old Crow. I can give you a curious proof of it. I might be almost
swamped by somebody--yes, I mean Tira. I might as well say so as hear
you saying it over this letter--somebody that is beauty and mystery and
a thousand potencies that take hold on nature itself. But that doesn't
push Nan away by an inch. If I'm swamped, Nan's swamped with me. If I
mourn the beauty and the piteousness withdrawn, Nan mourns, too. It's
Nan and I against the world. But it isn't Nan and I with the world. The
world is against us. Do you see? For I'm a year older than when I saw
you last. And though many of the things you felt about the years weren't
true, a lot of 'em were, and they're a little truer now. And one of them
is that I've got to give Nan a fighting chance to mate with youth
and--oh, exactly what you've got. I wish you had her--no, I'm damned if
I do. I may not be young enough for jealousy, but I am unregenerate
enough. I probably mean I wish I wished it. For in spite of my revolt
against the earth, I'd like to give Nan the cup, not of earth sorceries
but earth loveliness, and let her swig it to the bottom. And then, if
Old Crow's right and this is only a symbol and we've got to live by
symbols till we get the real thing, why, then I'm sentimental
enough--Victorian! yes, say it, and be hanged!--to want to believe Nan
and I shall some time--some time----Anyhow, I'm not going to ask her to
spend her middle years--just think! 'figure to yourself!'--when Nan's
forty, what will your revered uncle be?

"Now I've told you. This is the whole story, the outline of it. And why
do I tell you instead of merely inviting you to shut up as Nan did me?
Because if you retain in your dear meddlesome head any idea that Nan, as
you say, 'loves' me, you're to remember also that Nan is not in any
sense an Ariadne on a French clock, her arm over her head, deserted and
forlorn. You are to remember I adore her and, if I thought we could both
in a dozen years or so perish by shipwreck or Tenney's axe (poor
Tenney!) I should get down on my knees to her and beg her (can't you
hear our Nan laugh?) to let me marry her. (Probably she wouldn't, old
man--marry me, I mean. We're seldom as clever as we think, even you. So
there's that.) But, in spite of my erratic leanings toward Old Crow-ism
and sundry alarming dissatisfactions with the universe, I still retain
the common sense to see Nan, at forty, worrying over my advancing
arteriosclerosis and the general damned breaking up of my corporeal
frame. Not on your life. Now--shut up!

"Yes, your mother continues to be dissatisfied over your being there.
She thinks it's all too desultory, but is consoled at your being
mentioned in the same breath with 'two such distinguished Frenchmen.' I
tell her you can't stop for a degree, and maybe if you follow out your
destiny you'll get one anyway, and that, if you still want to write
books, this will give you something to write about. But she doesn't mind
so much since she's gone into politics, hammer and tongs."

Now this letter reached Richard Powell in the dingy office in Paris,
where he happened to be in consultation with his two advisers who were,
with an untiring genius of patience and foresight, interpreting to him
daily the soul of France. He went over the first part of the letter with
them, article by article, point by point, very proud, under his
composure, of their uniform agreement with the admirable Monsieur Raven.
And after their business session was concluded and the two Frenchmen had
gone, Dick addressed himself to the last part of the letter, given in
these pages. He bent himself to it with the concentration that turns a
young face, even though but for the moment, into a prophetic hint of its
far-off middle age. If he had kept enough of his shy self-consciousness
to glance at himself in the glass, he would have been able to smile at
the old fear of what the years might do to him. No heaviness there, such
as he remembered in his father's face: only trouble, pain, and their
mysteriously refining tracery. But the heaviness was in his heart. He
had to understand the letter absolutely, not only what it said but all
it implied. If it actually meant what he believed it to mean at first
reading, it drew a heavy line across his own life. Nan had drawn the
line before, but this broadened it, reënforced it with a band of black
absolutely impossible to cross. And it did mean it, and, having seen
that, without a possibility of doubt, he enclosed the letter in an
envelope, addressed it to Nan, and leaned back in his chair, never, he
believed, to think it over again, never so long as he and Nan lived.
There was no residuum of sentiment in his mind as there was in Raven's
that, after Nan had finished with this life, according to her own ideas,
there might be hope of another Nan bloomed out of this one somewhere
else and another Dick, risen out of his ashes, to try his luck again.
No, the line across the page was the line across their lives, and, said
Dick: "That's that." But he caught his breath, as he said it, and was
glad there was no one by to hear. Anybody who heard would have said it
was a sob. He was, he concluded, rather fagged with the day. These
confounded Frenchmen, with their wits you couldn't keep up with, they
took it out of you.

This was why Raven, in Wake Hill, on the morning the letter came to Nan
in Boston, got a telegram from her, saying: "Come back." He had gone
there to stay over a night, after a few hours' visit with Tenney, who
was eagerly glad to see him, and again begging to be confirmed in his
condition of spiritual whiteness. Raven had just got to his house when
the message was telephoned up from the station, and its urgency made him
horribly anxious. He had been especially aware of Nan all day. Little
threads of feeling between them had been thrilling to messages he
couldn't quite get, as if they were whispers purposely mysterious, to
scare a man. He was on edge with them. They quickened the apprehension
the message brought upon him overwhelmingly. She never would have
summoned him like that if she hadn't needed him, not a word by
telephone, but his actual presence. He had Jerry take him back again to
the station, and in the late afternoon he walked in on Nan waiting for
him in one of the rooms Anne Hamilton had kept faithful to the
traditions of bygone Hamiltons, but that now knew her no more. It was
Nan the room knew, Nan in her dull blue dress against the background of
pink roses she made for herself and the room, Nan white with the pallor
of extreme emotion, bright anxiety in her eyes and a tremor about her
mouth. She went to him at once, not as the schoolgirl had run, the last
time she offered her child lips to him, but as if the moment were a
strange moment, a dazzling peak of a moment to be approached--how should
she know the way to her heart's desire?

"What is it, dear?" asked Raven, not putting her off, as he had the
schoolgirl, but only unspeakably thankful for the bare fact of having
found her safe. "What's happened?"

"I had to tell you straight off," said Nan, "or I couldn't do it at all.
He sent me your letter--Dick. The one about me."

Raven was conscious of thinking clearly of two things at once. He was,
in the first place, aware of the live atoms which were the letter,
arranging themselves in his mind, telling him what they had told Nan. He
was also absently aware that Nan's face was so near his eyes it was
nothing but a blur of white, and that when he bent to it, the white ran,
in a rush, into a blur of pink.

"So Dick sent it to you," he said. "Well, God bless him for it. Kiss me,
my Nan."

       *       *       *       *       *

By Alice Brown

    The Prisoner
    My Love and I
    One Act Plays
    The Black Drop
    Vanishing Points
    Robin Hood's Barn
    Children of Earth
    Homespun and Gold
    The Flying Teuton
    The Road To Castaly
    Louise Imogen Guiney
    Bromley Neighborhood
    The Secret of the Clan
    The Wind Between the Worlds
P/





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