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Title: At the Crossroads
Author: Comstock, Harriet T. (Harriet Theresa), 1860-
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 "At the Crossroads" ***

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AT THE CROSSROADS



BOOKS BY HARRIET T. COMSTOCK

  A Little Dusky Hero
  A Son of the Hills
  At the Crossroads
  Camp Brave Pine
  Janet of the Dunes
  Joyce of the North Woods
  Mam'selle Jo
  Princess Rags and Tatters
  The Man Thou Gavest
  The Place Beyond the Winds
  The Shield of Silence
  The Vindication
  Unbroken Lines



[Illustration: "_It might have seemed an empty house but for the
appearance of care and a curl of smoke from the chimney._"]



AT THE CROSSROADS

BY

HARRIET T. COMSTOCK

FRONTISPIECE BY

WALTER DE MARIS

GARDEN CITY--NEW YORK

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

1922



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO
FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS,
GARDEN CITY, N.Y.



AT THE CROSSROADS



AT THE CROSSROADS


The great turning points of life are often rounded unconsciously.
Invisible tides hurry us on and only when we are well past the curve
do we realize what has happened to us.

Brace Northrup, sitting in Doctor Manly's office, smoking and
ruminating, was not conscious of turning points or tides; he was
sluggish and depressed; wallowing in the after-effects of a serious
illness.

Manly, sitting across the hearth from his late patient--he had shoved
him out of that category--regarded him from the viewpoint of a
friend.

Manly was impressionistic in his methods of thought and expression.
Every stroke told.

The telephone had not rung for fifteen minutes but both men knew its
potentialities and wanted to make the most of the silence.

"Oh! I confess," Northrup admitted, "that my state of gloom is due
more to the fact that I cannot write than to my sickness. I'm done
for!"

Manly looked at his friend and scowled.

"Rot!" he ejaculated. Then added: "The world would not perish if you
didn't write again."

"I'm not thinking about the world," Northrup was intent upon the fire,
"it's how the fact is affecting me. The world can accept or decline,
but I am made helpless. You see my work is the only real, vital thing
I have clawed out of life, by my own efforts, Manly; that means a lot
to a fellow."

Manly continued to scowl. Had Northrup been watching him he might have
gained encouragement, for Manly's scowls were proof of his deeply
moved sympathies.

"The trouble with you, old man," he presently said, "is this: You've
been dangerously ill; you thought you were going to slip out, and so
did I, and all the others. You're like the man who fell on the
battlefield and thought his legs were shot off. You've got to get up
and learn to walk again. We're all suggesting the wrong thing to you.
Go where people don't know, don't care a damn for you. Take to the
road. That ink-slinging self that you are hankering after is just
ahead. You'll overtake it, but it will never turn back for you--the
self that you are now."

Manly fidgeted. He hated to talk. Then Northrup said something that
brought Manly to his feet--and to several minutes of restless striding
about the room.

"Manly, while I was at my worst I couldn't tell whether it was
delirium or sanity, I saw that Thing across the water, the Thing that
for lack of a better name we call war, in quite a new light. It's what
has got us all and is shaking us into consciousness. We're going to
know the true from the false when this passes. My God! Manly, I wonder
if any of us know what is true and what isn't? Ideals, nations,
folks!"

Northrup's face flushed.

"See here, old man," Manly paused, set his legs wide apart as if to
balance himself and pointed a finger at Northrup, "You've got to cut
all this out and--beat it! Whatever that damned thing is over there,
it isn't our mess. It's the eruption of a volcano that's been bubbling
and sizzling for years. The lava's flowing now, a hot black filth, but
it's going to stop before it reaches us."

"I wonder, Manly, I wonder. It's more like a divining rod to me,
finding souls."

"Very well. Now I'm going to put an ugly fact up to you, Northrup.
Your body is all right, but your nerves are frayed and unless you mind
your step you're going to go dippy. Catch on? There are places where
nothing happens. Nothing ever has happened. Go and find such a hole
and stay in it a month, six weeks--longer, if you can. Be a part of
the nothingness and save your life. Break all the commandments, if
there are any, but don't look back! I've seen big cures come from
letting go! I'll look after your mother and Kathryn."

The telephone here interrupted.

"All right! all right!" snapped Manly into the receiver, "set the
operation for ten to-morrow and have the hair shaved from the side of
her head."

Then he turned back to Northrup as if disfiguring a woman were a
matter of no importance.

"The fact is, Northrup, most of us get glued to our own narrow slits
in the wall, most of us are chained to them by our jobs and we get to
squinting, if we don't get blinded. I'm not saying that we don't each
have a slit and should know it; but your job requires moving about and
peering through other fellows' slits, and lately, ever since that last
book of yours, you've kept to your hole; the fever caught you at the
wrong time and this mess across seas has got mixed up with it all
until you're no use to yourself or any one else. Beat it!"

Something like a wave of fresh air seemed to have entered the quiet,
warm room. Northrup raised his head. Manly took heed and rambled on;
he saw that he was making an impression at last.

"Queer things jog you into consciousness when you detach yourself from
your moorings. A mountain-top, a baby's hold on your finger, when
you're about to hurt it. A sunset, a woman's face; a moment when you
realize your soul! You're never the same after, Northrup, but you do
your job better and your slit in the wall is wider. Man, you need a
jog."

"What jogged you, Manly?"

This was daring. People rarely questioned Manly.

"It was seeing my soul!" Quite simply the answer came.

There was a long, significant silence. Both men had to travel back to
the commonplace and they felt their way gingerly.

"Northrup, drop things. It is your friend speaking now. Go where the
roar and rumble of what doesn't concern you haven't reached.
Good-night."

Northrup got up slowly.

"I wonder if there is such a place?" he muttered.

"Sure, old man. Outside of this old sounding-board of New York, there
are nooks where nothing even echoes. Usually you find good fishing in
them. Come now, get out!"



CHAPTER I


Brace Northrup received the first intimation of his jog when he
knocked on the door of a certain little yellow house set rakishly at
the crossroads, a few miles from King's Forest.

The house gave the impression of wanting to go somewhere but had not
decided upon the direction. Its many windows of shining glass were
like wide-open eyes peering cheerfully forth on life, curiously
interested and hopeful. The shades, if there were any, were rolled
from sight. It might have seemed an empty house but for the appearance
of care and a curl of smoke from the chimney.

Northrup walked across the bit of lawn leading, pathless, to the stone
step, and knocked on the door. It was a very conservative knock but
instantly the door swung in--it was that kind of a door, a welcoming
door--and Northrup was precipitated into a room which, at first
glance, appeared to be full of sunlight, children, and dogs.

As a matter of fact there were two or three little children and an
older girl with a strange, vague face; four dogs and a young person
seated on the edge of a table and engaged, apparently, before
Northrup's arrival, in telling so thrilling a story that the small,
absorbed audience barely noted his entrance. They turned mildly
interested eyes upon him much as they might have upon an unnecessary
illustration adorning the tale.

The figure on the table wore rough knickerbockers, high, rather muddy
boots, a loose jacket, and a cap set crookedly on the head. When
Northrup spoke, the young person turned and he saw that it was a
woman. There was no surprise, at first, in the eyes which met
Northrup's--the door of the little yellow house was constantly
admitting visitors--but suddenly the expression changed to one of
startled wonder. It was the expression of one who, never expecting a
surprise, suddenly is taken unawares.

"I beg your pardon!" stammered Northrup. "I assure you I did knock. I
merely want to ask the direction and distance of Heathcote Inn.
Crossroads are so confusing when one is tired and hungry and----"

Once having begun to speak, Northrup was too embarrassed to stop. The
eyes confronting him were most disconcerting. They smiled; they seemed
to be glad he was there; the girl apparently was enjoying the
situation.

"The inn is three miles down the south road; the lake is just beyond.
Follow that. They serve dinner at the inn at one."

The voice was like the eyes, friendly, vital, and lovely.

Then, as if staged, a clock set on a high shelf announced in crisp,
terse tones the hour of twelve.

"Thank you."

That was all. The incident was closed and Northrup backed out, drawing
the humorous door after him. As the latch caught he heard a thin,
reedy voice, probably belonging to the vague girl, say:

"Now that he's gone, please go on. You got to where----"

Northrup found himself at the crossroads where, five minutes before,
he had stood, and there, in plain sight of any one not marked by Fate
for a turning-point, was a sign-board in perfectly good condition,
stating the fact that if one followed the direction, indicated by a
long, tapering finger, for three miles, he would come to Heathcote
Inn, "Open All the Year."

"The girl must take me for a fool, or worse!" thought Northrup. Then
he was conscious of a feeling that he had left something behind him in
that room he had just invaded. But no! His gripsack was securely
fastened on his back, his walking stick was in his hand, his hat upon
his head. Still he felt that lack of something.

"It's the air!" Northrup sniffed it. "I'm as hungry as a wolf, too.
Hungry as I used to be twenty years ago." Northrup was twenty-seven.
"Lord! what a day."

It was a day with which to reckon, there was no doubt about that. An
autumn day of silence, crispness, and colour. Suddenly, something
Manly had said came hurtingly into Northrup's consciousness: "... _or
a woman's face!_"

Then, because of the day and a certain regained strength, Northrup
laughed and shook off that impression of having left something behind
him and set off at a brisk rate on the road to the inn. He soon came
to the lake. It lay to the right of the road. The many-coloured hills
rose protectingly on the left. All along the edge of the water a
flaming trail of sumach marked the curves where the obliging land
withdrew as the lake intruded.

"I might be a thousand miles from home," Northrup thought as he swung
along.

In reality, he had been only a week on his way and had taken it easy.
He had made no plans; had walked until he was weary, had slept where
he could find quarters, and was doing what he had all his life wanted
to do, and which at last Manly had given him courage to do: leave the
self that circumstances had evolved and take to the open trail,
seeking, as Manly had figuratively put it, his real self.

During his long illness reality seemed to have fallen from his
perceptions--or was it unreality? He knew that he must find out or he
could never again hope to take his place among men with any assurance.
As far as he could he must cut himself off from the past, blot out the
time-honoured prejudices that might or might not be legitimate. He
must settle that score!

Northrup was a tall, lean man with a slant of the body that suggested
resistance. His face, too, carried out the impression. The eyes, deep
set and keenly gray, brooded questioningly when the humour of a
situation did not control them. The mouth was not an architectural
mouth; the lines had been evolved; the mouth was still in the making.
It might become hard or bitter: it could never become cruel. There was
hope in the firm jaw, and the week of outdoor air and sun had done
much to remove the pallor of sickness and harden the muscles.

With every mile that set him apart from his old environment the eyes
grew less gloomy; the lines of the mouth more relaxed: in fact,
Northrup's appearance at that moment might have made Manly sympathize
with the creator of Frankenstein. The released Northrup held startling
possibilities.

Striding ahead, whistling, swinging his stick, he permitted himself to
recall the face of the woman in the yellow house. He had taken the
faces of women in the past largely for granted. They represented
types, ages, periods. Only once before had he become aware of what
Life, as he had not known it, could do to women's faces: While he was
writing his last book--the one that had lifted him from a low literary
level and set him hopefully upon a higher--he had lived, for a time,
on the lower East Side of New York; had confronted the ugly results of
an existence evolved from chance, not design.

But this last face--Life had done something to it that he could not
comprehend. What was it? Then Northrup suddenly concluded that Life
had done nothing to it--had, in fact, left it alone. At this point,
Northrup resorted to detail. Her eyes were almost golden: the lashes
made them seem darker. The face was young and yet it held that
expression of age that often marks the faces of children: a wondering
look, yet sweetly contemptuous: not quite confident, but amused.

Now he had it! The face was like a mirror; it reflected thought and
impression. Life had had nothing to do with it. Very good, so far.

"And her voice! Queer voice to be found here"--Northrup was keen about
voices; they instantly affected him. "Her voice had tones in it that
vibrated. It might be the product of--well, everything which it
probably wasn't."

This was laughable.

Northrup would not have been surprised at that moment to have seen The
Face in the flaming bushes by the roadside.

"I wonder if there is any habitation between that yellow house and the
inn?" He pulled himself together and strode on. Hunger and weariness
were overcoming moods and fancies. There was not. The gold and
scarlet hills rose unbroken to the left and the road wound divertingly
by the lake.

There was no wind; scarcely a stirring of the leaves, but birds sang
and fish darted in the clear water that reflected the colour and form
of every branch and twig.

In another half hour Northrup saw the inn on ahead. He knew it at once
from a picture-card he had bought earlier in the day. It set so close
to the lake as to give the impression of getting its feet wet. It was
a long, low white building with more windows, doors, and chimneys than
seemed necessary. Everything looked trim and neat and smoke curled
briskly above the hospitable house. There were, apparently, many fires
in action, and they bespoke comfort and food.

Northrup, upon reaching the inn, saw that a mere strip of lawn
separated it from the road and lake, the piazza was on a level with
the ground and three doors gave choice of entrance to the wayfarer.
Northrup chose the one near the middle and respectfully tapped on it,
drawing back instantly. He did not mean to have a second joke played
upon him by doors.

There was a stirring inside, a dog gave a sleepy grunt, and a man's
voice called out:

"The bolt's off."

It would seem that doors were incidental barriers in King's Forest. No
one was expected to regard them seriously.

Northrup entered and then stood still.

He was alive to impressions, and this second room, within a short
space of time, had power, also, to arouse surprise. There was no
sunlight here--the overshadowing piazza prevented that--but there were
two enormous fireplaces, one at either end of the large room, and upon
the hearths of both generous fires were burning ruddily.

By the one nearer to Northrup sat a man with a bandaged leg stretched
out before him on a stool, and a gold-and-white collie at his side.
The man was elderly, stout, and imposing. His curly gray hair
sprang--no other word conveyed the impression of the vitality and
alertness of the hair--above a rosy, genial face; the eyes were
small, keen, and full of humour, the voice had already given a
suggestion of welcome.

"You are Mr. Heathcote, I suppose?"

Northrup was subconsciously aware of the good old mahogany furniture;
the well-kept appearance of everything.

"You've struck it right. Will you set?"

"Thanks."

Northrup took the chair opposite the master of the inn.

"My name is Northrup, Brace Northrup from New York."

"Footing it?" Heathcote was rapidly making one of his sudden
estimates; generally he did not take the trouble to do this, but some
people called forth his approval or disapproval at once.

"Yes. I've taken my time, been a week on the way and, incidentally,
recovering from an illness."

"Pausing or staying on?"

Northrup meant to say "pausing"; instead he found himself stating that
he'd like to stay on if he could be accommodated.

"We'll have to consult Aunt Polly as to that," said Heathcote. "You
see I'm rather off my legs just now. Gander! Great bird, that gander.
He lit out two weeks ago and cut me to the bone with his wing. He's
got a wing like a hatchet. I'll be about in a day or two and taking
command, but until then I have to let my sister have her say as to
what burdens she feels she can carry."

For a moment Northrup regarded himself, mentally, as a burden. It was
a new sensation and he felt like putting up a plea; but before he
could frame one Heathcote gave a low whistle and almost at once a door
at the rear opened, admitting a fragrance of delectable food and the
smallest woman Northrup had ever seen. That so fragile a creature
could bear any responsibility outside that due herself, was difficult
to comprehend until one looked into the strange, clear eyes peering
through glasses, set awry. Unquenchable youth and power lay deep in
those piercing eyes; there was force that could command the slight
body to do its bidding.

"Polly, this is Mr. Northrup, from New York"--was there lurking
amusement in the tone?--"He wants to stop on; what do you say? It's up
to you and don't hesitate to speak your mind."

The woman regarded the candidate for her favour much as she might
have a letter of introduction; quite impersonally but decidedly
judicially.

"If Mr. Northrup will take pot luck and _as is_, I think he can stay,
brother."

Northrup had an unreasoning sense of relief. All his life his pulses
quickened when what he desired seemed about to elude him. He smiled,
now, like a boy.

"Thank you," he ventured, "you'll find me most grateful and
adaptable."

"Well, since that's settled," Aunt Polly seemed to pigeonhole her
guest and label him as an individual, "I'll run out and lay another
plate. You just go along upstairs and pick out your room. They are all
ready. The front ones open to the lake and the west; the back ones are
east and woodsy; outside of that there isn't much choice. It's one o'
clock now, but I can put things back a spell and give you a chance to
wash before dinner."

Northrup picked up his bag and hat and started for the stairs at the
far end of the room. The sense of unreality was still upon him. He
felt like breathing low and stepping light. The sensation smacked of
magic. So long as one could believe it, it would hold, but once you
doubted, the old, grim existence would snatch you!

Upstairs the hall ran from north to south of the rambling house, on
either side the doors opened, leading to small, orderly rooms,
apparently alike except in detail of colour and placing of furniture.
There was a hearth in every room, upon which lay wood ready to light
and beside which stood huge baskets of logs giving promise of
unlimited comfort. Fresh towels and water were on stands, and the beds
fairly reached out to tired bodies with assurances of rest and sleep.
Northrup went, still treading light and believing, from door to door,
and then he chose a west room because the lapping of the lake sounded
like a lullaby.

It was the work of a few moments to drop dust-stained garments and
plunge one's head into the icy water; a few moments more and a
refreshed man emerged from a vigorous rubbing and gave a laugh of
sheer delight.

"I'm in for it!" he muttered, still clinging to the mood of unreality.
"I bet my last nickel that something's going to happen and by the lord
Harry! I'm going to see it through. This is one of those holes Manly
prophesied about. Looks as if it had been waiting for me to come."

He was downstairs in time to help his host to the head of his table,
in the adjoining room. They made rather an imposing procession, Aunt
Polly leading, the golden collie bringing up the rear.

Heathcote in a fat whisper gave some staccato advice en route: "Better
call sister 'Aunt Polly' at once. If you don't suggest offishness,
none will be suspected. Fall in line, I say! Dog's name is Ginger.
Animals like to be tagged, more human-like. Act as if you always had
been, or had come back. If there's one thing Polly can't abide, it's
hitting a snag."

Devoutly Northrup vowed he'd be no snag.

He took his place on the east side of the table, so to speak, and the
lake was in front of him. The lake was becoming a vital feature in the
new environment.

The water was ruffled now; the reflections trembled and the lapping
was more insistent.

The food was excellent. Aunt Polly had prepared it and watched, with a
true artist's eye, her guest's appreciation of it.

"Food is just food to some folks," she confided, casting a slantwise
glance at her brother, "just what you might call fodder. But I allas
have held that, viewed rightly, it feeds body _and_ soul."

Heathcote chuckled.

"And right you are, Aunt Polly!" Northrup said, watching the effect of
his familiarity. Nothing occurred. He was being taken for granted.

Bits of history crept into the easy conversation during the meal.
Apparently meal-time was a function at the inn, not an episode.

Heathcote and his sister, it appeared, had come to King's Forest for
his health, fifty years before. He was twenty then; Aunt Polly
eighteen.

"Just like silly pioneers," Polly broke in, "but we found health and
work and we grew to love the place. We feel toward it as one does to
an adopted child, less understanding, but more responsible. Every once
so often, when we got into ruts, God Almighty made us realize that He
was keeping His hand on the reins," the dear old soul chuckled
happily. "Peter got himself made into a magistrate and that was
something to work with. We made a home and friends, but the Forest
isn't an easy proposition. It ain't changed much. It's lazy and rough,
and I often tell Peter that the place is like two old folks over on
the Point, Twombley and Peneluna. Still and scroogy, but keeping up a
mighty lot of thinking. If anything ever wakes the Forest up it's
going to show what it's been cogitating about."

"Is there a village?" Northrup asked.

"There's one seven miles from here," Heathcote replied; "stores, post
office, a Methodist minister--necessary evils, you know," this came
with a fat chuckle, "but the Forest ain't anything but the Forest.
Houses sorter dropped down carelesslike where someone's fancy fixed
'em. There used to be a church and school. The school burned down; the
church, half finished, stands like a hint for better living, on a
little island a half mile down the line. There's the Point where the
folks live as can't get a footing elsewhere. There's always a Point or
a Hollow, you know. And there's the Mines, back some miles to the
south. Iron that used to be worked. Queer holdings!"

Peter paused. Sustained conversation always made him pant and gave
Polly an opportunity to edge in.

"As I was saying," she began calmly, "every once so often God Almighty
made us realize that He had His hand on the reins. When me and Peter
got to acting as if we owned things, someone new happened along
and--stuck.

"First there was old Doctor Rivers. We never rightly knew where he
came from, or why. By and by we got to feeling we best showed our love
and respect by not wondering about him.

"Then after the doctor did his stint and left his mark, Maclin came.
We're studying over Maclin yet. He bought the Mines and kinder settled
down on us all like a heavy air that ain't got any set of the wind."

Aunt Polly was picturesque. Peter eyed her admiringly and gave his
comfortable chuckle.

"Sister holds," he explained, "that the Forest isn't the God-forsaken
place it looks to be, but is a rich possibility. I differ, and that is
what queers Maclin with us. His buying those wore-out mines and saying
he's going to _make_ the Forest is damaging evidence against him. He
ain't no fool: then what is he? That's what we're conjuring with.
Maclin ain't seeing himself in partnership with the Almighty, not he!
One-man firm for Maclin."

"Now, brother!" Polly remarked while Heathcote was catching his
breath, "I say give a good doubt to a man till you have to give a bad
one. We've no right to judge Maclin yet, he's only just begun to have
his say-so out loud, and put out feelers."

"And now"--Peter put his plate down for the faithful Ginger to lap
clean, and prepared to rise--"and now, you've come, stranger. When you
hesitated a time back as to whether you was pausing or staying on, I
just held my breath, and when you slapped out, 'staying on,' I thought
to myself, 'Now, which is he, a dispensation of Providence or just a
plain passer-by?'"

Northrup smiled grimly. This all fitted into his own vague mood of
unreality.

"You mustn't take me seriously," he said, going around the table to
help his host. "I'm as ordinary as the majority. I like the looks of
things here. I stop and enjoy myself, and pass on! That's the usual
way, isn't it?"

"Yes"--Polly began gathering the dishes--"it's what happens while one
stops, that counts. That, and what one leaves behind, when he passes
on. It's real queer, though, to have any one staying on this season of
the year."

During the afternoon Northrup wandered in the woods which rose
abruptly from behind the house. So still was the brilliant forest that
a falling leaf startled him and a scurrying creature among the bushes
set his nerves tingling. Then it was that the haunting face and voice
of the girl in the little yellow house rose again with an insistence
that could not be disregarded. It dominated his thought; it was part
of this strange sense of shadowy and coming events; it refused to be
set aside.

It did not mock him--he could have dealt with that phase--it pleaded.
It seemed to implore him to accept it along with his quickened pulses;
the colour of the autumn day; the sweetness of the smell of crushed
leaves; the sound of lapping water; the song of birds.

"I wonder who she is, and why she looks as she does?"

Northrup ceased to scoff at his fancy; he wooed it. He pictured the
girl's hair loose from the rough cap--curly, rather wild hair with an
uplift in every tendril. What colour was it? Gold-brown probably, like
the eyes. For five minutes he tried to decide this but knew that he
would have to see it again to make sure.

The face was a small face, but it was strong and unutterably
appealing. A hungry little face; a face whose soul was ill-nourished,
a contradictory face.

Northrup called himself to order just here. He wasn't going to be an
ass, not if he could help it!

"Strange voice!" he thought on. "It had _calls_ in it. I _am_ an ass!"
he admitted, and in order to get the better of the situation he turned
sharply and went back to the inn.



CHAPTER II


Northrup decided to refrain from asking questions. Long ago he
discovered that he could gain more from a receptive state of mind than
an inquiring one.

He began to understand his peculiar mental excitement. Manly was
right. All that was needed to bring about complete recovery was
detachment and opportunity for his machinery to get into action. He
knew the signs. The wheels were beginning to turn!

Now from Northrup's point of view this was all right; but his sudden
appearance in a place where bad roads and no reason for coming usually
kept people out, caused a ripple to reach from the inn to the Point
and even the Mines, twelve miles away.

The people took time before accepting strangers; they had not yet
digested Maclin, and in silent disapproval they regarded Northrup as
in some way connected with Maclin.

The mine owner had been more or less familiar to the Forest for
several years: his coming and going were watched and speculated upon.
Recently he had imported foreign labour, much to the sneering contempt
of the natives whose philosophy did not include the necessity of
perpetual work and certainly repudiated the idea of outsiders
originating a new system. But Northrup was not a foreigner. He must be
regarded from a different angle.

Aunt Polly made it her business, after the first few days, to start
propaganda of a safe and inspiring character about her guest. While
not committing herself to any definite statement, she made it known
that if Northrup had any connection with Maclin, he was against him,
not for him.

Maclin just then was the hub from which the spokes of curiosity led.

"He couldn't be for Maclin," Polly had said to Peter. "You know that
as well as I do, Peter Heathcote. And getting facts signed and
witnessed is an awful waste of time. The Lord gave women a sixth sense
and it's a powerful sight surer than affidavits."

Peter grunted. So long as Polly hinted and made no statements he was
content. He believed she was partly right. He thought Northrup might
be on Maclin's trail, and from appearances Peter had confidence in his
guest's ability to run his quarry to earth where, heretofore, others
of the Forest had failed.

He liked Northrup, believed in him, and while he sat and nursed his
leg, he let Polly do her hinting.

It was the evening of Northrup's third day at the inn when the three,
with Ginger blinking contentedly, sat by the fire. Polly knitted and
smiled happily. She had drifted that day into calling Northrup "Brace"
and that betokened surrender. Peter puffed and regarded his bandaged
leg--he had taken a few steps during the afternoon, leaning on
Northrup's arm, and his mood was one of supreme satisfaction.

Breaking the silence, now and again, an irritating sound of a bell
intruded. It was a disconcerting note for it had a wild quality as if
it were being run away with and was sending forth an appeal. Loud;
soft; near; distant.

"Is there a church around here?" Northrup asked at last.

"There is," Heathcote replied, taking the pipe from his lips. "It's
the half-built church I mentioned to you. A bit down the line you come
to a bridge across an arm of the lake. On a little island is the
chapel. It ain't ever used now. Remember, Polly," Heathcote turned to
his sister, "the last time the Bishop came here? Mary-Clare was about
as high as nothing, and just getting over the mumps. She got panicky
when she heard of the Bishop, asked ole Doc if she could catch it. I
guess the Bishop wasn't catching! Yes, sir, the church is there, but
it's deserted."

"What is the bell ringing for?" Northrup roused, more because the
name of Mary-Clare had been introduced than because the bell
interested him.

He knew, now, that the girl in the yellow house was Mary-Clare. Her
name slipped into sound frequently, but that was all.

"Who is ringing the bell?"

Aunt Polly rolled her knitting carefully and set her glasses aslant on
the top of her head. Northrup soon learned that the angle and position
of Aunt Polly's spectacles were significant.

"No human hands are ringing the bell," she remarked quietly. "I hold
one notion, Peter another. _I_ say the _bell_ is ha'nted; calling,
calling folks, making them remember!"

"Now, Polly!" Peter knocked the ashes from his pipe on to Ginger's
back. "Don't get to criss-crossing and apple-sassing about that bell."
He turned to Northrup and winked.

"Women is curious," he admitted. "When things are flat and lacking
flavour they put in a pinch of this or that to spice them up. Fact
is--there's a change of wind and it ain't sot yet. While it's shifting
around it hits, once so often, a chink in the belfry that's got to be
mended some day. That's the sum and tee-total of Polly's ha'nted
tower."

Then, as if the question escaped without his sanction and quite to his
consternation, Northrup spoke again:

"Who lives in the yellow house by the crossroads?"

This was not honest. Northrup knew _who_. What he wanted to say, but
had not dared, was: "Tell me about her."

"I reckon you mean Mary-Clare." Aunt Polly shook a finger at Ginger.
"That dog," she added, "jest naturally hates the bell ringing. Animals
sense more than men!"

This slur escaped Peter, he was intent upon Northrup's question.

"Seen that girl in the yellow house?" he asked. "Great girl,
Mary-Clare. Great girl."

"I stopped there on my way here to ask directions. Rather unusual
looking girl."

"She is that!" Peter nodded. Mary-Clare was about the only bit of
romance Peter permitted himself. "Remember the night Mary-Clare was
born, Polly?"

Of course Polly remembered. Northrup felt fully convinced that Polly
knew everything in King's Forest and never forgot it. She nodded, drew
her spectacles over her eyes, and continued her knitting while Peter
hit the high spots of Mary-Clare's past. Somehow the shallows Northrup
was filling while he listened.

Peter was in his element and drawled on:

"The wildest storm you ever saw round these parts--snow and gale; they
don't usually hang together long, but they did that night. It was a
regular night if there ever was one. Nobody stirring abroad 'less he
had to. Ole Doc was out--someone over the mine-way had got mussed up
with the machinery. Ole Doc was a minister as well as a doctor. He'd
tried both jobs and used to say it came in handy, but he leaned most
to medicine as being, what you might say, more practical."

"You needn't be sacrilegious, brother," Polly interjected. "The story
won't lose anything by holding to reverence."

"Oh, well," Heathcote chuckled, "have it any way you want to. Ole Doc
had us coming and going, that's what I'm getting over. If he found he
couldn't help folks to live, he plumped about and helped 'em to
die. Great man, ole Doc! Came as you did, son, and settled. We never
knew anything about his life before he took root here. Well, that
night I'm telling you about, he was on his way back from the mines
when he spied a fire on the up-side of the lake. He said it looked
mighty curious shining and flaming in the blinding whiteness. It
was Dan Hamlin's shack. Later we heard what had happened. Dan had
come home drunk--when he wasn't drunk you couldn't find a decenter
man than Hamlin, but liquor made him quarrelsome. His wife was
going to have a baby--Mary-Clare, to be exact--and when he came in
with Jack Seaver, the mail-carrier, there was a row on concerning
something Seaver hadn't brought that Hamlin had ordered for his
wife. There never was any reasoning with Hamlin when he was
drunk, so Seaver tried to settle the question by a fight. Seaver was
like that--never had any patience. Lamp turned over, set the shack
on fire!" Peter breathed hard.

"Mrs. Hamlin ran for her life and the two men ran from justice. Seaver
came back later and told the story. Hamlin shot himself the following
day when he heard what had happened. Blamed fool! Mary-Clare was left,
but she didn't seem to amount to much in the beginning. It was this
way: Mrs. Hamlin ran till she fell in a snowdrift. Ole Doc found her
there." Heathcote paused. The logs fell apart and the room grew hot.
Northrup started as if roused from a dream.

"Yes, sir!" Heathcote went on. "Ole Doc found her there and, well,
sir, he was doctor and minister for sure that night. There wasn't no
choice as you might say. Mary-Clare was born in that snowdrift, and
the mother died there! Ole Doc took 'em both home later."

"Good God!" ejaculated Northrup. "That's the grimmest tale I ever
listened to. What came next?"

"The funeral--a double one, for they brought Hamlin's body back. Then
the saving of Mary-Clare. Polly and I wanted her--but ole Doc said
he'd have to keep an eye on her for a while--she seemed sorter
petering out for some time, and then when she took a turn and caught
on, you couldn't pry her away from ole Doc. He gave her his name and
everything else. His wife was dead; his boy away to school, his
housekeeper was a master hand with babies, and somehow ole Doc got to
figuring out that Mary-Clare was a recompense for what he'd lost in
women folks, and so he raised her and taught her. Good Lord, the
education he pumped into that girl! He wouldn't let her go to school,
but whenever he happened to think of anything he taught it to her, and
he was powerful educated. Said he wanted to see what he could do by
answering her questions and letting her think things out for herself.
Remember, Polly, how Mary-Clare used to ride behind ole Doc with a
book braced up against his back?"

Aunt Polly lifted the sock she was knitting and wiped her eyes.

"Mary-Clare just naturally makes you laugh and cry at once," the old
voice replied, "remembering her is real diverting. She came from
plain, decent stock, but something was grafted onto her while she was
young and it made a new kind of girl of Mary-Clare. So loving and
loyal." Again Aunt Polly wiped her eyes.

"And brave and grateful," Heathcote took up his story, "and terrible
far-seeing. I don't hold with Polly that Mary-Clare became something
new by grafting. Seems more like she was two girls, both keeping pace
and watching out and one standing guard if the other took a time off.
I never did feel sure ole Doc was quite fair with Mary-Clare. Without
meaning to, he got a stranglehold on that girl. She'd have trotted off
to hell for him, or with him. She'd have held her head high and
laughed it off, too. I don't suppose any one on God's earth actually
knows what the real Mary-Clare thinks about things on her own hook,
but you bet she has ideas!"

Northrup was more interested than he had been in many a day. The story
thrilled him. The girl of the yellow house loomed large upon his
vision and he began to understand. He was not one to scoff at things
beyond the pale of exact science; his craft was one that took much for
granted that could not be reduced to fact. Standing at the door of the
little yellow house he had become a victim of suggestion. That
accounted for it. The mists were passing. He had not been such an ass,
after all.

"So! that is your old doctor's place down by the crossroads?" he said
with a genuine sense of relief.

"It was. Ole Doc died seven years back."

"What became of his son--you said he had a boy?" Northrup was
gathering the threads in his hands. Nothing must escape him; it was
all grist.

"Oh! Larry came off and on the scene. There are them as think ole Doc
didn't treat Larry fair and square. I don't know, but anyway, just
before ole Doc was struck with that stroke that finished him, Larry
came home and seemed to be forgiving enough, if there had been any
wrong done. He had considerable education; ole Doc had given him that
chance, but Larry drifted--allas was, and still is, a drifter. We all
stand pat for the feller on account of his father and Mary-Clare. It
was a blamed risky thing, though, Larry's marrying Mary-Clare! I allas
will hold to that!"

Once, when Northrup was a young boy, he had been shocked by
electricity. The memory of his experience often recurred to him in
moments of stress. He had been standing within a few yards of the tree
that had been shattered, and he had fallen unconscious. When he came
to, he was vividly aware of the slightest details of sight and sound
surrounding him. His senses seemed to have been quickened during the
lapse of time. He winced at the light; the flickering of leaves above
him hurt; the song of birds beat against his brain with sweet clamour,
and he vaguely wondered what had happened to him; where he had been?

In like manner Northrup, now, was aware of a painful keenness of his
senses. Heathcote looked large and his voice vibrated in the quiet
room; Aunt Polly seemed dwindling, physically, while something about
her--the light playing on her knitting needles and spectacles,
probably--radiated. The crackling logs were like claps of thunder.
Northrup pulled himself to an upright position as one does who resists
hypnotism.

"I'm afraid you're tiring Brace, brother."

Aunt Polly's voice, low, even, and calm, got into the confusion as a
soft breeze had, that day so long ago, and brought full consciousness
in its wake.

"On the other hand," Northrup gave a relieved laugh, "I am intensely
interested. You see, she looks so young, that Mrs.--Mrs.----"

"Rivers?" suggested Heathcote refilling his pipe. "Lord! I wonder if
any one ever called Mary-Clare Mrs. Rivers before, Polly?" Heathcote
paused, then went on:

"Yes; Mary-Clare holds her own and her boy-togs help the idea.
Mary-Clare ain't properly grown up, anyway. Some parts of her are
terrible strong and thrifty; parts as has caught the sunlight, so to
speak, and been sheltered from blasts. The other parts of her ain't
what you might say shrivelled, but they've kept hid and they ain't
ever on exhibition."

"How ridiculous you _are_, brother." Aunt Polly was enjoying her
brother's flights, but felt called upon to keep him in order.

"Oh! it's just a blamed amusing fancy of mine," Heathcote chuckled,
"to calculate 'bout Mary-Clare. You see, being a magistrate, I married
Mary-Clare to Larry, and I've never been at ease about the thing,
though I had to put it through. There lay ole Doc looking volumes and
not being able to speak a word--nothing to do for him but keep him
company and try to find out what he wanted. He kept on wanting
something like all possessed. Larry and Mary-Clare hung over him
asking, was it this or that? and his big, burning eyes sorter
flickering, never steady. I recall old Peneluna Todd was there and she
said the young uns were pestering the ole Doc. Then, it was 'long
about midnight, Larry rose up from asking some question, and there was
a new look on his face, a white, frozen kind of look. Mary-Clare
kinder sprang at him. 'What is it?' she whispered, and I ain't never
forgot her face. At first Larry didn't answer and he began shaking,
like he had the chills.

"'You must tell me, Larry!' Mary-Clare went up close and took Larry by
the shoulders as if she was going to tear his secret from him. Then
she went on to say how he had no right to keep anything from her--her,
as would give her soul for the ole Doc. She meant it, too. Well, Larry
sort of dragged it out of himself. Ole Doc wanted him and Mary-Clare
to marry! That was what was wanted! There wasn't much time to consider
things, but Mary-Clare went close to the bed and knelt down and said
slowly and real tender:

"'You can hear me, can't you, Daddy?' The flicker in ole Doc's eyes
steadied. I reckon any call of Mary-Clare's could halt him, short of
the other side of Jordan. 'Then, dearie Dad, listen.' Just like that
she said it. I remember every word. 'You want me to marry Larry--now?
It would make you--happy?' The steady look seemed to kinder freeze. I
called it a listening look more than an understanding one. I'll allas
hold to that, but God knows there warn't much time to calculate.
Peneluna began acting up but Mary-Clare set her aside.

"'All right, Daddy darling!' she whispered, and with that she stood up
and said to me, 'You marry us at once! Come close so that he can see
and know!'

"Things go here in the Forest that don't go elsewhere; I married
them two because I couldn't help it--something drew me on. And
then just when I got to the end, ole Doc rose up like he was
lifted--he stared at what was passing; tried to say something, and
sank back smiling--dead!"

Northrup wiped his forehead. There were drops of perspiration on it,
and his breath came roughly through his throat; he seemed part of the
dramatic scene.

"Satisfied, _I_ say!" broke in Aunt Polly. "It _was_ a big risk, but
the dying see far, and the doctor had left all he had to Mary-Clare,
which didn't seem just right to his flesh-and-blood boy, and I guess
he wanted to mend a bad matter the only way he could."

"Maybe!" sighed Peter. "Maybe. But he took big chances even for a
dying man. I couldn't get rid of the notion that when he cottoned to
what had been done, he sorter threw up his hands! But what happened to
Mary-Clare just took my breath. 'Pon my soul, as I looked at her it
was like I saw her going away after ole Doc and leaving, in her place,
a new, different woman that really didn't count so long as she looked
after things while the real Mary-Clare went about her business. It was
disturbing and I felt downright giddy."

"You're downright silly, Peter Heathcote"--Polly tossed her knitting
aside and shifted the pillows of the couch--"making Mary-Clare out the
way you do when she's ordinary enough and doing her life tasks same as
other folks."

"How has it worked out?" Northrup heard the words as if another spoke
them.

"I guess, friend, that's what no one actually knows." Peter pulled on
his pipe. "Larry is on and off. Maclin, over to the mines, seems to do
the ordering of Larry's coming and going. Darned funny business, I
say. However, there you are. When Larry is home I guess the way
Mary-Clare holds her head and laughs gets on his nerves. No man likes
to feel that he can't clutch hold of his wife, but it comes to that,
say what you will, Mary-Clare keeps free of things in a mighty odd
fashion; I mean the real part of her; the other part goes regular
enough.

"She don't slacken up on her plain duty. What the ole Doc left she
shares right enough with Larry; she keeps the house like it should be
kept, and she's a good second to Polly here, where fodder is
concerned. But something happened when Larry was last home that leaked
out somehow. A girl called Jan-an let it slip. Not a quarrel exactly,
but a thing that wasn't rightfully settled. Larry was ordered off,
sudden, by Maclin, but take it from me, when Larry comes back he'll
get his innings. Larry isn't what you could call a sticker, but he
gets there all the same. He ain't going to let any woman go too far
with him. That's where Larry comes out strong--with women."

"I don't know as you ought to talk so free, brother." Polly looked
dubious.

"In the meantime," Northrup said quietly, "the little wife lives alone
in the yellow house, waiting?" He hadn't heard Polly's caution.

He was thinking of Mary-Clare's look when she confronted him the day
of his coming. Was she expecting her husband? Had she learned to love
him? Was she that kind of woman? The kind that thrives on neglect and
indifference?

"Not alone, as you might say," Heathcote's voice drawled. "There's
Noreen, her little girl, you know. Noreen seems at times to be about a
thousand years older than her mother, but by actual count she's going
on six, ain't that it, Polly?"

Again Northrup felt as he had that day by the lightning-shattered
tree.

"Her little girl?" he asked slowly, and Aunt Polly raised her eyes to
his face. She looked troubled, vaguely uneasy.

"Yep!" Peter rose stiffly. He wanted to go to bed. "Noreen's the
saving from the litter. How many was there, Polly?"

Polly got upon her feet, the trouble-look growing in her eyes.

"Noreen had a twin as was dead," she said tenderly. "Then the last one
lived two hours--that's all, brother." She walked to the window. "The
storm is setting this way," she went on. "Just listen to that lake
acting up as if it was the ocean."

The riotous swish of the water sounded distant but insistent in the
warm, quiet room, and faintly, at rare intervals, the bell, rung by
unseen forces, struck dully. It had given up the struggle.

Northrup, presently, had a strong inclination to say to his host that
he had changed his mind and must leave on the morrow. That course
seemed the only safe and wise one.

"But why?" Something new and uncontrolled demanded an answer. Why,
indeed? Why should anything he had heard cause him to change his
plans? This hectic story of a young woman had set his imagination
afire, but it must not make a fool of him. What really was taking
place became presently overpoweringly convincing.

"I am going to write!"

That was it! The story had struck his dull brain into action and he
had been caught in time, before running away. He had gained the thing
he had been pursuing, and he might have let it escape! The woman of
the yellow house became a mere bearer of a rare gift--his restored
power! He was safe; everything was safe. The world had righted itself
at last. It wasn't the woman with the dun-coloured ending to her story
that mattered; it was the story.

"I think I'll turn in," he said, stifling a yawn, "Good-night."

"Don't hurry about breakfast," Aunt Polly said gently. "Breakfast is
only a starter, I always hold. It's like kindlings to start the big
logs. Sleep well, and God bless you!"

She smiled up at her guest as if he were an old friend--come back!

Up in his room Northrup had difficulty in keeping himself from work.
He dared not begin; if he did he would write all night. He must be
sure. In the meantime, he wrote to his mother:

  By the above heading you'll see how far I've got on my way,
  searching for my lost health. I'm really in great shape. Manly was
  right: I had to let go! I'm struggling now between two courses.
  Apparently I was in a blue funk; all I needed was to find it out.
  Well, I've found it out. Shall I come home and prove it by doing
  the sensible thing, or shall I go on and make it doubly sure? If
  anything important turns up I would telegraph, but in case I _do_
  go on I want to do the job thoroughly and for a time lose myself.
  I will wait your word, Mother.

Northrup was not seeking to deceive any one. He might strike out for
new places in a week, or he might, if the mood held, write in King's
Forest. It all depended upon the mood. What really mattered was an
unfettered state.

The vagrant in him, that had been starved and denied, rose supreme.
Now that he was sure that he was going to write, had a big theme,
there was excuse for his desire to be free. He would return to his
chink in the wall, as Manly explained, better fitted for it and with a
wider vision. He had a theory that a writer was, more or less, like a
person with a contagious disease: he should be exiled until all danger
to the peace and happiness of others was past. If only the evenly
balanced folks would see that and not act as if they were being
insulted!

While he undressed, Northrup was sketching his plot mentally. In the
morning it would be _fixed_; it would be more like copying than
creating when a pen was resorted to.

"I'll take that girl in the yellow house and do no end of things with
her. Dual personality! Lord, and in this stagnant pool! All right.
Dual personality. Now she must get a jog about her husband and wake
up! Two men and one woman. Triangle, of course. Nothing new under
God's heaven. It's the handling of the ragged old things. I can make
rather a big story out of the ingredients at hand."

Northrup felt that he was going to sleep; going to rise to the
restored desire for work. No wonder he laughed and whistled--softly;
he had overtaken himself!

Three days later a telegram came from Mrs. Northrup.

"Go on," it said simply. Mrs. Northrup knew when it was wisest to let
go. But this was not true of Kathryn Morris, the other woman most
closely attached to Northrup's life. Kathryn never let go. When she
lost interest in any one, or anything, she flung it, or him, from her
with no doubtful attitude of mind. Kathryn meant to marry Northrup
some day and he fully expected to marry her, though neither of them
could ever recall just when, or how, this understanding had been
arrived at.

It was, to all appearances, a most fitting outcome to close family
interests and friendships. It had just naturally happened up to the
point when both would desire to bring it to a culmination. The next
step, naturally, must be taken by Kathryn for, when Northrup had
ventured to suggest, during his convalescence, a definite date for
their wedding, Kathryn had, with great show of tenderness, pushed the
matter aside.

The fact was, marriage to Kathryn was not a terminal, but a way
station where one was obliged to change for another stretch on a
pleasant and unhampered journey, and she had no intention of marrying
a possible invalid or, perhaps, a dying man.

So while Northrup struggled out of his long and serious illness,
Kathryn played her little game under cover. Some women, rather dull
and stupid ones, can do this admirably if they are young enough and
lovely enough to carry it through, and Kathryn was both. She had also
that peculiar asset of looking divinely intuitive and sweet during her
silences, and it would have taken a keen reader of human nature to
decide whether Kathryn Morris's silences brooded over a rare storeroom
of treasure or over a haunted and empty chamber.

Without any one being aware of the reasons for his reappearance, a
certain Alexander Arnold materialized while Northrup had been at his
worst. Sandy Arnold had figured rather vehemently in the year
following Kathryn's "coming out," but had faded away when Northrup
began to show signs of becoming famous.

Arnold was a man who made money and lost it in a breath-taking
fashion, but gradually he was steadying himself and was more often up
than down--he was decidedly up at the time of Northrup's darkest hour;
he was still refusing to disappear when Northrup emerged from the
shadows and showed signs of persisting. This was disconcerting.
Kathryn faced a situation, and situations were never thrilling to her:
she lacked the sporting spirit; she always played safe or endeavoured
to. Sandy was still in evidence when Northrup disappeared from the
scene.

Mrs. Northrup read Brace's letter to Kathryn, and something in the
girl rose in alarm. This ignoring of her, for whatever reason, was
most disturbing. Brace should have taken her, if not his mother, into
his confidence. Instead he had "cut and run"--that was the way Kathryn
_thought_ of it. Aloud she said, with that ravishing look of hers:

"How very Brace-like! Getting material and colour I suppose he calls
it. I wish"--this with a tender, yearning smile--"I wish, for your
sake and mine, dear, that his genius ran in another direction, stocks
or banking--anything with an office. It is so worrying, this trick of
his of hunting plots."

"I only hope that he can write again," Mrs. Northrup returned, patting
the letter on her knee. Once she had wanted to write, but she had had
her son instead. In her day women did not have professions _and_ sons.
They chose. Well, she had chosen, and paid the price. Her husband had
cost her much; her son was her recompense. He was her interpreter,
also.

"Where do you think he'll go?" Kathryn asked.

"He'll tell us when he comes home." There was something cryptic about
Helen Northrup when she was seeking to help her son. Kathryn once more
bridled. She was direct herself, very direct, but her advances were
made under a barrage fire.

Her next step was to go to Doctor Manly. She chose his office hour,
waited her turn, and then pleaded wakefulness and headache as her
excuse for the call.

Manly hated wakefulness and headaches. You couldn't put them under the
X-ray; you couldn't operate on them; you had to deal with them by
faith. Kathryn was not lacking in imagination and she gave a fairly
accurate description of long, black hours and consequent pain--"here."
She touched the base of her brain. She vaguely recalled that the nerve
centres were in that locality.

Manly was impressed and while he was off on that scent, somehow
Northrup got into the conversation.

"I cannot help worrying about Brace, more for his mother's sake than
his." Kathryn looked very sweet and womanly, "He has been so ill and
the letter his mother has just received _is_ disturbing."

Here Kathryn quoted it and Manly grinned.

"That's all right," he said, shaking a bottle of pills. "It does a
human creature no end of good to run away at times. I often wonder why
more of us don't do it and come back keener and better."

"Some of us have duties." Kathryn looked noble and self-sacrificing.

"Some of us would perform them a darned sight better if we took the
half holiday now and then that the soul, or whatever you call it,
craves. Now Northrup ought to look to his job--it _is_ a job in his
case. You wouldn't expect a travelling salesman to hang around his
shop all the time, would you?"

Kathryn had never had any experience with travelling salesmen--she
wasn't clear as to their mission in life. So she said doubtfully:

"I suppose not."

"Certainly not! An office man is one thing; a professional man,
another; and these wandering Johnnies, like Northrup, still another
breed. He's been starving his scent--that's what I told him. Too much
_woman_ in his--and I don't mean to hurt you, Kathryn, but you ought
to get it into your system that marrying a man like Northrup is like
marrying a doctor or minister; you've got to have a lot of faith or
you're going to break your man."

Kathryn's eyes contracted, then she laughed.

"How charming you are, Doctor Manly, when you're making talk. Are
those pills bitter?" Kathryn reached out for them. "Not that I mind,
but I hate to be taken by surprise."

"They're as bitter as--well, they're quinine. You need toning up."

"You think I need a change?" The tone was pensive.

"Change?" Manly had a sense of humour. "Well, yes, I do. Go to bed
early. Cut out rich food; you'll be fat at forty if you don't, Miss
Kathryn. Take up some good physical work, not exercises. Really, it
would be a great thing for you if you discharged one of your maids."

"Which one, Doctor Manly?"

"The one who is on her feet most."

And so, while Northrup settled down in King's Forest, and his mother
fancied him travelling far, Kathryn set her pretty lips close and
jotted down the address of Helen Northrup's letter in a small red
book.



CHAPTER III


Mary-Clare stood in the doorway of the little yellow house. Her
mud-stained clothes gave evidence that the recent storm had not kept
her indoors--she was really in a very messy, caked state--but it was
always good to breathe the air after a big storm; it was so alive and
thrilling, and she had put off a change of dress while she debated a
second trip. There was a stretching-out look on Mary-Clare's face and
her eyes were turned to a little trail leading into the hilly woods
across the highway.

Noreen came to the door and stood close to her mother. Noreen was only
six, but at times she looked ageless. When the child abandoned herself
to pure enjoyment, she talked baby talk and--played. But usually she
was on guard, in a fierce kind of blind adoration for her mother. Just
what the child feared no one could tell, but there was a constant
appearance of alertness in her attitude even in her happiest moments.

"I guess you want the woods, Motherly?" The small up-turned face made
the young mother's heart beat quicker; the tie was strong between
them.

"I do, Noreen. It has been ten whole days since I had them."

"Well, Motherly, why don't you go?"

"And leave my baby alone?"

"I'll get Jan-an to come!"

"Oh! you blessed!" Mary-Clare bent and kissed the worshipping face. "I
tell you, Sweetheart. Mother will take a bite of lunch and go up the
trail, if you will go to Jan-an. If you cannot find her, then come up
the trail to Motherly--how will that do?"

"Yes," Noreen sweetly acquiesced. "I'll come to the--the----" she
waited for the word.

"Yawning Gap," suggested the mother, reverting to a dearly loved
romance.

"Yes. I'll come to the Yawning Gap and I'll give the call."

"And I'll call back: _Oh! wow!--Oh! wo!_" The musical voice rose like
a flute and Noreen danced about.

"And I'll answer: _wo wow!--oh!_" The piping tones were also
flute-like, an echo of the mother's.

"And then, down will fall the drawbridge with a mighty clatter."
Mary-Clare looked majestic even in her muddy trousers as she portrayed
the action. "And over the Gap will come the Princess Light-of-my-Heart
with her message."

"Ah! yes, Motherly. It will be such fun. But if Jan-an can come here
to stay, then what?" the voice faltered.

"Why, Light-of-my-Heart, I will return strong and hungry, and Jan-an
and my Princess and I will sit by the fire to-night and roast
chestnuts and apples and there will be such a story as never was
before."

"Both ways are beautiful ways, Motherly. I don't know which is
bestest."

It was always so with Mary-Clare and Noreen, all ways were alluring;
but the child had deep intuitions, and so she set her face at once
away from the little yellow house and the mother in the doorway, and
started on her quest of Jan-an.

When the child had passed from sight Mary-Clare packed a bit of
luncheon in a basket and ran lightly across the road. She looked back,
making sure that no one was watching her movements, then she plunged
into the woods, her head lowered, and her heart throbbing high.

The trail was not an easy one--Mary-Clare had seen to that!--and as no
one but Noreen and herself ever trod it, it was hardly discernible to
the uninitiated. Up and up the path led until it ended at a rough,
crude cabin almost hidden by a tangle of vines.

Looking back over the years of her married life, Mary-Clare often
wondered how she could have endured them but for the vision and
strength she received in her "Place," as she whimsically called
it--getting her idea from a Bible verse.

Among the many things that old Doctor Rivers had given Mary-Clare was
a knowledge and love of the Bible. He had offered the book to her as
literature and early in life she had responded to the appeal. The
verse that had inspired her to restore a deserted cabin to a thing of
beauty and eventually a kind of sanctuary, was this:

  And the woman fled into the wilderness where she hath a place
  prepared of God that they should feed her there.

The words, roughly carved, were traced on the east wall of the cabin
and under a picture of Father Damien.

The furniture of the shack was made by Mary-Clare's own hands. A long
table, some uneven shelves for books she most loved, a chair or two
and a low couch over which was thrown a gay-patched quilt. Once the
work of love was completed, Nature reached forth with offerings of
lovely vines and mountain laurel and screened the place from any
chance passer-by.

A hundred feet below the cabin was a little stream. That marked the
limit of even Noreen's territory unless, after due ceremony, she was
permitted to advance as far as the cabin door. The pretty game was
evolved to please the child and secure for the mother a privacy she
might not have got in any other way.

As Mary-Clare reached the "Place" this autumn day, she was a bit
breathless and stepped lightly as one does who approaches a shrine;
she went inside and, kneeling by the cracked but dustless hearth,
lighted a fire; then she took a seat by the rough table, clasped her
hands upon it and lifted her eyes to the words upon the opposite
wall.

Sitting so, a startling change came over the young face. It was like a
letting down of strong defences. The smile fled, the head bowed, and a
pitiful look of appeal settled from brow to trembling lips.

Mary-Clare had come to a sharp turn on her road and, as yet, she
could not see her way! She had drifted--she could, with Larry
away--but now he was coming home!

She had tried, God knew, for three long months to be sure. She _must_
be sure, she was like that; sure that she _felt_ her way to be the
_right_ way; so sure that, should she find it later the wrong way, she
could retrace her steps without remorse. It was the believing, at the
start, that she was doing right, that mattered.

Sitting in the quiet room with the autumn sunlight coming through the
clustering vines at window and door and falling upon her in dancing
patterns, the woman waited for guidance. The room became a place of
memory and vision.

Help would come, she still had the faith, but it must come at once for
her husband might at any hour return from one of his mysterious
business trips and there must be a decision reached before she met
him. She could not hope to make him understand her nor sympathize with
her; he and she, beyond the most ordinary themes, spoke different
languages. She had learned that.

She must take her stand alone; hold it alone; but the stand must seem
to her right and then she could go on. Like the flickering sunbeams
playing over her, the past came touching her memory with light and
shade, unconsciously preparing her for her decision. She was not
thinking, but thought was being formed.

The waves of memory swept Mary-Clare from her moorings. She was no
longer the harassed woman facing her problem in the clear light of
conviction; but the child, whose mistaken ideals of love and loyalty
had betrayed her so cruelly. Why had she who early had been taught by
Doctor Rivers to "use her woman brain," gone so utterly astray?

Why had she married Larry when she never loved him; felt him to be a
stranger, simply because he had interpreted the words of a dying man
for her?

In the light of realization the errors of life become our most deadly
accusers. We dare not make others pay for the folly that we should
never have perpetrated. Mary-Clare, the woman, had paid and paid,
until now she faced bankruptcy; she was prepared still to do her part
as far as in her lay--but she must retrace her steps, be sure and then
go on as best she could.

Always, in those old childish days, there had been the grim spectre of
Larry's mother. Her name was never mentioned but to the imaginative,
sensitive Mary-Clare, she became, for that very reason, a clearly
defined and potent influence. She was responsible for the doctor's
lonely life in King's Forest; for Larry's long absences from home; for
the lines that grew between the old doctor's eyes when he laid down
the few simple laws of conduct that formed the iron code of life:

_Never lie. Never break a promise. Never take advantage for selfish
gain. Think things out with your woman brain, and never count the cost
if you know it is right._

Larry's mother, so the child believed, had not kept the code--therefore,
Mary-Clare must the more strictly adhere to it and become what the
other had not! And how desperately she had struggled to reach her
ideal. In the conflict, only her sunny joyous nature had saved her from
wreck. Naturally direct and loyal, much of what might have occurred
was prevented. Passionate love and devout belief in the old doctor
eliminated other dangers.

It was well and right to use your "woman brain," but when in the end
you always came to the conclusion that the doctor's way was your way,
life was simplified. If one could not fully understand, then all the
more reason for relying upon a good guide, a tested friend; but above
all other considerations, once the foundation was secure was this: she
must make up to her adored doctor and Larry for what that unmentioned,
mysterious woman had denied them.

It had all seemed so simple, when one did not know!

That was it. Breathing hard, Mary-Clare came back to the present. She
could not know until she had lived, and being married did not stop
life. And now, Mary-Clare could consider, as if apart from herself,
from the girl who had married Larry because he had caught the dying
request of the old doctor. She had wanted to do right at that last
tragic moment. She had done it with the false understanding of
reality and found out the truth--by living. It had seemed to her, in
her ignorance, the only way to relieve the suffering of the dying: to
help Larry who was deprived of everything.

Mary-Clare must not desert, as the unmentioned woman had.

But life, living--how they had torn the blindness from her! How she
had paid and paid until that awful awakening after the birth and death
of her last child, three months before! She had tried then to make
Larry understand before he went away, but she could not! Larry always
ascribed her moods, as he called them, to her "just going to have a
child," or "getting over having one."

He had gone away tolerant, but with a warning: "A man isn't going to
stand too much!"

These words had been a challenge. There could be no more compromising.
Pay-day had come for her and Larry.

But the letters!

At this thought Mary-Clare sat up rigidly. A squirrel, that had paused
at her quiet feet, darted affrightedly across the cabin floor.

The letters! The letters in the box hid on the shelf of the closet in
the upper chamber. Always those letters had driven her back from the
light which experience shed upon her to the darkness of ignorance.

Larry had given the letters to her at the time when she questioned,
after the doctor's death, Larry's right to hold her to her marriage
vows. How frightened and full of despair she had been. She had felt
that perhaps Larry had not understood. Why had the doctor never told
her of his desire for her and Larry to marry? Then it was that Larry
had gone away to bring proof. He had never meant to show it to her,
but he must clear himself at the critical moment.

And so he brought the letters. Mary-Clare knew every word of them.
They were burned into her soul: they had been the guides on the hard
road she had travelled. The doctor had always wanted her and Larry to
marry; believed that they would. But she must be left free; no word
must be spoken until she was old enough to choose. To prove his faith
and love in his adopted child, Rivers had, so the letters to Larry
revealed, left his all to her. In case she could not marry Larry, he
confided in her justice to share with him.

The last dark hour had broken the old doctor's self-control--he had
voiced what heretofore he had kept secret. The letters stood as silent
proof of this. And then the old, rigid code asserted its influence. A
promise must be kept!

And so the payment began, but it was not, had never been, the real
Mary-Clare who had paid. Something had retreated during the bleak
years, that which remained fulfilled the daily tasks; kept its own
council, laughed at length, and knew a great joy in the baby Noreen,
seemed a proof that God was still with her while she held to what
appeared to be right.

And then the last child came, looked at her with its deep accusing
eyes and died!

In that hour, or so it seemed, the real Mary-Clare returned and
demanded recognition. There was to be no more compromise; no more
calling things by false names and striving to believe them real. There
was but one safe road: truth.

And Larry was coming home. He had not understood when he went away: he
would not understand now. Still, truth must be faced.

The letters!

Mary-Clare now leaned on the table, her eyes fixed upon the wall
opposite. The roughly carved words caught and held her attention.
Gradually it came to her, vaguely, flickeringly, like a will-o'-the-wisp
darting through a murky night, that if life meant anything it meant a
faith in what was true. She must not demand more than that; a sense
of truth.

As a little child may look across the familiar environment of its
nursery and contemplate its first unaided step, so Mary-Clare
considered her small world: her unthinking world of King's Forest, and
prepared to take her lonely course. The place in which she had been
born and bred: the love and friends that had held her close suddenly
became strange to her. What was to befall her, once she let go the
conventions that upheld her?

Well, that was not for her to ask. There was the letting go and then
the first unaided step. Nothing must hold her back--not even those
letters that had sustained her! In recognizing her big problem in her
small and crude world, Mary-Clare had no thought of casting aside her
obligation or duties--her distress was founded upon a fear that those
blessed, sacred duties would have none of her because she had not that
with which to buy favour.

There was Noreen--she was Larry's, too. Through the years Mary-Clare
had remembered that almost fiercely as she combated the child's
aversion to her father. Suddenly, as small things do occur at strained
moments, hurting like a cruel blow, a scene at the time when Noreen
was but four years old, rose vividly before her. Larry, sensing the
baby's hatred, had tried to force an outward show of obedience and
affection. He had commanded Noreen to come and kiss him.

Like a bird under the spell of a serpent, Noreen had stood affrighted
and silent. The command was repeated, laughingly, jeeringly, but under
it Mary-Clare had recognized that ring of brutality that occasionally
marked Larry's easy-going tones. Then Noreen had advanced step by
step, her eyes wide and alert.

"Kiss me!"

"No!"

The words had been explosive. Then Larry had caught the child roughly,
and Noreen had struck him!

Maddened and keen to the fact that he had been brought to bay, Larry
had struck back, and for days the mark of his hand had lain across the
delicate cheek. After that, when their wills clashed, Noreen, her eyes
full of fear and hate, would raise her hand to her cheek--weighing the
cost of rebellion. That gesture had become a driving force in
Mary-Clare's life. She must overcome that which lay like a hideous
menace between Larry and Noreen! She was accountable for it; out of
her loveless existence Noreen had birth--she was a living evidence of
the wrong done.

Looking back now, Mary-Clare realized that on the day when Larry
struck Noreen he had struck the scales from her eyes. From that hour
she had bunglingly, gropingly, felt her way along. The only fact that
upheld her now was that she knew she must take her first lonely step,
even if all her little unknowing, unthinking world dropped from her.

Again the squirrel darted across the floor and Mary-Clare looked after
it lingeringly. Even the little wild thing was company for her in her
hard hour. Then she looked up at the face of Father Damien. It was but
a face--the meaning of what had gone into its making Mary-Clare could
not understand--but it brought comfort and encouragement.

The reaction had set in. Worn-out nerves became non-resistant; they
ceased to ache. Then it was that Noreen's shrill voice broke the
calm:

"Motherly, Motherly, he's come: he's come home!"

Mary-Clare rose stiffly; her hands were spread wide as if to balance
her on that dangerous, adventurous trail that lay between her past and
the hidden future. There lay the trail: within her soul was a sense of
truth and she had strength and courage for the first step. That was
all.

"I'm coming, Noreen. I'm coming!" And Mary-Clare staggered on.



CHAPTER IV


Mary-Clare met Noreen at the brook, smiling and calm. The child was
trembling and pale, but the touch of her mother's hand reassured her.
It was like waking from a painful dream and finding everything safe
and the dream gone.

"I was just coming down the path with Jan-an, Motherly, when I saw him
going in the house."

"Daddy, dear?"

"Yes, Motherly, Daddy. He left a bag in the house; looked all around
and then came out. I was 'fraid he was coming to you, so I ran and
ran, but Jan-an said she'd stay and fix him if he did."

"Noreen!" The tone was stern and commanding.

"Well, Motherly, Jan-an said that, but maybe she was just funny."

"Of course. Just funny. We must always remember, Noreen, that poor
Jan-an is just funny."

"Yes, Motherly."

Things were reduced to normal by the time the little yellow house was
reached. Jan-an was there, crouched by the fireplace, upon which she
had kindled a welcoming fire after making sure Larry had not gone up
the secret trail.

Rivers was not in evidence, though a weather-stained bag, flung
hastily on the floor, was proof of his hurried call. He did not appear
all day. As a matter of fact, he was at the mines. Failing to find his
wife, he had availed himself of the opportunity of announcing his
presence to his good friend Maclin, and getting from him much local
gossip, and what approval Maclin vouchsafed.

All day, with Jan-an's assistance, Mary-Clare prepared for the
creature comforts of her husband; while Noreen made nervous trips to
door and window. At night Jan-an departed--she seemed glad to go away,
but not sure that she ought to go; Mary-Clare laughed her into good
humour.

"I jes don't like the feelings I have," the girl reiterated; "I'm
creepy."

Mary-Clare packed a bag of food for her and patted her shoulder.

"Come to-morrow," she said, and then, after a moment's hesitation, she
kissed the yearning, vacant face. "You're going to the Point, Jan-an?"
she asked, and the girl nodded.

Noreen, too, had to be petted into a calmer state--her old aversion to
her father sprang into renewed life with each return after an absence.
In a few days the child would grow accustomed to his presence and
accept him with indifference, at least, but there was always this
struggle.

Mary-Clare herself wondered where Larry was; why he delayed, once
having come back to the Forest; but she kept to her tasks of
preparation and reassuring Noreen, and so the day passed.

At eight o'clock, having eaten supper and undressed the child, she sat
in the deep wooden rocker with Noreen in her arms. There was always
one story that had power to claim attention when all others failed,
and Mary-Clare resorted to it now. Swaying back and forth she told the
story of the haunt-wind.

"It was a wonderful wind, Noreen, quite magical. It came from between
the south and the east--a wild little wind that ran away and did
things on its own account; but it was a good little wind for all that
foolish people said about it. It took hold of the bell rope in the
belfry, and swung out and out; it swung far, and then it dropped and
fluttered about quite dizzily."

"Touching Jan-an?" Noreen suggested sleepily.

"Jan-an, of course. Making her beautiful and laughing. Waking her from
her sad dream, poor Jan-an, and giving her strength to do really
splendid things."

"I love the wild wind!" Noreen pressed closer. "I'm not afraid of it.
And it found Aunt Polly and Uncle Peter?"

"To be sure. It made Aunt Polly seem as grand and big as she really
is--only blind folks cannot see--and it made all the blind folks _see
her_ for a minute. And it made Uncle Peter--no; it left Uncle Peter as
he is!"

"I like that"--drowsily--"and it made us see the man that went to the
inn?" Noreen lifted her head, suddenly alert.

"What made you think of him, Noreen?" Mary-Clare stopped swaying to
and fro.

"I don't know, Motherly. Only it was funny how he just came and then
the haunt-wind came and Jan-an says she thinks he _isn't_. Really we
only think we see him."

"Well, perhaps that's true, childie. He's something good, I hope. Now
shut your eyes like a dearie, and Mother will rock and sing."

Mary-Clare fixed her eyes on her child's face, but she was seeing
another. The face of a man whose glance had held hers for a strange
moment. She had been conscious, since, of this man's presence; his
name was familiar--she could not forget him, though there was no
reason for her to remember him except that he was new; a something
different in her dull days.

But Noreen, eyes obediently closed, was pleading in the strange,
foolish jargon of her rare moments of relaxation:

"You lit and lock, Motherly, and I'll luck my lum, just for to-night,
and lall aleep."

"All right, beloved; you may, just for to-night, suck the little
thumb, and fall asleep while Mother rocks."

After a few moments more Noreen was asleep and Mary-Clare carried her
to an inner room and put her on her bed. She paused to look at the
small sleeping face; she noted the baby outlines that always were so
strongly marked when Noreen was unconscious; it hurt the mother to
think how they hardened when the child awakened. The realization of
this struck Mary-Clare anew and reinforced her to her purpose, for she
knew her hour was at hand.

A week before she had dismantled the room in which she now stood. It
had once been Doctor Rivers's chamber; later it had been hers--and
Larry's. The old furniture was now in the large upper room, only bare
necessities were left here.

Mary-Clare looked about and her face lost its smile; her head
lowered--it was not easy, the task she had set for herself, and after
Larry's visit to the mines it would be harder. She had hoped to see
Larry first, for Maclin had a subtle power over him. Without ever
referring to her, and she was sure he did not in an intimate sense, he
always put Larry in an antagonistic frame of mind toward her. Well, it
was too late now to avert Maclin's influence--she must do the best she
could. She went back to the fire and sat down and waited.

It was after ten o'clock when Larry came noisily in. Rivers took his
colour from his associates and their attitude toward him. He was a bit
hilarious now, for Maclin had been glad to see him; had approved of
the results of his mission--though as for that Larry had had little to
do, for he had only delivered, to certain men, some private papers and
had received others in return; had been conscious that non-essentials
had been talked over with him, but as that was part of the business of
big inventions, he did not resent it. Maclin had paid him better than
he had expected to be paid, shared a good dinner with him and a bottle
of wine, and now Rivers felt important and aggressive. Wine's first
effect upon him was to make him genial.

He had meant to resent Mary-Clare's absence on his arrival, but he had
forgotten all about that. He meant now to be very generous with her
and let bygones be bygones--he had long since forgotten the words
spoken just before he left for his trip. Words due, of course, to
Mary-Clare just having had a baby. Almost Larry had forgotten that the
baby had been born and had died.

He strode across the room. He was tall, lithe, and good-looking, but
his face betokened weakness. All the features that had promised
strength and power seemed, somehow, to have missed fulfilment.

Mary-Clare tried to respond; tried to do her full part--it would all
help so much, if she only could. But this mood of Larry's was fraught
with danger--did she not know? Success did not make him understanding
and considerate; it made him boyishly dominant and demanding.

"Well, old girl"--Rivers had slammed the door after him--"sitting up
for me, eh? Sorry; but when I didn't find you here, I had to get over
and see Maclin. Devilish important, big pull I've made this time.
We'll have a spree--go to the city, if you like--have a real bat."

Mary-Clare did not have time to move or speak; Larry was crushing her
against him and kissing her face--not as a man kisses a woman he
loves, but as he might kiss any woman. The silence and rigidity of
Mary-Clare presently made themselves felt. Larry pushed her away
almost angrily.

"Mad, eh?" he asked with a suggestion of triumph in his voice. "Acting
up because I ran off to Maclin? Well, I had to see him. I tried to get
home sooner, but you know how Maclin is when he gets talking."

How long Larry would have kept on it would have been hard to tell, but
he suddenly looked full at Mary-Clare and--stopped!

The expression on the face confronting his was puzzling: it looked
amused, not angry. Now there is one thing a man of Larry's type cannot
bear with equanimity and that is to have his high moments dashed. He
saw that he was not impressing Mary-Clare; he saw that he was
mistaking her attitude of mind concerning his treatment of her--in
short, she did not care!

"What are you laughing at?" he asked.

"I'm not laughing, Larry."

"What are you smiling at?"

"My smile is my own, Larry; when I laugh it's different."

"Trying to be smart, eh? I should think when your husband's been away
months and has just got back, you'd meet him with something besides a
grin."

There was some justice in this and Mary-Clare said slowly: "I'm sorry,
Larry. I really was only thinking."

Now that she was face to face with her big moment, Mary-Clare realized
anew how difficult her task was. Often, in the past, thinking of
Larry when he was not with her, it had seemed possible to reason with
him; to bring truth to him and implore his help. Always she had
striven to cling to her image of Larry, but never to the real man. The
man she had constructed with Larry off the scene was quite another
creature from Larry in the flesh. This knowledge was humiliating now
in the blazing light of reality grimly faced and it taxed all of
Mary-Clare's courage. She was smiling sadly, smiling at her own
inability in the past to deal with facts.

Larry was brought to bay. He was disappointed, angry, and outraged. He
was not a man to reflect upon causes; results, and very present ones,
were all that concerned him. But he did, now, hark back to the scene
soon after the birth and death of the last child. Such states of mind
didn't last for ever, and there was no baby coming at the moment. He
could not make things out.

"See here," he said rather gropingly, "you are not holding a grouch,
are you?"

"No, Larry."

"What then?"

For a moment Mary-Clare shrank. She weakly wanted to put off the big
moment; dared not face it.

"It's late, Larry. You are tired." She got that far when she
affrightedly remembered the bedroom upstairs and paused. She had
arranged it for Larry--there must be an explanation of that.

"Late be hanged!" Larry stretched his legs out and plunged his hands
in his pockets. "I'm going to get at the bottom of this to-night. You
understand?"

"All right, Larry." Mary-Clare sank back in her chair--she had fallen
on her adventurous way; she had no words with which to convey her
burning thoughts. Already she had got so far from the man who had
filled such a false position in her life that he seemed a stranger. To
tell him that she did not love him, had never loved him, was all but
impossible. Of course he could not be expected to comprehend. The
situation became terrifying.

"You've never been the same since the last baby came." Larry was
speaking in an injured, harsh tone. "I've put up with a good deal,
Mary-Clare; not many men would be so patient. The trouble with you, my
girl, is this, you get your ideas from books. That mightn't matter if
you had horse sense and knew when to slam the covers on the rot. But
you try to live 'em and then the devil is to pay. Dad spoiled you. He
let you run away with yourself. But the time's come----"

The long speech in the face of Mary-Clare's wondering, amazed eyes,
brought Larry to a panting pause.

"What you got a husband for, anyway, that's what I am asking you?"

Mary-Clare's hard-won philosophy of life stood her in poor stead now.
She felt an insane desire to give way and laugh. It was a maddening
thing to contemplate, but she seemed to see things so cruelly real and
Larry seemed shouting to her from a distance that she could never
retrace. For a moment he seemed to be physically out of sight--she
only heard his words.

"By God! Mary-Clare, what's up? Have you counted the cost of carrying
on as you are doing? What am I up against?"

"Yes, Larry, I've counted the cost to me and Noreen and you. I'm
afraid this is what we are all up against."

"Well, what's the sum total?" Larry leaned back more comfortably; he
felt that Mary-Clare, once she began to talk, would say a good deal.
She would talk like one of her books. He need not pay much heed and
when she got out of breath he'd round her up. His interview with
Maclin had not been all business; the gossip, interjected, was taking
ugly and definite form now. Maclin had mentioned the man at the inn.
Quite incidentally, of course, but repeatedly.

"You see, Larry, I've got to tell you how it is, in my own way,"
Mary-Clare was speaking. "I know my way makes you angry, but please be
patient, for if I tried any other way it would hurt more."

"Fire away!" Larry nobly suppressed a yawn. Had Mary-Clare said
simply, "I don't love you any more," Larry would have got up from the
blow and been able to handle the matter, but she proceeded after a
fashion that utterly confused him and, instead of clearing the
situation, managed to create a most unlooked-for result.

"It's like this, Larry: I suppose life is a muddle for everyone and we
all do have to learn as we go on--nothing can keep us from that, not
even marriage, can it?"

No reply came to this.

"It's like light coming in spots, and then those spots can never be
really dark again although all the rest may be. You think of those
spots as bright and sure when all else is--is lost. That is the way it
has been with me."

"Gee!" Larry shrugged his shoulders.

"Larry, you _must_ try to understand!" Mary-Clare was growing
desperate.

"Then, try to talk American."

"I am, Larry. _My_ American. That's the trouble--there is more than
_one_ kind, you know. Larry, it was all wrong, my marrying you even
for dear Dad's sake. If he had been well and we could have talked it
over, he would have understood. I should have understood for him that
last night. Even the letters should not have mattered, they must not
matter now!"

This, at least, was comprehensible.

"Well, you _did_ marry me, didn't you?" Larry flung out. "You're my
wife, aren't you?" Correcting mistakes was not in Larry's plan of
life.

"I--why, yes, I am, Larry, but a wife means more than one thing,
doesn't it?" This came hopelessly.

"Not to me. What's your idea?" Larry was relieved at having the
conversation run along lines that he could handle with some degree of
common sense.

"Well, Larry, marriage means a good many things to me. It means being
kind and making a good home--a real home, not just a place to come to.
It means standing by each other, even if you can't have everything!"

Just for one moment Larry was inclined to end this shilly-shallying by
brute determination. He was that type of man. What did not come
within the zone of his own experience, did not exist for him except as
obstacles to brush aside.

It was a damned bad time, he thought, for Mary-Clare to act up her
book stuff. A man, home after a three months' absence, tired and worn
out, could not be expected, at close upon midnight, to enjoy this
outrageous nonsense that had been sprung upon him.

He must put an end to it at once. He discarded the cave method. Of
course that impulse was purely primitive. It might simplify the whole
situation but he discarded it. Mary-Clare's outbursts were like
Noreen's "dressing up"--and bore about the same relation in Larry's
mind.

"See here," he said suddenly, fixing his eyes on Mary-Clare--when
Larry asserted himself he always glared--"just what in thunder do you
mean?"

The simplicity of the question demanded a crude reply.

"I'm not going to have any more children." Out of the maze of
complicated ideals and gropings this question and answer emerged,
devastating everything in their path. They meant one, and only one,
thing to Larry Rivers.

There were some things that could illume his dark stretches and level
Mary-Clare's vague reachings to a common level. Both Larry and
Mary-Clare were conscious now of being face to face with a grave human
experience. They stood revealed, man and woman. The big significant
things in life are startlingly simple.

The man attacked the grim spectre with conventional and brutal
weapons; the woman backed away with a dogged look growing in her
eyes.

"Oh! you aren't, eh?" Larry spoke slowly. "You've decided, have you?"

"I know what children mean to you, Larry; I know what you mean
by--love--yes: I've decided!"

"You wedged your way into my father's good graces and crowded me out;
you had enough decency, when you knew his wishes, to carry them out as
long as you cared to, and now you're going to end the job in your own
way, eh?

"Name the one particular way in which you're not going to break your
vows," Larry asked, and sneered. "What's your nice little plan?" He
got up and walked about. "I suppose you have cut and dried some little
compromise."

"Oh! Larry, I wish you could be a little kind; a little understanding."

"Wish I could think as you think; that's what you mean. Well, by God,
I'm a man and your husband and I'm going to stand on my rights. You
can't make a silly ass of me as you did of my father. Fathers and
husbands are a shade different. Come, now, out with your plan."

"I will not have any more children! I'll do everything I can, Larry;
make the home a real home. Noreen and I will love you. We'll try to
find some things we all want to do together; you and I can sort of
plan for Noreen and there are all kinds of things to do around the
Forest, Larry. Really, you and I ought to--ought to carry out your
father's work. We could! There are other things in marriage, Larry,
but just--the one." Breathlessly Mary-Clare came to a pause, but
Larry's amused look drove her on. "I'm not the kind of a woman, Larry,
that can live a lie!"

A tone of horror shook Mary-Clare's voice; she choked and Larry came
closer, his lips were smiling.

"What in thunder!" he muttered. Then: "You plan to have us live on
here in this house; you and I, a man and woman--and----!" Larry
stopped short, then laughed. "A hell of a home that would be, all
right!"

Mary-Clare gazed dully at him.

"Well, then," she whispered, and her lips grew deadly white, "I do not
know what to do."

"Do? You'll forget it!" thundered Larry. "And pretty damned quick,
too!"

But Mary-Clare did not answer. There was nothing more to say. She was
thinking of the birth-night and death-night of her last child.

On and on the burning thoughts rushed in Mary-Clare's brain while she
sat near Larry without seeing him. As surely as if death had taken
him, he, the husband, the father of Noreen, had gone from her life. It
did not seem now as if anything she had said, or done, had had
anything to do with it. It was like an accident that had overtaken
them, killing Larry and leaving her to readjust her life alone.

"Why don't you answer?" Larry laid a hand upon Mary-Clare's shoulder.
"Getting sleepy? Come on, then, we'll have this out to-morrow." He
looked toward the door behind which stood Noreen's cot and that other
one beside it.

"I've fixed the room upstairs for you, Larry."

The simple statement had power to accomplish all that was left to be
done. There was a finality about it, and the look on Mary-Clare's
face, that convinced Larry he had come to the point of conquest or
defeat.

"The devil you have!" was what he said to gain time.

For a moment he again contemplated force--the primitive male always
hesitates to compromise where his codes are threatened. There was a
dangerous gleam in his eyes; a ferocious curl of his lips--it would be
such a simple matter and it would end for ever the nonsense that he
could not tolerate.

Mary-Clare leaned back in her chair. She was so absolutely unafraid
that she quelled Larry's brute instinct and aroused in him a dread of
the unknown. What would Mary-Clare do in the last struggle? Larry was
not prepared to take what he recognized as a desperate chance. The
familiar and obvious were deep-rooted in his nature--if, in the end,
he lost with this calm, cool woman whom he could not frighten, where
could he turn for certain things to which his weakness--or was it his
strength--clung?

A place to come to; someone peculiarly his own; his without effort to
be worthy of. Larry resorted to new tactics with Mary-Clare at this
critical moment. The smile faded from his sneering lips; he leaned
forward and the manner that made him valuable to Maclin fell upon him
like a disguise. So startling was the change, that Mary-Clare looked
at him in surprise.

"Mary-Clare, you've got me guessing"--there was almost surrender in
the tone--"a woman like you doesn't take the stand you have without
reason. I know that. Naturally, I was upset, I spoke too quick. Tell
me now in your own way. I'll try to understand."

Mary-Clare was taken off guard. Her desire and sore need rushed past
caution and carried her to Larry.

She, too, leaned forward, and her lovely eyes were shining. "Oh! I
hoped you would try, Larry," she said. "I know I'm trying and put
things in a way that you resent, but I have a great, a true reason, if
I could only make you see it."

"Now, you're talking sense, Mary-Clare," Larry spoke boyishly. "Just
over-tired, I guess you were; seeing things in the dark. Men know the
world better than women; that's why some things are _as_ they are. I'm
not going to press you, Mary-Clare, I'm going to try and help you. You
_are_ my wife, aren't you?"

"Yes, oh! yes, Larry."

"Well, I'm a man and you're a woman."

"Yes, that's so, Larry."

Step by step, ridiculous as it might seem, Mary-Clare meant, even now,
to keep as close to Larry as she could. He misunderstood; he thought
he was winning against her folly.

"Marriage was meant for one thing between man and woman!"

This came out triumphantly. Then Mary-Clare threw back her head and
spiritually retreated to her vantage of safety.

"No, it wasn't," she said, taking to her own hard-won trail
desperately. "No, it wasn't! I cannot accept that Larry--why, I have
seen where such reasoning would lead. I saw the night our last baby
came--and went. I'd grow old and broken--you'd hate me; there would be
children--many of them, poor, sad little things--looking at me with
dreadful eyes, accusing me. If marriage means only one thing--it means
that to me and you, and no woman has the right to--to become like
that."

"Wanting to defy the laws of God, eh?" Larry grew virtuous. "We all
grow old, don't we? Men work for women; women do their share. Children
are natural, ain't they? What's the institution of marriage for,
anyway?" And now Larry's mouth was again hardening.

"Larry, oh! Larry, please don't make me laugh! If I should laugh there
would never be any hope of our getting together."

For some reason this almost hysterical appeal roused the worst in
Larry. The things Maclin had told him that day again took fire and
spread where Maclin could never have dreamed of their spreading. The
liquor was losing its sustaining effect--it was leaving Larry to
flounder in his weak will, and he abandoned his futile tactics.

"Who's that man at the inn?" he asked.

The suddenness of the question, its irrelevancy, made Mary-Clare
start. For a moment the words meant absolutely nothing to her and
then because she was bared, nervously, to every attack, she
flushed--recalling with absurd clearness Northrup's look and tone.

"I don't know," she said.

"That's a lie. How long has he been here, snooping around?"

"I haven't the slightest idea, Larry." This was not true, and Larry
caught the quiver in the tones.

Again he got up and became the masterful male; the injured husband;
the protector of his home. There were still tactics to be tested.

"See here, Mary-Clare, I've caught on. You never cared for me. You
married me from what you called duty; your sense of decency held until
your own comfort and pleasure got in between--then you were ready to
fling me off like an old mit and term it by high-sounding names. Now
comes along this stranger, from God knows where, looking about for the
devil knows what--and taking what lies about in order to pass the
time. I haven't lived in the world for nothing, Mary-Clare. Now lay
this along with the other woman-thoughts you're so fond of. I'm going
upstairs, for I'm tired and all-fired disgusted, but remember, what I
can't hold, no other man is going to get, not even for a little time
while he hangs about. Folks are going to see just what is going on,
believe me! I'm going to leave all the doors and windows open. I'm
going to give you your head, but I'll keep hold of the reins."

And then, because it was all so hideously wrong and twisted and
comical, Mary-Clare laughed! She laughed noiselessly, until the tears
dimmed her eyes. Larry watched her uneasily.

"Oh, Larry," she managed her voice at last, "I never knew that
anything so dreadfully wrong could be made of nothing. You've created
a terrible something, and I wonder if you know it?"

"That's enough!" Larry strode toward the stairway. "Your husband's no
fool, my girl, and the cheap, little, old tricks are plain enough to
him."

Mary-Clare watched her husband pass from view; heard him tramp heavily
in the room above. She sat by the dead fire and thought of him as she
first knew him--knew him? Then her eyes widened. She had never known
him; she had taken him as she had taken all that her doctor had left
to her, and she had failed; failed because she had not thought her
woman's thought until it was too late.

After all her high aims and earnest endeavour to meet this critical
moment in her life Mary-Clare acknowledged, as she sat by the
ash-strewn hearth, that it had degenerated into a cheap and almost
comic farce. To her narrow vision her problem seemed never to have
been confronted before; her world of the Forest would have no sympathy
for it, or her; Larry had reduced it to the ugliest aspect, and by so
doing had turned her thoughts where they might never have turned and
upon the stranger who might always have remained a stranger.

Alone in the deadly quiet room, the girl of Mary-Clare passed from
sight and the woman was supreme; a little hard, in order to combat the
future: quickened to a futile sense of injustice, but young enough,
even at that moment, to demand of life something vital; something
better than the cruel thing that might evolve unless she bore herself
courageously.

Unconsciously she was planning her course. She would go her way with
her old smile, her old outward bearing. A promise was a promise--she
would never forget that, and as far as she could pay with that which
was hers to give, she would pay, but outside of that she would not let
life cheat her.

Bending toward the dead fire on the hearth, Mary-Clare made her silent
covenant.



CHAPTER V


The storm had kept Northrup indoors for many hours each day, but he
had put those hours to good use.

He outlined his plot; read and worked. He felt that he was becoming
part of the quiet life of the inn and the Forest, but more and more he
was becoming an object of intense but unspoken interest.

"He's writing a book!" Aunt Polly confided to Peter. "But he doesn't
want anything said about it."

"He needn't get scared. I like him too well to let on and I reckon one
thing's as good as another to tell _us_. I lay my last dollar, Polly,
on this: he's after Maclin; not with him. I'm thinking the Forest will
get a shake-up some day and I'm willing to bide my time. Writing a
book! Him, a full-blooded young feller, writing a book. Gosh! Why
don't he take to knitting?"

Northrup also sent a letter to Manly. He realized that he might set
his conscience at rest by keeping his end of the line open, but he
wanted to have one steady hand, at least, at the other end.

"Until further notice," he wrote to Manly, "I'm here, and let it go at
that. Should there be any need, even the slightest, get in touch with
me. As for the rest, I've found myself, Manly. I'm getting acquainted,
and working like the devil."

Manly read the letter, grinned, and put it in a box marked "Confidential,
but unimportant."

Then he leaned back in his chair, and before he relegated Northrup to
"unimportant," gave him two or three thoughts.

"The writing bug has got him, root and branch. He's burrowed in his
hole and wants the earth to tumble in over him. Talk about letting
sleeping dogs lie. Lord! they're nothing to the animals of Northrup's
type. And some darn fools"--Manly was thinking of Kathryn--"go nosing
around and yapping at the creatures' heels and feel hurt when they
turn and snap."

And Northrup, in his quiet room at the inn, slept at night like a
tired boy and dreamed. Now when Northrup began to dream, he was always
on the lookout. A few skirmishing, nonsensical dreams marked a state
of mind peculiarly associated with his best working mood. They caught
and held his attention; they were like signals of the real thing. The
Real Thing was a certain dream that, in every detail, was familiar to
Northrup and exact in its repetition.

Northrup had not been long at the inn when the significant dream
came.

He was back in a big sunny room that he knew as well as his own in his
mother's house. There he stood, like a glad, returned traveller,
counting the pieces of furniture; deeply grateful that they were in
their places and carefully preserved.

The minutest articles were noted. A vase of flowers; the curtains
swaying in the breeze; an elusive odour that often haunted Northrup's
waking hours. The room was now as it always had been. That being
assured, Northrup, still in deep sleep, turned to the corridor and
expectantly viewed the closed doors. But right here a new note was
interjected. Previously, the corridor and doors were things he had
gazed upon, feeling as a stranger might; but now they were like the
room; quite his own. He had trod the passage; had looked into the
empty rooms--they were empty but had held a suggestion of things about
to occur.

And then waking suddenly, Northrup understood--he had come to the
place of his dream. The Inn was the old setting. In a clairvoyant
state, he had been in this place before!

He went to the door of his room and glanced down the passage. All was
quiet. The dream made an immediate impression on Northrup. Not only
did it arouse his power of creation, strengthen and illumine it; but
it evolved a sense of hurry that inspired him without worrying him. It
was like the frenzy that seizes an artist when he wants to get a bit
of beauty on canvas in a certain light that may change in the next
minute. He felt that what he was about to do must be done rapidly and
he knew that he would have strength to meet the demand.

He was quickened to every slight thing that came his way: faces,
voices, colour. He realized the unrest that his very innocent presence
inspired. He wondered about it. What lay seething under the thick
crust of King's Forest that was bubbling to the surface? Was his
coming the one thing needed to--to----

And then he thought of that figure of speech that Manly had used. The
black lava flowing; oozing, silently. The whole world, in the big and
in the little, was being awakened and aroused--it was that, not his
presence, that confused the Forest.

The habits of the house amused and moved him sympathetically. Little
Aunt Polly, it appeared, was Judge and Final Court of Justice to
the people. Through her he felt he must look for guidance and
understanding.

There were always two hours in the afternoons set aside for
"hearings." Perched on the edge of the couch, pillows to right and
left, eyeglasses aslant and knitting in hand, Aunt Polly was at the
disposal of her neighbours. They could make appointments for private
interviews or air their grievances before others, as the spirit urged
them. Awful verdicts, clean-cut and simple, were arrived at; advice,
grim and far-reaching, was generously given, but woe to the liar or
sniveller.

A curious sort of understanding grew up between Northrup and the
little woman concerning these conclaves. Polly sensed his interest in
all that went on and partly comprehended the real reason for it. She
had been strangely impressed by the knowledge that her guest was a
writer-man and therefore conscientious about the mental food she set
before him. She did not share Peter's doubts. Some things she felt
were not for Northrup and that fast-flying pen of his! But there were
other glimpses behind the shields of King's Forest that did not
matter. To these Northrup was welcome.

When the hour came for _court_ to sit, it became Northrup's habit to
seek the front porch for exercise and fresh air. Sometimes the window
nearest to Aunt Polly's sofa would be left open! Sometimes it was
closed.

In the latter emergency Northrup sought his exercise and fresh air at
a distance.

One day Maclin called. Northrup had not seen him before and was
interested. Indirectly he was concerned with the story in hand for he
was the mysterious friend of Larry Rivers and the puller of many
strings in King's Forest; strings that were manipulated in ways that
aroused suspicion and would be great stuff in a book.

Northrup had seen Maclin from his room window and, when all was safe,
quietly took to the back stairs and silently reached the piazza.

The window by Aunt Polly's couch was open a little higher than usual
and the words that greeted Northrup were:

"_I_ call it muggy, Mr. Maclin. That's what _I_ call it, and if the
draught hits the nape of your neck, set the other side of the hearth
where there ain't no draught."

This, apparently, the caller proceeded to do. Outside Northrup took a
chair and refrained from smoking. He wanted his presence to be
unsuspected by the caller. He was confident that Aunt Polly knew of
his proximity, and he felt sure that Maclin had come to find out more
about him.

From the first Northrup was aware of a subtle meaning for the call and
he wondered if the woman, clicking her needles, fully comprehended it!
The man, Maclin, he soon gathered, was no ordinary personage. He had a
kind of superficial polish and culture that were evident in the tones
of his voice. After having accounted for his presence by stating that
he was looking about a bit and felt like being friendly, Maclin was
rounded up by Aunt Polly asking what he was looking about at?

Maclin laughed.

"To tell the truth," he said, as if taking Aunt Polly into his
intimate confidence, "I was looking at the Point. A darned dirty bit
of ground with all those squatters on it."

"We haven't ever called 'em that, Mr. Maclin. They're folks with
nowhere else to live." Aunt Polly clicked her needles.

"They're a dirty, lazy lot. I can't get 'em to work over at the mines,
do what I will."

"As to that, Mr. Maclin, folks as are mostly drunk on bad whiskey
can't be expected to do good work, can they? Then again, if they are
sober, I dare say they are too keen about those inventions of yours
that must be so secret. Foreigners, for that purpose, I reckon are
easier to manage."

Maclin shifted his position and put the nape of his neck nearer the
window again and Northrup lost any doubt he had about Aunt Polly's
understanding of the situation.

Maclin laughed. It was a trick of his to laugh while he got control of
himself.

"You're a real idealist, Miss Heathcote; most ladies are, some men
are, too, until they have to handle the ugly facts of life."

Peter was meant by "some men," Northrup suspected.

"Now, speaking of the whiskey, Miss Heathcote, it's as good over at my
place as the men can afford, and better, too. I don't make anything at
the Cosey Bar, I can assure you, but I know that men have to have
their drink, and I think it's better to keep it under control."

"That's real human of you, Mr. Maclin, but I wish to goodness you'd
keep the men under control after they've had their drink. They
certainly do make a mess of the peace and happiness of others while
they're indulging in their rights."

A silence, then Maclin started again. "Truth is, Miss Heathcote, the
men 'round here are shucks, and I'm keeping my eye open for the real
interest of King's Forest, not the sentimental interest. Now, that
Point--we ought to clean that up, build decent, comfortable cottages
there and a wharf; keep the men as have ambition and can pay rents,
and get others in, foreigners if you like, who know their business and
can set a good example. We're all running to seed down here, Miss
Heathcote, and that's a fact. I don't mind telling you, you're a
woman of a thousand and can see what's what, I _am_ inventing some
pretty clever things down at my place and it wouldn't be safe to let
on until they're perfected, and I do want good workers, not loafers or
snoopers, and I _do_ want that Point. It's nearer to the mines than
any other spot on the Lake. I want to build a good road to it; the
squatters could be utilized on that--the Pointers, I mean. You and
your brother ought to be keen enough to work with me, not against me.
Sentiment oughtn't to go too far where a lot of lazy beggars are
concerned."

The clicking of the needles was the only sound after Maclin's long
speech; he was waiting and breathing quicker. Northrup could hear the
deep breathing.

"How do you feel about it, Miss Heathcote?"

"Oh! I don't let my feelings get the better of me till I know what's
stirring them."

Northrup stifled a laugh, but Maclin, feeling secure, laughed loudly.

"It's like asking me, Mr. Maclin, to get stirred up and set going by a
pig in a poke." Aunt Polly's voice was thin and sharp. "I always _see_
the pig before I get excited, maybe it would be best kept in the poke.
Now, Peter and me have a real feeling about the Point--it belonged, as
far as we know, to old Doctor Rivers, and all that he had he left to
Mary-Clare and we feel sort of responsible to him and her. We would
all shield anything that belonged to the old doctor."

"Is her title clear to that land?" Maclin did not laugh now, Northrup
noted that.

"Land! Mr. Maclin, anything as high-sounding as a title tacked on to
the Point is real ridiculous! But if the title ain't clear, I guess
brother Peter can make it so. Peter being magistrate comes in handy."

"Miss Heathcote"--from his tones Northrup judged that Maclin was
coming into the open--"Miss Heathcote, the title of the Point isn't a
clear one. I've made it my business to find out. Now I'm going to
prove my friendliness--I'm not going to push what I know, I'll take
all the risks myself. I'll give Mrs. Rivers a fair price for that land
and everything will be peaceful and happy if you will use your
influence with her and the squatters. Will you?"

Aunt Polly slipped from the sofa. Northrup heard her, and imagined the
look on her face.

"No, Mr. Maclin, I won't! When the occasion rises up, I'll advise
Mary-Clare against pigs in pokes and I'll advise the squatters to
squat on!"

Northrup again had difficulty in smothering his laugh, but Maclin's
next move surprised and sobered him.

"Isn't that place under the stairs, Miss Heathcote, where the bar of
the old inn used to be?"

"Yes, sir, yes!" It was an ominous sign when Aunt Polly addressed any
one as "sir." "But that was before our time. Peter and I cleaned the
place out as best we could, but there are times now, even, while I sit
here alone in the dark, when I seem to see shadows of poor wives and
mothers and children stealing in that door a-looking for their men.
Don't that thought ever haunt you, Mr. Maclin, over at the Cosey
Bar?"

They were sparring, these two.

"No, it never does. I take things as they are, Miss Heathcote, and let
them go at that. Now, if _I_ were to run this place, do you know, I'd
do it right and proper and have a what's what and make money."

"But you're not running this inn, sir."

"Certainly I'm not _now_, that's plain enough, or I'd make King's
Forest sit up and take notice. Well, well, Miss Heathcote, just talk
over with your brother what I've said to you. A man looks at some
things different from a woman. Good-bye, ma'am, good-bye. Looks as if
it were clearing."

As Maclin came upon the piazza he stopped short at the sight of
Northrup by the open window. He wasn't often betrayed into showing
surprise, but he was now. He had come hoping to get a glimpse of the
stranger; had come to get in an early warning of his power, but he
wanted to control conditions.

"Good afternoon," he muttered. "Looks more like clearing, doesn't it?
Stranger in these parts? I've heard of you; haven't had the pleasure
of meeting you."

Northrup regarded Maclin coolly as one man does another when there is
no apparent reason why he should not.

"The clouds _do_ seem lifting. No, I'm not what you might call a
stranger in King's Forest. Some lake, isn't it, and good woodland?"

"One of the family, eh? Happy to meet you." Maclin offered a broad,
heavy hand. Northrup took it and smiled cordially without speaking.
"Staying on some time?"

"I haven't decided exactly."

"Come over to the mines and look around. Nothing there as yet but a
dump heap, so to speak, but I'm working out a big proposition and
while I have to go slow and keep somewhat under cover for a time--I
don't mind showing what _can_ be shown."

"Thanks," Northrup nodded, "I'll get over if I find time. I'm here on
business myself and am rather busy in a slow, lazy fashion, but I'll
not forget."

Maclin put on his hat and turned away. Northrup got an unpleasant
impression of the man's head in the back. It was flat and his neck met
it in flabby folds that wrinkled under certain emotions as other men's
foreheads did. The expressive neck was wrinkling now.

Giving Aunt Polly time to recover her poise, Northrup went inside. He
found the small woman hovering about the room, patting the furniture,
dusting it here and there with her apron. Her glasses were quite
misty.

"I hope you kept your ears open," she exclaimed when she turned to
Northrup.

"I did, Aunt Polly! Come, sit down and let's talk it over."

Polly obeyed at once and let restraint drop.

"That man has a real terrible effect on me, son. He's like acid sorter
creeping in. I don't suppose he could do what he hints--but his hints
just naturally make me anxious."

"He cannot get a hold on you, Aunt Polly. Surely your brother is more
than a match for any one like Maclin."

"When it comes to that, son, Peter can fight his own in the open, but
he ain't any hand to sense danger in the dark till it's too late.
Peter never can believe a fellow man is doing him a bad turn till he's
bowled over. But then," she ran on plaintively, "it ain't just
us--Peter, Mary-Clare, and me--it's them folks down on the Point," the
old face quivered touchingly. "The old doctor used to say it was God's
acre for the living; the old doctor would have his joke. The Point
always was a mean piece of land for any regular use, but it reaches
out a bit into the lake and the fishing's good round it, and you can
fasten boats to it and it's a real safe place for old folks and
children. There's always drifting creatures wherever you may be, son,
and King's Forest has 'em, but the old doctor held as they ought to
have some place to move in, if we let 'em be born. So he set aside the
Point and never took anything from them, though he gave them a lot,
what with doctoring and funerals. Dear, dear! there are real comical
happenings at the Point. I often sit and shake over them. Real human
nature down there! Mary-Clare goes down and reads the Bible to the
Pointers--they just about adore her, and she wouldn't sell them out,
not for bread and butter for her very own! It's the title as worries
Peter and me, son. We've always known it was tricky, but, lands! we
never thought it would come to arguing about and I put it to you: What
does this Maclin man want of that Point?"

Northrup looked interested.

"I'm going to find out," he said presently, feeling strangely as if he
had become part and parcel of the matter. "I'm going to find out and
you mustn't worry any more, Aunt Polly. We'll try Maclin at his own
game and go him one better. He cannot account for me, I'm making him
uneasy. Now you help the thing along by just squatting--that's a good
phrase of yours; one can accomplish much by just squatting on his
holdings."

And now that tricky imagination of Northrup's pictured Mary-Clare in
the thick of it and carrying out the old doctor's whims; taking to the
desolate bit of ground the sweetness and brightness of her
loveliness. It was disconcerting, but at the same time gratifying,
that pervasive quality of Mary-Clare. She was already as deep in the
plot of Northrup's work as she was in the Forest. Whenever Northrup
saw her, and he did often, on the road he was amused at the feeling he
had of _knowing_ her. So might it be had he come across an old
acquaintance who did not recognize him. It was a feeling wrought with
excitement and danger; he might some day startle her by taking
advantage of it.

The weather, after the storm, took an unexpected turn. Instead of
bringing frost it brought days almost as warm as late summer. The
colour glistened; the leaves clung to the branches, but the nights
were cool. The lake lay like an opal, flashing gorgeously in the sun,
or like a moonstone, when the sun sank behind the hills.

One afternoon Northrup went to the deserted chapel on the island. He
walked around the building which was covered with a crimson vine; he
looked up at the belfry, in which hung the bell so responsive to
unseen hands.

The place was like a haunted spot, but beautiful beyond words.
Northrup tried the door--it swung in; it shared the peculiarities of
all the other doors of the Forest.

Inside, the light came ruddily through the scarlet creeper that
covered the windows--no stained glass could have been more exquisite;
the benches were dusty and uncushioned, the pulpit dark and reproving
in its aloofness. By the most westerly window there was a space where,
apparently, an organ had once stood. There was a table near by and a
chair.

An idea gripped Northrup--he would come to the chapel and write. There
was a stove by the door. He could utilize that should necessity
arise.

He sat down and considered. Presently he was lost in the working out
of his growing plot; already he was well on his way. Over night, as it
were, his theme had become clear and connected. He meant to become
part of his book, rather than its creator; he would be governed by
events; not seek to govern them. In short, as far as in him lay, he
would live, the next few weeks, as a man does who has lost his
identity and moves among his fellows, intent on the present, but with
the background a blank.

Northrup felt that if, at the end of his self-ordained exile, he had
regained his health, outlined a book, and ascertained what was the
cause of the suspicious unrest of the Forest, he would have
accomplished more than he had set out to do and would be in a position
where he could decide definitely upon his course regarding the war,
about which few, apparently, felt as he did.

It was his spiritual and physical struggle, as he contemplated the
matter now, that was his undoing. He was trying to drive the horror
from his consciousness, as a thing apart from him and his. He was
overwhelmed by the possessiveness of the awful thing. It caught and
held him, threatened everything he held sacred. Well, this should be
the test! He would abide by the outcome of his stay in the Forest.

At that moment Maclin, oddly enough, came into Northrup's thoughts and
the fat, ingratiating man became part, not of the plot of the book,
but the grim struggle across the sea.

"Good God!" Northrup spoke aloud; "could it be possible?" All along he
had been able to ignore the suggestions of disloyalty and treachery
that many of his friends held, but a glaring possibility of Maclin
playing a hideous rôle alarmed him; made every fibre of his being
stiffen. The man was undoubtedly German, though his name was not. What
was he up to?

There are moments in life when human beings are aware of being but
puppets in a big game; they may tug at the strings that control them;
may perform within certain limits, but must resign themselves to the
fact that the strings are unbreakable. Such a feeling possessed
Northrup now. He laughed. He was not inclined to struggle--he bowed to
the inevitable with a keen desire for coöperation.

At this point something caused Northrup to look around.

Upon a bench near by, hunched like a gargoyle, with her vague face
nested in the palms of her thin hands, sat the girl he had noted in
the yellow house the day of his arrival. One glance at her and she
seemed to bring the scene back. The sunny room, the children, the
dogs, and the girl on the table, who had soon become so familiar to
him.

"Good Lord!" he ejaculated. "And who are you?"

"Jan-an."

Another name become a person! Northrup smiled. They were all
materializing; the names, the stories.

"I see. Well?"

There was a pause. The girl was studying him slowly, almost painfully,
but she did not speak.

"Where do you live, Jan-an?"

This made talk and filled an uncomfortable pause.

"One place and another. I was left."

"Left?"

"Yep. Left on the town. Folks take me in turn-about. I just jog along.
I'm staying over to the Point now. Next I'm going to Aunt Polly. I
chooses, I do. I likes to jog along."

The girl was inclined to be friendly and she was amusing.

"Did you hear the bell ring the night you came--the ha'nt bell?" she
asked.

"I certainly did."

"'Twas a warning, and then here _you_ are! Generally warnings mean bad
things, but Aunt Polly says you're right enough and generally they
ain't when they're young."

"Who are not, Jan-an?"

"Men. When they get old, like Uncle Peter, they meller or----"

"Or what?"

"Naturally drop off."

Northrup laughed. The sound disturbed the girl and she scowled.

"It's terrible to have folks think you're a fool to be laughed at,"
she muttered. "I can't get things over."

"What do you want to get over, Jan-an?"

Northrup was becoming interested. If straws show the wind's quarter,
then a bit of driftwood may be depended upon to indicate the course of
a stream. Northrup was again both amused and surprised to find how his
very ordinary presence in King's Forest was, apparently, affecting
the natives. Jan-an took on new proportions as she was regarded in the
light of a straw or a bit of driftwood.

"Yer feelin's," the girl answered simply. "When you don' understand
like most do, yer feelin's count, they do!"

"They certainly do, Jan-an."

The girl considered this and struggled, evidently, to adjust her
companion to suit her needs, but at last she shook her head.

"I ain't going to take no chances with yer!" she muttered at length.
"'Tain't natural. Aunt Polly and Uncle Peter ain't risking so much
as--her----"

"You mean----" Northrup felt guilty. He knew whom the girl meant--he
felt as if he were taking advantage; eavesdropping or reading someone
else's letter.

Jan-an sunk her face deeper into the cup of her hands--this pressed
her features up and made her look laughably ugly. She was not taking
much heed of the man near by; she was seeking to collect all the
shreds of evidence she had gathered from listening, in her rapt, tense
way, and making some definite case for, or against, the stranger who,
Aunt Polly had assured her, was "good and proper."

"Now, everything was running on same as common," Jan-an muttered--"same
as common. Then that old ha'nt bell took to ringing, like all
possessed. I just naturally thought 'bout you dropping out of a clear
sky and asking us the way to the inn when it was plain as the nose on
yer face how yer should go. What do you suppose folks paint
sign-boards for, eh?" The twisted ideas sprang into a question.

"That's one on me, Jan-an!" Northrup laughed. "I was afraid I'd be
found out."

"Can't yer read?" Jan-an could not utterly distrust this person who
was puzzling her.

"Yes, I can read and write, Jan-an."

"Then what in tarnation made yer plump in that way?"

"The Lord knows, Jan-an!" Almost the tone was reverent.

"Then _he_ came ructioning in--Larry, I mean. An' everything is
different from what it was. Just like a bubbling pot"--poor Jan-an
grew picturesque--"with the top wobbling. I wish"--she turned pleading
eyes on Northrup--"I wish ter God you'd clear out."

For a moment Northrup felt again the weakening desire to follow this
advice, but, as he thought on, his chin set in a fixed way that meant
that he was not going to move on, but stay where he was. He meant,
also, to get what he could from this strange creature who had sought
him out. He convinced himself that it was legitimate, and since he
meant to get at the bottom of what was going on, he must use what came
to hand.

"So Larry has come back?" he asked indifferently. Then: "I've caught
sight of him from a distance. Good-looking fellow, this Larry of
yours, Jan-an."

"He ain't mine. If he was----" Jan-an looked mutinous and Northrup
laughed.

"See here, you!" The girl was irritated by the laugh. "Larry, he
thinks that Mary-Clare has set eyes on yer before yer came that day.
Larry is making ructions, and folks are talking."

"Well, that's ridiculous." Northrup found his heart beating a bit
quicker.

"I know it is, but Maclin can make Larry think anything. Honest to
God, yer ain't siding 'long of Maclin?"

"Honest to God, Jan-an, I'm not."

"Then why did yer stumble in on us that way?"

"I don't know, Jan-an. That's honest to God, too!"

"Then if nothing is mattering ter yer, and one place is as good as
another, why don't you go along?"

Northrup gave this due consideration. He was preparing to answer
something in his own mind. The dull-faced girl was having a peculiar
effect upon him. He was getting excited.

"Well, Jan-an," he said at last, "it's this way. Things _are_
mattering. Mattering like thunder! And one place isn't as good as
another; this place is the only place on the map just now--catch on?"

Jan-an was making strenuous efforts to "catch on"; her face appeared
like a rubber mask that unseen fingers were pinching into comical
expressions.

Northrup began to wonder just how mentally lacking the girl was.

"But tuck this away in your noddle, Jan-an. Your Uncle Peter and Aunt
Polly have the right understanding. They trust me, and you will some
day. I'm going to stay right here--pass that along to anyone who asks
you, Jan-an. I'm going to stay here and see this thing out!"

"What thing?"

The elusive something that was puzzling the girl, the sense of
something wrong that her blinded but sensitive nature suffered from,
loomed close. This man might make it plain.

"What thing?" she asked huskily. Then Northrup laughed that disturbing
laugh of his.

"I don't know, Jan-an. 'Pon my soul, girl, I'd give a good deal to
know, but I don't. I'm like you, just feeling things."

Jan-an rose stiffly as if she were strung on wires. Her joints cracked
as they fell into place, but once the long body stood upright,
Northrup noticed that it was not without a certain rough grace and it
looked strong and capable of great endurance.

"I've been following you since the first day when you landed," Jan-an
spoke calmly. There was no warning or distrust in the voice, merely a
statement of fact. "And I'm going to keep on following and watching,
so long as you stay."

"Good! I'll never be really lonely then, and you'll sooner get to
trusting me."

"I ain't much for trusting till I knows."

The girl turned and strode away. "Well, if you ever need me, try me
out, Jan-an. Good-bye."

Northrup felt ill at ease after Jan-an passed from sight.

"Of all the messes!" he thought. "It makes me superstitious. What's
the matter with this Forest?"

And then Maclin again came into focus. Around Maclin, apparently, the
public thought revolved.

"They don't trust Maclin." Northrup began to reduce things to normal.
"He's got them guessing with his damned inventions and secrecy. Then
every outsider means a possible accomplice of Maclin. They hate the
foreigners he brings here. They have got their eyes on me. All right,
Maclin, my ready-to-wear villain, here's to you! And before we're
through with each other some interesting things will occur, or I'll
miss my guess."

In much the same mood of excitement, Northrup had entered upon the
adventure of writing his former book, with this difference: He had
gone to the East Side of his home city with all his anchors cast in a
familiar harbour; he was on the open sea now. There had been his
mother and Kathryn before; the reliefs of home comforts, "fumigations"
Kathryn termed them; now he was part of his environment, determined to
cast no backward look until his appointed task was finished in failure
or--success.

The chapel and the day had soothed and comforted him: he was ready to
abandon the hold on every string. This space of time, of unfettered
thought and work, was like existence in a preparation camp. This
became a fixed idea presently--he was being prepared for service;
fitted for his place in a new Scheme. That was the only safe way to
regard life, at the best. Here, there, it mattered not, but the
preparation counted.



CHAPTER VI


When Mary-Clare awoke the next morning she heard Larry still moving
about overhead as if he had been doing it all night. He was opening
drawers; going to and fro between closet and bed; pausing, rustling
papers, and giving the impression, generally, that he was bent upon a
definite plan.

Noreen was sleeping deeply, one little arm stretched over her pillow
and toward her mother as if feeling for the dear presence. Somehow the
picture comforted Mary-Clare. She was strangely at peace. After her
bungling--and she knew she had bungled with Larry--she _had_ secured
safety for Noreen and herself. It was right: the other way would have
bent and cowed her and ended as so many women's lives ended. Larry
never could understand, but God could! Mary-Clare had a simple faith
and it helped her now.

While she lay thinking and looking at Noreen she became conscious of
Larry tiptoeing downstairs. She started up hoping to begin the new era
as right as might be. She wanted to get breakfast and start whatever
might follow as sanely as possible.

But Larry had gone so swiftly, once he reached the lower floor, that
only by running after him in her light apparel could she attract his
attention. He was out of the house and on the road toward the mines!

Then Mary-Clare, seized by one of those presentiments that often light
a dark moment, closed the door, shivering slightly, and went
upstairs.

The carefully prepared bedchamber was in great disorder. The
bedclothes were pulled from the bed and lay in a heap near by; towels,
the soiled linen that Larry had discarded for the fresh, that had
been placed in the bureau drawers, was rolled in a bundle and flung on
the hearth.

This aspect of the room did not surprise Mary-Clare. Larry generally
dropped what he was for the moment through with, but there was more
here than heedless carelessness. Drawers were pulled out and empty.
The closet was open and empty. There was a finality about the scene
that could not be misunderstood. Larry was gone in a definite and
sweeping manner.

Dazed and perplexed, Mary-Clare went to the closet and suddenly was
made aware, by the sight of an empty box upon the floor, that in her
preparation of the room she had left that box, containing the old
letters of her doctor, on a shelf and that now they had been taken
away!

What this loss signified could hardly be estimated at first. So long
had those letters been guide-posts and reinforcements, so long had
they comforted and soothed her like a touch or look of her old friend,
that now she raised the empty box with a sharp sense of pain. So might
she gaze at Noreen's empty crib had the child been taken from her.

Then, intuitively, Mary-Clare tried to be just, she thought that Larry
must have taken the letters because of old and now severed connections
They _were_ his letters, but----

Here Mary-Clare, also because she was just, considered the other
possible cause. Larry might use the letters against her in the days to
come. Show them to others to prove her falseness and ingratitude. This
possibility, however, was only transitory. What she had done was
inevitable, Mary-Clare knew that, and it seemed to her right--oh! _so_
right. There was only one real fact to face. Larry was gone; the
letters were gone.

Mary-Clare began to tremble. The cold room, all that had so deeply
moved her was shaking her nerves. Then she thought that in his hurry
Larry might have overturned the box--the letters might be on the shelf
still. Quickly she went into the closet and felt carefully every
corner. The letters were not there.

Then with white face and chattering teeth she turned and faced
Jan-an. The girl had come noiselessly to the house and found her way
to the room where she had heard sounds--she had seen Larry fleeing on
the lake road as she came over the fields from the Point.

"What's up?" she asked in her dull, even tones, while in her vacant
eyes the groping, tender look grew.

"Oh! Jan-an," Mary-Clare was off her guard, "the letters; my dear old
doctor's letters--they are gone; gone." Her feeling seemed out of all
proportion to the loss.

"Who took 'em?" And then Jan-an did one of those quick, intelligent
things that sometimes shamed sharper wits--she went to the hearth.
"There ain't been no fire," she muttered. "He ain't burned 'em. What
did he take them for?"

This question steadied Mary-Clare. "I'm not _sure_, Jan-an, that any
one has _taken_ the letters. You know how careless I am. I may have
put them somewhere else."

"If yer have there's no need fussing. I'll find 'em. I kin find
anything if yer give me time. I have ter get on the scent."

Mary-Clare gave a nervous laugh.

"Just old letters," she murmured, "but they meant, oh! they meant so
much. Come," she said suddenly, "come, I must dress and get
breakfast."

"I've et." Jan-an was gathering the bedclothes from the floor. She
selected the coverlid and brought it to Mary-Clare. "There, now," she
whispered, wrapping it about her, "you come along and get into bed
downstairs till I make breakfast. You need looking after more than
Noreen. God! what messes some folks can make by just living!"

Things were reduced to the commonplace in an hour.

The warmth of her bed, the sight of Noreen, the sound of Jan-an moving
about, all contributed to the state of mind that made her panic almost
laughable to Mary-Clare.

Things had happened too suddenly for her; events had become congested
in an environment that was antagonistic to change. A change had
undoubtedly come but it must be met bravely and faithfully.

The sun was flooding the big living-room when Mary-Clare, Noreen, and
Jan-an sat down to the meal Jan-an had prepared. There was a feeling
of safety prevailing at last. And then Jan-an, her elbows on the
table, her face resting in her cupped hands, remarked slowly as if
repeating a lesson:

"He's dead, Philander Sniff. Went terrible sudden after taking all
this time. I clean forgot--letters and doings. I can't think of more
than one thing at a time."

Mary-Clare set her cup down sharply while Noreen with one of those
whimsical turns of hers drawled in a sing-song:

"Old Philander Sniff, he died just like a whiff----"

"Noreen!" Mary-Clare stared at the child while Jan-an chuckled in a
rough, loose way as if her laugh were small stones rattling in her
throat.

"Well, Motherly, Philander was a cruel old man. Just being dead don't
make him anything different but--dead."

"Noreen, you must keep quiet. Jan-an, tell me about it."

Mary-Clare's voice commanded the situation. Jan-an's stony gurgle
ceased and she began relating what she had come to tell.

"I took his supper over to him, same as usual, and set it down on the
back steps, and when he opened the door I said, like I allas done,
'Peneluna says good-night,' and he took in the food and slammed the
door, same as usual."

"Old Philander Sniff----" began Noreen's chant as she slipped from her
chair intent upon a doll by the hearthside.

Mary-Clare took no notice of her but nodded to Jan-an.

"And then," the girl went on, "I went in to Peneluna and told her and
then we et and went to bed. Long about midnight, I guess, there was a
yell!" Jan-an lost her breath and paused, then rushed along: "He'd
raised his winder and after all the keeping still, he called for
Peneluna to come."

Mary-Clare visualized the dramatic scene that poor Jan-an was mumbling
monotonously.

"And she went! I just lay there scared stiff hearing things an' seeing
'em! Come morning, in walked Peneluna looking still and high and she
didn't say nothing till she'd gone and fetched those togs of hers,
black 'uns, you know, that Aunt Polly gave her long back. She put 'em
on, bonnet and veil an' everything. Then she took an old red rose out
of a box and pinned it on the front of her bonnet--God! but she did
look skeery--and then said to me awful careful, 'Trot on to
Mary-Clare, tell her to fotch the marriage service _and_ the funeral
one, both!' Jes' like that she said it. Both!"

"This is very strange," Mary-Clare said slowly and got up. "I'm going
to the Point, Jan-an, and you will take Noreen to the inn, like a good
girl. I'll call for her in the afternoon."

"Take both!" Jan-an was nodding her willingness to obey. And
Mary-Clare took her prayer-book with her.

Mary-Clare had the quiet Forest to herself apparently, for on the way
to the Point she met no one. On ahead she traced, she believed,
Larry's footprints, but when she turned on the trail to the Point,
they were not there.

All along her way Mary-Clare went over in her thought the story of
Philander Sniff and Peneluna. It was the romance and mystery of the
sordid Point.

Years before, when Mary-Clare was a little child, Philander had
drifted, from no one knew where, to the mines and the Point. He lived
in one of the ramshackle huts; gave promise of paying for it, did, in
fact, pay a few dollars to old Doctor Rivers, and then became a
squatter. He was injured at the mines and could do no more work and at
that juncture Peneluna had arrived upon the scene from the same
unknown quarter apparently whence Philander had hailed. She took the
empty cottage next Philander's and paid for it by service in Doctor
Rivers's home. She was clean, thrifty, and strangely silent. When
Philander first beheld her he was shaken, for a moment, out of his
glum silence. "God Almighty!" he confided to Twombly who had worked in
the mines with him and had looked after him in his illness; "yer can't
shake some women even when it's for their good."

That was all. Through the following years the two shacks became the
only clean and orderly ones on the Point. When Philander hobbled from
his quarters, Peneluna went in and scrubbed and scoured. After a time
she cooked for the old man and left the food on his back steps. He
took it in, ate it, and had the grace to wash the dishes before
setting them back.

"Some mightn't," poor Peneluna had said to Aunt Polly in defence of
Sniff.

As far as any one knew the crabbed old man never spoke to his devoted
neighbour, but she had never complained.

"I wonder what happened before they came here?" After all the years of
taking the strange condition for granted, it sprang into quickened
life. Mary-Clare was soon to know and it had a bearing upon her own
highly sensitive state.

She made her way to the far end of the Point, passing wide-eyed
children at play and curious women in doorways.

"Philander's dead!" The words were like an accompaniment, passing from
lip to lip. "An' she won't let a soul in." This was added.

"She will presently," Mary-Clare reassured them. "She'll need you all,
later."

There was a little plot of grass between Peneluna's shack and
Philander's and a few scraggy autumn flowers edged a well-worn path
from one back door to the other!

At Philander's front door Mary-Clare knocked and Peneluna responded at
once. She was dressed as Jan-an had described, and for a moment
Mary-Clare had difficulty in stifling her inclination to laugh.

The gaunt old woman was in the rusty black she had kept in readiness
for years; she wore gloves and bonnet; the long crêpe veil and the
absurd red rose wobbled dejectedly as Peneluna moved about.

"Come in, child, and shut the world out." Then, leading the way to an
inner room, "Have yer got _both_ services?"

"Yes, Peneluna." Then Mary-Clare started back.

She was in the presence of the dead. He lay rigid and carefully
prepared for burial on the narrow bed. He looked decent, at peace, and
with that unearthly dignity that death often offers as its first
gift.

Peneluna drew two chairs close to the bed; waved Mary-Clare
majestically to one and took the other herself. She was going to lay
her secrets before the one she had chosen--after that the shut-out
world might have its turn.

"I've sent word over to the Post Office," Peneluna began, "and they're
going to get folks, the doctor and minister and the rest. Before they
get here--" Peneluna paused--"before they get here I want that you
should act for the old doctor."

This was the one thing needed to rouse Mary-Clare.

"I'll do my best, Peneluna," she whispered, and clutched the
prayer-book.

"The ole doctor, he knew 'bout Philander and me. He said"--Peneluna
caught her breath--"he said once as how it was women like me that kept
men believing. He said I had a right to hold my tongue--he held
his'n."

Mary-Clare nodded. Not even she could ever estimate the secret load of
confessions her beloved foster-father bore and covered with his rare
smile.

"Mary-Clare, I want yer should read the marriage service over me and
him!" Peneluna gravely nodded to her silent dead. "I got this to say:
If Philander ain't too far on his journey, I guess he'll look back and
understand and then he can go on more cheerful-like and easy. Last
night he hadn't more than time to say a few things, but they cleared
everything, and if I'm his wife, he can trust me--a wife wouldn't harm
a dead husband when she _might_ the man who jilted her." The words
came through a hard, dry sob. Mary-Clare felt her eyes fill with hot
tears. She looked out through the one open window and felt the warm
autumn breeze against her cheek; a bit of sunlight slanted across the
room and lay brightly on the quiet man upon the bed. "Read on,
Mary-Clare, and then I can speak out."

Opening the book with stiff, cold fingers, Mary-Clare read softly,
brokenly, the solemn words.

At the close Peneluna stood up.

"Him and me, Mary-Clare," she said, "'fore God and you is husband and
wife." Then she removed the red rose from her bonnet, laid it upon
the folded wrinkled hands of the dead man and drew the sheet over
him.

Just then, outside the window, a bird flew past, peeped in, fluttered
away, singing.

"Seems like it might be the soul of Philander," Peneluna said--she was
crying as the old do, hardly realizing that they are crying. Her tears
fell unheeded and Mary-Clare was crying with her, but conscious of
every hurting tear.

"In honour bound, though it breaks the heart of me, I'm going to
speak, Mary-Clare, then his poor soul can rest in peace.

"The Methodist parson, what comes teetering 'round just so often,
always thought Philander was hell-bound, Mary-Clare; well, since there
ain't anyone but that parson as knows so much about hell, to send for,
I've sent for him and there's no knowing what he won't feel called
upon to say with Philander lying helpless for a text. So now, after I
tell you what must be told, I want that you should read the burial
service over Philander and then that parson can do his worst--my ears
will be deaf to him and Philander can't hear."

There was a heavy pause while Mary-Clare waited.

"Hell don't scare me nohow," Peneluna went on; "seems like the most
interesting folks is headed for it and I'll take good company every
time to what some church folks hands out. And, too, hell can't be half
bad if you have them you love with you. So the parson can do his
worst. Philander and me won't mind now.

"Back of the time we came here"--Peneluna was picking her words as a
child does its blocks, carefully in order to form the right word--"me
and Philander was promised."

Drifting about in Mary-Clare's thought a scrap of old scandal stirred,
but it had little to feed on and passed.

"Then a woman got mixed up 'twixt him and me. In her young days she'd
been French and you know yer can't get away from what's born in the
blood, and the Frenchiness was terrible onsettling. Philander was
side-twisted. Yer see, Mary-Clare, when a man ain't had nothing but
work and working folks in his life, a creature that laughs and dances
and sings gets like whiskey in the head, and Philander didn't
rightfully know what he was about."

Peneluna drew the end of her crêpe veil up and wiped her eyes.

"They went off together, him and the furriner. Least, the furriner
took him off, and the next thing I heard she'd taken to her heels and
Philander drifted here to the mines. I knew he needed me more than
ever--he was a dreadful creature about doing for himself, not eating
at Christian hours, just waiting till he keeled over from emptiness,
so I came logging along after him and--stayed. He was considerable
upset when he saw me and he never got to, what you might say, speaking
to me, but he was near and he ate the food I left on his steps and he
washed the plates and cups and that meant a lot to Philander. If I'd
been his proper wife he wouldn't have washed 'em. Men don't when they
get used to a woman.

"And then"--here Peneluna caught her breath--"then last night he
called from his winder and I came. He said, holding my hand like it
was the last thing left for him to hold: 'I didn't think I had a right
to you, Pen'--he used to call me Pen--'after what I did. And I've just
paid for my evil-doing up to the end, not taking comfort and
forgiveness--just paying!' I never let on, Mary-Clare, how I'd paid,
too. Men folks are blind-spotted, we've got to take 'em as they are.
Philander thought he had worked out his soul's salvation while he was
starving me, soul and body, but I never let on and he died smiling and
saying, 'The food was terrible staying, Pen, terrible staying.'"

Mary-Clare could see mistily the long, rigid figure on the bed, her
eyes ached with unshed tears; her heart throbbed like a heavy pain.
Here was something she had never understood; a thing so real and
strong that no earthly touch could kill it. What was it?

But Peneluna was talking on, her poor old face twitching.

"And now, Mary-Clare, him and me is man and wife before God and you.
You are terrible understanding, child. With all the fol-de-rol the old
doctor laid on yer, he laid his own spirit of knowing things on yer,
too. Suffering learns folks the understanding power. I reckon the old
doctor had had his share 'fore he came to the Forest--but how you got
to knowing things, child, and being tender and patient, 'stead of hot
and full of hate, I don't know! Now read, soft and low, so only us
three can hear--the last service."

Solemnly, with sweet intonations, Mary-Clare read on and on. Again the
bird came to the window ledge, looked in, and then flew off singing
jubilantly. Peneluna smiled a fleeting wintry smile and closed her
eyes; she seemed to be following the bird--or was it old Philander's
soul?

When the service came to an end, Peneluna arose and with grave dignity
walked from the room, Mary-Clare following.

"Now the Pointers can have their way 'cording to rule, Mary-Clare,"
she whispered, "but you and me understand, child. And listen to this,
I ain't much of a muchness, but come thick or thin, Mary-Clare, I'll
do my first and last for you 'cause of the secret lying 'twixt us."

Then Mary-Clare asked the question that was hurting her with its
weight.

"Peneluna, was it love, the thing that made you glad, through it all,
just to wait?"

"I don't rightly know, Mary-Clare. It was something too big for me to
call by name, but I just couldn't act different and kill it, not even
when her as once was French made me feel I oughter. I wouldn't darst
harm that feeling I had, child."

"And it paid?"

"I don't know. I only know I was glad, when he called last night, that
I was waiting."

Then Mary-Clare raised her face and kissed the old, troubled, fumbling
lips. The thing, too big for the woman, was too big for the girl; but
she knew, whatever it was, it must not be hurt.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked.

"God knows, Mary-Clare. The old doctor gave this place to Philander,
and he gave me mine, next door. I think, till I get my leadings, I'll
hold to this and see what the Lord wants me to do with my old shack.
I allas find someone waiting to share. Maybe Jan-an will grow to fit
in there in time. When she gets old and helpless she'll need some
place to crawl to and call her own. I don't know, but I'm a powerful
waiter and I'll keep an eye and ear open."

On the walk home Mary-Clare grew deeply thoughtful. The recent scene
took on enormous significance. Detached from the pitiful setting,
disassociated from the two forlorn creatures who were the actors in
the tragic story, there rose, like a bright and living flame, a
something that the girl's imagination caught and held.

That something was quite apart from laws and codes; it came; could not
be commanded. It was something that marriage could not give, nor death
kill. Something that could exist on the Point. Something that couldn't
be got out of one's heart, once it had entered in. What was it? It
wasn't duty or just living on. It was something too big to name. Why
was the wonder of it crowding all else out--after the long years?

Mary-Clare left the Point behind her. She entered the sweet
autumn-tinted woods beyond which lay her home. She hoped--oh!
yearningly she hoped--that Larry would not be there, not just yet. She
would go for Noreen; she would stay awhile with Aunt Polly and tell
her about what had just occurred--the service, but not the secret
thing.

Suddenly she stood still and her face shone in the dim woods. Just
ahead and around a curve, she heard Noreen's voice. But was it
Noreen's?

Often, in her wondering moments, Mary-Clare had pictured her little
girl as she longed for her to be--a glad, unthinking creature, such as
Mary-Clare herself had once been, a singing, laughing child. And now,
just out of sight, Noreen was singing.

There was a rich gurgle in the flute-like voice; it came floating
along.

"Oh! tell it again, please! I want to learn it for Motherly. It is
awfully funny--and make the funny face that goes with it--the
crinkly-up face."

"All right. Here goes!

    "Up the airy mountain,
    Down the rustly glen--

that's the way, Noreen, scuffle your feet in the leaves--

    "We daren't go a-hunting
    For fear of little men.
    Wee folk, good folk
    Trooping all together,
    Green jacket, red cap,
    And white owl's feather--

Here, you, Noreen, play fair; scuffle and keep step, you little
beggar!"

"But I may step on the wee men, the good men," again the rich
chuckle.

"No, you won't if you scuffle and then step high; they'll slip between
your feet."

Then came the tramp, tramp of the oncoming pair. Big feet, little
feet. Long strides and short hops.

So they came in view around the turn of the rough road--Northrup with
Noreen holding his hand and trying to keep step to the swinging words
of the old song.

And Northrup saw Mary-Clare, saw her with a slanting sunbeam on her
radiant face. The romance of Hunter's Point was in her soul, and the
wonder of her child's happiness. She stood and smiled that strange,
unforgettable smile of hers; the smile that had its birth in unshed
tears.

Northrup hurried toward her, taking in, as he came, her loveliness
that could not be detracted from by her mud-stained and rough
clothing. The feeling of knowing her was in his mind; she seemed
vividly familiar.

"Your little daughter got homesick, or mother-sick, Mrs. Rivers"--Northrup
took off his hat--"Aunt Polly gave me the privilege of bringing her to
you. We became friends from the moment we met. We've been making great
strides all day."

"Thank you, Mr.----"

"Northrup."

"Thank you, Mr. Northrup. You have made Noreen very happy--and she
does not make friends easily."

"But, Motherly," Noreen was flushed and eager. "_He_ isn't a friend.
Jan-an told me all about him. He's something the wild-wind brought.
You are, aren't you, Mr. Sir?"

Northrup laughed.

"Well, something like that," he admitted. "May I walk along with you,
Mrs. Rivers? Unless I go around the lake, I must turn back."

And so they walked on, Noreen darting here and there quite unlike her
staid little self, and they talked of many things--neither could have
told after just what they talked about. The conversation was like a
stream carrying them along to a definite point ordained for them to
reach, somewhere, some time, on beyond.

"How on earth could she manage to be what she is?" pondered Northrup.
"She's read and thought to some purpose."

"What does he mean by being here?" pondered Mary-Clare. "This isn't
just a happening."

But they chatted pleasantly while they pondered.

When they came near to the yellow house, Noreen, who was ahead, came
running back. All the joyousness had fled from her face. She looked
heavy-eyed and dull.

"She's tired," murmured Mary-Clare, but she knew that that was not
what ailed Noreen.

And then she looked toward her house. Larry stood in the doorway,
smoking and smiling.

"Will you come and meet my husband?" she asked of Northrup.

"I'll put off the pleasure, if you'll excuse me, Mrs. Rivers. I have
learned that one cannot tamper with Aunt Polly's raised biscuits. It's
late, but may I call to-morrow?" Northrup stood bareheaded while he
spoke.

Mary-Clare nodded. She was mutely thankful when he strode on ahead and
toward the lake.

It was while they were eating their evening meal that Larry remarked
casually:

"So that's the Northrup fellow, is it?" Mary-Clare flushed and had a
sensation of being lassoed by an invisible hand.

"Yes. He is staying at the inn--I sent Noreen there this morning while
I went over to the Point; he was bringing her home."

"He seemed to know that you weren't home."

"Children come in handy," Larry smiled pleasantly. "More potato,
Mary-Clare?"

"No." Then, almost defiantly: "Larry, Mr. Northrup asked his way to
the inn the day he was travelling through. I have never spoken to him
since, until to-day. When he found the house empty this afternoon, he
naturally----"

"Why the explanation?" Larry looked blank and again Mary-Clare
flushed.

"I felt one was needed."

"I can't see why. By the way, Mary-Clare, those squatters at the Point
are going to get a rough deal. Either they're going to pay regular, or
be kicked out. I tell you when Tim Maclin sets his jaw, there is going
to be something doing."

This was unfortunate, but Larry was ill at ease.

"Maclin doesn't own the Point, Larry."

"You better listen to Maclin and not Peter Heathcote." Larry retraced
his steps. His doubt of Northrup had led him astray.

Mary-Clare gave him a startled look.

"Maclin's a brute," she said quietly. "I prefer to listen to my
friends."

"Maclin's our friend. Yours and mine. You'll learn that some day."

"I doubt it, Larry, but he's your employer and I do not forget that."

"I wouldn't. And you're going to change your mind some fine day, my
girl, about a lot of things."

"Perhaps."

"I'm sleeping outside, Mary-Clare." Larry rose lazily. "I just dropped
in to--to call." He laughed unpleasantly.

"I'm sorry, Larry, that you feel as you do."

"Like hell you are!" The words were barely audible. "I'm going to give
you a free hand, Mary-Clare, but I'm going to let folks see your game.
That's square enough."

"All right, Larry." Mary-Clare's eyes flickered. Then: "Why did you
take those letters?"

Larry looked blankly at her.

"I haven't taken any letters. What you hoaxing up?" He waited a moment
but when Mary-Clare made no reply he stalked from the house angrily
and into the night.



CHAPTER VII


Maclin rarely discussed Larry's private affairs with him, but he
controlled them, nevertheless, indirectly. His hold on Larry was
subtle and far-reaching. It had its beginning in the old college days
when the older man discovered that the younger could be manipulated,
by flattery and cheap tricks, into abject servitude. Larry was not as
keen-witted as Maclin, but he had a superficial cleverness; a lack of
moral fibre and a certain talent that, properly controlled, offered no
end of possibility.

So Maclin affixed himself to young Rivers in the days before the
doctor's death; he and Larry had often drifted apart but came together
again like steel responding to the same magnet. While apparently
intimate with Rivers, Maclin never permitted him to pass a given line,
and this restriction often chafed Larry's pride and egotism; still, he
dared not rebel, for there were things in his past that had best be
forgotten, or at least not referred to.

When Maclin had discovered the old, deserted mines and bought them,
apparently Larry was included in the sale. Maclin sought to be
friendly with Mary-Clare when he first came to King's Forest; but
failing in that direction, he shrugged his shoulders and made light of
the matter. He never pushed his advantage nor forgave a slight.

"Never force a woman," he confided to Larry at that juncture, "that
is, if she is independent."

"What you mean, independent?" Larry knew what he meant very well; knew
the full significance of it. He fretted at it every time his desires
clashed with Mary-Clare's. If he, not she, owned the yellow house; if
she were obliged to take what he chose to give her, how different
their lives might have been!

Larry was thinking of all this as he made his way to the mines after
denying that he had taken the letters. Those letters lay snugly hid
under his shirt--he had a use for them. He could feel them as he
walked along; they seemed to be feeding a fire that was slowly
igniting.

Larry was going now to Maclin with all barriers removed. His
suspicious mind had accepted the coarsest interpretation of
Mary-Clare's declaration of independence. Maclin's hints were, to him,
established facts. There could be but one possible explanation for her
act after long, dull years of acceptance.

"Well," Larry puffed and panted, "there is always a way to get the
upper hand of a woman and, I reckon, Maclin, when he's free to speak
out, can catch a fool woman and a sneaking man, who is on no fair
business, unless I miss _my_ guess." Larry grunted the words out and
stumbled along. "First and last," he went on, "there's just two ways
to deal with women. Break 'em or let them break themselves."

Larry's idea now was to let Mary-Clare break herself with the Forest
as audience. He wasn't going to do anything. No, not he! Living
outside his home would set tongues wagging. All right, let Mary-Clare
stop their wagging.

There was always, with Larry, this feeling of hot impotence when he
retreated from Mary-Clare. For so vital and high-strung a woman,
Mary-Clare could at critical moments be absolutely negative, to all
appearances. Where another might show weakness or violence, she seemed
to close all the windows and doors of her being, leaving her attacker
in the outer darkness with nothing to strike at; no ear to assail. It
was maddening to one of Larry's type.

So had Mary-Clare just now done. After asking him about the letters,
she had withdrawn, but in the isolation where Larry was left he could
almost hear the terrific truths he guiltily knew he deserved, hurled
at him, but which his wife did not utter. Well, two could play at her
game.

And in this mood he reached Maclin; accepted a cigar and stretched his
feet toward the fire in his owner's office.

Maclin was in a humanly soothing mood. He fairly crooned over Larry
and could tell to a nicety the workings of his mind.

He puffed and puffed at his enormous cigar; he was almost hidden from
sight in the smoke but his words oozed forth as if they were cutting
through a soft, thick substance.

"Now, Larry," he said; "don't make a mistake. Some women don't have
weak spots, they have knots--weak ends tied together, so to speak. The
cold, calculating breed--and your wife, no offence intended, is mighty
chilly--can't be broken, as you intimate, but they can be untied
and"--Maclin was pleased with his picturesque figures of speech--"left
dangling."

This was amusing. Both men guffawed.

"Do you know, Rivers"--Maclin suddenly relapsed into seriousness--"it
was a darned funny thing that a girl like your wife should fall
into your open mouth, marry you off-hand, as one might say. Mighty
funny, when you come to think of it, that your old man should let
her--knowing all he knew and seeming to set such a store by the
girl."

Larry winced and felt the lash on his back. So long had that lash hung
unused that the stroke now made him cringe.

"No use harking back to that, Maclin," he said: "some things ain't
common property, you know, even between you and me. We agreed to
that."

"Yes?" the word came softly. Was it apologetic or threatening?

There was a pause. Then Maclin unbent.

"Larry," he began, tossing his cigar aside, "you haven't ever given me
full credit, my boy, for what I've tried to do for you. See here, old
man, I have got you out of more than one fix, haven't I?"

Larry looked back--the way was not a pleasant one.

"Yes," he admitted, "yes, you have, Maclin."

"I know you often get fussed, Rivers, about what you term my _using_
you in business, but I swear to you that in the end you'll think
different about that. I've got to work under cover myself to a certain
extent. I'm not my own master. But this I can say--I'm willing to be a
part of a big thing. When the public _is_ taken into our confidence,
we'll all feel repaid. Can you--do you catch on, Larry?"

"It's like catching on to something in the dark," Larry muttered.

"Well, that's something," Maclin said cheerfully. "Something to hold
to in the dark isn't to be sneered at."

"Depends upon what it is!" Apparently Larry was in a difficult mood.
Maclin tried a new course.

"It's one thing having a friend in the dark, old man, and another
having an enemy. I suppose that's what you mean. Well, have I been
much of an enemy to you?"

"I just told you what I think about that." Larry misinterpreted
Maclin's manner and took advantage.

"Larry, I'm going to give you something to chew on because I _am_ your
friend and because I want you to trust me, even in the dark. The
fellow Northrup----"

Larry started as if an electric spark had touched him. Maclin appeared
not to notice.

"--is on our tracks, but he mustn't suspect that we have sensed it."
The words were ill-chosen. Having any one on his tracks was a
significant phrase that left an ugly fear in Larry's mind.

"What tracks?" he asked suspiciously.

"Our inventions." Maclin showed no nervous dread. "These inventions,
big as they are, old man, are devilish simple. That's why we have to
lie low. Any really keen chap with the right slant could steal them
from under our noses. That's why I like to get foreigners in
here--these Dutchies don't smell around. Give them work to do, and
they do it and ask no questions; the others snoop. Now this Northrup
is here for a purpose."

"You know that for a fact, Maclin?"

"Sure, I know it." Maclin was a man who believed in holding all the
cards and discarding at his leisure; he always played a slow game. "I
know his kind, but I'm going to let him hang himself. Now see here,
Rivers, you better take me into your confidence--I may be able to fix
you up. What's wrong between you and your wife?"

This plunge sent Larry to the wall. When a slow man does make a drive,
he does deadly work.

"Well, then"--Larry looked sullen--"I've left the house and mean to
stay out until Mary-Clare comes to her senses!"

"All right, old man. I rather smelled this out. I only wanted to make
sure. It's this Northrup, eh? Now, Rivers, I could send you off on a
trip but it would be the same old story. I hate to kick you when
you're down, but I will say this, your wife doesn't look like one
mourning without hope when you're away, and with this Northrup chap on
the spot, needing entertainment while he works his game, I'm thinking
you better stay right where you are! You can, maybe, untie the knot,
old chap. Give her and this Northrup all the chance they want, and if
you leave 'em alone, I guess the Forest will smoke 'em out."

Maclin came nearer to being jubilant than Rivers had ever seen him.
The sight was heartening, but still something in Larry tempered his
enthusiasm. He had been able, in the past, to exclude Mary-Clare from
the inner sanctuary of Maclin's private ideals, and he hated now to
betray her into his clutches. Maclin was devilishly keen under that
slow, sluggish manner of his and he hastened, now, to say:

"Don't get a wrong slant on me, old man. I'm only aiming for the good
of us all, not the undoing. I want to show this fellow Northrup up to
your wife as well as to others. Then she'll know her friends from her
foes. Naturally a woman feels flattered by attentions from a man like
this stranger, but if she sees how he's taken the Heathcotes in and
how he's used her while he was boring underground, she'll flare up and
know the meaning of real friends. Some women have to be _shown_!"

By this time Larry suspected that much had gone on during his absence
that Maclin had not confided to him. He was thoroughly aroused.

"Now see here, Rivers!" Maclin drew his chair closer and laid his hand
on Larry's arm--he gloated over the trouble in the eyes holding his
with dumb questioning. "It's coming out all right. We're in early and
we've got the best seats--only keep them guessing; guessing! Larry,
your wife goes--down to the Point a lot--goes missionarying, you know.
Well, this Northrup is tramping around in the woods skirting the
Point."

Just here Larry started and looked as if something definite had come
to him. Had he not seen Northrup that very day in the woods?

"Now there's an empty shack on the Point, Rivers--some old squatter
has died. I want you to get that shack somehow or another. It ought to
be easy, since they say your wife owns the place; it's your business
to _get_ it and then watch out and keep your mouth shut. You've got to
live somewhere while you can't live decent at home. 'Tisn't likely
your wife, having slammed the door of her home on you, will oust you
from that hovel on the Point--your being there will work both
ways--she won't dare to take a step."

Larry drew a sigh, a heavy one, and began to understand. He saw more
than Maclin could see.

"She hasn't turned me out," he muttered. "I came out."

"Let her explain that, Rivers. See? She can't do it while she's
gallivanting with this here Northrup."

Larry saw the possibilities from Maclin's standpoint, but he saw
Mary-Clare's smile and that uplifted head. He was overwhelmed again by
the sense of impotence.

"Give a woman a free rein, Rivers, she'll shy, sooner or later."
Maclin was gaining assurance as he saw Larry's discomfort. "That's
what keeps women from getting on--they shy! When all's said, a tight
rein is a woman's best good, but some women have to learn that."

Something in Larry burned hot and resentful, but whether it was
because of Maclin or Mary-Clare he could not tell, so he kept still.

"Let's turn in, anyway, for to-night, old boy." Maclin's voice sounded
paternal. "To-morrow is to-morrow and you'll feel able to tackle the
job after a night's sleep."

So they turned in and it was the afternoon of the next day when Larry
took his walk to the Point.

Just as he started forth Maclin gave him two or three suggestions.

"I'd offer to hire the shanty," he said. "That will put you in a safe
position, no matter how they look at it. An old woman by the name of
Peneluna thinks she owns it. There's an old codger down there, too,
Twombley they call him--he's smart as the devil, but you can't tell
which way he may leap. Try him out. Get him to take sides with you if
you can."

"I remember Twombley," Larry said. "Dad used to get a lot of fun out
of him in the old days. I haven't been on the Point since I was a
boy."

"It's a good thing you never troubled the Point, Rivers. They'll be
more stirred by you now."

"Maybe they'll kick me out."

"Never fear!" Maclin reassured him. "Not if you show good money and
play up to your old dad. He had everyone eating out of his hand, all
right."

So Larry, none too sure of himself, but more cheerful than he had
been, set forth.

Now there is one thing about the poor, wherever you find them--they
live out of doors when the weather permits. Given sunshine and soft
air, they promptly turn their backs on the sordid dens they call home
and take to the open. The day that Larry went to the Point was warm
and lovely, and all the Pointers, or nearly all of them, were in
evidence.

Jan-an was sweeping the steps of Peneluna's doorway, sweeping them
viciously, sending the dust flying. She was working off her state of
mind produced by the recent funeral of old Philander. She was
spiritually inarticulate, but her gropings were expressed in service
to them she loved and in violence to them she hated. As she swept she
was cleaning for Peneluna, and at the same time, sweeping to the winds
of heaven the memory of the dreadful minister who had said such
fearsome things about the dead who couldn't talk back. The man had
made Mary-Clare cry as she sat holding Peneluna's hard, cold hand.
Jan-an knew how hard and cold it was, for she had held the other in
decent sympathy.

Among the tin cans and ash heaps the children of the Point were
playing. One inspired girl had decked a mound of wreckage and garbage
with some glittering goldenrod and was calling her mates to come and
see the "heaven" she had made.

Larry laughed at this and muttered: "Made it in hell, eh, kid?"

The child scowled at him.

Twombley was sitting in his doorway watching what was going on. He was
a gaunt, sharp-eyed, sharp-nosed, and sharp-tongued man. He was the
laziest man on the Point, but with all the earmarks of the cleverest.

"Well, Twombley, how are you?"

Twombley spat and took Larry out of the pigeonhole of his memory--labelled
and priced; Twombley had not thought of him in years, as a definite
individual. He was Mary-Clare's husband; a drifter; a tool of Maclin. As
such he was negligible.

"Feeling same as I look," he said at last. He was ready to appraise
the man before him.

"Bad nut," was what he thought, but diluted his sentiments because of
the relationship to the old doctor and Mary-Clare. Twombley, like
everyone else, had a shrine in his memory--rather a musty, shabby one,
to be sure, but it held its own sacredly. Doctor Rivers and all that
belonged to him were safely niched there--even this son, the husband
of Mary-Clare about whom the Forest held its tongue because he was the
son of the old doctor.

"Old Sniff's popped, I hear." Larry, now that he chose to be friendly,
endeavoured to fit his language to his hearer's level. "Have a cigar,
Twombley?"

"I'll keep to my pipe." The old man's face was expressionless. "If you
don't get a taste for what you can't afford you don't ruin it for what
you can. Yes, looks as if Sniff was dead. They've buried him, at any
rate."

"Who's got his place?"

"Peneluna Sniff."

"Was he married?" Floating in Rivers's mind was an old story, but it
floated too fast for him to catch it.

"She went through the marriage service. That fixes it, don't it?"
Twombley puffed loudly.

"I suppose it does, but I kind of recall that there was a quarrel
between them."

"Ain't that a proof that they was married?" Twombley's eyes twinkled
through the slits of lids--he always squinted his eyes close when he
wanted to go slow. Larry laughed.

"Didn't Peneluna Sniff, or whatever her name is, live in a house by
herself?" he asked. He was puzzled.

"She sure did. Your old man was a powerful understander of human
nater. A few feet 'twixt married folks, he uster say, often saves the
day."

"Well, who's got her house?"

"She's got it."

"Empty?"

"I guess the same truck's in it that always was. I ain't seen any
moving out."

"Is Mrs. Sniff at home?"

"How do you suppose I know, young man? These ain't calling hours on
the Point."

"Well, they're business hours, all right, Twombley. See here, my
friend, I'm going to hire that house of Mrs. Sniff if I can."

Twombley's slits came close together.

"Yes?" was all he vouchsafed.

"Yes. And I wish you'd pass the word along, my friend."

"I don't pass nothing!" Twombley interrupted. "I take all I kin git. I
make use of what I can. The rest, I chuck."

"Well, have it your own way, but I'm your friend, Twombley, and the
friend of your neighbours. I cannot say more now--but you'll all
believe it some day."

"Maclin standing back of yer, young feller?"

"Yes. And that's where you've made another bad guess, Twombley.
Maclin's your friend, only he isn't free to speak out just now."

"Gosh! we ain't eager for him to speak. The stiller he is the better
we like it."

"He knows that. He's given up--he is going to see what I can make you
feel--I'm one of you, you know that, Twombley."

"Never would have guessed it, son!" Twombley leered.

"Well, my wife's always been your friend--what's the difference? I've
been on my job; she's been on hers--it's all the same, only now I'm
going to prove it!"

"Gosh! you'll be a shock to Maclin all right."

"No, I won't, Twombley. You're wrong about him. He's meant right, but
not being one of us he's bungled, he knows it now. He's listened to me
at last."

Larry could be a most important-appearing person when there was no one
to prick his little bubble. Twombley eyed his visitor calmly.

"Funny thing, life is," he ruminated, seeming to forget Larry's
presence. "Yer get to thinking you're running down hill on a greased
plank, and sudden--a nail catches yer breeches and yer stop in time to
see where yer was going!"

"What then, Twombley?"

"Oh! nothing. Only as long as yer breeches hold and the nail don't
come out, yer keep on looking!"

Again Twombley spat. Then, seeing his guest rising, he asked with
great dignity:

"Going, young sir?"

"Yes, over to Mrs. Sniff's. And if we are neighbours, Twombley, let us
be friends. My father had a liking for you, I remember."

"I'm not forgetting that, young sir."

When Larry reached Mrs. Sniff's, Jan-an was still riotously sweeping
the memories of the funeral away. She turned and looked at Larry.
Then, leaning on her broom, she continued to stare.

"Well, what in all possessed got yer down here?" asked the girl, her
face stiffening.

"Where's Mrs. Sniff?" Larry asked. He always resented Jan-an, on
general principles. She got in his way too often. When she was out of
sight he never thought of her, but her vacant stare and monotonous
drawl were offensive to him.

He had once suggested that she be confined somewhere. "You never can
tell about her kind," he had said; he had a superstitious fear of
her.

"What, shut the poor child from her freedom?" Aunt Polly had asked
him, "just because we cannot tell? Lordy! Larry Rivers, there wouldn't
be many people running around loose if we applied that rule to them."

There were some turns that conversation took that sent Larry into
sudden silences--this had been one. He had never referred to Jan-an's
treatment after that, but he always resented her.

Jan-an continued to stare at him.

"There ain't no Mrs. Sniff" she said finally. "What's ailin' folks
around here?"

"Well, where's Miss Peneluna?" Larry ventured, thinking back to the
old title of his boyhood days.

"Setting!" Jan-an returned to her sweeping and Larry stepped aside.

"I want to see her," he said angrily. "Get out of the way."

"She ain't no great sight, and I'm cleaning up!" Jan-an scowled and
her energy suggested that Larry might soon be included among the
things she was getting rid of.

"See here"--Larry's eyes darkened--"if you don't stand aside----"

But at this juncture Peneluna loomed in the doorway. She regarded
Larry with a tightening of the mouth muscles. Inwardly she thought of
him as a bad son of a good father, but intuitions were not proofs and
because Doctor Rivers had been good, and Mary-Clare was always to be
considered, the old woman kept her feelings to herself.

She was still in her rusty black, the rakish bonnet set awry on her
head.

"Come in!" she said quietly. "And you, Jan-an, you trundle over to my
old place and clean up."

Larry went inside and sat down in the chair nearest the door. The
neatness and order of the room struck even his indifferent eyes, so
unexpected was it on the Point.

"Well?" Peneluna looked at her visitor coolly. Larry did not speak at
once--he was going to get the house next door; he must have it and he
did not want to make any mistakes with the grim, silent woman near
him. He was not considering the truth, but he was selecting the best
lies that occurred to him; the ones most likely to appeal to his
future landlady.

"Miss Peneluna," he began finally, but the stiff lips interrupted
him:

"_Mrs. Sniff_."

"Good Lord! Mrs. Sniff, then. You see, I didn't know you were
married."

"Didn't you? You might not know everything that goes on. You don't
trouble us much. Your goings and comings leave us strangers."

Larry did not reply. He was manufacturing tears, and presently, to
Peneluna's amazement, they glistened on his cheeks.

"I wonder"--Larry's voice trembled--"I wonder if I can speak openly to
you, Mrs.--Mrs. Sniff? You were in my father's house; he trusted you.
I do not seem to have any one but you at this crisis."

Peneluna sneezed. She had a terrible habit of sneezing at will--it was
positively shocking.

"I guess there ain't any reason for you not speaking out your ideas to
me," she said cautiously. "I ain't much of a fount of wisdom, but I
ain't a babbling brook, neither."

She was thinking that it would be safer to handle Rivers than to let
others use him, and she knew something of the trouble at the yellow
house. Jan-an had regaled her with some rare tidbits.

"Peneluna, Mary-Clare and I have had some words; I've left home."

There was no answer to this. Larry moistened his lips and went on:

"Perhaps Mary-Clare has told you?"

"No, she ain't blabbed none."

This was disconcerting.

"She wouldn't, and I am not going to, either. It's just a
misunderstanding, Mrs. Sniff. I could go away and let it rest there,
but I fear I've been away too much and things have got snarled.
Mary-Clare doesn't rightly see things."

"Yes she does, Larry Rivers! She's terrible seeing." Peneluna's eyes
flashed.

"All right then, Mrs. Sniff. _I want her to see!_ I want her to see me
here, looking after her interests. I cannot explain; you'll all know
soon enough. Danger's threatening and I'm going to be on the spot!
You've all got a wrong line on Maclin, so he's side-stepped and
listened to me at last; I'm going to show up this man Northrup who is
hanging round. I want to hire your house, Mrs. Sniff, and live on here
until----"

Peneluna sneezed lustily; it made Larry wince.

"Until Mary-Clare turns you out?" she asked harshly. "And gets talked
about for doing it--or lets you stay on reflecting upon her what can't
tell her side? Larry Rivers, you always was a thorn in your good
father's side and I reckon you've been one in Mary-Clare's."

Larry winced again and recalled sharply the old vacations and this
woman's silent attitude toward him. It all came back clearly. He could
always cajole Aunt Polly Heathcote, but Peneluna had explained her
attitude toward him in the past by briefly stating that she
"internally and eternally hated boys."

"You're hard on me, Mrs. Sniff. You'll be sorry some day."

"Then I'll be sorry!" Peneluna sneezed.

Presently her mood, however, changed. She regarded Larry with new
interest.

"How much will you give me for my place?" Peneluna leaned forward
suddenly and quite took Larry off his guard. He had succeeded so
unexpectedly that it had the effect of shock.

"Five dollars a month, Mrs. Sniff."

"I'm wanting ten."

This was a staggering demand.

"How bad does he want it?" Peneluna was thinking.

"How far had I best give in?" Larry estimated.

"Make it seven," he ventured.

"Seven and then three dollars a week more if I cook and serve for
you."

Larry had overlooked this very important item.

"All right!" he agreed. "When can I come?"

"Right off." Peneluna felt that she must get him under her eye as soon
as possible. She moved to the door.

"You'll make it straight with Mary-Clare?"

Larry was following the rigid form out into the gathering dark--a
storm was rising; the bell on the distant island was ringing gleefully
like a wicked little imp set free.

"I'll tell her that you're here and that she best let you stay on, if
that's what you mean." Peneluna led the way over the well-worn path
she had often trod before. "And, Larry Rivers, I don't rightly know as
I'm doing fair and square, but look at it as you will, it's better me
than another if anything is wrong. I served yer good father and I set
a store by yer wife and child--and I want to hang hold of you all.
I've let you have yer way down here, but I don't want any ructions and
I ain't going to have Maclin's crowd hinting and defiling anybody."

"I'll never forget this, Mrs. Sniff." In the gathering gloom, behind
Peneluna's striding form, Larry's voice almost broke again and
undoubtedly the tears were on his cheeks. "Some day, when you know
all, you'll understand."

"I'm a good setter and waiter, Larry Rivers, and as to understanding,
that is as it may be. I can only see just so far! I can't turn my back
on the old doctor's son nor Mary-Clare's husband but I don't want any
tricks. You better not forget that! There's a bed in yonder." The two
had entered the house next door. Jan-an had done good work. The place
was in order and a fire burned in the stove. "I'll fetch food later."
With this Peneluna, followed by Jan-an, a trifle more vague than
usual, left the house.

The rain was already falling and the wind rising--it was the haunted
wind; the bell sounded in the distance sharply. Jan-an paused in the
gathering darkness and spoke tremblingly:

"What's a-going on?" she asked. Peneluna turned and laid her hand on
the girl's shoulder; her face softened--but Jan-an could not see
that.

"Child"--the old voice fell to a whisper--"I ain't going to expect too
much of yer--God Almighty made yer out of a skimpy pattern, I know,
but what He did give yer can be helped along by using it for them yer
love. Child, watch there!"

A long crooked forefinger pointed to the shack, the windows of which
were already darkened--for Larry had drawn the shades!

"Watch early and late there! Keep your mouth shut, except to me.
Jan-an, I can trust yer?"

The girl was growing nervous.

"Yes'm," she blurted suddenly and then fell to weeping. "I keep
feelin' things like wings a-touching of me," she muttered. "I hate the
feelin'. When nothing ain't happened ever, what's the reason it has
ter begin now?"

It was nearly midnight when Peneluna sat down by her fireside to
think. She had cooked a meal for Larry and carried it to him; she had
soothed and fed Jan-an and put her to bed on a cot near the bed upon
which old Philander Sniff had once rested, and now Peneluna, with
Sniff's old Bible on her knees, felt safe to think and read, and it
seemed as if the wings Jan-an had sensed were touching her! The book
was marked at passages that had appealed to the old man. Often, after
Mary-Clare had read to him and left, thinking that she had made no
impression, the trembling, gnarled hand had pencilled the words to be
reread in lonely moments.

Peneluna had never read the Bible from choice; indeed, her education
had been so limited as to be negligible, but lately these pencilled
marks had become tremendously significant to her. She was able,
somehow, to follow Philander Sniff closely, catching sight of him, now
and again, in an illumined way guided by the Bible verses. It was like
the blind leading the blind, to be sure, and often it seemed a blind
trail, but occasionally Peneluna could pause and take a long breath
while she beheld the vision that must have helped her friend upon his
isolated way.

To-night, however, she was tired and puzzled and worried. She kept
reverting to Larry: her eyes only lighted on the printed words before
her; her thoughts drifted.

What had been going on in the Forest? Why was the storm breaking?

But suddenly a verse more heavily marked than the others stayed her:

  And a highway shall be there, and a way and it shall be called the
  way of holiness. The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err
  therein.

Over and over Peneluna read and pondered; more and more she puzzled.

"Land o' love!" she muttered at last. "Now these here words mean
something particular. Seems like they must get into me with their
meaning if I hold to 'em long enough. Lord! I don't see how folks can
enjoy religion when you have to swallow it without tasting it."

But so powerful is suggestion through words, that presently the old
woman became hypnotized by them. They sprang out at her like
flashes--one by one. "Highway"--she could grasp that. "A way and it
shall be called"--these words ran into each other but--the "way" held.
"The wayfarer"--well! that was easy; all folks taking to the highway
were wayfarers--"though fools shall not err therein."

Peneluna, without realizing it, was on The Highway over which all
pass, living, seeing, feeling, and storing up experience. In old
Philander's quiet memory-haunted room she was pausing and looking
back; groping forward--understanding as she had never understood
before!

At times, catching the meaning of what the present held, her old face
quivered as a child's does that is lost, and she would _think back_,
holding to some word or look that gave her courage again to fix her
eyes ahead.

"So! so!" she would nod and mutter. "So! so!" It was like meeting
others on The Highway, greeting them, and then going on alone!

That was the hurt of it all--she was alone. If only there had been
someone to hold her hand, to help her when she stumbled, but no! she
was like a creature in a land of shadowy ghosts. Ghosts whom she knew;
who knew her, but they could not linger long with her.

More than the others, Philander persisted, but perhaps that was
because of the pencilled words. They were guide-posts he had left for
her. And strangest of all, this passing to and fro on The Highway
seemed to concern Larry Rivers most of all. Larry, who, during all the
years, had meant nothing more to King's Forest than that he was the
old doctor's son, Mary-Clare's husband, and Maclin's secret employee.

Larry, asleep in the shack next door, had taken on new proportions. He
meant, for the first time, to Peneluna, a person to whom she owed
something by virtue of knowledge. Knowledge! What really did she know?
How did she know it? She did not question--she accepted and became
responsible in a deep and grateful manner. She must remember about
Larry. Remember all she could--it would help her now.

The trouble, Peneluna knew, began with Larry's mother. Larry's mother
had wrecked the old doctor's life; had driven him to King's Forest. No
one had ever told Peneluna this--but she knew it. It did not matter
what that woman had done, she had hurt a man cruelly. Once the old
doctor had said to Peneluna--it came sharply back, now, like a call
from a wayfarer:

"Miss Pen, it is because of such women as you and Aunt Polly that men
_can_ keep their faith."

That was when Larry was desperately ill and Polly Heathcote and
Peneluna were nursing him--he was a little boy then, home on a
vacation. It was because of the woman that neither of them had ever
known that they tried to mother the boy--but Larry was difficult, he
had queer streaks. Again Peneluna looked back, back to some of the
difficult streaks.

Once Larry had stolen! He had gone, too, when quite a child, to the
tavern! He had tasted the liquor, made the men laugh! The old doctor
had been in a sad state at that time and Larry had been sent to
school.

After that, well, Peneluna could not recall Larry distinctly for many
years. She knew the old doctor clung to him passionately; went
occasionally to see him, came back troubled; came back looking older
each time and depending more upon Mary-Clare, whose love and devotion
could smooth the sadness from his face.

Then that night, the marriage night of Mary-Clare! Peneluna had been
near the old doctor when Larry bent to catch the distorted words that
were but whispered. She knew, she seemed always to have known, that
Larry had lied; he had _not_ understood anything.

Peneluna had tried to interfere, but she was always fumbling; she
could patiently wait, but action, with her, was slow.

And then Maclin! Since Maclin came and bought the mines _and_
Larry--oh! what did it all mean? Had things been slumbering, needing
only a touch?

And who was this man at the inn? Was he the Touch? What was going to
happen in this dull, sluggish life of King's Forest?

The night was growing old, old! Peneluna, too, was old and tired. The
Highway was fraught with terrors for her; the ghosts frightened her.
They were trying to make her understand what she must _do_, now that
they had shown her The Way. She must keep the old doctor's son from
Maclin if she could and from the stranger at the inn, if she had need.
If trouble came she must defend her own.

The weary woman nodded; her eyes closed; the Book slipped from her lap
and lay like a "light unto her feet." She had, somehow, got an
understanding of Larry Rivers: she believed that through his
"difficult streaks" Maclin had got a hold upon him; was using him now
for evil ends. It was for her, for all who loved the old doctor, to
shield, at any cost, the doctor's son. That Larry was unworthy did not
weigh with Peneluna. Where she gave, she gave with abandon.



CHAPTER VIII


Aunt Polly came into the living-room of the inn noiselessly, but
Peter, at the fireside, opened his eyes. Nothing could have driven him
to bed earlier, but he appeared to have been sleeping for hours.

Polly's glasses adorned the top of her head. This was significant.
When she had arrived at any definite conclusion she pushed her
spectacles away as though her physical vision and her spiritual were
one and the same.

"Time, Polly?" Peter yawned.

"Going on to 'leven."

"He come in?"

Full well Peter knew that he had not!

"No, Peter, and his evening meal is drying up in the oven--I had
creamed oysters, too. Creamed oysters are his specials."

"Scandalous, your goings on with this young man!" Peter sat up and
stretched. Then he smiled at his sister.

"Well, Peter, all my life I've had to take snatches and scraps out of
other folks' lives when I could get them; and I declare I've managed
to patch together a real Lady's Delight-pattern sort of quilt to
huddle under when I'm cold and tired."

"Tired now, Polly?"

"Not exactly tired, brother, but sort of rigid. Feel as if I was
braced for something. I've often had that feeling."

"Women! women!" muttered Peter, and threw on another log.

"What you suppose has happened to keep our young feller from the--the
oysters, eh?"

"I'm not accounting for folks or things these days, Peter. I'm just
keeping my eyes and ears open. Jan-an makes me uneasy!" This came like
a mild explosion.

"What's she up to?" Peter sniffed.

"Land! the poor soul is like the barometer you set such store by.
Everything looking clear and peaceful and then suddenlike up she gets,
as she did an hour ago, and grabs her truck and sets out for
Mary-Clare's like she was summoned. Just saying she had to! These are
queer times, brother. I ain't easy in my mind."

"If Jan-an doesn't calm down," Peter muttered, "she may have to be put
somewhere, as Larry Rivers once suggested. Larry hasn't many earmarks
of his pa--but he may have a sense about human ailments."

"Think shame of yourself, Peter Heathcote, to let anything Larry
Rivers says disturb your natural good feelings. Where could we send
Jan-an if we wanted to?" Peter declined to reply and Aunt Polly went
on: "Larry isn't living with Mary-Clare, Peter!" she added. This was a
more significant explosion. Peter turned and his hair seemed to spring
an inch higher around his red, puffy face.

"Where is he living?" he asked. When deeply stirred, Peter went slow
and warily.

"He's hired Peneluna's old shack."

Peter digested this; but found it chaff.

"You got this from Jan-an?"

"I got it from her and from Peneluna. Peter, Peneluna looks and acts
like one of them queer sort of ancient bodies what used to sit on
altars or something, and make remarks that no one was expected to
differ from. She just dropped in this morning and said that Larry
Rivers had taken her shack; was paying for it, too."

"Has, or is going to?" Peter was giving himself time to think.

"Has!" Aunt Polly was pulling her cushions into the cavities of her
tired little body.

"Damn funny!" muttered Peter and added another log. The heat was
growing ferocious. Then, as he eyed his sister: "Better turn in,
Polly. You look scrunched." To look "scrunched" was to look
desperately exhausted. "No use wearing yourself out for--for folks,"
he added with a tenderness in his voice that always brought a peculiar
smile to Polly's eyes.

"I don't see as there is anything else much, brother, to wear one's
self out for."

"Why frazzle yourself for anything?"

"Why shouldn't I? What should I be keeping myself for, Peter? Surely
not for my own satisfaction. No. I always hold if folks want me, then
I'm particularly pleased to be had. As to frazzling, seems like we
only frazzle just _so_ far, then a stitch holds and we get our
breath."

In this mood Polly worried Peter deeply. He could not keep from
looking ahead--he avoided that usually--to a time when the little nest
at the far end of the sofa would be empty; when the click of knitting
needles would sound no more in the beautiful old room.

"There's me!" he whispered at length like a half-ashamed but
frightened boy.

Polly drew her glasses down and gave him a long, straight look full of
a deep and abiding love.

"You're the stitch, Peter my man," she whispered back as if fearing
someone might hear, "always the saving stitch. And take this to bed
with you, brother: the frazzling isn't half so dangerous as dry rot,
or moth eating holes in you. Queer, but I was getting to think of
myself as laid on the shelf before Brace drifted in, and when I do
that I get old-acting and stiff-jointed. But I've noticed that it's
the same with folks as it is with the world, when they begin to
flatten down, then the good Lord drops something into them to make 'em
sorter rise. No need to flatten down until you're dead. Feeling tired
is healthy and proper--not feeling at all is being finished. So now,
Peter, you just go along to bed. I always have felt that a man hates
to be set up for, but he can overlook a woman doing it; he sets it
down to her general foolishness, but Brace would just naturally get
edgy if he found us both up."

Peter came clumsily across the room and stood over the small creature
on the sofa. He wanted to kiss her. Instead, he said gruffly:

"See that the fire's banked, Polly. Looks as if I'd laid on a powerful
lot of wood without thinking." Then he laughed and went on: "You're
durned comical, Polly. What you said about the Lord putting yeast into
folks and the world _is_ comical."

"I didn't say yeast, Peter Heathcote."

"Well, yer meant yeast."

"No, I didn't mean yeast. I just meant something like Brace was
talking about to-day."

"What was it?" Peter stood round and solid with the firelight ruddily
upon him.

"He said that the fighting overseas ain't properly a war, but a
general upheaval of things that have got to come to the top and be
skimmed off. We ain't ever looked at it that way." Polly resorted to
familiar similes when deeply affected.

"I guess all wars is that." Peter looked serious. He rarely spoke of
the trouble that seemed far, far from his quiet, detached life, but
lately he had shaken his head over it in a new way. "But God ain't
meaning for us to take sides, Polly. It's like family troubles. You
don't understand them, and you better keep out. Just think of our good
German friends and neighbours. We can't go back on them just 'cause
their kin across the seas have taken to fighting. Our Germans have, so
to speak, married in our family, and we must stand by 'em." Peter was
voicing his unrest. Polly saw the trouble in his face.

"Of course, brother, and I only meant that lately so many things are
stirring in the Forest that it seems more like the Forest wasn't a
scrap set off by itself. I seem to have lots of scraps floating in my
mind lately--things I've heard, and all are taking on meaning now. I
remember someone saying, I guess it was the Bishop, that in a drop of
ocean water, there was all that went into the ocean's making, except
size. That didn't mean anything until Brace set me to--to turning over
in my mind, and, Peter, it seems terrible sensible now. All the big,
big world is just little scraps of King's Forests welded all together
and every King's Forest is a drop of the world."

Peter looked gravely troubled as men often do when their women take to
thinking on their own lines. Usually the heedless man dismisses the
matter with but small respect, but Peter was not that kind. All his
life he had depended upon his sister's "vision" as he called it. He
might laugh and tease her, but he never took a definite step without
reaching out to her.

"A man must plant his foot solid on the path he knows," he often said,
"but that don't hinder him from lifting his eyes to the sky." And it
was through Aunt Polly's eyes that Peter caught his view of skies.

"I don't exactly like Brace digging down into things so much." Peter
gave a troubled sigh. "Some things ain't any use when they are dug
up."

"But some things _are_, brother. We must know."

"Well, by gosh!" Peter began to sway toward the door like a heavily
freighted side-wheeler. "I get to feeling sometimes as if I'd kicked
over a hornet's nest and wasn't certain whether it was a last year's
one or this year's. In one case you can hold your ground, in the other
you best take to your heels. Well, I'm going to leave you, Polly, for
your date with your young man. Don't forget the fire and don't set up
too long."

Left to herself, Polly neatly folded her knitting and stuck the
glistening needles through it. She folded her small, shrivelled hands
and a radiant smile touched her old face.

Oh! the luxury of _daring_ to sit up for a man. The excitement of the
adventure! And while she waited and brooded, Polly was thinking as she
had never done until recently. All her life she believed that she had
thought, and to suddenly find, as she had lately, that her conclusions
were either wrong or confused made her humble.

Now there was Mary-Clare! Why, from her birth, Mary-Clare had been an
open book! Poor Polly shook her head. An open book? Well, if so she
did not know the language in which that book was written, for
Mary-Clare was troubling her now deeply.

And Larry? Larry had suddenly come into focus, and Maclin, and
Northrup. They all seemed reeling around her; all united, but in
deadly peril of being flung apart.

It was all too much for Aunt Polly and she unrolled her knitting and
set the needles to their accustomed task. Eventually Mary-Clare would
come to the inn and simply tell her story--full well Polly knew that.
It was Mary-Clare's way to keep silent until necessity for silence was
past and then calmly take those she loved into her confidence. But
there were disturbing things going on. Aunt Polly could not blind
herself to them.

At this moment Northrup's step sounded outside. He came hastily, but
making little noise.

"What's up?" he asked, starting back at the sight of Aunt Polly.

"Just me, son. Your dinner is scorched to nothing, but I wanted to
tell you where the cookie jar is."

Northrup came over to the sofa and sat down.

"You deep and opaque female," he said, throwing his arm over the
little bent shoulders. "Own up. It isn't cookies, it's a switch. What
have I done? Out with it."

Aunt Polly laughed softly.

"It's neither cookies nor switches when you come down to it," she
chuckled. "It's just waiting and not knowing why."

Northrup leaned back against the sofa and said quietly:

"Guessing about me, Aunt Polly?"

"Guessing about everything, son. Just when I thought I was nearing
port, where I ought to be at my age, I find myself all at sea."

"Same with me, Aunt Polly. We're part of the whole upheaval, and take
it from me, some of us are going to find ourselves high and dry by and
by and some of us will go under. We don't understand it; we can't; but
we've got to try to--and that's the very devil. Aunt Polly, I've been
on the Point, talking to some of the folks down there--there is a
fellow called Twombley, odd cuss. He told me he's tried to earn his
living, but found people too particular."

"Earn his living, huh!" Polly tried to look indignant. "He's a scamp,
and old Doctor Rivers was the ruination of him. The old doctor used to
quote Scripture in a scandalous way. He said since we have the poor
always with us, it is up to us to have a place for them where they can
be comfortable. Terrible doctrine, I say, but that was what the old
doctor kept the Point for and it was after Twombley tried to earn his
living--the scamp!" Northrup saw that he had diverted Aunt Polly and
gladly let her talk on.

"Doctor had an old horse as was just pleading to be put an end to, but
the doctor couldn't make his mind up to it and Twombley finally
undertook to settle the matter with a shot-gun, up back in the hills.
Twombley never missed the bull's-eye--a terrible hand with a gun he
was. The doctor gave him two dollars for the job and looked real sick
the day he heard that shot. Well, less than a week after Twombley came
to the doctor and says as how he heard that a horse has to be buried
and that if it isn't the owner gets fined twenty-five dollars, and he
says he'll bury the carcass for five dollars. He explained how the
horse, lying flat, was powerful sizable, and it would be a stern job
to get it under ground. Well, old doctor gave the five dollars and
Twombley took to the woods.

"It was a matter of a month, maybe, when Twombley came back, and soon
after old Philander Sniff appeared with a horse and cart, and Doctor
Rivers, as soon as he set his eyes on the horse, sent for Twombley. Do
you know, son, that scamp actually figured it out with the doctor as
to the cost of food and care he'd been put to in order to get that
shot-and-buried-horse into shape for selling! He'd sold him for ten
dollars and expenses were twelve."

Northrup leaned back and laughed until the quiet house reëchoed with
his mirth.

"Son, son!" cautioned Polly, shaking and dim-eyed, "it's going on to
midnight. We can't carouse like this. But land! it is uplifting to
have a talk when you ought to be sleeping. Well, the old doctor
bought the Point just then and bought Twombley a new gun. Folks as
couldn't earn their keep proper naturally drifted to the Point--God's
living acre, as the doctor called it."

Northrup rose and stretched his arms and then bent, as Peter had done,
to Aunt Polly. But unlike Peter he kissed the small yearning face
upraised to his.

"It must be pleasant--being your mother," Polly whispered.

"It's pleasant having you acting as substitute," Northrup replied.
"Shall I bank the fire, Aunt Polly?"

"No, son, there's something else I must see to before I turn in.
Aren't you going for the cookies?"

"Yes'm. Going to munch them in bed." And tiptoeing away in the most
orthodox manner Northrup left Aunt Polly alone.

Why was she staying up? She had no clear idea but she was restless,
sleepless, and bed, to her, was no comfort under such conditions.
However, since she had stated that she had something to do, she must
find it. She went to a desk in the farther end of the room, and took
from it her house-keeping book. She would balance that and surprise
Peter! Peter always _was_ so surprised when she did. She bought the
book to her nest on the sofa and set to work.

Debit and credit. Figures, figures, figures. And then, mistily, words
took their places. Names.

Mary-Clare: Larry.

Larry: Northrup.

Mary-Clare! It was funny. The columns danced and giddily wobbled--and
at the foot there was only--Mary-Clare! Mary-Clare was troubling the
dear old soul.

Then, startled by the falling of the book to the floor, Aunt Polly
opened her eyes and gazed into the face of Mary-Clare standing before
her!

The girl had a wind-swept look, physically and spiritually. Her hair
was loose about her face, her eyes like stars, and she was smiling.

"Oh! you dear thing," she whispered, bending to recover the book,
"adding and subtracting when the whole world sleeps. Isn't it a
wonderful feeling to have the night to yourself?"

Mary-Clare crouched down before the red blazing logs; her coat and hat
fell from her and she stretched her hands out to the heat with a
little shiver of luxurious content.

Aunt Polly knew the girl's mood and left her to herself. She had come
to tell something but must tell it in her own way. To question, to
intrude a thought, would only tend to confuse and distract her, so
Polly took up her knitting and nodded cheerfully. She had a feeling
that all along she had been waiting for Mary-Clare.

"I suppose big things like being born and dying are very simple when
they come. It is the mistaking the big and little things that makes us
all so uncertain. Aunt Polly, Larry has left me." The start had been
made!

"Yes; Peneluna told us. He hasn't gone far." Aunt Polly knitted on
while Mary-Clare gave a little laugh.

"Oh! dearie, he was far, far away before he started for the Point.
Land doesn't count--it's more than that, only I did not know. Isn't it
queer, Aunt Polly, now that I understand things, I find that marrying
Larry and having the babies haven't touched me at all--I never
belonged to them or they to me--except Noreen. And it's queer about
Noreen, too, she will never seem part of all that."

Mary-Clare, her eyes fixed on the fire, was thinking aloud; her breath
came short and quick as if she had been running.

"My dear child!" Aunt Polly was shocked in spite of herself. "No woman
can shake off her responsibilities in that way. Larry is your husband
and you have been a mother."

"You are talking _words_, Aunt Polly, not things." Aunt Polly knew
that she _was_ and it made her wince.

"That's the trouble with us all, Aunt Polly. Saying words over and
over and calling them things--as if you could take God in!"

There was no bitterness in the tones, but there was the weary
impatience of a child that had been too often denied the truth.

"No matter what people say and say, underneath there is _truth_, Aunt
Polly, and it's up to us to find it."

"And you think you are competent"--Aunt Polly, reflecting that she was
using _words_, used them doubtfully--"you think you are competent to
know what _is_ truth and to act upon it--to the extent of sending your
husband out of his home?"

If a small love-bird could look and sound fierce it would resemble
Aunt Polly at that moment. Mary-Clare turned from the contemplation of
the fire and fixed her deep eyes upon the troubled old face.

"You dear!" she whispered and then laughed.

Presently, the fire again holding her, Mary-Clare went on:

"I think I must try to find truth with my woman-brain, Aunt Polly.
That was what my doctor-daddy always insisted upon. He wouldn't even
let me take _his_ word when it came to anything that meant a lot to
me."

"He wanted you to marry Larry!"

This was a telling stroke and a long silence followed. Then:

"I wonder, Aunt Polly, I wonder."

"Do you doubt, child?"

"I don't know, but even if he did he was sick and so--so tired, and
Larry always worried him. I know very surely that if my doctor were
here, and knew everything, he'd say harder than ever: 'Use your
woman-mind.' And I'm going to! Why, Aunt Polly, I haven't driven Larry
away from his home. I meant to make it a better place, once I set the
wrong aside. But you see, he wanted it just _his_ way and nothing else
would do."

The dear old face that had confronted life vicariously flushed gently;
but the young face that had set itself to the stern facts of life
showed neither weakness nor doubt.

"It has come to me, dear"--Mary-Clare now turned and came close to
Aunt Polly, resting her folded arms on the thin little knees--"It has
come to me, dear, that things are not fixed right and when they are
not, it won't do any good to keep on acting as if they were. Being
married to Larry could never make it right for me to do what seems to
me wrong. And oh! Aunt Polly, I wish that I could make you understand.
Do try to understand, dear, there is a sacred place in my soul, and I
just do believe it is in all women's souls if they dared to say
so--that no one, not even a husband, has a right to claim. It is hers
and--God's. But men don't know, and some don't care--and they just
rush along and take and take, never counting what it may cost--and
they make laws to help them when they might fail without, and--well,
Aunt Polly, it is hard to stand all alone in the world. I think the
really happy women are those who don't know what I mean, or those that
have loved enough, loved a man true enough--to share that sacred place
with him--the place he ought not ask for or have a law for. I know you
do not understand, Aunt Polly. I did not myself until Peneluna told
me."

At this Aunt Polly braced against the pillows as if they were rocks.

"Peneluna!" she gasped.

"Let me tell you, Aunt Polly. It is such a wonderful thing."

As she might have spoken to Noreen, so Mary-Clare spoke now to the
woman who had only viewed life as Moses had the Promised Land, from
her high mount.

"And so, can you not see, dear Aunt Polly, it isn't a thing that laws
can touch; it isn't being good or bad--it is too big a Thing to call
by name. Peneluna could starve and still keep it. She could be lonely
and serve, but she _knew_. I don't love Larry, I cannot help it. All
my life I am going to keep all of the promise I can, Aunt Polly, but
I'm going to--to keep myself, too! A woman can give a man a good
deal--but she can't give him some things if she tries to! Look at the
women; some of them in the Forest. Aunt Polly, if marriage means what
they look like----" Mary-Clare shuddered.

Aunt Polly had suddenly grown tender and far-seeing. She let go the
sounding words that Church and State had taught her.

"Little girl," she said, and all her motherhood rushed forward to
seize, as it had ever done, those "scraps" of others' lives, "suppose
the time should come when there would be in your life another--someone
besides Larry? Why has all this come so sudden to you?"

Northrup seemed to loom in the room, just beyond the fire's glow. Her
fear was taking shape.

"Oh! dearie, I might then ask Larry to release me from my promise. My
doctor used to say one could do that, but if he would not, why,
then--I'd keep my bargain as far as I could. But----" and here
Mary-Clare rose and flung her arms above her head. The action was
jubilant, majestic. "Oh! the wonder of it all; to be free to be myself
and prove what I _think_ is right without having to take another's
idea of it. I'll listen; I'll try to understand and be patient--but it
cannot be wrong, Aunt Polly, the thing I've done--since this great
feeling of wings has come to me instead of heavy feet! Why, dear, I
want something more than--than the things women _think_ are theirs. We
don't know what is ours until we try."

"And fail, my child?" Aunt Polly was crying.

"Yes; and fail sometimes and be hurt--but paying and going on."

"And leaving your man behind you?"

"Aunt Polly"--Mary-Clare looked down upon the kind, quivering face--"a
woman's man cannot be left behind. He'll be beside her somehow. If she
stays back, as I've tried to do, she wouldn't be his woman! That's the
dreadful trouble with Larry and me. But, dearie, it isn't always a man
in a woman's life."

"But the long, lonely way, child!" Polly was retracing her own denied
womanhood.

"It need not be lonely, dear, when we women find--other things. They
will count. They must."

"What other things, Mary-Clare?"

"That's what we must be finding out, dear. Love; the man: some day
they will be the glory, making everything more splendid, but not--the
all. I think I should have died, Aunt Polly, had I kept on."

Like an inspired young oracle, Mary-Clare spoke and then dropped again
by the fire.

"I've somehow learned all this," she whispered, "in my Place up on the
hill. It just came to me, little by little, until it convinced me. I
had to tell Larry the truth."

"Mary-Clare, I do not know; I don't feel able to put it into words,
but I do believe you're going to make sad trouble for yourself, child.
Such a thing as this you have done has never been done before in the
Forest."

"Maybe."

A door upstairs slammed loudly and both women started nervously.

"I must tell Peter to fix the latch of the attic door to-morrow," Aunt
Polly said, relieved to be back on good, plain, solid ground. "The
attic winders are raised and the wind's rising. It will be slam, slam
all night, unless----" she rose quickly.

"Just a minute, Aunt Polly, I'm so tired. Please let me lie here on
the couch and rest for an hour and then I'll slip home."

"Let me put you to bed properly, child. You look suddenly beat flat.
That's the way with women. They get to thinking they've got wings when
they ain't, child, they ain't. You're making a terrible break in your
life, child. Terrible."

Mary-Clare was arranging the couch.

"Come, dear," she wheedled, "you tuck me up--so! I'll bank the fire
when I go and leave everything safe. A little rest and then
to-morrow!--well, you'll see that I have wings, Aunt Polly; they are
only tired now--for they are new wings! I know that it must seem all
madness, but it had to come."

Aunt Polly pulled the soft covering over the huddled form--only the
pale, wistful face was presently to be seen; the great, haunting eyes
made Aunt Polly catch her breath. She bent and kissed the forehead.

"Poor, reaching-out child!" she whispered.

"For something that is _there_, Aunt Polly."

"God knows!"

"Of course He does. That's why He gave us the--reach. Good-night. Oh!
how I love you, Aunt Polly. Good-night!"

It was Northrup's door that had slammed shut. Aunt Polly went above,
secured the innocent attic door, and then pattered down to her bedroom
near Peter's, feeling that her house, at least, was safe.

It was silent at last. Northrup, in his dark chamber, lay awake
and--ashamed, though heaven was his witness that his sin was not one
he had planned. Aunt Polly had been on his mind. He hated to have her
down there alone. Her sitting up for him had touched and--disturbed
him; he had left his door ajar.

"I'll listen for a few minutes and if she doesn't go to bed, I'll go
down and shake her," he concluded, and then promptly went to sleep and
was awakened by voices. Low, earnest voices, but he heard no words and
was sleepily confused. If he thought anything, he thought Peter had
been doing what was needed to be done--driving Polly to bed!

And then Northrup _did_ hear words. A word here; a word there. He
_knew_ things he had no right to know--he was awake at last,
conscientiously, as well as physically. He got up and slammed the
door!

But he could not go to sleep. He felt hot and cold; mean and
indignant--but above all else, tremendously excited. He lay still a
little longer and then opened his door in time to hear that
"good-night, good-night"; and presently Aunt Polly's raid on the
unoffending attic door at the other end of the corridor and her
pattering feet on their way, at last, to her bedchamber.

"She's forgot to bank the fire." Northrup could see the glow from his
post and remembered Uncle Peter's carefulness. "I'll run down and make
things safe and lock the door." Northrup still held his respect for
doors.

In heavy gown and soft slippers he noiselessly descended. The
living-room at the far end was dark; the fire glowed at the other,
dangerously, and one threatening log had rolled menacingly to the
fore.

Bent upon quick action Northrup silently crossed the floor, grasped
the long poker and pushed the blazing wood back past the safety line
and held it there.

His face burned, but there was a hypnotic lure in that bed of red
coals. All that he had just heard--a disjointed and rather dramatic
revealment--was having a peculiar effect upon him. He had become aware
of some important facts that accounted for things, such as Rivers's
appearance on the Point. He had attributed that advent to Maclin's
secret business; but it was, evidently, quite different.

What had occurred in the yellow house before the final break?
Northrup's imagination came to the fore fully equipped. Northrup was a
man of the herd--at least he had been, until lately. He knew the
tracks of the herd and its laws and codes.

"The brute!" he muttered under his breath; "and that kind of a girl,
too. Nothing is too fine for some devils to appropriate and--smirch.
Poor little girl!"

And then Northrup recalled Mary-Clare as he had seen her that day as
she emerged from the woods to meet him and her child. The glory of
Peneluna's story was in her soul, the autumn sunlight on her face.
That lovely, smiling, untouched face of hers! Again and again that
memory of her held his fancy.

"The cursed brute--hasn't _got_ her, thank God. She's out of the
trap."

And, all unconsciously, while this moral indignation had its way,
Northrup was drawing nearer to Mary-Clare; understanding her,
appropriating her! God knew he meant no wrong. After all she had
suffered he wasn't going to mess her life more--but he'd somehow make
up to her what she'd a perfect right to. All men were not low and
bestial. He had a duty--he would be above the touch of idle chatter;
he would take a hand in the game!

And just then Northrup, controlled by the force of attraction, turned
his head and looked at the face of Mary-Clare upon the couch near
him!

In all his life Northrup had never looked upon the face of a sleeping
woman, and it stirred him deeply. He became as rigid as marble; the
heat beat upon him as it might have upon stone. And then--as such wild
things do occur, his old, familiar dream came to him; he seemed _in_
the dream. He had at last opened one of those closed doors and was
seeing what the secret room held! He was part of the dream as he was
of his book in the making.

He breathed lightly; he did not move--but he was overcome by waves of
emotion that had never before even lapped his feet.

At that instant Mary-Clare's eyes opened. For a moment they held his;
then she turned, sighed, and he believed that she had not really
awakened.

Northrup rose stiffly and made his way to his room.

"She was asleep!" he fiercely thought until he was safe behind his
locked door!

"Was she?" He had to face that in the silence of the hours after.
"I'll know when I next meet her." This was almost a groan.



CHAPTER IX


Kathryn Morris, as the days of Northrup's absence stretched into
weeks, grew more and more restless. She began to do some serious
thinking, and while this developed her mentally, the growing pains
hurt and she became twisted.

Heretofore she had been borne along on a peaceful current. She was
young and pretty and believed that everyone saw her as she wanted them
to see her--a charming, an unusually charming girl.

People had always responded to her slightest whim, but suddenly her
own particular quarry had eluded her; did not even pine for her; was
able to keep silent while he left her and his mother to think what
they chose.

At this moment Kathryn placed herself beside Helen Northrup as a timid
débutante shrinks beside her chaperon.

"And that old beast"--Kathryn in the privacy of her bedchamber could
speak quite openly to herself--"that old beast, Doctor Manly,
suggested that at forty I might be fat if----" Well, it didn't matter
about the "if." Kathryn did a bit of mental arithmetic, using her
fingers to aid her. What was the difference between twenty-four and
forty? The difference seemed terrifyingly _little_. "A fat forty! Oh,
good Lord!"

Kathryn was in bed and it was nine-thirty in the morning! She sprang
out and looked at herself in the mirror.

"Well, my body hasn't found it out yet!" she whispered, and her pretty
white teeth showed complacently.

Then she sat down in a deep chair and took account of stock. That
"fat-forty" was a mere panic. She would not think of it--but it
loomed, nevertheless.

Of course, for the time being, there was Sandy Arnold on the crest of
one of his financial waves.

Kathryn was level-headed enough not to lose sight of receding waves
but then, on the other hand, the crest of a receding wave was better
than to be left on the sands--fat and forty! And Northrup was
displaying dangerous traits. A distinct chill shook Kathryn.

She turned her thought to Northrup. Northrup had seemed safe. He
belonged to all that was familiar to her. He would be famous some
day--that she might interfere with this never occurred to the girl.
She simply saw herself in a gorgeous studio pouring tea or dancing,
and all the people paying court to her while knowing that they ought
to be paying it to Northrup.

"But he always gets a grubby hole to work in." Kathryn fidgeted. "I
daresay he is working now in some smudgy old place."

But this thought did not last. She could insist upon the studio. A man
owes his wife _something_ if he will have his way about his job.

Just at this point a tap on the door brought a frown to Kathryn's
smooth forehead.

"Oh! come in," she called peevishly.

A drab-coloured woman of middle age entered. She was one of the
individuals so grateful for being noticed at all that her cheerfulness
was a constant reproach. She had been selected by Kathryn's father to
act as housekeeper and chaperon. As the former she was a gratifying
success; as the latter, a joke and one to be eliminated as much as
possible.

For the first time in years Kathryn regarded her aunt now with
interest.

"Aunt Anna"--Kathryn never indulged in graceful tact with her
relations--"Aunt Anna, how old _are_ you?"

Anna Morris coloured, flinched, but smiled coyly.

"Forty-two, dear, but it was only yesterday that my dressmaker said
that I should not tell that. It is not necessary, you know."

"I suppose not!" Kathryn was regarding the fatness of the woman who
was calmly setting the disorderly room to rights. "Aunt Anna, why
didn't you marry?"

The dull, fat face was turned away. Anna Morris never lost sight of
the fact that when Kathryn married she would face a stern situation
unless Kathryn proved kinder than any one had any reason to expect her
to be. So her remarks were guarded.

"Oh! my dear, my dear, _what_ a question. Well, to be quite frank, I
discovered at eighteen that some men could stir my senses"--Anna
Morris tittered--"and some couldn't. At twenty-two the only man who
could stir me was horribly poor; the other stirring ones had been
snapped up. You see, there was no one to help me with my affairs.
Your father never _did_ understand. The only thing he was keen about
was making money enough to marry your mother. Then you were born and
your mother died and--well, there was nothing for me to do but come
here and help him out. One has plain duties. I always had sense
enough"--Anna Morris moved about heavily--"to realize that senses do
not stir when poverty pinches, and this house _was_ comfortable; and
duty _can_ fill in chinks. I always contend"--the dull eyes now
confronted Kathryn--"that there _is_ a dangerous age for men and
women. If they get through that alive and alone--well, there is a
kind of calm that comes."

"I suppose so." Kathryn felt a sinking in the region of the heart.
"Are you ever lonely?" she asked suddenly. "Ever feel that you let
your own life slip when you helped Father and me?"

Anna Morris's lips trembled as they always did when any one was kind
to her; but she got control of herself at once--she could not afford
the comfort of letting herself go!

"Oh, I don't know. Yes; sometimes. But who isn't lonely at times?
Marriage can't prevent that and even your own private life, quite your
own, is bound to have some lonely spells. There are all kinds of
husbands. Some float about, heaven knows where; their wives must be
lonely; and then the settled sort--dear me! I've often seen women
terribly lonely right in the rooms with their husbands. I have come
to the conclusion that once you pass the dangerous age you're as well
placed one way as another. That is, if you are a woman."

Kathryn was looking unusually serious. While she was in this mood she
clutched at seeming trifles and held them curiously.

"What was Brace's father like?" she suddenly asked.

Anna Morris started.

"Why, what ails you, Kathie?" she asked suspiciously. "You've never
taken any interest before. Why should you? A young girl and all
that--why should you?"

"Tell me, Aunt Anna. I've often wondered."

Anna Morris sat down heavily in a chair. The older Northrup had once
had power to stir her; was one of the men too poor for her to
consider.

"Well," she began slowly, tremblingly, "he wasn't companionable at
the last, but I shall always see _his_ side. Helen Northrup is a
fine woman--I can understand how many take her part, but being
married to her kind must seem like mental Mormonism. _She_ calls
it developing--but a man like Thomas Northrup married a woman
because she was the kind he wanted and he couldn't be expected to
keep trace of all the kinds of women Helen Northrup ran into
and--out of!"

"I don't know what you mean, Aunt Anna. Do talk sense."

Kathryn was almost excited. It was like reading what wasn't intended
for innocent young girls to know.

"Well, first, Helen Northrup was just like all loving young girls, I
guess--but when she didn't find _all_ she wanted, she took to
developing, as she called it. For _my_ part I believe when a woman
finds her husband isn't _all_ she expected, she ought to accept her
lot and make the best of it."

"And Brace's mother started out to make her own lot? I see."

Kathryn nodded her head.

"Well, something like that. She took to writing. Thomas Northrup
didn't know what ailed her and I don't wonder. She should have spent
herself on _his_ career, not making one for herself. But I must say
when Brace was born she stopped that nonsense but she evolved then
into a mother!" Anna sniffed. "A man can share with his children, but
when it comes to giving up everything, well!"

"What did he do, Aunt Anna?"

"He went away."

"With a woman?"

"Yes."

"One he just met when Mrs. Northrup became a mother?"

"He knew her before, but if Helen Northrup had been all she should
have been to him----"

"I begin to see. And then?"

"Well, then he died and proved how noble he was at heart. When he went
off, Helen Northrup wouldn't take a cent. She had a little of her own
and she went to work and Brace helped when he grew older--and then
when Thomas Northrup died he left almost all his fortune to his wife.
He never considered her anything else. I call his a really great
nature." Poor Anna was in a trembling and ecstatic state.

"I call him a--just what he was!" Kathryn was weary of the subject. "I
think Brace's mother was a fool to let him off so easy. I would have
bled him well rather than to let the other woman put it all over me."

"My dear, that's not a proper way for you to talk!" Aunt Anna became
the chaperon. "Come, get dressed now, dearie. There's the luncheon,
you know."

"What luncheon?"

"Why, with Mr. Arnold, my dear, and he included me, too! Such a sweet
fellow he is, and so wise and thoughtful."

"Oh!"

There had been a time when she and Sandy Arnold met clandestinely--it
was such fun! He included Aunt Anna now. Why?

And just then, as if it were a live and demanding thing, her eyes fell
on Northrup's last book. She scowled at it. It was a horrible book.
All about dirty, smudgy people that you couldn't forget and who kept
springing out on you in the most unexpected places. At dinners and
luncheons they often wedged in with their awful eyes fixed on your
plate and made you choke. They probably were not true. And those
things Brace said! Besides, if they were true, people like that were
used to them--they had never known anything else!

And then Brace had said some terrible things about war; that war going
on over the sea. Of course, no one expected to have a war, but it was
unpatriotic for any one to say what Brace had about those perfectly
dear officers at West Point and--what was it he said?--oh, yes--having
the blood of the young on one's soul and settling horrid things, like
money and land, with lives.

At this Kathryn tossed the book aside and it fell at Anna's feet. She
picked it up and handled it as if it were a tender baby that had
bumped its nose.

"It must be perfectly wonderful," she said, smoothing the book, "to
have an autographed copy of a novel. It's like having a lock of
someone's hair. Where _is_ Brace, Kathryn?"

This was unfortunate.

"That is my business and his!" Kathryn spoke slowly. Her eyes slanted
and her lips hardened.

"My darling, I beg your pardon!" And once more Anna Morris was shoved
into the groove where she belonged.

Later that day, after the luncheon with Sandy--Anna had been
eliminated by a master stroke that reduced her to tears and left Sandy
a victim to Kathryn's wiles--Kathryn called upon Helen Northrup.

She was told by the smiling little maid to go up into the Workshop.
This room was a pitiful attempt to lure Brace to work at home; in his
absence Helen sat there and scribbled. She wrote feeble little verses
with a suggestion of the real thing in them. Sometimes they got
published because the suggestion caught the attention of a sympathetic
publisher, and these small recognitions kept alive a spark that was
all but extinguished when Helen Northrup chose, as women of her time
did, a profession or--the woman's legitimate sphere!

There had been no regret in Helen's soul for whatever part she played
in her own life--her son was her recompense for any disappointment she
might have met, and he was, she devoutly believed, her interpreter.
She loved to think in her quiet hours that her longings and
aspirations had found expression in her child; she had sought, always,
to consider his interests wisely--unselfishly, of course--and leave
him as free to live his own life as though she were not the lonely,
disillusioned woman that she was.

She had never known how early Brace had understood the conditions in
his home--mothers and fathers rarely do. Only once during his boyhood
had Brace ventured upon the subject over which he spent many confused
and silent hours.

When he was fourteen he remarked, in that strained voice that he
believed hid any emotion:

"I say, Mother, a lot of fellows at our school have fathers and
mothers who live apart--most of the fellows side with their mothers!"

These words nearly made Helen ill. She could make no reply. She looked
dumbly at the boy facing her with a new and awful revealment. She
understood that he wanted her to _know_, wanted to comfort her; and
she knew, with terrifying certainty, that she could not deceive
him--she was at his mercy!

She was wise enough to say nothing. But after that she felt his
suddenly acquired strength. It was shown in his tenderness, his
cheerfulness, his companionship, and, thank God! in his silence.

But while Helen gloried in her boy she still was loyal to the
traditions of marriage, and her little world never got behind her
screen. She had divorced her husband because he desired it--then she
went on alone. When her husband died away from home, his body was
brought to her. It had been his last request and she paid all respect
to it with her boy close beside her. And then she forgot--really, in
most cases--the things that she had been remembering. She erected over
her dead husband, not a stone, but a living _unreality_. It answered
the purpose for which it was designed; it made it possible for her to
live rather a full life, be a comrade to her son--a friend indeed--and
to share all his joys and many of his confidences, and to impress upon
him, so she trusted, that he must not sacrifice anything for her.

Why should he, indeed? Had she not interests enough to occupy her? The
sight of a widowed mother draining the life-blood from her children
had always been a dreadful thing to Helen Northrup, and so well had
she succeeded in her determination to leave Brace free that the
subject rarely came into the minds of either.

But Brace's latest move had disturbed Helen not a little. It startled
her, made her afraid, as that remark of his in his school days had
done. Did he chafe under ties that he loved but found that he must
flee from for awhile? Why did he and Kathryn not marry? Were they
considering her? Was she blinded?

Helen had been going over all this for days before the visit of
Kathryn, and during the night preceding the call she had awakened in
great pain; she had had the pain before and it had power to reduce her
to cowardice. It seemed to dare her, while she lay and suffered, to
confide in a physician!

There was an old memory of one who had suffered and died from----"Find
out the truth about me!" each dart of fire in the nerves cried, and
when the pain was over Helen Northrup had not dared to meet the
challenge and go to Manly or another! At first she tried to reason
with herself; then she compromised.

"After all, it is so fleeting. I'll rest, take better care of myself.
I'm not so young as I was--Nature is warning me; it may not be the
other."

Well, rest and care helped and the attacks were less frequent. That
gave a certain amount of hope.

When Kathryn entered the Workshop she found Helen on the couch instead
of at the flat-topped desk. She looked very white and blue-lipped but
she was smiling and happily glad to see her visitor. She was extremely
fond of Kathryn. Early in life she had prepared herself to accept and
love any woman her son might choose--she would never question the gift
he offered! But when Kathryn was offered, she was overjoyed. Kathryn
was part of the dear, familiar life; the daughter of old friends.
Helen Northrup felt that she was blessed beyond all mothers. The
thing, to her, seemed so exactly right. That the marriage did not take
place had hardly disturbed her. Kathryn was young, Brace was winning,
not only a home for the girl, but honour, and there was always time.
_Time_ is such a splendid heritage of youth and such a rare relic of
age.

"Why, my dearie-dear!" exclaimed Kathryn, kneeling beside the couch.
"What _is_ it?"

"Nothing, dear child; nothing more than a vicious touch of neuralgia."

"Have you seen Doctor Manly?" Kathryn patted the pillows and soothed,
by her touch, the hot forehead. Kathryn had the gift of healing in her
small, smooth hands, but not in her soul.

She had always been jealous of the love between Brace and his mother.
It was so unusual, so binding, so beyond her conception; but she could
hide her feelings until by and by.

"Now, dearie-dear, we _must_ send for Doctor Manly. Of course Brace
ought to know. He would never forgive us if he did not know. I hate to
trouble you but, my dear, you look simply terrifyingly ill." Like a
lightning flash Kathryn's nimble wits caught a possibility.

Helen smiled. Then spoke slowly:

"Now, my dear, when Brace comes home, I promise to see Doctor Manly.
These attacks are severe--but they pass quickly and there are long
periods when I am absolutely free from them."

"You mean, you have attacks?" Kathryn looked appalled.

"Oh, yes; off and on. That fact proves how unimportant they are."

Kathryn was again taking stock.

She believed that Brace was still at that place from which the letter
came! She was fiendishly subject to impressions and suspicions.

"Now if he is still there"--thoughts ran like liquid fire in Kathryn's
brain--"_why_ does he stay? It isn't far." She had made sure of that
by road maps when the letter first came. "I could motor out there and
see!" The liquid fire brought colour to the girl's face.

She was dramatic, too, she could always see herself playing the
leading parts in emotional situations. Just now, like more flashes of
lightning, disclosing vivid scenes, she saw herself, prostrated by
fear and anxiety for Helen Northrup, finding Brace, confiding in him
because she dared not take the chances of silence and dared not
disobey and go to Doctor Manly.

Brace would be fear-filled and remorseful, would see at last how she,
Kathryn, had his interests in mind. He would cling to her. Sitting
close by the couch, her face pressed to Helen Northrup's shoulder,
Kathryn contemplated the alluring and passionate scenes. Brace had
always lacked passion. She had always to hold Arnold virtuously in
check, but Brace was able to control himself. But--and here the vivid
pictures reeled on, familiarity had dulled things, long engagements
were flattening--Brace would at last see her as she was. She'd forgive
anything that might have happened--of course, anything _might_ have
happened--she, a woman of the world, understood.

And--Kathryn was brought to a sudden halt--the reel spun on but there
was no picture!

Suppose, after all, there was nothing really to be frightened about in
these attacks? Well, that would be found out after Brace had been
brought home and might enhance rather than detract from--her divine
devotion.

Presently Kathryn became aware of the fact that Helen Northrup had
been speaking while the reel reeled!

"And then that escapade of his when he was only seven." Helen patted
the golden head beside her while her thoughts were back with her boy.
"He was walking with me when suddenly he looked up; his poor little
face was all twisted! He just said rather impishly, 'I'm going! I am
really!' and he went! I was, naturally, frightened, and ran after
him--then, when I caught sight of him, a long way ahead, I stopped and
waited. When he thought I was not following, he waded right out into a
puddle; he even had a scrappy fight with a bigger boy who contested
his right to invade the puddle. It was so absurd. Kathryn, I actually
went home; I felt sure Brace would find his way back and he did. I was
nearly wild with anxiety, but I waited. He came back disgustingly
dirty, but hilariously happy. He expected punishment. When none was
meted out to him--he told me all about it--it seemed flat enough when
he saw how I took it. Why, I never even mentioned the mud on him. He
was disappointed, but I think he understood more than I realized. When
he went to bed that night, he begged my pardon!"

Kathryn got up and walked about the room. She was staging another
drama. Brace was now playing in puddles--not such simple ones as those
of his childhood. He was having his little fight, too, possibly; with
whom?

Well, how perfectly thrilling to save him!

Such a girl as Kathryn has as cheap an imagination as any lurid
factory girl, but it is kept as safely from sight as the contents of
her vanity bag.

"Kathryn, have you heard from Brace?"

The girl started almost guiltily. Helen hated to ask this, she feared
Kathryn might think her envious; but Kathryn rose and drew a chair to
the couch.

"No, dearie-dear," she said sweetly.

"So you don't know just where he is?"

"How could I know, dearie thing?"

So they were not keeping things from her; shutting her out! Helen
Northrup raised her head from the pillow.

"We're in the same boat, darling," she said, so glad to be in the same
boat. "Lately I've had a few whim-whams." Helen felt she could be
confidential. "I suppose I am touching the outer circle of old age,
and before it blinds me, I'm going to have my say. It would be just
like you and Brace to forget yourselves and think of me. And if I do
not look out, I'll be taking your sacrifice and calling it by its
wrong name. You and Brace must marry. I half believe you've been
waiting for me to push you out of the nest. Well, here you go! Your
own nest will be sacred to me, another place for me to go to, another
interest. I'll be having you both closer. Now, don't cry, little girl.
I've found you out and found myself, too!"

Kathryn was shedding tears--tears of gratitude for the material Helen
was putting at her disposal.

"My dear little Kathryn! It is going to be all right, all right. Why,
childie, when he comes home I am going to insist upon the wedding. I
am not a young woman, really, though I put up a bit of a bluff--and
the time isn't very long, no matter how you look at it--so, darling,
you and Brace must humour me, do the one big thing to make me
happy--you must be married!"

Kathryn looked up. The tears hung to her long lashes.

"You want this?" she faltered with quivering lips.

Helen believed she understood at last.

"My darling!" she said tenderly, "it is the one great longing of my
heart."

Then she dropped back on her pillow and closed her eyes while the pain
gripped her. But the pain, for a moment, seemed a friend, not a foe.
It might be the thing that would open the door--out.

Helen had spoken truth as truth should be but never quite is, to a
mother. She had taken her place in the march, her colours flying. But
her place was the mother's place, lagging in the rear.

Such an effort as she had just made caused angels to weep over her.



CHAPTER X


By a kind of self-hypnotism Northrup had gained his ends so far as
drifting with the slow current of King's Forest was concerned, and in
his relation toward his book. The unrest, as to his duty in a
world-wide sense, was lulled. Whatever of that sentiment moved him was
focussed on Maclin who, in a persistent, vague way became a haunting
possibility of danger almost too preposterous to be considered
seriously. Still the possibility was worth watching. Maclin's attitude
toward Northrup was interesting. He seemed unable to ignore him, while
earnestly desiring to do so. The fact was this: Maclin looked upon
Northrup as he might have upon a slow-burning fuse. That he could not
estimate the length of the fuse, nor to what it was attached, did not
mend matters. One cannot ignore a trail of fire, and a guilty
conscience is never a sleeping one.

The people on the Point had long since come to the conclusion that
Northrup was a trailer of Maclin, not their enemy. The opinion was
divided as to his relations with Mary-Clare, but that was a different
matter.

"I'll bet my last dollar," Twombley muttered, forgetting that his last
dollar was a thing of the past, "that this young feller will find out
about those inventions. Inventions be damned! That's what I say.
There's something going on at the mines that don't spell inventions."

This was said to Peneluna who was aging under the strain of
unaccustomed excitement.

"When he lands Maclin," she said savagely, "I'll grab Larry. Larry is
a fool, but from way back, Maclin is the sinner. Queer"--she gave a
deep sigh--"how a stick muddling up a biling brings the scum to the
surface! I declare! I wish we had something to grip hold of.
Suspicioning your neighbours ain't healthy."

Jan-an, untroubled by moral codes, was unconditionally on Northrup's
side. She patched her gleanings into a vivid conclusion and announced,
much to Peneluna's horror:

"Supposin' we are goin' ter hell 'long of not knowin' where we are
goin', ain't it a lot pleasanter than the way we was traipsin' before
things began to happen?"

Poor Jan-an was getting her first taste of romance and tragedy and she
was thriving on the excitement. When she was not watching the romance
in the woods with Mary-Clare and Noreen, she was actively engaged in
tragedy. She was searching for the lost letters and she did not mince
matters in her own thoughts.

"Larry stole 'em!" she had concluded from the first. "What's old
letters, anyway? But I'll get those letters if I die for it!"

She shamelessly ransacked Larry's possessions while she cleaned his
disorderly shack, but no letters did she find. She became irritable
and unmoral.

"Lordy!" she confided to Peneluna one day while they were preparing
Larry's food, "don't yer wish, Peneluna, that it wasn't evil to poison
some folks' grub?"

Peneluna paused and looked at the girl with startled eyes.

"If you talk like that," she replied, "I'll hustle you into the
almshouse." Then: "Who would you like to do that to?" she asked.

"Oh! folks as just clutter up life for decent folks. Maclin and
Larry."

"Now, see here, Jan-an, that kind of talk is downright creepy and
terrible wicked. Listen to me. Are you listening?"

Jan-an nodded sullenly.

"I'm your best friend, child. I mean to stand by yer, so you just
heed. There are folks as can use language like that and others will
laugh it off, but you can't do it. The best thing for you to do is to
slip along out of sight and sound as much as yer can. If you attract
attention--the Lord above knows what will happen; I don't."

Jan-an was impressed.

"I ain't making them notice me," she mumbled, "but yer just can't take
a joke."

Noreen and Jan-an, in those warm autumn days--and what an autumn it
was!--often came to the little chapel where Northrup wrote.

They knew this was forbidden; they knew that the mornings were to be
undisturbed, but what could a man who loved children say to the two
patient creatures crouching at the foot of the stone steps leading up
to the church?

Northrup could hear them whisper--it blended with the twittering
of the birds--he heard Noreen's chuckle and Jan-an's warning.
Occasionally a flaming maple branch would fall through the window
on to his table; once Ginger was propelled through the door with a
note, badly printed by Noreen, tied to his collar.

"We're here," the strangely scrawled words informed him; "me and
Jan-an. We've got something for you."

But Northrup held rigidly to his working hours and finally made an
offer to his most persistent foes.

"See here, you little beggars," he said, including the gaunt Jan-an in
this, "if you keep to the other side of the bridge, I'll tell you a
story, once a day."

This had been the beginning of romance to Jan-an.

The story-telling, thus agreed upon, opened a new opportunity for
meeting Mary-Clare. Quite naturally she shared with Noreen and Jan-an
the hours of the late afternoon walks in the woods or, occasionally,
by the fireside of her own home when the chilly gloaming fell early.

Often Northrup, casting a hurried thought to his past, and then
forward to the time when all this pleasure must end, looked
thoughtful. How circumscribed those old days had been; how uneventful
at the best! How strange the old ways would seem by and by, touched by
the glamour of what he was passing through now!

And, as was often the case, Manly's words came out like guiding and
warning flashes. The future could only be made safe by the present;
the past--well! Northrup would not dwell upon that. He would keep the
compact with himself.

He went boldly to the yellow house when the mood seized him. His first
encounters with Mary-Clare, after that night at the inn when he had
watched her sleeping, had reassured him.

"She was not awake!" he concluded. The belief made it possible for him
to act with assurance.

Peter and Polly preserved a discreet silence concerning affairs in the
Forest. "You never can tell when a favouring wind will right things
again," Polly remarked. She cared more for Mary-Clare than anything
else.

"Or upset 'em," Peter added. He had his mind fixed upon Maclin.

"Well, brother, sailing safe, or struggling in the water, it won't
help matters to stir up the mud."

"No; and just having Brace hanging around like a threat is something.
I allas did hold to them referendum and recall notions. Once a feller
knows he ain't the only shirt in the laundry, he keeps decenter. So
long as Maclin scents Brace, he keeps to his holdings. Did yer hear
how he's cleaning up the Cosey Bar? He thinks maybe he's going to be
attacked from that quarter. Then, again, he's been offering work to
the men around here--and he's letting out that he never understood our
side of things rightly and that he's listening to Larry--get that,
Polly?--listening to Larry and letting _him_ make the folks on the
Point get on to the fact that he's their friend. Gosh! Maclin their
friend."

And Mary-Clare all this time mystified her friends and her foes. She
had foes. Men, and women, too, who looked askance at her. The less
they knew, the more they had to invent. The proprieties of the Forest
were being outraged. The women who envied Mary-Clare her daring fell
upon her first. From their own misery and disillusionment, they sought
to defend their position; create an atmosphere of virtue around their
barren lives, by attacking the woman who refused to be a martyr.

"You can't tell me," said a downtrodden wife of one of Maclin's men,
"that she turned her husband out of doors after wheedling him out of
all he should have had from his father, unless she meant to leave the
door open for another! A woman only acts as she has for some man."

The women, the happy ones, drove down upon Mary-Clare from another
quarter. The happy women are always first to lay down the laws for the
unhappy ones. Not knowing, they are irresponsible. The men of the
Forest did some laughing and side talking, but on the whole they
denounced Mary-Clare because she was a menace to the Established
Code.

"God!" said the speaker of the Cosey Bar, "what's coming to the world,
anyhow? There ain't any rest and peace nowheres, and when it comes to
women taking to naming terms, I say it's time for us to stand for our
rights fierce."

Maclin had delicately and indirectly set forth Mary-Clare's "terms"
and the Forest was staggered.

But Mary-Clare either did not hear, or the turmoil was so insistent
that she had become used to it. She suddenly displayed an energy that
made her former activities seem tame.

She brought from the attic an old loom and got Aunt Polly to teach her
to weave; she presently designed quaint patterns and delighted in her
work. She invited several children, neglected little souls, to come to
the yellow house and she taught them with Noreen. She resorted largely
to the method the old doctor had used with her. Adapting, as she saw
possible, her knowledge to her little group, she gave generously but
held her peace.

Northrup often had a hearty laugh after attending one of the "school"
sessions.

"It's like tossing all kinds of feed to a flock of birds," he told
Aunt Polly, "and letting the little devils pick as they can."

"I reckon they pick only as much as their little stomachs can hold,"
Aunt Polly replied, "and it makes _me_ smile to notice how folks as
ain't above saying lies about Mary-Clare can trust their children to
her teaching."

"Oh! well, lies are soon killed," Northrup returned, but his smile
vanished.

Mary-Clare was often troubled by Larry's persistence at the Point. She
could not account for it, but she did not alter her own way of life.
She went, occasionally, to the desolate Point; she rarely saw Larry,
but if she did, she greeted him pleasantly. It was amazing to find how
naturally she could do this. Indeed the whole situation was at the
snapping point.

"I do say," Twombley confided to Peneluna, "it don't seem nater for a
woman not to grieve and fuss at such goings on."

Peneluna tossed her head and sneezed.

"I ain't ever understood," she broke in, "why a woman should fuss and
break herself on account of a man doing what he oughtn't ter do. Let
_him_ do the fussing and breaking."

"She might try and save him." Twombley, like all the male Forest, was
stirred at what he could not understand.

"Women have got their hands full of other things"--Peneluna sneezed
again as if the dust of ages was stifling her--"and I do say that
after a woman does save a man, she's often too worn out to enjoy her
savings."

And Larry, carefully dressed, living alone and to all appearances
brave and steady, simply, according to Maclin's ordering, "let out
more sheet rope" in order that Mary-Clare might sail on to the rocks
and smash herself to atoms before the eyes of her fellow creatures.

Surely the Forest had much to cogitate upon.

"There is just one ledge of rocks for her kind," said Maclin. "You
keep yourself clear and safe, Rivers, and watch the wreck."

Maclin could be most impressive at times and his conversation had a
nautical twist that was quite effective.

Northrup at this time would have been shocked beyond measure had any
one suggested that his own attitude of mind resembled in the
slightest degree that of Maclin, Twombley, and Rivers. He was too sane
and decent a man to consider for a moment that Mary-Clare's actions
were based in the slightest degree upon his presence in the Forest. He
knew that he had had nothing to do with the matter, but that was no
reason for thinking that he might not have. Suggestion was enmeshing
him in the disturbance.

He felt that Larry was a brute. That he had the outer covering of
respectability counted against him. Larry always kept his best manners
for public exhibition; his inheritance of refinement could be tapped
at any convenient hour. Northrup knew his type. He had not recalled
his father in years as he did now! A man legally sustained by his
interpretation of marriage could make a hell or a heaven of any
woman's life. This truism took on new significance in the primitive
Forest.

But in that Mary-Clare had had courage to escape from hell--and
Northrup had pictured it all from memories of his boyhood--roused him
to admiration.

She was of the mettle of his mother. She might be bent but never
broken. She was treading a path that none of her little world had ever
trod before. Alone in the Forest she had taken a stand that she could
not hope would be understood, and how superbly she was holding it!

Knowing what he did, Northrup compared Mary-Clare with the women of
his acquaintance; what one of them could defy their conventions as she
was doing, instinctively, courageously?

"But she ought not to be permitted to think all men are like Rivers!"

This thought grew upon Northrup, and it was the first step, generously
taken, to establish higher ideals for his sex. With the knowledge he
had, he was in a position of safety. Not to be seen with Mary-Clare
while the silly gossip muttered or whispered would be to acknowledge a
reason for not meeting her--so he flung caution to the winds.

There were nutting parties for the children--innocent enough, heaven
knew! There were thrilling camping suppers on the flat ridge of the
hills in order to watch the miracle of sunset and moonrise.

No wonder Jan-an cast her lot in with those headed, so the whisper
ran, for perdition. She had never been so nearly happy in her life;
neither had Mary-Clare nor Noreen nor--though he did not own
it--Northrup, himself.

No wonder Maclin, and the outraged Larry, saw distinctly the ridge on
which the wreck was to occur.

But no one was taking into account that idealism in Mary-Clare that
the old doctor had devoutly hoped would save her, not destroy her.
Northrup began to comprehend it during the more intimate conversations
that took place when the children, playing apart, left him and
Mary-Clare alone. The wonder grew upon him and humbled him. It was
something he had never encountered before. A philosophy and code built
entirely upon knowledge gained from books and interpreted by a
singular strength and purity of mind. It piqued Northrup; he began to
test it, never estimating danger for himself.

"Books are like people," Mary-Clare said one day--she was watching
Northrup build a campfire and the last bit of sunlight fell full upon
her--"the words are the costumes." She had marked the surprised look
in Northrup's eyes as she quoted rather a bald sentiment from an old
book.

"Yes, of course, and that's sound reasoning." For a moment Northrup
felt as though a clear north wind were blowing away the dust in an
overlooked corner of his mind. "But it's rather staggering to find
that you read French," he added, for the quotation had been literally
translated. "You do, don't you?"

"I do, a little. I'm taking it up again for Noreen."

Noreen's name was continually being brought into focus. It had the
effect of pushing Northrup, metaphorically, into a safe zone. He
resented this.

"She is afraid!" he thought. "Rivers has left his mark upon her mind,
damn him!"

This sentiment should have given warning, but it did not.

"I study nights"--Mary-Clare was speaking quite as if fear had no part
in her thought--"French, mathematics--all the hard things that went in
and--stuck."

"Hard things do stick, don't they?" Northrup hated the pushed-aside
feeling.

"Terribly. But my doctor was adamant about hard things. He used to say
that I'd learn to love chipping off the rough corners." Here
Mary-Clare laughed, and the sound set Northrup's nerves a-tingle as
the clear notes of music did.

"I can see myself now, Mr. Northrup, sitting behind my doctor on his
horse, my book flattened out against his back. I'd ask questions; he'd
fling the answers to me. Once I drew the map of Italy on his blessed
old shoulders with crayon and often French verbs ran crookedly up the
seam of his coat, for the horse changed his gait now and then."

Northrup laughed aloud. He edged away from his isolation and said:

"Your doctor was a remarkable man. His memory lives in the Forest;
it's about the most vital thing here. It and all that preserves it."
His eyes rested upon Mary-Clare.

"Yes. He was wonderful. Lately he seems more alive than ever. He had
such simple rules of life--but they work. He told me so often that
when a trouble or anything like that came, there were but two ways to
meet it. If it was going to kill you, die at your best. If it wasn't,
get over it at once; never waste time--live as soon as possible." Was
there a note of warning in the words?

"And you're doing it?"

An understanding look passed between them.

"Yes, Mr. Northrup, for Noreen."

Back went Northrup to his place with a dull thud! Then Mary-Clare
hurried to a safer subject.

"I wish you would tell me about your book, Mr. Northrup. I have the
strangest feeling about it. It seems like a new kind of flower growing
in the Forest. I love flowers."

Northrup looked down at his companion. Her bared head, her musing,
radiant face excited and moved him. He had forgotten his book.

"You're rather like a strange growth yourself," he said daringly.

Mary-Clare smiled gaily.

"You'll have to blame my old doctor for that," she said.

"Or bless him," Northrup broke in.

"Yes, that's better, if it is true."

"It's tremendously true."

"A book"--again that elusive push--"must be a great responsibility.
Once you put your thoughts and words down and send them out--there you
are!"

"Yes. Good Lord! There you are."

"I knew that you would feel that way about it and that is why I would
like to hear you talk of it. It's a story, isn't it?"

"Yes, a story."

"You can reach further with a story."

"I suppose so. You do not have to knuckle down to rules. You can let
your vision have a say, and your feelings." Northrup, seeing that his
book must play a part, accepted that fact.

"I suppose"--Mary-Clare was looking wistfully up at Northrup--"all the
people in your books work out what you believe is truth. I can always
_feel_ truth in a book--or the lack of it."

In the near distance Noreen and Jan-an were gathering wood. They were
singing and shouting lustily.

"May I sit on your log?" Northrup spoke hurriedly.

"Of course," and Mary-Clare moved a little. "The sun's gone," she went
on. "It's quite dark in the valley."

"It's still light here--and there's the fire." Northrup was watching
the face beside him.

"Yes, the fire, and presently the moon rising, just over there."

Restraint lay between the two on the mossy log. They both resented
it.

"You know, you must know, that I'd rather have you share my book than
any one else." Northrup spoke almost roughly.

He had meant to say something quite different, but anything would do
so long as he controlled the situation.

"I wonder why?" Mary-Clare kept her face turned away.

"Well, you are so phenomenally keen. You know such a lot."

"I used to snap up everything like a hungry puppy, Uncle Peter often
said. I suppose I do now, Mr. Northrup, but I only know life as a
blind person does: I feel."

"That's just it. You _feel_ life. It isn't coloured for you by others.
You get its form, its hardness or softness, its fragrance or the
reverse, but you fix your own colour. That's why you'd be such a
ripping critic. Will you let me read some of my book to you?"

"Oh! of course. I'd be so glad and proud."

"Come, now, you're not joking?"

The large golden eyes turned slowly and rested upon Northrup.

"I do not think I ever joke"--Mary-Clare's words fell softly--"about
such things. Why, it would seem like seeing a soul get into a body.
You do not joke about that."

"You make me horribly afraid about my book. People do not usually take
the writing of a book in just that way."

"I wish they did. You see, my doctor often said that books would live
if they only held truth. He loved these words, 'And above all
else--Truth taketh away the victory!' I can see him now waving his
arms and singing that defiantly, as if he were challenging the whole
world. He said that truth was the soul of things."

"But who knows Truth?"

"There is something in us that knows it. Don't you think so?"

"But we see it so differently."

"That does not matter, if we know it! Truth is fixed and sure. Isn't
that so?"

"I do not know. Sometimes I think so: then--good Lord! that is what
I'm trying to find out."

Northrup's face grew tense.

"And so am I."

"All right, then, let's go on the quest together!" Northrup stood up
and offered his hand to Mary-Clare as if actually they were to start
on the pilgrimage. "Where and when may I begin to read to you?"

The children were coming nearer.

"While this weather lasts, I'd love the open. Wouldn't you? Logs, like
this, are such perfect places."

"I thought perhaps"--Northrup looked what he dared not voice--"I
thought perhaps in that cabin of yours we might be more comfortable,
more undisturbed."

Mary-Clare smiled and shook her head.

"No, I think it would be impossible. That cabin is too full--well, I'm
sure I could not listen as I should, to you, in that cabin."

And so it was that the book became the medium of expression to
Northrup and Mary-Clare. It justified that which might otherwise have
been impossible. It drugged them both to any sense of actual danger.
It was like a shield behind which they might advance and retreat
unseen and unharmed. And if the shield ever fell for an unguarded
moment, Northrup believed that he alone was vouchsafed clear vision.

He grew to marvel at the simplicity and purity of Mary-Clare's point
of view. He knew that she must have gone through some gross
experiences with a man like Rivers, but they had left her singularly
untouched.

But, while Northrup, believing himself shielded from the woman near
him, permitted his imagination full play, Mary-Clare drew her own
conclusions. She accepted Northrup without question as far as he
personally was concerned. He was making her life rich and full, but he
would soon pass; become a memory to brighten the cold, dark years
ahead, just as the memory of the old doctor had done: would always
do.

Desperately Mary-Clare clung to this thought, and reinforced by it
referred constantly to her own position as if to convince Northrup of
perfect understanding of their relations.

But the book! That was another matter. In that she felt she dared
contemplate the real nature of Northrup. She believed he was
unconsciously revealing himself, and with that keenness of perception
that Northrup had detected, she threshed the false notes from the true
and, while hesitating to express herself--for she was timid and
naturally distrustful of herself--she was being prepared for an hour
when her best would be demanded of her.

Silently Mary-Clare would sit and listen while Northrup read. Without
explanation, the children had been eliminated and, if the day was too
cool to sit by the trail side, they would walk side by side, the
crushed leaves making a soft carpet for their feet; the falling leaves
touching them gently as they were brushed from their slight holdings.

Mary-Clare had suddenly abandoned her rough boyish garb. She was sweet
and womanly in her plain little gown--and a long coat whose high
collar rose around her grave face. She wore no hat and the light and
shade did marvellous things to her hair. There were times when
Northrup could not take his eyes from that shining head.

"Why are you stopping?" Mary-Clare would ask at such lapses.

"My writing is diabolical!" Northrup lied.

"Oh! I'm sorry. The stops give me a jog. Go on."

And Northrup would go on!

Without fully being aware of it, until the thing was done, Mary-Clare
got vividly into the story.

And Northrup was doing some good, some daring work. His man, born from
his own doubts, aspirations, and cravings, was a live and often a
blundering creature who could not be disregarded. He was safe enough,
but it was the woman who now gave trouble.

Northrup saw, with fear and trembling, that he had drawn her, so he
devoutly believed, so close to reality that he felt that Mary-Clare
would discover her at once and resent the impertinence. But he need
not have held any such thought. Mary-Clare was far too impersonal; far
too absorbed a nature to be largely concerned with herself, and
Northrup had failed absolutely in his deductions, as he was soon to
learn.

What Mary-Clare did see in Northrup's heroine was a maddening
possibility that he was letting slip through his fingers. At first
this puzzled her; pained her. She was still timid about expressing her
feeling. But so strong was Northrup's touch in most of his work that
at last he drove his quiet, silent critic from her moorings. She asked
that she might have a copy of a certain part of the book.

"I want to think it out with my woman-brain," she laughingly
explained. "When you read right at this spot--well, you see, it
doesn't seem clear. When I have thought it out alone, then I will tell
you and be--oh! very bold."

And Northrup had complied.

He had blazed for himself, some time before, a roundabout trail
through the briery underbrush from the inn to within a few hundred
feet of the cabin. Often he watched from this hidden limit. He saw the
smoke rise from the chimney; once or twice he caught a glimpse of
Mary-Clare sitting at the rough table, and, after she had taken those
chapters away, he knew they were being read there.

Alone, waiting, expecting he knew not what, Northrup became alarmingly
aware that Mary-Clare had got a tremendous hold upon him. The
knowledge was almost staggering. He had felt so sure; had risked so
much.

He could not deceive himself any longer. Like other men, he had played
with fire and had been burnt. "But," he devoutly thought, "thank God,
I have started no conflagration."



CHAPTER XI


There had been five days in which to face a rather ugly and bald fact
before Northrup again saw Mary-Clare. He had employed the time, he
tried to make himself believe, wisely, sanely.

He had spent a good portion of it at the Point. He had irritated Larry
beyond endurance by friendly overtures. In an effort to be just, he
tried to include Rivers in his reconstruction. The truth, he sternly
believed, would never be known, but if it were, certainly Rivers might
have something to say for himself, and with humiliation Northrup
regarded himself "as other men." He had never, thank heaven! looked
upon himself as better than other men, but he had thought his
struggle, early in life, his unhappy parenthood, and later devotion to
his work, had set him apart from the general temptations of many young
men and had given him a distaste for follies that could hold no
suggestion of mystery for him.

Well, Fate had merely bided its time.

With every reason for escaping a pitfall, he had floundered in. "Like
other men?" Northrup sneered at himself. No other man could be such a
consummate fool, knowing what he knew.

Viewed from this position, Larry was not as contemptible as he had
once appeared.

But Rivers resented Northrup's advances, putting the lowest
interpretation upon them. In this he was upheld by Maclin, who was
growing restive under the tension that did not break, but stretched
endlessly on.

Northrup resolved to see Mary-Clare once more and then go home. He
would make sure that the fire he himself was scorched by had not
touched her. After that he would turn his back upon the golden selah
in his life and return to his niche in the wall.

This brought his mother and Kathryn into the line of vision. How
utterly he had betrayed their confidence! His whole life, from now on,
should be devoted to their service. Doubtless to other men, like
himself, there were women who were never forgotten, but that must not
blot out reality.

And then Northrup considered the task of unearthing Maclin's secrets,
and ridding the Forest of that subtle fear and distrust that the man
created. That was, however, too big an undertaking now. He must get
Twombley to watch and report. Northrup had a great respect for
Twombley's powers of observation.

And so the time on the Point had been put to some purpose, and it had
occupied Northrup. Noreen and Jan-an had helped, too. It was rather
tragic the way Northrup had grown to feel about Noreen. The child had
developed his latent love for children--they had never figured in his
life before. So much had been left out, now that he came to think of
it!

And Jan-an. Poor groping creature! To have gained her affection and
trust meant a great deal.

Then the Heathcotes! Polly and Peter! During those five distraught
days they developed halos in Northrup's imagination.

They had taken him in, a stranger. They had fathered and mothered him;
staunchly and silently stood by him. What if they knew?

They must never know! He would make sure of that.

In this frame of mind, chastened and determined, Northrup on the fifth
day took his place behind the laurel clump back of Mary-Clare's cabin,
and to his relief saw her coming out of the door. His manuscript was
not in her hands, but her face had an uplifted and luminous look that
set his heart to a quicker pulsing.

After a decent length of time, Northrup, whistling carelessly,
scruffing the dead leaves noiselessly, followed on and overtook
Mary-Clare near the log upon which they had sat at their last
meeting.

The quaint poise and dignity of the girl was the first impression
Northrup always got. He had never quite grown accustomed to it; it was
like a challenge--his impulse was to test it. It threatened his
exalted state now.

"It's quite mysterious, isn't it?"

Mary-Clare sat down on her end of the log and looked up, her eyes
twinkling.

"What is mysterious?" Northrup took his place. The log was not a long
one.

"The way we manage to meet."

She was setting him at a safe distance in that old way of hers that
somehow made her seem so young.

It irritated Northrup now as it never had before.

He had prepared himself for an ordeal, was keyed to a high note, and
the quiet, smiling girl near him made it all seem a farce.

This was dangerous. Northrup relaxed.

"It's been nearly a week since I saw you," he said, and let his eyes
rest upon Mary-Clare's face.

"Yes, nearly a week," she said softly, "but it took me all that time
to make up my mind."

"About what?"

"Your book."

Northrup had forgotten, for the moment, his book, and he resented its
introduction.

"Damn the book!" he thought. Aloud he said: "Of course! You were going
to tell me where I have fallen down."

"I hope you are not making a joke of it"--Mary-Clare's face
flushed--"but even if you are, I am going to tell you what I think. I
must, you know."

"That's awfully good of you"--Northrup became earnest--"but it doesn't
matter now, I am going away. Let us talk of something else."

Mary-Clare took this in silence. The only evidence of her surprise
showed in the higher touch of colour that rose, then died out, leaving
her almost pale.

"Then, there is all the more reason why I must tell you what I think,"
she said at last.

The words came like sharp detached particles; they hurt.

"We must talk about the book!"

And Northrup suddenly caught the truth. The book was their common
language. Only through that could they reach each other, understandingly.

"All right!" he murmured, and turned his face away.

"It's your woman," Mary-Clare began with a sharp catching of her
breath as if she had been running. "Your woman is not real."

Northrup flushed. He was foolishly and suddenly angry. If the book
must be brought in, he would defend it. It was all that was left to
him of this detached interlude of his life. He meant to keep it. It
was one thing to live along in his story and daringly see how close he
could come to revealment with the keen-witted girl who had inspired
him, but quite another, now that he was going, beaten from the field,
to have the book, _as_ a book, assailed. As to books, he knew his
business!

"You put _your_ words in your woman's mouth," Mary-Clare was saying.

"And whose words, pray, should I put there?" Northrup asked huskily.

"You must let her speak for herself."

"Good Lord!"

Mary-Clare did not notice the interruption. She was doing battle for
more than Northrup guessed. She hoped he would never know the truth,
but the battle must be fought if all the beautiful weeks of joy were
to be saved for the future. The idealism that the old doctor had
desperately hoped might save, not destroy, Mary-Clare was to prove
itself now.

"There are so many endings in life, that it is hard, in a book, to
choose just one. Why should there be an end to a book?" she asked.

The question came falteringly and Northrup almost laughed.

"Go on, please," he said quietly. "You think I've ended my woman by
letting her do what any woman in real life would do?"

"All women would not do what your woman does. Such women end men!"

This was audacious, but it caught Northrup's imagination.

"Go on," he muttered lamely.

"Do you think love is everything to a woman?" Mary-Clare demanded
ferociously.

"It is the biggest thing!" Northrup was up in arms to defend his code
and his work.

"You think it could wipe out honour, all the things that meant honour
to her?"

"Love conquers everything for a woman."

"Does it for a man?"

Northrup tried to fling out the affirmative, but he hedged.

"Largely, yes."

"I do not think that. There are some things bigger to him. Maybe not
bigger, but things that he would choose instead of love, if he had to.
It is what you _do_ to love that matters. If you come and take it when
you haven't a right to it; when you'd be stealing it; letting other
sacred things go for it--then you would be killing love. But if you
honour it, even if it is lonely and often sad, it lives and lives
and----"

The universe, at that momentous instant, seemed to rock and tremble.
Everything was swept aside as by a Force that but bided its hour and
had taken absolute control.

Northrup was never able to connect the two edges of conscious thought
that were riven apart by the blinding stroke that left him and
Mary-Clare in that space where their souls met. But, thank God, the
Force was not evil; it was but revealing.

Northrup drew Mary-Clare to her feet and held her little work-worn
hands close.

"You are crying--suffering," he whispered.

"Yes."

"And----"

"Oh! please wait"--the deep sobs shook the girl--"you must wait. I'll
try to--to make you see. I was awake that night at the inn--that is
why I--trust you now! Why I want you to--to understand."

She seemed pleading with him--it made him wince; she was calling forth
his best to help her weakest.

"Your book"--Mary-Clare gripped that again--"your book is a beautiful,
live thing--we must keep it so! Your man has grown and grown through
every page until he quite naturally believed he was able to--to do
more than any man can ever do! Why, this is your chance to be
different, stronger." The quick, panting words ran into each other and
then Mary-Clare controlled them while, unheeded, the tears rolled down
her cheeks. "You must let your woman _act_ for herself! She, too, must
learn and know. She made a horrible mistake from _not_ knowing and
seeing the first man; no love can help her by taking the solution from
her. She must be free--free and begin again. If it is right----"

"Yes, Mary-Clare. If it is right, what then?"

Everything seemed to wait upon the answer. The scurrying wood
creatures and the dropping of dead leaves alone broke the silence.
Slowly, like one coming into consciousness, Mary-Clare drew one hand
from Northrup's, wiped her eyes, and then--let it fall again into
his!

"I can see clearer now," she faltered. "Please, please try to
understand. It is because love means so much to some women, that when
they think it out with their women-minds they will be very careful of
it. They will feel about it as men do about their honour. There must
be times when love must stand aside if they want to keep it! I know
how queer and crooked all this must sound, but men do not stop loving
if their honour makes them turn from it. We are all, men and women,
too, _parts_--we cannot act as if--oh! you do understand, I know you
do, and some day you will go on with your beautiful book."

"And the end of my book, Mary-Clare? There must be an end."

"I do not know. I do not think a great big book ever ends any more
than life ends."

Northrup was swept from his hard-wrought position at this. The next
wave of emotion might carry him higher, but for the moment he was
drifting, drifting.

"You do not know life, nor men, nor women," he said huskily and
clutched her hands in his. "If life cheats and injures you, you have a
right to snatch what joy you can. It's not only what you do to love,
but what you do to yourself, that counts. For real love can stand
anything."

"No, it cannot!" Mary-Clare tried to draw away, but she felt the hold
tighten on her hands; "it cannot stand dishonour. That's what kills
it."

"Dishonour! What _is_ dishonour?" Northrup asked bitterly. "I'm going
to prove as far as I can, in my book, that the right kind of man and
woman with a big enough love can throttle life; cheat the cheater."
This came defiantly.

But the book no longer served its purpose; it seemed to fall at the
feet of the man and woman, standing with clasped hands and hungry,
desperate eyes.

The words that might have changed their lives were never spoken, for,
down the trail gaily, joyously, came the sound of Noreen's voice,
shrilly singing one of the songs Northrup had taught her.

"That's what I mean by honour," Mary-Clare whispered. "Noreen and all
that she is! You, you _do_ understand about some women, don't you? You
will help, not hurt, such women, won't you?"

"For God's sake, Mary-Clare, don't!"

Northrup bent and touched his lips to the small work-stained hands.
The song down the trail rose joyously.

"I have thought of you"--Mary-Clare was catching her breath
sharply--"as Noreen has--a man brought by the haunted wind. It has all
been like a wonderful play. I have not thought of the place where you
belong, but I know there are those in that place who are like
Noreen."

"Yes!" Northrup shivered and flinched as a cold, wet leaf fell upon
his hands and Mary-Clare's.

"The wind is changing," said the woman. "The lovely autumn has been
kind and has stayed long."

"My dear, my dear--don't!" Northrup pleaded.

"Oh! but I must. You see I want you to think back, as I shall--at all
this as great happiness. Come, let us go down the trail. I want you to
tell me about your city, the place where you belong! I must picture
you there now."

Northrup kept the small right hand in his as they turned. It was a
cold hand and it trembled in his grasp, but there was a steel-like
quality in it, too.

It was tragic, this strength of the girl who had drawn her understanding
of life from hidden sources. Northrup knew that she was seeking to
smooth his way on ahead; to take the bitterness from a memory that,
without her sacrifice, might hold him back from what had been, was,
and must always be, inevitable. She was ignoring the weak, tempted
moment and linking the past with all that the future must hold for
them both.

There was only the crude, simple course for him to follow--to accept
the commonplace, turn and face life as one turns from a grave that
hides a beautiful thing.

"You have never been to the city?"

There was nothing to do but resort to words. Superficial, foolish
words.

"Yes, once. On my wedding trip."

This was unfortunate, but words without thought are wild things.

Mary-Clare hurried along while visions of Larry's city rose like smiting
rebukes to her heedlessness. Cheap theatres, noisy restaurants, gaudy
lights.

"My dear doctor and I always planned going together," she said
brokenly. "I believe there are many cities in the city. One has to
find his city for himself."

"Yes, that's exactly what one does." Northrup closed his hand closer
over the dead-cold one in his grasp.

"Your city, it must be wonderful."

"It will be a haunted city, Mary-Clare."

"Tell me about it. And tell me a little, if you don't mind, about your
people."

The bravery was almost heart-breaking, it caused Northrup's lips to
set grimly.

"There is my mother," he replied.

"I'm glad. You love her very much?"

"Very much. She's wonderful. My father died long ago."

Mary-Clare did not ask whether he loved his father or not, and she
hurried on:

"And now, when I try to think of you in your city, at your work, just
how shall I think of you? Make it like a picture."

Northrup struggled with himself. The girl beside him, in pushing him
from her life, was so unutterably sweet and brave.

"My dear, my dear!" he whispered, and remorse, pity, yearning rang in
the words.

"Make it like a picture!" Relentlessly the words were repeated. They
demanded that he give his best.

"Think of a high little room in a tall tower overlooking all cities,"
he began slowly, "the cheap, the beautiful, the glad, and the sad. The
steam and smoke roll up and seem to make a gauzy path upon which all
that really matters comes and goes as one sits and watches."

Mary-Clare's eyes were wide and vision-filled.

"Oh! thank you," she whispered. "I shall always see it and you so. And
sometimes, maybe when the sun is going down, as it is now, you will
see me on that trail that is just yours, in your city coming to--to
wish you well!"

"Good God!" Northrup shook himself. "What's got us two? We've worked
ourselves into a pretty state. Talking as, as if--Mary-Clare, I'm not
going away. There will be other days. It's that book of mine. Hang it!
We've got snarled in the book."

The weak efforts to ignore everything failed pitifully.

"No, it is life." Mary-Clare grew grim as Northrup relaxed. "But I
want you always to remember my old doctor's rule. If a thing is going
to kill you, die bravely; if it isn't, get over it at once and live
the best you can."

"God bless and keep you, Mary-Clare." Absolute surrender marked the
tone.

"He will!"

"But this is not good-bye!"

"No, it is not good-bye."



CHAPTER XII


While the days were passing and Mary-Clare and Northrup, with the book
between them as a shield, fought their battle and won their victory,
they had taken small heed of the undercurrent that was not merely
carrying them on, but bearing others, also.

Northrup was comfortably conscious of Aunt Polly and old Peter, at the
days' ends. The sense of going home to them was distinctly a joy, a
fitting and safe interlude.

Noreen and Jan-an supplied the light-comedy touch, for the two were
capable of supplying no end of fun when there were hours that could
not be utilized in work or devoted to that thrilling occupation of
walking the trails with Mary-Clare.

The real, sordid tragedy element played small part in the autumn idyl,
but it was developing none the less.

Larry on the Point was showing more patient persistence than one could
have expected. He went about Maclin's business with his usual
reticence and devotion; occasionally he was away for a few days; when
he was at home in Peneluna's shack he was a quiet, rather pathetic
figure of a man at loose ends, but casting no slurs. It was that
pacific attitude of his that got on the nerves of his doubters and
those who believed they understood him.

Peneluna, torn between her loyalty to Mary-Clare and the decency she
felt called upon to show the old doctor's son, was becoming irritable
and jerky. Jan-an shrank from her and whimpered:

"What have I done? Ain't I fetching and carrying for him?"--she nodded
heavily toward Larry's abiding place. "Ain't I watching and telling
yer all that he does? Writing and tearing up what he writes! Ain't I
showing you his scraps what don't get burned? Ain't I acting square?"

Peneluna softened.

"Yes, you are!" she admitted. "But I declare, after finding nothing
agin him, one gets to wondering if there _is_ anything agin him. I
don't like suspecting my feller creatures."

"Suspectin' ain't like murdering!" Jan-an blurted out.

"If you don't stop talking like that, Jan-an----" But Peneluna paused,
for she saw the frightened look creeping into Jan-an's dull eyes.

It was while the Point was agitated about Larry that Twombley brought
forth his gun and took to cleaning it and fondling it by his doorway.
This action of Twombley's fascinated Jan-an.

"What yer going to shoot?" she asked.

"Ducks, maybe." Twombley leered pleasantly.

"I wish yer wouldn't."

"Why, Jan-an?"

"Ducks ain't so used to it as chickens. I hate to see flying things as
_can_ fly popped over."

At this Twombley laughed aloud.

"All right, girl, I'll hunt up something else to aim at--something
that's used to it. I ain't saying I'll hit anything, but aimin' and
finding out how steady yer hand is ain't lacking in sport."

So Twombley erected a target and enlivened and startled the Point by
his practise. Maclin, after a few weeks of absence from the Point,
called occasionally on his private agent and he was displeased by
Twombley's new amusement.

"What in thunder are you up to?" he asked.

"Not much--yet!" Twombley admitted. "Don't hit the hole more than once
out of four."

"But the noise is bad for folks, Twombley."

"They like it," Twombley broke in. "Makes 'em jump and know they're
alive. It's like fleas on dogs."

"When I'm talking business with Rivers," Twombley insisted, "I hate
the racket."

"All right, when I see you there, I'll hold off."

But Maclin did not want always to be seen at the shack. It was one
thing to stroll down to the Point, now and again, with that air of
having made mistakes in the past and greeting the Pointers pleasantly,
and quite another to find out, secretly, just what progress Larry was
making in his interests and knowing what Larry was doing with his long
days and nights.

So, after a fortnight of consideration, Maclin walked with Rivers from
the mines one night determined to spend several hours in the shack and
"use his eyes." Larry did not seem particularly pleased with this
intention and paused several times on the rough, dusky road, giving
Maclin an opportunity to bid him good-night. But Maclin stuck like the
little brown devil-pitchforks that decorated the trousers of both men
as they strode on the woodside of the road.

"I'm like a rat in a hole," Larry confided, despairing of shaking
Maclin off. "I wish to God you'd send me away somewhere--overseas, if
you can. You once promised that."

Maclin's eyes contracted, but it was too dark for Rivers to notice.

"Too late, just now, Rivers. That hell of a time they're having over
there keeps peaceful folks to their own waters."

"Sometimes"--Larry grew moody--"I've thought I'd like to tumble into
that mess and either----"

"What?" Abruptly Maclin caught Rivers up.

"Oh! go under or--come to the top." This was to laugh--so both men
laughed.

Laughing and talking in undertones, they came to the dark shack and
Larry, irritated at his inability to drop Maclin, unlocked the door
and went in, followed by his unwelcome guest.

"What in thunder do you lock this old rookery up for?" Maclin asked,
stumbling over a chair.

"I've got a notion lately that folks peep and pry. I've seen
footprints around the house."

"Well, why shouldn't they pry and tramp about? The Point's getting
dippy. And that blasted gun of Twombley's! See here, Rivers!"

By this time Larry had lighted the smelly lamp and closed the door and
locked it.

"You're getting nervous and twisted, Rivers."

The two sat down by the paper-strewn table.

"Well, who wouldn't?" snapped Rivers. "Hiding in this junk,
knowing that your wife----" he paused abruptly, but Maclin nodded
sympathetically. "It's hell, Maclin."

"Sure! Got anything to drink?"

Larry went to the closet and brought out a bottle and glasses.

"This helps!" Maclin said, pouring out the best brand from the Cosey.

The men drained their glasses and became, after a few minutes, more
cheerful. Maclin stretched out his legs--he had to do this in order to
adjust his fat and put his hands in his pockets.

"Larry, I want to tell you that you won't have to hide in your hole
much longer. I'm one too many for that fellow Northrup. I hold the
cards now."

"The devil you do!" Rivers's eyes brightened.

"Yes, sir. He wants the Point, old man, and the Heathcotes gave him
the knowledge that your wife owns it. He's getting her where he can
handle her. Damn shame, I say--using a woman and taking advantage of
her weak side. If we don't act spry he'll get what he wants."

Larry's face flushed a purple-red.

"What do you mean, Maclin? Talk out straight and clear."

"Well, I weigh it this way and that. Northrup might--I hate to use
brutal terms--he might compromise your wife and get her to sell and
shut him up, or he might get her so bedazzled that she'd feel real set
up to negotiate with him. A man like Northrup is pretty flattering to
a woman like your wife, Rivers. You see, she's carrying such a big
cargo of learning and fancy rot that she can't properly sail. That
kind gets stranded _always_, Larry. They just naturally _make_ for
rocks."

Larry had a sensation of choking and loosened his collar, then he
surprised Maclin by turning and lighting a fire in the stove before he
further surprised him by asking, with dangerous calmness:

"What in all that's holy do you--this Northrup--any one, want this
damned Point for?"

Maclin was rarely in a position to fence with Rivers, but he was now.

"Larry, old man, did you ever have in your life an ideal, or what
stands for it, that you would work for, and suffer for?"

"No!" Rivers could not stand delay.

"Well, I have, Larry. I'm an old sentimentalist, when you know me
proper. I took a fancy to you, and while I can't show my feelings as
many can, I have stood by you and you've been a proposition, off and
on. I bought those mines because I saw the chance they offered, and I
shared with you. I've got big men interested. I've let you carry
results to them--but the results are slow, Rivers, and they're getting
restive. I'm afraid some one of them has blabbed and this Northrup is
the result. Why, man, I've got inventions over at the mines that will
revolutionize this rotten, lazy Forest. I wanted to win the folks--but
they wouldn't be won. I wanted to save them in spite of themselves,
but damn 'em, they won't be saved. In a year I could make Heathcote a
rich man, if he'd wake up and _keep_ an inn instead of a kennel. But
I've got to have this Point. I want to build a bridge from here to the
railroad property on the other shore--this is the narrowest part of
the lake; I want to build cottages here, instead of--of rat holes.
I've got to get this Point by hook or crook--and I can't shilly-shally
with this Northrup on to the game."

Suddenly, while he was talking, Maclin's eyes fell upon the untidy
mass of papers on the table. He pulled his fat hands out of his tight
pockets and let them fall like paperweights on the envelopes and
sheets.

"What are these?" he asked.

Larry started guiltily.

"Old letters," he said.

"What you doing with them?" As he spoke Maclin was sorting and
arranging the papers--the old he put to one side; the newer ones on
the other. Some of the new ones were astonishingly good copies of the
old!

"Playing the old game, eh?" Maclin scowled. "I thought you'd had
enough of that, after----"

"For God's sake, Maclin, shut up."

"Been carrying these mementos around with you all these years?"

Maclin was reading a letter of Larry's father--an old one.

"No, I brought them with me from the old house. Mary-Clare had them,
but they were mine." Larry's face was white and set into hard lines.

"Sure, so I see." And Maclin was seeing a great deal.

He saw that Rivers had torn off, where it was possible, half pages
from the old and yellowed letters; these were carefully banded
together, while on fresh sheets of paper, the old letters in part, or
in whole, were cleverly copied.

There was one yellowed half sheet in the old doctor's handwriting
bearing a new form of expression--there was no original of this.
Maclin made sure of that. He read this new form once, twice, three
times.

"If the time should ever come, my girl, when you and Larry could not
agree, he'll give you this letter. It is all I could do for him; it
will prove that I trust you, at every turn, to do the right and just
thing. Stand by Larry, as I have done."

Maclin puffed out his cheeks. They looked like a child's red balloon.
"What in hell!" he ejaculated.

Larry's face was gray. Guilt is always quick to hold up its hands when
it thinks the enemy has the drop on it.

"Can't you understand?" he whispered through dry lips. "I want to
outwit them. I'm as keen as you, Maclin, and I'm working for you, old
man, working for you! I was going to take this to her--she'll do
anything when she reads that--and I was going to tell her why the old
man stood by me. That would shut her mouth and make her pay."

There is in the shield of every man a weak spot. There was one in the
shield of Maclin's brutal villainy. For a moment he felt positively
virtuous; perhaps the sensation proved the embryo virtue in all.

"Are any of these things real?" he asked with a rough catch in his
voice; "and don't lie to me--it wouldn't be healthy."

"No."

"You got your wife by letting her think your old father wanted it,
wrote about it?"

"Yes. I had to outwit them some way. I was just free and couldn't
choose. They had no right to cut me out."

"Well, by God, you _are_ a rotter, Rivers." The lines at which
criminals balk are confusing. "And she never guessed?"

"No, she'd never seen Father's writing in letters."

Then Maclin's outraged virtue took a curious turn.

"And you never cared for her after you got her?"

"I might have if she'd been the right sort--but she's as hard as flint,
Maclin. A man can't stand her sort and keep his own self-respect."

Maclin indulged in a weak laugh at this and Larry's face burned.

"I might have gone straight if she'd been square, but she wasn't. A
man can't put up with her type. And now--well! She ought to pay now."

Maclin was gripping the loose sheets in his fat, greasy hands.

"Hold on there." Larry pointed. "You're getting them creased and
dirty!"

Again Maclin laughed.

"I'll leave enough copy," he muttered. Then he fixed his little eyes
on his prey while his fat neck wrinkled in the back. His emotion of
virtue flickered and died, he was the alert man of business once more.
"I told you after you got out of prison, Rivers, that I'd never stand
for any more of that counterfeiting stuff. It's too risky, and the
talent can be put to better purpose. I've stood by you, I like you,
and I need you. When we all pony up you'll get your share--I mean when
we build up the Forest, you'll have a fat berth, but you've got to
play a card now for me and play it damn quick. Here, take this gem of
yours"--he tossed Larry's latest production to him--"and go to your
wife to-morrow, and tell her why your old man stood by you; shut her
mouth with that choice bit and then tell her--you want the Point!
You've got her cornered, Rivers. She can't escape. If she tries to,
hurl Northrup at her."

Larry wiped his lips with his hot hand.

"I haven't quite finished this," he muttered; "it will take a day or
two."

"Rivers, if you try any funny work on me----" Maclin looked dangerous.
He felt the fear that comes from not trusting those he must use.

"I'm not going to double-cross you, Maclin."

"Here, take a nifter." Maclin pushed the bottle toward Rivers. "You
look all in," he ventured.

"I am, just about."

"Well, after this piece of business, I'll send you off for as long as
you want to stay. You need a change."

Larry revived after a moment or two and some colour crept into his
cheeks.

"I'm going now," Maclin said, getting up and releasing the tools of
Larry's trade. "Better get a good night's rest and be fresh for
to-morrow. A day or so won't count, so long as we understand the game.
Good-night!"

Outside in the darkness Maclin stood still and listened. His iron
nerves were shaken and he had his moment of far vision. If he
succeeded--well! at that thought Maclin felt his blood run riotously
in his veins. Glory! Glory! His name ringing out into fame.

But!--the cold sweat broke over the fat man standing in the dark.
Still, he would not have been the man he was if he permitted doubt to
linger. He _must_ succeed. Right was back of him; with him. Unyielding
Right. It must succeed.

Maclin strode on, picking his way over the ash heaps and broken
bottles. A pale moon was trying to make itself evident, but piles of
black clouds defeated it at every attempt. The wind was changing.
From afar the chapel bell struck its warning. It rang wildly,
gleefully, then sank into silence only to begin once more. Seeking,
seeking a quarter in which it might rest.

Maclin, head down, plunged into the night and reached the road to the
mines. He saw to it that the road was so bad that no one would use it
except from necessity, but he cursed it now. He all but fell several
times, he thanked God--God indeed!--when the lights of the Cosey Bar
came in sight.

He did not often drink of his public whiskey, or drink with his
foreigners, but he chose to do so to-night. His men welcomed him
thickly--they had been wallowing in beer for hours; the man at the bar
drew forth a bottle of whiskey--he knew Maclin rarely drank beer.

An hour later, Maclin, master of the place and the men, was talking
slowly, encouragingly, in a tongue that they all understood. Their
dull eyes brightened; their heavy faces twitched under excitement that
amounted to inspiration. Now and again they raised their mugs aloft
and muttered something that sounded strangely like prayer.

Dominated by a man and an emotion they were, not the drudging machines
of the mines, but a vital force ready for action.



CHAPTER XIII


Northrup decided to turn back at once to his own place in life after
that revealing afternoon with Mary-Clare. He was not in any sense
deceived by conditions. He had, after twenty-four hours, been able to
classify the situation and reduce it to its proper proportions. As it
stood, it had, he acknowledged, been saved by the rare and unusual
qualities of Mary-Clare. But it could not bear the stress and strain
of repeated tests. Unless he meant to be a fool and fill his future
with remorse, for he was decent and sane, he could do nothing but go
away and let the incidents of King's Forest bear sanctifying fruits,
not draughts of wormwood.

Something rather big had happened to him--he must not permit it to
become small. He recalled Mary-Clare's words and face and a great
tenderness swept over him.

"Poor little girl," he thought, "part of a commonplace, dingy tragedy.
What is there for her? But what could I have done for her, in God's
name, to better her lot? She saw it clear enough."

No, there was nothing to do but turn his back on the whole thing and
go home! Shorn of the spiritual and uplifting qualities, the situation
was bald and dangerous. He must be practical and wise, but deciding to
leave and actually leaving were different matters.

The weather jeered at him by its glorious warmth and colour. It _held_
day after day with occasional sharp storms that ended in greater
beauty. The thought of the city made Northrup shudder. He tried to
work: it was still warm enough in the deserted chapel to write, but he
knew that he was accomplishing nothing. There was a gap in the
story--the woman part. Every time Northrup came to that he felt as if
he were laying a wet cloth over the soft clay until he had time
finally to mould it. And he kept from any chance of meeting
Mary-Clare.

"I'll wait until this marvellous spell of weather breaks," he
compromised with his lesser--or better--self. "Then I'll beat it!"

Looking to this he asked Uncle Peter what the chances were of a cold
spell.

"There was a time"--Peter sniffed the air. He was husking golden corn
by the kitchen fire--"when I could calculate about the weather, but
since the weather man has got to meddling he's messed things
considerable. He's put in the Middle States, and what-not, until it's
like doing subtraction and division--and by that time the change of
weather is on you."

Northrup laughed.

"Well," he said, getting up and stretching, "I think I'll take a turn
before I go to bed. Bank the fire, Uncle Peter; I may prowl late."

Heathcote asked no questions, but those prowls of Northrup's were
putting his simple faith to severe tests. Peter was above gossip, but
when it swirled too near him he was bound to watch out.

"All right, son," he muttered, and ran his hand through his bristling
hair.

The night was a dark one. A soft darkness it was, that held no wind
and only a hint of frost. Stepping quickly along the edge of the lake,
Northrup felt that he was being absorbed by the still shadows and the
sensation pleased and comforted him. He was not aware of thought, but
thought was taking him into control, as the night was. There would be
moments of seeming blank and then a conclusion! A vivid, final
conclusion. Of course Mary-Clare occupied these moments of seeming
mental inaction. Northrup now wanted to set her free from--what?

"That young beast of a husband!" So much for that conclusion. If the
end had come between him and Mary-Clare, Northrup wondered if he could
free her from Rivers.

"What for?"

This brought a hurtling mass of conclusions.

"No man has a right to get a stranglehold on a woman. If she has, as
the old darkey said, lost her taste for him, why in thunder should he
want to cram himself down her throat?"

This was more common sense than moral or legal, and Northrup bent his
head and plunged along. He walked on, believing that he was master of
his soul and his actions at last, while, in reality, he was but part
of the Scheme of Things and was acting under orders.

Presently, he imagined that he had decided all along to go to the
Point and have a talk with Twombley. So he kept straight ahead.

Twombley delighted his idle hours. The man, apparently, never went to
bed until daylight, and his quaint unmorality was as diverting as that
of an impish boy.

"Now, sir," he had confided to Northrup at a recent meeting, "there's
Peneluna Sniff. Good cook; good manager. I held off while she played
up to old Sniff, women _are_ curious! But now that woman ought to be
utilized legitimate-like. She's running to waste and throwing away her
talents on that young Rivers as is giving this here Point the creeps.
Peneluna and me together could find things out!"

Northrup, hurrying on, believed there was no better way to drive off
the blue devils that were torturing him than to pass the evening with
Twombley.

Just then he heard quick, light footsteps coming toward him. He hid
behind some bushes by the path and waited.

The oncomer was Larry Rivers on his way from the Point. His hat was
pulled down over his face and his hands were plunged in his pockets. A
lighted cigar in his mouth illumined his features--Larry rarely needed
his hands to manipulate his cigar; a shift seemed to be all that was
essential, until the ashes fell and the cigar was almost finished.

Larry walked on, and when he was beyond sound Northrup proceeded on
his way.

The Point seemed wrapped in decent slumber. A light frankly burned in
Twombley's hovel, but for the rest, darkness!

Oddly enough, Northrup passed Twombley's place without halting, and
presently found himself nearing Rivers's. This did not surprise him.
He had quite forgotten his plan.

It was seeing Larry that had suggested this new move, probably; at any
rate, Northrup was curiously interested in the fact that Larry was
headed away from the Point and toward the yellow house.

The loose rubbish and garbage presently got into Northrup's
consciousness and made him think, as they always did, of Maclin's
determination to get possession of the ugly place.

"It is the very devil!" he muttered, almost tumbling over a smelly
pile. "What's that?" He crouched in the darkness. His eyes were so
accustomed to the gloom now that he saw quite distinctly the door of
Peneluna's shack open, close softly, and someone tiptoeing toward
Rivers's shanty. Keeping at a distance, Northrup followed and when he
was about twenty feet behind the other prowler, he saw that it was
Jan-an and that she was cautiously going from window to window of
Larry's empty house, peeping, listening, and then finally muttering
and whimpering.

"Well, what in thunder!" Northrup decided to investigate but keep
silent as long as he could.

A baby in the distance broke into a cry; a man's rough voice stilled
it with a threat and then all was quiet once more.

The next thing that occurred was the amazing sight of Jan-an nimbly
climbing into the window of Larry's kitchen! Jan-an had either pried
the sash up or Larry had been careless. Northrup went up to the house
and listened. Jan-an was moving rapidly about inside and presently she
lighted a lamp, and through the slit between the shade and the window
ledge Northrup could watch the girl's movements.

Jan-an wore an old coat, a man's, over a coarse nightgown; her hair
straggled down her back; her vacant face was twitching and worried,
but a decent kind of dignity touched it, too. She was bent upon a
definite course, but was confused and uncertain as to details.

Over the papers scattered on the table Jan-an bent like a hungry beast
of prey. Her long fingers clutched the loose sheets; her devouring
eyes scanned them, compared them with others, while over and again a
muttered curse escaped the girl's lips.

Northrup took a big chance. He went to the door and tapped.

He heard a quick, frightened move toward the window--Jan-an was
escaping as she had entered. As the sash was raised, Northrup was
close to the window and the girl reeled back as she saw him.

"Jan-an," he said quietly, controllingly, "let me in. You can trust
me. Let me in."

Poor Jan-an was in sore need of someone in whom she might trust and
she could not afford to waste time. She raised the sash again, climbed
in, and then opened the door. Northrup entered and locked the door
after him.

"Now, then," he said, sitting opposite to the girl who dropped, rather
than seated herself, in her old place. "Jan-an, what are you up to?"

To his surprise, the girl burst into tears.

"My God," she moaned, "what did I have feelin's for--and no sense? I
can't read!" she blurted. "I can't read."

This was puzzling, but Northrup saw that the girl had confidence in
him--a desperate, unknowing confidence that had grown slowly.

"Why do you want to read, Jan-an?" he asked in a low, kindly tone.

"I know you ain't his friend, are you?" The wet, pitiful face was
lifted. Old fears and distrust rose grimly.

"Whose?"

"Maclin's, ole divil-man Maclin?"

"Certainly not! You know better than to ask that, Jan-an."

"Nor his--Larry Rivers?"

"No, I am not his friend."

Thus reassured once more, Jan-an ventured nearer:

"You don't aim to hurt--her?"

"Whom do you mean?" Northrup was perplexed by the growing intelligence
in the face across the table. It was like a slow revealing of a
groping power.

"I mean them--Mary-Clare and Noreen."

"Hurt them? Why, Jan-an, I'd do anything to help them, make them safe
and happy." Northrup felt as if he and the girl opposite were rapidly
becoming accomplices in a tense plot. "What does all this mean?"

"As God seeing yer, yer mean that?" Jan-an leaned forward.

"God seeing me! Yes, Jan-an."

"Yer ain't hanging around her to do her--dirt?"

"Good Lord, no!" Northrup recoiled. Apparently new anxiety was
overcoming the girl.

Then, by a sudden dash, Jan-an swept the untidy mass of papers over to
him; she abdicated her last stronghold.

"What's them?" she demanded huskily. Northrup brought the smelly
kerosene lamp nearer and as he read he was conscious of Jan-an's
mutterings.

"Stealing her letters--what is letters, anyway? And I've counted and
watched--he's took one to her to-night. Just one. One he has made.
Writing day in and out--tearing up writing--sneaking and lying. God!
And new letters looking like old ones, till I'm fair crazy."

For a few moments Northrup lost the sound of Jan-an's guttural
whimpers, then he caught the words:

"And her crying and wanting the letters. Just letters!" Northrup again
became absorbed.

He placed certain old sheets on one side of the table; newer sheets on
the other; some half sheets in the middle. It was like an intricate
puzzle, and the same one that Maclin had recently tackled.

That he was meddling with another's property and reading another's
letters did not seem to occur to Northrup. He was held by a determined
force that was driving him on and an intense interest that justified
any means at his disposal.

"Some day I will read my old doctor's letters to you--I have kept them
all!"

Northrup looked up. Almost he believed Jan-an had voiced the words,
but they had been spoken days ago by Mary-Clare during one of those
illuminating talks of theirs and here _were_ some old letters of the
doctor's. Were these Mary-Clare's letters? Why were they here and in
this state?

Suddenly Northrup's face stiffened. The old, yellowed letters were,
apparently, from Doctor Rivers to his son! But there were other
letters on bits of fresh paper, the handwriting identical, or nearly
so. Northrup's more intelligent eye saw differences. The more recent
letters were, evidently, exercises; one improved on the other; in some
cases parts of the letters were repeated. All these Northrup sorted
and laid in neat piles.

"She set a store by them old letters," Jan-an was rambling along. "I'd
have taken them back to her, but I 'clar, 'fore God, I don't know
which is which, I'm that cluttered. Why did he want to pest her by
taking them and then making more and more?"

"I'm trying to find out." Northrup spoke almost harshly. He wanted to
quiet the girl.

The last scrap of paper had been torn from an old, greasy bag and bore
clever imitation. It was the last copy, Northrup believed, of what
Jan-an said he had just carried away with him.

Northrup grew hot and cold. He read the words and his brain reeled. It
was an appeal, or supposed to be one, from a dead man to one whom he
trusted in a last emergency.

"So he's this kind of a scoundrel!" muttered Northrup, dazed by the
blinding shock of the fear that became, moment by moment, more
definite. "And he's taken the thing to her in order to get money."

Northrup could grope along, but he could not see clearly. By
temperament and training he had evolved a peculiar sensitiveness in
relation to inanimate things. If he became receptive and passive,
articles which he handled or fixed his eyes upon often transmitted
messages for him.

So, now, disregarding poor Jan-an, who rambled on, Northrup gazed at
the letters near him, and held close the brown-paper scrap which was,
he believed, the final copy before the finished production which was
undoubtedly being borne to Mary-Clare now. Rivers would have a scene
with his wife in the yellow house. With no one to interfere! Northrup
started affrightedly, then realized that before he could get to the
crossroads whatever was to occur would have occurred.

Larry would return to the shack. There was every evidence that he had
not departed finally. Believing that no one would disturb his place so
late at night he had taken a chance and--been caught by the last
person in the world one would have suspected.

As an unconscious sleuth Jan-an was dramatic. Northrup let his eyes
fall upon the girl with new significance. She had given him the power
to set Mary-Clare free!

Her dull, tear-stained face was turned hopefully to him; her straight,
coarse hair hung limply on her shoulders--the old coat had slipped
away and the ugly nightgown but partly hid the thin, scraggy body.
Lost to all self-consciousness, the poor creature was but an evidence
of faith and devotion to them who had been kind to her. Something of
nobility crowned the girl. Northrup went around to her and pulled the
old coat close under her chin.

"It's all right, Jan-an," he comforted, patting the unkempt head.

"Are them the letters he stole?"

"Some of them, yes, Jan-an."

"Kin I take 'em back to her?"

"Not to-night. I think Rivers will take them back."

"S'pose he won't."

"He will."

"You, you're going to fetch him one?" The instinct of the savage rose
in the girl.

"If necessary, yes!" Northrup shared the primitive instinct at that
moment. "And now you trot along home, my girl, and don't open your
lips to any one."

"And you?"

"I'll wait for Mr. Larry Rivers here!"

"My God!" Jan-an burst forth. Then: "There's a sizable log back of
the stove. Yer can fetch a good one with that."

"Thanks, Jan-an. Go now."

Jan-an rose stiffly and shuffled to the door, unlocked it, and went
into the blackness outside.

Then Northrup sat down and prepared to wait.

The stove was rusty and cold, but Rivers had evidently had a huge fire
on the hearth during the day. Now that he noticed, Northrup saw that
there were scraps of burned paper fluttering like wings of evil omens
stricken in their flight.

He went over to the hearth, poked the ashes, and discovered life. He
laid on wood, slowly feeding the hungry sparks, then he took his old
place by the table, blew out the light of the lamp and in the dark
room, shot by the flares of the igniting logs, he resigned himself to
what lay before.

Rivers might return with Maclin. This was a new possibility and
disconcerting; still it must be met.

"I may kill a flock of birds by one interview," Northrup grimly
thought and then drifted off on Maclin's trail. The ever-recurring
wonder about the Point was intensified; he must leave that still in
doubt.

"I'll get the damned thing in my own control, if I can," he concluded
at length. "Buy it up for safety; keep still about it and watch how
Maclin reacts when he knocks against the fact, eventually. That will
make things safe for the present."

But to own the Point meant to hold on to King's Forest just when he
had decided to turn from it forever--after setting Mary-Clare free.

The sense of a spiritual overlord for an instant daunted Northrup. It
was humiliating to realize how he had been treading, all along, one
course while believing he was going another. And then--it was close
upon midnight and vitality ran sluggish--Northrup became part of one
of those curious mental experiences that go far to prove how narrow
the boundary is that lies between the things we understand and those
that are yet to be understood.

For some moments--or was it hours?--Northrup was not conscious of time
or place; not even conscious of himself as a body; he seemed to be a
condition, over which a contest of emotions swept. He was not asleep.
He recalled later, that he had kept his eyes on the fire; had once
attended to it, casting on a heavy log that dimmed its ferocious
ardour.

Where Jan-an had recently sat, struggling with her doubts and fears,
Mary-Clare seemed to be. And yet it was not so much Mary-Clare,
visually imagined, as that which had gone into the making of the
woman.

The black, fierce night of her birth; her isolated up-bringing with a
man whose mentality had overpowered his wisdom; the contact with Larry
Rivers; the forced marriage and the determined effort to live up to a
bargain made in the dark, endured in the dark. It came to Northrup,
drifting as he was, that a man or woman can go through slime and
torment and really escape harm. The old, fiery furnace legend was
based on an eternal truth; that and the lions' den! It put a new light
on that peculiar quality of Mary-Clare. She had never been burnt or
wounded--not the real woman of her. That explained the maddening thing
about her--her aloofness. What would she be now when she stood alone?
For she was going to stand alone! Then Northrup felt new sensations
driving across that state which really was himself shorn of prejudice
and limitations. His relation to Mary-Clare was changed!

There were primitive forces battling for expression in his lax hour.
Setting the woman free from bondage--what for?

That was the world-old call. Not free for herself, but free that
another might claim her. He, sitting there, wanted her. She had not
altered that by her heroism. Who would help her free herself, for
herself? Who would cut her loose and make no claims? Would it be
possible to help her and not put her under obligation? Could any one
trust a higher Power and go one's way unasking, refusing everything?
Was there such a thing as freedom for a woman when two men were so
welded into her life?

Northrup set his teeth hard together. In the stillness he had his
fight! And just then a shuffling outside brought him back to reality.

Rivers came in, not noticing the unlocked door; he had been drinking.
Northrup's eyes, accustomed to the gloom, marked his unsteady gait;
smiled as Larry, unconscious of his presence, sank into a chair--the
one in which Jan-an had sat--reached out toward the lamp, struck a
match, lighted the wick and then, appalled, fixed his eyes upon
Northrup!



CHAPTER XIV


"Hello, Rivers! I'm something of a surprise, eh?"

"Hell!" The word escaped Rivers as might a cry that followed a
stunning blow.

A guilty person, taken by surprise, always imagines the worst. Rivers
knew what he believed the man before him knew, he also believed much
that Maclin had insinuated, or stated as fact, and he was thoroughly
frightened and at a disadvantage.

His nerve was shattered by the recent interview with Mary-Clare; the
earlier one with Maclin. Drink was befuddling him. It was like being
in quicksand. He dared not move, but he felt himself sinking.

"Oh! don't take it too seriously, Rivers." Northrup felt a decent
sympathy for the fellow across the table; his fear was agonizing. "We
might as well get to an understanding without a preamble. I reckon
there are a lot of things we can pass over while we tackle the main
job."

"You damned----" Larry spluttered the words, but Northrup raised his
hand as if staying further waste of time. He hated to take too great
an advantage of a caged man.

"Of course, Rivers," he said, "I wouldn't have broken into your house
and read your letters if there wasn't something rather big-sized at
stake. So do not switch off on a siding--let's get through with
this."

The tone and words were like a dash of icy water; Rivers moistened his
lips and sank, mentally, into that position he loathed and yet could
not escape. Someone was again getting control of him. He might writhe
and strain, but he was caught once more--caught! caught!

"In God's name," he whispered, "who are you, anyway? What are you
after?"

"That's what I'm here to tell you, Rivers."

"Go ahead then, go ahead!" Larry again moistened his dry lips--he felt
that he was choking. He was ready to turn state's evidence as soon as
he saw an opportunity. Debonair and clever, crafty and unfaithful,
Larry had but one clear thought--he would not go behind bars again if
one avenue of escape remained open!

Maclin--Maclin's secret business, loomed high, but at that moment
Mary-Clare held no part in his desperate fear.

"What do you want?"

Then, as if falling into his mood, Northrup said calmly:

"First, I want the Point."

Larry's jaw dropped; but he felt convinced that it was Maclin or he
who faced destruction and he meant to let Maclin suffer now as Maclin
had once permitted him to suffer. If there was dirty work at the mines
Maclin should pay. That was justice--Maclin had made a tool of him.

"I don't own the Point." Rivers heard his own voice as if from a
distance. He had Mary-Clare's word that she would help him; the letter
had done its overpowering work, but he had left confession and detail
until later. Mary-Clare had pleaded for time, and he had come from her
with his business unsettled.

"I think after we've finished with our talk you can prevail upon your
wife to sell the Point to me and say nothing about it."

Rivers clutched the edge of the table. To his inflamed brain Northrup
seemed to know all and everything--he dared not haggle.

"Who are you?" he repeated stammeringly. "What right have you to break
into my place and read my papers? All I want to know is, what right
have you? I cannot be expected to--to come to terms unless I know
that. I should think you might see that." The bravado was so pitiful
and weak that Northrup barely repressed a laugh.

"I don't want to turn the screws, Rivers," he said; "and of course you
have a right to an answer to your question. I want the Point because I
don't want Maclin to have it. Why he wants it, I'll find out after.
I'm illegally demanding things from you, but there are times when I
believe such a course is justifiable in order to save everybody
trouble. You could kick me out, or try to, but you won't. You could
have the law on me--but I don't believe you will want it. Of course
you know that _I_ know pretty well what I am about or I would not put
myself in your power. So let's cut out the theatricals. Rivers, this
Maclin isn't any good. Just how rotten he is can be decided later.
He's making a fool of you and you'll get a fool's pay. You know this.
I'm going to help you, Rivers, if I can. You need all the time there
is for--getting away!"

Larry's face was livid. He was prepared to betray Maclin, but the old
power held him captive.

"I dare not!" he groaned.

"Oh! yes, you dare. Brace up, Rivers. There is more than one way to
tackle a bad job." Then, so suddenly that it took Rivers's breath,
Northrup swept everything from sight by asking calmly: "What did you
do with that letter you manufactured?"

So utterly unexpected was this attack, so completely aside from what
seemed to be at stake, that Rivers concluded everything was known;
that the very secrets of his innermost thoughts were in this man's
knowledge. The quicksands all but engulfed him. With unblinking eyes
he regarded Northrup as though hypnotized.

"I took it to her," he gasped.

"Your wife?"

"Yes."

"She does not suspect?"

"No."

"What did your wife say when she read the letter?"

"She's going to help me out."

"I see. All right, you're going to tell her that you want the Point
and then you're going to sell it to me. Heathcote can fix this up in a
few days--the money I pay you will get you out of Maclin's reach. If
he makes a break for you, I'll grab him. I guess he's susceptible to
scare, too, if the truth were known."

"My God! I want a drink." Larry looked as if he did; he rose and
reeled over to the closet.

Northrup regarded his man closely and his fingers reached out and drew
the scattered papers nearer.

"Take only enough to stiffen you up, a swallow or two, Rivers."

Larry obeyed mechanically and when he returned to his chair he was
firmer.

"Rivers, I'm going to give you a chance by way of the only decent
course open to you--or to me. God knows, it's smudgy enough at the
best and crooked, but it's all I can muster. I don't expect you to
understand me, or my motives--I'm going to talk as man to man,
stripped bare. In the future you can work it out any way you're able
to. What I want at the present is to clear the rubbish away that's
cluttering the soul of a woman. That's enough and you can draw what
damned conclusions you want to."

There was an ugly gleam in Larry's eyes. Men stripped bare show
brutish traits, but he felt the straps that were binding him close.

"Go on!" he growled.

"You are to get your wife to give you this Point, Rivers. She may not
want to, but you must force her a bit there by confessing to her the
whole damned truth from start to finish about--these!"

Both men looked at the mass of papers.

"What all these things represent, you know." Larry did not move; he
believed that Northrup knew, too. Knew of that year back in the past
when his trick had been his ruin. "And your simply getting out of
sight won't do. Your wife has got to be free--free, do you understand?
So long as she doesn't know the truth she'd have pity for you--women
are like that--she's going to know all there is to know, and then
she'll fling you off!"

In the hidden depths of Rivers's nature there heaved and roared
something that, had Northrup not held the reins, would have meant
battle to the death. It was not outraged honour, love, or justice that
blinded and deafened Larry; it was simply the brutish resentment of
the savage who, bound and gagged, watches a strong foe take all that
he had believed was his by right of conquest. At that moment he hated
Mary-Clare as he hated Northrup.

"You damned scoundrel!" he gasped. "And if I do what you suggest, what
then?" He meant to force Northrup as far as he dared.

A look that Rivers was never to forget spread over Northrup's face; it
was the look of one who had lived through experiences he knew he could
not make clear. The impossibility of making Rivers comprehend him
presently overcame Northrup. He spread his hands wide and said
hopelessly:

"Nothing!"

"Like hell, nothing!" Larry was desperate and brutal. Under all his
bravado rang the note of defeat; terror, and a barren hope of escape
that he loathed while he clung to it. "I don't know what Maclin's game
is--I've played fair. Whatever you've got on him can't touch me, when
the truth's out." Rivers was breathing hard; the sweat stood on his
forehead. "But when it comes to selling your wife for hush money----"

"Stop that!" Northrup's face was livid. He wanted to throttle Rivers
but he could not shake off the feeling of pity for the man he had so
tragically in his grip.

There was a heavy pause. It seemed weighted with tangible things.
Hate; pity; distrust; helpless truth. They became alive and
fluttering. Then truth alone was supreme.

"I told you, Rivers, that I knew you couldn't believe me--you
cannot. Partly this is due to life, as we men know it; partly to
your interpretation of it, but at least I owe it to you and myself to
speak the truth and let truth take care of itself. By the code that
is current in the world, I might claim all that you believe I am
after, for I think your wife might learn to love me--I know I love
her. If I set her free from you, permit her to see you as you are, in
her shock and relief she might turn to me and I might take her and,
God helping me, make a safe place for her; give her what her
hungry soul craves, and still feel myself a good sort. That would
be the common story--the thing that might once have happened. But,
Rivers, you don't know me and you don't know--your wife. I've only
caught the glimmer of her, but that has caused me to grow--humble.
She's got to be free, because that is justice, and you and I must
give it to her. When you free her--it's up to me not to cage her!"
Northrup found expression difficult--it all sounded so utterly
hopeless with that doubting, sneering face confronting him; and
his late distrust of himself--menacing.

"Besides, your wife has her own ideals. That's hard for us men to
understand. Ideals quite detached from us; from all that we might like
to believe is good for us. I have my own life, Rivers. Frankly, I was
tempted to turn my back on it and with courage set sail for a new
port. I had contemplated that, but I'm going back to it and, by God's
help, live it!"

And now Northrup's face twitched. He waited a moment and then went
hopelessly on:

"What the future holds--who knows? Life is a thundering big thing,
Rivers, if we play it square, and I'm going to play it square as it's
given me to see it. You don't believe me?" Almost a wistfulness rang
in the words. Larry leaned back and laughed a hollow, ugly laugh.

"Believe you?" he said. "Hell, no!"

"I thought you couldn't." Northrup got up.

Around the edges of the lowered shades, a gray, drear light gave
warning of coming day. The effect of Larry's last drink was wearing
off--he looked near the breaking point.

"Rivers, I'll make a pact with you. Set your wife free--in my way. If
you do that, I'll leave the place; never see her again unless a higher
power than yours or mine decrees otherwise in the years on ahead. Take
your last chance, man, to do the only decent thing left you to do:
start afresh somewhere else. Forget it all. I know this sounds
devilish easy and I know it's devilish hard, but"--and here the iron
was driven into Rivers's consciousness--"either you or I set
Mary-Clare free before"--he hesitated; he wanted to give all that he
humanly could--"before another forty-eight hours."

Larry felt the cold perspiration start on his forehead; his stomach
grew sick.

Faint and fear-filled, he seemed to feel Maclin after him; Mary-Clare
confronting him, smileless, terrifying. On the other hand he saw
freedom; money; a place in which he could breathe, once more, with
Maclin's hands off his throat and Mary-Clare's coldness forgotten.

"I'll go to her; I'll do your hell-work, but give me another day." He
gritted his teeth.

"Rivers, this is Tuesday. On Friday you must be gone, and remember
this: I've got it in my power to set your wife free and imprison you
and I'll not hesitate to do it if you try any tricks. I'd advise you
to keep clear of Maclin and leave whiskey alone. You'll need all the
power of concentration you can summon." Then Northrup turned to the
table and gathered up the scattered papers.

"What----" Larry put out a trembling hand.

"I'll take charge of these," Northrup said. "I am going to give them
to the Heathcotes. They'll keep them with the other papers belonging
to your wife."

"Curse you!"

"Good morning, Rivers! I mean it, good morning! You won't believe this
either, but it's so. For the sake of your wife and your little girl, I
wish you well. When you send word to the inn that you are ready for
the business deal I'll have the money for you."

Then Northrup opened the door and stepped out into the chill light of
the coming day. He shivered and stumbled over a mass of rubbish. A
clock struck in a quiet house.

"Five o'clock," counted Northrup, and plunging his hands in his
pockets he made his way to Twombley's shack.



CHAPTER XV


Kathryn Morris had her plans completed, and if the truth were known
she had never felt better pleased with herself--and she was not
utterly depraved, either.

She was far more the primitive female than was Mary-Clare. She was
simply claiming what she devoutly believed was her own; reclaiming it,
rather, for she sagely concluded that on this runaway trip Northrup
was in great danger and only the faith and love of a good woman could
save him! Kathryn believed herself good and noble.

Mary-Clare had her Place in which she had been fed through many
lonely, yearning years, but Kathryn had no such sanctuary. The
dwelling-places of her fellow creatures were good enough for her and
she never questioned the codes that governed them--though sometimes
she evaded them!

After her talk with Helen Northrup, Kathryn did a deal of thinking,
but she moved cautiously. She had never forgotten the address on
Northrup's letter to his mother and she believed he was still there.
She again looked up road maps, located King's Forest, and made some
clever calculations. She could go in the motor. The autumn was just
the time for such a trip. It would be easy to satisfy her aunt,
Kathryn very well knew. The mere statement that she was going to meet
Northrup and return with him would account for everything and relieve
the situation existing at present with Sandy Arnold in daily evidence.
"And if Brace is not playing in some messy puddle in his old Forest, I
can get on his trail from there," she reasoned secretly.

But, for some uncanny cause, Kathryn was confident that Northrup _was_
at his first address. It was so like him to creep into a hole and be
very dramatic and secretive. It was his temperament, Kathryn felt,
and she steeled herself against him.

On the morning that Northrup staggered over the rubbish of Hunter's
Point toward Twombley's, Kathryn took her place in her limousine--her
nice little travelling bag at her feet--and viewed with complacency
the back of her Japanese chauffeur who had absorbed and digested all
her directions and would be, henceforth, a well-oiled, safe-running
part of the machinery, without curiosity or opinions.

They stopped for luncheon at a comfortable road-house, rested for an
hour, and then went on. It was mid-afternoon when the yellow house at
the crossroads made its appeal to be questioned.

"I'll run in and ask the way," Kathryn explained, and slowly went up
to the door that once opened so humorously to Northrup's touch. Again
the door responded, and a bit startled, Kathryn found herself in the
presence of a dull-faced girl seated by the table apparently doing
nothing.

"I beg your pardon. Really, I did knock--the door just opened."
Kathryn was confused and stepped back.

In all her dun-coloured life Jan-an had never seen anything so
wonderful as the girl on the doorstep. She was not at all sure but
that she was one of Noreen's fiction creatures. There was a story that
Northrup had told Noreen about Eve's Other Children, and for an
instant Jan-an estimated the likelihood of the stranger being one--she
wasn't altogether wrong, either!

"What you want?" she asked cautiously. Jan-an was, as she put it, "all
skew-y," for the work of the evening before had brought her to a more
confused state than usual.

The world was widening--she included Northrup now in her circle of
protection and she wasn't sure what Eve's Other Children were capable
of doing.

"I want to find out the way to the inn, Heathcote Inn." Kathryn smiled
alluringly.

"Why don't you look at the sign?" There was witchery about that sign,
certainly.

"I did not see the sign. Please excuse me." Then, "Do you happen to
know if there is a Mr. Northrup at the inn?"

"He sleeps there!" Jan-an looked stupid but honest. "Days, he takes to
the woods."

Jan-an meant, as soon as the unearthly visitor departed, to find
Northrup and give the alarm. Kathryn thanked the girl sweetly and
returned to her car. As she did so she saw the sign-board as Northrup
had before her, and felt a bit foolish, but she also recalled that
Northrup might be in the woods!

"You may go on to the inn," she said to her man, "and make arrangements.
I am going to remain over night and start back early to-morrow
morning. Explain that I am walking and will be there shortly."

The quiet man at the door of the car touched his cap and took his
place at the wheel.

This was to Kathryn a thrilling adventure. The silence and beauty were
as novel as any experience she had ever known, and her pulses
quickened. The solitude of the woods was not restful to her, but it
stimulated every sense. The leaves were dropping from the trees; the
sunlight slanted through the lacy boughs in exquisite design, and the
sky was as blue as midsummer. There was a smell of wood smoke in the
crisp air; the feel of the sweet leaves, underfoot, was delightful.
Kathryn "scruffed" along, unmindful of her high heels and thin silk
stockings. She did not know that she _could_ be so excited.

She crossed the road and turned to the hill. An impish impulse swayed
her. If she came upon Northrup! Well, how romantic and thrilling it
would be! She fancied his surprise; his----Here she paused. Would it
be joy or consternation that would betray Northrup?

Now, as it happened, Mary-Clare had given her morning up to the
business of the Point and she was worn and super-sensitive. An
underlying sense of hurry was upon her. When she had done all that she
could do, she meant to go to her Place and lay her tired soul open to
the influence that flooded the quiet sanctuary. All day this had
sustained her. She would leave Noreen at the inn; send Jan-an back
there, and would, after her hour in the cabin, seek Larry out and give
him what he asked--the Point.

Through the hours at the inn she had feared Northrup's appearance, but
when she learned that he had been away all night, she feared _for_
him. Her uneventful days seemed gone forever, and yet Mary-Clare knew
that soon--oh, very soon--there would be to-morrows, just plain
to-morrows running one into another.

She was distressed, too, that Larry was to have the Point. Aunt Polly
had shaken her head over it and remarked that it seemed like dropping
the Pointers into Maclin's mouth. But Peter reassured her.

"I see your side, child," he comforted. "What the old doc said _goes_
with you."

"But it was Larry, not the doctor, as specified the Point," Polly
insisted.

"All right, all right," Peter patted Polly's shoulder. "Have it your
own way, but I see it at _this_ angle. Give Larry what he wants;
Maclin has Larry, anyway, but if he keeps him here where we can watch
what's going on, I'll feel easier. He'll show his hand on the Point,
take my word for it. Larry gallivanting is one thing, Larry with
Twombley and Peneluna, not to mention us all, is another. You let go,
Mary-Clare, and see what happens."

"Well, I hold"--Aunt Polly was curiously stubborn--"that Larry Rivers
don't want that Point any more than a toad wants a pocket."

"All right, all right!" Peter grew red and his hair sprang up. "Put it
as you choose. This may bring things to a head. I swear the whole
world is like a throbbing and thundering boil--it's got to bust, the
world and King's Forest. I say, then, let 'em bust and have done with
it."

At four o'clock the business of the day was over and Mary-Clare was
ready to start. Then Noreen, with the perversity of children,
complicated matters.

"Motherly, let me go, too," she pleaded.

"Childie, Mother wants to be alone."

"Why for?"

"Because, well, I must think."

"Then let me stay home with Jan-an."

"Dearie, I'm going to send Jan-an back here."

"Why for?"

"Mary-Clare," Peter broke in, "that child is perishing for a
paddling."

Noreen ran to Peter and hugged him.

"You old grifferty-giff!" she whispered, falling into her absurd
jargon, "just gifferting."

Then she went back to her mother and said impishly:

"I know! You don't want me to see my father!" Then, pointing a finger
at Mary-Clare, she demanded: "Why didn't you pick a nice father for me
when you were picking?"

The irrelevancy of the question only added to its staggering effect.
Mary-Clare looked hopelessly at her child.

"I didn't have any choice, Noreen," she said.

"You mean God gave him to you?"

"See here, Noreen"--Polly Heathcote rose to the call--"stop pestering
your mother with silly talk. Come along with me, we'll make a mess of
taffy."

"All right!" Noreen turned joyously to this suggestion, but paused to
add: "If God gave my father to us, I s'pose we must make the best of
it. God knows what He is doing--Jan-an says He even knew what He was
doing when He nearly spoiled her."

With this, Aunt Polly dragged Noreen away and Mary-Clare left the
house haunted by what Noreen had said. Children can weave themselves
into the scheme of life in a vivid manner, and this Noreen had done.
In her dealings with Larry, Mary-Clare knew she must not overlook
Noreen.

Now, if fools rush in where angels fear to tread, surely they often
rush to their undoing. Kathryn followed the trail to the cabin in the
woods, breathlessly and in momentary danger of breaking her ankles,
for she teetered painfully on her French heels and humorously wished
that when the Lord was making hills He had made them all down-grade;
but at last she came in sight of the vine-covered shack and stood
still to consider.

It was characteristic of Kathryn that she never doubted her intuitions
until she was left high and dry by their incapacity to hold her up.

"Ho! ho!" she murmured. "So _this_ is where he burrows? Another
edition of the East Side tenement room where he hid while writing his
abominable book!"

Kathryn went nearer, stepping carefully--Northrup might be inside! No;
the strange room was empty! Kathryn recalled the one visit she had
made to the tenement while Northrup was writing. There had been a
terrible woman with a mop outside the door there who would not let her
pass; who had even cast unpleasant suggestions at her--suggestions
that had made Kathryn's cheeks burn.

She had never told Northrup about that visit; she would not tell him
about this one, either, unless her hand were forced. In case he came
upon her, she saw, vividly, herself in a dramatic act--she would be a
beautiful picture of tender girlhood nestling in his environment, led
to him by sore need and loving intuition.

Kathryn, thus reinforced by her imagination, went boldly in, sat down
by the crude table, smiled at the Bible lying open before her--then
she raised her eyes to Father Damien. The face was familiar and
Kathryn concluded it must be a reproduction of some famous painting of
the Christ!

That, and the Bible, made the girl smile. Temperament was insanity,
nothing less!

Kathryn looked about for evidences of Northrup's craft.

"I suppose he takes his precious stuff away with him. Afraid of fires
or wild beasts."

This latter thought wasn't pleasant and Kathryn turned nervously to
the door. As she did so her arm pushed the Bible aside and there,
disclosed to her ferret glance, were the pages of Northrup's
manuscript, duplicate sheets, that Mary-Clare had been rereading.

"Ho! ho!" Kathryn spread them before her and read greedily--not
sympathetically--but amusedly.

There were references to eyes, hair, expressions; even "mud-stained
breeches." With elbows on the table, daintily gloved hands supporting
her chin, Kathryn read and thought and wove _her_ plot with Northrup's
words, but half understood, lying under her gaze.

Suddenly Kathryn's eyes widened--her ears caught a sound. Never while
she lived was Kathryn Morris to forget her sensations of that moment,
for they were coloured and weighted by events that followed rapidly,
dramatically.

In the doorway stood Mary-Clare, a very embodiment of the girl
described in the pages on the table. The tall, slim, boyish figure in
rough breeches, coat, and cap, was a staggering apparition. The beauty
of the surprised face did not appeal to Kathryn, but she was not for
one instant deceived as to the sex of the person on the threshold, and
her none-too-pure mind made a wild and dangerous leap to a most
unstable point of disadvantage.

The girl in the doorway in some stupefying fashion represented the
"Fight" and the "Puddle" of Northrup's adventure. If Kathryn thought
at all, it was to the effect that she had known from start to finish
the whole miserable business, and she acted upon this unconscious
conclusion with never a doubt in her mind. The two women, in silence,
stared at each other for one of those moments that can never be
measured by rule. During the palpitating silence they were driven
together, while yet separated by a great space.

Kathryn's conclusion drove her on the rocks; Mary-Clare's startled her
into a state of clear vision. She recovered her poise first. She
smiled her perturbing smile; she came in and sat down and said
quietly:

"I was surprised. I am still."

Kathryn felt a wave of moral repugnance rise to her assistance. The
clothes might disguise the real state of affairs--but the voice
betrayed much. This was no crude country girl; here was something
rather more difficult to handle; one need not be pitiful and
condoning; one must not flinch.

"You expected, I suppose, to find Mr. Northrup?"

When Kathryn was deeply moved she spoke out of the corner of her
mouth. It was an unpleasant trick--her lips became hard and twisted.

"Oh! no, I did not, nor anyone else." The name seemed to hurt and
Mary-Clare leaned back. "May I ask who you are?" she said. Mary-Clare
was indignant at she hardly knew what; hurt, too, by what was
steadying her. She knew beyond doubt that the woman near her was one
of Northrup's world!

"I am Miss Morris. I am engaged to be married to Mr. Northrup."

It were better to cut deep while cutting, and Kathryn's nerve was now
set to her task. She unrelentingly eyed her victim. She went on:

"I can see how this must shock you. I sent my car on to the inn. I
wanted a walk and--well! I came upon this place. Fate is such a
strange thing."

Kathryn ran her words along rather wildly. The silence of her
companion, the calm way in which she was regarding her, were having an
unpleasant effect. When Kathryn became aware of her own voice she was
apt to talk too much--she grew confidential.

"Mr. Northrup's mother is ill. She needs him. The way I have known all
this right along is simply a miracle."

How much more Kathryn might have said she was never to know, for
Mary-Clare raised a hand as though to stay the inane torrent.

"What can you possibly mean," she asked, and her eyes darkened, "by
knowing _this_ all along? I do not understand--what have you known?"

Then Kathryn sank in a morass.

"Oh! do be sensible," she said, and her voice was hard and cold. "You
must see I have found you out--why pretend? When a man like Mr.
Northrup leaves home and forgets his duties--does not even write,
buries himself in such a place as this and stays on--what does it
mean? What can it possibly mean?"

Mary-Clare was spared much of what Kathryn was creating because she
was so far away--so far, far away from the true significance of it
all. She was seeing Northrup as Kathryn had never seen him; would
never see him. She realized his danger. It was all so sudden and
revolting. Only recently had she imagined his past, his environment;
she had taken him as a wonderful experience in her barren, sterile
life, but now she considered him as threatened from an unsuspected
source. A natural revulsion from the type that Kathryn Morris
represented for a moment oppressed her, but she dared not think of
that nor of her own right to resent the hateful slurs cast upon her.
She must do what she could for Northrup--do it more or less blindly,
crudely, but she must go as she saw light and was given time.

"You are terribly wrong about--everything." Mary-Clare spoke quietly
but her words cut like bits of hail. "If you are going, as you say, to
be Mr. Northrup's wife, you must try and believe what I am saying now
for your own sake, but more for his."

Kathryn tried to say "Insolence!" but could not; she merely sat back
in her chair and flashed an angry glance that Mary-Clare did not
heed.

"Mr. Northrup is writing a beautiful book. The book is himself. He
does not realize how much it is----"

"Indeed!" Kathryn did utter the one word, then added: "I suppose he's
read it to you?"

"Yes, he has."

"Here, I suppose? By the fire, alone with you?"

"No, under the trees, out there."

Mary-Clare turned and glanced at the pure, open woods. "It is a
beautiful book," she repeated.

"Oh! go on, do! Really this is too utterly ridiculous." Kathryn
laughed impatiently. "We'll take for granted the beauty of the book."

"No, I cannot go on. You would not understand. It does not matter.
What I want you to know is this--he could not do an ugly, low thing.
If you wrong him there, you will never be forgiven, for it would hurt
the soul of him; the part of him that no one--not even you who will be
his wife--has a right to hurt or touch. You must make him _believe_ in
women. Oh! I wish I could make you see--that was the matter with his
beautiful book--I can understand now. He did not know women; but if
you believe what I am saying, all will be right; you can make him know
the truth. I can imagine how you might think wrong--it never occurred
to me before--the woods, the loneliness, all the rest, but, because
everything has been right, it makes him all the finer. You do believe
me! You must! Tell me that you do!"

Mary-Clare was desperate. It was like trying to save someone from a
flood that was carrying him to the rapids. The unreality of the
situation alone made anything possible, but Kathryn suddenly reduced
the matter to the deadly commonplace.

"No, I do not believe you," she said bitterly. "I am a woman of the
world. I hate to say what I must, but there is so little time now, and
there will be no time later on, so you'll have to take what you have
brought upon yourself. This whole thing is pitifully cheap and
ordinary--the only gleam of difference in it is that you are rather
unusual--more dangerous on that account. I simply cannot account for
you, but it doesn't really interest me. When Mr. Northrup writes his
books, he always does what he has done now. It's rather brutal and
cold-blooded but so it is. He has used you--you have been material for
him. If there is nothing worse"--Kathryn flushed here--"it is because
I have come in time. May I ask you now to leave me here in Mr.
Northrup's"--Kathryn sought the proper word--"study?" she said lamely.
"I will rest awhile; try to compose myself. If he comes I will meet
him here. If not, I will go to the inn later."

Kathryn rose. So did Mary-Clare. The two girls faced each other. The
table lay between them, but it seemed the width of the whole world.

"I would have helped you and him, if I could." Mary-Clare's voice
sounded like the "ghost wind" seeking wearily, in a lost way, rest.
"But I see that I cannot. This is not Mr. Northrup's Place--it is
mine. I built it myself--no foot but mine--and now yours--has ever
entered here. I have always come here to--to think; to read. I wonder
if I ever will be able to again, for you have done something very
dreadful to it. You will do it to his life unless God keeps you from
it." Mary-Clare was thinking aloud, taking no heed of her companion.

"How dare you!" Kathryn's face flamed and then turned pale as death.

Mary-Clare was moving toward the door. When she reached it she stood
as a hostess might while a guest departed.

"Please go!" she said simply, but it had the effect of taking Kathryn
by the shoulders and forcing her outside. With flaming face, dyeing
the white anger, she flung herself along. Once outside she turned,
looking cheap and mean for all the trappings of her station in life.

"I want you to understand," she said, "that you are dealing with a
woman of the world, not a sentimental fool."

Mary-Clare inclined her head. She did not speak. She watched her
uninvited guest go down the trail, pass out of sight. Then she went
back to her chair to recover from the shock that had dazed her.

The atmosphere of the little cabin could not long be polluted by so
brief an experience as had just occurred, and presently Mary-Clare was
enfolded by the old comfort and vision.

She could weigh and estimate things now, and this she did bravely,
justly. Like Northrup in Larry's cabin the night before, she became
more a sensitive plate upon which pictures flashed, than a personality
that was thinking and suffering. Such things as had now happened to
her, she knew, happened in books. Always books, books, for Mary-Clare,
and the old doctor's philosophy that gave strength but no assurance.
The actual relation existing between Northrup and herself became a
solid and immovable fact. She had not fully accepted it before;
neither had he. They had played with it as they had the golden hours
that they would not count or measure.

Nothing mattered but the truth. Mary-Clare knew that the wonderful
thing had had no part in her decision as to Larry--others would not
believe that, but she must not be swayed; she knew she had taken her
steps faithfully as she had seen them--she must not stumble now
because of any one, anything.

"It's what you do to love that counts!" Almost fiercely Mary-Clare
grasped this. And in that moment Noreen, Northrup's mother, even Larry
and the girl who had just departed, put in their claim. She must
consider them; they were all part with Northrup and her.

"There is nothing for me to do but wait." Mary-Clare seemed to hear
herself speaking the words. "I can do nothing now but wait. But I will
not fear the Truth."

The bared Truth stood revealed; before it Mary-Clare did not flinch.

"This is what it has all meant. The happiness, the joy, the strange
intensity of common things."

Then Mary-Clare bowed her head upon her folded arms while the warm
sunlight came into the doorway and lay full upon her. She was absorbed
in something too big to comprehend. She felt as if she was being born
into--a woman! The birth-pains were wrenching; she could not grasp
anything beyond them, but she counted every one and gloried in it.

The Big Thing that poor Peneluna had known was claiming Mary-Clare. It
could not be denied; it might be starved but it would not die.

Somewhere, on beyond----

But oh! Mary-Clare was young, young, and her beyond was not the beyond
of Peneluna; or if it were, it lay far, far across a desert stretch.



CHAPTER XVI


Northrup had cast himself upon Twombley's hospitality with the plea of
business. He outlined a programme and demanded silence.

"I'm going to buy this Point," he confided, "and I'm going to go away,
Twombley. I'm going to leave things exactly as they are until--well,
perhaps always. Just consider yourself my superintendent."

Twombley blinked.

"Snatching hot cakes?" he asked. "Spoiling Maclin's meal?"

"Something like that, yes. I don't know what all this means, Twombley,
but I'm going to take no chances. I want to be in a position to hit
square if anything needs hitting. If no one knows that I'm in on this
deal, I'll be better pleased--but I want you to keep me informed."

Twombley nodded.

About noon Northrup departed, but he did not reach the inn until
nearly dark.

Heathcote and Polly had been tremendously agitated by the appearance
of the Morris car and the Japanese. They were in a sad state of
excitement. The vicious circle of unbelievable happenings seemed to be
drawing close.

"I guess I'll put the Chinese"--Peter was not careful as to
particulars--"out in the barn to sleep," he said, but Polly shook her
head.

"No, keep him where you can watch 'im," she cautioned. "There'll be no
sleeping for me while this unchristian business is afoot. Peter, what
do you suppose the creature eats?"

"I ain't studying about that"--Peter shook with nervous laughter--"but
I'm going to chain Ginger up. I've heard these Chinese-ers lean to
animals."

"Nonsense, brother! But do you suppose the young woman what's on her
way here is a female Chinese?"

"The Lord knows!" Peter bristled. "I wish Northrup would fetch up and
handle these items of his. My God! Polly, we have been real soft
toward this young feller. Appearances and our dumb feelings about
folks may have let us all in for some terrible results. Maclin's
keener than us, perhaps."

"Now, brother"--Polly was bustling around--"this is no time to set my
nerves on edge. Here we be; here all this mess is. We best hold
tight."

So Peter and Polly "held tight" while inwardly they feared that King's
Forest was in deadly peril and that they had let the unsuspecting
people in for who could tell--what?

About five o'clock Kathryn came upon the scene. Her late encounter had
left her careless as to her physical appearance; she was a bit
bedraggled and her low shoes and silk hose--a great deal of the latter
showing--were evidences against her respectability.

"I'm Mr. Northrup's fiancée," she explained, and sank into a chair by
the hearth.

Aunt Polly did not know what she meant, but in that she belonged to
Northrup, she must be recognized, and plainly she was not Chinese!

Peter fixed his little, sparkling eyes on his guest and his hair rose
an inch while his face reddened.

"Perhaps you better go to your room," he suggested as he might to a
naughty child. He wanted to get the girl out of his sight and he hated
to see Polly waiting upon her. Kathryn detected the tone and it roused
her. No man ever made an escape from Kathryn when he used that note!
Her eyes filled with tears; her lips quivered.

"Mr. Northrup's mother is dying," she faltered; a shade more or less
did not count now--"help me to be brave and calm for his sake. Please
be my friend as you have been his!"

This was a wild guess but it served its purpose. Peter felt like a
brute and Aunt Polly was all a-tremble.

"Dear me!" she said, hovering over the girl, "somehow we never thought
about Brace's folks and all that. Just you come upstairs and rest and
wash. I'll fetch you some nice hot tea. It's terrible--his mother
dying--and you having to break it to him." Polly led Kathryn away and
Peter sat wretchedly alone.

When Polly returned he was properly contrite and set to work assisting
with the evening meal. Polly was silent for the most part, but she was
deeply concerned.

"She says she's going to marry Brace," she confided.

"Well, I reckon if she says she is, she is!" Peter grunted. "She looks
capable of doing it."

"Peter, you mustn't be hard."

"I hope to the Lord I can be hard." Peter looked grim. "It's being
soft and easy as has laid us open to--what?"

"Peter, you give me the creeps."

Peter and Polly were in the kitchen when Kathryn came downstairs. She
had had a bath and a nap. She had resorted to her toilet aids and she
looked pathetically lovely as she crouched by the hearth in the empty
room and waited for Northrup's return. Every gesture she made bespoke
the sweet clinging woman bent on mercy's task.

She again saw herself in a dramatic scene. Northrup would open the
door--that one! Kathryn fixed her eyes on the middle door--he would
look at her--reel back; call her name, and she would rush to him, fall
in his arms; then control herself, lead him to the fire and break the
sad news to him gently, sweetly. He would kneel at her feet, bury his
face in her lap----

But while Kathryn was mentally rehearsing this and thrilling at the
success of her wonderful intuitions, Northrup was striding along the
road toward the inn, his head bent forward, his hands in his pockets.
He was feeling rather the worse for wear; the consequences of his
deeds and promises were hurtling about him like tangible, bruising
things.

He was never to see Mary-Clare again! That had sounded fine and noble
when it meant her freedom from Larry Rivers, but what a beastly thing
it seemed, viewed from Mary-Clare's side. What would she think of
him? After those hours of understanding--those hours weighted with
happiness and delight that neither of them dared to call by their true
names, so beautiful and fragile were they! Those hours had been like
bubbles in which all that was _real_ was reflected. They had breathed
upon them, watched them, but had not touched them frankly. And
now----

How ugly and ordinary it would all seem if he left without one last
word!

The past few weeks might become a memory that would enrich and ennoble
all the years on ahead or they might, through wrong interpretation,
embitter and corrode.

Northrup was prepared to make any sacrifice for Mary-Clare; he had
achieved that much, but he chafed at the injustice to his best motives
if he carried out, literally, what he had promised. He was face to
face with one of those critical crises where simple right seemed
inadequate to deal with complex wrong.

To leave Mary-Clare free to live whatever life held for her, without
bitterness or regret, was all he asked. As for himself, Northrup had
agreed to go back--he thought, as he plunged along, in Manly's
terms--to his slit in the wall and keep valiantly to it in the future.
But he, no matter what occurred, would always have a wider, purer
vision; while Mary-Clare, the one who had made this possible,
would----Oh! it was an unbearable thought.

And just then a rustling in the bushes by the road brought him to a
standstill.

"Who's that?" he asked roughly.

Jan-an came from behind a clump of sumach. A black shawl over her head
and falling to her feet made her seem part of the darkness. Northrup
turned his flashlight upon her and only her vague white face was
visible.

"What's up?" he asked, as Jan-an came nearer. The girl no longer
repelled him--he had seen behind her mask, had known her faithfulness
and devotion to them he must leave forever. Northrup was still young
enough to believe in that word--forever.

Jan-an came close.

"Say, there's a queer lot to the inn. They're after you!"

Northrup started.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"A toot cart with an image setting up the front--and a dressy piece in
the glass cage behind."

So vivid was the picture that Jan-an portrayed that Northrup did not
need to question.

"Lord! but she was togged out," Jan-an went on, "but seemed like I
felt she had black wings hid underneath." Poor Jan-an's flights of
fancy always left her muddled. "If you want that I should tell her
anything while you light out----"

Northrup laughed.

"There, there, Jan-an," he comforted. "Why, this is all right. You
wanted me to know, in case--oh! but you're a good sort! But see
here, everything is safe and sound and"--Northrup paused, then
suddenly--"to-morrow, Jan-an, I want you to go to--to Mary-Clare and
tell her I left--good-bye for her and Noreen."

"Yer--yer going away?" Jan-an writhed under the flashlight.

"Yes, Jan-an."

"Why----" The girl burst into tears. Northrup tried to comfort her.
"I've been so stirred," the girl sobbed. "I had feelin's----"

"So have I, Jan-an. So have I."

They stood in the dark for a moment and then, because there was
nothing more to say--Northrup went to meet Kathryn Morris.

He went in at one of the end doors, not the middle one, and so
disturbed Kathryn's stage setting. He opened and closed the door so
quietly, walked over to the fire so rapidly, that to rise and carry
out her programme was out of the question, so Kathryn remained on the
hearth and Northrup dropped into the chair beside her.

"Well, little girl," he said--people always lowered their voices when
speaking to Kathryn--"what is it?"

Northrup was braced for bad news. Of course Manly had given his
address to Kathryn--it was something beyond the realm of letters and
telegrams that had occurred; Kathryn had been sent! That Manly was not
prime mover in this matter could not occur to Northrup.

"Is it Mother?" he whispered.

Kathryn nodded and her easy tears fell.

"Dead?" The word cut like a knife and Kathryn shivered. For the first
she doubted herself; felt like a bungler.

"Oh! no, Brace; Brace, do not look like that--really--really--listen
to me."

Northrup breathed heavily.

"An accident?" he demanded. A hard note rang in his words. This turn
of affairs was rather more than Kathryn had arranged for. It was like
finding herself on the professional stage when she had bargained for
an amateur performance.

She ran to cover, abandoning all her well-laid plans. She knew the
advantage of being the first in a new situation, so she hurried
there.

"Brace dear, I--you know I have been bearing it all alone and I dared
_not_ take any further responsibility even to--to shield you, dearest,
and your work."

By some dark magic Northrup felt himself a selfish brute; a deserter
of duty.

"Kathryn," he said, and his eyes fell, "please tell me. I suppose I
have been unforgivable, but--well, there's nothing to say!" Northrup
bowed his head to take whatever blow might fall.

"I may be all wrong, dear. You know, when one is alone, is the
confidante of another, one as precious as your mother is to you and
me, it unnerves one--I did not know what to do. It may not be
anything--but how could I know?"

"You went to Manly?" Northrup asked this with a sense of relief while
at the same time Kathryn had risen to a plane so high that he felt
humbled before her. He was still dazed and in the dark, but all was
not lost!

While he had been following his selfish ends, Kathryn had stood guard
over all that was sacred to him. He had never before realized the
strength and purpose of the pretty child near him. He reached out and
laid his hand on the bowed head.

"No, dear, that was it. Your mother would not let me--she thought only
of you; you must not be worried, just now--oh! you know how she is!
But, dearest, she has had, for years, a strange and dreadful pain. It
does not come often, but when it does, it is very, very bad--it comes
mostly at night--so she has been able to hide it from you; the day
following she always spoke of it as a headache--you know how we have
sympathized with her--but never were alarmed?"

Northrup nodded. He recalled those headaches.

"Well, a week ago she called me to come to her--she really looked
quite terrible, Brace. I was so frightened, but of course I had to
hide my feelings. She says--oh! Brace, she says there is--way back in
the family----"

"Nonsense!" Northrup got up and paced the floor. "Manly has told me
that was sheer nonsense. Go on, Kathryn."

"Well, dear, she was weak and _so_ pitiful and she--she confided
things to me that I am sure she would not have, had she been her
brave, dear self."

"What kind of things?"

It was horrible, but Northrup was conscious of being in a net where
the meshes were wide enough to permit of his seeing freedom but
utterly cutting him off from it.

What he had subconsciously hoped the night before, what his underlying
strength had been founded upon, he would never be able to know, for
now he felt every line of escape from, heaven knew what, closing upon
him; permitting no choice, wiping out all the security of happiness;
leaving--chaff. For a moment, he forgot the question he had just
asked, but Kathryn was struggling to answer it.

"About you and me, Brace. Oh! help me. It is so hard; so hard, dear,
to tell you, but you must realize that because of the things she said,
I estimated the seriousness of her condition and I cannot spare
myself! Brace, she knows that you and I--have been putting off our
marriage because of her!"

There was one mad moment when Northrup felt he was going to laugh; but
instantly the desire fled and ended in something approaching a groan.

"Go on!" he said quietly, and resumed his seat by the fire.

"I think we have been careless rather than thoughtful, dear. Older
people can be hurt by such kindness--if they are wonderful and proud
like your mother. She cannot bear to--to be an obstacle."

"An obstacle? Good Lord!" Northrup jammed a log to its place and so
relieved his feelings.

"Well, my dearest, you must see the position I was placed in?"

"Yes, Kathryn, I do. You're a brick, my dear, but--how did you know
where I was, if you did not go to Manly?"

Kathryn looked up, and all the childlike confidence and sweetness she
could summon lay in her lovely eyes.

"Dearest, I remembered the address on the letter you sent to your
mother. Because I wanted to keep this secret about our fear from
her--I came alone and I knew that people here could direct me if you
had gone away. I was prepared to follow you--anywhere!"--Kathryn
suddenly recalled her small hand-bag upstairs--"Brace, I was
frightened, bearing it alone. I _had_ to have you. Oh! Brace."

Northrup found the girl in his arms. His face was against hers--her
tears were falling and she was sobbing helplessly. The net, it was a
purse net now, drew close.

"Brace, Brace, we must make her happy, together. I will share
everything with you--I have been so heedless; so selfish--but my life
is now yours and--hers!"

Guilt filled the aroused soul of Northrup. As far as in him lay
he--surrendered! With characteristic swiftness and thoroughness he
closed his eyes and made his dash!

"Kathryn, you mean you will marry me; you will--do this for me and
her?"

"Yes."

Just then Aunt Polly came into the room. Her quick, keen eye took in
the scene and her gentle heart throbbed in sympathy. She came over to
the two and hovered near them, patting Northrup's shoulder and
Kathryn's head indiscriminately. She crooned over them and finally got
them to the dining-room and the evening meal.

An early start for the morrow was planned, and by nine o'clock Kathryn
went to her room.

Northrup was restless and nervous. There was much to be done before he
left. He must see Rivers and finish that business--it might have to be
hurried, but he felt confident that by raising Larry's price he could
secure his ends. And then, because of the finality in the turn of
events, Northrup desperately decided upon a compromise with his
conscience. Strange as it now seemed he had, before his talk with
Kathryn, believed that he was done forever with his experience, but he
realized, as he reconsidered the matter, that hope, a strange, blind
hope, had fluttered earlier but that now it was dead; dead!

Since that was the case, he would do for a dead man--Northrup
gruesomely termed himself that--what the dead man could not do for
himself. Surely no one, not even Rivers, would deny him that poor
comfort, if all were known. He would write a note to Mary-Clare, go
early in the morning to that cabin on the hill and leave it--where her
eye would fall upon it when she entered.

That the cabin was sacred to Mary-Clare he very well knew; that she
shared it with no one, he also knew; but she would forgive his
trespassing, since it was his only way in honour out--out of her
life.

Very well, then! At nine-thirty he decided to go over to the Point
again and, if he found Larry, finish that business. If Larry were not
there, he would lie in wait for him and gain his ends. So he prepared
for another night away from the inn, if necessary.

Aunt Polly, hovering on the outskirts of all that was going on,
materialized, as he was about leaving the house like a thief of the
night.

"Now, son, must you go out?" she pleaded, her spectacles awry on the
top of her head, her eyes unnaturally bright.

"Yes, Aunt Polly." Northrup paused, the knob of the door in hand, and
looked down at the little creature.

"Is it fair, son?" Aunt Polly was savagely thinking of the gossip of
the Forest--she wildly believed that Northrup might be going to the
yellow house. The hurry of departure might blind him to folly.

"Fair--fair to whom, Aunt Polly?" Northrup's brows drew together.

"To yourself, son. Bad news and the sudden going away----" the old
voice choked. It was hard to use an enemy's weapon against one's own,
even to save him.

"Aunt Polly, look at me." This was spoken sternly.

"I _am_ looking, son, I am looking." And so she was.

"I'm going out, because I must, if I am to do my duty by others. You
must trust me. And I want you to know that all my future life will be
the stronger, the safer, because of my weeks here with you all! I came
to you with no purpose--just a tired, half-sick man, but things were
taken out of my hands. I've been used, and I don't know myself just
yet for what. I'm going to have faith and you must have it--I'm with
you, not against you. Will you kiss me, Aunt Polly?"

From his height Northrup bent to Polly's littleness, but she reached
up to him with her frail tender arms and seemed to gather him into her
denied motherhood. Without a word she kissed him and--let him go!

Northrup found Rivers in his shack. He looked as if he had been
sitting where Northrup left him the night before. He was unkempt and
haggard and there were broken bits of food on the untidy table, and
stains of coffee.

"I'm going away, Rivers," Northrup explained, sitting opposite Larry.
"I couldn't wait to get word from you--my mother is ill. I must put
this business through in a sloppy way. It may need a lot of legal
patching after, but I'll take my chances. Heathcote has straightened
out your wife's part--the Point is yours. I've made sure of that. Now
I'm going to write out something that I think will hold--anyway, I
want your signature to it and to a receipt for money I will give you.
What we both know will after all be the real deed, for if you don't
keep your bargain, I'll come back."

Larry stared dully, insolently at Northrup but did not speak. He
watched Northrup writing at the table where the food lay scattered.
Then, when the clumsy document was finished, Northrup pushed it toward
Rivers.

"Sign there!" he said.

"I'll sign where I damn please." Larry showed his teeth. "How much you
going to give me for my woman?"

For a moment the sordid room seemed to be swirling in a flood of red
and yellow. Northrup got on his feet.

"I don't want to kill you," he muttered, "but you deserve it."

"Ah, have it your own way," Larry cringed. The memory of the night
before steadied him. He'd been drinking heavily and was stronger--and
weaker, in consequence.

"How much is--is the price for the Point?" he mumbled.

Northrup mastered his rage and sat down. Feeling sure that Rivers
would dicker he said quietly:

"A thousand dollars."

"Double that!" Rivers's eyes gleamed. A thousand dollars would take
him out of Maclin's reach, but all that he could get beyond would keep
him there longer.

"Rivers, I expected this, so I'll name my final price. Fifteen
hundred! Hurry up and sign that paper."

Larry signed it unsteadily but clearly.

"Have you seen your wife, Rivers?" Northrup passed a cheque across the
table.

"I'm going to see her to-morrow--I have up to Friday, you know."

"Yes, that's true. I must go to-morrow morning, but I'll make sure you
keep to your bargain."

"And--you?" Rivers's lips curled.

"I have kept my bargain."

"And you'll get away without talking to my wife?"

Northrup's eyes grew dark.

"Yes. But, Rivers, if I find that you play loose in any way, by God,
I'll settle with you if I have to scour the earth for you. Remember,
she is to know everything--everything, and after that--you're to get
out--quick."

"I'll get out all right."

"I hope, just because of your wife and child, Rivers, that you'll
straighten up; that something will get a grip on you that will pull
you up--not down further. No man has a right to put the burden of his
right living or his going to hell on a woman's conscience, but women
like your wife often have to carry that load. You've got that in you
which, put to good purpose, might----"

"Oh! cut it out." Rivers could bear no more. "I'm going to get out of
your way--what more in hell do you want?"

"Nothing." Northrup rose, white-lipped and stern. "Nothing. We are
both of us, Rivers, paying a big price for a woman's freedom. It's
only just--we ought not to want anything more."

With that Northrup left the shack and retraced his lonely way to the
inn.



CHAPTER XVII


Northrup arose the next morning before daylight and tried to write a
note to Mary-Clare. It was the most difficult thing he had ever
undertaken. If he could speak, it would be different, but the written
word is so rigid.

This last meeting had been so distraught, they had beaten about so in
the dark, that his uncertainty as to what really was arrived at
confused him.

Could he hope for her understanding if without another word he left
her to draw her own conclusions from his future life?

She would be alone. She could confide in no one. She might, in the
years ahead, ascribe his actions to the lowest motives, and he had,
God knew, meant her no harm.

Then, as it was always to be in the time on ahead, Mary-Clare herself
seemed to speak to him.

"It is what one does to love that matters." That was it--"What one
does."

With this fixed in his mind Northrup wrote:

  I want you to know that I love you. I believe you love me. We
  couldn't help this--but you have taught me how not to kill it.

  There are big, compelling things in your life and mine that cannot
  be ignored--you showed me that, too. I do not know how I am to go
  on with my old life--but I am going to try to live it--as you will
  live yours.

  There was a mad moment on the hill that last day we met--you saved
  it.

  There is a greater thing than love--it is truth, and that is why I
  must bid you good-bye--in this way.

Crude and jagged as the thought was, Northrup, in rereading his words,
did not now shrink from Mary-Clare's interpretation. She _would_
understand.

After an early breakfast, at which Kathryn did not appear--Aunt Polly
had carried Kathryn's to her room--Northrup went out to see that
everything was ready for the journey home. To his grim delight--it
seemed almost a postponed sentence--he discovered the chauffeur under
the car and in a state of _calm_ excitement. In broken but carefully
selected English the man informed Northrup that he could repair what
needed repair but must have two hours or more in which to do it.

With his anxiety about his mother lessened, Northrup received this
news with a sense of relief. Once the car was in commission they could
make good the loss of time. So Northrup started upon his errand,
taking the roundabout trail he had broken for himself, and which led
to that point back of the cabin from which he had often held his
lonely but happy vigils.

Over this trail, leaf-strewn and wet, Northrup now went. He did not
pause at the mossy rock that had hitherto marked his limit. He sternly
strode ahead over unbroken underbrush and reached the cabin.

The door was open; without hesitation he went in, laid his note on the
table, put the Bible over it, and retraced his steps. But once at the
clump of laurel a weak, human longing overcame him. Why not wait there
and see what happened? There was an hour or more to while away before
the car would be in readiness. Again Northrup had that sense of being,
after all, an atom in a plan over which he had small control.

So far he could go, no further! After that? Well, after that he would
never weaken. He sat down on the rock, held the branches aside so that
the cabin was in full view and, unseen himself, waited.

Now it happened that others besides Northrup were astir that morning.
Larry, shaved and washed, having had a good breakfast, provided by
Peneluna and served by Jan-an, straightened himself and felt more a
man than he had felt for many a day. He gave Jan-an money for Peneluna
and a dollar for herself. The girl stared at the bill indicated as
hers and pushed it back.

"Take it, Jan-an," Larry urged. "I'd like to remember you taking it."

The girl, thus urged, hid the money in her bosom and shuffled out.

Larry was sober and keen. He was going to carry out Northrup's
commands, but in his own way! He meant to lay a good deal more in
waste than perhaps any one would suspect. And yet, Larry, sober and
about to cut loose from all familiar things, had sensations that made
him tremble as he stumbled over the débris of the Point.

Never before had he been so surely leaving everything as he was now.
In the old days of separation, there had always been _home_ in the
background. During that hideous year when he was shut behind bars, his
thoughts had clung to home, to his father! He had meant then to go
back and reform! Poor Larry! he had nothing to reform, but he had not
realized that. Then Maclin caught him and instead of being reformed,
Larry was moulded into a new shape--Maclin's tool. Well, Maclin was
done with, too! Larry strode on in the semi-darkness. The morning was
dull and deadly chill.

Traditional prejudice rose in Rivers and made him hard and bitter. He
felt himself a victim of others' misunderstanding.

If he had had a--mother! Never before had this emotion swayed him. He
knew little or nothing of his mother. She had been blotted out. But he
now tried to think that all this could never have happened to him had
he not been deprived of her. In the cold, damp morning Larry reverted
to his mother over and over again. Good or bad, she would have stood
by him! There was no one now; no one.

"And Mary-Clare!" At this his face set cruelly. "She should have stood
by me. What was her sense of duty, anyway?"

She had always eluded him, had never been his. Larry rebelled at this
knowledge. She had been cold and demanding, selfish and hard. No woman
has a right to keep herself from her husband. All would have been well
if she had done her part. And Noreen was his as well as Mary-Clare's.
But she was keeping everything. His father's house; the child; the
money!

By this time Larry had lashed himself into a virtuous fury. He felt
himself wronged and sinned against. He was prepared to hurt somebody
in revenge.

Larry went to the yellow house. It was empty. There was a fire on the
hearth and a general air of recent occupancy and a hurried departure.
A fiendish inspiration came to Rivers. He would go to that cabin of
Mary-Clare's and wait for her. She should get her freedom there, where
she had forbidden him to come. He'd enter now and have his say.

Larry took a short cut to the cabin and by so doing reached it before
Mary-Clare, who had taken Noreen to Peneluna's--not daring to take her
to the inn.

Larry came to within a dozen yards of the cabin when he stopped short
and became rigid. He was completely screened from view, but, for the
moment, he did not give this a thought. There was murder in his heart,
and only cowardice held him back.

Northrup was coming out of the cabin! Rivers had not realized that he
trusted Northrup, but he had, and he was betrayed! All the bitterness
of defeat swept over him and hate and revenge alone swayed him.
Suddenly he grew calm. Northrup had passed from sight; the white mists
of the morning were rolling and breaking. He would wait--if Mary-Clare
was in the cabin, and Larry believed she was, he could afford to bide
his time. Indeed, it was the only thing to do, for in a primitive
fashion Rivers decided to deal only with his woman, and he meant to
have a free hand. He would have no fight for what was not worth
fighting for--he would solve things in his own way and be off before
any one interfered.

And then he turned sharply. Someone was advancing from the opposite
direction. It was Mary-Clare. She came up her own trail, emerging from
the mists like a shadowy creature of the woods; she walked slowly,
wearily, up to the Place and went inside with the eyes of two men full
upon her.

At that moment the sun broke through the mists; it flooded the cabin
and touched warmly the girl who sank down beside the table. Instantly
her glance fell upon the note by the Bible. She took it up, read it
once, twice, and--understood more, far more than Northrup could
guess.

Perhaps a soul awakening from the experience of death might know the
sensation that throbbed through the consciousness of Mary-Clare at
that moment. The woman of her had been born in the cabin the day
before, but the birth pains had exhausted her. She had not censured
Northrup in her woman-thought; she had believed something of what now
she knew, and understood. She raised the note and held it out on her
open palms--almost it seemed as if she were showing it to some unseen
Presence as proof of all she trusted. With the sheet of paper still
held lightly, Mary-Clare walked to the door of her cabin. She had no
purpose in mind--she wanted the air; the sunlight. And so she stood in
the full glow, her face uplifted, her arms outspread.

Northrup from his hidden place watched her for a moment, bowed his
head, and turned to the inn. Larry watched her; in a dumb way he saw
revealed the woman he had never touched; never owned. Well, he would
have his revenge.

Mary-Clare turned back after her one exalted moment; she took her
place by the table and spread again the note before her. She did not
notice the footsteps outside until Larry was on the threshold and then
she turned, gripping, intuitively, the sheet of paper in her hand.
Larry saw the gesture, saw the paper, and half understood.

Mary-Clare looked at her husband distantly but not unkindly. She did
not resent his being there--the Place was no longer hers alone.

"A nice lot you are!" Rivers blurted this out and came in. He sat down
on the edge of the table near Mary-Clare. "What's that?" he demanded,
his eyes on the note.

"A letter."

"Full of directions, I suppose?" Larry smiled an ugly, keen smile.

"Directions? What do you mean?"

"I guess that doesn't matter, does it?" he asked. "Don't let us waste
time. See here, my girl, the game's up! Now that letter--I want that.
It will be evidence when I need it. He's broken his bargain. I mean to
take the advantage I've got."

Mary-Clare stared at Rivers in helpless amazement--but her fingers
closed more firmly upon the note.

"When he--he bought you--he promised me that he'd never see you again.
He wanted you free--for yourself. Free!" Larry flung his head back and
indulged in a harsh laugh. "I got the Point--he bought the Point and
you! Paid high for them, too, but he'll pay higher yet before I get
through with him."

Mary-Clare sat very quiet; her face seemed frozen into an expression
of utter bewilderment. That, and the memory of her as she had stood at
the door a few moments ago, maddened Rivers and he ruthlessly
proceeded to batter down all the background that had stood, in
Mary-Clare's life, as a plea for her loyalty, faith, and gratitude.

"Do you know why my father kept me from home and put you in my place?"
he demanded.

"No, Larry."

"He was afraid of me--afraid of himself. He left me to others--and
others helped me along. Others like Maclin who saw my ability!" Again
Larry gave his mirthless, ugly laugh and this time Mary-Clare
shuddered.

She made no defence for her beloved doctor--the father of the man
before her. She simply braced herself to bear the blows, and she
shuddered because she intuitively felt that Larry was in no sense
realizing his own position; he was so madly seeking to destroy that of
others.

"I'm a counterfeiter--I've been in prison--I've----" but here Rivers
paused, struck at last by the face opposite him. It was awakening; it
flushed, quivered, and the eyes darkened and widened. What was
happening was this--Larry was setting Mary-Clare free in ways that he
could not realize. Every merciless blow he struck was rending a fetter
apart. He was making it possible for the woman, close to him
physically, to regard him at last as--a man; not a husband that
mistaken loyalty must shield and suffer for. He was placing her among
the safe and decent people, permitting her at last to justify her
instincts, to trust her own ideals.

And from that vantage ground of spiritual freedom, released from all
false ties of contract and promise, Mary-Clare looked at Larry with
divine pity in her eyes. She seemed to see the veiled form of his
mother beside him--they were like two outcasts defiantly accusing her,
but toward whom she could well afford to feel merciful.

"Don't, Larry"--Mary-Clare spoke at last and there were tears in her
eyes--"please don't. You've said enough."

She felt as though she were looking at the dying face of a suicide.

"Yes, I think I have said enough about myself except this: I wrote all
those letters you--you had. Not one was my father's--they were
counterfeits--there are more ways than one of--of getting what you
want."

Again Mary-Clare shuddered and sank into the dull state of amazement.
She had to think this over; go slowly. She looked at Larry, but she
was not listening. At last she asked wonderingly:

"You mean--that he did not want me to marry you? And that last
night--he did not say--what you said you understood?"

Larry laughed--but it was not the old assured laugh of brutality--he
had stripped himself so bare that at last he was aware of his own
nakedness.

"Oh!" The one word was like a blighting shaft that killed all that was
left to kill.

Larry put forth a pitiful defence.

"You've been hard and selfish, Mary-Clare. Another sort might have
helped me--I got to caring, at first. You've taken everything and
given mighty little. And now, when you see a chance of cutting loose,
you wipe me off the map and betray me into the hands of a man who has
lied to me, made sport of me, and thinks he's going to get away with
it. Now listen. I want that letter. When I have used up the hush
money I have now, I'm coming back for more--more--and you and he are
going to pay."

By this time Larry had worked himself again into a blind fury. He felt
this but could not control it. He had lost nearly everything--he must
clutch what was left.

"Give that to me!" he commanded, and reached for the clenched hand on
the table.

"No, Larry. If you could understand, I would let you have it, but you
couldn't! Nothing matters now between you and me. I am free, free!"

The radiant face, the clenched hand, blinded Larry. Sitting again on
the edge of the table, looking down at the woman who had eluded him,
was defying him, he struck out! He had no thought at all for the
moment--something was in his way; before he could escape he must fling
it aside.

Mary-Clare drooped; dropped from her chair and lay quiet upon the
floor. Her hand, holding the paper, was spread wide, the note was
unprotected.

For a moment Larry gazed at his work with horrified eyes. Never before
had he meted physical brutality to man or woman. He was a coward at
heart, and he was thoroughly cowed as he stood above the girl at his
feet. He saw that she was breathing; there was almost at once a
fluttering of the lids. There were two things for a coward to
do--seize the note and make his escape.

Larry did both and Mary-Clare took no heed.

A little red squirrel came into the sunny room and darted about; the
sunlight grew dim, for there was a storm rising, and the clouds were
heavy on its wings.

And while the deathly silence reigned in the cabin, Northrup and
Kathryn were riding rapidly from the inn. As the car passed the yellow
house, Kathryn pathetically drew down the shades--her eyes were
tear-filled.

"Brace, dear," she whispered, "I'm so afraid. The storm; everything
frightens me. Take me in your arms."

And at that moment Kathryn believed that she loved Northrup, had saved
him from a great peril, and she was prepared to act the part, in the
future, of a faithful wife.



CHAPTER XVIII


Noreen and Jan-an late that afternoon returned to the yellow house.
They were both rather depressed and forlorn, for they knew that
Northrup was gone and had taken away with him much that had stimulated
and cheered.

Finding the yellow house empty, the two went up the opposite hill and
leisurely made their way to the brook that marked the limit of free
choice. Here they sat down, and Noreen suggested that they sing
Northrup's old songs and play some of his diverting games. Jan-an
solemnly agreed, shaking her head and sighing as one does who recalls
the dead.

So Noreen piped out the well-beloved words of "Green Jacket" and,
rather heavily, acted the jovial part. But Jan-an refused to be
comforted. She cried distractedly, and always when Jan-an wept she
made such abnormal "faces" that she disturbed any onlookers.

"All right!" Noreen said at last. "We'll both do something."

This clever psychological ruse brought Jan-an to her normal state.

"Let's play Eve's Other Children," Noreen ran on. "I'll be Eve and
hide my children, the ones I don't like specially. You be God,
Jan-an."

This was a great concession on Noreen's part, for she revelled in the
leading rôle, as it gave full play to her dramatic sense of justice.

However, the play began with Noreen hiding some twisted and dry sticks
under stones and in holes in trees and then proceeding to dress, in
gay autumn leaves, more favoured twigs. She crooned over them;
expatiated upon their loveliness, and, at a given signal, poor Jan-an
clumsily appeared and in most unflattering terms accused Noreen of
depravity and unfaithfulness, demanding finally, in most picturesque
and primitive language, the hidden children. At this point Noreen rose
to great heights. Fear, remorse, and shame overcame her. She pleaded
and denied; she confessed and at last began, with the help of her
accuser, to search out the neglected offspring. So wholly did the two
enjoy this part of the game that they forgot their animosity, and when
the crooked twigs were discovered Jan-an became emphatically
allegorical with Noreen and ruthlessly destroyed the "other children"
on the score that they weren't worth keeping.

But the interest flagged at length, and both Jan-an and Noreen became
silent and depressed.

"I've got feelin's!" Jan-an remarked, "in the pit of my stomach.
Besides, it's getting cold and a storm's brewing. Did yer hear
thunder?"

Noreen was replacing her favoured children in the crannies of the
rocks, but she turned now to Jan-an and said wistfully:

"I want Motherly."

"She's biding terrible long up yonder."

"P'raps, oh! Jan-an, p'raps that lady you were telling about has taken
Motherly!"

Noreen became agitated, but Jan-an with blind intuition scoffed.

"No; whatever she took, she wouldn't take her! But she took Mr.
Northrup, all right. Her kind takes just fierce! I sense her."

Noreen looked blank.

"Tell me about the heathen, Jan-an," she said. "What _did_ he eat when
Uncle Peter wouldn't let him have Ginger?"

"I don't know, but I did miss two rabbits."

"Live ones, Jan-an?" Noreen's eyes widened.

"Sure, live ones. Everything's live till it's killed. I ain't saying
he et 'em 'live."

"Maybe the rabbits got away," Noreen suggested hopefully.

"The Lord knows! Maybe they did." Then Jan-an added further
information: "I guess your father has gone for good!"

"Took?" Noreen was not now overcome by grief.

"No, just gone. He gave me a dollar."

"A dollar, Jan-an? A whole dollar?" This was almost unbelievable.
Jan-an produced the evidence from her loose and soiled blouse.

"He left his place terribly tidy, too," she ran on, "and when a man
does that Peneluna says it's awful suspicious."

"Jan-an, you wait here--I'm going up to the cabin!"

Noreen stood up defiantly. She was possessed by one of her sudden
flashes of inspiration.

"Yer ain't been called," warned Jan-an.

"I know, but I _must_ go. I'll only peep in. Maybe Motherly took a
back way to the inn."

To this Jan-an had nothing to say and she sat down upon a wet rock to
wait, while Noreen darted up the trail like a small, distracted animal
of the woods.

It was growing dark and heavy with storm; the thunder was more
distinct--there was a hush and a breathless suggestion of wind held in
check by a mighty force.

Noreen reached the shack and peeped in at the vine-covered window.
What she saw marked a turning-point in the child's life.

Mary-Clare was still stretched upon the floor. Several things had
happened to her since Larry fled; she was never clearly to account for
them.

She had been conscious and had drifted into unconsciousness several
times. She had tried, she recalled that later, to get to the couch,
but her aching head had driven the impulse into oblivion. She had
fallen back on the floor. Then, again, she roused and there was
blood--near her. Not much, but she had not noticed it before, and she
must have fainted. Again, she could remember thinking of Noreen, of
the others; and the necessity of keeping forever hidden the thing that
had happened.

But again Mary-Clare, from exhaustion or faintness, slipped into
silence, and so Noreen found her!

The child went swiftly into the still cabin and knelt beside her
mother. She was quite calm, at first, and unafraid. She took the dear
head on her lap and patted the white cheek where the little cut had
let out the blood--there was dry blood on it now and that caused
Noreen to gasp and cry out.

Back and forth the child swayed, mumbling comforting words; and then
she spoke louder, faster--her words became wild, disconnected. She
laughed and cried and called for every one of her little world in
turn.

Uncle Peter!

Aunt Polly!

Peneluna! And then Jan-an! Jan-an!

As she sobbed and screamed Mary-Clare's eyes opened and she smiled. At
that moment Jan-an came stumbling into the room.

One look and the dull, faithful creature became a machine carrying out
the routine that she had often shared with others on the Point.

"She ain't dead!" she announced after one terrified glance, and then
she dragged Mary-Clare to the couch; ran for water; took a towel from
a nail and bathed the white, stained face. During this Noreen's sobs
grew less and less, she became quieter and was able, presently, to
assist Jan-an.

"She's had a fall," Jan-an announced. Mary-Clare opened her eyes--the
words found an echo in her heavy brain.

"Yes," she whispered.

"And on an empty stummick!" Jan-an had a sympathetic twinge.

"Yes," again Mary-Clare whispered and smiled.

"Noreen, you go on sopping her face--I'm going to get something hot."

And while Noreen bathed and soothed the face upon the pillow into
consciousness and reason, Jan-an made a fire on the hearth, carried
water from a spring outside, and brought forth tea and some little
cakes from the cupboard. The girl's face was transfigured; she was
thinking, thinking, and it hurt her to think consecutively--but she
thought on.

"Norrie darling, I am all right. Quite all right." At last Mary-Clare
was able to assert herself; she rose unsteadily and Jan-an sprang to
her side.

"Lay down," she commanded in a new and almost alarming tone. "Can't
yer see, yer must hold on ter yerself a spell? Let me take the lead--I
know, I know!"

And Mary-Clare realized that she did! Keenly the two gazed at each
other, Eve's two children! Mary-Clare sank back; her face quivered;
her eyes filled with weak tears.

Outside the darkness of the coming storm pressed close, the wind was
straining at the leash, the lightning darted and the thunder rolled.

"The storm," murmured Mary-Clare, "the storm! It is the breaking up of
summer!"

The stale cakes and the hot tea refreshed the three, and after an hour
Mary-Clare seemed quite herself. She went to the door and looked out
into the heart of the storm. The red lightning ran zigzag through the
blackness. It seemed like the glad summer, mad with fear, seeking a
way through the sleet and rain.

Bodily bruised and weary, mentally exhausted and groping, Mary-Clare
still felt that strange freedom she had experienced while Larry was
devastating all that she had believed in, and for which she had given
of her best.

She felt as one must who, escaping from an overwhelming flood, looks
upon the destruction and wonders at her own escape. But she _had_
escaped! That became, presently, the one gripping fact. She had
escaped and she would find safety somewhere.

The late sunset after the storm was glorious. The clear gold that a
mighty storm often leaves in its wake was like a burnished shield. The
breeze was icy in its touch; the bared trees startled one by the
sudden change in their appearance--the gale had torn their colour and
foliage from them. Starkly they stood forth against the glowing sky.

And then Mary-Clare led the way down the trail--her leaf-strewn,
hidden trail. She held Noreen's hand in hers but she leaned upon
Jan-an. As they descended Mary-Clare planned.

"When we get home, Jan-an, home to the yellow house, I want you to go
for Peneluna."

From all the world, Mary-Clare desired the old understanding woman.

"I guess you mean Aunt Polly," Jan-an suggested.

"No. To-morrow, Aunt Polly, Jan-an. To-day I want Peneluna."

"All right." Jan-an nodded.

"And, Noreen dear."

"Yes, Motherly."

"Everything is all right. I had a--queer fall. It was quite dark in
the cabin--I hit my face on the edge of the table. And, Noreen."

"Yes, Motherly."

"I may have to rest a little, but you must not be worried--you see,
Mother hasn't rested in a long while."

Peneluna responded to the call. It was late evening when she and
Jan-an came to the yellow house. Before starting for the Point Jan-an
had insisted upon getting a meal and afterward she had helped
Mary-Clare put Noreen to bed. All this had delayed her.

"Now," she said at last, "I'll go. I guess you're edging to the limit,
ain't yer?"

Mary-Clare nodded.

"I've never been sick, not plain sick, in all my life," she murmured,
"and why should I be now?"

But left alone, she made ready, in a strange way, for what she felt
was coming upon her. She undressed carefully and put her room in
order. Then she lay down upon her bed and drifted lightly between the
known and the unknown.

She touched Noreen's sleeping face so gently that the child did not
heed the caress. Then:

"Perhaps I am going to die--people die so easily at times--just flare
out!"

And so Peneluna found her and knelt beside her.

"You hear me, Mary-Clare?"

"Yes. I hear you, of course."

"Well, then, child, take this along with you, wherever you bide for a
time. I'm here and God Almighty's here and things is safe! You get
that?"

"Yes, Peneluna."

"Then listen--'The solitary place shall be glad--and a highway shall
be there--and a way.'" The confused words fell into a crooning song.

"Solitary Place----" Mary-Clare drifted to it, her eyes closed
wearily, but she smiled and Peneluna believed that she had found The
Way. Whether it wound back or out--well! Peneluna turned to her task
of nursing. She had the gift of healing and she had an understanding
heart, and so she took command.

It was a rough and difficult Way and beset with dangers. A physician
came and diagnosed the case.

"Bad fall--almost concussion."

Aunt Polly came and shared the nursing. Jan-an mechanically attended
to the house while Uncle Peter took Noreen under his care.

The dull, uneventful days dragged on before Mary-Clare came back to
her own. One day she said to Jan-an, "I--I want you to go to the
cabin, Jan-an. I have given it--back to God. Close the windows and
doors--for winter has come!"

Jan-an nodded. She believed Mary-Clare was "passing out"--she was
frightened and superstitious. She did not pause to explain to
Peneluna, in the next room, where she was going, but covering her head
and shoulders with an old shawl, she rushed forth.

It was bitingly cold and the dry twigs struck against the girl's face
like ice. The ghost-wind added terror to the hour, but Jan-an
struggled on.

When she reached the cabin it was nearly dark--the empty room was
haunted by memories and there were little scurrying creatures darting
about. Standing in the centre of the room, Jan-an raised her clenched
hands and extended them as if imploring a Presence. If Mary-Clare had
given the Place back to God, then it might be that God was there close
and--listening. Jan-an became possessed by the spiritual. She lifted
her faithful, yearning eyes and spoke aloud.

"God!" She waited. Then: "God, I'm trusting and I ain't afraid--much!
God, listen! I fling this to Your face. Yer raised Lazarus and others
from the dead and Mary-Clare ain't dead yet--can't Yer--save her? Hear
me! hear me!"

Surely God heard and made answer, for that night Mary-Clare's Way
turned back again toward the little yellow house.

When she was able, Aunt Polly insisted that she be moved to the inn.

"It will make less trouble all around and Peneluna will stay on."

So they went to the inn, and the winter settled down upon the Forest
and the Point and the mines. The lake was frozen and became a
glittering highway; children skated; sleighs darted here and there.
The world was shut away and things sank into the old grooves.

During her convalescence Mary-Clare had strange visionary moments. She
seemed to be able at times to detach herself from her surroundings
and, guided by almost forgotten words of Northrup's, find herself--with
him. And always he was alone. She never visualized his mother; she
could, thank heaven, eliminate Kathryn.

She was alone with Northrup in a high place. They did not speak or
touch each other--but they knew and were glad! There seemed to be
mists below them, surrounding them; mists that now and then parted,
and she and Northrup would eagerly try to--see things! Mary-Clare
imagined herself in that high place as she did Northrup, a personality
quite outside her own.

After awhile those moments took more definite shape and form. She and
Northrup were trying to see their city in the mists; trying to create
their city.

This became a thrilling mental exercise to Mary-Clare, and in time
she saw a city. Once or twice she almost felt him as she, that girl of
her own creation, reached out to the man whom she loved; who loved
her, but who knew, as she did, that love asks renunciation at times as
well as acceptance if one were to keep--truth.

Presently Mary-Clare was able to walk in the sunshine and then she
often went to the deserted chapel and sat silent for hours.

And there Maclin found her one day--a smiling, ingratiating Maclin.
Maclin had been much disturbed by Larry's abrupt and, up to the
present, successful escape. Of course Maclin's very one-track mind had
at the hour of Rivers's disappearance accounted for things in a
primitive way. Northrup had bought Larry off! That was simple enough
until Northrup himself disappeared.

At this Maclin was obliged to do some original conjecturing. There
must have been a scene--likely enough in that wood cabin. Northrup's
woman had got the whip hand and Northrup had accepted terms--leaving
Mary-Clare. That would account for the illness.

So far, so good. But with both Larry and Northrup off the ground, the
Heathcotes would have to take responsibility. This would be the
psychological moment to buy the Point! So Maclin, keeping watch,
followed Mary-Clare to chapel island.

"Well, well!" he exclaimed as if surprised to see the girl in the
angle of the old church. "Decided to get well, eh? Taking a sun
bath?"

Mary-Clare gathered her cloak closer, as if shrinking from the
smiling, unwholesome-looking man.

"Yes, I'm getting well fast," she said.

"Hear anything from Larry?" It seemed best to hide his own feelings as
to Larry.

"No."

"Some worried, I expect?"

"No, I do not worry much, Mr. Maclin." Mary-Clare was thinking of her
old doctor's philosophy. She wasn't going to die, so she must live at
once!

"It's a damned mean way to treat a little woman the way you've been
treated."

Maclin stepped nearer and his neck wrinkled. Mary-Clare made no reply
to this. Maclin was conscious of the back of his neck--it irritated
him.

"Left you strapped?" he asked.

"What is that?" Mary-Clare was interested.

"Short of money."

"Oh! no. My wishes are very simple--there's money enough for them."

"See here, Mrs. Rivers, let's get down to business. Of course you know
I want the Point. I'll tell you why. The mines are all right _as_
mines, but I have some inventions over there ripe for getting into
final shape. Now, I haven't told a soul about this before--not even
Larry--but I always hold that a woman _can_ keep her tongue still. I'm
not one of the men who think different. I want to put up a factory on
the Point; some model cottages and--and _make_ King's Forest. Now what
would you take for the Point, and don't be too modest. I don't grind
the faces of women."

Maclin smiled. The fat on his face broke into lines--that was the best
a smile could do for him. Mary-Clare looked at him, fascinated.

"Speak up, Mrs. Rivers!" This came like a poke in the ribs--Mary-Clare
recoiled as from a physical touch.

"I do not own the Point any longer," she said.

"What in thunder!" Maclin now recoiled. "Who then?"

"I gave it to Larry."

"How the devil could Larry pay you for it?"

"Larry gave me no money."

"Do you expect me to believe this, Mrs. Rivers?" The fat now resumed
its flaccid lines.

"It doesn't interest me in the least, Mr. Maclin, whether you do or
not."

Then Mary-Clare rose, rather weakly, and turned toward the bridge.

And there stood Maclin alone! Like all people who have much that they
fear to have known, Maclin considered now how much Larry really knew?
Did he know what the Point meant? Had he ever opened letters? This
brought the sweat out on Maclin.

Had he copied letters with that devilish trick of his? Could he sell
the Point to--to----?

Maclin could bear no longer his unanswered questions. He went back to
the mines and was not seen in King's Forest for many a day.



CHAPTER XIX


Once back in the old environment, Northrup went, daily, through the
sensations of his haunting dream, without the relief of awakening. The
corridor of closed doors was an actuality to him now. Behind them lay
experiences, common enough to most men, undoubtedly, but, as yet,
unrevealed to him.

In one he had dwelt for a brief time--good Lord! had it only been for
weeks? Well, the memory, thank heaven, was secure; unblemished. He
vowed that he would reserve to himself the privilege of returning, in
thought, to that memory-haunted sanctuary as long as he might live,
for he knew, beyond any doubt, that it could not weaken his resolve to
take up every duty that he had for a time abandoned. It should be with
him as Manly had predicted.

This line of thought widened Northrup's vision and developed a new tie
between him and other men. He found himself looking at them in the
street with awakened interest. He wondered how many of them, stern,
often hard-featured men, had realized their souls in private or public
life, and how had they dealt with the revelation? He grew sensitive as
to expressions; he believed, after a time, that he could estimate, by
the look in the eyes of his fellowmen, by the set of their jaws,
whether they had faced the ordeal, as he was trying to do, or had
denied the soul acceptance. It was like looking at them through a
magnifying lens where once he had regarded them through smoked glass.

And the women? Well, Northrup was very humble about women in
those days. He grew restive when he contemplated results and
pondered upon the daring that had assumed responsibility where
complete understanding had never been attempted. It seemed, in his
introspective state, that God, even, had been cheated. Women were,
he justly concluded, pretty much a response to ideals created for
them, not by them.

Mary-Clare was having her way with Northrup!

Something of all this crept into his book for, after a fortnight at
home, he set his own jaw and lips rather grimly, went to his small
office room in the tower of a high building, and paid the elevator boy
a goodly sum for acting as buffer during five holy hours of each day.

It was like being above the world, sitting in that eyrie nook of his.
Northrup often recalled a day, years before, when he had stood on a
mountain-peak bathed in stillness and sunlight, watching the dramatic
play of the elements on the scene below. Off to the right a violent
shower spent itself mercilessly; to the left, rolling mists were
parting and revealing pleasant meadows and clustering hamlets. And
with this recollection, Northrup closed his eyes and, from his silent
watch tower, saw, as no earthly thing could make him see, the hideous
tragedy across the seas.

Since his return his old unrest claimed him. It was blotting out all
that he had believed was his--ideals; the meaning of life; love; duty;
even his city--_his_--was threatened. Nothing any longer seemed safe
unless it were battled for. There was something he owed--what was it?

Try as he valiantly did, Northrup could put little thought in his
work--it eluded him. He began, at first unconsciously, to plan for
going away, while, consciously, he deceived himself by thinking that
he was readjusting himself to his own widened niche in the wall!

When Northrup descended from his tower, he became as other men and the
grim lines of lips and jaws relaxed. He was with them who first caught
the wider vision of brotherhood.

At once, upon his return, he had taken Manly into his confidence about
his mother, and that simple soul brushed aside the sentimental rubbish
with which Kathryn had cluttered the situation.

"It's all damned rot, Brace," he snapped. "You had a grandmother who
did work that was never meant for women to do--laid a carpet or tore
one up, I forget which, I heard the story from my father--and she
developed cancer--more likely it wasn't cancer--I don't think my
father was ever sure. But, good Lord! why should her descendants
inherit an accident? I thought I'd talked your mother out of that
nonsense."

Thus reassured, Northrup told Kathryn that all the secret diplomacy
was to be abandoned and that his mother must work with them.

"But, Brace dear, you don't blame me for my fright? I was so
worried!"

"No, little girl, you were a trump. I'll never forget how you stood
by!"

So Helen Northrup put herself in Manly's hands--those strong, faithful
hands. She went to a hospital for various tests. She was calm but
often afraid. She sometimes looked at the pleasant, thronged streets
and felt a loneliness, as if she missed herself from among her kind.
Manly pooh-poohed and shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Women! women!" he ejaculated, but there were hours when he, too, had
his fears.

But in the end, black doubt was driven away.

"Of course, my dear lady," Manly said relievedly, patting her hand,
"we cannot sprint at fifty-odd as we did at twenty. But a more
leisurely gait is enjoyable and we can take time to look around at the
pleasant things; do the things we've always wanted to do--but didn't
have time to do. Brace must get married--he'll have children and
you'll begin all over with them. Then I'd like to take in some music
with you this winter. I've rather let my pet fads drop from sheer
loneliness. Let's go to light opera--we're all getting edgy over here.
I tell you, Helen, it's up to us older fry to steer the youngsters
away from what does not concern them."

Poor Manly! He could not deafen his conscience to the growing call
from afar and already he saw the trend. So he talked the more as one
does to keep his courage up in grave danger.

With his anxiety about Helen Northrup removed, Manly gave attention to
Brace. Brace puzzled him. He acknowledged that Northrup had never
looked better; the trip had done wonders for him. Yes; that was
it--something rather wonderful had been done.

He attacked Northrup one day in his sledge-hammer style.

"What in thunder has got mixed up in your personality?" he asked.

"Oh! I suppose anxiety about Mother, Manly. And the thought that I had
slipped from under my responsibilities. Had she died--well! it's all
right now."

But this did not satisfy Manly.

"Hang it all, I don't mean anxiety," he blurted out. "The natural
stuff I can estimate and label. But you look somehow as if you had
been switched off the side track to the main line."

"Or the other way about, old man?" Northrup broke in and laughed.

"No, sir; you're on the main line, all right; but you don't look as if
you knew where you were going. Keep the headlight on, Brace."

"Thanks, Manly; I do not fully understand just where I may land, but
I'm going slow. Now this--this horror across seas----" Always it was
creeping in, these days.

"Oh! that's their business, Northrup. They're always scrapping--this
isn't our war, old man," Manly broke in roughly, but Northrup shook
his head.

"Manly, I cannot look at it as a war--just a plain war, you know. I've
had a queer experience that I will tell you about some day, but it
convinced me that above all, and through all, there is a Power that
forces us, often against our best-laid plans, and I believe that Power
can force the world as well. Manly, take it from me, this is no scrap
over there, it's a soul-finder; a soul-creator, more like. Before we
get through, a good many nations and men will be compelled to look, as
you once did, at bare, gaunt souls or"--a pause--"set to work and make
souls."

Manly twisted in his seat uneasily. Northrup went on.

"Manly"--he spoke quietly, evenly--"do you remember our last talk in
this office before I left?"

"Well, some of it. Yes."

"Jogs, you know. Mountain peaks, baby hands, women faces, and souls?"

"Oh! yes. Sick talk to a sick man." Manly snapped his fingers.

"Manly, what did you mean by saying that you had once seen your soul?"
Northrup was in dead earnest. Manly swung around in his swivel chair.

"I meant that I saw mine once," he said sharply, definitely.

"How did it look?"

"As if I had neglected it. A shrunken, shivering thing." Manly stopped
suddenly, then added briefly: "You cannot starve that part of you,
Northrup, without a get-back some day."

"No. And that's exactly what I am up against--the get-back!"

After that talk with Manly, Northrup, singularly enough, felt as if he
had arrived at some definite conclusion; had received instructions as
to his direction. He was quietly elated and, sitting in his office,
experienced the peace and satisfaction of one who spiritually submits
to a higher Power.

The globe of light on the peak of his tower seemed, humorously, to
have become his headlight--Manly's figures of speech clung--its white
and red flashes, its moments of darkness, were like the workings of
his mind, but he knew no longer the old depression. He was on the main
line, and he had his orders--secret ones, so far, but safe ones.

Kathryn grew more charming as time passed. She did not seem to resent
Northrup's detachment, though the tower room lured him dangerously.
Once she had hinted that she'd love to see his workshop; hear some of
his work. But Northrup had put her off.

"Wait, dear, until I've finished the thing, and then you and I will
have a regular gorge of it, up in my tower."

Kathryn at this put up her mouth to be kissed while behind her
innocent smile she was picturing the girl of King's Forest in those
awful muddy trousers! _She_ had heard the book in the making; she had
not been pushed aside.

More and more Mary-Clare became a stumbling block to Kathryn. She felt
she was a dangerous type; the kind men never could understand, until
it was too late, and never forgot. And Brace _was_ changed. The subtle
unrest did not escape Kathryn.

"I wonder----" And Kathryn did wonder. Wondered most at the
possibility of Mary-Clare ever appearing on the surface again.
For--and this was a humiliating thought to Kathryn--she realized she
was no match for that girl of the Forest!

However, Kathryn, as was her wont when things went wrong, pulled down
the shade mentally, as once she had done physically, against the
distasteful conditions Brace had evolved.

And there was much to be attended to--so Kathryn, with great
efficiency, set to work. She must make provision for her aunt's
future. This was not difficult, for poor Anna was so relieved that any
provision was to be considered, that she accepted Kathryn's lowest
figure.

Then there was Arnold. Sandy, at the moment, was disgusted at
Northrup's return. It interfered with his plans. Sandy had a long and
keen scent. The trouble overseas had awakened a response in him, he
meant to serve the cause--but in his own way. Secretly he was
preparing. He was buying up old vessels, but old vessels were
expensive and the secrecy prevented his borrowing money. He wanted to
get married, too. Kathryn, with only his protection and he with
Kathryn's little fortune, would create, at the moment, a situation
devoutly to be desired.

Kathryn had to deal with this predicament cautiously. Sandy was so
horribly matter-of-fact--not a grain of Northrup's idealism about him!
But for that very reason, in the abominably upset state of the world,
he was not lightly to be cast on the scrap-heap. One never could tell!
Brace might act up sentimentally, but Sandy could be depended upon
always--he was a rock!

So Kathryn, embroidering her wedding linen--for she meant to be
married soon--prayed for guidance.

On the whole, the situation was most gratifying. No wonder Kathryn
felt well pleased with herself and more fully convinced that, with
such wits as hers, life was reduced to a common factor. Once married
she would be able to draw a long breath. Marriage was such a divine
institution for women. It gave them such a stranglehold--with the
right sort of men--and Brace _was_ the right sort.

To be sure he was not entirely satisfying at the present moment. His
attentions smacked too much of duty. He could not deceive Kathryn. He
sent flowers and gifts in such profusion that they took on the aspect
of blood money. Well, marriage would adjust all that.

Helen urged an early date for the wedding and even Manly, who did not
like Kathryn, gripped her as the saviour of a critical situation.

King's Forest had had a sinister effect upon Manly; it made him doubt
himself.

And so life, apparently, ran along smoothly on the surface. It was the
undercurrents that were really carrying things along at a terrific
rate.

It was in his tower room that most of Northrup's struggle went on.
Daily he confronted that which Was and Had To Be! With all his old
outposts being taken day by day, he was left bare and unprotected for
the last assault. And it came!

It came as death does, quite naturally for the most part, and found
him--ready. Like the dying--or the reborn--Northrup put his loved ones
to the acid test. His mother would understand. Kathryn? It was
staggering, at this heart-breaking moment, to discover, after all the
recent proving of herself, that Kathryn resolved into an Unknown
Quantity.

This discovery filled Northrup with a sense of disloyalty and
unreality. What right had he to permit the girl who was to be his
wife, the mother of his children, to be relegated to so ignominious a
position? Had she not proved herself to him in faithfulness and
understanding? Had she not, setting aside her own rights, looked well
to his?

The days dragged along and each one took its toll of Northrup's
vitality while it intensified that crusading emotion in his soul.

He did not mention all this to those nearest him until the time for
departure came, and he tried, God knew, to work while he performed the
small, devotional acts to his mother and Kathryn that would soon stand
forth, to one of them at least, as the most courageous acts of his
life.

He had come to that part of his book where his woman must take her
final stand--the stand that Mary-Clare had so undermined. If he
finished the book before he went--and he decided that it might be
possible--his woman must rise supreme over the doubts with which she
had been invested. But when he came to the point, the decision, if he
followed his purpose, looked cheap and commonplace--above everything,
obvious. In his present mood his book would be just--a book; not the
Big Experience.

This struggle to finish his work in the face of the stubborn facts at
moments obliterated the crusading spirit; the doubts of Kathryn and
even Mary-Clare's pervading insistence. He hated to be beaten at his
own job.

Love's supreme sacrifice and glory, as portrayed in woman--_must_ be
man's ideal, of course!

The ugly business of the world had to be got through, and man often
had to set love aside--for honour. "But, good Lord!" Northrup argued,
apparently to his useless right hand, what would become of the
spiritual, if woman got to setting up little gods and bowing down
before them? Why, she would forego her God-given heritage. To her,
love must be all. Above all else. Why, the very foundations of life
were founded upon that. What could be higher to a woman? Man could
look out for the rest, but he must be sure of his woman's love! The
rest would be in their own hands--that was their individual affair.

And then, at this crucial moment, Mary-Clare _would_ always intrude.

"It's what one does to love!" That was her stern ultimatum. "Love's
best proof might be renunciation, not surrender!"

"Nonsense!" Northrup flung back. "How then could a man be sure? No
book with such an ending would stand a chance."

"You must not harm your book by such a doubt. That book must be
_true_, and you know the truth. Women must be made glad by it, men
stronger because someone understands and is brave enough to say it."

But Northrup steeled his heart against this command. He meant to
finish his book; finish it with a flaming proof that, while men
offered their lives for duty, women offered theirs for love and did
not count the cost, like misers or--lenders.

One afternoon Northrup, the ink still wet upon the last sheet of his
manuscript, leaned back wearily in his chair. He could not conquer
Mary-Clare. He let his eyes rest upon his awakening city. For him it
rose at night. In the day it belonged to others--the men and women,
passing to and fro with those strange eyes and jaws. But when they all
passed to their homes, then the lone city that was his started like a
thing being born upon a hill.

It may have been at one of these strained moments that Northrup slept;
he was never able to decide. He seemed to hold to the twinkling
lights; he thought he heard sounds--the elevator just outside his
door; the rising wind.

However that may be, as clearly as any impression ever fixed itself
upon his consciousness, he saw Mary-Clare beside him in her stained
and ugly garb, her lovely hair ruffled as if she had been travelling
fast, and her great eyes turned upon him gladly. She was panting a
bit; smiling and thankful that she had found him, at last in his
city!

It was like being with her on that day when they stood on the mountain
near her cabin and talked.

Northrup was spellbound. He understood, though no word passed between
him and the girl so close to him. She did not try to touch him, but
she did, presently, move a step nearer and lay her little work-worn
hand upon the pile of manuscript in that quaint way of hers that had
so often made Northrup smile. It was a reverent touch.

Standing so, she sealed from him those last chapters! She would not
argue or be set aside--she claimed her woman-right; the right to the
truth as some women saw it, as more would see it; as, God willing,
Northrup himself would see it some day! He would know that it was
because of love that she had turned him and herself to duty.

Northrup suddenly found himself on his feet.

The little room was dark; the city was blazing about him--under him.
His city! His hand lay upon his manuscript.

Quietly he took it up and locked it in his safe. Slowly, reverently,
he set the bare room in order without turning on the electricity. He
worked in the dark but his vision was never clearer. He went out,
locked the door, as one does upon a chamber, sacred and secret.

He did not think of Mary-Clare, his mother, or Kathryn--he was setting
forth to do that which had to be done; he was going to give what was
his to give to that struggle across the ocean for right; the proving
of right.

All along, his unrest had been caused by the warring elements in
himself--there was only one way out--he must take it and be proved as
the world was being proved.



CHAPTER XX


"Mother, I must go!"

Helen Northrup did not tremble, but she looked white, thin-lipped.

"You have given me the twenty-four hours, son. You have weighed the
question--it is not emotional excitement?"

"No, Mother, it is conscience. I'm not in the least under an illusion.
If I thought of this thing as war--a mere fight--I know I would be
glad to avail myself of any honourable course and remain here. But
it's bigger than war, that Thing that is deafening and blinding the
world. Sometimes"--Northrup went over to the window and looked out
into the still white mystery of the first snowstorm--"sometimes I
think it is God Almighty's last desperate way to awaken us."

Helen Northrup came to the window and stood beside her son. She did
not touch him; she stood close--that was all.

"I cannot see God in this," she whispered. "God could have found
another way. I have--lost God. I fear most of us have."

"Perhaps we never had Him," Northrup murmured.

"But there _is_ God--somewhere." Helen's voice quivered. "I shall
always be near you, beloved, always, and perhaps--God will."

"I know that, Mother. And I want you to know that if this call wasn't
mightier than anything else in all the world, I would not leave you."

"Yes, I know that, dear son."

For a moment they stood in silence by the window and then turned,
together, to the fireside.

They were in Helen's writing-room. The room where so often she had
struggled to put enough life into her weak little verses to send them
winging on their way. The drawers of her desk were full of sad fancies
that had been still-born, or had come fluttering back to her ark
without even the twig of hope to cheer her. But at all this she had
never repined--she had her son! And now? Well, he was leaving her.
Might never----

Sitting in the warmth and glow the woman looked at her son. With all
the yearning of her soul she wanted to keep him; she had so little; so
little. And then she recognized, as women do, in the Temple where the
Most High speaks to them, that if he turned a deaf ear to the best
that was in him, she could not honour him.

"You have been happy, dear son? I mean you have had a happy life on
the whole?"

Helen had wanted that above all else. His life had been so short--it
might be so soon over, and the trivial untalked-of things rose sharply
now to the surface.

"Yes, Mother. Far too happy and easy."

"I've been thinking." Helen's thought went slowly over the backward
road--she must not break! But she must go back to the things they had
left unspoken. "I've been thinking, during the last twenty-four hours,
of all the happenings, dear, that I wish had been different. Your
father, Brace! I--I tried not to deprive you of your father--I knew
the cost. It--it wasn't all his fault, dear; it was no real fault of
either of us; it was my misfortune, you see--he was asking what--what
he had a perfect right to ask--but I was, well, I had nothing to give
him that he wanted."

Northrup went across the space between him and his mother and laid his
hand upon hers.

"Mother, I understand. Lately I have felt a new sympathy for Father,
and a new contempt. He missed a lot that was worth while, but he did
not know. It was damnable; he might have--kept you."

"No, Brace. It is the world's thought. I have never been bitter. I
only wish he could have been happy--after--after he went away."

"And he wasn't?" This had never been discussed between them.

"No, dear. He married a woman who seemed to be what he wanted. She
wearied of him. He died a lonely, a bitter man. I was saved the
bitterness, at least, and I had you."

Another pause. Then:

"Brace, I know it will seem foolish, but perhaps when you are far away
it won't seem so foolish. I want to tell you, dear, that I wish I had
never spoken a harsh word to you. Life hurts so at the best--many
women are feeling this as I do, dear. Once--you must humour me,
Brace--once, after I punished you, I regretted it. I asked your pardon
and you said, 'Don't mention it, Mother, I understood.' I want you to
say it now, son; it will be such a comfort."

"I believe, God hearing me, Mother, that I have understood; have
always known that you were the best and dearest of mothers."

"Thank you."

"And now, Mother, there is one thing more. We may not have another
opportunity for a real house-cleaning. It's about King's Forest."

Helen started, but she stiffened at once.

"Yes, Brace," she said simply.

"There is a girl, a woman there. Such things as relate to that woman
and me often happen to men and women. It's what one does to the
happening that counts. I realize that my life has had much in it; but
much was left out of it. Much that is common stuff to most fellows;
they take it in portions. It came all at once to me, but she was
strong enough, fine enough to help me; not drift with me. I wanted you
to know."

"Thank you. I understand. Is there anything you would like to have me
do?"

"No. Nothing, Mother. It is all right; it had to happen, I suppose. I
wanted you to know. We did not dishonour the thing--she's quite
wonderful." A pause; then:

"She has a brute of a husband--I hope I freed her of him, in a way;
I'm glad to think of that now. She has a child, a little girl, and
there were some dead children."

This detail seemed tragically necessary to tell; it seemed to explain
all else.

"And now, Mother, I must go around to Kathryn's. Do not sit up, dear.
I'll come to your room."

"Very well." Then Helen stood up and laid her hands on his shoulders.
"Some sons and daughters," she said slowly, convincingly, "learn how
to bear life, in part, from their parents--I have learned from my
son."

Then she raised her hands and drew his head down to hers and rested
her cheek against his. Without a word more Northrup left the house.
He was deeply moved by the scene through which he and his mother
had just passed. It had consisted of small and trivial things; of
overwhelmingly big things, but it had been marked by a complete
understanding and had brought them both to a point where they could
separate with faith and hope.

But as Northrup neared Kathryn's house this exalted feeling waned.
Again he was aware of the disloyal doubt of Kathryn that made him
hesitate and weigh his method of approach. He stood, before touching
the bell of the Morris house, and shook the light snow from his
coat; he was glad of delay. When at last he pushed the button he
instinctively braced. The maid who admitted him told him that he was
to go to the library.

This was the pleasantest room in the house, especially at night. The
lighting was perfect; the old books gave forth a welcoming fragrance
and, to-night, a generous cannel coal fire puffed in rich, glowing
bursts of heat and colour upon the hearth. Kathryn was curled up in
the depths of a leather chair, her pretty blonde head just showing
above the top. She did not get up but called merrily:

"Here, dear! Come and be comfy. This is a big chair and a very little
me."

Northrup came around in front of the chair, his back to the fire, and
looked down upon the small figure. The blue blur of the evening gown,
the exquisite whiteness of arms, neck, and face sank into his
consciousness. Unconsciously he was fixing scenes in his memory, as
one secures pictures in a scrap-book, for the future.

"Been dining out, dear?"

The dress suggested this, but Kathryn was alert.

"Don't be a silly old cave thing, Brace. One cannot throw an old
friend overboard in cold blood, now can one? Sandy is going away for a
week, but I told him to-night that never, never again would I dine
with him alone. Now will you be good?"

Still Northrup did not smile. He was not concerned about Arnold, but
he seemed such a nuisance at this moment.

Kathryn, regarding Northrup's face, sat up and her eyes widened.

"What's the matter, Brace?" she asked, and the hard, metallic ring was
in her voice. Northrup misunderstood the change. He felt that he had
startled her. He sat down upon the arm of the chair.

"Poor little girl," he whispered. Kathryn also misunderstood, she
nestled against him.

"Big man," she murmured, "he _is_ going to be nice. Kiss me
here--close behind my right ear--always and always that is going to be
just your place."

Northrup did not seem to hear. He bent closer until his face pressed
the soft, scented hair, but he did not kiss the spot dedicated to him.
Instead he said:

"Darling, I am going away!"

"Away--where?" Kathryn became rigid.

"Overseas."

"Overseas? What for, in heaven's name?"

"Oh! anything they'll let me do. I'm going as soon as I can be
sent--but----"

"You mean, without any reason whatever, you're going to go over
there?"

"Hardly without something that stands for reason, Kathryn."

"But no one, not even Doctor Manly, thinks that it is our fight,
Brace. The men who have gone are simply adventurers; men who love
excitement or men who want to cut responsibilities and don't dare
confess it."

Kathryn's face flamed hot.

"Their lives must be pretty damnable," Northrup broke in, "if they
take such a method to fling them aside. Do try to understand, dear;
our women must, you know." There was pleading in the words.

Then by one of those sudden reversions of her nimble wits, Kathryn
recalled things she had heard recently--and immediately she took the
centre of her well-lighted stage, and horrible as it might seem, saw
herself, a ravishing picture in fascinating widow's weeds! While this
vision was holding, Kathryn clung to Northrup and was experiencing
actual distress--not ghoulish pleasure.

"Oh! you must not leave me," she quivered.

"You will help me, Kathryn; be a woman like my mother?" Again Northrup
pleaded. This was unfortunate. It steadied Kathryn, but it hardened
her.

"You want me to marry you at once, Brace?" she whispered.

"No, dear. That would not be fair to you. I want you to understand; I
want to know that you will--will keep Mother company. That is all,
until I come home. I could not feel justified in asking a woman to
marry such a--such a chance as I am about to be."

Now there was cause for what Kathryn suddenly felt, but not the cause
she suspected. Had Northrup loved deeply, faithfully, understandingly,
he might, as others did, see that to the right woman the "chance," as
he termed himself, would become her greatest glory and hope, but as it
was Northrup considered only Kathryn's best good and, gropingly, he
realized that her interests and his were not, at the present,
identical.

But Kathryn, her ever-present jealousy and apprehension rising, was
carried from her moorings. She recalled the evidences of "duty" in
Northrup's attitude toward her since his return from King's Forest;
his abstraction and periods of low spirits.

"He cannot stand it any longer," she thought resentfully; "he's
willing to do anything, take any chance."

A hot wave of anger enveloped Kathryn, but she did not speak.

"Kathryn"--Northrup grew restive at her silence--"haven't you anything
to say to me? Something I can remember--over there? I'd like to think
of you as I see you now, little, pretty, and loving. The blue gown,
the jolly fire, this fine old room--I reckon there will be times when
my thoughts will cling to the old places and my own people rather
fiercely."

"What can I say, Brace? You never see _my_ position. Men are selfish
always, even about their horrible fights. What do they care about
their women, when the call of blood comes? Oh! I hate it all, I hate
it! Everything upset--men coming back, heaven only knows how! even if
they come at all--but we women must let them go and _smile_ so as to
send them off unworried. We must stay home and be _nothings_ until the
end and then take what's left--joyfully, gratefully--oh! I hate it
all."

Northrup got up and stood again with his back to the fire. He loomed
rather large and dark before Kathryn's angry eyes. She feared he was
going to say the sentimental regulation thing, but he did not.
Sorrowfully he said:

"What you say, dear, is terribly true. It isn't fair nor decent and
there are times when I feel only shame because, after all these
centuries, we have thought out no better way; but, Kathryn, women are
taking part in this trouble--perhaps _you_----"

"You mean that _I_ may go over into that shambles--if I want to?" With
this Kathryn sprang to her feet. "Well, thanks! I do not want to. I'm
not the kind of girl who takes her dissipation that way. If I ever let
go, I'll take my medicine and not expect to be shielded by this
sentimentality."

"Kathryn, how can you? My dear, my dear! Say what you want to about my
folly--men's mistakes--but do not speak so of your--sisters!"

"Sisters?" Kathryn laughed her mirthless but musical laugh. "You _are_
funny, Brace!"

Then, as was her way when she lost control, Kathryn made straight for
the rocks while believing she was guided by divine intuition. She
faced Northrup, looking up at him from her lower level.

"I think I understand the whole matter," she said slowly, all traces
of excitement gone. "I am going to prove it. Will you marry me before
you go?"

"No, Kathryn. This is a matter of principle with me."

"You think they might not let you go--you'd have to provide for my
protection?"

"No, I am not afraid of that. You'd be well provided for; I would go
under any circumstances, but I will not permit you to take a leap in
the dark."

"That sounds very fine, but _I_ do not believe it!"

The black wings that poor Jan-an had suspected under Kathryn's fine
plumage were flapping darkly now. Kathryn was awed by Northrup's
silence and aloofness. She was afraid, but still angry. What was
filling her own narrow mind, she believed, was filling Northrup's and
she lost all sense of proportion.

"Is _she_ going over there?" she asked.

Northrup, if possible, looked more bewildered and dazed.

"She--whom do you mean, Kathryn?"

"Oh! I never meant to tell you! You drive me to it, Brace. I always
meant to blot it out----"

Kathryn got no further just then. Northrup came close to her and with
folded arms fixed his eyes upon her flushed face.

"Kathryn, you're excited; you've lost control of yourself, but there's
something under all this that we must get at. Just answer my
questions. Whom do you mean--by 'she'?"

Kathryn mentally recoiled and with her back to her wall replied, out
of the corner of her mouth:

"That girl in King's Forest!"

From sheer astonishment Northrup drew back as from a blow. Kathryn
misunderstood and gained courage.

"I forgave it because I love you, Brace." She gathered her cheap
little charms together--her sex appeals. "I understood from the moment
I saw her."

"When did you see her? Where?"

Northrup had recovered himself; he was able to think. He knew he must
act quickly, emphatically, and he generously tried to be just.

Keen to take advantage of what she believed was guilt, Kathryn
responded, dragging her lures along with her.

"Please, dear Brace, do not look at me so sternly. I could not help
what happened and I suffered so, although I never meant to let you
know. You see, I walked in the woods that day that I went to King's
Forest to tell you about your mother. A queer-looking girl told me
that you lived at the inn, but were then in the woods. I went to find
you; to meet you--can you not understand?"

The tears stood in Kathryn's eyes, her mouth quivered. Northrup
softened.

"Go on, Kathryn. I _do_ understand."

"Well, I came to a cabin in the woods, I don't know why, but something
made me think it was yours. You would be so likely to take such a
place as that, dear. I went in--to wait for you; to sit and think
about you, to calm myself--and then----"

"Yes, Kathryn!" Northrup was seeing it all--the cabin, the silent
red-and-gold woods.

"And then--she came! Oh! Brace, a man can never know how a woman feels
at such a moment--you see there were some sheets of your manuscript on
the table--I was looking at them when the girl came in. Brace, she was
quite awful; she frightened me terribly. She asked who I was and I
told her--I thought that would at least make her see my side; explain
things--but it did not! She was--she was"--Kathryn ventured a bolder
dash--"she was quite violent. I cannot remember all she said--she said
so much--a girl does when she realizes what _she_ must have realized.
Oh! Brace, I tried to be kind, but I had to take your part and she
turned me out!"

In all this Northrup felt his way as one does along a narrow passage
beset on either side with dangers. Characteristically he saw his own
wrong in originally creating the situation. Not for an instant did he
doubt Kathryn's story; indeed, she rose in his regard; for he felt for
her deeply. He had, unwittingly, set a trap for her innocent, girlish
feet; brought her to bay with what she could not possibly understand;
and the belief that she had been merciful, had accepted, in silence,
at a time when his trouble absorbed her, touched and humiliated him;
and yet, try as he did to consider only Kathryn, he could not
disregard Mary-Clare. He could not picture her in a coarse rage; the
idea was repellent, but he acknowledged that the dramatic moment,
lived through by two stranger-women with much at stake, was beyond his
powers of imagination. The great thing that mattered now was that his
duty, since a choice must be made, was to Kathryn. By every right, as
he saw it, she must claim his allegiance. And yet, what was there to
be done?

Northrup was silent; his inability to express himself condemned him in
her eyes, and yet, strangely enough, he had never been more desirable
to her.

"Marry me, dear. Let me prove my love to you. No matter what lies back
there, I forgive everything! That is what love means to a woman like
me."

Love! This poor, shabby counterfeit.

With a sickening sense of repulsion Northrup drew back, and
maddeningly his book, not Kathryn, seemed to fill his aching
brain. With this conception of love revealed--how blindly he had
misunderstood. He tried to speak; did speak at last--he heard his
words, but was not conscious of their meaning.

"You are wrong, child. Whatever folly was committed in King's Forest
was mine, not that girl's. I suppose I was a bit mad without knowing
it, but I will not accept your sacrifice, Kathryn, I will not ask for
forgiveness. When I come home, if you still love me, I will devote my
life to you. We will start afresh--the whole world will."

"You are going at once?" Kathryn clutched at what was eluding her.

"Yes, my dear."

"And you won't marry me? Won't--prove to me?"

"No."

"Oh! how can you leave me to think----"

"Think what, Kathryn?"

"Oh! things--about her. It would be such a proof of what you've just
said--if only you would marry me now."

"Kathryn, I cannot. I am--I wish that you could understand--I am
stepping out into the dark. I must go alone."

"That is absurd, Brace. Absurd." A baffled, desperate note rang in
Kathryn's voice. It was not for Northrup, but for her first sense of
failure. Then she looked up. All the resentment gone from her face,
she was the picture of despair.

"I will wait for you, Brace. I will prove to you what a woman's real
love is!"

So, cleverly, did she bind what she intuitively felt was the highest
in Northrup. And he bent and laid his lips on the smooth girlish
forehead, sorrowfully realizing how little he had to offer.

A few moments later Northrup found himself on the street. The snow was
falling thicker, faster. It had the smothering quality that is so
mysterious. People thudded along as if on padded feet; the lights were
splashed with clinging flakes and gleamed yellow-red in the whiteness.
Sounds were muffled; Northrup felt blotted out.

He loved the sensation--it was like a great, absorbing Force taking
him into its control and erasing forever the bungling past. He
purposely drifted for an hour in the storm. He was like a moving part
of it, and when at last he reached home, he stood in the vestibule for
many moments extricating himself--it was more that than shaking the
snow off. He felt singularly free.

Once within the house, he went directly to his mother's room. She was
lying on a couch by the fire. In the shelter of her warm, quiet place
Helen seemed to have gained what Brace had won in the storm. She was
smiling, almost eager.

"Yes, dear?" she said.

Northrup sat down in the chair that was his by his mother's hearth.

"Kathryn wanted to marry me, Mother, at once."

"That would be like her, bless her heart!"

"I could not accept the sacrifice, Mother."

"That would be like you--but is it a sacrifice?"

"It seems so to me."

"You see, son, to many women this is the supreme offering. All _they_
can give, vicariously, at this great demanding hour."

"Women must learn to stop that rubbish, Mother. We men must refuse
it."

"Why, Brace!" Then: "Are you quite, quite sure it was all for Kathryn,
son?"

"No, partly for myself; but that must include and emphasize Kathryn's
share."

"I see--at least I think I do."

"But you have faith, Mother?"

"Yes, faith! Surely, faith."

After a silence, broken only by the sputtering of the fire and that
soft, mystic pattering of the snow on the window glass, Northrup asked
gently:

"And you, Mother, what will you do? I cannot bear to think of you
waiting here alone."

Helen Northrup rose slowly from the couch; her long, loose gown
trailed softly as she walked to the fireplace and stood leaning one
elbow on the shelf.

"I'm not going to--wait, dear, in the sense you mean. I'm going to
work and get ready for your return."

"Work?" Northrup looked anxious. Helen smiled down upon him.

"While you have been preparing," she said, "so have I. There is
something for me to do. My poor little craft that I have pottered at,
keeping it alive and praying over it--my writing job, dear; I have
offered for service. It has been accepted. It is my great secret--I've
kept it for you as my last gift. When you come home, I'll tell you
about it. While you are away you must think of me, busy--busy!"

Then she bent and laid her pale fine face against the dark bowed
head.

"You are tired, dear, very, very tired. You must go to bed and
rest--there is so much to do; so much."



CHAPTER XXI


In King's Forest many strange and awe-inspiring things had happened--but,
as far as the Forest people knew, they were so localized that, like a
cancer, they were eating in, deeper and deeper--to the death.

The winter, with its continuous snow and cruel ice, had obliterated
links; only certain centres glowed warm and alive, though even they
ached with the pain of blows they had endured.

The Mines. The Point. The Inn. The Little Yellow House. These throbbed
and pulsated and to them, more often than of old--or so it seemed--the
bell in the deserted chapel sent its haunting messages--messages rung
out by unseen hands.

"There's mostly lost winds this winter," poor Jan-an whimpered to
Peneluna. "I have feelin's most all the time. I'm scared early and
late, and that cold my bones jingle."

Peneluna, softened and more silent than ever, comforted the girl,
wrapped her in warmer clothes, and sent her scurrying across the
frozen lake to the yellow house.

"And don't come back till spring!" she commanded.

"Spring?" Jan-an paused as she was strapping on an old pair of skates
that once belonged to Philander Sniff. "Spring? Gawd!"

It was a terrific winter. The still, intense kind that grips every
snowstorm as a miser does his money, hiding it in secret places of the
hills where the divine warmth of the sun cannot find it.

The wind, early in November, set in the north! Occasionally the "ha'nt
wind" troubled it; wailed a bit and caught the belfry bell, and then
gave up and sobbed itself away.

At the inn a vague something--was it old age or lost faith?--was
trying to conquer Peter's philosophy and Aunt Polly's spiritual
vision. The _Thing_, whatever it was, was having a tussle, but it made
its marks. Peter sat oftener by the fire with Ginger edging close to
the leg that the gander had once damaged and which, now, acted as an
indicator for Peter's moods. When he did not want to talk his "leg
ached." When his heart sank in despair his "leg ached." But Polly, a
little thinner, a little more dim as to far-off visions, caught every
mood of Peter's and sent it back upon him like a boomerang. She met
his silent hours with such a flare of talk that Peter responded in
self-defence. His black hours she clutched desperately and held them
up for him to look at after she had charged them with memories of
goodness and love.

As for herself? Well, Aunt Polly nourished her own brave spirit by
service and an insistent, demanding cry of justice.

"'Tain't fair and square to hold anything against the Almighty," she
proclaimed, "till you've given Him a chance to show what He did things
for."

Polly waxed eloquent and courageous; she kept her own faith by voicing
it to others; it grew upon reiteration.

Peter was in one of his worst combinations--silence and low
spirits--when Polly entered the kitchen one early afternoon. A glance
at the huddling form by the red-hot range had the effect of turning
Polly into steel. She looked at Ginger, who reflected his master's
moods pathetically, and her steel became iron.

"I suppose if I ask you, Peter, how you're feeling," she said slowly,
calmly, "you'll fling your leg in my face! It's monstrous to see how
an able-bodied man can use any old lie to save his countenance."

"My leg----" Peter began, but Polly stopped him. She had hung her coat
and hood in the closet and came to the fire, patting her thin hair in
order and then stretching her small, blue-veined hands to the heat.

"Don't leg me, Peter Heathcote, I'm terrible ashamed of you. Terrible.
So long as you _have_ legs, brother--and you _have_!--I say use 'em.
Half the troubles in this world are _think troubles_, laid to legs and
backs and what not."

"Where you been?" Peter eyed the stern little face glowering at him.
"You look tuckered."

"I wasn't tuckered until I set my eyes on you, Peter. I've been
considerable set up to-day. I went to Mary-Clare's. She is mighty
heartening. She's gathered all the children she can get and she's
teaching them. She's mimicking the old doctor's plan--making him live
again, she calls it--and the Lord knows we need someone in the Forest
who doesn't set chewing his own troubles, but gets out and does
things!"

Peter winced and Polly rambled on:

"It's really wonderful the way that slip of a thing handles those
children. She has made the yellow house like a fairy story--evergreens,
red leaves and berries hanging about, and all the dogs with red-ribbon
collars. They look powerful foolish, but they don't look like poor
Ginger, who acts as if he was being smothered!"

Peter regarded the dog by his side and remarked sadly:

"I guess we better change this dog's name. Ginger is like an insult to
him. Ginger! Lord-a-mighty, there ain't no ginger left in him."

"Peter, you're all wrong. There are times when I think Ginger is more
gingery than ever. You don't have to dash around after yer tail to
prove yer ginger, the thinking part of you can be terrible nimble even
when yer bones stiffen up. Ginger does things, brother, that sometimes
makes my flesh creepy. Do you know what he does when he can get away
from you?"

"No." Peter's hair sprang up; his face reddened. Polly noted the good
signs and took heart.

"Why, he joins Mary-Clare's dogs and fetches the littlest children to
the yellow house. Carries lunch pails, pulls sleds, and I've seen that
little crippled tot of Jonas Mills' on Ginger's back. Ain't that
ginger fur yer? I tell you, Peter, it's you as ails that dog--he's
what you make him. I reckon the Lord, that isn't unmindful of
sparrows, takes notice of dogs." Then suddenly, Polly demanded:
"Peter, what is it, just?"

Polly drew her diminutive rocker to the stove and settled back against
its gay cretonne cushions--a vivid bird of Paradise flamed just where
her aching head rested.

"Well, Polly"--Peter slapped the leg that he had lied about--"you and
I came to the Forest half a century ago and felt real perky. We
thought, under God, we'd make the Forest something better; the people
more like people. We came from a city with all sorts of patterns of
folks; we had ideas. The Forest gave me health and we were grateful
and chesty. It all keeps coming back and--and swamping me."

"Yes, brother, and what else?"

"At first we did seem to count, under God, of course. We shut up the
bar and fixed up the inn and we thought we was caring for folks and
protecting 'em." Peter gulped.

"I guess the Lord can care for His own, Peter," Polly remarked
fiercely.

"Then Maclin came!" Peter groaned out the words, for this was the crux
of the matter.

"Yes--Maclin came." Aunt Polly wiped her eyes. "And I think, looking
back, that something had to happen to wake us up! Maclin was a
tester."

Peter gave a rumbling laugh.

"Maclin a tester!" he repeated. "Lord, Polly, yer notions are more
messing than clearing."

"Well, anyway, Peter Heathcote, Maclin came, and this I do say: places
are like folks--if their constitutions are all right, they don't take
disease. Maclin was a disease, and we caught him! He settled on us and
we hadn't vim enough to know and understand what he was. If it hadn't
been Maclin it would have been another. As things are I do feel that
Maclin has cleared our systems! The folks were wakened by him as
nothing in the world could have wakened them."

Peter was not listening, he was thinking aloud.

"All our years wasted! We felt so sure that we was capable that we
just let folks fall into the hands of that evil man. Think of
anything, bearing the image of God taking advantage of simple, honest
people and letting them into what he did!"

"I never did think Maclin was in the image of God, Peter. All God's
children ain't the spitting image of Him. And Maclin certainly did us
a good turn when he found iron on the Point. The iron's here--if he
ain't!"

"He meant to turn that and his damned inventions against us. Betray us
to an enemy! And us just sitting and letting him do it!"

"Well, he didn't do it!" Polly snapped. "And it seems like God is
giving us another chance; same as He is the world."

Peter got up and stumped noisily about the kitchen much to Ginger's
surprise and discomfort.

"We're old, Polly," he muttered; "the heart's taken out of us. We led
'em astray because we didn't lead 'em right."

"I'm not old." Polly looked comically defiant. "And my heart's where
it belongs and on the job. It's shame to us, Peter, if we don't use
every scrap that's left of us to undo the failings of the past."

"And that night!" Peter groaned, recalling the night of Maclin's
arrest. "That's what comes of being false to yer trust. Terrible,
terrible! Twombley standing over Maclin with his gun after finding him
flashing lights to God knows who, and then those government men
hauling things out of his bags--why, Polly, in the middle of some
black nights I get to seeing the look on Maclin's face when he was
caught!"

"Now, brother, do be sensible and wipe the sweat off yer forehead.
This room is stifling. Can't you see, Peter, that at a time like that
the Lord had to use what He had, and there was only us to use? Better
Twombley's gun than Maclin's, and you know, full well, they found two
ugly looking guns in Maclin's bag all packed with papers and pictures
of the mines and bits of our own rock--what showed iron. Peter, I
ain't a bloodthirsty woman and the Lord knows I don't hunger for my
fellow's vitals, but I'm willing to give Maclin up to a righteous God.
The Lord knows we couldn't deal with the like of him."

"But, Polly"--poor Peter's humanity had received a terrible jog--"the
look on Maclin's face--when he was caught!"

"Well! he ought to have had a look!" Polly snapped. "Several of us
gave him looks. I remember that the Point men looked just as if it was
resurrection day. They stiffened up and _I_ say, Peter Heathcote,
their backs ain't slumped yet--oh! if only we could keep them stiff!
It was an awful big thing to happen to a little place like the Forest.
It's terrible suggestive!"

But Peter could not be diverted.

"They were fearful rough with him--he, a trapped creature, Polly! I
always feel as if one oughtn't to harry a trapped thing. That's not
God's way. It was all my fault! What was I a magistrate for--and just
standing by--staring?"

"Well, he should have held still--he put up fight. Brother, you make
me indignant."

"They mauled him, Polly, mauled him. And they took him--to what?"

Polly got up.

"Peter," she said, "you're a sick man or you wouldn't be such a fool.
I always did hold that your easy-going ways might lead you into mush
instead of clear vision, and it certainly looks as if I was right.
What you need is a good spring tonic and more faith in God. Maclin was
leading us into--what? Hasn't he sent the old doctor's boy into--what?
The Almighty has got all sorts to deal with--and he's got Maclin, but
we've got what's left. Peter, I put it up to you--what are we going to
do about it?"

"What can we do?" Peter placed his two hands on his wide-spread
knees--for he had dropped exhausted into his chair. "Has any one heard
of Larry?"

This sudden question roused Aunt Polly; she had hoped it would not be
asked.

"Yes, Peter. Twombley has," she faltered.

"Where is he?" Peter's mouth gaped.

"The letter said that when he came back we'd be proud of him
and"--Polly choked--"he begged our pardons--for Maclin. He's gone to
that war--over there. He said it was all he could do--with himself, to
prove against Maclin."

A silence fell in the warm, sunny room. Then Polly spoke with a catch
in her voice:

"Twombley and Peneluna hold that we better not tell Mary-Clare. Better
give Larry a chance to do his proving--before we get any hopes or
fears to acting up."

"I guess that's sensible," Peter nodded, "he mightn't do it, you
know."

Polly was watching her brother. She saw the dejection dropping from
his face like a mask; the hypnotism of fear and repulsion was losing
its hold.

"It's powerful hot here!" Peter muttered, wiping his face. "And what
in thunder ails that dog?"

Ginger was certainly acting queer. He was circling around, sniffing,
sniffing, his nose in the air, his tail wagging. He edged over to the
door and smelt at the crack.

"Fits?" Peter looked concerned. But Polly had an inspiration.

"I believe, Peter," she said solemnly, "Ginger smells--spring! I
thought I did myself as I came along. There were fluffy green edges by
the water. I do love edges, Peter! Let's open the door wide, brother.
We get so used to winter, and live so close, that sometimes we don't
know spring is near. But it is, Peter, it is always on the edge of
winter and God has made dogs terrible knowing. See! There, now, Ginger
old fellow, what's the matter?"

Polly flung the door open and Ginger gave a glad cry and leaped out. A
soft breath of air touched the two gentle old people in the doorway
and a fragrance of young, edgy things thrilled them.

"Peter dear, spring is here!" Polly said this like a prayer.

"Spring!" Peter's voice echoed the sound. Then he turned to the closet
for his coat and hat.

"Where you going, brother?"

The big bulky figure, ready for a new adventure, turned at the door.

"Just going to the Point and stand by! We must take care of the old
doc's leavings. The iron, that boy of his, and--the rest. Come on,
Ginger."

Polly watched the two pass from sight and then she readjusted her
spectacles to the far-off angle.

And while this was occurring at the inn there was a tap on the door of
the yellow house, and with its welcoming characteristic in full play,
the door swung in, leaving a tall woman on the threshold flushed and
apologetic.

"I never saw such a responsive door!" she said. "I really knocked very
gently. Please tell me how far it is to the inn?"

Mary-Clare, her little group of children about her, looked up and
smiled. The smile and the eyes made the stranger's breath come a bit
quicker.

"Just three miles to the south." Mary-Clare came close. "You are
walking? I will send my little girl with you. Noreen?"

But Jan-an was holding Noreen back.

"She's one of them other children of Eve!" she cautioned. "Don't
forget the other one!"

"Thank you so much," the stranger was speaking. "But may I rest here
for a moment? These children--is it a school."

"A queer one, I'm afraid. We're all teachers, all pupils--even the
dogs."

Mary-Clare looked at her small group.

"One has to do something, you know," she said. "Something to help."

"Yes. And will you send the children away for a moment? I have
something to say to you."

Mary-Clare's face went white. Since Maclin's exposure the girl knew a
spiritual fear that never before had troubled her. Maclin and Larry!
Doubt, uncertainty--they had done their worst for Mary-Clare.

When the children were gone the stranger leaned forward and said
quietly:

"I am Mrs. Dana--I am here on government business. There, my dear Mrs.
Rivers, please do not be alarmed--I come as your friend; the friend of
King's Forest; it is on the map, you know."

The tears stood in Mary-Clare's wide eyes, her lips trembled.

"I conscript you!" Mrs. Dana leaned a little further toward Mary-Clare
and took her hands. "I was directed to you, Mrs. Rivers. You must help
me do away with a wrong impression of the Forest. Together we will
tell a story to the outside world that will change a great many
things. We will tell the truth and set the Forest free from
suspicion."

"Oh! can we? Why, that would be the most splendid thing. We're all
so--so frightened."

"Yes. I know. See, I have my credentials"--Mrs. Dana took a notebook
from her bag. "The mines--well, all the danger there is destroyed. The
mines are cleaned out." She was reading from her notes.

"Yes." Mary-Clare was impressed.

"And there's iron on the Point--we must get at that--you own the
Point?"

"No; I gave it to my husband." The words were whispered. "And he sold
it to a Mr. Northrup." There was no holding back in King's Forest
these days.

"I see. Well, we must get this Mr. Northrup busy, then. Where is he?"

Mrs. Dana tucked the book away and her eyes looked kindly into
Mary-Clare's.

"I do not know. He went to his--to the city--New York."

"And you have never heard from him?"

"No."

"Well, Mrs. Rivers, I am your friend and the friend of the Forest.
Together, we ought to be able to do it a good turn. And now, if you
are willing, I would love to borrow your little girl."

On the lake road Noreen, after a few skirmishes, succumbed to one of
her sudden likings--she abandoned herself to Mrs. Dana's charm. With
her head coquettishly set slantwise she fixed her grave eyes--they
were very like her mother's--on Mrs. Dana's face.

"I like the look of you," she confided softly.

"I'm glad. I like the look of you very much, little Noreen."

"Do you know any stories or songs?" Noreen had her private test.

"I used to, but it has been a long while since I thought about them.
Do you know any, Noreen?"

"Oh! many. My man taught me. He taught me to be unafraid, too."

"Your man, little girl?" Mrs. Dana turned her eyes away.

"Yes'm. Jan-an, she's a bit queer, you know, Jan-an says the
ghost-wind brought him. He only stayed a little while, but things
aren't ever going to be the same again. No'm, not ever! He even liked
Jan-an, and most folks don't--at first. His name is Mr. Northrup, but
Jan-an and I call him The Man."

"And he sang for you?"

"Yes'm. We sang together, marching along--this way!" Noreen swung the
hand that held hers. "Do you know--'Green jacket, red cap'?" she
asked.

"I used to. It goes something like this--doesn't it?

    "Up the airy mountain
    Down the rustly glen----

I have forgotten the rest." Mrs. Dana closed her eyes.

"Oh! that's kingdiferous," Noreen laughed with delight. "I'll sing the
rest, then we'll sing together:

    "We daren't go a-hunting
      For fear of little men.
    Wee folk, good folk
      Trooping all together,
    Green jacket, red cap
      And white owl's feather."

They were keeping step and singing, rather brokenly, for Noreen was
thinking of her man and Mrs. Dana seemed searching, in a blur of
moving men upon a weary road, for a little boy--a very little boy.

"Now, then," Noreen insisted, "we can sing it betterer this time.

    "Green jacket, red cap
      And white owl's feather."

Suddenly Noreen stopped.

"Your face looks funny," she said. "Your lips are laughing, but your
eyes--is it the sun in your eyes?"

Mrs. Dana bent until her head was close to Noreen's.

"Little girl, little Noreen," she said, "that is it--the sun is in my
eyes."

"There's the inn!" Noreen was uncomfortable. Things were not turning
out quite as gaily as she hoped. Things did not, any more.

"Shall I go right to the door with you?" she asked.

"No. I want to go alone. Good-bye, Noreen."

"I hope you'll stay a long time!" Noreen paused on the road.

"Why, dear?"

"Because Motherly liked you, and I like you. Good-bye."

And Mrs. Dana stayed a long time, though after the first week her
sojourn was marked by incidents, not hours.

"Seems like the days of the creation," Peter confided to Twombley.
"Let there be light--there was light! Get the Forest to work--and the
Forest gets busy! Heard the church is going to be opened--and a
school. Queer, Twombley, how her being a woman and the easy sort, too,
doesn't seem to stop her none."

Twombley shifted in his chair--the two men were sitting in the spring
sunshine by Twombley's door.

"The Government's behind her!" he muttered confidently. "And,
Heathcote, I ain't monkeying with the Government. Since that Maclin
night--anything the Government asks of me, I hold up my hands."

"Yes, I reckon that's safest." Peter was uplifted, but cautious.

"She's set Peneluna to painting all the houses--yeller," Twombley
rambled on, the smell of fresh paint filling his nostrils. "And you
know what Peneluna is when she gets a start. Colour's mighty
satisfying, Peneluna says; but I guess there's more in it than just
colour. The Pointers get touchy about dirt, and creepy insects showing
up on the 'tarnal paint that's slushed everywhere."

"Mighty queer doings!" Heathcote agreed.

"The women are plumb crazy over this government woman," Twombley went
on, "and the children lap out of her hand. She and Mary-Clare are
together early and late. Thick as corn mush."

Peter drew his chair closer.

"Her and Mary-Clare is writing up the doings of the Forest," he
whispered. "Writing things allas makes me nervous. What's writ--is
fixed."

"Gosh! Heathcote; it's like the Judgment Day and no place to hide
in!"

"That's about it, Twombley. No place to hide in."

And then after weeks of strenuous effort Mrs. Dana went away as
suddenly as she had come. She simply disappeared! But there was a
peculiar sense of waiting in the Forest and a going on with what had
been begun. The momentum carried the people along. The church was
repaired, a school house started, the Point cleaned.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The summer passed, another winter--not so cruel as the last--and the
spring came, less violently.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was early summer when another event shook the none-too-steady
Forest. Larry came home!

Jan-an discovered him sitting on a mossy rock, his back against a
tree. The girl staggered away from him--she thought she saw a vision.

"It is--you, ain't it?" she gasped.

"What's left of me--yes." There was a strange new note in Rivers's
voice.

Jan-an's horror-filled eyes took in the significance of the words.

"Where's--the rest of you?" she gasped.

Larry touched the pinned-up leg of his trousers.

"I paid a debt with the rest," he said, and there was that in his
voice that brought Jan-an closer to him.

"Where yer bound for?" she asked, her dull face quivering.

"I don't know. A fellow gave me a lift and dropped me--here."

"You come along home!" Jan-an bent and half lifted Larry. "Lean on me.
There, now, lean heavy and take it easy."

Mary-Clare was sitting in the living-room, sewing and singing, when
the sound of steps startled her. She looked up, then her face changed
as a dying face does.

"Larry!" she faltered. She was utterly unprepared. She had been kept
in ignorance of the little that others knew.

"I--I'm played out--but I can go on." Larry's voice was husky and he
drooped against Jan-an. Then Mary-Clare came forward, her arms opened
wide, a radiance breaking over her cold white face.

"You have come--home, Larry! Home. Your father's home."

And then Larry's head rested on her shoulder; her arms upheld him, for
the crutch clattered to the floor.

"My father's home," he repeated like a hurt child--"that's it--my
father's home."



CHAPTER XXII


But beyond that exalted moment stretched the plain, drear days. Days
holding subtle danger and marvellous revelations.

Larry, with his superficial gripping of surface things, grew merry and
childishly happy. He had paid a debt, God knew. Shocked by the Maclin
exposure, he had been roused to decency and purpose as he had never
been before. He felt now that he had redeemed the past, and
Mary-Clare's gentleness and kindness meant but one thing to Rivers.
And he wanted that thing. His own partial regeneration had been
evolved through hours of remorse and contrition. Alone, under strange
skies and during long, danger-filled nights, he had caught a glimpse
of his poor, shivering soul, and it had brought him low in fear, then
high in hope.

"Perhaps, if I pay and pay"--he had pleaded with the sad thing--"I can
win out yet!"

And sitting in the warm, sunny room of the yellow house, Larry began
to believe he had! It was always so easy for him to see one small
spot.

At the first he was a hero, and the Forest paid homage to him;
listened at his shrine and fed his reviving ego. But heroes cloy the
taste, in time, and the most thrilling tales wax dull when they are
worn to shreds. More and more Larry grew to depend upon Mary-Clare and
Noreen for company and upon Jan-an for a never-failing listener to his
tales.

Noreen, just now, puzzled Mary-Clare. The child's old aversion to her
father seemed to have passed utterly from her thought. She was devoted
to him; touched his maimed body reverently, and wooed him from the sad
moments that presently began to overpower him.

She assumed an old and protecting manner toward him that would have
been amusing had it not been so tragically pathetic.

Every afternoon Larry took a nap, sitting in an old kitchen rocker.
Poised on the arm of the chair, her father's head upon her tiny
shoulder, Noreen sang him to sleep.

"You're my baby, daddy-linkum, and I'm your motherly. Come, shut your
eyes, and lall a leep!"

And Larry would sleep, often to awake with an unwholesome merriment
that frightened Mary-Clare.

One late summer afternoon she was sitting with him by the open door.
The beautiful hills opposite were still rich with flowers and green
bushes. Suddenly Larry said:

"It's great, this being home!"

"I'm glad home was here for you to come to, Larry." Mary-Clare felt
her heart beat quicker--not with love, but the growing fear.

"Are you, honest?"

"Yes, Larry. Honest."

"I wonder." It was the old voice now. "When I lay out there, and
crawled along----"

"Please, Larry, we have agreed not to talk of that!"

"Yes, I know, but even then, while I was crawling, I got to thinking
what I was crawling back to--and counting the chances and whether it
was worth while."

"Please, Larry!"

"All right!" Then, in the new voice: "You're beautiful, Mary-Clare.
Sometimes, sitting here, I get to wondering if I really ever saw you
before. Second sight, you know."

"Yes, second sight, Larry."

"And Noreen--she is mine, Mary-Clare." This was flung out defiantly.

"Part yours. Yes, Larry."

"She's a great kid. Old as the hills and then again--a baby-thing."

"We must not strain her, Larry, we cannot afford to put too heavy a
load on her. She would bear it until she dropped."

"Don't get talking booky, Mary-Clare. You don't as much as you once
did." A pause, then hardly above a whisper: "Do you go to the cabin in
the woods now, Mary-Clare?"

"I haven't been there for a long while, Larry." Mary-Clare's hands
clutched each other until the bones ached.

"I'm sorry, Mary-Clare, God knows I am, for what I did up there. It
was the note as drove me mad. Across--over there, I used to read that
note, you and he were queer lots."

"Larry, I will not talk about that--ever!"

"You can't forgive?"

"I have forgiven long ago."

"Nothing happened between you and him, Mary-Clare. You're great stuff.
Great! And so is he."

A thin, blue-veined hand stole out and rested on Mary-Clare's head and
Mary-Clare looked down at the empty place where Larry's strong right
leg should have been. A divine pity stirred her, but she knew now, as
always, that Larry did not crave pity; sympathy; and the awful Truth
upheld Mary-Clare in her weak moment. She would never again fail
herself or him by misunderstanding.

"When I'm well, Mary-Clare, you'll be everything to me, won't you?
We'll begin again. You, me, and little Noreen. You are lovely, girl!
The lights in your hair dance, your neck is white, and----"

The heart of Mary-Clare seemed to stop as the groping fingers touched
her.

"Look at me, Mary-Clare!"

There was the tone of the conqueror in the words--Larry laughed. Then
Mary-Clare looked at him! Long and unfalteringly she let her eyes meet
his, and there was that in them that no man misunderstands.

"You mean you do not care?" Larry's voice shook like a frightened
child's; "that you'll never care?"

"I care tremendously, Larry, and I will do my best. But you must not
ask for more."

"Good God! and I crawled back for this!" The words ended in a sob;
"for this! I thought I could pay but I cannot--ever, ever!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

And in the distant city Helen Northrup waited for her son. There had
been a cable--then the long silence. He was on the way, that was all
she knew.

In the work-room Helen tried to keep to the routine of her days. Her
work had saved her; strengthened her. Her contact with people had
given her vision and sympathy. She was marvellously changed, but of
that she took little heed.

And then Northrup came, unannounced. He stood in the doorway of the
room where his mother sat bent upon her task on the desk before her.
For a moment he hardly knew her. He had feared to find her broken,
crushed beyond the hope of health and joy. He had counted that
possibility among the things that his experience had cost him. A wave
of relief, surprise, and joy swept over him now.

"Mother!"

Helen paused--her pen held lightly--then she rose and came toward him.
Her face Northrup was never to forget. So might a face look that
welcomed the dead back to life. Just for one, poor human moment, they
could not speak, they simply clung close. After that, life caught them
in its common current.

The afternoon, warm and sunny, made it possible for the windows to be
open wide; there were flowers blooming in a window-box and a cool
breeze, now and again, drew the white curtains out, then released them
with a little sighing sound. The peacefulness and security stirred
Northrup's imagination.

"It doesn't seem possible, you know!" he said.

"Being home, dear?" Helen watched him. Every new line of his fine
brown face made her lips firmer.

"Yes. I'd given up hope, and then when hope grew again I was afraid to
crawl back. You'll laugh, but I was afraid to come home and find
things just the same! I couldn't have stood it, after what I learned.
I would have felt like a ghost. A lot of fellows feel this way. It's
all a mistake for our home folks to think they're doing the best for
us by trying to fool us into forgetting."

"Brace, we've tried, all of us, to be worthy of you boys. Even they
who attempt the thing you mention are doing it for the best. Often it
is the hardest way."

They were both thinking of Kathryn. Monstrous as it might seem, Brace
recalled her as she looked that day--pulling the shades of the
automobile down! That ugly doubt had haunted him many times.

Helen was half sick with fear of what would occur when Brace saw
Kathryn.

"I ought not keep you, son," she said weakly. "You ought to go to
Kathryn. No filial duty toward me, dear! I'm a terribly self-sufficient
woman."

"Bully! And that's why I want to have dinner with you alone. I've got
used to the self-sufficient woman--I like her."

It was long after eight o'clock, that first evening, when Northrup
left his mother's house.

So powerfully hypnotic is memory that as he walked along in the bland
summer night he shivered and recalled the snowstorm that blotted him
out after his last interview with Kathryn. With all earnestness he had
prepared himself for this hour. He was ready to take up his life and
live it well--only so could he justify what he had endured. His
starved senses, too, rose to reinforce him. He craved the beauty,
sweetness, and tenderness--though he was half afraid of them. They had
so long been eliminated from his rugged existence that he wondered how
he was again to take them as his common fare.

He paused before touching the bell at the Morris house. Again that
hypnotic shiver ran over him; but to his touch on the bell there was
immediate response.

"Will you wait, sir, in the reception-room?" The trim maid looked
flurried. "I will tell Miss Kathryn at once."

Northrup sat down in the dim room, fragrant with flowers, and a sense
of peace overcame his doubts.

Now the Morris house was curiously constructed. The main stairway and
a stairway leading to a side entrance converged at the second landing,
thus making it possible for any one to leave the house more privately,
should he so desire, than by the more formal way.

After leaving Northrup in the reception-room, the maid was stopped by
Miss Anna Morris somewhere in the hall. A hurried whispered
conversation ensued and made possible what dramatically followed.

A door above opened--the library door--and it seemed to set free
Kathryn's nervous, metallic laugh and Sandy Arnold's hard, indignant
words:

"What's the hurry? I guess I understand." Almost it seemed as if the
girl were pushing the man before her. "I was good enough to pass the
time with; pay for your fun while you weighed the chances."

"Please, Sandy, you are cruel." Kathryn was pleading.

"Cruel be damned! And what are you? I want you--you've told me that
you loved me--what's the big idea?"

"Oh! Sandy, do lower your voice. Aunt Anna will think the servants are
quarrelling."

"All right." Sandy's voice sank a degree. "But I'm going to put this
to you square----" The two above had come to the dividing stairways.

"What in thunder!" Sandy gave a coarse laugh. "Keeping to the servant
notion, eh? Want me to go out the side door? Why?"

"Oh! Sandy, you won't mind?--I have a reason, I'll tell you some
day."

There was a pause, a scuffle. Then:

"Sandy, you are hurting me!"

"All right, don't struggle then. Listen. I'm going away for two weeks.
You promise if Northrup comes home, during that time, to tell him?"

"Yes; yes, dear," the words came pantingly smothered. "All right, and
if you don't, I will! I'm not the kind to see a woman sacrifice
herself for duty. By the Lord! Northrup shall know from you--or me!
Now kiss me!"

There were the hurried steps--down the side stairs! Then flying ones
to the library--the maid was on her way with her message--but Northrup
dashed past her, nearly knocking her over.

He strode heavily to the library door, which had been left open, and
stood there. A devil rose in him as he gazed at the girl, a bit
dishevelled, but lovely beyond words.

For a moment, smiling and cruel, he thought he would let her
incriminate herself; he would humiliate her and then fling her off.
But this all passed like a blinding shock.

Kathryn had turned at his approach. She stood at bay. He frightened
her. Had he heard? Or was it mad passion that held him? Had he just
come to the house refusing to be announced?

"Brace! Brace!" she cried, her lovely eyes widening. "You have come."

Kathryn stepped slowly forward, her arms outstretched. She looked as a
captive maiden might before the conqueror whose slave she was willing
to become. As she advanced Northrup drew back. He reached a chair and
gripped it. Then he said quietly:

"You see, I happened to hear you and Arnold."

Kathryn's face went deadly white.

"I had to tell him something, Brace; you know how Sandy is--I knew I
could explain to you; you would understand." The pitiful, futile words
and tone did not reach Northrup with appeal.

"You can explain," he said harshly, "and I think I will understand,
but I want the explanation to come in my way, if you please. Just
answer my questions. Have you ever told Arnold--what he just made you
promise to tell me?"

Kathryn stood still, breathing hard.

"Yes or no!"

The girl was being dragged to a merciless bar of judgment. She
realized it and all her foolish defences fell; all but that power of
hers to leap to some sort of safety. There still was Arnold!

"Yes," she said gaspingly.

"You mean you love Arnold; that only duty held you to me?"

"Yes."

"Well, by God!" Northrup flung his head back and laughed--"and after
all I have been fearing, too!"

To her dying day Kathryn never knew what he meant by those words.
There was a moment's silence, then Northrup spoke again:

"I don't think there is anything more to say. Shall I take the side
entrance?"

Outside, the summer night was growing sultry; a sound of thunder broke
the heavy quiet of the dark street--it brought back memories that were
evil things to remember just then.

"Good God!" Northrup thought, "we're coming back to all kinds of
hells."

He was bitter and cynical. He hardly took into account, in that hard
moment, the feeling of release; all his foregone conclusions, his
stern resolves, had been battered down. He had got his discharge with
nothing to turn to.

In this mood he reached home. More than anything he wanted to be by
himself--but his mother's bedroom door was open and he saw her sitting
by the window, watching the flashes of heat lightning.

He went in and stood near her.

"I've about concluded," he said harshly, "that the fellows who keep to
the herd are the sensible ones."

The words conveyed no meaning to Helen Northrup, but the tones did.

"Sit down, dear," she said calmly. "If this shower strikes us, I do
not want to be alone."

Northrup drew a chair to the window and the red flashes lighted his
face luridly.

"Having ideals is rot. Dying for them, madness. Mother, it's all over
between Kathryn and me!"

Helen's own development had done more for her than she would ever
realize, but from out its strength and security she spoke:

"Brace, I am glad! Now you can live your ideals."

Northrup turned sharply.

"What do you mean?" he said.

"Oh! we've all been so stupid; so blind. Seeing the false and calling
it the truth. Being afraid; not daring to let go. My work has set me
free, son. Lately I have seen the girl that Kathryn _really_ is,
looming dark over the girl she made us believe she was. I have feared
for you, but now I am glad. Brace, there _are_ women a man can count
on. Cling hold of that."

"Yes, I know that, of course."

"Women whose honour is as high and clear as that of the best of men."

"Yes, Mother."

Helen looked at the relaxed form close to her. She yearned to confide
fully in him, tell him how she had guarded his interests while he
fared afar from her. She thought of Mary-Clare and the love and
understanding that now lay between her and the girl whose high honour
could, indeed, be trusted.

But she realized that this son of hers was not the kind of man whose
need could be supplied by replacing a loss with a possible gain. He
had been dealt a cruel blow and must react from it sanely. The time
was not yet come for the telling of the King's Forest story.

Northrup needed comfort, Heaven knew, but it must come from within,
not without.

At that instant Helen Northrup gripped the arms of her chair and sent
a quick prayer to the God of mothers of grown sons.

"The storm seems to be passing," she said quietly.

"Yes, and the air is cooler." Northrup stood up and his face was no
longer hopeless. "Are you going to stay in town all summer?" he
asked.

"I was waiting for you, dear. As soon as you get settled I must take a
short trip. Business, you know. I do enjoy the short trips, the
comings home; the feeling of moving along; not being relegated to an
armchair."

"Mother, how _did_ you do it?"

"Oh! it was easy enough, once I threw off my own identity. Identities
are so cramping, Brace; full of suggestions and fears. I took my
mother's maiden name--Helen Dana. After that, I just flew ahead."

"Well, I won't hold you back. You're too good for that, Mother. I've
kept the old tower room. I'm going to try to finish my book, now.
Somehow I got to thinking it dead; but lately I've sort of heard it
crying out for me. I hope the same little elevator devil is on the job
yet. Funny, freckled scamp. He kissed me when I went away--I thought
he was going to cry. Queer how a fellow remembered things like that
over there. The little snapshots were fixed pictures--and some rather
big-sized things shrank."

They bade each other good-night. Mother and son, they looked
marvellously alike at that moment. Then:

"I declare, I almost forgot Manly. How has this all struck him,
Mother?"

Helen's face was radiant.

"Gave up everything! His hard-won position, his late comfort and ease.
He will have to begin again--he is where he says he belongs--mending
and patching."

"He'll reach the top, Mother. Manly's bound for the top of things."



CHAPTER XXIII


Northrup found his tower room but little changed. The dust lay upon
it, and a peace that had not held part during the last days before he
went away greeted him. More and more as he sat apart the truth of
things came to him; he accepted the grim fact that all, everything, is
bound by a chain, the links of which must hold, or, if they are
broken, they must be welded again together. The world; people;
everything in time must pause while repairs were made, and he had done
his best toward the mending of a damaged world: toward righting his
own mistakes.

It was slow work. Good God! how slow, and oh, the suffering!

He had paid a high price but he could now look at his city without
shame.

This was a fortifying thought, but a lonely one, and it did not lead
to constructive work. The days were listless and empty.

Northrup got out his manuscript--there was life in it, he made sure of
that, but it was feeble and would require intelligent concentration in
order to justify its existence.

But the intelligence and concentration were not in his power to
bestow.

After a few days he regarded his new freedom with strange exhilaration
mingled with fear and distrust.

So much had gone down in the wreck with Kathryn. So much that was
purely himself--not her--that readjustment was slow. How would it have
been, he wondered, back in the King's Forest days, had he not been
upheld by a sense of duty to what was now proven false and wrong?

One could err in duty, it seemed.

He was free! He had not exacted freedom! It had been thrust upon him
so brutally, that it had, for a spell, sent him reeling into space.

Not being able to resume his work, Northrup got to thinking about
King's Forest with concentration, if not intelligence.

He had purposely refrained, while he was away, from dwelling upon it
as a place in which he had some rights. He used, occasionally, to
think of Twombley, sitting like a silent, wary watch-dog, keeping an
eye on his interests. He had heard of the Maclin tragedy--Helen
Northrup felt it wise to give him that information while withholding
much more; that was, in a way, public knowledge.

Things were at least safe now in the Forest, Northrup believed. This
brought him to the closer circle. He felt a sudden homesickness for
the inn and the blessed old pair. A kind of mental hunger evolved from
this unwholesome brooding that drove Northrup, as hunger alone can, to
snatch whatever he could for his growing desire to feed upon.

He shifted his thoughts from Mary-Clare and the Heathcotes to Larry
Rivers. Where was he? Had he kept his part of the bargain? What had
Mary-Clare done with her hard-won freedom?

Sitting alone under his dome of changing lights, Northrup became a
prey to whimsical fancies that amused while they hurt.

As the lighted city rose above the coarser elements that formed it, so
the woman, Mary-Clare, towered over other women. Such women as
Kathryn! The bitterness of pain lurked here as, unconsciously,
Northrup went back over the wasted years of misplaced faith.

The sweet human qualities he knew were not lacking in Mary-Clare. They
were simply heightened, brightened.

All this led to but one thing.

Something was bound to happen, and suddenly Northrup decided to go to
King's Forest!

Once this decision was reached he realized that he had been travelling
toward it since the night of his scene with Kathryn. The struggle was
over. He was at rest, and began cheerfully to make preparations. Of
course, he argued, he meant to keep the spirit, if not the letter, of
his agreement with Larry Rivers.

This was not safe reasoning, and he set it aside impatiently.

He waited a few days, deliberating, hoping his mother would return
from a visit she was making at Manly's hospital in the South. When at
the end of a week no word came from her, he packed his grip and set
forth, on foot again, for the Forest.

He did the distance in half the time. His strong, hardened body served
him well and his desire spurred him on.

When he came in sight of the crossroads a vague sense of change struck
him. The roads were better. There was an odd little building near the
yellow house. It was the new school, but of that Northrup had not
heard. From the distance the chapel bell sounded. It did not have that
lost, weird note that used to mark it--there was definiteness about it
that suggested a human hand sending forth a friendly greeting.

"Queer!" muttered Northrup, and then he did a bold thing. He went to
the door of the yellow house and knocked. He had not intended to do
that.

How quiet it was within! But again the welcoming door swayed open, and
for a moment Northrup thought the room was empty, for his eyes were
filled with the late afternoon glow.

It was autumn and the days were growing short.

Then someone spoke. Someone who was eager to greet and hold any chance
visitor. "Come in, Mary-Clare will be back soon. She never stays
long."

At that voice Northrup slammed the door behind him and strode across
the space separating him from Larry Rivers!

Larry sat huddled in the chintz rocker, his crutch on the floor, his
thin, idle hands clasped in his lap. He wore his uniform, poor fellow!
It gave him a sense of dignity. His eyes, accustomed to the dimmer
light, took in the situation first; he smiled nervously and waited.

Northrup in a moment grasped the essentials.

"So you've been over there, too?" was what he said. The angry gleam in
his eyes softened. At least he and Rivers could speak the common
language of comrades-in-arms.

"Yes, I've been there," Larry answered. "When I came back, I had
nowhere else to go. Northrup, you wonder why I am here. Good God! How
I've wanted to tell you."

"Well, I'm here, too, Rivers. Life has been stronger than either of
us. We've both drifted back."

Larry turned away his head. It was then that Northrup caught the full
significance of what life had done to Rivers!

"Northrup, let me talk to you. Let me plunge in--before any one comes.
They won't let me talk. It's like being in prison. It's hell. I've
thought of you, you're the only one who can really help. And I dared
not even ask for you!"

Larry was now nervously twisting his fingers, and his face grew
ashen.

"I'm listening, Rivers. Go on."

Northrup had a feeling as if he were back among those scenes where
time was always short, when things that must be said hurriedly gripped
a listener. The conventions were swept aside.

"They--they couldn't understand, anyway," Larry broke in. "They've got
a fixed idea of me; they wouldn't know what it was that changed me,
but you will.

"Everyone's kind. I haven't anything to complain of, but good God!
Northrup, I'm dying, and what's to be done--must be done quickly.
You--see how it is?"

"Yes, Rivers, I see." There could be no mercy in deceiving this
desperate man.

"I knew you would. Day after day, lately, I've been saying that over
in my mind. I remembered the night in the shack on the Point. I knew
you would understand!"

"Perhaps your longing brought me, Rivers. Things like that happen, you
know."

Northrup, moved by pity, laid his hand on the shrunken ones near him.
All feeling of antagonism was gone.

"It began the night I was shot," Larry's voice fell, "and Mary-Clare
will not let me talk of those times. She thinks the memory will keep
me from getting well! Good Lord! Getting well! Me!

"There were two of us that night, Northrup, two of us crawling away
from the hell in the dark. You know!"

"Yes, Rivers, I know."

"I'd never met him--the other chap--before, but we got talking to each
other, when we could, so as to--to keep ourselves alive. I told him
about Mary-Clare and Noreen. I couldn't think of anything else. There
didn't seem to be anything else. The other fellow hadn't any one, he
said.

"When help came, there was only room for one. One had to wait.

"That other chap," Larry moistened his lips in the old nervous fashion
that Northrup recalled, "that other chap kept telling them about my
wife and child--he said he could wait; but they must take me!

"God! Northrup, I think I urged them to take him. I hope I did, but I
cannot remember--I might not have, you know. I can remember what he
said, but I can't recall what I said."

"I think, Rivers, you played fair!"

"Why? Northrup, what makes you think that?" The haggard face seemed to
look less ghastly.

"I've seen others do it at such a time."

"Others like me?"

"Yes, Rivers, many times."

"Well, there were weeks when nothing mattered," Larry went on, "and
then I began to come around, but something in me was different. I
wanted, God hearing me, Northrup, I wanted to make what that other
chap had done for me--worth while.

"When I got to counting up what I'd gone through and holding to the
new way I felt, I began to get well--and--then I came home. Came to my
father's house, Northrup--that's what Mary-Clare said when she saw
me.

"That's what it is--my father's house. You catch on?"

"Yes, Rivers, I catch on." Then after a pause: "Let me light the
lamp." But Rivers caught hold of him.

"No, don't waste time--they may come back at any moment--there'll
never be another chance."

"All right, go on, Rivers."

The soft autumn day was drawing to its close, but the west was still
golden. The light fell on the two men near the window; one shivered.

"There isn't much more to say. I wanted you to know that I'm not going
to be in the way very long.

"You and I talked man to man once back there in the shack. Northrup,
we must do it now. We needn't be damned fools. I've got a line on
Mary-Clare and yes, thank God! on you. I can trust you both. She
mustn't know. When it's all over, I want her to have the feeling that
she's played square. She has, but if she thought I felt as I do
to-day, it would hurt her. You understand? She's like that. Why, she's
fixed it up in her mind that I'm going to pull through, and she's
braced to do her part to the end; but"--here Larry paused, his dull
eyes filled with hot tears; his strength was almost gone--"but I
wanted you to help her--if it means what it once did to you."

"It means that and more, Rivers."

Northrup heard his own words with a kind of shock. Again he and Rivers
were stripped bare as once before they had been.

"It--it won't be long, Northrup--there's damned little I can do to--to
make good, but--I can do this."

The choking voice fell into silence. Presently Northrup stood up.
Years seemed to have passed since he had come into the room. It was a
trick of life, in the Forest, when big things happened--they swept all
before them.

"Rivers, you are a brave man," he slowly said. "Will you shake
hands?"

The thin cold fingers instantly responded.

"God helping me, I will not betray your trust. Once I would not have
been so sure of myself, but you and I have been taught some strange
truths."

Then something of the old Larry flashed to the surface: the old, weak
relaxing, the unmoral craving for another's solution of his problems.

"Oh, it always has to be someone to help me out," he said.

"You know about Maclin?"

"Yes, Rivers."

"Well, I did the turn for that damned scoundrel. I got the Forest out
of his clutches."

"Yes, you did when you got your eyes opened, Rivers."

"They're open now, Northrup, but there always has to be--someone to
help me out."

"Rivers, where is your wife?" So suddenly did Northrup ask this that
Larry started and gave a quick laugh.

"She went to that cabin of hers--you know?"

"Yes, I know."

Both men were reliving old scenes.

Then Larry spoke, but the laugh no longer rang in his tone:

"She'll be coming, by now, down the trail," he whispered. "Go and meet
her, tell her you've been here, that I told you where she was--nothing
more! Nothing more. Ever!"

"That's right, never!" Northrup murmured. Then he added:

"I'll come back with her, Rivers, soon. I'm going to stay at the inn
for a time."

Their hands clung together for a moment longer while one man
relinquished, the other accepted. Then Northrup turned to the door.

There was a dull purplish glow falling on the Forest. The subtle,
haunting smell of wood smoke rose pungently. It brought back, almost
hurtingly, the past. Northrup walked rapidly along the trail.
Hurrying, hurrying to meet--he knew not what!

Presently he saw Mary-Clare, from a distance, in the ghostly woods.
Her head was bowed, her hands clasped lightly before her. There was no
haste, no anticipation in her appearance; she simply came along!

The sight of youth beaten is a terrible sight, and Mary-Clare, off her
guard, alone and suffering, believed herself beaten. She was close to
Northrup before she saw him. For a moment he feared the shock was
going to be too great for her endurance. She turned white--then the
quick red rose threateningly, the eyes dimmed.

Northrup did not speak--he could not. With gratitude he presently saw
the dear head lift bravely, the trembling smile curl her cold lips.

"You--have come!"

"Yes, Mary-Clare."

"How--did you know--where I was?"

"I stopped at the yellow house. I saw your--I saw Larry--he told me
where to find you."

"He told you that?"

The bravery flickered--but pride rallied.

"He is very changed." The words were chosen carefully. "He is very
patient and--and Noreen loves him. She never could have, if he had not
come back! She--well, you remember how she used to take care of me?"

"Yes, Mary-Clare."

"She takes care of her father in that way, now that she understands
his need."

"She would. That would be Noreen's way."

"Yes, her way. And I am glad he came back to us. It might all have
been so different."

There was a suggestion of passionate defence in the low, hurried
words, a quick insistence that Northrup accept her position as she
herself was doing.

"Yes, Mary-Clare. Your old philosophy has proved itself."

"I am glad you believe that."

"I have come to the Forest to tell you so. The things that do not
count drop away. We do not have to push them from our lives."

"Oh! I am glad to hear you say that."

Mary-Clare caught her breath.

There seemed to be nothing to keep them apart now--a word, a quick
sentence were all that were necessary to bridge the past and the
present. Neither dared consider the future.

The small, common things crept into the conversation for a time, then
Mary-Clare asked hesitatingly:

"You--you are happy? And your book?"

"The book is awaiting its time, Mary-Clare. I must live up to it. I
know that now. And the girl you once saw here, well! that is all past.
It was one of those things that fell away!"

There was nothing to say to this, but Northrup heard a sharp indrawing
of the breath, and felt the girl beside him stumble on the darkening
trail.

"You know I went across the water to do my part?" he asked quickly.

"You would, of course. That call found such men as you. Larry went,
too!" This came proudly.

"Yes, and he paid more than I did, Mary-Clare."

"He had more to pay--there was Maclin. Do you know about Maclin?"

"Yes. It was damnable. We all scented the evil, but we're not the sort
of people to believe such deviltry until it's forced upon us."

"It frightened us all terribly," Mary-Clare's voice would always hold
fear when she spoke of Maclin. "I do not know what would have happened
to the Forest if--a Mrs. Dana had not come just when things were at
the worst."

There are occurrences in life that seem always to have been half
known. Their acceptance causes no violent shock. As Mary-Clare
spoke that name, Northrup for a moment paused, repeated it a bit
dazedly, and, as if a curtain had been withdrawn, he saw the broad,
illuminating truth! "You have heard of Mrs. Dana?" Mary-Clare
asked. That Northrup knew so much did not surprise her.

"Yes, of course! And it would be like her to drop in at the
psychological moment."

"She set us to work!" Mary-Clare went on. "She is the most wonderful
woman I ever knew."

"She must be!"

Slower and slower the two walked down the trail. They were clutching
the few golden moments.

It was quite dark when they came to the yellow house. The door was
wide open, the heart of the little home lay bare to the passer-by.

Jan-an was on her knees by the hearth, puffing to life the kindlings
she had lighted. Larry's chair was drawn close and upon its arm Noreen
was perched.

"They always leave it so for me," Mary-Clare whispered. "You see how
everything is?"

"Yes, I see, Mary-Clare."

Northrup reached forth and drew the small clasped hands into his
own!--then he bent and kissed them.

"I see, I see."

"And you will come in? Larry loves company."

"Not to-night, Mary-Clare, but to-morrow. I am going to stay at the
inn for a few days."

"Oh! I am glad!" Almost the brave voice broke.

"There is something else I see, my dear," Northrup ignored the poor
disguise for a moment. "I see the meaning of _you_ as I never saw it
before. You have never broken faith! That is above all else--it is all
else."

"I have tried." Upon the clasped hands tears fell, but Northrup caught
the note of joy in her grieving voice.

"You have carried on what your doctor entrusted to you."

"Oh! thank you, bless you for saying that."

"Good-night." Northrup released the cold hands--they clung for a
moment in a weak, human way. "There is to-morrow, you know," he
whispered.

Alone, a little later, on the road, Northrup experienced that strange
feeling of having left something back there in the yellow house.

He heard the water lapping the edge of the road where the sumach grew;
the bell, with its new tone, sounded clearly the vesper hour; and on
ahead the lights of the inn twinkled.

And then, as if hurrying to complete the old memory, Mary-Clare seemed
to be following, following in the darkness.

Northrup's lips closed grimly. He squared his shoulders to his task.

He must go on, keeping his mind fixed upon the brighter hope that
Mary-Clare could not, now, see; must not now see. For her, there must
be the dark stretch; for him the glory of keeping the brightness
undimmed--it must be a safe place for her to rest in, by and by. "She
has kept the faith with life," Northrup thought. "She will keep it
with death--but love must keep faith with her."

THE END





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